Sunday, February 28, 2010

Proverbs 1:18-19, Wisdom versus American Domestic Policy

"[T]hese men lie in wait for their own blood; they set an ambush for their own lives. Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain; it takes away the life of its possessors."

On the face of it, these verses refer to robbers, that is, those who take the property of others by force. But what if you consider government redistribution of wealth as legalized theft? This verse then puts so many of our social ills together in a way too many have refused to acknowledge.

There are legitimate means of gaining the property of another person, of course: purchase, gift, inheritance, in
exchange for labor, or through due process of law in a lawsuit. Anything else constitutes force or fraud. Force through an intermediary, even government, is still force. And it carries the same spiritual consequences warned of in this Proverb.

Consider what has become of the American family, especially the minority family. Illegitimacy, welfare dependency, and fatherless homes. The list is well-known. And easily predictable. We have become a society of entitlement, expecting the government to confiscate the property of others, in order to redistribute to those who haven't produced it. We might call it "welfare," but whitewashing can't cover up theft; it merely excuses it.

The Apostle Paul also gives the same instruction. Ephesians 4:28 is explicit: "Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need." And to the Thessalonians (II Th. 3:10-11) he was even more blunt: "If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies." Honest labor builds up; illegitimate wealth destroys.

Proverbs 26:17, Wisdom versus American Foreign Policy

"Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears."

The Bible isn't a manual on the various activities of human life. It is a manual of our redemption in Jesus Christ. However, when it touches on science, history, economics, or politics, then its guidance is profound. This verse is a good example.

I have written before, in an actual political context, of my opposition to the imperialist foreign policy our country has pursued since World War I. The context was the Russian invasion of Georgia (i.e., the republic, not the state) in 2008. Our political leadership had pulled the ears of Mad Dog Putin of Russia, and he bit Georgia.

But consider what this verse says about American intervention in both World Wars, two breakouts of the historic rivalry between France and Germany, or in Afghanistan and Iraq in our own time. The swarms of mad dogs from those two running sores may not be exhausted in my life time.

The wisdom of God speaks to politicians: don't meddle in foreign conflicts, or you will turn them into domestic disputes.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Ministry of Paul and the Worship that Is Due to God Alone

"Now at Lystra there was a man sitting, who could not use his feet. He was crippled from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul speaking. And Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well, said in a loud voice, 'Stand upright on your feet.' And he sprang up and began walking.

"And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, 'The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!' Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance to the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds.

"But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, 'Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations He allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet He did not leave himself without witness, for He did good by giving you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.' Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them."
-Acts 14:8-18

I find this passage significant, in the face of the worship of saints in the Church of Rome. Of course, they deny that they worship the saints; rather, they call it adoration. Check this article in the Catholic Encyclopedia for their defense. However, this article demonstrates that there has been a lot of inconsistency in Catholic explanations on this issue.

In response to this Romanist defense, Archibald Alexander Hodge (son of the better-known Princeton Professor Charles Hodge) wrote, "The distinction they make between the different degrees of worship due to God and to holy creatures, and between the indirect worship which terminates upon the image or picture and the direct worship which terminates upon the person represented by it, are not their peculiar property, but, as every missionary knows, are common to them with the educated among all idolaters. If the Romanists be not idolaters, the sins forbidden in the First and Second Commandments have never been committed." In other words, just as the Hindu priest would explain that the many-armed idol is not the actual deity, but merely represents him/her, and that the local spirits aren't gods themselves, but rather intermediaries to the gods, the acceptance or rejection of that explanation applies equally to Romanist veneration of images and saints as intermediaries: if one is idolatry, both are; if either is not, then neither are.

I make the same urging as Paul and Barnabas did, whether one is a Pagan or a Catholic crypto-Pagan, turn from dead images to the living God, because He alone can save.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Third Commandment: God's Judgment on Biblical Scepticism

"Thou shalt not take the name of Jehovah thy God in vain; for Jehovah will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain." [ASV]
- Exodus 20:7

One of the blessings I receive from the Westminster Standards, the traditional doctrinal standards of all Presbyterians, is that they force me often to look at Scripture in ways that I hadn't considered. I had such an experience this morning.

In my church, we read one question from the Shorter Catechism each Lord's Day as part of our worship. Today, it was Question 54: "What is required in the third commandment? The third commandment requireth the holy and reverent use of God's names, titles, attributes, ordinances, Word, and works." It is the inclusion of the Word, the Scriptures, the Bible, that I hadn't considered before as under this commandment. The Larger Catechism expands this statement, as is its wont. Regarding the Word, Question 113 condemns "misinterpreting, misapplying, or any way perverting the word, or any part of it, to profane jests, curious or unprofitable questions, vain janglings, or the maintaining of false doctrines."

Disrespect of the Bible is rampant today. It goes without saying that a professing unbeliever would refuse the authority of God's Word. But what of the sceptical minister or theology professor? The IIIrd Commandment condemns them. And rank heretics, such as Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Papists, prosperity preachers, etc? The IIIrd Commandment expresses divine judgment on them.

Why is that? Because God claims His Word as His own. The obvious reference is II Timothy 3:16, "All Scripture is breathed out by God..." Also, verses such as Hebrews 3:7, that introduces a quote from Psalm 95 with "as the Holy Spirit says..." And most importantly, to my mind, in Revelation 1:16, speaking of King Jesus, describes "from His mouth came a two-edged sword" (confer Hebrews 4:12). To impugn the Scriptures is not an alternative Christian doctrine; it is an attack on the revelation of the trinitarian God Himself, and opposition to the very assertion of Christ's authority. That is why the Catechisms place it under the condemnation of the IIIrd Commandment as a false profession of deity.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Genesis 47:13-27, All Hail Pharaoh Obama!

"Now there was no food in all the land, for the famine was very severe, so that the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan languished by reason of the famine. And Joseph gathered up all the money that was found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, in exchange for the grain that they bought. And Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh's house. And when the money was all spent in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, all the Egyptians came to Joseph and said, 'Give us food. Why should we die before your eyes? For our money is gone.' And Joseph answered, 'Give your livestock, and I will give you food in exchange for your livestock, if your money is gone.' So they brought their livestock to Joseph, and Joseph gave them food in exchange for the horses, the flocks, the herds, and the donkeys. He supplied them with food in exchange for all their livestock that year. And when that year was ended, they came to him the following year and said to him, 'We will not hide from my lord that our money is all spent. The herds of livestock are my lord's. There is nothing left in the sight of my lord but our bodies and our land. Why should we die before your eyes, both we and our land? Buy us and our land for food, and we with our land will be servants to Pharaoh. And give us seed that we may live and not die, and that the land may not be desolate.'

"So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh, for all the Egyptians sold their fields, because the famine was severe on them. The land became Pharaoh's. As for the people, he made servants of them from one end of Egypt to another. Only the land of the priests he did not buy, for the priests had a fixed allowance from Pharaoh and lived on the allowance that Pharaoh gave them; therefore they did not sell their land.

"Then Joseph said to the people, 'Behold, I have this day bought you and your land for Pharaoh. Now here is seed for you, and you shall sow the land. And at the harvests you shall give a fifth to Pharaoh, and four-fifths shall be your own, as seed for the field and as food for your little ones.' And they said, 'You have saved our lives; may it please my lord, we will be servants to Pharaoh.' So Joseph made it a statute concerning the land of Egypt, and it stands to this day, that Pharaoh should have the fifth; the land of the priests alone did not become Pharaoh's.

"Thus Israel settled in the land of Egypt, in the land of Goshen. And they gained possessions in it, and were fruitful and multiplied greatly."

[Below was sent to me as a supposed sermon given in a predominantly-black Virginia church. I suspect that it is apocryphal, but the message is still valid. I have posted before on the spiritual consequences of turning to the state for salvation. Notice two things in particular about the Genesis passage: while Pharaoh claims twenty percent of the people's productivity, that is double what God receives in His tithe, telling us how Pharaoh viewed himself; this compares with a direct tax burden (i.e., excluding taxes hidden in the prices of goods and services) of 28%, and a "future" tax burden (i.e., including government borrowing converted to a future tax) over 50%!]

Genesis 47:13-27

(I would love to give the Pastor of this predominantly black church in
Virginia a hug and a high five. This guy is obviously a leader and
not one of the sheep. Perhaps we should each decide who our
real leader is. It is amazing to see that very little has
changed in 4,000 years.)

Good morning, brothers and sisters; it's always a delight to see the pews crowded on Sunday morning, and so eager to get into God's Word. Turn with me in your Bibles, if you will to the 47th chapter of Genesis, we'll begin our reading at verse 13, and go through verse 27.

Brother Ray, would you stand and read that great passage for us? ....(reading)...

Thank you for that fine reading, Brother Ray... So we see that economic hard times fell upon Egypt , and the people turned to the government of Pharaoh to deal with this for them. And Pharaoh nationalized the grain harvest, and placed the grain in great storehouses that he had built. So the people brought their money to Pharaoh, like a great tax increase, and gave it all to him willingly in return for grain. And
this went on until their money ran out, and they were hungry again. So when they went to Pharaoh after that, they brought their livestock -their cattle, their horses, their sheep, and their donkey - to barter for grain, and verse 17 says that only took them through the end of that year..

But the famine wasn't over, was it? So the next year, the people came before Pharaoh and admitted they had nothing left, except their land and their own lives. "There is nothing left in the sight of my lord but our bodies and our land. Why should we die before your eyes, both we and our land? Buy us and our land for food, and we with our land will be servants to Pharaoh." So they surrendered their homes, their land, and their real estate to Pharaoh's government, and then sold themselves into slavery to him, in return for grain. What can we learn from this, brothers and sisters? That turning to the government instead of to God to be our provider in hard times only leads to slavery? Yes. That the only reason government wants to be our provider is to also become our master? Yes.

But look how that passage ends, brothers and sisters! "Thus Israel settled in the land of Egypt , in the land of Goshen .. And they gained possessions in it, and were fruitful and multiplied greatly." God provided for His people, just as He always has! They didn't end up giving all their possessions to government, no, it says they gained possessions! But I also tell you a great truth today, and an ominous
one. We see the same thing happening today - the government today wants to "share the wealth "once again, to take it from us and redistribute it back to us. It wants to take control of healthcare, just as it has taken control of education, and ration it back to us, and when government rations it, then government decides who gets it, and how much, and what kind. And if we go along with it, and do it willingly, then we will wind up no differently than the people of Egypt did four thousand years ago - as slaves to the government, and as slaves to our leaders.

What Mr. Obama's government is doing now is no different from what Pharaoh's government did then, and it will end the same. And a lot of people like to call Mr. Obama a "Messiah," don't they? Is he a Messiah? A savior? Didn't the Egyptians say, after Pharaoh made them his slaves, "You have saved our lives; may it please my lord, we will be servants to Pharaoh"? Well, I tell you this - I know the Messiah; the Messiah is a friend of mine; and Mr. Obama is no Messiah! No, brothers and sisters, if Mr. Obama is a character from the Bible, then he is Pharaoh.

Bow with me in prayer, if you will: Lord, You alone are worthy to be served, and we rely on You, and You alone. We confess that the government is not our deliverer, and never rightly will be. We read in the eighth chapter of 1 Samuel, when Samuel warned the people of what a ruler would do, where it says "And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day." And Lord, we acknowledge that day has come. We cry out to you because of the ruler that we have chosen for ourselves as a nation. Lord, we pray for this nation. We pray for revival, and we pray for deliverance from those who would be our masters. Give us hearts to seek You and hands to serve You, and protect Your people from the atrocities of Pharaoh's government. In God We Trust...

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Hebrews 7:23-25, the Great Comfort of Christ's Priestly Office

"The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but He holds the priesthood permanently, because He continues forever. Consequently, He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them."

Also 9:24, "For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf."

These two passages from Hebrews are foundational texts in the doctrine of Christ's priestly office (the others being His kingly and prophetical offices). The Westminster Larger Catechism, Question 44, describes it this way: "Christ executeth the office of a priest in His once offering himself a sacrifice without spot to God, to be a reconciliation for the sins of his people." It then elaborates on His intercessory work in Question 55: "Christ maketh intercession by His appearing in our nature continually before the Father in heaven, in the merit of His obedience and sacrifice on earth, declaring His will to have it applied to all believers; answering all accusations against them, and procuring for them quiet of conscience (notwithstanding daily failings), access with boldness to the throne of grace, and acceptance of their persons and services." Thus, His priestly office primarily has bearing on believers, rather than unbelievers, in terms of both redemption and intercession with the Father on their behalf.

XIXth Century Scottish Reformed Presbyterian minister William Symington said it brilliantly: "While His church has a want, while His people's necessities continue, He will count it his delight, His pleasure, His honour, His glory, to present their case to His Father, and to secure for them the bestowment of every needed boon."

Thursday, February 4, 2010

When "Why" Is More Important than "How"...: Christ the Creator

"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things were created through Him and for Him."
- Colossians 1:15-16

Paul here is repeating that transcendent truth also seen in John's Gospel (1:3), "All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made." Or it might be more accurate to say that John followed Paul, since the epistle was probably penned before the gospel. But notice what the two texts share: neither one gets bogged down in the mechanism of creation, but rather emphasize the and goal of creation. In both, the answer is Jesus Christ, the focal point of all things. I suggest that this is the error of modern apologists for theistic creation: they have adopted the agenda of the secularists in debating mechanism, as important as that is, rather than the goal, which is the foundational question.

The Scottish Reformed Presbyterian theologian William Symington gives weighty commentary on the centrality of Jesus in his book, On the Atonement and Intercession of Jesus Christ.

""Even the creation of the world, there is every reason to believe, was with the view of its being a theatre on which to exhibit the work of man's redemption by the eternal Son. It is the workmanship of His hand. This is the purpose which it serves; and that it was framed with a view to its serving its purpose is surely no disputable assertion." Then referring to Col. 1:16, he concludes, "He is the final as well as efficient cause of this world's creation."