The Purifying and Healing Touch of Jesus

On the first day of a college speech class, a Christian professor asked the class members to introduce themselves and to tell the class what they liked and what they did not like about themselves. The class members answered the question until it came to be the turn of a student named Dorothy in the back of the classroom. Dorothy was silent, and then the speech professor gently repeated his question. After another moment of silence, she sat up and pulled the long red hair aside which had shielded a part of her face. On almost all of one side of her face there was a large, red, irregularly shaped birthmark. She said, “That should tell you what I don’t like about myself.”

The godly professor leaned over, compassionately hugged her, and kissed her on the cheek with the birthmark, as he said, “That’s okay, honey, God and I still think that you’re beautiful.”

Dorothy cried uncontrollably for almost twenty minutes, and then she was finally able to say, “I’ve wanted so much for someone to hug me and say what you said. Why couldn’t my parents do that? My mother won’t even touch my face.”

Like that godly professor, Jesus gave his healing touch to many who were rejected by others, and who may have even been repulsive for others to see and touch. The touch of Jesus was often the gift of one of his healing miracles. In the gospels, the miracles themselves are real life testimonies to the power and authority of Jesus Christ, and signs that he had come as King Messiah, the Son of God, filled with the Messianic enduement of the Spirit, with healing hands. Each one also showed the genuine compassion of Jesus for the suffering of people, and each one gives a unique insight into the how Jesus treated people as individuals. Each person who came to Jesus for healing often received more, because often there was need for more than a physical healing. So in the gospel of Mark there is a story of how one individual received both remarkable tenderness and very firm direction, because Jesus knew that he needed both.

“And so there comes to him [Jesus] a leper who gets down and begs him on his knees as he says, ‘If you are willing, you are able to make me clean.’ And he is filled with compassion, reaches out his hand and touches him, and says, ‘I am willing. Be clean!’ And immediately his leprosy went away from him, and he became clean. And Jesus was very direct and serious as he sent him away and said to him, ‘See that you don’t talk to anyone about this, but go, show yourself to the priest, and bring before him the offering for cleansing which Moses established, as a witness to them.’ But he went out and began to proclaim it often and to make it known, so that Jesus was no longer able to go into a city openly but had to stay out in the countryside; and many came to him there from all over.” (Mark 1:40-45, Dale’s sight translation; I deliberately tried to convey something of the blue collar expressiveness of the Greek; it’s more like how a steelworker would try to explain what had happened than a college educated person).

Jesus Christ has genuine compassion for human suffering. He is the living embodiment of God’s compassion to this fallen world, and the bondage of sin, disease and spiritual oppression. His kingdom, in the person of the King himself, comes to reach out and bring healing in the midst of this world. His life and ministry is the living proof that God cares and God heals in a world of pain and suffering. And because Jesus is very compassionate, we can then come to him with our needs. He came into our world to bring redemption, and because he came into our world for that purpose, we can come to him with a holy, reverent boldness for our most heartfelt and desperate needs.

In verse 40, the leper came to Jesus freely and boldly, even with some desperation and shamelessness, about his need of healing. This happened while Jesus was on one of his evangelistic tours (1:14-15, 39), as he presented himself in the towns of ancient Judea as the Messiah, and presented himself as the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies. He called the people to faith and repentance as he healed and drove out demons by a simple word of command from his personal authority. So the leper knew that Jesus was someone who had the healing power to take away his leprosy, but was not entirely sure about his willingness. The ‘If’ in his statement indicates that he thought that Jesus would probably be willing to heal, but wasn’t quite sure that Jesus would want to. His humble kneeling before Jesus shows that he was respectful of the sovereignty of Jesus as he approached the Lord whom he believed could meet his need.

The leper’s approach to Jesus shows us that we also can approach Jesus for our needs as well. He is not physically walking the streets of our cities and towns, but he is alive still, as the Lord and Son of God from eternity who came, died, and rose again to provide us his salvation. He is concerned about our needs and suffering also, and we can approach him with a reverent desperation about whatever has us suffering and defeated in this life. He is approachable. And we can come to him with our impossible situations when we come to him from our own place of helplessness and desperation. Sometimes we may become so lost in formality and ritual that we lose sight of how little he cares for the manner and form of our approach as much as he care for us to come to him in our desperation and helplessness. It’s like the story of the three preachers who were arguing about the best physical positions for prayer while a telephone repairman was working nearby. One preacher was for kneeling, another was for hands outstretched to heaven, and the third was for praying face down on the floor. The repairman finally interrupted and said, “ . . . the best prayin’ I ever did was hangin’ upside down from a telephone pole.”

From his compassion for human need, then, Jesus Christ brings redemption from our bondage. He reaches out in compassion, while others may ignore, neglect, pass by or even add to the rejection and humiliation of whatever has us suffering. He reaches out to do the impossible, and he will redeem the most hopeless situations.

In verse 41, then, Jesus was filled with compassion. I think that this is going back to a memory of the look on the face of Jesus as he encountered the suffering leper. And his compassion was behind his will to heal, and it only took a short command for the leper to be made completely whole. His contagious purity touched and destroyed the suffering and contagion of the loathsome, contagious and incurable (by merely human perceptions and ability)disease. His touch removed defilement as he touched the untouchable. But this was more than healing: this was a sign to the Jewish nation of his power and authority as the Messiah, that the signs of the Messiah predicted in the Old Testament were being fulfilled in the ministry of God’s anointed King, Jesus from the house and lineage of David.

This testimony in the gospels shows that the healing of the Kingdom of God comes from the power, authority and compassion of Jesus. It shows that he was much, much more than a moralizing story teller, a kind of a inoffensive Jewish Socrates walking around in first century Palestine. Rather, the healings show the power that he demonstrated during his time on earth, and how much the corroboration of his credentials was a threat to those who found him such a threat to the status quo that they felt that they had to set him up for the humiliating death of a criminal on a cross to get rid of him.

But even more, the healings of Jesus during his earthly ministry show  us that healing comes from his will and compassion and they happen for his glory and the establishment of his credentials as the Messiah, the Son of God. This should keep any one of us at any time from acting as if authority in the name of Jesus to heal could ever be used as an expression of one’s own will, power, authority or godliness. Rather, healings in the name of Jesus, as they continue to take place today, need to come from deep humility before Jesus Christ and in complete submission to his will. Along with the command, “In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, rise and walk,” (Acts 3:6) there always needs to be, “Why do you stare at us as if we were able to make this man walk by our own power or godliness?” (Acts 3:12). And always there needs to be no desire on the behalf of anyone to try to get a little percentage on commission of the credit or glory due to God alone when these kinds of things take place when we serve others in ministry for Jesus. A. B. Simpson, the founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, got it write when he wrote, “I have never allowed anyone to look to me as a healer, and have had no liberty to pray for others while they placed the least trust in me or my prayers, or aught but the merits, promises and intercessions of Christ alone.”

So then, the first step to seeing the Lord meet our most desperate need will be for us to approach the Lord with faith in his compassion and power. This will be no general kind of faith in anything else, but in him. This will mean faith in him and not in ourselves or our own abilities, and it will come from a reverent submission to his will. And then we will find him to be a Lord whom we can come for the conquest our own sinful habits, for instance, such as deep and lingering resentments and self pity, or hidden and heart wrenching addictions to alcohol, pornography, marijuana or prescription drugs,  which may cling to us but seem as impossible for us to overcome as leprosy.  Or the desperate situations may be physical problems which in our day and age find no answer in medical science. Or there may be other situations for which we have run out of answers, even after we have gone through all the formulas we can find in all the books in the biggest and most comprehensive Christian bookstore in the world.

Whatever our need, we can come to the Lord and ask him to touch us with his presence, power and love, and give us what we really need in from his overwhelming love. But however he chooses to meet the situation, though, if our faith has been placed in Christ for our eternal salvation, we can be assured that we will always have his companionship and love, and that his power for us is so great that in no situation can any circumstance be beyond his love and power. Whatever it may be, even if it turns out to be something that he has not promised us complete deliverance in our lifetime or before he returns, we will still have his loving and comforting touch. It will be like the time that Queen Victoria of England spent some time with the wife of a common works who had lost a baby. Afterwards, her neighbors asked her what the queen had said, and she replied, “Nothing. She simply put her hands on mine, and we silently wept together.”

So then, we find the living Lord whom we see clearly in the gospels healing in his love and compassion. But in these healings, we also see something else about Jesus. In our situations where he touches us, he calls us to complete obedience to the will of God. His compassion was not an easygoing indulgence, of putting a band aid on a child’s minor hurt and then saying, “Now run along and play!” His gifts of compassion and healing do not show a naïve person susceptible to easy manipulation and exploitation. Rather, along with the touch of compassion, he may speak to us directly and sternly to a need for purity and obedience in our lives.

So often Jesus used and will use a moment of his healing touch for spiritual correction and restoration to the will of God. That was behind his strong direction to the leper, after he became a former leper, to the demand of the Old Testament Law of Moses for purity and obedience. There has been a lot of ink spilled over the wording of the Greek in verse 43, about how it seems to be saying how Jesus suddenly became very irritated and very commanding toward the former leper. It’s a detail that perhaps the original eyewitnesses may not have understood. The best explanation I can find is that Jesus was ticked off at how the leper showed disregard of the command of the Old Testament Law for  lepers to remain at a distance from others to avoid contagion. There is a total absence of this irritation, for instance, when he heals the ten lepers in the incident recorded in Luke 17:12-13, when they remained at a distance but called to him for healing. But like them, Jesus called for this former leper to to fulfill the demand of the Old Testament Law for an offering to be presented to God when they were healed of leprosy, and one of the Jewish priests confirmed the healing (Leviticus 14:5-22). This shows how much the compassion of Jesus was still balanced by his realization of the former leper’s deeper need for a deeper regard for the expressed will of God. After all, he did not come either as a story teller, or  merely as a healer of ailments and illnesses, but as the ultimate Prophet predicted by Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15-19), not to destroy but to fulfill the Law (Matthew 5:17-20) and to express and call for the will of God to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

This also shows that any regard for a fascination with miracles to the disregard of or insensitivity to the expressed will of God is incompatible with Jesus. His intention is that the testimony to his power and credentials is to grow out of the quiet and conscientious following of the will of God, rather than the ostentation and carnal chattering of people overly concerned with their own experience. Rather, it reminds us that as God brings us his expressions of compassion through Jesus Christ, there needs to be still a careful following of the will of God. Otherwise the testimony of miracles may actually turn others off if it does not result in a Christlike purity in our lives. It is like Andrew Murray once wrote: “In order to receive healing, it is usually necessary to begin by confessing sin and desiring to live a holy life. This is without doubt the reason why people find it more difficult to believe in healing than forgiveness. This is also why those who receive healing receive at the same time new spiritual blessing, feel more closely united to the Lord Jesus, and learn to love and serve him better.”

One of the problems with an insensitivity to God’s will may be unintended hindrances to the witness to Jesus Christ. It may result in the loss of access to key places and points of witness. It may not come from explicitly malicious intentions but from carelessness to note what the Lord has commanded and to follow what he had commanded.

In verse 45, Jesus’s command for the former leper to be silent about what had happened to him until he had fulfilled the Law’s demand for his purification offering. But with his fascination with being healed, the former leper went around and at great length telling everyone in a way which caused an unintended hindrance to the Lord’s desire to speak in the cities and the synagogues. He had to restrict his ministry to the countryside, outside the towns, for a considerable period because the former leper didn’t pay much attention to what Jesus had told him.

The caution is that there is the possibility that we may also be too off the cuff and insensitive with respect to God’s expressed will. While far too many Christians are far too silent and reluctant to speak about what Jesus has done in their lives, there is also the possibility that insensitivity to the expressed will of God may close some doors to our witness prematurely. A true and genuine boldness in the Spirit will be accompanied by a deep submission to God’s will and obedience to him, and Christlike sensitivity to others. For instance, though George Whitfield was known for his powerful preaching and mighty voice, he won a young girl to Christ without those: “It was not any sermon he preached; it was not anything that he said to me. It was the beautiful consistency and kindness of his daily life, in the house where he was staying when I was a little girl. I said to myself, ‘If I ever have any religion, Mr. Whitfield’s God shall be my God.’”

The times, therefore, that we seek the Lord’s compassion and assistance in our need are therefore a time to listen. They are a time to hear his voice, a time to take spiritual inventory and to become aware of any ways that we may have been insensitive to and disregard the will of God. Sometimes he speaks to us after the miracle, like the former leper, but more often he seems to speak to us before. Our biggest challenge may not be talking about our experiences – though often enough we are too close mouthed and distant to be effective witnesses – but rather to be sensitive to the voice of the Lord and to follow the will of God closely and carefully. Those times that we come to the Lord for his compassion may be times that call for us to consider quietly whether we have actively disobeyed in doing things forbidden or passively failing to do the good what he wants from us. This will mean putting ourselves in a place where we are then open to the conviction of the Spirit of God.

But I think that there’s an even more deeply ingrained habit of spiritual insensitivity among many believers today. My experience is that it tends to run more in Christian women, but I think that many Christian leaders – sometimes an elder, but more often someone in vocational Christian ministry – fall prey to it as well. I call it spiritual codependency. It is the tendency, whenever we hear someone in our family, among our friends, or in our churches, mention a problem. This is the tendency to think that it’s something for us to handle, in our pride, arrogance and desire to prove ourselves right before man, with our platitudes and formulas. In my own life, I’ve seen brothers and sisters in Christ try to jump in and deal with problems even when I’m only bringing up a past problem (at least on one occasion many years past) to tell about how the Lord has already given it his healing and purifying touch. We fail to recognize that when someone needs, or the Lord is giving, his purifying and healing touch, that we do not need to try to get our own fumbling fingers into that situation, or to try to pry open a place where God has healed a wound to try to put our own quack medicine into it.

The Lord Jesus then continued his ministry of preaching, teaching and healing until he came to the city of Jerusalem. There he went willingly to the cross where his death secured the forgiveness of sins and acceptance with God for everyone who would put his or her trust in him for eternal salvation. He then rose from the deal to show how completely and finally he conquered sin and death, and then to share every spiritual blessing with his people through the Holy Spirit.

So we then can find Jesus as the Lord to whom we must come for our genuine needs, and for all of us that is first of all for salvation. The greatest miracle, accomplished only once in this lifetime for any person, is being born again of the Holy Spirit, of passing from death to life by faith in Jesus Christ. But then he is also a Lord to whom we can come for physical healing. He also paid the price for our physical healing in his death, and he will share his risen life with us in our physical bodies, to heal and renew our physical bodies for serving him. And he is a Lord to whom we can come for deliverance from our sins. We must then be willing and ready to be done completely with the habit, to call sin sin, and to blame no one but ourselves, but then we can trust him for forgiveness, fullness of fellowship with God and the overcoming power of the Holy Spirit. And finally, he is a Lord to whom we can bear witness as the compassionate Savior, as the testimony from a life that has been cleansed by his touch from impurity. From our experience of his cleansing, we can bear witness to the compassionate Savior, as those who had been moral and spiritual lepers, to let the others around us know of his healing and purifying touch.

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Sign On the Dotted Line . . .

Here’s how Charles G. Finney told about his experience of receiving the fullness of the Holy Spirit: “As I went in and shut the door after me, it seemed as if I met the Lord Jesus Christ face to face. It seemed to me that I saw him as I would see any other man. He said nothing, but looked at me in such a manner as to break me right down at his feet. It seemed to me that a reality that he stood right before me, and I fell down at his feet and poured out my soul to him. I wept aloud like a child and made such confessions as I could make with my choked words. It seemed to me that I bathed his feet with my tears, and yet I have no distinct impression that I touched him . . . as I turned and was about to take a seat by the fire, I received a mighty baptism of the Holy Spirit . . . the Holy Spirit descended upon me in a manner which seemed to go through me, body and soul . . . it seemed to come in waves of liquid love, for I could not express it in any other way . . .”

Finney’s experience illustrates the truth, that the risen and exalted Lord Jesus Christ is the one who gives the gift and fullness of the Holy Spirit. The accounts of the gospels, though, show that he had to be baptized, receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit and continue on in ministry until his crucifixion and ascension, before he could confer the gift of the Holy Spirit upon others.

Some time during the ministry of John the Baptist, about 27 AD or so, before Herod Antipas imprisoned and later beheaded him, John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. This is mentioned in all four gospels, and was the momentous event that marked the beginning of the ministry of Jesus and the fulfillment of his Messianic mission.

But the occasion of the baptism of Jesus is means much for us also in our lives as well as his followers, if we have put our faith in him as our Lord and Savior. It has huge implications for two often needlessly controversial issues for believers in Jesus Christ, those of water baptism and the enduement of the Holy Spirit. The Lord himself fulfilled the commands that he later addressed to his followers, in two versions of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20 and Luke 24:46-49). As we look further into what these meant, what happened in the baptism of Jesus addresses these issues decisively. For all the arguments that anyone can make who would claim to have put his or her faith in Jesus Christ that he or she does not need to be baptized, all of them would apply most of all to Jesus. If there ever lived anyone that did not need to be baptized, it was Jesus – and he went in obedience to the will of the Father to be baptized. For all the arguments that anyone can make that he or she is a follower of Jesus Christ but does not need to be filled with the Holy Spirit and minister and witness in the power of the Spirit, again, each one of those arguments would apply even more to Jesus. If there lived anyone who did not need the fullness and power of the Holy Spirit for ministry, it was Jesus – and he received the fullness of the Holy Spirit at his baptism and went forth to his earthly ministry. The gospel of Luke especially emphasizes that Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, wholly God, was yet wholly man as well and fulfilled his ministry through his sinless humanity as a Spirit filled man.

But there’s even more in the baptism of Jesus that is significant for the believer in Jesus Christ. At the occasion of the baptism, the beginning of the ministry of Jesus, the revelation of the triune nature of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, shines through brilliantly. This truth later becomes more unfolded through the teaching of Jesus and then the apostles, and has been the firm conviction of the church since then, that God is one God who exists and who expresses himself in the three Persons of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

Here is how the gospel of Luke describes the baptism of Jesus: “And it came about that while the whole nation was being baptized, Jesus also was baptized, and while he was praying heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit came down upon him in bodily form like a dove, and there was voice from heaven that said, ‘You are my beloved Son; in you I am well pleased’” (Luke 3:21-22).

The baptism of Jesus was the sign of the beginning of his Messianic ministry. This was his own act of self dedication and consecration to the ministry that he came to fulfill as the Son of God. It was a unique sign of the unique person who had come as the kingdom of God in person, the Messianic King.

First of all, Jesus’s baptism was unique among all the baptisms that took place before his. He submitted to baptism as the one who would be the one who would later baptize with the Holy Spirit. He went in obedience to the will of the Father, even though John the Baptist himself recognized who Jesus was and felt reluctant to baptize him in water (Matthew 3:13-14). Though the others before Jesus who had been baptized had done so as an act of repentance and confessed their sins as part of being baptized (Mark 1:5). But Jesus did not let any possible misunderstandings of his baptism, such as it being a possible denial of his own sinlessness by submitting to a baptism which for others was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, stop him from submitting to baptism. Rather, he went forward in obedience to the will of the Father, and then received the witness of the voice of the Father of his entire approval of his Son.

This shows us the proper approach to baptism, as an act of obedience, in submission and obedience to the word of God. For us as well as Jesus, it is an act of personal consecration. It is something for those who have put their faith in Christ as Lord and Savior to do despite what the traditions, opinions and possible misunderstandings of others. The New Testament, from the gospels to the book of Acts to the letters of Paul and Peter, consider baptism the normal outcome of genuine conversion. The normal mode would be by immersion, as shown by the descriptions of Jesus coming up out of the water (Matthew 3:15), and its treatment as an enactment of being buried and raised with Christ (Romans 6:1-13), as an identification with him in his death and resurrection. Certainly if there was anyone who could have been baptized as an infant by sprinkling, it would have been Jesus, but he was baptized as an adult, by immersion in water, with a full understanding of what he was doing.

Though there has been much written and said about baptism since 27 A.D., most of it needs to go to parts of the New Testament which do not explicitly speak about baptism. Even the book Catholicism by Richard McBrien, certified as being compatible with the official doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church, acknowledges that the normal mode of baptism during apostolic times was the baptism of believers by immersion. What A. T. Pierson passed on about the scriptural study and conviction of George Mueller summarizes what may be found fairly from the study of the New Testament on baptism: “. . . he records the solemn conviction that of all revealed truths, no one is more clearly revealed in the scriptures – not even the doctrine of justification by faith – and that the subject has only been obscured by men not having been willing to take the Scriptures alone to decide the point.”

But the baptism of Jesus was marked not just by the act of him being baptized. His self consecration to his Messianic ministry was marked by the gift of the full Messianic anointing of the Holy Spirit. This was his empowerment for ministry as the Son of God in person and authority but as the Spirit filled Messianic King,

In the immediately preceding context of the prophecy of John the Baptist about the coming Messiah who would answer water baptism with the baptism of the Holy Spirit, there is Jesus who is baptized and who himself receives the Holy Spirit in all his fullness. He himself was baptized in water and in the Holy Spirit so that he could be the One who would minister in the power of the Holy Spirit and then give the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was already perfect and sinless in himself, so if there was anyone who did not need the power of the Holy Spirit for ministry, it was Jesus Christ. This was the fulfillment of prophecy of the Messiah being filled with the Spirit (Isaiah 11: 2) and this enduement gave him a power, guidance and wisdom beyond that of his unfallen human nature for ministry as the Messianic King. It is noteworthy also that Jesus was praying at the time of the Holy Spirit. From our being able to hear the words of his prayers such as in John 17:5, it’s hard to see him praying for the reception of the Messianic anointing of the Spirit and willingly receiving it in prayer, so that the power of the Spirit came to him with his full consent and willingness. And even more, that the Holy Spirit came up0n him in bodily form as a dove shows that the manifestation of tongues, such as on the day of Pentecost, was not to be in all ages and in all times the normative and definitive sign of the fullness of the Holy Spirit, but rather the ministry in the power of the Spirit (Luke 4:1, 4:14, Acts 1:8).

Again, this shows the importance to the believer in Jesus Christ to have the possession of the gift of the Holy Spirit and then to have the fullness of the Spirit. Even more do we need the Holy Spirit to empower, guide and transform our personalities. If Jesus, sinless as he was, ministered in the power of the Holy Spirit, we must also have the same power of the Spirit in our lives. Even more do we need his Spirit in our lives, to live in his victory over sin, to become like him, and to minister as his representatives in the power of the Spirit. Certainly if anyone of us has put his or her faith in Jesus Christ for our eternal salvation, we have received the gift of the Holy Spirit as the seal of our salvation (Ephesians 1:13-14). But even so, the apostle goes on to call us to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:21), and that is something that we cannot take for granted that we are being filled with the Spirit if we do not know that we are being filled with the Spirit.

That Jesus prayed as the Holy Spirit descended upon him was fully consistent with his own encouragement for his disciples to ask for the Holy Spirit from the goodness of God the Father (Luke 11:13). The apostles then put this into practice in the days up to and including Pentecost, when they prayed for the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the church as the inception of the worldwide ministry of the church, and this was at the explicit command of Jesus himself (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:8). Even after the day of Pentecost, they gathered together in prayer in response to the threats in Jerusalem and received renewed power for ministry (Acts 4:29-31). And this did not not end there; for instance, John and Charles Wesley told about a time when they were joined together in prayer, and the Holy Spirit came upon them with power for ministry. And the same testimony came from Charles Finney, as previously mentioned, and Dwight L. Moody, A. B. Simpson, and A. W. Tozer, and many others who have been used by God over the years. (For more, see James Lawson, Deeper Experiences of Famous Christians).

For myself, I count myself unbelievably blessed that I experienced the filling of the Holy Spirit at the time of my baptism. For me, it happened kind of like it happened with Jesus, with the filling of the Holy Spirit with power for ministry at the same time as I went to water baptism by immersion out of submission to the Word of God and obedience to the Lord. It would have taken place about 4 PM on January 23, 1976, at the Oxford Church of Christ, in Oxford, Ohio. I didn’t speak in tongues or show any similar manifestation, but I did experience a wonderful new consciousness in Christ. I was filled with a new joy and a new aliveness in prayer and love for other believers. My own experience is a pattern for no one else, but I do count myself blessed that it did happen in kind of the same way with me as it did with Jesus.

Therefore, the baptism of Jesus Christ and his enduement of power for ministry sets a strong, unanswerable precedent for the believer in Jesus Christ. The possibility and necessity of both baptism and the power of the Spirit for ministry for the believer are ultimately shown by Jesus Christ himself. It’s quite amazing how many may consider themselves believers in Jesus and seeking to do WWJD (What Did Jesus Do?) who may be seeking to glean moral guidance from the gospels but totally missing the significance for them of the baptism of Jesus and how Jesus began and fulfilled his ministry in the power of the Holy Spirit. If you are looking to the WWJD ethic for guidance, have you been baptized? Or if you talk about WWJD, have you sought to be filled with the Holy Spirit?

But even more, the baptism of Jesus revealed the nature of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We call God in his revelation of himself as three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit as triune, and his nature as the Trinity. There was this demonstration of himself as something of the reality and relation of Father, Son and Holy Spirit as one God.

In this event of the baptism of Jesus, God disclosed himself as three Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit appearing simultaneously. This then became as the ministry and teaching of Jesus progressed in his earthly life and through the ministry of the apostles, a continuing revelation, and it becomes natural throughout the New Testament to speak of God revealing himself as the Father, God revealing himself as God the Son, and God revealing himself as God the Holy Spirit. It becomes constant to mention together the three Persons of the Trinity. The Word of God itself is the basis for the belief in the triune nature of God, through this constant mentioning together of the three Persons of the Trinity and the ascription of divinity and the attributes of deity to all three Persons named as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Again, this was based first in the teaching of Jesus and continued through the teaching of the apostles in the New Testament.

But the teaching that God exists in three Persons does not detract from the belief that there is one God and not three Gods. The word Trinity came to summarize the belief, drawn from careful study of the scriptures and the careful words of Jesus and the apostles, that there is one God who expresses himself in three Persons. The New Testament came from the nation of the Jews, and assumes the constant teaching of the Old Testament, which is also affirmed in the teaching of Jesus and the apostles, that there is only one God. Certainly it is a matter beyond our understanding, but not beyond our faith and experience of God. A.W. Tozer called the doctrine of the Trinity, “truth for the heart.” John Wesley said, “Bring me a worm that can comprehend a man and then I will show you a man that can comprehend the Triune God.”

This revelation of the Trinity throughout the New Testament, in the constant mention together of the three Persons, of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and the description of each as a fully divine Person, yet as one God, has remained for two thousand years the constant affirmation and conviction of the church of Jesus Christ. The denial of the Triune nature of God has always been ultimately considered a mark of false teaching and a mark of teaching untrue to the faith of the apostles and the teaching of Jesus. The two departures are either the denial of the deity of any of the Three Persons, the confusion of the persons into one, or the denial or the unity of only one God, and therefore teachings which go into those directions are not to be accepted as the truth of God or the teaching of the New Testament.

The truth of scripture sets forth this wonderful yet unimaginable truth of one God who exists in three Persons. Though this truth is beyond our understanding, yet it still calls for us to receive it reverently as what God has revealed himself to be.

The revelation of God as Trinity shows us that the God of the Bible is beyond our own thoughts. He is not a figment of the imaginations of human beings, but much more than the imaginations of mankind. He is always and will always be more than we may consider or think him to be. Though there is much that we can learn from what he has revealed about himself, yet there still remains much, much more beyond our comprehension. This calls for a holy and reverent humility even in our thoughts about God, as we come to understand how much we do not comprehend about him.

But this isn’t something just to be kept as something that we recite as part of a creed. Rather, the truth of God revealing himself as God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit is central to the reality of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ, and the experience of the believer is that of God as Trinity. In prayer the believer bows before the God whom he calls Father in consciousness of his or her new identity as a child of God by faith in Jesus Christ. In witness the believer calls Jesus the Son of God in witness to his power and authority as Lord and Savior. In consciousness of that new power to overcome sin and witness to Christ the believer calls the Holy Spirit God in the experience of his or her newness of life.

And even more, this is a truth that has for centuries been carried through into and permeated the worship of believers in Christ, where all three Persons receive worship as God. So many hymns, doxologies and other worship songs rightly include and often center in the triune nature of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and glorify his salvation as it came from the will of the Father, was fulfilled in the life, ministry, death and resurrection of the Son, and applied through the conviction, regeneration and sanctification of the Holy Spirit. Maybe there are some big words that are used here, but whenever we try to dumb down what we call worship by soft pedaling or even leaving out entirely the way that God has revealed himself and brought salvation to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit we miss so much of the distinctive heart and passion of worship that reflects the New Testament revelation of God.

During the time that he was baptized and endued with the Holy Spirit, then, Jesus was marked out from the Jewish nation at large as the one John the Baptist pointed to  as the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. Since his death for our sins, resurrection to life and ascension to glory he is the one who gives salvation, namely, eternal life, to those who believe in him as Lord and Savior, who receive and live in his salvation.

The first concern of everyone to whom the Word of God comes is then to consider the matter of whether you have personally received salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. This isn’t something to be presumed simply because you may have attended a church or become a member of a church, or having gone through any rites or rituals, but whether you have made a personal and conscious decision to receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior through repentance and faith in him alone. Do you have the assurance of having received his salvation, and do you experience the changes that come through having him in your life as a living and conscious presence?

If so, have you followed the Lord in water baptism? Again, don’t presume anything on any kind of previous church association or anything else but what the Word of God says about baptism. Read over and consider what the Word of God has to say, and then follow him in water baptism, as identifying him in his death and resurrection as you go down in the water in death to your old life and rise up through the water as one risen with Christ to live in newness of life.

Have you received the gift and fullness of the Holy Spirit? Consider that the will of God through Jesus Christ is that you be filled with the third Person of the Trinity, whose presence means power and guidance, who is himself the present fullness of salvation and the manifestation of the life of Jesus Christ. In the same manner as Jesus did, come before God in prayer and consecration, and ask and receive his fullness, so that you might live fully for the glory of God in all that you do.

The Aesthetic Argument For the Existence of God

Below is one of my favorite personal photographs of two daffodils in the spring.

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C.S. Lewis felt that the aesthetic argument for the existence of God – that there is no sufficient explanation for our appreciation for beauty and its expressions in nature, art and beauty—had a real and probably unanswerable weight of evidence. He deeply appreciated the lectures of Arthur Balfour, one time Prime Minister of Great Britain, and convinced Christian, which set forth this argument in a pretty much unanswered way. So, the argument for an intelligent and purposeful Creator has not only a mechanical and structural aspect – irreducible complexity in living things – but also an aesthetic aspect – his intricate artisanship and attention to detail and beauty, such as we see here.

Ecclesiastes and Dead Presidents

These are some photos from my personal travels over the years.

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The grave marker of Thomas Jefferson, on the grounds of Monticello.

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The sarcophagi of President and Mrs. James A. Garfield, in the great memorial inside Cleveland’s Lakeview Cemetery.

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The sarcophagi of President and Mrs. William McKinley, Canton, Ohio.

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The sarcophagi of President and Mrs. Warren G. Harding, Marion, Ohio.

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The grave markers of President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA.

Not to be too morbid, but  . . . only the first man died peacefully in his bed. Three were victims of assassins, and the other of a sudden heart attack. “There is no man that hath power over the spirit to retain the spirit; neither hath he power in the day of death . . . For man also knoweth not his time” (Ecclesiastes 8:8, 9:12).

Before Anything Fails, Read the Directions

At a news conference on February 21, 1985, President Ronald Reagan, in mentioning his own recent return to regular reading of the Bible, announced, “ . . . the Bible contains an answer to just about everything and every problem that confronts us, and I wonder sometimes why we won’t recognize that one book could solve our problems for us.”

This is the wonderful discovery that lies before believers in Jesus Christ: the way that the Bible speaks to their lives. This is the discovery that so many have made: the way that the Word of God brings encouragement, comfort, direction and correction. Even more, they make the discovery that the more effort and time put into the study and meditating on the truth of the Bible and in following the command of the Bible, the greater is the blessing of God upon their lives.

A healthy and secure Christian life is the result of attention to the Bible as the inspired Word of God, as the ultimate source of what to believe and what to do. The antidote to the weak, superficial and secondhand faith of so many professed believers in Christ comes down to giving to the Bible the significance in their lives that it deserves as the Word of God. But much of the the spiritual weakness of North American Christians is due to their reverence for the Bible with little knowledge of the Bible. Up to 80% in surveys have expressed their belief that it is the revealed Word of God, but there is so much that is unbiblical about the lives of so many due to Biblical illiteracy and negligence. So there is the great need to call so many who call themselves Christ followers to give due attention to the Word of God, to find his strength, foundation and direction for their lives, beyond a hearsay faith of social conformity with others.

Paul’s words to Timothy are one of the best known witnesses of the Bible to itself as the inspired Word of God, and to its necessity and usefulness to grow believers to spiritual maturity and effectiveness. Paul stressed the necessity and centrality of the scriptures for the man in ministry, but his words also apply as well to any believer, so that he or she can grown in spiritual maturity, stability and effectiveness. So here is what Paul had to say:

“All scripture is God-breathed, and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (II Timothy 3:16-17).

The Bible itself states that it is the inspired Word of God. It is the message, written down, translated and circulated worldwide, which God specifically gave to the men and women of this world. And because it is God’s message to us, it must command our attention. And even more, it is the written message of God that will truly satisfy the spiritual hunger of those who have been truly born again by faith in Jesus Christ.

The divine inspiration of the Bible means that it’s God’s own Word. That’s what is meant by calling it God’s own Word. It means that it expresses the exact meaning that God intended to be expressed to mankind. This means that it is more than simply great human writing, even though some parts of scripture definitely qualify as literary masterpieces and others are maybe not great in literary terms. But rather, it means that the Bible is to be read, studied, followed and treasured not so much because God was behind the authorship of scripture.

In the simple statement of Paul, that, “All scripture is God breathed . . .” comes the basis of calling the Bible divinely inspired. Other translations render that, ‘inspired by God.’  It definitely means that scripture is more than simply great human writing; some parts of scripture are definitely literary masterpieces, such as the Psalms and Isaiah, but other parts are not so great by a merely aesthetic evaluation. With that statement, Paul was not denying that the books of scripture had human authors, and that they each had their own individual ways of expressing themselves and their own individual styles of writing.It definitely does not mean entire dictation, but certainly some dictation in some parts, where there is the explicit declaration, “Thus says the LORD.” But rather, this is the declaration that the personalities of the human authors were so empowered and directed by the Spirit of God that what was recorded was the exact message of God. And this then carries with it the conclusion of its inerrancy and infallibility through its being divinely inspired. But just to be sure, there has also been the statement that this does not mean that there have not been some scribal and typographical errors in different manuscripts or printed editions over the years, or that any translation is perfect – certainly, with his rabbinic background, Paul was aware of differences in manuscripts and the different translations into Greek of the Old Testament, as were the other apostles — but that what was originally given was the message of God and it continues to speak to us as such even with minor errors of transmission and translation.

The divine inspiration of scripture guarantees the constant relevance of the Bible. Scripture will never cease to be trustworthy in what it says to our faith and what it commands for us to obey. It remains the Word of a living Lord who inspired it and who continues to stand by it and work through it. It is meant to be our regular, even daily, guide to a present relationship with the Lord and Savior. And this is the basis of an informed reverence for scripture, which isn’t superstitious or based upon hearsay or tradition, nor do we regard it with spookiness or as magic writings or the physical book as a magic talisman. John Calvin once said, “We owe to scripture the same reverence owe to God,” and by this he meant that we owe it submission and obedience as the Word of the Lord, because through the Bible, God has spoken. This does not mean that we worship the Bible – described by that pejorative straw man phrase of Bibliolatry – but that we recognize that God has spoken in the scriptures, and because we worship and reverence him, we give reverence, that holy respect and submission, to what he has spoken.

But look — Paul didn’t just write that scripture is divinely inspired, but that all scripture is divinely inspired. By his statement, inspiration extends to the entire Bible. From this he meant that all of the Bible deserves our attention, faith and obedience, because divine inspiration extends to the entire Bible. All that is scripture is divinely inspired. This means that for every believer in Christ in every age all the Bible is the divinely inspired Word of God. This inspiration occurred it happened when God inspired the writer of scripture to write down what was his will to write: “Understand this thing first, that no prophecy of scripture came about through personal interpretation; because no prophecy came about by human intention, but holy men spoke from God as they were carried by the Holy Spirit” (II Peter 1:20-21).  Here Peter spoke about prophecy – direct revelation from God – and that is reflected in the teaching of the truth about God and what he commands. And this kind of prophecy can even be found in the historical books such as Samuel, Kings and Chronicles and in the gospels. In such books there was definite historical investigation, and the use and evaluation of other sources – see Luke 1:1-4, for example – but also definite revelation of God’s view on the events which took place – such as II Chronicles 32:31. And this same kind of historical account with divine interventions, divine explanations and divine commentary (with implications for all God’s people in all times and places – not just for the time they were written) took place even in the books of prophecy where there were a number of direct declarations of God, with an explicit ‘Thus says the LORD.” – see Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel, for example.

This declaration of the inspiration of all the Bible then brings up question of canonicity. How can we be sure that all the books in the Bible are inspired? First, the question of the canonicity of Old Testament comes both by prophetic attestation,  and it is corroborated by the personal citations and authority of Jesus and the apostles (see J.W. Wenham, Christ and the Bible, for one defense of this view). And contrary to modern historical fallacies, the New Testament canon is not  based on a report or a recommendation that done by an identifiable committee, such as the Council of Nicaea. (That view comes from a list of the modern list of the canon in a letter by Athanasius, who happened to have been part of the Council of Nicaea). For most of the New Testament, such as the four gospels, the book of Acts, the letters of Paul and I Peter, there was an immediate recognition of inspiration of their inspiration, and they were cited and circulated as scripture by the end of the first century A.D. Several books, such as Revelation, took some time and evaluation to be included, but they generally were recognized as such. Then the individual books took some time to be collected together and to be brought into unified bindings (called a codex or codices), though, and maybe more a development of the personal convenience of the codex and parchment to replace individual scrolls and papyrus rather than any less doctrinal conviction of their not being inspired any less than any other books of scripture.

So the divine inspiration of the Bible means that it is the most important thing that we will ever read in this lifetime.  If we are to live in consistency with a genuine belief in the inspiration of the Bible this will mean that we will live opposite to the inattention to and neglect of the Word of God that we see in the lives of so many in our churches who are in attendance at our services but woefully ignorant of many basic Biblical truths and in disobedience to many clear Biblical commands.

The truth is that very often attitude of a professed believer in Christ to reading and studying the Bible and meditating on the Word is an indicator of the quality of his or her present relationship to God. Generally, growing believers will be hungry to learn more and more of the Word of God, backsliders will avoid spending time in the Word of God, and unbelievers will be not put in any effort to learn the Word of God and remain content to remain ignorant. Generally, though, devotion to God will mean devotion to his Word over the course of one’s life and in the path of following Jesus Christ.

But this also means that there needs to be great care in interpreting the scriptures as a part task of preaching and teaching the scriptures and of reading and understanding the scriptures. This is the task of both the spiritual leader and the person who is to receive the preaching and teaching of the scriptures. Because the Bible is the Word of God the preacher and teacher must take great care in the interpretation of the scripture that is behind his or her preaching and teaching. The command goes to the preacher and teacher to present oneself as an unashamed worker who correctly uses the Word of truth (II Timothy 2:15 – the prior context to this passage under discussion). But the command to prove all things is laid upon the church, from the pastors and elders to every believer (I Thessalonians 5:21-22), lest anyone come under the bondage of distortions and deliberate misinterpretations. (See my earlier post on handling minor disagreements on how far to take this.)  Rather, even where there might be different interpretations of scripture on minor points, they should be  reasonable and based in sound, often centuries old, guidelines for scriptural interpretation, and interpreted in historical and literary context, and corroborated by agreement with other interpretations. And because of this,  over the centuries Biblical interpretation and exposition has been found in the churches of Jesus Christ worldwide to be an occupation that is worthy of the most careful scholarship and learning and an occupation of many of the greatest intellects of humanity throughout history. So, anyone that would seek deliberately from any reason to dumb down the intellectual demands upon a pastor or anyone who handles the scriptures is at variance with the reverence due to scripture as a subject and pursuit worthy of our every power of sanctified, reverent and prayerful intellect. And indeed it was the lifelong pursuit of the most pure, incisive and insightful intellect the world has ever known, that of Jesus Christ himself, the Son of God himself.

The inspiration of the Bible, moreover, also insures that it is the most reliable thing that you will ever read. It will mean freedom from and less attention to the opinions of other people, even fellow Christians, and therefore growing freedom from the fear of man. It will free a person just from listening to the teaching of others and repeating second hand nuggets (which may well be fool’s gold rather than the real thing). It will draw a person to the personal reading, study and meditation on the Word of God. It will rather mean the development of a habit of examining all teaching within the church, by whatever pastor or teacher, how ever much esteemed, by consistency with the Word itself. And that habit in eternity can gain nothing less than the approval of God himself.

Understanding that the Bible is inspired by God and therefore the most reliable thing anyone will ever read should then bolster our security in the scriptural gospel of justification by faith through the grace of God in Jesus Christ and in the central doctrines such as the Trinity, deity of Jesus Christ, personhood of the Holy Spirit. These central doctrines have withstood constant challenge in every age of the church, but have just as much been vindicated as the declarations of the Word of God reasonably and rightly interpreted. So, this unshakeable confidence in scripture can give the believer in Christ to assert alongside the apostle Paul, “For I am disclosing among you, brothers, the gospel with which I evangelized, that it is not of human origin . . . ” (Galatians 1:11).

Moreover, this understanding of the entire inspiration of the Bible should draw us away from a modern tendency that I will call Biblical favoritism. This is where a believer approaches the Bible in piecemeal fashion and parks himself or herself in dealing with isolated portions, favorite verses, preferred books of scripture. We often may gush in the currently fashionable cliché that, “I LOVE this verse,” but for many this may rather be a symptom of a selective faith and selective obedience when it comes to the whole of scripture. This may even be a symptom of avoiding those portions of scripture which require some more digging and those which correct and challenge us. We need to understand that though there are difficult and challenging parts of scripture, this tendency is inconsistent with acceptance of the teaching of scripture itself that it is all inspired. Rather it is more consistent with ultimate belief in one’s own inspiration ultimately treating the Bible simply as source material for one’s own self directed moral inspiration and emotional encouragement (doctrinally a confusion of inspiration with illumination). The evangelical Anglican bishop J.C. Ryle saw this tendency in his own day, and frankly saw it for what it is: “. . . he is the narrow minded theologian, who pares down such parts of the Bible as the natural heart dislikes, and rejects any portion of the counsel of God.”

But if we give up this ‘childish thing’ of Biblical favoritism, this means the stupendous truth that in every book and in every chapter there are lessons to be learned, commands to be followed and promises to be embraced. Even more, it keeps in front of us the tremendous possibilities of discovering new things previously unknown to us and the reminders of truth which needs to be reinforced and deepened as we spend time in scripture.  This then can bring us to a constant humble, prayerful expectancy of learning from God’s Word, whenever it is read, studied, meditated upon, preached or taught. And this should motivate us to make sure that we have the right attitudes to come to scripture (I Peter 2:1-3, James 1:20-21, and see also Ephesians 1:15-23 as fulfilled through illumination of the scripture and the prayers of the Psalmist in  Psalm 119.) And even more if our task is the preaching and teaching of the scriptures, it makes even more plain the challenge of the apostle in II Timothy 4:1-2: “I charge you before God and Christ Jesus who is going to judge the living and the dead, and his appearance and his kingdom: Preach the Word, be ready when and when there are not appropriate opportunities, correct, rebuke, encourage, in all patience and teaching.”

But the inspiration of the scriptures is more than an assertion of doctrine. Moreover, there is a stupendous consequence for the believer in Christ in the divine inspiration of the scriptures. The Bible, as the Word of God, is the foundation of spiritual capability. It forms the basis of spiritual growth and usefulness. Knowing and following the Bible as the Word of God is the pathway to spiritual security, maturity and effectiveness. This is what we often miss in the modern church when we give undue emphasis to other authorities alongside the Bible even when we profess belief in its divine inspiration. And often we can find the basis of spiritual weakness, immaturity and ineffectiveness to be due to both the ignorance and hidden disagreements with the Word of God among believers. They may have internal, unexpressed conflict with the clear teaching of the Word of God which in turn sap their spiritual strength and vitality, and leave them weak and passive in the face of a world where their faith is often treated with disdain and hostility.

So let us define here spiritual capability. It is the preparation for every spiritual challenge. It is not knowing a list of facts and notions, but rather knowing what to do, what to believe, what to say, from the knowledge of the Word of God.

With the statement,  “. . . that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work . . . ” the apostle describes the intended result of scripture in the life of the believer in Christ. This is the result when the Bible is believed and obeyed entirely: thorough equipment for every spiritual challenge. This is the same kind of phrase that was used to describe a soldier who was fitted out with complete provision and complete weaponry and who was and completely trained for the battles and skirmishes ahead. Equipment for spiritual battle, not a head filled with fun facts or a heart filled with half understood but emotionally uplifting platitudes, is what the goal of knowing scripture is all about.

The intended result of being grounded in the Bible is therefore for the believer to be fully prepared for full faith in and obedience to Jesus Christ. This means scriptural preparation for every incident calling for exercise of faith and for every falsehood calling for refutation and for every opportunity calling for witness and for every situation calling for obedience to a command from the Word of God. Again, this will mean a believer avoids of the extreme of knowledge without obedience: this is the classic trap of head full of Biblical facts but a life lived in disobedience and unbelief. This will mean avoidance of the opposite extreme of spiritual naiveté, of attempted faith and obedience without the knowledge of the actual teaching of scripture or on hearsay knowledge that tries to be capable by watching what other do, social conformity to the opinions of the social group. It means personal communion with Jesus and  his personal teaching of his Word through his Holy Spirit to us. This is what Charles G. Finney explained to those new in the faith: “The Bible is the medium of introduction to him personally. What is there said of him is designed to lead us to seek after a personal acquaintance with him. It is by this personal acquaintance with him that we are made like him. It is by direct, personal [fellowship] with his divine mind that we take on his divine image.”

This growth in spiritual capability, then, comes through deep application of the Bible to our thoughts and actions. It yields immediate and excellent results, but still continues over the process of a lifetime. It is learning and doing the Word of God, and it is a long term process of acquisition, not a short term dabbling nor something that comes just through giftedness, talent or nature.

So this is how the spiritual capability comes about: because the Bible is inspired by God, it . “. . . is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness . . .”. The result of spiritual capability comes through application of the Bible in what it’s useful for, and this is the  result of patient, consistent study and meditation upon the Word of God, and reception of the preaching and teaching of the Word  and even through informal conversations. These are all ways of getting the nourishment of the Word of God into one’s life and building spiritual capability.

Spiritual capability not simply achieved by growing older or by how long a person has spent warming a pew or being associated with a religious group. Rather, it comes through the Word of God. It comes through learning the Word of God, as it rebukes, corrects, guides and trains us. It comes as the Word of God is distilled into the life through spiritual experience and moral direction. And this can be at times both hurtful to us and extraordinarily uplifting. Again, Charles G. Finney has an incisive remark on this: “I have long been satisfied that the higher forms of Christian experience are attained only as a result of a terribly searching application of God’s law to the human conscience and heart.”

Therefore, the believer who wants to please his or her heavenly Father, will find his or her capability to do so in relation to his or her knowledge of and obedience to the Word of God. Attention to the Word is the first step to  address any immaturity, incapability or spiritual and moral dysfunction on our part. This will mean that we find not only scriptural answers to our problems, but also scriptural wisdom for the assistance of others, and this will answer the great demand for those today who are able to help others with the love, acceptance and compassion of Christ.

So many within our churches profess the belief that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. This belief calls for our respect for it as the Word of God. This respect will be real when we start to give it the attention that it deserves as the living and active Word of the living God, and  believing what it says, obeying what it says and communication of what it says both among ourselves and to the lost and dying world around us, that needs the good news of Jesus Christ which is found within its pages.

So, then, let each one of us personally invest our time and effort in reading, studying and meditating upon the Word. This will be an investment in spiritual capability, and it will mean a tremendous benefit upon ourselves, and our family and friends. But most of all, it will be a life invested in learning what is pleasing to God, who gave us the Word for our ultimate and eternal good. This means setting aside the time to spend in the Word and making systematic effort to learn the Word, acquiring and using proper helps certainly, but most of all reading with a reverent, submissive attitude and recording and sharing our observations and lessons. And since the Word will never fail us, this means seeking to understand and receive what the Word promises to us, to follow its commands.

In our churches, then this means that the guide for the fellowship is always the Word of God first and foremost. How little the Word of God guides so many of our churches can be seen in how shocking that statement would be to so many who attend our churches and so many long time members. But the Word of God supersedes all traditions and routines for the church, and we need need to make and keep it first and foremost as the way that we live as a church fellowship to be in any way a church which can claim the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

But most of all, the Bible as the Word of God is the Word which contains and explains the gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. There is no gospel which saves which is not faithful to the Word of God. But even more, having a Biblically centered gospel is behind having the spiritual capability to witness powerfully and articulately among those in this world that need the gospel of salvation.

Excuses: A Primary Symptom of Spiritual Complacency

When Roscoe F. Good was captain of the battleship U.S.S. Washington during 1944-1945, many of the men resented his stricter leadership after the easy going captain that preceded him. But when transgressors of Navy regulations were brought before him on Captain’s Mast, about all he would say would be, “What’s your excuse, sailor? And it better be original, because, by God, I’ve heard them all.”

Pretty much the only reply that he would receive would be, “No excuse, sir.”

One of the principles often emphasized during times of revival in the church of Jesus Christ that the very same attitude of ‘No excuses’ is necessary for followers of Christ to go forward in their spiritual lives. Unfortunately, excuses for transgressions of the commands of God are something that the reprobate mind (Romans 1:28-32), part of the fallen human nature, can come up with very easily, and even furnish and coach others in giving as a reason for sin. And certainly the enemy of our souls is ready to furnish even more excuses for us, to keep us walking in his territory of pride, self deceit and disobedience to God. But spiritual complacency often creeps into our lives, and we often find ourselves allowing old excuses to come in to try to cover our consciences, whitewash our reputations and preserve our pride, and we may find ourselves walking further away from close fellowship with Christ.

A close walk and fellowship with God calls us to drop the excuses and be honest about our sins before God. This is what it takes to walk closely in fellowship with a holy and all knowing God, and to experience fully his love and goodness. This isn’t eternal forgiveness, which is the consequence of justification by faith in Christ; rather it is relational forgiveness, which is day to day cleansing and purifying of ourselves to preserve a close relationship with a holy and righteous God.

“And this is the message which we have heard from him [Jesus] and we are proclaiming to you, that God is light and there is absolutely no darkness in him. If we say that we are maintaining fellowship with him and we are walking in darkness, we are lying and we are not practicing truth. But if we are walking in the light just as he is in the light, we are in consistent fellowship with each other and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son is purifying us from every sin. If we say that we do not have sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sis, he is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins and to purify us from everything of unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar, and and his Word is not in us. My children, I write these things to you so that you don’t sin. And if anyone does not sin, we have an advocate [for our acquittal] with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous One. And he is the propitiation for our sins – not only for our our sins but those of the whole world” (I John 1:6-2:2, Dale’s sight translation, with an emphasis on the Greek present tenses in the original language.)

Some Personal Photographs From Northeastern Ohio

The following are some personal photographs from my travels around northeastern Ohio. My friends on Facebook have been able to view these for months, but I’m sharing these for the world at large.

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This is the grave marker of Charles Grandison Finney at Oberlin, Ohio. His grave is surrounded by the graves of his wife and children. It is visible from the road through the cemetery, though the inscription is not. The inscription reads, with a definite reference to Joshua 1:9, “The Lord our God be with us as He was with our fathers; let Him not leave us, nor forsake us.”

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This is the grave marker of Elliott Ness and his family at Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio. Though he has been gone for half a century, it is noteworthy how many continue to leave decorations and commemorations at his graveside.

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This is the grave marker of John D. Rockefeller and his family in Lakeview Cemetery, Cleveland, Ohio. How much did he leave behind? All of it.

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This is the incomparable stained glass window, The Flight of Souls, by Louis Comfort Tiffany, in Wade Chapel, Lakeview Cemetery, Cleveland, Ohio. The whole chapel is designed to place the focus on the risen Christ at the center of the window and his empty tomb, and the path to him as the resurrection and the life.