The Baby with the Bathwater

Most have heard the proverbial warning: “Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.” The meaning of the expression is that one should be careful not to throw out or get rid of something good in an attempt to get rid of something bad. But that is exactly what I have been observing lately as I am reading more and more of people who are rejecting Christianity and the church because of the state of the church today.

Now I will admit, there are a lot of things that are amiss in the church today! There are charlatans in the pulpit and all sorts of shenanigans going on in the pew! It seems like there are more ‘profits’ than prophets and there are more pastors and church-people, trusting ‘in God we trust’ than trusting in God! But if you think this a new trend, you are mistaken! There has never been a time when there was nothing amiss in the religious realm! I’ve heard people longingly say that the church today needs to get back to the New Testament Church. Honestly? Have you actually read the Bible? The Apostle Paul wrote the Corinthian letters as a direct response to ‘church-mess!’ Jesus was rejected by the ‘church-leaders’ of his day and those same church leaders convinced a mob-crowd to petition for the freedom of a murderer and condemn Jesus to die on a cross! No! There never was a day when the church was perfect! So, for those people who are going from church to church, looking for the ‘perfect’ church; it doesn’t exist! It never has!

But just because the church or church-people are not perfect, that’s not a legitimate reason to reject what the church represents. Would you stop flying on planes just because some planes crash? Would you stop buying a certain brand of automobile just because some of your friends had a bad experience with the same make and model? In every barrel, there may be some bad apples, but does that mean you should stop eating apples?

There are some African-Americans today who suggest that Christianity is the ‘White man’s religion’ and that it was invented as a tool to control the slaves. They suggest Jesus did not really exist and that he was a fictional character invented as a tool of white supremacy. Seriously? Now, I don’t propose to be an expert historian, but I do know how to count! In the Bible, in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles; Chapter 8, there was an Ethiopian official (a Black man) who was visiting Jerusalem to worship. Now, why did this Black man from Ethiopia (Africa) go to Jerusalem to worship? And how did he know about the Hebrew God in Africa? Well, it was probably because his ancestors worshipped Yahweh; the God of the Hebrews, from the time of the Queen of Sheba (a Black sister), who learned about Israel’s God from her visit with King Solomon. By the way, there is a tradition that suggest Solomon gave the Queen of Sheba more than just silver and gold when he gave her “all that she desired,” in 1 Kings 10:13 and 2 Chronicles 9:12. (In case you can’t read between the lines; according to the tradition, the gift he gave her was opened nine months later!) So, this Ethiopian official already knew about the God of Israel, for he was reading from the book of Isaiah when Philip approached him. He was a little confused by what he was reading, so Philip explained to him that the prophecy he was reading was fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, who had been crucified and raised from the dead. The Ethiopian believed in Jesus and was baptized! After which, he returned to Ethiopia and no doubt shared with his country the good news about Jesus. 

Now, I mentioned this story because it takes place, soon after the Day of Pentecost in Acts 8. Therefore, Christianity was probably introduced to the Africans, who were already familiar with Hebrew religion, at that point. That’s Acts chapter 8. Sometime later, in Acts chapter 16, the Apostle Paul has a vision of a man from Macedonia saying; “Come over into Macedonia and help us.” From that vision, Paul determined that it was God’s will for them to go to Macedonia and preach the Gospel. The significance of this is the fact that Macedonia was in Europe. When Paul went to Macedonia, it was the first time and the first place the Gospel was preached in Europe! Are you doing the math? The Africans, who already worshipped Yahweh, got the Gospel in Acts 8! The Europeans didn’t get the Gospel until Acts 16! Therefore, how can it be honestly said that Christianity is the ‘White man’s religion,’ when according to the Bible, the Black Africans heard and accepted Christianity long ‘before’ it was introduced to the White Europeans? 

Did the White slave masters and the White church use the Bible and Christianity to justify and perpetuate slavery? There’s no question about it; of course, they did! But the problem wasn’t with the Bible or Christianity! The problem was the White man’s interpretation of the Bible and the distortion of Christianity. The same Bible and Christianity Southern Whites used to justify and preserve slavery; Black preachers and sympathetic abolitionists used to fan the flames of freedom and equality! The difference wasn’t in the Bible or Christianity; the difference was in the use and interpretation!

And that’s the same difference today! You can make the Bible say anything you want it to say, if you don’t follow the proper rules of hermeneutics, exegesis, and plain common sense! So, don’t blame or reject God because of the unauthorized dealers or bad ambassadors who claim to represent Him! If you do that, you’re throwing out the baby with the bath water! The bath water might be dirty, but the baby is alright! Yes! There are pimps in the pulpit and prostitutes in the pews, but the baby is alright! There are preachers for profit; pushing prosperity for their pleasure, but the baby is alright!

As long as there has been a world inhabited by free-thinking, fragile and flawed human beings, there has always been a distortion of the truth. But just because the bath water of distortions, deceit, mistakes, misinterpretations, and malice is dirty, that doesn’t justify throwing the baby (the Truth of who and what God is and His plan for us) out! Pick the baby up, out of the dirty water, and see how beautiful and precious it really is! Please! Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater!

All ‘Power’ In His Hands!

“And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” (Matt. 28:18 KJV)

“And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” (Matt. 28:18 NKJ)

I recently posted a synopsis of this teaching about the ‘power’ God gave Jesus at His resurrection on my FaceBook page. But, because of its theological significance, I want to expand and explain it here.

You see, the bottom line is that historically and traditionally, we have and we do preach this text incorrectly! I’ve done it numerous times myself in the past! Now, it makes for a good ‘whoop!’ (Those of us who are African-Americans and grew up in church know what the ‘whoop’ is! For those who don’t know, it is the climatic celebration at the end of a preacher’s sermon. It is the part where the preacher begins to chant, moan, and sing the message. Now there are some pseudo-intellectuals in the Black community who say the ‘whoop’ is unnecessary and a sign of ignorance, but as of late, there are many preachers of European descent who are beginning to recognize and incorporate its communicative genius into their sermonic delivery! But, I digress! So, let me get back to my point) Yes! The traditional way we’ve preach it makes for good whooping material! I can hear it now: “Yes! When He got up early that Sunday morning; He rose with all power in His hands! Can I get a witness here? Power to raise up a bowed-down head! Power to make me walk right! Power to make me talk right! Power to hit a straight lick with a crooked stick! Oh! Y’all don’t hear me! I said; When He got up; He had all power in His hands!” Yes, that’s the way we preach it, but we’ve been preaching it wrong!

We’ve been preaching it as if the Greek word for ‘power’ in the text is dunamis but it is not! The Greek word in the text is exousia! Now, although both of these Greek words can rightfully be translated into English as ‘power,’ they have two different meanings! Dunamis has the meaning of ‘might, ability, and strength.’ Exousia has the meaning of ‘authority, privilege, rule, choice, government, and right.’ Jesus already had all dunamis-power! That’s the power He used to raise Lazarus from the dead! That’s the power He used to open the eyes of the blind, to turn water into wine, and to perform all of the miracles! We might ought to notice that the miracles are called; dumamis (mighty works) in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), but they are called; semeion (signs) in the Gospel of John. No! God didn’t give Jesus all dunamis-power at His resurrection! Jesus already had all dumamis-power!

At His resurrection, God gave all exousia-power to Jesus! That’s the power to rule! That’s the power, the right, and the authority to be in charge! That’s the power to govern! That’s authority! That’s the power of right, as in the power of attorney; the power to transact business in someone else’s name! That’s the all-power that God gave Jesus at His resurrection! When God raised Jesus from the dead, God made Jesus the CEO of the Kingdom of God!

Notice also that, according to the Bible, Jesus didn’t rise up from the grave on His own power! No! In the act of the resurrection; Jesus wasn’t the actor, Jesus was acted upon or rather, Jesus was the recipient of the action: It was God who raised Jesus from the dead!

Now, at this point you might be asking: What difference does it make? Well, it’s a matter of biblical accuracy and correct theology because there is a difference between power and authority! Power is the strength, might, or ability to do something, whereas authority is the right to do it! It’s quite possible to have the strength to do something, but that doesn’t mean you have the authority to do it! You can also have the authority or the right to do something, but yet not have the ability or the power to do it! It’s possible to have power without authority and authority without power! But Jesus already had the power and when God raised Jesus from the dead, God gave Him the authority!

That means, Jesus has the right! He has the authority to make demands upon our lives! After He died and God raised Him from the dead; God put Him in charge! In Philippians 2:8-11, the Apostle Paul says: “And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (KJV)

Now there are those who are refusing to bow and acknowledge Jesus as Lord today! But, in thinking about them, I’m reminded of an old television commercial for a transmission repair shop, I think it was Aamco. A lady brought her car into the shop to be checked because it was making so weird noises. The mechanic checked her car and told her she needed some work done on her transmission. When the lady heard how much it was going to cost, she decided she wouldn’t pay it. It was at that point that the mechanic told her: “Ma’am, you can pay me now, or you can pay me later!” Now he wasn’t offering her a service-now-pay-later plan. No! What he was telling her was that she could either pay a low price now and get the transmission fixed, or she could wait until the problem got worse and have to pay an even greater price later on! Well, you can either voluntarily bow and acknowledge Jesus as Lord now, or you can refuse and be forced to bow and acknowledge Him as Lord later! You can bow now or you can bow later, but eventually every knee (even the demons in Hell) will bow and acknowledge Jesus as Lord because God has placed all authority in His hands!

Who’s Step and Who’s Hand?

The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the LORD upholdeth him with his hand.                                           (Ps. 37:23-24 KJV)

Have you ever noticed, as you are reading the King James Version of the Bible that some of the words are in italics? The biblical translation editors did this to indicate those words were not in the original manuscripts and were added by the translators to clarify meaning. Now, while clarity was the original intent of the translation editors, in some cases, the addition of the italicized words doesn’t clarify, but actually change the meaning of the text completely! I believe such is the case in Psalm 37:23-24.

Note, in Psalm 37:23, the sentence: “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.” The word: good is italicized, that means it is not part of the original text. The Hebrew actually translates: “The steps of a man are ordered by the Lord.” Now, this wouldn’t be much of a big deal if it wasn’t for the possibility of an alternate translation of the word “and” in the next phrase. The Hebrew particle conjunction that is translated as “and” in the KJV, can also be translated as; “when.” With these two possible variants, the meaning of the verse is completely different. The translation editors of the English Standard Version recognized this possibility and thus renders the verse: “The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way.”

Now, the last part of the verse is a bit ambiguous in any translation. For instance; Who is “he” and who is “his?” Is the verse saying that because or when the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, He; the Lord, delights in his; the good man’s way? Or is the verse saying that because or when the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, he; the good man, delights in His; the Lord’s way? Even when the italicized; good is dropped and the “and” is translated as “when,” the verse is no less ambiguous! This is illustrated in how the New International Version (NIV) renders the verse as opposed to how the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) renders the verse. The NIV says: “The LORD makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him.” The NRSV says: “Our steps are made firm by the LORD, when he delights in our way.” In the NIV; the Lord makes firm the steps of the one (the man) who delights in the Lord’s way. In the NRSV, the Lord makes firm the steps of the man (our) when He (the Lord) delights in (our) the man’s way. Which version is correct? Well, grammatically and theologically; both of them are! The Psalmist states in Psalm 1:1-2, “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.” (KJV) In Psalm 18:19, the psalmist said: “He brought me forth also into a large place; he delivered me, because he (the Lord) delighted in me.” (KJV) There are various other places in the biblical text, where man delights in the Lord and the Lord delights in man. By the way, in the two verses of the Psalm I just cited and in the text under consideration, the Hebrew word that is translated as “delight” is the same.

The next verse (Psalm 37:24) says: “Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the LORD upholdeth him with his hand.” (KJV) Note in this verse, the words; “him” and “with” are italicized; meaning they were added by the biblical translation editors and were not in the original text. As the verse stands with the italicized words, the meaning is that the Lord upholds the good man with his (the Lord’s) hand. Without the italicized words, the meaning is; the Lord upholds or holds the man’s hand, as is stated in the New American Standard Bible (NASB): “When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong, Because the LORD is the One who holds his hand.” Once again, this is not a “this-not-that” case, but a “this-and-that” case! Both translations are theologically sound! Surely, the Lord holds us with His hand and I don’t know about you, but I also want the Lord to hold my hand while I run this race!

So, if both are correct and the italicized words don’t make a tremendous amount of difference, what was the point of this post? It was to point out the fact that too often we take for granted what people say the Bible says! We need to learn how to study the word for ourselves! Secondly, to point out the richness of meaning in the biblical text! Although the original authors had “one” meaning in mind when they wrote the text, that meaning is often obscured by language, culture, time, and context. Therefore, reading the Bible should not be just a devotional exercise, nor should it be just an academic exercise; it should be both! We should read the Bible with our minds and with our hearts! But most of all, we should read it, allowing the Spirit of God, through our diligent investigation of the text, to reveal the multifaceted deep thoughts of the mind of God!

Rightly Dividing 2 Timothy 2:15

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Tim. 2:15 KJV) 

I was listening to someone teaching, not too long ago, from 2 Timothy 2:15. The thrust of the lesson was that one should study to make sure they correctly teach and/or preach the word of God. Of course, I had heard this text taught and preached countless times before, but this time, because the presenter did, what I thought at the time, such an excellent job with the text, I was prompted to go and take a deeper look for myself.

When I took a closer look at 2 Timothy 2:15, I discovered, what could be called, a comical irony! The very text that is so often used to promote diligent study and caution against mishandling the word of God has itself traditionally been mishandled! Let me show you what I’m talking about: Usually, the main focus or the main point of the teaching of this passage is that we should “study” to make sure we are correctly interpreting, teaching, preaching, and applying the word of God. And when we think of the concept of studying, we think of intense reading and careful analysis of the scriptural text. But, is that the concept Paul had in mind when he wrote these words to Timothy? Is that what Paul actually meant and said in the text? Well, not really!

The word the KJV translates as “study” is the Greek verb; “spoudason” and it literally means, “make haste, hasten” also “to exert one’s self, to endeavor, to give diligence, to be zealous, to be eager.” So actually, the term “study” is too narrow! The actual meaning Paul wanted to convey was for Timothy to quickly and eagerly make every effort to be diligent so as to present himself approved unto God! The idea Paul was trying to convey to Timothy directly and to us by implication is that the preacher/teacher, disciple, believer should eagerly make every effort to present themselves for God’s approval in correctly handling and teaching the truth or the word of God.

We might also note at this point, that Paul told Timothy to be eager or zealous to make every effort to present “yourself.” Therefore, such effort encompasses more than just correctly preaching and teaching the word! It also involves disciplining oneself in all other areas of the Christian life as well! It was inclusive, not just of his handling of the word, but also of his personal piety and interaction with other people. Being eager and making every effort to present one’s self approved unto God also includes making every effort to get the proper amount of rest, nutrition, and exercise so as to keep the body as healthy as possible.

Do you know of people who are correct in their preaching and teaching, but don’t apply what they preach and teach to their own personal lives? Such people are not being zealous or making every effort to correctly divide the word of truth. The power of the word comes, not just from correct interpretation, but also from correct application and demonstration! A sermon lived gives tremendous plausibility to a sermon preached!

So, there really is more to this verse than what we have traditionally gathered! Yes! Studying is part of the message, but it is not all! But, even if we restrict the meaning to just study, as we have traditionally done, just a simple Bible quiz given to many church memberships in America today would reveal that most church members, not only do not study the Bible, they don’t even read it! No wonder so many people are so weak and anemic in their faith today! No wonder there are so many who believe the Epistles were the wives of the Apostles!

The Difference Between Peter and James

I was reading some time ago and I came across in interesting passage in Acts. In Acts 12:1-3, I read: “Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.)” As I read further on in the text, I discovered that although James was killed, Peter was delivered from prison in a miraculous way! It was at that point I started asking myself questions: Why was James killed and Peter delivered? Did Peter have more faith than James? Did the church pray for Peter’s deliverance and failed to pray for the deliverance of James? What was the difference between Peter and James? 

Now before I go on, I think it would be well to caution that it is usually bad hermeneutics to formulate any doctrine or principle based solely on the Book of Acts. The reason is because Acts is a record of the beginning of the church. There are things that happen in the “beginning” that don’t need to be and can’t be repeated! The doctor may have had to slap our butts to get us to breathe the first time, but after that, there was no need for a continuous butt-slapping! So, there were things that happened in Acts, at the inception of the church that have not been and really have no need to be repeated. For instance, there are some who teach today, based on Acts, that we should tarry or wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit. But the reason the disciples waited, per Jesus’ instructions, in the Book of Acts for the coming of the Holy Spirit was because, prior to that time, the Holy Spirit had not come to dwell within men. In Old Testament times, the Holy Spirit would come upon a person to empower them, but after the task was completed, the Holy Spirit would leave. In the Gospel of John, Jesus promised that after he had left, the Holy Spirit would come, not only to be with the disciples, but to be “in” them. So, the waiting on the Day of Pentecost was for the fulfilling of that promise. However, there is no need for the believer to “wait” anymore for something that has already happened! The Holy Spirit came to indwell within believers on the Day of Pentecost, but He did not leave! He’s still here! So, there is no need to wait for someone who is already here! The Holy Spirit is NOT the Second Blessing or some additional blessing from God for the believer. He is essential and fundamental to the believer’s relationship and standing with God. In fact, the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:9: “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” (KJV) Having or being indwelt by the Holy Spirit is not optional or additional; it’s basic and essential! Every believer has or is indwelt by the Holy Spirit! If the Holy Spirit is not in them; they are not a believer or they are not saved at all! But, I digress, so let me get back to my point! I just brought that out to illustrate the danger of formulating doctrines or principles solely from the Book of Acts.

Was it a matter that Peter had more faith than James? I think not! I think it was just a matter of God’s sovereign will! There are those who teach today that faith can overcome any obstacle and that faith has the power to overcome any negative situation. But, faith cannot and will not, change, circumvent, or subjugate God’s sovereign will. Now, we need to understand that when it comes to the will of God, there is God’s sovereign will and there is God’s permissive will. We could look at it this way; God’s sovereign will is God’s overall and unchanging purpose. God’s permissive will is the minor flexible details of His sovereign will. God’s permissive will is subject, to a certain extent to our faith and our actions, but God’s sovereign will is steadfast, unchangeable and uninfluenced by our faith or actions.

The killing of James and the deliverance of Peter was a matter of God’s sovereign will. And in like manner, there are things that happen in our lives that are beyond the scope of our faith and actions. They are beyond our ability to influence by our faith or actions! I know there are some who teach today that people can control what happens to them by their faith, but that’s not completely true! Often those same people will use Hebrew 11 as a “proof-text” to validate their point. They cite the first thirty-five (35) verses as proof of over-coming faith. There is a summation of “over-coming” faith in Hebrew 11:33-35a, where the author wrote: “And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthah; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again. . .” I stopped at 35a because that’s where most of the “faith-teachers” stop! But beginning at 35b, we have, as Paul Harvey used to say, the rest of the story! Beginning at 35b, the rest of the chapter reads: “. . . and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.” (Heb. 11:35-40 KJV) Were the believers cited in the first 35 verses more faithful than the others cited in the last five verses? No! Not according to the text! All were faithful; but some were delivered and some weren’t!

The difference between Peter and James was that, through His sovereign will, in Acts 12, Peter was delivered like those in Hebrews 11:1-35a, but James was numbered among “the others” mentioned in Hebrews 11:35b-40. But in the end, the difference between Peter and James was not of any real ultimate importance, because (for the record) Peter was eventually killed also! By the way, whether or not we are presently delivered or healed from some affliction or disease is not of ultimate importance in the grand scheme of things (It is to us because, naturally, we want to be delivered and healed). In the end, we will all leave this world! Faith might heal us of a disease or illness presently, but faith cannot and will not cancel our eventual death! Because of his prayer, repentance and faith, God’s permissive will added fifteen years (15) to King Hezekiah’s life (1 Kings 20:1-6; Isaiah 38:1-5), but after that, Hezekiah died! What was the difference between Peter and James? James died then; Peter died later! What is the difference between believers who are healed and those who are not? It’s a matter above all of our pay-grade! It’s a matter of God’s sovereign will! From a purely human point of view, the only difference is; some die now and some die later, but eventually; we all will die!   

Life-Giving Spirits

The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:45: “. . . The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.” The first Adam (Adam of Adam and Eve) received life; the last Adam (Jesus the Christ) gives life. In the first Adam, all die because of sin, in the last Adam, all can live because of righteousness. Jesus is referred to as “the last Adam” because he was and is the Genesis of a new humanity; human beings who have been “born again” by the Spirit of God. Consequently, those who have been born again, or saved, or who are true Christians, have the Spirit of Christ (Holy Spirit) dwelling within them. Therefore, just as Jesus; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit, those who are in Christ are, in a sense, life-giving spirits.
Note, I said; “in a sense.” A person who is indwelt by the Spirit of Christ is not a life-giving spirit in the exact sense that Jesus is because of the unique and sinless character of Christ. However, since the Spirit of Christ dwells within that person, and that Spirit has life-giving qualities, then it stands to reason that the person or people who have that same Spirit should also have some life-giving qualities in some limited way. 
So, if you are a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, a person who has been born again and is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, do you give life to those around you? Are you a life-giving spirit? Let me further clarify: There are many people in the world who are takers and vampires! They are always trying to get what they can get and if you are not careful, they will suck the very life out of you! These are the people who leave you depleted and drained, after just a brief encounter or conversation with them. They are always needy and always want something from you. Do you know anyone like that? Well, they are just the opposite of a life-giving spirit.
When a person is a life-living spirit, they make you feel better about yourself and about life when you are around them. They are encouragers and motivators and they help to make you a better person. They pour into you; life, joy and happiness. They speak life into your life! That’s what I’m talking about when I refer to life-giving spirits. There are too many users, drainers, blood-suckers, and vampires in life! We need more people who are life-giving spirits. That is exactly what the followers of the Last Adam, who became a Life-Giving Spirit should be! Those who have the Spirit of the One who is a Life-Giving Spirit should themselves be; life-giving spirits.