I Will Bless the LORDPsalm 26 Of David.
1 Vindicate me, O LORD,
for I have walked in my integrity,
and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering.
2 Prove me, O LORD, and try me;
test my heart and my mind.
3 For your steadfast love is before my eyes,
and I walk in your faithfulness.
4 I do not sit with men of falsehood,
nor do I consort with hypocrites.
5 I hate the assembly of evildoers,
and I will not sit with the wicked.
6 I wash my hands in innocence
and go around your altar, O LORD,
7 proclaiming thanksgiving aloud,
and telling all your wondrous deeds.
8 O LORD, I love the habitation of your house
and the place where your glory dwells.
9 Do not sweep my soul away with sinners,
nor my life with bloodthirsty men,
10 in whose hands are evil devices,
and whose right hands are full of bribes.
11 But as for me, I shall walk in my integrity;
redeem me, and be gracious to me.
12 My foot stands on level ground;
in the great assembly I will bless the LORD.
The LORD Is My Light and My SalvationPsalm 27 Of David.
1 The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
2 When evildoers assail me
to eat up my flesh,
my adversaries and foes,
it is they who stumble and fall.
3 Though an army encamp against me,
my heart shall not fear;
though war arise against me,
yet I will be confident.
4 One thing have I asked of the LORD,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
and to inquire in his temple.
5 For he will hide me in his shelter
in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will lift me high upon a rock.
6 And now my head shall be lifted up
above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the LORD.
7 Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud;
be gracious to me and answer me!
8 You have said, “Seek my face.”
My heart says to you,
“Your face, LORD, do I seek.”
9 Hide not your face from me.
Turn not your servant away in anger,
O you who have been my help.
Cast me not off; forsake me not,
O God of my salvation!
10 For my father and my mother have forsaken me,
but the LORD will take me in.
11 Teach me your way, O LORD,
and lead me on a level path
because of my enemies.
12 Give me not up to the will of my adversaries;
for false witnesses have risen against me,
and they breathe out violence.
13 I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living!
14 Wait for the LORD;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the LORD!
The LORD Is My Strength and My ShieldPsalm 28 Of David.
1 To you, O LORD, I call;
my rock, be not deaf to me,
lest, if you be silent to me,
I become like those who go down to the pit.
2 Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy,
when I cry to you for help,
when I lift up my hands
toward your most holy sanctuary.
3 Do not drag me off with the wicked,
with the workers of evil,
who speak peace with their neighbors
while evil is in their hearts.
4 Give to them according to their work
and according to the evil of their deeds;
give to them according to the work of their hands;
render them their due reward.
5 Because they do not regard the works of the LORD
or the work of his hands,
he will tear them down and build them up no more.
6 Blessed be the LORD!
For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy.
7 The LORD is my strength and my shield;
in him my heart trusts, and I am helped;
my heart exults,
and with my song I give thanks to him.
8 The LORD is the strength of his people;
he is the saving refuge of his anointed.
9 Oh, save your people and bless your heritage!
Be their shepherd and carry them forever.
Ascribe to the LORD GloryPsalm 29 A PSALM OF DAVID.
1 Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings,
ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.
3 The voice of the LORD is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the LORD, over many waters.
4 The voice of the LORD is powerful;
the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.
5 The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars;
the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf,
and Sirion like a young wild ox.
7 The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire.
8 The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness;
the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
9 The voice of the LORD makes the deer give birth
and strips the forests bare,
and in his temple all cry, “Glory!”
10 The LORD sits enthroned over the flood;
the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.
11 May the LORD give strength to his people!
May the LORD bless his people with peace!
Joy Comes with the MorningPsalm 30 A Psalm of David. A song at the dedication of the temple.
1 I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up
and have not let my foes rejoice over me.
2 O LORD my God, I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me.
3 O LORD, you have brought up my soul from Sheol;
you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit.
4 Sing praises to the LORD, O you his saints,
and give thanks to his holy name.
5 For his anger is but for a moment,
and his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may tarry for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.
6 As for me, I said in my prosperity,
“I shall never be moved.”
7 By your favor, O LORD,
you made my mountain stand strong;
you hid your face;
I was dismayed.
8 To you, O LORD, I cry,
and to the Lord I plead for mercy:
9 “What profit is there in my death,
if I go down to the pit?
Will the dust praise you?
Will it tell of your faithfulness?
10 Hear, O LORD, and be merciful to me!
O LORD, be my helper!”
11 You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
you have loosed my sackcloth
and clothed me with gladness,
12 that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever!
Into Your Hand I Commit My SpiritPsalm 31 To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.
1 In you, O LORD, do I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
in your righteousness deliver me!
2 Incline your ear to me;
rescue me speedily!
Be a rock of refuge for me,
a strong fortress to save me!
3 For you are my rock and my fortress;
and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me;
4 you take me out of the net they have hidden for me,
for you are my refuge.
5 Into your hand I commit my spirit;
you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God.
6 I hate those who pay regard to worthless idols,
but I trust in the LORD.
7 I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love,
because you have seen my affliction;
you have known the distress of my soul,
8 and you have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy;
you have set my feet in a broad place.
9 Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress;
my eye is wasted from grief;
my soul and my body also.
10 For my life is spent with sorrow,
and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my iniquity,
and my bones waste away.
11 Because of all my adversaries I have become a reproach,
especially to my neighbors,
and an object of dread to my acquaintances;
those who see me in the street flee from me.
12 I have been forgotten like one who is dead;
I have become like a broken vessel.
13 For I hear the whispering of many—
terror on every side!—
as they scheme together against me,
as they plot to take my life.
14 But I trust in you, O LORD;
I say, “You are my God.”
15 My times are in your hand;
rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors!
16 Make your face shine on your servant;
save me in your steadfast love!
17 O LORD, let me not be put to shame,
for I call upon you;
let the wicked be put to shame;
let them go silently to Sheol.
18 Let the lying lips be mute,
which speak insolently against the righteous
in pride and contempt.
19 Oh, how abundant is your goodness,
which you have stored up for those who fear you
and worked for those who take refuge in you,
in the sight of the children of mankind!
20 In the cover of your presence you hide them
from the plots of men;
you store them in your shelter
from the strife of tongues.
21 Blessed be the LORD,
for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me
when I was in a besieged city.
22 I had said in my alarm,
“I am cut off from your sight.”
But you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy
when I cried to you for help.
23 Love the LORD, all you his saints!
The LORD preserves the faithful
but abundantly repays the one who acts in pride.
24 Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
all you who wait for the LORD!
What I'm Reading
By Larry G. Mininger 4/1/2009
About forty people scattered on metal chairs greeted me on my first Sunday in my first (and only) pastorate in a quaint little sanctuary nestled in the woods between massive orange groves just west of Orlando, Florida. There were no pews, organ, carpeting or paved roads leading to this place. Snakes in the breezeway and gators in the nearby lake — I thought I was in the jungle!
About one year into the ministry, a visitor complimenting my sermon whispered to me: “You won’t be here long.” Puzzled at first, I realized she meant that I wouldn’t have to labor very long in this obscure setting. I was good enough to get a bigger church! Feelings of flattery mutated into frustration. Was I supposed to be unhappy with my congregation? Were these people not worth my life’s sacrifice? Is the pastorate like a business where you climb the corporate ladder to “real success”? I determined that I would not allow that mind-set to direct my ministry.
Fascination with bigness obscures the truth that Jesus, the builder (Matt. 16:18) and head (Eph. 1:22) of the church, has built many more small congregations than large ones. Small churches, not large ones, are the norm. The congregation in the United States that has more than seventy-five members is above average. A recent report from one church-growth-oriented denomination revealed that one-third of its congregations have under fifty members and one-half have under one hundred.
While the first church in Jerusalem began with three thousand souls and quickly expanded to five thousand, similar results were not forthcoming in Asia. How big were the congregations in Ephesus or Colossae? The visible church of Christ grew immensely, but not all in one place. The size of its congregations varied widely then, as it does today.
That it is the Lord’s decision for congregations to vary in size may be gleaned from several texts. First, in Matthew 25:14–29, we have Jesus’ parable of the distribution of talents. Each servant was given a different amount with which to serve, and each returned with a different increase. We all know pastors who not only preach to their congregations, but also turn their sermons into books for “additional mileage,” and then put those sermons on the radio for an even bigger ministry. This illustrates that Jesus has entrusted different amounts of talents to different servants producing different results. Credit the difference to Jesus!
Second, in Matthew 13:23, Jesus proclaimed that the seed sown on good ground (that is, the Word preached) yields various harvests — thirty, sixty, or a hundredfold. According to Jesus, we should expect varying results from the same seed and the same labor. God, not the preacher, causes the diverse increase. Salvation is of the Lord. He builds His church as He wills.
Third, consider that “there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone” (1 Cor. 12:4–6).
Note that the Holy Spirit has deliberately created a variety in His church — a variety of spiritual gifts, a variety of services, and a variety of activities (“kind of working,” NIV). Does not this divinely determined variation help explain the varying sizes of Jesus’ congregations?
Also, experience tells us that not everyone does well in a large church. Some souls get lost in the crowd, while some do so on purpose. Others do not relish the attention they get in a small church — the natural accountability is too glaring for them. A large church may offer great programs (which, by the way, often bless smaller churches), while most saints feel more needed in a smaller church. A large church has multiple and specialized staff, while in a small church every member can relate to the pastor as to a personal trainer of his soul.
Usually a small church has the most favorable pastor-to-member ratio. In this respect a small church is more like Jesus’ ministry to the twelve or like the average New Testament church. A pastor of a small church can visit every home, know all his people well, and intercede for their most intimate prayer needs.
Finally, what is most important to Jesus in any church? Is it not the combination of biblical proclamation of His Word, faithful administration of His sacraments, as well as loving care and Jesus-like discipline of His people? A good small church can provide all these to Jesus’ sheep, and, in the case of care and discipline, probably more intensively than a good large church.
There isn’t a right and a wrong when it comes to size. Though size is surely affected by our faith versus our sin, in the end it is the Lord Jesus who makes that call. He builds the church as He wills. He distributes His gifts, ministries, and results, and gathers His people in flocks around the earth according to His own wisdom. Large, medium, or small churches are truly not in competition with each other, but are diverse parts of the Lord’s comprehensive, eternal plan for gathering all His people into one visible church — eventually — in glory. So, each pastor and congregation — each according to diverse God-given abilities — responds to Jesus’ Commission, and the results, and the glory, belong to Christ.
Dr. Larry G. Mininger is senior minister at Lake Sherwood Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Orlando, Florida, where he has served for the past thirty-seven years.
By Tim Challies 4/1/2009
Admiral Lord Nelson once remarked that “every sailor is a bachelor when beyond Gibraltar.” This was a statement about anonymity, a rare concept even just a few short generations ago. Nelson knew that once his sailors moved beyond the bounds of the British Empire, beyond society’s systems of morality and accountability, they underwent a transformation. Every man became a bachelor and sought only and always his own pleasure. Those who have read biographies of John Newton will see there a vivid portrayal of a man who was a gentleman at home but who was vulgar and abusive while away. Given only a measure of anonymity he became a whole new
In days past, anonymity was both rare and difficult. People tended to live in close-knit communities where every face was familiar and every action visible to the community. Travel was rare and the majority of people lived a whole lifetime in the same small geographic area. Os Guinness remarks that in the past “those who did right and those who did not do wrong often acted as they did because they knew they were seen by others. Their morality was accountability through visibility.” While anonymity is certainly not a new phenomenon, the degree of anonymity we can and often do enjoy in our society is unparalleled in history.
We need accountability. Left to our own devices, we will soon devise or succumb to all kinds of evil. As Christians we know that we need other believers to hold us accountable to the standards of Scripture. Passages such as Ecclesiastes 4:12 remind us that “a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” The Bible tells us that “iron sharpens iron” (Prov. 27:17) and that we are to “stir up one another to love and good works…encouraging one another” (Heb. 10:24–25). Life is far too difficult and we are far too sinful to live in solitude. We need community. We need accountability. And God has anticipated our need by giving us the local church as the primary means of this accountability.
Our society values anonymity. There are many who feel that anonymity is a right and one that must be guarded and protected. Technophiles will have noticed the influx of tools designed to protect the anonymity of the Internet user. The latest versions of web browsers come with tools designed to erase, with a single click, all traces of what a person has been watching or reading while browsing the web. They provide anonymity by minimizing accountability. Conversely, the software packages developed by Christians to guard the eyes and the heart do the exact opposite — they make public what a person has done. They provide accountability by minimizing anonymity.
Anonymity extends far beyond technology. It extends to the workplace where we may travel weeks out of every year, living life beyond prying eyes. It extends to the home where we watch television and read books and magazines behind closed doors. It extends to the community where we may not even know our next-door neighbors either by name or by face. We live only yards away from people we may never meet. It extends to the church where the congregations grow larger and relationships grow weaker. We are anonymous, impersonal people in a largely anonymous, impersonal world. We live beyond Gibraltar. Guinness does not exaggerate when he writes: “More of us today are more anonymous in more situations than any generation in human history.”
In former days, morality was accountability through visibility. Today many of us prefer to remain invisible and unaccountable. Not too long ago I was an invisible Internet user who valued my anonymity and an invisible church-goer who cared little for closer relationships. I wrote often and my articles and reviews were read by many people, but all the while I was safely removed from the people I wrote for and wrote about. I began to see the effect of this in my writing. It became increasingly abrasive and showed a lack of godly character. But a couple of years ago God was gracious to me in revealing the necessity of avoiding complete anonymity. He helped me understand that accountability is closely tied to visibility and that personal holiness will come not through anonymity but through deep and personal relationships with my brothers and sisters in the local church. And so I have sought to make myself more visible that I may accept correction and rebuke when it is necessary. At the same time, I have renewed my commitment to the One who is always watching and who knows every word I write and every intent of my heart.
We face unique struggles in our increasingly anonymous world. We must commit to making ourselves accountable through visibility. We must commit to purity of heart and commit to only speaking or writing or reading or watching or doing what is honoring to God. And then we must ensure that there are people who know us, who will watch over us, and who will lovingly exhort and correct us when we fail in this commitment. While the British sailors went beyond Gibraltar and heaped contempt on the Empire they represented, we wish to be Christians who are “the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (2 Cor. 2:15).
Tim Challies: I am a Christian, a husband to Aileen and a father to three children aged 10 to 16. I worship and serve as an elder at Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto, Ontario. I am a book reviewer, co-founder of Cruciform Press.
I began my web site in 2002 and have been writing there daily since 2003. It is my place to think out loud and in public while also sharing some of the interesting things I’ve discovered in my online travels.
Tim Challies is founding blogger of Challies.com and a pastor at Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter @Challies. He began his web site in 2002 and has been writing there daily since 2003. It is his place to think out loud and in public while also sharing some of the interesting things he discovers in his online travels.
Tim Challies Books | Go to Books Page
The Word of God in the Hands of Man
By R.C. Sproul 4/1/2009
It was many years ago when my grandmother related to me games that she played as a little girl in the 1880s. One game she mentioned was one that she and her Methodist girlfriends played with their Roman Catholic friends. In a playful jest of the words of the Mass, my grandmother would say, “Tommy and Johnny went down to the river to play dominoes.” Here the word dominoes was a play on the use of the term Domine that occurred so frequently in the Catholic rite of the Mass. The children, of course, were revealing their lack of knowledge of the words of the Mass because they were spoken in Latin.
In a similar vein, those who are interested in the arts of prestidigitation know that all magicians, as they ply their trade, use certain sayings to make their magic come to pass. They will recite certain incantations, such as “abracadabra,” “presto chango,” and perhaps most famous of all, “hocus pocus.” Even today we use “hocus pocus” to describe a type of magical art. It is an incantation used for the magician to perform his magic. But from where does the phrase “hocus pocus” come?
The origin of it is once again borrowed from people’s misunderstanding of the language used in the Roman Catholic Mass. In the words of institution uttered in Latin in the ancient formula, the statement was recited as follows: “hoc est corpus meum.” This phrase is the Latin translation of Jesus’ words at the Last Supper: “This is my body.” But in the Mass to the unskilled ear, the supposed miracle of the transformation of the elements of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ were heard under the rubric of language that sounded like “hocus pocus.” These kinds of derivations are a direct result of people’s being involved in some kind of drama where the words that are spoken remain unknown to them.
In the Middle Ages, the church was committed to performing the Mass in the ancient tongue of Latin. That tongue was understood by educated people, and particularly by the clergy, but it was not intelligible to the laity. As early as the ninth century, questions were raised about the propriety of keeping the words of God obscured from the layperson by being restricted to Latin. The Bible itself was literally chained to the lecterns of the churches, so that it could not fall into the hands of people who were unskilled in the languages. It was not given to the common person to interpret the Bible for himself or to have it read in the common language of the people. It took centuries for the church to get over this struggle, and it provoked issues of heresy and of persecution. Prior to the sixteenth-century Reformation, among English-speaking people, the work of Tyndale and Wycliffe was brought under the censure of the church because these men dared to translate the Bible into a language other than Latin.
In 1521, the Imperial Diet of Worms ended dramatically when Luther, in the presence of the Holy Roman Emperor, refused to recant of his writing and stated to the assembly gathered: “Unless I’m convinced by sacred Scripture or by evident reason, I will not recant. For my conscience is held captive by the Word of God. Here I stand, I can do no other. God help me.” With those dramatic words, the Diet exploded in shouts of protest, while Luther’s friends faked a kidnapping, whisked him away from Worms and secreted him to the Wartburg Castle in Eisenach. There for a full year, Luther, disguised as a monk, worked on his project of translating the New Testament into the German language from the original Greek text. Some regard this work of setting forth the Bible in the vernacular as one of the most important contributions that Luther made to the life of the church.
But it was not received with equanimity everywhere. The great renaissance scholar, Erasmus of Rotterdam, whose motto was ad fontes (“to the sources”), who was known for his mastery of ancient languages, protested against Luther’s presumption to interpret the Bible into the vernacular. Erasmus did have enough respect for Luther to see that Luther was a world-class philologist in his own right. But he chastened Luther for daring to go against the church in translating the Bible into German. He counseled Luther by saying that if the Bible were to be translated into the common tongue and given to the people for their own reading, it would “unloose a floodgate of iniquity.”
Erasmus was convinced that giving the Bible into the hands of the people in their own language would give them a license to turn the Bible into a wax nose to be twisted and shaped and distorted into any inclination or private opinion that the individual could stretch from the Scriptures. Luther affirmed this, that if unskilled people are given the right to read the Scriptures for themselves in their own language, much mischief will occur from it, and people will use the Bible to try to justify the wildest of all possible heresies. On the other hand, Luther was convinced of the perspicuity of Scripture, namely, that its central message of salvation is so clear that even a child can understand it. Luther believed that the salvific words communicated in Scripture are so vitally important that it is worth setting the opportunity for salvation before the people even though some dire consequences might flow from such reading. He responded to Erasmus by saying, “If a floodgate of iniquity be opened, so be it.”
In the wake of the translation of the Bible into the common language came the basic principle of private interpretation. That principle of private interpretation was soundly condemned by the Roman Catholic Church in the fourth session of the Council of Trent in the middle of the sixteenth century. But the die was cast, and since that time, the Bible has been translated into thousands of languages, and attempts are afoot to get the Bible translated into every language that can be found anywhere on the face of the earth. The prophetic concerns of Erasmus in many ways have come true with the vast proliferation of denominations, each calling themselves biblical. Yet at the same time, the gospel of salvation in Christ has been made known abroad throughout the world because the Bible has been given in the vernacular and made available to all people. To be sure, private interpretation does not give a license for private distortion. Anyone who presumes to interpret the Bible for himself must assume with that right the awesome responsibility of interpreting it correctly.
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 | Go to Books Page
The Perils Facing the Evangelical Church
By R.C. Sproul 5/1/2009
When we consider the predicament that the evangelical church of the twenty-first century faces in America, the first thing we need to understand is the very designation “evangelical church” is itself a redundancy. If a church is not evangelical, it is not an authentic church. The redundancy is similar to the language that we hear by which people are described as “born-again Christians.” If a person is born again of the Spirit of God, that person is, to be sure, a Christian. If a person is not regenerated by the Holy Spirit, he may profess to be a Christian, but he is not an authentic Christian. There are many groups that claim to be churches that long ago repudiated the evangel, that is, the gospel. Without the gospel, a gathering of people, though they claim otherwise, cannot be an authentic church.
In the sixteenth century, the term evangelical came into prominence as a description of the Protestant church. In many cases, the terms evangelical and Protestant were used interchangeably. Today, that synonymous use of the adjectives no longer functions with any accuracy. Historic Protestants have forgotten what they were protesting in the sixteenth century. The central protest of the Reformation church was the protest against the eclipse of the gospel that had taken place in the medieval church.
When we turn our attention to the first century, to the churches about which we learn from the biblical record, we know that all of the churches addressed in the New Testament, including the churches in Ephesus, Corinth, Thessalonica, and the seven churches of Revelation, were evangelical churches. They all embraced the biblical gospel. Yet at the same time, these churches were different in their strengths, in their weaknesses, and in their compositions. An evangelical church is not necessarily a monolithic community. There may be unity among evangelical churches but not necessarily uniformity. The distinctions of the seven churches of Revelation are set forth clearly in that book. They manifest different greatnesses and frailties, but they all faced perils. Each confronted the dangers that assaulted the church in the first century. They faced hazards of varying proportions, but there was a common threat to the health of the New Testament church from many sides. Those dangers manifested in the first century are repeated in every age of the church. They certainly loom large at our time in the early years of the twenty-first century.
Among what I see as the three most critical perils the church faces today are, first of all, the loss of biblical truth. When the truth of the gospel is compromised or negotiated, the church ceases to be evangelical. We live in a time of crisis with respect to truth, where many churches see doctrine merely as something that divides. Therefore, they stress relationships over truth. That is a false distinction, as a commitment to truth is a commitment that should manifest itself in vital, living relationships. Relationships can never be a substitute for embracing the truth of God. So the either/or fallacy of doctrine or relationship cannot be maintained under careful biblical scrutiny.
A second widespread peril to the church today is the loss of any sense of discipline. When the church fails to discipline its members for gross and heinous sins, particularly sins of a public nature, that community becomes infected with the immorality of the secular culture. This occurs when the church so desperately wants to be accepted by the pagan culture that it adopts the very morality of the pagan community and imitates it, baptizing it with religious language.
The third crucial peril facing the church today is the loss of faithful worship. There are different styles of worship that can be pleasing to God. However, all worship that is pleasing to God is worship grounded in Spirit and in truth. We can have lively worship, manifesting great interest and excitement, with doctrine and truth eliminated. On the other hand, we can have what some call a dead orthodoxy, where the creedal truths of the historic Christian faith remain central to the worship of the church, but the worship itself does not flow from the heart and lacks spiritual vitality.
Another element that threatens the evangelical church is the ongoing erosion of evangelical faith by the impact of liberal theology. Liberal theology saw its heyday in the nineteenth century and raised its head again with the neo-liberalism that captured the mainline churches of the twentieth century. Yet it is by no means dead. Perhaps the place where liberalism is manifesting itself most dangerously is within the walls of churches that have historically been strongly evangelical. David F. Wells describes the crisis of the twenty-first century church as “vacuous worship.” A vacuous worship is one that is empty of content. It is satisfied with platitudes, pop psychology, and entertainment. Such worship is devoid of the Word of God and of the authentic sacrifice of praise.
Dr. James Montgomery Boice, before his death, lamented his concern that the church was being enticed “to do the Lord’s work in the world’s way.” We try to transfer principles of success drawn from Madison Avenue and from other secular institutions and imitate them in the life of the church. Such a process is deadly.
In every generation, including our own, the same perils to the spiritual strength that Jesus rebuked in the seven churches of Revelation threaten us anew. These include such things as a lack of love, a lack of truth, a compromising spirit with the world, a lukewarm devotion, and a double-minded conviction, to name but a few. There were rebukes and encouragements given to these churches by our Lord that every church in every age must take seriously, examining ourselves to make sure that we are not manifesting the same departures from biblical truths that these churches were. We must be vigilant and diligent if we are to maintain a godly witness in our day.
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 | Go to Books Page
By Don Carson 4/20/2018
David was in deep trouble. The exact circumstances may be obscure to us, as we who live three thousand years later probe the details. But we do know that David was shut up in a besieged city (Ps. 31:21) and felt trapped. He was so threatened that he flirted with despair. And that is when he felt abandoned by God himself: “In my alarm I said, ‘I am cut off from your sight!’” (31:22) Love the LORD, all his saints!
That is the worst despair of all — to feel that God has abandoned you. It was part of Job’s torment. Job felt he could mount a case in his own defense, if only he could find God long enough to argue with him. But the heavens were silent, and the silence multiplied his despair.
We have already reflected on the fact that it was fear of being abandoned by God that kept Jacob wrestling with the unknown man in the darkness (Gen. 32:22-32) and kept Moses pressing God to abandon his threat to remain outside the camp of the rebellious Israelites (Ex. 32 — 34). In a theistic universe, there can be nothing worse than being truly abandoned by God himself. The worst of hell’s torments is that men and women are truly abandoned by God. “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”
Yet the sad reality is that we who bear God’s image oscillate between fearing abandonment by God, and wanting to escape from his presence. The same David who wrote this psalm was not particularly eager to delight in the presence of God when he was lusting after Bathsheba and plotting to murder her husband. Too often we would like God to look the other way when we hanker to thumb our noses at him and insist on following our own paths, and we would like God to demonstrate his presence and his glory to us, and certainly get us out of trouble, when we find ourselves in desperate straits.
What an incalculable blessing that God is better than our fears. He does not owe us succor, relief, or rescue. Even our cries of alarm — “I am cut off from your sight!” — may have more to do with desperate unbelief than with candid pleas for help. But David’s experience may prove an encouragement to us, for he quickly pens two more lines: “Yet you heard my cry for mercy when I called to you for help” (31:22).
The LORD preserves the faithful,
but the proud he pays back in full.
Be strong and take heart,
all you who hope in the LORD. (Ps. 31:23-24)
Love the LORD, all his saints!
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).Don Carson Books | Go to Books Page
Herod And His Servants
By Lydia McGrew
When Herod heard of Jesus and his miracles, the Gospels report that he was rather disconcerted and even worried that John the Baptist might have returned from death. Herod had had John the Baptist executed and may have had a guilty conscience about it.
(Mt 14:1–2) 14 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus, 2 and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” ESV
Matthew’s account of Herod’s perplexity contains a unique detail— that Herod was musing about Jesus’ identity to his servants. In other respects, these verses resemble Mark 6.16, but that verse does not state that Herod was speaking to his servants. 7 Why does Matthew specify that Herod spoke about this to his servants? Even more to the point, how could Matthew know, in the usual course of events, what Herod was saying to his servants?
(Mk 6:16) 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” ESV
The answer is found in an otherwise unrelated passage in the Gospel of Luke.
(Lk 8:1–3) 8 Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means. ESV
This passage is not in any way about Herod or about his comments concerning Jesus. Luke is merely listing those who accompanied Jesus at this point in his ministry. Among these he mentions Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager.
In other words, Luke says that a follower of Jesus (or at any rate the husband of a devout follower of Jesus) was found among the important servants of Herod’s household. It was therefore quite natural that information about Herod’s doings and about his reaction to the stories of Jesus should come back to the community of Jesus’ followers and make it into Matthew’s Gospel. If Herod knew that one of his servants was connected to Jesus through his wife, it would also make sense that he would be discussing this matter with his servants and giving his own superstitious conclusions about Jesus’ true identity.
The indirectness of this coincidence is particularly lovely. Only one part of the puzzle is found in each Gospel, and the connection cannot possibly be the result of design. It is beyond belief that Luke would have inserted this casual reference to Chuza in a list unconnected in any other way with Herod or with the beheading of John, in order to provide a convenient explanation for the detail about Herod’s servants mentioned only in Matthew. This coincidence provides clear evidence of the independence of Matthew and Luke and confirms them both.
Hidden in Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts
Read The Psalms In "1" Year
Psalm 66How Awesome Are Your Deeds
66 To The Choirmaster. A Song. A Psalm.
1 Shout for joy to God, all the earth;
2 sing the glory of his name;
give to him glorious praise!
3 Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
So great is your power that your enemies come cringing to you.
4 All the earth worships you
and sings praises to you;
they sing praises to your name.” Selah
5 Come and see what God has done:
he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of man.
6 He turned the sea into dry land;
they passed through the river on foot.
There did we rejoice in him,
7 who rules by his might forever,
whose eyes keep watch on the nations—
let not the rebellious exalt themselves. Selah
The Institutes of the Christian Religion
Translated by Henry Beveridge
17. On the other hand, when pestilence begins to stalk abroad, or
famine or war, or when any other disaster seems to impend over a
province and people (Esther 4:16), then also it is the duty of pastors
to exhort the Church to fasting, that she may suppliantly deprecate the
Lord's anger. For when he makes danger appear, he declares that he is
prepared and in a manner armed for vengeance. In like manner,
therefore, as persons accused were anciently wont, in order to excite
the commiseration of the judge, to humble themselves suppliantly with
long beard, dishevelled hair, and coarse garments, so when we are
charged before the divine tribunal, to deprecate his severity in humble
raiment is equally for his glory and the public edification, and useful
and salutary to ourselves. And that this was common among the
Israelites we may infer from the words of Joel. For when he says, "Blow
the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly," &c.
(Joel 2:15), he speaks as of things received by common custom. A little
before he had said that the people were to be tried for their
wickedness, and that the day of judgment was at hand, and he had
summoned them as criminals to plead their cause: then he exclaims that
they should hasten to sackcloth and ashes, to weeping and fasting; that
is, humble themselves before God with external manifestations. The
sackcloth and ashes, indeed, were perhaps more suitable for those
times, but the assembly, and weeping and fasting, and the like,
undoubtedly belong, in an equal degree, to our age, whenever the
condition of our affairs so requires. For seeing it is a holy exercise
both for men to humble themselves, and confess their humility, why
should we in similar necessity use this less than did those of old? We
read not only that the Israelitish Church, formed and constituted by
the word of God, fasted in token of sadness, but the Ninevites also,
whose only teaching had been the preaching of Jonah.  Why,
therefore, should not we do the same? But it is an external ceremony,
which, like other ceremonies, terminated in Christ. Nay, in the present
day it is an admirable help to believers, as it always was, and a
useful admonition to arouse them, lest by too great security and sloth
they provoke the Lord more and more when they are chastened by his rod.
Accordingly, when our Saviour excuses his apostles for not fasting, he
does not say that fasting was abrogated, but reserves it for calamitous
times, and conjoins it with mourning. "The days will come when the
bridegroom shall be taken from them" (Mt. 9:35; Luke 5:34).
18. But that there maybe no error in the name, let us define what fasting is; for we do not understand by it simply a restrained and sparing use of food, but something else. The life of the pious should be tempered with frugality and sobriety, so as to exhibit, as much as may be, a kind of fasting during the whole course of life. But there is another temporary fast, when we retrench somewhat from our accustomed mode of living, either for one day or a certain period, and prescribe to ourselves a stricter and severer restraint in the use of that ordinary food. This consists in three things--viz. the time, the quality of food, and the sparing use of it. By the time I mean, that while fasting we are to perform those actions for the sake of which the fast is instituted. For example, when a man fasts because of solemn prayer, he should engage in it without having taken food. The quality consists in putting all luxury aside, and, being contented with common and meaner food, so as not to excite our palate by dainties. In regard to quantity, we must eat more lightly and sparingly, only for necessity and not for pleasure.
19. But the first thing always to be avoided is, the encroachment of superstition, as formerly happened, to the great injury of the Church. It would have been much better to have had no fasting at all, than have it carefully observed, but at the same time corrupted by false and pernicious opinions, into which the world is ever and anon falling, unless pastors obviate them by the greatest fidelity and prudence. The first thing is constantly to urge the injunction of Joel, "Rend your heart, and not your garments" (Joel 2:13); that is, to remind the people that fasting in itself is not of great value in the sight of God, unless accompanied with internal affection of the heart, true dissatisfaction with sin and with one's self, true humiliation, and true grief, from the fear of God; nay, that fasting is useful for no other reason than because it is added to these as an inferior help. There is nothing which God more abominates than when men endeavour to cloak themselves by substituting signs and external appearance for integrity of heart. Accordingly, Isaiah inveighs most bitterly against the hypocrisy of the Jews, in thinking that they had satisfied God when they had merely fasted, whatever might be the impiety and impure thoughts which they cherished in their hearts. "Is it such a fast that I have chosen?" (Isa. 58:5) See also what follows. The fast of hypocrites is, therefore, not only useless and superfluous fatigue, but the greatest abomination. Another evil akin to this, and greatly to be avoided, is, to regard fasting as a meritorious work and species of divine worship. For seeing it is a thing which is in itself indifferent, and has no importance except on account of those ends to which it ought to have respect, it is a most pernicious superstition to confound it with the works enjoined by God, and which are necessary in themselves without reference to anything else. Such was anciently the dream of the Manichees, in refuting whom Augustine clearly shows,  that fasting is to be estimated entirely by those ends which I have mentioned, and cannot be approved by God, unless in so far as it refers to them. Another error, not indeed so impious, but perilous, is to exact it with greater strictness and severity as one of the principal duties, and extol it with such extravagant encomiums as to make men imagine that they have done something admirable when they have fasted. In this respect I dare not entirely excuse ancient writers  from having sown some seeds of superstition, and given occasion to the tyranny which afterwards arose. We sometimes meet with sound and prudent sentiments on fasting, but we also ever and anon meet with extravagant praises, lauding it as one of the cardinal virtues.
20. Then the superstitious observance of Lent had everywhere prevailed: for both the vulgar imagined that they thereby perform some excellent service to God, and pastors commended it as a holy imitation of Christ; though it is plain that Christ did not fast to set an example to others, but, by thus commencing the preaching of the gospel, meant to prove that his doctrine was not of men, but had come from heaven. And it is strange how men of acute judgment could fall into this gross delusion, which so many clear reasons refute: for Christ did not fast repeatedly (which he must have done had he meant to lay down a law for an anniversary fast), but once only, when preparing for the promulgation of the gospel. Nor does he fast after the manner of men, as he would have done had he meant to invite men to imitation; he rather gives an example, by which he may raise all to admire rather than study to imitate him. In short, the nature of his fast is not different from that which Moses observed when he received the law at the hand of the Lord (Exod. 24:18; 34:28). For, seeing that that miracle was performed in Moses to establish the law, it behoved not to be omitted in Christ, lest the gospel should seem inferior to the law. But from that day, it never occurred to any one, under pretence of imitating Moses, to set up a similar form of fast among the Israelites. Nor did any of the holy prophets and fathers follow it, though they had inclination and zeal enough for all pious exercises; for though it is said of Elijah that he passed forty days without meat and drink (1 Kings 19:8), this was merely in order that the people might recognise that he was raised up to maintain the law, from which almost the whole of Israel had revolted. It was therefore merely false zeal, replete with superstition, which set up a fast under the title and pretext of imitating Christ; although there was then a strange diversity in the mode of the fast, as is related by Cassiodorus in the ninth book of the History of Socrates: "The Romans," says he, "had only three weeks, but their fast was continuous, except on the Lord's day and the Sabbath. The Greeks and Illyrians had, some six, others seven, but the fast was at intervals. Nor did they differ less in the kind of food: some used only bread and water, others added vegetables; others had no objection to fish and fowls; others made no difference in their food." Augustine also makes mention of this difference in his latter epistle to Januarius.
21. Worse times followed. To the absurd zeal of the vulgar were added rudeness and ignorance in the bishops, lust of power, and tyrannical rigour. Impious laws were passed, binding the conscience in deadly chains. The eating of flesh was forbidden, as if a man were contaminated by it. Sacrilegious opinions were added, one after another, until all became an abyss of error. And that no kind of depravity might be omitted, they began, under a most absurd pretence of abstinence, to make a mock of God;   for in the most exquisite delicacies they seek the praise of fasting: no dainties now suffice; never was there greater abundance or variety or savouriness of food. In this splendid display they think that they serve God. I do not mention that at no time do those who would be thought the holiest of them wallow more foully. In short, the highest worship of God is to abstain from flesh, and, with this reservation, to indulge in delicacies of every kind. On the other hand, it is the greatest impiety, impiety scarcely to be expiated by death, for any one to taste the smallest portion of bacon or rancid flesh with his bread. Jerome, writing to Nepotian, relates, that even in his day there were some who mocked God with such follies: those who would not even put oil in their food caused the greatest delicacies to be procured from every quarter; nay, that they might do violence to nature, abstained from drinking water, and caused sweet and costly potions to be made for them, which they drank, not out of a cup, but a shell. What was then the fault of a few is now common among all the rich: they do not fast for any other purpose than to feast more richly and luxuriously. But I am unwilling to waste many words on a subject as to which there can be no doubt. All I say is, that, as well in fasts as in all other parts of discipline, the Papists are so far from having anything right, anything sincere, anything duly framed and ordered, that they have no occasion to plume themselves as if anything was left them that is worthy of praise.
22. We come now to the second part of discipline, which relates specially to the clergy. It is contained in the canons, which the ancient bishops framed for themselves and their order: for instance, let no clergyman spend his time in hunting, in gaming, or in feasting; let none engage in usury or in trade; let none be present at lascivious dances, and the like. Penalties also were added to give a sanction to the authority of the canons, that none might violate them with impunity. With this view, each bishop was intrusted with the superintendence of his own clergy, that he might govern them according to the canons, and keep them to their duty. For this purpose, certain annual visitations and synods were appointed, that if any one was negligent in his office he might be admonished; if any one sinned, he might be punished according to his fault. The bishops also had their provincial synods once, anciently twice, a-year, by which they were tried, if they had done anything contrary to their duty. For if any bishop had been too harsh or violent with his clergy, there was an appeal to the synod, though only one individual complained. The severest punishment was deposition from office, and exclusion, for a time, from communion. But as this was the uniform arrangement, no synod rose without fixing the time and place of the next meeting. To call a universal council belonged to the emperor alone, as all the ancient summonings testify. As long as this strictness was in force, the clergy demanded no more in word from the people than they performed in act and by example; nay, they were more strict against themselves than the vulgar; and, indeed, it is becoming that the people should be ruled by a kindlier, and, if I may so speak, laxer discipline; that the clergy should be stricter in their censures, and less indulgent to themselves than to others. How this whole procedure became obsolete it is needless to relate, since, in the present day, nothing can be imagined more lawless and dissolute than this order, whose licentiousness is so extreme that the whole world is crying out. I admit that, in order not to seem to have lost all sight of antiquity, they, by certain shadows, deceive the eyes of the simple; but these no more resemble ancient customs than the mimicry of an ape resembles what men do by reason and counsel. There is a memorable passage in Xenophon, in which he mentions, that when the Persians had shamefully degenerated from the customs of their ancestors, and had fallen away from an austere mode of life to luxury and effeminacy, they still, to hide the disgrace, were sedulously observant of ancient rites (Cyrop. Lib. 8). For while, in the time of Cyrus, sobriety and temperance so flourished that no Persian required to wipe his nose, and it was even deemed disgraceful to do so, it remained with their posterity, as a point of religion, not to remove the mucus from the nostril, though they were allowed to nourish within, even to putridity, those fetid humours which they had contracted by gluttony. In like manner, according to the ancient custom, it was unlawful to use cups at table; but it was quite tolerable to swallow wine so as to make it necessary to be carried off drunk. It was enjoined to use only one meal a-day: this these good successors did not abrograte, but they continued their surfeit from mid-day to midnight. To finish the day's march, fasting, as the law enjoined it, was the uniform custom; but in order to avoid lassitude, the allowed and usual custom was to limit the march to two hours. As often as the degenerate Papists obtrude their rules that they may show their resemblance to the holy fathers, this example will serve to expose their ridiculous imitation. Indeed, no painter could paint them more to the life.
Christian Classics Ethereal Library / Public Domain
Institutes of the Christian Religion
Lincoln City 6/2/18
By Richard S. Adams 6/16/2018
I suppose Lily and I are like many others in that, as often as we can, we make the ninety-minute drive to Lincoln City. Visiting family and friends from California, Texas and Washington often come here with us. Pictures document our many trips and places in our heart. There is something special about the smell of the sea, the feel of the ocean spray and the sand that clings to your shoes as if asking you to stay. Surely all of us would love to live here.
This afternoon we could see a large circle of people, young and old, gathered close together. Lily and I speculated what these thirty or forty people were doing, but as we passed them the smell and mist of the ocean were momentarily interrupted by rose petals. The delicate feel and scent lasted briefly. It was gone, just like the sandcastles we build on the beach, in our minds and in our hearts.
I suppose the presence of little children as well as adults and elderly meant this was a loved family member. I can imagine the children’s questions, but I wonder, even now, at the answers they were given.
Did this person know the Lord? What about those left behind? I admit having your ashes scattered in the ocean is not an unpleasant thought, especially where the ocean meets the land. In the somewhat windy beach air the brief interruption of rose petals on our skin and its rose fragrance was sweet. It touched something within us, a feeling difficult to describe, difficult to hold on to, but special.
Now, a couple of weeks later, I find that experience still comes to mind when I am quiet. We can only speculate on the effect our life has on others, but as I consider that thought I realize that kind of thinking is vanity.
It is enough to live the best we can and pray God will enable us to love God with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind and with all our strength, because we cannot do it without God’s enabling. Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us that God has made everything beautiful in its time and he has put eternity in our hearts. Revelation 4:11 tells us that God created all things and by God’s will all things exist. So then, we are here for God’s good pleasure.
I hope this person is a sweet fragrance to God. I love the beach, but to be with the Lord is far better.
Devotionals, notes, poetry and more
1/1/2012 | The Beginning at the End
Of all the prayers in the Bible, there is one I am drawn to more often than any other. It is perhaps the shortest prayer in the Bible and is found at the end of the book of Revelation, where the Apostle John prays, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20). This little prayer is one we can pray not only on bad days in the midst of life’s trials and sorrows but on good days in the midst of life’s joys and celebrations. It is a prayer motivated by our passion to see our Lord face to face — that He would consummate His kingdom and His marriage to His Bride, bring us into the promised land of the new heavens and earth, wipe every tear from our eyes, put death to death, and make us unable to sin ever again and ever able to worship and rejoice always and forever.
Our prayer for Jesus’ return isn’t foremost a prayer for the end of the world but a prayer for the culmination of world history. In fact, Jesus’ return isn’t really the end but the beginning — the beginning of life as it was meant to be. It is not just life forever as we know it but an entirely new way of life with no possibility of sin and no threat of death — life that is not merely an escape from the grave, nor merely a return to the garden, but our transformation and our transferal into glory in the joyful presence of Jesus. This is the unimaginable, glorious promise of Scripture from beginning to end — from the first gospel promise of victory in Genesis 3:15 to the promise of the angels at Jesus’ ascension in Acts 1:11.
The book of Revelation is the book of John’s apocalypse (his vision or revelation of Jesus Christ), and although we perhaps first think of angels, animals, lampstands, creatures, beasts, rewards, and tribulations when we think of the book of Revelation, we would do well to think first of the perfect, slain, risen, and victorious Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, so that we might fall down before his face, coram Deo, and sing together with the twenty-four elders: “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:9–10).
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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)
by Bill Federer
The War of 1812 began on this day, June 18th. The British had captured American ships and enslaved sailors. They incited Indians to capture Fort Mims, massacring 500 men, women and children. They captured the Capitol, burnt the White House, bombarded Fort McHenry and attacked New Orleans. Outraged, many volunteered for the Army, including Davy Crockett. In his declaration of war, President James Madison stated: “I… exhort all the… people of the United States… as they feel the wrongs… forced on them… [to] consult the best means under… Divine Providence of abridging its calamities.”
Compiled by Richard S. Adams
God - the John Doe of philosophy and religion.
--- Elbert Hubbard
The Notebook of Elbert Hubbard: Mottos, epigrams, short essays, passages, orphic sayings and preachments : coined from a life of love, laughter and work
For the most part, the people we serve in our congregations don’t look like Josephs, Esthers, or Davids, nor do we; but the same God who glorified himself in the lives of ‘ordinary people’ in ancient days will glorify himself in our lives today if we will trust him.
--- Warren Wiersbe
10 Power Principles for Christian Service
What does this conception of the law reveal? Evidently this: the law has become separated from God and has become man’s real authority. It no longer leads to a meeting with God, but rather frustrates it. Correspondingly man has retreated behind his deeds and achievements - as well as behind his guilt. God is concealed behind the law and man behind his achievements and works. Law and performance are the two sides of the protecting wall, behind which man takes up his own position and asserts himself before God.
--- G. Bornkamm
Jesus of Nazareth
Listening can be a greater service than speaking. Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he, who can no longer listen to his brother, will soon be no longer listening to God, either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God, too. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life and in the end there is nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words.
--- Dietrich Bonhoeffer ASIN: B00IGYN6QC
... from here, there and everywhere
When we come to the Scriptures as a part of our conscious strategy to cooperate with God for the full redemption of our life, we must desire that his revealed will should be true for us. Next, we should begin with those parts of Scripture with which we have some familiarity, such as Psalm 23, the Lord’s Prayer, the Sermon on the Mount, 1 Corinthians 13 or Romans 8.
You may think that this is not a big beginning. But keep in mind that your aim is not to become a scholar or to impress others with your knowledge of the Bible—a dreadful trap for so many fellowships aiming to be biblical. That aim will only cultivate pride and lay a foundation for the petty, quarrelsome spirit so regrettably, yet so commonly, observed in those outwardly identified as the most serious students of the Scriptures.
It may help to remember these words of Thomas à Kempis:
"Of what use is it to discourse learnedly on the Trinity, if you lack humility and therefore displease the Trinity? Lofty words do not make a man just or holy; but a good life makes him dear to God. I would far rather feel contrition than be able to define it. If you knew the whole Bible by heart, and all the teachings of the philosophers, how would this help you without the grace and love of God?" The Imitation of Christ (Dover Thrift Editions)
Your aim must be only to nourish your soul on God’s word to you. Go first to those parts of the Bible you already know, therefore, and count on your later growth and study to lead you to other parts that will be useful.
Do not try to read a great deal at once. As Madame Guyon wisely counsels, “If you read quickly, it will benefit you little. You will be like a bee that merely skims the surface of a flower. Instead, in this new way of reading with prayer, you must become as the bee who penetrates into the depths of the flower. You plunge deeply within to remove its deepest nectar.” Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ (Library of Spiritual Classics, Volume 2)
You may have been told that it is good to read the Bible through every year and that you can ensure this will happen by reading so many verses per day from the Old and New Testaments. If you do this you may enjoy the reputation of one who reads the Bible through each year, and you may congratulate yourself on it. But will you become more like Christ and more filled with the life of God? It is a proven fact that many who read the Bible in this way, as if they were taking medicine or exercising on a schedule, do not advance spiritually. It is better in one year to have ten good verses transferred into the substance of our lives than to have every word of the Bible flash before our eyes. Remember that “the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor 3:6). We read to open ourselves to the Spirit.
Come to your chosen passage as to a place where you will have a holy meeting with God. Read a small part of the passage and dwell on it, praying for the assistance of God’s Spirit in bringing fully before your mind and into your life the realities expressed.
Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God
Isaac Watts, pub.ca. 1721
Am I a soldier of the cross,
A follow’r of the Lamb?
And shall I fear to own His cause,
Or blush to speak His name?
Must I be carried to the skies
On flow’ry beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize,
And sailed through bloody seas?
Are there no foes for me to face?
Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend to grace,
To help me on to God?
Sure I must fight if I would reign;
Increase my courage, Lord;
I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain,
Supported by Thy Word.
Thy saints in all this glorious war
Shall conquer, though they die;
They see the triumph from afar,
By faith’s discerning eye.
When that illustrious day shall rise,
And all Thy armies shine
In robes of vict’ry through the skies,
The glory shall be Thine.
PART II / The Second Verse
Maimonides on “You Shall Love”
The average man or woman is expected to observe all the actional commandments—the Halakha—in all their details. Performing these prescribed actions, in addition to comprehending the otherwise profound philosophical ideas concerning God presented in a simple manner by the Torah, is enough to give this average person the wherewithal to conduct his or her life in an orderly, moral, and civilized manner and with an awareness of the basic ideas that characterize Judaism. The mitzvot will guide such a person onto the right path, consistent with his or her intellectual capacity. The elite, however, whose curiosity and intellectual ability raise them above the rest of their peers, are expected to strive for a far higher standard, beyond the limits set by the Torah for the others. Indeed, such a person must aspire to understand the most refined conceptions of the Deity and His attributes. (12)
(12) The elite, however, must continue to abide by the actional commandments along with ordinary people; their higher aspirations and deeper understanding are not a dispensation to do away with the obligations that devolve upon all other Jews. Everything in the life and writings of Maimonides rejects the notion, sometimes proposed, that the elite are beyond the law.
In Sefer ha-Mitzvot, which—as its very name indicates—deals with an enumeration of the commandments, Maimonides is writing for “ordinary” Jews who wish to observe what is required of them and what is within their ability to understand. The very mitzvot that connect such people to the service of God—the behavioral commandments together with the Torah’s summary of God’s major attributes—constitute the source of their love for God. And to the extent that their ability permits, they may also draw inspiration from Nature and its reflection of the imponderable wisdom of the Creator. (13) But their primary source for religious inspiration remains—the commandments and, of course, the Torah of which they form a part.
(13) The study of Nature (which is the prerequisite for the intuitive reactions of love and fear, as mentioned above) is far less esoteric than philosophical speculation. The Talmud requires one who is capable of studying geometry and astronomy to do so, and “one who knows how to calculate the cycles and planetary courses but does not do so, of him Scripture says,” citing Isa. 5:12, “but they regard not the work of the Lord, nor have they considered the work of His hands” (Shabbat 75a). We find no direct talmudic encouragement of the study of philosophy as such. Maimonides (who asserts that his interpretation of a talmudic text is warrant for his view on the study of metaphysics; see below) raises philosophy to the highest rung in the religious life, higher than that of the natural sciences. Thus, after introducing chapter 2 of the “Laws of the Foundations of the Torah” by stating the source of love and fear, Maimonides undertakes to teach the reader about matter and form, the angels, the nature of divine knowledge, divine unity, etc. All this, he says (2:11) is included in the term maaseh merkavah, the highly esoteric study of Ezekiel’s “divine chariot.” The next two chapters deal with astronomy and physics. “All these matters are only a drop in the bucket and deep, but not as profound as [the matters taken up in] the first two chapters.” The latter two chapters are referred to as maaseh bereshit, literally, the acts of genesis, which, while they are not popular fare, are not as recondite and restricted as is the study of maaseh merkavah (4:10, 11). Hence, the study of Nature is available, even required, of those who have the talent for it, but not for all others, while the study of philosophy is clearly reserved for those who have both the aptitude and the spiritual preparation for it. See too R. Isaac Simḥa Hurewitz, Yad Levi (Commentary to Maimonides’ Sefer ha-Mitzvot), Shoresh 1, no. 40 (Jerusalem: n.p., 1927), pp. 18a, b.
However, the Mishneh Torah seems to contradict our thesis. As Maimonides’ principal halakhic work, it is meant for all Jews equally. Hence here he ought to restrict his discussion of the source of love solely to Torah and mitzvot, omitting the contemplation of the cosmos, which requires a capacity for metaphysical speculation. Yet in two places in this work that Maimonides does discuss love and fear, the context suggests that he is addressing only an elite segment of the people, not all of them.
And so, in the “Laws of the Foundations of the Torah,” although his stated goal is to impart, in non-technical terms and in a manner accessible to the layman, the theological foundations of Judaism, we see that the subject matter, though simplified for the masses, remains intrinsically so difficult and so conceptually demanding that even in its simplified form it constitutes a formidable intellectual challenge. Maimonides acknowledges this fact when he maintains that this material is a key to understanding the divine governance of the universe and that it forms the essential content of the maaseh merkavah—the exegesis of Ezekiel’s vision of the divine chariot, which the Sages declared an esoteric study, in contrast to halakhic discourse, which they deemed accessible to all, “young and old, men and women.” It is therefore logical that Maimonides identifies the contemplation of Nature as inspiring the intuition that leads to both love and fear. Indeed, since the context of these first chapters of the “Laws of the Foundations of the Torah” concerns matters scientific and metaphysical, it stands to reason that Maimonides focuses here on Nature as the source of love and fear of God rather than the commandments and the Torah. (17)
(17) See the commentary to Maimonides’ Sefer ha-Mitzvot by R. Ḥananiah b. Menaḥem, Kin’at Soferim (Livorno: n.p., 1740), Positive Commandment 3.
Now let us turn to a passage in Hilkhot Teshuvah, the “Laws of Repentance,” where the context shows that Maimonides is here using an alternative definition of fear—the conventional as opposed to his more sophisticated version as presented at the beginning of the “Laws of the Foundations of the Torah.” Chapter 10 of the “Laws of Repentance” is devoted to the distinction between those who observe the law for its own sake and those who do so for ulterior motives—such as the desire for reward or the fear of punishment. The latter—which includes “the ignorant, women, and children”—act out of fear, which, of course, is a lower form of religious devotion, whereas the former do so out of love:
What is the proper kind of love?—when one loves God with very powerful, great, and overflowing love such that his soul is bound up in the love for God, and he finds himself constantly thinking about it as if he were love-sick [for a woman] such that his mind is never distracted from loving and thinking about her constantly, whether sitting or standing, whether eating or drinking. (Hilkhot Teshuvah, 10:3)
It is well known that the love for the Holy One does not become bound up with the heart of man until he thinks about it constantly and properly and abandons everything in the world except for it; as we were commanded, “with all your heart and with all your soul.” One loves the Holy One only with the mind, thus knowing Him; for love is in accordance with knowledge: if little [knowledge] then little [love], if much [knowledge] then much [love]. Therefore must a person dedicate himself to understand and comprehend the [branches of] wisdom and learning that inform him about his Creator according to his capacity to understand and attain. (Ibid., 10:6))
This form of love goes beyond fear as the latter was described in the “Laws of the Foundations of the Torah”; it operates on a higher level—and, thus, only comes to a person who is prepared “to understand and comprehend the [branches] of wisdom and learning,” Maimonides’ terms for natural science and metaphysical thinking.
And, of course, in the Guide, his often esoteric philosophical magnum opus, we expect to find a description of a higher standard intended for the elite, which we most certainly do. So the apparent contradiction within Maimonides’ thought dissolves under close scrutiny.
The Shema: Spirituality and Law in Judaism
Thanks to Meir Yona
The Murder Of Aristobulus And Hyrcanus, The High Priests, As Also Of Mariamne The Queen.
1. However, fortune was avenged on Herod in his external great successes, by raising him up domestical troubles; and he began to have wild disorders in his family, on account of his wife, of whom he was so very fond. For when he came to the government, he sent away her whom he had before married when he was a private person, and who was born at Jerusalem, whose name was Doris, and married Mariamne, the daughter of Alexander, the son of Aristobulus; on whose account disturbances arose in his family, and that in part very soon, but chiefly after his return from Rome. For, first of all, he expelled Antipater the son of Doris, for the sake of his sons by Mariamne, out of the city, and permitted him to come thither at no other times than at the festivals. After this he slew his wife's grandfather, Hyrcanus, when he was returned out of Parthin to him, under this pretense, that he suspected him of plotting against him. Now this Hyrcanus had been carried captive to Barzapharnes, when he overran Syria; but those of his own country beyond Euphrates were desirous he would stay with them, and this out of the commiseration they had for his condition; and had he complied with their desires, when they exhorted him not to go over the river to Herod, he had not perished: but the marriage of his granddaughter [to Herod] was his temptation; for as he relied upon him, and was over-fond of his own country, he came back to it. Herod's provocation was this,—not that Hyrcanus made any attempt to gain the kingdom, but that it was fitter for him to be their king than for Herod.
2. Now of the five children which Herod had by Mariamne, two of them were daughters, and three were sons; and the youngest of these sons was educated at Rome, and there died; but the two eldest he treated as those of royal blood, on account of the nobility of their mother, and because they were not born till he was king. But then what was stronger than all this was the love that he bare to Mariamne, and which inflamed him every day to a great degree, and so far conspired with the other motives, that he felt no other troubles, on account of her he loved so entirely. But Mariamne's hatred to him was not inferior to his love to her. She had indeed but too just a cause of indignation from what he had done, while her boldness proceeded from his affection to her; so she openly reproached him with what he had done to her grandfather Hyrcanus, and to her brother Aristobulus; for he had not spared this Aristobulus, though he were but a child; for when he had given him the high priesthood at the age of seventeen, he slew him quickly after he had conferred that dignity upon him; but when Aristobulus had put on the holy vestments, and had approached to the altar at a festival, the multitude, in great crowds, fell into tears; whereupon the child was sent by night to Jericho, and was there dipped by the Galls, at Herod's command, in a pool till he was drowned.
3. For these reasons Mariamne reproached Herod, and his sister and mother, after a most contumelious manner, while he was dumb on account of his affection for her; yet had the women great indignation at her, and raised a calumny against her, that she was false to his bed; which thing they thought most likely to move Herod to anger. They also contrived to have many other circumstances believed, in order to make the thing more credible, and accused her of having sent her picture into Egypt to Antony, and that her lust was so extravagant, as to have thus showed herself, though she was absent, to a man that ran mad after women, and to a man that had it in his power to use violence to her. This charge fell like a thunderbolt upon Herod, and put him into disorder; and that especially, because his love to her occasioned him to be jealous, and because he considered with himself that Cleopatra was a shrewd woman, and that on her account Lysanias the king was taken off, as well as Malichus the Arabian; for his fear did not only extend to the dissolving of his marriage, but to the danger of his life.
4. When therefore he was about to take a journey abroad, he committed his wife to Joseph, his sister Salome's husband, as to one who would be faithful to him, and bare him good-will on account of their kindred; he also gave him a secret injunction, that if Antony slew him, he should slay her. But Joseph, without any ill design, and only in order to demonstrate the king's love to his wife, how he could not bear to think of being separated from her, even by death itself, discovered this grand secret to her; upon which, when Herod was come back, and as they talked together, and he confirmed his love to her by many oaths, and assured her that he had never such an affection for any other woman as he had for her—"Yes," says she, "thou didst, to be sure, demonstrate thy love to me by the injunctions thou gavest Joseph, when thou commandedst him to kill me."
5. When he heard that this grand secret was discovered, he was like a distracted man, and said that Joseph would never have disclosed that injunction of his, unless he had debauched her. His passion also made him stark mad, and leaping out of his bed, he ran about the palace after a wild manner; at which time his sister Salome took the opportunity also to blast her reputation, and confirmed his suspicion about Joseph; whereupon, out of his ungovernable jealousy and rage, he commanded both of them to be slain immediately; but as soon as ever his passion was over, he repented of what he had done, and as soon as his anger was worn off, his affections were kindled again. And indeed the flame of his desires for her was so ardent, that he could not think she was dead, but would appear, under his disorders, to speak to her as if she were still alive, till he were better instructed by time, when his grief and trouble, now she was dead, appeared as great as his affection had been for her while she was living.
The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Wars of the Jews or History of the Destruction of Jerusalem, by Flavius Josephus Translator: William Whiston
The War of the Jews: The History of the Destruction of Jerusalem (complete edition, 7 books)
by D.H. Stern
if you try to save him from it, you make things worse.
20 Listen to advice, and accept discipline,
so that in the end you will be wise.
Complete Jewish Bible : An English Version of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and B'Rit Hadashah (New Testament)
A Daily Devotional by Oswald Chambers
Don’t think now, take the road
And Peter … walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid.
--- Matthew 14:29–30.
The wind was actually boisterous, the waves were actually high, but Peter did not see them at first. He did not reckon with them, he simply recognized his Lord, and stepped out in recognition of Him and walked on the water. Then he began to reckon with the actual things, and down he went instantly. Why could not our Lord have enabled him to walk at the bottom of the waves as well as on the top of them? Neither could be done saving by recognition of the Lord Jesus.
We step right out on God over some things, then self-consideration enters in and down we go. If you are recognizing your Lord, you have no business with where He engineers your circumstances. The actual things are, but immediately you look at them you are overwhelmed, you cannot recognize Jesus, and the rebuke comes: “Wherefore didst thou doubt?” Let actual circumstances be what they may, keep recognizing Jesus, maintain complete reliance on Him.
If you debate for a second when God has spoken, it is all up. Never begin to say—‘Well, I wonder if He did speak?’ Be reckless immediately, fling it all out on Him. You do not know when His voice will come, but whenever the realization of God comes in the faintest way imaginable, recklessly abandon. It is only by abandon that you recognize Him. You will only realize His voice more clearly by recklessness.
My Utmost for His Highest
the Poetry of RS Thomas
To A Young Poet
For the first twenty years you are still growing
Bodily that is: as a poet, of course,
You are not born yet. It's the next ten
You cut your teeth on to emerge smirking
For your brash courtship of the muse.
You will take seriously those first affairs
With young poems, but no attachments
Formed then but come to shame you,
When love has changed to a grave service
Of a cold queen.
From forty on
You learn from the sharp cuts and jags
Of poems that have come to pieces
In your crude hands how to assemble
With more skill the arbitrary parts
Of ode or sonnet, while time fosters
A new impulse to conceal your wounds
From her and from a bold public,
Given to pry.
You are old now
As years reckon, but in that slower
World of the poet you are just coming
To sad manhood, knowing the smile
On her proud face is not for you.
Here is a need for wine and a need for vinegar.
BIBLE TEXT / Genesis 6:1–2 - When men began to increase on earth and daughters were born to them, the divine beings saw how beautiful the daughters of men were and took wives from among those that pleased them.
MIDRASH TEXT / Genesis Rabbah 26, 4 / When men began. Rabbi Simon said, “In three places it uses this language [הֵחֵל/hey-ḥale, “began”] to indicate rebellion, ‘It was then that men began to invoke the Lord by name’
(Genesis 4:26); ‘When men began to increase’ (6:1); and ‘Cush also begot Nimrod, who began to be the first man of might on earth’ ” (10:8, authors’ translation). An objection was raised: Is it not written “[If, as one people with one language for all,] this is how they have begun to act …”? He [Rabbi Simon] said to them, “He [God] smacked Nimrod on the head and said to them [the generation of the tower of Babel], ‘He is the one who incited them against me!’ ”
To increase on earth. They used to spill their seed on the trees and stones, and because they were steeped in lust, He gave them many women, as it is written, “When men began to increase on earth and daughters were born to them.”
The wife of Rabbi Shimon son of Rabbi bore a daughter. Rabbi Ḥiyya the Great saw him. He said to him, “The Holy One, praised is He, has began in bless you!” He [Rabbi Shimon] said to him, “From where do you know this?” He said, “As it is written, ‘When men began to increase on the earth and daughters were born to them.’ ” He [Rabbi Shimon] went to his father, who said to him, “Did the Babylonian [Rabbi Ḥiyya] offer you congratulations?” He [Rabbi Shimon] said, “Yes and this is what he said …” He [Rabbi] said to him, “Even though there is a need for wine and a need for vinegar, the need for wine is greater than that for vinegar. There is a need for wheat and a need for barley; the need for wheat is greater than that for barley. When a man marries off his daughter and incurs a lot of expenses, he says to her, ‘May there not be for you [a reason to] return here!’ ”
CONTEXT / The Hebrew word הֵחֵל/hey-ḥale means “to begin.” Based upon its use in three contexts, the Rabbis see it as meaning not just “to start” but “to rebel—by beginning to deviate from precedent.” Humankind “began to rebel” by engaging in three types of sins: idolatry (referring to their idols as God); sexual immorality (through wanton promiscuity); and violence (Nimrod—whose name contains the same letters as the word מֶרֶד/mered, “rebellion”—is seen as a hunter and a man of war).
The phrase “to increase” implies sexual activity. The words “on earth” are interpreted literally; men were ejaculating onto the ground. This sentence provided the Rabbis with the opportunity to state that at this early moment in history, men were sexually out of control. Their desires and lust were unchecked and led them to seek release and gratification at any time and in any place. The Bible then speaks of the “daughters of men” who were taken as wives. The Midrash understands this as the “remedy” to the “disease.” Women and marriage will help to channel male sexuality into a positive, socially accepted path.
This is followed by two stories that open the discussion to the relative merits of men and women, or more precisely, boys and girls. The wife of Rabbi Shimon (son of “Rabbi,” Rabbi Yehudah ha-Nasi) gives birth to a girl. Rabbi Ḥiyya congratulates the father on having a daughter and tells him that now God has begun to bless him. (Note that the idea of “beginnings” ties back to the first paragraph of the Midrash!) However, Rabbi Shimon’s father, Rabbi Yehudah ha-Nasi, isn’t as enthusiastic as Rabbi Ḥiyya (“the Babylonian,” from his birthplace) about the worth of girls. In his pointed analogy, Rabbi grudgingly accepts the necessity of females, but likens them to vinegar, or barley, as opposed to the more desired wine or wheat. Daughters, apparently for economic reasons among others, were viewed as a burden by many men. (The cost of rearing a daughter and marrying her off was great. And then, her work potential was transferred from her own family to her husband’s.)
Searching for Meaning in Midrash: Lessons for Everyday Living
W. W. Wiersbe
"Expecting the day of the Lord
"Joel’s message to Judah (and to us) is reaching its conclusion. He has described the immediate “Day of the Lord,” the terrible plague of the locusts. This led to a description of the imminent “Day of the Lord,” the impending invasion of the northern army. All that remains is for him to describe the ultimate “Day of the Lord” when God will judge all the nations of the earth. “For the Day of the Lord is near upon all the heathen” (Obad. 15).
"Joel describes a sequence of events relating to this “great and terrible Day of the Lord” (Joel 2:31), what will happen before that day, during that day, and after that day.
"1. Before That Day: the Spirit Poured Out (Joel 2:28–32)
In the Hebrew Scriptures, these five verses form chapter 3 of Joel’s prophecy; and chapter 4 in the Hebrew Scriptures is chapter 3 in the English Bible. The Jewish scholars who arranged the Old Testament Scriptures evidently thought that this paragraph was important enough to warrant a chapter by itself. However, now that we have a completed Bible, this important passage must be studied both in its Jewish context and in the context of the New Testament church.
The Jewish context. The “afterward” in 2:28 refers to the events described in 2:18–27 when the Lord heals the nation after the Assyrian invasion. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean immediately afterward, for many centuries passed before the Spirit was poured out. When Peter quoted this verse in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit led him to interpret “afterward” to mean “in the last days”
“The last days” began with the ministry of Christ on earth (Heb. 1:2) and will conclude with “the Day of the Lord,” that period of worldwide judgment that is also called “the Tribulation” (Matt. 24:21, 29) and “the time of Jacob’s trouble” (Jer. 30:7). Many students of prophecy think that this special time is detailed in Revelation 6–19, climaxing with the return of Christ to earth to deliver Israel and establish His kingdom (Isa. 2:2–5; Zech. 12–14; Rev. 19:11–20:6). (Note that the phrase “a thousand years” is used six times in Revelation 20:1–7. The Latin word for “thousand years” is millennium; it is used to describe the kingdom Jesus Christ will establish on earth in fulfillment of the Old Testament promises to Israel. However, some students prefer to “spiritualize” these promises and apply them to the church today, and these people are called amillennialists, meaning “no millennium.” Premillennialists are Christians who believe Jesus will return before the kingdom is established, for how can you have a kingdom without the King? There was a time when a postmillennial interpretation was popular: the church would “change the world” and “bring in the kingdom,” and then Jesus would return to reign. The wars and atrocities of this past century and the spread of apostasy in the church have pretty well done away with this optimistic outlook.)
Joel promised that before the “Day of the Lord” begins, there will be a remarkable outpouring of the Holy Spirit accompanied by signs in the heavens and on the earth. During the Old Testament era, the Holy Spirit was given only to special people who had special jobs to do, like Moses and the prophets (Num. 11:17), the judges (Jud. 3:10; 6:34; 11:29), and great men like David (1 Sam. 16:13). But the promise God gave through Joel declared that the Spirit will come upon “all flesh,” which includes men and women, young and old, Jew and Gentile. “And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved”
(Joel 2:32, NKJV; see Acts 2:39).
The church context. In Acts 2, Peter did not say that Joel’s prophecy was being fulfilled. He said that the same Holy Spirit Joel wrote about (“this is that”) had now come and was empowering the believers to praise God in various languages understood by the Jews who were assembled in Jerusalem from many parts of the Roman Empire
(Act 2:5–12). In his prophecy, Joel promised “wonders in the heavens, and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke.… The sun … turned into darkness, and the moon into blood” (Joel 2:30–31), but there is no record that any of these things occurred at Pentecost. The miracle that fascinated the crowd was the miracle of the tongues, not remarkable signs of nature. (Some say that the darkening of the sun from noon until three o’clock (Matt. 27:45) and the local earthquake (vv. 51–54) fulfilled Joel’s promise, but Matthew doesn’t say so. Invariably, when something happened that fulfilled Scripture, Matthew calls it to our attention (26:24, 56; 27:9, 35). At least twelve times in his Gospel, Matthew uses the word “fulfilled” to point to an Old Testament messianic prophecy, but he doesn’t include
Furthermore, Joel’s promise included a much wider audience than the one Peter addressed at Pentecost. Peter’s audience was made up of men (Acts 2:22, 29) who were either Jews or Gentile proselytes to Judaism (v. 11). The Gentiles didn’t enter into the blessing of the Spirit until Cornelius and his family and friends were converted
(Acts 10–11). Peter used Joel’s prophecy to declare that the promised Spirit had come and this was why the believers, men and women (1:14), were praising God in such an ecstatic manner. Peter was answering the accusastion that the believers were drunk (2:13–16) and backing up his defense from the Scriptures. (In Scripture, you sometimes find “near” and “distant” fulfillments of God’s promises. The “near” fulfillment is partial, while the “distant” fulfillment is complete. In 2 Samuel 7, God promised to build David a house. The near fulfillment was the Davidic dynasty that ruled until Judah was exiled to Babylon. The distant fulfillment is found in Jesus Christ, the Son of David, whose reign shall never end (Luke 1:32–33).)
When it comes to Israel, “the last days” (or “latter times”) will involve both tribulation and exaltation
(Isa. 2:1–5; Micah 4:1–5), a time of trouble followed by a time of triumph and glory. As far as the church is concerned, “the last days” involve “perilous times” of satanic opposition in the world and apostasy in the church (1 Tim. 4:1–5; 2 Tim. 3:1–8; 2 Peter 3:1–9; 1 John 2:18–23; Jude 18–19). Many Christians believe that during those trying “last days,” the Lord will send a great moving of his Spirit, and many sinners will turn to the Savior before the awful “Day of the Lord” is ushered in.
Certainly the church today needs a new filling of the Spirit of God. Apart from the ministry of the Spirit, believers can’t witness with power (Acts 1:8), understand the Scriptures
(John 16:13), glorify Christ (v. 14), pray in the will of God
(Rom. 8:26–27), or develop Christian character
(Gal. 5:22–23). We need to be praying for revival, a deeper working of the Spirit in His people, leading to confession of sin, repentance, forgiveness, and unity.
Be Amazed (Minor Prophets): Restoring an Attitude of Wonder and Worship (The BE Series Commentary)
Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism
In his critique of Bousset, Moore acknowledged that critical use of the rabbinic writings is difficult, but he argued that the critical problems presented by the Pseudepigrapha are no less difficult: “How wide, for example, was the currency of these writings? Do they represent a certain common type of ‘Volksfrömmigkeit,’ or did they circulate in circles with peculiar notions and tendencies of their own? How far do they come from sects regarded by the mass of their countrymen as heretical?” (Moore 1921: 244). Perhaps the most fundamental question to be asked about the use of the Pseudepigrapha in the reconstruction of ancient Judaism is whether they are in fact Jewish at all. Most of these texts were preserved by Christians, not by Jews. Robert Kraft has argued repeatedly that these texts should first be understood in their Christian context (Kraft 1994; 2001). At the same time, it is incontrovertible that some pseudepigraphic writings which were preserved only by Christians were composed by Jews in the centuries around the turn of the era. Fragments of most sections of 1 Enoch, and of Jubilees were found in Aramaic and Hebrew, respectively, among the Dead Sea Scrolls. It does not necessarily follow that all pseudepigrapha attributed to Old Testament figures are of Jewish origin. Since most Christian literature refers explicitly to Christ, and Christians often added references to Christ to Jewish writings, the tendency has been to assume that any Old Testament pseudepigraphon that has nothing explicitly Christian in it is in fact Jewish.
This tendency has recently been challenged by James Davila (2005). We have a considerable corpus of writings from antiquity that are indisputably Jewish, because of their language or the context of their discovery (most notably, the Dead Sea Scrolls). On the basis of these texts Davila attempts to identify “signature features” that can reliably indicate the Jewish origin of a work:
• substantial Jewish content, and evidence of a pre-
• compelling evidence that a work was translated from
• sympathetic concern with the Jewish ritual cult;
• sympathetic concern with Jewish Law/Torah and
• concern with Jewish ethnic and national interests
(Davila 2005: 65)
These “signature features” are not necessarily foolproof, but they can help establish a balance of probability. They enable Davila to authenticate as Jewish a work like 2 Baruch, which was clearly written by a Torah-observant Jew, against the objections of Rivkah Nir (2003), who argues that several of its apocalyptic motifs are typical of Christianity rather than Judaism (Davila 2005: 131). He rightly argues that Nir’s concept of ancient Judaism is “narrow to the point of being procrustean,” as she does not even include works like 1 Enoch and Jubilees in her control corpus of Jewish material. He also defends the Jewish origin of the Similitudes of Enoch (1 Enoch 37–71), which shows no interest in Torah observance, and which was regarded as a late Christian work by J. T. Milik (1976: 89–98). In this case the conclusive consideration is the apparent identification of Enoch, not Jesus, with the Son of Man in 1 Enoch 71:14 (Davila 2005: 134). The identification, though, is not as unambiguous as Davila claims (Collins 1998: 187–91), but it is inconceivable that a Christian author would have allowed any ambiguity as to the identification of the Son of Man. Other cases are more difficult to decide. The Jewish origin of Joseph and Aseneth has been questioned forcefully by Ross Kraemer (1998). Davila fails to detect either Jewish or Christian signature features that would decide the issue (Davila 2005:193). Neither does the Testament of Job offer any decisive evidence, although it fits quite comfortably in the context provided by the oldest attestation, in Christian circles in Egypt in the early fifth century C.E. He also finds the Testament of Abraham congenial to a late antique Christian setting. Less plausibly, he finds nothing in the Wisdom of Solomon “that prohibits or even renders unlikely its having been written by a gentile Christian in the second half of the first century CE” (Davila 2005: 225). But there is no parallel for Christian composition of a pseudepigraphic writing in the name of an Old Testament figure at such an early date, and the retelling of the exodus story in Wisdom of Solomon 11–19 surely meets the criterion of concern for Jewish ethnic and national interests. Davila’s reasoning is not persuasive in every instance, but he has advanced the discussion by showing that the evidence for Jewish origin is much clearer in some instances than in others.
There is plenty of evidence that Christians sometimes composed works in the names of Old Testament figures (e.g., Isaiah, Ezra, Elijah, Daniel). It is also plausible that they inserted explicit Christian passages into Jewish works to render them more suitable for Christian devotion (see, e.g., Harlow 1996 on 3 Baruch; Collins in Charlesworth 1983: 330–53 on Sibylline Oracles 1 and 2). The more extensive the Christian redaction, the more hazardous the reconstruction of the underlying Jewish work becomes. The most celebrated problem case in this regard is the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. This collection is clearly Christian in its present form. One of its distinctive features is the expectation of a messiah from Levi and Judah, who is evidently identified as Christ. He will be priest and king, God and man (T. Sim. 7:2). He is referred to as “the lamb of God” (T. Jos. 19:6). Testament of Judah 24 speaks of a man from the tribe of Judah, for whom the heavens will be opened and in whom no sin will be found. Scholars have argued that each of these references can be justified in a Jewish context, or that they are Christian insertions in a text that is basically Jewish (Charles 1913: 291). The cumulative evidence, however, is far more easily explained on the assumption of Christian authorship (de Jonge 1953).
Nonetheless, there are good reasons to think that the Testaments draw heavily on Jewish traditions. The association of the messiah with both Levi and Judah inevitably recalls the two messiahs of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Partial parallels to the Testament of Levi, in Aramaic, and to the Testament of Naphtali, in Hebrew, have been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. It is possible, however, that these were source documents used by the Christian authors of the Testaments (de Jonge 2000). We do not have conclusive evidence for a Jewish Testaments of Twelve Patriarchs (as distinct from apocryphal writings associated with individuals such as Levi). The ethical teachings of the Testaments can be explained satisfactorily in the context of either Hellenistic Judaism or early Christianity.
In cases where the Christian elements are not extensive, and somewhat incongruous, a stronger case can be made for Jewish authorship. The fifth Sibylline Oracle contains only one overtly Christian verse (arguably two) in a composition of 531 verses. Verse 257 qualifies the “exceptional man from the sky” with the line “who stretched out his hands on the fruitful wood.” The following verse says that he will one day cause the sun to stand. Most commentators excise either one or both verses as an interpolation (Collins in Charlesworth 1983: 399). The reference to causing the sun to stand could be regarded as part of the interpolation because of a play on Jesus/Joshua). Davila allows that this is possible, but finds it unnecessary: “Sibylline Oracles 5 as a whole reads comfortably as a work by a Jewish-Christian who was outraged by the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and who put after-the-fact prophecies in the mouth of the Sibyl both to condemn the Romans and the other polytheistic nations and to predict the coming of Jesus as the eschatological redeemer” (Davila 2005:189). But while the outrage over the destruction is loud and clear in this work, the identification of Jesus as the eschatological redeemer is perceptible only in this one passage, and is not very explicit even there. Davila notes that Sibylline Oracles 5 shows no interest in circumcision, dietary laws, or the Sabbath, and virtually reduces the Law to idolatry and sexual sins. But this is quite typical of Jewish writings from the Hellenistic Diaspora (Collins 2000: 155–85). As this example shows, the identification of a given text as Jewish depends on the profile of Judaism one is willing to accept. In some cases, arguments against Jewish provenance reflect a narrow, normative view of Judaism (Efron 1987: 219–86 on the Psalms of Solomon; Nir on 2 Baruch). This is not true of Davila, however, and the questions may be justified in some cases. The boundaries of Judaism cannot be restricted to concern for the Torah or covenantal nomism. Conversely, arguments for Jewish diversity based on pseudepigraphic texts of uncertain origin cannot bear the full weight of evidence unless they are supported by parallels in texts that are clearly Jewish.
The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism
Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.
--- Matthew 26:56.
Judged by any human standard, the life of Christ had proved a misadventure and a mistake.
(Sermons Preached in St Paul's Cathedral)
Amid the Hosannas of an admiring throng, he entered the Holy City, the acknowledged King of Israel. Then came the end. The populace turned against him. His own disciples deserted him. He was left alone—amidst the insults of the judgment hall, in the agonies of the Cross. Could any failure be more complete?
Failure is inevitable. Success is not the rule of human life. It is the rare exception. The path of life is strewn with the corpses of magnificent projects and brilliant hopes crushed and trampled under foot.
If failure is inevitable, how can we turn it to account? What are its special uses?
Failure is a discipline. As a test of strength and as a test of faith alike it is without a rival.
[Have you] felt enthusiasm burning in your heart? You tried and failed, and your faith deserted you. You felt that you were left alone; you did not feel that the Father was with you. You appropriated the one-half of Christ’s experience, the sense of failure; you did not appropriate the other and the essential half, the persistence of faith. There was in you then, there is in you now, if you will only believe it, a power that can defy failure, a power that must be victorious, because it is a power of God and not of your own.
The life of Christ was the most stunning failure, followed by the most stunning triumph that the world has ever seen.
This is the example of all examples. God’s purpose cannot fail. Whatever is honest, whatever is lovely, whatever is pure, whatever is truthful has vitality that no time can obliterate and no antagonism can subdue. Believe this and no failure will be a failure to you. It will only be a triumph deferred. The pains that you have spent in reclaiming that poor outcast are not thrown away, though you see no immediate fruits. The seeds of morality and goodness that you have sown in that wayward child are not lost, though the soil seems hard and barren now. You may not live to see it. Your life may be pronounced a failure. Dare to face this possibility. But your work cannot die. Think of Christ, your Master. Trust God, who is one, and not the world because it is many. “This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4).
--- J. B. Lightfoot
Take Heart: Daily Devotions with the Church's Great Preachers
Heretic or Heroic? June 18
Thomas Kyme kicked his wife, Anne Askew, out of the house when she became a Protestant. The loss of home, husband, and two children was only the beginning of sorrows, for she soon faced trial for denying the doctrine of the Mass—that the bread and wine change into the body and blood of Christ. “Thou foolish woman,” said her accuser, “sayest thou that priests cannot make the body of Christ?”
“I say so, my Lord. I have read that God made man; but that man can make God, I never yet read, nor, I suppose, shall ever read. That which you call your God is a piece of bread; for proof thereof let it lie in a box three months, and it will be moldy.”
She was taken to the Tower of London. “Then they did put me on the rack … a long time; and because I lay still and did not cry, my Lord Chancellor and Master Rich took pains to rack me with their own hands, till I was nigh dead.” Despite being so crippled that she could never walk again, she refused to recant. “I sent word,” she said, “that I would rather die than break my faith.” Anne then composed this prayer:
O Lord! I have more enemies now than hairs on my head; yet Lord, let them never overcome me with vain words, but fight Thou, Lord, in my stead; for on Thee I cast my care. With all the spite they can imagine, they fall upon me, who am Thy poor creature. Yet, sweet Lord, I heartily desire of Thee, that Thou wilt of Thy merciful goodness forgive them that violence they do. Open also their blind hearts, that they may hereafter do that thing in Thy sight which is only acceptable before Thee. So be it, Lord.
On June 18, 1546, she was officially condemned. A month later she was carried to Smithfield, chained to the stake, and burned as a heretic. Others, however, like John Foxe thought her heroic, “leaving behind a singular example of Christian constancy for all men to follow.”
Even my bones are in pain,
While all day long my enemies sneer and ask,
“Where is your God?”
Why am I discouraged? Why am I restless?
I trust you! And I will praise you again
Because you help me, and you are my God.
--- Psalm 42:10,11.
On This Day 365 Amazing And Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs And Heroes
Daily Readings / CHARLES H. SPURGEON
Morning - June 18
“Thy Redeemer.” --- Isaiah 54:5.
Jesus, the Redeemer, is altogether ours and ours for ever. All the offices of Christ are held on our behalf. He is king for us, priest for us, and prophet for us. Whenever we read a new title of the Redeemer, let us appropriate him as ours under that name as much as under any other. The shepherd’s staff, the father’s rod, the captain’s sword, the priest’s mitre, the prince’s sceptre, the prophet’s mantle, all are ours. Jesus hath no dignity which he will not employ for our exaltation, and no prerogative which he will not exercise for our defence. His fulness of Godhead is our unfailing, inexhaustible treasure-house.
His manhood also, which he took upon him for us, is ours in all its perfection. To us our gracious Lord communicates the spotless virtue of a stainless character; to us he gives the meritorious efficacy of a devoted life; on us he bestows the reward procured by obedient submission and incessant service. He makes the unsullied garment of his life our covering beauty; the glittering virtues of his character our ornaments and jewels; and the superhuman meekness of his death our boast and glory. He bequeaths us his manger, from which to learn how God came down to man; and his Cross to teach us how man may go up to God. All his thoughts, emotions, actions, utterances, miracles, and intercessions, were for us. He trod the road of sorrow on our behalf, and hath made over to us as his heavenly legacy the full results of all the labours of his life. He is now as much ours as heretofore; and he blushes not to acknowledge himself “our Lord Jesus Christ,” though he is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords. Christ everywhere and every way is our Christ, for ever and ever most richly to enjoy. O my soul, by the power of the Holy Spirit! call him this Morning, “thy Redeemer.”
Evening - June 18
“I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse.” --- Song of Solomon 5:1.
The heart of the believer is Christ’s garden. He bought it with his precious blood, and he enters it and claims it as his own. A garden implies separation. It is not the open common; it is not a wilderness; it is walled around, or hedged in. Would that we could see the wall of separation between the church and the world made broader and stronger. It makes one sad to hear Christians saying, “Well, there is no harm in this; there is no harm in that,” thus getting as near to the world as possible. Grace is at a low ebb in that soul which can even raise the question of how far it may go in worldly conformity. A garden is a place of beauty, it far surpasses the wild uncultivated lands. The genuine Christian must seek to be more excellent in his life than the best moralist, because Christ’s garden ought to produce the best flowers in all the world. Even the best is poor compared with Christ’s deservings; let us not put him off with withering and dwarf plants. The rarest, richest, choicest lilies and roses ought to bloom in the place which Jesus calls his own. The garden is a place of growth. The saints are not to remain undeveloped, always mere buds and blossoms. We should grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Growth should be rapid where Jesus is the Husbandman, and the Holy Spirit the dew from above. A garden is a place of retirement. So the Lord Jesus Christ would have us reserve our souls as a place in which he can manifest himself, as he doth not unto the world. O that Christians were more retired, that they kept their hearts more closely shut up for Christ! We often worry and trouble ourselves, like Martha, with much serving, so that we have not the room for Christ that Mary had, and do not sit at his feet as we should. The Lord grant the sweet showers of his grace to water his garden this day.
Morning and Evening
Words and Music by Jack P. Scholfield, 1882–1972
Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (Romans 10:13)
Indulgence says, “Drink your way out.”
Philosophy says, “Think your way out.”
Science says, “Invent your way out.”
Industry says, “Work your way out.”
Communism says, “Strike your way out.”
Militarism says, “Fight your way out.”
Christ says, “I AM THE WAY OUT!”
We commonly use many terms to describe a Christian—“saved,” “born again,” “justified.” Although these words are important to us who understand and appreciate them, they can sometimes be confusing and misunderstood by anyone who is unfamiliar with a biblical vocabulary. To people who are seeking, we must always be ready to explain these terms in language that is relevant to them. A personal encounter with Christ is much more important than the terminology we use to describe this salvation experience.
We must emphasize that it is Christ and Christ alone who saves—not the methods, procedures, or manipulations often used for those seeking salvation. No two experiences of salvation are necessarily alike. Coming to Jesus to experience His love and forgiveness is a very personal matter—not a prescribed procedure. Although simple enough for a child to understand and respond to, calling on the name of the Lord to be saved is much more than lips that merely speak glibly about Jesus. There must also be the evidence of a changed, committed life.
The author and composer of this hymn, Jack Scholfield, was a singing evangelist. He wrote “Saved, Saved!” in 1911 while assisting in evangelistic meetings. He explained, “The melody just came to me, almost as a gift. Then I simply tried to make the words fit the tune. It was popular from the start.”
I’ve found a Friend who is all to me; his love is ever true; I love to tell how He lifted me and what His grace can do for you.
He saves me from ev’ry sin and harm, secures my soul each day; I’m leaning strong on His mighty arm—I know He’ll guide me all the way.
When poor and needy and all alone, in love He said to me, “Come unto Me and I’ll lead you home to live with me eternally.”
Chorus: Saved by His pow’r divine, saved to new life sublime! Life now is sweet and my joy is complete, for I’m saved, saved, saved!
For Today: John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Titus 3:3–7; Hebrews 9:12; 1 John 4:10.
Seek to explain the simple plan of salvation to someone. Sing as you go ---
Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions
Martin Luther | (1483-1546)
Sect. LIX. — THERE is that of Isaiah i. 19., “If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the fat of the land:” — ‘Where, (according to the judgment of the Diatribe,) if there be no liberty of the will, it would have been more consistent, had it been said, If I will, if I will not.’
The answer to this may be plainly found in what has been said before. Moreover, what consistency would there then have been, had it been said, ‘If I will, ye shall eat the fat of the land?’ Does the Diatribe from its so highly exalted wisdom imagine, that the fat of the land can be eaten contrary to the will of God? Or, that it is a rare and new thing, that we do not receive of the fat of the land but by the will of God.
So also, that of Isaiah xxx. 21. “If ye will inquire, inquire ye: return, come.” — “To what purpose is it (saith the Diatribe) to exhort those who are not in any degree in their own power? It is just like saying to one bound in chains, Move thyself to this place.” —
Nay, I reply, to what purpose is it to cite passages which of themselves prove nothing, and which, by the appendage of your conclusion, that is, by the perversion of their sense, ascribe all unto “Free-will,” when a certain endeavour only was to be ascribed unto it, and to be proved?
- “The same may be said (you observe) concerning that of Isaiah xlv. 20. “Assemble yourselves and come.” “Turn ye unto me and ye shall be saved.” And that also of Isaiah lii. 1-2. “Awake! awake!” “shake thyself from the dust,” “loose the bands of thy neck.” And that of Jeremiah xv. 19. “If thou wilt turn, then will I turn thee; and if thou shalt separate the precious from the vile, thou shalt be as My mouth.” And Malachi more evidently still, indicates the endeavour of “Free-will” and the grace that is prepared for him who endeavours, “Turn ye unto Me, saith the Lord of hosts, and I will turn unto you, saith the Lord.’ (Mal. iii. 7.).
The Bondage of the Will or Christian Classics Ethereal Library
Brett Meador | Athey Creek
Seek His Face Psalm 27:8
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Light-Fight-Sight Psalm 27:1-6
s2-222 | 9-16-2018
Psalm 27 - 30
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Psalm 31 - 32
m2-226 | 9-26-2018
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