Forgiven

unforgiven

In 1992 Clint Eastwood released the last Western he both filmed and starred in. I would imagine, him now at the age of 84, that this will be the last in his long line. That film was entitled Unforgiven.

I don’t know who it was that was “unforgiven” in that story. Maybe everyone. Most of the time they all end up dead anyway. It is probably the perfect title to such a movie.

Let us all be thankful that this is not the byline to the Scriptures – the Holy Bible: the Unforgiven and Abandoned. Merrily, that is not its subscript. That distinction might go to The Long History of the Christ and His Lost, then Found. The Son of God and forgiveness is what the Bible is all about.

With this as its theme, the key verse in God’s book could be Luke 19:10: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

There are a total of 31,102 verses in the English Bible. Yet, at just 65 verses in we come to this ominous phrase: “Where are you?” God was doing the asking. The rest of the Bible is used to answer that question and to offer a solution to the problem. That being said, the focus of the Scriptures is not man. Decidedly not. Its theme is God. The glory of God, the thoughts of God, and the works of God, including Calvary.

Did you know that everybody goes to God eventually? Nobody is left behind. You’ll get to go too, no matter what your background. Let there be no thought to the contrary. The problem lies in that not everyone will be able to stay with God. The world’s multitudes will then be judged and cast off.

Ecclesiastes 12:7 says about death that, after it, “the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.” Hebrews 9:27 adds that “after this (comes) the judgment.” So the real question is not who will make it into the presence of the Almighty, but who gets to remain.

In Bible times, a city would do much of its business in its gates. The powers that be would convene and decisions were made. Consider the beginning of the afterlife this way. You’ll have your time before God in His gates. Every soul will be considered. Entry will be the question.

Who are you? The “Forgiven, Yes” or the “Forgiven, No?” I implore you to base your response on your standing at the present. Some plan getting right with the God-things some glory day tomorrow: secure a plot of ground, complete your last will and testament, and say a little prayer tomorrow, nearer the end. It’s a time-space fact that tomorrow never comes. It’s always today. Where are you headed today, presently?

My topic is forgiveness. Not the pardoning of others, “those who trespass against us,” but forgiveness and reconciliation with God, its highest brand. While sorting through the subject, I shall mention a few things that forgiveness is not – false notions – before we come to what it is. When using a radio in a strange city, sometimes you need to tune through all those static gushing wrong stations to get to that one right station you are looking for. When it comes to doctrine, to do this is not some incidental byproduct of the process. It is something that has to be done. It is needful, even hoping to affect the toppling overthrow of all such regimes of thought. This essay does not reach so high, but may it at least add its weight.

At the bottom of this heap are those who don’t recognize sin at all. They manage this in a variety of ways. Those who cut cleanest from any consciousness of moral responsibility are those who do not even recognize God’s existence. These believe that there is no teacher in the room precisely because they wish for no teacher to be in the room. They do this so that they can act precisely in a manner as if no teacher is in the room. If ever they were intellectually honest, for one lucid, full oxygen moment, they would have to admit more truth to the statement than anything else. But then, that would be coming from the “no-God” leaders. The “no-God” followers have a myriad more reasons, mostly because of unflagging faith in their teachers. So there is a teacher in the room after all, and it is the students. None of this is becoming to order in the classroom.

Then there are those who don’t go as far, though they might as well. The focus of these is set squarely on the passing pleasure of their sin. That’s the everything. There can be a God, there can be no God. On this they don’t care to squabble; they’re just going to do what they do. If it ends up that there is a they, he, she, or it, that deity is good with their actions, or had better be. Sometimes these state it, “God loves me just the way I am.” An intriguing statement. Never do they attribute its knowledge to rising out from any of the religious writings. Though they are not trying for any objective standard by their statement, it is a highly prejudiced statement after all, if we would give the idea even a quick pass through, it does have one slight kibble of truth in it.

God does have a love for the human world, but it is not a love that loves them “just the way they are.” It is a love that loves them in spite of the way that they are, and wishes to change the way they are, decidedly. In fact, in a sterile heaven, this is no mere suggestion. I would not even go so far as to think of a mother who loves her muddy child, but is sure going to scrub the caked brute down before he gets into the house. Our problem runs deeper than that. There is no parental relationship at all. Enmity has severed all family ties. There is no mom, because there is no son. When we first come to God, we come to Him from a place of total estrangement. Estrangement complete. We are unrelated. A creation, fallen. A family no more.

Other folks have found a personal peace with their wrong, “I’m right with God because,” and then present such an opening argument, the facts of their case thudding flat so loudly, as to cause the covering of the ears of all in the courtroom, including its judge. For man, forgiveness from God must be the topic of discussion we are most consumed with. Let us be slaphappy about any ol’ way of performing brain surgery, than to be reckless with “I’m good with God.” The brain surgery can only kill you once.

When we speak of the forgiveness of God, we are talking about the character of God. He forgives according to His character. The entire world may be comforted in that it is a good, wise, and benevolent character. I don’t think it is fair to say that God is godly. That even sounds off. It is not enough. Having to do with those same virtues, more than God is good, He is “Holy, Holy, Holy.” More than wise, “He alone is wise.” More than loving, “God is love.” He does not embody love. We do that. He IS love (emphasis God’s, see 1 John 4:8 and 16).

His forgiveness is in accordance with these. He does not juggle His attributes, holding firm to one while throwing another up high in the air, so that He has time to perform that which He holds. He holds, and is, them all, always, at all times. When sorrowful souls slip into hell’s descent, God does not quick toss love upward, letting go of it for those moments of jurisprudence. It is a loving God who sends souls to hell. And, of course, the more astute statement is that they send themselves. He did all to prevent such from happening. Nevertheless, His goodness will not allow sin into heaven.

On the flipside, God is not with a loveless righteousness. He could never take on the opinions of, say, Jonah. That is, God could not carry such distain for a people as to take a pass on His “love” characteristic, so that He might express zealous jealousy. It is fair to say that there are emotions with God, but never moods. A mood is when one characteristic overtakes another. A mood can hardly be reasoned with. God is the epitome of reason. He cannot ignore or overlook any one of His attributes at any time. On the forgiveness side, our amazement should not be that so many fall into hell, but that a single soul ever enters into heaven.

Some suggest that all will be forgiven no matter what, all of the “mostly good” that is. “Really bad people, murderers and serial rapists in prison, won’t, but everyone else, law abiders, will.” What they really mean by this is “us law abiders . . . with our level of law abiding,” unwittingly lowering the bar a great many notches. This “bar,” I might mention, does not even exist. Perfection has no bar. Even the thought of the existence of a bar speaks of imperfection, or measuring perfection. It cannot be measured, accept by, possibly the word “all.” Perfection is every bit.

Going back to our pole vaulter, “Yes, I have done wrong at times.” Inferring to “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away . . . ” Never would this person suggest any shenanigans going on at the present. These unwittingly believe two falsehoods: 1.) They believe that our modern notion of “statute of limitations” is a divine right active throughout the universe. 2.) Also, they believe that their ungodly thoughts, words, and deeds of today, in adulthood, are not sin. “Mistakes” and “human error” are the current terms for it. Many nights of ignorant slumbering splendor lie between iniquity and a boo-boo.

Many tell me, “Yes, but everybody does that.” Which I wholeheartedly agree with, everybody does do it. Sin has spread to every man. That is a sound Bible concept. What I don’t understand is how total depravity everywhere should call for justice nowhere. Maybe they are counting on a too busy deity who has not the time with such a backlog of cases.

Still they bring up that “God is love.” But they believe that God, being love, favors the “love” ball. In their perspective, goodness is hardly even found suspended before the juggler in air. It doesn’t exist at all. It’s not that they do not deal properly with God’s righteousness. They don’t deal with it in the slightest. When God says, in the Bible, that He is love, He means with His righteousness too. Both are active. Whatever He might do for love, will be kept in sync with whatever He does for righteousness.

It is imperative for all that God does deal with sin justly. Let me counter the false notion again – that “God forgives all in the end, the whole planet, out of the kindness of His divine heart, Christ’s work on Calvary properly applied or not.” I’ll try and do it with a true story.

I was driving home from Detroit one day. It was in the early springtime. The snow was newly melted, revealing a terribly littered I-94. Along one stretch were lined bulging large plastic bags, one after the other, for about a mile. It was clear that this was the remains of an “Adopt a Highway” cleanup. They did a great job too. After those bags would get toted off, that mile was going to be looking snazzy. That, to my mind, is the results of the false picture of an all-loving God forgiving the world’s sins blindly, a general amnesty to all litterbugs regardless of faith or doctrine. Friends, it doesn’t work that way. Why not?

Using our illustration, what’s going to happen out there in a few months, let alone just a few weeks, maybe days? What will that highway see again? That’s right, litter. Garbage will once more be strewn all over the place. With forgiveness that way, it never stops. In a sense, nothing has changed. The offenders are still at large. That method actually covers up the problem instead of fixing it. In one sense, it doesn’t deal with it at all. The highways might look better for a season, but that’s all about to change.

Also, what about other sins? True, you might be able to return a stolen locket. It might work somewhat with robbery, theoretically, but you can’t unhate someone. You can’t unlie a lie or unslap a face. Adultery can’t be rewound. It’s an act complete. Fini. Once a person is murdered, that’s it. Just carting off the body and burying it doesn’t undo the deed. Out of sight is not out of mind in such cases. The results of this type of forgiveness would be even more sin; piles of litter up and down New Jerusalem’s streets of gold, not to mention, hatred, lying, and murders. Heaven would start to take on a shabby skid row look to it. None of us would want to truly imagine that. In no time, you would have two earths and no heaven.

God’s offering of forgiveness is far greater than that. Not only is there the erasure of past sinful behavior, but also, the complete overhauling of the sinner into a fine new creation, thus dealing with sin’s both cause and effect. The dentist will not just give temporary numbing rubs, but will drill his way down to the root cause, and redeem us there also.

Some look at a few passages in the Bible as teaching that God gives us a second shot at believing after we die, sort of a Mulligan to those who whiffed it. However, that does not track with the Bible’s clear teaching in many places: the punishment of unrepentant sinners forever. Multitudes of them.

Here is a favorite passage of the “Second Chance” crowd. It is Philippians 2:9-11: “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Is that “every knee” every knee? And is that “every tongue” every tongue? I agree with them here. I think that it is. It is true that all of human creation will, in the end, come to the correct realization that Jesus is Lord. Believer, pagan, and atheist will all believe and confess it aloud. They will bow low, and state so noisily. They will do this because the glory of the, then revealed, God of heaven will behoove them to do it. There is no mistaking the majesty of God when flagged full. That does not mean that such will lead to their redemption.

Look at the fallen angels today. They are filled with little but blasphemes and scoffing. It is primarily they who are the authors of heresy. But then, during the time of Christ, when they crossed the Savior’s path, what developed then? Mark 5:6-12 says of one demon possessed man that when he “saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshiped Him.” Hmm? He also spoke to the Master.

“What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God that You do not torment me.”

No blaspheme there. Jesus asked the demon his name, he spoke it. Jesus commanded the demon(s) to come out (there ended up being more than one). Out they came. Total obedience and reverence. They couldn’t help themselves. Still, that does not mean a heartfelt surrendered position. It’s only His Almighty presence overcoming their comparatively feeble presence. Once He left, it is them back to their old tricks. I believe that it will be that way in the eternal state too. No passage of Scripture clearly teaches anything otherwise.

There are many “hell to pay” passages in the Bible. Let’s not go that way right now. The results would fill many typed pages. Who is it then, of mankind, that is in hell there? Who would pass up on a second chance in the Kingdom Age, with the glory of God on His Great White Throne in plain blinding sight? There they will all be confessing Him praiseworthy. No one will pass this up. Nevertheless, a true second chance is not offered. Believe? They sure do now, just as the demons do, who believe “and tremble.” But sadly, it is too late. They have run clean out of earthbound “accept-Him-today” chances.

So, we’ve seen a few things of what forgiveness from God is not. How about what effectual forgiveness is? To do this, we can only begin with the awful news. Mankind is deep in it – trouble. We’re a mess. Moses, when he saw the grievous sins of the Hebrew children, cast down the tablets of stone as a sign against them: “You have broken the law of God as I have broken these tablets on which they were written,” so to speak. We have all transgressed. No one can hide behind the clever turning of phrases to lessen the obvious. This is true for every last one of us. “For all have sinned.” So now, being “good enough” is not an option. Again, the deed’s done.

There was an exceptional young man who presented himself to Jesus one day in Matthew’s gospel (chapter 9). He was a fine specimen of both kind humanity and faith, Judaism. Stout. Well-to-do. With “please and thank yous” pouring easily from his lips. Even loved his mother. He asked the Master Teacher a question with curiosity burning its flame inside him. He really wanted to know.

“Good Teacher, what thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?”

A common misconception. “What must I do?” “How can I earn it?” Jesus, knowing from where this guy was coming, answered this way, “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He was speaking of the famous Ten. Much was revealed by the man’s response to this.

“Which ones?”

What kind of question is that? All of them, of course. “Which ones not?” Jesus rattled off several, leaving out all four that have to do with loving God and the last one, about not coveting.

The guy said that he was good with those, “What do I still lack?” He knew that something was wrong with just doing your best at “good.” His nagging conscience told him so. We have sinned, and if we had but a single cell of honesty anywhere in our system, we’d admit it.

When Jesus pointed out the man’s covetousness and lack of deep love for God, in one fell swoop, the man up and left Him, yes, unforgiven.

The twelve were upset by this. They probably knew the guy. He was a teacher of the law, and no hypocrisy about it either. Once the man was out of sight, they asked Jesus, “Who then can be saved?”

In Matthew’s gospel it says that before Jesus answered their question, he “looked at them.” Nowhere else in that gospel does it say that Jesus “looked” and then “said.” Usually it simply mentions that “Jesus said” the next thing. This is the only time in all of Matthew. I can picture His piercing gaze now. It was that same glare that my parents so sternly telegraphed across the room when I was a boy. I know it well. They would make searing retina burning eyeball contact with me to make sure that I was paying full attention. They didn’t want me to miss the edict that was coming next. Maybe the Savior was going for that. When Jesus had bore sufficiently in He spoke, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Such a concise statement of definitive truth with so many results flowing from it.

Iniquity is with us. The scarlet letter is S for sin, and it is more than embroidered onto our garments; it is sown to our hearts. It is with us organically, down to the very DNA of our flesh. All appears hopeless in this.

This is why the good news (gospel) is so good. In brief, the gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus stood-in, taking our place. It was wholly, fully, legally, and fixedly substitutionary. He offered a very great exchange: Himself for all mankind. He paid the collective price. Believe in Him and He promises to apply His assets (a considerable sum) to our deficits. We go scot-free.

Then, our sins are not only forgiven, but purged, washed, removed, down the drain. We are no longer with them. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Cleansing and purging are one and the same. The big idea here is removal. They are gone.

At my house, garbage pick-up is Fridays. Roll our little dumpster out there to the curbside with its deposit of greasy napkins, watermelon rinds, brown apple cores, carrot shavings, dirty paper towels, burnt matches, putrid cottage cheese, rotten eggs, oily rags, and the like, and it wah-lah disappears, is removed, taken off to who knows where. Don’t know. I’ve never followed the truck. Don’t want to. Don’t care. It’s just off my premises.

How does the death of the Christ (one) achieve all of that (redemption for so many)? The answer lays in the value attributed, by God, to His Son’s sacrifice at Calvary. The appraisal of Jesus’ life was without price. It cannot be accurately assessed. “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” It can be seen from almost any angle. Let’s try just one: Jesus Christ is the Eternal One.

Isaiah 9 calls him, “Mighty God, Everlasting Father.” That last part could be translated “Father of Everlasting (or eternity).” Eternal life was with Him. He bestowed it. His merits to hold such an exalted position rest in the fact that He is eternal God.

Speaking of the Christ, Micah 5:2 says, that His “goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.” So He is “from everlasting to everlasting.” (see also, 1 Timothy 6:15 and 16).

The redemption miracle began at the incarnation. How could the eternal step into the temporal? How could the timeless put on time? He did. He became flesh and blood Man.

My father used to suffix certain statements that were true with “no bones about it.” For this we might change that to, say, “Jesus became a man, bones about it.” Bones, skin, hair, feet. The whole works. Why? Man sinned; man had to die. One finite man might be able to give himself for another finite man, throwing himself on a grenade, but how can one man die for the sins of all men? He would have to be Infinite Man. And Jesus, through the incarnation, was precisely that. The Eternal One was born, then died.

The bill seems so enormous. How can any single anything pay it? With this, the equation is reduced completely down. It now lays at its simplest. Any assets that exceed a debt may be applied to that debt. To this 1 Peter 1:18 and 19 says, “Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.”

The measure of that preciousness exceeds greatly the sum total of the weight of the world. So now, “where sin abounds, grace does much more abound.”

Sin, with its guilt, is gone from us, and not simply, but in a detailed, full, statutory manner. Then comes alive the statement, (Romans 8:31 and 33) “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? . . . Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.”

Both litter and litterer are dealt with. This, God’s plan, can fit souls for heaven, as it still does to this day to all who seek its refuge.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Battling Conformity

everest

There was a ministry joke that ran between my father and me for many years. It went both ways, no matter who was doing the upcoming sermon. The one not preaching would ask, “What are you gonna preach about on Sunday?”

The answer: “Sin.”

The follow-up question: “What are you gonna say about it?”

“I’m against it.”

That ended it. Once in a while the original inquirer might add in the final note, “Good position.”

And we are. We’re wholeheartedly against it, or so we say. That is until it comes to that one field of sin the Bible calls conformity. “Outright sin,” we say, “we’ve no stomach for.” But conformity, on some level, with so much being thrown at us all the time, is treated as unavoidable. So, hate it as we might, sometimes, if only by a few degrees, conform to the world we do. This low level conformity is seldom cognitive. We don’t necessarily voice it, but the will sure processes it right on through, on greased skids. This, like few other areas of human experience, is simply killing Christ’s church today.

The first time I ever swam in the ocean, after high school, in Florida, I received some sound advice. It came from one who would know – a scuba diver on the beach.

“When you walk out there, sort of drag your feet. There are stingrays along the bottom. If you step on one, walking normal, it will pop you good. If you drag your feet along the sand, you’ll stir them up and they’ll swim off.”

I did as he said. Everything went well.

There is a way to walk, even in the ocean. How much more the Christian life? Far worse than stingrays lay in wait, I assure you. Safe passage is yours if . . .

The byline for all “Pursuit” articles is “a paper dedicated to the growth of 8-9-10 faith.” “8-9-10” is a faith-based philosophical statement that we have going on in our church. It uses the idea of the 0-10 scale. It would answer the question, “Where is your love and dedication for the Lord on a 0-10 scale? Zero is “cold as ice.” Ten is “sold-out, red hot.” If honest, most Christians score middle to left on that scale. The push in our church is for everyone to be at a 10. The 8 and 9 come in because of what it says in 1 John 1. In verse 8 and 10 it says, if we go about believing that we have no sin, we both “deceive ourselves” and “make Him (God) a liar.”

Keeping the goal of 10 as our every effort, whenever we momentarily miss the mark, let us never fall below an 8. It is our attempt at answering the question both honestly and biblically. But then a follow-up question needs to be asked. Why? Why conform at all, ever, even by a single degree? We’ll look at that in this paper, but more than the “whys,” we will be focused on the “whats.”

To my mind, here exactly are the “whats” that should be before us: 1.) What is carnality? 2.) What does it mean to be “spiritual?” 3.) What does the Bible mean by “conforming?” 4.) What are the mind-sets of carnality? The “whys” come in here. And lastly, 5.) What is the cure to all of this, if there even is a definitive cure?

What is my goal? To see to my own deliverance. Of course, if it lends itself to the deliverance of others (yourself), all the better, but I need to be personally frank here. So prevalent is the experience today, so strong the song of the Sirens of Earth, let me be consumed with my own safe passage. Not greedily, by any means. I say this simply because I cannot imagine a subject where it is clearer that one should not be preaching to others with so many dogs of his own straining toward the vomit. I have found that the deliverance of any soul leads to the deliverance of more souls. Victory takes people with it. It shows the way, to any who would care to find it.

What is carnality? The main misnomer here is equating carnality with sinfulness. They do not precisely correlate. 1 Corinthians 3:3 uses the word.

“For you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?”

The Greek for “carnal” is sarkikos, from the word for “flesh,” sarx. It means that which “pertains to the flesh.”

Sin rises out of carnality, assuredly, just as a dip in a pool will get one wet. Indeed, envy, strife and divisions among the brethren, all sins, were the fruit of the fleshliness in our passage. You cannot be sinful without first being carnal. True. But it is possible to be carnal without, yet, sin being committed or evident. Carnality (fleshly living or thinking) prefaces sin. Sins are coming. Trespasses are on the way. If sin is the unintended destination, carnality is the train which commutes us there.

The problem is stated again at the end of the Corinthian verse. They had their behavior and thinking after the fashion of “mere men.” That’s carnality in a nutshell. It is having one’s mental approach ruled by the human-us. Adam Clarke says that it is “living for the things of this life.”

Romans 7:14 says that “I am carnal, sold under sin.” That is a declarative, definitive statement concerning the law of sin within. It is – always has been and always will be – mindful of one thing and one thing only. Our appetites.

In one sense, there is nothing you can do about it. I did not say that there is not a bold road to victory. It’s just that as you find and take that road, the fleshy appetites and human approaches to living are not vanquished. That sort of thinking would be committing a grave error. That mindset will have you playing the patsy once again to sin at some later stage. You probably won’t even make it out of the month. When the carnal mind does meet its defeat, at the foot of transformative Bible thinking, it is just brought momentarily subservient to a greater master: the spiritual Christ-mind. I say Christ-mind, which is more accurate than Christian-mind.

The carnal mind does not start out its day sinfully. It starts out its day with coffee, toast, and eggs, just like when one is spiritually minded. There are no great wicked plans of deception being hatched sub-cranially. There is no need. All that is needed is a casual neglect of the spiritual things. More important, it is a casual neglect of the Spirit Himself. To become carnally minded, all one needs to do is precisely nothing. Just live your life. Brew the coffee. Fry the eggs. Put out the forks. Ignore the Spirit, even slightly. Merely begin the day humanly. If something is not done, if it also progresses humanly, then even among the occasional blessed thoughts for doing Christian good this day, carnal living will ensue.

You must know that for King David to stoop as low as he did required no great falling away first. It could have been nothing more than an average day void of the Spirit’s infusion.

What is spirituality? That Greek word, pneumatikos, means to be pneuma oriented. That is air or breath or spirit. This man’s preoccupation is the things of the Spirit of Heaven. Therein lays the problem with the dichotomy within the believer’s heart. It is all the earth with its many heaving, breathing appetites, the highly visible, against what? Air. Spirit. The invisible. We can say at all times that “I am carnal.” That is automatic, a given. On the other hand, only the focused few can say “I am spiritual.” That is moment-by-moment. That depends. Carnal is the automatic state. For the computer minded, it is our “default parameters.” Spiritual is the altered state which we arrive to, not wholly dissimilar to summiting Everest.

I equate being spiritual to “walking in the Spirit.” To me, they are one in the same. Walking in the spirit is having your being, focus, and preoccupation set upon the things of God. It is you living out God in your life, or better, God living though you. You are ever cognizant of His reality and presence, manifested by a willing submission to that presence. Walking in the Spirit can go beyond reaching Everest’s heights. It can become the building of a home there. We will come back to this.

What is conformity or compromise? The word “compromise” is not found in most English Bibles. Conformity is. The great warning against it is found in Romans 12:1-2.

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

The word for “conformed,” suschematizo, is made up primarily of two words. Sun which means “union” and schema which is any “external condition” or “fashion.” It is used in 1 Corinthians 7:31 in the statement that “the form (or fashion) of this world is passing away.” Our English word “scheme” comes from it.

So the biblical instruction is to not have union with the human, earthly forms of doing things. Do not parent in a human way. Do not perform your marriage in the modern manner. As to the country of my birth, do not think, reason, and act like the typical American. Take a pass on all earthly philosophies. Do not find yourself in similitude to the values of your environment. If ever they do align, it is a passing fanciful coincidence.

I stand on a New York street corner nearby a calloused, covetous finely suited businessman. We are both looking for taxis. So, there is something I hold in common with this man, a worldly sort. A need for a cab. For brief moments in time, we are thinking the same thoughts. While waiting, we both witness the hotdog stand across the street being robbed. Using our cell phones, in tandem, we dial 911. Again, something else on which we agree.

But beyond a general union in sensible things, I should go no deeper, into “all the other.” He also has a certain taste in women, bourbon, a particular vocabulary, a way of dealing with the competition. I might, in a few minutes, find myself sharing a cab with this gentleman. He tells a “good one” that he heard from his sales rep. “You’re going to laugh.” He unravels such a story at which no one in his right Christ-mind should ever laugh. At that time, I should not continue in sync. We are prone to, even for politeness sake. But what is this, politeness at the feet of such a gag that would have sailors blush. At that time, we are to come out from among them and “be separate.” Politeness is the natural, human state. Avoid the natural, human state. Ply your every effort upstream.

I am to put on God and turn this into something else. I might try witnessing, even clumsily. It will solve my problem. I guarantee you that the subject will change. I don’t know to what, maybe not directly to the Almighty. I might find out even more about his vocabulary then I knew before, but, praise be to God, the subject is changed. It’s left the farmer’s daughter far behind and is headed towards the worthwhile. Maybe it will even be him now who blushes.

The Old Testament has a familiar phrase about not turning “to the right hand or the left.” It is used especially in Deuteronomy. I really appreciate its use by General Joshua at the outset of his conquests. With all that he could have said about battlefield maneuvering and the proper use of the lance, for success he focused on precision Bible. Joshua 1:7:

“Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go.”

This is such an important principle of living that he gave it important reference also at the end of his life, in his farewell address in Joshua 23:16. He repeats the very same things nearly verbatim. It seems to be all he knew about life. Political life. Warfare life. Home life. Private life.

Being an old soldier, he knew what havoc the slightest deviation from orders any compromise could cause. Not going to the right hand or to the left, means not to vary in the slightest degree.

My father once told me of the tolerance of a ball bearing that was slightly larger than a softball, a 16″ Chicago softball. Not the puny things most every place else uses. It went to one of his large presses at Clearing Machine in Chicago where he worked. I can’t remember that tolerance, but it was ridiculously small. For such a large bearing, it was the statistical equivalent to zero. No tolerance at all. It had to be perfectly correct to the blueprints. No margin for error. So it is with Bible application. Do not veer in the slightest. Go crazy with perfection, even risking what some would call fanaticism. Everyone, except for that fellow down at the crematory, is fanatical about something.

Don’t entertain the foolish thought that something so heavenly could not possibly fit into interaction with the earthly – those crude boys down at the shop. God’s principles do work. In fact, they were specifically designed for such use. It will fit right in with what is needed both at work or play. Don’t worry about that. Indeed, it is these that are needed to lead us to success, even in the world’s eyes most times, but certainly always in God’s.

Over the years I have come consistently across several mind-sets that lead to carnality. We can get more specific than “the human heart is prone to it.” If any of it rings familiar, you may want to look at too loose of tolerances. You’re ball bearing might be waggling at high RPMs.

The Novice – I’ve a bit of information for you if you are new to Christ. It will explain a few things that maybe you’ve been wondering about. Basically, I need to tell you that there is nothing wrong with you. I say this in the context of you, possibly, having a few problems in certain areas of the Christian life. Maybe you have a hard time with some nagging old habit(s), or especially, if you are having difficulty starting up the new ones. You love the Lord. It is after the inner man. You desire to please Him, greatly, but your performance lags. Rest assured, this is true of ALL new Christians, especially if they were saved in adulthood, with their life already set in a certain pattern.

That was me, saved at 26 years of age. Not an old dog yet, but some of the “new tricks” still came to me pretty hard. I remember what it was like to direct, by myself at home, an effective Quiet Time. I was pitiful. My private prayer life was thin and weak. I was easily distracted from it. At times I felt simply powerless.

The experience of struggling with some of the things of God varies in its intensity person-to-person. Again, there is nothing wrong with you . . . . except everything. What do I mean?

Sin was with you, and sin is with you, the one wanting not to sin. Before you were saved, if sin had fallen into any sort of a pattern, the new patterns might feel much like fitting round pegs into square holes. You even lack the Bible knowledge needed to deliver you of the same.

When growing up in school (elementary and high school), I despised math. My grades were alright, more than passable. I pretty much understood what was being taught, that was not the problem. The problem was, I took no pleasure in it. Each class, daily in elementary school, was like going to the dentist’s office. The only math I felt I needed was the wordy arithmetic problems that were presented to me at first: “You come into a room with three apples. A rotten older sister takes one apple away from you. Your mother, seeing this, takes compassion and gives you two apples to make up for the one apple that was lost. How many apples do you have?”

I always wrote the correct answer: four apples. Yet, I wanted to put down, “Three and a half apples. In all the time it took for this story to develop, I started eating one of the apples.” Thus, showing my grasp of the subject, delving even into, ahead of my time, fractions.

But then, a simply awful thing happened. One day, soon after this fine start-up, things going swimmingly, they took the apples away. All of them. Then my page started filling up with numbers and addition symbols, and subtraction symbols, and division and multiplication symbols, and, “Lord, deliver us,” columns. Arggg. Even recalling it now sends shivers. Soon, arithmetic became Alcatraz, an island to escape from. I swore off the discipline. Once I finished the compulsory workload, I would be out of there, never to look back. This I did.

While loving God in the inward man, you will find many things of the God-life feeling unnatural to you. With your love for Him, may not always follow your love for it. In fact, all new Christians are carnal by definition. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 3:1: “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.” No “babe” has yet the expertise, nor the innate desire to accomplish every Christian discipline.

You might go over and read Romans 7. It will fill in most of the blanks on this subject. Hang in there, fellow traveler. It will come to you. It did to me. Suckle for milk. It will take you on to the solids.

The Cool Crowd – Their emphasis is both on “cool” and “crowd.” Liberty and ease of use is stressed with these. Obedience to all the counsel of God and “taking up ones cross” are virtually ignored. Those who do are called “legalist” and “rules makers.” Or they say that you are “an Old Testament Christian,” as much as an oxymoron as that is. They say, “The Bible would have us live in the New Testament.”

I’m all for creativity in the church program for right, biblical reasons, but not for the production of a Cool Crowd church. One pastor told me that his church did away with the Sunday evening service because people in his fellowship kept telling him what a burden it was for them. He looked me right in the eyes and said “Christ said that His ‘yoke is light.’ If it’s heavy, I don’t think that it’s from Him.” Whoa. No burdens? Nothing heavy? What sort of reasoning is that? Forget about night church for a moment, what about witnessing? What if I looked at it is as too heavy a burden for my little shoulders? Don’t bear under it? What about a bad marriage? What if I looked at it as too arduous to carry? If it becomes a major challenge, don’t face it? What about the dealing with a sinning brother? What if I looked on that too as needlessly burdensome? Am I off the hook? Can I ignore that also? All of our dealings and “reorganizations” should be based solely on the principles and plans of the Bible. “Ease of use” hardly enters into it.

The modern Christian parent is all over the Cool Crowd. They strip away nearly every ordinance of the Scriptures for the misplaced emphasis of being “the most awesome Dad or Mom in history.” The fall away rate for these, once they hit the teen or college years of life is nearing 100%. It’s at 90% right now. They’re conforming the Bible right out of existence, at least in their home.

The Philosopher – This Christian starts most compromising defenses with the words “I don’t think that . . . ” It’s all about what he thinks, not as much what the Bible says. He or she uses the Bible minimally and selectively. They don’t go deep. Or they keep things on the surface when it comes to the Bible (one or two misused verses) and deep when it comes to personal opinion. To this person I usually ask if they have studied “all that the Bible has said on the subject.” If they say “yes,” then I ask them to show me what they have learned. It’s usually a short conversation.

Mad Men – I don’t know the TV show of the same name, but I do know that the title stands for Madison Ave. Men, or advertising guys. Some churches today have taken up the banner and have gone off to win the lost and get back those who have strayed from the church as a task that must be accomplished at any cost, by any means possible. No holds barred wholesale changes. “Do anything to woo them.”

One church in our state is now serving beer at church, “one free mug if you come,” forbidding any type of praise singing (no music worship at all), and they’ve banned prayer. No prayers in church? “It’s a turn-off to many.” They might win some by such methods, maybe even a roomful, but my question is, to what have they won them? It’s certainly not back to Christianity.

Grace Busters – We live in an age of mercy and grace. The church as is called the Age of Grace. God is so merciful to sinners. Praise be to His name. Within His people, heavenly chastisement is seen. Yet, at the same time, so many more seem to, for long periods of time, not be fazed at all by disobedience. They did the deed and the skies did not fall the next day. These terribly confuse getting away with something with approval. They do not correlate. And by the way, the principles of Galatians 6:7 and 8 are as active today as they ever have been. Read what the Lord says there. Anyone’s abuse, in some cases, and neglect of the divine edicts will not be successful in the end. It is the glory of God that should motivate us, not what we can seemingly get away with, which is the thinking of third grade boys.

The Weary – Others know what is right, have stood up for that right for so long, but now they are just too tired to soldier on. Letting down one’s guard can be compared to a rancher taking down his fences. He’ll soon have cattle all over the county. These don’t care. Fighting the fight has worn on them. They sing many anthems: “One can only stand so much.” “God understands.” “I’ve tried.” “You can’t tell kids what to do nowadays.” But God does not understand. For this, try on Ezekiel 33. I believe that Eli, in I Samuel 1-4, had likely fallen into this category. And a terrible “fall” it was.

With all of the above, compromising results. Conformity rules. Satan, even in his post-Calvary defeated state, wins. The story written is a sad one.

Right about here, you might be saying, “This knowledge helps some. We can put precautions up, stepping along more alertly, but it does not quite save us from real pitfalls.”

Recently I was sitting on our couch in the morning, before the girls got up. It was a peaceful, placid living room. Sun rising. Yard quiet. Clock ticking. Very still. Then the stillness was shattered in a dramatic fashion. A police siren came faintly into earshot. It got louder, then louder still. Finally came the squad car. It passed right in front of our house, ripping along at like 65-70 MPH. One minute later the whole thing repeated itself with another siren and another cruiser. Then the room fell silent again. This silence remained.

Someone somewhere had compromised American law. Someone had transgressed. Would it not be helpful to us all if sirens went off in our heads every time we came remotely close to a compromise to a command of Christ? It could prove very helpful. I would only fear them going off all the time, stopping me from getting a good night’s sleep, such being the spirit of the age. No. Sirens won’t work. Is there any help?

These seven things will. I would so much wish to write long on each, but this is, after all, just an article. Lest I let the leaflet threaten booklet size, I’d best simply give them to you and let you to do the work from there. Wrap your mind around these:

1.  That helmet of salvation – The first thing to do is to renew yourself to the facts of your own salvation: the person and work of Jesus Christ. The glory and power of it all. Stir up the first love. Is it possible, in the full shine of the redemption of Christ, knowing from what unbreakable shackles and holding cells the Master has freed you, the shine of such love, to compromise and sin? I say, as did both of those women at the Savior’s feet said in their day, that it is not. If we practice sin, our salvation is not being renewed in our thinking. We have gone afloat. The first thing to do is anchor deeper and surer. Take time with this. It will change you.

2.  Vibrant, dedicated homes – Not only does “charity begin at home,” all the virtues do. Every last one. Home is the training ground for faith like no other place. Church only is its close second. Home takes the lion share of our time. It is there that we establish our routine. It is the original social order. It does not matter the number living there. If it’s just you (you’re bach-ing it), it is keeping the things of God foremost in all that occurs there. No man’s an island, no Christian man at least. You go to a church. You show hospitality. It is a community, and God runs that community. He is more than its mayor. Christ rules as King.

To families with fathers or husbands in them, the call is for the men to rise forth and lead. It’s not a “pushing others aside” leadership that you see “among the Gentiles,” as Jesus said. It is a good and godly guidance. Exactly what the planet is missing. Worldly Christian men are the number one cause for conformity’s outbreak. You fellas are the conductors of your family’s electricity, whether positively or negatively charged.

Remember, our attempt is to abide up Everest. Abiding is living. There’s no better place to nurture abiding than in your abode. Follow the sterling example of him who said (Joshua 24:15), “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve . . . as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

3.  Principles are the highest good – Principled living has taken such a bad rap today. Many are absolutely repulsed by the idea. The spiritually minded embrace all godly values. The spiritual man articulates them, writes them down, reviews them, and, most of all, lives by them. Everything having to do with success is having the right set of principles in play. Wise principles appear as stony, party-pooping, caging things only to the coldest of heart. Wise principles find fertilization in three things: careful Bible study, a warm, receptive soul, and an inner resolve to ward off all evil. A firm adherence to principles, rightly performed, results in life, joy, faith, and godliness. On the opposing side, ignoring them will have you soon flung into avoidable shipwreck.

4.  The Spiritual Disciplines – These are the practices of the Christian life. They are represented by, but not confined to, daily Bible study and prayer, witnessing to the lost, faithful church involvement, and the discipleship of other Christians. Many are shrinking violets when it comes to these. Apathy no longer creeps though our churches. It seems to be hired on to its pastoral staff.

Turning back to the spiritual disciplines is one of the first and surest signs that real repentance is taking place. Again, constant attacks and belittlement remains here, even amongst the supposed religious crowd. Those that take their cadence from Spiritual Discipline’s march are looked on as bookwormy and out of step with the times, which, of course, they are. That’s the whole point. Never forget that the book we are talking about is the Bible. Proud to be a worm there.

5.  Controlling all media – This next one is a most specific standard. Media options today flow endless. Most television watching has a thousand stations at your disposal. Every game in every sport on every level, college to pro, can be gotten with the flick of a thumb. Netflix has every movie ever filmed at the ready. Alexander Graham Bell’s invention, the phone, can hardly be recognized as such anymore. It has gone so berserk with app options. Social media has outmuscled its spiritual counterpart – ceaseless praying to God. This media is everywhere. In our cars. In our restaurants. Bedrooms. Kitchens. At work.

Listen! You cannot be a spiritual Christian today, it is impossible, without the slavish controlling of all media. Heed me on this. I float in the same stewpots as you. God said to Cain, in Genesis 4:7, “sin lays at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” His was the want for one murder. Yours is a 100 murders every night on 300 stations, and adulteries wide, and pornography deep, and lies galore, and betrayals thick, and blasphemes high, and vulgarities low, endlessly so. The lid to Pandora’s box must be closed and you’re going to need more than personal resolve to do it. You will need divine assistance.

There are no roadmaps as to how much work lies ahead of you, your home compared to mine, or the next man’s, but one does know: the Spirit of God. It is the spiritual fruit of Him that carries, in its number, the one virtue that is needed most in this area – self control. You must present this problem to Him for His command and your submission. This is no simple matter, brethren. May God guide and empower you.

6.  Wield an unabridged Bible – Know the Word and do it, all books, Genesis to Revelation. No editing. Avoid no active command. Do not shy away from certain doctrines. Set the Bible lose, off its chains. Properly understood, take it for what it says. Trust it, and not a little. The fight today is for the sufficiency of the Scriptures. It’s not just inerrant, it’s good for life. Christians today revere it as none other, save its source, God Himself, but they don’t act on that reverence. Hardly. Such is not reverence at all, but lip service. Keep trekking through the Bible. Know it more and more and put to work every morsel you find.

The three pounds of flesh of 100 billion neurons, that we call a “human brain,” processes, on average, 70,000 thoughts a day. It is our challenge to capture as many of those thoughts as is possible. We are to think purposefully, more than be victims to our thoughts. The Bible helps us. It transforms our thinking. It arrests our attention and yields the mind to Christ. It is then that the mind yields the life. “For as (a man) thinks in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7a)

7.  Humble yourself in the sight of God – Sin itself is a thing of arrogance. It is the promotion of self. The Western world has grown in pride so that it has reached sacrilegious and preposterous proportions. There are no bounds to man’s sense of his supremacy these days.

Way back it took human knowledge some 1500 years to double. Now, depending on the discipline, it takes 12 months to 21 years. The sum total of human knowledge doubles every four years. That will also be reduced. What’s a result of this? We thought Ken Jennings would never get off Jeopardy. He was a 74 time Jeopardy champion. It took a computer to beat him. While facts are good, and the accumulation of them can prove profitable (Ken won $3,196,300), nevertheless, “knowledge puffs up.” While Ken seems to have his feet firmly down, we can’t say the same for the 21st century west. No one can tell us anything now, or our children. We know it all, wonderful us.

As to morality, it is now “no-holds-barred” footloose wandering in deserts. Mankind feels the right to everything both on and off the shelves. We are leaving sophomoric golden calves in our dust. Such is our acceleration towards independence from God.

Countering conformity is the denunciation of self. We must completely abandon all desires except one: that desire for God. As to the Bible and its principles, stand. As to humility, fall, brother. Empty yourself, sister. Do so and live. It is strange sometimes, how the way up is down.

Let us conclude the matter. In the story of Joseph and his integrity when it came to Potiphar’s wife, the Bible says, in Genesis 39, that it was she who “caught him by the garment.” Isn’t that the figure of us always? The world, with its paws on us by our left shoulder; God, unseen, tugging on the right. Who will win? The person to whom our spirit yields.

Flee young Joseph, now, to the right, quickly, before the bell tolls or cock crows.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Understanding Truth

dickandjane

I used to love the Dick and Jane readers. They were amongst the first books I ever read. Almost right after I got the English alphabet figured out, I was cruising through that series. It wasn’t hard.

“Oh, look. Oh, oh, oh look.”

“See Jane.”

“See Jane run.”

“Run, Jane, run.”

Wow! Riveting stuff. One thing that you can say for them, though – their truths were easily assessable. Not much needed unlocking. You would never misinterpret their meaning. How could you? Usually it was little else but subject and verb with a lot of repetition. Clear and concise.

While we would never claim the same simplicity for the Bible, it is a book that can be understood. It had better. It claims the commands of God (Exodus 20), the mind of God (Philippians 4:5), and the path that God has for man (Psalm 23:3; John 13:17).

In Psalm 1:2 and 3 there is this passage: “But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.”

The study and meditation on God’s Word promises to bring with it “light” for knowing the right way to go (Psalm 119:105), deep, abiding “peace” of mind (Philippians 4:7-9), a life that is protected from the world (Matthew 7:24 and 25), a means for knowing the will of God (2 Timothy 3:16 and 17), and, in general, success in all things (Joshua 1:8).

Forget the search for the Holy Grail. Dig up what wonderful ancient finds are in the Bible.

Yet today we see so many distortions and misunderstandings of the biblical texts. The problem seems to worsen as time goes on. It now brings about great church council debates as well as overheated coffee table [well, let’s just call them] “discussions.” So the question begs to be asked: when we open the Bible, how does one get to the truth? Can we? Is it a book too big for us? Is it even a book meant for life outside the stony walls of the monastery, in the hands of mere mortals?

This article is headed precisely in that direction, to discuss correct and proper use of the Scriptures. For that, we will use little else than the Bible itself. The Bible and reason. The good news is that, it helps us with itself, which, of all tracks, seems the wisest to take.

First though, and just as helpful, I would like to mention some things that can prevent us from getting to the truth. It would seem prudent to be familiar with any obstacles that we may encounter. If invited to a particular event in a track meet, let’s say it is a race, it would be nice, if it happens to be a hurdle race, for someone to make us keen to the fact so that we might know what all that stuff is out on the course.

There are four hurdles to understanding the Bible that I would like to mention. First would be the spiritual nature of the Bible versus the natural nature of us.

Many historical events are mentioned in God’s Word. Some of them are common, everyday things, like lifting water from a well or the entry of men into fishing boats. Other records are monumental, whether they be the atrocities of sin or the glory of a king’s victory in battle. Still, these historic parts to the Holy Book are grabbed hold of fairly easily, but then there are the things of God. Thoughts about the kingdom of heaven. Divine philosophies and perspectives. These we are acclimated to never, speaking of the casual reader.

1 Corinthians 2:11 reminds us this: “For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God.”

Jesus said that “the words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63b). We cannot know them on our own. They are above us, too great, of another realm entirely, let alone another mindset.

There is help. 1 Corinthians 2:12 goes on to say, “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.”

As you approach the Book, be cautious saying that you are “in the Spirit.” Even if you pray to be, you may decidedly have a most “earthbound” perspective at that time. Some are overconfident here: “Pray once, pray twice, that the Spirit should guide you, then whatever you think next about any particular passage must be the truth.”

Not necessarily true. Walking in the spirit is so much more than that. Much could be said here. Suffice it to say for now, receive that same warning that I take myself whenever I open up a Bible, that is, I do not trust myself. For that matter, do not trust others (our wise commentaries and media pastors). Be soft to God and God alone. Be wary of all conclusions till they are proved sound. The Spirit will guide you. He promises to, but never the hasty.

Second obstacle, human frailty. It might be physical. You may be tired that day. It might be carnality. I don’t even mean being brazenly sinful. What takes the Bible student down most often is a routine, laying low sort of fleshiness. We can be too earthy in our life experience for conducting any sort of real business with the Almighty. You might be in an awful place emotionally or spiritually. It doesn’t even have to be your entire fault or any of your fault, other than the need to rise out of it. You’re emotional, physical, and spiritual state will greatly affect what you get out of the Bible.

Our prejudices play a huge part in affecting Bible interpretation. Our worldview is often not of a divine nature. It is then that we have the tendency to meld the two together. This will result in some brand of American Christianity, or European Christianity, or Asian Christianity (horrid things, all), when what God is looking for is a vigorous Biblical Christianity. Our whole effort in Bible study should be solely “What is there?” Not “What do I wish to find there?” Nor “What does my culture accept from there?” But “What is actually there?” Let the Bible fully loose. Let it say what it says. One does not pressure things into the text. For the purest biblical thought we must pay a high disregard for all culture, society, and “what we grew up with.” This is not easy to do.

Once, a young lady told me something as we were discussing a particular doctrine that I found to be wholly without merit, scripture wise. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I was about to learn something new here. I often do. I questioned where she had seen this in the Bible, which was her claim, that it was right biblically. At least, I thought that was her claim or, at least, I hoped it was. I am not desirous to think any Christian farther off base than that. She told me that her great uncle had taught it to her. She did not know of a single verse to back up her claim.

I asked her to ask her great uncle, next time she saw him, where he had come upon that in the Bible.

She told me, “I don’t need to. I believe everything he tells me. He would never lie to me.”

I had to help her with it not being a matter of lying. It’s a matter of Magnetic North. Even Polaris is off a little. Magnetic North is Magnetic North. I couldn’t care less what the opinion is of my barber, my father, great uncle, or even trusted pastor. Where goes the Scripture?

I must drive this home here, with a railroad spike if I must. Bible. Bible. Bible. Sola Scriptura. “The Bible only.” We humans get things wrong, sincere or not.

I don’t like the pencils they hand out at golf courses. So many of them are without erasers. We need erasers more than we need graphite. Even when trying to get things right, we get them wrong.

Thirdly, the plague of lazy, lax studies. The Bible says to be “diligent” when it comes to the Word of God. It requires of us to be “workmen” (see 2 Timothy 2:15). The Greek word, ergates, “workmen,” means precisely that: “a toiler; a common laborer.” The Savior used it in Matthew 20 in His parable of the landowner who “went out early in the morning to hire laborers (our word) for his vineyard.” He offered them an average, blue collar, day’s wage. He went on to say that in the course of their workday they “borne the burden and the heat of the day.” It is used figuratively again, for another spiritual activity, in Matthew 9 where Jesus said that the Lord’s harvest “is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” He then implored all to pray to that Lord to send out more and more of these, willing workers.

So, we must become that in Bible study. We must become skilled in the way of Bible husbandry. We must know our tools. We must rise early with the sun and set our minds to work in the Scriptures. We must plow into even difficult passages, bearing under the toil and strain of much mental activity. There is nothing quick about it. We need hours at the Word of God.

Today, the modern approach to the Bible is speed. Five minutes alone with God. One page of Daily Bread. Read and go. The verse of the day. Cliff notes to the book of Ezekiel. Our idea of in-depth Bible study is glancing down to the bottom of the page, during Bible class, to see what Ryrie or MacArthur said about it. The biblical idea of “day and night meditation” is almost completely foreign to the church of Christ. We are a bride who does not know her husband. We do not spend near enough time listening to His wisdom. It is no wonder that we exude uncertainty when it comes to doctrine. “I’ll ask my pastor,” becomes the familiar refrain.

After I accepted Christ, one of the greatest lessons I had concerning Bible study was also one of the simplest. It was taught to me by a senior saint in our church by the name of Alice Slotman. David, a Christian friend of mine, and I were invited over to her place for dinner one night after evening service. David used to give this lady rides to church, back and forth. At her apartment, on one of its walls, hung a large painting. It was of three men walking down a rural road. They were very actively engaged with one another. I was intrigued with the picture. It seemed to be depicting a story from the Bible. One of the men looked like the Savior, Himself. Who knows what Jesus really looked like while on Earth? Every artist seems to, and we follow right along. The painting had a little bronze plaque on its frame’s bottom. “The Road to Emmaus,” it read.

I asked Alice about it. “What is the story of ‘The Road to Emmaus?’ I don’t recall it.”

In her infinite wisdom, Alice looked at me solemnly, with a Rock of Gibraltar immovability, and said, “You look it up.”

“So, it’s in the Bible?”

“Look it up.”

“Is it in the New Testament? Is that Jesus?”

“Look it up.”

“But how do I look it up if I don’t know where to look?”

“It’s in the Bible.” My only help.

I tried again, “Old or New Testament?”

“Look it up.”

My friend, David, knew the story. I asked him about it on the way home. Maybe he could give me a few pointers, some tiny hint as to where to go. He was as cold and calloused to my dilemma as Alice.

“Like Alice said, ‘look it up.'”

I did, as soon as I got home. It was gnawing at me. Finally, after quite some time, I found it. When I did, I consumed it, gobbling up its entirety. It is still one of the finest stories of the Bible to me. Why? Because of one lady rabbi who insisted that I do the work for myself. That I go-it-alone and mine Bible hillsides on my own. It billowed a desire in me. Deep desire for the Word of God is always good.

In Bible study, the long way around IS the shortcut.

The last detriment to discovering sound biblical truth is direct satanic activity. In Mark 4, the parable of the soils, he is described as the bird that comes round whenever the Word of God is being sown, to steal its seed away before it takes root in a heart.

A year ago I was in Florida staying in a condominium right on the beach in Jacksonville. Every morning several of us got up early to watch the sun rise over the ocean and to people-watch, the early risers walking or jogging down the beach. At first light of day we could make out the four or five shrimp boats, way out, offshore. If your binoculars were good enough, you could even see the hoards of swooping seagulls that followed these vessels to steal all the shrimp that they could. The feathered robbers, taking nutrition right off American dining room tables.

Satan does this at every chance. He diverts our notice away from God and His Word. It is his delight and sport. An involving phone call during Family Quiet Time. A quarrel in the car right before everyone unloads in the church parking lot. That unexplainable yawning tiredness that sometimes overcomes us when the Bible is being preached or taught. Diverting thoughts of all we have to do later that day to where we hasten the process, or skip the process all together. He is most busy here, friends. At this, he eats up the overtime.

I was at a neighbor’s house in a nearby town. I was asked to stop there by a friend of mine who wanted me to try and bring a witness for Christ to that family. They were needy. There was not much money in the house and a grandmother abode there who was very sick, even dying. Supposedly no one knew Christ, as far as my friend understood.

A lady answered the door. I introduced myself and told her why we stopped by. I was with one of the men from our church. She invited us in. The grandmother lay, fairly unresponsive, in bed. I spoke with her daughter and son-in-law for some time, building rapport, then I turned the tide of the conversation over to spiritual things. “Do you believe in God?””Do you go to church?” Those type of questions.

As soon as I asked them about their personal standing with the Lord, a phone rang. The lady answered it. It was a good friend. She had to take the call. We waited. When she got off, I tried again. As soon as I did, this gaudy plastic “Last Supper of Christ” picture, of all things, which hung on the wall over the grandmother, sounded off with a song and flickering lights. It was the oddest thing. The frame had little lights flashing all around it, all in beat with the music. Esthetically it was awful, and worse, disruptive to what I was trying to do. Bad art is one thing, but bad art that talks back to you. The lady said she was sorry and we all waited for this musical lightshow portrayal to complete its cycle. There was no going on while it played. We all sat quietly.

When it finished, I started again. I tried even using the “art piece” in my discussion with, “What was the Last Supper all about?” I tried making the misadventure work for me.

“What was about to happen to the Christ?” Just when things started rolling once more, the Leonardo Da Vinci knock-off sounded off once again, lights flashing, music blaring, the whole parade.

Oh, brother.”

There we were, sitting politely in silence once more. This was agonizing for me, yet somehow thoroughly humorous to my hosts. Not good for gospel sharing.

Finally and mercifully, the lady either unplugged the picture or took its batteries out, I can’t remember which. This was when I was certain that it wasn’t a real Da Vinci, when they took the batteries out. I was then able to continue unfettered. You know what? With all of these distractions, still the Lord broke through in the end. The lady and her spouse both ended up praying to accept Christ as their Savior that very night. But, boy howdy, Satan sure tried disrupting the goings on. Now he was even using the Last Supper against us.

These type of occurrences are on one end of the scale. World’s worse is out-and-out gross distortion, the twisting and turning of the Scriptures, haphazardly, by supposed Bible teachers. The Christian cults fall into this category. These cults are not cults. They are oc-cult, whither they know it or not. New and newer brands are popping up every day.

Recently, on television, I caught a quarter hour of a Bible broadcast that was new, at least to me – the self-proclaimed Bible expert at the Shepherd’s Chapel, Mr. Arnold Murray. He was in the midst of actually proposing to his viewers that Cain was not the son of Adam. That’s right. He put forth that Eve received the seed of the serpent of the Garden and thus conceived Cain. Wholly unbiblical. Here is the plain text from Genesis 4:1, the only text in the entire Bible that describes the birth of Cain. It is all we really have to work with – 22 words.

“Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, “I have   acquired a man from the LORD.”

That is all that is on the biblically birth certificate. Please, go study it for yourself. “Adam knew Eve . . . she conceived and bore.” No Satan. No serpent. No Serpent’s Seed. To get to his conclusions took exegetical summersaults and handstand contortions. He went on with several other grave perversion of divine truth, all with the most condescending of attitudes. It seemed like every time he read a verse and said “There you go. Plain as day. Even a child could understand this,” the next thing out was wholesale falsehood to the radical extreme. The more controversial the result, the briefer he was, moving onto the next tinkering shamelessly.

We will not, in this paper, brave the shallows of Mr. Murray. I wish myself we’d never crossed paths, even for 15 minutes of accidently channel surfing. Yet, it is helpful to know that this type lays out there for you. Avoid such for the wreckage that it is.

So, there is even an active adversary to our progress. Nevertheless, greater are the Scriptures themselves. They will rise out of such as the lighthouse from the rock, steering all willing sojourners home. So let us enter Bible study circumspectly, expectantly, and cautiously.

But clearing hurdles is only half the job. We must then actually run the race. We must perform real Bible study. I have four things also for this. Along the way, it’s my desire that a few myths about Bible study will be debunked.

The first thing that I have for you is to understand that the divine revelation is fixed. It does not change. It is assured in its message to the world and does not alter itself, and should not be altered artificially. This challenges the whole notion that the Bible is of a “living breathing” script. What’s that?

Some say that you can read the scriptures one day, get meaning out of it, then go back to that same scripture another day and get a whole other meaning from it then. This is possible, but only on two levels. 1.) Your attention can be drawn, on different days, to different parts of the same verse. As an example, you can read John 3:16 and one day be attentive to the truth that “God so loved the world,” while on another day you might focus on what it means to “believe on Him.” Or 2.) you can, upon study of the Scriptures, go to deeper depths with noticing things that you did not take much notice of before, like looking at the many facets of a diamond through a magnifying glass.

This happens all the time, but, please take notice, what does not ever happen is any actual changing of the individual facets themselves. The Word of God is fixed. It does not change. This is not a matter of opinion. It is what the Bible says for itself many times, and more than these three examples:

“Forever, O LORD, Your word is settled in heaven.” Psalm 119:89

“For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one title will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.” Matthew 5:18

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.” Matthew 24:35

When the Bible says that it is “living” (see Hebrews 4:12), it means that it is active and effective. They are not dusty words on a 2,000 year old manuscript. They can bring about change. They can pierce the frost of a cold heart and quicken the beat of a dead heart. But the words and meanings themselves do not change. I should think that believing that would clear the way for a strange sort of mysticism and personalized spirituality, both of which are, things that are going on today, but foreign to the teachings of the Bible.

Some use this (“a living and breathing script”) to say that it means something to us today different than it meant to folks and societies that were around during the Bible’s formation. “It continually modernizes itself.”

But that is not what the Bible claims. The Bible says, “The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of His heart to all generations.” (Psalm 33:11) It’s good for all of time, unaltered. Its principals are absolute.

When He made reference to them, Jesus did not change, one iota, those revelations that were given through Moses, David, and Jeremiah a thousand years before Him. He stuck to the original revelations verbatim. Along the way, some things are fulfilled in Christ (the law being written now on our hearts and the Lord now going also unto the Gentiles when it was to begin first with the Jews), but that is all contained in the facets themselves. There is no invention to it. What is written is what is written. We must understand it correctly and apply it wisely.

Again, one last time, scriptural meaning does not change person-to-person. Whenever we miss the mark, it is not the target that has moved, but the archer. The target never moves.

The second thing that I have for you is the whole idea of “original intent.” That is continually asking the question, “What did the Lord mean when He had this author write those words?” Similar questions are: “Why did God include this passage in His Bible?” and “What did He mean by it?” We should not be spending time with the errant, “What does this verse mean to me?” It doesn’t matter a hill of beans what it means to you. What do I mean by that? Good question.

On December 8, 1941, one day after Pearl Harbor, it was announced in every American newspaper that the U.S. Congress had declared war on Japan. That was followed up with a declaration of war against the remainder of the Axis powers in Germany and Italy. That took place on December 11.

Let me be silly here to prove a point. What would it matter if you thought that all that meant was Congress wished to play a game of cards with representatives of the parliaments of those countries (“War!”)? Or that Congress was indeed miffed at those three nations, but was not about to send soldiers and arms overseas? “It will be more of a ‘philosophical differences’ war.”

You could have wished all you wanted that no Americans would lose their lives in battle, but the news was the news, wasn’t it. As the British might say, it bloody well didn’t matter at all what you thought about it. That headline was stating a stark historical fact. Wisest would be to grasp the fact, believe it, and act accordingly.

In fact, never could a seminary professor anywhere state it better. That is precisely what good Bible study is all about: grasping the facts, believing in them, and acting accordingly. We can keep all our personal opinions to ourselves. I don’t wish to be terse here, but it’s true.

That is even the order of it: get what is meant, be sure of it, then apply that particular truth to your life.

A fair saying along these lines is “one interpretation, many applications.” There can be a certain amount of creativity expressed when it comes to the application of Scripture, as long as it honors what was learned. For instance, learning about the love of God for others in a Bible study, one might end up deciding to help any strangers that he meets that day. Another might decide to forgive an enemy. A third might write a letter to a long lost, estranged brother. But please, no exercises in imagination when it comes to the headline of the day itself – “God has love towards people.”

It’s easy with some “headline banner” truths that we get from God. It is hard to comply with others. The message of the next morning, sending you on an extremely taxing mission, you might not as readily enjoy. Still, if you intend to get on with God, you must believe it for what it is and respond accordingly. No monkeying with the message to make it fit into your sensibilities.

This is huge. I hope you got it. Even your life will one day depend on it.

Thirdly, I would like to take my turn at this little gem: “You can’t take everything in the Bible so literally.”

To this I say, “Of course not.” Jesus said in John 10:11 that He is “the good shepherd.” No one takes that to mean that, for a time, the Savior gave up on carpentry, or his preaching ministry, to become a hillside shepherd. Nobody goes there, because there is no proof for it. That’s silly. It’s clearly a metaphor. Here’s the whole verse:

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” John 10:11

We also have the whole of chapter 10 to help us with this. Read it and the metaphor will be clearly understood.

Five chapters later there is the even farther out there John 15:5. There He said, “I am the true vine.” Now He’s not even human, but plant life. Here’s that whole verse:

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

“See. You can’t always take the Bible literally.”

No. Better would be to say that we must always take the Bible for what it was intended, its normal sense. When you have a clear command like “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” you take it as that: a clear command. Don’t fiddle with it. On the other hand, if you have a distinct metaphor, let’s not mess with it either. Let’s get it just as right.

“I am the good shepherd,” is the clear teaching that Jesus was the keeper of our souls who even went so far as to die at Calvary for us. My point is, it’s not hard to get.

“You can’t always take the Bible literally,” is to me a mute point. If we intercepted a letter that was written by a man named “Thomas,” formerly unknown to us, that was addressed to an equally mysterious woman by the name of “Sara,” if he wrote: “You are the apple of my eye. A real peach. My sweet sugarplum. I am hungry for your love,” who among us would think that the gentleman really has it for food, and that there is not a woman at all. That would not be true. He is just sweet talking the woman he loves. Just because he’s not good at it, doesn’t mean he’s not trying to wax poetic. He loves her. Okay. He loves her a lot. That’s all he saying. It’s easy.

We take the Bible in its normal sense for exactly what it intended to say.

Let us go to the extreme on this question. Some critics of Christianity say that they don’t believe in the Bible because “people can interpret it anyway they want, with as many as ten different takes on any given verse.” Thus there is no telling at all what it really means.

While it is possible to have multiple interpretations on any portion of Scripture, how does that forbid one interpretation among them to be the correct interpretation and the others false, which in fact is the case. We just can’t keep reading things into God’s love letter to us and get away with it. If our Jehovah Witness friends can’t get away with it with their major diversions, than we can’t get away with our cute little ones.

It’s not that hard to spot counterfeit money. It takes very little training. If you know what you’re looking for, anyone can do. All you really need to know is the real thing. If you know real money, phony bills literally jump out at you. Underpaid, low-level bank tellers can do it. Many cashiers down at the Kroger or the corner fast food joint can do it. Sometimes they even intercept a few.

When someone tells me that the Bible can’t be trusted because of varied interpretations, I usually ask them to consider emptying all their bank accounts, wallets, and purses (don’t forget that cookie jar) and give all of their money to me, voluntarily of course. From the opinion they have stated, it’s certainly not going to do them any good, since someone somewhere is counterfeiting. While they deem all of it worthless, the good as well as the bad, I beg to differ. I consider the bad as worse than worthless and the good as most worthy, certainly worthy enough to spend just a few moments sorting. I could imagine a great deal of good that I could do with the money. The bad, I’ll just throw away, or better, turn it over to the police.

The Bible admits that some get things (biblical truths) wrong. 2 Timothy 3:13 says that “evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.” That’s Paul speaking. He confronts two counterfeiters by name in 2 Timothy 2:16-18 when he writes, “But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some.”

Over in 2 Peter 3:15-17 it says that “untaught and unstable people twist (the Scriptures) to their own destruction.” They are not going to get away with it. As far as dealing with people who consistently mishandle God’s Word, it tells us to beware them “lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked.”

I realize that some out there are not good with God’s Word just because they are new to using it. They simply need to grow in the practice. Church will help you greatly. But some false speakers are not so. Some misinterpret the Scriptures for their own nefarious purposes, or naïve blindness.

But here is my point. With all of this going on, does the Bible still claim to be good to use. Does their muddying up the water spoil the Bible’s ability to impact positive change? Not in the least.

Right in the middle of warnings concerning false interpretations of the Bible, Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:16 and 17 this: “All Scripture is . . . profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Farthest from it being ineffective, null and void, it is essential, mandatory, preparatory reading to fit us for heaven. Just think of all those wonderful stories from the Bible books of history (Genesis to Esther, and the book of Acts), the blessed Psalms, the life altering wisdom from the Proverbs, the salvation that blesses us all which rises from the details of Christ’s life in the gospels, including the Sermon on the Mount. That single sermon contains some of the finest thoughts that have ever entered the mind of man. I never cease to be effected even with a casual reading of it. All of that lies within the pages of God’s Holy Word. Let us run to it daily and drink deep from its water brooks, as the panting deer. Let us dine on its grass, and satisfy the tongue on its honey.

Lastly, I wanted to say some things having to do with “Rules of the Road” – Bible Study guidelines. It is called hermeneutics. That is the branch of theology that deals with the principles of Bible interpretation. The word comes from the Greek which means to “make clear” or “translate.” In mythology, Hermes was the messenger of the gods. He is also considered by the ancient Greeks to be the inventor of language.

With the natural man, this is rather foreign to us – rules keeping. We like to get right at it, with no meddlesome deterrents to hamper our speedy progress, such as, in this case, Lord have mercy, interpretation principles. Yuck! This field of study is so unfamiliar to Christians that when Todd Friel produced a DVD series on hermeneutics, he entitled it “Herman Who?” Yet, ignoring so rudimentary important of a topic, it is Satan in the end who says, “Thank you very much.” He doesn’t like Bible study rules either.

Well, my goal here is not a vaunted one. I only wish to whet your appetite. I am going to conclude this article by giving you a few principles of Bible interpretation right now. I will be brief. Please take them to heart, and investigate them more on your own. There are many wonderful books out there to help you in this.

The most famous of these principles might be to always interpret any passage of Scripture according to its context – that is to say, where it sits in the Scriptures. That’s where its true meaning may be found. Proof texting, yanking out scripture recklessly to prove some point, with no regard for context, will lead the student into hot water the quickest.

When I was going to Bible college, there was this guy, the janitor in our building at work, whose name was Kenny. Kenny knew me to be a Christian and one day chimed in with this: “You know, Jesus was a black man.”

Surprised, I spoke a reflective, “Huh?”

Kenny repeated himself. “Jesus was a black man.”

Kenny, an African-American, was very proud of the fact.

I said, with a touch of sarcasm, “He was? How ’bout that? I always thought that he was born a Jew. Where did you learn this?”

Kenny said, “My pastor. He said it this past Sunday.”

“Where did he get it?”

“He said it was in the Bible.”

“What verse?”

“It’s in Revelation. I can’t remember what verse.”

“What did the verse say?”

“That Jesus’ hair was ‘like wool.’ What does wool feel like, Bill? Like a black man’s hair. Not a white man’s.”

“I never said that he was white. Like I said, the Bible says that He was born Jewish. The Bible doesn’t give much of a description of His actual looks. We’ve always imagined that He looked like Jewish men look today. He was from the Middle East. I would imagine ivory skin with dark hair. But he certainly was not a black man.”

“Like ‘wool,’ Bill.”

Kenny was a great guy. We always had good conversations, but I had to help him here. I went and got my Bible. I have always tried to keep one near me. I thought that I knew the verse that he was referring to.

I didn’t know its location from memory, but I knew around where it was. When I got there, I told him, “It’s in Revelation 1:14. ‘His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow.’ Does that sound about right?”

“That it. ‘Wool,’ Bill.” I remember Kenny rubbing his fingers together and smiling.

“But it’s not comparing His hair to the wool’s feel; it’s comparing it to its color. His hair was ‘white like wool.’ It even repeats it, “as white as snow.” In this vision He had white hair, not course hair.”

Kenny kept looking down into my Bible, checking me.

“But I don’t think this describes the way He looked while He was on earth. It also describes His eyes ‘like a flame of fire’ at the end of the verse. And ‘out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword,’ verse 16. ‘His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.'”

I told Kenny that Revelation 9:17 says that John was having “a vision.” Visions in the Bible are like dreams, only they occur while a person is still awake. They get pretty wild.

I said, “From all that we know about visions, we have to look at the figurative sense of the things being said. The white and bright light would seem to speak of Jesus being now in His glory, returned to the wonderful supernatural state He was in before He left for Earth. The sword coming out of His mouth is the judgments that He speaks, both to the seven churches of Revelation 1 and 2 and to the Earth pertaining to Tribulation judgment.” For your education you might also look at Revelation 2:16 and 19:15.

Hopefully, I helped Kenny. But do you see the problem in even a matter as simple as the nationality of the Savior. Often, it is the context – the rest of the verse, section, chapter, and even book – that will help you come to a clean and accurate interpretation of the Bible.

People do all sorts of this manipulation. They use “God is love” in 1 John 4:8 and 16 to say that there can’t be a hell, though, even in this very same, brief epistle John writes about a “day of judgment” in 4:17. They also use the words of Jesus, “Judge not lest you be judged” (Matthew 7:1), to say that Christians can’t give people the gospel of Christ because, according to them, “you’re judging us.” They say this, yet, the same book says, in Matthew 28:19 and 20, that we are commanded to “go . . . and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you . . . ”

I will not take the time here to solve these minor Biblical dilemmas of man’s making. I just wanted to illustrate the problem for you. To use any verse from the Bible, you must honor its setting.

There is also the importance of understanding any passage through its historical and cultural setting.

Some accuse the Bible of promoting unfair treatment of women, multiple wives, slavery, and the like. Nothing could be further from the truth. These practices were set deep in the cultural setting of the day. The world was rift with such, and had been for a long, long time. They were the standard practices everywhere. In fact, it is the principles found in the Bible that made an end to such things.

Multiple marriages were tolerated in the Bible (see 2 Samuel 12:8), but never commanded nor condoned by God. God was merciful with many of our wrong doings.

There is a brief passage in Deuteronomy 24:1 about giving “a certificate of divorce” to a spouse if “it happens that she (the wife) finds no favor in his eyes (the husband’s) because he has found some uncleanness in her” So, I guess the Bible condones divorce for any reason that one finds disfavor with the other? Not at all. Jesus explains in Matthew 19:8,

“. . . Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.”

He explains in verse 4-6 the following:

“Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?” So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Over the centuries, God has exhibited longsuffering in much foolishness, lest we be vanquished always. This is not condoning. This is patience and toleration. The New Testament moved us back into the biblical norm by requiring that a godly man be the “husband of one wife.” (1 Tim. 3:2 and Titus 1:6)

With slaves, we find the scriptures protecting their kind treatment (Exodus 21:20-27; Deut. 24:14 and 15) and setting them free often. Read up on the year of Jubilee (Lev. 25) and the book of Philemon in the New Testament.

Again, no verse should be understood outside of its historical and cultural setting.

Sometimes interpreters error by using the Bible for big things but with insufficient evidence. They make “a mainland out of islands.” There is only one verse in the Bible concerning “baptism for the dead” (1 Corin. 15:29). We are not even sure exactly what that was. The one text it is mentioned in does not explain it. Several good options of what it might have been are offered, but our Mormon friends are wrong in making it a standard practice. It was certainly not intended as such. There is not nearly enough biblical evidence for that.

In one extreme example, showing how far some will take things, it says in Mark 16:18 that “they will take up serpents and . . . it will by no means hurt them.” This is not an invitation for the snake handling practices of some in a few Appalachian American churches since 1910. Even that same scripture says in verse 20 that such things would be used to “confirm the word through the accompanying signs.” That would put it to an apostolic event only, by the writers of the New Testament.

In fact, Acts 28 records one such event. Even there, Paul was innocently gathering sticks when he was bitten by a highly poisonous snake. He was not “tempting the Lord your God,” as these foolish people, beyond all reason, do. In so doing, they risk the very lives of their congregants, even taking life. Many have perished in the practice. A greater passage with lots more evidence would be to “Tend the sheep” (John 21:16.) This does not constitute throwing poisonous snakes at them. And why? All because of some gross distortion of the Scriptures.

One last guideline that I would like to mention before closing is the rule that “Scripture interprets scriptures.” This is a mighty principle. You will find yourself using it many, many times.

Here is an easy one. Upon His return to earth, will Jesus be coming at the hour of midnight? It says so in the Bible.

“And at midnight a cry was heard: ‘Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!'” Matthew 25:6

We might even have a contradiction here, cause it says the following in Mark 13:35: “Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming–in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning.”

Well? Is He coming at midnight or isn’t He? What you do to solve this is to round up everything the Bible says on the topic, then you use that to come to a clean interpretation.

Two other passages are found, also in Matthew, which is even more helpful because that book had the original “midnight ” comment. That gives us context.

“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” Matthew 25:13

“Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.

“But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into.

“Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” Matthew 24:42-44

It cannot mean that He is actually coming at midnight because it’s clearly stated. No man knows “the hour.” So why does Matthew 25:6 mention “midnight?” If you look around that verse, at its immediate context, you’ll see that Jesus was giving a parable. The parable of the ten virgins. A parable is a made-up story that is used to illustrate hard and fast facts. Items in parables that have significance represent something else then what they are. Since midnight cannot be the actual time, per the rest of Matthew 25, then it means something else, something close.

The point is the ten virgins did not know that it was going to be at midnight. He came suddenly and unexpectedly. Only those who were ready all the time were ready that night. So, “be ready all the time” would be the lesson. Night time is a great illustration of this, since people, especially of that culture, would have been in bed sound asleep at that hour of the night.

There! Problem solved, logically and biblically.

So, what says you to all of this?

“Can I just keep my ‘Dick and Jane’ approach to the Scriptures? What you offered up seems nice, but sounds like a lot of work.”

It is, when thrown at you all at once, but that’s what the word “disciple” means. Student. If you want to be one of His followers, you must learn the proper handling of the Bible, lest you be led astray at some point.

Just keep reading. Just keep studying. The twelve did so and most of them were simple commercial fishermen. Soon others were amazed at the advancement of these common men (see Acts 4:13). It will come to you. It wants to. The Bible was meant for you, and you for it. Just go easy, circumspectly, studiously and alert. There are those who would trick you. Take your stand wisely and you too will be likened to “a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24)

You’ll be giving up sandwiches for cuisine and pennies for gold bullion.

(article by Rev. Bill Cole, pastor of Maple Grove Bible Church)

(A study, recommended by Pastor Cole, is Howard Hendricks’ book, “Living by the Book.” It is a fairly detailed and easy-to-follow introduction to getting more from the Scriptures in useful, proper ways. It is a Bible study classic.)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What’s Next?

bibleman

Sorry that I did not post this on Monday. The snow took everything out. 18″, but mile high drifts. I write at home, but post at the library. All local libraries were closed, so here I am today.

This past year, with you on the other end of my words, like we had two cups and a string, has been a pleasure for me. It really has. It’s been quite the writing adventure. Two a week is not exactly easy, and it’s now “in the can,” so to speak. That’s movie set speech. It might be better for a writer to say, “on the drive.”

Thank you for reading. A writer without a reader is like a restaurant with no customers. That’s not good. I did mention, on February 3, 2014 (my first blog date), that I will consider a second year. Time wise, that does not appear likely. Two a week has taken its pound of flesh.

I remember a true story from my youth. One day I was walking down our alley, heading home. In my left hand I held a broomstick with its broom part busted off. I took that dowel shaped wooden rod and flung it high into the air. Time after time I threw it, up past the electric and phone lines. Then I watched with fascination as it crashed back to earth, bashing the concrete. Who knows what fascination this held for me at the time? I do remember liking the sound the rod made whipping through the air.

On one throw, the rod flew up, as it did 10, 20 times before, reached its zenith, then fell earthward, the whole time spinning wildly. It was its landing that was this time radically different. That stick, of my sending, lined up to the center hole of a manhole and fell directly into its sewer. My stick was gone.

“Unbelievable!”

I ran toward what was left of my achievement, just the manhole cover.

“Cool.”

I got done on my hands and knees and peered down its shaft. There was my stick, floating in the sewage water: the putrid, yucky remains of my heroic deed. Immediately, I looked around for another stick to throw. Only finding a fairly straight, thin branch, a stick really, I threw it up trying to repeat the “miracle,” again and again. As you know, I was not able to.

The lesson: Always know when to walk away. Kenny Rogers was right. Did you ever see some teen or adult, messing on a basketball court, hit a half or full court shot? Swish! A 400 to 1 shot. In! What do they usually do? They freak out with excitement, collect the ball, and try to do it again.

Wrong! Walk away. Leave the little miracle alone.

I don’t know what this year was. I do know that it was nothing of a miracle. Not even a great feat. Not even a pretty good one. It was just you and me hobnobbing, but I do know that it is time to walk away from it for the time being.

There is living life, then there is talking about the life you’ve lived. Better is the “living” to the “talking about it.” I’ll talk again. I’m always writing.

What will I do? I have this slot with the good folks over at WordPress for the rest of this year. I will be putting up a monthly article of a whole other nature on the 24th of each month. It will end on Dec. 24 of this year. That will be 11 articles. Just remember Christmas eve and you’ll know when to look for the piece. The first one will be February 24.

They will be theological works. To better state it, they will be expanded truths from the Bible. I will be far thinner on the stories, and fuller in Scripture exposition. Thin on stories, but not bereft. Stories are how I illustrate. I am a story oriented person. Even the gospel is a story. The best kind – a true one.

I will work just as hard in an attempt to lift your heart and exchange something meaningful.

The archives of the past year will remain for anyone who pops in who is new to the blog site. I will encourage them to look up the month that they are currently in at the time to see what I wrote last year.

So, see you on February 24. And again, thanks. You kept my restaurant open.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

End of the Day

sleeping

When the girls were growing up, at the end of the day, in our house, it always concluded the same. Always. Every night. Seven days a week for their first twelve to fourteen years of life. It ended with myself, the last one still up, singing lullabies out in the hall. I sang to the two girls, and, I guess, to April, if she were still awake.

“Corn Crib Lullaby” was a favorite, but we also had “Little Cowboy,” “Okey-Dokey Cowboy,” “Happy Trials to You.” (we leaned decidedly towards the Wild West) and the constant, “The Lord Bless You and Keep You.”

After them, hall lights would go off and all would try to find some shut-eye, usually easily. I enjoyed, in the faint light, seeing the lumps that their torso and legs formed, slowly, over the years, filling up their beds. In their first years, each could hardly fill the first quarter of mattress. Then they could fill a half. Then three quarters. Now, the toes of each reach all the way down to one end, while their heads crowd the other, unless curled.

Nowadays, roles reversing, the typical night ends with me already in bed and one of the girls sticking her head in the doorway of our bedroom to announce that they “made it home alright. Goodnight, Dad.”

“Goodnight.”

Whatever my home ever isn’t, it is always a house of peace. On this, April and I pride ourselves. Always peace. Always lovingkindness.

We have a soulful dog – Jazz. Hers is a kind face and heart. She has her peccadilloes. She is not yet one year old. She can drive us nuts with the playful puppy in her. Proverbs 27:14 says that he who “blesses his friend with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, it will be counted a curse to him.” You know the dreaded type. Singing songs from old Shirley Temple movies, while posting smiling picture-grams to their Facebook pages, and there sits you, gruff, without so much as your coffee yet. Sick.

Jazz is a canine form of one of these, though she doesn’t have her own Facebook account yet. I won’t let her. But she is the happy, annoying morning riser in every otherwise. For this, we forgive her each day.

If you will look back briefly, at my last three blog posts, they were all about my family. One talked about April, one, Maty, another, Ashley. Today, friends, is the last of my one year blog. 52 weeks. 108 posts. We made it! Long last. I will meet you here Monday to discuss what comes next. But first, I wanted to finish with family. In the family, home and church family, there exists nearly all significant matters. Get these two right and all else in life will seem to fall into place. Trust me! Fail on either count and you will someday suffer that portion of regret.

Yes, our dog is part of our family. All good pets are. When I was a kid, I would think of our dogs, and sometimes talk of our dogs, as if we were directly related. I thought of them as having our last name. Spook Cole. Jacques Cole. Mickey Cole. On the other hand, there were a few dogs along the way that I did not rush to claim. A few measly ounces of dog etiquette are required for that. Everyone can’t get into the club, or else it’s not a club. Jazz is surely in. She is a Cole.

At the end of the day, near bedtime, Jazz is tired. Her puppy heart is all played out for the day as she lays bushed at my feet. She does this literally. She lays right at my feet with her head resting over the tops of them. Jazz does not yet know how to read a book, so this is her way of relaxing. She sometimes chooses other sets of feet to do this, but not often. It is usually Alpha Dog’s, mine.

She curls, lays her head, then bobs her eyes a few minutes until napping overcomes her.

Sometimes, as she lays there, I think of two characters from the Bible. Good Ruth and, in the New Testament, Mary of Bethany.

Ruth lay at the feet of Boaz to show him both her submission and her choice. It was an unusual custom by today’s standards. It is recorded in parts of Ruth 3:

“. . . she came softly, uncovered his feet, and lay down.”

“Now it happened at midnight that the man was startled, and turned himself; and there, a woman was lying at his feet.”

“And he said, ‘Who are you?’ So she answered, ‘I am Ruth, your maidservant.'”

“Then he said, ‘Blessed are you of the LORD, my daughter! For you have shown more kindness at the end than at the beginning . . . ‘”

“And now, my daughter, do not fear . . . for all the people of my town know that you are a virtuous woman.'”

A rather beautiful narrative, I should think. Today, such would never fly.

“I’m laying down at nobody’s stinking feet. I don’t care how good a man he is.”

I certainly do not encourage its revival. A custom is a custom. They did this 3,000 years ago. We have a share of our own weird dating customs (e.g. “The Bachelor” or “The Bachelorette,” either one). Nevertheless, I cannot help but feel a certain sweetness in its practice and not because I am a man. Every act of submission is, in the eyes of our Lord, a strand of priceless pearls. Submission was the very definition of Him who gave Himself for man.

And then, certainly not romantically, there is the story of Mary at the feet of Jesus. Worshiping. Listening. Anointing with very expensive oils. (John 12) None of the twelve disciples ever came close to such an act of contrition and dedication. It took a humble lady to show them how to love.

There we will all be, up in heaven, during the best parts of eternity, at the feet of Jesus. Worshiping. Listening. Just like Mary.

We had a young man come and speak in our church once. He was raising support wanting to serve in a short-term mission work for the summer. He was not from our church. During a Q and A, I asked him if he had ever gone to Bible school anywhere.

He said, “Yes.” He had. “At the School of Mary.”

I never heard of this school. I have heard of the College of William and Mary, the school of Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe in Williamsburg, Virginia. But not this school. Mary? A girl’s school? I asked him where it was located.

He said, “At the feet of Jesus.” Which is to say, he had no formal training, only the best education imaginable, learning from the Master Pastor from His book, the Holy Bible.

In my house, when it is time for bed, I slide those gunboats, which I call “feet,” out from under my dog very carefully. Eventually, the sleeping Jazz has a start. She then gets to her feet (four paws) and follows me to bed. I go in to my Queen sized bed. She goes for her doggy cushion, both located in the back of the house.

No more lullabies. Only on the rarest of  nights. All are too old for that on any regular basis. When I do it now, if the girls beat me to bed, it is only to stir fond memories.

Quietly, we sleep. All of the submitted: one dog to her human, four children of God to their Master. And I must say, that this life of ours – a life of humble, servitude to God and our fellowman – is a good life. The very best life. One to whom you also, wherever you live, are  invited.

Later this evening, God bless you, and any of your pets, to a restful good night.

LOG

We are cleaning out rooms at home. Church rooms and home rooms. It is a long winter’s task. This will, in great part, theme upcoming February, but we will do it and be all the better for it come March. I preached at two nursing homes this morning, filling in for a pastor who canceled at the last minute. What a joy! So many of the residents are so happy to have ministers come. Whenever I am done, I personally greet each who attended. One dear lady would not let go of my hand until she told me all about her preaching uncle. She always comes in, sitting near the front. Best of all, she always listens attentively. There are many rewards to preaching at the nursing homes, but I would do it all, if only to try to be a blessing to this one sweet soul.

VOICE FROM THE PAST

“A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading.” C. S. Lewis (1898-1963)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Eagle Eyes

binoculars

We would all admit that baseball catchers are very good at silent communication, sending hand signals to their pitchers so that they can be on the same page for the next pitch. Still, they hold nothing on the silent communication devices of a wife.

Wives are the best silent communicators in the world. I would advise the enlisting of wives into the Navy – one on board each ship – so that vessels can communicate back and forth during radio silence. Wives could get through, better than signal lamps, flags, and carrier pigeons. From my wife’s body language only, I know her every emotion, whether she is happy, sad, tired, angry, with a headache, having a good or bad day. I know her “How could you?” look from her “You need to be quiet NOW!” look. Generally speaking, I heed these signs, as I would road signs such as “BRIDGE OUT! TURN BACK” and “BLASTING ZONE.”

When the kids were young, one of these communication devices was when April would take her hand and form a Peace sign by putting her first two fingers out into a V shape. With them she would point to her own two eyes, as if she was going to poke them. If we were not alone, she would add words to it, “Watch the girls, Bill. Eagle eyes.”

This signal might take some explanation. It meant for me to “watch the girls with eagle eyes.” There. I hope that I’ve been some help to you. In other words, watch them carefully. She would send this signal when the girls were playing right in front of me and I looked busy. If she was leaving the room she would say, “Bill!”

She would then wait until this verbal stimulus would catch up to my brain and I would turn to look at her. Sometimes she would have to send it two or three times, my verbal stimulus reaction time being somewhat lethargic.

“Bill.”

“BILL!”

My problem has always been tunnel vision, focusing on only what is right in front of me at the time. When I would finally turn and look to April, she would give me the sign, (point two fingers towards her own eyes) and say it, “Eagle eyes, Bill.”

“I know. I know. I got ’em. Eagle eyes. OK.”

“I mean it. You watch them. I’ll be back.”

I think she came up with this signal when Maty started crawling. Maty was a real “go-get-‘er,” a speed-crawler. Ashley was passive by comparison. Maty was a wound up Eveready, not Rabbit, but Roadrunner. I almost dreaded when she learned to walk. She was so hard to keep up with when she crawled. As soon as she could manage to balance herself onto two feet, she was off in a sprint.

She started running at the age of one and did not stop until the third grade. I sure needed both eagle eyes when it came to her. Four of them usually, April’s set with mine.

In stores, shops, at home, in the grass, in funeral homes, at church . . . run, run, run, run, run, run, run. She ran everywhere she went, usually without her shoes on.

From the age of one to the age of four there are 2,102,400 minutes in a child’s life. About half of those are waking minutes. That’s 1,051,200. Let’s be real generous and say that half of that time they don’t actually need shoes on. Playing on the carpet, rolling in the grass, taking bathes, playing on their beds – no shoes. That still leaves 525,600 waking minutes that they are supposed to wear them. 525,600 minutes definitely where they are in town or at church with their parents wearing shoes. But my daughter, Maty, wore shoes for approximately only 49 of those 525,600 minutes. She was always kicking her feet free. Always taking shoes off, and always running.

I almost wanted to go on TV and do an infomercial with an automated robot version of Maty, as the newest in workout regimen. I would have made my fortune.

“Want to get back into shape. Do you want to fit again into those jeans you wore back in high school? Would you like to lose 30 pound in 30 days? Then this is for you. The new Mattomatic. Turn her on and you’ll be running all over town for hours every day. You’ll reduce your body fat while increasing your endurance and vitality as you fly down the streets of your city trying to catch up with YOUR Mattomatic.”

And it was true. I didn’t start gaining any weight until Maty got a little older. I couldn’t gain weight, not with the marathons that I was running every day, trying to keep up with the little barefoot cutie that was just out ahead of me.

One day I was washing our car in the church parking lot. I had the hose out there with my soapy bucket, sponges, rags, the whole bit. Ashley, four years old, was following me around, questioning my every move. She did this non-stop: “What is the soap for? How come you use so much of it? Where did you buy the soap? Who invented soap? Can I use this soap when I take a bath? Is it the same soap you wash the dog with?”

Maty was right next to the car sitting in the grass. She was just out of hose-shot so that she could not get super wet. She was in a diaper only. I took her clothes off because she was going to surely get a little bit wet. Her clothes were just over by some bushes. She was happy. Maty was always happy when she had no clothes on. She sat up. She also followed my every move, but without any words. Just a grin.

April was there also. She was telling me of what chores she had to do inside. She told me this while I walked around the car, giving it its initial spray down.

“So I’ll be inside. Watch the girls good.”

“I will.”

“Especially Maty. I mean it.”

“Yes, dear.”

April left. Halfway across the parking lot, heading back to the house, she stopped. She still did not trust my preoccupation. She looked back and called out my name.

“Bill.”

Only half hearing her, I kept washing.

“BILL!”

I looked up. “Yes?”

April pointed her two fingers at her own eyes.

“Yes, dear. ‘Eagle eyes.’ I got this. I’m watching.”

April, for emphasis, did it one more time, pointing at her own eyes.

“Yes dear,” I said. “Got it.”

April, still not completely satisfied, turned anyway and walked around the corner of the building.

“You girls be good,” I told them. “I have to wash this car. You too, Maty.”

Maty, near nudie, sat up in the grass, not moving. She smiled again to me. Ashley kept right on yapping.

“Have you washed the car before? I don’t remember you washing it before. Why are you washing it now? How often do you do this? It is very interesting.”

I now started in with the sponges. I washed down one side of the car. I washed across the front of the car. The grill work always slows me up. I looked over to Maty. She was still sitting and smiling at me. I smiled back. I finished with the front of the car, did the driver’s side tire, and was just starting down its other side, when an old man in a pick-up truck, who was stopped at our corner by a stop sign, beeped his horn, I guessed that it was for me; no one else was around. I looked up. I did not recognize the man. He waved. I smiled and waved back. I continued soaping.

Ashley: “Do you know that man? I don’t know that man. Why is he beeping? Does he think that he knows you? He doesn’t go to our church.”

The man beeped his truck’s horn again. Twice this time. I looked up again. He waved at me once more. I smiled and waved back. Then I noticed that he was not waving to me at all. He was pointing. He was pointing out in front of his truck about 50 feet. I followed the direction that he intended until I saw Maty, my dear and precious Maty, sitting out in the middle of road, smack-dab on the center line, happy as a clam.

I dropped the hose. My heart fell faster than that hose fell to the ground. I ran for the roadway. Fortunately, there was no traffic on this lazy Saturday morning, except for this unknown gentlemen. And he wasn’t going anywhere. I ran over, snatched up my daughter and held her warm, wet body close to mine in a hug. She smiled the whole time, oblivious to all danger.

My car washing was over for the day. I thanked the man, shut off the hose, and went inside with the girls. For like two seconds, I thought of not telling April. “Everyone was safe. Do I have’ta?” But I did tell her for two reasons. One, Ashley was going to tell her anyway.

“A man kept honking his horn at Daddy. We didn’t know what that meant until we saw Maty sitting out in the middle of the street. Daddy ran to get her. Boy, can Daddy run fast. I never seen him run that fast. It was funny. Why was Maty out there, Daddy?”

Also, I told April because it was too important of news. My wife as right in reminding me, like three times, to, “Be careful. Watch the girls.” Instantly, when it came to the girls, at least, I was cured of all tunnel vision. I’ve been watching them closely ever since, with both eagle eyes.

In Psalm 121 it says in verse 3 that the one who “keeps you will not slumber.”

He repeats the same in thing in the next verse, verse 4: the one who keeps Israel “neither slumbers nor sleeps.”

He repeats it for the very same reason that April repeats things to me. It is important and I may not be paying attention.

He wants us to know that God really, really never does slumber. He doesn’t take the first watch; He takes all of them. He is never asleep, diverted, preoccupied, too busy, with the lazy eye, not paying attention, drowsy. We need to know that. We need to be reassured of the fact. God is on it. He’s got this.

In verse 1, God is called, our “help.” In verse 5, it calls Him “your keeper.” Maty’s safety that day sadly relied on someone else paying attention and caring, someone that didn’t even know her. I was thankful for that, but I better not ever rely on that. When she was an infant, her safety was appropriately on April and I. She was, after all, ours. She was our charge, and more than our responsibility, she was our love. We are that to God.

He promises, in verse 6, that “the sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.” Can you imagine being hit by the sun? Not good! That truck would have taken Maty’s life. What would the sun do? I don’t think that there is insurance anywhere for that, medical or life.

STATE FARM: “No. Mr. Cole, we don’t offer sun protection. If the sun hits you, you’re on our own. However, if you ever rub bumpers with a Nissan Sentra, you call us up.”

God prevents all such cosmic disasters from occurring. And whenever a portion of trouble does find its way into our lives, as it is prone to do at times, God is there. He will (verse 7) “preserve your soul.”

How long? Verse, 8, “from this time forth, and even forevermore.”

I have the girls for such a little while, till they can learn, for themselves, not to sit out in the middle of roadways. But then, when the “breaking away” is complete, they are not on their own. God takes over. He’s it forevermore.

That’s good to know in a world of trucks and suns, and blown head gaskets, and e coli. Eagle eyes are always watching.

LOG

Paczkis are in the stores already. Fat Tuesday is in three weeks. So why jelly rolls nearly a month early? The Almighty “Lenten” dollar. We had our annual congregational meeting last Sunday. These are blessed events, reviewing the old and planning for the new. The future brims brightly always for obedient Christians. Learn to park your car there: the center of God’s will.

VOICE FROM THE PAST

“One great power of sin is that it blinds men so that they do not recognize its true character.” Andrew Murray (1828-1917)

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Little Bear Claw

girls-american-indian-toddler-costume

I have a confession to make. I used to be an Indian.

I know. Shocking. You didn’t know. It came out of the blue, but it’s true. Maybe not a “real, face painted, genuINE Wild West Injun,” but I lived the life of one. I was eight years old.

In Michigan, if you can prove that you are 1/16th Native American, they’ll give you your own casino, or so it seems.

But, I did. I lived the life of Indian. So did my brother Bobby. My older brother, Tim, was our cowboy. We Indians, as we are famously known for doing, would set up an ambush for the cowboy. To do this, we climbed high atop dusty buttes (the furniture of my parent’s living room) in official, sanctioned Native American attire (whatever we could manage  with ropes and towels). The cowboy would be riding on his horse (walking on his feet) through our canyon (said furniture). Then, when he was least expecting it, the entire Navajo nation (Bobby and I) would descend with “speed of mighty falcon” (Indian speech) onto the unsuspecting maverick.

A mighty, fearsome, arrow flying, blood spilling battle would ensue, as we then would wrestle our little brains out.

Wrestling is the national pastime of boys everywhere. It is what they do best. It is basically why God put them on earth – to perfect the craft, so that they can later wrestle with the devil. Making gas passing noises under their armpits, spitball sending, and wrestling. It is all they really know. So we would wrestle with this particular  cowboy, the both of us – Bobby, clinging to his one side, and me, permanently affixed to his other. After ten agonizing minutes of the best wrestling we could possibly muster, we would, long last, alllllllllmost have him pinned down too.

We’d have him on his back. We’d be pushing, pushing, pushing. Both shoulders were nearing the carpet. Sloooowly. Now, almost touching. Closer, closer, brushing lightly. Then we would pin him. Immediately, we would send up war whoops and start counting, because the official elapsed time for any Indian pinning is three seconds. I don’t know how I know that. I don’t remember ever learning it. I feel as if I have maybe insulted you by telling this to you now, so widely spread is the knowledge.

Billy: Pin him, Little Running Nose. Pin him. Now!

Bobby: I . . . did.

Billy: Me, too. Hold him, Little Running Nose.

Bobby: I will, Bear Claw. (I always got the cooler names.)

Billy: As will I.

Both: One . . .

Both: Two . . .

Right then, the cowboy, by some inexplicable modern miracle, would rise, refreshed and energized, and would throw us free from our death grips. We would literally sail back to the tops of our dusty buttes and land softly in the sofa (one) and chair (the other), both at the same time.

To my recollection, we never did pin him. “Blasted paleface.”

The wrestling has not stopped. Today, I wrestle with my daughters. Not all the time. Just on Tuesdays, Thursday nights, and Sundays, after church. That’s not true. We do, once in awhile. No Indians. No cowboys. Just the three of us.

The only rules: get me into the sofa. “If you can knock me over – standing right in front of the sofa – and get me to fall into the sofa, by any means, you win.”

No matter how hard they try, they cannot do this. Always, I remain – standing defiant.

I will have to end our little game soon. I am getting older. One day, if I keep pushing my luck with them, they will be able to get me down easily. Ashley works out nearly every day at the gym and Maty has the strength of “many mighty noble warriors.” What will the frontier headlines read then? It will be bigger than the shellacking we took at the Little Big Horn.

I am still Chief of the Tribe, but the feathers from my headdress are molting and my moccasins have a few holes worn into them.

Steadily but surely, the girls are breaking away from my tents. It’s OK. It is more than the way of life; it is the way of the Bible.

“Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them . . .”

No. That did not rise in smoke signals over the fires of Chief Crazy Horse. It is from Psalm 127, verses 4 and 5a.

Arrows are for sending out. Moving away. Leaving. It happens more and more each day. God be praised.

Ashley has taken over more of her own bill paying now. This put her in a certain situation the other day. True story.

She has behind the steering wheel of her new car, the Volkswagen. Not new-new, just new to her. She was on the phone with her new insurance company. It was a cold and blustery winter’s day. Ashley was sitting at a stop light. An insurance agent was on the other end of the line.

Insurance Agent: “So, we have you down for ‘Collision.’ We need to talk deductibles.”

Insurance agents love talking deductibles. It tingles their little Insurance Agent’s spines.

While this was happening, a man in a pick-up truck was slipping and sliding his way directly towards Ashley. He was not in control. At first, it looked slightly suspect. Then it looked somewhat hairy. Finally, it showed itself for what it was – completely gnarly. He was coming right at her, way too fast.

Her eyes were getting larger and larger. She tried to keep her composure on the phone. The agent was now giving Ashley the differences between mere “Collision” and “Full Coverage.” The agent was just starting describing it to her.

Agent: “It will be another $18 a month.”

Ashley: “I’ll take the full coverage.”

Agent: “With the full coverage you will get . . .”

Ashley: “I’ll take the full coverage.”

Agent: “. . . added features such as Roadside . . .”

Ashley: “I’LL TAKE THE FULL COVERAGE.”

Agent: “. . . Assistance and car rental. With that, if ever you get in an accident . . .”

Ashley: “PRESS ‘FULL COVERAGE.’ ‘FULL COVERGE.'”

Just then, the man passed directly in front of Ashley. Somehow, by an act of God and one Legion of His fiery angels, the guy missed her front end. All was well. He straightened out his vehicle and continued on his way.

Agent: “So, we have you down for the full coverage?”

Ashley: “Yes, “Full Coverage.”  By all means, “full coverage,” now and forever.

Welcome, Ashley, to the adult world. It is filled with such rolling at you, nearly all the time. And premiums, and deductibles, and late fees, and bills, and fines. Congratulations! Sorry they didn’t fill you in on this at high school graduation. Don’t worry. They didn’t tell me either.

You’ll do fine. After all, you are daughter of Big Chief Bear Claw.

Just remember our wrestling lessons. Fight back, girl. You too, Maty. Don’t take it sitting down, neither one of you. Mix it up. Stand and wrestle. You may not be able to take Tim, we couldn’t, but you will manage to pin Life to the carpet. You must, or it will surely pin you. Get Life down on its back. Three seconds. Ten seconds. More. You’ve got the stuff. You’ll hold it there alright.

And a few more pearls of Indian wisdom:

1. “Smoke ’em peace pipe, even with your enemies, if able.”

2. “Pow-wow often with family.”

3. “Take your time when signing Treaties. Read careful.”

4. And “Spend time with that One Great Spirit every day.” He is your only true Guide.

If you do these, and keep your wits about you at all times, you will go far in life.

Just not too far, sweeties. Your mother worries.

LOG

Two families, maybe three, take off for Florida this week for some R and R. Cowards! I will stay back in the, soon to be, “February winter,” holding down the snow fort for them. I love the Word of God. I am in several discipleship relationships right now. Two are for the growth of others, and two are for my own growth. I will soon be 33 years in the Lord, this coming April, and it feels as fresh to me today as when I started. That’s the honest-to-goodness truth. The Bible is an artesian spring of living water to all who drink deep enough.

VOICE FROM THE PAST

“A king of so vile a character is of no more value than a piece of an useless idol, or of a broken pot.” L. T. Travell (1740-1808)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment