Our Lord is a God of Truth

Thank God for Hinds feet!

Life is Fleeting

God's Word is Eternal!

God is My strength and Power

And He makes my way perfect.

The Offense of the Cross

Called to Exalt Christ Above all Things

God's Promises!

God's Grace!

Does radical Christianity make you extreme?

Laying up treasures in heaven

The church in the crucible

Will you be found faithful and true?

God's word Will Never Change!

I have set an open door before you...

When Truth was Crucified

The Sifted Generation: Tested, Tried, and Found True

The Sifting is Already in Progress. Jesus knows those who are His - So does the enemy!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Day Truth is Taken Captive Pt. 2


This is a wake-up message. 

In pre-exilic Judah, there was a spiritual famine in the land. In Pt. 1, we looked at how their worship had become mechanical and self-centered. It was a pitiful sight. Worship and personal devotion had become drudgery and they were not living out what their lips said they believed. The death knell was sounding and on the wind its peal echoed with the distant vibration of approaching enemy hoof beats. Truth was inflight and its surrogate had settled in. God was not pleased.  If Isaiah 58 warns of the impending consequence in forgetting God, Isaiah 59 exposes the impossibility of a return.

How did Jesus see mechanical and non-committal worship?
In repudiation of the rigid, merciless, and unloving way the religious leaders carried out their practice of worship and consecrated living, Jesus stated twice in the Gospels, "I desire mercy and not sacrifice" (Matt. 9:13, 12:7). Here is why. In Matt. 9, Jesus was condemned for eating with tax collectors and sinnersthe outcasts of Jewish "spiritual" circlesthe unclean. In Matt. 12, He is called out for allowing His disciples to pluck heads of grain to quell their hunger on the Sabbath. In both cases, and in God's eyes, mercy had encountered the necessities of life. Despised as he was, the outcast tax collector encounters mercy as one born in the image of God and as equally valued as any other who needs spiritual life. The hungry disciples pit physical sustenance as a qualifier for receiving God's mercy. In both cases, God meets the needs and lifts truth from its fallen state to make it meaningful, loving, refreshing, and sustainable. Instead of the heavy burden of heretical and dry religious interpretation being flung oppressively on the people, Jesus showed that proper faith and proper interpretation would balance holiness with mercy. A beautiful lesson in love and wise judgment. Jesus taught that the law was never meant to overrule mercy and grace.

In the West today, we are also facing a war on truth
Os Guinness, in writing of the death of of Judeo/Christian ethics in the West states the following:

But we can say with an organic certainty, which is as sure as any mathematical certainty, that the growth and the flowers that they [Christianity] once produced will eventually die. Cut-flower civilization? The destruction of a root system and a moral ecology? A civilization without a soul? We could give more sophisticated names to this crisis. We might call it a “legitimation crisis” or a “crisis of cultural authority” in that the beliefs and ideas that once inspired and drove the West have been repudiated and have almost lost their compelling power.1

Sadly, Os is correct. Christianity is waning, but not because all Christians have abandoned truth, but because Christianity is seen as a burden on the hedonistic, liberal, and humanistic religious philosophies of darkness. Truth is still preached and truth is still lived out, but the unbelieving world is not listening. God's truth is being suppressed in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18, 28).

Tipping points
The lesson of Judah (and previously, the Ten Tribes to the north of Judah) is when a nation forgets God and becomes self-serving, placing unrighteous living over what is right for the preservation of civility and society, God abandons that society to its own preservation. In Judah, because truth had lost its persuasiveness, what God desired to give to Judah He could no longer do. Consequently, what would eventually become of these truth slayers was exile. Instead of being a servant of their own pastures they would now serve over the pastures of foreigners. Isa. 59 justifies the Lord in His allowing the future exile of Judahit shows He means business. Truth had fallen and those responsible for disseminating that truth would fall with it.

Behold, the LORD's hand is not shortened, That it cannot save; Nor His ear heavy, That it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear  Isaiah 59:1-2

How sad. Hypocrisy, power, narcissism, a lack of love and dozens of other reasons caused Israel to become merciless in their devotion to God. To borrow from Os Guinness, our society today is their "cut-flower" society of old. If the end of Judah, as they knew it, was the captivity of darkness to the external forces of Babylon, what will the end of the West be, but a fall into the exilic captivity of current spiritual forces of darkness. As the snake slithers under the threshold of the church so shall the viper slay the one preparing its pit under the altar

In a few words, the Lord tells them that He can hear and that He can save, but their iniquities, which include the trampling of truth, morality, ethics, and justice, had raised obstacles to His love. In Noah's day, God gave the world 120 years to repent (Gen. 6:3). After that, His longsuffering mercy was lifted. He had had all He could take (Gen. 6:3, 5, 6). In His wrath all but Noah and his family died in the flood. MacArthur writes of the type of judgment which would befall Judah calling it the "wrath of abandonment." Writing on Romans 1, He states, "God's wrath is already at work in our culture.  We're not waiting for it, folks.  We're in it.  "That's a pretty bold statement, what makes you say that?"  Scripture here proves it.  Look at verse [Rom. 1:] 24, "Therefore God gave them over."  Verse 26, "For this reason, God gave them over."  Verse 28, middle of the verse: "God gave them over."  Now, in verse 18, he says, "The wrath of God is revealed."2 

This is the same type wrath that is hanging over the West.
Below is a simple outline and some commentary on Isa. 59

I. The Lord is able to Hear and Save but Judah's sin impedes it (59:1-2)

II The People are Guilty as Charged (59:3-13)
   i. Accusations attested (59:3-4)
  ii  Descriptions of their Sin and Rebellion (59:5-8)
 iii  Confessions of Sin and Recognition of Consequence (59:9-15a) - Truth has Fallen - Fled


"In transgressing and lying against the LORD, And departing from our God, Speaking oppression and revolt, Conceiving and uttering from the heart words of falsehood. Justice is turned back, And righteousness stands afar off; For truth is fallen in the street, And equity cannot enter. So truth fails, And he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. Then the LORD saw it, and it displeased Him That there was no justice" (Isaiah 59:13-15)

 

When truth is fully suppressed through apathy toward God and continual rebellion and injustice, the hammer falls. 

It is here that Judah (and Israel) lost its independence as a free nation. Soon they would be lamenting their captivity as Psalm 137 indicates:

Psalm 137:1–4 (NKJV)
1 By the rivers of Babylon,
There we sat down, yea, we wept
When we remembered Zion.


2 We hung our harps
Upon the willows in the midst of it.


3 For there those who carried us away captive asked of us a song,
And those who plundered us requested mirth,
Saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”


4 How shall we sing the Lord’s song
In a foreign land?

The outline continues with HOPE!

III.  Eschatological Promises (future) (59:15b-21
   i.  By His Own Arm God would bring Salvation (59:16) 

Isaiah 59:16 (NKJV)
16 He saw that there was no man,
And wondered that there was no intercessor;
Therefore His own arm brought salvation for Him;
And His own righteousness, it sustained Him.


The inauguration of the New Covenant (Heb. 10:16-17) would begin after Jesus was crucified where He signed the covenant in His blood on the cross. He arose from deaths grip to validate its authority. This covenant was extended to all people, through the church, and is still in effect today. One day soon, the recipients of God's grace, His church, will rise to glory (1 Thess. 4:13-18). Thereafter, this Covenant will be extended to cover national of Israel during the days prior to Jesus returning to the earth at His second coming, where as Rom. 11:26 states, "All Israel will be saved." (Rom 11:25, 26; Zech. 12:10, 13:9).

Concerning All Israel being saved, Norman Geisler writes:

A consistent, straightforward reading of this passage [...] yields several crucial facts.

  • First, the messianic kingdom of Israel had not yet been fulfilled.
  • Second, God would restore the kingdom to Israel at a yet future time.
  • Third, this will not occur until after Jesus returns.
  • Fourth, there is not the slightest hint that any spiritual kingdom had replaced these prophecies.
  • Fifth, the Old Testament promises were not just for Israel but also for their literal descendants, whom Peter calls “heirs” of the promises.
  • Sixth, and finally, these covenants made by God include an unconditional promise for Israel to inherit forever the Holy Land, from Egypt to the Euphrates (Gen. 15:18).3
Outline cont.
ii  Sin will be Judged and Justice will be Legislated (59:17-18)

Isaiah 59:17–18 (NKJV)

17 For He put on righteousness as a breastplate,
And a helmet of salvation on His head;
He put on the garments of vengeance for clothing,
And was clad with zeal as a cloak.


18 According to their deeds, accordingly He will repay,
Fury to His adversaries,
Recompense to His enemies;
The coastlands He will fully repay.
 


From the passage note the uniform of war: 
* Breastplate - Righteousness (Pure righteousness when executed is justice in action - Rev. 19:11)
* Helmet - Salvation originates from the top down. Pictures complete readiness. No one goes to physical war without his helmet and neither can spiritual battle be fought without first enlisting on the side of righteousness (Messiah- Jesus).
* Garments - The uniform of vengeance - Identifies Jesus coming as King of Kings and Lord of Lords to "tread the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God" against all oppression and iniquity (Rev. 19:15-16)
* Zeal - Cloaked and covered in a love for truth and justice - This pictures the fervent desire of a true believer and is modeled by Jesus. With zeal for justice the earth will be judged for its sinfulness which resulted in: 1) apathy toward truth and justice 2) harm to their fellow man

A View of Mt. Zion from the Hill of Offense4
Isa. 59 closes with one of the most powerful passages of promise in all of the Bible:
Isaiah 59:20–21 (NKJV)
20 “The Redeemer will come to Zion,
And to those who turn from transgression in Jacob,”
Says the Lord.

21 “As for Me,” says the Lord, “this is My covenant with them: My Spirit who is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your descendants, nor from the mouth of your descendants’ descendants,” says the Lord, “from this time and forevermore.”

The Redeemer is the Lord Jesus. In the Days before He sets up His kingdom on earth (Rev. 20:1-6) He will come to Zion (Jerusalem - Zech 14:4-5) - Those who turn from transgression in Israel (Jacob) will worship Him. Israel will finally, as a nation, come into the bond of the New Covenant accepting Jesus as the Messiah (see below).


Ezekiel 20:33–37 (NKJV)

God Will Restore Israel

33 “As I live,” says the Lord God, “surely with a mighty hand, with an outstretched arm, and with fury poured out, I will rule over you. 34 I will bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you are scattered, with a mighty hand, with an outstretched arm, and with fury poured out. 35 And I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I will plead My case with you face to face. 36 Just as I pleaded My case with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so I will plead My case with you,” says the Lord God.

37 “I will make you pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant;


In conclusion
This has been a rather long entry. But it is a post that is needed. In America and the West today, truth has fallen. Injustice is on the throne. Secular humanism, naturalism, and hedonism have played their cards. The politicians fear their constituents and few are standing for the absolute truths of the Bible. Christianity and Judaism are both tolerated and hated. America was founded upon biblical principles and as a Christian nation but she is no more. She has been properly labeled  as "Post- Christian" by most and the sexual revolution has won the hearts of America's majority. 

A recent Lifeway poll shows the following disastrous results, proving America has lost its moral compass:5



 and:



So where do we go from Here? Judah, when faced with the same indictments as a nation, was exiled. Is that where we are headed next? Will we be abandoned by God? Is His wrath on the horizon.


Luke 21:29–36 (NKJV) - Parable of the Fig Tree

29 Then He spoke to them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. 30 When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near. 31 So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all things take place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.

Warning to Watch for His Coming

34 “But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. 35 For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.”


The Day Truth is taken Captive Pt. 1

1 - Guinness, Os. Impossible People: Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization (Kindle Locations 406-411). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

2 - MacArthur, John, The Reality of God's Wrath, https://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/80-184/The-Reality-of-Gods-Wrath (accessed 07/19/2016)

3 - Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Four: Church, Last Things (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2005), 489.

4 - Photo courtesy - Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 2201.

5 - Green, Lisa Cannon, Changing genders isn't morally wrong, Americans say, http://www.bpnews.net/47223/changing-genders-isnt-morally-wrong-americans-say (Accessed July 19, 2016)


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Day Truth is Taken Captive Pt. 1



As Sunday morning came, I was in deep thought concerning the era that we Christians have been placed into by our Holy God. As I made supplication before the Lord, He divinely led me to the prophet Isaiah for some instruction. I must say, as I read Isaiah 58-59, I became very burdened in my spirit. What God revealed was the practice of worship in ancient Judah was nothing more than a snapshot of Christianity in the West today.

What Isaiah saw was a carelessness in worship and love of God. This halfhearted devotion was moving swiftly toward their downfall. Judah was in a downward spiral. God was not moving among them because they were not truly faithful to Him. Mercy was nonexistent. Putting others first was unheard of. True love was sadly absent. In short, their worship had become self-centered and mechanical. The blessing and favor of God was not found in their nation. The result was God's word, His life changing truth, had fled, it was missing, truth had fallen in the street. The influence of God's people had become null and void and the population, including the leaders, no longer cared to hear what God had to say.

The lesson: When we forsake the Lord through mechanical devotion; when we become self-serving and forget about what matters to the Lord, He does not move among us in mighty ways. We know this because we see it. We even ask why is God not listening? We must examine ourselves to see where we have strayed. God summed up Judah's devotion and found it severely lacking. The result was a nation that once could boast of the mighty power of God among them being carried away captive into exile. God had to perform a restart.

In Part one of this post, Isaiah 58, we cover Judah's apathy in worship, How God views it, and what they have really rejected in choosing to reject Him. In part two, Isaiah 59, we will come face-to-face with the reality that what goes around, comes around. Truth, really never fails. When society rejects God all that can remain is judgment. Could the Lord be readying for another restart?

The Big Picture
Isaiah was a chosen vessel of God who, like all prophets, was tasked at times with words of comfort, and at others, with words of rebuke and chastisement.

The time frame Isaiah speaks of is that time just before the Babylonian destruction of Judah and eventually, Jerusalem (606- 587 B.C.). Without getting to exhaustive, I would like to note two things that were at play then and also, I believe, are at play today.

First, the government of Judah had become corrupt and had snubbed the message of repentance the prophets had been commissioned to bring. Instead, they chose to listen to false prophetsthose who would tell them what they desired to hear. Later, Ezekiel and Jeremiah would bring this to light, Ezek. 13:6-8; Jer. 23:31-32. Isaiah uses the phrase "her  dignitaries are starving, and her  masses are parched with thirst," to express how falsehood and injustice had brought the nation to the brink of spiritual bankruptcy.1 From the highest leader in government to the lowest man on the street, spiritual drought was the clothing they wore. "If a ruler listens to lies, all his officials will be wicked" (Prov. 29:12 HCSB)

Second, the priests of the temple and the land had displaced true faith and religion with a system of works that was empty, futile, and regurgitating. Even Jesus, hundreds of years later, would rebuke the religious leaders as "whitewashed tombs full of dead men's bones and every impurity" (Matt. 23:27). They never learned.

Let's begin by validating the stale devotion of the priests and the people in their worship of God and their service to one another.

Reading from the Complete Jewish Bible, Isa. 58 states:

    58:1 Shout out loud! Don’t hold back!
    Raise your voice like a shofar!
    Proclaim to my people what rebels they are,
    to the house of Ya‘akov [Jacob] their sins.
    2 “Oh yes, they seek me day after day
    and [claim to] delight in knowing my ways.
    As if they were an upright nation
    that had not abandoned the rulings of their God,
    they ask me for just rulings
    and [claim] to take pleasure in closeness to God,
    3a [asking,] ‘Why should we fast, if you don’t see?
    Why mortify ourselves, if you don’t notice?’2

Note the text begins with Jehovah calling for the prophet to uncover their sins. To let them know that despite the fact they believe they are living righteously, God is not pleased in any way or fashion. Their worship was not real worship. One thing they do notice is that God is not moving among them in life-changing ways as He once did. But, instead of examining themselves, whether they are truly living righteously, they blame God saying, "Why should we fast, if you don't see? Why mortify ourselves, if you don’t notice?" Surely they know nothing escapes God's notice, but here they act as if He is not omniscient (all knowing). However, under the surface, what we see is an unrighteous complaint. 

God Answer to their Complaint.

    3b “Here is my answer: when you fast,
    you go about doing whatever you like,
    while keeping your laborers hard at work.
    4 Your fasts lead to quarreling and fighting,
    to lashing out with violent blows.
    On a day like today, fasting like yours
    will not make your voice heard on high.
   
    5 “Is this the sort of fast I want,
    a day when a person mortifies himself?
    Is the object to hang your head like a reed
    and spread sackcloth and ashes under yourself?
    Is this what you call a fast,
    a day that pleases ADONAI?3

H. C. Leupold, makes the following comments:

The prophet follows them to their place of assembly on a fast day. There, off in a corner, two men are not evaluating their own conduct and that of their nation; they are not seeking the face of God in true repentance. They are carrying on a business transaction. Or again, while they are publicly engaged in holy exercises, at home the laborer who is working for them is slaving under heavy burdens and is being oppressed. Heavy social wrong-doings are being tolerated and practiced.

More than that, while they fast to obtain peace with God, as it were, their abstaining from food makes them so irritable that quarrels and squabbles are continually occurring, and that publicly; yes, even to the point of making a public spectacle of it all, by engaging in fisticuffs with their fellow men. There is something telling about the term used in this connection: they hit  with “a wicked fist.” No thought is given to the high and noble purpose for which the fasts were designed, the expression of sincere sorrow for manifest sins. In other words, it is not with the design of “making [their] voice heard on high.”4

The point is that the people of Judah were so spiritually bankrupt that they didn't know how to truly worship God. In vs. 5, Isaiah tells us they would "mortify themselves" and "hang their head like a reed" as if this was what God wanted. This is exactly what Jesus referred to when He exhorted the disciples to not fast with "disfigured faces" (Matt. 6:16) that others may see this. Our fasting is to be alone and before God in humble worship, relying on Him for our sustenance. Do we seek to please God or man?

God is merciful, so He tells them in vss. 6-7 what an acceptable fast would be.

    6 “Here is the sort of fast I want—
    releasing those unjustly bound,
    untying the thongs of the yoke,
    letting the oppressed go free,
    breaking every yoke,

    7 sharing your food with the hungry,
    taking the homeless poor into your house,
    clothing the naked when you see them,
    fulfilling your duty to your kinsmen!"5

Fasting has always been a form of abstinence from food6 and there were many fasts Israel observed throughout their year (Lev. 23). The fast here in Isaiah takes on the nature of personal non-obligatory fastings in order to bring about favor from God. That said, they had it partially right, but left many other things that would show true personal devotion left undone. They did not set the day aside to do things to glorify God. No. Instead, they fought with one another (even to fists) with their contemptible attitudes.They oppressed their workers and did not treat them kindly. They went about as if they were to be pitied because of hunger. But they were not cognizant of the needs of others, so they were remiss in serving those around them, nor were they merciful. Neither did they free others during their fast from being yoked to them, whether by labor or any other debt. 

The remaining verses of Isaiah 58 pronounce the blessings God would give to all who would serve Him in a genuine way. This includes worship to God service toward fellow man, and fasting for the right reasons. These are the words of comfort that show our Lord to be One who will be faithful to all who serve Him in truth.

    8 Then your light will burst forth like the morning,
    your new skin will quickly grow over your wound;
    your righteousness will precede you,
    and ADONAI’s glory will follow you.
    9 Then you will call, and ADONAI will answer;
    you will cry, and he will say, “Here I am.”
    If you will remove the yoke from among you,
    stop false accusation and slander,
    10 generously offer food to the hungry
    and meet the needs of the person in trouble;
    then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your gloom become like noon.
    11 ADONAI will always guide you;
    he will satisfy your needs in the desert,
    he will renew the strength in your limbs;
    so that you will be like a watered garden,
    like a spring whose water never fails.
    12 You will rebuild the ancient ruins,
    raise foundations from ages past,
    and be called “Repairer of broken walls,
    Restorer of streets to live in.”
    13  “If you hold back your foot on Shabbat
    from pursuing your own interests on my holy day;
    if you call Shabbat a delight,
    ADONAI’s holy day, worth honoring;
    then honor it by not doing your usual things
    or pursuing your interests or speaking about them.
    14 If you do, you will find delight in ADONAI
    I will make you ride on the heights of the land
    and feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Ya‘akov [Jacob],
    for the mouth of ADONAI has spoken.”7

These promises in many ways mirror the promises God gives to all His faithful today. But in considering when this prophecy was uttered we have to ask: Did Israel stand for truth? Did they heed the words of the Lord? Or, will the final fulfillment of these promises be withheld until such a time that they finally surrender in fullness to Yeshua [Jesus] as Lord?


Click here for Part two of "The Day Truth is Taken Captive Pt.2"

God Bless
Pastor Mike

1 - The Holy Bible: Holman Christian Standard Version. (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009), Is 5:13."

2 - David H. Stern, Complete Jewish Bible: An English Version of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and B’rit Hadashah (New Testament), 1st ed. (Clarksville, MD: Jewish New Testament Publications, 1998), Is 58.

3 - Ibid Is 58:3–5.

4 - H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Isaiah, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1971), 286.

5 - David H. Stern, Complete Jewish Bible: An English Version of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and B’rit Hadashah (New Testament), 1st ed. (Clarksville, MD: Jewish New Testament Publications, 1998), Is 58:6–7

6 - "Fasting is the deliberate, temporary abstention from food for religious reasons." John Muddiman, “Fast, Fasting,” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 773.

7 - David H. Stern, Complete Jewish Bible: An English Version of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and B’rit Hadashah (New Testament), 1st ed. (Clarksville, MD: Jewish New Testament Publications, 1998), Is 58:8–14.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Guest post: Hind's Feet


Adrian Bateman, 2016         

The Lord God is my strength; He will make my feet like hind’s feet,
And He will make me walk on my high hills. — Habakkuk 3:19

For most human beings the primary goal of life, after survival, is the pursuit of happiness. Indeed it’s one of an American’s “unalienable rights”. But what is happiness?

The definition of happy is surely situationally derived. For the hungry it would be having enough food; for the homeless, a home. For the average person it might be having more time, more leisure, more friends, more comforts, more things. Ultimately, happiness involves the removal of obstacles and the correction of problems so that we might live a life without struggle. Or, at least, without what we view as onerous or unnecessary struggle.

But this is not God’s definition of happiness. No. True peace—biblical peace, that deep inner peace which we cannot explain—is found only in the presence of God. When we are continually aware of the Presence of God in our lives, the closeness of His Presence, continual abiding in His Presence, we are filled with a sense of peace and of joy that is true happiness. This sense transcends all circumstances. Good news cannot increase that emotion, nor bad news diminish it. Indeed, this “happiness” is not so much an emotion as a deep-rooted unexplainable sense. As the Bible puts it, we have a “peace that passes all understanding.” We just cannot comprehend it.

Unfortunately for many Christians—and I have walked this path myself—our inner peace and joy are sooner or later erased by difficult circumstances that do not seem to yield either to prayer or plans. How easily we are shaken; how easily we sink into striving and depression and eventually panic. Thus, when in difficulties, our prayers quickly become requests that God remove our circumstances far from us … or remove us far from them. We want God to make our paths smooth.

The word “hind” in Habakkuk 3 is sometimes translated “deer”. But its proper translation from the Hebrew depends heavily on context. Just as our word “bird” can apply to vastly differing species, so too the Hebrew ayyalah can refer to everything from a roe deer to a mountain goat. Clearly, since deer do not live on mountain tops, our text refers to a mountain-dwelling goat known as an ibex. Ibexes are amazing creatures. Google ibex and look at some of the videos. These sure-footed animals can walk on mountainsides you would think impossible. And not only walk, but rapidly and assuredly ascend and descend, leaping from tiny pinnacle to minuscule crack in the face of the cliff. What to you and me would be too dangerous to traverse, these ibexes navigate with ease.
And that brings us to our text. 

Habakkuk was a prophet called by God about 600 years before Christ. He was a contemporary of both Jeremiah and Zephaniah. His message was simple: God was going to punish the Southern Kingdom of Judah for their unfaithfulness to Him by allowing a fierce new race called Chaldeans to over-run them.

Roughly a hundred years before, God had punished the Northern Kingdom of Israel for its gross apostasy. And now He was warning Judah that they were not immune to judgment either.

The book of Habakkuk takes us on a journey from a questioning type of faith to a believing faith. The prophet first questions why God would allow the idolatrous Chaldeans to conquer Judea. To his mind, such a thing is not in keeping with God’s pure and holy character. God’s reply is, essentially, that He is more concerned with the sins of His people than He is with the sins of the heathen. He called Abraham’s descendants to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Indeed, His words to Israel through Moses were,

“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6a).

God’s purpose in calling Abraham was that his descendants would represent Him in this world, showing His character by demonstrating His Word, leading to the salvation of the other nations. Yet, how easily did Israel continually fall into idolatry and apostasy! And how regularly did God have to chastise them.

Having received an answer from God as to why He was going to allow the Chaldeans to overrun Judea, Habakkuk accepts it and offers a prayer of faith in God. A prayer of faith … not of sight. His trust in God’s character is total. As he says,

Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail,
And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
And there be no herd in the stalls—
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.
The Lord God is my strength;
He will make my feet like hind’s feet,
And He will make me walk on my high places.
—Habakkuk 3:17-19

Notice that the prophet does not say that God will give him pleasant places to walk: he states simply that God will give him “hind’s feet”. In other words, God will equip him to walk on the difficult and dangerous paths ahead. As surely as the ibex can safely navigate the most treacherous heights, so too the prophet will be enabled to walk on his. And notice also that Habakkuk refers to the high places as his— he lays claim to them with the words “my high places.” In so doing he is recognizing that whatever high places come into his life, God has prepared them specifically for him. And if God prepared them for him, He will be there with him and enable him to successfully walk on them.

God has prepared high places for you and at the right time—the perfect time according to His wisdom—he brings each into your life, for He has shaped them specifically for the purpose of shaping you. He wants to make each of us who is Christ’s into a reflection of Christ so that by us He may accomplish His purposes among the people of this world. We are His ambassadors, His epistles (as Paul put it) to the world. By us He desires to reveal Himself to the lost so that they may be saved. He has entrusted us with that gospel, but if our message is to be believed, we need to be what we proclaim to be. We need to give proof by our lives that God is able to change lives. And that’s where sanctification and chastening come in.

Our circumstances—symbolized in our passage (and in David’s words in Psalm 18:33) by the phrase “my high places”—are part of what God uses to shape us. So if, when we face some difficulty, some trial, some tribulation, some affliction, we pray for God to remove it, we are actually praying against God’s purpose. How much better to express faith that God will see us through our trial, than to ask that it (or we) be removed! So, when faced with tribulation, don’t ask for a smoother path: ask for hind’s feet.

Certainly, like Habakkuk, we may respectfully question God on the matter: perhaps the circumstance can be removed. But in the same breath, like Jesus and like Paul, we should determine to walk the path ahead, if that is God’s will. Running from a bad situation only prolongs it and ensures we will face it again and again until God’s purpose is accomplished in us. 

Faith is knowing that whatever He brings us to He will bring us through. 

There is no doubt that God can change your circumstances in a split second. But He is far more interested in changing you. And the rewards—both in this life and the next—for letting Him do so are beyond our ability to grasp in this life. (1 Corinthians 2:9; James 1:12)

So ask for hind’s feet.

Adrian Bateman is Associate Pastor of First Baptist Church, Springfield, IL
He can be reached at mattfivefour@gmail.com

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

God's Word, Our Eternal Guide


Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, because "ALL FLESH IS AS GRASS, AND ALL THE GLORY OF MAN AS THE FLOWER OF THE GRASS. THE GRASS WITHERS, AND ITS FLOWER FALLS AWAY, BUT THE WORD OF THE LORD ENDURES FOREVER." Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you (1 Peter 1:22-25).

In my life I have witnessed two things people intentionally avoid, insurance salesmen and preachers of the gospel. The insurance man is interested in the future security and comfort of the temporal physical existence of you and your family while the preacher is interested in the eternal state of the soul. All to often, if residents know who is calling at the door, the temptation is to avoid -- to just not answer. Although there are many reasons why, one that is high on the list is time. That is to say, "I have ample time to make the decision they seek."

Peter reminds us in the passage above four things:
  1. The temporal state of physical existence
  2. The eternal state of spiritual existence
  3. The temporal state of the glory of mankind
  4. The eternal state of the word of the Lord
Time is fleeting. It seems like just yesterday that I was grabbing my fishing pole, at ten to twelve years of age, and heading to the pond. Now I am middle aged and starting to turn grey. Time has passed so swiftly and I know what time I have left will pass just as fast. Thankfully, I took care of insurance and, more importantly, the eternal state in my early years. Peter makes an amazing statement concerning the transfer of states between the temporary and the eternal. To make the transition he draws upon the words of Jesus in John 3:3, 6, one must be born again to to see the kingdom of God. Peter calls it being "born of incorruptible seed." But how can the process of being born of this incorruptible seed come about? His answer, by allowing the seed of the incorruptible word of God to flourish in our hearts and minds. This happens because the word of God is eternal.

Amazingly, but not surprisingly, people spend most of their lives trying to find the key to happiness and joy in corruptible things -- things where moth's and rust corrupt and destroy, (Matthew 6:19). This world, being tangible, is where most seek to find it. However, when "life" is the question, we must use common sense and realize that nothing in this physical world is incorruptible; it will all soon perish like the morning dew. Moreover, Peter does not want us forget this fact. He states: "ALL FLESH IS AS GRASS, AND ALL THE GLORY OF MAN AS THE FLOWER OF THE GRASS. THE GRASS WITHERS, AND ITS FLOWER FALLS AWAY..." Why then, if there is such a thing as the incorruptible seed (eternal, immortal), do we expend so much energy seeking for fulfillment in the corruptible seed? Could it be that we do not want to face the reality of eternal things? Or that we do not want to allow abstract, yet absolute, truth to be the basis of current and future decisions? i.e., to be a guide? God's word is our eternal guide. It is incorruptible and final. 

If we want to find joy in our physical and temporal existence, taking care of the eternal things through a relationship with God in Christ our Lord, should always be our first priority. This eternal word tells us the following: "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you" (Matthew 6:33).
Soon Jesus will be calling His church home. It will be a sad day indeed for all those who chose the physical gratifications over the spiritual truth found in God's word. He did give us a warning.


Maranantha

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Focus on God and He will Lift You Up!



It's no secret that we live in a day and age that Christianity is culturally vexing. There are so many delusional ideas about life, what's right and what's wrong, and where humanity is headed it will make your head swim. I have to say, this is a good thing for me. On the one hand, I have found if I try understand it all I will just get depressed; but on the other hand, the cultural, religious, and political confusion has taught me that I must rely upon God...always. His word has never changed and neither has His power to change situations or to reach the most hardened soul.

One of many biblical promises goes like this, "One man of you shall chase a thousand, for the LORD your God is He who fights for you, as He promised you" (Joshua 23:10). Although a promise to Israel, it is still characteristic of God to fight for the one who will put his/her trust in Him. 

So if we allow too much focus on the world and its downward spiral, the passage becomes meaningless to us. Christians must never allow the ills of the world to bog us down. God is able to overcome all obstacles we face. Now is the time to pray and to focus on God, and like Paul, redeem the time for the days are evil (Eph 5:16).
God Bless



Friday, March 25, 2016

The Offense of the Cross

Perpetua, Felicity, and others - Future Martyrs*    

And I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I still suffer persecution? Then the offense of the cross has ceased.
(Galatians 5:11)

As it is written: "BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A STUMBLING STONE AND ROCK OF OFFENSE, AND WHOEVER BELIEVES ON HIM WILL NOT BE PUT TO SHAME."
(Romans 9:33)

In Christianity today there is a "war of affections" that is bringing much confusion into the arena of Christian thought and practice. The battle I speak of is one that rears itself in the deep emotional recesses of the human heart.1 It is the hardest battle one will ever fight. Although the occasional skirmish has always been a reality in many places around the earth, it becomes more visible when our precious faith is under fire. 

Perpetua's Story
"In A.D. 202, Emperor Septimius Severus disallowed conversions to Christianity. In the wake of that act, severe persecution broke out against Christians, particularly in North Africa. Living in Carthage at the time was Perpetua, a young noblewoman and new Christian who was preparing for baptism. Though Perpetua was only about 22 years old, and was still nursing her infant son, she (with four others) was arrested and thrown into prison.

While we were still under arrest, my father, out of love for me, was trying to persuade me and shake my resolution. “Father,” I said, “do you see this vase here, for example, or water pot or whatever?”
“Yes, I do,” said he.
And I told him: “Could it be called by any other name than what it is?”
And he said: “No.”
“Well, so too I cannot be called anything other than what I am, a Christian.”
At this my father was so angered by the word “Christian” that he moved toward me as though he would pluck my eyes out. But he left it at that and departed, vanquished along with his diabolical arguments.
 

Then Tertius and Pomponius, those blessed deacons who tried to take care of us, bribed the soldiers to allow us to go to a better part of the prison to refresh ourselves for a few hours. Everyone then left that dungeon and shifted for himself. I nursed my baby, who was faint from hunger. In my anxiety I spoke to my mother about the child, I tried to comfort my brother, and I gave the child into their charge. I was in pain because I saw them suffering out of pity for me. These were the trials I had to endure for many days. Then I got permission for my baby to stay with me in prison. At once I recovered my health, relieved as I was of my worry and anxiety over the child. My prison had suddenly become a palace, so that I wanted to be there rather than anywhere else."2

Perpetua's story illustrates faith under fire when emotional affections are involved. No one would disagree that Perpetua had an emotional attachment to her father, mother, and brother, but then, there was also the attachment to her nursing infant. At anytime this young courageous witness for Christ could have forsaken her faith and been delivered from the mouth of the lion, but no, she chose the path to heavenly glory choosing death because of her faith as a greater prize than a temporary existence that would be filled anguished guilt over denying her Savior.

Vexed in Spirit
Will the Perpetua's of the twenty-first century please stand up? And as one recent film asked, "Where are you men of courage?"3 I must confess that I am vexed and in anguish when I read of pastors and churches that compromise the faith when faced with the "Offense of the Cross." They stumble at that great "Stone of Stumbling." When I see brothers and sisters in Christ forfeiting and twisting the words of the Bible in favor of appeasing those with whom they are close, in order to avoid offense, I sadly ask myself , do they know Who they are denying? Yes, it is true that we need to love all people in an attractive manner with the fruits of the Spirit on full display (Gal. 5:22, 23). I wholeheartedly concur. But even then, our love must be in "accordance with" or "in perfect harmony" with God's wordHis truth. Honestly, I can empathize with them. It's tough to make a stand on the side of Christ before those you love when you know they hold to a worldview that does not include Jesus. 

It is here, at this point, we are called to count the cost of following Jesus. Just before Jesus ascended into heaven He shared His will for the church. He said, "Go therefore and make disciples of all  nations" (Matt 28:19). But truth is, one cannot be a disciple of Jesus with out first counting the cost. "And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:27). The cross was an instrument of sacrifice as much as it was of torture. Jesus used it as a metaphor to illustrate that following Him would mean having to make tough choiceseven choices that will offend. His sold out obedience to the will of the Father placed Him upon a mocking cross. His cross too, must also become ours.

Defining a Disciple
A true disciple of Christ is one who directs his/her affections toward Christ first. By doing this we allow Him to take the reins of our affections and direct them back toward others where His love can be graciously reflected, because it comes from Him. In reality, it is an act of faithful devotion. 

If we could love all other people as Christ loved them we would find a greater acceptance by others. But we cannot do this in our own power. We first must give Him the sacrifices of our affectionWe must enable Him through full voluntary surrender to perfect our love toward others. Even then, the offense will still abound in some for there will still be those who will stumble at the "Stone of Stumbling," the "Rock of Offense."  
 
At all costs then, the believer should seek the Lord for strength and boldness to avoid the error of placing our clinging affections toward the things on earth at a greater value than the love shown to Jesus by sharing His truth. We must avoid the damning illusion that earthly relationships alone are what matter to God. No! He must increase in us that we may decrease to ourselves. We must avoid nullifying the work of the cross in others just to hold on to earthly attachments.  
Ask me and I will answer in the affirmative that relationships toward others do indeed matter in a great and powerful way. But they must be maintained with a firm footing on God's word. Our affections must never override sharing God's truth even if there is relational risk involved. Remember, we are to be the light shining into the darkness (Matt. 5:16). What's at stake in all a disciple practices is the salvation of souls, which I believe the Bible teaches to be the main reason Christ died for humanity and the preeminent mission of the Church. 

The Offense of the Cross
Many good theologians and pastors have brought forth their definitions of the "Offense of the Cross," the "Stumbling Stone," and the "Rock of Offense" I opened with. But no matter how deep you dive into the biblical text to grasp an understanding, the best definition is always the clear definition positioned within the context. In Galatians 5:11 the context is literally a struggle of wills. Darkness waging war with the light. The doctrine of the Enemy facing off against absolute truth. Jewish exclusivity versus Gentile inclusion. 

When examining the context we find there were those who argued that any who professed faith in Jesus Christ, i.e., those who trusted alone in the finished work of the Cross of Christ for salvation,4 could not be guaranteed a place in heaven unless they also adhered to certain works of the Jewish law as they had defined them. Center stage then was the battle of circumcision and works versus faith and grace. And wow...the eternal ramifications could be costly. If faith and grace were to fall in defeat to law and works then how could any be truly saved? The apostle Paul knew this and he was determined to make sure that grace was the victor. A looseness of absolute truth here would surely nullify the work of the cross.

Paul's rebuttal to their additional requirements of law was this: Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace (Galatians 5:1-4). Those are very strong an harsh words, but words of consecrated truth. Falling from grace would mean to achieve salvation in a manner that excluded the cross. For the cross of Christ is not the cross of Christ if it cannot not stand alone.
 

The apostle Paul's love for the truth found in Jesus Christ, and his love for the believers in Galatia was so strong that he was willing to suffer persecution to any extent if it meant the continuance of a defining and clear presentation of the gospel of the Lord Jesus. Salvation was not acquired, nor has it ever been acquired, through any action of mankind in trying to appease God. The Judaizer's were mistaken in their belief that the works of the law was what saved them. And Paul was determined that under the direction of the Holy Spirit the truth would stand, even if it brought offense. 

Before the law ever appeared, as delivered to Moses at the direction of angels, salvation and righteousness was meted out by God because of individual faith, (cp. Gal. 3:19-29). "Just as Abraham "BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS ACCOUNTED TO HIM FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS." Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, "In you all the nations shall be blessed"" (Galatians 3:6-8).


1 - I write extensively about this topic in my book "The Sifted Generation.

2 - Perpetua and Polycarp—Two Heroic Martyrs. (1990). Christian History Magazine-Issue 27: Persecution in the Early Church. 

3 -Courageous. Dir. Alex Kendrick. Tri-Star and Sherwood Pictures, 2011. Film

4 - Salvation defined in Ephesians 2 is: But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. (Ephesians 2:4-9)

John 3:16 - For God so loved the world that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.


* - Perpetua, Felicity, and others awaiting Martyrdom - taken from Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels