Thinking on Scripture with Dr. Steven R. Cook



6 days ago

This lesson is part of a series on knowing and doing the will of God. The study notes for this lecture can be found at: 

Saturday Jan 08, 2022

This lesson is part of a series on knowing and doing the will of God. The study notes for this lecture can be found at: 

Saturday Jan 01, 2022

This lesson is part of a series on knowing and doing the will of God. The study notes for this lecture can be found at: 

Sunday Dec 26, 2021

The central idea of Jeremiah 23:25-40 is that false prophets were giving false messages derived from depraved imaginations and their messages were confusing God’s people and leading them astray from His will. Here is a complete set of study notes: 

Saturday Dec 18, 2021

This lesson is part of a series on knowing and doing the will of God. The study notes for this lecture can be found at: 

Saturday Dec 04, 2021

     This unit of Scripture is part of a larger section in which Moses addresses four leadership offices God would assign in Israel, namely, judges (Deut 16:18-17:8), priests (Deut 17:9-13; 18:1-8), kings (Deut 17:14-20), and prophets (Deut 18:15-22). These four leadership offices were bound by the Mosaic Law, which legitimized their authority and was the guide for their rulership.      In this pericope, Moses continues his message to the Israelites who were about to enter the land of Canaan. In addition to judges (שָׁפַט shaphat) who would serve in local communities (Deut 16:18-17:8), Moses introduces a higher court that consisted of Levitical priests and a judge who would serve at a central location, namely the tabernacle or temple. This higher court was intended to handle legal cases that were too difficult for judges in local communities.      Being a theocracy meant God was their Judge, Lawgiver, and King (Isa 33:22). As King, He was their national leader. As Lawgiver, He was the source of their legislation. As Judge, He would evaluate His people on the basis of their adherence to His laws. Moses himself had previously served as a judge (Ex 18:13-16), and had instructed others in God’s law (Ex 18:17-26). The men Moses selected to serve as judges were to be men of good character, “men who fear God, men of truth, and those who hate dishonest gain” (Ex 18:21a). These men could be selected from any of the tribes in Israel, and their moral integrity was to be the chief quality. Once selected and trained, judges in Israel were to see themselves as subordinate representatives of God, the supreme Judge of Israel. God directed His judges to adhere to His standards, saying, “Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the LORD your God is giving you” (Deut 16:20). This meant knowing and judging according to God’s written laws. If a judge in Israel perverted justice, it meant he diminished the character of God. Following the directives in Deuteronomy, King Jehoshaphat (who reigned from 873 to 848 BC) appointed judges in Judah and told them, “Consider what you are doing, for you do not judge for man but for the LORD who is with you when you render judgment” (2 Ch 19:6). He also spoke to the priests in Judah and told them to help execute “the judgment of the LORD and to judge disputes among the inhabitants of Jerusalem” (2 Ch 19:8).[1]      In Israel, the priest (כֹּהֵן kohen) referred to those who drew near to God on behalf of others, usually in sacred matters of prayer and sacrifice. God originally intended the whole nation of Israel to be a kingdom of priests, saying, “and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex 19:6). However, because of the sin of worshipping the golden calf (Ex 32:1-35), God took that privilege from the nation and confined the priesthood to Aaron and his descendants, and the Levites were to be their assistants (Num 3:1-10; 18:1-7). According to God’s law, priests were to: Be holy in their behavior (Ex 19:6). Teach His law to others (Lev 10:11; Deut 33:10). Preserve the tabernacle and temple (Num 18:1-4). Officiate duties in the Holy of Holies once a year (Ex 30:6-10; Lev 16). Inspect people and fabrics for cleanliness (Lev 13-14). Receive tithes (Num 18:21, 26; cf. Heb 7:5). Offer sacrifices for sin (Lev chapters 4, 9, 16). Educate and lead God’s people in religious services (Ezra 7:10; Neh 8:1-5, 8). Help judges decide legal matters (Deut 17:8-13).      Moses opens this section by addressing the judges in local communities, saying, “If any case is too difficult for you to decide, between one kind of homicide or another, between one kind of lawsuit or another, and between one kind of assault or another, being cases of dispute in your courts, then you shall arise and go up to the place which the LORD your God chooses” (Deut 17:8). The word court literally means gate (שַׁעַר shaar) and refers to the gate of the city. The city gate was an open area that served as the place where litigants would meet town elders, other citizens, and judges who helped adjudicate crimes or legal matters. Not only where these cases open to the public, but they were also handled relatively quickly (see Ruth 4:1-11). However, Moses assumed there would arise difficult cases in which local judges could not render a ruling, cases of homicide, lawsuit, or assault. When this happened, the judges could take the matter to a higher court.      The higher court would be at a central location of God’s choosing. At first, this would be the tabernacle and later the temple. Moses directed the local judges, saying, “So you shall come to the Levitical priest or the judge who is in office in those days, and you shall inquire of them and they will declare to you the verdict in the case” (Deut 17:9). It could be that the Levitical priests would select one of their own to serve in a judicial capacity; however, the use of the definite article connected with the word “judge” ( הַשֹּׁפֵטha shaphat – the judge) implies a distinction between them. That is, there would be several priests and a particular judge who resided at the tabernacle/temple. These would serve as the court of last appeal. It’s possible the high priest could discern a divine answer by using the Urim and Thummim (Ex 28:29-30; cf. 1 Sam 28:6); however, it seems more likely the theological and experiential wisdom of the priests and judge would decide the case. Once a verdict came down to the local judges, they were instructed:      You shall do according to the terms of the verdict which they declare to you from that place which the LORD chooses; and you shall be careful to observe according to all that they teach you. According to the terms of the law which they teach you, and according to the verdict which they tell you, you shall do; you shall not turn aside from the word which they declare to you, to the right or the left. (Deut 17:10-11)      The local judges who brought the difficult case were bound to adhere to the decision given to them by the priests and judge at the tabernacle/temple. The verdict was declared from the “place which the LORD” chose, which meant Yahweh was involved in the decision, and it was final. The judges who originally brought the case were not free to execute a sentence either with leniency or severity beyond what had been handed to them. The decision of the court represented God’s will, and to reject or deviate from the court’s decision was to reject or deviate from God’s decision, and such an act would be a crime against the Lord. Moses wrote, “The man who acts presumptuously by not listening to the priest who stands there to serve the LORD your God, nor to the judge, that man shall die; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel” (Deut 17:12). Executing those who rebelled against the Lord’s decision was seen as purging evil from their communities. In this way, the judges would advance God’s directive to administer “justice, and only justice” within their communities (Deut 16:20a). If the rebellious person was put to death, it would create a healthy fear that would prevent others from rejecting the Lord’s authority. Moses said, “Then all the people will hear and be afraid, and will not act presumptuously again” (Deut 17:13). It’s noteworthy that this legal system Moses was providing assumed objective standards of law (that everyone could observe) predicated on the integrity of words (that didn’t change or lose meaning) and the reliability of language as a vehicle of communication from one person or group to another.      Moses was providing God’s laws, which were a reflection of His righteous character and the basis for their covenantal relationship with Him. Obedience to God’s directives guaranteed blessing and disobedience guaranteed cursing (Deut 11:26-28). Remember, the exodus generation had seen the Lord’s power and experienced His liberation from Egyptian slavery (Ex 13:3), yet, they rebelled against the Lord ten times—disobeying His commands—and were punished by Him (Num 14:22-23). The result of their disobedience was they were not permitted to enter Canaan, but to wander in the wilderness for forty years until they perished (Num 14:28-35). Though they had the promises of God, “the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard” (Heb 4:2). After the exodus generation died, Moses educated their children, restating the Law (Deuteronomy), and these experienced the Lord’s blessings because they responded positively to the godly leadership of Joshua and followed the Lord’s directives. However, after Joshua’s death (Judg 2:8-9), and the death of the generation of Israelites he’d led (Judg 2:10a), we learn, “there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel” (Judg 2:10b). Rather than follow in the ways of the Lord, we learn, “Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals, and they forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed themselves down to them; thus they provoked the LORD to anger” (Judg 2:11-12).   [1] Jehoshaphat was a relatively good king who followed after the ways of King David. Jehoshaphat started his reign by committing himself to the Lord and destroying the pagan worship centers throughout Judah (2 Ch 17:3-6). He then directed godly men to teach God’s Word throughout the land (2 Ch 17:7-8), and “They taught in Judah, having the book of the law of the LORD with them; and they went throughout all the cities of Judah and taught among the people” (2 Ch 17:9).

Saturday Nov 20, 2021

     This unit of Scripture is part of a larger section in which Moses addresses four leadership offices God would assign in Israel, namely, judges (Deut 16:18-17:8), priests (Deut 17:9-13; 18:1-8), kings (Deut 17:14-20), and prophets (Deut 18:15-22). These four leadership offices were bound by the Mosaic Law, which legitimized their authority and was the guide for their rulership.      In this pericope, Moses continues his message to the judges in Israel (Deut 16:18-20) and addresses the evil of idolatry that may happen within a community (Deut 17:2-3). If the judges heard about a case of idolatry, they were to launch a thorough investigation (Deut 17:4a), and if the report was true, the man or woman guilty of the evil act was to be put to death by stoning (Deut 17:4b-5). The evidence for the case was based on the eye witness testimony of at least two, or preferably, three persons (Deut 17:6). The persons who testified as eye witnesses were to be the first to cast a stone against the offender, and then others within the community were to join in and execute the offender (Deut 17:7a). In this way, God’s people purged the evil persons from their community, thus removing the existential danger of idolatry (Deut 17:7b).      All Israel was to remember and honor God as their Ruler, Lawgiver, and Judge (Isa 33:22). The nation was being blessed with the land of Canaan which God had promised to them (Gen 15:18; 17:7-8; 26:3-4; 28:13-14; Ex 3:8, 17; 13:5; 33:2). Though God was giving them the land as a blessing (Deut 4:1, 40; 11:31-32; 13:12; 16:20), He retained ownership at all times (Lev 25:23; cf. Deut 10:14; 2 Ch 20:5-7; Psa 24:1; 89:11; Acts 17:24-26). The land of Canaan was theirs by divine promise, but possessing the land was contingent on their faithful obedience to the conditions of the Mosaic Covenant. If Israel repeatedly turned away from God and pursued idols, the Lord would curse them as He’d promised and eventually remove them from the land (Deut 28:63). Concerning the passage under consideration, Moses said: "If there is found in your midst, in any of your towns, which the LORD your God is giving you, a man or a woman who does what is evil in the sight of the LORD your God, by transgressing His covenant, 3 and has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, or the sun or the moon or any of the heavenly host, which I have not commanded, 4 and if it is told you and you have heard of it, then you shall inquire thoroughly." (Deut 17:2-4a)      God was going to give towns for His people to live in, but it was their responsibility to live righteously and to maintain the covenant relationship they had with Him. Personal responsibility is here in view. If the judges in the local communities became aware of a person—man or woman—who was committing idolatry, it was their responsibility to investigate the matter. The specific offense mentioned here is that of idolatry, which Moses calls evil (הָרַע ha ra - lit. the evil, referring to idolatry; cf. Judg 2:11; 3:7; 10:6). Idols were generally manmade objects, but could also include stellar bodies such as “the sun or the moon or any of the heavenly host” (Deut 17:3b). Idolatry was a crime of the highest order. Peter Craigie writes: "The crime undermined the very basis on which the covenant community existed and therefore it was to be dealt with very severely, for it threatened the security and life of all Israelites. Thus, the crime, though religious in form, was political in significance. It is analogous to the modern crime of espionage or treason in time of war, for the net effect of both would be to weaken the security of the homeland."[1]      That this crime was done “in the sight of the LORD your God” implies God’s omniscience (cf., Psa 139:1-4; Matt 10:30). And Moses uses the proper name of God (יהוה) which was the name He used when establishing His covenant with Israel. The word transgressing translates the Hebrew verb עָבַר abar, which means to pass over, go one’s own way, or transgress. Here, the term refers to unfaithful individuals who are walking away from the Lord, going their own way, breaking the contract, and worshipping blocks of wood or stone instead of the One who had liberated them from slavery (Deut 5:6), given them the land of Canaan (Deut 4:1; 9:6), cities, houses, wells and vineyards (Deut 6:10-11), enabled them to produce wealth (Deut 8:18), and promised to bless their labor (Deut 7:13; 11:13-15). The word covenant translates the Hebrew word בְּרִית berith, which means covenant, agreement, or contract. Israel was in a binding relationship with God—a contract—that promised blessing if they obeyed (Deut 28:1-14) and cursing if they disobeyed (Deut 28:15-68; cf. Deut 11:26-28). God was giving His people land and towns, and also written laws which were intended to guide the leadership concerning the formation and practice of good government. It was the leadership’s responsibility—as theocratic administrators in God’s kingdom—to apply His laws within their towns. If a judge heard about someone practicing idolatry, he was to take action and investigate the matter thoroughly (Deut 17:4a). It would be unjust to convict someone on the basis of mere hearsay. A careful investigation would be necessary in order to establish beyond all doubt that this crime had been committed.      Moses continued, saying, “Behold, if it is true and the thing certain that this detestable thing has been done in Israel, then you shall bring out that man or that woman who has done this evil deed to your gates, that is, the man or the woman, and you shall stone them to death” (Deut 17:4b-5). If the offense of idolatry was true, the offender—whether man or woman—was to be executed. The reason was idolatry was tantamount to treason because it subverted God’s authority by influencing the Israelites to devote themselves to a manmade idol. If left unaddressed, idolatry would destroy Israel from the inside out. An idol, being only a block of wood or stone, cannot provide, protect, or guide those who worship them. However, part of the attraction of idols is that they make no demands contrary to the proclivity of the fallen human heart. And when there is no check on the human heart to restrain its sinful inclinations, the result is a breakdown in morality that weakens society and leads to harmful behavior, especially toward the righteous, vulnerable, and innocent within a community. The punishment for idolatry was death (Deut 17:5; cf., Deut 13:10), and the participation of others in the community to execute the idolaters showed their understanding of the seriousness of the crime and its potential harm on them all.      When the judges investigated a case to determine guilt, it was to be “On the evidence of two witnesses or three witnesses” (Deut 17:6a). This set a high bar for trials which was intended to protect the innocent and judge the guilty. Moses continued, saying, “he who is to die shall be put to death; he shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness” (Deut 17:6b). Moses had previously stated that capital punishment could not occur on the basis of a single witness, saying, “no person shall be put to death on the testimony of one witness” (Num 35:30b). For emphasis, he repeats this policy later, saying, “A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed” (Deut 19:15).[2] In Israel, as in any society, there was always the possibility that a wicked person would present a false charge against another, thus corrupting and weaponizing the judicial system for evil ends. The Lord had clearly forbidden this, saying, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Deut 5:20). The two or three witness policy would mitigate against this sort of corruption. In fact, there was a statute that condemned the false witness to bear the punishment he sought to bring upon another. Moses said, “If a malicious witness rises up against a man to accuse him of wrongdoing…[and] if the witness is a false witness and he has accused his brother falsely, then you shall do to him just as he had intended to do to his brother” (Deut 19:16, 19). These laws, if properly followed, would allow the judicial system to function properly and for Israel to administer justice against idolaters.       Because sin is contagious, an egregious sin such as idolatry could spread from one family to another, to communities, and eventually infect the whole nation. Failure to follow this instruction would allow the spiritual disease to spread throughout the community, which could bring about the death of the nation.[3] Concerning the execution of the idolater who was determined to be guilty, Moses said, “The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people” (Deut 17:7a). Concerning the involvement of the witnesses in the execution of the offender, Eugene Merrill writes: "The purpose for this contingency was to preclude personal or private vindictiveness and to assure that what was observed had actually occurred and was not the product of poor sensory perception or an overactive imagination. To forestall a conspiratorial process in which witnesses would collaborate in misrepresenting the truth, the witnesses would themselves be forced to hurl the first stones of execution (v. 7). The gravity of what they were called upon to do would be so great that it was likely that the collusion would unravel either in the judicial process itself or subsequent to the miscarriage of justice."[4]      The public execution was not to be administered by the leadership, but by the residents of the town. Those who personally witnessed fellow Israelites practicing idolatry were directed be the first to cast a stone. Then, other Israelites were to participate in putting the offender to death, and in this way, Moses said, “So you shall purge the evil from your midst” (Deut 17:7b). Here, the purging consisted of the person who practiced idolatry and thus influenced others to evil. Daniel Block states, “Moses’ concern for communal health leaves no room for sentimentality or prejudice. Yahweh’s agenda requires a people united in its devotion to him and rigorous in its preservation of its own character as a holy people (cf. 7:1–6). Eliminating those guilty of capital crimes eradicates the evil from the land and the people.”[5]      If this law had been faithfully executed by the judges and citizens in Israel, it would have kept idolatry at bay and helped preserve the spiritual and moral purity of the nation. However, the record of Israel’s history—with the exception of a few generations that were faithful to God—is a record of their worship of pagan idols, which at times included human sacrifice (Deut 12:31; 18:10-11; 2 Ki 17:6-23; 21:6; Psa 106:37-38; Jer 7:30-31; 19:4-5; 32:35; Ezek 16:20-21). Because of a breakdown in leadership and jurisprudence, God eventually judged His people because they failed to judge themselves. After hundreds of years of idolatry, God destroyed the ten northern tribes of Israel in 722 B.C. (2 Ki 17:7-23), and the two southern tribes of Judah in 586 B.C. (Jer 25:8-11). Present Application:      Idolatry, at its core, it is the selfish sin of substitution in which a person dedicates himself to something or someone lesser than God to direct his life and to meet his wants and needs. God states, “You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth” (Ex 20:3-4). Biblically, there is only one God (Isa 45:5-6), and to worship someone or something in His place is to steal the glory due Him (Isa 42:8). Idolatry is thievery of the highest order. An idol is merely the work of a craftsman (see Isa 44:9-20). There is no life in it (Psa 115:1-8; Jer 51:17; Hab 2:18-20), nor can it deliver in times of trouble (Isa 46:5-7). And, as stated previously, an idol cannot provide, protect, or guide those who worship it. However, part of the attraction of idols is that they make no demands contrary to the proclivity of the fallen human heart. And there’s the problem. For when God and His Word do not hold the place of preeminence so as to govern the life of a person (concerning personal choices, family, finances, business, etc.), the heart is then free to follow its sinful inclinations. The result is a lifestyle that ultimately frustrates the worshipper, weakens his/her morals, and eventuates in the harm of others for the sake of self-interest.      Like Israel, Christians are susceptible to idolatry. Writing to Christians in Corinth, Paul said, “Do not be idolaters” (1 Cor 10:7), instructing them to “flee from idolatry” (1 Cor 10:14), revealing that a sacrifice to an idol is really a “sacrifice to demons and not to God” (1 Cor 10:20a). The reason for Paul’s instruction was he did not want the Christians at Corinth “to become sharers in demons” (1 Cor 10:20b). The apostle John, who twice bowed to worship an angel and was rebuked for it (Rev 19:10; 22:8-9), wrote to Christians, saying, “Little children, guard yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).      Modern forms of idolatry can include: 1) The actual worship of physical idols in one’s home or pagan temple (Ex 20:3-5; cf. Ex 32:1-4). This form of idolatry is straightforward in its form and function, as one worships the physical representation of pagan deity. Various forms today can include Hinduism, New Age, ancestor worship, astrology, and the occult. 2) Money, the aggressive pursuit and acquisition of which makes us feel secure and powerful (Matt 6:24; 1 Tim 6:6-10). Money can be a blessing, but only when it does not take the place of God. A good test of whether money has taken the place of God is whether we hoard it or use it wisely for God’s purposes and glory (1 Tim 6:17-19), the advancement of Christian ministries, and helping the less fortunate in society (Jam 2:15-16). 3) Humanism, which places mankind at the center of everything and makes us look only to ourselves or others for purpose, meaning, and the solution to our own problems. Atheism, big government (socialism and communism), naturalism (which teaches evolution), and environmentalism are all manifestations of humanism, as we become our own lords to find meaning in life and to solve our own problems without God’s help. Humanism is what predominates in our universities, government, businesses, and social institutions. 4) Pleasure, which elevates physical stimulation above all else. Manifestations of this can include a commitment to drugs, alcohol, sex, food, and entertainment such as music and television with the result that God has no place in the life of that person. When all of life is under God’s control, we will have eliminated our personal idols.      Idolatry in the Church should be dealt with as a most serious offense. However, the Church is not Israel and we are not under the Mosaic Law as the rule of life (Rom 6:14; Heb 8:13), but under the Law of Christ (1 Cor 9:21; Gal 6:2); therefore, how we handle idolaters is different. Israel was required to execute those guilty of idolatry (Deut 17:2-5), but no such command is given to the Church. God’s directive for the Church is to disassociate from the rebellious person who refuses to turn from idolatry in order that we might preserve our walk with God. As Christians, we are to live holy lives, as Peter wrote, “like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘you shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Pet 1:15-16). To be holy means we are set apart from the sinful ways of the world and living in conformity with God’s character and commands. God directs us to manage our relationships with others, for though we live in a fallen world and interact with sinful people, we must be careful who we let into our inner circle of friends, for “bad company corrupt good morals” (1 Cor 15:33; cf. Prov 13:20; 22:24-25). Israel, as a nation, failed to manage their relationships with the surrounding pagan nations, and as a result, they “mingled with the nations and learned their practices, and served their idols, which became a snare to them. They even sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons” (Psa 106:35-37). The very wise King Solomon failed to manage his relationships and “his wives turned his heart away after other gods” (1 Ki 11:4). The result was, “Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians and after Milcom the detestable idol of the Ammonites. Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, and did not follow the LORD fully, as David his father had done” (1 Ki 11:5-6). Writing to Christians at Corinth, Paul stated, “I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one” (1 Cor 5:11; cf., Rom 16:17; 2 Th 3:6). Disassociation was for the purpose of maintaining holiness with the Lord and avoiding a snare that will trap us in sin. Disassociation is never easy, for we love fellow believers and desire friendship with them, praying and reminding them of Scripture when we have opportunity, hoping they will come to their senses and come back into fellowship. However, our walk with God must always take priority, for He is our greatest Friend, and allegiance to Him secures for us all that is strong and good and meaningful in life. And if/when the erring believer turns back to the Lord and resumes his/her walk-in-the-Word, then all will be as it should, and we should extend forgiveness and grace and welcome him/her back into fellowship.   [1] Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 250. [2] In the New Testament, the apostle Paul uses this same rule in church policy concerning charges brought against Church leaders, saying, “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses” (1 Tim 5:19). [3] Unfortunately, this is what happened, as idolatry was permitted. A terrible example is seen in Solomon who allowed his wives to influence him to worship foreign gods (1 Ki 11:1-10), and this had a negative impact on the nation of Israel, as it encouraged others to worship idols. Because Israel pursued idols, this brought God’s judgment, which ultimately led to the nation’s destruction (2 Ki 17:6-23). [4] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, vol. 4, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 261. [5] Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Deuteronomy, ed. Terry Muck (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 407.

Saturday Nov 13, 2021

     In this pericope, Moses directs Israel to appoint judges and officers for themselves within each town that God was giving them (Deut 16:18). These judges were to judge according God’s righteous standards and not perversely (Deut 16:19-20), especially as it related to worship and sacrifice (Deut 16:21—17:1). This section also begins to name four leadership offices God would assign in Israel, namely, judges (Deut 16:18-17:8), priests (Deut 17:9-13; 18:1-8), kings (Deut 17:14-20), and prophets (Deut 18:15-22). These were all bound by the Mosaic Law, which legitimized their authority and was the guide for their rulership.      Previously, Moses had tried to serve as the single judge in Israel, but became overwhelmed, fatigued, and burned out. Moses’ wise father-in-law, Jethro, counseled him to appoint qualified men who were wise and of good character to help judge cases. Moses followed Jethro’s advice and trained men in the law of God so they could serve as judges in Israel (Ex 18:13-27).      Moses knew his people would soon find themselves transitioning from a nomadic existence to that of living in settled communities. This sociological paradigm shift would necessitate a hierarchical structure of elders who could administer just judgments according to God’s Law that was being communicated by Moses. Moses said, “You shall appoint for yourself judges and officers in all your towns which the LORD your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment” (Deut 16:18). Moses was giving the people just laws, but it was their responsibility to recognize men of integrity and appoint them (נָתַן nathan) as judges who would officiate legal matters and officers who could carry out their judgments. With this directive, it fell to the elders in each town to appoint judges (שָׁפַט shaphat) who could properly arbitrate legal matters among God’s people, and to select officers (שֹׁטֵר shoter) as subordinates who could carry out their decisions. It’s possible the judges would be selected from among the ruling elders, who were themselves to be wise and discerning men from the community (Deut 1:13). It was the responsibility of the elders to make sure those laws were justly applied within their towns, according to their tribes. More difficult cases could be sent to a higher court (Deut 17:8).      The laws were given by God, who was their Judge, Lawgiver, and King (Isa 33:22). God was also the One who had liberated them from slavery (Deut 5:6), given them the land of Canaan (Deut 4:1; 9:6), which included cities, houses, wells and vineyards (Deut 6:10-11), enabled them to produce wealth (Deut 8:18), and blessed their labor (Deut 7:13; 11:13-15). Now God was directing them concerning legal matters which, if followed, would have marked them as a righteous people who adhered to just laws. To judge the people with “righteous judgment”- מִשְׁפַּט־צֶדֶק) mishpat-tsedeq) meant their decisions were to conform to the standards set forth in God’s Word. Righteousness (צֶדֶק tsedeq) consisted of the objective standard of written laws Moses was giving the nation, which at that time would have been the Pentateuch. Wiersbe writes: "The repetition of the word “gates” (16:5, 11, 14, 18; 17:2, 5, 8) indicates that the basic unit of government in Israel was the local town council. It was made up of judges and officers who, with the elders, conducted business at the city gates (Ruth 4:1-12). The judges and officers were probably appointed or elected by the male land-owning citizens of the town, but we aren’t given the details. The word translated “officers” means “writers, secretaries” and refers to the men who kept the official records and genealogies, advised the judges, and carried out their decisions."[1]      However, living in a fallen world and possessing sinful natures meant there would always be a challenge to following just laws and administering justice. For this reason, Moses said, “You shall not distort justice; you shall not be partial, and you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous” (Deut 16:19). Being partial in a legal case, or taking a bribe from a litigant, are two examples of perverted justice. The judges were not to distort justice, nor be influenced to partiality by the social position of those who stood before them, whether small or great. Each judge was to realize the laws they administered were God’s laws, and that each judge was directly under “the Judge of all the earth” (Gen 18:25). Israel was to remember that “the LORD is our judge, The LORD is our lawgiver, The LORD is our king” (Isa 33:22). The judges in Israel were to realize they were serving as God’s representatives within the community. If a judge perverted justice, it meant he diminished the character and name of God (2 Ch 19:6-7), and the Lord would curse those who perverted justice (Deut 27:25).      The judges were to be pure in their decisions. For this reason, Moses said, “Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the LORD your God is giving you” (Deut 16:20). To emphasize his point, Moses uses a double reference to righteousness (צֶדֶק צֶדֶק tsedeq tsedeq), stressing the need for the judges to pursue God’s standards among God’s people. If they complied with God’s directive, the result would be that God would bless them by allowing them to continue to live in the land. The reality was that God owned the land (Lev 25:23), and He could evict them as a means of punishment if they became corrupt. Historically, we know that because of rampant idolatry, human sacrifice, and other egregious sins, God eventually destroyed the ten northern tribes of Israel in 722 B.C. (2 Ki 17:7-23), and the two southern tribes of Judah in 586 B.C. (Jer 25:8-11).      What follows in the next few verses appears to be examples of crimes that were deserving of punishment by judges. Moses said, “You shall not plant for yourself an Asherah of any kind of tree beside the altar of the LORD your God, which you shall make for yourself. You shall not set up for yourself a sacred pillar which the LORD your God hates” (Deut 16:21-22). Because Israel was a theocracy, one could not separate legal from theological matters. In fact, the highest crimes committed were those that perverted the worship of Yahweh by introducing idols within the nation (Deut 5:6-8), which God had previously commanded to be destroyed (Deut 7:5; 12:3). Such an act was tantamount to treason, for it sought to subvert God’s authority with a manmade block of wood or stone.[2] Eugene Merrill writes: "Moses had just discussed the matter of righteous judgment and the blessing that followed such a policy. Now he provided a hypothetical case or two to illustrate what he meant by untainted jurisprudence and the practices to be followed in achieving it. The violations he adduced could not be more significant, for they strike right at the heart of the covenant relationship. In fact, they challenged the uniqueness of the Lord and the exclusiveness of his worship, on the one hand (16:21–22), thus disobeying the first two commandments; and, on the other hand, they spoke to the sin of cultic impurity in defiance of the third and fourth commandments (17:1). At stake was nothing less than who God is and how he is to be worshiped."[3] Here, the command was for God’s people not to engage in religious syncretism, in which a pagan Asherah pole would be placed alongside the altar of the Lord and worshipped together. If idols were worshipped alongside Yahweh, it would subvert the Lord’s authority and eventuate in social and judicial perversions. Being only a block of wood or stone, idols cannot protect, provide, or guide those who worship them, but neither do they make demands contrary to the proclivity of the fallen human heart. And when there is no check on the human heart to restrain its sinful inclinations, the result is a breakdown in morality that weakens society and leads to harmful behavior, especially toward the weak and innocent within a community.      Moses then provided a third example for the judges in Israel, saying, “You shall not sacrifice to the LORD your God an ox or a sheep which has a blemish or any defect, for that is a detestable thing to the LORD your God” (Deut 17:1). Moses had previously provided the directive not to offer a blemished or defective animal as a sacrifice to the Lord (Lev 22:20; Deut 15:21), which here he makes clear would be an afront to God. Such an offering failed to acknowledge God and His goodness as Israel’s Provider. Unfortunately, this is what the Israelites were doing in Malachi’s day (Mal 1:6-9). Peter Craigie writes: "In relation to 16:21–22, the offering of a blemished sacrifice is similar in result to defiling God’s sanctuary by the importation of things foreign to Israelite worship. It is possible that Canaanite religion did not have such a prescription, and therefore that offering defective animals was a sign of further lapse into a syncretistic form of religion. Any type of syncretism with foreign religion would be an abomination of the Lord your God."[4]   [1] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Equipped, “Be” Commentary Series (Colorado Springs, CO: Chariot Victor Pub., 1999), 114. [2] Gideon, a judge in Israel, had cut down an Asherah pole within his community when directed by the Lord (Judg 6:25-27). Gideon’s action caused a stir in his community and the residents of his town wanted to kill him afterwards (Judg 6:28-30). [3] Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, vol. 4, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 258–259. [4] Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), 249.

Sunday Sep 19, 2021

     God’s Word reveals there’s a divine drama unfolding, and the actors consist of angels and people, both good and bad, who operate in interlocking realms that are invisible and visible, both affecting the other. Failure to grasp this biblical truth limits our ability to understand what is transpiring in the world and what role we play. God desires that we live in reality, and His revelation is the blessing that provides insights we could never know except that He has spoken. What we do with that revelation determines whether we’re a force for good or evil. When believers know and live in God’s Word, it affords them the opportunity to make good choices that can bring blessing to those near them. But the opposite is true, that believers living outside of God’s will can bring suffering to those in their periphery. This was true of Jonah who was in disobedience and others suffered because of it (Jonah 1:11-12). But when Jonah obeyed God, many with positive volition were blessed and God’s judgment upon a nation was stayed (Jonah 3:1-10). As Christians, we should play our part well, sharing the gospel of grace and communicating God’s Word as best we can. But we must always keep in mind we’re not the only actors, and that Satan and his forces are at work, trying to weaken individuals, groups and nations. It is the work of Satan in America that motivates the writing of this article. Full article is here: 

Sunday Jul 25, 2021

     The word prophet translates the Hebrew word נָבִיא nabi (Grk. προφήτης prophetes), which means “speaker, herald, preacher,”[1] and refers to one who served as the spokesman for another. For example, נָבִיא nabi was used of Aaron who was the spokesman for Moses (Ex 7:1-2). When called of God, the prophet communicated a message directly from the Lord. Sometimes the prophet engaged in forthtelling, in which he addressed sinful behavior within a community, calling God’s people to stop their evil practices and turn to righteous living. But sometimes the prophet engaged in foretelling, in which he revealed the future actions of God, either for judgment or salvation (i.e., The Exodus, the Rapture of the Church, the Tribulation, Millennial Kingdom, etc.). The prophets were primarily men, but did include women such as Miriam (Ex 15:20), Deborah (Judg 4:4), Huldah (2 Ki 22:14), and Anna (Luke 2:36). God’s prophets received His revelation directly and then communicated it to others (Ex 4:12; Jer 1:9; Amos 1:3), and sometimes they served as intercessors to God (Gen 20:7; Ex 32:10-14; 1 Sam 12:17, 19). Throughout Scripture there were true prophets to be obeyed (Deut 18:18; 34:10-11; 1 Sam 3:20; 2 Ch 25:15; 28:9; Hag 1:13; Acts 11:27-28; 21:10-11) and false prophets to be ignored (Deut 13:1-5; 18:21-22; Neh 6:12-13; Jer 23:25-28; Matt 7:15; 24:24; Acts 13:6; 2 Pet 2:1-3; 1 John 4:1-3; Rev 2:20). In the NT, the gift of prophecy was for the edification of others, as Paul wrote, “one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation” (1 Cor 14:3).      It is important to understand that prophetic revelation always originates with God, as the prophet is merely the mouthpiece of the Lord. The Lord told Moses, “I, even I, will be with your mouth, and teach you what you are to say” (Ex 4:12). To Isaiah the Lord said, “I have put My words in your mouth and have covered you with the shadow of My hand” (Isa 51:16a).  And He told Jeremiah, “Behold, I have put My words in your mouth” (Jer 1:9b). We’re not exactly sure how this happened; however, what is clear, is that the words the prophet spoke originated with God. The apostle Peter stated, “No prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Pet 1:21; cf. 1 Sam 10:6; 19:20). The word moved translates the Greek word φέρω phero, which means “to bear or carry from one place to another.”[2] Luke used the word φέρω phero to refer to ship that were propelled by a wind (Acts 27:15, 17). Paul wrote, “when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe” (1 Th 2:13). Prophecy that was written became Scripture. And the prophets who wrote were not robots who merely dictated what God revealed, but maintained their personality, literary style, emotion, and volition.      In the OT, Moses knew there would be false prophets that would arise and seek to lead God’s people away from their covenant agreement with the Lord. Concerning the false prophets, God said, they “are prophesying falsehood in My name. I have neither sent them nor commanded them nor spoken to them; they are prophesying to you a false vision, divination, futility and the deception of their own minds” (Jer 14:14; cf. Jer 23:16, 21). This deception derives from Satan and his demons who are active in the world and constantly seeking to subvert God’s activities and programs. God, in His sovereignty, permits Satan to have his way for a time. Ultimately, false prophets are agents of Satan and can appear as messengers of light (2 Cor 11:14-15). But God has equipped His people to be able to identify false prophets so they can be rejected. In Deuteronomy, Moses gave two objective tests that could be applied to the person who claimed to be a prophet and said, “Thus says the Lord.”      First was the doctrinal test. In this test, there would appear someone who claimed to be “a prophet or a dreamer of dreams” (Deut 13:1), and would even perform a miraculous sign or wonder (Deut 13:2a). The miraculous sign or wonder performed by the false prophet functioned as a means of persuading others. However, the ability to perform a sign or wonder by itself proves nothing. When Moses was executing God’s plagues upon Egypt, it is recorded three times “the magicians of Egypt did the same with their secret arts” (Ex 7:10-11; cf., 7:21-22; 8:6-7). Jesus warned, “false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect” (Matt 24:24). And Paul spoke of the coming Antichrist, “whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved” (2 Th 2:9-10).      Though able to perform a supernatural act, the deceiver would reveal himself as a false prophet by his words, saying, “Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them” (Deut 13:2b). When the self-proclaimed-prophet teaches something that clearly violates God’s written Word, he/she reveals the source of their connection. To call God’s people to serve other gods is in violation of the first commandment, which states, “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Deut 5:7), as well as the great commandment which states, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut 6:5). Moses said, “you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the LORD your God is testing you to find out if you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deut 13:3). Here is a test of allegiance. Those who love God will remain loyal to Him (Deut 13:4). Because Israel was a theocracy, and God was their Judge, Lawgiver, and King (Isa 33:22), He directed His people to execute the false prophet or dreamer of dreams (Deut 13:5a), “because he has counseled rebellion against the LORD your God who brought you from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, to seduce you from the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from among you” (Deut 13:5b). Only those who know God’s Word and live by it will guard themselves against the deceiving power of false miracle workers.      Second was the short-term-fulfillment of a prophecy. On another occasion, God spoke about “the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak” (Deut 18:20a). Like the previous example of a false prophet, God prescribed the death penalty for such an action, saying, “that prophet shall die” (Deut 18:20b). Naturally, the Israelites would ask, “How will we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?” (Deut 18:21). The Lord’s answer was, “When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him” (Deut 18:22; cf. Jer 28:9). Apparently, the prophet would be able to predict a short-term event that everyone could see for themselves and verify. Once the short-term prophecy was fulfilled in exact detail, the prophet’s long-term prophecies could be accepted and relied upon as valid. Jesus adhered to this test, providing short-term prophesies that came to pass (Mark 11:12-14, 19-20), which validated His long-term prophecies which are still pending (Matt 24:3—25:46). Example of a True Prophet: "Now behold, there came a man of God from Judah to Bethel by the word of the LORD, while Jeroboam [King of Israel] was standing by the [pagan] altar to burn incense [to false gods; cf. 1 Ki 12:28-33]. 2 He [the true prophet] cried against the altar by the word of the LORD, and said, “O altar, altar, thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, a son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name; and on you he shall sacrifice the [bones of the dead] priests of the high places [pagan worship centers] who burn incense on you, and human bones shall be burned on you [fulfilled 300 years later; cf. 2 Ki 23:15-20].’” 3 Then he gave a sign the same day [proving to everyone he was a true prophet], saying, “This is the sign which the LORD has spoken, ‘Behold, the altar [used by King Jeroboam] shall be split apart and the ashes which are on it shall be poured out.’” 4 Now when the king heard the saying of the man of God, which he cried against the altar in Bethel, Jeroboam stretched out his hand from the altar, saying, “Seize him.” But his hand which he stretched out against him dried up, so that he could not draw it back to himself. 5 The altar also was split apart and the ashes were poured out from the altar, according to the sign which the man of God had given by the word of the LORD." (1 Ki 13:1-5) In this example of a true prophet, we see where he spoke against the worship of false gods in agreement with written revelation (Deut 13:1-5; cf. Ex 20:1-5a), and validated himself by performing an observable short-term prophecy for others to witness (Deut 18:22). Beware of False Prophets: "But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you [in the Church], who will secretly introduce destructive heresies [false doctrines], even denying the Master who bought them [attacking the Person of Jesus Christ and His redemptive work on the cross; cf. 1 John 4:1-3], bringing swift destruction upon themselves.  2 Many [in the church] will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned [outsiders will spurn Christianity]; 3 and in their greed they will exploit you [to get your money] with false words [πλαστοῖς λόγοις plastois logois – lit. plastic words, easily molded to accommodate the hearer]; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep." (2 Pet 2:1-3)      False prophets/teachers will arise in churches and will seek to introduce false doctrines alongside true ones (2 Pet 2:1a; cf. Acts 20:28-30). These false prophets will attack the incarnation of Jesus Christ (2 Pet 2:1b; cf. 1 John 4:1-3), as well as His redeeming work of the cross (2 Pet 2:1). On this basis we know Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are cults. Unfortunately, many in the church will be misled by false teachers, and this will cause the Christian way to be maligned (2 Pet 2:2). The motivation of false prophets is greed, in which they will exploit others for money (2 Pet 2:3a). Their power lies in their false words which they employ to subjugate their hearers. But these false prophets/teachers have not escaped God’s notice, and their judgment is coming (2 Pet 2:3b). Exposure to false teachers is inevitable; however, the Christian mind is guarded and remains stable as the believer continually learns and lives God’s Word (Matt 7:24-27; 2 Cor 10:3-5; 2 Tim 2:15; 3:16-17; 1 Pet 2:2; 2 Pet 3:18). Some false teachers may be won to Christ (Acts 8:9-13), but others are to be resisted or avoided (Gal 2:4-5; Phil 3:2; 2 John 1:9-11).      There are some Christians today who believe God continues to reveal Himself directly to His people. However, other Christians believe God reveals Himself today only through nature (general revelation), the Bible (special revelation), and providentially through circumstances. The Bible is the only source of special revelation, and God’s providential acts are only discernable by the Christian mind saturated with Scripture. Concerning faith and practice (orthodoxy & orthopraxy), the Bible is the only dependable source of divine revelation, and the Christian does well to know it from cover to cover. Christians are instructed to know God and His will through Scripture (Eph 4:11-16; 2 Tim 2:15; 3:16-17; 1 Pet 2:2), and the believer who knows and lives God’s Word will prove to be a blessing to others.   [1] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994–2000), 661–662. [2] William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1051.

Sunday Mar 14, 2021

The main point of this pericope is that Jesus warned His disciples that they would face persecution as His followers, but they should not fear their persecutors, but rather, should fear God who loves and cares for them. Click here for complete set of notes.

Saturday Mar 13, 2021

"Though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ." (2 Cor 10:3-5)      Self-talk is a mechanism of our reasoning that includes mental dialogues that can be quite complex. The dialogue can originate solely within our mind, or be influenced by external experiences or discussions. Sometimes these dialogues are pleasant, and sometimes not. And they can approximate reality, or be pure fantasy. The Bible presents a number of passages that address what today would be called self-talk (Gen 17:17; Deut 7:17; 8:17; 9:4; 18:21; 1 Sam 27:1; Psa 14:1; Isa 49:21; Jer 3:17-25; Luke 7:39; 16:3; 18:4). On several occasions, David faced pressure in life that disrupted his mental state and he took control of His thoughts and directed them to God (Psa 13:1-6; 42:1-11; 131:1-2). In these instances, David was his own biblical counselor as he applied God’s Word to his own situation and effected stability in his soul.      The mind is a busy place. As Christians, we face competing systems of thought all around us, via sources such a TV, radio, literature, daily discussions, and experiences. The brain needs to be healthy for the mind to work properly. The brain is our hardware and the mind its software. If the brain is damaged, the mind will not work properly. Or, the brain can be operational, but the mind corrupt. Volition tends the gate of our mind, determining what enters, its level of activity once inside, and the duration of its stay. For the most part, we determine what we let into our stream of consciousness. Sometimes—without our being fully aware—we accept antithetical beliefs, which result in cognitive dissonance and fragmentation. The rational mind will recognize incompatible thoughts and seek to find reconciliation, or eventual correction by means of expunging aberrant thoughts that cause trouble. Of course, this assumes a standard by which to evaluate our thoughts and values. For the Christian, the Bible is God’s special revelation to us to help us understand truths and realities we could not obtain by any other means.      Self-talk refers to our inner reflections, the mental-dialogues we have with ourselves. But self-talk is never neutral. There’s always a bias. A desire to think a certain way. Thoughts align with God and His Word, our personal desires, or the fallen world around us. Often, self-talk pertains to how something or someone impacts us, and what we can do to make sense of it and manage it along with other activities or pressures. As a Bible teacher, it’s my every intention to get into your mind, to promote God’s Word in every aspect of your reasoning so that you learn to think as He thinks and that His Word will govern every mental discussion. Others are trying to get into your mind as well. Some are helpful, others hurtful. You must choose what you allow in, and you must regulate the mental discussions you have with yourself.      Sometimes external activities or discussions with others can carry over into mental dramas and discussions we have with ourselves when alone. We create scenarios that play out an emotionally charged debate we had earlier in the day or week.[1] We do this because there’s a natural part of us that wants to make sense of what happened, so we replay the scenario in our minds, albeit imperfectly and with a bias. We might even assign a motive that may, or may not, correspond to reality. Often, real people and experiences come into our mental plays, as we set the stage and cast characters in various roles. We write the script of what each person says, how they act or react, and where the story goes. We play a part in our mental productions, either as the victim or victor. Emotions can flare during these staged productions, and this helps push the storyline in various directions, for better or worse. Often, our mental productions are an effort to anticipate how another person will act in reality, and various scenarios allow us to work out how we might respond if/when the real-life situation goes as we anticipate. Sometimes we do this with past experiences, recreating a scenario that is not true to the occasion, so that the outcome is more to our liking. The problem is that perception is never equal to reality, and sometimes we can misperceive another person’s words, actions, or motives; and when this happens, it drives our mental production into areas that might actually prove harmful.      Biblical self-talk is where we deliberately and consciously insert God and His Word into our thought processes. The purpose is to produce mental and emotional stability as we orient our thinking to divine viewpoint. This can be very challenging in a culture that excludes God and where the mind is conditioned to think about all matters from the perspective of how things relate to us. The mental stability of the Christian is predicated, to a large degree, on the biblical content and continuity of his thinking. It’s not only what we think, but the consistency of our thoughts that produce mental stability. But this is not the only factor, as our mind can be impacted—for better or worse—by things such as sleep, hydration, nutrition, exercise, and socialization. If we’re tired, hungry, and have not taken care of ourselves, then we are naturally more vulnerable to the pressures of life.      In personal trials and tribulations, I know God is at work in my life, using the furnace of affliction to burn away the dross of weak character and to develop those golden qualities that reflect His character. God wants me to grow up spiritually, and suffering is a vehicle He uses for that purpose. Suffering is like the manure that helps the plant grow; we don’t like its smell, but we understand it’s nourishing value. Joseph understood this, and even when his brothers treated him poorly, he saw it from the divine perspective and said, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Gen 50:20). Joseph could not control how his brothers treated him; but he could control his response, which was based on divine viewpoint and the choice of faith. As a Christian, I know that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28). Below are some ways to strengthen the mind: Take control of your thoughts. Solomon wrote, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Pro 4:23). And Paul stated, “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). Your mind is your own, and you must regulate what enters and stays, and what you choose to focus on at any given moment. Spend time in God’s Word. The person who is daily in God’s Word is like a tree planted near water that constantly receives life sustaining nourishment. David writes of the righteous person, saying, “his delight is in the LORD’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers” (Psa 1:2-3). The Lord spoke to Jeremiah, saying, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD and whose trust is the LORD. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit” (Jer 17:7-8). It’s only in the daily activity of biblical meditation that the Word of God begins to saturate our thinking and flow freely within the stream of our consciousness, permeating all aspects of our lives. Spend time in prayer. Jesus taught His disciples “that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart” (Luke 18:1). As Christians, we are to “pray without ceasing” (1 Th 5:17). This means our prayer life should never end, but should be ongoing, day by day, moment by moment. Life can be stressful, but we are to “be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phi 4:6). As Christians, we are to “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16). Spend time with growing believers. Scripture states we are to “encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb 3:13), and “let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Heb 10:24-25). Paul wrote, “When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours” (Rom 1:12). When writing to the church at Thessalonica, Paul said, “Therefore when we could endure it no longer, we thought it best to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God's fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith” (1 Th 3:1-2). Growing believers are marked by love for each other as we seek to encourage each other to love the Lord and to serve Him in humility and faithfulness. Spend time giving thanks to God. The psalmist wrote, “Oh give thanks to the LORD, call upon His name; make known His deeds among the peoples. Sing to Him, sing praises to Him; speak of all His wonders. Glory in His holy name; let the heart of those who seek the LORD be glad. Seek the LORD and His strength; seek His face continually” (Psa 105:1-4). Paul wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always” (Phi 4:4a), “and “Give thanks always for all things” (Eph 5:20a), and “in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Th 5:18). An attitude of gratitude to God strengthens the heart of God’s people. Take care of yourself physically. Make sure you get good sleep, hydration, nutrition, exercise, and socialization. If we’re tired, hungry, and have not taken care of ourselves, then we are naturally more vulnerable to the pressures of life. When Elijah the prophet was threatened by Jezebel, he became fearful and fled for his life, even wanting to die (1 Ki 19:1-4). And God sent an angel to Elijah, not to rebuke him, but to care for him. And twice, while Elijah slept, the angel cooked a meal for him in order to strengthen him for his journey (1 Ki 19:5-8). On one occasion, Jesus told His disciples, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while. For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.” (Mark 6:31). Sometimes, when engaging in ministry, we’re in a better frame of mind to handle those situations if we are rested and taking care of ourselves physically.   [1] Emotion is connected to thought, like a trailer to a truck. One pulls the other along. We drive the truck. We determine where our thoughts go, and emotion follows. However, once in motion, the truck cannot stop easily, for when the brakes are applied, the force of the trailer pushes the truck, reducing the braking process. How far we travel to come to a complete stop is determined by how much the trailer weighs, how fast the truck is going, and the external road conditions. I’m sure the metaphor could be developed further, but you get the point. Thoughts and feelings are connected systems that either work for us or against us, but they are never neutral.

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