May, 2014

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The Heartbeat of Christian Assembling (A Guest-post by R.P. Amos)

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

The Heartbeat of Christian Assembling

What a brain is to a body or a CPU processor to a computer so is the revolutionary truth of Hebrews 10:19-23 to the Christian church.  All worship and service flows from this.

Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) … Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together … .  Hebrews 10:19-23, 25

How does one come into God’s presence?  Is there legal protocol?  (Could one just show up in the president’s oval office without any authority, clearance or protocol)?  The living God is in the throne-room of heaven with all His holy angels. There are mighty thunderings and lightnings sounding out, burning lamps, winged creatures covered with eyes proclaiming His holiness 24 hours a day, and elders clothed in clean white falling down low before Him.  Let’s consider 7 truths of the gospel way of coming to this God.

1. CONTEMPORARY (progressive)            “By a new and living way”

Remember the old way.  Only the consecrated holy priesthood could represent God’s people in the service of God at His house.  So no Gentile man or any woman (even if she were a Levite Jew) could ever eat from the table of bread in the holy sanctuary.  And further, after Moses died, only one man on one day in one way was ever permitted to enter the holiest where God’s glory and presence was.  That man was the high priest, the day was Yom Kippur, and the way was with perfect sacrificial blood.  A solid veil curtain with guardian cherubim woven on it acted as a closed door to keep even priests out of the holiest.  Where the awesome, mighty and holy Lord lived over the ark between the guardian golden cherubim was a forbidden city: the most exclusive area on planet earth.

Now as we will see things have changed; it’s new, progressive and now contemporary!

2. DIVERSITY                                   “Having therefore brethren

Not the professional or the ordained hierarchy or the trained or even the elders are told to enter but “brethren”: the “common” believer.  Now regardless of diversity in nationality, religious upbringing, social class, culture or gender, the door is open for all believers to equally draw near to God Himself – without man’s representation or mediation.

3. LIBERTY (for accessibility)          “boldness to enter into”

In the Bible, liberty is not my right to choose what I want, but being free of restraints so I can do what God desires.  Now the restraint of not being permitted to be in God’s presence and house has been eliminated. So now we have personal access to God Himself to hear His voice from His Word like Moses did.  We all also have access to be actively involved His way in His spiritual holy temple today, the church, in worship and service.

4. HEAVENLY                                   “the holiest”

The holiest in this context is not some holy city or cathedral on earth. The true sanctuary where the Lord Jesus is now serving as High Priest is God-built in heaven, not man-made on earth.  The old temple was just a model of the heavenly reality we operate in now.  We come to the heavenly Jerusalem and we are the church of the firstborn with our names written in the membership of heaven.  Whether a church of believers meets in a home or a cave, they are connected to this golden heavenly glory where Jesus is enthroned.

5. AUTHORITY                    “by the blood of Jesus – and having an high priest”

By what authority do we as God’s holy priesthood dare directly approach Him in communion?  By what authority do all believers now fellowship in partaking of the bread and cup at the Lord’s supper and being actively involved in offering Him praise in congregational singing in the church?  By what authority do we offer Him the worship of our heart (the women offering silently in the church and all the men having the calling to do so orally, as well as teaching according to their gifts)?

The authority has nothing to do with education or ordination but consecration (dedicated).  The Lord Jesus has “by a new and living way, … consecrated for us”.  Our authority in Christ that equally qualifies every believer is the blood of Christ (it has completely cleansed us).  We come through the veil now.  It is open and it opened in two the second the Lord Jesus died for our sins.  If a shut door says ‘stay out’ an open door says ‘come in’.  And we have a high priest in heaven (the risen Lord) now representing every believer before God Himself.  Our authority is nothing less than the gospel!  Don’t let any manmade rule sew the veil back up and steal your liberty in Christ’s gospel.

6. UNITY                                           “Let us draw near”

Notice the words “us” and “our” in our text.  While we are made from diversity, we function as a unity.  The Lord desires not some special group of Christians enjoying this but all together.  Consider the Old Testament tabernacle tent curtain where God first lived on earth.  It was a plurality of pieces (10) and diversity of colors (4).  But each piece was to be cut in an equal measure so they would be exactly the same. Then the 10 equal pieces were first joined together into 2 separate equal sections.  Then the 2 large sections were joined together by 50 golden clasps through 50 blue loops to form 1,“and it shall be one tabernacle”.  God lived and lives in a unity from a plurality and diversity.

Now the church, His spiritual temple, is from a diversity of four: “every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation”.  Also a plurality of 10 groupings of people: Greek, Jew, circumcision, uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, male and female – all comprising the two great sections of Jew and Gentiles (nations) now made equally one in Christ by His Spirit which was sent from heaven on the Jewish feast of weeks (50 days – Pentecost).

7. STABILITY                                   “hold fast … without wavering.

This gospel is built on the promises of God in Jesus Christ, for “He is faithful that promised”.  While governments change and people fall out of favor with power, our High Priest lives forever for us and is “the same yesterday, and today, and forever”.  So we have access and nearness to God forever through the living Lord Jesus Christ: stability!

This is what Christian assembling is about and should freely express with reverence and joy.  May we progress with God and not be old fashioned going backwards to legalism.

{Some Scriptures for the seven truths.  CONTEMPORARY – (old way) Heb. 9:1-9 / Exo. 25:21, 22, Lev. 6:18, 24:9 / Num. 18: 1-10.  DIVERSITY – 1Cor. 12:13 / Col. 3:11, Matt. 23:8 / 1Tim. 2:5.  LIBERTY – Exo. 8:1 / Rom. 6:18 / Heb. 4:16, 9:8 / Eph. 2:17 / Rom. 5:2 / 1Cor. 11:26, chapter 14.   HEAVENLY – Acts 7:48 / Heb. 8:1-5, 9:11, 24, 12:22, 23 / Rev. 4, 15:5.  AUTHORITY – 1Pet. 2:5, 9 / Rev. 1:5, 6, 5:9 / Eph. 5:18,19 / 1Cor 11:23-26, 14:23-37 / Matt. 27:50, 51.  UNITY – Eph. 4:13 / Exo. 26: 1-6 / Rev. 5:9 / Col. 3:11, Gal. 3:28 / Eph. 2:13-16 / Lev. 23: 15-17 /Acts 2:1, 33.  STABILITY – Heb. 4:14, 7:25, 13:8}

No Sympathy For The Devil

Monday, May 12th, 2014

i-df02b342033198fb027c2376798aaf6c-Harvard-Seal-Nice*

And they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” 2 Tim. 4:4

Today’s headlines sensationally announce a planned “Satanic Black Mass” to be held tonight at Harvard University. It is being co-sponsored by the Satanic Temple (of New York) and Harvard’s own Extension School’s Cultural Studies Club.[1] Predictably, an outcry has arisen from the surrounding community with the Roman Catholic Church being especially vocal in their opposition. The University President Drew Faust struck a modern mealy-mouthed tone by first pronouncing it “deeply regrettable” that the organizers are proceeding with the nefarious ceremony, and subsequently affirming the organizer’s right to hold it on campus in this statement: “Nevertheless, consistent with the university’s commitment to free expression, including expression that may deeply offend us, the decision to proceed is and will remain theirs. At the same time, we will vigorously protect the right of others to respond — and to address offensive expression with expression of their own.”[2] One wonders if it were a group opposing cherished liberal causes like homosexual rights if Harvard would take such a hands-off approach. But the incident touches on a deeper issue: it demonstrates what happens when the truth of Christ’s gospel is rejected in favor of lies.

Bible Schools Gone Wild

America’s oldest college, Harvard was founded to train Christian ministers and was named in honor of a local pastor and benefactor, John Harvard.[3] A pamphlet of that era details the student rules; two will suffice to give the Christian origins of the college:

“2. Let every student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the main end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life, John 17:3, and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning. And seeing the Lord only giveth wisdom, let every one seriously set himself by prayer in secret to seek it of him Prov. 2, 3.

3. Every one shall so exercise himself in reading the Scriptures twice a day, that he shall be ready to give such an account of his proficiency therein, both in theoretical observations of the language, and logic, and in practical and spiritual truths, as his tutor shall require, according to his ability; seeing the entrance of the word giveth light, it giveth understanding to the simple, Psalm. 119. 130.

4. That they eschewing all profanation of God’s name, attributes, word, ordinance, and times of worship, do study with good conscience, carefully to retain God, and the love of his truth in their minds else let them know, that (notwithstanding their learning) God may give them up to strong delusions, and in the end to a reprobate mind, 2 Thes. 2. 11, 12. Rom. 1. 28.”[4]

After confessing his excessive love of learning in his youth, Harvard’s second President Henry Dunster advised the students: “Take heed of this lest desiring to be as gods ye become devils.”[5] All of this demonstrates the early spiritual climate at Harvard in the seventeenth century, and is a marked contrast from the contemporary secular attitude that thrives there.

Sadly, successive administrations gradually abandoned biblical truth under the influence of Unitarianism, Rationalism, and other false man-made theories. The true Gospel of salvation by faith in Christ alone was jettisoned long ago, and with it the belief in the Bible as God’s Word. Ironically, the school’s original motto was “Veritas pro Christo et ecclesia” (“Truth for Christ & the Church.”)[6] Today it is just “Veritas” in the mistaken belief that truth is lastingly attainable outside of the One who is “the Truth” (Jn. 14:6.) Therefore, it is not surprising that the campus would currently be the site of the celebration of a demonic sacrament.[7]

Enter The Father Of Lies

The Scriptures at the beginning of this post reveal the folly of rejecting the truth, for it always leads to deception. In 2 Timothy 4:4 Paul details the coming time when people would incessantly shop for preachers who appealed to their fancies and predilections rather than proclaiming the truth. In turning from the genuine article, they inevitably are turned to “fables.” People do not exist in a vacuum; if they reject God’s Word, they throw themselves open to multitudinous errors of all types. Satan is always ready to blind human minds (2 Cor. 4:4.) The Lord Jesus rightly called him “a liar, and the father of it” (Jn. 8:44.)

One day the devil’s deceit will culminate in a global humanistic empire, headed by the Man of Sin – who shares the ignominious moniker “son of perdition” with the arch-traitor Judas Iscariot (cf. Jn. 17:12 & 2 Thes. 2:3.) The Bible explains the climate of deception that surrounds his regime: “The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thes. 2:9-12.) By intentionally rejecting the truth and preferring error, people will be deluded by Satan. Having chosen his wicked pseudo-Messiah – a true “Anti-Christ” – God confirms them in their decision by sending them “strong delusion”; this results in their eternal rejection and punishment in the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:11-15.)

Truth Must Be Learned And Obeyed

Of course, no one needs to be deceived. Proverbs 8:7-13, 35-36 personifies “Wisdom” and has her say: “For my mouth will speak truth; Wickedness is an abomination to my lips. All the words of my mouth are with righteousness; Nothing crooked or perverse is in them. They are all plain to him who understands, And right to those who find knowledge. Receive my instruction, and not silver, And knowledge rather than choice gold; For wisdom is better than rubies, And all the things one may desire cannot be compared with her. ‘I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, And find out knowledge and discretion. The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; Pride and arrogance and the evil way And the perverse mouth I hate.…For whoever finds me finds life, And obtains favor from the Lord; But he who sins against me wrongs his own soul; All those who hate me love death.’” Colossians 2:3 reminds us that the Lord Jesus is the repository of all wisdom. As He said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn. 14:6.)

If one turns from their sins and receives Christ as their Lord and Savior, trusting that His death paid the penalty for their sinful being and actions and knowing that He rose to freely give them eternal life, they will be saved (read these chapters: John 3; Rom. 3-4.) The Lord transforms them through His Holy Spirit coming to live inside them. The transformation is so radical, the Bible calls it “a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17, ESV.) As the Lord said: “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (Jn. 8:32.) Free from delusion; free from an empty life of sin; free to serve God and enjoy Him in the age to come; free to begin a relationship with God through His Son that never ends (Jn. 17:3.)[8]

*Image: http://scienceblogs.com/webeasties/wp-content/blogs.dir/368/files/2012/04/i-df02b342033198fb027c2376798aaf6c-Harvard-Seal-Nice.jpg

[1] Daniel Halper, “’Satanic Black Mass’ will take place tonight at Harvard,” Weekly Standard Blog, electronic ed. accessed on 5/12/14 here: http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/satanic-black-mass-take-place-tonight-harvard_791269.html

[2] Quoted in Joshua Rhett Miller, “Harvard’s satanic black mass to be held despite growing outrage,” electronic ed. accessed on 5/12/14 here: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2014/05/12/harvard-satanic-black-mass-remains-scheduled-despite-growing-outrage/

[3] Likewise, other early universities were founded with religious intentions, e.g. Yale, Princeton, Brown, & Oberlin.

[4]“Rules, and precepts that are observed in the college” in New England’s First Fruits. (London: 1643), 26; modern English version accessed on 5/12/14 here: http://education.byu.edu/edlf/archives/prophets/founding_fathers.html ; the original is here: https://archive.org/stream/NewEnglandsFirstFruitsInRespectFirstOfTheCounversionOfSome/New_Englands_First_Fruits#page/n0/mode/2up

[5] Henry Dunster, quoted in Samuel Eliot Morison, The Founding of Harvard College, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1935),  251; electronic ed. accessed on 5/12/14 here: http://books.google.com/books?id=PQMdzhnfaSwC&pg=PA193&source=gbs_toc_r&cad=3#v=onepage&q&f=false

[6] Anna K. Kendrick, “Harvard’s Secularization: How a college lost its faith,” The Harvard Crimson, 3/8/06; electronic ed. accessed on 5/12/14 here: http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2006/3/8/harvards-secularization-harvard-has-never-been/

[7] For a better event held at Harvard, see this talk by Dr. John Lennox: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Kz4OgXsN1w

[8] The Bible teaches that there is only one God and that He exists as a triunity of three persons (“Trinity” is the traditional term describing this doctrine.) Mt. 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14.

This Shepherd Doesn’t Run

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

Shepherd with lamb in Negev riverbed, tb q010303Photo credit: bibleplaces.com

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them.” John 10:11-12

Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: ‘I will strike the Shepherd, And the sheep will be scattered.’” Mark 14:27[1]

There are two kinds of shepherds: the unfaithful and the faithful. In the former category, the “hireling” is time-serving and only tends the sheep out of mercenary motives.[2] By contrast, the “good shepherd” faithfully gives His life to save the sheep from mortal danger – and in Christ’s case, died to save His sheep from eternal perdition. Despite their completely different behaviors, in the above verses both experience the scattering of the sheep under their charge. When and why their flocks are dispersed is the important question to answer.

The Long History Of Fleecing The Sheep

The Old Testament frequently uses the metaphor of shepherds to describe leaders like prophets, priests, and kings. For example, the wicked King Ahab’s demise was foretold in pastoral terms (1 Kings 22:17.) Unlike a true shepherd, he specialized in enriching himself as his flock’s expense (e.g. 1 Kings 18:3-6; 21:1-16.) By the end of the monarchical period Jeremiah lamented: “My people have been lost sheep. Their shepherds have led them astray; They have turned them away on the mountains. They have gone from mountain to hill; They have forgotten their resting place” (Jer. 50:6.) His contemporary Ezekiel also denounced the leaders in these words: “Thus says the Lord God to the shepherds: ‘Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks?’” Even after the discipline of the 70 year Babylonian captivity, Zechariah reiterated God’s displeasure against the wayward pseudo-shepherds of Israel (Zech. 10:2-3.)

Wolves Of Differing Shapes & Sizes

   In the New Testament era things were arguably worse with Sadducean priests turning the Temple into a commercial venture (Matt. 21:13) and materialistic Pharisees overburdening the people (Lk. 16:14; Matt. 23:1-36.) Likewise, modern charlatans peddle empty religion and novel psychobabble in order to gain a following, thereby making fortunes at the expense of the gullible and the weak. The godly young preacher Robert Murray M’Cheyne knew the type, saying: “‘…For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.’—Phil. 2:20. Ah! this is the black mark of every unfaithful minister. He is an hireling—he seeks his own—his own ease—his own profit—his own honor.”[3] He further explains that the hireling “does not defend the flock from heresy by sound teaching; nor does he stand between the flock and the arrows of a God-hating world.”[4]

Prosperity preachers, gurus, and Oprah’s spiritual flavor of the week are all too visible reminders of the contemporary ubiquity of the hireling. Such false shepherds scatter those who follow them, because when life’s seas become rough or when true danger encroaches, they flee leaving their adherents vulnerable to temporal and eternal destruction. Unlike these self-seeking false pastors the Lord Jesus genuinely cared for the nation, seeing them “like sheep having no shepherd” (Matt. 9:36.)

The Right Man, The Man Of God’s Own Choosing Is On Our Side

The scattering of Christ’s sheep was the exception to the rule. The Lord specializes in gathering His sheep. They hear His voice and instinctively flock to Him for protection, guidance, and nurture. Zechariah’s prophecy refers to the time when He was betrayed and arrested. Even then the Lord Jesus was in complete control of the circumstances: He instructed His “captors” to let His disciples go (Jn. 18:8-9.) Since when do arrestees dictate to the police whom they should free and whom they should detain? Yet the Lord was in sovereign command of the situation. The Good Shepherd would only lay down His life voluntarily, at His Father’s command (Jn. 10:17-18.)

At Christ’s arrest, the disciples all fled, demonstrating again the truthfulness of prophetic scripture.[5] Their scattering was temporary, however, and His being smitten was actually His unselfish defense of their souls. As the nineteenth century’s “prince of preachers” points out: “The shepherd in the East has also to be the defender of the flock, for wolves yet prowl in those regions. All sorts of wild beasts attack the flock, and he must be to the front. Thus is it with our Shepherd. No wolf can attack us without finding our Lord in arms against him. No lion can roar upon the flock without arousing a greater than David. ‘He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.’”[6] He only left the flock in order to lay His life down as a sacrifice for them – one which forever defeated their foes!

The Shepherd Gathers His Sheep

After His resurrection, the Lord Jesus reassembled His fearful and demoralized sheep (e.g. Lk. 24:13-32; Jn. 20:19-29; Jn. 21:1-23.) He commissioned them to carry on His work, as He builds His church. At times His people have again been scattered by persecution, but two factors are different from the occasion of His crucifixion: 1. Now He is ever with His people (Mt. 28:20; Heb. 13:5) and 2. He providentially employs this scattering to disperse His people like seed with His gospel throughout the world; in this way producing new crops of saints and churches (Compare Acts 8:1-8 with Acts 11:19-26.)

Marching Orders For The Under-Shepherds

Modern day elders of the church have been appointed by the Holy Spirit “…to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28.) They must emulate the Good Shepherd in selflessly caring for the sheep – even to the point of daily pouring out their lives that Christ may be formed in their charges (Phil. 2:17; Gal. 4:19.) As Henry Cowles writes: “Nothing less than a heart-felt interest in the flock will make the shepherd brave in peril, and…self-sacrificing for their good. The good shepherd puts himself in strong contrast with the hireling; and more than suggests that his under-shepherds should be like himself—true and even fearlessly brave to protect the sheep.”[7] May the Lord help His overseers to protect the flock and lead them to Himself in every situation.

[1] Boldface mine; unless otherwise noted, all quotations are from The New King James Version of the Bible (abbrev. NKJV.)

[2] Mr. Grant defines them thus: “The hireling cares but for his wages: the sheep are not his own, and he is not personally concerned about them: when the wolf appears, he leaves the sheep and flees; alas, no supposititious case, but what has been abundantly seen in history. The wolf in consequence, the open adversary, catches them and scatters them. The hireling acts in character: nothing better could be expected of him.” F. W. Grant, The Numerical Bible: Being a Revised Translation of the Holy Scriptures with Expository Notes: The Gospels (Study Text) (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1897), 548. [emphasis mine.]

[3] Robert Murray M’Cheyne,  “The Good Shepherd,” in The Works of the Late Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne, Vol. 1. (New York: Robert Carter, 1848), 450.

[4] M’Cheyne, 451.

[5] Zechariah prophesied five centuries before the time of Christ.

[6] C. H. Spurgeon, “Our own dear Shepherd,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, Vol. 32. Originally preached on November 26, 1885. (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1886), 5. [Italics original.]

[7] Henry Cowles, The Gospel and Epistles of John: With Notes Critical, Explanatory, and Practical (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1876), 160.