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My Vocation

My vocation has become clearer as the years go by: to study the unchanging God without something else to do, some pragmatic reason or result. This is what I feel most called to do: simply enjoy the study of God – not write about it, not view it in relation to its political residue or imagine that my opinions will have some visible  social effect. The joy of inquiry into God is a sufficient end in itself, not only as a means to some practical consequence.

Thomas C. Oden, The Rebirth of Orthodoxy, p. 95

(Photo by Ben White on Unsplash)

For me to live is Christ

TEXT:

Philippians 1:19-30

INTRODUCTION:

Probably the most important question in life is: What is the meaning of my life? How should I live my life? Paul answers this question in a very straightforward manner: To live is Christ. And why not? After all, he gave his life for us!

2 Corinthians 5:15 ESV
[15] and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

Philippians 1:20
as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.

Continue reading “For me to live is Christ”

To be frank . . .

I’ve been wondering lately about what my blogging is accomplishing, if any. What I’ve noticed is this:

Most of those who follow my blog do so after reading a poem or a devotional that I’ve written. Almost no one follows my blog after reading a legal article that I’ve written.

Also, it’s my poems that get the most likes. That’s an encouragement to me, actually, because I don’t really consider myself as being a good poet.

But it’s my legal articles that get the most traffic and practically all of these articles were written by me years ago! Everyday there’s someone who visits this blog in order to read a legal article that I’ve posted. A few of these articles comprise more than 50%, I think, of all the views I’ve gotten on this blog.

As for everything else, such as a poem or a devotional, these will get a number of views on the day they’re posted, and that’s it! They’re forgotten and for all practical purposes, gone.

What comes to my mind after considering all this? The 80/20 principle. Only 20% of one’s activities generates 80% of the results. Whether I like it or not, it’s the legal articles that get the most traffic on this blog, even if they’re not what I most enjoy writing about. And logic dictates that if I want my blogging to be a productive activity according to objective criteria, I should be blogging more about the law than about other things.

Come to think of it, this blog did start out as a blawg. It still is, but no so much as it used to be. Maybe after this pandemic is over, I’ll be blogging more about the law.

The Importance of the Gospel

“12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually advanced the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard, and to everyone else, that my imprisonment is because I am in Christ. 14 Most of the brothers have gained confidence in the Lord from my imprisonment and dare even more to speak the word fearlessly. 15 To be sure, some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of good will. 16 These preach out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; 17 the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, thinking that they will cause me trouble in my imprisonment. 18 What does it matter? Only that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is proclaimed, and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice . . .”

Philippians 1:12-18 (CSB)

Introduction:

What is the gospel? It is the good news of salvation: Christ died, was buried, and rose again for the forgiveness of our sins (1 Cor. 15:3-4).

Why is the gospel important? Because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16-17).

  1. The Advance of the Gospel (Phil. 1:12-14)

Paul was in prison, but what others saw as a misfortune, he saw as an opportunity to promote the gospel. Adverse circumstances may be blessings in disguise in that God allows them in order to spread the gospel. In this case, the finest soldiers of the Roman Army were exposed to the gospel by being chained to Paul. God is able to produce good out of evil (Rom. 8:28).

Another benefit that Paul saw in his situation was how his example was emboldening others to share the gospel. The lesson here is: Our courage in sharing the gospel in spite of persecution serves to encourage others to be courageous also.

If the gospel is all-important to us, it changes the way we see our circumstances: Instead of considering them as unfortunate events, we consider them as blessings or opportunities. Just like this pandemic. True, it is a tragedy. Nevertheless, because of it, more people not only have more time for the gospel, they also have greater willingness to engage with it.

  1. Abuse of the Gospel. (Phil. 1:15-17)

Unfortunately, there’s a wrong way to preach the gospel: One can do so out of a spirit of envy and rivalry. Some preachers were taking advantage of Paul’s imprisonment to increase their own importance and influence.

There should be no competition when it comes to the gospel. This is not about who’s the best preacher or whose church is the biggest. It’s about Jesus Christ and him alone (1 Cor. 3:5-9; 1 Cor. 2:1-5). “He must increase, I must decrease” (John 3:30).

The right motive in sharing the gospel is love and compassion (2 Cor. 5:14; Mark 6:34). We share the gospel because, as Steve Green put it in his song, people need the Lord.

  1. Application of the Gospel (Phil. 1:18)

We should apply the gospel to our lives. One way to do so is to make it the basis of our joy. Our joy is not dependent on circumstances. Our joy depends on what we consider important. For Paul, what is important is that Christ is preached; what happened to him didn’t really matter as long as Christ is proclaimed. That’s what gave him joy (Phil. 1:21; 3:7-8).

Application:

  1. Do we share the gospel?
  2. Do we find our joy in circumstances or in the gospel?
  3. How do we make use of the opportunities in our circumstances to advance the gospel?

Prayer:

Lord, help us to find our joy in you and in your gospel. Amen.

Photo by Nycholas Benaia on Unsplash

Choosing My Life’s Passion

Choosing my life’s passion
is a top priority:
Shall I climb a mountain?
Shall I climb a tree?

Shall I write a poem?
Shall I write a song?
Practice my profession
or play piano all day long?

Shall I preach the gospel
and lead people to the Lord?
or become a judge
and hear cases till I’m bored!

This is paralyzing,
having to decide.
Why not just surrender
to the current or the tide?

Copyright 2020 Dennis M. Cortes

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

A Road to Somewhere

A road that leads somewhere
is what I’m searching for;
not some endless maze
that nowhere goes
save in circles and deadends.

I’ve no desire to walk
a road that leads nowhere;
for what difference does it make
if I trudge on or lie down
never to rise again?

But if my steps are ordered right
by powers higher than my own,
towards a destination set and sure,
then I will strive with all my might
to reach my pre-ordainéd end.

Copyright 2020 Dennis M. Cortes

Photo by Luke Stackpoole on Unsplash

The Athenian Plague of 430 BC

While reading Thucydides’ On Justice, Power and Human Nature (Selections from The History of the Peloponessian War), I came across his description of a terrible plague that struck Athens in 430 B.C. What made a great impression on me was the similarities between that plague and the present pandemic, and the possibility that that plague was much worse, all other things being equal, than covid-19. According to a footnote in the book, “Thucydides’ description does not match any disease that is known to us now.” Either that disease is extinct or Thucydides was exaggerating. At any rate, the realization dawned on me that what we’re going through at present is merely a repetition of history, albeit at a larger scale, probably because of the ease people nowadays can travel to different parts of the world via modern transportation.

At any rate, here’s his description of how the plague began:

“[The] Peloponessians had not been in Attica for many days when the plague first began among the Athenians. Although it was said to have broken out in many other places, particularly in Lemnos, no one could remember a disease that was so great or so destructive of human life breaking out anywhere before. Doctors, not knowing what to do, were unable to cope with it at first, and no other human knowledge was any use either. The doctors themselves died fastest, as they came to the sick most often.”

Just like at present, the doctors (the frontliners) were among the first to die. Here’s his description of the symptoms that those who caught the disease exhibited:

“If anyone was sick before, his disease turned into this one. If not, they were taken suddenly, without any apparent cause, and while they were in perfect health. First they had a high fever in the head, along with redness and inflammation of the eyes; inside, the throat and tongue were bleeding from the start, and the breath was weird and unsavory. After this came sneezing and hoarseness, and soon after came a pain in the chest, along with violent coughing. And once it was settled in the stomach, it caused vomiting, and brought up, with great torment, all the kinds of bile that the doctors have named.”

There were worse symptoms than these, but I’m not going to mention them here. As far as I can tell, covid-19 would be considered tame compared to what hit the Athenians. I’d like to mention however what happened to some of those who got the disease and eventually survived:

“But those who had recovered had still more compassion, both on those who were dying and on those who were sick, because they knew the disease first-hand and were now out of danger, or this disease never attacked anyone a second time with fatal effect. And these people were thought to be blessedly happy, and through an excess of present joy they conceived a kind of light hope never to die of any other disease afterwards.”

Thucydides also makes mention of the effect the plague had on people’s mental health, and it’s not much different from what people at the present time are also experiencing.

“But the greatest misery of all was the dejection of mind in those who found themselves beginning to be sick, for as soon as they made up their minds it was hopeless, they gave up and made much less resistance to the disease.”

Also alarming is the fact that “[The] plague struck Athens again the winter of 427 B.C [.i.e., around 3 years after] and lasted over a year.” It is believed over a quarter of the Athenian population was killed by the plague. Is a second wave of the present pandemic forthcoming?

Except for the fact that the present plague is world-wide in scope, it isn’t really novel. It’s a repetition of history. Theologically speaking, it is part of what it means to live in a fallen world where sickness and death still prevail. We are still waiting for the liberation of creation from its bondage to corruption, which will coincide with the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:18-25). In the meantime, we hope, we trust, we do the best we can and we pray.

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Salvation, a journey requiring perseverance

My wife and I were discussing theology over lunch earlier today. I shared with her my thoughts on the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints to the effect that even though our final salvation is assured, it is still necessary for us to strive towards the goal (see Philippians 3:12-14). And then she said – I’m paraphrasing here, but this is essentially what she said – “Reaching the destination requires that you finish the journey.” Of course! Just because it’s divinely certain that you’ll arrive at the destination set by God for you doesn’t mean you can dispense with the hard work of “journeying” all the way up to the finish line. The journey is an integral part of reaching the destination. No journeying, no arriving at the destination. No perseverance to the very end, no final salvation. Thus, a person cannot sit still on the road or, worse, turn back towards where he came from, and still expect that he’ll arrive at the place he’s destined for. Just because God has promised that we will certainly arrive at our heavenly destination someday does not mean we should no longer strive with all our might to reach it.

There’s really something static about the concept of salvation that many proponents of eternal security hold to. Something like this: Have faith, sit back and relax ( or, worse, sin all you want!), arrive. I think salvation involves a dynamic element – the element of perseverance – which in no way diminishes the absolutely certainty that all those who have truly believed in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior will finally be saved (i.e., glorified, see Romans 8:23-25). Something like this: have faith, persevere to the very end, arrive.

I prefer the term perseverance of the saints over eternal security. The saints will persevere. If they do not, it means they were never saints to begin with. The saints persevere because God preserves them. But God preserves them (in part, at least) in and through their perseverance!

P. S. Just to be clear: The fact that we still need to persevere in order to be finally saved doesn’t convert salvation into something we earn or merit by means of our works. Salvation is a free gift of grace received by faith, not earned by works, from first to last. Perseverance is simply one of those “better things” that inevitably accompany or belong to the state of being truly saved (see Hebrews 6:9), the lack of which only shows that one never really belonged to Christ in the first place (1 John 2:19).

P.S. Although on the surface, we do the hard work of persevering, it’s still God who mysteriously and powerfully works in us both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Philippians 2:12, 13).

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Notes on Perseverance of the Saints

(These are essentially the notes I wrote in preparation for a bible study I did on Romans 8:28-31.)

Perseverance of the Saints is to be preferred over the term eternal security because the former includes the latter without doing away with the reality that the saints do persevere and will persevere. The saints persevere because the Lord preserves them, and the Lord preserves them in and through their perseverance.

A digression is in order at this point in order to see the connection between perseverance and the broader salvation of which it is part. It is necessary that we adopt a cosmic perspective on salvation: we must see it as something that spans the whole of eternity. We must realize that it is so much bigger than we are and involves divine determinations and incontrovertible exercises of divine power that make the possibility of losing one’s salvation simply unthinkable. Without this cosmic perspective, i.e., if we confine our limited, finite, and puny minds only to the consideration of earthly things, wherein we find so much human weakness, frailty, and sin, we cannot help entertaining the possibility that salvation might be lost. The solution is to enter, as much as is granted to us, into the vastness of the divine mind and see salvation as the great and glorious thing that it is, determined by God in eternity past, executed by him in time, and now awaiting certain completion when Christ returns, the results of which will last throughout eternity. All throughout, our salvation is upheld by Almighty God who watches over it from beginning to end to ensure that “not a single hair of our head will perish.” It is for this reason that in verse 31 Paul makes the triumphant statement, “If God is for us, who can be against us!”

Continue reading “Notes on Perseverance of the Saints”

Thoughts on Habakkuk

I recently handled a Bible study via Zoom on Habakkuk, one where I had to touch on sufffering, God’s role in it, God’s purpose in it, and what our response should be. Although I believe that what I said during the Bible study faithfully aligns with Habakkuk’s teaching, I realize that some of the things I said might have come across as being insensitive, especially with respect to people who’ve suffered a lot during this pandemic. That wasn’t my intention, so I’ve decided to write this in order to clarify to myself at least what I really meant.

I hold to a very strong view of God’s sovereignty. In line with that, I believe that the present pandemic would not have occurred without his permission. I also believe he has a good purpose in so allowing it, even if that purpose is one of judgment. I know it’s going to be very hard for people to accept that it was God who sent this pandemic, in the same way that Habakkuk had great difficulty accepting that a holy God would use wicked Babylonians to punish his own people. But the Bible is very clear on this: God is holy, God is righteous, God is good, God is not the author of sin. Nevertheless, it is God who creates calamity: “I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the LORD, who does all these things.” (Isaiah 45:7)

The other objection I anticipate has to do with rejoicing in spite of disastrous circumstances because God’s purpose in allowing calamities is to grant salvation to his people in the end. So many verses actually support this “joyful and triumphant” attitude in defiance of circumstances. Habakkuk of course rejoices in God his salvation, the possibility of a life-threatening famine notwithstanding. So does Paul in the latter part of Romans 8. The life of Joseph and his sufferings is all about this truth: “You meant it for evil, God meant it for good.” And of course, Romans 8:28 is the all-encompassing basis for joy in all circumstances. And the supreme example of all this is Jesus, who “Out of the anguish of his soul shall see and be satisfied” that the result of his sufferings will be the salvation of his people (Isaiah 53:11).

Even so, this might be of small comfort to people who are in the thick of suffering. I remember reading somewhere something to this effect, that even if Job in the end had children again in lieu of the ones he lost, that would never really compensate for the loss he suffered. That’s the same objection I’m anticipating, and the problem is if I try to answer it in a straightforward manner, without taking into account the ravaged emotions of people who’ve suffered greatly in this pandemic, I would come across as insensitive. I have no intention of minimizing or belittling anyone’s suffering. We should weep with those who weep. But at the end of the day, one simply has to reckon with the Bible’s claim that the greatest sufferings God’s people endure in this world are simply not worth comparing to the glory which will be revealed in them someday (Romans 8:18).

Finally, there’s the problem of evil. Even if we assume that God is going to produce something wonderful out of all this evil and suffering that he allows in our world, does the end really justify the means? All I can say is, that’s actually what Habakkuk’s second complaint in his book is all about. How could a holy God use a people more wicked than his own people to punish his people? What happened to God’s justice? And God’s answer in this book is, “The just shall live by faith.” “God is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (Hab. 2:20). He is God after all; he knows what he is doing and no one can stop him. All we can do is pray and ask for mercy: “In wrath, remember mercy” (Hab. 3:2). And rejoice, even if the worst happens, because those who have faith in him will live; they will not die (Hab. 1:12; c.f., John 11:25, 26). God is the God of salvation to the just who live by faith (Hab. 3:18).

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The Fate of the Wicked

Read 2 Chronicles 22:10-12; 23:1-21.

“All the people of the land rejoiced, and the city was calm, because Athaliah had been slain with the sword.” (2 Chronicles 23:21 NIV)

When Ahaziah died, his mother Athaliah made her move to consolidate power in herself. She had all the royal heirs killed – all except one: her grandson, Joash. She would have killed him too, undoubtedly, had not Joash’s aunt, Jehosheba (Ahaziah’s sister), hid him from her for six years.

In the seventh year there was a coup: Joash was made king and Athaliah was killed. Such was the fate of this wicked woman. Whether in terms of wicked counsel or murderous acts, she was indeed wicked. When she died the Bible says the city not only rejoiced, it also became calm and quiet, i.e., it finally had peace. What a terrible legacy! Instead of people mourning over her death as a great loss, they were quite happy to be rid of her.

A number of Scripture passages come to mind upon reading about Athaliah’s death: “He who lives by the sword will die by the sword.” “Be not deceived, God is not mocked, for whatever a person sows, that he shall also reap.” “When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices; when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy.” (Proverbs 11:10)

Lord, I realize from your Word not only how destructive wickedness is, but also how loathsome and reprehensible it is. May you eliminate all traces of it from my heart and mind. Cleanse me by your blood and make me holy. Amen.