Bio

Dr. Mike Halsey is the chancellor of Grace Biblical Seminary, a Bible teacher at the Hangar Bible Fellowship, the author of Truthspeak and his new book, The Gospel of Grace and Truth: A Theology of Grace from the Gospel of John," both available on Amazon.com. A copy of his book, Microbes in the Bloodstream of the Church, is also available as an E-book on Amazon.com. If you would like to a receive a copy of his weekly Bible studies and other articles of biblical teaching and application, you can do so by writing to Dr. Halsey at michaeldhalsey@bellsouth.net and requesting, "The Hangar Bible Fellowship Journal."

Comments may be addressed to michaeldhalsey@bellsouth.net.

If you would like to contribute to his ministry according to the principle of II Corinthians 9:7, you may do so by making your check out to Hangar Bible Fellowship and mailing it to 65 Teal Ct., Locust Grove, GA 30248. All donations are tax deductible.

Come visit the Hangar some Sunday at 10 AM at the above address. You'll be glad you did.

Other recommended grace-oriented websites are:

notbyworks.org
literaltruth.org
gracebiblicalseminary.org
duluthbible.org
clarityministries.org

Also:

Biblical Ministries, Inc.
C/O Dr. Richard Grubbs
P. O. Box 64582
Lubbock, TX 79464-4582

Friday, March 17, 2017

OUT OF CONTROL

The Bible is a different book.

Right now, you're thinking, "Tell me something I don't already know."

What I mean by that is that the Bible never seeks to flatter the reader. The Book paints a discouraging picture of the human race: lost, blind, rebellious, and going astray from the mother's womb. It tells us that while salvation is free, discipleship involves paying a high price involving persecution, being misunderstood, hated, losing friends, even enduring family ostracism.

The Good Book also tells us about the future of the church. Contrary to the hyperbole of Christian broadcasting featuring highly emotional evangelists, the church isn't going to roll triumphantly through the world. The Bible does not paint such a rosy picture. According to recent prognostications, Islam is soon to become dominate worldwide, not Christianity. The cold hard facts are that there's not one village, hamlet, town, city, county, state, or nation in which everyone has trusted Christ as savior.

THE DIRE PREDICTION

The forecast the Bible makes doesn't use the word "triumphant" in the same sentence with the word "church" in this dispensation. No. As a matter of fact, the Bible's unflattering picture of the church is that, as the Grace Dispensation progresses, the church will continue to sink into apostasy, which is a big word meaning, "not under the authority of Christ and His Word."

Christ Himself predicted the coming apostasy of the church in the parables of Matthew 13 in which only one of the four soils represent people saved when they hear the gospel, in other parables of the same chapter, leaven corrupts the church, foul fowls rest in its branches and Paul wrote about wolves arising from within the church, as evil men would grow worse and worse.

IN THE FIRST CENTURY

Of course, you know that Jesus addressed those seven first century churches in Revelation 2-3. But did you know that five out of the seven churches had chosen to be outside of the control of Christ? The apostasy was so bad in the church in Laodicea that Christ pictured Himself as standing outside the church, knocking on the door to get in. Things were so bad inside the walls of that church, that Christ said it made Him sick. But we have free will; Christ won't break down the door and force the congregation to be under His control. But He will knock.

[Unfortunately, many are the preachers and evangelists who teach that this is picturing Christ's knocking on the door of the unbeliever's heart, but, as the context shows, it's a church whose doors are shutting the Lord Jesus outside. Once the preacher ignores the context, he misses the point of the text, invents an application foreign to the text, and may fall into false doctrine. Such out of context preaching makes for an emotional invitation period, but it's not biblical.]

 HOW CAN THIS HAPPEN?

Churches reject the authority of Christ in many ways. One way, unnoticed by even the most discerning, is through Americanism, that is, democracy. Democracy is "government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people.

In the church, we are too much influenced by Abraham Lincoln's eloquent Gettysburg Address with its "government of the people, by the people, and for the people." It was a great speech in some respects, but the church is not to have the supreme power vested in the congregation. The head of the church isn't the congregation; the head of the church is Christ (Eph. 5:23). Yet, in spite of Ephesians 5:23, church after church continues to write constitutions soaked with democracy, thereby setting themselves up for never-ending conflict.

Democracy is a petri dish that breeds  factions, fissures, political ploys, backroom meetings, voting blocs, allowing the loudest, the most raucous, the most carnal and the most pugnacious to lord it over the congregation. Within the petri dish, mobs form, mobs, secular or ecclesiastical, fighting for control. 

In a democratic church, Christ isn't the head of the church, 51% of the people are. Yet, we are so drenched with democracy, we don't know how to conduct ourselves; we can't decide any issue without taking a vote. In congregations and committees, democracy dominates while Christ is outside the meeting room, knocking on the door.

ANOTHER WAY

Churches can reject the authority of Christ by adopting a hierarchy of prelates, bishops, cardinals, and popes. The church began without a bishop, one man with absolute authority over a church, and eventually a group of churches. The hierarchy got started with Ignatius of Antioch (37-107 AD):

"Ignatius' letters also served to record the rapid development of church hierarchy. 'Follow, all of you, the bishop, as Jesus Christ followed the Father,' he wrote to Polycarp's church at Smyrna (now Izmir, Turkey). 'Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be, even as wheresoever Christ Jesus is, there is the catholic church. It is not lawful apart from the bishop either to baptize or to hold a church meal,' he continued in his letter to Smyrna. The instruction is also remarkable because it is the first recorded use of the phrase "catholic [meaning, universal]" (From "Christianity Today").

The Bible is a different book, but I'm sure you know that; but the more we study it, the more we realize just how different (and true) it is.








Saturday, March 11, 2017

DOES THIS SOUND HARSH TO YOU?



"Now when Jesus saw a crowd around Him, He gave orders to depart to the other side of the sea. .Another of the disciples said to Him, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead.” (Matt. 8)

That statement jars our ears. Jesus comes across as harsh with a lack of compassion. Or does He? Let's examine two things: the context of the text and the customs of the times.

Right off the bat, let's discuss the phrase, "one of His disciples." Our English eyes often read this as a technical term, that is, one of the select Twelve, but the word isn't used that way in every case in the New Testament. It can mean, "follower" or "student." It can refer to the curious follower of Jesus, not even a believer, and not always a committed believer. The meaning depends on the context. 

WE CAN'T HELP OURSELVES

And another thing: our English minds can't help themselves: we read our customs into the text and that's why it comes across as a heartless reply. What's happening is that our customs lead us to believe that this poor man's father has died and, in the urgency of the moment, he needs to go home and he communicates that need to Jesus by asking Him for a leave of absence and then, after that, he'll return. 

OUR ASSUMPTION

But we're assuming that his father has just died. But that's not the case at all: the father isn't dead. 

We can say that because:

The Jewish custom was that when a person died, he was buried before sunset that same day. This was the case when Christ died and it was the case when Ananias and his wife died as recorded in Acts 5. If his father had died, the burial would most likely have already taken place, and even if it hadn't, it would be by sunset the day of the son's request to leave, so he couldn't make it back home, unless it's very close.

When we look at the man's request, we read too quickly over the word, "first." That, and the idiom of the day, show us what's actually happening. In Jesus' day and even today, when a person in the Middle East said/says, "Let me first bury my father," he means, "I'll do whatever you're requesting after the death of my father (whenever that maybe) and my responsibilities to him are complete. That's my first responsibility."

The man is the eldest son (we know this by his request) and the eldest son is the one who's responsible for taking care of his aged parent(s) until they die. The man is saying, "Let me take care of my father first, then I'll return to You because my responsibilities as the heir will be over." By the Law, he'll get a double portion of the estate because he's borne the expense and energy of their care. That's fair.

Christ bases His reply on another familial custom and idiom of the day. If there were other sons in the family, they were considered "dead" to the responsibility to care for their aging parents, so when Christ said, "Let the dead bury their own (notice the familial reference in "their own") dead," He's saying "When the death of your father happens, let your brother(s) take care of the burial, even though by custom, they're dead to that responsibility."

THIS IS NO FUN

One other thing: we know from the rest of the story that Jesus is getting ready to take them into a territory that's heavily gentile, and for Jews, that's a no-fun situation. (From my frame of reference, that would be like engaging in evangelism in a flea market.) We could speculate that the man doesn't want to go into that area, a place crawling with gentiles, those "unclean dogs," so he's begging off, making an excuse when it's crunch time.

TODAY

Such is the custom today in the Middle East. Bob Boyd, an archeologist relates this incident while at the Old Testament site of Dothan: 

"I became very friendly with Abed, our Jordanian pickman. He had been educated in British schools and could speak English fluently. One day he invited me to his home in the little village of Arrabah to have supper with his family. On our two mile hike over I questioned him about his family, parents and brothers and sisters, who, he said, were all in good health."

"Since he was such an educated young man, I asked if he ever thought of coming to America and getting a job. 

"He replied, 'I would love to, but I have to stay at home and bury my father.'” 

"When I reminded Abad that he told me his father was alive and well, he explained that he was the first-born son and as heir to all his father possessed, it was his responsibility to stay home until his father passed away and then to bury him. 

"I then asked my young Jordanian friend why he couldn’t have his brothers and sisters assume this responsibility of burying his father. “They are dead,” he said. Again I reminded him that he said they were all alive and doing well. I asked Abad how he could say his siblings were “dead.” 

"His answer was, 'They are dead to this relationship I have with my father as the first born son—the heir.'”

THE PRINCIPLE

Now, Jesus' reply makes sense. It's not harsh and uncaring. And, at the same time, it shows us something: Jesus wants commitment, even a commitment that trumps one's commitment to his or her parents when the hopes and wishes of the parents clash with the will of God. 

The account of Jesus' interaction with this man is a lesson in commitment, but we miss the point if we read our culture into it. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

WHAT ATHEISTS LEARNED FROM M. M. O'HAIR

Eric Lyons, a Sunday school teacher, asked his class of teenagers, "Does the name, Madalyn Murray O' Hair, mean anything to you?"

One in the class answered, "Yes, she was a nurse." Another said, "She was a character in 'Gone with the Wind.'" Only one out of the 20 knew that she was the most famous atheist in America back in the 1960's, a person who, in 1963, took her case to the Supreme Court and got Bible reading and prayer thrown out of the public schools across the nation. (There were others waiting to do so; she just happened to be first.)

But that was only one item in her hall of shame. In 1965, she founded American Atheists Inc. and was its director for 20 years. But before that, before her crusade to get "under God" out of the Pledge of Allegiance, before her filing suit to erase "In God We Trust,' from American currency, and before she went so far as to file a lawsuit against NASA to try to ban astronauts from praying in outer space, who was M. M. O' Hair?

O' HAIR THE MARXIST

In 1960, she took her family to Paris and tried to defect to the Soviet Union because she wanted to live in an atheist state. However, she was unsuccessful, so she returned to America, angry and agitated, looking for trouble. But that's the way Madalyn was, always looking for a fight. Even one of her sons admitted that his mother couldn't keep a job because she was so constantly combative.

Pugnacious to the core, she was looking for a cause celebre; she found it in atheism, and the rest is history.

In addition to founding American Atheists, she wrote articles and books, published posters and bumper stickers, hosted radio shows, gave interviews, engaged in debates, and made guest appearances on TV talk shows.

UP CLOSE

But there was something else about M. M. O' Hair: she was obnoxious, noisy, rude, and crude. Her son said she had a dysfunctional, argumentative personality and another said that she wasn't just rude, she was "viciously rude." Her language was so obscene, it had to be bleeped out of interview after interview, as it would be today, even in our anything-goes-culture.

"People Magazine" called her "a blustery and pugnacious woman." With glee, she called herself, "The most hated woman in America." And, talk about fanatical, she was even known to mark out the words "In God We Trust" on the paper money that passed through her hands. (Some might say, "Get a life!")

NIGHTLINE NIGHTMARE

Valerie Williams, a journalist for ABC's "Nightline," interviewed M. M. O' Hair.  She said that the reason for the interview was a story that O' Hair had asked them to do, and they were cooperating with her. Williams later said, "I've never encountered a more bitter, a more distasteful person than Madalyn Murray O' Hair. She was extremely foul-mouthed; we had to stop the interview in the middle because she was cursing so much."

IN THE CROSS HAIRS OF M. M. O' HAIR

In 1980, one of her two sons, William, became a Christian. His mother's response was swift and vicious: She said, "One could call this a postnatal abortion on the part of a mother, I guess; I repudiate him entirely and completely for now and all times … he is beyond human forgiveness.” (No one crossed M. M. O'Hair. She was so angry that she wouldn't let Jon, his brother, nor William's own  daughter speak to him for the rest of their lives.)

William wrote: "My mother had [total] control over my daughter. She lived with my mother. My mother used food to control her and make her unattractive. By the time she died, she was so heavy she had to purchase two airline tickets because she could not fit in one seat.

"For twenty years I could not talk to my brother. He would hang up the phone on me or tear up my letters and send them back. The same was true of my daughter. They both called me, “Traitor” because I had accepted Christ and changed my life. By 'traitor' they meant that I no longer followed the absolute direction of my mother as they did.

"My mother was an evil person … Not for removing prayer from America’s schools … No … She was just evil. She stole huge amounts of money. She misused the trust of people. She cheated children out of their parents’ inheritance. She cheated on her taxes and even stole from her own organizations. She placed vulgar statuettes on her mantle. She once printed up phony stock certificates on her own printing press to try to take over another atheist publishing company. I could go on but I won’t."

In the end, it was M. M. O' Hair's mouth and her pen that triggered her sad, tragic, and brutal demise. She learned that an employee, David Waters (one of the many who couldn't get along with her) had stolen $54,000 from American Atheists Inc. She filed a lawsuit, which is strange, since she had to borrow from the character of God to be able to morally condemn such an act.

But that wasn't all she did--she went on the warpath against Waters, an ex-convict, who'd been in prison for many crimes, including murder. M. M. O' Hair wrote an article about him, shortly after she discovered the theft. The scathing article appeared in the 'Members Only' section of the American Atheists newsletter exposing Waters' previous criminal record, including a 1977 murder of a teenager at the age of 17, exposing him as a convicted felon. Leaving no stone unturned, she accused him of beating his mother and being a homosexual. Waters' girlfriend later testified that he was enraged by O' Hair's article, and that he wanted to torture her in gruesome ways.

THE END

Waters and two others kidnapped M. M. O 'Hair, her son, Jon, and William's daughter, Robin, forcing Jon to withdraw $600,000. M. M. O' Hair, her son, and her granddaughter were never seen alive again. Their dismembered bodies were found in January of 2000 near Camp Wood, Texas, five years after they disappeared, murdered and sawed asunder by fellow atheists.

The son she spurned said that he hoped that in his daughter's, his brother's, and his mother's final moments they trusted Christ, but he doesn't know. What we can know is that, if they did not, as they went into eternity, God wept.

THE LEGACY OF M. M. O' HAIR

What did her fellow atheists learn from the life and legacy of M. M. O'Hair? Let's focus on one atheist who said that what he learned and what all atheists should learn is that "We're never going to advance our cause by being like she was was--argumentative, combative, rude, pugnacious, foul-mouthed, and proud of it.

Say what? That sounds like he's borrowing from the Book he rejects: "The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth," (II Tim. 2:24-25)

A MOTHER IN TEARS

A woman came to see me and she needed help. Her son had become a Christian and was learning a great deal about the Bible. Unfortunately, his teacher had many of the bombastic characteristics of M. M. O' Hair and her son was being infected with them just by being around him. She was concerned. 

She said that she couldn't say anything to her son without being corrected, put down, and told she was wrong. She said he always had to have the last word and that she couldn't take it any more. On one occasion, he was headed to a job interview and inadvertently, she said, "Good luck."

He stopped, came back in the house, and delivered a put-down lecture on how there's no such thing as luck, which she knew, but she meant nothing by what she said other than to wish him well. Her son was gaining knowledge, but like his teacher, had no wisdom. We don't have to have the last word; the Holy Spirit will have the last word; we don't have to nit-pick incidental comments, and we don't have to fight over everything. 

David French, writing in "National Review," said, "Good manners matter . . . because I care about my colleagues." We could paraphrase him just a bit to say, "Good manners matter. . . because we care about people . . . because we're to shine as lights in a dark world."

M. M. O' Hair alienated Christians and non-Christians--the ABC reporter, as well as her own employees, and her associates. She had no manners, was crude, and proud of it. Because of that, she did more damage to the cause to which she devoted than can be calculated. And that was a good thing.








Friday, February 24, 2017

THERE'S NO GLOSSARY

Sometimes, the book we're reading has a glossary in the back. If I want to know the definition of a word the author has used, he may have put it in the glossary.

But God didn't put a glossary in the Bible, so we have to buckle down and study things out if we want to learn the meanings of words like "Messiah," and "Son of Man." As we've seen, the Bible is not an encyclopedia, not a dictionary; God didn't arrange it in points and it's not a "Dick and Jane Go to the Farm" book.

When the Apostle John comes to tell his readers the purpose of the Gospel of John, he writes, "Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name."

WHOA!

Wait! John Bookman realizes that he's just read something on which his eternal destiny hangs. The author has written that if Bookman wants to have eternal life he must know (at some level) and believe that Jesus is the "Son of God." 

Bookman wonders, "What does "Son of God" mean? Does it mean that God created Himself a son? Does it mean that God came upon someone, possessed him, and that made him His son?"

John's not all that knowledgeable about the Bible, so he turns to the back of the Book because he wants to look up "Son of God" in the glossary, but he finds no such thing, so he knows that he's got to study it out. John Bookman isn't lazy, so he welcomes the research he's going to do. He figures that, since John has used the title, he'll define it somewhere in the the Gospel of John.

BACK THROUGH THE BOOK

As John goes back and rereads Chapter 1, he comes across verses 32-34: "John testified saying, “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him [Jesus].  I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’  I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.” 

There it is: John's first use of "the Son of God," spoken by John the Baptist.

He continues reading, on the lookout for another occurrence of the term. 

In the same chapter, he learns that Nathaniel addresses Jesus: “Rabbi, You are the Son of God . . .” John B. then backs up and gets more into the context because he wants to find out what made Nathaniel call Jesus "the Son of God." That's when he reads, "Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you."

John B. has discovered the reason for Nathaniel's calling Jesus the Son of God; Jesus has made a statement that shows He's omniscient (He knows Nathaniel's character) and He's omnipresent (He saw Nathaniel sitting under a fig tree).  "This is getting interesting," John thinks to himself.

Mr. Bookman is making progress, but there's more to come.

Next, John Bookman reads a set of blockbuster verses in John 10. As he examines the context, he learns that a there's a group of hostile people who want to stone Jesus, so He asks them, "Why do you want to kill Me? They answer, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.”

And just how has Jesus committed blasphemy by making Himself equal with God?  Because He said, "I am the Son of God."(10:31-36).

STUDY INTERRUPTED

John Bookman is about half way through the Gospel of John when his 5th grade son comes and asks him to help him with his math. John puts down his Bible and walks with Brandon to his room, sits down on the bed, and looks at the assignment. It's something from a curriculum called "Common Core," and John looks at Brandon's math problems. One of those problems told the student to, ""Tell how to make 10 when adding 8+5."

"What?" There's no way to make 10 when adding 8 + 5, because 8 + 5 = 13. John told his son, "That can't be. Forget your homework and go watch TV." He gets angry that he can't do a 5th grade math assignment. He'll go with Brandon tomorrow and ask his teacher about it.

BACK TO THE BOOK

John goes back and reads more from the Gospel of John, coming to the conversation Martha had with Jesus in which she called Him "the Son of God:"

"Jesus said to her, 'Your brother will rise again.' Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to Him, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.” (John 11)

Her words tell John that being the Son of God means that the Son of God has the power to resurrect everyone who believes in Him and that the Son of God has "come into the world,"referring to the fact that the Son of God existed prior to His coming to the earth.

As Mr. Bookman relentlessly plows toward the end of John, he reads 19:7--the Jewish leaders bring their charges against Jesus to Pilate: "The Jews answered him, 'We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God.'" They're referring to the Mosaic Law and its condemnation and penalty for blasphemy, for claiming to be God. 

STUDY DONE

Now John Bookman knows what "Son of God" means, having discovered that John has embedded the definition in his narrative, not in points and not a glossary. Putting it all together, Bookman realizes that "Son of God" describes Jesus who is omniscient, omnipresent, Someone whose voice the dead will hear, Someone who will raise the dead, Someone who existed prior to His coming into the world, and Someone who committed blasphemy in the estimation of those hostile to Him, which meant, in His day, that He claimed to be God by saying, "I am the Son of God."

Now Bookman knew that, for Jesus to claim that He was the Son of God, was not to claim inferiority to God, but to claim that He was God. Now he knows that an element of the gospel to be believed is to believe that Jesus is God.

John Bookman was tired, but it was a good tired. He got ready for bed, knowing that he'd done due diligence and the Holy Spirit had taught him a great deal. 

He also knew that tomorrow, he'll go and speak to the teacher. 


 

 








Friday, February 17, 2017

THE CLASSIC FOOTBALL FOLLY

It was a misty day at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco when the '49ers were playing the Minnesota Vikings in a routine game on October 25, 1964. But what happened that day on one play wasn't routine; that one play became the biggest folly in the history of the National Football League.

San Francisco quarterback George Mira threw a pass to Billy Kilmer that was complete, but the Kilmer fumbled the ball, and right there was Viking defensive end Jim Marshall to grab the ball and run for daylight toward the end zone. The trouble was that there was too much daylight because Marshall had gotten turned around and was running the wrong way toward and eventually into his own end zone, the one he was being paid to defend.

When he crossed into his own end zone and tossed the ball out of bounds in celebration of what he thought was a touchdown, the refs ruled that he'd scored a safety and awarded San Francisco 2 points and the ball. No worries though, Minnesota won the game, but nobody remembers that. They only remember the classic football folly, the day and the play in which Jim Marshall ran the wrong way.

WRONG WAY SERMONS

Every Sunday, thousands of Wrong Way Jim Marshalls stand behind pulpits and instruct the listeners from the Bible that they're reading the wrong way. But this is no simple folly. What they're doing Sunday after Sunday is dishonoring to the Scriptures by their wrong way runs to what they think is sermonic glory.

There they are, having spent the week playing golf and trying to get ready for Sunday, and they're about to unfold an account in the Bible, one they've found either in the Old or the New Testament. They may want the listeners to know how smart they are or how clever they are because they've come up with something new, something nobody has ever seen before in all of church history. After their 30-40 minutes of their pulpit posturing is over, they'll be basking in the waves of congregational congratulations and they're looking forward to it. But first, the sermon.

PASTOR GOODPASTURE

Pastor Goodpasture has spent his time, once he left the 18th hole after shooting a 6 over par, studying Mark 6, giving special attention to verse 39: "And He [Jesus] commanded them all to sit down by groups on the green grass." He's decided to build his sermon on "the green grass." But before he gets to that meaty subject, he spends some time learning a "Leadership Principle" he gleaned from the verse, that Jesus took charge, showing His organizational skills by having the crowd "sit down by groups."

Goodpasture takes his concordance and looks up every reference to "grass" in the Bible.  His concordance is telling him that there are 61 references to the word. He sees where Joseph dreamed about seven cows grazing on marsh grass, he finds a reference in Job about a donkey braying over its grass, his keen eye catches a reference in the Psalms about the wicked springing up like grass, and then finds that Isaiah says that people are grass. He reads all 61 references and by Sunday morning, after the ushers have taken the offering, Pastor Goodpasture is ready to preach on, "The Green, Green Grass of Home." He concludes the service by having the choir sing a song of the same name accompanied by a Tom Jones CD played over the $10,000 sound system in the auditorium, the money for which was taken from the Missions Fund because the deacons classified the expenditure as "outreach."

The congregation gave its congratulations to Pastor Goodpasture for a job well done, saying that they'd never thought of that before, whatever "that" meant.

FICTION BECOMES FACT

Although the above story is fiction, it's not far from the truth: thousands of sermons are preached each week on an incidental detail in a biblical account. There here have been sermons on David's 5 smooth stones, Peter's "fixing his gaze" on the lame man in Acts 3:4, the corner of a field in Lev. 19:9, and way back in church history, there was a sermon devoted to the number of servants Abraham had, trying to show that the number carried a hidden meaning.

DANGER ZONE: JUNK SERMONS

When incidental details become the fodder for sermons, the congregation should realize, but usually doesn't, that they are in a danger zone because such junk sermons are a weekly trivialization of the Bible. The point of the feeding of the multitude is not to harvest a leadership principle, nor that the grass was green. Those are simply incidental details in the account; the point of the point of David's confrontation of Goliath was not the number of rocks he had at the ready; the point of the story of Gideon's battle with the Midianites is not that we battle problems in our lives.

DANGER ZONE: THE ALLEGORICAL METHOD

Also in the danger zone is the companion incidental detail sermons: allegorizing the text, that is, finding some "hidden meaning" under the surface of the green grass, the corner of the field, or the number of Abraham's servants, which then turns the Bible into putty with the teacher making the Bible say whatever he wants it to say and the literal meaning is gone with the wind.

Through the allegorical method of interpretation, things are introduced from the account which aren't there. A pastor, speaking on David and Goliath, somehow found Christ in the story when he announced his subject as "Christ Slays the Giant of Sin."


DANGER ZONE: AN INCIDENTAL DETAIL BECOMES A DOCTRINE

The congregation is in further danger if the pastor constructs a doctrine out of an incidental detail. When hat happens, the incidental detail becomes authoritative, but, in reality, no doctrine of Christianity hangs on an incidental detail in any biblical account and to construct one on such tissue paper can lead to heresy.

DANGER ZONE: DISTRACTION

By focusing on an incidental detail, the teacher distracts the learner from the big story of the Bible, that is, how God is moving in redemptive history; how God is moving to glorify His Son in human history.

Any student at most any Bible college can tell you that he's endured scores of such incidental sermons in chapel services. The problem then is, that when he graduates, he thinks that's the way to do it and he spends his years of ministry not only boring people to death with simplistic incidental detail sermons, but leading them into the danger zones.




Friday, February 10, 2017

THE ATLANTA SUPERBOWL OBSESSION

In 51 years, nobody had seen anything like it--the Atlanta Falcons, at one point ahead in the Superbowl by scores of 28-3 in the second half and 28-9 in the fourth quarter, ultimately, excruciatingly, and painfully lost the super game after the New England Patriots unleashed an avalanche of points that their opponents couldn't stop.

At the game's conclusion, Atlanta players and fans stood or sat in stunned disbelief. Their hopes and dreams had turned to ashes as they tried unsuccessfully to their own end zone from encroachment. It was shortly thereafter that the analysis of "What happened?" began that would continue for days of blame and finger pointing.

The angry and frustrated fans blamed everybody in sight--the players who "didn't want it bad enough" and who "began celebrating too early" and/or the coaches "who called a terrible game." Then there were the fans who chided the Atlanta players for strutting around after almost every tackle and for their demonstrations in the end zone that fell just short of hiring a marching band to commemorate the fresh 6 points they put on the scoreboard.

THAT WAS SUNDAY, THEN CAME TUESDAY

Two days later, the Atlanta's newspaper ran the headline, "HEARTBREAK," in bold black letters so large you could read them from as far away as Macon. Sports writers called it "The worst disaster in Atlanta sports history." The writers tossed words like "epic," "historic," and "meltdown" into their verbal salad. One clever scribe wrote, "The Falcons suffered the biggest come from ahead loss in Superbowl history."

On Monday morning, I overheard a furious fan say, "I've burned all my [Falcon] stuff." Maybe that was hyperbole, but it was symptomatic of what one writer wrote: "This city will never forget or completely get over it."

THEY NEEDED PROFESSIONAL HELP

The psychological after-burn continued on the local TV stations, one of which asked the depressed fanatics to, "Call in and tell us how you're coping." The announcers of an all talk, sports station were so angry that when a few folks suggested that Atlanta throw a parade for the team, responded with an an answer both laconic and irate, "No! No parade for the losers!"  And, get this: the aftershocks of defeat got so bad that a local TV station went to the office of a licensed psychologist and asked him for tips on how their viewers could best handle the situation. He was compassionate and offered his advice, free, right there on TV. People hadn't been this upset since Sherman came through.

So this is a tale of the biggest of all hurts, the most painful of pains, and, of the obsession, the Atlanta obsession.

A BIGGER OBSESSION

But I would submit that there's been an obsession abroad in the human race, an obsession cited by Dr.Benjamin Wiker--there has been a drive in modern times to separate people from their history--the annual Jefferson-Jackson dinner "has been abolished in Connecticut, Georgia, and Missouri; the dinners have had their names changed; according to the New York Times, similar censorship is being mulled is New Hampshire, South Carolina, Arkansas, Maine, and Tennessee." (National Review, 2015)

Pepperdine University will remove its statue of Christopher Columbus because some students find it offensive. Charlottesville, Virginia, will remove the statue of Robert E. Lee from Lee Park and, of course, change the park's name.

But there has been a more concentrated effort in modern times to cut people in Europe, England, and America from THE story given in Genesis. As Dr. Wiker states, ". . . one of the preoccupations of modernity, especially its most secularizing spirits, is the endless attempt to conjure a counter[story] to the Genesis account found in the Bible."

Over the decades, influential author after author has breached the walls of America's Christian consensus in an attempt to destroy, discredit, and defame the Genesis account. In its place, they have put another story, a story they made up, pure fiction, without proof, one leaving the reader without hope.

EXAMPLES

Instead of Genesis 1-2, Thomas Hobbes' fictional story in The Leviathan postulated that the human race began in a primitive state, raw in tooth and claw. Rousseau and Freud followed suit, proclaiming without evidence that man's original state was a primitive one pictured as "the noble savage."

Then came Margaret Mead who went off to Samoa and wrote "Coming of Age in Samoa" which declared that the Samoans were the living example of the human primitive--carefree and amoral, untainted by modern society.

SOMETHING'S WRONG

What's wrong with these pictures? A lot, because these authors were trying to get across their agenda, a different story from Genesis, one that taught the reader, "the natural=the primitive=the good." Therefore, they've indoctrinated us to come to believe that we need to get back to the good which is the primitive, free from all moral restrictions society has clamped on us and then and only then, we can understand who we are. (They weren't the only ones, they are only two examples among many, such as Freud, Darwin, Rousseau.)

THE WAY IT WAS

Before these and others began their work of cutting America from its Judaeo-Christian history, did you know that:

1. The very words of the Declaration of Independence, “All men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…,” demonstrate that the founding fathers believed in a divine Creator.  They lived and operated in a world where the Judaeo-Christian ethic was a pervasive part of the culture, even among non-Christians. ) If you didn't know that, you've been cut off.

2. In the 1600-1700s, the biblical worldview was the prevailing lens through which almost everyone saw life. So it is not surprising to review American history and see the fingerprints of God everywhere. If you didn't know that, you've been cut off.

3. The cornerstone of the Washington Monument, laid in 1848, contains a copy of the U. S. Constitution, a copy of the Declaration of Independence, and a copy of the Bible.  Engraved on the monument are references to God such as, “Search the Scriptures” and “In God we Trust.” If you didn't know that, you've been cut off.

4. The U. S. Capitol building, built between 1793-1858, likewise contains the following references to God: “What Hath God Wrought,” “America! God Shed His grace on Thee,” and “In God We Trust.”  Stained glass in the U. S. Capitol Building’s Chapel depicts George Washington praying beneath the phrase “This Nation Under God.” If you didn't know that, you've been cut off.

5. Above the House Chamber’s main door are marble silhouettes of history’s twenty-three greatest law makers.  Moses is in the center and is the only silhouette facing forward.  The Supreme Court building likewise highlights Moses. Above its eastern colonnade are history’s major lawmakers.  Moses is in the center holding a depiction of the Ten Commandments. If you didn't know that, you've been cut off.

6. in 1892 the Supreme Court ruled 9-0 in a case known as The Church of the Holy Trinity vs. The United States, that “This is a Christian nation.”  Justice David Josiah Brewer cited eighty-seven precedents as he wrote the majority opinion (which was unanimous).  He wrote,“This is historically true.  From the discovery of this continent to the present hour, there is a single voice making this affirmation...These are not the sayings, declarations, of private persons: they are organic utterances; they speak the voice of the entire people...These and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation.” If you didn't know that, you've been cut off.

7. In 1799, Dr. Jedidiah Morse echoed the sentiments of David and Solomon in Ps. 11:3 and Prov. 13:34 when he warned, “Whenever the pillars of Christianity shall be overthrown, our present republican forms of government…must fall with them.”* If you didn't know that, you've been cut off.*

8. Inside the tombs of George and Martha Washington at Mt. Vernon, the visitor sees a biblical text, one of Jesus' most famous quotes: "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die" (John 11:25-26). If you didn't know that, you've been cut off.

9. The Declaration of Independence concludes with these words: We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions . . . And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor." If you didn't know that, you've been cut off.

WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE?

Once they've cut us from our national history and the Christian consensus thereof, once we're cut from Genesis, then one thing for certain swings into motion, as illustrated by the fall of the Roman Empire. One of the reasons the Roman Republic fell and eventually the Empire which replaced it was because its elite authors and playwrights began to mock the old Roman virtues that made them great: frugality, courage, and the heroes in Roman history who exemplified them.

The result was what we'd expect: the Roman military and the citizens, now plied with a never-ending round of bread and circuses, concluded that there was nothing in their national story worth fighting for. (Dr. Carl J. Richard)

It is this obsession to destroy the story Genesis tells and the story of God's fingerprints on our national origin that is far more serious than the Atlanta obsession.
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* This list (Numbers 1-7) was compiled by Dr. J. B. Hixson.







Friday, February 3, 2017

DICK AND JANE

"Dick and Jane" is what we call it when we're thinking about the stories which birthed Americans into literacy. Way, way before Dick and Jane Colonial children learned to read by a book filled with more in-depth concepts than, "See Dick run. See Jane run. See Spot run." Prior to the Revolutionary War and into the 19th century, children learned to read by means of "The New England Primer."

  Benjamin Harris first printed The Primer in Boston in 1690. He had published a similar volume in London. It was so good he sold over five million copies because it was the intent of the colonists that all children should learn to read; in 1642, Massachusetts passed a law for that purpose because they rightly believed that an inability to read was Satan's attempt to keep people from the Scriptures.
 
The New England Primer combined the study of the alphabet with Bible reading. It introduced each alphabet letter in a biblical phrase and then illustrated it. The primer also contained a catechism of religious questions and answers. Emphasis was placed on fear of sin, God's punishment, and the fact that all people would have to face death.

Here are some examples of alphabet rhymes that teach moral values as well as reading.

A In Adam's Fall
We sinned all.

B Thy Life to Mend
This Book Attend.

BACK TO DICK, JANE, AND SPOT

After mastering "Dick and Jane," as the students became older, not one of us ever decided as a teenager or as an adult, "Tonight, I'll settle down with a good book; where's my "Dick and Jane?"

And why is that? "Dick and Jane" are for kindergartners, first graders; they offer no challenge for the now literate. There's nothing to ponder; there's no need to further study the boring antics of Dick and Jane; once you're done with those two and their dog, you're done with a vengeance because there's nothing to study or think about in them.

A DIFFERENT TOME

But how different is the Bible! We keep going back to the Bible, because, as Dr. John F. Walvoord said to his students, "The Bible takes all the intellect you've got, and more." Wise words from a very wise and respected theologian. The words and thoughts of the Bible keep drawing us back to its pages. Even those who reject it as the infallible Word of God respect it's ethics.

Thomas Jefferson, one of the few Deists among the Founding Fathers, and a mild and non-traditional one at that, couldn't put the Bible down. He compiled a book on its ethics with the title his granddaughter wrote, one that would choke an elocutionist: "The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth: extracted from the account of his life and doctrines as given by Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John. Being an abridgement of the New Testament for the use of the Indians unembarrassed with matters of fact or faith beyond the level of their comprehensions.”[According to the Monticello Society, "Indians" wasn't a reference to the native American tribes; it was a code word for Jefferson's political enemies, the Federalists, especially.]

Later he revised the book and renamed it, "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth." According to the Monticello Society, "Jefferson used The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth as a chief source of moral instruction, very likely reading a passage every evening before retiring to bed. He wrote in 1819, 'I never go to bed without an hour, or half hour’s previous reading of something moral, whereon to ruminate in the intervals of sleep.'"

Jefferson found the New Testament to be no "Dick and Jane" to employ and anachronism; he kept on returning to it, ad infinitum.

FRESH

What is this allure, this "enduring freshness" of the Bible, as Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer called it?

Part of its enduring freshness is not only that its concepts can be deep, they can also be, as Peter called some of what Paul wrote, "Hard to understand."

We'll get to one of those "hard to understands," but before we do that, let's take a look at a subject that has always fascinated me, one that I wanted to study in college, but I was way too ignorant in math and knew better than to attempt it: astronomy.

Our galaxy alone, the Milky Way, has an estimated 135 billion stars. Now, get this: the astronomers who are smart in math, believe there are at least 100 billion other galaxies. Wow! I was going to calculate all that, by my calculator just blew up.

According to these learned astronomers, as Walk Whitman called them, what we can see with our most powerful probe telescopes is only 6% of what's out there because of what they call "dark energy" and "dark matter" that we can't see. (This is getting deep, but we'll get deeper.)  No wonder the psalmist wrote, "When I look t your heavens, your finger work, the moon and the stars, what are human beings, that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care care for them?"

The psalmist was saying, "This is no 'Dick and Jane." (Pardon the second anachronism.)

But it gets deeper: the question the learned astronomers ask is, "What's holding all this together? Why is there a coherence to this vast universe?" No one has really explained how all these particles that make up the universe hold together, they've tried, but the four basic theories explain THAT they hold it all together, but not HOW they hold it together.

But the Bible tells us: Christ is maintaining the universe, according to Colossians 1:17--"He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together." The author of Hebrews 1:3 concurs, so the testimony of Scripture is consistent with itself: "And He {God the Son] is the radiance of His [God the Father's] glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power."

With all this, we're a long, long way from Dick and Jane. What these texts are saying is that the power of Christ extends across the universe and beyond. And that just goes to show us that what Dr. Walvoord said was true: "The Bible takes all the intellect we've got and more." And once we've used up all our intellect, we have to say and live with a mystery. There was no mystery with Dick, Jane, and Spot. That's one reason we never returned to it. But the Bible contains mysteries and although we may not like it, we live with them. But part of the enduring freshness of the Bible are the mysteries therein. Besides that, even in eternity with God, we'll be ever-learning about Him because we'll never be infinite as He is.

There's only one other thing to say about the Colossian mystery: "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name!"