This is Madaba

Approximately 18.5 miles south of Amman, on the King’s Highway, rising on the natural elevation of the Jordanian plateau, is the city of Madaba (biblically known as “Medeba”).  On the fourth day of our journey, this will be the one of three places we will visit. 

Biblical references to the city are limited, though the historical antiquity concerning the early church is phenomenal.  When Israel entered Canaan, they conquered and occupied Medeba, which was one of the cities of the Moabite Mishor (Numbers 21:30; Joshua 13:9, 16;).   Approximately 100 years later, King David battled against the Aramean–Ammonite coalition near this city (1 Chronicles 19:7).

There are a large number of tombs dating from the 1stc AD that provide evidences of the Medeba area belonging to the Nabatean kingdom of Petra.  One monument is dated at 37 AD, which is the period of King Aretas IV.  In terms of antiquity though, 2 tombs discovered at tel-Medeba date back as far as the 13th to the 10thc BC.  Many would date these as being contemporary with the period of the Israelite exodus and conquest of Canaan. 

Approximately 300 years past the time of King David, Mesha, king of Moab, regained control of the city.  600 years later, the Maccabean revolt finds itself ambushed by the “Sons of Jambri,” a tribe from Medeba (110 BC).  A Jewish caravan is looted and the brother of Judas Maccabaeus is killed.  After a prolonged siege, John Hyrcanus retakes the city.  In a series of war deals made in the years following, the city control was given to King Aretas, of Petra.

During the 7thc AD, historical references to Madaba appear to go dark.  Much of this is attributed to the invasion of Islam into the territory. 

In the late 19th century, bedouin Christians pitched their tents in and around the ruins of the city.  As they began to build more permanent shelters, they had the wherewithal to realize the artifacts that existed among the cut stones they were using.  Many of these were conveyed to authorities that revealed intricate mosaics from the Byzantine-Umayyad period that beheld the Church of the Virgin, the Church of the Prophet Elijah, the mosaic of the crypt of Elisha, the Church of the Holy Martyrs, and the Church of the Map (as well as many others).  This earned Madaba the name, “City of Mosaics”.

The Church of the Map hosts an incredible mosaic of a documentation of the Onomasticon (of Eusebius).  This depicts the twelve tribes of Israel, their boundaries and surrounding areas. 

Biblical References

  • Numbers 21:30;
  • Joshua 13:9, 16; 1
  • Chronicles 19:7;
  • Isaiah 15:2;

This is Mt. Nebo

After touring Madaba, our journey will take us to a ridge that rises in Jordan approximately 2,330ft in Jordan called “Mount Nebo.”  In Numbers 20, the nation of Israel is contending with Moses and Aaron because they have no water.  It would be ignoring the context not to also see that Moses and Aaron’s sister, Miriam, has recently died and been buried.  Undoubtedly grieving, in combination with the complaining of the people, clearly leaves Moses irritated with their attitudes.  Thus, he carries out an order from God to take “the rod” with his brother Aaron to speak to the rock before the eyewitness of the people, so that it would, “yield its water.”  However, standing before the rock and the people, Moses makes 3 critical errors.  Instead of speaking to the rock, he, 1) let’s his anger take control of him and chastises the people; 2) takes partial credit (glory) for what is about to happen (“shall we bring forth water”); 3) and he struck the rock, not once, but twice to bring forth the water.  This act cost Moses his entrance into the Promised Land.  

However, in God’s grace, He does allow Moses to view the land of Canaan from a mountain of the Abarim, which was in the land of Moab opposite of Jericho.  It was called then, as it is today, Mt Nebo.  This will also be where he will die.  Scripture states that Moses was buried in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor (Deuteronomy 34:6).  This would be in the valley called Wâdī Ąyun Mûsā.  Scripture also states that no man knows his burial place “to this day.”  Yet in typical custom not to disappoint, tourists and pilgrims that came to the area during the Byzantine era were pointed to a tomb declared to be Moses’ burial site.  As demonstrated throughout the centuries, there is no shortage of traditions and legends for locations in the area concerning Moses and related events.

The contemporary location of Mt Nebo is with the headland called Râs es-Siâghah, which is 6 miles northwest of Madaba in East Jordan https://bibleatlas.org/full/nebo.htm .  There are several springs at the foot of the northern slope that supply water to farming regions to the west and to the town of Madaba in the southeast.  The springs are referred to as ‘Ąyun Mûsā, which means “the springs of Moses.”  There is also a wadi to the west and a ruin on the north and the south (see, “This is Petra”) that holds his name as well.  

The Byzantium monastery subsequently settled into the area and built a basilica that hosted a Presbytery, baptistery, chapel, and diakonikon baptistery (a central place where the priests could wash themselves and holy articles, as well as a storage area for pertinent books and other objects precious to them).  The ruins are in exceptional state with regard to the Islamic invasions of the 7thc AD.  

Archaeological excavations have borne out that the name of Nebo has been faithfully kept to the mountain and region prior to the 4thc AD.  Eusebius’ Onomasticon (see, “This is Madaba”) demonstrates that the mountain was already known by the name long prior to the Byzantium inhabitation. 

Biblical References: 

  • “Nebo” – Deuteronomy 32:49, 34:1; 
  • Moses – Numbers 20:1ff;

This is Petra

On the first place of visit in our journey, we are scheduled to tour the ancient city of Petra (Greek – meaning “the Rock”).  As much is as asserted about the origin of the city, much is left unproven at this historical juncture.  We know more about it’s existence from the 4thc BC to our time, than prior.

It is clear that the line of the Edomites are intrinsically, connected to Petra.  But more specifically, the Nabateans have a deep-rooted history with the city.  The Nabateans are descendants from the Arab kingdom of Nabatea and have a significant role in conjunction with the Israelites in the 2ndc BC, by supporting the Maccabeans, Judas and Jonathan.  For centuries they were considered nomadic.  Later they will be more specific settlers. 

There are equal evidences for dispute as to the origin of the Nabatean people being from either southern or northern Arabia.  Regardless, we can definitively pick up in 312 BC, when the Nabateans are centered in their capitol city of Petra.  This is an impressive period for them, because they successfully defend themselves from an attack of a commander by the name of, “Antigonous the One-Eyed.”  While you may have never heard of him, you undoubtedly are familiar with his commander – Alexander the Great. 

Petra was important as a part of the trade route (particularly aromatics/spice) from South Arabia to the Mediterranean Sea.  They became the principle carriers of frankincense and myrrh.  They established several settlements in the caravan routes from the Hijaz (also called, “Hejaz”) and Damascus, and between Petra and Gaza.  With Petra not only being located in juxtaposition to the King’s Highway, the Nabateans had also gained control over many of the oases (pl. oasis) along trade routes, giving them more economical advantage in the transportation marketing.  This set Petra as the capitol of the greatest commercial kingdom in its region.

The Nabatean’s involvement with Israel becomes even more entrenched with Herod the Great’s son, Herod Antipas (also known as “The Tetrarch”), who marries the Nabatean princess, Phasaelis, daughter of King Aretas IV.  The reason this may be of interest in your journey, is because Antipas divorces her to marry his brother’s wife, Herodias (Matthew 14:1ff).  John the Baptist had an issue with this, and subsequently, Herodias manages to finagle a plan to have John the Baptist beheaded.  As we leave Petra, northward along the King’s Highway to the west there will be hills that border the Dead Sea.  This is where the hilltop fortress of Machaerus is located.  It is the place where John the Baptist was eventually beheaded. 

As is with most ancient cities, Petra has been changed structurally and architecturally through the centuries.  When the Romans take the Nabatean stronghold in 106 AD (under Trajan), many architectural changes will be made.  By the 3rdc AD, they will carve out the magnificent Roman temple structure, ed-Deir.  It towers 175ft high with beautiful colonnades of typical Greco-Roman features. 

After Emperor Trajan’s conquest of Petra, the capitol of Provincia Arabia will be moved to another location.  During the Byzantine Empire (395-1453 AD), Petra reflects some Christian influence in monastical occupation.  The “monks of St. Aaron” remained in the area as late as the dates of the Crusades.  Yet Petra declined.  For a period of time, even its name was lost and it became referred to as “Kerak.” 

During the period of the Crusades, Petra regained relevance for its geographical location as a trade route.  During this period, a fortress called “Wâdî Mûsā” (“Valley of Moses”) was built outside of the Sîq (see last paragraph for description).  Needing financial support, the Latin Kingdom used the center as a taxing port for caravans.  However, after the defeat at the Horns of Hattin in 1187 AD, the Muslims regained control of the entire region and the practice stopped. 

J. L. Burckhardt is often credited with discovering Petra in 1812.  This is a contemporary “discovery” at best, as Petra is obviously far more ancient.  Much more attention to restoration and preservation has been given over the last couple of centuries to the city and its surrounding features.  It has been popularized in recent times by the movie, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”  The location where the incredible scenes of people riding through a giant fissure in the red sandstone, is called the Sîq, which we will get to experience firsthand.

   Biblical references: “Sela / Selah”; “Seir (“sons of”)”

  • 2 Kings 14:7; 2 Chronicles 25”11ff; (Amaziah’s reign in Judah – 796-767 BC;
  • Isaiah 16:1; (the Prophet Isaiah – 739-681 BC).
  • 2 Corinthians 11:32; King Aretas (Nabatean)

Wells or Cisterns?

I remember one of the greatest highlights each summer as a child on our West Texas farm was when my father would start hooking up the irrigation pipe to water the fields.  Water was a big deal out there. We had no lakes or ponds. There were no crashing sounds of waves from the ocean or consistent experience of rainfall. When the cold, fresh well water gushed out of the pipe, it was an exciting moment.  I would stand there and listen for the water coming through the pipe as Dad would turn on the pump at the well-house. You could hear the air popping and burping out of the line and as the water came closer to the outlet you could feel the cool wind surging out.  Then whoosh! Gushing out of the pipe would be wonderful wetness. The water was so cold you could barely stand to be in it, so I would run in and out, splashing around and enjoying the feeling of being refreshed.

Interconnected with this wonderful experience was yet another much anticipated event.  We had an old livestock watering tank in the center of one field. It was rectangular in shape and made out of concrete.  On the bottom corner was a drain spout which we plugged enabling us to fill it with water. The tank served as our summer swimming pool; however, before we could use it each year, our mother insisted on disinfecting it by scrubbing it down with bleach.  Even though there were no livestock in the area actually using the tank, Mom wanted it sanitized before we filled it with water and set so much as one toe inside. As a child, I never understood why no one stopped me from jumping straight into the water coming out of the pipe, yet I was not allowed to jump straight into some water in a concrete tank.  What I did not comprehend was the difference between fresh and stagnant water.

In the Bible, we read about holes dug down into rocks called cisterns.  Typically water would be drained (during the short rain season) or transported to the cistern to supplement the supply during the dry months.  Wells were also dug but different in the respect that they were extremely deep reservoirs. In the upper section of the well there were openings for natural springs to flow from, thus filling the lower reservoir.  Hence, cisterns had to be manually filled while wells were naturally fed by flowing water.  

It was not uncommon for cistern water to develop a thick layer of scum on the surface, which required the people to literally ‘drop’ their bucket to break through the sludge to get to the water beneath.  Eventually the water would become undrinkable if not replenished with a fresh supply. This is because water that is not flowing becomes stagnant. Moreover, cisterns would eventually run dry either from not being replenished or from cracks that would develop along the walls.  Wells were different. As long as water was continually being removed, the source would replenish the levels, thus refreshing the stock.  

Where do we get our water from – our spiritual water?  Do we dip into the stale pools of sectarian dogma or do we drink from the fresh, flowing, living water of Christ Jesus?  Do we cart our doctrines in and pour them into static, leaky holdings or do we allow the river of God to stream healthy teachings into our presence?  In Jeremiah 2:13, God states, “For My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water. 

How do we know when we have traded the river for the dormant hole?  It is when people come to us who are suffering with the pain of a sin-filled world and we attempt to apply our beliefs and teachings.  The person who is being crushed under the weight of a divorce could care less whether of the methodology of worship. The person who is in the final stages of cancer ravaging their body finds no reassurance in whether someone uses systematic theology.  The person whose body is convulsing from the withdrawals of addiction sees no relief in ministerial boundaries. The person immersed in grief and loneliness to the point of suicide sees no relevance in dogma, tradition, or ritual.

Do all the things we concern ourselves with in our doctrines and issue oriented arguments hold a cup of fresh water for the person who is dying in their thirst for relief?  Do the net results of all our debates make any difference to the person who is in anguish? The question must be answered – does it matter?  

When Jesus met a woman who was drowning in her misery, He did not offer her a cup of rules and regulations.  He extended a drink of His “relief.” He said to her, “but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”  

Living water means growth.  Living water means healing. Living water means liberation.  It is constantly moving (a fountain) and being renewed.  One of the greatest features about this refreshment is we do not have to go somewhere and haul it in.  God personally brings it to us. “I bring near My righteousness, it is not far off; and My salvation will not delay.” (Isaiah 46:13a).

We thank You Lord for supplying what we really thirst for.  We ask for Your forgiveness for the cisterns we have carved and subsequent abandoning of Your will.  Please give us new life Lord. Flood us with precious streams. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Cheers.
-James Sterling

The `A Priori of Faith

The defining use of an `a priori is based upon the reasoning of self-evidence without needing any prior experience.  An `a posteriori is an assertion based on prior experience.  The application of Christian faith often vacillates between these two thought processes and thus, causing confusion in what or how one defines “faith.”  Therefore, an understanding of the two adjectives (adverbial usage also) is in order.

The simplest explanation for an `a priori is found in natural law that governs the universe.  Intrinsic to this is mathematics. In spite of contemporary attempts to redefine the terms, 1+1 will always equal 2, as 5+5 will equal 10 and 10+10 will equal 20.  This is determined before we deliberate the evidences. In fact, it will be true regardless of whether or not one is aware of its existence. However, an `a posteriori is rooted in mankind’s observations and experiences.  Therefore, while an `a priori may be affirmed by an `a posteriori, it does not require the `a posteriori to make it true.

Christian “faith” has largely been presented as something that requires a belief or believer(s) in order to exist.  Christian apologetics often die at its own sword by arrogantly presenting half-cocked arguments in the face of well thought out paradigms from millennia old religions and hammered-out philosophies.  Sufficient evidences for Christianity are often presented more on the inclination of opinion, rather than absolutes. Moreover, ethereal abstracts seem more attractive in an effort that appears to have a greater concern for winning the day through confounding, as opposed to convincing another of a universal truth.  

For example, the United States Declaration of Independence states that the “Laws of Nature” and “Nature’s God” are the basis for what entitled them to make a separation from the “political bands” to another.  Therefore, it is not merely a wish of a people. It is an absolute that is so essentially true, the next paragraph begins with, “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” One may argue that the statement still is a matter of a belief to one group of people, because another can be produced that disagrees with the premise and conclusion.  However, the evidence of any person’s demand for freedom remains a universal truth; this is how these rights can be declared as “unalienable,” meaning, they cannot be removed. This is a classic `a priori statement.

Presenting the gospel to an unbeliever on the foundation of what one “believes,” even when given in light of personal experiences (`a posteriori), leaves the subjective door wide open and has a tendency to disempower its truth.  While the `a posteriori can be an excellent form of testimony and witness to the `a priori, the universal truth must be presented and held as the absolute truth.  Christians have too easily yielded massive grounds concerning the Gospel in the name of philosophy, psychology, science, sociology, and tolerance thereof, all for the sake of acceptance and approval, in fear of unmerited labels.  

Additionally, Christians can be tempted to overextend themselves into a form of hyper-spiritualism when sharing the Gospel solely upon an `a posteriori basis.  In efforts to convince the unbeliever of the testimony, approaches to sensationalism are attempted which typically end up in alienation.  If this sounds far-fetched, consider how often the gospel is actually shared from the pattern of created order (`a priori) as opposed to a personal conversion experience (`a posteriori).  When the Apostle Paul engaged with educated unbelievers on Mars Hill in Acts 17, he began with the `a priori of creation and built his argument from there.  

However, a word of caution is advisable.  When presenting an `a priori, the truth of the statement must not be padded with preference or even experience.  It must be left to stand on its own with no fences, walls, or minefields. Any such doing reflects fear that it cannot withstand question or scrutiny.  Creation, order, the purpose of mankind’s existence and the need for salvation in a broken world are truths that are indeed, self-evident, as is the God who holds the answer to all of them.

jas

Beware The Mob

Beware the Mob

The founding forefathers of the United States of America were looking for a way to secure the nation in a way that it would never be removed from the hands of the people; thus forming the opening of the preamble to the Constitution, “We the people.” However, encapsulated within is the declaration of something that is not a democracy. This is because the founders knew that the definition of a purely democratic government being “one man, one vote” would send them towards a mob rule mentality, which would only result in anarchy. While it was important that the citizenry must be able to vote, they must have a system that equalizes the power. Thus, a government controlled as a republic was born. The question would remain though, would the democratic vote hold sway over the republic, or would the republic hold the reigns of the democracy? This was the reason when Benjamin Franklin emerged from the secret Constitutional Convention of 1787, responded to a Mrs. Powell of Philadelphia who asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” with, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

As time would march on, politicians and parties would begin to learn the ways of manipulating the central populaces in the country. The representation of immediate constituencies overrode the wellbeing of the United States as a whole. Elected representatives became far more interested in holding power as opposed to serving patriotism. Soon, the power of the mob was harnessed.

Mobs serve few functions. One, is to drown out any opposition. Two, is to destroy remaining hindrances in their paths. The third item, which always seems unanticipated amongst them, is to self-implode. The mob is always attractive to those in positions of power insofar as they can steer them. However, once the mob breaks free from the reigns, it is seldom regained to containment.

This act is of no new play. For centuries mob mentality has been used by wicked people for what they would think to be their own purposes. Take for example the persecution of Christians. Maltreatment in the Roman Empire was largely motivated by crowds who were stirred up by those who would convince them of a pseudo-conviction of their consciences. In other words, tell the crowds that someone is encroaching upon an inherent good in their lives, and therefore, they must take drastic action.

This was the same principle the Jews exercised when bringing Christ into the mock trial that led to an audience with Pontius Pilate. But the Jews incited the devout women of prominence and the leading men of the city, and instigated a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. Acts 13:50 (NAS)

Marcus Aurelius took greater action than those that preceded him. As witnessed in the inquiry of Pliny the younger to emperor Trajan concerning the handling of Christians, Trajan merely stated that the Christians were not to be pursued. However, if they were come upon, they were to be prosecuted according to the law of Rome. The practice of Christian prosecution for denying the gods of Rome continued through the reigns of Hadrian and Pius. But Aurelius took a more aggressive stance to the pursuance of Christians to the progressive shedding of blood. His modus operandi to accomplish this goal was primarily in and through the immediate governors inciting city crowds to act against the pending threat upon their securities and moralities. The easily manipulated populace would therefore accomplish the duty otherwise reserved for the Roman government. Ironically, the Pax Romana appears to have been used against itself to serve itself by creating a false narrative of a pending threat to Rome. This in turn would justify a lynch mob to execute justice. Again, the irony lay in breaking the law to protect the law.

Mobs and revolutions are not to be confused. While revolutions often encompass war, at times it is also exercised through peace and passivity. The common denominator is the accomplishing a desired purpose based upon a set of fixed principles. It is true enough that revolutions can be evil as well. Yet they are still structured as such. Mobs in general are chaotic and unhinged. The vast majority are unable to remotely articulate that for which they riot against. In the midst of predisposed, externally force-fed clichés, arguments given are often circular in reasoning and have no root in which to rely on. This ends in a graduated form of vandalism that fickly ebbs and flows with things such as emotions and the weather. However, a true revolution looks well past its immediate circumstances. It believes in a far greater purpose, which compels them past local hindrances.

Remember, it was the same crowd shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David,[1]” to Jesus as He entered Jerusalem, that were later demanding, “Let Him be crucified[2]!” before Pilate. This is because the mob is easily incited, as the chief priests and elders persuaded the crowds to shout for the release of a guilty man over the innocent Christ.[3]

As the church, we are never to be the mob. We are the body of Christ. In Him there is purpose, meaning, and given direction. Evil will continually attempt to harness the zeal of Christians for its own reasons. Resolutely turning our faces towards our King will prevent being deceived and the temptation to take matters into our own hands.

Keep the Faith,

jas

[1] Matthew 21:9; NAS

[2] Matthew 27:23; NAS

[3] Ibid 27:20

When Men Call Good, Evil

When Men Call Good, Evil

The Divine Command Theory questions whether something is good and holy because God commanded it or whether God commands something because it is good and holy. This is commonly referred to as the Euthyphro Dilemma found in Plato’s The Last Days of Socrates. The storyline is set when Socrates is traveling to the courthouse to deal with charges levied against him by Meletus. While waiting outside, Socrates meets a young man by the name of Euthyphro who is there on the unusual mission of prosecuting his own father for the death of another man. Euthyphro sees his actions as just and good (holy). Socrates asks him to define ‘holiness.’ Euthyphro answers that whatever is agreeable to the gods is holy and what is not agreeable is unholy. Socrates observes, however, that even the gods are prone to disagree on any number of things. Therefore, there can be no common meaning of holiness among them. Euthyphro notes many things may be disagreed upon, but the killing of a man should be agreeable to all as unholy. When Socrates demands evidence for this assertion, the dilemma of Euthyphro is declared:

EUTHYPHRO – ‘Well, I should certainly say that what’s holy is whatever all the gods approve of, and that its opposite, what all the gods disprove of, is unholy.’

SOCRATES – ‘We’ll soon be in better position to judge, my good chap. Consider the following point: is the holy approved by the gods because it’s holy, or is it holy because it’s approved?’

Applying this to our current treatment of biblical texts: Do we call something good because God commanded it or does God command it because it is good?  The line we take on this will largely determine the outcome of our doctrines. This is due to the fact that if something is good (holy) simply because God commands it, then at a later date if God removes the command it is then the opposite – evil (unholy).  However, if what God has commanded is because it is good (holy) to start with, then regardless of the presence or removal of the command, it remains good (holy).

Good is not so because God calls it good – even though God would never call anything good that is not. It is good because it finds its origin in Him (Genesis 1:1, 31).  Choice has been given to living creatures (such as men and angels) so they can choose to change from goodness to wickedness.  Such choice is obviously not a part of an inanimate object or substance.  How a ‘thing’ is used by something living with the consciousness of choice determines whether it is evil or good.  Take for example the common butcher knife: in the kitchen it is an invaluable tool for food preparation; however, in the hands of a murderer, it is a weapon of destruction.  The knife itself has no determination of holiness except that which it is used for.  Therefore, all inanimate objects are subject to what we choose to use them.

If things then are good because they find their origin in God and thus He commands them as holy, we cannot point to things set apart in the ancient Scriptures that bring Him glory as something which turns to bring Him shame in the New Covenant.  This would be philosophically contradictory.

The frightening aspect of this seemingly subtle shift is when men begin to call good, evil, they are in fact in the shadow of committing the unforgivable sin.  This is consistent with the teaching Jesus gives in Mark chapter 3.  As Jesus cast out demons, the scribes from Jerusalem accused Him of being possessed by Beelzebul and using powers of wickedness to exercise the spirits.  Jesus referred to this as the act of blaspheming the Holy Spirit.  They were accrediting the gracious act of deliverance to the evil power of Satan.  They were in effect calling good, evil.

In God’s eyes, there is only good or evil, right or wrong, holy or unholy, sacred or profane, righteousness or wickedness, truth or lies, etc.  Man cannot whitewash himself with vague and ambiguous language by saying, “I don’t agree with,” or “I don’t think that is right,” or “That is wrong.”  It is either of God or of the devil.  The looming danger is when we allow our own desires, prejudices, and even maliciousness to manipulate our discernment concerning what is of God and what is not.  This style of thinking has permeated our doctrines, to which we are now submitting ourselves to answering for, calling things wicked and evil, which God has expressly called good.  For this, we must repent and repent quickly.

Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Colossae, “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Col. 3:17).  This means that in whatever you do, if you cannot do it the name of the Lord God, it is evil.  This does away with the alleviation of our worldly lifestyles and heightens our accountability to everything in which we participate.  The compartmentalization of Christian living should not come as any surprise to us.  We have been laying the foundation for years by expressly changing the very commands of God to suit our desires.  The evidence that this has backfired is clearly seen in the psychological response of contemporary Christians.  While we may not articulate it, we have interpreted things changing from once called right (good) to now being inherently called wrong (evil).  Therefore, we think in the subconscious that something can be right (good) outside of our assemblies and wrong (evil) inside.  This is not only a gross philosophical inconsistency, it is giving the glory God deserves to the world and its ruler.  Moreover, if anyone possesses God given gifts we do not view as ‘good’ within our assemblies, we compel them to take their gift to the world and lay it at its feet.  This is a serious charge for which we will have to give an account.  In Isaiah 5:20, the Lord says through His prophet, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; who substitute bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”

Perhaps we should listen to the call of Moses to the people of God before they entered the land of promise:

You shall not do at all what we are doing here today, every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes;  Deuteronomy 12:8

jas

Ethics

One of the immediate items revealed in a brief Old Testament review is that God instated a set of principles by which we as people are to live.

prin·ci·ple
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, modification of Middle French principe, from Latin principium beginning, from princip-, princeps initiator — more at PRINCE
1 a : a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption b (1) : a rule or code of conduct (2) : habitual devotion to right principles <a man of principle> c : the laws or facts of nature underlying the working of an artificial device.

Some of the methodology has changed throughout our spiritual upbringing, but the principles have always remained the same.  This is why the psalmist would sing, “But You are the same, and Your years will not come to an end.” (Ps 102:27).

“But the values of men continually self-destruct by their own contradictions.”

Nevertheless, mankind has always had a tendency to follow his own will and desires.  Thus, man tries to develop his own sets of principles to live by. But the values of men continually self-destruct by their own contradictions.  For example, there is a cry in our land for an absolute freedom of speech.  That is why the incredibly violent and vulgar aspects of the Internet, rap and metal music, the movie industry, and art is not only allowed, but legally protected.  Yet, society often demands that one must control his or her speech in relation to “offending” someone.  Subsequently, there is an obvious discrepancy and contradiction between the standards.

I realize some may immediately react to this statement with arguments surrounding censorship, but that is not my purpose.  Therefore, I will not attempt to “cover all the bases” in this briefing.  What I do want you to see is that there is already of set of standards in place that God desires for us to live by.  With this in mind, consider how many decisions we face that are based upon what the general consensus concludes.  After all, does it not sound correct to go with the majority rule? Yet God has called us not to what the majority of mankind thinks. In fact, He has called us “out” of what the bulk of the world would determine as truth and justice. Is not Satan the ruler of this world (John 14:30; “Ruler” only in the sense of those who reject Christ)?  God has called us to His truth and to His justice in Jesus Christ.  So, remember in your day-to-day activities and decisions that God has set forth a pattern with principles to live by.  Sift everything through the screen of His word and view everything through the eyes of Jesus.  But be prepared – many times it will be against the so-called “majority” view.

Keep the Faith

jas

Opinion

OPINION ~ Function: noun.  Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French, from Latin opinion-, opinio, from opinari.  Date: 14th century.  1) a view, judgment, or appraisal formed in the mind about a particular matter.  2)  belief stronger than impression and less strong than positive knowledge.

This is undoubtedly an opinionated culture.  Have there ever been more formats to express the minds of the people?  Oprah, Talk Back Live, Electronic Bulletin Boards, Chat Rooms, Rush Limbaugh, Billboards, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat – the picture is obviously clear.  There is no famine in the land for what people have to say concerning just about anything.  The epitome of these arenas must be talk shows.  Any large radio talk show employs a “screener;” these are employees whose job is to filter off any uninteresting or unintelligible callers.  In other words, they have to skim the top off of all the ignorance that calls in for the show.  Even then, there is never a shortage of people with opinions about something they have never even heard of before.  One must stop and ask, “What limits the public opinion on anything?”

Kay Arthur once made a statement about opinion and responsibility.  The essence of the thought was that people should not readily express opinions about matters that they do not have any responsibility with.  In other words, one needs to earn the right to speak.

Imagine working very hard on a yard to make it beautiful.  The soil is turned and prepared for a host of plants.  Bushes, shrubs, and flowers are careful selected and coordinated and placed them carefully about the landscape.  The trees are pruned and each plant is fertilized according to its needs.  The lawn is manicured and all the pesky weeds have been removed.  Magazines and home owner associations argue over which who retains the right to a cover shoot of the landscape for next month awards and publications.  This garden looks exceptional.

One day while labor is being performed in the midday sun, a few neighbors approach and begin kibitzing the labors.  Critique ensues over the choice of bush shaping.  Black spot fungus is pointed out on the roses.  Whispers abound about the imperfect cut on the tree branch prune.  Aphids are strained out while the pest of critical words are swallowed.

To what right do these individuals have to offer such assessment?  To what minute of labor did they acquire the right to this appraisal?  In this scenario it is painfully obvious; they have no right to speak against one’s efforts because they have no investment.  This same principle is recognized in sayings, such as, “Try walking a mile in another man’s moccasins.”  This is commonly understood as the need to minimally attempt to imagine living a person’s life before criticizing them.  It’s all a matter of humility when it is boiled down, because sharp edged opinions would be dulled considerably if one had to bear the load of the task or the individual.

The apostle Paul said in Romans 14:4,  “Who are you to judge the servant of another?  To his own master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand,” and in Galatians 6:2-3, “Bear one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ.  For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.”  When individuals cease being judgmental and start actually getting involved in the work of the kingdom, something just shy of miraculous takes place – people begin bonding and become a true family.

I give my God thanks for all of you who do this very thing.

Keep the Faith!

jas

New Year 2018

When a new year comes to pass, it is always interesting to watch the year end reviews on evening news to reflect on the events that have taken place. 2017 is no exception. In fact, in this generation, it may be without exception. Aside from the shear number of natural disasters, celebrity deaths, and the raw shakedown of the popular and powerful sexual predators (that otherwise seemed untouchable themselves), the political arena left even the most stoic slack-jawed. The only thing that matched the constant exposure of lies and deceit were the accusations of others lying about the lies and deceit. One was left to question the questions, and even then, at the expense of the questioners.

Since the Civil War, we have probably never see the likes of such polarism in our society as we do today. If one reads books from the 80’s and 90’s concerning American culture, the authors would state that the country spends more time splitting into sides and shouting at one another than they do accomplishing any agendas. Today, people have graduated from bellowing and protesting, to bashing each other’s skulls in order to communicate their minds. Some of the nation’s most admired prognosticators consider the country to be on a knife’s edge, teetering towards where this paragraph began – civil war.

Observant Christians are often taught to look beyond the chaos of the world, and to seek where the hand of God is leading the church – and rightly so. However, the ideas of mankind in leadership positions have frequently been confused with the absolute direction of Christ. When people drift from points in which they should otherwise be anchored, popularity casts their course, and the winds of opinions send them tossing about.

The Roman Catholics of the feudal Europe had more than ample reason for many misunderstandings of Scripture in their day. This was due to the chasm of a language they did not speak and being subject to the worldly men who did. These leaders of the church held this power over the masses and wielded it as hammer force their agendas. Emerging from these dark times were those who risked all that they had to set the people free to follow God as their sovereign leader alone. The formula for such a spiritual revolution was not difficult. The consequences that would rain down from those losing their position of prestige and power would be harsh though. But how would the people be released to seek God according to His terms and no other? It would be done by giving them God’s word in the language they spoke and understood for themselves.

Today there are over one hundred mainstream English language biblical versions that can be had at the turn of a page or a stroke of a keyboard. Moreover, one can access Greek and Hebrew interlinear bibles to see how the original languages align and are translated to their own. Access to the Scriptures has never been greater and as simple as today. Even if one has no internet access, multiple organizations are willing to give away complete bibles, free of charge, whatsoever.

Yet with this ease of access, has come an attitude that exceeds taking something for granted; it is the assumption that what is present, has always been, and will always be there. Bibles are left unread both in the collective assembly and at home. With this mindset in place, church members have passively handed over their minds to some church leaders with no checks and balances for the doctrines (or lack thereof) being espoused. Thus, our culture has come somewhat full-circle to that of the dark ages, with men telling the people what they should or should not believe, neither equipping them to study or think for themselves. Granted, the barrier is not a language limited to a certain vein of clergy, but one of willful ignorance. Ironically, there was much bloodshed during the age of translating and publishing bibles in English. Today, there is no bloodletting – just mentally checking out.

More than ever, Christians need to clearly understand that which they profess to believe in. This apologetic must be ready to answer the difficult questions that stand in direct opposition to the faith, such as abortion, homosexuality, capitol punishment, gender definitives, designer genetics, and even the history of Israel and Palestine. Questions abound with so few in the church answering. Many leaders teach doctrines based solely on popularity and local economics.

This is not a time to engage in screaming arguments. It is not a time to answer questions that are nothing more than goose-chases down rabbit trails. In these tumultuous periods, it is a confident head and spirit that will prevail. And such a mind and spirit will only come from a willing, Spirit-led, diligent disciple of God and His word.

“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.”

2 Timothy 2:15 NAS

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”

James 1:22 NIV

Keep the Faith,

jas