A Unique Land

           Whatever we may think of modern Israel and the struggles she has with the surrounding Arab nations, believers should at least comprehend the importance of the land from a scriptural perspective. In order to more fully understand the Bible, it is helpful for Christians to become familiar with the land of the Bible. As we study the form of the land as well as the function of God’s chosen topography we are enabled to contextually unpack God’s revelation to us. A recurring theme throughout Scripture is the election of God—a chosen land, a chosen people, and a covenantal relationship that he provides with those he has chosen from the foundation of the earth (Eph. 1:4).
And the Lord appeared to Abraham and said, “To your descendants I will give this land” (Gen. 12:7 NASB). When God made this promise to Abraham, he revealed to him a specific territory. Although God is the legal owner of all the earth, he chose a relatively tiny portion of land in the Middle East to bequeath to an undeserving, but a unique people. Of course, there is no one that is deserving of God’s beneficence, for all of us are sinners (Rom. 3:10-12). Yet, just as God chose a certain man, Abraham, to be the progenitor of a special people, he also chose a certain piece of ground to be the staging area of his revelation to mankind through the ages.
Why did God pick this narrow portion of land, once called Canaan, now Israel, as an inheritance to Abraham’s descendants? First, this stretch of ground is important for its geocentric location. In the ancient world, it was the bridge between two major civilizations and, as such, it became the connection between the nations and the scene for the most important events of history.  The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land the light will shine on them (Isa. 9:2). Messiah would emerge from this land; but not only would the Hebrew people be impacted through His ministry, but also the Gentiles. From this stage God would broadcast his word, promising a Liberator for those who came to understand the nature of their captivity and the need for a Redeemer.
People from every nation, from various ethnicities and from all walks of life were confronted with the gospel message. History has shown that this small piece of land from the time of Abraham to the present era has always been the epicenter of religious turmoil and upheaval. Even today three of the major religions–Judaism, Christianity, and Islam–vie for the land. The struggle, although often times bloody, causes the world to refocus on the centricity of this land and the history of its people. 
A second reason why God evidently chose this land is due to its topographical uniqueness. The contour of this area not only made it desirable for the various trade routes traversing through it but also very difficult to defend. As a gateway to three continents—Africa, Asia, and Europe—it became the center point to controlling the ancient world. From each of the continents came conquering hordes: Egyptians and Ethiopians from Africa, Babylonians and Assyrians from Asia, and Greeks and Romans from Europe. Against these conquerors, the people living in the land of Canaan were virtually helpless. Because of the land’s physical characteristics and central location, Canaan was destined to be dominated rather than to rule. The vulnerability of the Israelites to foreign domination resulted in continued dependence on Jehovah and thus deepened their faith and left an indelible lesson for all mankind. As an indefensible nation, Israel’s only hope against certain annihilation and potential extinction was reliance on God, for, in reality, he is a peoples’ only refuge in time of trouble (Ps. 46:1).
The land still seems indefensible, for militant Arabs have vowed to annihilate Israel and push her into the Mediterranean Sea. It seems unlikely that Israel will accept a partitioned land and agree to a Palestinian state, for with the recent discovery of intricate tunnels into her land, Israel cannot afford a long cease-fire or a separate nation of Arabs that could rebuild tunnels to eventually strike at the heartland of Israel.
A third reason for God’s selection of this land is its meteorological variants. The climate was a powerful incentive to the development of faith in the unseen God. With no great river like the Nile or the Euphrates to bring an unfailing supply of water, the land had to rely on the water from heaven to replenish it and to provide this essential for life. If the rains failed to fill the cisterns during the rainy season and enrich the springs and the rivers, then drought was inevitable. Other calamities, which frequently occurred, were earthquakes, locust invasions, and pestilence. In a land like ancient Canaan, it was natural for men to look to God for security and sustenance. Pagans, however, worshipped nature and created deities that personified a particular aspect of their environment, such as rivers, trees, and springs. The Israelites, however, through God’s initiative, power, and love came to depend upon the true God of weather and climate change. Although not often faithful, their reliance on Elohim always deepened their devotion as they learned they could not depend upon the land alone for their provision. When they understood the lessons of the Lord the proclamation of Amos was the voice that came behind them:

And furthermore, I withheld the rain from you while there were still three months until harvest. Then I would send rain on one city and on another city I would not send rain;…I smote with scorching wind and mildew; and the caterpillar was devouring your many gardens and vineyards, fig trees and olive trees…I sent a plague among you after the manner of Egypt…Yet you have not returned to me,’ declares the Lord. Amos 4:7-10

To ancient Israelites the climate was seen as God’s instrument for advantage and for calamity. Understanding this principle helped to solidify their faith in a sovereign God. A land like Israel, therefore, served as the environmental classroom to nurture the chosen race into a deeper sense of Jehovah’s presence—a presence that was personal and relational.
            A fourth reason God chose this “Land of the Covenant” was its geopolitical location. Unlike our own, ancient civilizations had no difficulty with the integration of religion and politics. In fact history shows us that the two were closely intertwined. The mix of religion and politics provided a context for the Israelites to easily accept a theocratic state with God as the ultimate King. On many occasions and with many of Israel’s leaders, political decisions were decided based upon God’s Word and direction. 
            Although politics still play a major role in the affairs of Israel and its surrounding Arab nations, God has, for the most part, been left out of the decision making. Although not consulted, God is still sovereign and will accomplish his will for the Middle East. The land of Israel is still the center of the world, for how goes the Middle East will determine what happens in the rest of the world. Although world politicians demand peace, they will not find it without the intervention of the peace of God--who is the Messiah, the Christ of Scripture. 

Revolutionary Pastors

In commemoration of the Boston Massacre John Lathrop of Old North Church preached on the subject Innocent Blood Crying to God from the streets of Boston. In the same year the Rev. Samuel Cooke, with Governor Hutchinson present as well as the Massachusetts House of Representatives preached on the text, “He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.”  Alice Baldwin in her book, The N. E. Clergy and the American Revolution, said of the pastors, “With a vocabulary enriched by the Bible, …(they) made resistance and at last independence and war a holy cause,” and through their influence, gave the Revolution support.

On April 18, 1775 the new governor of Boston sent detachment of soldiers first to secure the arms of the patriots at concord and second to capture three rebel leaders who were stirring up most of the trouble. On the morning of April 19, 1775 Jonas Clark, a preacher, John Hancock, his cousin, and Sam Adams, his distributor of sermons were awakened to escape the British. Adams and Hancock were visiting for the night, unaware that the British were sending troops to Lexington. Clark was asked by one of his guest if his congregation would fight if necessary. Clark, who had preached the duty of self-defense of inalienable rights for years through his sermons, responded confidently, “I have trained them for this very hour!” The shot heard round the world providentially occurred on the lawn of his church.

“Throw down your arms, you damn rebels and disperse,” was the command of the British officer.  Some started to disperse, but Captain John Parker, a deacon in Clark’s church yelled, “Don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they want war, let it begin here.” The British fired first and 8 men fell and died on the spot. The Americans fired back, and you know the rest of the story. Or do you? One bystander writes about Jonas Clark who was watching from the church steps. He walked up and took in his arms the head of one of the young men who had been killed. The man’s wife walked up and said, “Jonas, Jonas, look what you have done.” His reply, “Ma’am, I have no regrets, for from today the death knell of tyranny shall be heard throughout the world and the bell of liberty shall ring into eternity.”

At the Galloping Hill Bridge, during the Battle of Springfield, American artillery ran low on wadding to feed their cannons. Rev. James Caldwell, an Army chaplain who had lost his wife during the Battle of Connecticut Farms, carried a load of hymn books published by English clergyman, Issac Watts. Caldwell was heard yelling to the artillery men, “Give ‘em Watts, boys! Give ‘em Watts.”

When General George Washington asked Lutheran pastor John Peter Muhlenberg to raise a regiment of volunteers, Muhlenberg did more than agreed. After he delivered a powerful sermon from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 that concluded with these words: “The Bible tells us there is a time for all things and there is a time to preach and a time to pray, but the time for me to preach has passed away, and there is a time to fight, and that time has come now. Now is the time to fight! Call for recruits! Sound the drums!” Muhlenberg then stripped off his clerical robe, revealing the uniform of a Virginia colonel. Grabbing his musket from behind the pulpit, he donned his colonel’s hat and marched off to war. And as he did, more than 300 of his male congregants followed him.

When the war began many ministers became known as “fighting parsons.” Ministers also exerted influence in raising volunteers to join the cause. At Windsor, VT, David Avery, on hearing the news of Lexington, preached a farewell sermon, then called the people to arms and marched away with 20 men, recruiting others as they went. John Cleaveland of Ipswich is said to have preached his whole parish into the army and then to have gone himself. These preachers were known as the Black Regiment—a term describing the color of their clerical robes. Besides acting as recruiting agents, chaplains, officers and fighters, many ministers supported the war with their pens, and gave of their meager salaries to support the cause. This took character – “O where, O where have the clergy gone.”

The Christian Nature of the United States

If the atheists and progressives had their way, God would be eliminated from all facets of life. However, they are content for the moment to have God eliminated from the public forum. These same people quote the Constitution, pointing out that there is complete separation of Church and State. This is the law of the land since the Supreme Court decision in the Case of Everson vs. The Board of Education in 1947. We may argue the rationale behind the decision is flawed, but it is the law of the land. In fact, whatever the Supreme Court decides is “constitutional” is therefore “constitutional.” Yet, the intent of the Founding Fathers should matter if one is a “strict constitutionalist. The question should be asked, “Did the founding fathers want God removed from the public forum? Modernity says “yes,” but history says “no!”
God was not to be separated from the daily operation of government. How do we know this? First, prayer was a constant activity during the Continental Congress. The Constitution, itself, implicitly regards Sunday as a day of rest by excluding Sunday from the days to be counted in the period that the President has to veto a Congressional bill. And by common consent, Thanksgiving and Christmas were recognized holidays although they are now under attack in our post Christian culture.
Second, Christian mottoes on coins, currency, public buildings, and monuments were commonly accepted. “In God We Trust” was stamped on our coins of old and is etched over the south entrance to the Senate Chamber in the U.S. Capitol. Over the west entrance is engraved Annuit Coeptis, which the Colonials interpreted to mean that God had favored their undertakings. In 1782 Sam Adams and the third Congress commissioned an artist to create a national seal. The artist, William Barton of Philadelphia, suggested a 13-layered pyramid underneath an eye, which stood for the Eye of Providence. He chose the motto, Deo Favente (“with God favoring). The final version, suggested by Charles Thomson (a former Latin teacher) retained the pyramid and eye, but replaced the motto with Annuit Coeptis. His explanation for the change was that the eye over the pyramid and the motto Annuit Cœptis indicated the many “signal interpositions” or ways that Provide favored the American cause.
Third, judicial oaths ended with the phrase, "So help me God!"
Fourth, early Court decisions pronounced the place of God in the early growth of our nation. In People v. Ruggles, an 1811 Supreme Ct. of New York decision, Ruggles was indicted for calling Christ a bastard and his mother a whore. He was fined $500 and served a 3-month imprisonment term. Part of the prosecutor’s argument was that while the Constitution of the State of New York preserved the right of conscience and has allowed for the free discussion of religion, it has nevertheless left the principal engrafted in our common law that Christianity is part of the laws of the State, untouched and unimpaired. Justice James Kent said that, “Nothing could be more offensive to the virtuous part of the community, or more injurious to the tender morals of the young, than to declare such profanity lawful…We are a Christian people and the morality of the country is deeply engrafted upon Christianity, and not upon the doctrines or worship of those impostors [other religions].”  Basically, he said that cursing Christ is cursing the State of New York.
In Updegraph v. The Commonwealth, an 1824 Pennsylvania case, Abner Updegraph on December 12, 1821, with intent to scandalize, vilified the Christian religion by saying, “That the Holy Scriptures were a mere fable: that they were a contradiction, and that although they contained a number of good things, yet they contained a great many lies.” He was found guilty of blaspheming and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania upheld it.
In Vidal v. Girard’s Executors (1844) the U.S. Supreme Ct. stated that Christianity was not to be openly and maliciously denigrated. Stephen Girard, a native of France, died in 1831 leaving $7 million dollars to the city of Philadelphia to construct an orphanage and college where the “purest principles of morality” are to be instilled. He stipulated that no clergyman or missionary shall ever hold any positions in the college nor were they allowed on campus as visitors. In allowing Philadelphia to retain the bequeath, Court pointed out that although no clergy were allowed, Christian religious principles could still be taught by laymen. In fact, the City Attorney argued, “The purest principles of morality are to be taught. Where are they found? Whoever searches for them must go to the source from which a Christian man derives his faith--the Bible. ...There is an obligation to teach what the Bible alone can teach, viz. a pure system of morality.” Justice Joseph Story, an appointee of James Madison, the major architect of the Constitution, delivered the unanimous opinion of the Supreme Court. He said, “Christianity…is not to be maliciously and openly reviled and blasphemed against…It is unnecessary for us, however, to consider the establishment of a school or college, for the propagation of…Deism, or any other form of infidelity. Such a case is not to be presumed to exist in a Christian country.” 
In Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States (1892) immigration law was interpreted to an absurd degree by the U.S. Attorney’s office to accuse the church of hiring a foreigner as pastor. The Supreme Court ruled, “No purpose of action against religion can be imputed to any legislation, state or national, because this is a religious people…This is a Christian nation.” The reasoning in this case cited the above three cases.
In Davis v. Beason (1889) the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against bigamy and polygamy among Mormons. Justice Stephen Field (a Lincoln appointee who also sat for the Holy Trinity Case) delivered the Court’s ruling by saying, “Bigamy and polygamy are crimes by the laws of all civilized and Christian countries….” By commenting so, he virtually declared that America was a Christian nation. Such a declaration was also made in U.S. v. Macintosh (1931) in which the reasoning said, “We are a Christian people.”
Fourth, Early Supreme Court Justices made statements and rendered opinions supporting the notion that the United States was a Christian nation. Note the following:
(1)   John Jay (the First Chief Justice) said, “Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.”
(2)   James Wilson (signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution) articulated, “Christianity is part of the common-law.”
(3)   Joseph Story (in his Commentaries on the Constitution) noted, “Probably, at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, and of the Amendments to it…the general, if not the universal, sentiment in America was, that Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the State…An attempt to level all religions, and to make it a matter of state policy to hold all in utter indifference, would have created universal disapprobation, if not universal indignation.” He also said, “It yet remains a problem to be solved in human affairs, whether any free government can be permanent, where the public worship of God, and the support of religion, constitute no part of the policy or duty of the state in any assignable shape.”
(4)   John Marshall (who served on the Supreme Court for 34 years) was a captain during the Revolutionary War and served with Washington at Valley Forge. Later in life, while staying at a roadside tavern, he politely listened to arguments for and against the Christian religion by younger men from 6:00PM to 11:00PM. Finally one of them turned to Marshall and said, “Well, my old gentleman, what think you of these things?” Marshall then proceeded to talk for an hour answering, “every argument urged against” the teachings of Jesus. The listeners were captivated by his eloquence and energy. Some thought him a preacher and were astonished to find out he was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
Atheists may try to rewrite the history of America and recreate the thoughts of the founders, but facts are facts and truth is truth. Those who suppress the truth will discover to their peril the wrath of a holy God (Rom. 1:18). God has made it plain to all that his power and divine nature is clearly seen in his creation (Rom. 1:19-20). There is no excuse for those who live on the earth God created, for his witness  abounds. In fact, Paul says that the creation makes God known, but atheists do not honor the God they know through the intricacies and beauty of creation. God therefore darkens their foolish hearts; and although they claim to be wise, they are in fact fools (Rom. 1:21-22), for it is the fool that says, “There is no God!” (Psalm 14:1)


The word “federalism comes from the Latin “foedus” meaning covenant, compact, or treaty. One of the arguments that the United States was a Christian nation comes from the concept of federalism being derived from the teaching of Scripture. Heavily influenced by John Knox and his Book of Order, America may have been founded under the principles of “covenant” with the God of the Universe. It was to be a government by representation as indicated in Deuteronomy 1:13. Here, Moses reminded the Israelites of choosing wise and discerning men to represent them. The government of the United States would be a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Without wise and discerning men to represent us, we will become as bait for the wolves. In fact, Thomas Jefferson once said, "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." In other words, an ignorant people have never been free.
The three divisions of government sound very similar to Isaiah 33:22, which describes God as a judge, lawgiver, and king. Hence, the judiciary, the congress, and the executive branch of government reflect various aspects of the character of God. The Scottish Covenanters had a great influence in the founding of American government. Part of it came through the teaching of John Witherspoon who was President of Princeton during the Revolutionary War period of America. He influenced two thirds of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and many others who became part of the integral founding and ruling of Colonial America to include James Madison, a Virginian sent to Princeton to be educated under Witherspoon.
The dual nature of government in obeying God and magistrates was a Covenanter principle. The principle was derived from Matthew 22:38-40 in which Jesus said that the foremost commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind; and to love your neighbor as yourself.  Since Jesus was King over all peoples and nations, subjects answered to Him. Obedience was to God and the men that were appointed by God to run the nation (Rom. 13:1ff). The idea of Church and State coexisting for mutual benefit was derived from the Covenanter principle known as the “Mediatorial Kingship of Jesus Christ.” It could be diagramed as follows:

                                                         CHURCH                      STATE

God in Christ is the ruler of all nations (Psalm 47:8). Christ does not cease to rule over the state because governments fail to recognize Him. He still remains King of the Universe and laughs at unbelieving nations, holding them in derision (Psalm 59:8). The State exists because of Him who respects no nation (Isa. 40:17). Those who are magistrates have an obligation to rule under Him according to His dictates, which are found only in Scripture (Rom. 13:1ff). The State therefore exists to rule for the common good and to protect the Church and its teachings about Christ and religion. The Church exists to teach the State how to rule for the common good in accordance with the principles of Scripture. The Church is charged by Christ to teach the values and morality of the Christian religion and the State is to protect the right to do so. Civil government therefore is a divine institution and is subject to the law and authority of Christ.  Nations claiming to be Christian have by covenant declared so.  Christ has authority over nations, governors, and legislatures, and it is their duty to serve and obey Him.  Ignorance of the Word is no excuse.
It is sad that our own United States no longer recognizes Him who is King over all nations. We may pay a price for relegating the Lord of the Universe to a position of scorn and disparagement. A lion has gone up from his thicket, a destroyer of nations has set out; he has gone out from his place to make your land a waste; your cities will be ruins without inhabitant (Jer. 4:7 ESV).

Myth of Separation

In the Case of Everson v. Board of Education (1947), the Supreme Court pronounced that the First Amendment erected a wall between church and state and that wall must be kept high and impregnable. The Court also pontificated that it could not approve the slightest breach in that wall. But did the First Amendment erect such a wall?
The First Amendment says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….” Who shall make no law? Congress. What is that law they are not to make?  A law respecting “an establishment,” not “the establishment” of religion, which means that Congress was not to favor one denomination as the national church over another. In fact, many of the early settlers purposed to establish their own religious affiliations in the colonies they founded.  Many came to escape religion.  Roger Williams, for example, escaped the Puritans of Massachusetts and founded Providence in order to be free to exercise his Baptist leanings. The result of not establishing a national church allowed the public the free exercise of their personal religious quests.
            In Emerson, the vote was 5-4 with Justice Hugo Black writing the majority opinion. He stretched the limits of constitutional review by going outside the constitution to support his personal view. He quoted from a letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptists who feared Presbyterianism would become the national church. Jefferson’s words to them in 1802 were, “I contemplate with reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and state.”
James Madison, the author of the First Amendment and greatly influenced by the Baptist preacher, John Leland, did not intend the amendment to be construed as Hugo Black then interpreted it. In fact, the Bill of Rights was composed to influence the southern States to endorse the Constitution. The various rights listed were proposed in order for the states to have sovereignty over such things as religion, press, and assembly. If a state desired to endorse a certain religious affiliation, it may do so. Hence, the Catholic Church became the religion of choice in Maryland, the Anglican Church in Virginia, and the Congregational Church in Massachusetts, which paid from public funds the salary of ministers. Madison listed his reasons for the First Amendment, which were as follows:
(1)   Complete freedom of conscience with no one subject to penalties by any authority on account of religions belief.  (The Baptists were previously persecuted in Massachusetts.)
(2)   Complete freedom of religious practice and propagation within the bounds of human decency and safety.
(3)   Complete separation of church and state in regard to governmental interference; no taxation for any religious establishment or activity – this would prevent government from controlling religion and favoring one denomination over another.
Madison did not intend the elimination of God, or Christian institutions, or biblical customs, or quotations from the national scene.
            The Court of Hugo Black definitely wanted God removed from the civil scene and so reached into a personal letter from Jefferson to affirm their political agenda. Everson was a landmark decision, for it applied the Establishment Clause not to itself or the Federal Law, but extended it to hijack State law. Prior to this decision the First Amendment imposed limits on the federal government, while many states continued to grant certain religious denominations legislative power and privilege. Because of the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause, the ruling of the Court now took away state sovereignty over denominational privilege. Constitutional law has been taken out of the founding Fathers’ hands and now made into anything the Court decides.
Hope for our nation, however, resides not in nine justices of the Supreme Court or in one president of the United States, but in God Himself. Though our nation has drifted from Christ, may we remain firmly anchored to our Lord and Savior, where true independence is found!

The Satisfaction of Christ

In an August 6, 2013 article by Bob Smietana of USA Today, which was published on the website of Religion News Service, the PC(USA) committee for selecting songs for a new hymnal, rejected the hymn In Christ Alone by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty. The reason for the rejection was that the authors would not change a phrase about the wrath of God. The original lyrics read, “on that cross, as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.” The committee of the mainline liberal Presbyterian Church asked to change those words to “on that cross, as Jesus died, the love of God was satisfied.”

Townend and Getty refused to allow the change because they believed the full gospel must be presented. Mary Louise Bringle, a religion professor at Brevard College in North Carolina and chair of the hymnal committee, didn’t agree with the “Satisfaction Theory” of the gospel. She said the issue wasn’t about the wrath of God, for other hymns mention that. She had a problem with the word “satisfied,” a term used by the medieval theologian Anselm, who argued that sins were an offense to a holy God, and without someone satisfying God’s wrath, then entrance to heaven was unattainable.

Romans 5:8-9 says, but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” Most people are familiar with verse 8, which talks about the love of God. This is what Peter Abelard, the French medieval philosopher, concentrated on in proposing his Moral Influence Theory of the Atonement. Contrary to Anselm, Abelard believed the atonement of Christ was not to satisfy God’s justice and wrath, but to influence man toward moral improvement. It was the love of God that put Christ on the cross to soften man’s heart and lead him toward repentance.

Bringle is in the camp of Abelard and neglects verse 9 of Romans 5, which is explicit in saying that the death of Christ saved us from the wrath of God. In other words, “on that cross, as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.” Not only are Bringle and others on her committee trying to change the words of Townend and Getty, they are neglecting Scripture and manipulating the very words of the Gospel. The 15-member committee rejected Anselm’s view, adopted Abelard’s theory, and voted 9-6 to drop the hymn. Not only did they drop the hymn, they dropped the gospel. 

Sink or Swim

The miracle of Jesus walking on the water is recorded in three of the gospels (Matt. 14:22-36; Mk. 6:45-56; John 6:16-21). The event unfolds at the Sea of Galilee, which is 700 feet below the Mediterranean Sea and very susceptible to sudden and violent storms. After the feeding of the 5000, Jesus dismisses the crowd and sends his disciples on a boat trip while he remained on the mountaintop to pray. True disciples are SENT forth to do the work of the kingdom. The boat represents the adventure of life, for ships are made to sail the sea, not to remain in port. Although at times we can rest and sit for a while, we are made in the image of Christ to go forth and do the work of the kingdom.

While boating with Jesus, we will run into STORMS, for life is fraught with difficulties, disappointments, and challenges. We get “beaten by the waves” like the disciples of Jesus and become frightened with the rough seas of life. When the disciples first saw Jesus walking toward them they didn’t recognize him. They thought him to be a SPECTER. “It is a ghost!” they cried out (Matt. 14:26). Why did they fail to recognize him? They were not looking for him! It was the fourth watch of the night (anywhere from 3:00AM to 6:00AM)—they were tired from the lateness and weary from rowing against the waves. In the daily grind of things, it is easy to forget Christ who gives us strength to persevere. We tend to focus on the mundane and try to do things in our own power. But Jesus still comes to us in the storms of daily life, fulfilling the promise of Isaiah 43:2-3, When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

The Lord may not come when we think He should, but his timing is always perfect, for he really never left us. He knows when we need Him most to appear and will intervene with his word, people, or Spirit at the most opportune time. Jesus had waited until the boat was far from land and the disciples were bereft of hope to rescue them and strengthen their faith. When we think all is lost, when we believe we are all alone, our faith becomes STRETCHED. When life becomes dismal, we are to remember that the Lord stretches our faith, but he will never string us out.

Jesus showed his disciples that the very thing they feared, the raging sea and the crashing waves, were not a hindrance for him. He would merely step across their fears and beckon them to come, for in him is safety in the midst of a world afire with conflict and possessed with fear. Often we dread the trying experiences of life such as illness, loss of loved ones, relationship fractures, and financial distress only to discover that these problems and afflictions bring Jesus closer to us. When we find ourselves involved in the harrowing experiences of life, we will sink or swim—sink in the sea of our fears or swim in the faith strengthened by Christ. Like Paul, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13). But if our eyes remain fixated on self, we will sink into our own depression.

To swim with Christ, we must keep our eyes focused on him. As long as Peter did so he could walk to Christ on water. When he became distracted, he SANK, for he allowed his anxieties to take over by focusing on the fears that gripped him—the wind and the waves. But Peter had the resolve to cry out in his despair, “Lord, save me!” (Matt. 14:30) Jesus immediately took his hand and said, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Doubt is what makes us sink; but faith is what causes us to walk through adversities, knowing that Jesus has us by the hand (Ps. 37:24).

And when Jesus entered the boat, the wind died down, indicating the power of Christ over the elements. The disciples recognized his divinity and responded with their confession of faith, “Truly you are the Son of God!” This is the first instance of the disciples worshipping Jesus. They would continue to grow in their faith, sinking at times, but eventually swimming with endurance and turning the world upside down with the gospel of Christ.

Fish Sticks and Fiddlesticks

I grew up Roman Catholic and remember that Fridays were fish days. At school it was normally fish sticks for lunch, especially during Lenten Season. I didn’t particularly like the season, for it meant fasting some favorite food or giving up something I liked. Of course, the season began on Ash Wednesday with a priest putting ashes on the forehead. I remember being stigmatized by the mark and trying to explain to my Protestant friends why I was branded.

Now more and more Protestant churches, including Evangelical ones, are applying ashes on foreheads of their congregants. Now a Protestant and born again in Christ, I am appalled at the practice. I can understand the desire of becoming more contemplative leading up to Holy Week and Resurrection Sunday, but I disdain the thought of becoming more Catholic by doing some things that the Protestant Reformation abhorred.

The fast and the ritual dusting of ashes predate Christianity, for many Old Testament people like Job repented “with sackcloth and ashes.” Originally, the ritual fasting in the early church was associated with those getting baptized, indicating their penitent nature. The days of fasting were expanded to 40 days by the 4th century, which commemorated the suffering of Jesus in the wilderness. Ulrich Zwingli, the Swiss Reformer, protested against the Catholic Lenten traditions in 1522 by defending Swiss printers who had complained about abstaining from meat when they needed the protein for strength to work hard. Zwingli complained that the rules of Lent were more about obeying Rome’s traditions than supporting the gospel, which he said had nothing to do with eating sausages in the weeks preceding Easter.

Martin Luther also cautioned against obeying the rules and traditions of Lent with a view to meriting something from it. He said that Catholic teachings falsely promoted the idea that fasting and good works could eradicate sin and earn points toward salvation. John Calvin in his Institutes of the Christian Religion criticized Lent as a “superstitious observance.” The increase in Lenten observance by Protestants could be born out of guilt, for non-participation in events leading up to Holy Week may plague the conscience of the righteous—or should I say the self-righteous.

Although ashes are used in the Old Testament to indicate sorrow and repentance of the penitent, they are not ritualized in the New Testament as a ceremony of ablution. The purification of the believer has already occurred through the blood of Christ. Ashes and fish sticks are the stuff of Catholic folklore to which I say “fiddlesticks.” It is nonsense and the stuff of superstition!

Locked in Love

I just returned from a trip to Paris and Italy. In Paris my wife and I walked across a number of bridges that spanned the Seine River. Most had heavy wire rail fencing on each side with thousands of padlocks attached. One such bridge led from the Cathedral of Notre Dame to the left bank of Paris. On these locks were names of lovers. The idea was to purchase a padlock from a vendor who lends you a permanent marker to write your names and love message on either side of the lock. You then attach the lock to the wire mesh and throw the key into the river, thus signifying your eternal love for each other - a love that cannot be broken or unlocked!

I couldn't help but think how many people have purchased a lock, attached it, and then years later broke up, thus rendering a forever promise a temporary act. There is but one forever love and that comes from the One who does not break promises. In fact, he died validating the promise of the Good Shepherd that gives his life for his sheep. Why? So that in him they have eternal life! Christ is the only lock on eternal love. Our padlock is Jesus, who attaches himself to us. That lock can never be broken!

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:14-15, 28) 

Torn in Two

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. Matthew 27:50-51

The most watched miniseries of all time was The Bible on the History Channel. I, too, watched this production produced by Roma Downey, star of the TV series Touched by an Angel, and her third husband, Mark Burnett. Although enjoyable, there were many liberties taken of Scripture. I had issues with some of the portrayals, but I was deeply concerned with how Burnett and Downey depicted the crucifixion. The Lord’s suffering along the Via Dolorosa was very Roman Catholic. Jesus fell three times, spoke to his mother Mary, and had his brow wiped by Veronica—none of which is in Scripture.

On the cross, Jesus spoke seven times—the most important being when he cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me!” This wailing statement came forth at the time when all of sin was placed on him as he became the curse of God. A holy God cannot look upon sin and therefore Christ felt abandoned. But this abandonment gives us hope, for Christ died to pay our debt, serve our punishment, and make peace with God the Father. These words were not in the crucifixion scene of Downey and Burnett. To neglect this cry is to ignore the real reason that Jesus had to die. Roman Catholics still think they can attain heaven by their good deeds. If this were so, then Jesus had no need to come to earth and die on a cross.

The producers did show that an earthquake occurred at the death of Christ and a curtain in the temple falling down before Caiaphas. There was no depiction of the veil in the holy of holies being torn in two from top to bottom, another significant occurrence left out of the miniseries, which tells mankind that the way to Christ is now open without having to go through priests. I can’t help but think of the Roman Catholic influence that still insists that a person must go to a priest to confess his sins. The priest therefore continues to act as mediator between sinner and God.

The renting of the veil was no small miracle, for such a curtain was 4 to 6 inches thick. The tearing was not intended merely as a display of power, but rather to teach believers some great truths. First, the law of sacrificial ordinances was satisfied and, like a worn-out vestment, ripped and thrown away. When Jesus died, the sacrifices were finished, completed and fulfilled in him; and therefore the place of sacrifice, the temple, was clearly marked with change.

Second, the torn curtain tells us that all the hidden and concealed things of the Old Testament sacrificial system could now be seen. The mercy seat that hid behind the veil was revealed, indicating that all who place faith in Christ have direct access to the Lord Almighty. Christians can now boldly approach the throne of grace without an earthly mediator, for Christ is the only mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5).

Third, the annual ceremony for the day of atonement was also abolished. The atoning blood that once every year was sprinkled behind the curtain and inside the Holy of Holies was now offered once for all by the great High Priest, Jesus Christ. No blood of bullocks or of lambs need be shed, for Jesus has entered inside the curtain shedding his own blood as the Lamb of God.

The renting of the curtain, however, does not allow all people access to the gates of paradise. Jesus is the High Priest, who has entered the inner place behind the curtain to become the anchor of our soul and is the only key to heaven (Heb. 6:19-20). Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life; and no one comes to the Father unless through him” (John 14:6). When Diogo Morgado (portrayer of Jesus in the miniseries) quoted this Scripture from John’s gospel, he did not repeat the last phrase. Neglecting to say “no one comes to the Father except through him” removes the exclusivity of Christianity—that Christ and Christ alone is the way to heaven, thereby letting the populace think that there are other roads to God the Father.

Christ is the ONE-WAY STREET to God. No one will see heaven without confessing Christ and placing faith in him.