Thursday, May 4, 2017

BIG SAUL AND LITTLE SAUL


Big Saul started out as Little Saul. Little Saul started out as Big Saul. Both were of the tribe of Benjamin. The first Saul considered that pedigree a little thing; the second Saul considered it a big thing. The first Saul exalted himself to his own destruction; the second Saul abased himself to his own salvation and exaltation. The first Saul feared the people; the second Saul feared only God.
            King Saul is memorialized and honored in Jewish history as Israel’s first king. Yet the Hebrew Scriptures reveal a man of poor character, devoid of a personal relationship with Yahweh, God of Israel. He was superstitious, paranoid, and vindictive. He constantly relied on his own devices and feared the disapproval of men. In the end, King Saul consulted a medium for guidance since the LORD had abandoned him.
            Saul of Tarsus, on the other hand, began his career as an honored leader of Pharisaic Judaism in the 1st century A.D, a disciple of the renowned theologian Gamaliel. This Saul took pride in being of the tribe of Benjamin (Philippians 3:5). His zeal for what he considered to be the truth of God moved him to persecute the followers of Jesus of Nazareth, whom Saul considered to be a threat to the covenant faith of Israel. After his encounter with the risen Jesus, however, Saul of Tarsus cast off all honor and prestige, preferring to be known as Paul, his Greek name meaning “little.” (See Philippians 3:4-14; Acts 13:9ff) Though persecuted relentlessly, Paul committed himself to the Lord (Acts 20:22-24; Philippians 1:19-21). Paul, “Little Saul,” sought no approval from men (Galatians 1:10, 15-24).
            Jesus said, "Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” (Matthew 23:12), and “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all” (Mark 9:35).  No two men in Scripture illustrate this contrast better than Saul Ben-Kish[1] and Saul of Tarsus.





[1] Our English Bible identify Saul as “son of Kish,” which was one hyphenated surname in the Hebrew: ben (son) + Kish, hence, Ben-Kish. 

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Essential Key to Spiritual Understanding

"If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself." (John 7:17)

 A willing heart of obedience is an absolute prerequisite for understanding God's Word.  Only to an obedient heart does God make known his most precious truths.  That person "comes to understand, to comprehend" (Greek ginosko) the teaching of our Lord.  The Pharisees were not willing to do what God might reveal to them, so God would not illuminate their minds to understand what Jesus was teaching.  They felt they could judge God’s Word, rather than letting God’s Word judge them. 

In 1 Corinthians 2:14-15, Paul says, "But the natural (soulish) man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.  15 But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one."  But the Corinthian Christians were neither "natural," that is, unsaved people, nor spiritual people: they were "carnal" (fleshly) Christians, infantile in their understanding of spiritual truths.  So they could not fully comprehend the deep things of God.  Paul says he had to feed them with "milk" and not "solid food," because they were not able to digest it.

Christians whose focus is still on themselves--on their own desires, their own ambitions, their own pleasures--are still "fleshly" and are not able to receive the rich doctrines of God's Word.  And this fleshly attitude results in "envy, strife, and divisions" (1 Corinthians 3:3). 

Only when we have a true heart of complete obedience will God open our spiritual eyes to the most precious riches of His Word.  We need the heart of Samuel who said, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.” 

Let’s pray with the “sweet psalmist” David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.”  (Psalm 139:23-24)



Wednesday, April 5, 2017

A CHORUS OF VIRTUES

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. (2 Peter 1:5-9)

The Greek word translated “supplement” in the English Standard Version comes from two words that mean “leading a chorus” (Robertson’s Word Pictures). The idea is that the Christian virtues in this passage are not to be added to one another, as the KJV and the NIV have it, but to supplement or complete one another as the voices in a chorus do. The balanced, mature Christian life has these virtues in harmony. Faith, for instance, must be in harmony with knowledge, self-control with steadfastness, etc.

That godliness must be in harmony with brotherly affection (philadelphia) is particularly striking. The noble desire for godliness, in isolation from the other virtues, has led many to ungodly extremes. Monastacism in its various expressions is one example. Monks have sought to free themselves from sinful temptations by isolating themselves from the world and others, only to find, as Jerome did, that they cannot escape their own thoughts! Some, in seeking personal godliness, have become judgmental of others, lacking in brotherly affection. Nothing is more cacophonous than supposed godliness without brotherly affection or kindness (NASB). It’s like a novice putting a bow to a violin!

One final voice, standing next to Brotherly Affection, completes the chorus: LOVE. Brotherly affection is that deep bond between believers in Christ, yet our love must extend beyond the bounds of our spiritual family. Our Lord commanded that we love even our enemies (Matt. 5:44; Luke 6:27, 35). That love of the will (agape), is also needed in cultivating brotherly affection. That's why the two are often mentioned together (Rom. 12:10; 1 Thes. 4:9; 1 Peter 1:22; 2 Peter 1:7)

Meditating on how all the voices in this chorus of Christian virtues should sound together is a good exercise. We must remember, however, that it is not by the exertion of our will that we can put these virtues in balance. It is the work of the Holy Spirit. Paul calls them “the fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22), and he exhorts us to “walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16 compare Rom. 8:4). Whenever we find that our spiritual life is out of balance – and it happens to every Christian for time to time – we need to refresh our relationship with Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit by means of prayer and the Word. We need to quiet ourselves before the Lord for as long as it takes for renewal.

The Christian’s life is to be a chorus of praise to the grace of God. Let’s make sure all the voices are singing together.

Friday, December 9, 2016

LET US RETURN TO THE LORD

"Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD . . . (Hosea 6:1-3)

We who have, by God's grace, trusted Christ as Lord and Savior, have been united with Him in his death for their sins and in His resurrection. As Christ was raised on the third day, we too, when we received Him as Lord and Savior, were raised with Him. That day became our "Resurrection Day," our "third day". We were raised to "newness of life" (Romans 6:4) "so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin" (Romans 6:6).

But God's people today, as in Hosea's day, have a tendency to drift away from Him. And though our "idolatry" is more subtle today, it is no less deadly! The Apostle John, writing to believers in Christ, concludes his First Epistle with this warning: "Little children, keep yourselves from idols." (1 John 5:21). The Apostle Paul, likewise, exhorted the Corinthian Christians: "Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry." (1 Corinthians 10:14)

What are the idols that seek our worship today? Has something taken the place of Christ in our love and loyalty? Is there any activity in our lives that cannot be legitimately offered to God in gratitude? Is He shut out of any part of our lives? Or perhaps we have perverted the worship of the one true God to conform to our desires - as the Israelites did in Hosea's day. All this is idolatry.

"Come let us return to the LORD!"

Monday, November 21, 2016

GRATEFUL FOR A KINGDOM THAT CANNOT BE SHAKEN

Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe . . . (Hebrews 12:28)

On the November 2, 1852, my great-great-grandfather, Johann Friedrich Boberg, appeared in Knox County, Indiana, Circuit Court to sign a “Declaration of Intention” to become a citizen of the United States of America. In that declaration, Johann renounced his allegiance to Prince Leopold of Lippe in what was then The Kingdom of Prussia, and swore his allegiance to the United States of America. That declaration was five years and one day after Johann arrived in the port of New Orleans – the minimum residency requirement for citizenship. Since the five-year anniversary was on a Sunday, he had to wait until Monday morning to apply. Johann Friedrich Boberg was eager to become a U.S. citizen!

Christians have pledged their allegiance to Jesus Christ as Lord and King. That allegiance takes precedence over any and all other allegiances. Christians, however, have a sort of dual citizenship. We are in this world – as to our physical existence – but not of this world as to our spiritual, eternal life. This world is passing away (1 Corinthians 7:31), decaying from within because of its sinfulness and rebellion against God, but “whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17).

My physical citizenship in this world is limited in both its nature and duration. As to its nature, my physical citizenship is limited to the realm God has assigned to human government, which has no authority over my relationship to God. The duration of my citizenship in this world is also limited. First, it is limited by my earthly lifespan. It may also be limited by the very existence of the nation in which I live! For example, the Kingdom of Prussia that had been Johann Friedrich’s home was dissolved in 1918, following the devastation of the First World War. Everything in this world is tentative and fragile. And God has promised that He will “shake” this world system, and then remove that which was shaken:

At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, "Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens." This phrase, "Yet once more," indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:26-29)

God shook the world at Mt. Sinai when He gave His Law to the nation Israel. He shook both heaven and earth in the death and resurrection of Christ. And the writer of Hebrews says there is another “shaking” coming! When God shakes the heavens and the earth the next time, He will also remove what He has been shaken.

I’m thankful that by God’s grace, I have citizenship in an eternal kingdom! The most important citizenship a person can have is in the Kingdom of God. And we can have that citizenship through repentance from our sins and faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. We must renounce all allegiance to the prince of this world, and declare our total spiritual allegiance to Christ.

Johann Friedrich Boberg couldn’t wait to cast off the past and declare his allegiance to a new country. How much more eager should we be in these dark, sinful, violent times to renounce allegiance to this sinful world and declare our allegiance to God through Jesus Christ!

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:20-21)


Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken . . .

Friday, November 4, 2016

BEWARE OF BIBLIOMANCY!

Bibliomancy. n. Divination by interpretation of a passage chosen at random from a book, especially the Bible. (American Heritage Dictionary)

About thirty years ago, I sat on an examining council for a missionary candidate applying for service in Japan. The candidate had grown up in Japan as the daughter of very successful church planters in that country, yet she said she had felt a burden for the newly opened field of Russia. Knowing she would have to learn a new language and culture if she went to Russia, she struggled over whether to go to that field or return to Japan. Which one was God’s will? To which field was she called?

Her struggle ended when she received what she believed was guidance from God in her devotions. She read Jeremiah 49:31 – “Arise , get you up unto the wealthy nation, that dwelleth without care, saith the LORD, which have neither gates nor bars, which dwell alone.” The candidate explained her reasoning to the council along these lines: The Lord was calling her to a “wealthy nation, that dwelleth without care” and whose homes have no “gates or bars.” Russian people, she reasoned, did not dwell securely, their homes have walls and gates for security, and they are certainly not a “wealthy nation.” Japan, on the other hand, is a wealthy nation whose people dwell securely without walls or gates. On this basis, she was certain that God was calling her to return to Japan as a missionary. I saw that the regular council members were delighted with her answer, so a bit my tongue. What was more disturbing than the fact that this recent Bible college graduate and young missionary candidate misused the Bible in this way was the fact that the council members, all long-time pastors, approved of that use!

The missionary candidate egregiously took Jeremiah 49:31 out of context, but she was also mislead by the wording of the King James translation she was using. (The college she attended held to a KJV-Only position.) Better translations like the New American Standard Bible or the English Standard Version clearly show that the LORD’s command was not a missionary commission but a call to war! It was a prophecy of Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of the Ishmaelite tribes of the Arabian peninsula:

"Arise, go up against a nation which is at ease, which lives securely," declares the LORD. "It has no gates or bars; they dwell alone.”  (Jeremiah 49:31 NASB, emphasis added)

The context of Jeremiah 49:28-33 is the pronouncement of God’s judgment on “Kedar and the kingdoms of Hazor” (v. 28), the nomadic tribes of Arabia-Petraea.

Wrenching verses out of context to make them say something that was never intended is nothing new. Every pseudo-Christian cult does it. But it is paganism, seeking signs instead of truth and wisdom from the Scriptures. Many best-selling so-called Christian authors make millions off the gullibility of the Christian public by writing books claiming to have found  “hidden” messages in the Bible. The Bible Code by Michael Drosnin started an avalanche of books on the subject, pro and con, in the late 1990’s. Jonathan Cahn, who is sometimes called “pastor” and sometimes “rabbi,” is a Messianic Jew who has also capitalized on “hidden messages” in the Old Testament. His books The Harbinger and  The Mystery of the Shemitah both claim to unravel the “mystery” of America’s future. Cahn also says the Old Testament – in hidden messages – predicted the major economic crises and 9/11. The Harbinger sees the “mystery” of America’s future in Isaiah 9:10. But since the context surrounding that verse names “Jacob” and “Israel” and “Ephraim” and “Samaria,” who would imagine, just reading the text for what it says, that it contains a “hidden message” about America?!

This misuse of the Bible is bibliomancy! And it has a long history in Judaism. The Kabbalah -- which seems to be Cahn's inspiration -- is a Jewish mystical movement which began in the 6th century A.D. The Kabbalist commentary on the Torah (the first five books of the Bible), called the Zohar, serves as a guide to Kabbalists in their quest for a deeper knowledge of God through mystical experience and understanding the hidden messages in the numerology and individual words of Scripture.  According to Elliot Miller, writing for the Christian Research Institute: “The overwhelming philosophical influence in areas where Kabbalah began was Greek; Neo-Platonism and its ‘Christian’ offshoot, Gnosticism.”[i] Early gnostic influences were among the false doctrines Paul and John were combating in the early church. (See Colossians, John, First John, especially.)

This may come as a surprise to many, but the purpose of the Bible – even the Book of Revelation – is NOT to reveal specific details of the future. The Apostle Paul wrote to his young colleague Timothy about the power and purpose of Holy Scripture:

“. . . from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:15-17 NASB, emphasis added)

But how about the Book of Revelation? The stated purpose of Revelation was to edify and encourage God’s people in the face of a hostile world. It is applicable to Christians in every epoch:

“Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.” (Revelation 1:3 NASB, emphasis added)


Prognostication is always popular. That’s why the daily newspapers have astrology columns. But that’s not the purpose of the Bible. The Bible is God’s unfolding plan of redemption through Jesus Christ and instruction in godly wisdom to conform His people to the image of Christ. That message is clear and plain throughout Scripture.

Looking for hidden messages in the Bible is bibliomancy, and that is paganism.




[i] http://www.equip.org/article/what-is-kabbalah/

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Americans Liberated Us: The Story of Alfredo Gallina

Alfredo Gallina is one of a diminishing number of Italians who experienced the liberation of Italy from fascist and Nazi tyranny. But more importantly, Alfredo also experienced spiritual liberation that gave him victory over the tyranny of despair.

In 1938, at the age of 17, Alfredo joined the Italian army to fight for Mussolini’s fascist state. Alfredo tells his story:


I call myself Alfredo. I live with my wife, Annamaria, in the central Italian city of Terni. Terni is a steel manufactur¬ing city, and is predominently communist. During World War II, it was destroyed by Allied bombing.


I grew up under fascism. I knew nothing else. At school, once a week, we boys were made to dress in black shirts and to perform military drills all day with wooden rifles. To be a good Italian was to be a good fascist and Roman Catholic. In 1929, Mussolini signed a pact with the Church which made "The Holy Roman Apostolic Church...the only Church of the State of Italy." Thus, both our political and our religious beliefs were decided for us.


During the war, I served in the Italian army. I felt it was the right thing to do. After basic training, I spent time in Rome, where I met my wife. My unit was eventually sent to Albania. We saw no action against the Allied forces, but we met with some stiff resistance from the local partisans. The spirit of these partisans forced me to think. Why were we fighting this war? Why were we here, upsetting the lives of these people? Later, I would see the same sacrificial resistance by Italian partisans.


I was in Bari on the Adriatic coast when Italy signed the armistice with the Allies. When Italy declared war on Germany, I made my way back to Rome, where I joined the Allied troops under General Mark Clark. I drove a supply truck during the long, bloody battle at Montecasino. I saw many men die. One was a close friend.


It was with the Americans that a spiritual change began in me. The American troops had chaplains of all denominations. One could choose what worship he preferred. And I noticed that all these different chaplains got along well—there was a certain respect. This was totally new to me. I had known nothing but Roman Catholicism. But among these Americans, there was a choice.


Through the Americans I fell in love with America, even though I had never been there. The American soldiers taught me the dignity of the individual. In the Italian army, even on the battle field, the officers ate good meat and vegetables, while the enlisted men drank a weak soup. The enlisted men were literally the slaves of the officers.


In the American army it was so different. Not only did the officers and enlisted men eat at the same mess, but it was first come, first serve! Officers, even high ranking ones, waited in line behind privates and corporals! And I thought I had seen it all when I saw a colonel washing his own car!


So the Americans liberated us not only from the German occupation, but also from our own religious narrow-mindedness and our social caste system. The liberation from the Germans was quick and complete; the other liberation has taken much longer and is still incomplete.


After the war, I studied the history of the United States, particularly the War of Independence. I thought of emigrating to America, but with a wife and two children, financial concerns held us back. I started a business and pursued riches and la dolce vita.


But spiritually there was a void in my life. I was thinking only of pleasure, comfort and security. I had turned my back on the Church—and with it, God—when I was 14. But God had not turned His back on me!


God in His grace began to work in my heart. Suddenly, all the material things I had seemed nothing. Even the earthly relationships so dear to me seemed vain and transitory. It was then that I began to seek a spiritual answer to life. I read the writings of all the major world religions. I found some truth in all of them, but not The Truth. I did not find the peace I sought.


With much reluctance I returned to the study of Christianity. My wife had remained a faithful Roman Catholic, but if Christianity were ever to mean anything to me, I would have to find it for myself.


I considered it logical to begin my study of Christianity with a study of Christ. I bought many books on the life of Christ, but they were by secular authors who treated Jesus as merely a great man, a historical figure, not as God incarnate. Years passed and my spiritual confusion grew worse. At times I thought I would go insane.


Then one day I saw on television a man who talked from the Bible in a way I had never heard before. He explained what the text meant without any appeal to ecclesiastical authority. His message spoke to a profound need in my heart. At the end of the program, he offered a free Bible to everyone who wrote in. Suddenly it hit me that I had been studying the life of Christ from many writers, but I had never read the Bible, the primary source! I sent for the Bible and began reading it. My desire to know Christ grew strong. In my heart, I felt that I did accept Him, but in my mind I had doubts. How could Jesus be both God and man? And how could God be sovereign and man responsible? I was reading the Bible, but I could not understand much of it.


Then, one day, two young men came to my door who said they were from The Bible Today. My wife and I were delighted to see them. They were generous with their time, and they helped me resolve my spiritual problem. They showed me verses of Scripture that presented all aspects of the questions which troubled me, and then they showed me a principle I have found most valuable. The Bible says, "The just shall live by faith." It is by faith that we accept what God says even when we do not understand how it all fits together.


The missionaries gave me another verse which eased my mind—Deuteronomy 29:29: "The secret things belong unto the Lord our God; but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law."


I saw that my responsibility was simply to accept what God had revealed and apply it to my life, and then rest in the Lord regarding those things which are not revealed.


We prayed together with the missionaries, and as we concluded, I sensed a great joy and peace in my heart that has been there ever since. It was settled. I was free at last in Christ. The world around me had not changed, but I had, and so had my dear wife. We rested in the fact that Jesus had died for all our sins and was now living to give us peace and victory. My mind and heart were at last united...by faith.


God has brought Americans into my life in times of great crisis, and each time they have brought liberation. But the liberation I treasure most is my liberation in Jesus Christ!


End