Saturday, February 28, 2015

Guest Post: The Preaching of the Cross

Dave Hunt
Mar 1 1988
In our great concern over the growing apostasy and in our zeal to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints, we must constantly take heed of our personal relationship with and testimony for our Lord. And to do this, we must always keep foremost in our hearts and minds the Cross .
Scripture makes it very clear that the cross of Christ is the heart of the message we preach, the determinant of our relationship to this evil world, and the secret of victory over the world, the flesh and the devil in our daily lives. Christ reminded His listeners repeatedly that it was not possible to be His disciple and thus a true Christian without denying self and taking up the cross to follow Him. I think the Bible makes it clear what this means, although there is also more depth of truth in the Cross than we will be able to fathom in this life.
Paul wrote, "I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Cor:2:2). This characterized his consistent conduct and the message he preached. For him there was one important rule: "Not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ be made of none effect" (1:l7). We dare not compromise, dilute or try to improve, with man's wisdom, the straightforward simplicity of the Cross. To do so destroys its truth and power to save others and to deliver us from succumbing to daily trials and temptations.
We have a tendency to forget that "The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness" (1:18). One of the greatest problems today is the often well-intentioned attempt to reinterpret the gospel to make it sensible and acceptable to the natural or carnal man. Instead, the unchangeable message must change the thinking and lives of those who receive it or it cannot change their eternal destiny. Let that never be forgotten. That transforming power is missing, both from the gospel preached to the lost and from the Christian's life, when the sharp sword of the Word with its radical message of the Cross has been sheathed in the popular psychologies and self-oriented thinking of our day.
What we are trying to say is illustrated through a man who had the most amazing and unique testimony of anyone who ever lived. A resident of death row, he knew on the day of his execution, as footsteps came resolutely down the corridor, that he was going to die. When the door of his cell swung open, however, the jailor spoke these astonishing words: "You are being set free. Another man is dying in your place!"
Of course, I'm referring to Barabbas, the only man who ever lived who could literally testify, "Jesus died for me, in my place!" But Barabbas was not saved. Why? Simply because the death of Christ had freed him to live his own life. Yet that is often today's self-centered understanding of the gospel: Jesus died for me so that I can live for myself, for worldly success and happiness, and go to heaven when I'm too old or too sick to enjoy earthly pleasures anymore. Against that false impression, A.W. Tozer wrote:
Among the plastic saints of our times, Christ has to do all the dying and all we want is to hear another sermon about His dying—no cross for us, no dethronement, no dying. We remain king within the little kingdom of Mansoul and wear our tinsel crown with all the pride of a Caesar; but we doom ourselves to shadows and weakness and spiritual sterility.
People would come to Christ promising to follow Him wherever He would lead. His reply was simple: "Let Me make it very clear. I'm heading for a hill outside of Jerusalem called Calvary, where they will crucify Me. So if you intend to be true to Me to the end, take up your cross right now, because that is where we're going."
Of course no one did that. Even His closest disciples all forsook Him and fled to save their own lives. Nor would it have saved their souls had they died on crosses erected beside His. He had to die in their place. But after His resurrection they were changed men, no longer afraid to die for their Lord. For then they understood and believed and gladly submitted to the truth: Christ had died in their place because theydeserved to die. His death was not to deliver them from death, but to take them through death and out the other side into resurrection.
At last they understood and believed. Acknowledging that God was just in condemning them to death for their rebellion against Him, they accepted the death of Christ their Savior as their very own. They had died in Him; and believing that changed everything .
In Galatians:6:14 Paul writes, "But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world." As those who have been crucified with Christ, we have been completely cut off from this world. One of the problems with today's Christianity is its attempt to make itself appealing to the spirit of this world and thus to become popular with the world. Christ would no more be popular today than He was in His day; and He said that those who hated Him would hate His disciples. So John wrote, "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 Jn:2:15).
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Paul explained further: "For though he was crucified through weakness, yet he liveth by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but we shall live with him by the power of God toward you" (2 Cor:13:4). How are we weak in Him? Not in our relationship to sin or Satan or to the temptations of this world, over which we have the victory through Christ. We are weak in the same way that He was weak, i.e., in that He did not fight to defend Himself or His kingdom against the political or military might of this world. His victory (and ours in Him) over Satan also came in submitting to death: "That through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" (Heb:2:14-15).
It is not through gritting our teeth and determining by our will power that we overcome temptation, but in accepting the fact that we are dead in Christ. The dead no longer lust, lose their tempers or act selfishly. Our victory is in our being " dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom:6:11). We have given up life as we would live it in order to experience His life being lived in and through us. The life He gives is resurrection life, and only those who are dead can receive that. We cannot know the fullness of the power of the Holy Spirit, which is the Spirit of Christ, until we have willingly accepted His death as our death.
These few thoughts scarcely scratch the surface of the meaning of the Cross (which includes, of course, the Resurrection). In meditating upon this greatest event of all time and eternity, we begin to see both the horror of our sin and the amazing love of our Lord—the two chief motivations for holiness. May we abide in His love, that the Cross so fully proved, and become the messengers and channels of that love to the world for which He died. TBC

Hunt, Dave. (1988, March 1). The Preaching of the Cross. Retrieved February 28, 2015 from

Monday, January 26, 2015

Guest Post: The Finality of the Cross

By Dave Hunt
“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me....”   — Galatians:2:20
Anti-Christian elements in the secular world would like very much to do away with all public display of the cross. Yet it is still seen atop tens of thousands of churches and in religious processions, often made of gold and even studded with precious stones. Most frequently, however, the cross is displayed as popular jewelry hanging around necks or dangling from ears. One wonders by what strange alchemy the bloodstained, rugged cross of torment upon which Christ suffered and died for our sins became so sanitized and glamorized.
No matter how it is displayed, even as jewelry or graffiti, the cross is universally recognized as the symbol of Christianity—and therein lies a serious problem. The cross itself rather than what transpired upon it 19 centuries ago has become the focus of attention, resulting in several grave errors. Its very shape , though devised by cruel pagans for punishing criminals, has become holy and mysteriously imbued with magic properties, fostering the delusion that displaying a cross somehow provides divine protection. Millions superstitiously keep a cross in their homes or on their person or make “the sign of the cross” to ward off evil and frighten demons away. Demons fear Christ, not a cross; and any who have not been crucified with Him display a cross in vain.
Paul declared, “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor:1:18). So the power of the cross lies not in its display but in its preaching ; and that preaching has nothing to do with the peculiar shape of the cross but with Christ’s death upon it as declared in the gospel. The gospel is “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Rom:1:16), not to those who wear or otherwise display or make the sign of the cross.
What is this gospel that saves? Paul states explicitly: “I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto which also ye are saved, that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures...” (1 Cor:15:1-4). It comes as a shock to many that the gospel includes no mention of a cross . Why? Because a cross was not essential to our salvation. Christ had to be crucified to fulfill the prophecy concerning the manner of the Messiah’s death (Ps 22), not because the cross itself had anything to do with our redemption. What was essential was the shedding of Christ’s blood in His death as foreshadowed in the Old Testament sacrifices, for “without shedding of blood is no remission [of sins]” (Heb:9:22); “for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul” (Lev:17:11).
This is not to say that the cross itself has no meaning. That Christ was nailed to a cross reveals the horrifying depths of evil innate within every human heart. To be nailed naked to a cross and displayed publicly, to die slowly with taunts and jeers filling the air, was the most excruciatingly painful and humiliating death that could be devised. And that is exactly what puny man did to his Creator! We ought to fall on our faces in repentant horror, overcome with shame, for it was not only the screaming, bloodthirsty mob and derisive soldiers but our sins that nailed Him there!
So the cross lays bare for all eternity the awful truth that beneath the polite facade of culture and education the heart of man is “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer:17:9), capable of evil beyond comprehension even against the God who created and loves him and patiently provides for him. Does any man doubt the wickedness of his own heart? Let him look at the cross and recoil in revulsion from that self within! No wonder the proud humanist hates the cross!
At the same time that the cross lays bare the evil in man, however, it also reveals the goodness, mercy, and love of God as nothing else could. In the face of such unspeakable evil, such diabolical hatred vented against Him, the Lord of glory, who could destroy this earth and all upon it with a word, allowed Himself to be mocked and falsely accused and scourged and nailed to that cross! Christ “humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross ” (Phil:2:8). When man was doing his worst, God responded in love, not merely yielding Himself to His tormenters but bearing our sins and taking the judgment we justly deserved.
Therein lies another serious problem with the symbol, and especially with Catholicism’s crucifix, which portrays Christ perpetually on the cross, as does the Mass. The emphasis is focused upon the physical suffering of Christ as though that paid for our sins. On the contrary, that was what man did to Him and could only condemn us all. Our redemption came about through: His bruising by Jehovah and “his soul [being made] an offering for sin” (Is 53:10); God laying “on him the iniquity of us all” (v. 6); and His bearing “our sins in his own body on the tree” (1 Pt 2:24).
The death of Christ is irrefutable evidence that God in righteousness must punish sin—the penalty must be paid or there can be no forgiveness. That God's Son had to endure the cross even after crying to His Father in agonizing contemplation of bearing our sins, (“[I]f it be possible, let this cup pass from me” — Mt 26:39), is proof that there was no other way mankind could be redeemed. When Christ, the sinless, perfect man and beloved of His Father, took our place, God’s judgment fell upon Him in all its fury. What then must be the judgment of those who reject Christ and refuse the pardon offered in Him! We must warn them!
At the same time and in the same breath that we sound the alarm of coming judgment, we must also proclaim the good news that redemption has been provided and God’s forgiveness is offered for the vilest of sinners. Nothing more evil could be conceived than crucifying God! Yet it was from the cross that Christ in infinite love and mercy prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). So the cross proves, too, that there is forgiveness for the worst of sins and sinners.
Tragically, however, the vast majority of mankind rejects Christ. And here we face another danger: that in our sincere desire to see souls saved we adjust the message of the cross to avoid offending the world. Paul warned that care had to be taken not to preach the cross “with the wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect” (1 Cor:1:17). But surely the gospel can be explained in a new way that is more appealing to the ungodly than those old-time preachers presented it. Perhaps today's techniques for packaging and selling could be used to clothe the cross in music or a beat or entertaining presentation such as the world uses that would give the gospel a new relevancy or at least familiarity. Psychology, too, can be drawn upon to provide a more positive approach. Let us not confront sinners with their sin and the gloom and doom of coming judgment, but explain that their behavior isn’t really their fault so much as it is the result of abuse they have suffered. After all, are we not all victims? And didn’t Christ come to rescue us from victimization and our low view of ourselves and to restore our self-esteem and self-confidence? Blend the cross with psychology and the world will beat a path to our churches, filling them with new members! Such is today’s new evangelicalism.
Confronting such perversion, A. W. Tozer wrote: “If I see aright, the cross of popular evangelicalism is not the cross of the New Testament. It is rather a new bright ornament upon the bosom of a self-assured and carnal Christianity....The old cross slew men; the new cross entertains them. The old cross condemned; the new cross amuses. The old cross destroyed confidence in the flesh; the new cross encourages it....The flesh, smiling and confident, preaches and sings about the cross; before that cross it bows and toward that cross it points with carefully staged histrionics—but upon that cross it will not die, and the reproach of the cross it stubbornly refuses to bear.”
Here is the crux of the issue. The gospel is designed to do to self what the cross did to those who hung upon it: put it utterly to death. This is the good news in which Paul exulted: “I am crucified with Christ!” The cross is not a fire escape from hell to heaven but a place where we die in Christ. Only then can we experience “the power of His resurrection” (Phil:3:10), for only the dead can be resurrected. What joy that promise brings to those who long to escape the evil of their own hearts and lives; and what fanaticism it seems to those who want to cling to self and who therefore preach what Tozer called the “new cross.”
Paul declared that in Christ the Christian is crucified to the world and the world to him (Gal:6:14). That is strong language! This world hated and crucified the Lord whom we now love—and in that act it has crucified us as well. We have taken our stand with Christ. Let the world do to us what it did to Him if it will, but we will never again join in its selfish lusts and ambitions, its godless standards, its proud determination to build a utopia without God and its neglect of eternity.
To believe in Christ is to admit that the death He endured for us is exactly what we deserve. Therefore, when Christ died, we died in Him: “[W]e thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead [i.e., all have died]: and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him who died for them, and rose again” (2 Cor:5:14-15).
“But I’m not dead,“ is the earnest response. “Self is still very much alive.” Paul, too, acknowledged, “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do” (Rom:7:19). Then what does “I am crucified with Christ” really mean in daily life? It doesn’t mean that we are automatically “dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom:6:11). We still have a will and choices to make.
Then what power does the Christian have over sin that the Buddhist or good moralist doesn’t have? First of all, we have peace with God “through the blood of his cross” (Col:1:20). The penalty has been paid in full, so we no longer try to live a good life out of fear that otherwise we will be damned, but out of love for the One who has saved us. “We love him, because he first loved us" (1 Jn:4:19); and love moves the lover to please the One loved at any cost. “If a man love me, he will keep my words” (Jn:14:23), our Lord said. The more we contemplate the Cross and meditate upon the price our Lord paid for our redemption, the more we will love Him; and the more we love Him, the more we will desire to please Him.
Secondly, instead of struggling to overcome sin, we accept by faith that we died in Christ. Dead men can't be tempted. Our faith is not in our ability to act as crucified persons but in the fact that Christ was crucified once and for all in full payment of the penalty for our sins.
Thirdly, after declaring that he was “crucified with Christ,” Paul added, “nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life I now live in the flesh I live by [faith in the Son of God], who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal:2:20). The just “live by faith” (Rom:1:17;Gal:3:11Heb:10:38) in Christ; but the non-Christian can only put his faith in himself or in some self-help program or phony guru.
Tragically, the Catholic’s faith is not in the redemption Christ accomplished once and for all upon the cross, but in the Mass, which allegedly is the same sacrifice as on the cross and imparts forgiveness and new life each time it is repeated. It is claimed that the priest transforms the wafer and wine into the literal body and blood of Christ, thereby making Christ’s sacrifice on the cross perpetually present. There is no way, however, that a past event can be made present. Moreover, if the past event accomplished its purpose, then there is no reason for wanting to perpetuate it in the present, even if that could be done. For example, if a benefactor pays a creditor the debt someone owes, the debt is gone forever. It would be meaningless to speak of re-presenting or reenacting or perpetuating the payment in the present. One could wellremember with gratitude the payment that was made, but no reenactment would have any virtue since there no longer remains any debt to be paid.
As Christ died, He cried in triumph, “It is finished,” using a Greek expression that meant that the debt had been paid in full. Yet the newCatechism of the Catholic Church says, “As sacrifice, the Eucharist is also offered in reparation for the sins of the living and the dead and to obtain spiritual or temporal benefits from God” (par 1414, p 356). That is like trying to continue paying installments of a debt that has been paid in full. The Mass is a denial of the sufficiency of the payment Christ made for sin upon the cross! The Catholic lives with the uncertainty of wondering how many more Masses it may take to get him to heaven.
Many Protestants live in similar uncertainty, fearful that they may yet be lost if they fail to live a good enough life or lose their faith or turn their backs upon Christ. There is a blessed finality to the cross that delivers us from such insecurity. Christ need never be crucified again; nor can those who have been “crucified with Christ” be “uncrucified” and then “recrucified”! Paul declared: “For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Col:3:3). What assurance for time and for eternity!

Hunt, Dave. (2014, December 1). The Finality of the Cross. Retrieved January 26, 2015 from

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Guest Post: Why Jesus Came To Us

“And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin.” (1 John 3:5)
With Advent, we think about the coming of Jesus and prepare our hearts to receive Him. Different Christian traditions have different customs regarding advent, but the basic idea of thinking of the meaning and importance of Jesus' arrival into this world is common to all. 
So, we ask: "Why did Jesus come?" If you can answer that question then you have answered much about who He is and what He wants to do in our lives. There is no one single reason why Jesus came; He came to accomplish many things. But here John defined the mission of Jesus Christ at its most basic root: “to take away our sins.”  The angel Gabriel promised Joseph regarding the ministry of Jesus: “you shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sin” (Luke 1:21). Knowing that this is what Jesus came to do, it is fair to ask: How does Jesus do this? How does Jesus take away our sins? 
Jesus takes away our sin in the sense of removing the penalty of our sin. This is immediately accomplished when one comes by faith to Jesus. The guilt and punishment that our sin deserved was judged in Jesus instead of in us. 
Jesus takes away our sin in the sense of removing the power of sin. This is an ongoing work in the lives of those who walk after Jesus. As we walk closer to Him, we find sin having less and less power over us.
Jesus takes away our sin in the sense of removing the presence of sin. This is a work that will be completed when we pass into eternity and are glorified with Jesus.
Notice whose job it is to take away our sins: “He was manifested to take away our sins.” This is the work of Jesus in our lives; it is a work we must respond to, but it is His work in us.
We cannot take away the penalty of our own sin. It is impossible to pay the price our selves. We must instead receive the work of Jesus in taking away our sin.
We cannot take away the power of sin in our lives. This is His work in us, and we respond to that work. Someone who comes to Jesus does not have to clean himself up first, but they must be willing to have Him take away their sin.
We cannot take away the presence of sin in our lives. This is His work in us, ultimately accomplished when we will be glorified with Him.
As we remember this week of advent, thank Jesus for coming into the world - and coming to take away our sin.


Friday, November 28, 2014

Guest Post: The Old Paths

The Old Paths

Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein. Also I set watchmen over you, saying, Hearken to the sound of the trumpet. But they said, We will not hearken.  --Jeremiah:6:16-17

Why wouldn't the Israelites want the "good way" and "rest for their souls"? Why wouldn't they "hearken to the sound of the trumpet," i.e., want to hear what God has to say? Let me suggest one reason that could certainly apply. They were so far removed from doing things God's way that they couldn't relate to the "old paths." Furthermore, their idea of "good" was not God's good, and the "rest" they sought after was not the rest of God. Doing their own thing for their own selves for so long may have pushed God's way well beyond their interests and comprehension. This condition was not unique to ancient Israel; we also see it in the church today.

For decades Dave Hunt and I have been addressing the detrimental influence of psychological counseling among evangelical Christians. Trying to convince believers that psychotherapy is both pseudoscience and antibiblical quite often has been like endeavoring to paddle a canoe upstream, mostly in the face of rapids and occasionally as though challenging a Niagara Falls. One reason for this is similar to what probably contributed to the rebellion documented by Jeremiah: the church has been so seduced by psychological counseling for so long that anything that seems at odds with the current counseling practices is usually considered a consequence of ignorance.

I recently received a book written by Dr. Martin and Deidre Bobgan titled Person to Person Ministry: Soul Care in the Body of Christ . It is, in part, an indictment of the unbiblical way the evangelical church has gone about counseling. It is also a call to return to the "old paths," that is, God's instructions for how He wants believers to minister to one another. This is not a critical treatise directed at the problems inherent within professional psychotherapy; the Bobgans have shined the light of Scripture in that dark arena in their many other books (see resource materials) . Rather, Person to Person Ministry reproves those approaches that call themselves biblical counseling yet have gleaned much from the way the world counsels.

My experience has shown me that questions rush through the minds of many who take exception to our criticism of psychological counseling (although they may appreciate our addressing other things): "So what are you saying? Are you now telling us that even biblical counseling is wrong?" In a few words, yes--in most cases. The Bobgans' book gives enough examples to make anyone who loves the Lord and His Word very cautious about recommending someone who calls himself a biblical counselor, even if he claims that he is anti-psychology. On the other hand, the greater value of what the Bobgans have written is in their "sounding the trumpet," that is, exhorting and encouraging believers by reminding them that God has provided everything they need to deal with and benefit from the troubling issues of life "through the Word of God, the work of the Holy Spirit...[and] the fellowship of the saints...." (p. 172).

What will perhaps make Person to Person Ministry upsetting to some is not necessarily the content, which is simply and clearly biblical, but the fact that unbiblical ways and means of counseling have so permeated the church that anything that challenges them is likely to be regarded as extreme. Here are some "counseling" problems that should concern those who want to minister, and be ministered to, God's way. As I list some of the errors they expose, see if there is either a practice or teaching found in the New Testament to support these current practices. In other words, in reference to the old hymn, was it "good for Paul and Silas"? Many "biblical" counselors mimic the way professional counselors counsel. They have a counseling office, a calendar of appointments, meet with people on an hourly basis often once a week or more, and that sometimes goes on for months or years. They charge fees or accept donations for their church (which pays their salaries). Some don't see a problem here as long as the counselor is "using the Word of God." Other than the fact that the methods are at odds with what Scripture teaches, I'm not sure what "using the Word of God" means, because the "biblical" concepts and methods vary from biblical counselor to biblical counselor. For example, most biblical counselors integrate psychological concepts in some fashion, often incorporating humanistic or behavioral psychology that has been spiritualized, so they sound as though they were biblically consistent.

Teachings such as Freudian psychic determinism and the unconscious or Jungian dream analysis and the collective unconscious or behaviorism or inner healing, etc. (without using those specific terms), are rampant among those who nevertheless claim to counsel sola Scriptura . Exploring the past and looking for causes for sinful decisions based upon one's parents or one's environment or a life trauma are also common. Some specialize in deliverance from demons while others major in the unbiblical four temperaments. Most of those who practice the healing of memories would argue that they are adhering to the Scriptures rather than psychology. However, as the Bobgans point out, "Each counselor uses the Bible according to some combination of personal experience, secular theories, biblical doctrines, and common sense....While some have attempted to control the field through certificates, diplomas, degrees, and organizations, there is no single model or method of biblical counseling" (p. 49). Yet for all the differences among biblical counselors, including those who attempt strictly to adhere to God's Word, they all have this in common: they have set themselves up (some unwittingly) as experts in solving the problems of living that are adversely affecting Christians. This problem-solving approach is plagued with problems of its own, as the Bobgans demonstrate.

First of all, neither the God of the Bible, nor His instructions in Scripture, nor the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer is about fixing our daily mental, emotional, and behavioral problems. Every believer is a new creature in Christ, and his objective in life is to have Christ formed in him. That is the process of sanctification-being set apart from the ways, means, and lusts of the world to a life that is in submission to the Lord and in which choices are made that are pleasing to Him, the One with whom every true believer will spend eternity. It's a growth process, which at times involves sufferings and trials that the Lord allows in our lives to help us depend upon Him and mature in our relationship with Him. Yet most biblical counseling is trapped in a "just fix the problem" or "get rid of the symptoms" mentality and mode, along with other concepts that are contrary to the biblical way. The Bobgans write,

Problem-centered counseling appeals to the flesh of both the counselor and the counselee....The counselor appears as the expert who has it all together and who is able to fix the one who does not....The appeal to the counselees' flesh exists because the counselees can present their case usually without being contradicted, condemned, or judged, but with gaining great sympathy and support. The more directly problem-centered one becomes, the more self-centered the counseling is. Problem-centeredness and self-centeredness are linked.

[J]ust as the psychotherapists are looked up to as experts in the world, so too have their problem-centered biblical counterparts been looked up to as experts in the church. The counselor is often regarded more highly than the pastor, and counseling is often regarded more highly than the teaching, preaching, and evangelizing. (pp. 24-25)

Preaching, teaching, and evangelizing are gifts of the Holy Spirit. Counseling, however, is noticeably absent from among the gifts. Why is counseling missing, especially since high profile counselors and others in that position are arguably the most influential people, either nationally or at the local church level, in the evangelical community today? The answer is that counseling is not a biblical ministry. Those who function as counselors (biblical or otherwise) are erroneously involved in an activity that is primarily a function of the Spirit of Christ. He is our Counselor. More often than not, counselors supplant the Spirit of Christ as they try to do in the life of a believer what only God can do. They attempt to peer into the heart of the counselee, grasping for motivations, connections, sin inducements, and other insights, in order to remedy troubling conditions. They are grasping at straws because such an activity can only result in man's speculations at least, and, even more important, it displaces the convicting, correcting, and comforting ministry of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God as the only true "discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Hebrews:4:12) .

So, if psychological counseling is out, and biblical counseling is rarely--if ever--biblical, what are believers left with? The "old paths"! The old paths, as applied in this article, are simply the way God wants us to minister to one another. One third of the Bobgans' book is titled "What Can Be Done: Christ-centered Ministry." What they supply from the Word of God is so simple and true that it no doubt will seem alien, even incredulous, to multitudes of believers conditioned by psychology's pervasive influence on the church. That, sadly, is not a wild guess. I've experienced such a reaction for years when I've voiced my concerns about the unbiblical nature of psychological counseling.

Let me give you a current situation, which I believe is analogous to what the Bobgans are encouraging in the Body of Christ. I hope that it will help some to better understand. The American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association have spent billions of dollars, over decades of years, searching for the cure for cancer and heart disease respectively. At some point, both organizations recognized that a better strategy would be to promote a program of prevention rather than putting all their time, energy, and funding into curing the illnesses themselves. Today, they are mostly committed to recommending changes in a person's lifestyle that would help to prevent cancer and heart disease, particularly through health-sustaining diet and exercise. It's a secular "old path" plan, and it has produced "good" results for those who have followed their advice. As Benjamin Franklin noted, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Yet many have decided, "We will not walk [or run or bicycle] therein." The discipline necessary for a lifestyle involving a beneficial diet and reasonable exercise is not high on their agenda, preferring (wishfully) a quick fix or cure of the disease, should it show up in their bodies.

God's "old paths" are primarily preventive . The emphasis is on the growth and maturity of the believer. Again, the Bobgans point the reader to the Scriptures: "'The just shall live by faith' (Habbakuk 2:4; Romans:1:17Galatians:3:11Hebrews:10:38) . Therefore faith in all that Christ has done (to overcome sin, secure salvation, provide new life and power through the process of sanctification, and give believers the solid hope of eternity with Him) constitutes the primary emphasis of all New Testament ministry" (p. 171). A believer's life in Christ is to be led of the Holy Spirit, who dwells within every believer, enables him to make righteous choices, helps him to be fruitful, to understand and know better the Word and the Word made flesh, to love Jesus more, and thus to do what pleases Him. Such an approach is not a method or technique or program or anything else conjured up by man but rather a miraculous life superintended by God. It is a life of faith, without which it is impossible to please God (Hebrews:11:6) . Problem-centered counseling is tragic by comparison. The Bobgans write,

Becoming mature in the faith far surpasses any change in circumstances or immediate solutions to temporal problems, though temporal change does accompany spiritual growth. What we are talking about here has eternal consequences, not just solutions that make people feel better for the time being. (pp. 171-72)

Those who have concluded that what the Bobgans are urging is impractical for dealing with life's problems need to consider this: which troubling issues can you think of that do not involve "the lust of the flesh," i.e., sin? They need to take that up with the Apostle Paul, who, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote, "This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would....If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit" (Galatians:5:16-17, 25) . These are God's instructions, His "old paths," which the church has followed successfully for two millennia. Nothing could be more practical . Furthermore, His words are for every believer, every one of whom He has equipped to minister to fellow believers. That is the clarion call of Person to Person Ministry:

By God's grace and enabling, believers in the Lord Jesus Christ who are walking daily with Him and maturing in the faith through the trials of life are already equipped to minister to fellow believers who are suffering from the same kinds of problems generally addressed by trained counselors. These believers are equipped to do this by what Christ has already done in them through the Word of God, the work of the Holy Spirit, the trials of life, the fellowship of the saints, and opportunities to serve.

Paul wrote the following for every one of us who desires to follow the Lord and minister in His truth: "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ" (Galatians:6:1-2) .

This should be the heart's cry of each of us: Lord, concerning the "old paths"--Your ways--help Your Body of believers "to walk therein."   TBC

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Guest Post: The Shemitah

The Shemitah

by: David James

Oct 1 2014
In his book,  The Harbinger , Jonathan Cahn argues for a direct connection between what has happened in America since 9/11/2001 and what happened to ancient Israel based on what he believes is a template of God’s judgment in Isaiah:9:10. In the chapter titled “The Shemitah,” Cahn argues that he has discovered the mystery of the  Shemitah , which he claims is now affecting the United States.
In the Law of Moses, God commanded Israel to observe the seventh day of the week as a day of rest, and they were also to observe a Sabbath year, called the  Shemitah , as a  year  of rest. Every seventh year there was to be no planting, reaping, or any other work in the fields. In addition, all who owed money to creditors were to be “released” (the meaning of Shemitah) from their debts (Dt 15:1-2). In turn, God promised to provide enough in the sixth year to more than meet Israel’s needs during the seventh year (Lv 25:20-21).
If Israel failed to keep His commandments, however, including the Sabbaths, the Lord warned: “I will scatter you among the nations and draw out a sword after you; your land shall be desolate and your cities waste….Then the land shall rest and enjoy its Sabbaths…for the time it did not rest…when you dwelt in it” (Lv 26:33-35).
Centuries later, Israel experienced precisely this judgment because they had abandoned God’s laws and turned to pagan gods. Because Judah had not observed the Shemitah for seventy cycles, God sent the nation into captivity for seventy years.
This imposed Shemitah judgment was very specific and involved  only the nation of Israel . Since no Gentile nations were ever obligated to keep the Shemitah, there is no scriptural basis for suggesting that any other nation would ever experience an imposed Shemitah judgment. Yet, this is precisely what Jonathan Cahn suggests that America has experienced.
Cahn also wrongly implies that the Shemitah is essentially a universal  principle  that is somehow integrated into the order of the universe. Cahn makes the following assertion in his book:
[KAPLAN] “Seven years—the biblical period of time that concerns a nation’s financial and economic realms.” [This and all quotes are taken from: Jonathan Cahn,  The Harbinger  (Lake Mary, FL: Frontline, Charisma Media/Charisma House Book Group, 2011)]
Although Israel was on a seven-year economic cycle, no biblical passages support Cahn’s idea that natural economic cycles of seven years exist for nations in general. Furthermore, financial experts have not identified any seven-year economic cycle.
Yet, Cahn further states:
[THE PROPHET] “The sign of the Shemitah, given to a nation that has driven God out of its life and replaced Him with idols and the pursuit of gain. The issue is the Shemitah as a sign of judgment, the sign that specifically touches a nation’s financial and economic realms.”
There is no scriptural basis for interpreting recent events as a sign that God is imposing a Shemitah judgment on the United States or the world. Even if America were in the very midst of God’s judgment, there are no passages that connect any  signs  to a Shemitah-type judgment for any nation but Israel.
In ancient Israel, the Israelites were not to work the land at all, and wealthy lenders were required to forgive debts owed to them. Then, when Israel turned from God, He  imposed  the Shemitah on Israel by sending the nation into captivity, collapsing the entire economy. Everyone lost everything.
Cahn goes to great lengths in trying to show from the Bible and history that God has imposed a Shemitah upon America, and yet he fails because nothing has happened in America that even roughly parallels Israel’s being forced to leave the land completely fallow.
Similarly, a study of the credit and debt situation reveals nothing indicating that America’s economy is under judgment as Israel’s was. Cahn tries to support his claims based on the failure of a few large financial institutions (Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers, and AIG). However, even though these were significant factors in the economic crisis of 2008, this doesn’t follow “the ancient pattern” when Israel was invaded and overrun by a foreign army with everything of value being destroyed or carried away.
In sharp contrast, what America suffered on 9/11 was relatively minor when compared to Israel’s complete destruction. Even though the US and global economies went through a serious contraction and many people were hurt financially, it wasn’t close to the scale of the devastation in ancient Israel.
Cahn himself notes that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were rescued by the Federal Financial Housing Authority, and although Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy did rattle the US and world markets, Cahn’s analysis is filled with overstatements that don’t reflect reality:
[THE PROPHET] “Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy—the largest bankruptcy in American history up to that date. It would be called the collapse heard around the world. The fall of Lehman Brothers would, in turn, trigger the collapse of Wall Street and the global financial implosion.”
The fact is that Wall Street did not collapse, and the global economy did not implode. They were seriously damaged, but they simply did not collapse. And though the Lehman Brothers failure was staggering in terms of dollars, if their assets and debt are added together, the $1.25 trillion represents only 0.6 percent of the world economy and is exceedingly insignificant when compared to what happened when God imposed a seventy-year Shemitah upon Israel.
Cahn continues to try to make his case by citing the September 29, 2008, stock market crash as the “greatest single-day stock market crash in Wall Street history.”  Although it was the largest point drop , it wasn’t close to the biggest  percentage  drop, which is the only thing that matters. In ancient Israel,  everything  was wiped away, which is not what happened to America. And though the Dow Jones did drop 7 percent, Cahn fails to mention that this doesn’t even rank in the top ten drops in terms of percentages.
The Dow did drop about 25 percent in the two weeks following the defeat of a bailout bill on September 29, but even this doesn’t rank in the same league as the 1929 market collapse. At that time, not only did it fall 48 percent in just over two months, but by the end of the crash, stocks had lost 90 percent of their value. Even the Great Depression was not of the same relative magnitude as what ancient Israel experienced.
The overstatements continue:
[THE PROPHET] “The crashing of stock markets across the world meant that the funds invested had vanished and would not be paid back, at least not for the foreseeable future. Both credit and debt, trillions of dollars worth of credit and debt, had, in effect, been canceled. ‘ Every creditor who has made a loan to his neighbor will let it go, will cancel it ’ . . . a Shemitah.”
… [KAPLAN] “And when the stock market crashed in September 2008, how much was wiped away?”
[THE PROPHET] “All the gains of the past seven years, and then some.”
How can Cahn maintain that all credit and debt from 2001 to 2008 had “in effect, been canceled?” Of course, there were losses, but nowhere close to all debt was wiped away. If all debt had been wiped away, those who found themselves in upside down mortgages could have kept their homes and owed nothing. Furthermore, although the biblical Shemitah involved the cancellation of all debt, Cahn has redefined it to include  the wiping out of savings and investments .
Cahn then goes so far as to argue for a  global  imposed Shemitah:
[THE PROPHET] “…The global economic collapse was, itself, one colossal Shemitah made up of countless smaller ones.”
But in fact the world’s economy did not collapse.
Cahn goes on to point out that September 29, 2008 was also the 29th of Elul on the Hebrew calendar, the end of the year, according to Hebrew reckoning, when all debts among the Jewish people are to be forgiven according to the Shemitah laws. He further notes that seven years earlier on Elul 29 (September 17, 2001, on the Gregorian calendar) the largest stock market crash up to that time happened in the wake of 9/11.
[THE PROPHET] “Take note…. A seven-year period that begins with a stock market crash and ends with a second stock market crash…a seven-year period framed by the two greatest stock market crashes in Wall Street history...”
[KAPLAN] “A seven-year cycle beginning and concluding with two massive remissions of credit and debt...the Shemitah”
Admittedly the timing is interesting, but is it significant? Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac collapsed on September 7. Lehman Brothers’ stock dropped 45 percent on September 9 and announced a $4 billion dollar loss on September 10. And then on September 11, Lehman’s stock “took a second precipitous plunge.” But why is September 11 considered  the  significant date and not September 15, when Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy? Or why not September 9, when the drop started? Or why not September 7? Cahn’s argument is arbitrary and seems to be “cherry-picking” evidence to strengthen his case while ignoring related evidence that does not support or undercuts his arguments.
The author cannot have it both ways by arguing for exact precision to the day but then arguing for “in-the-ballpark” dates to make a similar point, switching between the Hebrew and Gregorian calendars. Someone has well said, “If you torture statistics long enough, they will confess to anything.”
Another feature of Cahn’s argument is what he calls “a mystery of sevens,” which also relies on numbers and statistics. Cahn cites three instances where “seven” appears in association with the Shemitah and thus “demonstrates divine intervention”:
  1. $700 billion: The amount of Lehman Brothers’ rejected government bailout request
  2. 7%: The size of the stock market crash in 2008 on the day Congress voted down the bailout
  3. 777: The size of that market crash in points
Of course, the number seven clearly has special significance throughout the Bible, but this is not the issue. The fact is that the above numbers come from a very large universe of statistics that includes many different numbers. Using this method, the author could have been trying to prove any number from zero through nine and found the evidence he was looking for.
In trying to demonstrate the validity of the “mystery of sevens,” Cahn appeals to what he says are very precise numbers. Therefore, if precision is claimed to prove God’s involvement, the numbers actually do need to be precise. Anything less proves nothing more than an interesting coincidence.
The first issue is the supposed sign of the 777-point drop on September 29, 2008. Late that day, reported the drop as 778 points. This was because the actual figure was 777.68 points. If the Lord were trying to draw attention to what He was doing, causing the drop to be precisely 777.77 or 777.00 certainly would be no more difficult for Him than 777.68. But as it is, the actual figure is just another number. Furthermore, while the DOW is important, the NASDAQ and S&P 500 indices are also significant indicators, and they fell 9.1 percent and 8.8 percent respectively. Would it have also been a sign from God if the DOW had fallen 8 percent but the NASDAQ had fallen 7 percent?
And, in fact the drop was not exactly 7.0 percent. Rather, it was 6.98 percent. Though this may seem nit-picky, when the basis for one’s arguments is precise numbers, they need to be precise. Would it also have been a sign if the numbers were 6.51 percent or 7.49 percent? How much could it be off and still be a sign? How difficult would it have been for God to cause a drop of exactly 7.0 percent? Or better still, 7.7 percent, or even 7.77 percent?
If someone claims to be able to discern what God has done based on precise numbers, then precision should be expected. Yet the degree of Cahn’s “precision” is both arbitrary and inconsistent. The numbers are interesting—but not amazing and clearly not the sure signature of the hand of God. The historical evidence for a Shemitah judgment is just not there.
Although the above strongly mitigates against Cahn’s theory that God has imposed a Shemitah on the United States, the theological problem of proposing that God is using the Shemitah as a  principle  for nations other than Israel is even greater. The Sabbath day and the Sabbath year, the Shemitah, were exclusively part of the Law of Moses. If God had any expectations with regard to the Sabbath day or a seven-year economic or agricultural cycle apart from the Law, there would be corresponding revelation. However, the Scriptures are silent on this, both before and after the Law, and they never involved any nation except Israel.
The New Testament never indicates any Sabbath-keeping at either the day or year level for believers after Christ’s death on the cross, but the writer of Hebrews does give additional insight into the matter of the Sabbath for believers in Christ. In order to prepare ethnically Jewish Christians for the soon-coming destruction of the temple, in chapter 4, the author states that those who have believed the gospel have already entered into God’s Sabbath rest by faith—which would include both the Sabbath day and the Sabbath year (Heb:4:1-3, 8-10). Therefore,  because Christ fulfilled the Law, God does not impose a Sabbath day or a Sabbath year  (the Shemitah) upon believers.
Nor does God any longer expect Jews or any nation to continue keeping the Sabbath day or Shemitah. Rather, His desire is that all would enter His Sabbath rest through faith in Christ. There is no biblical basis whatsoever for Cahn’s theory concerning an imposed Shemitah. Quite the opposite is true—his theory runs counter to the Word of God and the gospel.
Jonathan Cahn’s suggestion that America may be under an imposed Shemitah is antithetical to the biblical concept of the Sabbath laws given to Israel alone and the fulfillment of those laws for believers in Christ. This doesn’t mean that God will not judge the nations, including America. This doesn’t mean that His judgment is not already underway. It may very well be—and if so, it is well deserved. However, whatever the judgment is or will be, it is not an imposed Shemitah judgment connected with Isaiah:9:10.
Adapted from chapter 14 of  The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction

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