THE DIAMOND

diamond

“Some things in [Paul’s] letters are hard to understand, things the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they also do to the rest of the scriptures.” –2 Peter 3:16

Do you find things in scripture “hard to understand”? Paul Washer says, “Join the exclusive club.” Should we expect anything less from the “Most High” who must “stoop to look down on heaven and earth” (Psa 113:4-5)? It is not an easy thing to comprehend the “eternal God” (Isa 40:28) whose power is “awesome” and wisdom is “limitless” (Psa 147:5), from whose mouth comes “everything—both calamity and blessing” (Lam 3:38), whose thoughts and ways are far beyond our comprehension (Job 36:26; Psa 139:6; Isa 55:9).

God’s glorious gospel is a colossal diamond before tiny human beings (ex: Isa 40:15). Yet because men are wicked (Rom 3:10-12) who themselves “walk in darkness” (Isa 9:2), God shrouds His glory (Psa 18:11; Exo 20:21). Yet for those who approach God in true faith (Heb 11:6) diligently seeking His stunning wisdom (Jam 1:5-6) and meekly led by His Spirit (Mat 5:5; Rom 8:12-15), they have their true sight restored (2Co 5:7; Luke 18:42; 24:31). By the light of God’s word (Psa 119:105), God illuminates one glorious facet at a time (Exo 33:18-23). He transforms a mundane mind (Rom 12:2) into “the mind of Christ” capable of understanding glorious truths (1Co 2:14-16). He removes spiritual scales from our eyes (Acts 9:18) and reveals things too wonderful to behold (Job 42:3-6; Psa 139:6).

O God, bless us this day with new insight. Show us just a facet of your glory!

Billy Neal

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Divided We Fall

Divided We Fall

The men of Ephraim were called to arms, and they crossed to Zaphon and said to Jephthah, “Why did you cross over to fight against the Ammonites and did not call us to go with you? We will burn your house over you with fire.” And Jephthah said to them, “I and my people had a great dispute with the Ammonites, and when I called you, you did not save me from their hand. And when I saw that you would not save me, I took my life in my hand and crossed over against the Ammonites, and the Lord gave them into my hand. Why then have you come up to me this day to fight against me?” Then Jephthah gathered all the men of Gilead and fought with Ephraim. And the men of Gilead struck Ephraim, because they said, “You are fugitives of Ephraim, you Gileadites, in the midst of Ephraim and Manasseh.” And the Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan against the Ephraimites. And when any of the fugitives of Ephraim said, “Let me go over,” the men of Gilead said to him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” When he said, “No,” they said to him, “Then say Shibboleth,” and he said, “Sibboleth,” for he could not pronounce it right. Then they seized him and slaughtered him at the fords of the Jordan. At that time 42,000 of the Ephraimites fell.

Jephthah judged Israel six years. Then Jephthah the Gileadite died and was buried in his city in Gilead. — Judges 12:1-7, ESV

Men, as with Gideon in ch8, the Ephraimite neighbors of the Gileadites are furious that Jephthah did not call on the tribe of Ephraim to join in the battle against the Ammonites. The Ephraimites come to Jephthah in anger, “Why did you cross over and fight against Ammon, and you did not call us to go with you?” The Ephraimites threaten to burn Jephthah’s house down with him in it. Jephthah answers, he did call on them and they refused to answer.

Remember that Gideon employed some strategic and diplomatic psychology. Jepthah uses his weapons and men. Ephraim regarded Gilead as a land of fugitives and outcasts. Gilead was made up largely of people who fled Ephraim and Manasseh to form their own identity. The Gileadites defeated the Ephraimites and sent them fleeing. Gilead also seized the crossing point of the Jordan River. As the fleeing Ephraimites approached, Gilead would test the people by their accent. Anyone with the Ephraimite accent would there be killed. 42,000 Ephraimites fell dead at the Jordan.

Jephthah continued to judge another six years, and then died, and was buried in Gilead. The arrogance of Ephraim is growing with the discord and disunity in all of Israel’s tribes. But even in the disunity and the failing of Israel as a whole to conduct themselves as children of the Most High God, the Lord God stands with those flawed individuals who trust what He says.

In our own time we find increasing national disunity. Our own great land is turning tribal with cultural identity, class, political and academic distinctions. Like Gilead and Ephraim, we too turn to fight each other instead of our common enemies. We too are jealous of each other’s victories. At what point do we recognize our personal failings to acknowledge the divisive strategies of our common spiritual enemies?

Move forward, men, striving with our brothers in unity. Celebrate with others who find victory by the Lord. Send the glory of our efforts back to the Lord instead of puffing up.

Vance Durrance

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God Has Already Spoken

God Has Already Spoken

“The Lord was pleased that Solomon made this request. God said to him, “Because you asked for the ability to make wise judicial decisions, and not for long life, or riches, or vengeance on your enemies, I grant your request and give you a wise and discerning mind superior to that of anyone who has preceded or will succeed you. Furthermore, I am giving you what you did not request—riches and honor so that you will be the greatest king of your generation. If you follow my instructions by obeying my rules and regulations, just as your father David did, then I will grant you long life.” –1 Kings 3:10-14

Notice how it says “the Lord was pleased” with Solomon’s request for wisdom. Yet it is certain that God was not pleased with all of Solomon’s wayward ways. For surely Solomon had already begun amassing horses (1Ki 4:26) from Egypt (1Ki 10:26-28) after making an alliance with Egypt, the former nation of bondage (1Ki 3:1). This was in direct violation of the law for the king to do (Deu 17:6). Furthermore, he was worshipping on the high places (v.2-3), also in violation of the very law (Deu 12:5) the king was commanded to copy and read (Deu 17:18-19).

We may wonder why God did not address any of these issues in the vision. Yet, need God repeat Himself when He has already spoken from His Word? Is not the stress of absolute obedience (v.14) a confirmation of all that has already been spoken by Him?

Too often we ask for visions and expect personal direction from God, while disregarding the Scriptures where He has already spoken all the truth we need. Did our Savior not say, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments,” (John 14:15)? Are we not commanded to teach disciples to “obey EVERYTHING” that Jesus commanded (Mat 28:20)? His promises (by His divine power) are sufficient to transform our lives and affections (2Pe 1:4), every word profitable for training in righteousness (2Ti 3:16). Yet are we seeking such wisdom in faithful diligence, or in doubtful neglect (Jam 1:5-8)? For blessings reside on the one who delights in meditating on God’s commands (Psa 1:2) and seeks for such wisdom as a priceless treasure (Pro 2:3-5; Mat 13:44-46).

“I will find delight in your commands, which I love. I will lift my hands to your commands, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes.” –Psalm 119:47-48

Billy  Neal

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Choose Your Role

Choose Your Role

“The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces; against them he will thunder in heaven. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king and exalt the power of his anointed.’” –1 Samuel 2:10, ESV

“This day I will give the corpses of the Philistine army to the birds of the sky and the wild animals of the land. Then all the land will realize that Israel has a God, and all this assembly will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves! For the battle is the Lord’s, and he will deliver you into our hand.’” –1 Samuel 17:46b-47, NET

Too often the account of David and Goliath is twisted into a prideful parable about pursuing selfish endeavors. We put ourselves in the place of David and cast as Goliath whatever obstacles we seek to conquer. But we are neither the author nor the director of life, although we seek to be such (Gen 3:4-6; Isa 14:14). The main characters and the battle have already been determined. The only available roles are the two supporting multitudes behind each challenger (1Sa 17:3).

How this also parallels the great battle scene in Revelation, where the anointed “King of kings” rides into battle. A great army rides behind Him and serves as witness to His single-handed elimination of His enemies with the sword of His mouth (before the bodies are fed to the birds of the air) (Rev 19:11-21).

Again, where do we stand in this battle?

“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” –Luke 11:23

Do you stand with the Lamb, your feet faithfully beside Him in obedience (Rev 14:1), clothed in righteous deeds among a conquering army (Rev 3:5) that then rides behind Him (Rev 19:14)? Are you of this armored army that simply stands (Eph 6:13) as witnesses to the chosen King’s conquering of the enemy (Acts 1:8), charging ahead into a battle that has already been won (1Sa 17:52)?

Or do you stand elsewhere? It matters not what the shape of the face, every idol is connected to the beast and wears a blasphemous name (Rev 13:1). Those who follow “might” and “proud words” ultimately worship the dragon (Rev 13:3-5) and are marked with the same number (Rev 13:17-18) and the same fate (Rev 20:15).

Let us see the clear distinction. Let us see Christ makes a clear divide (Mat 10:34-36). Let us choose this day our role, and call out to the multitudes to see there is no fence on which to sit. A decision must be made (Deu 30:19; Jos 24:15).

“Elijah approached all the people and said, ‘How long are you going to be paralyzed by indecision? If the Lord is the true God, then follow him, but if Baal is, follow him!’ But the people did not say a word.” –1 Kings 18:21, NET

Billy Neal

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Ruler of the Heart

ruler of the heart

Now when they told Jotham, he went and stood on top of Mount Gerizim, and lifted his voice and cried out. And he said to them:

“Listen to me, you men of Shechem, that God may listen to you!

“The trees once went forth to anoint a king over them. And they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us!’ But the olive tree said to them, ‘Should I cease giving my oil, with which they honor God and men, and go to sway over trees?’

“Then the trees said to the fig tree, ‘You come and reign over us!’ But the fig tree said to them, ‘Should I cease my sweetness and my good fruit, and go to sway over trees?’

“Then the trees said to the vine, ‘You come and reign over us!’ But the vine said to them, ‘Should I cease my new wine, which cheers both God and men,
and go to sway over trees?’

“Then all the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come and reign over us!’
And the bramble said to the trees, ‘If in truth you anoint me as king over you, then come and take shelter in my shade; but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon!’

“Now therefore, if you have acted in truth and sincerity in making Abimelech king, and if you have dealt well with Jerubbaal and his house, and have done to him as he deserves— for my father fought for you, risked his life, and delivered you out of the hand of Midian; but you have risen up against my father’s house this day, and killed his seventy sons on one stone, and made Abimelech, the son of his female servant, king over the men of Shechem, because he is your brother— if then you have acted in truth and sincerity with Jerubbaal and with his house this day, then rejoice in Abimelech, and let him also rejoice in you. But if not, let fire come from Abimelech and devour the men of Shechem and Beth Millo; and let fire come from the men of Shechem and from Beth Millo and devour Abimelech!” And Jotham ran away and fled; and he went to Beer and dwelt there, for fear of Abimelech his brother.  — Judges 9:7-21, NKJV

Men, Abimelech, the half brother of Gideon, has convinced his tribe to crown him king over them. After being made king, Abimelech slaughters his 70 brothers, leaving only young Jotham who had hid. After Jotham was told of his brothers, he climbs Mount Gerizim and projects his voice over all of Shechem in the Bible’s first parable. In three acts, a fruit bearing plant is offered kingship, but the plant denies the offer in favor of producing their fruit. The olive, the fig, and the vine all were content to be fruit bearers. Finally, the bramble is offered the rule, and accepts the offer, on one condition: those subject to the rule of the bramble must take shelter in its shade or let the fire of the bramble devour them.

Bramble are simply briers and thorny undergrowth. They produce no shade except for those that are belly down in the dirt. If the bramble should catch fire, it consumes everything taking shelter in it. Abimelech is the bramble suggested here. Jotham calls out to all of Shechem to evaluate their actions through the lens of his parable. In short, Shechem has gotten the ruler they deserve, and they will share the same fate.

This principle is alive and well today. Good men rise as well as bad men rise to rule. The ruler is gauge of the people. In our own time, the willingness of the people to so easily be divided is on display by the polarity of our recent governing representation. The pendulum of party rule swings wildly by the ease at which our own hearts are enflamed by the offense of others. We don’t have a government of the people anymore because “we the people” aren’t willing to govern ourselves. We’re ruled by personal desire, fear, and pride just as our rulers are. We’re as easily deceived as Shechem, and worse, by our arrogance we failed to see it throughout history.

Move forward, men, letting the Lord God rule our hearts while we concern ourselves with what fruit we shall produce. May our character rise, and the caliber of our leadership rise with us.

Vance Durrance

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Let Freedom Ring

Let Freedom Ring

“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity to indulge your flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law can be summed up in a single commandment, namely, ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’ However, if you continually bite and devour one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh.”
–Galatians 5:13-16

“The freest man is a slave to a perfect master,” (Paul Washer).

Autonomy is an illusion. “You are slaves of the one you obey,” either of sin (resulting in death) or righteousness (Rom 6:16-18). We are but short-sighted beast, harnessed to one of two plows: the yoke of slavery or the yoke of Christ. The first is true bondage, for sin is a cruel master. The second is “easy and light”, for it is true freedom (Gal 5:1). For whom the Son sets free is free indeed (John 8:36).

So “live as free people, not using your freedom as a pretext for evil, but as God’s slaves,” (1Pe 2:16). We have not been released from shackles to chain ourselves to another vice. God freed His people so that we can worship Him (Exo 8:1). And for a season we do so in the midst of a dark and depraved generation, so that the light of Christ can shine through us (Mat 5:15-16; John 8:12). We do so as “pure children of God” when we “hold on to the word of life” (Phi 2:15-16) and “live by the Spirit, doing the will of the Father (John 6:38; Eph 5:7-10).

“Let freedom ring down through the ages from a hill called Calvary
Let freedom ring wherever hearts know pain
Let freedom echo through the lonely streets where prisons have no key
You can be free, and you can sing let freedom ring”

(Gaither Band, “Let Freedom Ring”)

Billy Neal

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Judges – Othniel, Part 2

Othniel

Then Caleb said, “Whoever attacks Kirjath Sepher and takes it, to him I will give my daughter Achsah as wife.” And Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, took it; so he gave him his daughter Achsah as wife. Now it happened, when she came to him, that she urged him to ask her father for a field. And she dismounted from her donkey, and Caleb said to her, “What do you wish?” So she said to him, “Give me a blessing; since you have given me land in the South, give me also springs of water.” — Judges 1:12-15

Men, before moving on, there are 2 points to make from the translations of names in these verses. 1st, the city that Othniel was asked to conquer was called Debir, or “giants” because of its inhabitants, and it was also called Kirjath-Sepher, meaning “city of books”. Kirjath-Sepher was a land of corrupted humanity. Giants were the product of fallen angels who had physical relations with human women in Genesis. Some scholars speculate that this corruption was part of God’s motivation for the flood of Noah. These Canaanites were so corrupted that the Lord wanted them eradicated.

When we think of an evil enemy, we often think that they would be dumb, barbaric, clumsy, and ugly. Take caution. Here, the enemy lives in the “city of books.” Books compel us to consider that they were learned people. They were likely sophisticated in academics, religious acts, and record keeping. The Canaanites were corrupted by the same enemy we face today, and that enemy is again at work in academics, false religion centers of “cultural agenda”, and they store information. The second point is in Achsah, the daughter of Caleb. Her name is translated “ornament” and is given in marriage to Othniel for conquering the city of Kirjath-Sepher.

We too have a hero in Jesus, who conquered corruption. The Father, our Lord God has given Jesus a bride, the church (believers). As Achsah was an ornament to Othniel, are you, a believing member of the total church, an ornament to Jesus and His mission on earth? As an ornament, what do we call attention to? Ornaments add luster to an arrangement, and distinguish seasons and occasions apart. Are we set apart from the common corruption that is of this world?

Move forward men. Do not underestimate our enemy. The enemy is conscious, intelligent, patient, cunning, and stores information for strategizing attacks on the people of God. Embody sanctification from the evil of flesh and this world through faith in Jesus, our Champion over sin.

Vance Durrance

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Judges – Othniel, Part 1

OthnielThen Caleb said, “Whoever attacks Kirjath-Sepher and takes it, to him I will give my daughter Achsah as wife.” And Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, took it; so he gave him his daughter Achsah as wife. Now it happened, when she came to him, that she urged him to ask her father for a field. And she dismounted from her donkey, and Caleb said to her, “What do you wish?” So she said to him, “Give me a blessing; since you have given me land in the South, give me also springs of water.” — Judges 1:12-15

Men, the story found here is a duplicate passage lifted from Joshua 15. The occurrence here took place during the time of Joshua, but for the sake of chronology and wholeness the 1st judge is introduced here among the account of the judges of Israel. Caleb has come and offers his daughter, Achsah, to whomever attacks and conquers the city Kirjath-Sepher. Othniel, the son of Kenaz, who was Caleb’s younger brother, conquered the city. Kirjath-Sepher translates “city of books”, and was likely a religious and academic center for the Canaanite people. Kirjath-Sepher is also another name for Debir which translates “giants.” It’s important that we keep the corrupted nature of the Canaanites in view. Many have taken an anti-semitic view of the Hebrew people by neglecting that fact.

Achsah, the daughter of Caleb, translates to “ornament.” After the city is conquered, Achsah urged Othniel to ask for a field. She then approaches Caleb her father and asks for a blessing for herself. She asks for rights to the water springs of the area of the field. Taking care not to over spiritualize, but acknowledging the picture given here: a son conquers corruption, the bride approaches her groom to ask for a field. In further cooperation she asks for a blessing of water for herself from her father. When a marriage is mutually cooperative, with each other and with our Father God, a complete and functional blessing is available, with provision established.

Move forward men, with the boldness of Othniel, Israel’s first judge. Go and conquer darkness when the opportunity comes. The Lord honored Othniel’s leadership with victory. The Lord blessed him with a wife, provision, authority and territory. Othniel translates, “God is my strength”, or “God’s lion.” Is He yours? Are you a lion of God? Will you and I be first in standing up to fight for the promises of God to be secured in our lives? Is your marriage an asset to each other? To God?

Vance Durrance

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Zion

ZionAnd it will come to pass in that day
That the mountains shall drip with new wine,
The hills shall flow with milk,
And all the brooks of Judah shall be flooded with water;
A fountain shall flow from the house of the Lord
And water the Valley of Acacias.

“Egypt shall be a desolation,
And Edom a desolate wilderness,
Because of violence against the people of Judah,
For they have shed innocent blood in their land.
But Judah shall abide forever,
And Jerusalem from generation to generation.
For I will acquit them of the guilt of bloodshed, whom I had not acquitted;
For the Lord dwells in Zion.”
— Joel 3:18-21

Men, the enemies of God’s people will be summoned to the valley of decision, where the Lord God will deliver His verdict and judgment. Those who take refuge in the Lord will be strengthened. All will know that the Lord is God.

Another time will come, and on that day the mountains will “drip with new wine.” Vineyards will be productive, but new wine also represents a season of celebration. “The hills shall flow with milk.” This tells us that in that day, grazing land will be rich enough to support cattle. Remember, Judah is barren at that time following waves of locusts.

Additionally, milk often represents Spiritual blessings in the Old Testament. It is mentioned roughly 50 times in the OT alone. In Joel’s time, water would be scarce in certain seasons, but in this coming time the rivers would flow.

Most importantly, it says a “fountain shall flow from the house of the Lord. In Solomon’s temple, a literal fountain flowed to feed the many baths for ceremonial preparation. There is likely dual meaning here, a literal fountain may flow, but as the Lord takes up residence in the new Millennial temple, His Spirit will flow out. Go back to Ezekiel for more.

The enemies of God are dealt with in this future time, and Judah is acquitted of all bloodshed from their history. The Lord will then dwell in Zion (Jerusalem). Zion means “fortification”. It is the area of Jerusalem where Abraham offered up Isaac, where David bought the threshing floor from the Jebusites and more.

Move forward men, with all the proclamation of judgment and shelter, famine and blessing, war and renewal, we can turn to v18 and recall, “And it WILL come to pass.” The Word of God is the reliable road map of what’s to come. Combining Joel with the whole of scripture grants us much to watch for. As prophecy unfolds, take care which side of God’s Word He may find us in. What is promised is as certain as if it’d already happened. May we each experience the Lord as Shelter, Deliverer, and Redeemer.

Vance Durrance

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SPIRIT AND TRUTH: THE SABBATH

Sabbath
“Have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless?” –Matthew 12:5, ESV

Notice here that Jesus reveals the hypocritical heart which trusts in its own understanding (Pro 3:5) and binds the letter of the law to man-made mandates (consider “profane” vs “guiltless”) (see also Mat 15:8-9). Such “worshipers” are seeking only to pacify God so they can live as they please. They do not love the LORD, and so find their self-righteous rules in conflict with God’s commands of service.

The Sabbath only functioned as a sign, a “reminder of the relationship” that sets God’s people apart from the world (Eze 20:20). Such inward separation (Rom 2:29) renders external symbols incapable of decisively designating the redeemed (Heb 10:4). “Hard hearts” necessitated provisions to be made in the law (Mat 19:8). “Stiff-necked people” (Exo 34:9) required a “tutor” or “disciplinarian” (Gal 3:24).

But “the time” is now (John 4:23) when Christ releases us from the guardian of the law to live as free sons (Gal 3:24-27). Regardless whether we consider “one day holier than other days” or whether we “regard them all alike,” all our days are dedicated to the LORD (Rom 14:5-6). Every day is a celebration of God’s lavish love, staggering strength, and wonderful ways. Every day we rest on His provision and finished work. Every day is devoted to the service of the LORD.

If we belong to Christ, are we not a “nation of priests” (1Pe 2:9) serving the “Lord of the Sabbath” in “something greater than the temple” (Mat 12:6-8)? Is not every day a priestly service, “doing good to others” (Mat 12:12; John 21:17; Gal 6:10) with the praise of His name continually on our lips (Heb 13:15)? Is not every day a joyous denial of selfish ambition (Phi 2:3) and idle talk (1Co 4:20; 2Ti 2:16), and instead a pursuit of the LORD’s pleasure (Eph 5:7-10)? Is not every day a remembrance and proclamation of what the LORD has done (1Co 1:5-7; 2Pe 3:1-2; 1Jo 5:11), a perpetual time of thanksgiving (Eph 5:20)? Is not every day a perpetual rest for God’s people—a relief from the curse of sin and the futility of labor (Ecc 2:11,26; Heb 4:9-10)? Is not every day about our Father’s business (Luke 2:49), following Him (2Co 5:7) and reflecting whatever He does (John 5:19)?

The question is not what day of the week are we willing to vacation from our careers where we find ultimate pleasure and identity, but whether we are indeed living as priests of God making every day a labor of love in His service to the worship of His name (1Th 1:3; 4:1)?

“Blessed and holy is the one who takes part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.” –Revelation 20:6, NET

Billy Neal
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