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Genesis 2:24-25, Various

I’m Number Two!

Not only does the Bible teach us that the union between a man and a woman, becoming one flesh in the bond of God, is to be a permanent bond, but it is also to be an exclusive one.  There are at least two aspects to this. Looking back at the Genesis passage, which is the foundational passage for marriage (Even Jesus quoted it), we read, “For this cause, a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24-25). The first point is the “leaving and cleaving” idea again. Jesus taught us that God always has first place in our lives. The first commandment is to love God; the second is like it. Jesus said, “You love your neighbor as yourself.” The word neighbor in this context is an interesting one. It’s a little more general and could refer to several relationships. Most seem to think it’s the people who live next door to us because that’s what the word means to us. But it refers mainly to the nearest, closest, human relationship that exists in our lives.

When we are children, our nearest or closest human relationship is with our parents. We are to love God and then love our parents. With God first, His direction, one of the top ten is “honor your mother and your father.” Just as Jesus added to Genesis 2:24-25, Paul added to the fifth commandment.  In Ephesians 6:1-3 he says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ is the first commandment with a promise, ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.’” But this relationship falls out of second place once we marry. Our spouses now become second only to God. From my 35+ years of pastoral experience, many marriages begin their downward spiral when one of the marriage members allows someone or something to replace their spouse as number 2! If our spouse falls from number 2, God has already left number 1. It’s His will and direction that we “leave and cleave.”

When our spouses lose the number 2 spot, God is no longer in the #1 spot, and it opens the door to a violation of the 7th commandment: “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). This does not just refer to sexual activity; it also applies to intimacy in general. Husbands and wives must remain faithful to each other for life. Not only should sexual infidelities be excluded from spouses’ lives, but so should emotional infidelities. Sometimes, a husband or wife will turn to someone (or something) other than their spouse for emotional intimacy, sharing deep hurts, frustrations, dreams, and aspirations. One writer concludes that emotional infidelity “… can damage marriage even without sexual involvement. Certain intimacies of thought and feeling should be reserved for the marriage relationship.”  Remember, love God first, then your spouse second! Let nothing come between! I’m happy to be #2 in my wife’s life, and she is just as excited to be #2.

Matthew 19:4-6

Leaving And Cleaving

Genesis 1:31 tells us that marriage is God’s idea. I call it a “God Thing.” Since marriage is a “God Thing,” we cannot miss the fact that this makes it a very sacred relationship. God is either very bad at math, or He’s very serious about our marriage vows. To Him, one plus one does not equal two.  It equals one! The Bible’s first description of the marriage union is found in Genesis 2:18-24. Jesus quotes this account and then adds a little bit to it. He answered those who didn’t understand His math in Matthew 19:4-6, and said, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, (He then quotes from Genesis) therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh? So they are no longer two but one flesh. (He then adds something!) What therefore God has joined together let not man separate.”  Notice the shift in the relationship between an individual and his parents and the transfer of a bond through marriage.

The word from which the above translation renders “hold fast” is most often translated as “cleave.” It literally means “glued” or, even better, “fused” together. This is not like two liquids joined together that lose their individual characteristics. Rather, it’s like two metals fused together by another element, which is the bond. I would argue that the bonding element is God. It’s not sex. It’s not companionship. It’s not a financial benefit! It’s God.

I read an article recently addressing single people to wait until they “meet the one” before they marry. Of course, it meant a variety of things: The one that turns me on, the one that makes me feel special, or the one who makes me feel secure. It argued that when you “meet the one” (emphasis on the ONE), you will know it. My point this morning is that you already know the one. When Jesus was asked by several people what the greatest commandment was, he replied that it was to love God with our whole hearts, souls, minds, and strength.” He then added that the second commandment was to “love your neighbor as yourself.” No matter what your human relationships are, the “ONE” is and must remain “God.” He’s number one! We must love Him first. As children, the #2 is our parents. As adults, the number #2 should be our spouses. When God is actually number 1, he becomes the glue, the weld, the fusion, that enables us to “hold fast, cleave” to one another in God’s sacred institution of Holy Matrimony. In the course of our marriages, there will be times when we won’t turn each other on. There will be times when we don’t make each other feel special. There will be times when we’re not feeling particularly secure in our marriage. But there will never be a time that God is not number one and bonding us together through our marriage vows.

Judges 9:7f

Responding To God’s Word

Jothan, the only remaining legitimate son of Gideon, was rejected by the Israelites as their leader in favor of Abimelech, the son of a servant. From Mount Gerizim, the same place where Joshua addressed the nation, Jothan tells the first parable in the Bible. In his parable, like Israel, the trees are looking for a king. None of the fruitful, productive, competent trees are willing to forsake their efforts to “wave above” the others. But the bramble bush is only too pleased to accept. Jackman observes, “After all, it has no useful task to perform and nothing to offer but thorns. The shelter of its shade is insufficient to protect anyone from the burning sun. It has nothing positive to give, for the trees will soon discover that all it can do is to hurt and wound.” Jothan, the legitimate heir, had to flee for his life from his half-brother Abimelech.

When the masses reject the legitimate leader, nothing but devastation awaits the subjects. It’s interesting that Jothan has the courage to say to Israel that how they hear his parable and how they respond to it will determine their future, for good or for bad. This is much like what Jesus said to the religious leaders of the day. He told parables in which they fit into obvious roles. He warned them that how they heard what he said and how they responded to it would determine their future. But Israel did not listen to either Jothan or Jesus. In the parable of the sower, God spread His Word like a seed, but only the good ground that received it could produce a good crop. The other seed shriveled up, was blown away, or was eaten by birds.

Things have not changed; how we hear God’s Word and how we respond to it will determine our future for good or for bad. Sproul writes, “There is an idea circulating in our culture—everybody believes in the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, as if, by virtue of our natural birth in this world, we are the children of God. In one sense, the Bible does speak of us as God’s offspring, inasmuch as he is the Creator of all human beings. But in the New Testament, there is a special sense in which Christ speaks of the family of God. Christ is the only-begotten Son of God, and the only way one becomes a child of God in the New Testament sense is by adoption. It is only those who are led by the Spirit of God who are the sons of God. And Jesus qualifies that even more carefully here. This family is not defined by biology, by bloodlines, by nature. It is defined by grace. ‘My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.’”[1]

[1] Sproul, R. C. 1999. A Walk with God: An Exposition of Luke. Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications.

Genesis 1:31, Proverbs 18:22

Marriage: A God Thing

Our society does not understand the biblical view of marriage. The best evaluation I can find for it in the mass-media world we live in is that it’s a “meaningful relationship.” It doesn’t even have to be between a man and a woman it just needs to be “meaningful.” But nobody knows what that means. Sometimes, it applies to sexual activity. Sometimes it applies to emotional bonds, sometimes it simply means compatible personalities, and sometimes it means a profitable (financially) arrangement.  With these as the basis of the idea of “meaningful,” it’s not uncommon to find that those bonds don’t always hold a couple together.  Furthermore, there’s a tendency to promote the single life as the superior life. The fancy-free, footloose life of the situation comedies single stars proclaims their own view of marriage. It is not uncommon to see people yearning after their single friend’s lifestyles and feeling trapped themselves.

To understand God’s purposes for marriage, we must understand what the Bible says. We must accept it, embrace it, defend it, and proclaim it. As I studied the Bible in preparation for a series I preached some time ago on The Home and Family. I recognized several important things about marriage we should notice. The first observation is that marriage is a “gift” from God. No, it’s a “good gift.” In Genesis, God proclaimed all his creation “good”, but after the creation of man, “male and female,” he pronounced it “very good.” Genesis 1:21 says, “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” Proverbs 18:22 affirms this when it says, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.” The word for “favor” is the same word for “gift.” The Contemporary English Version translates this verse, “A man’s greatest treasure is his wife— she is a gift from the LORD.” This truth applies to both sexes. Don’t ever try to remove the totality of humanity from the basic principles in scripture. Although the scriptures sometimes address men and women separately, their basic “perspectives” on life and purpose are universal. As a wife is a good gift from God to the man, a husband is a good gift from God to the woman.

Marriage is not a social convenience, a legal fabrication, or a governmental invention. One writer put it this way, “The Bible makes it quite clear in the Genesis account of creation that God instituted the first marriage: a man and a woman united in the will of God for companionship, sexual relations, and the bearing and rearing of children. The Bible says God surveyed all he had created and declared it to be “good” (Genesis 1:31).” One man and one woman together in the biblical model of marriage is “very good.”  You see, marriage is a “God” thing, and it is a “good thing.” After fifty-five years of marriage this year (2024), I have to say the greatest gift God has given to me in this life is a loving wife to share every day with.

Judges 8:33

Leadership

As kids, my brother and I would really enjoy the nights my parents would go out and leave us in the care of our older sister. She had no sway over us, and we’d pretend that we’d listen to her, but we had no intention of doing so. We could hardly wait for the folks to finish dressing and give us our last instructions before they left. When the folks left, we did our thing. We raided the ice box. If it were during the Christmas holidays, we’d look all through their bedroom for hidden presents. We’d often find them. We’d stay up way past our bedtime watching TV shows that we weren’t supposed to watch or that were on after our bedtime. It would drive our sister crazy, but she would actually participate in some of the shenanigans with us. She had the same inclinations that we had. I was reminded of these childhood experiences when I read Judges 8:33. It says, “As soon as Gideon died, the people of Israel turned again and worshipped pagan gods.”  The wording almost makes it sound like the people were simply waiting for him to get out of the way so they could do what was always in their hearts.  Gideon failed to establish any real, lasting reform in the nation. He changed their behavior in his presence, but he didn’t change their hearts.

Someone once suggested that the true test of successful leadership is what happens when the leader moves on. If this is true, then Moses was a failure. Joshua was a failure, and Gideon was a failure. Jackman suggests why Gideon failed. “Gideon was unable to change the heart of the nation because his own heart had not changed. When we first met him, he was an idol worshiper, and although he did not apparently return to the cult of Baal, nevertheless, the end of his life sees him barely holding on in a situation where the wheel has virtually turned full circle. It is the sad downward spiral of Judges, once again.” It was not in Gideon’s heart. In many ways, he continued to live his life as a worshipper of Baal while publicly professing to believe in Yahweh. Any such hypocrisy leads directly to failure. It might accomplish something on the outside, on a temporary basis,  but there is truly no substantial change. In his book I Surrender, Patrick Morley writes that the church’s integrity problem is in the misconception “that we can add Christ to our lives, but not subtract sin. It is a change in belief without a change in behavior.” He goes on to say, “It is revival without reformation, without repentance.”  It seems like this describes Gideon’s judgeship. May God keep it from describing ours!

Someone said, “Leaders challenge the process, inspire a shared vision, enable others to act, model the way through actions, and encourage the heart.”[1] Jesus once informed his followers that “All authority of Heaven and on earth has been given to me” by the Father. But He humbly washed his disciple’s feet. Faust writes, “He taught with incredible insight, yet he allowed people to question him. He accepted people just as they were, but he also inspired them to become better than they were. He led by example. He practiced what he preached. Jesus recruited, trained, equipped, and unleashed a little band of committed men and women who literally changed the world. Two thousand years later, the world still feels the influence of Jesus’ leadership.”[2]

[1] Sailer, William, J. Creighton Christman, David C. Greulich, Harold P. Scanlin, Stephen J. Lennox, and Phillip Guistwite. 2012. Religious and Theological Abstracts. Myerstown, PA: Religious and Theological Abstracts.

[2] Faust, David. 2004. 1 & 2 Thessalonians: Unquenchable Faith. 3:16 Bible Commentary Series. Joplin, MO: HeartSpring Publishing.

Hebrews 10:22-23, Various

Assurance And Security

I remember being asked on numerous occasions if a person can be saved and still entertain some uncertainty. This question rightly deals with the difference between assurance and security. The Reformers did their best to focus on the difference. Biblical assurance (certitudo), they claimed, was against all human effort or feeling. Luther argued that his security was based on something outside himself. He did not rely on his own goodness or powers, experience, or anything else to save him but solely on the promises of God. He argued that God cannot lie and will never deceive us. We, therefore, have full assurance of our eternal destiny.”[1] Yet, in my practical day-to-day life, I have to agree with those who say that assurance is the subjective side of the issue and security (or eternal security) is the objective side of the issue. That’s to say that assurance has to do with how one feels and is related to sense experience regarding salvation, while the issue of security relates to the biblical fact or truth or reality concerning the issue.

We learn that obedience to God’s instructions in our day to day lives is one way to build assurance into our lives.  The New Testament assures us of this truth, but it also reminds me that sometimes “our conscience condemns us” (1 John 3:20) when God does not. There seem to be times when a person can be truly secure but not feel that way.  I remember the illustration that was used about the two passengers on a plane. One was comfortable and relaxed and, read a novel and enjoyed his meal.  He was comfortable and confident that he’d get to where he was going. The other gripped the armrest with all his might, sweated, imagined terrible crashes, and just worried about a safe arrival. The plane landed as scheduled. The first passenger was secure and assured. The second was just as secure but had no assurance, yet he too, arrived safely at the destination. The security on the flight did not have anything to do with how the individuals felt about it. It was solely dependent upon the worthiness of the vessel and those in charge of it just as our salvation is. Yet a person may be on the plane (believing that Jesus died for them), and because of the weakness of our flesh, still do not feel like it all the time.

The New Testament is clear about God’s desire for all His believing children to not only have the security of their eternal destiny established firmly in their minds but to live each day with that sense of deep assurance that should come from that doctrine. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews says, “And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness in realizing the full assurance of hope unto the end.” Hebrews 10:22-23 adds, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith … Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering for he who promised is faithful.”

[1] Lochman, Jan Mili, and Manfred Marquardt. 1999–2003. “Assurance of Salvation.” In The Encyclopedia of Christianity, 1:146–47. Grand Rapids, MI; Leiden, Netherlands: Wm. B. Eerdmans; Brill.

2 Corinthians 5:8, Various

Descended Into Hell?

One of the prayers I had trouble memorizing when I was a Blessed Sacrament Grade School student in North Omaha was the Apostles Creed. I learned the Our Father and the Hail Mary, OK. I even got the standard confessional prayer without a lot of trouble. Yet, the Apostles Creed always gave me trouble. One phrase in that prayer always got me. It is He (Jesus) “descended into hell.” The prayer says (I had to look it up because I still don’t remember it that well) that Jesus was “born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; He descended into hell; on the third day He rose again from the dead.” Did Jesus descend into Hell between His death and resurrection? First, you must notice that the statement “descended into Hell” was an addendum added to the Apostles Creed somewhere around the 4th Century AD. There has been much debate regarding it, and many believe the phrase should not have been added and would prefer to remove it. There is no valid biblical support for the phrase. Paul says, in Ephesians 4:9, that Jesus “descended into the lower parts of the earth.” Many suggest, such as Kenneth Copeland, that this means that Jesus went to hell for three days to release the spirits of Old Testament saints.

I believe that when the Old Testament saints departed this earth, they went directly to heaven. God took Enoch to be with himself (Genesis 5:24, Hebrews 11:5). Elijah was caught up in “heaven” when he departed (2 Kings 2:1). Abraham’s bosom in Luke 16:23 is a description of heaven. Geisler says, “When Old Testament Saints appear before the cross, they appear from heaven, as Moses and Elijah did on the Mount of Transfiguration.”  The question is, what happened to Jesus while he was in the grave for three days?  The phrase “descended into the lower parts of the earth” is referring to Christ’s body being buried. He was crucified, He died, and He was buried like all humans. He took that death experience as His own. The Phrase simply means caves, enclosures, or graves.

Psalm 139:15 uses the phrase “lowest parts of the earth” to refer to a woman’s womb.  It might mean “from the enclosure of the womb before birth (as Jesus took upon himself with Mary) to the enclosure of the tomb that he took for us after His death on the cross.  We all come from the womb of a woman and go to the tomb at our death. Further, Philippians 2:10 tells us that Hell is not in the “lowest parts of the earth.” Rather, it is “under the earth.” Jesus’ body, like ours, went into the grave. His Spirit, on the other hand, went to heaven. He said to the thief on the cross, “This day, you will be with me in paradise.” He also said to His Father in Heaven, “Into your hands, I commend my spirit.” The Spirits of all believers go to be with the Lord immediately at death. There is no purgatory or temporary place for it. Hallelujah! Biblically, there does not appear to be a place we go at death to cleanse us of our sins before allowing us into heaven. Jesus’ words to the thief on the cross assure us of that. So, too, do the words of Paul to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 5:8, “Absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.”

Revelation 20:12-13, Various

Reward And Punishment

I once made a case for there being degrees of rewards that will be handed out at the judgment seat of Christ. But Jesus taught that there would be degrees of punishment as well as degrees of reward. Luke 12:47-48 talks about “severe beatings” for disobedience and “light beatings.” It depends on the nature of the non-compliance. The Bible is pretty clear that hell will have degrees of punishment. As Matthew 10:15 points out, it will be “more tolerable” for some than others. The author of the letter to the Hebrews asks, “How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God…” Further, that each one will be judged according to his works strongly suggests that each one will receive his own unique punishment, just as each believer will receive their own unique rewards.

Never forget that our God is a moral and a just God. That truth is recited numerous times in the Bible.  Geisler rightly points out, “To equally punish a ‘white lie’ and genocide would be unjust; murder should receive greater punishment than petty theft. However, there is no evidence that judgment proportionate to the sin is always meted out in this life; the wisest man who ever lived complained of this life’s inequities (Eccl. 3:16–22).” Yet we know that with God, there will never be any injustices. He will call everyone and judge them with righteous judgment.

The liberal movement of the day teaches that there is no real punishment for the wicked but only annihilation. But the degrees of punishment doctrine, Geisler goes on to say, “The fact that people will receive differing degrees of punishment in the judgment is proof that ungodly people will not be annihilated at this occasion. That would have implied that all would have received precisely the same punishment, whether they did much or little evil.” I believe the Bible teaches that the duration of punishment in hell is eternal; there are degrees of that punishment. Only God is able to determine what those degrees are, and He will assign the consequences with perfect justice according to the responsibility given to each individual. The Apostle John closes the bible with some pretty powerful ideas. One of them is found in Revelations 20:12-13. It says, “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened…And they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done.”

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