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If you remember the story of Balak and Balaam from the book of Numbers you probably remember that Balaam didn’t accomplish what Balak asked. But it turns out, Balaam was quite effective, just in another way.

Balak, the king, originally tried to hire Balaam, a prophet, to curse Israel (Numbers 22:1-6). Balaam was interested in the money, and was almost killed on his way to meet Balak, saved by his faithful donkey who stopped him short of the sword of the angel of the Lord (Numbers 22:23, 25, 27). The LORD prohibited Balaam from cursing Israel, in fact, the LORD caused Balaam to pronounce a verbal blessing on the, which only made Balak more irritated (Numbers 23:11-12).

However, a few chapters later, we learn that Balaam had some effective advice.

“Behold, these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people to act treacherously against the LORD in the incident in Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the LORD” (Numbers 31:16).

The “incident” was the men of Israel taking Midianite women, committing sexual immorality with them, and then worshipping their gods. The Israelites weren’t pure in their relationships or their religion, and according to Moses, the temptations came about due to Balaam’s strategy.

Jesus refers to some in Pergamum who were holding to Balaam’s teaching (Revelation 2:14), and they were those indulging themselves similarly in immorality and idolatry.

But we should know better and not listen to anyone who “does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness” (1 Timothy 6:3).

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In our Omnibus class for adults we discussed On the Incarnation by Athanasius last Thursday night. It is a 1600 year-old book about God taking on flesh in Christ, and it is both accessible and encouraging. Near the end Athanasius wrote this:

“For as one cannot take in all the waves with one’s eyes, since those coming on elude the perception of one who tries, so also one who would comprehend all the achievements of Christ in the body is unable to take in the whole, even by reckoning them up, for those that elude his thought are more than he thinks he has grasped.” (107)

This is not a discouragement to stand on the beach and watch a wave, nor a discouragement to read the Bible and look for the Logos. It is a reminder that however great what we see is to us, the reality is even greater. We could sooner count all the oxygen molecules in the sea than we could count all the glories of the Son.

As just one example, from Jesus’ self-identification to the church in Smyrna, He is “the first and the last, who died and came to life.” Where would our meditation on the waves of implications end?

At the Lord’s Table we “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” I still get struck meditating on why Paul chose “death” as the element proclaimed. When we know who Jesus is, His death is the element that is the most surprising, even scandalous. How could “the first and the last” die? In some ways His resurrection is more obvious, what sticks out is that He died.

His death is His glory, and our redemption. Even though we cannot count the flood of blessings that come to us in Christ, we should swim in thanks.

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Let’s be honest (as we always should be anyway). As Christians good works are often hard, sometimes harder than others. What’s even harder than good works is a hot cup of zeal in your heart, the sort of first love affections that yield the fruit of the first kinds of good works (think Christ’s message to the Ephesians in Revelation 2:4-5).

There are a number of Scriptural ways to examine our works, to make sure that they are spiritual and that they glorify our Father in heaven, not just our names on earth. One way we get a good sense that our works are truly good is when others lie about us.

This is a level of blessing that not everyone is ready for, or even wants. But it is the right thing.

Jesus topped off all the blesseds in His sermon with this:

“Blessed are you when others revile and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” (Matthew 5:11)

Peter heard Jesus sermon, and later wrote to his beloved:

If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. (1 Peter 4:14)

Earlier in his letter Peter exhorted them,

Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:12)

In Revelation 2:8-11 the Christians in Smyrna were slandered, and yet the lies against them couldn’t touch their spiritual riches.

So, Christian, don’t you speak falsely. And also, Christian, be ready to be insulted and misrepresented and falsely accused. Not only can you not guarantee that everyone will speak truthfully about you, your good works should be so obvious that they’ll have to lie about you to criticize your works.

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Here’s a good question for considering how to bless others: Is what I’m doing making it easier for them to give thanks to the Lord?

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Love, good works, fellowship, and eschatology go together. They are like ingredients in a pot, and each of us has a spoon.

Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

The command is to consider, to think, to strategize. The strategy should include how we can get our spoon into the pot; elbow grease will probably be required. The goal of stirring is to get love and good works simmering, and the order is right. It’s not just certain behavior, but good stuff done from deep affections. This means we’re not looking for a hundred and fifty neighbor-tyrants, The Sanctimonious Sisterhood of Bossy Pants.

We stir the pot, and we belong in the pot, not neglecting to meet together. And we do it knowing that the Day is on its way. We are closer today than yesterday, and we want all of us to be ready.

One of the encouragements is eating and drinking together at the Lord’s supper. You can also target a word-blessing at a friend before or after the service. Your loud and glad singing gets heard by your church family, not just by God. Stir up each other, and be easily stirred up (to love and good works) by them.

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In John’s vision of the Lord, he saw one like the son of man in the midst of the lampstands (Revelation 1:13). When John wrote the words of Jesus to the Ephesians, Jesus identified Himself as the “one who walks among the seven golden lampstands” (2:1). Jesus is with His body, He is among His church in her various locations. He is present. This also means that He knows what’s happening.

After identifying Himself, in every message to each of the seven churches Jesus says “I know.” He knows their endurance, tribulation, poverty, location, faith, service, reputation, and above all, He knows their works. He knows what is good; there is something good named for six of the seven. He knows what is bad; He calls five of the seven churches to repent.

I’m open to the idea that there is an angel of the church in Marysville, though we don’t have an inspired letter addressed to us. Yet by way of application we are still a lampstand, and Christ is present among us. We are a supernatural organism, an outpost of the heavenly realm. For the saved, we are filled with the Spirit of Christ. He dwells in us and among us. And He knows.

Perhaps what we need to repent of is low levels of love like the Ephesians. Perhaps it is the photo negative of Ephesians, and we need to repent of not fighting for the truth. Maybe we are compromising with the syncretistic ways of the world, and find it easier to be quiet rather than to conquer. Jesus knows our corporate problems, and He knows your heart. Make it right with Him.

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In A Centennial Reader, James Bratt introduces Abraham Kuyper’s inaugural address for the Free University of Amsterdam, and why opening this institution was so important for Kuyper:

“Higher education and advanced research had enormous importance for him: religiously, for exploring and enhancing God’s creation; strategically, for (re)shaping society and culture; socially, for raising the self-respect and life-chances of common people.”

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On reading doctrinal books rather than devotional books for sake of deepening devotion:

“For my own part I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await many others. I believe that many who find that ‘nothing happens’ when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that their heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.”

—C.S. Lewis, Preface to On the Incarnation

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There are only two uses of the adjective form of “Lord” (κυριακῇ) in the New Testament. One is in Revelation 1:10 regarding the “Lord’s day.” The other is in 1 Corinthians 11:20 regarding the “Lord’s supper.” We use these descriptions many centuries later because they are inspired descriptions. This adjective is worth keeping.

It is also worth noting that when John saw the vision of the resurrected Lord, he fell at Jesus’ feet as though dead. It is an awesome thing to behold the Son of Man in His glory. Such humility is appropriate before the Lord, and when we consider what a “lordy” day is to be, and when we consider what a “lordy” meal is to be, we are certainly intended to see something special.

But Jesus’ response to John’s humility is also instructive. This dazzling Lord, clothed with divine glory, put His hand on John, told him not to fear, and announced His authority over life and death for John’s good. Don’t fear because He is the living one. Don’t fear because He died, and behold, is alive forever more. Don’t fear because He has the keys of Death and Hades.

While it is possible to abuse the Lord’s kindness to us, which some of the Corinthians had done, the Lord’s supper is a reminder of His authority and His grace. It is a reminder that the one who invites us to eat and drink shares Himself, His life, and His kingdom with us.

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Perhaps my favorite Preface of all time is that by C.S. Lewis for On the Incarnation by Athanasius. Here’s an example, on why we should read old books:

“Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.”

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