The Two Ways to Live

forkA few days ago, I shared some … unique allegorical insights from an early 2nd century Christian work, entitled The Epistle of Barnabas. Today, I wanted to share something positive and uplifting from that old letter. In the decades immediately following the death of the apostles, it was apparently common to frame the issue of salvation and allegiance to Christ as “the two ways to live.”

One very early Christian text, which may have been in circulation before the Apostle John even wrote the Book of Revelation, discusses these “two ways,” and remarks, “There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between the two ways,” (Didache 1.1). In The Epistle of Barnabas, the author went into great detail and contrasted the way of salvation and the way of continued rebellion and allegiance to Satan. It’s excellent stuff, and it’ll still preach today …

The way of light

Here is what the letter reads (Barnabas 19). The author describes what a faithful, believing life in submission and allegiance to Christ as Lord actually looks like:

Therefore, the way of light is this: if anyone desires to travel along the way to the appointed place, let him be diligent in his works. Therefore the knowledge which was given to us to walk in it is as follows.

You shall love the one who made you, fear the one who created you, and glorify the one who redeemed you from death. You shall be sincere in heart and rich in spirit. You shall not be joined with those who walk in the way of death. You shall hate everyone who is not pleasing to God. You shall hate all hypocrisy. You shall never forsake the commandments of the Lord.

You shall not exalt yourself, but shall be humble in all things. You shall not take glory upon yourself. You shall not plot an evil plan against your neighbor. You shall not permit arrogance in your soul.

You shall not commit sexual immorality, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not corrupt children. The word of God shall not go out from you with anyone impure. You shall not show favoritism. when correcting someone concerning sin. You shall be gentle. You shall be quiet. You shall tremble at the words which you have heard. You shall not bear a grudge against your brother.

Do not be double minded, whether it will happen or not. Do not take the name of the Lord in vain. You shall love your neighbor more than your own life. You shall not murder a child by abortion, and again, you shall not kill the just-born one. Do not withhold your hand from your son or from your daughter, but you shall teach them from youth the fear of God.

You shall not yearn after the things of your neighbor. You shall not be greedy, you shall not be joined by your soul with the haughty, but be associated with the humble and righteous. The activity that happens to you accept it as good, knowing that nothing takes place without God.

You will be neither double-minded nor glib of tongue. You will be subject to your master as a copy of God, in modesty and fear. Do not command your male slave or female slave in bitterness, who are hoping in the same God, lest they cease to fear the God over you both, because he does not come to call with partiality, but to whom the Spirit prepares.

You shall share in all things with your neighbor and you shall not say it is your own. For if you are sharers in the incorruptible, how much more in the corruptible? You shall not be quick to speak, for the mouth is a snare of death. To the degree that you are able, you shall be pure for the sake of your soul.

Do not reach out your hand first to receive, only to pull back from giving. You shall love as the apple of your eye everyone who speaks the word of the Lord to you. You shall remember the day of judgment night and day, and you shall seek out every day the presence of the saints, either by laboring in word and going out to encourage and striving to save a soul by the word, or with your hands doing work as a ransom for your sins.

You shall not hesitate to give nor grumble while giving, but you will come to know who is the good paymaster of the reward. You shall guard what you have received, neither adding to nor taking away from. You shall utterly detest the evil one. You shall judge justly.

You shall not cause division, but make peace by bringing together those who fight. You shall make confession for your sins. You shall not come to prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of light.

The way of darkness

But, what about the other path? The letter continues (Barnabas 20):

But the way of the Black One is crooked and filled with cursing, for it is the way of eternal death with punishment, in which are the things which destroy their soul: idolatry, arrogance, arrogance in an influential position, hypocrisy, acts of duplicity, adultery, murder, robbery, pride, transgression, deceit, malice, stubbornness, use of potions, magic, greediness, lack of fear of God; persecutors of the good, hating the truth, loving the lie, not knowing the reward of righteousness, not joining the good, not judging righteously, not being concerned about the widow and orphan, not caring in the fear of God but for what is evil, from whom gentleness and endurance are inseparably removed, loving what is worthless, pursuing reward, not having mercy on the poor, not toiling for the downtrodden, prone to slander, not knowing the one who made them, murderers of children, corrupters of the creatures of God, rejectors of the needy ones, oppressors of the afflicted, defenders of the rich, lawless judges of the poor, people steeped in sin.

This is good stuff. It’s still convicting today. Some things never change.

Notes

Both excerpts were quoted from The Apostolic Fathers in English, translated Rick Brannan (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012).

 

God Loves Frauds, Too …

starHere, in Micah 5:2-4, the prophet gave us probably the best-known passage in his book, and one of the most precious promises of the coming Christ. It’s a beautiful prophesy, and full of hope. Many Christians quote it this time of year, but fewer consider the real context of this prophesy.

If you picture God sitting before a crackling fire, passing around hot apple cider and chocolate truffles, telling the Israelites the wonderful story of the Coming King with a twinkle in his eye, tears of tender love flowing down His cheeks and a warm, fuzzy feeling in his heart … then you’re wrong!

In reality, God is promising all this to them even though (by and large) they’re complete religious hypocrites who hate God and hate His law. Let me say this plainly, because it’s the same message God sent Micah to preach to these Israelites, and it’s the same context in which he preached this prophesy of the Messiah:

If you don’t repent and believe, then this prophesy of the King from Bethlehem isn’t Good News for you – it’s bad news. Listen below for more. The sermon notes are here.

The Man from Uz – Part 3

job 3(11)Job has lost his ten children, all his property, and even his own wife had advised him to just “curse God, and die!” (Job 2:9). He responded with a theologically correct statement (“shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” Job 2:10) that makes us both wonder at his faith, and become suspicious about false piety. Almost despite ourselves, we’re tempted to be skeptical:

  • Can a man in Job’s position really just ascribe everything to God’s providence? Is this a realistic response? Would you respond this way?

I don’t think this is false piety, or a pathetic show of “simple faith” in the face of a ruined life. As we’ll see, Job quickly loses the ability to say the “right things” and degenerates into a man who accuses Yahweh of uncaring fatalism:

It is all one; therefore I say,
he destroys both the blameless and the wicked.
When disaster brings sudden death,
he mocks at the calamity of the innocent.
The earth is given into the hand of the wicked;
he covers the faces of its judges—
if it is not he, who then is it? (Job 9:22-24)

Even worse, he later seems almost eager to stand before God to plead his case, even as he resigns himself to death:

Behold, he will slay me; I have no hope;
yet I will defend my ways to his face (Job 13:15)

 

He even rehearses the questions he plans to demand that God answer:

Behold, I have prepared my case;
I know that I shall be vindicated (Job 13:18)

He continues:

How many are my iniquities and my sins?
Make me know my transgression and my sin.
Why dost thou hide thy face,
and count me as thy enemy?
Wilt thou frighten a driven leaf
and pursue dry chaff? (Job 13:23-25)

We’ll look at all this in the chapters to come. But, for now, I think we can dismiss all notions that Job is putting on a false front. He truly believes what he said:

… the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD, (Job 1:21).

He knows God is there, God is sovereign, and God controls the course of human history – including the details of our own small lives. He knows he belongs to God through faith; “This will be my salvation, that a godless man shall not come before him,” (Job 13:16). And, he actually believes God has the right to give and take away from His children, and that He must have a good and holy reason for doing it.

Job’s first statement

But, for Job, all that is more theoretical right now. It’s not so much disbelieved, but rather pushed far into the background. Basically, Job wants to die.

Let the day perish wherein I was born,
and the night which said,
‘A man-child is conceived.’
Let that day be darkness!
May God above not seek it,
nor light shine upon it (Job 3:3-4)

He wishes he hadn’t been born, or even conceived. But Job’s motivation is rather different than poor old George Bailey’s, from the classic film It’s a Wonderful Life. In the film, George finds himself in a sticky financial situation after his uncle misplaced $8,000. But, this is really just the final straw in George’s increasingly bitter and disillusioned view of his life.

George wishes he’d never been born because he’s feeling sorry for himself. Job wishes the same thing, but for a very different reason – he’s tired of the pain.

Why did I not die at birth,
come forth from the womb and expire?
Why did the knees receive me?
Or why the breasts, that I should suck?
For then I should have lain down and been quiet;
I should have slept; then I should have been at rest,
with kings and counselors of the earth
who rebuilt ruins for themselves,
or with princes who had gold,
who filled their houses with silver (Job 3:11-15)

If Yahweh had ended his life before birth, then Job could have been at rest, and skipped the difficulties of “real life.” There is no injustice, no pain, no toil – the grave is a place of rest, where all people wait for their final judgment (cf. Job 14:7-17):

There the wicked cease from troubling,
and there the weary are at rest.
There the prisoners are at ease together;
they hear not the voice of the taskmaster.
The small and the great are there,
and the slave is free from his master (Job 3:17-19).

Consider this:

  • Have you ever felt the same way? Have you ever felt so beaten down by life that you longed for death?

One thing the Book of Job does is give us an “everyman” whose own struggles echo our own. We understand Job’s pain, because some of our lives have been turned upside down, too. We feel the force of Job’s questions, because we’ve asked them, also. They’re our questions, because they’re real questions.

Even more interestingly, the author doesn’t bother to answer these questions now. Like Job, we’re left to ponder the answer. We know the Lord allowed this to happen. We also know His character, and that means we know He had a good and holy reason for doing this. Why did the Apostle Peter tell Christians to submit themselves to all human authorities (1 Pet 2:13-17)? Why did he tell Christian slaves that God had called to salvation to do right and endure hardship while suffering unjustly (1 Pet 2:18-25)? Why did he counsel Christian wives to not leave their pagan husbands, but to stay in the hopes they’d become Christians, too – even in the face of hostility (1 Pet 3:1-6)?

The truth is that God’s people are not called to a life of leisure and comfort. God calls us to Himself, gives us salvation, and puts us in specific place, in particular circumstances, to be witnesses for Him throughout our lives, in whatever way He decides we should be.

The Belgic Confession says this about God’s providence (Article 13):

We believe that this good God, after he created all things, did not abandon them to chance or fortune but leads and governs them according to his holy will, in such a way that nothing happens in this world without his orderly arrangement.

Yet God is not the author of, nor can he be charged with, the sin that occurs. For his power and goodness are so great and incomprehensible that he arranges and does his work very well and justly even when the devils and wicked men act unjustly.

We do not wish to inquire with undue curiosity into what he does that surpasses human understanding and is beyond our ability to comprehend. But in all humility and reverence we adore the just judgments of God, which are hidden from us, being content to be Christ’s disciples, so as to learn only what he shows us in his Word, without going beyond those limits.

This doctrine gives us unspeakable comfort since it teaches us that nothing can happen to us by chance but only by the arrangement of our gracious heavenly Father. He watches over us with fatherly care, keeping all creatures under his control, so that not one of the hairs on our heads (for they are all numbered) nor even a little bird can fall to the ground without the will of our Father.

In this thought we rest, knowing that he holds in check the devils and all our enemies, who cannot hurt us without his permission and will.

And yet, Job isn’t in the mood for deep theological reflection just now. He gave the “correct” answer to his wife, earlier (Job 2:10) – and he believed it, too. But, there are times when we’re tempted to put the theological treatises away and ask questions we often assume we “shouldn’t” ask. Job isn’t accusing God of anything yet, but he’s on his way. And, to be honest, do you blame him?

In a backhanded way, he accuses God of being unfair (Job 3:23). Yahweh has “hedged” us all in and set us on a particular path, so why does He continue to “give light” (i.e. life) to His people after they endure all the pain, sorrow and misery He Himself determined they’d suffer?

Indeed, the very thing Job has feared the most (destruction from the Lord) has come to pass (Job 3:25-26). But, like his three friends, Job has always tied personal calamity to God’s displeasure. If you do what God wants, life is good. If you fall short, life will be bad. This is incorrect. There seems to be no room in Job’s world for the concept that God may have a holy purpose for our own sufferings; a purpose beyond our limited perspective to understand. This idea is distasteful to many people (sadly, even to some Christians), because we don’t want to admit our perspective is very, very small.

We’re like slobbering babies, flailing around in our cribs, drooling on ourselves, helpless to understand the wider world. Yet, so many of us are indignant at the very idea that Yahweh, the Creator, Sustainer and Governor of all creation, may have a holy purpose for our own discomfort which is beyond our ability to understand.

A 6-month old doesn’t understand why he has to go down for a nap, and Job doesn’t understand why this has happened to him. The issue is perspective. Presumably, the parent has a good reason for putting her baby to down for a nap. Likewise, we know the Lord has a good reason for putting one of His children through trials and tribulations.

Job’s friends aren’t buying any of this; their perspective is very simple:

  1. Job is suffering
  2. God disciplines His children when they sin,
  3. So, Job must be a sinner
  4. Therefore, Job must repent

They’re are both wrong and right. We’ll chat about this next time.

How Can We Know God?

booksMore wisdom from the Belgic Confession (1619), about how we can know who God is (Article 2):

We know him by two means: first, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe; which is before our eyes as a most elegant book, wherein all creatures, great and small, are as so many characters leading us to contemplate the invisible things of God, namely, his eternal power and Godhead, as the Apostle Paul saith (Rom. 1:20). All which things are sufficient to convince men, and leave them without excuse.

Secondly, he makes himself more clearly and fully known to us by his holy and divine Word; that is to say, as far as is necessary for us to know in this life, to his glory and our salvation.

Somebody created the universe. Somebody preserves the universe to keep it intact. Somebody also governs it, by establishing and upholding it day by day. I particularly like the description of the creation as “a most elegant book.” We can look at creation, and tell something of our Maker and Sustainer.

To be sure, this world isn’t the way Yahweh originally made it. But, even though marred and ruined by the Fall, it still reveals His glory, goodness, grace and kindness each and every day. This is enough to “convince men, and leave them without excuse” that He exists, and it tells us something about His “eternal power and Godhead.” This general knowledge doesn’t tell us how to know God, who He really is, or what has gone so wrong with our world (and with us). It doesn’t even tell us His name! But, it does tell us He is there, He is powerful, and He is Almighty.

From there, God “makes himself more clearly and fully known to us by his holy and divine Word,” which another confession of faith calls “a perfect treasure of heavenly instruction,” (1833 New Hampshire Confession of Faith, Article 1). The Bible doesn’t tell us everything there is to know about Him. But, it does tell us everything “as far as is necessary for us to know in this life, to his glory and our salvation.”

So, if you want to know God – look at the world around you, see the evidence of His presence in creation, and His goodness and grace in sustaining that creation. Then, look to His Holy Word, and read about who He is, and what He sent His eternal Son to do so long ago.

Start with one of the Gospel accounts, like Mark.

Read a summary of the Good News. Go through this short presentation. Contact me, if you wish.

Some Advice About Church Fights

angry smileyIn this article, I’m posting an excerpt from a letter written around 96 A.D. It’s the earliest letter we have from Christians outside of the New Testament. Though it is traditionally titled “1 Clement,” it was really written from the congregation in Rome to the congregation in Corinth. Of course, Paul had written at least two (and probably more) letters to that unfortunate church about 50 years previously. Now, however, a new problem had cropped up.

The congregation in Corinth had apparently dismissed its pastors at the instigation of a few troublemakers in the congregation. It’s both encouraging and depressing to know that this has been a perennial problem. Politics, power struggles and infighting characterize every organization – and it’s always particularly depressing when it happens in a congregation which allegedly confesses allegiance in the same Lord, the same faith, and has the same baptism of the Spirit which has placed them into the New Covenant!

Read this excerpt, and consider how relevant it is for today. It could describe some churches in 2017 . . .

Clement’s advice

You are contentious, brethren, and zealous for the things which lead to salvation. You have studied the Holy Scriptures, which are true, and given by the Holy Spirit. You know that nothing unjust or counterfeit is written in them. You will not find that the righteous have been cast out by holy men.

The righteous were persecuted; but it was by the wicked. They were put in prison; but it was by the unholy. They were stoned by law-breakers, they were killed by men who had conceived foul and unrighteous envy. These things they suffered, and gained glory by their endurance.

For what shall we say, brethren? Was Daniel cast into the lions’ den by those who feared God? Or were Ananias, Azarias, and Misael shut up in the fiery furnace by those who ministered to the great and glorious worship of the Most High? God forbid that this be so. Who then were they who did these things?

Hateful men, full of all iniquity, were roused to such a pitch of fury, that they inflicted torture on those who served God with a holy and faultless purpose, not knowing that the Most High is the defender and protector of those who serve his excellent name with a pure conscience, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

But they who endured in confidence obtained the inheritance of glory and honour; they were exalted, and were enrolled by God in his memorial for ever and ever. Amen.

We also, brethren, must therefore cleave to such examples.  For it is written,

Cleave to the holy, for they who cleave to them shall be made holy.

And again in another place it says,

With the innocent man thou shalt be innocent, and with the elect man thou shalt be elect, and with the perverse man thou shalt do perversely.

Let us then cleave to the innocent and righteous, for these are God’s elect. Why are there strife and passion and divisions and schisms and war among you? Or have we not one God, and one Christ, and one Spirit of grace poured out upon us? And is there not one calling in Christ?

Why do we divide and tear asunder the members of Christ, and raise up strife against our own body, and reach such a pitch of madness as to forget that we are members one of another? Remember the words of the Lord Jesus; for he said,

Woe unto that man: it were good for him if he had not been born, than that he should offend one of my elect; it were better for him that a millstone be hung on him, and he be cast into the sea, than that he should turn aside one of my elect.

Your schism has turned aside many, has cast many into discouragement, many to doubt, all of us to grief; and your sedition continues!

Take up the epistle of the blessed Paul the Apostle. What did he first write to you at the beginning of his preaching? With true inspiration he charged you concerning himself and Cephas and Apollos, because even then you had made yourselves partisans. But that partisanship entailed less guilt on you; for you were partisans of Apostles of high reputation, and of a man approved by them.

But now consider who they are who have perverted you, and have lessened the respect due to your famous love for the brethren. It is a shameful report, beloved, extremely shameful, and unworthy of your training in Christ, that on account of one or two persons the stedfast and ancient church of the Corinthians is being disloyal to the presbyters.

And this report has not only reached us, but also those who dissent from us, so that you bring blasphemy on the name of the Lord through your folly, and are moreover creating danger for yourselves.

Let us then quickly put an end to this, and let us fall down before the Master, and beseech him with tears that he may have mercy upon us, and be reconciled to us, and restore us to our holy and seemly practice of love for the brethren.

Notes

This excerpt is from “1 Clement 45:1 – 48:1,” in The Apostolic Fathers, ed. Kirsopp Lake, vol. 1, The Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge MA; London: Harvard University Press, 1912–1913), 85–91.

Real Christian Life . . . and the Government (Part 6)

1 peter 2 (13)The audio from the latest Sunday School is below. As always, all audio and teaching notes can be found here.

Peter tells Christians we’re supposed to submit ourselves to every human authority because of the Lord. He says we must do this because it’s God’s will that, by doing right, we’d silence the ignorant slander of foolish men. We’re supposed to consider ourselves as slaves who’ve been freed from the kingdom of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of God’s dear Son.

In Acts 4-5, the Apostle Peter left us an example of how to draw the line between obeying secular laws, and God’s laws. In short, Peter taught us that, no matter what we decide to do in a tricky situation, we must:

  1. Always be respectful
  2. Always tell them why (“we must obey God rather than men,” Acts 5:29)
  3. Always explain why (i.e. the Gospel)

The goal, of course, is to glorify God and be a testimony for Christ. We have to realize that God wants us to submit ourselves to every human authority so that, by doing right, we’d silence the ignorant slander of foolish men (1 Pet 2:15); so that they’ll see our good deeds and glorify God on the day when He returns to judge the world (1 Pet 2:13).

But, it’s often very difficult to know where to draw the line, and how to draw it. So, today, we discussed two difficult situations from American history to make this command “real” for us. Here they are:

Civil War-era fugitive slave laws

If you were a Christian, living in America in the pre-Civil War era, would you have ignored the Federal fugitive slave laws?

The U.S. Constitution (Article 4, Section 2) made it mandatory for a fugitive slave to be delivered up to his owner if he escapes and makes his way to another state. The Constitution doesn’t say how this should be done.

Eventually, a system developed where “kidnappers” (so labeled by anti-slavery advocates in the North) deployed forth in search of fugitive slaves, apprehended them, and simply brought them back South – with no legal recourse.This set up a terrible clash between pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions. The former demanded the federal government assist slaveowners in re-capturing escaped slaves who crossed state lines. The latter factions in several anti-slavery states lobbied their legislatures and successfully passed “personal liberty” laws, which gave fugitive slaves who crossed into their states certain rights (e.g. habeas corpus, testimony, trial by jury) and imposed criminal punishments on kidnappers.

In 1837, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Pennsylvania’s “personal liberty” laws and, in one stroke, invalidated all such laws throughout the country. Even later, in the 1856 Dred Scott v. Sanford decision, the U.S. Supreme Court declared slaves were not “citizens,” as defined by the Constitution, and had no legal standing to petition for freedom.

What should devout Christians do in this environment?

  • If you’re a Christian, and
  • you live in Pennsylvania, and
  • Peter says you must submit yourselves to the civil authorities for the Lord’s sake, and
  • the Federal government says it’s unconstitutional to interfere with slave-owners trying to re-claim their “property” in the North

. . . then what should you do about it? How do you balance this? How do you do what Peter says, here (1 Pet 2:13-17)?

Oregon’s House Bill 3391

The State of Oregon recently passed House Bill 3391, which is widely acknowledged to be the most progressive and aggressive abortion law in this country. The bill (just signed into law this past Fall) requires all insurers in the State of Oregon to cover a large range of “reproductive services” (i.e. abortion) to anyone in the state.[1] More significantly, the bill allows a woman to get an abortion without any restriction, for any reason. 

Because insurers are forbidden to pass these costs along to the consumers, the State of Oregon will be contributing about $10,000,000 to offset the proposed costs for the 2017 – 2019 biennium. This cost is expected to grow to over $14,000,000 for 2019-2021.[2] This means, if you’re an Oregon resident, your tax-dollars will be used to reimburse insurers for abortion procedures – and the costs will only go up each biennium!

What should a Christian do in this environment?

Join us as we discuss these tricky issues, and consider how real and practical Peter’s letter is for our life today.

Notes

[1] See the text of HB 3391, Section 2(3).

[2] See the State of Oregon’s fiscal analysis of HB 3391.