The “Latter-Day” Saints

This, my 200th post, is a combination of a two-sermon-series preached at the New Hope Baptist Church in Covington, GA several years ago. Your comments are welcomed.

“The Latter-Day Saints” (part 1)

“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith. But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all men, as theirs also was.”  II Timothy 3:1-9 KJV

          Let me begin by saying that this sermon does not and will not have anything to do with nor will it in any way intentionally speak about the Mormon Church, which is officially known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. No, I am not talking about nor am I referring to “those” latter-day saints. But, of all the times that I had previously looked at this text, it wasn’t until I was browsing through this neighborhood of the scriptures the other day that I made, what was for me, an alarming discovery! You see, all the other times that I read this text and heard it preached and expounded upon, I just assumed that this was a listing of the character traits of people in general in the last days. I mean after all, when you go through this list, it looks pretty grim and hopeless, therefore I assumed that it must be describing people, who obviously know nothing about God! But, the other day, when I looked at this text more closely, I was shocked to discover that Paul was not describing how the people of the world would be in the last days! No! This is a description of the people who will claim to know God in the last days! This is a description of church folks in the last days! Hence, this is how I arrived at my subject, for this is a listing of the character traits of the latter-day saints! It’s right there in the text in verse 5! Paul said that they would have a form of godliness. In other words, they will go through the motions of having church! They will be in regular attendance at the Divine Order of Service and Bible Class. They will claim and proudly wear the name: Christian! But Paul says that although they will have a form of godliness, they will deny the power thereof. In other words, they will pray prayers without believing in the power of prayer! They will be hearers of the word but will not be doers of the word. They will go to church and even support the church, but they will deny the power and purpose of the church. That is why Paul said that the times would be perilous! In the last days, the majority of those who will claim to be Christian will be Christian in name only!

          Now, it is interesting to note that the Greek word that is the basis of the English word “perilous” is the same word that is used to describe the two men possessed with demons in Matthew 8:28. The word means, “dangerous, difficult the deal with.” In the last days, the times will be difficult to deal with and here’s the reason why! First, it will be difficult times because men will have misplaced affections. In this listing, the first two characteristics in verse 2 and the last two characteristics in verse 4 deal with what men will be loving. Jesus said of those days; “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” Bobby Blue Bland said some years ago: “Ain’t no love in the heart of the city! Ain’t no love in the heart of town! Ain’t no love, and you know it’s a pity! Ain’t no love cause you ain’t around! Yes! The last days will be fierce, dangerous and perilous because even those who will claim to be Christians will have mis-placed affections.

          The first trait listed in the list of the characteristics of these latter-days saints is that they will be “self-lovers!” In the last days, there will be an obsessive preoccupation with the self! Although the greatest commandment is; to love LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. The worship of the Holy Trinity: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost will be usurped with the worship of the unholy trinity of “Me, Myself and I!” In the last days, the affection and devotion due to God will be given to self. Therefore, “self” will be the “god” of those who will be lovers of self. Well, I think I ought to pause here and tell you that I believe the last days are upon us! Most of the problems that occur in the church today are rooted in selfishness! Everybody insists upon having their own way! Instead of praying and reasoning with one another for the good of the body, people try to tear up the church when they can’t get their own way! The root of most marital problems, problems in professional and personal relationships can be traced back to the domineering demands of self; the ego! That’s why the first requirement of true discipleship is the denial of self! When God is not properly worshiped, honored and given his rightful place in a person’s life, he is usually replaced with the self!

          Now, in the KJV, the second characteristic on the list is “covetous.” However, this is really an incorrect translation of the word Greek behind the text. The Greek word is “philarguros” which literally means “silver-lover.” This is not the same word that is normally used for “covetous.” One can actually be covetous without loving money, they do not mean the exact same thing. Friberg defines the term as, “having a greedy disposition loving money, wanting to be rich.” The term is found in the NT, only in this text and in Luke 16:14. The latter-day saints will be “lovers of themselves,” and “lovers of money!” All one has to do is just flick though the channels of so-called Christian television or browse through the bookshelves of any secular or for that matter, Christian bookstore today and one will find that “self-development, “self-realization,” “money,” “wealth,” “prosperity,” and “financial blessings” are the buzz words of the day! In the last days, the latter-day saints will be obsessed with pleasing themselves and obtaining money and material wealth!

          The next trait is that they will be “boasters.” The word literally means “empty pretender.” It is one whose mouth is bigger than his body. One who talks a big game, but is unable to back up his talk with supporting action. This is one who arrogantly presumes too much about himself. Akin to this is the next character trait. They will be proud with an overwhelming estimate of one’s means and merits, despising others or even treating them with contempt. Don’t you see this trait among the so called latter-day saints today? The spirit of humility is almost non-existent! Many church folks today are not bragging on Christ, but rather they are bragging on themselves! There are Pastors who are bragging about how many members they have and about how big their budgets and buildings are! However, while the emphasis is on building budgets and buildings, the ultimate calling of building people has been neglected and ignored! There is really no time and energy left to lift up Jesus because they are too busy lifting up themselves!

          Well, I’m just about to run out of time, so I guess I will have to break this sermon up into parts and try to finish the list the next time! So, let me close today with the blasphemers. Please note that according to the Bible, to blaspheme is not just speaking against God, but to blaspheme is to speak against God, Jesus, and the things and/or the people of God! So, when church folks talk slanderously about one another that’s actually blasphemy! How can you speak against of the people and/or things of God and not be guilty of speaking against God? The Lord has always identified himself with his own! The Bible says that the king shall say in that day: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

          Well, I really need to leave you alone now, I’ll pick up here next time! But, you need to check yourself to see if you are one of these latter-day saints! As for me, I believe I’ll be like the song the old folks used to sing! Just give me that old time religion! It was good enough for the Hebrew children! It was good enough for old man Daniel! It was good enough for Paul and Silas! It was good enough for my mother and my father and it is good enough for me!

“The Latter-Day Saints” (part 2)  II Timothy 3:1-9 KJV 

          Again, I would like to say that this sermon is, in no way, meant to cast any kind of negative light upon The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, also known as the Mormons. No! We’re not talking about those latter-day saints! But, as we look at this text, we discover that Paul is not listing the characteristics of the world, but rather of people who will claim to be saved! People who will be associated with the church and will wear the label; Christian! People who will have a form of godliness but will deny the power thereof. So, with that being said, let’s continue with the list. 

          We left off last time in the middle of verse 2 with blasphemers, so let’s begin today with the next characteristic. The text says that these latter-day saints will be disobedient to parents. In ancient society, respect for parental authority was extremely important, disrespect and disobedience to parents was not tolerated. Listen to how disobedient children were handled according to the Law in ancient Israel, “If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place;  And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.” (Deut.  21:18-21 KJV). In ancient times, there was zero tolerance for parental disrespect and disobedience, but these latter-day saints will be continually non-compliant and rebellious to parental authority. The next characteristic is that they will be unthankful! They will be ungrateful, unpleasing and ungracious. No matter what they received they will never be thankful. Next, it says that they will be unholy. According to the Analytical Lexicon of the NT, this speaks of those who reject religious obligations, having no regard of duty to God or man. The Greek word used here is only used here and in I Tim. 1:9 in the NT. Hence, in context, the verse speaks of the time when those who are supposedly Christian will make no distinction between that which is holy and that which is not. They will make no separation of holy things and will treat holy thing as common. Then the text says that they will be without natural affection. The NASB says that they will be unloving, the NRSV says that they will be inhuman. According to Louw-Nida, this word pertains to a lack of love and affection for close associates or family. They will be without family love! For the latter-days saints, blood will not be thicker than water! The KJV translation of the next term is really a bad translation. The word truce-breaker means one who makes a treaty and then breaks it. But the Greek term that is behind this translation denotes not those who make a truce or treaty and then break it, but rather those who refuse to make a treaty period! The modern translations render it as, irreconcilable, unforgiving, implacable. The Greek word literally means, “without libation or drink offering.” Hence, it is indicative of one who is strictly unwilling to make a treaty, hence irreconcilable and unforgiving. The absolutely irreconcilable person, who, being at war, refuses to lay aside his enmity or to listen to terms of reconciliation. This person is unwilling to be at peace with others. The latter-day saints will be false accusers or slanderers! The root of the Greek word is the same as the term for the devil. The term is used to describe those who are given to malicious gossip. They will be incontinent, which means they will be without self-control, lacking in moral restraint. They will be fierce, untamed, not gentle, brutal and salvage. And then they will be despisers of those that are good. Not only will they not want to do right, but they will hate those who will want to do right! I’m talking about the latter-days saints! They will be traitors, meaning they will deliver without justification a person into the control of someone else. They will be betrayers and will abandon in times of danger. They will be heady, which means that they will be rash, reckless and thoughtless. They will be high-minded, which means that they will be conceited, thinking of themselves more highly than they ought. And then the text says they will be lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God. Their main pursuit will be entertainment and relaxation, things that comfort and pleases the flesh, to the neglectful detriment of the spiritual and the things of God. The Louw-Nida Lexicon renders the definition as, “pertaining to being fond of pleasure and enjoyment – given over to pleasure.”  

          At this point in the text, the main list of the characteristics concludes. Note that the list began with the characteristic of being lovers of themselves and lovers of money and ends with the characteristic of them being lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God! Yes! The main problem with the latter-days saints will be that of misplaced affection! They will have a love for self, money and pleasures but have no love for family, others or God! Now, all the while they are doing this, Paul says that they will have a form of godliness! In other words, they will not quit coming to church! They will not stop offering up praises to God! They will go through the motions and the rituals of godliness. They will have a form of godliness, but it will just be a show! They will perform the rituals of the faith, but they will deny the power of the faith. Now, Paul warns Timothy to disassociate, to turn away, avoid, having nothing to do with such people. Those who are sincere are to withdraw themselves, as much as possible, from those who are hypocrites! 

          Now, I’m not going to deal with verses 6 and 8 because I really need to finish this today! So, let me comment on verse 7 and then I will conclude with verse 9. In reference to the women mentioned in verse 6, Paul describes them as, “Ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” I believe that this is a description of the latter-day saints also! The latter-days saints will run from conference to conference, from workshop to workshop, from church to church, from this class to that class, always learning.  But, because they will be determined to remain in their sins, they will not be able to come to a full, saving, knowledge of the truth. People often erroneous apply John 8:32 which says, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” But when you really look at that verse, the very first word is “And.” That means that it is connected and predicated on what precedes it. The quote is only part of what Jesus said. The whole of what Jesus said is this, he said: “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” You can only be free unless the truth makes you free! The truth will only make you free if you know the truth! And you will only know the truth if you continue (remain, abide and dwell) in his word, thereby proving yourself to really be his disciple! 

          Paul concludes by saying that these latter-days saints will only go so far because their folly will be exposed for all to see! It will not be difficult to tell who is saved and who is not because the Bible says that a tree is known by the fruit it bears! Jesus said, “By their fruits ye shall know them!” Now, we don’t need to know them for the sake of judging them, we need to know them for the sake of knowing the real from the fake, the sheep from the wolves, the real saints from the latter-day saints!

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I Don’t Need A New Year: I Need A New Me!

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“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing”                                                                                                                                Romans 7:18-19 ESV

 “Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”                                                                                                                     2 Corinthians 5:17 KJV

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.”                                                                                                                                      2 Corinthians 4:16 ESV

 When we were much younger, we used to be really excited about the new year!  Perhaps some of you still are! I mean, after all, it is a time when everybody is on the same page.  We are all thinking about making a fresh start!  We are all thinking about starting all over again!  We are all thinking about setting goals and making this new year better than the last year! But wait a minute! Weren’t we all doing the same thing this time last year? And the year before?  And the year before that?  Haven’t we all been doing the same thing every year, for as long as we can remember? Perhaps the reason some of us are not as excited about the new year as we used to be is because we have lived long enough to experience the disappointments of countless new year’s resolutions that are never kept!  For no matter how excited we were and no matter how good our intentions were, not matter how determined we were, by the middle of January, and if not then, certainly by Valentine’s Day, the thrill, the excitement, the determination, the resolve that was present on New Year’s Eve and on New Year’s Day was long gone! No! Some of us are not particularly excited about the New Year because we have discovered that what is needed is not a new year, but rather a new person!  No! I don’t need a new year; I need a new me!

This is exactly the experience that the Apostle Paul shares with us in the Roman text.  Now we look at Paul’s experience, I would like to suggest to you that Paul is not relating a pre-conversion experience but rather, this was a post-conversion experience for Paul.  Some think that what Paul shares in Romans 7 is the struggle he experienced before he was saved, but a careful look at the text will prove otherwise.  Let me prove my point: First of all, when we look at the grammatical structure of the text, we note that Paul does not use the imperfect or the aorist tenses to describe this ordeal, but rather he consistently uses the present tense.  Paul is not describing what he used to go through, he is talking about the struggles that he is presently experiencing.  Secondly, the person who is not saved, has no real struggles with trying to do the right thing! It is not even on his mind to do right! Doing wrong is so natural, that doing right doesn’t even cross his mind.  Now there are some who would appeal to the fact of the conscience. But even the conscience of an unsaved person doesn’t want to do right.  The Bible says that there is a way that seemeth right to a man, but the ends thereof are the ways of death.  Paul says later on, in this same letter, “For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.  For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.  Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.  So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.”

So, Paul says, I know that in me, that is in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing.” Now, the flesh that Paul is referring to is not his physical body, but rather the unregenerate sin-nature that was present within him.  You see, when we are saved, God does not eradicate or remove our sinful nature, instead He places His Holy Spirit within us, which is His very own nature.  One of the purposes of God’s Spirit within us is to empower us to bring our sinful nature under control. “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. “But, walk (live according to) by (the power of) the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Paul said that he died daily. Everyday, the flesh (the sinful nature) has to be crucified. Crucifying the flesh is not something that God does for us, we have to do it ourselves by the power of His Spirit that dwells within us.

Therefore, Paul says, there is a struggle that is going on within me! The will to do is present within me! I want to lose weight! I want to come to Sunday School every Sunday! I want to become more active in my church! I want to be more than just a bench-member at my local church! I really want to; the willingness is there, but the how to and the actual doing of it, is absent! Not only do I struggle to do the things I want to do, but the things I don’t want to do seem to over-power me! I eat too many neck-bones and too much pork! I eat too much and don’t exercise enough! I talk about folks instead of praying for them! Oh! Sometimes I don’t even like myself, because the things I really want to do, I don’t do them and the things I really don’t want to do; I end up doing them! That’s why I’m not really very excited about this new year! Because unless I do things differently, this new year is going to be just like last year and the years before that! I don’t need a new year; I need a new me!

Well, before we get all depressed and give up all hope, there is some good news! Paul said that though it is a struggle, there is an answer to our dilemma! The answer is found “in Christ.”  He said, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation: old things have passed away: behold, all things are become new.” Yes! That’s the secret to success for the new year! You must be “in Christ!” What does it mean to be “in Christ?” The term, “in Christ” was a favorite expression of Paul used over seventy times in the Pauline writings.  It refers to status and position. It’s a good place to be! There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ! We have been justified freely by the grace that is in Christ. God causes us to always have the victory in Christ. We are sanctified in Christ.  We are all the children of God by faith in Christ. We shall all be made alive in Christ. The dead in Christ shall rise first. Yes! Everything we need is in Christ!  And so, if we abide in him and his word abides in us, we can ask what we will and it will be done unto us.  In Christ is a good place to be! Paul says, here in this text, that if any many be in Christ, he is a new creation! That is, if you are in Christ, you are a new you! The answer to the dilemma is to translate the position into experience! I am a new me in my position in Christ and through the power of the Spirit of God that lives within me, I can be a new me in my experience in life!

And, if you are a new you, you really don’t need a new year to start something new! For I heard Paul saying on another occasion that though the outward man is perishing, the inward man is being renewed day by day! Do you see that? The new you don’t need a new year to make a fresh start because the new you is being renewed everyday! Yes! That’s why I don’t really get excited about the New Year, because I get excited every morning! Every morning when I wake up and find myself not dead, that’s like New Year’s Day to me! Every morning that I’m able to get up out of my bed and dress myself; that’s like New Year’s Day to me!

So, if you really want to have life and have it more abundantly, don’t wait until the New Year to start over again! It doesn’t matter what day of the year it is, if you just meet Jesus, and get in him, he will make you a new creation! He will make you all over again! He will fix whatever is broken, he will mend all of the broken promises and dreams! When you’ve met him, you really won’t need a new year because he will make you, a new you!

The Un-Invited Guest of Honor (A Christmas Sermon)

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“He came unto his own, and his own received him not.”   John 1:11 KJV

“He came to what was his own, yet his own folk did not welcome him.”  John 1:11 James Moffatt Translation

“He came to that which belonged to Him [to His own-His domain, creation, things, world], and they who were His own did not receive Him and did not welcome Him.”        John 1:11 The Amplified Bible

Imagine, if you will, that you have been invited to a party; a birthday party.  All of your friends, loved-ones, acquaintances and some of your enemies are in attendance.  The place is all decorated and adorned with the trimmings for the gala affair.  The gifts are in abundance and everyone seems to be having a good time!  But, wait a minute, something is wrong!  It suddenly occurs to you that everybody is at this party except the birthday person; the guest of honor!  You inquire to the host as to the whereabouts of the honoree, and much to your dismay, you discover that the guest of honor was not even invited to his own birthday celebration!  Furthermore, you discover that not only was he not invited, should he happen to show up, he would not be welcomed!  Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?  But, is this not the case with many of our Christmas celebrations today?  It seems as if this world is determined to celebrate a Christ-less Christmas!  Although he is the reason for the season, in many homes he is not welcome.  Many have X-ed him out and replaced the babe in a manger with a fat man in a red suit!  Now, I don’t mean to be a scrooge, but I think we ought to be more mindful of the real reason for this season.

 Some commentators have said that the verse of our text is perhaps one of the saddest in the Bible.  “He came unto his own, and his own received him not!” Let’s take a few minutes now to take a closer look at this text and see what application it has for us today.  First of all, notice that the text says, “He came!” Oh!  What a wonderful statement! He came!  He came! God breaking into the plane of human existence!  He came!  Because we were unable to go to Him; He came to us!  He came! The Word of God manifested in the flesh!  He came! God intervening into human history to give us HIS-Story!  For ages, God had been telling men the way, with the advent of Jesus, He provided a living illustration to show us the Way!  He came!  God’s idea manifested in the flesh; the embodiment of the faith. He came!  Immanuel; “God with us!” Oh, I don’t know about you, but I’m glad that He came.  Because He came, I can have life and have it more abundantly!  Because He came, I can face tomorrow! Because He came, life is worth the living!  Oh!  I’m so glad that He came!

 Yes!  He came!  He came unto His own!  He came unto His own world.  John wrote: “All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.” It was His own because He was active in creation!  He was there when the statement was made, “Let us make man!” Hebrews says that the world is upheld by the word of His power!  Yes!  He came unto His own world; His own creation, and His own creation did not receive Him!  The Creator was rejected by the creature!

 He came unto His own people!  He was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  In Matthew’s gospel, it is reported that Jesus sent out the disciples with instructions to go not the way of the Gentiles, but rather to go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  One day a Syrophenician woman came to Jesus seeking his help, to whom Jesus replied, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” He came unto His own people, but overall, He was rejected by them.  Even his own family had doubts about him, John 7: 5 says that even his own brothers did not believe in him.

 But not only was he not welcomed by his own creation and his own people, he was not welcomed by his own religion.  The scriptures that the Pharisees and scribes studied testified of Jesus, yet the religious authorities refused to acknowledge him as the Messiah!  Yes!  He came unto His own!

 He came unto his own and his own received him not!  Yes!  His own rejected the Christ and crucified him upon a Roman cross.  His own refused to acknowledge him as the Messiah!  His own refused to accept him as Lord.  But why?  Why was it that he came unto his own and his own received him not?

 Well, His creation refused to receive him because of the same reason that they were in rebellion against God!  Jesus said that men loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.  When John wrote that Jesus was the light and that  the light was shining in the darkness and the darkness comprehended it not, there was a dual meaning.  One of the distinctive characteristics of John’s gospel is that it is full of dualism.  By dualism, we refer to those words and concepts within this gospel writing that has more than one meaning.  For instance, in John chapter three, Jesus told Nicodemus that a man must be born “anon.” The Greek word has two meanings which are both equally applicable in this context.  The word means, “again”: Ye must be born again!  But it also means “from above”: Ye must be born from above! Both concepts are equally valid.  In order to see (perceive or understand) the Kingdom, one must experience a second birth and that birth must be of a spiritual nature: from above!  So, when John wrote, what the King James Version interprets as “comprehend,” the Greek word is “katalambano,” which has the dual meaning of “understanding” or “comprehension” and “overcoming.” Hence the darkness did not understand the light neither did the darkness overcome, defeat, or extinguish the light.  The world did not accept or receive Jesus because the world was in darkness!

 His family according to the flesh and the Jews in general did not receive him because he came as a suffering servant and they were expecting a reigning king!  That’s the way it is you know, when you don’t measure up to other folk’s expectation of you, they will reject you!  Jesus came preaching a spiritual gospel, proclaiming deliverance from sin, but what the Jews wanted was a political manifesto declaring their independence from Rome!  Tradition has it that Barrabas was also named Jesus and that he was a political insurrectionist.  Hence the Jews wanted Jesus, the insurrectionist rather than Jesus the Christ. There are many people today who claim to be followers of Jesus.  But the question is, which Jesus?  The Jesus of the Bible; the Son of God or a Jesus of our own making?  Yes, he came unto his own and his own received him not!

 But thank God today!  The rejection was not total!  There were some who welcomed his arrival, And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel. And Joseph and his mother marveled at those things which were spoken of him. And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem. 

 No, the rejection was not total!  The record states, But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Yes!  I’m glad today that the rejection was not total!  For there were those who were willing to receive him as their Lord and Savior! No!  The rejection was not total!  For there are those even today, who realize that without Christ there would be no Christmas!  So, as I leave you alone to decide how you will celebrate this Christmas!  Just remember that it’s not about presents wrapped under a tree, but rather a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger!  It’s not so much about the presents you give to others, but the gift that God has given to you!  As you celebrate Christmas this year, don’t forget about the guest of honor!  You see, if you don’t invite him to the party, then he will not show up!  He’s too intelligent to be a party-crasher!  But if you invite him; he will come!  For I heard him saying, “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.  Yes!  If you let him, Jesus will come into your Christmas celebration! Well!  How should we celebrate Christmas?  I submit to you that if you are lost you cannot truly celebrate this season!  You cannot really celebrate a party if you’re not on speaking terms with the guest of honor!  You cannot celebrate a holy season in an unholy manner!  It’s on the verge of blasphemy to celebrate the birthday of Jesus by getting drunk at Christmas parties!  The best way to celebrate this season is by inviting the guest of honor to take his rightful place in your life!  The best way to celebrate is by letting him into your heart and life: 

 Oh!  Joy to the world, the Lord is come!  Let earth receive her King!  Let every heart prepare him room, And Heaven and nature sing!  Oh!  Joy to the earth!  The Savior reigns!  Let men their songs employ!  While fields and floods, rock, hills and plains, Repeat the sounding joy!  Yes!  You ought to go tell it on the mountain!  Over the hills and everywhere!  Go tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ was born!

 

The Incredible Faith of Abraham

man on camelWe often talk about Abraham as being the “father of the faithful,” but have we ever thought about just how faithful Abraham really was? Usually, faith is built on trust and trust is developed from prior experience. But, when we read of the initial encounter the Lord had with Abraham, it seems that there was not much of a track record between the Lord and Abraham prior to that time! In Genesis 12:1-4a, we read: “Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ So Abram went, as the LORD had told him.” (ESV)  Abraham or Abram as he was known at that time, left home in obedience to the word of a God he had only recently met and had had no prior experience with! In our day and time and in our culture, it is considered foolish and ill-advised to trust someone you don’t know or someone you just recently met! (However, we do this all the time, every time we get on an airplane and into a taxicab!) Yet! Abram believed God and left home based on the promises of a God he hardly knew and just had recently met! That was incredible faith!

But if you think that was incredible, look at the text again! Not only did Abraham leave all that he was familiar with for the unfamiliar, the Lord told him to go to a land that he would be shown! In other words, not only did Abraham leave home in obedience to a God he hardly knew and had no real experience with, he left home, not knowing where he was going! The Lord didn’t tell him a specific place to go! No! The Lord told him to leave and the Lord promised to show him where he was going as he was going! Oh my! Most of us wouldn’t dare leave home until we at least knew where we were going! But the incredible faith of Abraham is shown in the last words of the passage we selected: “So, Abram went, as the LORD had told him!” Wow!

Now, when we look at the faith of Abraham, it is incredible in its own time and context, but it is even more incredible when we compare it with the faith we should have in our day and time! Abraham had little or no prior experience with the Lord, yet Abraham believed God! We have the witness of Abraham, and many other biblical examples, in addition to the authority of Scripture, yet many of us struggle to believe God! Abraham trusted a God he hardly knew and had little experience with, yet we know the Lord through the testimony of the Bible, the testimony of the saints of old, and through our own personal experiences, yet often, we still struggle to believe God! In addition to all of that, we have the witness and the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling within!

We struggle today with the simple elementary stuff when it comes to the things of God! But the Lord is looking for people of strong faith so that mighty exploits might be done through them! But, it’s hard to do big things with people who have little or no faith! We have the witness of Abraham and all the saints of old! We have the witness of those who have gone on before us in our lifetimes! We have the witness of the Bible! We have the redemption from sin, purchased by the life of Jesus! We have the indwelling witness and power of the Holy Spirit within! Abraham had none of that, yet the faith that Abraham had back then, still far exceeds the faith that many of us have today! Abraham had incredible faith! But, with the advantages of historical witnesses, biblical revelation, salvific redemption, and spiritual infusion, our faith today should be even more incredible than Abraham’s!  

Eyes Haven’t Seen and Ears Haven’t Heard?

eyes haven seenI was on my way to church one Sunday morning when I heard a song that had such a beautiful melody! I had heard the words of the song many times before, for you see, the words of the song were part of a quote from 1 Corinthians 2:9, which says in part: “. . . Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” The gist of the message of the song and the gist of what many covey when that passage is quoted is this: God has such wonderful things in store for those who love him, so much so that it is beyond anything seen, heard, or even imagined! Now, I’m sure if you’ve been around church, you have probably heard this quotation and application yourself. Maybe you have even quoted and applied that passage in that same way yourself!

Well, one of the things I’ve learned across the years of studying and interpreting scripture is the fact that the first rule of interpretation and application is context. The second rule is context! The third rule is context! Whenever you read any verse in the Bible, before you can rightfully interpret and make application, you should always look at the context! How do you do that? You can start by reading some of the verses before and after the verse in question. If we were to apply that rule to 1 Corinthians 2:9, we would immediately see that although the songs that use that quote sound good and the quotes and applications sound biblical, to just quote 1 Corinthians 2:9 by itself and make an application based on just that one verse is a gross exegetical error and a theological misstep!

We don’t have to look very far to see what I am taking about! Now, to give you some context, Paul was speaking to the Corinthian church about the mystery of the wisdom of God (verse 7) as it relates to the crucifixion of Jesus. It was a mystery that had been hidden from even before the world began! The mystery was that God was going to use the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross to redeem mankind from sin. Paul said that if the rulers of this world had known, that by killing Jesus, they were actually affecting their own undoing, they never would have crucified Jesus! (Verse 8) Then Paul makes a scriptural application by adapting Isaiah 64:4 to illustrate his point. Paul wrote: “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” I said Paul adapted Isaiah 64:4 because it actually says: “For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him.” Isaiah said “what he hath prepared for him that waiteth (waits) for (on) him.” Paul modified the passage for his purposes and said: “The things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” Isaiah says, “wait” Paul says, “love.” But I didn’t really bring that up to note the differences, but merely to help us with establishing some context.

The point I really want to make comes to light when we read 1 Corinthians 2:10, which modifies verse 9. In verse 9, the verse we always quote and sing, Paul said, “Eyes haven’t seen, ears haven’t heard, nor has it even entered into the hearts of men what great things God has prepared for those that love him.” Now, you need to remember that Paul is not making a statement or an assertion; he is merely quoting and making application of Isaiah 64:4. Paul doesn’t make a statement until verse 10, when he says: “But God!” Do you see that? “But God” makes all the difference! Eyes haven’t seen, ears haven’t heard, nor has it entered into the hearts of men what great things God has prepared for them that love him. . . But God!  But God what? In verse 10, Paul is modifying the quote in verse 9! In verse 9, Paul was saying that it’s all a mystery that is beyond comprehension or imagination, but then he says in verse 10: “But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.”

WOW!!!! Paul is saying the things that eyes haven’t seen and ears haven’t heard and the things that have not even entered into the mind, God has revealed them to us by his Spirit! Now the Bible says that we are saved by his Spirit and once we are saved, his Spirit abides in us! Therefore, for any believer to sing the song and quote verse 9 as a proof-text of the unimaginable things God has in store for them that love him is a gross theological error, for it is to ignore the context of the passage and it is to deny the power and ministry of God’s indwelling Spirit! Not only that, it really is to lie on God! You’re saying that eyes haven’t seen and ears haven’t heard, but the Bible says that what you’re sayings hasn’t been seen, heard, or thought of, has been revealed by his Spirit! We can see Paul’s point even more so if we keep reading to verse 12, which says: “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.” What things? The same “things” from the Old Testament quote in verse 9 that eyes haven’t seen and ears haven’t heard! The same “things” in verse 10 that God has revealed to us by his Spirit!

Oh! I feel a “preach” coming on here! When you quote 1 Corinthians 2:9 as a fact, you are actually calling God a liar! What you are saying hasn’t been seen, heard, or thought of, the very next verse says: But God has revealed them to us by his Spirit and verse 12 says that we have the Spirit so that we might know the “things” that are freely given to us of God! This is a prime example of why understanding the context of a verse, a passage, or even a chapter in the Bible is so important! Doctrines have been formulated, songs have been composed, and people are “testi-lying” when they think they are testifying, all because of a passage taken out of context! In this case, the error is that of drawing a conclusion before reading the author’s actual conclusion! People make the mistake of only reading, quoting and singing verse 9, when they should keep on reading, at least to verse 12!

Now, I know this post is going to mess with some choirs and singers! But we need to make sure the songs we sing are biblically accurate and theologically correct! Many song-writers and composers today are not really biblically literate! Many don’t study the Bible to rightfully divide (interpret and apply) the word of truth!  So don’t just sing a song just because you hear it on the radio and it sounds good! Make sure that it’s biblically sound! So! You can keep on singing, quoting and applying 1 Corinthians 2:9 only and bask in spiritual ignorance if you want to! As for me! I thank God for the next verse that says: “But God!” The “But God” tells me, I once was blind; but now I see!

Why People Perish (Even) With A Vision

vison statementThe first part of the KJV’s (King James Version) rendition of Proverbs 29:18 is often cited as a proof-text for the vision statements of individuals, corporations, and even some churches and other religious organizations. In case you are not familiar with it by the passage notation, let me cite it for you: “Where there is no vision, the people perish. . . .” But experience has proven over and over again that in many cases, even where there is a “vision” present; the people still perish! Why? They perish because of an erroneous interpretation and thus wrong application to this well-known passage.

But before we even get into the Hebrew text to find out what the statement is really saying, if one would just take an even honest look at the KJV rendition of the whole verse, it is apparent that something is awry with the way this passage is usually interpreted and applied. First of all, the well-known part that most people are familiar with is only the first part of the verse. The way the verse is composed and structured, the first part was not written to be separate or thought of as being unrelated to the second part of the verse. The first part is the first half of a couplet! It’s just one side of the coin! It’s just the “in” of the “in-and-outs!” So let’s look at the verse in its entirety: “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” Now, although this is part of what is called “wisdom literature,” it is structured in the Hebrew poetic form called parallelism. In Hebrew parallelism, the author makes a statement on one line, and then he; restates, adds to, or makes a contrast on the next line. Usually the words in the first line have corresponding or parallel words or ideas in the second line. In the verse in question, “vision” in the first line is parallel to “law” in the second line. Remember now, we just said that the parallel words or ideas usually restates, adds to, or contrast one another. In this case, “law” is restating the idea of “vision.” So, even without looking at the Hebrew, we already know that the terms; “vision” and “law” are related to one another. They are either opposites or they are relating the same idea.

Now, as we look at the two phrases in parallel, we need to ask: How does the idea of people not having a vision fit with the idea of someone being happy or blessed by keeping the law? Well, if we accept the way the first line has been traditionally interpreted and applied, we would have to admit that one has nothing to do with the other! Because, according to the traditional interpretation and application, the first line has to do with goals and goal-setting and the second line has to do with being obedient to the law! One idea has nothing to do with the other! That is, if we accept the traditional interpretation and application! So, we have to decide if the writer had a brain-lapse or just maybe our traditional interpretation and application is wrong. I think the latter is the case.

So let’s go to the Hebrew text for the answer! Now, before we start, I am in no way professing to be a Hebrew scholar! I received a decent grade in Hebrew when I studied it in seminary, but for the most part “He-brewed” me: I barely got out alive! At any rate, let’s take a look! The Hebrew word that is translated as “vision” by the KJV is a word that more properly refers to prophetic vision, prophecy, or divine guidance. Therefore, it is not a reference to goals or plans, but rather to divine communication from the Lord. So, the problem in the text is not a lack of plans or goals, but rather the lack of a word from the Lord! So, if that is the correct idea, then it parallels perfectly with the second part of the verse! The idea of “divine guidance” is a parallel to the concept of “law.” When we look up the word for “law” in the Hebrew, we discover that the word in Hebrew is actually “torah” and it means; law, direction, or instruction! Therefore, the first part of the couplet should be rendered similar to this; “Where there is no prophetic word, or prophecy, or divine instruction, the people. . .”

Now, I didn’t complete the first couplet because we still have to deal with the idea of “perish.” So, when we look up the Hebrew word behind the English word “perish,” we discover the word means, to let loose, or to be let loose, or to be let loose of restraint.” So the idea is not that of perishing as in being destroyed or ruined, but rather is that of being unrestrained or wild! So let’s see what the verse says in light of our discoveries: “Where or when there is no prophetic word, or divine instruction (from the Lord), the people are unrestrained or the people run wild!” Wow! That’s a far cry from a “vision” statement!  The whole verse can thus be rendered: “Where or when there is no prophetic word or divine instruction (from the Lord), the people run wild! But blessed is he (or) the one that keeps or obeys the law (more specifically the written law) or the (written) word of the Lord!”

So, we can conclude that people perish, even with a vision, because a vision (in the sense that we use the word today) cannot save, nor is it really designed to save people from destruction! People, corporations, and even some churches and religious organizations have great visions and great visionaries, but yet they are still perishing! Only obedience to the word of God can save people from destruction! And all one has to do is but look at the news and take a look around to see people running wild! People are running wild, not because of a lack of vision, but rather because of a rejection of the authority of the word of God (in and over their lives) as it is revealed in the written Scriptures!

 

Jesus is Knocking on the Door

Jesus at the doorHow many times have you heard an altar call or an invitation extended and the preacher or speaker quoted Revelation 3:20 and said or implied that it was God or Jesus knocking on the door of the sinner’s heart and all they had to do to be saved was to open the door and let the Lord in? If you were brought up in church like me, you probably cannot count how many times you have heard that appeal!

But did you know that the picture usually presented in connection with Revelation 3:20 is not the picture the verse is depicting at all? When Jesus was knocking on the door in Revelation 3:20, he was not knocking on the door of a sinner’s heart! There are three basic rules one must follow first in order to rightfully interpret Scripture. The first rule is context! The second rule is context! And the third rule is context! The Bible can be made to say and mean anything when verses or passages are taken out of their context. Such has been the case with Revelation 3:20!

A good rule of thumb in establishing the context is to make sure you read what comes before and what comes after the particular verse or passage. Find out how the passage fits in the narrative or discourse in reference to the surrounding verses or passages. Then read the whole chapter and find out how it fits in reference to the whole chapter. Then read the whole book, then look at the section of the Bible it is contained within (Old or New Testament), then find out how it fits in the Bible as a whole! Now, usually you will not have to read the whole Bible just to find the correct context for one verse or passage; you can usually find that out by reading the surrounding verses and maybe the chapter. The point I am trying to make is that no verse or passage really stands all by itself! In order to properly find the intended and true meaning, you need to find the context!

With that in mind, Revelation 3:20 is part of a letter that was written to the angel (pastor perhaps?) of the church at Laodicea. The message is not just to the “angel,” the message was to the church. This particular church was mediocre in their devotion and service. They were lukewarm; in betwixt and in between. They were not hot and they were not cold! By the way, I’ve heard that particular part of the passage preached to imply that the Lord wanted them hot as opposed to cold, but that is not what the passage is saying. The city of Laodicea had no natural water source. Water had to be piped in either from the hot springs of Heirapolis, six miles to the north or from the cold streams of Colosse, ten miles to the east. By the time the hot piped water would arrive from Heirapolis, it was not warm enough to bathe in. By the time the cold refreshing water would arrive from Colosse, it too was too warm to drink! Thus the people knew exactly what was meant by the wish that they were hot or cold, because they knew first-hand how useless and nauseating luke-warmness was!

Now, I am not going to deal with the whole passage because that is not the purpose of this post. But notice in the verse just before our passage, the Lord said: “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” (Rev. 3:19 ESV)  In the two verses immediately following, the Lord said: “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'” (Rev 3:21-22 ESV) So, we can gather from the context, because the Lord loves them, the Lord is speaking to church people, encouraging them to be zealous and repent of their lukewarmness. Therefore in this context, there is no doubt that the door the Lord is knocking on in verse 20 is not the door of an unsaved sinner’s heart, but rather the Lord is knocking on the door of the church of Laodicea, seeking to gain entrance and fellowship! Because of their perceived self-sufficiency, they felt no real need for the Lord and what he had to offer!

Oh! What a revelation? In the correct context, this passage should be used to encourage not sinners, but the church (particularly the Western church) to repent of her self-sufficiency, lack of whole-hearted devotion, and exclusion of the Lord from his rightful place as the Head of the church!