Saturday, July 29, 2017

Mike Huckabee, Don't Repeal the 17th Amendment

I normally find Gov. Mike Huckabee a thoughtful politician. However, when the Senate failed to repeal Obamacare this week, Huckabee came out and advocated the repeal of the 17th Amendment. Most American's don't even know that the 17th Amendment was ratified in 1913 and established the popular election of senators. Previously, senators were elected by state legislatures.

When some people began responding negatively to Huckabee's suggestion, the former Governor of Arkansas responded on Twitter:
"Ignorance of history of 17th Amendment is revealed by response to my earlier Tweet. Direct election of Senate is major cause of #swamp."
I might offer that Gov. Huckabee may actually be ignorant of the history of the 17th Amendment.

In the early 20th century there was a copper baron from Montana named William A. Clark whose lifelong dream was to be a United States Senator. It wasn't enough that Clark's massive wealth allowed him to build the most expensive home in the history of America at 962 Fifth Avenue in New York (77th and 5th), William A. Clark desperately wanted to be a U.S. Senator.

So he decided to pay Montana state legislators a massive amount of money, similar to the manner he paid contractors working on his New York house. He paid out a boatload of cash to Montana state legislators so that they would elect him as the state's Senator.

Prior to the 17th Amendment, state legislators from each state in the union elected their respective United States Senators. William A. Clark bribes to Montana's legislators worked! He was elected Montana's Senator in 1899, but his opponents immediately filed a petition charging that Clark "secured the election through bribery."

Nearly 100 witnesses would testify that white envelopes filled with hundred dollar bills had been given to state legislators in Montana, with the promise of more money if the legislators elected William A. Clark as their Senator. With the evidence stacked against him, Clark responded to the allegations with this famous statement:

"I never bought a man who wasn't for sale."

The people of the United States passed the 17th Amendment in direct response to the corrupt political campaign of William A. Clark. The American people believed it would be far more difficult for an aspiring U.S. Senator to bribe an entire state populace than it would to bribe individual state politicians. With Oklahoma designated "the 11th most corrupt state in terms of politics" in a recent survey,  I think my fellow Oklahomans and the rest of the American people knew what they were doing in 1913 when they passed the 17th Amendment.

William A. Clark would serve just one term as U.S. Senator. After he left the Senate, Clark moved moved to New York where he lived in the "Clark Mansion" at 962 Fifth Avenue. He died in the at age 86 in the mansion his money built.

In a 1907 essay, the same year as Clark's retirement from the Senate, Mark Twain portrayed Clark as the very embodiment of Gilded Age with all its excess and corruption:
Clark is as rotten a human being as can be found anywhere under the flag; he is a shame to the American nation, and no one has helped to send him to the Senate who did not know that his proper place was the penitentiary, with a ball and chain on his legs. To my mind he is the most disgusting creature that the republic has produced since Tweed's time.
I became fascinated with the story of William A. Clark for two reasons:

1. I have relatives who live at 962 Fifth Avenue, New York, the very location where Clark's Mansion once stood and Rachelle and I always look forward to our visits with them and our discussions on the history of New York, and,
2. I have read the award-winning book Empty Mansions: The Mysterous Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune. Huguette was William A. Clark's mysterious daughter who died in a New York Hospital in 2011 at the age of 104.

The 17th Amendment was, and is, and will always be needed by the American people.

So, Governor Huckabee, though you and I have much in common (both evangelical, both politically conservative, both pastors, etc...), and though I often appreciate your insights, I must gently disagree with your assessment of the need to repeal the 17th Amendment.

And contrary to your belief, this disagreement comes from someone who knows a little about the history of the 17th Amendment.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Is It Condemnation, Compassion, or Celebration?

Last night on television I saw contestants at an Oklahoma transgender beauty pageant interviewed by a reporter regarding their feelings on the President's ban of transgenders serving in the military. Recently, I spoke to a crowd in Enid where two married lesbians held hands and sat on the front row. Behind them, a transgendered female turned male sat with (his) girlfriend. In the room there were also a few "couples" who lived together and deemed themselves "companions for life," but they did not wish to get "married" in the traditional sense. I also knew of a person or two in the room who "looked normal" from a Christian perspective in terms of their marriage and traditional family values, but secretly they were struggling with their own issues of sexual immorality, including secret girlfriends/boyfriends.

As a follower of Jesus Christ who is called to shepherd other Jesus followers, how should I respond to transgendered persons, homosexual couples, adulterous men and women, and other persons I meet whose behaviors are contradictory to the revealed moral standards of Jesus in the New Testament?

It seems I have three possible responses to sin.

If I view sin as a matter of personal integrity, another person's sin is deemed intentional rebellion against God, and I'll give to the sinner my condemnation.

If I believe another's sin is a matter of personal disability, which means I see the sinner as actually lacking something positive or good, similar to a person whose legs or arms are missing is "disabled," then I'll give to the sinner my compassion.

If however, I believe another person's actions are his or her personal business and nobody answers to God for anything, then sin doesn't exist and all actions are simply a matter of diversity and I'll give to all persons I meet my celebration for their courage to be different and/or unique.

Viewing another's actions as a matter of integrity, disability, or diversity will determine whether a Christian responds to other people with condemnation, compassion or celebration.

So which is it?

I believe every Christian should approach sinners - regardless of how egregious their sin - with compassion because sin is evidence of a disability. 

We are not called to celebrate sinners. Those who don't know God celebrate sinners. We are also not called by God to condemn sinners. Those who think they are God condemn sinners. God alone can condemn sinners, and we are to wait for His judgment, not create our own. He tells us,
"Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:17-21)
God is our Creator. He alone can know the "end from the beginning," as well as the thoughts and intentions of one of his creatures. God tells us to leave condemnation to Him.

I believe we are to see sinners as disabled people in need of compassion.

Sinners are lacking something positive and good, and the only way they'll ever find healing is to have something given to them which they lack.

So what is it that all sinners lack?

Real life and real love.

Jesus said, "I have come that you may have life, and have life to its fullest" (John 10:10). That means people without Jesus don't have real life, and due to this lack, their lives are not being lived to their fullest.  Once they receive this life through the actions of a loving God through the Person and work of Jesus Christ, they'll be able to respond to the commandment of Jesus "to love on another as I have loved you" (John 13:34).

All life (zōḗ), throughout the universe, is derived from God. Life always and only comes from God and is sustained by God because God is the only self-existent Life throughout the universe.  Man lost this life in the beginning, and all of Adam and Eve's descendants are in need of God's grace to restore that which was lost. This is the basic meaning of the word "redemption." Adam's fall crippled us all. The Last Adam gives us our legs back.

That's love. Jesus Christ died to restore what we lost. He came to intimately share the gift of life and love with disabled people.

The lack of life and love is worse than the lack of legs. The absence of inner satisfaction is far uglier than any external decimation. Sin is a the result of this internal disability. No life and love from God will drive disabled people to everything under the sun to find healing. But the light and life they seek is being illuminated by the wrong sun. The Son of God heals the disabled. 

To condemn the soul's sores which surface through various behaviors of disabled people is to miss the real issue. To celebrate the soul's sores which surface through various behaviors of disabled people is to miss the real issue as well.

What a sinner lacks in life is life. What a sinner lacks in life is love. Without real life and real love, there is no life lived to its fullest. Only God gives the life and the love that lasts.

Oh sure, someone may "think" he's living, and may even get angry when you say he or she is disabled. But just a few moments of self-reflection will reveal to each sinner that any life that "overflows" (superfluous) from within, the kind of life that gives every "advantage" in this life, is absent. 

The Greek word translated "fullest" in John 10:10 is also translated with the English words superfluous and advantage.

Jesus came that people without life might have life, a life that flows from within, giving every advantage in a dark world. These advantages include purpose, inner contentment, personal satisfaction, a clear conscious, and a host of other soul-satisfying blessings that a spiritually disabled person lacks.

So next time you see someone whose moral sores are bleeding and oozing puss that seem repugnant to you, move toward the sinner in compassion, realizing that there is something missing. The sinner is disabled. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Did God Allow Many Wives in the Old Testament?

Several prominent men in the Old Testament were polygamists. Abraham (Genesis 25:1), Jacob (Genesis 30:14-15), David (2 Samuel 5:13; 1 Chronicles 3:1-9),  Solomon (1 Kings 11:3), and others all took for themselves many wives. King Solomon,  the man the Bible calls "wiser than all men" (I Kings 4:31), took for himself "700 wives and 300 concubines." His son Rehoboam had 18 wives and 60 concubines.

Invariably during a Bible study of a book from the Old Testament, someone will ask me a question about polygamy. Any casual reading of  Old Testament Scriptures (Genesis through Malachi) seems to leave the impression that a man taking multiple wives and concubines for himself was not an act God prohibited or censored, and it even seems to be something God allowed.  

What are we to make of these instances of polygamy in the Old Testament? Why did God allow many wives and concubines in the Old Testament? If it was a sin, why didn't God condemn people like Abraham, who had three wives, instead of the Bible calling Abraham "faithful" and "a friend of God" (James 2:23). 

Some Christians pretend that although the men of God in the Old Testament had multiple wives, they only "slept" with one wife. The other wives and concubines, these Christian moralists argue, were more like "housemaids" and "household servants." 

Yet the Bible teaches just the opposite. For example, in Genesis 30:14-16, Rachel and Leah, two of Jacob's wives, got into an argument over who will "sleep with Jacob" that night. Rachel grants Leah the privilege of "sleeping with Jacob" in exchange for Leah giving to Rachel the "mandrakes" that Leah's son Reuben had harvested in the fields. 

Mandrakes (Heb. dudraim ) are mentioned in Genesis 30:14-16 and in Song of Solomon 7:13. The mandrake is a Mediterranean plant from the potato family that grows low like lettuce. Its leaves are dark green, and its flowers are purple. The root is usually forked, and when the mandrake bears fruit when ripe (early in May), the fruit is about the size of a small apple, fragrant, yellow in color and quite flavorful to the palate. Orientals and Arabs call it "the devils apple" because when mandrakes are eaten, they give sexual energy to the person who eats them. A book written in 1881 by Dr. Richardson, called Lectures on Alcohol, reveals that experiments with wine made of the root of mandrake produce a narcotic, causing deep sleep. The ancients used it as an anesthetic. However, a mandrake digested in small quantities acts like opium, exciting the nerves and acts as a sexual stimulant.

Rachel let her rival wife Leah sleep with their mutual husband Jacob "for the mandrakes" that Leah gave her. Try teaching that story to your 4th grade Sunday School class.

Cultural Morality and Modern Christianity

During Old Testament days, the accepted cultural norm for all the nations was "many wives and concubines." Was multiple wives the ideal for a man during Old Testament days? No. 

God revealed the ideal in the Mosaic Law, saying that Israel's king "...must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold for himself" (Deuteronomy 17:17). 

Yet King Solomon "took 700 wives." That didn't prevent the Bible from calling Solomon "the wisest man among all men" (I Kings 4:31) when he was King of Israel. The Bible also tells us  Solomon's attraction to "many wives" contributed to his downfall. 
"For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father" (I Kings 11:4). 
The above verse (I Kings 11:4) is a very interesting verse. Before anyone waxes eloquent on David's qualifications for Kingdom service because "his heart was right with God," and before anyone condemns Solomon and affirms his disqualification from Kingdom service because "his heart was far from God," everyone needs to ponder how to answer a very specific question. Solomon had 700 wives, David had 8 wives. Solomon's heart turned away from the Lord, but David's heart "was wholly true to the Lord his God." So here's the question for your consideration. "At what number of wives - between 8 and 700 - does a man's heart turn away from God?"

You say, "That's a silly question! A man must have just one wife, and only one wife. That's how we know a man's heart is true to God. Any more than one wife, then that man's heart is not right with God."

No. That's not what the Bible says.

David's heart was "true to God" with eight wives.

The culture in David's day deemed 8 wives healthy, but 700 wives excessive.

Here's my point.

Be very, very, very, very, very, careful before you "discount" or "disqualify" someone from service in the Kingdom of Christ because they violate your cultural preferences for external morality.

Those of us Christians who grew up in a "church culture" may be responsible for losing a generation of kids whose lives are being saved by God's grace because we force them to "check off" a morality standard that fits our particular church culture, and we disqualify them if they don't.

For example, we often won't even talk to a couple about becoming "church greeters " if they are "living together." We dare not invite a young man to lead a small group who drinks alcohol. We roll our eyes or resist the appointment of a young woman with tattoos to help take the offering. We turn up our noses and turn away our faces from a divorced man or woman when they lead in worship or teach a Sunday School class. It seems we have a cultural morality standard that disqualifies people from Kingdom service if they don't meet it.

God doesn't do what we do.

God deems His people righteous because they  have "kissed the Son (Psalm 2:12)." The righteousness that counts in the courtroom of heaven is a righteousness that is not the peoples' own righteousness, but a righteousness that "comes from God and is found by faith in Jesus Christ" (Philippians 3:7-11).

People will ask me what I think about the leaders of Israel in the Old Testament having "many wives and concubines." They are bothered by it, so they say,  "Pastor Wade, why  does God seem to allow men with moral issues to lead His people?"

Here's how I answer:  "Every time I read of 'many wives and concubines' I just realize that God measures qualification for service in His Kingdom by 'the heart.' Every one of us must be very cautious that we don't exclusively set the standard for Kingdom service by an external moral code. Sure, Solomon's wives caused him problems. He had 700 wives. But David, "whose heart was true to God," had just eight wives. In our day, people like David (people who've been divorced and remarried) are often not allowed to lead God's people. Why? Because we are more interested in people checking off that they look good externally (or at least, 'like us') than we are examining the condition of their heart (e.g. "Do they live selflessly, loving others, relate to one another in kindness, and are not easily provoked?)."

So in my way of thinking....

Divorced people, remarried people, people in blended families, couples living together, and people from non-traditional family situations who express their love for Jesus Christ should be accepted as people of God capable of serving His Kingdom because their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is demonstrated by their loving, selfless hearts.

Where does one draw the line?

Good question. And a question with answers that may vary from time-period to time-period, from culture to culture, from church to church.

It's about the heart.

And we'd all be better off if we stopped judging each other by the externals.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Death Is Normal but Immortality Is a Gift from God

Is it natural for plants to die? Is it part of the normal life-cycle of God's creation for animals to die as well? What about humans? Does the "circle of life" mean death is the natural and expected end for everything God creates?

Christians like Martin Luther and N.T. Wright have taught that the Biblical answers to the above questions are "Yes." All life, they would say, is like a circle that goes around in a constant loop. Plants, animals, and people are constantly being born and are all ultimately experiencing death. That's natural; it's nature. Plants die, giving life to new plants. Stars die, giving life to new stars. People are born; people die. Death is a part of nature because all of God's creation is mortal.

However, there is a caveat when it comes to death for human beings. Every single human being has the potential for immortality. This immortality - or life that never ends - is not inherent to human existence. It is the reward from God for a particular kind of human existence.

Immortality is God's reward for a person who lives life with full, perfect, and sustained obedience to Him. 

Humans are the only creatures fashioned in the image of God. The Creator expects us to live our lives as He would live life. Look to Jesus for the example as to the kind of life God expects a human being to live. God promises that if you never deviate, never hesitate, never contemplate anything but loving Him and other people selflessly and sacrificially, then He will grant you immortality as the reward.

There's enough knowledge of God in every human mind to know how one ought to live (see Romans 1:18-25). Plants and animals don't have this knowledge of their Creator. That's why they don't have a dynamic and personal relationship with Him. You never see a dog bow its head in prayer before eating its food. Nor will you hear a plant praise its Creator.

But human beings can and do relate to God and their fellow human beings who are created in the image of God. So, the reward for living life the way God intends a human life to be lived is immortality.

Let me show you.

The Bible tells us that at the final judgment, God will reward people who have lived a life of full, consistent, and persistence obedience toward Him with immortal life. Paul says it like this in Romans 2:6-9:
"God will render (at the judgment) to each one according to his deeds: immortal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek."
God alone is inherently immortal (I Timothy 6:16). This is the clear teaching of Scripture, and to deny it is to deny the Word of God.

Every person, plant, creature, star, planet, and living organism that God creates is inherently mortal. Mortality is normal to all life because all life is mortal.

However, God created mankind alone with the potential for immortality. The Bible tells us that human beings are the only forms of life "created in the image of God" (Genesis 1:27).  Immortality is not inherent to our existence. Immortality is a potential for our existence. It is dependent upon our full, complete, sustained and joyful obedience to the Father who made us.

So who among us has lived the kind of life that deserves immortality as a reward from God?

Answer: None of us.  Paul takes his readers to this same conclusion. "As it is written, there is no one righteous or as he ought to be, no not one" (Romans 3:10).

Since deathlessness (e.g. immortality) is promised by God as the potential reward for the human life perfectly lived, then we who are human must consider death as our enemy. Socrates welcomed death as a friend, but the Savior fought death as an enemy. Those with little or no understanding of death and eternal life will often welcome death as a friend. But those who are acquainted with God's promise to mankind of potential immortality will fight death as their enemy.  And that is exactly what the Bible calls the death of any human being - the enemy (see I Corinthians 15:26).

Even more importantly, because "the wages of sin is death" then sin must also be the enemy of man since it is sin that brings death to those with the potential for immortality. It's really sad when mankind celebrates what God calls sin. He who welcomes his enemy as his friend will eventually find the light of his life turned into the darkness of his death.

God made the first man (Adam) and every person who descends from Adam (e.g. the human race) with the potential to be immortal. Adam's potential immortality was predicated on Adam's full, consistent, and persistent obedience to his Creator. But Adam failed in his obedience to God. 

When Adam failed, every one of his descendants (e.g. that means you and me) did not lose the potential for immortality, what we lost was the power to meet the standard which has immortality as the reward.

The seed that the first Adam implanted within each of us is the disposition toward rebellion against God. We are all the children of the first Adam. We will all die because of our inherent sin nature as well as our individual sin performance. "For the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). 

Perfect, complete, persistent, sustained, joyful obedience to God is still the standard for immortal life, but because Adam sinned, we received from him a nature to sin. We hopelessly and consistently fall short of that standard which God intends us to live (Romans 3:23). Again, if you want to see the standard clearly, look at the life of Jesus Christ. He met it. Nobody else is.

Each of us is similar to a track and field athlete who stands 5-foot tall trying to get over an 8-foot high jump bar. It's impossible. The standard is too high because of the athlete's shortcomings. The standard God set for Adam (man) in the beginning wasn't too high (full obedience to the Creator), and His standard hasn't changed over time. Mankind continues to spiritually shrink, infected with a disposition and tendency toward sin and rebellion against God. Instead of loving Him and others He creates, we love ourselves. 

None of us likes to think we are in this pickle of death because of the actions of another person, so very few people accept that we're sinners because of the actions of that first Adam. So why don't you take Adam out of the equation in terms of our lives and in relation to God's promise of immortal life? Each of us is still promised by God the gift of immortal life as a reward for fully, consistently and persistently obeying Him during our lifetimes.

God's promise of immortality, conditioned upon us living our lives like Christ lived His, seems impossible. In my experience, it is impossible. I've already failed. 

However, for a sinful human being - like each of us is - death is not necessarily the end of one's life altogether. Here comes the Good News. Immortality remains a possibility for sinners.

Jesus Christ, the unique God/Man, has done for human beings what we seemingly cannot do for ourselves. He has "fulfilled the law" of sin and death, and obtained for sinners the rewards of full obedience, which includes immortality (e.g. eternal life), for sinners.

Thus, eternal life is gifted by God to sinners who "embrace the Son" (Psalm 2:12). That's right. Eternal life (e.g. immortality) comes as a gift (not a reward) to sinners. That life eternal begins the moment Christ is embraced. Along the sinner's journey of faith in Christ during this life, many enemies will be faced (e.g. sin and death, Romans 8:2)). Christ empowers the sinner to conquer his enemies, including the last enemy of physical death (I Corinthians 15:26).

Christ will resurrect every sinner from the grave. That's right, there is coming a general resurrection of all human beings who have died. The Creator will raise people from death. After this resurrection, those who have embraced Him will be gifted with immortality.

The resurrection of the dead is the unique doctrine of Christianity, taught by Jesus and His Apostles, and it is clearly articulated in both the Old and New Testaments. Other religions refute the Christian doctrine of the resurrection. For example, spiritualists speak of spirits leaving the body and continuing to live even after people die, denying the necessity of personal resurrection. Some religionists refer to the reincarnation of life forms into various and sundry other life forms after death, so that a person today may be a tree tomorrow. Atheists believe in nothingness after death.

But Jesus Christ teaches the resurrection from the dead of individual human beings. 

Resurrection is the apex of Christian doctrine. Resurrection is the future of every human being, whether or not they know of Jesus Christ. Resurrection is at the very heart of Christian teaching.
"If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ is not raised from the dead, our preaching is worthless and so is your faith." (I Corinthians 15:13, 14). 
Scripture teaches us that at the return of Christ every person who has died will be raised up. The Old Testament clearly speaks of it in Isaiah 26:19 and Daniel 12:2. The New Testament contains more abundant proof of it, John 5:25-29; 6:39, 40, 44; 11:24, 25; I Corinthians 15; I Thessalonians 4:13-17; Revelation 20:13

The Bible's focus on human resurrection from the dead leads right into the Bible's teaching of the final judgment of human beings:
  1. The Judge will be Jesus Christ (see Matthew 25:31-32; John 5:27; Acts 10:42; Philippians 2:10).
  2. Those who will be judged by Christ are those who are not "in Christ" or whose names are not found in "The Book of Life" (see Revelation 20:12). In other words, those who are not in union with Christ, a union that is evidenced by their faith in Him and/or the Spirit's work within them while alive on earth (see Matthew 12:36-37; Revelation 20:12), will be judged by Christ from the record He keeps of what they have done in this life. Those in Christ are not part of this final judgment, having been rescued from "this coming wrath" by Jesus (I Thessalonians 1:9-10). When you read the word "wrath" in the Bible in relation to Christ's judgment, don't think of your drunk uncle at a family reunion. Christ's wrath is holy, just and warranted; it's as much a part of His Person as His love, and both are good attributes. You want a Judge who is angry with evil, not a judge who laughs at it.
  3. This final judgment occurs after the resurrection of the dead, a resurrection that encompasses every human being (see John 5:28; Revelation 20:12-13).
  4. Christ judges those who are not "in Him" according to their deeds on earth. His judgment will be just, and the punishment Christ dispenses for selfish, harmful, and unloving acts on earth will be personal and proportional (see Matthew 10:15). The final end every person judged by Jesus Christ at the final judgment will be "the second death" (see Revelation 2:11; Revelation 20:6, 14; Revelation 21:8) where there is no hope of resurrection or immortal life.
  5. The gift for those who die "in Christ" is immortal life through the obedience of Jesus Christ and our faith in Him (Romans 6:23).
The Good News of Jesus Christ is that He came to meet the standard of immortality for sinners. He came to live the life that has immortality as the reward. In Him was no implanted sin of the original Adam, for He was born of a virgin. In Him was no outward sin, because He lived His life in perfect obedience to the Father. The Bible says of the Messiah:
"He was tempted in all ways just like we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). 
Yet without sin. Amazing. The wages of sin is death, but Jesus never sinned. Yet He died. Why? He died fulfilling the law regarding sin. He died in the place of sinners. That's what is called "Christ's passive obedience on the cross." But it's through His life that we obtain deliverance from death, that is immortality. The reward for Christ's perfect obedience as a human being is immortal life. This is what is called Christ's active obedience.  eJesus lived His life on earth perfectly for us. Amazing.

This is Good News.

When a human being who falls short of God's standard in this life trusts in Jesus Christ - the One who actively and perfectly fulfilled the Father's will in the very areas I've failed in mine - then the "perfect righteousness" of Jesus Christ is "credited to my account" by God (Romans 4:20-24). I am gifted with eternal life that Christ has earned for me..
"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23). 
Christ has obtained for me what I could not attain for myself.

He is my righteousness. He is my reward. He is my salvation. He is my sanctification. "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20).

I want to know Christ.
"But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead." (Philippians 3:7-11).
Application for the Christian:

1. Christ is my life, both now and forever.
2. This life of mine will soon become immortal, a gift for Christ's obedience.
3. The last enemy I will face in this life is death.
4. I will rise from the dead at the time of Christ's coming unless I'm alive when He comes.
5. From the perspective of those who have died, the resurrection is immediate at death.
6. From the perspective of those still living, the resurrection is still coming and blessed hope.
7. The resurrection of the wicked should be a source of dread for there is "the wrath to come" which is Christ's holy and just punishment for a person's sins in this life.
8. Since no person is inherently immortal, after the appropriate and proportional punishment given to the wicked for their sins, Christ will turn them over to "the lake of fire" to experience the second death. The wicked are not given the gift of immortal life.
9. A person who is in Christ should never boast about his or her personal holiness because "our righteousness" is like filthy rags. If we are going to boast, let us boast in Christ (II Corinthians 10:17).
10. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him, should not perish, but have immortal life" (John 3:16).

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Torah of Sinai Is a Law Never Intended for Us

I recently came across one of the best explanations for why Jesus followers are under a New Covenant, and why our lives are never ruled by Old Testament law (e.g. The Torah). 

Ironically, this explanation came from a Jewish believer in Jesus Christ. Eitan Bar is the Director of Media and Evangelism for One for Israel, the largest Israeli Messianic Jewish ministry in the world. 

Eitan and the staff at One for Israel are often asked the questions: "Are Christians under the Sinai Law? What should be the Christian's stance regarding the Torah?" (e.g. "the books of Moses," or the first five books of the Old Testament). To answer that question, One for Israel published an e-book called The Torah's Goal. Below are the 10 major points of that e-book. Again, these ten short points are probably the best explanation I'ver read for why the Torah is never to be considered the law for believers.

The sentences below in bold are the points I wish to emphasize. 


1. There are about 350,000 Jewish believers in Yeshua (Jesus) in the world today. Probably no more than 2-3% consider themselves “Torah Observant.”

2. We are aware of the growing number of gentile-Christians who call themselves “Hebrew Roots Movement” and consider themselves to be “Torah Observant.” Most in the Torah-observant circles are not Jewish. Thought should be given as to why non-Jews are so eager to observe a law never intended for them. One is given the impression that, far more than they emphasize faithfulness to the Messiah, the Torah observant/Hebraic roots groups emphasize Torah-observance as their distinctive, and in fact imply that they are being more obedient to God, or have a deeper spirituality, than other believers in Jesus. Perhaps they would argue their obedience to the Torah is faithfulness to Christ, but there is a distinct imbalance in their approach. Inadvertently, perhaps, they have created a two-tier system of believers: the more spiritual ones who observe the Law and the less spiritual ones who do not. This is not only unbiblical, but it also separates these groups from the rest of the Body of Christ in an unhealthy way, causing many of them to be prideful, judgmental, patronizing and arrogant of other believers. That is, in our opinion, exactly opposite to the essence of the Gospel of grace and love.

3. Perhaps without their realizing it, Torah-observant groups must either depend on rabbinic tradition, which is distinctly post-biblical, or construct their own traditions. For instance, members of such groups do not send their men to appear before the Lord in Jerusalem, as required in the Law of Moses, nor do they offer sacrifices. So there can be no question of this being an authentic, first-century way of observance. The irony being that if a gentile wants to really celebrate the festivals according to the Law, they first need to circumcise their household: “A foreigner residing among you who wants to celebrate the Lord’s Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat it.” (Exodus 12:48).

4. We believe the Sinai covenant was for the nation of Israel, and was made 1) to show us our sinful nature; 2) to separate Israel from the nations; 3) as a temporary system until the Messiah comes: “Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come…Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.” (Galatians 3:19-25)

5. We believe that the core system of the Sinai covenant included the sacrifices, the priesthood and the temple (which no longer exist) – the commandments were tied to it and were an outflow of it. For example:
1) For the main biblical festivals one had to go up to the temple in Jerusalem in order to celebrate God’s feasts. (Deuteronomy 16:16)
2) For celebrating the Shabbat a sacrifice had to be made. (Numbers 28:9)
Therefore, attempting to observe the commandments without a temple is like eating mustard without a sandwich.

6. Kosher laws were connected to the temple and were temporary:They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order” (Hebrews 9:10). Keeping the dietary laws of Leviticus 11 is an essential component of what people mean when they speak of “Torah observance” today. What people often fail to see, however, and what the writer of Hebrews has so perceptively observed, is the connection between the dietary laws and the tabernacle. Leviticus 11 is part of a larger section in Leviticus (Lev 11–15) called the Laws of Purity, all of which are tied to the purity of the tabernacle (Lev 16). For example, if one would catch sickness by eating an unclean animal, he might bring his sickness into the temple and defile it. This is no longer relevant for today. (See 1 Timothy 4:1-4).

7. We believe God promised a New Covenant (not a renewed covenant) that would replace the old one: “…I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant” (Jeremiah 31:31-32). And “By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one obsolete” (Hebrews 8:13). We believe that even Prophet Ezekiel’s temple prophecies the end of the Sinai covenant, as his description of a future temple contradicts the temple of the Torah.

8. Although our ministry members observe the Shabbat on Saturdays, and not on Sundays, we do not make a big deal out of it – as it’s no longer one day a week that we dedicate to God, but our rest in Yeshua is every day: “Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Col 2:16–17). Also, while we call the Messiah “ישוע”(Yeshua), we have prayed “in Jesus’ name” before, and it seems to work just as well. 
He knows when we talk to Him, regardless of which name we use.

9. We believe that Rabbinical Judaism falsely teaches that the Messiah’s role will be to point us to the Law in order to teach us how to better observe the commandments and has erroneously influenced Torah observant groups. While we hold to Paul’s teaching that the Law points us to the Messiah and that the Torah’s goal is the Messiah Himself.

10. We believe that lasting change comes only through Yeshua. Yeshua’s commandments deal not only with the external: they go deep into our hearts and cause us to change from the inside, through the empowerment of the Spirit. With Yeshua, murder is not limited to a physical killing; adultery is not limited to a physical union. The standards are now much higher! Yeshua calls and empowers us through His Spirit to control our anger, shun lust, and love our enemies. You see, while following traditions or concentrating on what and how to do (or not to do) external things, we only become bitter with those around us and turn venomous toward those who do not agree with us. Yeshua’s goal is to deal with the inside, deep in our hearts—teaching us to love God and therefore to love all of His creation, everywhere, all of the time. “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Rom 13:8).


Well said, Eiten Bar. Well said.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Old Covenant Thinking Drives You Away from God

Today I received an email from a high power attorney in another state, who belongs to a large Southern Baptist Church. He is reading Radically New, and he emailed me the following:
"I have been transformed by reading your writings concerning New Covenant thinking.
At my former church, I felt guilty over not tithing. Now I feel freed to give freely without guilt. 
In fact, I have given more than I have ever given.

In my former church, 2 Chronicles 7:14 and other "If... then" verses were quoted to get us to do things for God. In my opinion, Old Covenant thinking causes bitterness among Christians. 

A few weeks ago a terrible tragedy came to the family of an old classmate of mine who also attended my former church. He told me he was "mad at God" because "our family went to church, we tithed, we did everything right."

I just wonder if Old Covenant thinking still permeates SBC churches and if this thinking actually drives people away from God when their lives go awry?"

The answer to my friend's question in the last sentence is, "Yes." Southern Baptist churches are infected with Old Covenant thinking, and it drives people away from God when bad things happen.

But it's not just SBC churches. Many evangelical churches and pastors have no idea how to motivate people to live for Christ without using "If...then" verses of the Old Covenant.

We must become captivated by the wonderful grace of God for sinners in Christ Jesus and realize He is enough.

When we come to know the Truth, He sets us free indeed!

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

A Personal Reflection on the Significance of July 4

Our daughter Charis Downey is in labor. Depending on how long her labor endures, she could give birth to our third grandson, Henry Hribko Downey sometime today, July 4, 2017.

Allow me a 4th of July reflection on the significance of this day, in terms of both my family and our nation.

Henry's middle name will be Hribko. It is an unusual name. When I asked about it, Charis and her husband, Travis Downey, told me that Travis' father, Rodney, was Rodney Hribko as a child. However, Rodney's father, Andrew Hribko Jr., died when Rodney was only six years old. Rodney and his younger sister Sue Hribko would eventually be adopted by Mr. Downey, a wonderful man who married their widowed mother. Rodney's surname was changed to Downey.

Travis and Charis Downey are honoring the Hribko family by giving Hribko as the middle name of their soon-to-be-born son. 

However, Travis and Charis didn't know much about their Hribko heritage, so a few weeks ago, they asked their hopelessly historical father (me) to do some research.

What I found out about the Hribko family deepens my appreciation for this great nation we call America.

Wade, Travis, Charis, and Rachelle
After our daughter's son is born, they will one day be able to tell him that the name Hribko honors his paternal great-great-grandfather, Andrew Nicolas Hribko. On Christmas Day, 1912, at the tender age of 16, Andrew Hribko left his home in White Russia (Belarus) and immigrated to the United States. 

At the time, White Russia was in the middle of a violent political revolution. The Hribkos, a farming family who planted and harvested crops from the river bottomlands south of Minsk, had personally witnessed many of their Jewish friends rounded up and executed. The Hribkos themselves had helped hide Jews at their farmhouse, preventing many Jews from facing certain death.

On Christmas Day 1912, Andrew Hribko's father told him the greatest gift he could give his 16-year-old son was liberty. He handed Andrew some money that he'd saved for the occasion, and instructed his son to leave White Russia and "go to America."

Andrew Hribko headed to the United States in late 1912 by himself. He was 16. He spoke no English. He sailed from White Russia to Scotland, and then from Scotland to New York aboard the U.S.S. California.

Ellis Island
Andrew Hribko entered New York Harbor in the spring of 1913, sailing past the Statue of Liberty. The U.S.S. California docked at Ellis Island. It was there that Andrew Nicolas Hribko registered as an immigrant from White Russia.

Lonely, scared, and in need of a job, he found work at a lumber mill with other Russians. After a year, Andrew Hribko made his way to Youngstown, Ohio where he would work several odd jobs and eventually meet and marry a young Polish girl named Walenza Sarna.

The Hribkos soon became citizens of the United States. They also started a family.

Their son, Andrew Nicolas Hribko, Jr. would fight for the United States during World War II, but die suddenly at the age of 34, leaving behind his six-year-old son (Rodney) and his two-year-old daughter (Sue). That son, Rodney Hribko, is our son-in-law's biological father.  Rodney and his sister Sue would eventually be adopted by Mr. Downey and have their surnames changed from Hribko to Downey.

So of course, our son-in-law Travis Downey grew up as a part of the Downey family and knew very little about his Hribko heritage. In fact, Travis and Charis didn't know any of the Hribko story that I've written for this July 4th reflection. They've said my research has added meaning to the naming of their son, Henry Hribko Downey, and they've given me permission to share it with you.

I will also one day be able to share with Henry how the Cherry side of his family immigrated to America from London in the 1830's, the Burleson side of his family immigrated to America from Ireland in the early 1700's, and the Mock side from Germany in the late 1700's.  We Americans are a blend of people from many countries.

My grandson Henry Hribko Downey and our national holiday, July 4, will always be a reminder to me that we who have the privilege of being citizens of the United States are all - every one of us - descendants of immigrants. 

And we are all Americans.
"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..."
Happy 4th of July!