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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Book Review - I Call It Heresy!

This is another book by A. W. Tozer. Actually this is a collection of twelve sermons from 1 Peter. It is 159 pages, and again Tozer is thought-provoking and challenging. When I read him it is amazing that the was writing the kind of things he was in the 1950's. His challenges are as, if not more relevant, than when he wrote them.

Again I will just give you some of the things I highlighted in the book for your perusal.

Chapter 1 - I call It Heresy

1 Peter 1:14 - As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance.

"You see, in our time we have over-emphasized the psychology of the sinner's condition. We spend much time describing the woe of the sinner, the grief of the sinner, and the great burden he carries. He does have all these, but we have over-emphasized them until we forget the principle fact - that the sinner is actually a rebel against properly - constituted authority!"

"Thus, in repentance, we fully reverse that relationship and we fully submit to the Word of God and the will of God as obedient children."

Chapter 3 - You Can Have The Trappings!

1 Peter 1:3 - . . . the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ which . . . hath begotten us again . . .

"When we do talk of the future we talk about eschatology instead of heaven. When I find any Christian who can live and work and serve here and snuggle down into the world like your hand fits into an old and familiar love, I worry about him. I must wonder if he has ever truly been born again."

"Brethren, we are still living in a wicked and adulterous generation and I must confess that the Christians I meet who really amount to something for the Saviour are very much out of key and out of tune with their generation."

"Anyone who needs to be chucked under the chin all the time to keep him happy and satisfied is in bad shape spiritually."

"You cannot out-hope God and you cannot out-expect God."

Chapter 4 - Never Apologize For God's Mercy!

1 Peter 1:3 - Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy . . .

"If God had not dealt with us all in mercy, we would have perished before we could have had time to be converted."

"The Spirit-led life is a clear, logical and rational life."

"I point out that the Spirit-led Christian life is not according to whim or impulse and yet there are Christians who feel that you cannot be spiritual without being capricious and that the more impulsive you are the more spiritual you are."

"My feeling is that men who depend upon capricious action and impulsive whims usually are not much good in the church of Christ and they wouldn't be any good if they worked for Ford or General Motors, either."

"We need to assemble ourselves together as believers whether the weather is good or bad. We have to pray and draw nigh unto the Lord whether we feel like it or not. Reading Peter's letter to those early Christians, we realize that they were living for Jesus regardless of circumstances or their mood."

" . . . you and I live for God according to a holy , high spiritual logic and not according to shifting and changing frames of mind or moods. Amen!"

"We must come to this knowledge that God is infinite, unlimited, boundless, with no sign post anywhere in the universe saying 'This is the end.'"

"Actually, when we use the expression, 'The mercy of God', we are referring to that which is so vast that the word vast does not begin to describe it, for we are talking about that which has no limits anywhere, that which has its center anywhere and its circumference nowhere."

"God is not less rich or more rich - He is rich - He holds all things in his being."

"We must not become self-righteous and imagine we are living such wonderful lives that God blesses us because we are good. That is not so!"

Chapter 5 - Holiness Is Not An Option

1 Peter 1:15,16 - . . . as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.

"You cannot study the Bible diligently and earnestly without being struck by an obvious fact - the whole matter of personal holiness is highly important to God!"

"Neither do you have to give long study to the attitudes of modern Christian believers to discern that by and large we consider the expression of true Christian holiness to be just a matter of personal option: 'I have looked it over and considered it, but I don't buy it!'"

"There is something basically wrong with our Christianity and our spirituality if we can carelessly presume that if we do not like a Biblical doctrine and choose not to 'buy' it, there is no harm done."

"So, we are not forced to obey in the Christian life, but we are forced to make a choice at many points in our spiritual maturity."

"If we turn away from the authority of God's Word, to whose authority do we yield? Our mistake is that we generally turn to some other human - a man with breath in his nostrils."

Chapter 6 - God Names Me His Beneficiary!

1 Peter 1:4 - To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away.

"But if we believers were as spiritual as we ought to be, we might be looking forward to death with a great deal more pleasure and anticipation than we do!"

"It is rather a proof that we ought to ponder soberly the fact that many Christians already have their future behind them. Their glory is behind them. The only future they have is their past. They are always lingering around the cold ashes of yesterday's burned-out campfire. Their testimonies indicate it, their outlook and their uplook reveal it and their downcast look betrays it! Above all, their backward look indicates it. I always get an uneasy feeling when I find myself with people who have nothing to discuss but the glories of the days that are past."

"Prospect is the word for you and me. Look forward! Look ahead! Live with faith and expectation because the Christian's future is more glorious than his past!"

Chapter 8 - Was Your Humility Showing Today?

1 Peter 5:5 - . . . be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble."

"I think God looks beyond the situation to the spirit and attitude. I think He is more concerned with how we react to abuse and mistreatment than to the fact that we have been abused by someone."

"Some of us have had experiences of being 'told off' most eloquently by people with a very descriptive flow of language; but the eloquence is lost completely insofar as God is concerned. If you are His child taking some abuse or persecution for His sake, His great concern is the attitude that you will show in return."

"If in humbling ourselves we compromise the truth, we must never do it. If it means a compromise of morality, we must never do it."

"He may let us labor in humility and subjection for a long period because it is not yet his time - due time."

"Many of us have harmed our own children in such ways as these: teaching them to drive our cars before they were old enough; giving them too much money before they knew its value; giving them too much freedom before they knew the meaning of responsibility and maturity."

Chapter 9 - Husbands And Wife: A Partnership!

1 Peter 3:1-7 - Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands . . . Husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife . . . whose adorning . . . the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit.

"What I do want to say about the relationships of husbands and wives will boil down to this: for the Christian of either sex, there is only one rule to follow and that is, 'What does the Bible say?'"

"When we have discovered what the Bible has to say with finality about any subject and have determined what pleases the Man in the glory, there is no room left for argument."

"Certainly the Bible picture is plain in denying the husband any right to be a dominating despot delighting in hard-handed dealings with his wife and family."

"But the fact is that thoughtless husbands are simply big, overbearing clods when it comes to consideration of their wives."

"A husband's spiritual problems . . . lie . . . in the heart of the man himself - in his attitude and inability to resist the temptation to grumble and growl and dominate."

"In our day, some folks seem to think the word modest is a comical word. You can laugh it off if you want to, but it is one of the words that we will face in the great day of coming judgment."

"I think there is a great contradiction apparent among us. Many women are working so hard in all kinds of jobs that they are making themselves old in the effort to get money enough to buy the clothes and cosmetics that are supposed to make them look young."

"Finally, I think that a Christian woman must be careful about the kind of persons she sets up as a model of character and example in daily life. It is a sad thing to have our minds occupied with the wrong kind of people."

Chapter 10 - Trust God With Your Emotions!

1 Peter 1:13 - Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

"It is my considered opinion that one of the greatest weaknesses in the modern church is the willingness to lay down foundations of truth without ever backing them up with moral application."

"This is what God did, and this is what God did. Therefore, this is what you ought to do! That is always the Bible way."

"I fully believe that it was Peter's expectation that laxity and carelessness and aimlessness would all be repudiated and forsaken by the serious minded Christian believer."

"Personally, I think there must be some kind of limit to the time that believers can continue their selfish and aimless habits of life without bordering on sin!"

"Many a preacher would like to challenge the intellectual and thinking capacity of his congregation, but he has been warned about preaching over the people's head."

"My preaching may go right through their heads if there is nothing in there to stop it, but I do not preach truths which are too much for them to comprehend."

"Sensational magazines and soap operas and doubtful stories will forever keep us from nourishing our hearts on noble thoughts of God!"

Chapter 11 - The Christian Has A Right To Grin!

1 Peter 1:6 - . . . ye greatly rejoice, though . . . ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations.

"I have always felt compassion for Christian men and women who seem to major in pessimism, looking on the dark and gloomy side and never able to do anything with life's problems but grumble about them!
I meet them often, and when I do I wonder: 'Can these people be reading the same Bible that I have been reading?'"

Chapter 12 - Where Will The Experts' Be When Jesus Comes?

1 Peter 1:7 - . . . might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ."

"I cannot think of even one lonely passage in the New Testament which speaks of Christ's revelation, manifestation, appearing or coming that is not directly linked with moral conduct, faith and spiritual holiness."

"The prophetic teacher who engages in speculation to excite the curiosity of his hearers without providing them with a moral application is sinning even as he preaches."

"Because the Bible is the easiest book in the world to understand - one of the easiest for the spiritual mind but one of the hardest for the carnal mind!"

"The Word of God was never given just to make us curious about our Lord's return to earth, but to strengthen us in faith and spiritual holiness and moral conduct!"

Again I would highly recommend the material of A. W. Tozer.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Preacher's Life

The following is from a message preached by Thomas Brooks; Holiness, the Only Way to Happiness, preached in 1662.

A preacher's life should be a commentary upon his doctrine; his practice should be the counterpart of his sermons. Heavenly doctrines should always be adorned with a heavenly life.

An ignorant, profane, and soul-flattering clergy, are the greatest pest, plague, affliction and judgment, which can befall a people! There is no rank nor order of men on earth, who have so enriched hell, who have been such benefactors to hell--as the ignorant and profane clergy! How many are there in these days, who are more ready and willing to make a sacrifice of the gospel--

for profit sake,
and preferment sake,
and honor sake,
and lust's sake!

Where there is no serious, sincere, faithful, and powerful preaching--there the people grow abominably wicked, and will certainly perish, and go tumbling to hell.

Pastors! Either preach as the ministers of Jesus Christ ought to preach--
and live as the ministers of Jesus Christ ought to live--
--or else lay down your names of being the ministers of Jesus Christ. Do not any longer a cheat upon yourselves, nor upon the people--by making them believe that you are ministers of Jesus Christ, when you have
nothing of the spirit of Christ,
nor of the anointings of Christ,
nor of the grace of Christ,
nor of the life of Christ in you.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Divorce And Remarriage

There are very few issues that have such potential for explosive interaction. It is an issue that I have visited on several occasions over the course of my ministry. In dealing with different passages of Scripture the issue has arisen. In dealing with practical problems in people’s lives the issue has arisen.

I come from a background where divorce was never countenanced. Both sets of my grandparents remained married till death. My parents have remained married. My wife’s parents have remained married. All three of my brothers continue to be married to their first wives. Most of my married cousins have only been married once. With the exception of two or three Aunts my life has been relatively untouched by divorce. I count this as among one of my greatest blessings.

Having addressed this issue on several occasions and having studied it on several more occasions I know that it is a complex and complicated problem. An issue wherein there is a great deal of disagreement.

Is divorce ever appropriate?
What about separation?
What about unbelieving spouses?
If divorce is ever appropriate, what are the Biblical grounds?
If there are Biblical grounds for divorce does that automatically provide grounds for remarriage?
How should a husband or wife deal with a difficult situation with their spouse?
What about physical, emotional abuse?
Is there a legitimate stigma that accompanies divorce?
Are divorced Christians proper candidates for all ministry opportunities?
If a divorcee remarries are they committing adultery?
Are they living in adultery?
Can you be one flesh with more than one person?
The whole question of innocent and guilty parties?

This is just a few of the questions that can be raised. Then there is the plethora of passages that touch on divorce and remarriage. Frankly it can be hard at times to make “heads or tails” out of it all. It is certainly an issue that requires us to be as dispassionate as possible to be able to come to grips with the truth of the matter. We must want the mind of God on the matter. If we are not careful we will feel compelled to hold up our own standard or, on the other hand, defend the actions of someone we know and love.

Quite frankly if God sees fit to allow divorce in some cases I don’t have a problem with that. If God sees fit to allow remarriage in certain circumstances I don’t have a problem with that. If God forbids all divorce under any circumstances I am OK with that. If He allows divorce and forbids remarriage I am OK with that. God instituted the family in the Garden of Eden and because He did so He can govern it as he sees fit. My real concern is to understand what he expects in this area as best I can and then live according to that ideal.

The first problem is where to start??? The Old Testament has quite a bit to say about divorce and even remarriage. The New Testament addresses the issue in several places and in several different contexts.

I suppose no one could find fault with starting with what Jesus said. I think in doing that we have a good chance of properly understanding the Old Testament teaching concerning this explosive issue. Certainly Jesus would not contradict anything in the Old Testament. If any thing I think we could say that Jesus would elevate the standard, this seems to be his pattern. Under grace the level of expectation rises. See Matthew chapter five.

Matthew 5:31,32 - It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.

Matthew 19:3-12 - The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery. His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry. But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.

Mark 10:2-12 - And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting him. And he answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you? And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away. And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. And in the house his disciples asked him again of the same matter. And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.

Luke 16:18 - Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.

What are the facts that we gather from what Jesus said?

In the Old Testament if women were put away they were to be given a writing of divorcement.
Jesus said whosoever puts away his wife causes her to commit adultery.
Jesus said whosoever marries her that is put away commits adultery.
The exception is if they put them away because of fornication.
When questioned by the Pharisees Jesus takes them back to the beginning.
A man is to leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife.
The couple becomes one flesh.
They are no longer two but one.
Jesus said what God hath joined together let not man put asunder.
They ask Jesus why Moses commanded to give a writing of divorcement.
Jesus informs them it was because of the hardness of their heart Moses allowed it.
Jesus again takes them back to the beginning and says in the beginning it was not so.
Jesus said he who puts away his wife and marries another committeth adultery.
Jesus said he that marries her that is put away commits adultery.
Again the exception is if they put them away because of fornication.
The disciples understand this to be a hard saying.
Jesus admits that it is a hard saying.
Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement and put her away.
Jesus said this was only because of the hardness of their hearts.
Again they are taken to the beginning.
The couple becomes one flesh.
They are no longer two but one.
Jesus said what God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
His disciples asked him again of the matter in private.
Jesus said whoever puts away his wife and marries another commits adultery against her.
Jesus said if a woman put away her husband and be married to another she commits adultery.

I believe these are the fact. Now how are we to interpret these facts? Here is where we must be careful.

It seems clear that Jesus is doing two things. He is raising the standard from the Old Testament. He is reminding them of the original order and what God intended from the beginning. When God created Adam and Eve it was not his intentions that they at some point go their separate ways and find another partner. God intended for them to stay married for life. This is God’s original intent. The fact that weak, sinful flesh has a difficult time living up to this ideal does not mean it does not exist.

The whole divorce/remarriage issued has gotten way out of hand. Men were divorcing their wives for the slightest offence. If there is any permission for divorce it is only in the case of fornication. To marry someone who has been divorced is to commit adultery. Is this a hard saying? Yes, it is. Which brings me to the real problem. People are not nearly as sober minded as they ought to be when they are choosing a spouse. In a culture of divorce you don’t need to be. If it does not work out, or you become unhappy, or your spouse isn’t what you expected you can rid yourself of them and find one more to your liking.

1 Corinthians 7 is another passage that deals extensively with the issue of divorce and remarriage.

In verses 1-5 Paul states the responsibilities each couple has in relation to intimacy.

In verses 6-9 Paul is asserting the possibility of celibacy.

It is at this point that we get to the heart of the matter.

1 Corinthians 7:10,11 - And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.

Well, for sure these verses only provide for two choices 1. Remain unmarried, 2. Be reconciled.

1 Corinthians 7:12-14 - But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.

Believing spouses should not leave their unbelieving spouses. Clearly the believing party has a sanctifying effect on the unbelieving party.

1 Corinthians 7:15 - But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.

A believing spouse has no responsibility to retain an unbelieving spouse. The believing spouse is not accountable for the departure of the unbelieving spouse.

1 Corinthians 7:16 - For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?

It could be that the believing spouse may be the instrument of God to save the unbelieving spouse.

1 Corinthians 7:25-28 - Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful. I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be. Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife. But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you.

We are legitimately loosed from a wife only through the death of the wife. It is difficult to see him speaking of the divorced in this context when he spelled out the two choices earlier in the chapter, reconciliation or remaining unmarried.

1 Corinthians 7:39 - The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.

What is it that breaks the bonds? Death. If the husband be dead she is at liberty to marry whom she will.

What about finding yourself in a really difficult marriage.

Well, I think my initial response to this is difficult marriages are made just like good marriage. It must be kept in mind that the making of a marriage begins with choosing a spouse. This cannot be discounted for it is the most critical aspect of whether one will have a good or a bad marriage. Inevitably in a discussion of divorce and remarriage there begins to be talk of the innocent and guilty party. The one thing I have observed is that who is innocent and who is guilty is in the eye of the beholder. The reality is there are no innocent parties when a marriage comes apart. If my marriage were to fall apart I would not be able to claim innocence because I have not always been the kind of husband that I should have been. My wife would not be able to claim innocence because she has not always been the kind of wife she should have been.

Again the Bible speaks to the issue of difficult spouses.

1 Peter 3:1-7 - Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement. Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.

The disobedient husband can be won by the conversation of the wife. I believe the principle applies the other way around as well. This is a compelling passage albeit difficult at times to apply. The most compelling feature of the passage is the very first word “likewise”. Why you ask? Because it is referencing what has gone before. Take a look!

1 Peter 2:18-25 - Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

Servants are instructed to be subject to their masters, not only the good masters but the froward also. It is a thankworthy thing if a man endures grief suffering wrongfully. It is no big deal if you are buffeted for your faults but if you do well and suffer that is acceptable with God. Christ is our example in this regard. He was the truly innocent party and yet suffered at the hands of sinful men. Then comes the word “likewise”. So if you spouse is unreasonable and harsh and difficult continue to fulfill your role. If you suffer wrongfully at the hand of your spouse it is a thankworthy thing and it is acceptable with God. Remember Jesus is your example here. Is it hard? Of course! It is right? Of course!

I am in the process of memorizing Romans seven. Verses two and three provide some insight into the matter of divorce and remarriage.

Romans 7:2,3 - For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.

It seems clear!

Can divorced/remarried people be forgiven and serve. Well, of course they can. It is no different than any other sin in that sense. They can be forgiven and should be forgiven at what time genuine repentance has been observed. The problem today is that many will not admit that they have sinned but instead seek to justify the actions. I have had divorced people take an active role in the church that I pastor. Things like leading singing, teaching bible classes, preaching, singing special music, treasurer, etc. . . Of course there are certain things they could not do because the Bible forbids it. For example if one desire the office of a Bishop then he is required to be the husband of one wife. I think we have done our culture a major disservice by completely denying there is a stigma associated with divorce and remarriage. If the church is unwilling to hold the line on this matter and insist on the original pattern just as Christ did then there is certainly no stopping the deterioration we see in the home.

Should families be broken up so that they can assume their original spouses? To contend for such a thing seems to be absurd on the face of it. This would only create more problems. Where failure has occurred the right thing is to go on from there and do right. Make right what you can and do what you can to see that the failure is not perpetuated in the next generation.

These are some hastily thrown together thoughts that certainly do not answer all the questions about this issue, if they even can be.

The bottom line for me is that Jesus said lets get back to the beginning if we would do that I think we would be making a positive move. One man and one woman for life!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

My Thoughtful People

My church continued their tradition tonight of recognizing my anniversary. After services they had a reception planned for me and the family. It was very nice. Apparently they took up an offering and assigned someone the task of purchasing gifts for the occasion.

A nice card expressing their appreciation
White dress shirt
$25.00 gift card for Barnes and Noble
The Power of Christ Miracles by Charles Spurgeon
Evidence for Christianity by Josh McDowell
Brave Companions by David McCullough (this completes my collection of David McCullough books)
12 oz. of Starbucks Espresso Roast Bold (whole bean)
Pound of Community Coffee Texas Star (whole bean)
Pound of Black Magic (whole bean)
Westward Series Nickels

As you can see they focused on two of my passions; coffee and books. I am so thankful for the good folks the Lord has given me the privilege to Pastor. We have a mutual appreciation for each other and it makes for a joyous ministry. I trust God will give us another 17 years together.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Preachers Reproducing Preachers

The following is a letter I wrote a couple of years ago in response to an article I read in a periodical I receive. The author of the article, who is associated with an Independent Baptist School, was arguing for formal training in an institutional setting. In doing so he made it clear that he did not feel a church/pastor trained preacher would have the advantages of those trained in an institution. I thought I would write and share my views with him. If this letter had been response to private correspondence on issues of a private nature I would not be sharing it here. But it was personal correspondence addressing publicly stated views not involving private matters.

I ran across this letter while I was searching for another earlier today. I reread it and thought it would be appropriate to share here for it express my views concerning preacher training. I do not believe I have the original article, If I did I would provide it for your consideration as well. I think you will be able to discern some of the arguments he presented from the things I address in my correspondence.

Although I expressed that he did not need to respond he did. His response was very friendly and cordial and very much reflected a Christian spirit. His return letter was the sum of our discussion of the issue.

I read with interest your recent article in the Independent Baptist Voice. I must admit having been trained in a local church under the mentoring influence of my pastor I was somewhat disheartened by your complete dismissal of Pastors training young men to be Pastors. It seems to me that a fairly easy and compelling argument can be made for this method from the New Testament. The pattern is clearly established of men imparting their lives to men, and all of this within the context of the local church and without the aid of an additional institution.

Your pressing for the need to be diversified is well taken but dismissing church training as a means to accomplish this is, in my opinion, distressing. I feel inadequate to address your conclusions considering your educational background, and length of ministerial duties.

I attended IBC for one year back in the early 80’s. I received my training from Bro. P. D. Taylor for 8 ½ years while I attended his church. I have now been pastoring the same church for over 15 years, my first church. I have spent a good number of those years training several men for the ministry and am presently working with one. While training young men was an unpleasant experience for you it has been one of my most gratifying experiences. I do not understand why you would say that your desire to train men was rooted in selfishness. Was Paul’s desire to train men rooted in selfishness or selflessness? Granted, it is possible to do anything out of selfishness and if you claim that is the reason that you did it then your assessment must be taken as accurate. Surely you do not believe that all men who feel a responsibility to train men are motivated by selfishness.

You indicate that had you been successful the four young men would have been clones. Well, again that is possible. But I would contend it is no better to be a clone of an institution than to be a clone of a man. The Hyles/Anderson School shows how a school has just as much potential to create clones, as do individual men. Likewise, men who are trained by their pastors are not necessarily clones of their pastors. While I was trained by Bro. P. D. Taylor I am far from being a clone, but I thank God for his influence in my life. There are many ways where Bro. Taylor and myself are quite different. If men are encouraged to study, read and are given the liberty to develop their own ministry styles then your concern about clones ceases to be substantiated.

I firmly hold to the scripture when it says in 2 Timothy 3:16,17 that, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” What men need is training in the Scripture. If they are thoroughly trained in the Scripture then they are “perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” What is important is that men are being equipped to view the culture through the Word of God instead of viewing the Word of God through the culture. While it is true that the world we live in has changed dramatically in the last 40 years the basic issue remains unchanged. Sinners need a saviour. There are probably more Bible Schools than there have ever been and yet the culture is still slipping toward anarchy and moral chaos. While it may be profitable to have a diversified exposure it is more profitable to train men who are prophet-like in their interaction with the culture. It is more important to train men to hear the voice of God. It is more important to train men in the importance of going to the “law and the testimony.”

I am troubled that you believe the disaster you encountered with the four young men you mentioned was a result of teaching them within the context of your Pastoral ministry. The implication seems to be that if they had attended an institution that the outcome would have been different. There is really no way to know that. Maybe it would have been maybe it would not have been. Maybe it would have been for some of them and for others not. I cannot look back on the one year I was attending IBC and the few years thereafter when I had closer connections with the school without a deep sense of sadness. I can think of at least eight individuals/couples who are divorced, out of the ministry, not attending Baptist churches, etc. What conclusions do we draw from this? Would we conclude that IBC was selfish in wanting to draw these young people away from their home churches and Pastors and was woefully unprepared for meeting the needs that existed in the lives of these people? Are we to conclude that IBC was led by arrogant people who thought they were better prepared to train men for the ministry than their own pastors. I believe that would be an unfair characterization. Likewise simply because some church trained men end up being disasters is more a reflection on the men than on the process. Even Paul had his Demas!

It has also been a troubling thing for me to hear, and I have heard it numerous times, from some men I highly respect, “There is not time in my Pastoral ministry for training men.” I simply cannot understand this. If part of Pastoral ministry is not reproducing Pastors I have a terrible misunderstanding of the New Testament ministry. My view, no disrespect intended, is that many men have skewed priorities when it comes to ministry. The ministry, as I understand it, is all about people: reaching them, teaching them, counseling them, preaching to them, equipping them, and yes training them.

It is ironic that my position on this issue is a result of what I learned at IBC. It was in Bro. Campbell’s class on Ecclesiology. In learning about the autonomy of the church and the great commission in the context of the local church I drew the conclusion that each church had been given the responsibility to teach its own membership all things. It does say that. If I was going to be a member at Pleasant Valley then Pleasant Valley had the responsibility, authority and all that was necessary to provide that training. After all they had the Bible and a Pastor. This seems to be a very strong, Biblical position. I determined that when it comes to the training of men a lot of Independent Baptists are inconsistent at best and hypocrites at worst. I happen to be familiar with a number of churches that are training their own men and producing some very notable results. It is being done in Emmaus, Pennsylvania; Grand Forks, North Dakota; Oak Harbor, Washington; Fairbanks, Alaska; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Ghana, West Africa; Panama; Bogotá, Columbia; and no doubt numerous other places. In fact churches have been doing it for 2,000 years now.

Another reason I believe we ought to have a healthy skepticism about centralized religious education is because this has been the means of the spread of apostasy to sound churches. Churches send their preachers to a centralized location, if apostasy creeps into the institution then a whole generation of preachers is corrupted and consequently the churches they end up Pastoring. If a single church begins to teach false doctrine then the impact is limited. I believe we see an excellent example of this in the Southern Baptist Convention. From which direction did the liberalism flow? From the churches to the colleges or from the colleges to the churches? I believe the answer is apparent.

I trust I have not been too forward. I have not written to change your mind on the subject but to briefly present my views for your thoughtful consideration. To each his own after all we are Independent Baptist. To the Lord we will each give account and the day of reckoning will be unbiased and according to truth. I also trust you will excuse my sensitivity to the subject but it is one, as with you I’m sure, that I hold very dearly.

I appreciate what Bro. Humphrey of Fairbanks, Alaska had to say when he was challenged by some about his determination to train his own men. He was accused of producing inbreds; he responded that they were producing thoroughbreds.

There is no need to feel obligated to respond to this communication. If you have the time and wish to respond it will be magnanimously received.

Respectfully Yours in Christ,

James C. McEntire, Jr.
Faith Baptist Church
Freeport, Texas

Let me add here that I do believe there is a place for a few good solid Independent Baptist schools. But I think they should, just as a missionary, be seeking to work themselves out of a job. They should be training men to train other men, including for ministry. This is often not the case. They train men to have a dependence on them to train the men that are called to preach under their ministries. Consequently the graduate often becomes a recruiting tool of the school instead of a preacher trainer in his own ministry.

My fullypersuaded opinion!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Approaching A Score

17 years ago today my son who is turning 22 had probably the best birthday a five year old boy could have. He climbed into the biggest U-haul truck we could find in Dallas Texas and took a six hour trip to Freeport, Texas. In fact his 26 year old Daddy thought it was pretty neat too.

Yes, today marks my 17th year of Pastoring the Faith Baptist Church. I am humbled and stand amazed.

I am amazed that God would even see fit to use me in such a capacity.

1 Timothy 1:12 And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; . . . .

I know that it is truly the Lord who put me into the ministry. It is not something I would have chosen for myself. Believe it, or not, I am a rather shy person and was certainly so as a boy. My idea of excitement was not standing in front of people and saying anything. I suppose that I really was not that much different from most people in that regard. I have read that one of the things people fear most is public speaking. But when God called me to preach at the age of 14 he gave me something to say.

I know that it is the Lord that has enabled me. I am humbled that he counted me faithful. This is all I ever want to be. I don't need to be successful, I just want to be faithful.

When I think about it I truly tremble when I consider the fact that a congregation of people are looking to me for a godly example and Biblical teaching and preaching. I know that without the Lord's help I could never faithfully execute such an awesome task.

When I came to Freeport to assume the Pastorate I was 27 years old. When I now look back I think how young, how inexperienced. But God gave me a group of people who were and have been extremely patient with me.

I Pastor a small church and consequently have been engaged in secular employment all these years as well, mostly part time. I have been raising a family, delivering pizza, now driving a school bus, preaching three time a week, teaching two Bible classes a week and I have loved every minute of it. I feel so blessed to be able to do what I do. I love to study, and I love to preach and teach the word of God. I suppose I have always thought I am more than willing to work a little secular employment to be able to do this.

I am thankful for the people who have influenced my life and whose lives I have had a small part in influencing. I am thankful for the two families and one man that the Lord has used me to disciple and establish in the faith. They truly are my crown of rejoicing. I am thankful and humbled to have been able to be a small part of my people's lives. Offering some word of encouragement during their difficulties, a word of counsel at times of turmoil and uncertainty, and rejoicing with them in their victories and blessings. I am thankful for the men I have had the opportunity to equip for ministry, there are several. I am thankful for the young men I have been able to train to study the word and exhort God's people, and the young men I have given some instruction in leading congregational music. All of this because of the unique position in which God has allowed me to serve.

There have been some difficult time and people over the years but on the whole it has been a glorious time. God has from the beginning blessed me with a group of men who are without equal. They have been very supportive and are not afraid of being men and leaders. They have stood behind their pastor during times of ministry difficulty and personal struggle. May their tribe increase!

When we came to Freeport we only had four children the oldest of which was seven. Now two of them are married, another out of school, and another with just a bit over a year left. So, it won't be long before the only two left at home are the two we did not even have when we came here.

I determined when I came here that I was here for the "long haul". There were several reasons for that. One, the Church here had not had a pastor for over three years. Two, I had observed that the stable ministries were the ones that had stable pastors. One of my pet peeves is Pastors who move from church to church every three to seven years. What kind of shepherd is that??? I am convinced it is unbiblical and not in the best interest of the Lord's churches. C'mon preachers hang in there! It is not that I believe that the Lord never moves a man but I do not believe he does it as often as some men move. It is telling that the Lord often leads a man to move when times or people get tough. I seem to remember something about "enduring hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ". I committed to not leaving here under bad circumstances. If I left I would leave the church better than when I found it. If most men would make this commitment they would not leave, because we will not be generally inclined to do so during good times.

I would be afraid to leave not knowing who would take my place. Call it jealously if your like, but it is the same kind of jealously that a shepherd has over his sheep. A hireling will not care, a Shepherd will. Not only am I not interested in leaving but at the age of 43 almost 44 I am beginning to give some serious thought about my successor.

Faith Baptist Church is my first and only Pastorate and if they will have me that will continue to be the case! I'm not looking for a bigger place, a bigger salary, a bigger congregation, a bigger city, a bigger anything, I am simply looking to be a faithful minister to some of the greatest people on God's green earth!

Standing at the threshold of twenty years!

1 Thessalonians 5:24 Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Book Review - God Tells The Man Who Cares

This is a 176 page book written by A. W. Tozer. In fact it is a collection of articles he wrote for The Alliance Witness, of which he was the editor. Most of the articles would have been written in the 1950's and early '60's. Since I first started reading Tozer some years back I have always been challenged by his plain speaking and the practical nature of his writings. My personal opinion, is that his views are even more relevant today than when he wrote them half a century ago.

I am just going to provide you with some of the statements that I highlighted in the book.

"Those Christian leaders who shook the world were one and all men of sorrows whose witness to mankind welled out of heavy hearts."

"We should and must learn that we cannot handle holy things carelessly without suffering serious consequences."

"Whatever is done without heart is done in the dark no matter how scriptural it may appear to be."

"Because this is true, any evangelism which by appeal to common interest and chatter about current events seeks to establish a common ground where the sinner can feel at home is as false as the altars of Baal ever were. Every effort to smooth out the road for men and to take away the guilt and the embarrassment is worse than wasted: it is evil and dangerous to the souls of men.
One of the most popular current errors, and the one out of which springs most of the noisy, blustering religious activity being carried on in evangelical circles these days, is the notion that as times change the church must change with them. Christians must adapt their methods by the demands of the people. If they want ten-minute sermons, give them ten-minute sermons. If they want truth in capsule form, give it to them. If they want pictures, give them plenty of pictures. If they like stories, tell them stories. If they prefer to absorb their religious instruction through the drama, go along with them - give them what they want. 'The message is the same, only the methods changes,' say the advocates of compromise."

"The Christian is not sent to argue or persuade, nor is he sent to prove or demonstrate; he is sent to declare, 'Thus saith the Lord.'"

"Truth is slain to provide a feast to celebrate the marriage of heaven and hell, and all to support a concept of unity which has no basis in the Word of God."

"In a fallen world like ours unity is no treasure to be purchased at the price of compromise."

"Unity in Christ is not something to be achieved; it is something to be recognized."

"There was a time,no longer ago than the twenties and thirties, when a Christian knew, or at least could know, where he stood. The words of Christ were taken seriously. A man either was or was not a believer in New Testament doctrine. Clear, sharp categories existed. Black stood in sharp contrast to white; light was separate from darkness; it was possible to distinguish right from wrong, truth from error, a true believer from an unbeliever. Christians knew that they must forsake the world, and there was for the most part remarkable agreement about what was meant by the world. It was simple.
But over the last score of years a quiet revolution has taken place. The whole religious picture has changed. Without denying a single doctrine of the faith, multitudes of Christians have nevertheless forsaken the faith and are as far astray as the Modernists, who were at least honest enough to repudiate the Scriptures before they began to violate them."

"See to it that we pray more than we preach and we will never preach ourselves out."

Our first responsibility is not to the public but to God and our own souls."

Commenting on the writings of C. S. Lewis, he writes, "In short, his books persuade the intellect but never get the conscience in trouble."

"A religious mentality characterized by timidity and lack of moral courage has given us today a flabby Christianity, intellectually impoverished, dull, repetitious and, to a great many persons, just plain boresome. This is peddled as the very faith of our fathers in direct lineal descent from Christ and the Apostles. We spoon-feed this insipid, pabulum to our inquiring youth and, to make it palatable, spice it up with carnal amusements filched from the unbelieving world. It is easier to entertain than to instruct. It is easier to follow degenerate public taste than to think for oneself, so too many of our evangelical leaders let their minds atrophy while they keep their fingers nimble operating religious gimmicks to bring in the curious crowds."

"What they should be taught is that a true Christian is converted to Christ, not to peace or rest or joy."

"Only engrossment with God can maintain perpetual spiritual enthusiasm because only God can supply everlasting novelty."

"I think it highly improbable that anyone who speaks cautiously can speak effectively. His timidity will deactivate his effort and render it impotent."

"Some preachers have such a phobia for repetition and such an unnatural fear of the familiar that they are forever straining after the odd and the startling."

"No one should try to be more original than an apostle."

Sin is at bottom the abuse of things in themselves innocent, an illegitimate use of legitimate gifts."

". . . truth is not mental only but moral."

"May God raise up a people who will consult their pleasures less and the great need more."

"Faith sees the invisible but it does not see the nonexistent."

"Christian expectation in the average church follows the program, not the promises."

While I am sure that I would not agree with all of Tozer's doctrinal positions, I find most of his writings to be very thought provoking and at times painfully practical. I would heartily recommend his works.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Teacher Outrage

This is an interesting report from Fox News. If you watch it let me know what you think. After giving others an opportunity to respond I will give my thoughts.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Trousers Are Masculine

BERLIN (Reuters) - U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton should tap into her feminine side and wear dresses and skirts instead of trousers, fashion designer Donatella Versace was quoted as saying on Thursday.
"I can understand (trousers) are comfortable but she's a woman and she is allowed to show that," Versace told Germany's weekly newspaper Die Zeit in an interview.
"She should treat femininity as an opportunity and not try to emulate masculinity in politics," Versace said.
Skirts should reach to the knee and be worn with a short jacket or coat, she said. The best color would be black rather than the blue Clinton currently favors, she added. "I admire her for her determination, which will hopefully take her to the White House," Versace told the paper.

Well, what do you know, a female fashion designer has said what separated Baptist preachers have been saying for decades. In fact the article has Donatella Versace attributing femininity to skirts and dresses as well as masculinity to trousers. I am sure the ladies who are "more comfortable" in the trousers will argue with a fashion designer also. In fact the female fashion designer indicates that Mrs. Clinton wearing trousers is trying to "emulate masculinity."

Deuteronomy 22:5 - The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.

This is not as hard to figure out as some people want to make it.

Good Day!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Devils In Their Homes!

The following is from a message by Thomas Brooks entitled, A Cabinet of Choice Jewels. The message is from the year 1669.

"A true Christian will endeavor to obey God in relative duties. He will not only hear, and pray, and read, and meditate, and fast, and mourn--but he will labor to be godly in domestic relationships.

Remember this forever--everyone is that in reality,which he is at home. Many make a great profession, and have great abilities and gifts, and can discourse well on any pious subject--whose homes are not little heavens,but little hells. Some are very much like angels in public,saints in the church, and devils in their homes!

Domestic graces and duties do better demonstrate true piety and godliness, than public or general duties do. For pride, vain-glory, self-ends, and a hundred other outward carnal considerations, may put a man upon the general duties of religion. But it argues both truth and strength of grace, to be diligent and conscientious in the discharge of domestic duties."

The Flesh - The Difficulty of Holiness

Galatians 5:17 - For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.

As believers we have the Spirit of God living in us. The Spirit of God brings with him the nature of God of which holiness is the prominent characteristic. Any love or desire we have for holiness, any success we have in achieving holiness is because of God’s presence in us by his Spirit. His Spirit brings with him an unquenchable love for all that is pure, holy, and spotless. His Spirit brings with him an intense hatred of all that is impure, unholy and spotted. To the degree that we love that which is holy and hate that which is unholy is merely a reflection of His presence in our lives.

Being redeemed marks the beginning of hostilities between good and evil in our hearts. God’s Spirit bringing his influence into our lives and the ongoing presence of our flesh ensures that the battle will be enjoined everyday. The whole discussion about holiness, piety, and separation is rooted in what is often an unspoken reality; that is we struggle. If we did not labor under the influence of the flesh there would be no disagreement about separation and how it is reflected in the life of a believer. In heaven there will be no argument because we will “be like him for we shall see him as he is.”

Holiness is not difficult to achieve because we do not have a good, understandable, and reliable standard. Holiness is not difficult because the whole world lieth in wickedness. Holiness is not difficult because of the deception of the wicked one. Holiness is difficult because of our own flesh. The standard would be perfectly applied if it were not for the flesh. The world would have no allure if it were not for the flesh. The devil could not tempt were we not susceptible to temptation.

My premise is this. We are our biggest obstacle to achieving holiness! Holiness is difficult to achieve because of the reality of the flesh.

It is important first of all that we understand the nature of the flesh.

What is the flesh?

The word "flesh" in the New Testament is translated from a Greek word that means flesh (as stripped of the skin), i.e. (strictly) the meat of an animal (as food), or (by extension) the body (as opposed to the soul [or spirit].

Two of the eight times the word “carnal” is used in the N. T. it is translated from the same word as flesh. The remaining six times it is translated from a word that means, pertaining to flesh, i.e. (by extension) bodily, temporal. In fact the Greek root word from which the word “carnal” is translated is the Greek word that is translated “flesh”. One time the word “carnally” is used in the N. T. and it is translated from the same word that is translated "flesh". Three times the word "fleshly" is used in the N. T. Two of those times it is translated from the word that is normally translated “carnal”, the remaining time it is translated from the word normally translated “flesh”.

Conclusion: to be fleshly is to be carnal! The flesh is the natural part of man. It pertains to his body. It is the desires and needs we have because we have a body. It seems that it would involve such things as self-preservation, sustenance (eating/drinking), sleeping, shelter (protection), and sex (procreation).

It is not to be denied that when we hear and use the word "flesh" we normally have something evil in mind. We think of it in a spiritual context. This is not misguided. The New Testament places the idea of "flesh" in a spiritual context. I think what is important is that we stay rooted in a basic understanding of what flesh is lest it become some nebulous concept that we cannot really define. It is the body and its accompanying desires and needs. It is not in and of itself evil!

Where did the flesh come from. It may come as a surprise to many because of the context in which we normally think of the flesh that it comes from God.

Genesis 1:26,27; 2:7 - And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. . . . And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

My heart always stands in awe when I stop to contemplate God's creation of man. He took the dust of the earth and the Bible tells us that he formed a man. He fashioned and shaped him. God made, if you will, a clay man. Have we not all done that as a child?? When the lifeless man, not dead for he had never lived, lay there on the ground God bent over him and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. The man quivered as life rushed into him. His heart came to life, his lungs and other organs began to function. His eyes fluttered. He sat up, stood up, before his creator. What an awesome day that must have been. And God said it was very good.

There is something else important to keep in mind about what was happening here. Had God chosen to do so he could have imparted life without a body, without flesh. Bodies are not necessary for life, for we continue to live after the body has died. We were provided with bodies so that we could interact in the concrete world in which God placed man. Adam was created with the flesh, he was created with a carnal aspect. Consider the following results of having been created with a body, flesh.

The man was created with a desire and commission for procreation.

Genesis 1:27,28 - So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

The man was created with a need to eat and presumably drink in order to sustain the body, the flesh.

Genesis 1:29 - And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.

Man was created with the capacity for sleep.

Genesis 2:21 - And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;

It is likely that the desire for shelter and self-preservation was a latent component of this newly created man. Remarkably, in the pre-curse world these were for all practical purposes non-issues. This was before the day of "tooth and claw". This was before the day of uncomfortable and even dangerous weather patterns. My whole point here is that Adam and Eve were in the flesh. Adam and Eve had a carnal aspect to them.

The problem arose when the flesh was empowered. They were given a single restriction!

Genesis 2:15-17 - And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

You will notice the restriction was in an area of the flesh. Eating, what they could and could not eat! It touched on the essence of self-preservation for eating was necessary to their survival. It is also important to note that eating was a legitimate operation of the flesh. But, there was a restriction placed upon what they could eat. The restriction was not put in place because it was not edible, but because of the effects of eating it. If they ate they would be granted a knowledge that would be a destructive influence in their lives. They were charged with reigning in their flesh. They were now required to submit their flesh to duly constituted authority.

This single restriction that set boundaries on their flesh resulted in a colossal failure!

Genesis 3:1-6 - Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

The whole temptation was centered on an area of the flesh, what they could eat and not eat. It was never a question about it being lawful to eat, it was lawful to eat. The question arose about what was lawful to eat, and more importantly the sinister reasons God had for forbidding them to eat from a certain tree. The temptation could never have been effective it was not directed at the flesh. Eating was a lawful activity within certain boundaries that had been established by the Creator.

She was being convinced to violate those boundaries and satisfy the flesh. But if she ate of that particular tree she would be satisfying the flesh in an unlawful way.

The serpent in verse four removes the threat. You will not die he says. So she need not concern herself with self-preservation. The serpent in verse five increases the desire. He informs her that they would be as gods knowing good and evil. Not only did she not have to be concerned about self-preservation if she ate she could expect an enhanced self-preservation. All of this is only effective in the context of the flesh. If she had no body, if there were no carnal aspect to her existence these events would never have happened.

In verse six the deceiver had convinced the woman to make her flesh her God. He is in effect telling her go ahead, pacify the flesh, you know you want to! After all it was good for food! There was no reasonable reason why we should be denied this tree. It was pleasant to the eyes. It was a tree to be desired to make one wise. All of these things are fleshly consideration.

She took and ate, and fell……….a long way. She had made the flesh her God. She had loosed the boundaries. The floodgate was opened. The flesh was now on the prowl to satisfy itself. Having abandoned the only thing that truly satisfies (fellowship with the living God) man was set in the endless pursuit of satisfying a flesh that can never be satisfied.

Having chosen the flesh God sees to it that difficulty attends their way.

Genesis 3:16-24 Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. And Adam called his wife’s name Eve; because she was the mother of all living. Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them. And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.

He promised the woman difficulty in childbirth effecting procreation. He promised the man difficulty in getting the earth to yield its fruit effecting their ability to sustain themselves. He made them coats of skin establishing the increased need of shelter. He banned them from the garden creating greater difficulty in achieving self-preservation.

What has been the result of this colossal failure? The New Testament makes it clear in several places. It may do us well to linger over these passages and consider the ugliness of the flesh loosed!

Galatians 5:19-21 - Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

Romans 1:29-32 - Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

1 Corinthians 6:9,10 - Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

Revelation 21:8 - But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.

What a tidal wave of death and destruction was unleashed by one bite from the forbidden tree. A virtual spiritual tsunami. What we need is a saviour that can snatch us from the black waters of carnal living and put spiritual grace and discernment in our hearts that we might rest safe on the rock of holiness; safe from the debris that continues to be carried aloft by the swelling tide of human flesh and carnal living.

Having spent some time attempting to gain an understanding of the flesh let us now move to consider the believer's relationship to the flesh.

Let us begin by honestly admitting our difficulty with the flesh! I know of nothing that will help us be honest with ourselves like examining the words of the great Apostle to the Gentiles in Romans seven.

Romans 7:14-24 - For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?

I think one of the first things worth mentioning in this passage is where the problem is. It is not the law. The law is spiritual. The problem is with us, we are carnal. It is for this very reason that pulpit are full of men decrying the use of the law to provide moral direction for God's people. They do so under a banner of liberty that is illegitimate and that makes grace into an opportunity for occasion for the flesh.

Who among us cannot identify with the struggle that Paul presents? We all know that when we determine to do the right thing we often do the wrong. When we determine to refrain from the wrong thing we often find ourselves doing that very thing. Paul claims it is no longer "I that do it". Is this a denial of personal responsibility. Well, I don't think so. I believe he is expressing the fact that just because he does not always do right does not mean that there is not a real part of him that wants to. In fact he makes the powerful declaration that "in me (that is in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing." Why because now the flesh is determined to live beyond the boundaries. It does not want to be controlled. It does not want to be subordinated. It does not want to be deprived of its long standing supremacy. It is never satisfied and it can never be pacified.

It is interesting that Paul declares that this violent contest that is waged in the heart of the believer is so well substantiated that it rises to the level of law. For he declares in verse 21, "I find then a law, that , when I would do good, evil is present with me." He is using the word law here like we would use it when we say the law of gravity. That is a phenomena about which there are no known exceptions. After years of observation, it always happens. Throw something off the top of a building and it always falls down, it never falls up. Thus we have the law of gravity. What Paul had discovered was a spiritual law. Simply stated it is that when we would do good evil is present with us. Are their exceptions? I know of none, at least in my own experience. I never commit to doing good but that I don't feel the evil that is present.

Every true believe is like the Apostle Paul in that we delight in the law of God after the inward man. This is why I think we should be careful about discounting the law, ruling out any precept, principle, or pattern we find in the law. God's moral precepts do not change. They are like Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever! It is right that God's people would delight in the law of God and they should be troubled by their carnality that creates difficulty in obeying the moral precepts.

Paul's conclusion is a cry of universal despair. "O, wreched man that I am!" Wanting so bad to do the right thing, live the right way, to be holy, to be pure of heart, to be spotless, to be like Christ (holy, harmless, separate from sinners), and yet the flesh continues to rage for supremacy! "Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" This is our longing. To be delivered from not only the penatly of sin, not only the power of sin, but from the very presence of sin. One Day!!!

The fact is, as believers we wrestle with the flesh. It demands attention. It insist on being catered to. It is never satisfied. It continually asserts itself. It pursues pacification.

The reality of the flesh is subdued only by the believer's relationship to Christ. This necessitates turning our attention to the previous chapter of Romans, chapter six.

I love Romans six for I know that within these 23 verses lies the keys to unlocking my spiritual victory. It provides the direction for gaining the victory over the flesh. It is, as I like to say, the believer's Emancipation Proclamation!

Romans 6:1,2 - What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?

The premise is laid out for us in the opening two verses. It begins with a question, "What shall we say then? Say to what? Say to the closing declaration of the previous chapter.

Romans 5:20,21 - Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.

What shall we say to the fact that were sin abounded grace did much more abound. What is to be our response to such a grand and glorious truth? Paul follows the initial question up with another. "Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?" If grace much more abounds where sin abounds then can we make the argument that we should continue in sin so that grace will have an opportunity to much more abound? May sound foolish but I wonder at times if that is not exactly the argument some are making when you quote the law as God's moral standard and they say, Oh, we are not under the law but grace. Oh, I see, so grace affords you the liberty to transgress the law?? Interesting conclusion, but wrong! In fact it could not be more wrong.

In response to his second question Paul does us the favor of answering it himself. And it could not be more emphatic. God forbid! No, not, under no circumstances should we continue in sin. I would remind you that the Bible defines sin for us. We do not have to go looking elsewhere. Sin is the transgression of the law. So in fact one could put it this way. Shall we continue transgressing the law that grace may abound? The answer is God forbid. God forbid what? That we should continue transgressing the law or sin. In fact Paul continues and establishes the basis for his dogmatic denunciation of such a perverted view of the relationship between sin, law, and grace. He establishes the basis by asking yet another question. "How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?" Great questions, don't you think??

Romans 6:3-5 - Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:

It is clear that Paul is using metaphorical language here by his use of the word "like" and "likeness". Also the use of the metaphore "buried with him by baptism into death". Thus Paul is teaching us that our baptism is a picture, a representation of the spiritual reality that took place when we repented of our sins and believed the gospel. In salvation we were identified with the death and resurrection of Christ. Paul's argument is that if we were planted in the likeness of his death then we should likewise be in the likeness of his resurrection. The passage goes on to bring added clarity to Paul's meaning.

Romans 6:6-11 - Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.

What happened when we were saved. Actually, quite a lot happened. More than most people recognize at the time. For one the body of sin was destroyed, it was rendered powerless. In doing this it was made possible that we should not serve sin. It is not that we would never sin, but that our relationship with sin was dramatically atlered. Now, we would not serve sin.

The reality is as simple as this, "He that is dead is freed from sin."

Again we are pointed to the reality of Christ. Christ died once unto sin and he now liveth unto God. What is the connection of this reality to our own lives. Well, it enables us to reckon things a certain way. The reality of what Christ had done should alter the way we see ourselves. We are to reckon ourselves to be dead unto sin but alive unto God. We are to enjoy in substance what Christ accomplished in reality. We do have a responsibility to "reckon" it so!

Romans 6:12-16 - Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?

These verses express to us how the foregoing truths are put to practice in our daily lives. First of all we are not to let sin reign in obeying it in the lusts thereof. Where does all lust originate. The flesh. In other words we are not to live unto the flesh but unto the Spirit. That is well and good but it still begs the question how do we keep sin from reigning? How do we control the flesh? It all comes down to yielding. We all know what it means to yield if we drive an automobile. To yield means to give way. We refuse to yield our members as instruments of unrightouesness. But it is not merely enough to refuse to do the wrong thing. We must yield our members as instruments of righteousness. We must engage in that which is holy. We must live righteously. To simply say we are not going to be unrighteous or unholy is to create a vacume that will not go unfilled. It is a matter of, as Paul says in another place, of both "putting off" and "putting on".

In fact it is interesting that Paul here uses grace as a basis for arguing that sin shall not have dominion over us. We will not be dominated by transgressions of the law. Why? Because we are not under the law but under grace. Being liberated from the law for justification we have been empowered to obey that very law. In fact Paul is very determined that no one misunderstand him on this point and yet countless still do. He asks a question as though he could hear down through the centuries. "What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law, but under grace?" In other words shall be transgress the law because we are not under the law but under grace. Countless preachers today, in so many words, say yes. Paul said, "God forbid." Today if you say what Paul did you are labled a legalist and a Pharisee. This is what happens when people do not study their Bibles but instead spend all their times reading what others are saying about the Bible.

Remember this. What ever we are serving, as believers, whether righteousness or unrighteousness it is because of that to which we have yielded. We serve unrighteousness because we give way to unrighteousness. We serve righteousness because we give way to righteousness. And yes righteousness and unrighteousness is defined, at least in part, for us in the law.

Let us conclude by considering our capacity to govern the flesh. We will do so by quickly evaluating a few verses.

Galatians 5:24 - And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.

I see this as the condensed version, the pocket version of Romans six. In beloning to Christ we have crucified the flesh. That is we have put it to death. We are not left speculating about what he means by flesh. Affections and lusts. It is the flesh that suffers affections. It is the flesh that gives ocassion to lusts. In Christ both of these aspects of the flesh have been put to death. Reckon it to be so.!

2 Corinthians 7:1 - Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

What is one aspect of perfecting holiness in the fear of God? Cleansing ourselves of all filthiness of the flesh. This would be in contrast to the spirit. Thus we have both the outside and the inside being addressed in this verse. I hear it till I am almost sick. "It is what on the inside that matters" And what exactly is this supposed to imply? That there are people who do not think that the inside is important. There may be someone somewhere who believes this but I have yet to meet them??? Is it meant to imply that the outside does not matter? If so, this is simply wrong. I think what the Bible teaches us is that the outside is a reflection of the inside. Consequently both need to be cleansed of their filthiness. The argument cannot be made that one is obedient on the inside when they are disobedient on the outside.

Romans 8:12 - Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.

This is a good principle to remember. We do not owe the flesh anything. We have no responsibility to live after the flesh. In fact the Bible tells us that to be carnally minded is death. The flesh is always seeking to cut a deal. It is always willing to compromise. It just wants a little bit more. Once is has been surrendered it will seek just a little bit more. The process continues until we have abandoned anything that even resembles pity and holiness and instead of agonizing over our imperfections and the presence of the flesh within us we beging to justify it and then defend it and then promote it. God help us to realize we are not debtors to the flesh.

2 Corinthians 10:3 - For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh:

Herein lies the appropriate understanding. We do walk in the flesh. It goes with us everywhere. We got out of bed this morning with the flesh. We went about our day with the flesh. We will go to bed with the flesh. The flesh is ever present. But........we do not war after the flesh. The word "war" comes from a Greek word that is a military term and actually invovles the idea of following a commander in a military campaign. Thus the principle is that while we have the flesh with us in everything we do and everywhere we go we have no obligation to allow it to assume the role of a commander. The flesh is not to do the dictating but is to be dictated to.

Galatians 5:16 - This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.

In light of the previous verse let me just say this. Our walk in the flesh should be governed by our walk in the Spirit. If this is the way we will order our lives then we will not fulfil the lust of the flesh.

Romans 8:3,4 - For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.

You see the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in those who walk after the Spirit and not the flesh. This is possible because Christ came and condmened sin in the flesh. He conquored sin and we enjoy the benefit of that victory when we accept him as our personal saviour. Verse four is clear. The spirital man fulfills the righteousness of the law. I have yet to figure out where people get the notion that under grace the standard has been lowered. Again, such is not the case and this is an aggregious error for which there is no excuse. In fact Matthew five should dispel such a notion once and for all. It is there for just a couple of examples where Jesus reminded the people that the law had said thou shalt not kill. But Jesus raised the bar. He told the people that if you are angry with your brother without cause then you are in danger of the judgment. He reminded the people that the law had said they should not commit adultery. But he again raises the expectation by informing them that whoever looks on a woman to lust after her has commited adultery already in his heart. There is not indication whatsoever that under grace less is expected but at every point along the way we are reminded of how much more is expected under the new covenant. And when you think about it, it makes absolute sense that it would be that way.

Galatians 5:13 - For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.

We have been called to liberty. Liberty from the law for salvation. Here is where most people go awry with their understanding. Because we are free from the law for justification purposes does not mean we are free from obeying God’s moral precepts. It is familiarity with the law that helps us see many things from God’s perspective.

We have been called unto liberty. Liberty from sin. Liberty, if we are not careful, can be abused to make excuse for the flesh. Grace is marred by the unholy marching under its banner. Baptist pulpits all over the country are justifying all manner of unholy, sinful living taking refuge in a liberty that does not exist. The justifying is often done in the halls of silence by those who are fearful of lifting up their voices like a trumpet and showing Israel their sin. What we omit from our preaching is often more destructive than what we include! Would to God there could be a genuine return to the "old paths" where in dwelleth rightouesness. Unfortunately we live in days much like the days of Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 6:16 Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein.

Holiness is difficult because of the flesh. It is not impossible because of the Spirit. When we feel the intense struggle in the pursuit of holiness and the unwillingness to make the commitment that needs to be made to get the victory just know that it is with our own flesh that we are doing battle.