The Plain of the Jordan, then and now

I love the old photos of the Holy Lands. Here we have a approximately 117 year old stereoscopic photo of a shepherd and a boy overlooking the plain of the Jordan. (Stereoscopic Images of the Middle East).

plain of the jordan

The caption from the book says,

‎We are looking southeast, across the northern end of the Dead Sea, six miles to the south, over the mountains east of the Jordan.

‎Yonder on the right we can see the head of the Dead Sea, and beyond it the long line of the hills of Moab. There is the Jordan, after its long wandering, finding rest in the sea. See the once fruitful plain of the Jordan with only stunted trees and bushes growing upon it. Do you notice where the plain rises, nearer us, into a higher plateau, over which a path runs? There stood the Old Testament city of Jericho. All that is left of it now are those ruined heaps, and those are later than the Jericho of the Old Testament. This part of an old aqueduct on which these men are resting was probably here in Christ’s time, as its foundation can be traced out over the plain to the site of the New Testament Jericho, on the extreme right of our view. To the left in the distance are the few buildings that make up modern Jericho.*

‎Vivid pictures of the past surge before our mental vision as we look out over this site of once proud cities. We see Old Jericho defying the attack of Joshua (Joshua 6:1); we see the collapse of those sturdy walls under the strongest assault history records (Joshua 6:3–20). We see Elijah and Elisha walking down yonder path toward the river, while by the banks of Jordan waits the fiery chariot that shall part them. Centuries later we see Jesus coming up to the gate of another Jericho, while blind Bartimeus cries out to him from the wayside, and eager Zaccheus looks down upon him from the sycamore tree.

‎*See “Traveling in the Holy Land through the Stereoscope,” by J.L. Hurlbut, D.D.

The plain of the Jordan figures is in several passages. Here is one,

Lot looked around and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan toward Zoar was well watered, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.)So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. The two men parted company: (Genesis 13:10-11 NIV).

That area was home to five cities of the plain, not just Sodom and Gomorrah. Admah and Zeboiim, and also of course Zoar (AKA Bela) to which Lot and his daughters fled when the brimstone came down on Sodom.

Though the plain is a sulfurous wasteland now, once it was grassy and watered like Eden’s garden. And once again it will be!

And wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes. Fishermen will stand beside the sea. From Engedi to Eneglaim it will be a place for the spreading of nets. Its fish will be of very many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea. (Ezekiel 47:9-10).

Praise the Lord that what was once fresh and vibrant and living and beautiful, that now has become salty, dead, and barren, will once again be renewed. It will become “very good” again. (Genesis 1:31; 2:10-14)

Movie Review: The Great Gilly Hopkins

Summer time means movie time, but for the discerning Christian that often means spending more time looking for a suitable movie to view than actually getting to settle down and watch one. In my opinion, The Great Gilly Hopkins is an excellent movie for the entire family.

The IMDB synopsis of the movie:

A feisty foster kid’s outrageous scheme to be reunited with her birth mother has unintended consequences in The Great Gilly Hopkins, an entertaining film for the entire family. Gilly Hopkins (Sophie Nélisse) has seen more than her share of foster homes and has outwitted every family she has lived with. In an effort to escape her new foster mother Maime Trotter’s (Kathy Bates) endless loving care, Gilly concocts a plan that she believes will bring her mother running to her rescue. But when the ploy blows up in Gilly’s face it threatens to ruin the only chance she’s ever had to be part of a real family. Based on the award-winning young-adult novel by Katherine Paterson (Bridge to Terabithia)

The cast includes Sophie Nélisse as Gilly, in an excellent performance. Her face can carry a series of nuanced emotions that many actors of her age only dream of being able to convey. Also starring are Kathy Bates, Glenn Close, Bill Cobbs, Octavia Spencer, and others you’ll recognize.

I have a huge bias toward kid movies, not just movies for kids like Minions, ToyStory or Monsters Inc, but movies starring kids or about kids. Previously on my link to family-friendly movie reviews I’d reviewed Camp, Raising Izzie, The Blind Side, Walking Across Egypt, The Queen of Katwe, On The Way to School, and others, featuring various childrens’ plights.

Gilly Hopkins is one of the very best of this genre, and with a stellar cast and good production values it lived up to its potential. Gilly has been rejected, marginalized, and shuttled from foster home to foster home, though she has a distant living mother who simply doesn’t want her. This is a fact that Gilly understands deep down but refuses to accept, thus, her repeated attempts to contact and reunite with her mother are sprinkled throughout the film as its thread. In the meantime, Gilly’s barely submerged anger over her maternal rejection rebuffs all who try to get close to her, and Maime’s foster home is threatened to be the last stop before juvie.

Foster mother Bates has one other charge under her care and with the addition of Gilly their placid and loving home life is disrupted immediately. Gilly sneaks, provokes, steals, and eventually lashes out as Bates’ character Maime prays, loves, patiently and tirelessly attempts to show Gilly she has nothing to fear by accepting love.

Glenn Close makes her entrance as Gilly’s Grandmother after recently learning of Gilly’s existence. A custody tussle emerges and presents the vehicle for the climax of the movie.

Other reviewers say that the movie closely follows the book. In order to demonstrate Gilly’s character there are a couple of swear words, rebellion, and some theft, but there is no violence, immodesty, sex, or nudity in this movie. Though Christianity is mentioned, and Maime is seen praying, religion is not a major part of the overt script but patient love as an underlying aspect comes through clearly. It is a good movie for the entire family.

You (I) don’t have to say everything

There’s always controversy in the world. We live in a contentious world, led by a liar who is also a thief and a destroyer. Ergo…contention.

Contention is not restricted to the secular world. Watching the news has become a chore for those who still persist in viewing it is often seen as simply sandbox yelling and fisticuffs at a juvenile level. The news itself, when the ‘journalists’ get around to reporting it, is evil, heartbreaking, and soul denting.

Controversy also occurs in the Christian world. It has since the beginning, the very beginning. They killed Jesus, the only perfect, sinless, and loving human being ever to walk the earth. People who long for the early days of the first century church need to remember that false doctrines, false prophets, and false teachers crawled in like a tsunami of cockroaches and permeated the faith right away. The Apostles had to spend a lot of time stamping them out. It even affected Peter and Barnabas, who had to be corrected publicly by Paul. There were Nicolatians, the Judaizers, the Gnostics,  those who went the way of Balaam, individual false teachers going from town to town, the Pharisees, and many others who had to be opposed with a voice from the pastor or leader. Vigilance was necessary.

John Calvin said that a pastor must have two voices. One, for gathering the sheep; and another, for warding off and driving away wolves and thieves. The Scripture supplies him with the means of doing both.

However, you notice that the Bible’s writers did not spend a lot of time opining about the culture. They did not opine about every emperor transition, every tragedy, every riot or mob incident or organization or guild. There was one mention by Jesus of the Tower of Siloam incident which seemed to have happened “off stage” and was only spoken of as an object lesson for death.

Our hurry-up, social media, 24-hour news culture seems to demand from us an opinion on just about everything. These days, it demands that the opinion has to come with some form of outrage or offendedness.

I was a journalist for almost 8 years. I worked for weeklies, dailies, and contributed to a monthly. I was a news reporter so I had to be in tune with the culture and fresh news. I was an editor so I had to have an opinion about it, and write it in such a way so as to help people make sense in their daily lives of what they read. I won awards for news editorials. I was good at it and news opinion was a constant thread in my work no matter what other kind of journalism I was working at.

However all those habits and works were a detriment to me when it came time to be saved and begin a writing ministry. I had to go slower. I had to step out of the cycle. Most painfully, I had to learn that I didn’t have to have an opinion.

People smarter than me have opinions on the culture, on today’s news, on the secular and religious controversies. People who have more information have opinions. People with more talent have opinions. People who are men, the leaders and pastors have opinions.

I’ve mentioned that I really enjoy Samuel D. James’ writing. He published an essay recently called The Bible is Not a Slideshow for Your Hot Take

Mr James wrote about the aftermath of the news that comedian Robin Williams had taken his own life. It’s a good moment and a good impulse when the Chrisitan wants to capture the moment and impart some Christian worldview truths. “This is good, and normal,” he wrote. However, too often we do not have all the information necessary to do so in a God-honoring way. As time went on, more information came out that added dimension and nuance to the Robin Williams tragedy. If the Christian who had written superficially in the immediate aftermath did so in a less than God-honoring way (“Click to like!”) then it’s a tragedy for us too.

What I am saying is that cheaply thought, cheaply written responses to these events by definition betray the Christian commitment to the centrality of truth.

Aaron Armstrong wrote a similar essay with an ever more pointed headline: No You Don’t Have to Comment On Everything

I have opinions about politics, including American politics. I occasionally share those opinions. But usually, I prefer to keep my mouth shut. Why? It generally comes down to one thing. A proverb, in fact. “A fool does not delight in understanding, but only wants to show off his opinions” (Proverbs 18:2, CSB).

When the James White-Brannon Howse issue came to the fore, I had an opinion. When it continued, I had an opinion. As it subsided, I had an opinion. I didn’t share my opinion, except for one private query with my very short answer. Why? The men were handling it. Phil Johnson was on it. The men of GTY were on it. Others behind the scenes were on it. In the end Justin Peters and his church elders from Kootenai Church were on it. They knew more. They had a bigger platform. They were more humble. They had more spiritual insight. They possessed more experience.

I feel that the above mentioned controversy was a good test for me. It took a long time for me to subside the drive to be first, get a word in, have a published opinion. This was difficult for a hard-boiled journalist taught to be first, get a word in, have a published opinion. It’s even harder when the Lord has given the spiritual gift of exhortation. I always want to speak, but I don’t always have to speak. There is a time to speak and a time to be silent. (Ecclesiastes 3:7).

Sometimes I’ll feel led to have a public opinion. That’s OK. But not every time. Not all the time.

It IS more relaxing to not feel like I have to publicly weigh in or have a public position on every single controversy in the world. Sometimes in my news days I felt like a minnow in a washing machine. I don’t want to feel that way as a Christian. I want to exude a steadiness, a patience, a reserve, a solidity.

I’ll let my favorite pastor and one of Christendom’s most respected living teachers have the last word. Whether you feel led most times or only sometimes to state your position on social media or other forms of wide communication…

Who else longed to look into the Gospel besides angels?

We’re familiar with the part of the verse that tells us that angels long to look into these things. The full context of that verse is pasted below, it’s from 1 Peter.

Apostle Peter, formerly Simon, formerly a fisherman, is nearing the end of his life. It’s about the early 60s and Peter had been a leader of the church. The elect to whom Peter addressed his letter were beginning to suffer persecution, and his letter, which was to be circulated, was aimed at encouraging them. Peter strongly urges them to link doctrine and practice, a point he makes in chapter 1:12, 15, and he begins in the first chapter with elevating the glory of the Gospel. Here is where we remember that the Gospel is so great, so mysterious, that angels long to look into it.

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.
(1 Peter 1:10-12).

In reading the passage I realized that not only angels longed to look into the mystery of the Gospel, its wonder, atonement, wrath, crucified and sinless God-Man. The Prophets also wanted to know about it. They, who had the Spirit in them, inquired of the LORD as to the aspects of this religion they were required to speak. Here is the wonderful Barnes with his Notes:

Of which salvation – Of the certainty that this system of religion, securing the salvation of the soul, would be revealed. The object of this reference to the prophets seems to be to lead them to value the religion which they professed more highly, and to encourage them to bear their trials with patience. They were in a condition, in many respects, far superior to that of the prophets. They had the full light of the gospel. The prophets saw it only at a distance and but dimly, and were obliged to search anxiously that they might understand the nature of that system of which they were appointed to furnish the comparatively obscure prophetic intimations.

They were writing to us and for us. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, Peter wrote. Us. The elect saints in the church age would be the recipients of the further information than myriads of angels- who live with God- . and prophets – who personally spoke with God – longed to look.

Next time someone says they “want a fresh experience” or desire the Spirit to fall down and manifest some kind of event, or that they wish to hear Jesus personally calling, or that they feel stale and covet a miracle, please remind them of this glorious truth. We already have the benefit of the most glorious experience of all, the understanding of the plan of God with regard to His Son. The angels and the Prophets wanted to know about Him, who He would be, what would be his life and doctrine and character, and what would be the nature of the work which He would perform on behalf of the people. They didn’t know. They wished to know. They asked to know. They did not know. We do.

As Barnes says of verse 12,

By them that have preached the gospel unto you – The apostles, who have made known unto you, in their true sense, the things which the prophets predicted, the import of which they themselves were so desirous of understanding.

knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:18-21)
Have a blessed day, pondering these truths into which angels and Prophets inquired and longed to look.

Of Jesus’ love: My Value’s Fixed

Keith Getty’s song “My Worth Is Not In What I Own” is a lovely song. As Mr Getty describes the song at The Gospel Coalition, it

is a song that speaks to the subject of worth by reminding us that true significance is found in our identity in Christ. Kristyn and I recently wrote it with our good friend, Graham Kendrick, in an attempt to reclaim two glorious truths. The first is that we, as men and women created in the image and likeness of the Creator, are created with intrinsic worth.

But there’s another truth we want to convey: given our pervasive rebellion—what R. C. Sproul calls “cosmic treason”—against the king, we are all unworthy of the value with which he crowns us. Yet God sent his Son so our worth might be found in something far grander than ourselves. In Christ, no longer do we look to our own accomplishments and achievements to find significance. We look instead to his perfect work on our behalf, and there our souls find the true sense of identity we so crave. The chorus of our song draws from the rich imagery of 1 Peter, which depicts Jesus as an inheritance and treasure far greater than anything this world has to offer.

Getty goes on to describe some of the many themes within the song, but notes that the original thought was the phrase “my worth is not in what I own.”

However, another idea came to me that focuses on another part of the lyric. The value of the Gospel is inestimable. In 1 Peter, the passages from which Getty took the thoughts and doctrines for his song, angels and the Prophets longed to look into the glorious coming of the Savior. They were told they were serving not themselves but us. (1 Peter 1:12). They were extremely humbled and intrigued by the notion of the Savior and His coming in Gospel times.

In that sense, we who dwell in the Church Age, AKA the Age of Grace, AKA Gospel Times, have an inexpressible value, because we are saved by grace through faith in the Gospel. Since the Gospel is inestimably precious, we are inestimably precious. As the song says, “my value’s fixed.”

For those who struggle with low self-esteem, let this song and its lyrics and the verses behind it comfort you. Your value is fixed. Your identity is sure. After salvation, our value is linked to the Gospel which saved us by faith through the work of Jesus. Jesus cannot love us any less or any more than He does at this moment or since before the foundation of the world when He chose you. (Ephesians 1:4). His love for you is fixed and perfect.

If you struggle with a high self-esteem, then the same is true again. His cannot love you any less or any more than He does now. Your value is fixed. Nothing you say or do or work at or accomplish or are noted for will cause in Him an atom’s worth of further love, deeper love, or less love than expressed through His lovely Gospel and His saving. His love for you is not based on your worth, but His worth.

Be comforted by this. Be released from worry that anything you might say or do will cause a decrease in His love for you. Be released from the notion that anything you say or do will help yourself to greater love by Him. Your value is fixed in the palm of the One who already loves perfectly and completely.

14For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15from whom every familyc in heaven and on earth is named, 16that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-18).


My Worth Is Not In What I Own

Keith Getty

My worth is not in what I own
Not in the strength of flesh and bone
But in the costly wounds of love
At the cross

My worth is not in skill or name
In win or lose, in pride or shame
But in the blood of Christ that flowed
At the cross

Refrain:
I rejoice in my Redeemer
Greatest Treasure,
Wellspring of my soul
I will trust in Him, no other.
My soul is satisfied in Him alone.

As summer flowers we fade and die
Fame, youth and beauty hurry by
But life eternal calls to us
At the cross

I will not boast in wealth or might
Or human wisdom’s fleeting light
But I will boast in knowing Christ
At the cross

Refrain

Two wonders here that I confess
My worth and my unworthiness
My value fixed – my ransom paid
At the cross

Refrain

Think about what Paul said- “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you…”

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. (Colossians 1:3-5).

One of our pastors preached on Colossians last Sunday. He noted the above introduction in Paul’s letter. Paul prayed to Jesus in thanks for the saints.

Our pastor said, ‘What if we prayed like that? Instead of when we pray and getting straight to our petitions, or even instead of getting straight to thanking Jesus for what He’s given ourselves or done for us, we thank Him for our brethren?’

When was the last time I prayed in thanks for the saints around me, the saints around the world, the saints that have come before on whose works I rely? Hmmm, it’s been a while I think.

I am thankful for our elders. We have a Teaching Pastor, an Associate Pastor and two elders who lead us in preaching, confession time, prayers, and devotionals. They are Godly men, humble, and filled with a heart of love for Jesus and service to Him. I know I am blessed to be growing under such men, and I do thank Jesus for them. Therefore I say,

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.

We have a cadre of elder folks who are seasoned, mature, kind, doctrinally solid, and constant in their attendance, devotions, and service. They aren’t coasting, they take nothing for granted, and they are always willing to lead, teach, encourage, or just silently be present. Therefore I say,

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.

youths

Some of our members on a retreat. http://www.nacathens.org

In a most remarkable blessing, the largest demographic of members and attendees in our church are youngsters. These are youths aged from upper teens to mid twenties. The college crowd. Many are in undergraduate or graduate school in the area. Their eagerness and fervor is a boon to us elder folks. Their zeal to serve is refreshing. Most of all, they love Jesus and devour His word. Despite a heavy class load or demanding work schedule, they arise before dawn or stay well after dark to attend Bible groups. They faithfully attend church services. They drive 40 minutes and stay two hours just to seek advice from an older member. They happily jump in to serve by setting up or taking down, the drudge jobs. They love each other and they joyously submit to leadership. They are amazing. Therefore I say,

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.

Next time, I won’t lightly skim the intro to a letter, but as our elder preached, I’ll stop and truly ponder what the writer is saying. Paul dwelled on praise to Jesus for the brethren, and I want to adopt that same mindset in prayer by thanking Jesus for them both in my sphere and across the world.