Friday, July 13, 2018

Some Books Can Kill You

My friend, George Bowers, pastor of Antioch Church of the Brethren in Woodstock, VA, sent me this piece yesterday. He writes a weekly column for the Northern Virginia Daily newspaper and this is his column for this week.

Here is a link to George's website: where George posts many of his writings.


                Last week, librarians in Denmark learned that three of their books from the 15 and 1600s could easily kill them.  While using x-rays to examine the composition of the inks used, they discovered instead that the covers of these books had very high levels of arsenic.

                Best known, perhaps, for its use to poison innocent bachelors by the spinsters in Joseph Kesselring's play, Arsenic and Old Lace, arsenic can cause numerous maladies from abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea, to heart problems, delirium and death.

                How it found its way into these book covers is still a mystery although speculation involves its presence to deter damage by mice and insects or to provide an attractive green color.  Whatever the reason, it’s potential to cause serious illness and death should not be underestimated.  I think it’s safe to say we wouldn’t want our children reading those books, nor should we.

                Even less obvious but just as deadly is the possibility of the chemical becoming airborne by mixing with other components and causing similar symptoms for unsuspecting library patrons.  Because of their potential to cause multiple problems, the poisonous books have been removed from the shelves and are now stored safely to prevent accidental contact and death. 

                As I read about this shocking discovery, it reminded me that many publications are toxic to us spiritually even though they may not contain dangerous chemicals.  Instead of compounds being absorbed through the skin or breathed in through the lungs, lethal ideas and thoughts waft off the pages into our minds and create poisonous thought patterns.  That would be bad enough, but much worse is the fact that our thoughts often lead to actions when we live out what we’ve been thinking.

                Unfortunately, these dangers are not only present in written material such as books and magazines, but they become even more powerful when presented through dramas and disseminated as videos, clips, and programs via television, internet, social media, and the big screen.  Unsuspecting observers may laugh or cry along with the characters little realizing that they are being infected with worldviews and philosophies that undermine and contradict those of Jesus Christ.

                Gifted authors and producers have often helped audiences swallow the poison of sexual sin in movies such as Titanic, for example, by couching it in sympathetic and compassionate settings.  Others enable viewers to gulp down dishonesty, theft, bigotry, blasphemy, and even murder with generous doses of humor and situational ethics.  Such media, whether written or acted, is highly toxic and has infected our society to epidemic proportions.

                Even many video games that may be innocent in and of themselves become deadly as they erode the human conscience’s resistance to bloodshed and hatred.  News broadcasts, too, can incrementally poison the mind with cynicism or hopelessness as well as argumentation and antagonism.

                Such dangers rarely show up under normal conditions.  When examined in the light of God’s Word, however, the venom becomes readily apparent, even glowingly obvious, just the arsenic did under x-ray analysis.

                Harmless at first, constant exposure to such toxins leads to symptoms of anger, promiscuity, unkindness, cruelty, and other evil.  Eventually, if not treated with the forgiving blood of Jesus, all these sinful behaviors lead to a consequence even worse than the physical death caused by arsenic as they result in eternal spiritual death and separation from God.

                As we handle the books, magazines, newspapers, movies, internet, and other media all so freely available to us today, let us beware of the potential for soul poisoning that exists with each one and be sure to examine them in the revealing light of Scripture.  Let us invite God to cleanse us of whatever dangers have already found their way into our minds and hearts and to purify us from all unrighteousness.  Our spiritual vitality depends upon it.  Blessings, George

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Psalm 119 (5)

Musings on Psalm 119
Daleth: Verses 25 – 32 (NASB)

My soul cleaves to the dust;
Revive me according to Your word.

The image of cleaving and clinging appears twice in Daleth, once in verse 25 and once in verse 31, “I cling to your testimony”. This is the same Hebrew word in both verses, and while the NASB translates it with “cleave” in verse 25 and “cling” in verse 31, the ESV provides consistency in translating it as “cling” in both verses. I don’t know why the NASB folks used two English words for the same Hebrew word, but I think the ESV does the English-language reader a better service because it allows the reader to see the repeated image and the juxtaposition of clinging to the dust and clinging to God’s testimonies.

The psalmist is clinging to the dust and cries out for revival, but not just any revival, but rather revival according to God’s Word. Is our desire to “feel good” or is it to be conformed to the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29)? If our driving desire is to feel good then we may not care how we go about it, we may not care whether our revival is according to the Word of God. 

If our preaching and teaching is designed to attract people and keep the people we attract and not designed to bring others to Jesus and to sow the seed of the Word, trusting the Holy Spirit to bring forth fruit – we may have people feeling good but not being transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. We may even have people who think they are Christians but who do not know Jesus – they may think they’ve joined a club, a fraternity or sorority, but they may not have surrendered their lives to Jesus Christ; Christ may be their mascot but not their Lord and Savior.

We tailor our words and actions to move us toward our goal, toward our heart’s desire – consciously and unconsciously. If we treasure religious “success” then we will serve cotton candy in our preaching and music; if we treasure the Christ of the Cross then we will serve the Word of God.

When our souls cleave to the dust we need God’s Word, God’s Word is the only way to revival.

I have told of my ways, and You have answered me;
Teach me Your statutes.

There are man’s ways, and there are God’s ways; there is the Way of Life, and there is the way of death. Our ways lead only to misery and grief, we may think otherwise because our hearts are deceitful, as we read in Proverbs 28:26, “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool…” I think that the author’s cry in verse 29, “Remove the false way from me…” may indicate that the “ways” he speaks of in verse 26 are the ways of man and not the ways of God, hence the cry to “teach me Your statutes.”

We ought to know who we are in the First Adam, and who we are in the Last Adam. Who we are in the First Man, who is of the earth, and who we are in the Second Man, the Lord from Heaven. We are called to bear the image of the Heavenly Man, our Lord Jesus Christ – we can only bear His image as we are transformed by the Holy Spirit and the Living Word of God.

Make me understand the way of Your precepts,
So I will meditate on Your wonders.

What is the “way of Your precepts”? It is Jesus Christ; Jesus first, Jesus last, Jesus always. The Scriptures testify of Jesus (John 5:39; Luke 24:27, 32, 44, 45), Jesus is the Way of God’s precepts. Jesus is the Wonder of God, He is the Wonderful Counselor (Isaiah 9:6). We may read of the wonders of God, we may see the wonders of God, but if we do not “see” Jesus as the Wonder of wonders then our vision lacks clarity and unity – for we are called to “see” Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ brings unity to the Scripture and to our lives. All things are on a trajectory of being “summoned up” in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:10).

My soul weeps because of grief;
Strengthen me according to Your word.

We may weep because of our sin, and we may weep because of the sin of others – we ought to do both. It is not just the eyes of the psalmist that weep, but it is his soul. Our society is one of hardened and medicated souls. We live in a collective opium den – we deaden our souls with money and lust and entertainment and sports and “things” and ego and electronics. Sadly, many of our churches fail to preach the Word that can penetrate the smoke of collective deceit and convict us of sin, bringing tears to our souls. The harden soul must be broken at the Cross and the pretense of human righteousness must be exposed once and for all – our sin must be confessed and we must repent, otherwise we remain in our sins and in our “sin”.

I recently met a man who was raised in a Gospel-preaching church, but he ignored the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. Then one day he realized that he no longer felt convicted of his sin – that frightened him! At that moment he repented of his way of life, confessed his sins, and took up the Cross of Jesus Christ as a disciple – that was some 70 years ago and this man has not looked back for he has been “looking unto Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Remove the false way from me,
And graciously grant me Your law.

We are all born with the false way in us; it is the way of sin and rebellion against a Holy God. As Paul argued in Romans Chapter Three, none of us are righteous, not one of us; we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God – the glory that God desires to bring us into, the glory that we experience when we are in an intimate relationship with Him – the glory of Himself. 

The way we think, the way we feel, the way we see life – all have been polluted by the false way; Christ comes to deliver us from the false way, He comes to give Himself to us as our New Way – and so Jesus says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Christ the Truth sets us free, Christ the Life raises us from spiritual death, Christ the Way becomes the road we travel, the air we breathe, the thoughts we think, the emotions we feel – He becomes the Bread of Life for our souls.

The false way is removed from us as the Word of God in Jesus Christ works in us by the power of the Holy Spirit. The engrafted Word saves us (James 1:18 – 21) and heals our souls, it renews our minds, it cleanses our hearts, it purifies our emotions as we submit to Jesus Christ. In Christ the false way is displaced by the True Way, and the True Way is the Living Law and Word of God.

I have chosen the faithful way;
I have placed Your ordinances before me.

Who is the Faithful Way if it is not our Lord Jesus? He is the only one who can be fully trusted; He, out of all who have ever walked this earth, is the only one ever found to be perfectly faithful. To walk in His Way is to live faithfully toward God’s Word, toward God, and toward mankind. The faithfulness of Jesus Christ is never to be doubted, it never wavers, it never changes. As Paul writes (2 Timothy 2:13), “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” God cannot contradict His nature.

Jeremiah wrote (Lamentations 3:22 – 23), “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;  his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

To choose the Faithful Way is to focus on the Word (the ordinances) of God. We cannot credibly claim to be followers of the Word that was in the beginning with God (John 1:1 – 3) if we are not followers of the Scriptures through which God the Word has revealed Himself. To say we are followers of Jesus Christ and to disobey His Word in the fabric of our lives is to indict ourselves as imposters (1 John 1:5 – 2:6). We may sin, but we do not live lives of sin; we are not sinners; in Christ, by Christ, through Christ, and unto Christ those who are in relationship with Christ are saints, they are sons and daughters of the Living God – and they are called to live accordingly.

I cling to Your testimonies;
O Lord, do not put me to shame!

To cling to the dust (verse 25) is one thing, to cling to the Word of God is another. Our lives on earth began in the dust of the natural “man”, apart from God, alienated from the life of God. The Word of God was an unknown language to us; we could not hear it, we could not speak it. For some of us, our religious environments drowned the Word of God out so that we could not hear it. For others, pagan thinking clouded our hearts and minds. For others, the insidious lie that only the material is real was as a lead prison encapsulating our souls.

As we are raised with Christ (Ephesians 2:1 – 10) we learn a new language, we hear a new music – we learn the language of God, we hear the music and singing of God (Zephaniah 3:17; 1 Corinthians Chapter 2).

Yes, there is a “shame” in the world’s eyes in following Jesus, there is a reproach to bear (Hebrews 13:13), but the woman or man or young person who trusts in Christ will not be ashamed of Him (Romans 9:33; 1:17; 2 Timothy 1:12). How can we be ashamed of Him who is not ashamed of us?  

I shall run the way of Your commandments,
For You will enlarge my heart.

What shall we do with the Word of God? Shall we plod with it or shall we run with it?

Paul writes (2 Timothy 4:1 – 2), “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”

“For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (Matthew 13:12). As we receive the Word and give the Word to others our hearts will be enlarged and our capacity to receive will be increased – the more we give the Word the more of the Word we can receive; for as we give to others we are drawn ever deeper into the fellowship of the Trinity.

There is a joy and exhilaration in running with the Word of God, a freedom as we breathe in the Holy Spirit, as the Spirit of God envelops us; our feet become beautiful in Christ (Romans 10:15) as they run with the Gospel.

Can we say with Paul (2 Timothy 4:7 – 8), “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”?

Friday, July 6, 2018

Another Picture of Sin

There used to be a wire fence between our house and our vegetable garden, now there are just vestiges of it. At one time the tree in the photo and the fence were distinct - the tree did not belong to the fence and the fence did not belong to the tree. But what does the photo below tell us? Portions of the fence are now deep within the tree, the tree has absorbed elements of the fence.

The Bible tells us to flee sin in its myriad forms (1 Cor. 6:18, 10:14; 1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:22). Paul asks in 2 Cor. 6:14, "What fellowship has light with darkness?"

What fellowship has a tree with a wire fence? 

We may think that we can coexist with sin, we may think that we can live alongside sin, but such thinking (thinking we are the exception) leads to sin being embedded within us. Were I to cut the wire from each side of the tree there would still be wire within the tree - a newcomer to our home would not know this, but I would know it. 

We may try to hide embedded sin, but God knows all about it and He desires to remove it from our lives, He yearns to deliver us from sin and its power, and in fact He has done so through Christ and the Cross (Romans 5:12 - 8:39). O that we would surrender our souls and minds and hearts to Jesus, considering ourselves "dead unto sin but alive unto God" (Romans 6:11). 

Our "experience" should not be our norm, nor should it be our exegetical lens - what Christ has done is miraculous and surpasses our understanding, it is indeed a mystery; by God's Word we become participants in the Divine Nature (2 Peter 1:4). By God's Word we are born again (1 Peter 1:22 - 25). 

Our experience ought not to interpret God's Word, God's Word should interpret our experience; and if our experience falls short of God's Word, then let us be supremely confident that our Father desires to transform us into the image of His Son (Romans 8:29) - today, in this life, so that others may come to know Jesus. 

If there are embedded fence wires in our lives today let us call out to our Lord Jesus, for He alone is loving and caring and wise enough to remove them from our lives...without killing the tree.