The Morning Star: Can You See It?

IMG_0317 brightI do not spend much time stargazing, but I often have the privilege of enjoying a clear, starry sky in the early morning hour when light is creeping up over the horizon in the east. Recently I enjoyed such a scene in which I was able to capture in one frame the first five planets from the sun, with planet Earth in the foreground, of course.

When reference is made to “the morning star”, it is often the planet Venus that is being referred to, because for many months at a time the bright orb appears as a harbinger of the dawn.

As is the case with many other things in God’s wonderful creation, in both the terrestrial and the celestial realms, we find the demonstration of a spiritual principle in the morning star’s appearance while the sun remains hidden below the horizon.

In Revelation 22:16, we find one of the many beautiful names of the Lord Jesus Christ, “the bright and morning star”.  Jesus introduces Himself to us in this special and even mysterious way at the end of the very last book of the Bible after He promises to “come quickly”, and just before He closes the Scriptures by reiterating that promise so precious to the hearts of millions of believers: “Surely I come quickly.”

For it is especially to the heart that the Spirit of God speaks when we are first introduced to the morning star by the Apostle Peter.  Referring to the preview of the coming kingdom that he and the sons of Zebedee were given on the mount of transfiguration, Peter encourages his Christian brethren with these words: “We have the prophetic word made surer, to which ye do well taking heed . . . until the day dawn and the morning star arise in your hearts“.¹  Some have taken this as an allusion to the rapture of the church prior to the long-prophesied dawn of the millennial day of glory, when the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in His wings (Malachi 4:2).  I believe this is a lovely application of Peter’s words, but it is still preeminently to the heart that the Holy Spirit speaks by the underlined phrase above.  It seems that even the word order in that verse, which inverts the natural chronology of a morning star arising before the dawn, would indicate to us that the event of the Lord’s coming for us is not what is primarily in view here; the Lord Jesus desires that He Himself be the object of our hearts’ affections and gaze. When that is true of our hearts, then I suggest we are much better able to enjoy His final promise to us:  “Surely, I come quickly.”

Finally, I would just notice one more reference the Lord Himself makes to the morning star, in speaking to the overcomer in the church at Thyatira,² which represents an adulterous segment of Christendom soon to be judged by “great tribulation”. While they await judgment who are taught by that morally bankrupt “Jezebel” (the figurative embodiment of evil teaching), “he that overcomes” and is taught of God has for his portion the “Morning Star”, while he waits for, and watches by faith the approaching of, that great day of judgment and reward.³  What a wealth of comfort and hope may be found for our hearts in this enchanting figure of Him who is soon to come: “The Bright and Morning Star”!

 

¹  II Peter 1:19 (JND trans.)     ²  Revelation 2:18-29    ³  Luke 12:31-38; Hebrews 10:25

 

 

 

Freedom, Independence, and the Confederate Flag

Traveling the back roads of the American South affords a window into the history and culture of the region, perhaps more vividly than in any other part of the United States.  On display frequently in front yards, in windows, and on vehicles is the Confederate battle flag, which carries with it a potent reminder of what it stood for more than 150 years ago, and what it still represents in the minds of many today: the quest for independence from the impositions of a distant regime with foreign ethics.

Americans are used to thinking of freedom and independence together, and many celebrate freedom on Independence Day.  But while freedom from tyranny has thankfully been the result of some independence movements in history, these two ideas (freedom and independence) are not intrinsically bound together, as though one naturally flows from the other. For instance, personal freedoms may be very much limited in politically independent nations. The American Civil War was sometimes called the War for Southern Independence, but to have tied the ideal of freedom to that struggle for political independence would have belied the human bondage and slavery its position defended.

Obtaining independence from established authority is never held up as an ideal to be aspired to in the Word of God. (Avoiding practical dependence on others is admirable¹, but that is a entirely different matter.)  God created man and put him under the responsibility of obedience, and the concepts of independence and obedience are really mutually exclusive. When we are told in both the 17th and 21st chapters of the book of Judges that “in those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes”, it is not because Jehovah found delight in the Israelites being able to exercise their freedom in independence from kingly authority.  We are given this repeated epitaph to the sad decline in Judges to show that the spirit of independence leads not to true freedom, but rather, it tends toward bondage to sin and to self. Peter writes of those who “despise government”, are “self-willed”, and “not afraid to speak evil of dignities”, as being those who promise others liberty, while they themselves are slaves of corruption (II Peter 2:10-19).

It is a paradox that true moral freedom is inseparably connected to the principle of obedience. “Now, having got your freedom from sin, ye have become bondmen to righteousness.”²  The natural man looks to gain freedom through independence from authority, like Eve in Eden, like the children of Israel at various times in their history, and perhaps like many young people under their parents’ authority, but real freedom will not be gained through independence. The Apostle Paul knew what true freedom was, and enjoyed it as perhaps very few of us do, while at the same time writing of the need for “casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (II Corinthians 10:5).

Obedience to God by faith, and a respect for the authority structures He has ordained in this world, affords the enjoyment of Christian liberty to the new creature in Christ³, as no flag and all it may represent ever could. “Christ hath made us free . . . [for] ye have been called unto liberty” (Galatians 5:1, 13). Freedom from the principle of sin in the flesh, which faith in Christ brings, allows the “new man” to do what it wants to do by its very nature: to please God through obedience.

 

¹ Galatians 6:4-5; II Corinthians 11:9     ²  Romans 6:18 JND trans.    ³ II Corinthians 5:17

 

Greater Riches Than Egypt’s Treasures

The border control agent was just performing his assigned duties by asking the travelers why they were entering Canada.  When he received a response, he asked in a mildly incredulous tone: “A Bible conference over Easter weekend?” He may have been able to think of many other more interesting or gratifying pursuits to fill up a holiday weekend than to spend it at a Bible conference.

Moses may have gotten more than just some incredulous questions or quizzical looks from his Egyptian “family” when at “forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel” (Acts 7:22-23). He had been “learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians”, and no doubt there was a bright future in store for him, for the “treasures of Egypt” were his by right, as the heir apparent of Pharaoh’s daughter. However, there was a catch, as we would say, to his claim on those treasures. Moses knew in his soul, given a conscience taught by the flickering light of the promise of God passed along to him by his godly parents, that he could not accept that heritage and enjoy what Egypt had to offer without sinning against the God who had promised Israel the land of Canaan, not Egypt. The pleasures of this sin would have lasted but for a season, for even given Moses’ 120-year life, he had been a great loser to have gained the whole world, while losing his soul (Matthew 16:26).

Egypt is for the Christian a picture or type of the world, and its treasures are without doubt a picture of all that the world has to offer.  Much of what this world offers may seem pleasant or at least not too objectionable to the natural mind, but if these things are sought without reference to God, and with respect only to man’s natural desires, the treasures of Egypt will always take on the character of the pleasures of sin. It cannot be otherwise, for “all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world”, and we know that “the whole world lies in the wicked one” (I John 2:16; 5:19 JND translation).  The “treasures of Egypt”, which must morph into the “pleasures of sin”¹, are being pursued by a large majority of men and women, old and young, in the developed world today.

But Moses forsook Egypt, and persevered in a course of faith, “as seeing Him who is invisible”.¹ His visitation of his brethren, his forsaking of Egypt and all it offered, and his choosing to suffer affliction and to bear the reproach of the Christ (the promised Messiah), all stemmed from his discovery of much greater riches, as he looked forward in time and to the resurrection of the just for his reward.  We Christian believers have much more to enjoy of Christ now, as well as having “exceeding great and precious promises”² for the future – more than Moses ever foresaw or enjoyed while in the body.  May we live in light of our position in Christ, enjoying the greatest riches God has ever made known to His creatures. The “unsearchable riches of Christ” are found in “the mystery of God, in which are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”³.

Perhaps we could sum up these thoughts by quoting the 20th-century martyr, Jim Elliot: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

 

¹  Hebrews 11:23-27      ²  II Peter 1:4     ³  Ephesians 3:8; Colossians 2:2-3 (JND)

 

To Fall From Our Steadfastness

There is something that has been impressed upon me in recent years while observing the walk and the ways of Christians, and I include myself here. It is this, that there is a tendency in our hearts to decline from a more devoted and conscientious state to a state that is less characterized by these godly traits.

No doubt this decline was foretold by the Scriptures in passages such as Revelation 3 (the degraded state of Laodicea), and in the spirit of the Lord’s words when He told His disciples that false prophets would arise in a coming day to deceive many, and that iniquity would abound because the love of many would grow cold.¹  But although this decline ought not be a surprise to us, we are at the same time encouraged in the Word of God to guard against it, and to not fall from our steadfastness.²

A local radio talk show host (perhaps a believer, for he is favorable to Christianity) recently discovered that a moral  deviance he had condemned in the past was being accepted and lived out by his child, up until very recently unbeknownst to him. He now regrets his earlier stance on the issue, and is promoting tolerance, if not yet outright acceptance.  The question that arises is whether he had held his former position on the matter by faith and then gave it up, or whether he had spoken out in the past on the basis of what he merely preferred because of what was acceptable within his socially conservative circle.

The appearance of changing preferences due to shifting societal and ecclesiastical norms is troubling to witness when those norms are moral in nature. Now, if there was a legalistic motive for one’s former preferences, then a movement toward living the Christian life with the Lord Jesus as the object for faith, by the Spirit and in obedience to the Scriptures, is a praiseworthy cause for a change in one’s ways.  However, the matter of setting aside values or doctrines that a believer once truly held by faith is a very sad thing. How many parents have given up truth they once enjoyed by faith, in common with other spiritual Christians, primarily because devotion to their children (who became involved in activities or accepted liberal views their parents once shunned) gradually superseded devotion to Christ and faithfulness to the truth? Cases like this are no doubt included in Peter’s warnings to believers in a corrupt world, when he tells them to “beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness”.²  Loss of salvation or eternal life is of course not suggested here, but rather, the potential for losing a reward or a crown of righteousness.³

It is encouraging to see parents who maintain their exercises of faith and godliness in spite of the heartache or disappointment their children may cause them when there has been failure in transmitting those godly exercises from one generation to the next. And it is a happy thing to have observed many saints over the years still holding the moral and spiritual ground they held decades ago, still walking “worthily of the Lord unto all well-pleasing, bearing fruit in every good work, and growing by the true knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10 JND translation).

Jude wrote his epistle near the end of the apostolic era, and like Peter, he grieved over the decline and corruption in the Christian profession that threatened to have a deleterious effect on true believers. I will close by repeating Jude’s bright and positive encouragement to his beloved brethren, which I desire for myself and for my brethren as well: “But ye, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost, keep yourselves in the [enjoyment of] the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.” Build, pray, keep, and look!

 

¹  Matthew 24:11-12 (although Jesus is speaking particularly of a period after the Church is gone, during the “beginning of sorrows”)    ²    II Peter 3:17     ³  Revelation 3:11; Colossians 2:18; I Corinthians 3:12-15

Woman – Glory of the Man

Addressing the subject of gender roles and gender identity from a Biblical perspective is fraught with peril in modern Western society, because Scripture truth on it has perhaps never been more unpopular.  For many decades, there has been a drive toward gender “equality” in the workplace, in government, at home, and in the church, and it seems that few Christians even question the values and principles of this “equal rights” movement. More recently, the line of demarcation between the sexes in our society has been blurred even further, to the extent that genderless clothing, women in military combat roles, and the transgender agenda are being pressed upon society for its toleration and eventual acceptance.

A godly Christian might well ask the question: “Why this movement toward a gender-neutral culture, and why now?”  I would submit that what began perhaps somewhat innocently with women’s suffrage over 150 ago gained steam from there and has developed to a point where nearly all restraint has been cast off, and society is not the better for it. Meanwhile, Western Christianity has suffered from accepting these societal innovations. No doubt there has been a concerted effort by the powers of darkness in these last days to weaken the church’s testimony to the world and to the whole angelic realm, by bringing innovation and the resulting confusion into the historical relationship between man and woman instituted in the beginning by God.¹  The Biblical practice of ladies covering their heads (while men properly uncover) in worship has almost disappeared in the West, and women taking on church leadership and public ministry roles is commonplace. Could a spiritual person truly characterize these recent changes as “growing by the true knowledge of God”² in His assembly?

But let us now turn to the positive and edifying teaching of the Word of God in this matter. We find principles in the New Testament that give us to understand the simple truth, should our minds and wills be open to it. This wonderful subject cannot satisfactorily be reduced to a short column like this one, so I would like to focus on one aspect of it for now.

The Apostle Paul makes an amazing statement when he writes that “the woman is the glory of the man” (I Corinthians 11:7).  What does it mean for something to be the “glory of” a person?  Generally, the glory of a being or entity is the thing that brings out the excellence or the worth of its subject, displaying it before a particular audience. A “glory” is made apparent to that audience by means of either physical or spiritual perception, and is something the subject of that glory may rightly take pleasure in, subject to godly order. So, for example, when it is said that a woman’s long hair is a glory to her, it is not difficult for us to grasp that her long hair manifests what is naturally excellent and praiseworthy as to her womanhood. Accordingly, she should not be ashamed of that glory nor hide it, except when it is appropriate that she cover her head and her hair because of a greater glory that ought not be eclipsed or usurped; that is, the glory of God on display in the man during collective prayer and ministry.³

What respectable man does not take pleasure in appearing publicly with the woman he loves?  For she is his glory, being the one who completes him. Would there be glory for the man, or would his excellence be on display, had he not her to fulfill him?  The notion of a man glorying in his own appearance or hair is unnatural, for it is his “better half” that he ought to glory in.  It is clear from the Scriptures we have noticed that the woman was made of and for the man (while the man now comes by the woman), and that the chain of typical glories was only complete when God brought the woman to the man as bone of his bone. Only then, after His work on the sixth day of creating Man male and female, did God pronounce His creative work “very good”, and not before then (Genesis 1:26-31).

The glorious mystery of Christ and the church,¹ as well as God’s display of His own manifold excellence before the universe,³ is compromised in the minds of those (including Christians) who bring their own thoughts to bear on the matter of gender roles and distinctions.  Let it suffice for us to maintain that God is always wiser than men, and that He has revealed to us His mind on the work of His own hands, the man and the woman. It will be our glory and joy to submit in simplicity to God’s infinite wisdom. How blessed are we who have the privilege of participating in a scheme that brings such glory to Him!

 

¹ Read these scriptures together: Genesis 2:18-24; Ephesians 3:8-11; 5:22-32; and I Corinthians 11:3-10.    ²  Colossians 1:10 JND trans.     ³  I Corinthians 11:7-15

Why Political Candidates Shouldn’t Worry Christians

I hesitate to write on the dreary subject of politics, but since some of my Christian friends feel very strongly about current political maneuverings in the United States, I believe it might be an appropriate time for it.

I suppose there are a few reasons why many Christians are troubled by the decision they feel they must make, particularly this year.  One reason may be that they are concerned about the future of America, including possible compromises of freedom or economic losses. Another cause for concern may be the moral character, or lack thereof, that they perceive in multiple political candidates, one of whom they believe they must support or vote for in order to fulfill their civic duty, or perhaps to remain socially relevant. Some may be asking themselves a version of this question: “Am I compromising the high moral ground I seek to stand on, if I vote for someone who obviously has traded moral scruples for political power?”

I do not wish to detract from the concerns of thoughtful believers about the personal morality of leaders or as to societal decline, but I contend that it is not a shirking of some moral duty or disobedience to U.S. law if a Christian seeks to remain neutral by refraining from participating in the political process, if a higher spiritual claim takes precedence in his or her conscience. I have written a little more on this subject at this link.

My purpose here is to offer comfort to the hearts of believers whose worry and consternation is detracting from or eclipsing their peace and joy. To that end, I offer a few verses of Scripture with brief comments.

The Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will (Daniel 4:25).  This passage by itself should serve to calm the minds of all who entrust themselves to God who claims for Himself universal sovereignty over kings and rulers.  But the Word of God gives us much more than this for the encouragement of our souls.

Who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good? (I Peter 3:13) Rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil (Romans 13:3).  The Apostles Peter and Paul both write these words of encouragement to follow the good and do good works, even though they faced difficult times and persecution in the early church.  Now we know that these verses of Scripture are not absolute statements, for there have been positively evil rulers whom Satan has aroused against believers in spite of all they seek to do right, and for the blessing of others.  But American Christians ought to be very thankful to be living under the rule of law, where the election (God’s choice) of one man or woman over another to be the president will probably not in short order bring disaster upon us.

Let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to Him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator. (I Peter 4:19)  If real religious persecution should begin in America because it has chosen godless leaders who manage to overturn the rule of law, we have the greatest comfort of all put before us in this and other similar portions of Scripture. The loving and righteous Creator who gave us our being and made us a new creation in Christ will in the final analysis preserve our souls for Himself, no matter if the worst should come, and no matter whether our faith fails under extreme duress, for He will complete what He has created in us until the day of Christ (Philippians 1:6).

If a ruler hearken to lies, all his servants are wicked (Proverbs 29:12).  What should really give believers pause is the moral connection the Scriptures make between the ruler and the ruled. Given the steep moral slide in American society, it is no wonder that those leaders who become most popular are often deeply flawed morally, while promoting themselves by preying on the lusts and fears of a populace, and the “people love to have it so” (Jeremiah 5:31). While these thoughts may not be very cheerful in themselves, a Christian ought to take courage in the truth that, not only is the Lord ruling over all, but that He is returning for His own very soon.

“Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you . . . Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence . . . Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord . . . Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (James 5:1-8 ESV).

Do You Really Believe?

This question is admittedly rather open-ended, even if grammatically it requires only a simple affirmative or negative. Your logical response would be another question: “Do I believe in what?”  A belief about something, or confidence in a person (perhaps in oneself), is often what people are referring to when they speak of “faith”. But a faith that is more than a general or vague belief, one that is transformative and effectual, must have God as revealed in Christ as its object and basis.

God has indeed revealed Himself to this world in Jesus Christ, and we find the record of that in the New Testament scriptures. From the beginning of His ministry here among His people, Jesus presented Himself as the only proper object of faith, for the receiving of eternal life. The Gospel of John is filled with the Lord Jesus’ claims of being the Son of God, and alone worthy to be trusted in. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). “Ye believe in God, believe also in Me” (John 14:1).  We could multiply references, and they are all precious. In order to clearly exclude any other object as legitimate for faith to be placed in, Jesus told His disciples that He would send the Holy Spirit  down to earth after He went back to the Father, and that the Spirit would “bring demonstration to the world of sin . . . because they do not believe in Me” (John 16:8-9 JND).

We have just established from the Word of God that in order to gain eternal life, your faith must be placed in the Son of God, who came down from heaven to die for our sins and rose again on the third day. Refusing or neglecting to believe this simple gospel renders vain or futile any faith a person may think he has (I Corinthians 15:1-17).  Now if you do not yet have the assurance of possessing eternal life in your soul, please do take that simple yet momentous step right now: Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ who came into this world to die for you. The change will be wonderful, you will become a new creation in Christ, and all things will become new and different for you.¹

In addition to presenting Christ as the proper object for our faith, we find one important qualifying adjective in the Word of God that is used when referring to personal “faith”.  For the most part, the Spirit has not seen fit to qualify faith, nor to speak much of it quantitatively (see Matthew 17:20), as if to emphasize the overarching importance of faith’s divine Object that is everywhere assumed in the Word. However, because there is a need to guard against a superficial or careless use of the term, the adjective “unfeigned” is used twice with “faith” by the Apostle Paul, once in each of his letters to Timothy.  I contend that one can only claim to possess eternal life if his faith is “unfeigned”, or sincere (I Timothy 1:5 and II Timothy 1:5).

We have some examples in Scripture of feigned or insincere faith, and I will mention just one of them briefly. Simon the sorcerer “believed also” when the people in that Samaritan city “with one accord gave heed” to Philip’s preaching of Christ (Acts 8:5-24). But notice there is nothing said of the Spirit falling upon Simon personally, and indeed, he is represented to us in the account as being just an opportunistic onlooker who gave in to covetous thoughts and words because of the miraculous evidence of the Spirit he saw in his countrymen.  Peter’s condemnation of the thoughts of Simon’s heart indicate that no conversion had taken place there:  “Thy money perish with thee . . . Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right with God . . . thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.”  Simon’s faith was proved to be counterfeit, and Peter possessed the spiritual discernment along with the apostolic authority that empowered him to condemn Simon for it. This same carnal impulse of professing faith because of miracles, rather than possessing sincere faith in Christ, is also addressed in John 2:23-25.

True faith is never the temporary impulse of the natural human heart; rather, it is a gift of God and a work of God², and is always accompanied by new creation life in the believer’s soul. The testimony of God’s Spirit with the believer’s spirit, and a desire in his or her heart to obey and to please Him³, provide abundant assurance of eternal life to the soul who has looked away from self to Christ in true faith.

 

¹  II Cor. 5:14-17   ²  Eph. 2:8; John 6:29; Phil. 1:6   ³  Romans 8:14-16; I John 2:5-8