Archive for November, 2023

Are You Listening?

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us….” Hebrews 12: 1

God helps those who don’t try to take over His work. Some folks are waiting around to fill a vacancy in the Trinity. It’s not going to happen.

There is an acute difference in listening and hearing.

To hear means to perceive sounds that do not register or require a response. To listen means to pay thoughtful attention so a proper response can be made.

While playing a video game a child may hear the parents voice saying something, but it doesn’t register and there is no response. The reason is the child is tuned in and listening to the sounds of the game.

As a child living in a very small isolated little town with no radio station I used to listen at night to WWL, the clear channel station out of New Orleans. It was long before stereo, digital, and other wonderful refinements. It being an AM station the sound often wavered and faded a bit. There was often static. How impressed I was that I could listen to the voice of Bonnie Bell originating from the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans. There were frequent interruptions in the broadcast but I would strain to hear what was being broadcast.  All the while I was listening to what they were saying, I was hearing sounds which didn’t really register. A dog barking, a train passing through town, or other folks talking didn’t keep me from listening to what I wanted to.

This text calls on us to tune into what the Lord has to say and tune out, that is not listen, to distractions.

Many of the statements of Jesus are introduced by Him saying, “Verily, verily I say unto you.” Literally, “Listen, listen…”  Be attentive.

If we don’t, we will drift away from them. The expression used in our text was often used of evaporation. Positive productive thoughts slip our minds like water inconspicuously evaporates.

Therefore, we need to give them “more earnest heed.” “Proscchein” the Greek word so translated carries the meaning not only to focus our minds on the truths, but to act upon them. If we keep on acting on them we won’t forget them.

The influences of the world are designed to defeat us, even destroy us. There is a colorful country song that describes it.  “They tore my heart out and stomped that sucker flat.”

Reflect! To hear means to perceive sounds that do not register or require a response. To listen means to pay thoughtful attention so a proper response can be made. Are you listening to what you are hearing from Jesus? If you are hearing His word and acting on it, that is your defense against the wiles of the world.

How to Help the Suffering

In II Corinthians 1: 4 Paul refers to his “tribulation,” then of “trouble,” in verse 5 he makes reference to his “sufferings,” and in verse 6 he admits he is “afflicted.”

Does that sound like your testimony? Do you ever feel like God has forgotten you?

Little Timmy was attending school for the first time. He was shy and nervous. He asked to call home. The teacher helped him place the call. When his mother answered he was so upset he couldn’t speak. He only snubbed. Not hearing a voice, his mother answered, “Hello, who is this?” The little fellow burst into tears sobbing, “This is Timmy. Have you forgotten me already?”

Who among us hasn’t felt like crying out at some time like the Psalmist (25:16): “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.”

Tragically much human suffering is caused by friends. This was the case of Paul. He was imperfect and his fellow believers capitalized on his imperfection. The entire book of II Corinthians is an explanation of his true calling.

Mark the year A.D. 391. The city Rome, Italy. The character involved was named Telemachus, a resident of a small rural village. He had been led to Rome by the Lord. He followed the surging crowd and ended up in the Colosseum. In amazement he heard the gladiators stand before the emperor and say, “We who are about to die salute you.”  Only then did he realize that they were about to fight to the death for the entertainment of the crowd. He shouted out, “In the name of Christ, STOP.” The noise of the crowd almost drowned him out.

As the games began he pushed his way through the crowd and eventually dropped to the floor of the arena. This tiny little man continued to shout, “In the name of Christ, STOP!”

The crowd thought he was a part of the show and laughed at first. They realized he wasn’t and became angry. As he pleaded with the gladiators to stop one plunged his sword into his body. He fled to the stand and as he lay dying his last words were: “In the name of Christ, stop!”

Then a strange thing happened. A hush fell over the crowd as the gladiators stood and looked at that tiny little man lying there. In the upper rows a man stood and made his way to the exit. Others followed. A dead silence gripped the crowd as others filed out.

The year A.D. 391 and that was the last battle to the death in the Roman Colosseum. Never again did men kill men for the entertainment of the crowd. This happened all because of one small voice that could hardly be heard above the crowd. One small voice — one life — that spoke the truth in Christ’s name: STOP!

Many people are suffering. Isn’t there a voice to say, “In the name of Christ, STOP!”

The Consumption of Alcohol Today

“And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit” James 5: 18

This topic demands more time for study than most posts. May it be a blessing.

Did Jesus and His disciples consume intoxicating wine in observance of Passover?

Does the Bible admonition to “take a little wine for the stomach sake” legitimize consumption of intoxicants?

Was it possible to preserve wine in a non-fermented state in the time of Jesus?

These and related questions deserve an answer based on historical facts.

Consider the last of these questions first.

Ancients had several ways of preserving unfermented wine. One was to reduce the grape juice to the constituency of a thick syrup or even a jelly known in Hebrew as debhash and in Arabic as dbs. This preserved form could be used over a long period of time. By adding water the concentrate turns the water into unfermented wine.

Sometimes a cake was made of dried grapes which later was added to water to produce unfermented wine.

In the modern era a conscientious layman responsible for preparing the table at his church for the Lord’s Supper became concerned about using fermented wine. Being a pharmacist he utilized only techniques from the time of the Bible to produce unfermented grape juice for use at the Lord’s Supper. His name was Mr. Welch of Welch’s Grape Juice fame.

Welch’s concern grew out of the fact bread with leavening was forbidden to be used at the Passover. Leavening involved using yeast. As the yeast cells die the decay produces gasses. The fermentation results in the rising of bread. Purity was desired, so unleavened bread was required.

Welch reasoned why would fermentation not be allowed in the bread while being allowed in wine?

The Bible instructs people “Do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup., when it swirls around smoothly; at last it bites like a serpent, and stings like a viper.” (Proverbs 23: 31, 32) The movement in the wine is caused  by the bubbles rising from the fermentation.

The Greeks, seeing movement in the wine, thought it indicated there was life in the wine. When such wine was used it influenced speech, hearing, and one’s ability to walk. Because of this outside control of the body they thought it to be a god and gave the god the name Baccah.

When the Bible appeals to persons not to be filled with wine (drunk), but to be “filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5: 18) it is teaching persons to choose the truth of the Holy Spirit, not Baccah. Let the Holy Spirit control your body, not an intoxicant.

Wine was in common use in the Bible times. It is helpful to understand how it was used in deciding how to apply Bible verses related to it.

Wine was normally stored in large pointed jugs called amphorae. When it was to be used the desired portion was poured from the amphorae into a large bowl known as a kraters. From the kraters it was poured into the cup known as a kylix. 

In the large bowl, the kraters, water was added before the mixture was used to fill the cups, kylix.

The ratio of water to wine varied. Different ancient writers noted different formulas ranging from one part wine to twenty parts of water. Others indicate a ratio of 1 -5, 1 – 4, 2 – 5.

At the wedding in Cana Jesus had the water pots filled with water and when the guests drank they referred to it as “wine,” the normal word for the mixture of water and wine.

Writers normally referred to wine mixed with water as “wine.” To indicate wine not mixed with water it is called unmixed (akratesteron), “wine.”

Drinking wine without it being mixed with water was looked upon as “Scythian” or “Barbarian.” Mnesitheus wrote: “Mix it half and half, and you get madness; unmixed, body collapse.”

Plutarch wrote, “We call a mixture ‘wine,’ although the larger of the component parts is water.”

The Jewish Encyclopedia states that during the rabbinic period “‘yayin’ (wine) was to be distinguished from ‘shekar’ (strong drink): the former is diluted with water (‘mazug’); the latter is undiluted (‘yayin hai’).”

The Jewish Talmud, which contains the oral traditions from 200 B.C. to 200 A. D. has several tractates in which the mixture of water and wine are discussed. The normal mixture is said to be 1 part wine to 3 parts water.

In the portion of that work known as Pesahim 108b it is stated that the four cups every Jews was to drink from during the Passover ritual the mixture was a radio of 3 parts of water to 1 part wine.

From this can be concluded that what Jesus and the disciples used at the Last Supper was not an intoxicant.

From around 60 B.C. the Book of Maccabees 15: 39 states: “It is harmful to drink wine alone or again, to drink water alone, while wine mixed with water is sweet and delicious….”

Justin Martyr around 150 A.D. described the Lord’s Supper in this way: “Bread was bought, and wine and water, and the president sends up prayers and thanksgiving” (Apology I, 67, 5).

Clement of Alexandria stated: “It is best for the wine to be mixed with as much water as possible… For both are works of God, and the mixing of the two, both the water and wine produces health….”

The mixture of water and wine was also used for medicinal purposes. Because of amoeba in water wine was added as a purifying agent. Hence, the Scripture says, “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for the stomach’s sake and thine other infirmities.” (I Timothy 5: 23). Wine was medicinal.

An admirable attitude is expressed in Proverbs 20: 1, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.”

James 5: 18 concludes with “be filled with the Spirit.” This is in the imperative mood, a command, meaning do this. In the Greek it reads, be you being filled with the Holy Spirit, meaning to constantly let the Holy Spirit control your life.

If any form of an intoxicant controls any part of your brain the Holy Spirit is not in control and the command to be constantly filled is not being obeyed.

The same word regarding being “filled” was used to describe the sails of a ship being filled by wind that propels the ship. Let the Holy Spirit propel you.

Hell? Yes!

“Hell? Yes!” is the title of a book by Dr. Robert Jeffress. The meaning is, is there a hell, and the answer is an emphatic yes. Therein he appeals for people to quit apologizing for it and admit it.

This post is being written with a loving heavy heart and sadness.

If there were a bridge out on a road on which you were traveling at a high speed and I didn’t warn you would that be love.

A recent Gallup Poll revealed that 54% of those interviewed said they were certain there is a hell. Jesus said He was 100% certain.

There is a government paid TV ad regarding traveling abroad with the byline: “Know before you go.” This is also regarding death and the after life.

Why is there a hell? For every equal there is an opposite. If there is a north there has to be a south, for there to be an up there must be a down, for there to be a heaven there must be a hell. Hell is everything heaven isn’t. It is the opposite. There has to be a place for those not going to heaven. Hence, there must be a hell.

Many church pulpits are bereft of it. Former president Harry Truman said, “If there was more hell in the pulpit there might be less in the pews.”

Jesus believed in hell so emphatically He died to make it possible for persons not to go there. He talked about it in Matthew chapters 10, 11, 18, and 23.

These things make a hell out of hell.

There shall be weeping and gnashing teeth. Weeping speaks of remorse. Gnashing of teeth refers to frustration, hostility, and anger.

The company that will be there: “Let the filthy be filthy still…” (Rev. 22: 11) Not even the devil will enjoy it. It was prepared for him. (Matthew 25: 41)

The hell of hell will be the absence of the love of God.

Author Dostoevsky has a character ask and answer his own question. “What is hell? I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love.”

Here is the good news, you don’t have to go there. “It is not His will that any should perish, but that all come to repentance.” (II Peter 3: 9)

“For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.  And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.” (Romans 5: 6 – 11)

Bitterness a Root With a Bitter Fruit – Part Five

Ephesians 4: 30 – 32

When the poet Edwin Markham reached the age of retirement, he was stunned to learn that his banking friend had betrayed him and lost all of his life’s savings. At retirement he was penniless. The torch of bitterness burned where the candle of joy had formerly gleamed. His inspiration ceased and his pen became unproductive. One day this highly productive poet was sitting doodling, drawing circles when the convicting influence of the Holy Spirit impacted him. He said the Holy Spirit did not speak to him in an audible voice but clearly convinced him, “Markham, if you do not deal with this thing, it is going to ruin you. You cannot afford the price you are paying. You must forgive that man.” He prayed, “Lord, I will, and I do freely forgive.”

With the root of bitterness uprooted, his creativity returned and the man who wrote the memorable poems “Lincoln” and “The Man With the Hoe” produced what he considered his best poem entitled “Outwitted.”

“He drew a circle that shut me out–

Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout;

But love and I had the wit to win:

We drew a circle that took him in!”

Pray for the person you consider to have offended you. In Matthew 5:43-46, Jesus appeals to us to do so.  Stephen prayed for those stoning him, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” (Acts 7:60).  Maintain a passion for friendship. 

The coup de gras in dealing with sin is this. Here is the final step in dealing with bitterness and all sin. “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24). Rip up the root and put it on the cross.

Ephesians 4:32 is the highest motive for uprooting the root of bitterness: “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you”  (Eph 4:32). Forgive as an act of gratitude for being forgiven.

If our high and holy God can condescend to forgive such a lowly creature as I, then I, as a show of gratitude for His forgiveness of me, can forgive my peers. Do it in Jesus’ name.

In reality forgiveness is something good you do for yourself.