Fickle and Unfaithful

Fickle and Unfaithful

“In the second half of the book of Numbers we continue to see the age-old struggle of mankind striving against God’s will. The children of Israel have defeat snatched from the hands of victory as they call on God to deliver their enemy and then turn around and murmur against Him. Balaam has to have a discussion with his donkey in order to hear God and he was a prophet. Balak keeps saying, “Let’s try over here.” “No?” “Let’s try over here…” Is it that hard to hear the Lord and do what He says? We can be hard on these fickle and unfaithful biblical characters, but do we not often act in the same way?
Yet God still cares for and loves His people, and in He begins to make preparation for Israel’s entrance into the Promised Land. God has made provision for us to enter the Promised Land of Heaven.

Do not waver in following God.

Do not waver in following God.

As we close the book God informs Moses that his life will soon end and he is to give some final instructions to the Children of Israel. A couple things stand out to me in this reading. 1) God loves His people and is concerned for their well-being. 2) God is just and righteous and His judgment needs to be enforced. 3) He expects the people to remain pure and free from evil influences. When the family has wicked and divisive influences among them, that defile the body and pollute the land, it must be cleansed (33:55–56; 35:34). God is faithful, be ye faithful!

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Cephas to His Friends

Cephas to His Friends

Have you ever wondered why the apostles often seemed to have more than one name?

Let’s take the apostle Peter, for example. He is sometimes in the Bible called Peter; he is sometimes called Simon; and he is sometimes called Cephas. All three names are used to refer to the same man, sometimes in close proximity to each other.

Cephas was known by other names.

Cephas was known by other names.

For instance, in the book of Galatians, Paul refers to Peter, as Peter in Galatians 2:7, 8. But he calls him Cephas in Galatians 1:13, and Galatians 2:11, 14. This is not the only time Paul calls Peter, Cephas. He does so as well in 1 Corinthians 1:12, 3:22, 9:5 and 15:5.  Why the different name?

And why is Peter called Simon in so many other places? In approximately 69 places in the New Testament, in the four Gospels and in Acts, the name Simon is used to identify Peter. (cf. Acts 11:13, etc.)

Peter is the name most often used (well over a hundred times) and is the name used by the apostle himself when penning his own epistles (cf. 1 Peter 1:1) though in his second epistle, he identifies himself as Simon Peter, or Simeon Peter, depending on the spelling. (2 Peter 1:1)

The answer has to do with languages, and perhaps something to do with the reason why God chose the period of time He did for the birth of the church and the initial preaching of the Gospel.

We are told that in many synagogues in Palestine, in the first century, Jewish children were taught to read, write and speak in at least three languages: Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. It was also common for Jews to have names for each of these languages. In Peter’s case, Simon was his given Hebrew name, the name he grew up with. In John 1:42, when Simon meets Jesus, Jesus gives him a new nick-name: Cephas. Cephas is Aramaic for rock. The Greek equivalent to Cephas is Peter, which also means stone, or rock.

Paul, writing to the Galatians in the Greek language, naturally used the name Peter in some places. This was the name most of the Greek-speaking church would have known him by. However, in private conversation, with his friends, Peter, who was a native Aramaic speaker, most likely called himself Cephas. Thus Paul, when thinking about his close friend and brother, often thought of him as Cephas, the name by which he knew him best.

Though we often think of the apostles as “uneducated,” we should recognize that they were each multi-lingual individuals who could read and write fluently in several languages. This practiced ability was further supplemented by the miraculous gift of tongues which allowed them to preach and teach to a wide variety of individuals in that own individual’s native language. (cf. Acts 2:7-11)

It was God’s plan for His apostles to take the Gospel to the world, and the world all spoke different languages. It was thus necessary for the apostles to each be able to communicate effectively to a wide swath of people. When the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews,” and “to those outside the law I became as one outside the law… that I might win those outside the law,” we should not overlook the lingual aspects of this approach. (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:19-21)

God wanted the Gospel presented to people where they were, in the place where they lived, in the language they were accustomed to speaking. This is why the books of the New Testament were so quickly translated into other languages soon after they were written, including Coptic and Latin. It was so that men could have the message taken to them in their own language.

This was God’s plan, and it is reflected in the Lord’s grand commission, commanding us to, “Go to all the world (Matthew 28:19).” One wonders how often modern Christians would prefer for the world to come to us?

If we meet a non-believer who is also not a native English speaker, would we prefer that they first learn English before we convert them, or are we willing to put forth the effort to learn their tongue so as to better teach them? Do we prefer potential converts to walk into the doors of our buildings, or are we willing to go out and meet them where they are? These are important questions to consider.

As we consider such questions, we might keep in mind the Apostle who was willing to address his epistles, in Greek, as Peter, even though to his friends, he normally went by Cephas.

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Distraction and Destruction

Distraction and Destruction

Most folks start the day with a list of projects that they want to tackle.  Yet, on the way to achieving their purposes, distraction rises up.  Not all distraction is worthless or troublesome.  There are distractions which are wonderfully spiritual.  Some distraction is very rewarding and perhaps represents even greater value than the original intended purposes of the day.  The distraction simply needs to be what is authorized in Christ (Colossians 3:17). Regardless of its worth, distraction makes itself ever present.  Consider for a brief moment the brief exhortation of focus from the Hebrew author:

Do not let distraction avert your eyes from your true and eternal purpose.

Do not let distraction avert your eyes from your true and eternal purpose.

Hebrews 12:1-3Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.

We should never be distracted from constantly submitting our lives to Jesus.  He is our Example, our Savior, and our Defender.  He certainly had distractions in His life.  His physical family wanted His time.  Everywhere He went People upon Him to heal them.  Multitudes followed him to hear Him speak.  Crowds sought him out hoping to see miracles or be fed.  The Pharisaical Jews sought him to trick Him or cause Him to stumble in His ultimate purpose so that they would not lose their place of power.  His inner circle of disciples represented distraction of weak faith, puzzled understanding, and even deception.  Satan tried Him and tempted Him when he felt there was an opportune time.  Physical fear and the reality of the pain of the flesh made their calling as well as He unwaveringly came to the cross.  However, the distractions and suffering that Jesus endured provided understanding of the worth of submission to the Father (Hebrews 5:8).  Jesus sits at the right hand of God because of His constant and steady control in keeping His eyes on the Father.  Today, our eyes need to be constantly looking toward Jesus.

Destruction is the result of worldly distraction being our ultimate pursuit (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).  Destruction results from trying to legitimize evil distraction as good (Isaiah 5:20) and turn scriptural wisdom into earthly wisdom (2 Peter 3:16) so we can pursue worldly distraction.  Destruction comes from a heart problem that wants to turn back to the world (Luke 17:32).  However, if you are seeking God (Matthew 6:33), spiritual distraction will not keep you from your God, nor will destruction await you.  Submission of the heart, soul, mind, and strength to God will lovingly have the kingdom of the Father in view.  Be of good cheer in the midst of distraction and boldly march onward (John 16:33).

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Two Witnesses to Your Salvation

Two Witnesses to Your Salvation

The apostle Paul made an astounding affirmation when he said, “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God” (Rom. 8:16). How can I know that I am saved? How can I have confidence that I am pleasing to God? Paul’s words said it all—the Holy Spirit bears witness with my spirit.

Um, no, not that kind of witness.

Um, no, not that kind of witness.

There is a Biblical concept that should be remembered in all matters, but especially in this one about my salvation. There must be two witnesses. The law of Moses was very clear. No individual could be put to death on the basis of a single witness. “He shall not be put to death on the testimony of one witness” (Deut. 17:6). The same was true of other violations of that law. “By the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established” (Deut. 19:15).

The same truth is taught in the New Testament. Jesus said, “By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established” (Matt. 18:16). Paul taught the same in two passages: 2 Corinthians 13:1 and 1 Timothy 5:19. The writer of Hebrews makes this same point (Heb. 10:28).

So, who are the two witnesses that speak so that I can know I am a child of God? The answer is obvious. The Spirit of God and my spirit.

However, it is vital that the words in Romans 8:16 be read carefully. The passage does not say that the Spirit bears witness to my Spirit, but that the Spirit bears witness with my spirit. Had Paul said that God’s Spirit bears witness to my spirit, then I should expect that God would in some way speak to my spirit and that “silent” voice from heaven would be the basis of the confidence in my salvation. This is not what Paul said. Read it again.

The Spirit bears witness, and my spirit bears witness. The Spirit affirms that I am a child of God, and my spirit bears the same witness that I am a child of God. Both spirits bear the same witness.

What does the Spirit say about my salvation or the salvation of any person? The Spirit says that for me to be saved, I must believe (Heb. 11:6). My spirit says that I have believed. The Spirit also says that for me to be saved I must repent, change my heart and life (Acts 17:30). My spirit says that I have repented. The Spirit says that I must verbally confess my faith in Jesus (Rom. 10:9). My spirit says I have done this. The Spirit says I must be baptized to have my sins washed away (Acts 22:16). My spirit says I have done this. I can know that I am a child of God because of two witnesses saying that I am—the Spirit and my spirit.

Are you saved? Have you done what the Spirit says you must do to be saved? Remember, it takes two witnesses!

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Gay: Pathway to Hell or Closer to God?

Paving a pathway to hell doesn’t move you closer to God

In a year when it seems like anyone with a pulse and a few crazy ideas is running for president, Pete Buttigieg has taken center stage. Pete Buttigieg is the mayor of South Bend, Indiana. But that is not why he is frequently a guest on Sunday morning press shows and what is keeping him in the headlines. Mayor Buttigieg has taken up a war of words with Vice-President Mike Pence about being gay, and has boldly declared, being married to his partner Chasten “has moved me closer to God.”

God desires all people to follow His Word.

God desires all people to follow His Word.

Buttigieg is a democrat, and I admittedly have not studied much about his political views, however, I do want to address two of his theological statements that he has recently made. Doing his best to assume moral high ground Buttigieg declared that being gay was not a choice but was given to him by his Creator. “If me being gay was a choice, it was a choice that was made far, far above my pay grade…And that’s the thing I wish the Mike Pences of the world would understand. That if you got a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me—your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.” (see USA Today’s piece here).

While I do not know your pay grade Mr. Buttigieg, I do know science and God are not the reason you are gay. Yes, there were several studies published in the early 1990s (and a few in 2000s) that diligently tried to assert a genetic cause for homosexuality. (e.g., Simon LeVay, 1991; Bailey and Pillard, 1991; Dean Hamer, 1993). However, science has a way of “self-correcting” itself and all of those studies were shown to be poorly conducted and other scientists could not replicate the original findings. In other words, the studies were false. Simply put, science doesn’t support the notion that homosexuals were “born that way.” Again, I recognize saying such in modern times is to beg to be labeled a hatemonger or homophobe. However, my conclusion comes from the scientific evidence—not emotion.

It makes logical sense if one were to set aside the hyperbole, political spin, and passion for just a moment. If homosexuality were genetic, then if an identical twin were homosexual then his twin would have to be as well—because they share the same genes. Yet, this is not what we see in reality. Also, if it were genetic then we would eventually see this gene disappear from the human population—as homosexual couples can’t reproduce.

Mr. Buttigieg is desperately trying to ride in on the coattails of true civil rights issues, but the scientific evidence does not support that he was born that way. If it is not genetic, then that makes it a choice. It also takes the “quarrel” about his behavior and who “he is” away from the Creator, and directly to Mr. Buttigieg’s own doorstep.

The second statement I want to examine is when Buttigieg indicated that being involved in a same-sex marriage has brought him closer to God. “Being married to Chasten has made me a better human being because it has made me more compassionate, more understanding, more self-aware and more decent,” he said at the LGBTQ Victory Fund’s annual brunch. “My marriage to Chasten has made me a better man. And yes, Mr. Vice President, it has moved me closer to God,” he added, prompting applause (story here).

How does a homosexual marriage bring someone closer to God? There is only one way—and that is if Mayor Buttigieg has recast God into a god that is not found in the Scriptures. In other words, Buttigieg has recast God in an image that he desires—which is idolatry.

God instituted marriage between a man and a woman, (Genesis 2:24). All throughout the Bible marriage is referred to in terms of a man and a woman—even when Jesus speaks of marriage. Homosexuality, on the other hand, is condemned all throughout God’s Word. Whether we are talking about the patriarchal age with Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19), or the Mosaic Age (Leviticus 18:22-23; 20:13), or in the New Testament (Romans 1:24-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Revelation 21:8) God views this behavior as an abomination.

Mr. Buttigieg must have skipped over the Scriptures that declare God as holy (1 Peter 1:16) and that sin separates man from God (Isaiah 59:1-2). The holiness of God is frequently referenced in the Bible. The inspired psalmist observed, “But You are holy, enthroned in the praises of Israel” (22:3). Additionally, we read, “Exalt the Lord our God, and worship at His footstool—He is holy” (Psalm 99:3). The prophet Isaiah noted: “But the Lord of hosts shall be exalted in judgment, and God who is holy shall be hallowed in righteousness” (Isaiah 5:16).

Paul revealed in 1 Corinthians 6 that individuals involved in the type of behavior that Mayor Buttigieg and his husband Chasten are involved in will not inherit the kingdom of heaven. In Revelation 21:8 we read that people who practice sexually immoral behavior shall “shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” Does this sound like someone who is getting closer to God?

1 John 5:3 declares, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.” In John 14:15, Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Therefore, to “love” is to do what God says in the way he says to do it. In other words, to be loving is to be lawful; to obey God’s commands. The real question is not whether Mayor Buttigieg “feels” closer to God, the real question is whether or not this presidential candidate is willing to humble himself, repent of his sins, and obey God’s commands.

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