Saturday, October 10, 2015

He Wist Not

“And she (Delilah) began to afflict him (Sampson), and his strength went from him.  And she said, ‘The Philistines be upon you, Samson!’  And he awoke from his sleep and said, ‘I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.’  And HE WIST NOT that the Lord was departed from him” (Judges 16:19-20).

The definition of “wist” (now archaic), is, “someone has knowledge of something.”  Thus in the phrase “he wist not,” that concept of someone having knowledge of something, is rather, someone NOT having knowledge of something.  In other words—in today’s vernacular—Samson was clueless!  He lived loose with a woman that was not his wife, after which, having learned the secret of his strength, she afflicted him until his strength was gone.  Then, while he was weak, she swung the door wide open to the enemy.  Meanwhile, “HE WIST NOT that the Lord was departed from him!”  Okay, something is not right here.  We know that the harlot seeks the precious life; in Sampson, regrettably, she found it.  In that holy place inside Sampson a harlot now sat enthroned.  And now his “deeds will not allow [him] to return to [his] God.  For a spirit of harlotry is within [him], and [he does] not know the Lord.  Moreover, the pride of [Sampson] testifies against him” (Hosea 5:4-5). 
Sampson’s unique gift was great physical strength (an occasion for that pride that testified against him)—and perhaps because of this particular kind of gift—being so central to his core person and having had it since birth—he was more apt than most to forget the source of it.  Regardless of the reason, Sampson took his strength for granted, relying on past experience with it—“I will go out as at other times” was his self-reliant thought—rather than depending on God for future supplies of it.  But, but, but!!!—HE WIST NOT!—he could not see or perceive that God (and consequently that gift of strength with Him) had already departed.  How could he—or anyone for that matter—not realize a break in their vital connection to God?  Answer: the spirit of harlotry!

It is no coincidence that immediately following his realization that God was no longer with him—and as if to accentuate his spiritual blindness—his enemies gouged out his natural eyes.  John Milton spoke of Samson’s blindness in his classic poem, “Samson Agonistes” (“agonistes” is a Greek word that means “someone engaged in a struggle”); this is an excerpt:

“O loss of sight, of thee I most complain!  Blind among enemies!  O worse than chains, Dungeon, or beggary, or decrepit age!  Light, the prime work of God, to me is extinct”

Moses made it clear that he would go nowhere without God’s presence, and Paul also made it clear that we are to emit an aroma of Christ everywhere we go; in both cases, God is present, tangible, and powerful.  To outstrip the presence of God is one thing, but to be oblivious to the fact that God is no longer present, that is another thing altogether; it presupposes either (1) an initial shallow relationship (Seed on stony ground) or (2) a compromised relationship (Seed chocked by foreign weeds).  In Sampson’s case, a shallow and compromised relationship happened simultaneously.  We must prepare our hearts to seek God in the days of our youth, and once matured and established in His presence, we must diligently maintain that relationship.  Also, we must never forget that the adulteress (the world and the devil) hunts for the precious life (Christ in the human heart).  We cannot afford to have our eyes gouged out by the enemy.

Though Sampson eventually and ultimately killed more of the enemy in his death than life, the cost he paid was too high.  It is altogether possible, and I think probable, that if Sampson had followed a course of obedience, his victories in a long life of service to God would have eclipsed the magnitude of that one last ditch victory he secured by his death.  Either way, God uses man for His purposes as He chooses, and therefore, no human deflection is enough of a deflection to remove him away from the purposes of His hand.  Sampson’s life was never out of the reach of God no matter the extent of his deviance; this served God’s purpose, but what about Sampson’s?

And therein is the rub!  Every man is a tool in God’s hand; even the wicked cannot escape His touch and grasp.  “The Lord has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil” (Proverbs 16:4).  Of all things though, let it not be said of His child, that “HE WIST NOT that the Lord was departed from him”; because even if that is not evil per se, it is pathetic, and its obtuseness acute.  One of the primary reasons the Lord came to earth was to open the eyes of the blind; He opened many natural eyes, but always, His greater purpose is to open spiritual eyes.  Sampson’s blindness is profound, and alas, too common.  I wist not that His people be effective in ministry without definite knowledge; rather, O Lord, open our eyes and allow us to see how effective we are in your hand, that hand of yours that reaches outward to a dying world from an outstretched arm.  
I therefore pray “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him.  I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe” (Ephesians 1:17-19).                               


Friday, October 9, 2015

The Perfect Law of Liberty

“Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Corinthians 3:17).

“One who looks intently at THE PERFECT LAW, THE LAW OF LIBERTY, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:25).

Perfect Law?  The Law of Liberty?  Yes, the perfect law of liberty (or perfect freedom).  From what?  Sin, of course, and naked human nature, not as obvious.  But more specifically, and in context with these verses of Scripture above cited, freedom from the fading glory of the Law and its ministration of condemnation.  Earlier in 2 Corinthians, Paul speaks of “letters of commendation” needed by some to substantiate their ministerial authority and ability, and in response to them, Paul provided irrefutable proof of the legitimacy of his apostleship in the form of “our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men” and “being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us (Paul and his apostolic team), written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone (and not on paper or parchment for that matter), but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:1-3).

And it is this indelible imprint of God’s Spirit on the human heart that is now the perfect law, the law of liberty.  No longer is humankind bound by external law, because God has fulfilled His promise to internalize law.  “I will put my law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33).  It is noteworthy that this promise from Jeremiah was made to Israel, and not simply to the Jews, or gentiles, or just anyone who wills (like so many salvation messages infer), because the true circumcision that creates a new creation goes beyond the initial salvation experience and into the matured experience of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  The baptism of the Holy Spirit is the application of the cross, the TRUE circumcision that removes flesh from spirit and creates the new creation baby.  Paul differentiates between the natural or false circumcision and the spiritual or true circumcision when he says “beware of the false circumcision; for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:2-3).

Another way of getting at the concept of removing flesh from spirit in the human heart or spirit realm (the new creation formation), and not the natural realm of 8-day-old-male-baby circumcision, is to prove that natural circumcision is no longer of any consequence.  And Paul makes this perfectly clear when he says that “neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation” (Galatians 6:15).  Then he says this extraordinarily revolutionary statement: “Those who...walk by this rule (the rule of the new creation nature), peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the [true] Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16).  Do you get it?  The new creation is the true Israel of God—and its godly nature—the new law, an internal rule of conduct.  The perfect law of liberty is God and man becoming one, and then after that marriage, simply obeying that human/divine nature.  In other words, this perfect law of liberty is perfect and free, not because of external policing, but because of the internal reality of God inside man: God’s divine nature interwoven with human nature.

“So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty.  For Judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment" (James 2:12-13).    

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Benumbing Influence of Brutal Stupidity

“Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended?” (Matthew 15:12 KJV).

John Calvin, in his commentary of Matthew 15:1-20, and more specifically in regards to verse 15:12 (our text verse), said:
“As the scribes were presumptuous and rebellious, Christ did not take great pains to pacify them, but satisfied himself with repelling their hypocrisy and pride. The offense which they had formerly taken up was doubled, when they perceived that—not through oversight, but seemingly on purpose—Christ despised their washings as trifles. Now when Christ did not hesitate to inflame still more, by keen provocation, wicked and malicious persons, let us learn from his example that we ought not to be exceedingly solicitous to please everyone by what we say and do. His disciples, however—as is usually the case with ignorant and unlearned people—no sooner perceive the result to be unfavorable, than they conclude that Christ's reply had been unseasonable and improper.  For the object of their advice was to persuade Christ to soothe the rage of the Pharisees by softening the harsh expression which he had employed.

It almost always happens with weak persons, that they form an unfavorable judgment about a doctrine, as soon as they find that it is regarded with doubt or meets with opposition. And certainly it were to be wished, that it should give no offense, but receive the calm approbation of all; but, as the minds of many are blinded, and even their hearts are kindled into rage, by Satan, and as many souls are held under THE BENUMBING INFLUENCE OF BRUTAL STUPIDITY, it is impossible that all should relish the true doctrine of salvation. Above all, we ought not to be surprised to behold the rage of those who inwardly nourish the venom of malice and obstinacy. Yet we ought to take care that, so far as may be in our power, our manner of teaching shall give no offense; but it would be the height of madness to think of exercising greater moderation than we have been taught to do by our heavenly Master. We see how his discourse was made an occasion of offense by wicked and obstinate men; and we see at the same time, how that kind of offense which arose from malignity was treated by him with contempt.”

I so loved Calvin’s line, “The benumbing influence of brutal stupidity,” that I had to use it for the title of this article.  That reason, and because I can clearly see the reality of its truth alive and well in our time (Calvin’s time: 1509-1564; the time of the Great Reformation).  Our time demands we rethink moderation and/or appeasement; we can no longer placate sin or use conciliatory schemes to mollify open and unashamedly defiant displays of wickedness.  In Christ’s day upon the earth as man, He strongly rebuked and even censored the Pharisees.  When they dared ask Him, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.  He answered them, ‘And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?’” (Mark 7:2-3 ESV).

The traditions of the Pharisees became too important, and they consequently lost sight of the truth; this in turn caused them to elevate their practices and interpretations above the clear dictates of Scripture.  This particular brand of sin demanded harsh rebuke because not only did they condemn themselves, but they condemned others by demanding obedience—and from a privileged position of authority—to their delusional take on truth.  “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees.  Hypocrites!  For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are!” (Matthew 23:15 NLT).

As I age I mellow naturally, but also, because I am Christian, I mellow supernaturally as I grow in faith.  Experience has taught me many sides to many stories, and has also broadened my doctrine without widening intrinsically narrow truth.  But also, the climate of society has changed, and it chills me to the bone to see the ways in which it has changed.  Every generation thinks itself advanced and superior to previous generations, but this is obviously and patently false, and exceedingly arrogant to think so.  Advancing technology is not synonymous with advancing society; adding more pixels and processing power to our tablets, computers, and cell phones—manmade devices all—does nothing to change the human heart; it only advances—in large broadcasted form—the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  In fact, whatever is in the human heart—good or bad—is disseminated more quickly, frequently, and widely than ever before, and with greater resolution than can be appreciated by the average old-aged human eye.

Having said all that, and in regards to our theme of the benumbing influence of brutal stupidity, I digress (not regress!—hopefully).  In the case of the common man during the days of the Pharisees, they were humbly inclined to listen and obey their elders and learned teachers, falsely—but largely innocently—believing their instruction.  And even Jesus did not dismiss them out of hand.  In fact, He said, “The scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat [of authority].  So observe and practice all they tell you; but do not do what they do, for they preach, but do not practice” (Matthew 23:2-3 AMPC).  Tradition is often static, lifeless, and no longer relevant, but not tradition grounded in a proper assessment of fluid, vibrant, and pertinent truth.  Tradition dismissed without investigation and humility is therefore foolish.  Today, alas, hardly a humble inclination exists in the common man, all becoming supermen.  Elders, ancient wisdom, and yesterday is archaic and irrelevant.  Everyone knows everything; the prophecy has come to pass: “many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased” (Daniel 12:4 KJV).

Ultimately, the essence of stupidity is to retain any knowledge that opposes the knowledge of God, like “worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called ‘knowledge’—which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith” (1 Timothy 6:20-21); this is the epitome of being benumbed by Satan and consequently influenced by brutal stupidity.  Rather, know God!  Indeed, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom...but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me” (Jeremiah 9:23-24).  For those of us who are born-again, the Seed, which is Christ (who is made unto us various things, one of which is true knowledge), is engrafted into our spirits.  Therefore, be not brutally stupid; instead, “In humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your soul” (James 1:21).

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Purpose of Prophesy

“He that prophesieth speaketh unto men to EDIFICATION, and EXHORTATION, and COMFORT” (1 Corinthians 14:3 KJV).

There is entirely too much ignorance concerning prophesy.  Most think of it either exclusively or primarily to be about foretelling, when in fact, it speaks of much more than that.  The word “prophesieth” means “to foretell events, divine, speak under inspiration” (Strong’s, G4395).  No doubt, the foretelling component of its purpose leads to edification, exhortation, and comfort, but so does divining things and speaking inspirationally.  To get at the divine purpose of something and then to reveal that something with inspiration and unction is therefore also a component of true prophesy. 

The most common usage of the word prophesy in the Hebrew Scriptures is (Strong’s H5012): to “speak (or sing) by inspiration (in prediction or simple discourse).”  The verb form of prophesy—according to Skip Moen (and I agree)—is derived from a root meaning “bubble up, pour forth, flow.”  This accords well with the metaphorical usage of water for God’s Spirit, and the experience of those who have prophesied while filled with the Holy Spirit.  Because a prophet speaks for God, his message, of necessity, proclaims those things in and out of time, things present and things future.  That which has unction has eternal verities and therefore speaks for all time at all times.  Now concerning the specific address to men for their edification, exhortation, and comfort.

Edification (G3619): “Architecture, structure, confirmation.”  Though these are the words used to define edification, they are not to be taken literally, but figuratively.  Strong did indeed write that, and went to various roots to explain that, but for the sake of brevity, I did not cite every root and/or nuance.  Sufficient to say, the architecture of our life, the strength of our structure, and the confirmation of our person is the point of this definition.  A true prophet affirms and confirms the person and the entity (the church), and by so doing, strengthens the entire building to which we are all fitted.

Exhortation (G3874): “To call near, invite, imploration, solace:—comfort, consolation, exhortation, entreaty.”  Exhortation, according to the Cambridge English Dictionary (online) is “to strongly encourage or try to persuade someone to do something.”  Combining the two definitions, we see both persuasion (of the coercive and gentle types) and consolation being administered.  A true prophet will strongly and gently correct wrong, yes, but will also invite people to draw near to God and His comfort.

Comfort (G3889): “To relate near, encourage, consolation:—comfort.”  God is defined in Scripture as “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3 NAS), and indeed, there is no real solace without Him.  Even in judgment, He remembers mercy.  God never ceases to be who He claims to be by pronouncement: “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin” (Exodus 34:6-7 NAS).  A true prophet, though perhaps commissioned to deliver a hard word, nonetheless, must also leave room for forgiveness, mercy, and comfort—for God surely does!

Finally, the overarching purpose of prophesy is to substantiate the fact that God is both real and present.  And especially when corporate prophesy is made (Remember, He promised to be where two or more are gathered in His name).  “If all prophesy, and an unbeliever or ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you” (1 Corinthians 14:24-25).       


Positive Moral Loss

“Why, the very fact of your having lawsuits with one another [with brothers and sisters in Christ] at all is a defect (a defeat, an evidence of POSITIVE MORAL LOSS for you). Why not rather let yourselves suffer wrong and be deprived of what is your due? Why not rather be cheated (defrauded and robbed)?” (1 Corinthians 6:7 AMPC).

What?!—no justice?  Yep.  You see, justice can only be measured against the measurement we use on others, and therefore, its eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth model of justice can never remove us from the vicious cycle of violence it inherently promotes.  The new covenant in His blood is based on better promises, and whereas justice dominated the old covenant, mercy now dominates the new one.  Jesus Himself said it plainly, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.  If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also.  Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two” (Matthew 5:38-41 NAS).  These are exactly the words of Christ that Paul must have referenced when speaking to the Corinthians regarding positive moral loss.

It is noteworthy that God’s requirements of man begins with justice, ends with humility, and is, at the center, about mercy: “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8 KJV).  Justice is therefore the floor, humility the roof, and mercy, the furnishings of the home; the foundation of justice supports the vaulted ceiling of humility that covers and protects a home filled “with all good things which you did not fill” (Deuteronomy 6:11).  Justice is therefore the premise of morality, and humility its crowning achievement, but mercy is the lifeblood of both.  Try to do justly without a genuine love of mercy at the core of your being; I would suggest—that although technically possible to do so—in practical application, justice served cold and merciless is inhuman and therefore not justice at all.  Indeed, “Judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy”—moreover—“mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).

Ultimately, this idea of turning the other cheek and suffering loss, of allowing others to defraud and cheat us, requires not only eyes to see the bigger picture, but a settled conviction that God has something better for us tomorrow that requires we relinquish something good today.  Indeed, good is the enemy of better, and better the enemy of best.  Justice now on terms that satisfy our expedient needs, or mercy now which wipes the horizon clean and meets our eternal needs; what do we choose?  Of course, to choose mercy over judgment might require our faith in God to be stretched, because justice delayed is justice denied, right?  Wrong!  We exist in God’s economy, not ours.  In His economy, delays are not delays, but displays of mercy.  “But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.  The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 2:8-9).

Let no evidence of positive moral loss be made against you.  Indeed, “make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian (those who turn the other cheek and allow themselves to be plundered), he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.  Those...who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right” (1 Peter 4:15-16, 19).  Ironically, moral loss seems to be in direct proportion to material gain or retention; when we give material things away and “entrust [our] souls to a faithful Creator” we are making deposits into an eternal account “where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:20-21).  Pay no mind to what you lose in this lifetime; everything you lose is lost into His hands anyways (and is therefore never really lost but secured forever).  Paul said it best: “I...suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day” (2 Timothy 1:12).

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Doctrine Conforming to Godliness

“If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with THE DOCTRINE CONFORMING TO GODLINESS, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain” (1 Timothy 6:3-5 NAS).

Arrogance and ignorance are the charges made against those who disagree with sound words and proper doctrine.  Genius is often right technically but wrong in spirit, mad with “strange fire” power, and wrong before the scrutiny of God.  A morbid interest in controversy and disputations speaks to a predisposition of conceit and depravity of mind; and in connection to this depravity of mind is a deprivation of truth.  A depraved mind is inherently unreceptive—even immune to—truth.  Paul said it clearly in his letter to the Romans; therein he outlined a chain of causation.  First, in response to “men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” and who deny the evidentiary proof of God’s existence, God punishes them by giving “them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity” (Romans 1:18 & 24).  Second, because “they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator,” God saw fit to give “them over to degrading passions” (Romans 1:25-26).  Third, and finally, because they “did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind” (Romans 1:28).  So, an impure heart leads to degraded passions and ultimately to a depraved mind; and there is the rub concerning genius without morality.  It is not the brilliance of the mind that leads to truth and enlightenment, but the purity of the heart.  A doctrine conforming to godliness is therefore not so much about theological perfection as it is about moral compliance.

The word “godliness” is used fifteen (15) times in the New Testament and none in the old (15 in biblical meaning equates to the idea of “spiritual rest”); its dictionary definition is “piety; specifically the gospel scheme:—godliness, holiness” (Strong’s).  Paul, after rebuking those who “suppose godliness is a means of gain,” affirmed that “godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment” (1 Timothy 6:5-6).  A quiet and still piety conforming to the gospel scheme of righteousness is the godliness doctrine herein spoken of.  It is not piety derived from law and propriety adherence, but piety derived from faith adherence to the gospel message of the Lord Jesus Christ.  The doctrine conforming to godliness is not about parsing words, but about guarding the simplicity of Christ in our hearts, about “avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called ‘knowledge’” (1 Timothy 6:20).

The doctrine conforming to godliness is about gently but firmly fighting the good fight of faith in the face of much controversy, disputations, suspicions, and constant friction foisted on the few believers by the many hordes of unbelievers.  While the unbelievers grasp and claw at illusory brass rings and climb ladders leading only to ruin and destruction—and consequently, by their contrary actions, contend with true believers pursuing true riches—believers pursue “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:11).  In other words, the doctrine conforming to godliness is not so much about a state of doctrinal or theological perfection, or a misguided pursuit of earthly riches, but it is about partaking “of the divine nature” and escaping “the corruption that is in the world by lust” (2 Peter 1:4).

The proper doctrine therefore is about “applying all diligence”—and “in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love.  For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins” (2 Peter 1:5-9).

In the end, even those who started out well, who ran the race and fought the good fight of faith for a season, can lose out on conforming to a doctrine of godliness.  If “the corruption that is in the world by lust” lures your heart away, conformity to godliness goes with it.  Remember, piety in accordance with law and propriety is insufficient to be the piety in accordance with gospel truth.  Smarts or genius also has nothing to do with saving knowledge, because “knowledge of the truth” is only “according to godliness” (Titus 1:1).  “Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things (faith, moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love), you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you” (2 Peter 1:10-11).