The Charismatic Gifts

Miracle

Jesus promised that the Father would send the Holy Spirit to be The Comforter, the Helper, the Equipper of the saints and that He would draw people to Christ. The Charismatic gifts bestowed by the Holy Spirit upon believers in Jesus are mentioned frequently in the New Testament and are enumerated in 1 Corinthians chapter 12, “Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. Now 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. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.” (1Co 12:3-11) These manifestations are other than natural or normally occurring phenomenon. They are intended to be signs which glorify God and draw people to Him. That is why they are referred to as the sign gifts.

 

Sadly, these gifts continue to stimulate controversy and division in the body of Christ.

Some contend that the functioning of these gifts has ceased after the Apostolic age and that the purpose of signs and wonders was to validate the message of the Apostles. Those who teach this are referred to as cessationists. There is not a strong scriptural basis for this position. The common reference they use is in 1Corinthians chapter 13, verses 8-10, “Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.” (1Co 13:8-10). For the cessationist, “the perfect” is the canon of scripture and the closing of the canon would make the gifts unnecessary. This is a weak argument because “the perfect” is correctly the second coming of Christ, for as we continue reading we see that “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1Co 13:12) Seeing “face to face” and knowing fully can only happen when Christ returns. Knowledge most certainly has not passed away with the close of the New Testament.

 

The most frequently cited proponent of cessation theology was professor Warfield of Princeton University who wrote Counterfeit Miracles. His argument is built primarily on the idea that there is a lack of evidence for true miracles after the first century (he considers any reports after the first century to be fake) and on his logic that such miracles are unnecessary to the building of God’s Kingdom. In Renewal Theology professor Wiliams of Regent University successfully refutes Warfield’s logic and lack of evidence, pointing to the writings of church historians Justin Martyr and Ireneaus recording numerous miracles after the first century.[i] Professor Wayne Grudem, Trinity University, also provides a detailed apologetic for the continuation of signs, wonders and miracles in his Systematic Theology. [ii]

Division in the body occurs when cessationists accuse those who experience the gifts or report miracles of being fake, insincere, unsaved or demonically inspired. Such accusations inflict deep wounds. Remember, that no one can say, “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. To be sure, there is abuse that occurs with those who seek to exercise the gifts and there is an abundance of fakery, especially with television evangelists. This abuse and false testimony must be addressed and dealt with. I will discuss this at length later.

 

First, let’s deal with the concept of cessation from a biblical standpoint. The writings of the New Testament were in regular use from the first century on and most, if not all, were recognized as being inspired by the Holy Spirit. They all had a consistent message of salvation through Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. They consistently spoke of the gospel of salvation by grace through faith. They were generally accepted and preached throughout the church. So, when a church council in met in the fourth century to establish the “Canon” of scripture (The Old Testament had been recognized by Hebrew scholars for centuries) it was more so a matter of recognizing what they knew to be true. One of the guiding principles for recognizing divinely inspired scripture is that such writing had to necessarily be of timeless and universal value. It could not be for a specific time or a certain people exclusively. (Some “modern” teachers reject the authority of certain scriptures that offend them based upon this false idea that it was only for a certain time and place. This is a deadly error.) They followed Paul’s inspired guidance in 2 Timothy chapter 3, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2Ti 3:16-17) ALL scripture had to be profitable, not just parts of scripture.

 

1 Corinthians chapters 12 -14 address the use of charismatic gifts in the church. Though it may have addressed a specific problem in Corinth in the first century, the message is timeless and universal. Rest assured that other local churches throughout history have dealt with the same issues as the Corinthians. So, Mr. Warfield and Mr. MacArthur, if the charismatic gifts had ceased to function after the first century, why did the church fathers decide to include a letter that would only have value to the Corinthians of the first century? They would not. If the entire letter was not profitable, then why include it? There are other letters addressing most of the other issues that 1 Corinthians covers. The message of the entire Bible is valuable today! 1 Corinthians 12-14 is for today!

 

There are a variety of scriptures attesting to the practice of the gifts by the body in general and not just the Apostles. “God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” (Heb 2:4) The release of Peter from prison in answer to the prayers of the saints certainly qualifies as a miracle. Grudem defines a biblical miracle as, “a less common kind of God’s activity in which He arouses people’s awe and wonder and bears witness to Himself.”[iii] Paul recognized miraculous works among the Galatians in his absence, “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—“ (Gal 3:5) He also references “workers of miracles” in Corinth (1 Corinthians 12:28). Jesus gave authority to His 70 disciples to heal the sick and cast out demons. Stephen and Phillip worked miracles (Acts 6:8, 8:6-7). Scripture is clear that the charismatic gifts are for the entire body.

 

Interestingly, the most confusion, dissension and abuse has centered around the gift of tongues. I surrendered to Christ through the ministry of a Pentecostal denomination. Eventually, I rejected Pentecostal orthopraxy and doctrine. I served as a pastor of a charismatic church. The Pentecostal position asserts that speaking in tongues is always the first sign that a person has been “baptized in the Holy Spirit”and that the Acts 2 experience at Pentecost should be normative (thus the term Pentecostal). They hold to a “second blessing” doctrine taught by Jonathan Wesley. Such teaching leads people to seek after a certain gift and having once attained it to thinking that other believers who have not are less blessed. This is extremely harmful and contrary to the message of the gospel.

 

The scripture is clear that all who believe in Jesus receive the Holy Spirit when they first believe, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,” (Eph 1:13) Furthermore, there are examples of believers in Acts exercising other charismatic gifts without first speaking in tongues and in my own experience I have encountered others exercising gifts of healing, words of wisdom or knowledge, and prophecy who never spoke in tongues. My wife has never spoken in tongues. She once was praying for a woman who could not conceive. He doctor had told her that her tubes were blocked permanently. She wanted children. As my wife was praying she was suddenly filled with supernatural faith and believed that the Lord Jesus was speaking to her that the woman would conceive. My wife told the woman what she believed the Lord was speaking. Within a year the woman had a child and eventually had five. I believe this was an example of a gift of healing, faith and a word of knowledge all combined. This is the way the Holy Spirit works. I’ve had people “read my mail” who have never spoke in tongues. Charismatics believe that the Holy Spirit still bestows signs and wonders today and that any believer can be used by God to work miracles. We do not believe that one must speak in tongues to be used in this way.

 

Pentecostals and Charismatics have been mocked and accused by cessationists over the gift of tongues. Detractors are correct in pointing out that the tongues of Pentecost recorded in Acts 2 were most likely known foreign languages of the people in attendance at the feast from 70 countries. Since that is true, if the Pentecost experience is supposed to be normative, it would seem that the “baptism” would be manifested by known foreign languages. In practice it rarely is. Which might cause one to be suspicious about the authenticity of the experience. On the other hand, cessationists make the mistake of assuming that there is only one type of tongues. But there is a tongue that is not a known language. There is a tongue that speaks only to God and there are tongues of angels. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1Co 13:1) What language do angels speak? 1 Corinthians 14 is the Bible instruction for the use of tongues in the church. It begins, “For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.” (1Co 14:2) Does God only speak in the known languages of man? I think not.

 

If you read through chapter 14 believing that there is only one type of tongues (known languages) you are going to be confused and might think that the Bible contradicts itself. It does not. Verse 4 says that tongues is for self edification or speaking to God. Verses 5 and 13 mention interpretation. That would have to be a message from God (prophecy) or of a known language (sign to an unbeliever). Verse 10 speaks of “languages in the world”, ie. known languages. Verse 14 says that I can pray in the Spirit “without understanding”. I must be speaking to God. Verse 17 says I can give thanks to God without others understanding. Verse 22 says that tongues are a sign to unbelievers. They would have to understand. It would have to be a known language. But it also says that prophecy, a message from God, is for believers. Verse 23 says that if the church is all speaking in tongues the unbeliever will think we are crazy.  But, tongues are a sign to unbelievers! That must be a different type of tongues. Verse 25 speaks of the secrets of the unbeliever’s heart being revealed. That would be a word of knowledge. The conclusion, the timeless, universal conclusion of 1 Corinthians 14 is, “So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But all things should be done decently and in order.” (1Co 14:39-40) A word of caution here: God’s definition of decency and order does not equal modern Baptist decorum. Throughout the Bible there are accounts of God doing things that modern man might think strange.

 

 

I learned about the functioning of the charismatic gifts from John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard movement and from Jack Deere, who was a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary. He had to leave his post there because he had an encounter with the Holy Spirit where he spoke in tongues and prophesied. He wrote Surprised by The Spirit. I was taught and I believe that the charismatic gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12 are not given permanently to individual believers. They are not residential with the person. They are situational and bestowed for a certain time and place as the Holy Spirit wills. A person doesn’t “have” the gift of healing. I was once asked by a young cessationist youth pastor from DTS why John Wimber didn’t go to the local hospital and heal everyone. Obviously, that was not the Holy Spirit’s plan. I have seen bona fide signs and wonders. I was at a healing conference in Anaheim where we went to learn about praying for the sick and hearing from God. The Vineyard had a strong emphasis on the priesthood of all believers and equipping all of the saints for the works of ministry. We didn’t have healing lines where some “anointed” evangelist lined people up and prayed for everyone. At this conference, someone shared what they believed was a word of knowledge that God was going to heal people who were blind in one eye. A call was made to have those who qualified to come forward. Hundreds came forth! Wimber reminded them that this was for people who were blind in ONE eye. Hundreds turned around and about a dozen or so stayed (there were about 4,000 at the conference). Then they instructed us, all of us, to lay hands on them and pray for healing. The next day it was reported that 4 had experienced healing. They were referred to an eyes doctor for confirmation. It was a miracle! A true sign of God’s love and power. A true sign of how God wants to use us to advance His kingdom. When the signs were seen, some trusted Christ for the first time.

 

Sometimes these prayer times, with everyone seeking to minister, would get messy. Sometimes people would react in unusual ways. In 1992, ABC News with Peter Jennings did a special report called “In the Name of God.” I don’t think their intentions were to glorify God. In one episode, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9I9YCue3Fkk&t=313s) they came to the Vineyard in Anaheim. It was a powerful service where people were praying for each other. Some people fell on the floor, some were weeping along with other unusual manifestations. Afterward, Peter Jennings interviewed John Wimber. He asked John if he thought that all of the “manifestations” were a sign from God. He was surprised when John said, “Oh no, most of them aren’t.” His response was that they were ministering to many sick people and he didn’t believe that it was his job to be the Holy Spirit’s policeman. He always felt that God is perfectly capable of doing that. Wimber was criticized for his lack of discipline in his ministry. Perhaps some of the criticism was warranted. But, his detractors also forget that he gave the left foot of fellowship to the Kansas City Fellowship and the Toronto Blessing church because they refused his guidance about identifying weird manifestations (barking, roaring) with the Holy Spirit. Wimber related an account where an old parishioner came to him complaining about all of the messy manifestations and asking what he intended to do. He held up his Bible and said, “I won’t let it go any further than this book.” He said, “She took comfort from that! She must not have read it!”

 

My exhortation to my brothers and sisters is this: Don’t quench the Holy Spirit. Do everything in order, God’s order, not man’s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[i] Williams, Renewal Theology, Zondervan, 1996.

[ii] Grudem, Systematic Theology, InterVarsity Press, 1994.

[iii] Ibid., p. 355

 

Response to The Gospel Coalition and Kendra Dahl Regarding Preaching to Hurt Women

Woman caught in adultery

I recently got involved in a somewhat intense discussion on Facebook in response to a post by The Gospel Coalition. The writer of the referenced story was Kendra Dahl. Her column was titled, “Pastor, Preach Like Hurt Women Are Listening’ dated Feb. 14 2019. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/pastor-preach-hurt-women/

My first thought was, “Of course!” Much of what she says goes without saying. It’s only common sense that people in pastoral and preaching ministries need to be compassionate and carrying toward hurting people in their churches. That’s what Jesus is doing and if they properly represent Him they should do likewise. I think the vast majority of preachers are doing a good job at this. It is surprising to me that women are singled out, as if to imply that their pain is greater than men. I’m not sure that Jesus makes that distinction. But, apparently Kendra Dahl, and by extension The Gospel Coalition, think that preachers need to be more careful to not hurt women who have been hurt by abortion. She identifies post abortive women as “victims” because they are hurt by the words that people say about this sin. She emphasizes women who have been victims of sexual abuse and lumps them in with all women who are wounded by what they have done and what people say about this grisly practice. I’ve heard statistics that abortions resulting from rape may only account for 3% of all abortions. Even if we are to be generous and estimate that 10% are true victims of abuse, that still leaves 90% of abortions being done for simple convenience. Some people attribute abortion to ignorance, but, forgive me, I think that’s a cop out. It’s hard to believe in this sophisticated age that women don’t understand that they are eliminating what will be a child. That’s why they are going to the abortionist. If they thought they had a tumor, they would go to a surgeon. So we might estimate that 90% of post abortive women are not really victims, except that they are victims by choice. When a woman decides to kill her child, I don’t think Jesus sees her as an innocent victim. The child that she decides to kill is the innocent victim.

Dahl cites an abhorrent statistic that 25% of all women will have had an abortion by age 45. Millions of children are being killed for convenience. I have seen estimates from Barna research that the rate of abortion, and other sins, is relatively the same in and out of the church. So, it’s safe to say that one in four women sitting in the pew have had an abortion or properly speaking have committed infanticide and 3.6 of them have done for convenience. Dahl and the Gospel Coalition want to remind preachers not to hurt their feelings. She writes, “Consider the shame that post-abortive women can feel as abortion is lamented from the pulpit.”

Dahl is correct in stating that, “Everyone in the congregation needs to hear a call to repentance and receive the assurance of forgiveness in Christ.” Yes, we all need to hear the call, but she neglects to remind us that we must answer the call in order to be healed. True healing and forgiveness only comes when we confess our sin to God and turn away from doing it again. In my experience in pastoral ministry I find that when people refuse to admit and confess their sin, they never get healed from it. Unfortunately, I have encountered too many post abortive women who make excuses for their sin instead of confessing it. Thinking of one’s self as an innocent victim is not conducive to confession. Consider what she writes, “We limp into the pew having been assaulted by headlines and social-media commentary—words and pictures that trigger memories, shame, fear, and disgust. Despite the healing power of the gospel, the effects of our traumatic experiences linger. Our consciences accuse us day and night, and we are spiritually weary. We doubt our belovedness; we wonder if we really belong to Jesus; we wonder if the gospel is sufficient to heal our bleeding wounds.”

There is quite a tone of doubt in her comment. Doubt in the power of the gospel, doubting God’s love, doubting her salvation, etc. The first step to complete healing is to believe the gospel and trust Christ completely! The power to heal and forgive is not in the message alone. It is in Jesus Himself. Never doubt Him.

Note that she feels assaulted by headlines and social media comments, not preachers. Why isn’t the story aimed at journalists and media commentators? I don’t know of any preachers assaulting wounded women, but TGC thinks that preachers need to hear this. Could this be subtle pressure to avoid the topic altogether? In fact, that is exactly what the vast majority of America’s preachers are doing for fear of offending 25% of the women in the congregation. I admit that some social media commentators are mean spirited and I would never encourage that. But, the reason that the outcry against this holocaust is coming from social media is because it is not coming from the pulpits. Some of us feel compelled by the Holy Spirit to speak up. As it was with the Nazi Holocaust and American slavery, the pulpits are virtually silent. They’re too busy building mega churches. When we do speak up we are accused of lacking compassion. Some anti abortion ministries show graphic images and are attacked by rabid baby killers and Christians alike. There is a group known as Created Equal that travels college campuses with a jumbotron showing graphic images. They cite tremendous progress in changing minds and hearts. William Wilberforce is credited with ending slavery in Britain by showing graphic images. Abortion is a grizzly evil. It may never be eliminated unless people are awakened to the horror.

The church is failing to be a biblical witness to this evil. I have held a baby who was born because I did reach out with the compassion of Jesus to convince the mother to keep her child. I support our local crisis center that offers post-abortion counseling. My concern here has to do with the influence of TGC on America’s pulpits. Preachers lacking compassion is a miniscule problem from what I have observed. On the other hand, 99% of preachers in this land never address the subject. That is a glaring problem that TGC should address.

To never discuss this great national sin fails to provide truth or compassion. I’ve walked with Jesus for 37 years. My sin was heinous and I am grateful for God’s mercy and compassion. I’ve been in pastoral ministry. I’ve visited many Bible believing churches. I am a faithful member of a strong Bible preaching evangelical church. But, in all these years, I rarely hear a message about this holocaust. I don’t believe that mean preaching is a serious problem. It’s a straw man. Ignoring the problem is a serious problem. I think I know why it happens.

 

 

A Response to the Revoice Conference and the LGBT Agenda in God’s Church

gay

 

God calls His church to be the witness of the gospel of His Kingdom. Jesus commands us to have compassion on all people, including the lost and all sinners. He calls us to be ministers of His grace to all who are in bondage to sin. We must recognize the dignity of all people, including those trapped in sin. As such, the church must be welcoming to all, regardless of their present state. We must love the sinner and hate the sin.

The church must be cautious of abandoning the truth of God’s inerrant Word in a quest to be culturally relevant. We must hold to the whole counsel of God that His law is an integral part of His grace that leads us to repentance and salvation in Christ. In our present post-Christian culture there is an organized effort to normalize certain perverted sexual behaviors not only in society in general, but now in the church. According to God’s Word, all sex outside of a heterosexual marriage is a perversion of God’s law and His plan for humankind. The recent Revoice conference is only the most recent example of this effort to corrupt God’s church. These deceivers are attempting to popularize a teaching that same sex attraction is not a sin by itself and that the celibate homosexual can be a functioning minister in the body. This teaching clearly contradicts God’s Word. We know that God looks upon the heart and that all sinful proclivities are sin regardless of whether the person acts upon those sinful desires. Romans 1:26-27 make it abundantly clear that same sex attraction is a sinful desire which results from idolatry.

Those who are promoting this doctrine, in the name of “love and acceptance” are rejecting the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in the life of all believers. There are now “ministers” representing themselves as homosexuals and lesbians. They proudly proclaim this as their identity. Such people speak for organizations like The Gospel Coalition and others are ordained as ministers in so-called Christian churches. The Bible is clear about God’s desire for us: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God;” (1Th 4:3-5) These people are denying the power of God to change people.2 Timothy admonishes us to avoid such: “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.” (2Ti 3:1-5)

Should the church allow ministers to harbor covetousness as long as they don’t steal? Do we tolerate our brothers and sisters to harbor hatred and unforgiveness as long as they don’t murder? I was an alcoholic before I came to Christ. Popular secular philosophy would proclaim that I will always be an alcoholic, but that is not the gospel. I was delivered miraculously by God’s grace. I am no longer an alcoholic.I am redeemed! I am free! I am sanctified! This is God’s plan for all of His saints. There will be no drunkards, murderers, coveters, or sexual perverts or any other sort of sinner in the Kingdom of God. If we were to permit the sectarian division of the church by our sins it would be a shame. Are we going to allow alcoholics to remain in their sin and to proudly proclaim their sinful desire as long as they don’t drink?

We must welcome those who are in bondage to perverted desires, but we must not allow them to proudly proclaim the sin that is in their heart and continue to harbor that sin as if it is normal. They must seek counseling and deliverance privately as directed by the Holy Spirit and their shepherds. The love of Christ does not leave people in their sin.

Big Ag is Killing Us

When we think about farmers most of us probably have pastoral images of a hard working rural family struggling to make a living off the land. But, what does the term “Big Ag” conjure up? I recall this old news program sponsored by Archer Daniels Midland, “America’s supermarket to the world.” There was a movie about ADM based on a true scandal. “The Informant” was based upon the story of Mark Whitacre who was a whistleblower/ informant for the FBI in an investigation of price fixing by ADM. It’s a funny movie worth seeing and the main character was a sort of tragic clown. Whitacre actually went to prison for embezzling in the process of his work for the FBI. ADM was investigated for illegal price-fixing on Lysine and eventually settled, paying more than $100 million in fines. In 2004 ADM also settled for $400 million in a class action for price fixing on high fructose corn syrup. That’s what comes to my mind when I think of “Big Ag.”

We have been hearing a fair amount of advertising lately about supporting farmers. America does need farmers. I’ve heard ads from farm organizations seeking to pressure Congress and the EPA to raise the E15 (ethanol fuel) standard. And with the new Trump trade policies, farmers are complaining that their bottom line is suffering. In fact, big agriculture successfully lobbied the administration for an increase in farm subsidies to counteract the new tariffs. “USDA will authorize up to $12 billion in programs, which is in line with the estimated $11 billion impact of the unjustified retaliatory tariffs on U.S. agricultural goods. These programs will assist agricultural producers to meet the costs of disrupted markets.” Ironically, they’re complaining about EXPECTED losses even though most of their profits for this year are already set by contracts. If they are to experience any losses those wouldn’t happen until the 2019 harvest. We are presented a picture of poor, suffering farmers, but is that really the case?

We hear about family farms and it elicits an image of a small nuclear family on a little tract, struggling to survive. In fact, “Family farm” is not a synonym for “small farm.” In 2015, 90 percent of million-dollar farms were family farms. The agricultural industry is perhaps one of the largest beneficiaries of government largesse. According to the EWG Farm Subsidy Database, “The federal government spends more than $20 billion a year on subsidies for farm businesses. About 39 percent of the nation’s 2.1 million farms receive subsidies, with the lion’s share of the handouts going to the largest producers of corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, and rice.”

Almost of all the commodity payments and crop insurance indemnities are going to millionaires and multimillionaires as measured by farm household net worth. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, “America’s Diverse Family Farms: 2017 Edition” reports that, “Large-scale farms (large and very large family farms) accounted for just 2.9 percent of all farms, yet received over a third of the commodity payments (35 percent) and almost half of the crop insurance indemnities (46 percent).” And that “Large family farms, which received 32 percent of commodity payments and 34 percent of crop insurance indemnities, had a median household income of $347,000 (about six times the median income for all U.S. households).

The Farm bill truly is welfare for the rich. And remember, you and I pay for it. Fact: The Farm-Subsidy System Primarily Helps Large Agricultural Producers. The farm-subsidy system provides limited assistance to small family farms. In 2016, small family farms accounted for 89.9 percent of all farms, yet received only 27 percent of commodity payments and 17 percent of crop insurance indemnities. In addition to all of this, farmers are exempt from federal fuel taxes. If you own a business, you pay federal excise tax at the pump, but farmers are exempt. They buy diesel for their tractors without any tax. It costs the rest of us millions.

Besides getting all of that welfare, big agriculture has added to our costs of transportation to prop up their corn industry with federal ethanol standards. Ethanol may be less expensive at the pump than regular gasoline, but it will cost you more in reduced mileage. E10 gasoline, which is the gas we use in America, actually gives you 2-3 miles per gallon less than gasoline. E85 reduces mileage 7-8 miles per gallon.

In addition to reducing your gas mileage, running ethanol in older cars (newer cars have been re-designed to accommodate) actually does damage to the engine.” A 2012 study by Auto Alliance showed that some cars (model years 2001 to 2009) showed internal engine damage as the result of using an ethanol fuel blend. Damage to the valves and valve seats was evident in some of the cars tested. One of the 16 cars in the Auto Alliance study failed emissions compliance standards, which means it emitted more pollution than allowed by the EPA.”

The original impetus for the government to promote ethanol was to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. But, with new discoveries in America, we are now the world’s largest oil producer. Then, the government began pushing ethanol as part of the demand for “green” energy to reverse climate change. But, studies have proved that producing ethanol from grain requires more energy than the combustion of ethanol produces. “An acre of U.S. corn yields about 7,110 pounds of corn for processing into 328 gallons of ethanol. But planting, growing and harvesting that much corn requires about 140 gallons of fossil fuels.” 131,000 BTUs are needed to make 1 gallon of ethanol. One gallon of ethanol has an energy value of only 77,000 BTU. We are actually burning more carbon producing ethanol than the energy it produces. So much for reducing our carbon footprint. If there is such a thing as anthropomorphic climate change, we’re making it worse. Even the EPA admits that ethanol production is harming the atmosphere and soil.

It is estimated at this time that roughly 30% of our corn production is used for ethanol. There is little doubt that ethanol production has led to a significant increase in food costs. Have you looked at your food labels? That high fructose corn syrup (hfcs) is in almost everything we eat. Most of our meat is fed on corn.

Have you studied the health impacts of all of that hfcs in our diet? Heart disease, cancer and diabetes are the leading causes of death in America and hfcs plays a significant role in all of those diseases. All of that extra sugar in our diet is really killing us. The corn we are using today for our food is not the same as the corn your grandpa grew. Big farms today are using genetically modified corn, mostly from Monsanto. Have you seen the advertisements for “Roundup Ready Corn”? They are literally putting weed killer, glyphosate, in the corn and telling us that it is safe. The World Health Organization has classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” A number of EU countries now ban the use of this killer.

These days it seems like many people claim to have gluten allergies. Some researchers think that the real culprit is glyphosate. Monsanto is big Ag and they are killings us.

 

The First Communion

Last Supper2

 

We had communion in church on Sunday. It is always such a blessed event. It gives us a chance to reflect on our spiritual condition. I’ll always remember my first communion experience after being born again. After receiving the elements, I sat there in the pew reflecting on my sinfulness and rebellion and on Christ’s amazing sacrifice for my sin. I was weeping and my hands were shaking. As I opened my eyes and looked at the little cup in my hand, I saw that the juice had spilled out and was all over my hand. At that moment, the Lord reminded me that His blood was on my hands. I had received the cup as a child growing up in the Methodist church, but back then it was just a ritual without meaning to me. After this first born again communion, I knew I would never be the same. Whenever I take communion now, I reminded of that first real time for me.

This past Sunday, the preacher read from 1 Corinthians 11:24 and 25 as is customary, reminding us that Christ’s body was broken for us and His blood was shed for the remission of our sins. As we were taking communion, I was thinking about what that first communion meal must have been like for Christ’s disciples. As post-canon Christians, we have the advantage of having the Word of God including the New Testament that explains Christ’s death, burial and resurrection in the context of the gospel. We understand what the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus accomplished for our salvation and the establishment of His Kingdom.  The first disciples had none of that. All that they had were Hebrew traditions and the Old Testament which were a shadow of the good things to come. They had the teachings of their master, but the gospels are replete with accounts of how the disciples did not understand completely the things that Jesus taught them. We know from the gospel accounts that none of them understood that Jesus would rise from the dead. None of them understood why His death was necessary. None of them understood that the earthly Kingdom that Jesus spoke of was not for their time. They were all expecting Jesus to evict the Romans and re-establish an independent Israel. Their earthly nation was the only “Kingdom of God” that they knew. They believed that Jesus was God in the flesh, but they really did not understand His mission until after the resurrection. So, this first communion initiated by Jesus must have sparked many questions in their mind.

To begin to understand how the disciples may have thought about this event, we have to realize that this took place during a traditional Passover meal. The Passover observed in the first century was different than the modern Jewish holiday. It was more like the Passover celebrated by Moses and the Hebrews before the exodus. In the first century, they still had a temple, a priesthood and observed sacrifices, unlike modern Jews. During Jesus’ three years of ministry, He most likely observed the Passover with His disciples at least twice. But this time, it was different. Jesus broke tradition at His Last Supper. The unleavened bread that Jesus broke had always been a reminder to the Hebrews of the manna that God provided in the wilderness. During the Passover meal it was intended to remind them of God’s miraculous provision and care for them in providing for their physical needs. He kept them alive! Life literally came from heaven. When Jesus said, “This is my body that is broken for you. Take and eat,” it must have stirred a memory for the disciples from an earlier time in Jesus’ ministry. It was not necessarily a good memory. The event is recorded in the sixth chapter of John’s gospel. It occurs the day after Jesus had fed 5,000 men plus women and children. This huge crowd followed Him to the other side of the sea at Capernaum. His ministry was growing exponentially. It was flourishing. He was known throughout Judea and the Decapolis region. And then, He tells the people that He is the bread that came down from heaven. People began to complain. Jesus responds, “I am the Living Bread which came down from Heaven. If anyone eats of this Bread, he shall live forever. And truly the bread that I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:51) He told them that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood! John records, interestingly in verse 6:66, that most of the crowd left. It was bad marketing, Jesus. The Jews, who wouldn’t even touch a dead body, probably thought to themselves, “This man is a pagan. He wants us to be cannibals. The Pharisees are right about this man.” He asked the disciples if they wanted to leave. Peter responded, “where else would we go? You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Peter and the disciples most likely did not understand what Jesus was saying, but they believed He was God in the flesh and they accepted Him by faith, even though they did not understand. What great faith! Oh, that we could have that sort of faith. So, Jesus was repeating at this Last Supper what He had earlier taught in Capernaum where He was soundly rejected. It certainly must have caused the disciples to think about Jesus being their source of life like the manna from heaven in the wilderness.

 

There were four ceremonial cups of wine served during the Passover meal intended to remind the participants of four promises that the Lord had made to the Israelites prior to the exodus from Egypt. The first cup was called the cup of sanctification and was to remind them of God’s promise to set them apart from the Egyptians and the second was the cup of thanksgiving to remind them that the Lord rescued them from bondage. “Therefore say to the sons of Israel, I am Jehovah, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rescue you out of their bondage. And I will redeem you with a stretched-out arm, and with great judgments. And I will take you to Me for a people, and I will be to you a God. And you shall know that I am Jehovah your God, who brings you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.”(Exo 6:6-7) The third cup was the cup of redemption intended to remind them of God’s promise to redeem them. This is the cup that Jesus spoke of as representing His blood that purchases our redemption. The fourth cup was known as the cup of completion and was not served until the end of the meal. Jesus identified His sacrificial blood with our redemption, but not with the cup of completion. His ministry is not yet finished. This reminds us that He is coming again. His Kingdom is here and not yet. There is work that remains before the Kingdom comes in its fullness. In the interim, let us serve Him with faith like His first disciples. There are things that we may not understand when we see evil and suffering, but let us believe in Christ’s divinity and goodness. In this age, we don’t have all of the answers, but we can trust in the Lord like His first disciples.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shipwrecked

Bimini

 

I recently was blessed to hear from an old friend who attended a home fellowship group that I led more than twenty years ago. It was great to catch up on what had happened in the time that we had not been in touch as we had moved to another city to plant a new church. It was a blessing to learn that he was still walking with Jesus. It was sad to learn about others that we knew whose faith was shipwrecked. We did not get into a discussion about eternal security. We agreed that there are strong arguments on both sides of that issue. Whether the ones we spoke of were never really “saved” or whether they forfeited their salvation could not be known for sure on this side of eternity. But, it was sad to hear about people that we knew and who had some kind of testimony about a relationship with Jesus Christ and are now no longer walking with Him. We both expressed thanks that God had kept us in His care.

 

After we hung up I began to think about what was it that enabled me and my brother to persevere. I was reminded of the analogy of the three-legged stool. A stool with three solid legs will stand, but if you cut just one leg it will topple. It occurred to me that there are three aspects to the Christian faith that must be present in order to persevere.

 

First and foremost, the believer must keep their eyes, their mind, their life focused on Christ. He must always be the main focus and purpose of life. The letter to the Hebrews affirms this saying, “Therefore since we also are surrounded with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily besets us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:1-2) Unfortunately, as in the parable of the seed, some people hear about Jesus and accept Him with enthusiasm, but when the care of life occur they take their eyes off of Christ. Perhaps they are drawn by promises of what Christ can do for them or by some outpouring of common grace such as a healing. But when difficult times come, and Jesus promised that they would, they are allured by Satan’s lie that Jesus is not the only way to God and they fall away. Jesus promised that we would have tribulation in this life. It is the Refiner’s fire. The Christian life does not get easier, in fact, as one matures it is often more difficult. It is like climbing a mountain. The higher one goes the harder it gets, but the view, real revelation and understanding, is priceless.

 

The second critical leg for the believer is fellowship. Again, Hebrews warns us not to forsake fellowship, relationship, with other believers, “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Heb 10:25) Many people leave churches because they are offended in some way. Such people are focusing on others rather than Jesus. People are broken and will always disappoint, but leaving fellowship is not the solution. Maybe the Lord would have you in a different church, we’ve changed churches a few times, but staying away from church forever is dangerous. Sooner or later, that missing leg will cause your stool to tumble. You must understand that we are in a spiritual battle. The devil seeks to destroy every Christian. I was an Air Force pilot. When pilots go into combat, they fly in formation for mutual protection. Solo pilots get picked off. Every believer needs to be in a place where they can be discipled, hear the Word, worship with other believers and be encouraged and accountable.

 

The third leg is being in the Word. Regular scripture devotion is necessary for the believer to stay in fellowship with Christ. The importance of regularly hearing God’s Word is repeated in the scriptures. “But He (Jesus) said, No; rather, blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it.” (Luk 11:28) Ephesians outlines the spiritual armor that God provides us in our battle with the devil. It is the shield of faith that quenches the fiery darts (lies) of the enemy. And faith comes by hearing God’s Word. “Then faith is of hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” (Rom 10:17)

 

The Apostle Paul wrote to his spiritual son Timothy warning him about those whose faith had become shipwrecked. “This charge I commit to you, my son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before about you, in order that you might war a good warfare by them, holding faith and a good conscience, which some have put away and made shipwreck as to faith. Among these are Hymeneus and Alexander, whom I have delivered to Satan so that they may learn not to blaspheme.” (1Ti 1:18-20) Apparently, Hymeneus and Alexander had become blasphemers which is to say that they had spoken falsely of Christ. They had turned away from the clear doctrine of the faith established in God’s Word. One of the tragedies of some modern so-called Christians is that they have abandoned a belief in the inspiration and authority of God’s Word. They make themselves the judge and create a false Christ of their own making, which is blasphemy. Paul continued to instruct Timothy, “Study earnestly to present yourself approved to God, a workman that does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth.” (2Ti 2:15) God’s Word is the only source of all truth. Regular meditation on God’s Word is necessary for remaining in the faith. “But whoever keeps His Word, truly in this one the love of God is perfected. By this we know that we are in Him.” (1Jn 2:5)

 

 

Loving Confrontation

Confront.jpgIt is an act of love to confront in love. “You shall not hate your brother in your heart: you shall rebuke your neighbor, and not bear with sin because of him.” Lev. 19:17

Confronting a brother or sister about what causes a breakdown in relationship is an act of love. The Lord knows that we will sin and break relationship, so He commands us to rebuke our brother or sister in Christ. It is sin that destroys relationships. Our alienation from each other is an extension of our alienation from God. Sin doesn’t take place in a void. It is done unto someone else. That’s why Jesus taught us to pray, “forgive us our debts”. Love is the opposite of sin. It restores relationships. Avoiding confrontation out of fear is not love. We must confront in order to restore relationship when it is broken. Confrontation prevents us from carrying a grudge which is sin.

The purpose of biblical confrontation is not to purify the church or root out all sin. That is Jesus’ job. He said He would separate the wheat from the chaff. We shouldn’t attempt to play God or think that it is our job to “clean up” the church. Who do we confront? A fellow believer when relationship is broken due to sin or perceived sin against us. We must have established relationship before we can confront.

How do we confront? Matthew chapter 18 contains Jesus’ instructions on how to confront a brother or sister. Jesus thought this to be important enough to give detailed directions. Consider the context of Christ’s instructions. The chapter begins with the disciples arguing about being greatest. Obviously there was a breakdown of relationship because of pride. Jesus exhorts them to have the humility of a small child. In verse 7 He says, “offenses must come, but woe to him by whom…” He then warns about temptation and exhorts them to deal ruthlessly with causes of sin, not to compromise. The context is offenses. He warns about looking down on others and then teaches about how to confront a believer who sins against you.

He ends His instruction about confrontation by emphasizing the importance of reconciliation, and the blessings and power of unity. (verse 19-20) There is spiritual authority bestowed upon us to maintain unity when we follow God’s principles of confrontation.

These famous verses are often quoted to prove our authority in spiritual warfare with spiritual forces of evil, but they are referring to binding and loosing people from relationship. Jesus concludes by telling the parable of the unmerciful servant, who imprisoned his debtors after the King had forgiven him. Confrontation hinges upon our willingness to forgive.

We must go with the right motives; go in love. Our motivation must be to keep the person as a covenant friend. We must not be motivated by a desire for revenge. We must die to our own self interest. It is preferable to be unjustly wronged than to have no reconciliation. Reconciliation is more important than personal rights.

A critical attitude that inflicts petty and nasty criticism for the purpose of inflicting hurt is the counterfeit of loving confrontation. Go with the understanding that you too have offended people and needed mercy. You will be judged in the manner that you judge others. (Mt 7:1) Remember that God has forgiven you a greater debt. As in the parable of the unmerciful servant, your unforgiveness towards others puts them in bondage. Be patient; give the Holy Spirit time to work. Don’t expect someone to apologize or confess wrong immediately.

Who is responsible for initiating confrontation? The burden is on both parties, regardless of who is at fault or who is offended. “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you; Leave your gift at the altar, go and first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Mt 5:23

There is a principle demonstrated here: Halt other spiritual activity and seek reconciliation first.

Go privately first. This contains the problem. If you talk with others first, it only magnifies the problem. Different viewpoints make reconciliation more difficult. It biases the people you talk to, and may cause them to sin.

Why do people talk about grievances with friends first? Because of insecurity, lack of faith in God to defend them, fear of rejection and self centered pride that insists on being right.

Be honest with the one you confront, don’t beat around the bush. But remember, there is no time limit mentioned for the different stages. It may require more than one meeting. If there is dialog and progress occurring, don’t go to next level.

The next level occurs if the person won’t listen. Then we are to take two or three witnesses. That doesn’t mean to bring others who agree with you, but have no knowledge of the alleged sin. It means to bring someone who actually heard or saw what happened! If there is no such person, then drop it. Forgive and forget!

At this level, where others are involved, it is important to avoid the impression of putting the other on trial. You must affirm your love and desire for covenant friendship. At this point, someone uncommitted to covenant relationship may avoid such a meeting. Inability to resolve at this level indicates a more severe problem with relationship than with the specific sinful behavior.

If the person still refuses to listen, tell it to the church. That does not mean to stand up in church on Sunday morning and shout out your case. It means, tell it to the leaders. If reconciliation can’t be achieved it is the job of leaders to inform the congregation. By this time, the offender has demonstrated a covenant breaking attitude that threatens the fabric of the congregation’s relationships. By excommunicating an individual, the leaders are merely noting a fact of what has already occurred so that no one is operating under false pretenses. The offender has brought the definition of pagan upon themselves. We must keep in mind that discipline has the goal of reconciliation. Reach out to the person as an outsider.

The Foundation of Worship & Intercession

Fire From heaven

 

 

“And when He opened the seventh seal, there was silence in Heaven for about half an hour. And I saw the seven angels who stood before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer. And many incenses were given to him, so that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints on the golden altar before the throne. And the smoke of the incense which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God from the angel’s hand. And the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar, and cast it into the earth. And voices and thunderings and lightnings and an earthquake occurred.” (Rev 8:1-5)

 

There is silence in heaven, in dreadful anticipation, trembling suspense in view of judgment about to be poured out. The prayers of the saints are offered as a sacrifice on the altar. The altar pictured here is the altar of sacrifice situated before entry to the inner sanctuary. In response, the angel casts fire from heaven.

The context in revelation 8 is fires of judgment. The earth will undergo a baptism of fire. “By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.” [2Peter 3:7] The fires of judgment fall on those who reject God’s offer of mercy and refuse to repent. God’s merciful wrath is meant to drive men to their knees before it is too late. Fire has a purifying effect. It burns up anything impure. But who can endure the day of His coming? And who shall stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire, and like fuller’s soap.” (Malachi 3:2 MKJV)

There is also fire of purification and empowerment that comes upon those who do believe and repent. It is like the coal put to Isaiah’s lips. (Isa. 6:6) It is fire from the same altar. And this word, ‘Yet once more,’ signifies the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that have been made, so that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear, for also, ‘Our God is a consuming fire.’ (Hebrews 12:27-29 MKJV) “each one’s work shall be revealed. For the Day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try each one’s work as to what kind it is.” (1 Corinthians 3:13 MKJV) This reminds us of the tongues of fire that fell on the disciples at Pentecost when they were baptized with the Holy Spirit and power. Pentecost symbolizes more power, more grace. The empowering fire of His Spirit doesn’t come without the purifying fire. It’s the same fire! It has different results on different people. For people of faith who repent, the fire of God purifies and empowers. It brings life rather than death. For unbelievers who are stiff necked and refuse to repent, the fire of God consumes their destructible flesh. In the resurrection (yes, they get resurrected bodies too, see Rev. 20:5, 15), they burn forever because they are unable to be purified, having refused to conform their hearts and will to God’s love.

 

The fire is a response to the prayers of the saints. We pray, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” Do we really want to see revival? Do we really want souls redeemed? Do we really want to see God glorified? Then, we must have fire from heaven! If we want fire to fall from heaven, then all saints must pray. Our incense must reach the altar. Why do we worship? Why do we intercede? It is necessary to accomplish the commission and vision God has given us. It results in God being made manifest or glorified.

 

“And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire. And those who had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God. And they sing the song of Moses the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty, just and true are Your ways, O King of saints. Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You only are holy. For all nations shall come and worship before You, for Your righteousnesses were made known. And after these things I looked, and behold, the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony was opened in Heaven.” (Revelation 15:2-5 MKJV)

 

This is true worship. Worship opens the way into the holy of holies, the place where we meet God. Worship begins with praise, thanks and adoration. To be passionate for God, one must be able to express emotion. We should worship because it comes from the heart. It must be more than just an act of the will. Jesus said, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (Mt. 15:8) David was passionate. He danced before God. His wife, Michal mocked him and was judged for it; she remained barren as a sign of her spiritual barrenness. The symbolism is obvious; there will be no fruit without passion. The Holy Spirit is restoring intimacy to our worship; there is a God orchestrated shift to songs like the Psalms directed to God as opposed to songs about Him as though He were not in our midst. Real passion for God should create new songs. New expressions of love and adoration are fresh bread to our spirits. We glorify God by enjoying Him. We should seek Him hedonistically like a thirsty deer seeks a stream, for the joy of knowing Him. Selfish interest for this kind of pleasure is a gift from God.

 

 

 

A Mountaintop Experience With God

Three On Top.jpg

 

Mountain climbing has historically been associated with a spiritual quest. The psalmist wrote: “I Will lift up my eyes unto the hills, where my help comes from. My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” Ps 121:1-2

A mountain can be a place of revelation. It was on a mountain that Moses received the Law of God: “And the Lord came down upon mount Sinai, on the top of the mount: and the Lord called Moses up” Ex. 19:20. God revealed things to the Apostle John on a mountain: “And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city.” Rev. 21:10

Mountains can be a place of solitude where we can connect with God. Jesus withdrew to the mountains to pray and be alone with His Father (Mt. 5:1, Mt. 14:23, John 6:15). Jesus called his disciples on a mountain (Mark 3:13-15). He met them on a mountain after His resurrection (Mt. 28:16). Jesus was transfigured on a mountain top (Mt 17).

Mountains display the power of God, the awesome power of His creation. Mountain climbing, like few other endeavors, can reveal how helpless we are at the power of creation; how quickly our security can vanish. An ascent of a high peak can remind us of the importance of realizing that we are at the mercy of God and the need to trust in Him.

Mt. San Antonio, commonly called “Baldy” is a 10,500’ peak in the San Gabriel Mtn. chain in southern California. To professional mountaineers, it’s a walk up. But, for novices like me, it’s still a struggle. I climbed to the top of Baldy with my daughter and son-in-law in June of 2001. During our climb, the Lord was speaking to me almost continually. He was showing me all sorts of analogies comparing climbing the mountain to our walk as believers in Jesus. It truly became a spiritual journey for me.

As is common in southern California in June, the LA basin was covered with clouds for a good part of the month, including the day we climbed. It is possible to drive to within 10 miles of the summit, to an altitude of 6,000’. As we drove up the canyon, somewhere around the 3,000’ level, we emerged from the overcast to a bright sunshine. As we came out of the clouds, it reminded me of being born again. I was reminded of how dreary life was before coming to Christ.

Life under the dominion of Satan is very much like life below the clouds. Life goes on from day to day in the man-made world, but you can’t see the beauty of creation that is so close to you, because your eyes are blinded by the fog. The Bible says that the spiritual eyes of unbelievers are blinded by the god of this world, Satan (2Cor 4:4). Before being called by God and being given the gift of faith, we are spiritually dead, unable to see God, just as the people below the clouds can’t see the mountains. The distractions of a busy life and the cares of this world blind us to the beauty of God that surrounds us.

I suffer from allergies and impacted sinuses. Humidity makes the condition worse. I noticed that as we ascended to higher altitude (less pressure) and emerged from the clouds, my sinuses began to drain and I could breathe again! The Lord reminded me, that He is the one who heals all of our diseases and restores us; It is by His stripes that we are healed (Isaiah 53). When I first was born again and gave my life to Christ, He healed me of my alcohol and pornography addiction. I was reminded that it is in drawing close to God, that we are healed and that eventually we will be completely restored.

After driving as far as one can and parking the car at the Mt Baldy ski area, we took a chair lift from the 6000’ level to the lodge at Baldy Notch (8000’). Riding the chair up reminded me of how the Lord carries us when we are new believers. The ride seemed easy. We began to see more as we ascended up the steep grade, but we were still boxed in by canyon walls which seemed huge from this vantage. Later on, as we climbed higher, the ridges surrounding the canyon appeared small compared to what we had climbed and what lie ahead. Some of the challenges that we face as new disciples seem huge to us at the time. When we look back upon them after the Lord has taken us through them, they don’t seem so big.

As we rode up, below us we saw remnants of civilization discarded below us; things people had dropped and lost; baggage discarded along the route. It reminded me of the things of our carnal nature and the world system that we discard as we progress in our walk with Christ. Soon we arrived at the notch and the lodge. It is a place of refreshment and rest which seemed unnecessary on the way up, but on the way down it was sorely needed. God affords us times of rest in our walk between times of trial and challenge. In the early days of our walk, when we are zealous, we don’t appreciate the times of rest as much as we do when we are older, having been through many trials. 

We began our climb up an adjacent ski slope. The slope was steep and in the open sun. The climate was warm and sunny with a light breeze. We saw a peak in the distance, which seemed near and we mistakenly assumed it to be the summit. We later found out that it was only an intermediate smaller peak about half way between us and the summit which was obstructing our view of the main peak. It is a fact that the Lord won’t give us more than we can handle. Often times He prevents us from knowing what lies ahead in order to keep us from becoming discouraged.

As we continued to climb, the journey began to become a labor. We started to sweat and we had tp stop every 10-15 yards for breath, as the air was getting thinner. We moved from shade spot to shade spot. Our journey with Christ would be impossible if we did not take time to rest in Him. Only He can provide shade from the torments. So, our walk is broken down into intermediate goals that seem attainable.

Eventually, we came to a place of choosing different routes. Both were acceptable. One was the bunny slope, which is easier, but longer. The other was the main slope, which is steeper, but shorter. The Lord permits different paths to maturity. The ones that mature us sooner come at a greater cost.

When we arrived at the top of the ski run, we met a guide who had done the journey before. We learned that the summit was far beyond and still out of sight. We discovered that the journey is more difficult than it first appears. To the unlearned and unschooled, the Christian walk may seem simple. As one who has walked with Christ for more than 20 years, let me assure you, it is not simple if you are truly dedicated and willing to take up your cross and follow Christ. It is not for the weak; the higher you go, the harder it gets. Don’t believe anyone who tells you that the Christian walk gets easier as you grow. It becomes more difficult with each progressive step. But, the blessings are also much greater with each step. The higher you go the more you can see; revelation is cumulative and it comes at a cost.

We were feeling the stress of the climb and seeing the size of the peak, we felt it would be impossible, but we just kept going (Phil. 3:14). Along the way we stopped to rest by an old weathered bristlecone pine tree that resembled a cross and it seemed to grow out of a rock. It is God who sustains us through our walk with Him. It is He who gives us rest. he hides us in the Rock who carried the rugged cross on his back for our sins. it is our appreciation of Christ’s sacrifice and His forgiveness that encourages us to “run the race.” (Hebrews 12:1-8)

Along the route to the summit we had to traverse a long narrow path atop one of the ridges which descend from the peak. The path was only about 2’ wide and the slopes on either side descended for thousands of feet covered by loose rock. To stray off of the path would mean certain death. This was a reminder of the narrow path that Jesus spoke of. (Mt 7:14, Prov. 15:10, 24) The narrow ridge leading up to the peak from the east side is called the devil’s backbone. The wind on this ridge was blowing strong constantly and the temperature must have been close to freezing because there were patches of snow up there in June in southern California. I remembered that the attacks from the devil come like gusts to deter us from the goal, but, in Christ, we walk on his back, he is under our feet. (Luke 10:19, 1Pt. 5:8)

We could now see the top.  Again we were out of breath and needed to rest on a rock. As we ascended the summit, people would appear small in the distance. The further we progress on the journey of knowing Him, people appear smaller compared to His creation, His purposes and His Kingdom.

The peak was so desolate, nothing but rock. Getting closer to God, we realize that HE is a giant rock, nothing competes for His glory. As we approached the summit we felt a light headed sense of euphoria. (2Tim 4:7) Now, there was nothing to obstruct our view. We could see 360 degrees around us, in all directions. However, we soon realized that we couldn’t stay at the top; It was cold and would get colder as the sun went down. Besides, we were hungry and there was nothing to eat up there. The Lord reminded me that He has called us to go down and live on the earth, not in the clouds; that this earth is our abode, both present and future. (John 17:15-16)

The trip down was much easier and quicker, but we had to be careful of slipping. It reminded me that in our Christian walk, we must not be overconfident. Once we have been to the top we are more susceptible to the danger of pride.

At the bottom, we met a couple just starting their climb. By now, it was late in the afternoon and they were a little on the chubby side. They asked us if they were on the right path and how far the top was. It was obvious to us that people don’t take the journey seriously; they start too late and they refuse to shed excess baggage. The journey is for the strong; it doesn’t get easier, it gets better

The Marriage Covenant

Covenant

 

God created man because of His nature. God is creative. He is love, He loves and love always wants to expand community. Thus, His first and last command is to be fruitful and multiply, that is to be like Him. Man can’t do this alone. Genesis states that it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone. Man was created for relationship, first with God and then with each other. In both the Old Testament and the New Testament God uses the analogy of the marriage covenant to illustrate His relationship with His people.

Kingdom relationships are based upon covenant, a mutual agreement of commitment. Covenant is God’s way of protecting relationships. His commitment to faithfulness is total. He wants the same from us. God keeps His covenant in spite of our failure. Covenant is not the same as a contract. In a contract, if the conditions are not met, it nullifies the contract. We live in a world estranged from covenant keeping and commitment. In fact we might say that covenant breaking is the foundation of all sin and because of sin, Christ died. He offered His own body as a sacrifice to restore relationship or covenant.

People often want the benefits of a relationship without commitment. They want sex without consequences. The high divorce rate in our culture reflects an attitude that doesn’t value commitment and covenants. Satan is attacking marriages, especially Christian marriages like never before. Now, he is even influencing our society to re-define the institution of marriage.  Why? It is because Christian marriages are intended to reflect the relationship between Christ and His church. Satan seeks to destroy that testimony. In today’s secular culture, marriage is considered to be a contract sanctioned by the state. This is far from the truth. Marriage was ordained by God. We often hear distortions of the marriage institution such as people living together and claiming that they are married “in God’s eyes.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Marriage in God’s eyes requires biblical covenant. Without that, such people are nothing more than fornicators. In fact, people with a marriage license from the state who have no relationship with God or His church are not married in God’s eyes. They are also fornicators. People, even Christians, believe that divorce occurs when one gets approval from the state. Wrong! Divorce occurs in God’s eyes when the covenant is broken. If there is no biblical covenant, there is no marriage or divorce. On the other hand, if there is a biblical marriage covenant, divorce occurs when the covenant is broken, not when the state says so. You can read more of my thoughts on divorce here.

We must overcome the works of darkness by the power of the Holy Spirit enabling us to live in accord with God’s principles and redemptive order. In Genesis 15 there is an account of God making a covenant with Abraham. “After these things the Word of Jehovah came to Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram, I am your shield and your exceeding great reward. And Abram said, Lord God, what will You give me, since I am going childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus? And Abram said, Behold, You have given no seed to me. And behold, one born in my house is my heir. And behold, the Word of Jehovah came to him saying, This one shall not be your heir. But he that shall come forth out of your own bowels shall be your heir. And He brought him outside and said, Look now toward the heavens and count the stars, if you are able to count them. And He said to him, So shall your seed be. And he believed in Jehovah. And He counted it to him for righteousness. And He said to him, I am Jehovah that brought you out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give you this land to inherit it. And he said, Lord God, by what shall I know that I shall inherit it? And He said to him, Take Me a heifer of three years old, and a she-goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon. And he took all these to himself, and divided them in the middle, and laid each piece against one another; but he did not divide the birds. And when the birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, Abram drove them away. And it happened as the sun was setting, and a deep sleep fell upon Abram. And, behold, a horror of great darkness fell upon him! And He said to Abram, You must surely know that your seed shall be a stranger in a land not theirs, and shall serve them. And they shall afflict them four hundred years. And also I will judge that nation whom they shall serve. And afterward they shall come out with great substance. And you shall go to your fathers in peace. You shall be buried in a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall come here again, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full. And it happened, the sun went down, and it was dark and behold, a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp passed between those pieces. In the same day Jehovah made a covenant with Abram, saying, I have given this land to your seed, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the Kenites, and the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites, and the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the giants, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.” (Gen 15:1-21) We can observe here that the covenant involved a promise, a public testimony, a sign, and a penalty for violation. The ritual of sacrificing an animal and walking between the pieces was a traditional middle eastern tradition. The one making the promise would swear an oath to become like the sacrificed animals should he violate the covenant.

A covenant requires a public testimony before witnesses and God. To have the blessing of God it must be blessed by God’s instrument on earth, His church. A biblical covenant is remembered by a sign, such as a ring, a handshake, the cross, or bread and wine. God established standards of behavior to protect covenant. Breaking a covenant necessitates forgiveness. The Word of God tells us that without the shedding of blood there is no justice or payment for sin. In biblical culture, a covenant was sealed by a blood sacrifice. The covenant was taken seriously and was considered to be permanent.

At Calvary God offered His own body to seal the covenant of redemption. God’s redemptive process holds out the possibility of restoration of the original partnership that God created between Himself and man as well as between all mankind, including marriage partners.

God teachers us that there a four requirements for a marriage to succeed. There must be severance, permanence, unity and intimacy. When questioned about marriage Jesus referred to Genesis and His Father’s original command, saying, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife and they shall be one flesh.” (Gen 2:24) The loyalty and fealty to one’s birth family must be severed. This doesn’t mean a breaking of relationship, but rather the forming of a new loyalty. Marriage is intended to be a permanent covenant. The unity and intimacy of the marriage relationship is intended to reflect the unity and intimacy of the Trinity and the unity and intimacy of Christ and His bride, the church.