Trees and Chaff: How Famous Corruption Illumines Psalm 1

November 6, 2015

Thanks be to God for showing His children how life proves His Word true. The maturity I’ve gained in my 30s has much to do with seeing the deep substance of God’s Word after testing experiences, facts, incidents and popular news against applicable Bible verses, passages and chapters. I find that these learned lessons enhance sermons much more than trite or abstract analogies, and they do so by design. Life is meant to illumine the Bible and vice versa. (This is similar to the knowing God and self paradigm of Calvin’s Institutes, chapter 1). Of course, more than anything, Bill and Hillary Clinton are prompting my reflections now.

I just finished listening to Clinton Cash – the chilling account of the Clintons’ audacious worldwide scandals. A quick example that is their machinations writ large: Swedish telecommunications company, Ericsson, sells equipment to Iran. This transaction gets flagged by a governing body because Iran is on a bad list. Ericsson pays Bill more than $500K for a few speeches, which encourages Secretary of State Hillary to remove “telecommunications” from a list of sanctioned goods to Iran. Ericsson can resume their selling after and because they kissed the Clinton ring. So it goes in India, Russia, Canada, Congo, Columbia, Haiti, Kazakhstan, Ireland and the US.

I can tell you that being privy to international corruption makes one feel small and hopeless. One not privy to Psalm 1:1, of course. The Clintons have done much walking, standing and sitting in ungodly counsel, in sinful ways and in scornful seats. In fact, that’s the truth of the book – the Clinton’s don’t just pursue evil, they are evil. They are the embodiment of ungodly counsel, wayward paths, scornful seats, scheming, conniving, bribing, etc. If counsel were in an empty room, Bill or Hillary would make it ungodly just by walking into it. But they are also chaff.

As I meditated day and night (Psalm 1:2, but not quite a whole day or night) about the qualities of the tree and chaff in Psalm 1, it is obvious that the tree is deep and impervious and prolific. It is obvious that the chaff is ephemeral and doomed. It is fairly obvious that the righteous tree “prospers in whatever he does” precisely because he avoids evil and meditates on God’s law (vv. 1-2). In fact, this is the definition of prosperity and righteousness – i.e., shunning evil in all forms and meditating on God’s blessed statutes. However, it is less obvious and ironic that the chaff of verse 4 tries to establish deep roots, only to end up as wisp of nothing at the edge of a plant. The very practices – the multi-level scheming of verse 1 in place of the singular meditation of verse 2 – that are meant to protect against threats, build strategic alliances and pave a power path to worldwide dominion actually cause the ungodly to wither and end up as cursed chaff. Actually, the scheming of verse 1 is what Psalm 2:1 refers; i.e, it is the conspiring and the vain plotting against the Lord and His Anointed that arouses God’s anger and causes the ungodly to be contemptible poofs though they aim to be inexorable oaks.

Ultimately, the chaff are cursed in their plotting because they do so against Jesus Christ.

Bill and Hillary Clinton require international friends and operatives at every level of almost every federal agency to shield them from penal recourse. Their vast network of influence and influencers (what the author calls, “Clinton World”) are also required to tap into international riches mostly owing to the cornering of natural resources. Their maneuvering is meant to send deep roots into all the world. They are supposed to be the oaks while the less connected are political chaff. And from all accounts over the last 25 years, it appears that is the case. Again, apart from meditating on Psalm 1, it would appear that the Clintons are political trees that prosper in whatever they do. But, again, they are chaff.

I don’t encourage you to read or listen to the book, but I do exhort you to meditate on God’s Word lest you find international intrigue mystifying. The book is read by a robotic Walter Dixon, and his stiff, sober tone is meant to accentuate the gravity of conspiracy. Be that as it may, the Lord in heaven laughs at the schemers who will pay homage to king Jesus. They are merely part of His inheritance, and they and the Clintons are warned to tremble before the Lord or else He will blow them away and then burn them up. But happy are the “trees” that take refuge in the Lord (Ps. 2:12).

(A compelling conference in Lakeland on Saturday will discuss some of the ideas above. It promises to be good fellowship, the type you will want to walk, stand and sit in: Witness: Life in a Post-Christian World.)

Psalm 19: The First and Second Light

February 6, 2015

I’m writing here at length so that I don’t turn a brief Scripture reflection on Sunday night into a seminary class. But one must at least grant my indulgence or my temptation to run long when I speak about Psalm 19; it’s simply profound.

Psalm 19 is one of the best places in the Bible to discover God’s intention for creation and for man.

In summary, the firmament and the sun speak to the world about God’s glory – His knowledge and His mighty works. The law further speaks to man so that he can further understand God and himself, and so that he can be pleasing to God.

The Sun – The Jewel of God’s Creation and the First Herald

The chapter starts in typical Hebrew fashion with a general statement – “The heavens declare the glory of God” – that is substantiated in the following statements. Specifically, the firmament and the sun proclaim God’s knowledge and show His great works – the product of His knowledge – to everyone on the earth. They can be seen, heard (v. 3), and felt (v. 6), and they are God’s first and constant message to His creation. They don’t just shout, “Mine!”, they scream, “Look at us and look at how awesome our God is!” They boast about God.

The progression in the Bible, in history, and in this chapter is: God first spoke to creation, creation speaks to the world, the law speaks to God’s people, (God’s people speak to themselves), and God’s people speak back to Him. Creation began with God’s speech as He spoke what would be to what was not. The light banished the darkness and emptiness. I see the sun as the jewel of God’s creation because it’s His great light, and it’s clearly the object of the heavens since the expanse of the heavens are its playground tent (v. 5). The sun frolics about over the earth every day, with the eager joy of a bridegroom and strong man before their moments of glory. Not to be overlooked, the moon (the lesser light, Gen. 1:16) also “reveals knowledge.” As such, the sun is God’s first messenger, an angel of sorts that prefigured and prefigures man, the law, Jesus, and the new creation.

Wake Up Call

The sun is literally man’s first awakening, his wake up call time zone by time zone.

While man is sleeping, God’s heralds are speaking and heating up the earth. The sun is the first great evangelist, and like all of God’s great evangelists, its main concern is to communicate God’s glory. God’s message, or inner thoughts, are certainly deeper than what the heavens declare, but He first gets man’s attention every day in the sky and sun. Man is intended to open his eyes by the sun’s light. In fact, sleep can be comparable to death, and our rising by the sun each day is a sort of resurrection – God’s ultimate wake up call.

I’m not trying to be strictly playful here, but man must first see the sun’s light before he sees the Son’s light. I think it’s fairly simple to say that if man rejects the awakening message of the sun, he will remain blind to Jesus Christ. Conversion does not have to begin with an apprehension of the heavens’ message, but eventually it must include it.

I think Jesus had special compassion on blind people because they could not see the sun’s light. Conversely, He had special rage toward the ones who were supposed to be declaring His glory, but instead they were “blind leaders of the blind.”  

The Sun as John the Baptist

As a prefiguring herald, the sun is also like John the Baptist since it “utters speech” that prepares the world for something and someone greater. The sun is also a temporary and lesser light itself because it will give way to the glory of God’s eternal light in the new heavens. To wit, the sun is also not worthy to loosen the sandles of Jesus.

The Sun Speaks to Satan

As I mentioned above, the sun is God’s speech to what was not, or to the tohu vavohu – the formlessness and void of the primeval world. Among other things, it announced to Satan that God’s reign was beginning in time and space. In effect, Satan’s creation produced nothingness, it said nothing but the silence of blackness. In contrast, God’s vocal creation illumines and speaks simultaneously (Ps. 19:2-6). The sun listens to God, it only does His bidding. If we could say such a thing, if God were to be absent from His creation for a day, the sun wouldn’t come out because it only listens to His voice in the same way that Jesus’ sheep only hear Him. The Prince of the Power of the Air has no power over the heavens.

The Heat

David was not concerned with abstractions, and despite using headings that make it appear that I’m viewing this chapter topically, neither am I. The meaning of the chapter is clearest in natural sequence, and the final description of the sun that David used was inescapable heat. This especially pulls the chapter away from abstraction because he described something that we all feel. But why, what is heat declaring?

I think heat conveys proximity while frigid cold speaks of isolation. The sun’s heat is God’s closeness and genius – or His knowledge and handiwork (vv. 1-2). I think the sun’s heat is also warning and judgment. Everyone knows that too much sun burns and kills, and God keeps the sun in perfect chemical proximity to the earth so that it mostly warms, revives, grows, and illumines. The sun is evangelistic and eschatological herald. When the heat of the sun is no longer constant in the new earth, the most prominent heat will be from the lake of fire. God’s judgement for good or ill is inescapable, nothing will be hidden from it (v. 6).

The Law is the Second Light

The law is not only the second light, but the second command or law system. The first is for the heavens and the second, Torah, is for man. The heavens speak to all of creation and to all men what God has commanded it to say. The sun goes out proudly every day across the earth because it has been commanded to do so. It is taking pleasure in obeying God like Jesus did. Fittingly, a heavenly voice declared God’s pleasure in Jesus’ obedience.

The heavens’ daily speech is about God’s creation rule, His law for everything He created in six days. The sun speaks about God’s order, reminding all things animate and inanimate that what God originally spoke is still in effect. The sun conveys God’s will out of the firmament so that it might still be “very good” on earth as it is in heaven. More than this, the heavens show a pattern for man, as if to say, “We obey God and it goes well with us, so should you.” It’s simply reasoning from the lesser to the greater – i.e., from the jewel of God’s creation to the crown of it, from the heavens to the earth, from the sun to man, from the heavens to the law. (Made in the image of God, man is quite obviously the crown of God’s creation (Ps. 8)).

Good News

A brief aside on good news. The day four creation – sun, moon, and stars – conveys good news. Although electronic media seems to reach every coffee shop and personal device on the planet, the sun will always reach farther with its good news of God. Though Al Gore and Satan may be behind the internet, as it spreads news of all kinds and tends to spread discouragement as it uncovers the world’s evil secrets. The sun’s scope and circuit are brighter and farther.

The easiest way to explain the transition in this chapter, is to say that the law begins where the sun leaves off. Or better, the law “perfects” (v. 7) or completes the suns illumination. Or even better, the law does to the inside what the sun does to the outside. It is so because the sun literally shows us our face and skin – all things superficial – while the law shows us our hearts – all things spiritual.

The sun shows us our faces, but the law shows us our hearts.

David’s first mention of the Torah comes abruptly in verse 7, but the parallel with his poetry about the heavens is obvious yet subtle. God’s law is the second light because it’s man’s second illumination. The sun’s light first hits man’s eyes, compelling him to know more about God and His greater revelation in the law. The law progresses beyond the heavens’ speech because it not only shows us our hearts, but God’s as well.

The firmament and the sun make a loud, indiscriminate, and perpetual speech (vv. 3-4), but the law is a precise whisper or conversation. The law was revealed indirectly to a single people at a certain time and place. However, it should be noted that the law can span the day and night (Ps. 1:2); in fact, the profound insights in this song are a result of David’s deep and constant meditation on the law.

The Law is the Second Wake Up Call

In verses 7-11, the law is extolled for what it is and what it does. It is perfect, sure, right and pure, and as a result, it revives, makes wise, rejoices and enlightens. Here also is the subtle continuity with the previous section, the law is also a progressive wake up call as it first brings man to life, teaches him wisdom, gives him gladness and new vision. Interestingly, the most superficial description of the eyes is saved for last, and I think it’s because God’s law gives us new eyes with which to see the world, God, ourselves, and our neighbors. This happens when the law is fully internalized and kept (v. 11). As a secondary light, we could also say of verses 7 and 8 that the law dispels the darkness of sin, simplicity, sadness, and blindness.

God’s law/testimony/precepts/commandment/fear/rules is beautifully diverse and synonymous with His nature, and as such, much more depth is attributed to the law’s properties and value than the heavens’. God uses His law to speak to the soul, the simple, the heart, and the eyes – to the entire inner man.

This is the point again, God’s law is the revelation of His inmost being, and it’s intended to transform our inward beings the same way the sun transforms everything that it shines on.

Jesus’ new commandment and the Holy Spirit are the ultimate tools for the same purpose – to make us like Him.

Verse 9 is a break from the participles of verses 7 and 8. Instead, it shows the result of the previous verses. The fear of the Lord is the beginning and the end of wisdom. A man gains a guiding reverence and fear of God after being revived, made wise, encouraged and enlightened. The final clause of the verse is simply a summary of the superlatives above – the rules or totality of God’s commands are completely true and just. They are an exhaustive light for the outside world and for the inside of man – there is nothing hidden from its heat (v. 10).

Gold, Honey, Great Reward

David commended God’s law as more desirable than the greatest treasure and the sweetest food. The commandments of the Lord warn of evil outside and in, and they grant great reward to the one who follows them. This is the pattern of Psalm 23 and of David’s life, and gold or honey couldn’t compare to the bounty that he received from the Lord. David was warned and protected from beasts, kings, foreign enemies, and traitors. He was rewarded for his devotion to the Lord and His law with a crown, wives, a kingdom, wealth, longevity, and a dynasty. David always exemplified what he commended; he spoke of the glories of God and His word from his experience and gratefulness.

The Light Inside 

In the final three verses, David is compelled by the outward and inward light of God to think of his “hidden faults” and “presumptuous sins” (vv. 12-13). I think verses 12 and 13 also substantiate verse 11 because God’s word warned David of the danger of his errors, faults, and sins. Especially as a king, David knew the “great transgression” (v. 13) that an entire nation could commit if their king did not have “dominion” over his heart. He took careful notice of Saul’s progressive corruption, and he was first summoned by Saul to lighten the darkness of his disposition. Sadly, David’s hidden pride led to some of the greatest tragedies of his reign – the death of Uriah and his own child, as well as the death of thousands of Israelites after the census.

But the “great reward” of verse 11 was the innocence, dominion, and blamelessness of verses 12 and 13. In the same way that God valued a contrite heart over sacrifices, David valued inward cleansing as the richest reward, the source of his confident prayers, and the source of light. He knew that his inner light must match God’s light if he was to commune with Him. It must also be so for us (1 John 1:7). The law was of supreme value to David because it was the means for him to be close to his God. The sun was of special value to David because it showed the world God’s radiance.

As we should come to expect by now, the Hebrew Scriptures progressively clarify themselves – like the progressive enlightenment of the sun and law. The final verse summarizes and applies the preceding verses. David’s final supplication was to be pure and bright inside and out (v. 14). The laws properties and benefits (vv. 7-11) could make David acceptable in God’s sight. David tenderly called YAHWEH, “my Rock and my Redeemer” – my protection from evil inside and out, and the One who revives my soul. David prayed finally for illumination of mind and mouth, of thought and expression. This progression corresponds back to the speech of the heavens and the transformation of the law as the expression of God’s perfect meditations.

Final Note on Introspection

We can certainly be mysteries to ourselves, such that it is hard even to discern the source and nature of our errors. But let this chapter teach us how to examine ourselves. David called on God to absolve him. As for his part, he was going to keep the law’s prescription, which meant that he was going to put evil away from him (Ps. 101:3), he would not congregate with the unrighteous (Ps. 1:1), and he would delight in Torah by meditating on it steadfastly (Ps. 1:2).

Excessive introspection or misinformed self-examination can be dark because the light of our own wisdom, or even our friends’, is limited. It can’t compare to God’s perfect light. Psalm 19 reminds us beautifully of Jesus and 1 John 1, so let us do exactly what it says for the sake of dominion over sin and communion with God.            

Stuart Scott Fought the Wrong Battle

January 7, 2015

Stuart Scott was an ESPN celebrity, made famous for reading sports highlights with a sprinkling of inner city idioms, ebonics phrases, and black pop culture humor of the 90s. He died Sunday after a rare form of cancer wasted his body for seven years.

As a former sports broadcaster and ESPN wannabe, I can say that Scott was a talented broadcaster with good flare and intellectual energy. He also gave a human, if not admirable, speech at the ESPYs in July.

But, sadly, he invoked the cliched cancer battle mantra for most of the time since he found out he was diseased. He even had to change his orientation in the end, saying that

When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live.

Christians can say that

When you die in Christ, it does not mean that you lose to sin. You beat sin by believing in how Jesus lived, why He lived, and in the manner in which He lived and died for us.

That’s stretching it for the sake of cutesy comparison. Actually, Christians crush Satan under their feet by joining Jesus’ triumph by faith. Sadly, Stu Scott did not invoke Jesus at all during his long “battle.” So we can only say of him what was true of Saul, that he battled Jesus because he kicked against the goads in this life. He fought the wrong battle, a fatal one.

His death is notable to me because I saw him speak at USF when I was a broadcast student in 2001. It’s notable now to me because a pagan’s refusal to cry out to Jesus during a prolonged and profound trial is strikingly empty and dark to behold. Imagine experiencing the opposite of Psalm 23 like Scott did.

I cannot lie down in green pastures.

I fear great evil as I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

Thy rod and thy staff do not comfort me.

Cancer is a well-documented, over-funded, and strategically-hyped disease. For Christians that are afflicted with its various forms, take comfort in every phrase of Psalm 23. The Lord is our Shepherd. The self-dependent, humanistic struggle against sickness and sin’s consequences is a losing “battle.” There is no consolation to these earthly warriors, certainly not like there is for God’s sheep that will “dwell in His house forever.”

Bend, Don’t Sit

December 15, 2014

Be bold to invite your friends and acquaintances to Christmas events, like caroling. Even moderately cheesy events are fair game for them.

Because the chances are good that pagan children will have no exposure to Jesus during December, and remember that it is better for them to see a fake baby Jesus than to sit on an old, fat man’s knee.

(Hence, the title – bend the knee to Jesus’ glory and skip the Santa seat.)

Employment Reputation

December 12, 2014

I hope you work for a reputable employer and highly regard your own work reputation. After all, like it or not, it’s the thing you spend the most time doing. Sadly, your work hours far exceed your family time.

It is impossible to have a good reputation without a good reputation at your work.

For God’s glory, we should strive for high integrity and high skill. In extremely simple terms, this means being a good person and very good at what you do. In biblical terms, employment excellence that earns an excellent employment reputation is simply the fruit of doing all “to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31); as well as loving “your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind” (Luke 10:27).

Jeter vs. Jesus

September 27, 2014

The good guy of baseball takes his final curtain call and the media’s genuflection is as long and slow as an actual baseball game.

All hail, Derek Jeter!

“We just can’t say enough about him.” That’s not just a cliche, it seems to be true – for more than a season the sports world has written tribute articles, books, magazines, and generated more tribute videos on Jeter than Youtube can handle. From a ravid Yankee fan it’s all well deserved and Jeter’s swan song shouldn’t end until the fat lady interrupts with her own song. From a casual baseball fan, it’s predictable and a bit excessive. But I think from the Christian’s perspective, it should all appear shameful and empty.

I have taken a different view of the procession after reading a brief article by R.J. Rushdoony on the inexorable decay of humanism (forgive me for losing the specific citation in his 1,124 page tome, The Roots of Reconstruction). It’s as if the world can’t help but make much of Derek Jeter because he is their ideal, their super human. He is all they have. Of course, this is the shameful and empty part of the equation.

The social side of the picture shows Jeter to really be the pagan world’s ideal: the perfect mixed man – black dad/white mom; a man in the largest metropolitan market, cool, stoic, frequent romancer, endorsements from the best brands, a liberal and compliant voter. The objective side of the picture shows Jeter to be probably and naturally overrated because he was early on propped up as the ideal baseball man. He was fast, consistent, timely, athletic, smart, composed, and on base. Sticking with objectivity, he was never an MVP and his statistics are judged generously because he achieved in an underachieving position – shortstop – and he is much taller than the average shortstop. (Never mind how dreadfully overpaid he has been.) But the spiritual side of the picture must also be examined, and not just because a Christian needs his evaluation too. The spirituality of Derek Jeter must be examined because he’s presently being made more of than Jesus Christ. As he goes on to retirement, he’s becoming a messiah of sorts.

Joe Torre said that we tend to glorify bad things, but Jeter is a real role model. So exalting a Yankee to the exclusion of Jesus is a good thing? So how much can you make of a role model? Is there spiritual gain in striving to be like a cool guy with a long baseball career and a monster mansion? Is there spiritual significance in glorifying Derek Jeter? Does his status as role model equate to some spiritual depth or meaning? As for the Christian answers and evaluation, Derek Jeter composed himself well, was a refreshing glow among rampant steroids, and played a very fluid shortstop position. He was also promiscuous, conceited, indifferent, condescending, and many other displays of human vice. To be frank, his vices should be irrelevant except for his exaltation. He needs to be justified as perfect because the media and the world are want to hold him up as a replacement messiah. His character matters because the world is using him, and so many other superhumans, to challenge and even ban Jesus Christ from the scene.

Here is where Rushdoony’s incisive article helps expose the utter display of humanism in the retirement procession of Derek Jeter. Godless human worship is a bankrupt spectacle that is prone to desperate exaggeration. Christians don’t need to extol or denigrate Jeter because he’s just a good baseball player. We don’t need his life to mean so much because we already have a Messiah. Notice that his retirement eulogies are so strikingly obnoxious because they are deliberate and desperate. Ironically, it’s as if the media, and the pagan world by proxy, is making a case to God that Derek Jeter is more noble, more worship-worthy than Jesus. How sad, how irreverent, how audacious, how satanic.

Did God say to Derek Jeter, “Let all the angels of God worship Him. Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool?” I pitied a diminutive, old Yankee fan that ESPN featured because of the Jeter shrine in his home. Does this poor man suppose that Jeter would do more than smile and sign an autograph for him? Would he sincerely listen to his troubles? Even so, could he comfort him, or encourage him, or bless him, or heal him, or forgive his sins? Could he transport him to God? This reasoning is just as ridiculous as propping up Derek Jeter in order to suppress the radiance of God’s glory. All hail, Jesus!

Hebrews 6:1-6: The Danger Passage

September 17, 2014

As always, a difficult biblical passage is compounded when we ask the wrong questions and look for the answers in the wrong places.
Many years ago, my pastor mentioned Hebrews 6 and 10 as passages that “he wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole.” I remember how sad a thought that seemed to me, hearing this from a man who interpreted and preached the Bible for a living. Also, how depressing – i.e., “are there passages in the Bible that are so difficult that a senior pastor doesn’t even attempt to explain them to his congregation?” Appalling, really.
As for the wrong question(s) – “Can you lose your salvation?” This phrase is nowhere in God’s Word. Right question – “Can we fall away?” These words are in our passage and throughout Hebrews. Let’s explore the phrase and the passage from the immediate context and from the whole of Hebrews.
Verse by Verse
Paul (I’m well aware of the many unconvincing arguments against the Pauline authorship of Hebrews) tells us: “Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity” (ESV). Paul established in his previous admonition that immaturity did not allow for mature discourse – i.e., Paul could not advance to more difficult or advanced expositions and instructions about Christ because his readers were still babies, effectively (Ch. 5:12-13). They required the breast milk of the “basic principles of the oracles of God,” instead of being teachers that gave milk to other children.

A Critical Word on Interpretation
Perhaps my best seminary courses were on learning the Hebrew language by studying Old Testament (Old Creation, if you prefer) passages. I remember much, but perhaps the most important and applicable lesson was the pattern of the ancient writers and readers. As an axiom, general statements are followed by specific evidences in subsequent verses; it is deductive reasoning of the highest order. It was the Hebrew way to say something about God and then to prove it. After all, is this not God’s way? Did God not declare His transcendence to Job and then prove it in such detail that Job was reduced to shameful silence and appropriate reverence. We understand this difficult, or “solid food,” section of Hebrews by applying the same (basic) principle.

“Elementary doctrine” in Hebrews 6:1 is the same as “basic principles” in 5:12 because the phrases intend the same thing and are logically connected. This general phrase is defined specifically in the phrases immediately following in chapter six: “repentance from dead works, faith toward God, instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment” (vv. 1-2). These are all indisputable facts about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit; and they constitute a basic understanding of Christianity. They are the first lessons that the heathen should learn about God. They even form the chronology of a believer’s understanding; the beginning, middle and end of knowledge about God. They are also the progress of conversion – the things a believer must experience in life and in the church – and they are a mix of requirement, process, experience and expectation. But still they are elementary and foundational. They are the milk, after which comes the meat. This was truly Christianity 101 in Paul’s day. In our Presbyterian day, these things belong to new members’ classes, or more properly, to elementary apologetics or evangelism classes.

I use “heathen” because it takes us back to the days of David Brainerd. The young missionary who defined the American Indians as savages not only for their living habits, but because they did not know anything about God – i.e., they did not know about repentance, faith, baptism, gifts, healings, appointments, the final resurrection or Jesus’ last judgment.

The church’s creeds and confessions also codify the elementary things of the Christian faith. They were and are summary statements that declare to the world what the orthodox church believes about God. Inside the church, they are the points of non-negotiable agreement among believers – i.e., one cannot call himself a Christian and deny the tenants of the Apostles Creed. Four of the six statements in the first two verses of Hebrews six are captured in the Apostles Creed: “repentance from dead works” (Heb. 6:1) corresponds to “forgiveness of sins;” “faith toward God” (verse 1) relates to “I believe in God … Jesus Christ … the Holy Spirit;” “resurrection of the dead” (6:2) means the same as “resurrection of the body;” and “eternal judgment” (6:2) is obviously captured in the Creed as “he will come to judge the living and the dead.”

I suspect that one of the reasons this Hebrews passage is misunderstood or avoided is because we mistake milk for solid food. Or more precisely poignant, churches are no longer in the business of moving their members “on to maturity.” Presbyterians are in special danger here because the tenants of their orthodoxy are so well documented and controversial.

Which means that learning Calvinism gives the illusion of maturity because it represents a world of theology that was and is opposed by churchmen for centuries.

The five points of Calvinism may first seem like conspiracy because an Arminian army is their constant enemy, but after you embrace TULIP you are only left with “basic principles” that are hardly exhaustive in their biblical scope. To be fair, TULIP was not even John Calvin’s direct formulation and he brilliantly expounded much more about the Bible than five points, and to be more fair, understanding total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints requires a glorious biblical survey. But God intends for us to know and live much more than these relatively abstract points. Much more of Calvinism ought to be considered elementary and indisputable, and the word to the one who reaches an ostensible Reformed theology mountaintop – “now keep moving on to maturity!”

Verse 3 – “And This We Will Do If God Permits” 

This short verse almost passes our notice, but it is the only short verse in the first six to eight dense verses of this chapter to answer why or how we will leave elementary things and mature in Christ. God must permit, or cause, or compel our march to maturity, and Paul “feels sure of better things” (v. 9) because “God is not unjust so as to overlook” (v. 10) the faith, hope and love of his/His beloved (vv. 10-12). Or another way to think or say verse 3 is that God will fructify His own means. He will cause the rain to fall and to produce a useful crop for Himself.

The Danger Verses

Nothing is impossible with God (Matt. 19:26), except, apparently, to enlighten someone twice or to allow the sequence of repentance-unrepentance-re-repentance. Verse four begins the “danger” or the uneasiness of this notorious passage: “For it is impossible” is so final, dark, ominous, morbid, scary, un-Godlike; and such a stern and final statement about an ostensible convert is nowhere else in the Bible. Yet, instances of people who fit this description are replete: e.g., Judas, Diotrephes, Demas, Alexander the coppersmith, etc. In fact, Paul’s disappointment in 2 Timothy 4 gives good evidence to his authorship here. The scenario of an enlightened person eventually falling away shouldn’t be so hard to absorb in these verses, if we have learned from the vicissitudes of the many characters in all of the Bible.

The “enlightened” one in 6:4 is simply the person who has been undarkened, to wit, has become privy to the elementary doctrine of Christ. So verses 4-5 correspond to the elementary doctrine and experiences of Paul’s readers that are explained in verses 1-2. Consider that the first evidence of enlightenment is “repentance from dead works” and tasting the heavenly gift corresponds to “faith towards God.” Sharing in the Holy Spirit is roughly synonymous with the “laying on of hands,” and “the powers of the age to come” match with “the resurrection of the dead.” In the beginning of the chapter, Paul speaks about the first Christian experience of his readers, and in verses 4-6 he speaks about a somber outcome in the third person or in the abstract. He is giving yet another warning: “let us move on to maturity or you will end up like the ones whose ‘end is to be burned.'” This warning has already been sounded most clearly in chapter 3 as the wilderness generation is the best exemplar of the enlightened-cursed ones. They are the warning generation, and verses 4-6 assess their recalcitrance in New Testament terms.

It is fairly certain that the whole of Hebrews is about progressing to maturity. We should and must mature in proportion to the maturity of God’s revelation from angels to human mediators and intermediaries to Jesus Christ Himself. In short, Paul shows that if we don’t mature to the point of abounding in love and service (6:10), then his readers, and we with them, are in danger of making fatal progress toward hard hearts that end up outside of God’s rest.

Another Word on Wrong Words

As I said in the beginning, “lose your salvation” is an unhelpful and unbiblical phrase. It is better for us, especially Presbyterians, to think of “break covenant.” The grumbling Israelites in the wilderness broke covenant with Moses and with God and they were killed in several ways (1 Cor. 10:8-10). God removed them from pagan, idolatrous Egypt to make a special covenant with them. Paul describes privileged experiences in the covenant in our passage and in the first 22 verses of 1 Corinthians 10. These privileges ought not be trifled with or held in contempt, anymore than the marriage bed should be defiled (ch. 13:4).

A final note on “salvation,” perhaps the best evidence that “lose your salvation” is the wrong phrase is in verse 9. Paul’s association with salvation is only positive. Salvation is the consummation of the covenant, and it is God’s power carrying/dragging us to His rest. And a response of work and love and service (v. 10) gives Paul confidence that he is witnessing salvation in progress.; he is witnessing the reciprocation of covenant faithfulness.


After all the talk above about a better phrase, I think the best is simply, “fall away.” This is straight out of Hebrews and brings up many complementary passages in the letter (e.g., 3:12).

In verse 6 we see the fruition of rebellion, and the completion of the thought that began in verse 4. Squeezed together and rearranged it reads: “For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have been once enlightened.” The reason given for this is yet another stark phrase that appears nowhere else in the Bible: “They are crucifying once again the Son of God.” Appallingly, Paul writes that they are complicit in the murder of Jesus. They have received all that He has to offer and they want no more. They want Him dead! Presumably, at first they embraced Jesus’ atonement and were, thereby, on the righteous side of the law concerning His death. But after refusing to hear His voice and after hardening their hearts (ch. 3, 10), they now agree with the Romans, Pharisees and blind Jews by cursing Him to death on a tree.

We forget that the Jews are/were people of strong traditions and statements of irrevocability. The redeemer considered Ruth and her line dead to him, while Boaz received the sandle and gave witness that the redeemer was dead to him as a scoundrel (Ruth 4:6-7). Better still, Jesus makes clear that divorce is irrevocable (Mark 10:9, 11) – i.e., it is adultery and there is no undoing it. How much more to fall away from the One who “is the radiance of the glory of God” (1:3)?

Perhaps to make these sad facts most clear, consider that repentance cannot be repeated. A man cannot see his sin, turn to Jesus and then return to his sin again. This is the dog going back to his vomit! A man cannot agree with God about the fatal course of his entire life, only to return to his path. Can you imagine if Paul were to return to his blasphemy after his epiphany? In fact, his name change signified that he could never return to his old life. Can you imagine Moses returning to shepherding after witnessing the theophany of the burning bush? It is possible for the human heart to harden after the most extraordinary enlightenments, but it is not possible to take them back to another enlightenment.

Returning to bondage is shameful and is both the personal harm and open contempt of verse 6b. To return to a sinful course can only lead to personal harm and to a final curse, and to proclaim that Jesus should be cursed is to hold Him up (on the tree for everyone to see) to contempt.

Let Us Go On to Maturity

To be consistent with where I started, the exhortation we grab hold of is taken from the passage. Let us leave elementary things and go on to better things that belong to salvation (v. 9). We must also grab hold of the warning that a hard heart calcifies over time and even occurs in the face of the blessings of God. For us, beloved, may it never  be!



One important question for the candidates

January 5, 2012

“Sir, how do you intend to uphold and defend the Constitution? Which is to say, how do you intend to honor your oath of office?”

Is this not what matters most? I have no interest in even the noblest of executive notions if a man who would run for US president can’t answer this question with precision and historical reference. No more do I have interest in a pastor who would describe his duties without reference to God or the bible.

I would even concede that the Constitution can be improved in some anachronistic parts. But if nothing more than for the continuity and identity of the country, the Constitution must abide and US presidents must abide by it.

Wrong words: “Fight against hunger”

November 25, 2010

As sentimental causes go, the fight against hunger is a favorite among celebrities and drive-by good samaritans.  It ranks understandably lower than the fight against cancer and awkwardly lower than the fight against obesity (thanks Mrs. Obama).  (I personally rank it higher than all causes at least three times a day). 

Some questions: What is it?  Who started it?  Where do the convenient statistics come from?  Does anyone update the numbers when hunger is on the decline; say, after Thanksgiving food drives?  Does it not seem artificial after being John Edwards’ main cause?  How about the fight against adultery (Mr. Edwards)?  Or the fight against murder and theft?  Or more seriously, how about an all-out fight against abortion? 

No one ought to be fooled into sentimental causes since they are not causes at all; they are effects.  If one would fight hunger effectively and foundationally, then one would have to first take on laziness, foolishness, imprudence, avarice, high property taxes, inflation, etc.  Besides, try convincing any handheld-electronic-device-carrying American of hunger.  Maybe the fight against low technology is more appropos.  After all, Bill Gates fights the former for free and the latter for profit.

“Poor Barak Obama, he was just president of the wrong country”

November 5, 2010

“Title adapted from a phrase in Tombstone: “Poor soul, you were just too high strung.” (Doc Holliday)

Pity our president, for almost 30 years he’s planned a European/Asian utopia for our country.  If only America would accomodate a regime or central planning with a totalitarian commander. 

Obama’s views were not cultivated here, he was not elementary educated here, his religion is not endemic to the US, his family is not from here, and if WorldNetDaily is correct, he was not even born here.  He is an alien to America in every important way. 

Yet like all of the clerisy, he is a parasite who loves American accoutrements without the ability to earn them.  Like the intelligentsia, he has contempt for all who generate revenue in any other manner than through a non-profit organization or a professorship.  Like Karl Marx, Hegel, and Plato, he would be a god walking on earth; but for the wrong country. 

Mark me here.  After Obama is dethroned, he will blame the country’s low maturity for his fecklessness.  He will say that the US was simply not ready for progress.  Enjoy Algeria or London or Kuala Lumpur or Mumbai, Mr. Obama.