Go Your Way

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Daniel chapter 12 is the conclusion of a conversation between Daniel and an angel of the Lord, probably Gabriel (Dan. 8:16, 9:20-21). Daniel had already received several predictive prophecies and visionary insights with some explanations and assurances about the future God had planned for his people. With all that he had seen and heard and read in visions and prophecies and world events, Daniel was still had questions and was curious about the future. He wrote, “I heard, but I did not understand. So I asked, ‘My lord, what will the outcome of all this be?'” (Dan 12:8)

Gabriel did not offer much additional clarity at that point, but he did assure Daniel that what he had been shown would be fulfilled according to God’s timing and purposes, and that with or without understanding of future events he himself should “Go your way, Daniel…” (Dan 12:9) and again, “As for you, go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance.” (Dan 12:13)

The message is at once reassuring and demanding. You are to do your part, and God will take care of his part. Mind your business, God will mind the rest. There’s a great deal we simply need to trust God to take care of, while we do what we know we ought to do.

Jesus had a similar conversation with Peter on the shore of the lake in Galilee after his resurrection, when Jesus challenged Peter to figure out where his love and devotion truly lay, and told him repeatedly to tend the Lord’s sheep and lambs. Jesus also gave Peter a glimpse of future hardship that he would experience in shepherding the sheep of Jesus. Peter would at some point in the future be a prisoner and be taken by force to his death (John 21:18-19). That foretelling concluded with the simple instruction, “Follow me.” Having a bit of foresight, Peter was curious to know more, and saw John not far away. “When Peter saw John, he asked, ‘Lord, what about him?'” (John 21:21)

At that point “Jesus answered, ‘If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.'” (John 21:22 NIV)

John offered a disclaimer at that point, that Jesus was not promising John would live until Christ returned. Rather, the message to Peter, like that to Daniel, was that he had been given enough, and the Lord had everything else in hand. As Daniel needed to go his way and do what he knew how to do, so also with Peter needed to follow Jesus and care for his sheep. He could do that without knowing what lay ahead for John.

We all have some curiosity about the future, our own, our friends, our nation, and so forth. Some things we may know, many things we do not know. The Lord’s word to us is the same as that to Daniel and to Peter. Take care of your business, and let the Lord take care of his. You and I don’t need to know the future beyond trusting the Lord. We don’t need to know what the Lord will do with whom and when. Each of us needs to “go your way to the end” and follow Jesus.

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Singing with The Church

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Acapella Singing: What it is, and why it’s right for the church.

Singing without instrumental “accompaniment” is sometimes called acapella singing. Only a few churches in the modern era have opted to sing psalms,hymns, and spiritual songs without instruments. Despite the practice being relatively uncommon now, there is a great deal of historical support for acapella singing in the church, including the word acapella itself (from Latin, meaning “as in the chapel”). Some citations from ancient Christian writings, written in the first few centuries of the church’s existence, follow the verses below, for your consideration along with the inspired scriptures themselves.

We know that when the church met together in New Testament times along with other kinds of teaching they shared songs called hymns that praised God and encouraged the Christians. These hymns, just like the other kinds of messages, required nothing but a voice and godly words to share them in the church, to help the church grow stronger.

1 Cor 14:26 26 What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.

Singing and praying are often connected in the New Testament, and neither requires any mechanical assistance. Because Christian singing calls for only a song and a voice, Christians can sing their psalms (a song of praise) anytime and anywhere that they feel like it, which in particular is whenever a Christian is happy. No talent is required, no instrument is called for, just the voice of a happy Christian.

James 5:13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. (NIV 2011)

No mechanical device would help a Christian’s prayer, and no mechanical device can help a Christian’s song. The New Testament never suggests that Christians should use any kind of instrument or device with their singing, but just has instructions to sing, and gives examples of singing (not playing). Christians like Paul and Silas could and can sing in any circumstances, even prison. Singing and praying can be done anywhere, no devices or instruments are required or desired or helpful.

Acts 16:25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. (NIV 2011)

Singing songs of praise should a part of every Christian’s experience. Singing is for everyone, not just a select few, not as a performance to be admired, not in a chorus or a band or a choir, not just for the vocally talented, but the congregation sharing together, joining together in song.

Rom 15:9-11 As it is written: “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing the praises of your name.”
10 Again, it says, “Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people.”
11 And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles; let all the peoples extol him.”

Heb 2:11-12 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. 12 He says,
“I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters; in the assembly I will sing your praises.” (NIV 2011)

The New Testament does not teach Christians to sing with any kind of instrument, but does teach Christians to sing with their heart, their mind, and their spirit. What is to accompany Christian singing isn’t a mechanical instrument, but a thankful heart that gives God glory, a mind that communicates truth, and a spirit that is committed to serving God and other Christians.

Eph 5:18-20 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (NIV 2011)

Col 3:15-17 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (NIV 2011)

1 Cor 14:15 So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding. (NIV 2011)

In the verses above there is an emphasis on message. Instruments of music can stir feelings and emotions but they cannot convey truth or teach Christ. The Christian message, even in music, is a message to be verbalized. Teaching is a core part of what Christian music, singing, is about. With the various kinds of songs to be sung among Christians there is an emphasis on what is being done together, for one another, with enthusiasm, with conviction, with true teaching, with concern for each other, with understanding. Singing is a powerful unifying activity, and a powerful teaching tool, with the great added benefit of being very memorable. Words with tunes are easy to remember and useful everyday, whenever anyone is happy, and in times of stress, even in a dark prison. Only vocal music, acapella singing, has this versatility, this usefulness to every believer, and the command and example of New Testament teaching to commend it.


Testimony from ancient history:

Instruments were not used in the worship of the ancient synagogue. They belonged to the tabernacle and the Temple, especially the latter; but were never in the congregational assemblies of God’s people.
(from McClintock and Strong Encyclopedia, Electronic Database. Copyright © 2000, 2003 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.)

“There is the fact that early Christian music was vocal, and there is the patristic polemic against instruments.”
(James McKinnon, “The Church Fathers and Musical Instruments.” Abstract)
— Note: James McKinnon was “one of America’s foremost musical scholars” and a professor at North Carolina University (from the faculty memorial to James McKinnon)

“If the casual reader of patristic denunciations of musical instruments is struck by their vehemence, the systematic investigator is surprised by another characteristic: their uniformity. The attitude of opposition to instruments was virtually monolithic even though it was shared by men of diverse temperaments and different regional backgrounds, and even though it extended over a span of at least two centuries of changing fortunes for the church. That there were no widespread exceptions to the general position defies credulity.”
(James McKinnon, “The Church Fathers and Musical Instruments.’‘ Abstract)

About 190 A.D. Clement of Alexandria listed eight musical instruments used by ancient peoples and said:
“We, however, make use of but one instrument, the word of peace alone by which we honor God, and no longer the ancient psaltery, nor the trumpet, the tympanum and the aulos, as was the custom among those expert in war and those scornful of the fear of God who employed string instruments in their festive gatherings, as if to arouse their remissness of spirit through such rhythms.” (Paedagogus, Book 2, Chapter 4).

For almost a thousand years Gregorian chant, without any instrumental or harmonic addition, was the only music used in connection with the liturgy.
ie, from about 600-1600 A.D.
(“Musical Instruments in Church Services,” Catholic Encyclopedia on CD-ROM)

In secular music, however, instruments played an important role at an early date. It may be said that instrumental music developed simultaneously with the secular music itself.
(“Musical Instruments in Church Services,” Catholic Encyclopedia on CD-ROM)

While all this development had, up to the first half of the sixteenth century, served mainly secular purposes, it was through Ludovico Grossi da Viadana (1564-1627) that the use of instruments became more common in churches. While choirmaster in Mantua and in Venice, this master published his “Cento concerti ecclesiastici”, compositions to sacred texts, for one or more voices and basso continuo, or figured bass played on the organ and supplemented by violins, bass viols, and wind instruments, a species of composition in vogue before his time. A contemporary of Viadana, Giovanni Gabrieli (1557-1612), choirmaster of St. Mark’s, Venice, went a considerable step farther than any one before him. He wrote not only numerous works for voices and instruments, but created works for instruments alone.
(“Musical Instruments in Church Services,” Catholic Encyclopedia on CD-ROM)

Another event which was destined to exercise a momentous influence, not only on the growth of the use of instruments but also on the future development of liturgical music itself, was the birth of opera with the first performance (1594) of Jacopo Peri’s “Dafne” in Florence. This new art form, originating as it did with the humanistic spirit of the time and being a return to the musical and literary ideals of antiquity which enthralled the cultivated classes of the day, soon gained an enormous popularity and completely overshadowed all previously accepted ideals in popular favour. It was but a short time before the spirit and forms of the theatre, instruments and all, found their way into the Church. While formerly the spirit and form of church music dominated secular music (mostly early secular melodies which have come down to us belonging to one or the other of the Gregorian modes) it was now the spirit, taste, and passions of the world as expressed in opera which were in the ascendancy and began to dominate the compositions to liturgical texts.
(“Musical Instruments in Church Services,” Catholic Encyclopedia on CD-ROM)

The early Reformers, when they came out of Rome, removed them as the monuments of idolatry. Luther called the organ an ensign of Baal ; Calvin said that instrumental music was not fitter to be adopted into the Christian Church than the incense and the candlestick; Knox called the organ a kist [chest] of whistles. The Church of England revived them, against a very strong protest, and the English dissenters would not touch them.
(from McClintock and Strong Encyclopedia, Electronic Database. Copyright © 2000, 2003 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.)


CATHOLIC – Although Josephus tells of the wonderful effects produced in the Temple by the use of instruments, the first Christians were of too spiritual a fibre to substitute lifeless instruments for or to use them to accompany the human voice. Clement of Alexandria severely condemns the use of instruments even at Christian banquets (P. G., VIII, 440). St. Chrysostom sharply contrasts the customs of the Christians at the time when they had full freedom with those of the Jews of the Old Testament (ibid., LV, 494-7). Similarly write a series of early ecclesiastical writers down to St. Thomas (Summa, II-II, Q. xci, a. 2). .” — CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10648a.htm

GREEK ORTHODOX – “The execution of Byzantine church music by instruments, or even the accompaniment of sacred chanting by instruments was ruled out by the Eastern Fathers as being incompatible with the pure, solemn, spiritual character of the religion of Christ.” — Constantine Cavarnos, BYSANTINE SACRED MUSIC

PRESBYTERIAN – “Musical instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting up of lamps, the restoration of the other shadows of the law. The Papists, therefore, have foolishly borrowed this, as well as many other things, from the Jews. Men who are fond of outward pomp may delight in that noise; but the simplicity which God recommends to us by the apostle is far more pleasing to Him.” – JOHN CALVIN, Commentary on the Book of Psalms, Vol. I, p. 539
METHODIST – “I have no objection to instruments of music, in our chapels, provided they are neither heard nor seen.” – JOHN WESLEY (founder)
METHODIST – “Music as a science, I esteem and admire: but instruments of music in the house of God I abominate and abhor. This is the abuse of music; and here I register my protest against all such corruptions in the worship of the Author of Christianity.” – ADAM CLARKE (commentator)

LUTHERAN – “Martin Luther called the organ an ‘ensign of Baal’.” – MCCLINTOCK & STRONG’S ENCYCLOPEDIA

BAPTIST – “I would as soon attempt to pray to God with machinery as to sing to Him with machinery.” – CHARLES H. SPURGEON

a –cap-pel-la Music.

  1. without instrumental accompaniment.
  2. in the style of church or chapel music.
    [1875–80; < It: in the manner of a chapel (choir)]
    (Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary)

Old Testament Music

Some may wonder why, if the Old Testament had instruments of music, why not the new, as in some of the Psalms? However, the Psalms also speak of sacrifices of animals and other rituals that were part of the covenant of Moses, not the covenant of Christ. The covenant of Moses has been fulfilled by Christ, who brought a new covenant.

The Old Testament Psalms do extol the use of harps and selected other instruments in praising God, as they also extol bring animals to present on the altar for sins and to fulfill vows. The New Testament of Jesus Christ presents a better covenant in Christ, that depends on neither Levite singers at the temple nor animals presented as burnt offerings.
Ps 33:1-3
Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him.
2 Praise the Lord with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
3 Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.

Ps 66:13-15
I will come to your temple with burnt offerings and fulfill my vows to you —
vows my lips promised and my mouth spoke when I was in trouble.
I will sacrifice fat animals to you and an offering of rams; I will offer bulls and goats.

Heb 10:11-14
11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. 13 Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, 14 because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

Heb 13:15-16
15 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise — the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices G
od is pleased.

Why We Sing
The New Testament provides examples of believers singing, and instruction for believers to sing, and affirms the value of the words of spiritual songs.
The universal testimony of ancient history is that the church, like the synagogue, had no music other than vocal singing for hundreds of years.

1 Cor 14:15 I will sing with my spirit… I will sing with my mind
Eph 5:19 sing and make melody in your heart
Col 3:16 sing Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs
Heb 2:12 in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises
James 5:13 Is anyone happy? Let him sing

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Amen to Judgment and Justice

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Prov 29:15  The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to himself disgraces his mother.

Prov 13:24 He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him. (NIV)

See also Proverbs 22:15, 23:13-14

Have you ever been in a grocery store or other public place, maybe even a family gathering, and seen a child running out of control? Maybe the parents are oblivious or maybe they’re being run over or maybe they feel helpless, and you think that child needs … what? Out of control children provoke a feeling that something ought to be done.Then again, maybe you’ve been in a place where a parent over reacted, at least it seemed like it to you, and responded too loudly, too harshly, too severely to a child’s behavior. Was the child treated fairly? Too harshly? Abuses? Perhaps we want to see correction and discipline, but also have a concern for fairness and justice?What if it’s not a child that is misbehaving and creating a disturbance? What if it’s an adult? Maybe committing a crime, maybe hurting someone else, maybe just being obnoxious or selfish? Like seeing a child out of control, would we like to see some discipline imposed, some appropriate judgment and justice? Has there ever been that time when you saw someone being mean or abusive or behaving dangerously, and you wished there was a cop coming around the corner, or that someone would do something?

Prov 10:13 Wisdom is found on the lips of the discerning, but a rod is for the back of him who lacks judgment.

See also Prov 14:3, 26:3

The wise man wrote that people without self discipline, people without good judgment, need to be corrected by others, need to be held accountable by someone with authority.Do you believe children need discipline?  What about adults?  What about societies and nations?Do you believe that there ought to be justice?  That some behavior merits punishment, not merely correction, but punishment?Correction is not the same as punishment though they may be intertwined, and punishment is not the same as consequences, though consequences may sometimes feel like punishment.Bad behavior produces bad consequences, but consequences aren’t necessarily punishment, nor are they the same thing as justice.

Gen 2:15-17 15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”

What God described there was not punishment, but consequences. If you jump off a roof and break your leg, the broken leg is a consequence of what you did, but not a punishment for it. God wasn’t going to punish man with death if he ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, death would be the result, the consequence of the action. (See also Rom 5:12, 1 Cor 15:21)The only escape for anyone from the consequences of sin, and the only satisfaction of the requirements of justice apart from death, is what God has done to demonstrate his justice, rightly accepting the consequences of sin himself.

Rom 3:21-26  21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (NIV)

In the interest of justice in ancient times, God said that he would require an accounting for the life blood of every human, Genesis 9:4-6.The scriptures affirm that some things that humans do are justly worthy of death, Acts 25:11, Romans 1:32.When justice fails, people suffer, not only individually, but as families and nations. Justice is needed for a nation to function properly. Knowing that, and knowing that God is the author of justice and is wholly just himself, justice ought to be craved by the people of God, who have nothing to fear from righteous judgment.

Prov 21:15 15 When justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.

Prov 28:5 5 Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it fully. Prov 29:7 7 The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.

Very often, justice will not be provided by human hands, human minds, human governments, but the longing for it is part of the character of godliness cultivated in themselves and taught to one another by the followers of Christ. Even after death, the desire to see justice done, including eternal justice, is part of the hope of the servant of God. Justice must prevail, or eternal glory and rest for those who have been justified make no sense.Consider: Revelation 6:9-11, God’s martyrs cry out for justice and are consoled with the assurance that it will come in God’s time.Revelation 19:11-16, the savior who is King of Kings is also the warrior of justice who strikes down the nations, judging them by the Word of God.Revelation 19:1-3, when God’s enemies, the enemies of God’s people, are brought down, the multitudes of heaven celebrate the justice and judgment of God.Isaiah 61:8, God loves justice and hates iniquity.Isaiah 66:22-24, when the new heavens and the new earth have become a tangible reality as the dwelling place for God’s people in his presence, his people will recognize and accept and endorse the reality of consequences for sin, the rightness of punishment for choosing rebellion against God. In this world, God’s people should love justice. In the world to come, God’s people will have learned to gladly say “Amen” to the justice and the judgment of God.

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No Sweat

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If someone said, “no sweat,” we would probably understand the meaning to be, “this won’t be hard.” If someone said, “don’t sweat it,” we would probably take the meaning as, “don’t be afraid or anxious.” Sweat correlates with difficulty, hard work, stress and anxiety. The Bible specifically mentions sweat three times.

The first time we encounter sweat in the Bible is in the pronouncement of consequences for human rebellion against God in Genesis 3. Along with the consequences for the Serpent and the Woman there were consequences for the ground and vegetation and Mankind. Genesis 3:17-19 describes the much more difficult life Adam and Eve would have outside the Garden of God, where the ground was now cursed and adequate food would be challenging due to the abundance of thorns and thistles. Humanity was demoted from the readily available fruit of the trees in the garden to the plants of the field, which had previously been given to the beasts (1:29, 30, 3:18). While caring for the garden had been work for the Man and the Woman, it was not like the painful toil that lay ahead where “by the sweat of your face you shall eat bread,” until you return to dust in death. The combination of “face” and “dust” in Genesis 3:19 takes us back to the day of man’s creation when God “formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils (face) the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7). Adam was created with the necessary physical equipment for perspiration, but the arduous demands of life outside the garden would be sweat inducing labor and stress. The face that God had shaped and breathed life into was fated to sweat in order to live, and then return to dust.

Several thousand years after the first Adam was sent out of the garden, the last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45, 15:22, Romans 5:12-15) came into the world to defeat the Serpent who had deceived Eve, fulfilling the divine promise in Genesis 3:15. This Man, Jesus, went to a garden on the slope of the Mt. of Olives east of Jerusalem night after night to pray during his last week as a mortal man. John 18:1 refers to the garden where Jesus prayed, using a Greek word that is also in Ezekiel 36:35 (LXX) describing the Garden of Eden. The Olivet garden was called Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36) which means “oil press,” so probably there were olive trees there. While Jesus was there in the garden he prayed so ardently that Luke 22:44 reports Jesus, “being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” The medical term for sweating blood is “hematidrosis.” It’s a rare condition and not well understood. Apparently when a person is in unbearable distress the tiny capillaries under the skin can burst and bloody sweat oozes from the sweat glands. Usually the condition occurs in the skin of the face, perhaps the eyes, and the nose. On rare occasions women in particularly difficult labor for child birth have sweated blood, as Jesus did in the garden. A few hours after Jesus sweated blood for our sake, he also was ridiculed with a crown of thorns pressed on his head (Matthew 27:29) and then crucified on a tree (Acts 5:30, a common description of the cross).

So, on the night of his betrayal we see Jesus dealing with the sin that began in the Garden of Eden. As Man was condemned to live by the sweat of his face, we have the “last Adam” who was the “seed of the woman” predicted in Genesis 3:15, sweating blood in the garden, for our sake. Then we see him facing the thorns of the curse in a rather literal way when the soldiers mocked him, before he was nailed to a tree to die, because the Woman and the Man had taken the fruit of the tree that God had not given to them.

The third time sweat is mentioned in the Bible is in Ezekiel 44:18. The context there is Ezekiel’s vision of the new temple presided over by the Prince, which is Jesus. Several elements of Ezekiel’s vision are like John’s vision of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21-22. The temple builder (and city builder) here is divine, not merely human, and Jesus alluded to himself as the one who would raise up the temple in John 2:19-22 (see also 1 Corinthians 3:16, Ephesians 2:19-22). When Ezekiel heard the description of priests in the divine temple their garments were described as “linen” and not “anything that causes sweat.” The priests in God’s new temple are to be clothed in linen so that they will not sweat in their service. This is a link back to life in the Garden of Eden, where the work of the Man and the Woman was pleasant and useful, but not laborious sweat producing drudgery. Linen had been the primary fabric for the garments of priests and Levites who served at the Tabernacle and Temple, and here Ezekiel gives us an insight into one of God’s reasons. Linen is light, cool, breathable fabric that doesn’t cause the wearer to sweat. If we continue on in the New Testament we repeatedly see Christians described as priests of God (see 1 Peter 2:9, Revelation 1:6, for example). What are the priests of God who serve under Christ to wear? The bride of Christ, another description of the church, the kingdom of priests, has been “granted to clothe herself with fine line, bright and pure” and “fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.” (Revelation 19:8).

Jesus sweated for us so that we don’t have to sweat out the consequences of sin. The “righteous deeds of the saints,” like the work of dressing and keeping of the Garden of Eden, is not arduous labor that sustains life by the sweat of our own face. Jesus has faced the curse in all its consequences so that we could be clothed in the cool clean white linen of righteousness. No sweat, for us.

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Playing The Sympathy Card

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God’s word endorses mercy, as Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7). The prophet Hosea wrote that God desires “mercy, and not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6), which Jesus echoed (Matthew 12:7). The Lord wants mercy more than rituals performed by worshipers. James warns us that “judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). God demands that his people be merciful. He practices mercy, compassion, kindness, and all their synonyms, and teaches them as attitudes and actions for everyday Christian living. Sometimes though, as with all good things, the Adversary works at twisting sympathy to his advantage. Thus Christians are always to be careful not to be manipulated when wickedness is packaged with a wrapper calling for pity.

The first time the Serpent played the sympathy card was in the Garden, Genesis 3:1ff, when he feigned sympathy for the human pair in the Garden. Pretending to sympathize with an absurd fiction of divine denial, suggesting that God was holding them back and denying their best future, the Serpent effectively manipulated the Woman to steal what God had withheld, in the midst of abundance sufficient to every need and adequate to satisfy every good appetite. The pretense of sympathy facilitated deception, which led to disastrous loss of life and liberty. A pretense of sympathy continues to be a tool of deception to gain power over people.

Sometimes the sympathy card is played deceptively in another way, appealing to kind people to be compassionate when resolution is called for. When Moses gave his farewell speeches to Israel in their 40th year of travel out of Egypt, he specifically commanded the people who were going into Canaan to utterly destroy and “show no mercy” to 7 nations God had marked for destruction (Deuteronomy 7:2). Israel had been warned from the beginning of their journey toward Canaan that they must not compromise in any way with the nations God was dispossessing in their behalf, because compromise would certainly lead to Israel’s own corruption (see Exodus 23:32, for example). God commanded his people to show no mercy because the evil acts of those specific cultures could only subvert their neighbors, spreading perversion and oppression. They needed to be eradicated, not just for land, but for the future of humanity. The character of the nations of Canaan in that era is demonstrated by the pillaging slave raids of the Amalekites when Israel seemed vulnerable as they exited Egypt (Exodus 17:8ff) and the similar raids of the Canaanites when Israel was in their final preparation to enter the land (Numbers 21:1). Cynics willfully overlook the predatory and utterly selfish foundations of the pagan cultures of Canaan that God marked for destruction. If the Israelites sympathized with the Canaanites in their wickedness, the outcome would inevitably be Israelites becoming just like Canaanites, heartless and selfish and abusing the powerless.

The account of Rahab at Jericho (Joshua 2 and Joshua 6), demonstrates that God’s “show no mercy” policy for Canaan was oriented specifically toward those who refused to submit (Hebrews 11:31). A turn toward God presented an opportunity to show mercy. The horrific wickedness of the Canaanite nations was not to be sympathetically spared in misguided mercy, but anyone who turned from that wickedness toward righteous behavior could be saved. That indeed is an appropriate expression of mercy, following God’s will to bring about changed hearts and lives.

As God told Israel to show no mercy to the disobedient nations of Canaan, he also told his people to have no pity for the prophet or teacher who seduced others into the immoral idolatries favored by other nations. Deuteronomy 13:8 forbade Israel from having pity even toward a family member who attempted to mislead anyone into the excesses of idolatry. Some things cannot be tolerated, and leading others into sin is one of those things. Compassion that leads to compromise and acceptance of sin is misguided, and can only result in greater tragedy than the potential difficulties of honestly identifying sin as sin. The devil knows very well how to play the sympathy card to promote acceptance of rebellion against God, whether it is the pretense of sympathy to win hearts or the misdirection of sympathy to tolerate continued sin.

Christians are not called to dispossess nations and occupy Canaan like Israel coming out of Egypt. Christians are called to preach Christ to the nations, and the weapons of this world will not accomplish that goal. Christians are called to battle “arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God,” in order to “take every thought captive to obey Christ “(2 Corinthians 10:4). Misdirected sympathy prompted by people who promote feelings over truth, and urge misguided compassion over obedience to God and his created order, only perpetuates destructive behaviors and enables sin to flourish and ensnare more and more.

Paul in Romans 1:17-32 presents a veritable laundry list of rebellious decisions pursued by people who reject our Creator, a list worthy of thoughtful attention, and concludes with condemnation not only of everyone who chooses rebellion against the Creator, but also those who “give approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:32). God absolutely wants people, certainly Christians, to be merciful, but disaster follows when the sympathy card is played to shame good hearted people into accepting sin and pretending sinners don’t need to change.

Jude 1:20-23
20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. 22 And have mercy on those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.

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In His Image

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It seems to me that there is a common problem that I have to deal with on a regular basis. It comes down to a lack of respect for our fellow man. I understand that in this world we have class wars, and we have racism, and we have a variety of other ways to delineate the differences between various groups of people. But it seems to me that the basic problem comes down to the same thing. People have no respect for their fellow man. 

Maybe this is related to an education system that says all people are animals. Maybe it is people who mistreat children and are allowed to get away with it. Maybe it is the political and social rhetoric that goes along with every political campaign. Maybe it’s the freedom provided by the internet and the lack of face to face communications. Maybe these are all symptoms of a greater problem.

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In The Beginning

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There are few stories that are more controversial than the first few chapters of Genesis. It seems that the very idea of God creating everything from nothing is antithetical to the human race. Atheists desire to undermine the notion of God’s existence, and there are many who argue about the age of the universe, or those who debate the mechanics of it all. Even some who call themselves Christians seem determined to reduce the Genesis  record to a fable or a “just so” story. Does the story of creation as presented in Genesis deserve all this harsh treatment?

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The Water That Gets Inside

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Shipwreck means disaster. It is a synonym for destruction or ruin. Shipwreck always means loss of property, and has often meant loss of life. The term has been used as a metaphor to describe the destruction of entire civilizations and ways of life, and of course the disastrous failure of individuals. Continue reading

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Nurturing A Heart like God’s

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Paul once said that “God made David Israel’s king. He testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’” (Acts 13:22) What greater thing could be said about any mortal man? Knowing that David too was a sinner, and knowing that the natural condition of the human heart is described as incurably deceitful (Jer 17:9), it is remarkable indeed that God viewed David’s heart with such approval. Having the heart that won God’s approval was no accident, nor a quirk of nature, but really the result of decisions that David made, and habits that he cultivated in his daily life. To nurture a heart that God approves in ourselves we might consider imitating some of David’s daily habits. Continue reading Share this article: