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Archive for September, 2014

I believe in God, the Father Almighty
Creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
On the third day He rose again;
He ascended into heaven,
He is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and He will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
Amen.

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Forgiving others for what they’ve done to us is one of the most important aspects of being a Christian – let alone a human being.

In this blog, I’ll discuss a few reasons for that statement and that will lead step-by-step into how to forgive – on a daily, moment-by-moment basis!

First, forgiving others for offending us, sinning against us (and so many have experienced horrendous sins against them in this evil, fallen world) or with those who simply irritate us is critically important for every Christian because – frankly — your sin and my sin put Jesus on the cross.

Unless you and I can truly see – by faith – the horror of our own sin before a holy God, we will struggle greatly with forgiving others.  If you cannot see the sinfulness of your sin, begin to ask the Holy Spirit to show you – and He will.

A second major reason for the importance of forgiveness is this: No Christian can ever grow into Christ-likeness who isn’t extremely grateful for God’s forgiveness, demonstrated through the crucifixion of Jesus.

I invite and urge you to do a serious, prayerful study in Luke 7:36-50, so that you can see why Jesus tells us that those who realize they’ve been forgiven much love (Him) much, but those who don’t see their need for forgiveness (in this case, one of the extremely self-righteous Pharisees) will love little.

A third major reason for the importance of forgiveness is closely aligned with the paragraph above and Luke 7:36-50: If we can accept God’s forgiveness – given so freely to us – yet we will not forgive others for what they’ve done to us, we are hypocrites!

Before you get upset with me for saying that, once again, I urge you to do a prayerful study of a different passage – Jesus’ most in-depth teaching on forgiveness – in Mt. 18:21-35.

You will see there that anyone who receives forgiveness from God but is not willing to extend the same to others is called by God Himself a hypocrite – and I’ve never met a human being yet who wants to be known as such!

A fourth (and last) major reason to forgive is simple: God has commanded us to forgive (a “command” means He speaks with the ultimate authority, but it is always for our benefit, as well as the benefit of others).

That command is one of context in Eph. 4:32: “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ has forgiven you” (cf. also Col. 3:12-13).

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Incidentally, the word translated “forgiving” is in the present tense (ongoing basis), which means we must live this way as a lifestyle.

Now, we come to the practical nature of forgiveness: Is it possible to live in forgiveness?  Yes, it is!

When Peter came to Jesus and asked him how many times he had to forgive the person who offended him, he thought he was doing extremely well when he suggested to Jesus that he forgive “up to seven times” (and thus, he demonstrated that forgiveness is rarely a “one-time thing”).

What was Jesus’ response to Peter?  “Up to seventy times seven” (Mt. 18:21-22).  In other words, “as often as it takes, Peter, until you no longer need to forgive.”

And there, dear friend, is the foundation to live out practical forgiveness – all the days of your life!  I tell you soberly: Anyone who refuses to forgive is hurting themselves most of all – not the offender!!!

So, here is how we do it: First, the first thing in the morning when you wake up, put on the full armor of God (you can find my “Armor Prayer” in one of my blogs).  That will take you about five minutes.

Then, you “clothe yourself with Christ,” from Col. 3:12-14.  This will take all of one minute – but if you will do this every day, you’ll find that it becomes second nature.  And then, when the offense comes, you’ve already prepared yourself to forgive!

Here is how I clothe myself with Christ: “Father, I clothe myself today with humility; with love and compassion; kindness and gentleness; purity and holiness and forgiveness.  Help me please to walk this way before You and man at all times, in Jesus’ name.”

Now, is that a prayer God wants to answer?  You know He does – and will!

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There is one last, practical “must” to daily forgiveness and that is daily forgiving the one who offended or sinned against you – until you no longer need to.  And how do you do that?

Here is how I do it (and have been doing so for more than 30 years): “Father, I bring ___________________________ before Your throne of grace (name the person or everyone you can think of that you need to forgive) and I choose to forgive ___________________________ and release ______________________________ from all bitterness and resentment, in Jesus’ name.”

“I bless this person now to either be saved or to see what he or she (or they) have done to repent of it, in Jesus’ name, amen.”

And, the same holds true for ourselves; sometimes, the hardest person of all to forgive is ourselves!  However, forgiving ourselves is certainly part of what it means to “love ourselves” (Mt. 22:39).

So, you simply say to the Lord: “Lord, thank You that when I ask You to forgive me, You do, according to Your Word in 1 John 1:9 (I recommend quoting that verse from memory).

“And, since You forgive me, there is no reason for me not to forgive myself!  So, Lord Jesus, I forgive myself for what I’ve done, through Your grace and power!”

Now, dear friend, here comes what can be the hard part – but it doesn’t need to be the hard-part!

If you will pray that sample prayer every single time you need to, you will see (I guarantee this because God’s Word promises it) that you will live in far greater joy, peace and power.

But it takes a courageous, patient obedience to do this.  Will you agree to do this and bring God glory and honor through your obedience?

May the Holy Spirit bless you and keep you!

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Dear Facebook friends,

Thank you all for showing so much interest and for so many who prayed for me before, during and after what was my second trip to Kenya in 2014 to train 32 pastors and 18 church leaders in sound principles of biblical interpretation, taking them through most of Ephesians in a one-week intensive.

Here is the major value in all of this:

These leaders are constantly surrounded by all kinds of strange teachings and behavior (blood sacrifices; actual teachings that one cannot be saved apart from circumcision, strong legalism, extremely poor Bible knowledge, polygamy, self-proclaimed “end-time” prophets, liars, manipulators, “shysters,” greedy ministers, immoral ministers, etc.).

These very special men and women of God have never had any formal biblical training, and it is likely that they never will.  And yet, they are battling to build a strong church deep in the countryside of Kenya.

So, my life-long friend  Danny Gilbert and I are gladly bringing formal training to them, with no cost to them (we even gave them a financial stipend because they all went without work for an entire week – and they don’t get any paid time-off or vacation!).

We taught the leaders about eight hours per day, Monday through Friday.  It seemed like half the time the power was out, so it was dark in the room we met in, with no fans and no air-conditioning.  And yet, I was amazed at how they continually concentrated!

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They were spiritual “sponges” – soaking up everything we taught and asking some very critical questions relating to doctrine, theology, practice and leadership.  It was such a joy to see the Holy Spirit continually give us wisdom in answering those questions accurately and in life-giving ways to them.

The pastors and leaders repeatedly remarked to one another their amazement that we came to serve them (the culture is such that leaders are served – they don’t come to serve!), that I came a second time (it was Danny’s fourth time), that we asked nothing in return, that we taught and led with authority, yet humility. 

They were particularly charged every time I used the many words and phrases I learned in their local dialect – Luo.  That went a long, long way in establishing unity and trust among us all.

In fact, each day that we finished, I did a benediction in Luo – from 2 Cor. 13:14 or Num. 6:25-26.  These are two of my favorite benedictions to give; I loved it and They LOVED IT!

Because of your praying, neither Danny nor I got sick; we were victorious over demonic attacks and many, many disruptions and difficulties.

Moreover, I cannot imagine two pastors anywhere on the planet working and flowing together better than Danny and I did (which was a GREAT example to the pastors). 

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Though I have known Danny since seminary (more than 26 years now), my respect for him just continue to grow and grow.

I still don’t know where all this is going; Danny and I want to continue to go back twice per year but we also have ideas of doing so much more: Skyping with them once per month to do more teaching; getting the five main pastors laptops with Logos Bible Software and our own many teachings (plus my five commentaries) loaded on the laptops and still a much larger vision: building a physical building to have an accredited Bible training institute.

Major areas of the Christian faith we covered that most connected with the pastors and leaders:

  1. Salvation through Christ alone (vs. cults and heretical groups that even teach that faith in Christ without circumcision is invalid).  We brought them back to the first historic Church Council in Acts 15:1-8 (in light of my teaching from Eph. 2:11-22) and showed them the relevance of how Scripture interprets Scripture.  This was all unexpected and spontaneous and it proved to be a major highlight of our time together.
  2. The above led to our discovery of the need to teach on all of the essentials of the faith, the next time we come back (the Church in Kenya barely knows the essentials versus the non-essentials of their faith – but then neither do most American Christians).  No wonder the Church in Kenya is SO fragmented and tossed about by every wave of doctrine (Eph. 4:14). 
  3. I found out that the pastors and leaders desperately needed sound, in-depth teaching on marriage, seen so clearly after I led them through Eph. 5:21-33.  This opened up discussions about the biblical roles of husbands and wives – compared to cultural mores. 
  4. For example, should husbands and wives even sit together in a church service?  I gave the example of Maureen and me sitting together at South Hills Community Church during my 4 ½ year tenure there and the many, grateful comments that that elicited from people in the congregation.

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  1. Moreover, these men and women are dealing constantly with sexual immorality among Christian leaders and non-leaders alike, so often resulting in polygamy (justified biblically from the Old Testament).  So many things are delicate and culturally-conditioned, yet the Lord gave us wisdom in when to be firm (when culture contradicted Scripture) and when to yield on non-essential points.
  2. The ongoing, deep and urgent need for the Church in Kenya to understand their identity and worth as sons and daughters through Christ and the freedom that brings — over against legalism (so particularly strong in Kenya).
  3. The great need – and desire — for the pastors, leaders and their people to really and truly know and understand God’s love for them (again, seen from the teaching especially from Eph. 1).  The above was particularly gratifying; from our early-morning prayer time, Danny and I both sensed that the Holy Spirit wanted us to teach and impart the Father’s vast love for them. 
  4. Once we began the first session, we laid aside our plans and co-taught on God’s love.  Danny would take about 15-20 minutes, then I would teach on God’s love for about the same time.  We did this for most of the rest of the day and I know that must have been a great display of unity to the pastors! 
  5. We found that accepting and absorbing God’s love was difficult for them – especially given different cultural aspects of their lives (but not so different from our own, American culture).But we also challenged them continually on everything we taught and discussed to teach and impart these things to the people they have responsibility for in the Lord.
  6. They gave particular expression of gratitude to Danny and me for our approach in teaching and leadership with them: it was humble, yet authoritative (that is, authoritative with Scripture); that we came to them with servant hearts and with much love.  So much of this was expressed through our diligence in learning key phrases and words in Luo.
  7. Danny’s teaching on the Essentials vs. the Non-essentials of our faith and how it is so easy to make “Non-essentials” the “Essentials” and end up cutting out anyone who doesn’t agree with our “Essentials” (that used to be “Non-essentials”!!!).  That paragraph was fun to write J 
  8. Examples of these things would be the way women dress (or should dress) – i.e. the matter of modesty and what that looks like and how it’s carried out in a particular culture. 
  9. Another example: So many heretical teachers who promulgate the teaching that unless one speaks in tongues, he is NOT born-again.  We had to give clear biblical evidence that this teaching is heretical (even though we personally value tongues – also known as “praying in the Spirit”). 
  10. The above also led to our emphasis that “loudness” among preachers does NOT equal anointing!  This is an issue because of so many self-promoters and “end-time prophets” in Kenya that shout and scream when they preach — as if this is an indication of the anointing of the Holy Spirit upon them.

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  1. We also strongly emphasized that the operation of the gifts of the Spirit (a deeply strong conviction of ours) in a man or woman does NOT equal spiritual maturity or the fruit of the Holy Spirit. 
  2. Spiritual warfare and its interpretation and application was yet another critical area of teaching and need for understanding – seen again as I led them through Eph. 6:10-18.
  3. I will never forget what Pastor Victor said to Danny and me: “It is NOT easy to pastor in Africa,” and he went on to discuss why: Poverty, AIDS; pastors work full-time but are expected also to pastor full-time.  And yet, they also have families and obligations. 
  4. Moreover, it is such a godly desire among the five primary leaders of this group – called Christ Ministers Fellowship — to grow in their understanding of their faith.  And yet, they have virtually NO resources to do so (laptops with Logos would be an enormous help).  There remains MUCH more work to be done and Christ’s Church is WORTH our sacrifice!!!   

 

 

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The picture above is from Mt. Nebo in Jordan, looking across to Israel, the Holy Land.

In this teaching, we endeavor to tackle a great Bible difficulty – one that has puzzled many of God’s people for ages — and which in, if we’re not extremely careful with our interpretation of it — we may actually ascribe a harshness to God that is in fact not even accurate.

In addition, we’ll close with some applications for ourselves.  The intent of this study for you, the reader, is to take this as a Bible study.

I do not believe this study will give you the greatest good without you searching every biblical passage that I cite and to do so diligently, patiently and prayerfully!

Finally, the impetus or purpose of this writing arises from a question someone asked me recently in a class I taught to prepare us for an upcoming trip to Israel (and an optional extension trip to Jordan – the biblical Moab — where the events of our study took place) this November 4-17.

The question had to do with the LORD’s seeming harshness to Moses in not allowing him to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land, due to a serious sin on Moses’ part.

In Deut. 32:48-52 — on Mt. Nebo in modern-day Jordan (please read this passage carefully), we’re quite surprised to find that Yahweh (the Hebrew name translated “the LORD”) would not allow Moses to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land because Moses rebelled against Yahweh.

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Picture: A map of the Holy Land, from atop Mt. Nebo

Our surprise is heightened all the more because of Moses’ great pattern of obedience to Him throughout his life.

We find the record of Moses’ disobedient act in Num. 20:1-13 (again, please read this passage carefully).

Once again, our surprise at Yahweh’s sentence against Moses in Deut. 32:48-52 seems justified; after all, it was the people that rebelled against Moses and Aaron (Num. 20:2-3).

How could Yahweh fault Moses for his reaction against the people, who had repeatedly rebelled against Moses, Aaron and Yahweh?

But let us go back to how Yahweh originally revealed Himself to Moses, in Ex. 34:6-7 (NLT):

The Lord passed in front of Moses, calling out, “Yahweh! The Lord! The God of compassion and mercy!  I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin.

Moses and Aaron had just been in the very presence of Yahweh, where “the glory of the LORD appeared to them” (Num. 20:6), yet they went out and didn’t reflect Yahweh’s nature to the people, described above in Ex. 34:6-7; instead, they represented Yahweh as angry and vindictive (Num. 20:10-11).

Let us also keep in mind that the Israelites were mere days from the history-making event of entering His “holy land,” currently occupied by the extremely wicked Canaanites.

It was hyper-critical for Moses and Aaron to set the highest example to the people of trust and obedience to Yahweh, but instead, they completely dishonored Him before the people.

Indeed, the Israelites – and their leaders — must enter the Promised Land with the right heart, in holiness and with reverence toward Him – otherwise, the wrong precedent set would adversely affect succeeding generations.

We read in Deut. 32:50-51 that Moses and Aaron dishonored Yahweh before the people.  But how did they do this to Yahweh?

The Hebrew word in Deut. 32:51, translated “broke faith,” was elsewhere used for a wife’s unfaithfulness to her husband; it was used of Israel’s treachery when she forsook the LORD (Lev. 26:40), and perhaps most pronounced of all, Achan’s breaking faith with Yahweh (Josh. 22:16-20).

Let us note carefully as well Yahweh’s clear instructions in this event to Moses in Num. 20:8: Moses was to speak to the rock “before their eyes.”

In a time of great tension, I think the text indicates that Yahweh intended to demonstrate grace to the people (Ex. 34:6-7; cf. Rom. 2:4); instead, Moses demonstrated only anger and frustration – a twisted representation of Yahweh’s nature (again, recall Ex. 34:6-7).

Note carefully Moses’ words to the people in Num. 20:10: “you rebels”!   Moreover, it was not Moses and Aaron who would bring forth the water (note Moses’ words in v.10: “we”); it was Yahweh who would do this.

Furthermore, Moses “struck the rock twice with his hand” (v.11), whereas Yahweh called him to speak once to the rock.  There is a vast difference in tone, signified by those two words, isn’t there?

Yahweh called Moses’ action unbelief (v.12); He also termed Moses’ action as profaning Him (the opposite of treating Him as “holy”).

Keil and Delitzsch put Moses’ behavior this way:

He then struck the rock twice with the rod, “as if it depended upon human exertion, and not upon the power of God alone,” or as if the promise of God “would not have been fulfilled without all the smiting on his part.”[1]

Thus, we have many, serious violations from Moses – and silence on Aaron’s part toward Moses when Aaron should have stopped Moses.  No man could have known this, apparently, but God did:

In his commentary on this passage, John Calvin gives this insight:

And hence, too, let us learn that our works, on the surface of which nothing but virtue is apparent, are often abounding in secret defects, which escape the eyes of men, but are manifest to God alone.[2]

Did Yahweh speak sternly, harshly to Moses when He told him he would not lead Israel into His Promised Land (Deut. 32:50-51) – or did He speak tenderly to him – as a father would to his son?

I believe it was the latter; it was to Moses himself that Yahweh revealed His goodness (cf. Ex. 34:6-7)!

However, “to whom much is given, much is required” (Luke 12:48).  Moses was the leader of the nation; if Yahweh did not punish open rebellion against Him before the people, how could He expect the nation to treat Him as “holy?”

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A clear view of Israel from Mt. Nebo, in modern-day Jordan

Matthew Henry writes,

God will show his displeasure against sin, even with those that are nearest and dearest to him.  Those that are in reputation for wisdom and honor have need to be constantly careful of their words and ways, lest at any time they say or do that which may be a diminution to their comfort, or to their credit, or both, a great while after.[3]

However, the narrative does not end there!  Let us also carefully note Yahweh’s grace to Moses, seen in Deut. 32:52.  Thus, Henry comments,

His death was the punishment of his sin, and yet notice is given him of it in such a manner as might best serve to sweeten and mollify the sentence and reconcile him to it.  Moses must die, but he shall first have the satisfaction of seeing the land of promise…This sight of Canaan signified his believing prospect of the better country, that is the heavenly, which is very comfortable to dying saints.  Moses must die, but death does not cut him off; it only gathers him to his people, brings him to rest with the holy patriarchs that had gone before him. Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, were his people, the people of his choice and love, and to then death gathered him… though his sin shut him out of the earthly Canaan, yet it should not deprive him of that better country which in this world can only be seen, and that with an eye of faith.[4]

Moreover, God gave extraordinary, additional grace to Moses when He actually allowed him – in a supernatural way unique in Scripture — to visit with (and encourage?) the Greater Moses (Jesus) — in Mt. 17:1-8.

What applications might we make to our lives from Yahweh’s dealings with Moses?  I think the obvious applications must involve utter humility, obedience and the fear (reverence) of the LORD!

I know that I have been both blessed and stirred to pray and ask Him to help me to walk circumspectly in these ways before Him!

I believe yet another application for us is to learn to be steadfast in our patience with one another in our sin and with our many character deficiencies (e.g. Gal. 6:1-5).

So, John Calvin writes of our need to apply Moses’ failure to our own lives: “Hence let us learn that, when we are angered by the sins of others, we should beware lest a temptation of an opposite kind should take possession of our minds.”[5]

[1] C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 1 (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996), 740.

[2] John Calvin, Commentaries on the Four Last Books of Moses, vol. 3, trans. Charles William Bingham (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005), 134.

[3] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. I: Genesis to Deuteronomy (Old Tappan, New Jersey), 695.

[4] Henry, op. cit., 695-696.

[5] Calvin, op. cit., 135.

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