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Bible oldThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 18:5-6

“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,[a] it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

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These two verses continue on from Matthew 18:1-4, about the necessity of believers to become as humble as children. Jesus was responding to the disciples’ question about the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. This is more evident in the parallel passages of Luke 9:46-48 and Mark 9:33-37. The latter is in the three-year Lectionary.

In order to better illustrate His point, Jesus put a small child in their midst (Matthew 18:2). In verse 5, we read ‘one such child’ in the context of being kind to him. Are we to understand that He is referring to that toddler and others like him?

John MacArthur says no (emphases mine):

the little child in verse 4. What little child is that? It’s the one who humbles himself as the illustration of the child. What in verse 3, “Becoming as a little child.” In other words, he’s talking about the same little child that entered the Kingdom, the same little child whose humility made him great, is the same little child that you’re to receive. It is the spiritual little child, the believer, the one that comes to Christ. It’s not talking about the infant. It’s talking about how you treat one of God’s children who came to Him in humility, who came to Him in simple childlike faith, which was the whole point, as we saw, of verses 3 and 4 in our study last week. No matter how lowly that child is, no matter how humble, no matter how lacking in sophistication, no matter how lacking in power or in fame or in grandeur, no matter if it is an ignoble, if it is the poor, if it is the least among men. That little one who belongs to Jesus Christ, even one such one, is to be received as if you are receiving Jesus Christ Himself. So how you treat Christians is how you treat Him

He can’t be talking about physical children, micron, little, tiny infants can’t believe in Him. He’s talking about those believers who are classified in this whole chapter as infants or childlike.

However, all children of God — old and young, having reached the age of reason — are to be treated properly in not leading them to sin. Matthew Henry has this explanation:

Their believing in Christ, though they be little ones, unites them to him, and interests him in their cause, so that, as they partake of the benefit of his sufferings, he also partakes in the wrong of theirs. Even the little ones that believe have the same privileges with the great ones, for they have all obtained like precious faith.

The consequences for causing believers of any age to sin is extremely serious. That person will wish s/he had been drowned with a millstone tied around his neck instead (verse 6). Jesus implied that the punishment will be the lake of fire, hell. Henry tells us:

Note, 1. Hell is worse than the depth of the sea for it is a bottomless pit, and it is a burning lake. The depth of the sea is only killing, but hell is tormenting. We meet with one that had comfort in the depth of the sea, it was Jonah (Matthew 2:2,4,9) but never any had the least grain or glimpse of comfort in hell, nor will have to eternity. 2. The irresistible irrevocable doom of the great Judge will sink sooner and surer, and bind faster, than a mill-stone hanged about the neck. It fixes a great gulf, which can never be broken through, Luke 16:26. Offending Christ’s little ones, though by omission, is assigned as the reason of that dreadful sentence, Go ye cursed, which will at last be the doom of proud persecutors.

MacArthur says:

You would be better off dead than alive offending a Christian, making ’em sin. You see, God is not only concerned that we not sin, but that we not make other people sin….Better you should be dead. Beneficial you should be dead. Profitable that you should be dead rather than do that. Preferable. The language here is really vivid.

He explains why Jesus chose the millstone to illustrate His point:

… the millstone. Literally, in the Greek, mulassanikas, the mule stone or the ass’s stone. This is not the little one you had in the house. This is the one that was pulled by the mule, the one that Sampson was tied up to when he was grinding grain in his blindness. A beast had to pull it. A massive, huge stone, weighing tons. Huge would come into their minds when they heard mulassanikas.

It would be better if you took a stone like that, tied it around your neck, and, literally, in the Greek, it says drowned far out in the open sea. Taken way out with a stone weighing tons around your neck and poonk, and I mean you’d go to the bottom like a rocket

The notion of drowning was intended to shock His disciples. The Jews did not drown people. However, the Romans did:

Jews didn’t drown people for any kind of crime. It was, to them, a horrible, unimaginable punishment. And to be drowned all alone with a millstone around your neck in some far off region of the ocean was terrifying. The Romans did that. The Jews didn’t…That’s what Jesus says would be better for you, a lonely, terrorizing, shocking, painful end to your life. You would be better off dead with the worst kind of death imaginable than to offend a Christian, to cause that Christian to sin.

The effect on the disciples must have been stunning. They had just been arguing about who among them was the greatest and Jesus put a stop to that foolish talk promptly:

Oh, what a lesson. I can imagine there were a few gulps in the room, because the disciples had been around there for a while making each other jealous, envious, bitter, resentful, hateful, proud, self-seeking, causing each other to sin. So the thought is marvelous. Those who come into God’s Kingdom are small infants. They’re children. They’re the weak. They’re the lowly, and their own resources are limited. They’re children. They’re infants, and infants need care, and they need protection, and they need guarding, and they don’t need exposure to danger. Children are lowly. They’re weak. They need to be cared for. They need to be protected. God expects that with his family, and we must never cause His children to sin. It is an enormous crime, enormous.

The apostles later forgot the lesson and raised the question of who among them was the greatest at the Last Supper, no less (Luke 22:24-30).

There are two types of sin, that of commission and that of omission.

Sins of commission involve active temptation:

… the first way we make people sin is by directly tempting them. That’s right. Satan can use us. The world can use us. The flesh can use us to be the direct source of temptation. We know that. We’ve had people who come to us and say, “Let’s do this.” “Well, that’s not right to do.” “I know, but we’ll get away with it.” From the time you’re little, you hear that deal. “Oh, listen, we paid enough tax in that last year, honey. I mean just go ahead and put it down. I know we didn’t have a right claim that deduction, but put it down anyway. They’ll never know.” And so you have led someone into sin. Better you should be drowned in the middle of the sea.

Or you let your children expose themselves to garbage and filth on television or at the theater or wherever, in the things they read. You are leading that child. Better you should be dead. Or maybe in your business, you’re getting your employees involved in that which is illegal and illicit and not right, and you’re causing those who are Christian employees in your business to do things that are not right. Better you should be dead than seduce God’s people. Young man take a young girl out and try to get to compromise her virtue. Better you should be drowned, my friend, than that you should steal the virtue of some lovely young girl…

The Bible has many examples of sin emanating from temptation. God punished all of those sinners, from Jereboam to Jezebel, as they led others into sin.

Sins of omission involve turning a blind eye to certain situations which result in physical or emotional pain. Ignoring a friend or family member’s anxiety is one example. That anxiety can lead them to drink, drugs, self-harm or suicide. Postponing the spiritual guidance of young children in our care is another. I know parents who leave that to teachers, because they cannot be bothered. That can lead to immorality, nihilism and/or atheism in an adolescent. A manager who does nothing about bullying in the office is also guilty in not only encouraging a dysfunctional atmosphere but encouraging, even indirectly, an employee’s hurt and loneliness.

Americans and Britons are enjoying a three-day holiday weekend. The Americans have Memorial Day (remembering those who died in the armed forces) and the British celebrate Whitsun (Pentecost) — now Spring — Bank Holiday Monday. Let’s make sure we enjoy these days in the the way He would wish. As the Lord’s Prayer says:

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Next time: Matthew 18:7-9

May 22 is Trinity Sunday 2016.

(Image credit: God and Science)

Past posts on this important feast in the Church are as follows:

A great way to explain the Holy Trinity

On Trinity Sunday

Anglican reflections on the Trinity

A practical — and Anglican — reflection for Trinity Sunday

Trinity Sunday — an Anglican analysis of its importance

The Gospel reading for Year C of the three-year Lectionary used in public worship is John 16:12-15:

16:12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.

16:13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.

16:14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

16:15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Jesus spoke these words just after the Last Supper. It was His final teaching session with the Twelve. John documents the entire lesson: John 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17. Those are, in my opinion, the most beautiful chapters of the New Testament.

In this reading, we discover that Jesus had much more to say, however, He knew that the Apostles could not fully understand it (verse 12). Matthew Henry explains:

it would have confounded and stumbled them, rather than have given them any satisfaction.

Hence the sending of the Holy Spirit to them and the disciples on the first Pentecost, so that the Spirit would lead them into ‘all the truth’ as He hears it (verse 13). The Spirit also told them of what was to come, a primary example of which is St John’s Book of Revelation.

The dramatic Book of Acts describes how the Holy Spirit guided the disciples to do great things in the name of Christ Jesus. John MacArthur tells us (emphases mine):

The very first day the Spirit of God came He began to show things to come. And you could just go right through the Bible and you’ll find out He continued to show things to come.

In Acts chapter 11 He showed some more things to come. In Acts chapter 20 He showed some more things to come. In Acts chapter 21 He showed some more things to come. In the early days of the Spirit’s coming He began to show prophecy that would come to pass, things to come, directed by the Holy Spirit. Listen to Revelation 1:1, “The revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave unto Him to show unto His servants things which must shortly come to pass.” Things to come, I believe there, refers to everything from the church age on but has great reference to the prophetic truth …

It’s replete with truth. The whole book of Revelation is loaded with things to come. So there’s the pattern of the Spirit. He not only speaks from God but He speaks of things to come through the church age and out through eternity.

Henry points out:

He shall show you things to come, and so it is explained by Revelation 1:1. God gave it to Christ, and he signified it to John, who wrote what the Spirit said, Revelation 1:1.

In another sermon, MacArthur explains:

What are the four gospels? Who’s the main person in the four gospels? Jesus Christ. Who’s the main person in the book of Acts preaching the gospel by the apostles to establish the church and becomes the head of the church? Christ. Who’s the main person in all the Epistles that explain the meaning of the gospel? Christ. Who’s the main person in Revelation? Christ.

He is not everywhere in the Old Testament, He is many places: Psalm 22, Isaiah 53, many others. But He is everywhere in the New Testament. The writers of the New Testament write to explain either the history of His life, the significance of the gospel as He builds His church, or an explanation of the theology of the gospel and the Epistles, or the glory of the revelation. “These are written about Christ that you might believe – ” as John says, “ – and believing in Him, have life in His name.”

The gospels record His birth, His life, His ministry, His death, His ascension. The Acts record the preaching about His death and resurrection, suffering, and glory, and establishment of His church, which He is the head. The Epistles explain the doctrinal significance and application of His life and work. Revelation presents Him as the coming Judge who will set up His kingdom on earth and rule forever in eternity.

The New Testament is about Him. “The Spirit will come take of Mine and show it to you.” So we preach the New Testament; it’s about Christ. And then we go back and we compare it with the Old Testament; and that’s what we should be doing.

In Acts 18, there was a preacher by the name of Apollos, and he gives us a kind of a good model, Apollos. It says in Acts 18:28, “He powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.”

Henry’s commentary offers this analysis of being guided ‘into all the truth’:

it is to be intimately and experimentally acquainted with it to be piously and strongly affected with it not only to have the notion of it in our heads, but the relish and savour and power of it in our hearts[;] it denotes a gradual discovery of truth shining more and more: “He shall lead you by those truths that are plain and easy to those that are more difficult.” But how into all truth?

First, Into the whole truth relating to their embassy whatever was needful or useful for them to know, in order to the due discharge of their office, they should be fully instructed in it what truths they were to teach others the Spirit would teach them, would give them the understanding of, and enable them both to explain and to defend.

Secondly, Into nothing but the truth

Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would reveal the divine truth to the disciples which would glorify Him as Christ our Lord (verse 14). The New Testament is the fullest source of that truth, which is why it is so important to read and understand it. Furthermore, the more we read it, the greater our understanding.

I despair when people say, ‘I read the New Testament in school. I don’t need to look at it anymore’. How wrong they are. We can read it 100 times and still see something new or be reminded of something we forgot. The Holy Spirit works through us as we read Scripture.

Jesus’s words describe how the Holy Trinity — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — work for our benefit (verse 15). What is the Father’s is the Son’s and is declared to us via the Spirit, who, as Henry observes:

came not to erect a new kingdom, but to advance and establish the same kingdom that Christ had erected, to maintain the same interest and pursue the same design those therefore that pretend to the Spirit, and vilify Christ, give themselves the lie, for he came to glorify Christ. Secondly, That herein the things of God should be communicated to us. Lest any should think that the receiving of this would not make them much the richer, he adds, All things that the Father hath are mine. As God, all that self-existent light and self-sufficient happiness which the Father has, he has as Mediator, all things are delivered to him of the Father (Matthew 11:27) all that grace and truth which God designed to show us he lodged in the hands of the Lord Jesus, Colossians 1:19.

Henry has a closing thought on this passage, which also serves as a perfect summation of Trinity Sunday:

Spiritual blessings in heavenly things are given by the Father to the Son for us, and the Son entrusts the Spirit to convey them to us.

This is what we remember with thanksgiving on this day, which marks the last great feast in the Church calendar until we celebrate Christmas again.

The Gospel readings for the 2016 Season after Pentecost — sometimes ‘after Trinity’ or ‘Ordinary Time’ — are from St Luke and detail Christ’s ministry of teaching and healing. The liturgical colour is green during this season.

Forbidden Bible Verses resumes next week.

Some Christians say that voting for Donald Trump is a matter of church discipline.

This post on another site lays out the full case.

Why isn’t voting for Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders worthy of church discipline?

There are scandals that took place during Bill Clinton’s administration, and his wife was at the heart of the action. Her term as Secretary of State has also had its episodes: Benghazi, then the classified emails which are still being investigated.

One could equally question whether Bernie Sanders represents a Jewish God-fearing perspective. One has to wonder about someone who went to the USSR on his honeymoon and who thinks that a highly-taxed populace is acceptable, when, in fact, excessive levies on a population could be construed as a form of theft.

More importantly, what about the Democrats’ pro-choice positions?

First, voting has always been considered a private activity, one of conscience. If your pastor or elders demand that you tell them who you are voting or have voted for, it’s time to find another church.

Secondly, do a bit of research and see who is making these statements. I shall look at one of these clergymen tomorrow. He is not a Republican — rather, a Democrat — yet he is advising conservative Republican Christians how to vote.

The second name mentioned in the post linked to above is that of a man who came to the Republican Party when James Dobson and the Religious Right began meddling in it during Ronald Reagan’s presidency. He is upset Ted Cruz is out of the running and a moderate Republican is in.

The third man mentioned in that post is one who, like many of his ilk, voted Republican only because of the party’s stance on social issues. He says (emphases mine):

We voted Republican because of the issue of abortion and a desire to protect our religious values against government coercion. Sometimes we went in for the various economic arguments, but we never really dug in deeply to understand them, and they didn’t actually come from any kind of long-standing conservative root system. For a variety of reasons, not all of them honorable, the GOP was not our home. We were just a passin’ through. And so now we have our opportunity to begin leaving it for good. We do not need to do this all at once, but we need to begin preparing ourselves to do so, and the Donald gives us our best opportunity to get started.

That is an honest assessment. (Incidentally, this man also admits to being partial to ‘distributivist theocracy’.)

It also calls into question what the word ‘conservative’ means. For him and his people it primarily means a biblical social policy.

For people like me ‘conservative’ means small government and fiscal responsibility.

In any event, the party is called the Republican Party. Until 1980, most of its members and unaffiliated supporters considered it a secular party that upheld the values upon which the United States was built. It was a broad church, so to speak, of people — including centrists — who loved America. They sought to preserve the Great Republic.

Donald Trump is a centrist candidate who loves America and wants to make the Republic great again. The Religious Right recoil because he rarely brings the Church or social issues into the equation.

In conclusion, one Democrat and two Religious Right men are mistaken in telling Christians that voting for Trump is a cause for church discipline.

This comment to the post cited in my second paragraph says it all:

I believe there to be some confusion between Christianity and politics here. Christians ought to be cautious when the church starts playing politics. There is only one mediator between man and God and He assures every man the right to his own conscience before God. The church is truly deceived if she looks to politics to fulfill her her responsibility to spread this truth. Perhaps in need of discipline herself.

Your vote is private, between you, God and the ballot box. No pastors, no elders — and, for women — no husbands or elder sons. Keep it that way.

Tomorrow: Russell Moore

Holy Spirit as dove stained glassOn May 15, 2016, Christians celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, which is the Church’s birthday.

We call it the Church’s birthday because on the first Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples and enabled them to spread the Good News from Jerusalem to Samaria. St Paul, who was not among the original number because he had not yet been converted, later called people to Christ in Asia Minor and Rome. These conversions, accompanied by miracles, are in Acts. Other apostles, such as Sts John and Peter, wrote letters to their converts. St John also wrote Revelation. Christ’s chosen spread the Gospel message far and wide throughout the known world at that time. Not all of it is included in Scripture.

Past posts on Pentecost are as follows:

Pentecost — the Church’s birthday, with gifts from the Holy Spirit

Lutheran reflections on Pentecost

Thoughts on Pentecost: the power of the Holy Spirit

Reflections for Pentecost — a Reformed view

This year we are in Year C of the three-year Lectionary used in public worship. The Epistle for Pentecost in 2016 is Romans 8:14-17:

8:14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.

8:15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!”

8:16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God,

8:17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ–if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

Earlier in Romans 8, we read that we have life in the Spirit. John MacArthur explains:

The Holy Spirit takes us all the way to glory … He does it by freeing us from sin and death.  We saw that in verses 2 and 3.  He does that by freeing us from sin and death through the wonderful work of…imputation, whereby our sins are imputed to Christ, and Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us.  He has delivered us from the law of sin of death, because Christ has paid the penalty.

With the Spirit’s guidance, we turn from what is worldly to what is holy (verses 5 – 8). The Holy Spirit must dwell in us in order for us to belong to Christ (verse 9). Even though we have fallen short through sin:

the Holy Spirit maintains our no-condemnation status by empowering us in that new nature for victory.  It is according to the Spirit, verse 13, that we are able to put to death the deeds of the body and, thus, to live. 

This brings us to today’s Epistle which describes our adoption into God’s family through the Holy Spirit. MacArthur has a lot to say about the meaning of adoption, especially in the ancient world during Paul’s time. Paul’s message must have been exciting news to the Romans, as we will see.

All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God (verse 14). This explains the importance of receiving the Holy Spirit. The oldest Christian denominations have the ordinance — for Catholics, the Sacrament — of Confirmation. Receiving the Holy Spirit and reaffirming our faith takes us to the point in our spiritual life whereby we recognise He guides us to do what is right and good.

More importantly, however, receiving the Holy Spirit makes us adopted members of God’s family. We can now, with confidence, call Him ‘Dad’ — Abba (verse 15). We recognise Him not as a fearsome Father but as a truly loving one.

When we think of adoption over the past few centuries, it appears to us as a mixed blessing. Orphanages have been and continue to be, in some cases, depressing and brutal places where children wait for parents to come rescue them. Over the past 40 years, psychotherapy has, perhaps mistakenly, encouraged adopted children to talk and write about finding their natural mothers and disparage their adopted families. There is often a tinge of sadness when we discuss adoption.

By contrast, in the ancient world, adoption was a tremendous, positive step for both the adopter and the adopted. It really did mean a new life not only in a family sense but also a legal one.

In ancient Greece, a man who had no sons would seek out a well-bred young man to adopt. The young man would then inherit his adoptive father’s estate and business concerns.

The same custom existed in Rome. A man who had no sons — or sons whom he thought were unsuitable to inherit his estate — went out in search of a young man whom he could adopt. The adopted son had a higher status than the natural sons did.

It was a tremendous privilege to be adopted during that era.

In Rome, fathers had power over their children throughout their lifetimes. They could even kill their sons or daughters. It was legal. Children were under their father’s control — patria potestas — until he died.

MacArthur describes how Roman adoption worked, given patria potestas (emphases mine):

Now obviously this…made adoption into another family very difficult and very serious unless the person was … an illegitimate child or an orphan.  And if a man saw a son that he wanted and that son belonged to another father he had to go through a very formidable operation to get that person to pass out from under patria potestas into his own control.  There were two stepsThe first one was called mancipatio from which we get the word emancipation.  And mancipatio was carried out about a symbolic sort of sale.  If the father would agree to let this son be adopted by another man there was this symbolic sale they went to; they had some scales and some copper and they used this symbolism to carry out sort of a transaction like I’m selling this young man to you.  They did it three times.  Twice the father symbolically sold the son and twice he bought him back and then the third time he didn’t buy him back and the patria potestas was broken.

After the sale there was ceremony called vindicatio and the adopting father went to the Roman magistrate and presented a legal case for the actual legal transference of the person to be adopted into his own patria potestas.  And when all this was complete the adoption was done. 

Adoption in the Roman world signified four things. We can reflect on them the way the Romans who heard Paul’s letter did and relate them to adoption by God the Father through the Holy Spirit. MacArthur says:

First thing that happened was the adopted person lost all relationship to his old family. Everything was gone and he gained all rights to the new family. It’s a beautiful picture of salvation, isn’t it?

Second thing, it followed that he became heir to all the father’s, the new father’s estate. And even if the other children were blood born, it did not affect his rights. He was inalienably the co-heir with them and perhaps even exceeding above them, if that was in the prerogative of the father.

The third thing that happened, according to Roman law, was that the former life of the adopted person was completely wiped out. All his legal debts were cancelled. They were wiped out as if he had never existed. And the adopted person was given a new name and it was as if he had just been born. Sound familiar? When you came to Jesus Christ and were adopted into the family of God, all your past debts were what? Cancelled, and you became a co-heir of all that the born son, the Lord Jesus Christ, possesses.

The fourth thing was in the eyes of the law the adopted person was literally and absolutely the son of his new father. And so, when we were adopted, all these things, no doubt, are in the mind of the apostle and the Spirit, and we know they took place in our adoption. We have cut the cord with the past. We have become co-heirs to God’s kingdom. All the old debts are wiped out and we are absolutely and legally and forever the son of God.

Verse 16 refers to regeneration via the Holy Spirit. MacArthur explains:

Adoption gives us the title to the inheritance. Regeneration gives us the nature of sons and gives us the fitness for that inheritance. Both are important.

This regeneration starts our path of sanctification as the Holy Spirit guides us to do what God wants us to do. We turn away from sin towards accomplishing His will and purpose for us.

Knowing we are full members of God’s family through adoption gives us assurance that we are heirs with Christ, our heavenly Brother. As marvellous as that is, with the promise of eternal life with Him, it also means that we may suffer in this transitory life. We may be called to suffer as He was called to suffer (verse 17). MacArthur tells us:

Suffering is a necessary part of the preparation for glory.

For some Christians this might mean physical persecution or, in the case of death for the faith, martyrdom. For most of us, however, it might mean losing family members or longtime friends. We might find it difficult keeping or finding a job if our managers are set against Christians.

Ultimately, however, we will be glorified as Christ was glorified because we are heirs to the kingdom of God. And the Holy Spirit is with us from now through to life eternal.

MacArthur leaves us with this reflection on the Holy Spirit as Romans 8 describes:

The Holy Spirit frees us from sin and death.  We looked at that in verses 2 and 3.  The Holy Spirit enables us to fulfill the law, verse 4.  The Holy Spirit changes our nature, verses 5 to 11.  The Holy Spirit empowers us for victory over sin, verses 12 and 13.  And then last time, the Holy Spirit adopts us into God’s family as sons, verses 14 through 16.  All of this is the ministry of the Holy Spirit for which we give Him praise and thanks

Now we come to the final point:  The Holy Spirit secures our eternal glory.

In the second half of Romans 8, Paul describes how the Holy Spirit accomplishes His work in us then tells us of God’s everlasting love. These verses are familiar ones:

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be[i] against us?

33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.

38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

May we reflect on these realities and powers of the Holy Spirit and give thanks, not only at Pentecost but every day.

Let us also remember to pray to the Holy Spirit for daily guidance. He will help us in all that we do.

Now that Ted Cruz has dropped out of the Republican race, right-of-centre Christians are concerned about whom to vote for in November 2016.

Ted Cruz was seen as the ‘moral’ choice for many churchgoers. I was never a supporter, and it emerges my instincts might have been right, especially as he suspended his campaign the day a startling family allegation, complete with photographic evidence, came to light. And it did not involve his wife Heidi.

What do these Christians do? They could vote for the Constitution Party.

The presumptive GOP nominee

However, the following questions should be asked and answered with thought and consideration:

  • Which candidate will best serve my family’s and my needs?
  • Is there a candidate who pledges to raise the profile of Christianity in America? (Yes, and he’s a Presbyterian.)
  • How much do I know about the presumptive Republican nominee?

As the past two posts have described — here and here — much media manipulation of the American public has occurred during the past eight years.

The media are now directing the narrative for the 2016 elections.

The candidate they dislike the most is the one who has pragmatic policies that will fix a broken America.

Yet, churchgoers say it would be immoral to vote for a man who is on his third wife and who speaks as he finds. Did it ever occur to them that the media are pushing certain themes — including accusations and quotes out of context — to steer honest Americans away from the man most likely to help them? Are the widespread negative optics influencing people unduly?

Have the churchgoers absorbing the media narrative and negative campaign advertising ever gone on YouTube to watch and listen to the candidate in question address the public — by now, hundreds of thousands of them?

If so, they would find a highly listenable extemporaneous speaker, one who puts forth his thoughts conversationally without the aid of a teleprompter. They will discover his plans for job creation and discouraging companies to leave the United States. They will hear how often he uses the words ‘love’ and ‘amazing’ — positively. They will understand why the US must stop being the world’s policeman free of charge to foreign countries. They may even see his immaculately-groomed wife and children. All of his children, bar the youngest (aged 10), are gainfully employed. They have families of their own. They have never been in trouble with drugs, alcohol or the police.

Nor has the candidate in question, who is stone cold sober every moment of the day and night. He only needs four hours sleep, so is able to take calls from world leaders. He enjoys working and he enjoys challenges.

He will not start a war. For him, that would be defeat. He prides himself on his negotiating skills. He even speaks highly of his opponents — Cruz or Paul Ryan — and wants to get along with them. He is not the problem at this juncture. They are. The same goes for protesters attempting to disrupt and destroy private gatherings of his supporters.

‘God qualifies the called’

You may remain unconvinced at this point.

However, in 2013, I read one of the Revd Walter Bright’s posts which has stayed in my mind ever since.

It is called ‘God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called’. I hope he does not mind my borrowing it for use in a political context, but this election cycle has me thinking of the title at least once a day.

The opening paragraphs, excerpted below, come from a Facebook post:

Isaac was a day dreamer, Jacob was a cheater, Peter had a temper and denied Christ, David had an affair and tried to cover it up with murder, Noah got drunk. Elisha was suicidal, Jonah ran from God, Paul was a murderer and he was way too religious.

The post has this important message:

God is not looking for the qualified, he’s looking for people who would just avail themselves to him. When Jesus called the 12, most of them were not even educated. Yet, Jesus equipped them and they turned the world upside down …

Those whom God calls, He equips.

This same principle can apply to many people in this life, including in a secular context.

Rahab and the Wall of Jericho

Rahab was a woman of ill repute. Bible translations describe her as a ‘harlot’ or ‘prostitute’. Women in the Bible tells us the Bible story of the woman who ran an inn with her family:

They made their living by running a tavern: down- rather than up-market. It was a rowdy place, frequented by men who were not troubled by scruples. Rahab ‘comforted’ her customers from time to time. In short, she was no better than she should be.

Was she an upstanding, godly person? No.

Joshua 2 introduces her to us and describes her fearless work for the God she would come to know and love.

As Women in the Bible points out (emphasis in the original):

  • Even an ordinary person can further God’s plan. Rahab was definitely from the wrong side of the tracks, but God used her to help His people.

She hid two Hebrew spies from soldiers who sought them.

She later negotiated with the Hebrew men, telling them that their people were a threat to her city, Jericho. She told them she put her life and those of her family members at risk by hiding them. The men promised to protect her and her family in return.

She worked with them to plan their escape and signal with a red cord that she and her family would not perish.

Again, she had no belief in the God of Israel at this point. She had a bad reputation. Yet, she was actively helping God’s people and risking her life in the process.

Joshua 6 describes the fall of Jericho. It took a week:

15 On the seventh day they rose early, at the dawn of day, and marched around the city in the same manner seven times. It was only on that day that they marched around the city seven times. 16 And at the seventh time, when the priests had blown the trumpets, Joshua said to the people, “Shout, for the Lord has given you the city. 17 And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction.[b] Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall live, because she hid the messengers whom we sent …

22 But to the two men who had spied out the land, Joshua said, “Go into the prostitute’s house and bring out from there the woman and all who belong to her, as you swore to her.” 23 So the young men who had been spies went in and brought out Rahab and her father and mother and brothers and all who belonged to her. And they brought all her relatives and put them outside the camp of Israel …

25 But Rahab the prostitute and her father’s household and all who belonged to her, Joshua saved alive. And she has lived in Israel to this day, because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.

Rahab’s story reminds us that even those we do not perceive as godly can — and are called — to do the Lord’s work. Through that, those such as Rahab come to the Lord — or renew their relationship — with Him through grace by faith.

Before we get too self-righteous about our moralistic beliefs and personal purity, may we recall Rahab in the coming months and consider her story when deciding for whom to vote.

A final thought

In closing, the presumptive GOP nominee is a baptised Presbyterian who has also been confirmed. He is hardly the perfect Christian, but he does attend church at least twice a year and worshipped publicly on Easter Sunday 2016.

May conservative Republicans also remember that their party is called the Republican Party, not the Conservative Party. As such, moderate candidates should be made to feel welcome.

Bible croppedThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 18:1-4

Who Is the Greatest?

18 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

——————————————————————————————

Last week’s reading at the end of Matthew 17 was about the temple tax. The discussion in today’s reading occurred at the same time (verse 1).

Parallel passages are Luke 9:46-48, which I wrote about in 2014, and Mark 9:33-37, which is in the three-year Lectionary. Matthew’s account is the only one of the three which says the disciples asked Him the question of who was the greatest. In Luke’s account, they were arguing about it until He intervened with a child. In Mark’s account, He asked them what they were discussing on the way to Capernaum that day.

The disciples were still thinking of a temporal kingdom of Israel with Jesus as its ruler. Matthew Henry has this explanation:

They strive who it should be, each having some pretence or other to it. Peter was always the chief speaker, and already had the keys given him he expects to be lord-chancellor, or lord-chamberlain of the household, and so to be the greatest. Judas had the bag, and therefore he expects to be lord-treasurer, which, though now he come last, he hopes, will then denominate him the greatest. Simon and Jude are nearly related to Christ, and they hope to take place of all the great officers of state, as princes of the blood. John is the beloved disciple, the favourite of the Prince, and therefore hopes to be the greatest. Andrew was first called, and why should not he be first preferred?

Even though Jesus had already told them of His imminent suffering to come, they focussed on His discussions of glory. They still had not grasped that He spoke of the world to come.

In order to illustrate His answer clearly, Jesus called a child to Him (verse 2). It is unclear whose child this was, but it might have been one of Peter’s as they were in his house when this took place. Some translations, such as the King James Version, says the child was little, implying a toddler.

With the child before them, he explained that they would have to ‘turn’ and become like children in order to enter the kingdom of heaven (verse 3). The King James Version has ‘converted’, not ‘turn’.

Becoming like children in this context involves turning away from sin: repentance. We must put away worldly thoughts and sins of ambition, greed and lust. Furthermore, we must realise we are very little and lowly compared to the Lord. It involves recognising that we are dependent upon our Father in heaven for our lives and His blessings.

Becoming childlike includes donning the cloak of humility (verse 4). Humility leads to greatness in heaven.

Note that Jesus spoke of ‘entering the kingdom of heaven’, which meant that even the disciples, His chosen followers, were not ‘there’ yet. That applies to us as well. We are not born into the kingdom of heaven as an automatic right. We have to be fully dependent on the Lord in order to enter it. John MacArthur says (emphases mine):

If the Bible tells us we must enter the Kingdom of heaven, what does it assume? That we’re born where? Outside of it, right? We’re born outside of it. And that entering it is an act which we must do. All men are born outside of God’s Kingdom and are called to enter that Kingdom. And the gospel is presented that men may enter the Kingdom. “God is not willing that any should perish but all should come to repentance.” God wants people in His Kingdom. Jesus looked at the city of Jerusalem and said, “How often I would have gathered you but you would not.” He wanted to call men to His Kingdom and He did preach the Kingdom and John the Baptist preached the Kingdom and the Apostles preached the Kingdom and they called men into the Kingdom.

And that is exactly what our Lord is doing here. He’s talking about entering the Kingdom. And by the way, that phrase is used three times in Matthew…chapter 7, verse 21; chapter 18, verse 3; and again in chapter 19, verse 23 … about the rich man. It simply means to become saved, to become redeemed, to become regenerate, to be born again, to come into God’s Kingdom, God’s family, God’s influence, God’s rule, God’s dominion, God’s world. It is synonymous, for example, in chapter 18, verse 8, with entering into life. For entering into God’s Kingdom is entering into life. It is synonymous with chapter 25:21, entering into the joy of the Lord. When you enter into the Kingdom you enter into life. When you enter into life in God’s Kingdom you enter into the joy of the Lord.

So, men are called to enter. There is a gate in Matthew 17 and we are to enter, right? By the narrow gate, we are called to enter which assumes we’re outside and must come in…when it means to come under the rule of Jesus Christ, of God in His Kingdom.

MacArthur explains what Jesus is doing here, as recorded in Matthew 17:14 through Matthew 20:

… Jesus teaches the Twelve. He’s getting them ready for His death. He’s getting them ready for His departure. He’s getting them ready for their ministry. And so He’s teaching them very important truths. The emphasis of these months before His cross is not on the crowds, though there were times when He met the crowds, the emphasis is on His own, His disciples. This is their time. They are the object of His teaching.

Contrasting this with the temple tax episode just before this exchange, MacArthur tells us:

… this is not the believer’s relationship in the world, but the believer’s relationship in the family. And so, on the same day they get a tremendous insight into how they are to operate as citizens of the world and how they are to operate as children of God.

However, Jesus’s answer, complete with child, still does not resolve the issue of temporal greatness among them:

If you were to go over to the twentieth chapter of Matthew … you would find they’re still debating about this and James and John, in the twentieth chapter around verse 20 to 28, send their mother to Jesus and they say through their mother, “Well, could my boys be the chief ones in the Kingdom?”

And in case you just want to lay all the blame on James and John, you might want to know that the Bible also tells us that all the rest of them were filled with envy and jealousy. They were all having the same problem. They just didn’t all have a mother around who would do what James and John’s mother did. So they were all in the same boat.

And you want to know something that’s really sad? The night before Jesus’ crucifixion, they were arguing about the same thing still. I mean, they just never bothered to get in on the fact that Jesus was going to die and demonstrate a little sympathy and a little care and a little comfort toward the one who would bear the sins of the world. They never came to that, to the very night before He died, they were still arguing about who was going to be the greatest in the Kingdom. I mean, they were really stuck on that issue. Ambition, pride, selfishness, self‑glory were behind the discord, the dissension and the in‑fighting among the Twelve.

Let us remember this lesson the next time we are tempted to be first or to be great, especially in a church context. Our Lord humbled Himself to come to earth, mingle among sinful mankind, then die on the cross in order to redeem us. He gave us the greatest lesson in humility, humility, humility throughout His earthly life from start to finish. May we never forget it.

In closing, some may wonder if there is a difference between Gospel references to the ‘kingdom of God’ and the ‘kingdom of heaven’. MacArthur provides this analysis:

You say, “Why the different titles?” Very simple. The Kingdom of God emphasizes the ruler. The Kingdom of heaven emphasizes the character of His ruling. It is God who rules that Kingdom and He rules it with heavenly principles and heavenly power and heavenly majesty and heavenly blessing, as opposed to that which is earthly.

So, what Jesus is talking about is the Kingdom of heaven insofar as it means the rule and reign of God, the dominion of God, the sphere of God’s influence and God’s power and God’s rule and God’s blessing coming into the Kingdom of the Lord, coming into the sphere of God, coming in to eternal life, if you will, being saved, being redeemed, belonging to God, under His dominion. So, the concept of Kingdom of heaven simply means God’s sphere of rule.

Now when you see the term “Kingdom of heaven,” in the book of Matthew and you see it many, many times, as I said, there are many facets to that dominion of God, that sphere of God’s rule, many facets. And when you see the phrase, you must carefully look at the context to help you to understand what facet of that Kingdom is in view.

For example, if you were to look at chapter 25 and verse 1, here you read, “Then shall the Kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins,” and you remember the virgins who had the lamps, five had them ready and five didn’t when the Lord returned. Now there you have the Kingdom of heaven relating to the return of Christ to set up His Kingdom. So it is the millennial aspect of the Kingdom of heaven in view in chapter 25. The future thousand year reign of Christ on the earth, that’s in view with that use of Kingdom of heaven …

So, sometimes the Kingdom of heaven can refer to eternity. Sometimes it can refer to the millennial earth, sometimes it can refer to the influence of Christianity on the world. Sometimes it can refer to the sphere of Christianity which includes the true and the false. Sometimes it refers to the personal appropriation of the Kingdom, that is coming into the Kingdom personally, receiving Christ, being redeemed, being saved in the genuine sense …

And now we can turn back to chapter 18. And I believe what the Lord is saying here is again relative to the personal appropriation of the Kingdom. He is not talking here about entering the Millennium, He’s not talking here particularly about entering the eternal state, although those are all inherent in this because they will be the final end of all of those who are in the Kingdom. He’s not talking about the true and the false existing within the sphere of Christian influence and the influence of the Kingdom. He’s not talking about its influence on the world externally. He here is saying if you want to really genuinely enter in to God’s Kingdom, if you want to become one of His subjects, one of His followers, a child of God, a Son of God, redeemed and saved and born again, it is a parallel, if you will, to the third chapter of John’s gospel, it’s another way to talk about regeneration and the new birth.

So, the aspect of the Kingdom of heaven in view here is personal appropriation, entering in to God’s Kingdom by believing, receiving salvation. And I think that’s clear from the context, it can’t mean anything else. So, let’s talk about that. We then know what the Kingdom of heaven is, let’s talk about entering the Kingdom of heaven because He says in verse 3, “Except you be converted and become as little children, you shall not enter.”

It is a happy coincidence that this passage from Matthew came up for Exaudi Sunday, between Ascension Day and Pentecost, even if some will be reading it on Saturday. It tells us how much the apostles and disciples needed the Holy Spirit’s gifts and guidance — and how much we need them, too. Something for us to reflect on with thanksgiving in the week ahead.

Next time: Matthew 18:5-6

window_pfcross271w St Mary the Virgin Gillingham DorsetThis coming Sunday is traditionally known as Exaudi Sunday. Today, it is called the Seventh Sunday of Easter. The traditional name comes from the first word of the Introit in Latin: ‘Exaudi Domine’, or, in English, ‘Lord, hear my voice’.

The traditional text for the Introit comes from Psalm 27:

Hearken, O Lord, unto my voice which has called out to you, alleluia; my heart declared to you: “Your countenance have I sought; I shall ever seek your countenance, O Lord; do not turn your face from me, alleluia, alleluia.” The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?

My cyberfriend and reader Dr Gregory Jackson of Ichabod has an excellent sermon which explains the relevance of Exaudi Sunday to Christians today. I excerpted it three years ago and it is the best I’ve read yet:

Exaudi Sunday: between the Ascension and Pentecost

That post also expands on the meaning of the word ‘exaudi’ and how this Sunday links to the Ascension and Pentecost.

This is the final Sunday of Eastertide 2016.

The Spectator reports that Helena Kennedy — Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws, QC* — recently presented a two-part programme on human rights for Radio 4.

The magazine’s Theo Hobson was bemused by the fact that Kennedy overlooked Christianity as being at the heart of human rights even when one of the interviewees said that religion was paramount in this regard:

but Kennedy failed to pursue this with real curiosity.

Furthermore:

No Christian theologian was consulted.

Instead, Mesopotamia and Buddhism were invoked by human rights lawyers and non-Western participants. One imagines they mentioned the Code of Hammurabi, named after the ruler of Babylonia who developed it, in 1754 BC. Babylonia was part of Mesopotamia. Incidentally, the ‘talk‘ page of the Code of Hammurabi has an intense discussion about its relationship to Mosaic Law. Revisionists claim Moses took his codes from the Babylonian.

Kennedy grew up in a devoutly Catholic home, yet did nothing to defend the faith despite the fact that she remains a practising Catholic.

As Theo Hobson points out, it was only the spread of Christianity, greatly aided by the Reformation and the Enlightenment, which saw human rights become what they are today:

It was the Christian West that gradually heaved such aspirations into politics. It was in Protestant lands, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, that the crucial right to freedom of conscience took root – modern citizenship flowed from this. And as one of the contributors said, it’s only within nation states that rights are really secure.

Absolutely.

It’s a pity Hobson couldn’t have been on instead. But, then, that wouldn’t have fit into the BBC’s agenda. Or Kennedy’s, one suspects.

*Queen’s Counsel

Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 17:24-27

The Temple Tax

24 When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” 25 He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” 26 And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. 27 However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel.[a] Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.”

—————————————————————————————

This scene no doubt took place at Peter’s house, where Jesus stayed when He was in Capernaum.

The temple tax was a religious tax and not a Roman one.

John MacArthur says it was first recorded in the Book of Exodus (emphases mine):

In Exodus chapter 30 when the tabernacle was established and it was carried from there to the temple, God gave a law through Moses. And the Lord spoke unto Moses,” Exodus 30:11, “When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel after their number, then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the Lord.” How much, verse 13 says, “Half a shekel after the shekel of the sanctuary.” A half shekel shall be the offering to the Lord. Verse 15 says, “They shall not give more if they’re rich, they shall not give less if they’re poor when they make an offering to the Lord, half shekel for the service of the tabernacle of the congregation that it may be a memorial to the children of Israel before the Lord to make atonement for your souls.” Half shekel.

Now Nehemiah reduced it to a third shekel when they came back from captivity because they were so poor. But the half shekel had been reinstituted and in this particular temple in Jerusalem, there was a half shekel temple tax that had to be paid by every Jewish male and had to be paid annually. And, by the way, if you didn’t pay it, they took compensation out of your personal belongings.

As for the word ‘two-drachma’, or ‘didrachma’ in some translations, and Jewish term ‘stater’, meaning ‘half a shekel’, he explains:

Now the term used here is didrachma. And basically a half a shekel, that’s a Jewish concept, was equal to two Greek drachmas, d-r-a-c-h-m-a-e, two Greek drachmas. And the tax then became known as the double drachma, or the didrachma, that’s the Greek term. And that is the one…it basically represents two days wages. That is the tax they were after. The half-shekel which equals the didrachma in Greek coinage.

And so, they came to collect that. Now commonly speaking, it was customary because there was no double didrachma in Greek coinage, they had the term but the economy had inflated to the point where they didn’t have didrachma. So what they used was a stater. And the stater was equal to two didrachma, or four drachma. Are you with me? So people would normally go together and pay one stater, and that would cover their temple tax.

However, Matthew Henry says that this tax was not insisted upon so much in Galilee. Therefore, when the temple tax collectors asked Peter whether Jesus paid the tax (verse 24), it was not meant as an attack but as a genuine, respectful enquiry — so much so that they did not want to bother Him, so they asked Peter. The tax collectors knew of Jesus, possibly witnessed His teachings and miracles, and thought He might be exempt from paying the tax:

The demand was very modest[;] the collectors stood in such awe of Christ, because of his mighty works, that they durst not speak to him about it, but applied themselves to Peter, whose house was in Capernaum, and probably in his house Christ lodged he therefore was fittest to be spoken to as the housekeeper, and they presumed he knew his Master’s mind …

they asked this with respect, intimating, that if he had any privilege to exempt him from this payment, they would not insist upon it.

Peter answered ‘Yes’, meaning that Jesus paid His taxes (verse 25). MacArthur reminds us that His is our example to follow:

There are people who are Christian people who don’t pay taxes. They don’t think they have any reason to pay taxes, they don’t like what’s done with their money and so forth and so they don’t pay. And some of them get away with it because the government knows that to prosecute and track them all down and go through the fight would be to lose more money than you would gain. But Jesus, does He pay taxes? Verse 25, “Peter said yes…yes, Jesus always pays His didrachma.” And you can imply from that that He always paid His taxes…always. Jesus is not a tax evader. He’s not a tax dodger.

Peter went indoors and Jesus asked him if kings taxed their own sons or other people. He was asking whether God would tax His Son. Peter replied that taxes came from other people, and Jesus affirmed that kings’ sons do not pay it (verse 26). The implication is that He is actually exempt from paying temple tax.

However, in order ‘not to give offence’ (verse 27), Jesus told Peter to go to the Sea of Galilee, take the first fish he caught and give the coin in its mouth to the tax collectors. The shekel would cover both Jesus’s and Peter’s temple tax.

Henry explains the possible offence given and why Jesus paid the tax:

Few knew, as Peter did, that he was the Son of God and it would have been a diminution to the honour of that great truth, which was yet a secret, to advance it now, to serve such a purpose as this. Therefore Christ drops that argument, and considers, that if he should refuse this payment, it would increase people’s prejudice against him and his doctrine, and alienate their affections from him, and therefore he resolves to pay it.

He makes this point:

Note, Christian prudence and humility teach us, in many cases, to recede from our right, rather than give offence by insisting upon it

Henry also observes that a humble fish had the coin which would go to pay for the maintenance of the temple and provide the spiritual sustenance for God’s people:

when he could have taken it out of an angel’s hand.

That Peter had to go angling in order to catch the fish signifies that:

Peter has something to do, and it is in the way of his own calling too to teach us diligence in the employment we are called to, and called in. Do we expect that Christ should give to us? Let us be ready to work for him

Peter was made a fisher of men, and those that he caught thus, came up where the heart is opened to entertain Christ’s word, the hand is open to encourage his ministers.

Finally, Jesus allowed Peter to benefit from his obedience and endeavour:

Peter fished for this money, and therefore part of it went for his use. Those that are workers together with Christ in winning souls shall shine with him. Give it for thee and me. What Christ paid for himself was looked upon as a debt what he paid for Peter was a courtesy to him. Note, it is a desirable thing, if God so please, to have wherewithal of this world’s goods, not only to be just, but to be kind not only to be charitable to the poor, but obliging to our friends. What is a great estate good for, but that it enables a man to do so much the more good?

Next time: Matthew 18:1-4

The Atlantic has an excellent article on Peanuts‘ creator Charles Schulz, who died in 2000.

‘The Spirituality of Snoopy’ explores Schulz’s Christianity and how it informed his long-running comic strip, which first appeared in print in 1950.

Stephen Lind, author of the recently published book A Charlie Brown Religion: Exploring the Spiritual Life and Work of Charles M. Schulz, gave an interview to the magazine. He said:

Many familiar with the Peanuts strip don’t think of Charles Schulz as a Christian pioneer. But he was a leader in American media when it comes to both the strength and frequency of religious references.

Interestingly, Blondie‘s creator, Chic Young, warned cartoonists in that era not to mention religion in comic strips.

Schulz was raised a Lutheran but, after serving with the United States Army in World War II and coming to grips with his mother’s death at that time, he drifted away from church. His father was worried his son was losing his faith. His widow Jean explained how Charles — Sparky — returned to the fold:

When he came back from the army he was very lonely. His mother had died and he was invited to church by a pastor who had prepared his mother’s service from the Church of God. Sparky’s father was worried about him and was talking to the pastor and so the pastor invited Sparky to come to church. So Sparky went to church, joined the youth group and for a good 4-5 years he went to Bible study and went to church 3 times a week (2 Bible studies, 1 service). He said he had read the Bible through three times and taught Sunday school. He was always looking for what those passages REALLY might have meant. Some of his discussions with priests and ministers were so interesting because he wanted to find out what these people (who he thought were more educated than he) thought.

When he taught Sunday school, he would never tell people what to believe. God was very important to him, but in a very deep way, in a very mysterious way.

This particular Church of God is a Wesleyan holiness group based in Anderson, Indiana. (There are other Churches of God.) Wesleyan pietism forbids alcohol and smoking.

Schulz’s daughter Amy Schulz Johnson eventually became a Mormon. In November 2015, she told the Deseret News that:

Her parents never told her not to drink alcohol, but because they never drank, she didn’t either.

“Our great life prepared me [for Mormonism], because I didn’t have to change much of anything,” Johnson said.

When Johnson was growing up, she said that her father dropped everything when she or her three siblings walked into his office. In fact, as a young child, she actually thought he was unemployed because he was always there for them.

That dedication also ended up saving some of the Schulz children’s friends. Johnson recalled:

“Some of my friends didn’t tell me until they were in their 40s the things that were happening in their homes,” Johnson said. “And … I can’t really word this properly, but they said, and this had everything to do with Dad, that coming to our house every weekend is what saved them emotionally. … Seeing a normal, nice dad who was a good person helped them survive what they were going through themselves. … Our home was a shelter from the storm for them.”

Johnson refers to her adolescence as “wonderful, happy and clean-cut.” She often tells people, “If you think Utah Valley Mormons are sheltered, you should’ve been a Schulz!” Johnson believes the Schulz residence was a place where God’s influence could be felt because “the Spirit is in homes of goodness.”

By that time, Schulz had made a lot of money from Peanuts and was able to transform his 28-acre estate in Sebastopol, California, into a self-contained family compound complete with a swimming pool, baseball fields, a golf course and a park.

The Atlantic article points out that, when A Charlie Brown Christmas first aired in 1965, fewer than nine per cent of Christmas specials on American television contained religious references. The programme shows how materialism does not satisfy the Peanuts characters. Linus ends up going to the Bible and reads aloud the King James Version of Jesus’s birth from the Gospel of St Luke.

Two years before that, the debate over prayer in state schools was at its peak. Schulz penned a strip with Sally reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and ending it with ‘Amen!’

Schulz once said:

I preach in these cartoons, and I reserve the same rights to say what I want to say as the minister in the pulpit.

Out of nearly 17,800 strips, 560 contain a spiritual, biblical or theological reference. Clergy noticed and asked Schulz for permission to reproduce his comic strips for use at church. He willingly granted permission in nearly all cases.

His Bible had many handwritten notes in the margins. He also enjoyed reading theological commentaries on the Bible. During his time as a Sunday School teacher, he once led a group in a study of the entire Old Testament.

The Atlantic shared some of Schulz’s wry Biblical references in Peanuts:

In June of 1952, the somewhat sad and self-deprecating Charlie Brown borrowed Solomon’s words from Ecclesiastes 1:14: “All is vanity!” In December of 1955, a shivering Snoopy found solace in Jesus’s words from John 16:33: “Be of good cheer, Snoopy … Yes, be of good cheer.”

Sometimes the Bible references were clearly cited. When he catches Snoopy taking food out of the refrigerator, Charlie Brown pulls out a Bible and quotes from the Ten Commandments: “Look, it says here in Exodus, ‘Thou shall not steal.’” Snoopy borrows his book, flips the page and hands it back. “Deuteronomy 25:4 …” Charlie Brown reads, “Thou shall not muzzle the ox while he treads out the grain.”

But often, they were more cryptic. When Linus asks Snoopy, “Does it bother you that the Bible doesn’t speak very highly of dogs?” the beagle replies with a reference to one of Jesus’s teachings, “Sure it bothers me, but I just turn the other muzzle.” In a famous strip from 1959, Linus built a sandcastle that the rain washed away. Linus concludes, “There’s a lesson to be learned here, but I don’t know what it is …” But many readers would have recognized the allusion to Jesus’s parable about a man who built his house on sand in Matthew 7, and Schulz later said that this was exactly what he intended.

In 1965, a Presbyterian minister, Robert L Short, wrote The Gospel According to Peanuts, which featured Schulz’s famous illustrations. Over 10 million copies were sold. Westminster John Knox Press published a 35th anniversary edition in 2000.

In 1968, Short wrote The Parables of Peanuts, which HarperCollins reissued in 2002.

Schulz was careful not to be didactic or domineering with his beliefs. He is remembered as a loving, generous, kind man.

Interestingly, he appeared regularly in Forbes‘s 400 wealthiest Americans lists. His success came from his gentle personality which shone through in his comic strips and characters. He wrote about what he knew and enjoyed.

His characters are based on real-life people — and a dog — in his milieu. He and Charlie Brown shared similar traits. Schulz was shy and retiring growing up. He was the youngest in his high school class. His family owned a dog that resembled Snoopy. Lucy was based on his first wife, Joyce Halverson, and Peppermint Patty on one of his mother’s cousins.

In later life, his Christianity took on a vaguer tone and, by the 1980s, he stopped going to church. However, his daughter Amy Schulz Johnson said that when she was on missionary work with the Mormons in England, Schulz wrote her weekly. She treasures those missives:

“It’s funny because if I read you parts of them, you would think that my dad was a stake president in our church or something,” Johnson said. “He would have the most beautiful things to say about Christ and the scriptures.”

In closing, it is interesting that Charles Schulz made ‘Good grief!’ common parlance and introduced ‘security blanket’ into the English language. In fact, in Britain, it’s called a ‘Linus blanket’!

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