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Ethan Longhenry
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From northern Illinois to South Central Los Angeles
From northern Illinois to South Central Los Angeles

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The Power of Negative Influence

Humans would like to believe they think independently and remain above the fray of fads and influences. In truth we all are profoundly shaped by our environment and the people around us. We may be in a position to influence others, but others also influence us, both perceptibly and imperceptibly.

From the beginning humans have followed after negative influences. Eve, in the Garden of Eden, was deceived by the serpent (Genesis 3:1-8, 1 Timothy 2:11-15). We do not say a person has been deceived into following good or positive things, and for good reason: deception is almost universally a negative thing.

Humanity has been beset by the deceptive nature of sin and darkness ever since (Romans 5:12-21, Hebrews 3:13). God manifest great concern for His people Israel lest they would be deceived into following other gods and to abandon their covenant and heritage in Him, even to the point of commanding summary execution of any Israelite, even a spouse or child, who would attempt to induce other Israelites into serving other gods (Deuteronomy 13:6-11). This command extended to the destruction by sword and fire of any town in Israel which has gone after other gods (Deuteronomy 13:12-18)!

We may find such commandments hard to fathom; these are the commandments to which many people today point to indict God for being bloodthirsty and barbaric. And yet God is testifying to the power of influence to lead people astray. Israel was a chosen people, one who would be distinct on their belief not just in the One True God but to serve Him without any graven images (cf. Exodus 20:1-10). They were surrounded by, and lived in the midst of, people who served many different gods, and did so with graven images that they believed represented those gods. The power of their influence would be very great. How much stronger, then, would be the influence of one’s own wife, or children, if they encouraged service to other gods? Furthermore, many trends and major changes in any society begin when a few people begin a different practice, encourage others to do likewise, and suffer little in terms of consequences.

Israel did not prove obedient to God’s commands in Deuteronomy 13:1-18. Within a few generations of Moses saying these words, Israelites would prove indignant with Gideon when he destroyed an altar for Baal and an Asherah, and desire to kill him for it (Judges 6:28-31), the inverse of God’s commandment! If anything, they all should be executed for serving other gods. And so it goes with negative influences: it proves easier to give up one’s distinctiveness in God and follow the ways of the nations than it is to reflect God’s love, righteousness, and truth among the nations.

We are under a new covenant enacted under better promises with a better witness (Hebrews 8:6). We are not to overcome evil with evil (Romans 12:21), and strive to do good to all men, even those who are our enemies (Galatians 6:10, Luke 6:32-35). If there are Christians in our midst who go after the world and no longer serve God, we are to disassociate from them, but by no means kill them (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:1-13). Nevertheless, God is still concerned about the power of negative influence, manifest in 1 Corinthians 15:33:

Be not deceived: Evil companionships corrupt good morals.

When encouraging teenagers to uphold the good and right way we often warn about the dangers of “peer pressure.” We know that many young men and women fall prey to the temptation of falling into the wrong crowd, changing their behaviors, and participate in all kinds of immorality and ungodliness which would have been unimaginable beforehand. Yet, as we can learn from Genesis 3:1-8 and Deuteronomy 13:1-18, we never grow out of the dangers of peer pressure. We are constantly under the pressure to conform to this world and its ways and beset with temptations to sin and abandon our heritage in Jesus (Romans 12:1, Hebrews 12:1-2). Furthermore, negative influence does not come only from those “out there”: we may have beloved family members or fellow Christians who might tempt us away from what is good, right, and holy in the Lord Jesus. We can never equivocate God’s will, even if our wives or our children would try to get us to do so. Such is why Paul warned the Corinthian and Galatian Christians how a little leaven leavens the whole lump: accepting or justifying people in the midst of the people of God who persistently teach false doctrine or who sin without repentance will allow the influence of false doctrine and immorality to spread to others, and therefore those involved must be disciplined by disassociation (1 Corinthians 5:1-13, Galatians 5:7-9).

We must be on guard for the temptation to worship “other gods” whom we have not known. We must recognize that we, like Israel before us, are a chosen people, and peculiar (1 Peter 2:9). While we are no longer in the midst of people who go about and serve gods represented by graven images, we live in no less of an idolatrous society. People all around us worship money, celebrity, America, individualism, naturalism, sports, sex, comfort, happiness, and all sorts of similar idols. People, perhaps even within our own family, even those who might be supposed children of God, may not understand our devotion to the LORD of Hosts and why we strive to serve Him in all matters (Matthew 6:33, Colossians 3:17). Just like Israel of old, when God’s people who believed in YHWH also served other gods because others around them were doing so, so many Christians today try to serve both God and these other idols, and they fail miserably (Matthew 6:24). It is always easier to justify their divided loyalties when others are doing the same.

We should not automatically ascribe evil motives to such people, but it is part of the conscious and unconscious aspects of the power of negative influence. Focusing on the will of God as the greatest priority in life requires constant diligence, and those who would do so must be continually on guard against the powers of negative influence from the “nations among us” and even unfortunately our own brethren at times (2 Timothy 2:15).

We should never discount the power of negative influence. None of us prove as strong and impregnable against the influences of the world and its people as we imagine ourselves to be. We often prove doubly deceived by the Evil One: deceived into following worldly influences while deceived into thinking we have risen above those influences! God knows this and has established commandments and warnings in both the old and new covenants so that we would be on guard against negative influences and to take appropriate measures in Christ to stand against them. We do well to consider who among us might tempt us to serve “other gods whom we do not know,” those in the world and perhaps even some among our own family and friends. We must also be on guard lest the people of God are brought down because some “worthless fellows” have brought in “other gods.”

We never outgrow the danger of negative influence. May we seek after God in Christ, serving Him wholeheartedly, and on guard against the temptations to conform to the ways of the Evil One!

Ethan R. Longhenry
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Oh give thanks unto YHWH; for he is good / For his covenant loyalty endureth for ever
Oh give thanks unto the God of gods / For his covenant loyalty endureth for ever
Oh give thanks unto the Lord of lords / For his covenant loyalty endureth for ever
To him who alone doeth great wonders / For his covenant loyalty endureth for ever
To him that by understanding made the heavens / For his covenant loyalty endureth for ever
To him that spread forth the earth above the waters / For his covenant loyalty endureth for ever
To him that made great lights / For his covenant loyalty endureth for ever
The sun to rule by day / For his covenant loyalty endureth for ever
The moon and stars to rule by night / For his covenant loyalty endureth for ever
To him that smote Egypt in their first-born / For his covenant loyalty endureth for ever
And brought out Israel from among them / For his covenant loyalty endureth for ever
With a strong hand, and with an outstretched arm / For his covenant loyalty endureth for ever
To him that divided the Red Sea in sunder / For his covenant loyalty endureth for ever
And made Israel to pass through the midst of it / For his covenant loyalty endureth for ever
But overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea / For his covenant loyalty endureth for ever
To him that led his people through the wilderness / For his covenant loyalty endureth for ever
To him that smote great kings / For his covenant loyalty endureth for ever
And slew famous kings / For his covenant loyalty endureth for ever
Sihon king of the Amorites / For his covenant loyalty endureth forever
And Og king of Bashan / For his covenant loyalty endureth for ever
And gave their land for a heritage / For his covenant loyalty endureth for ever
Even a heritage unto Israel his servant / For his covenant loyalty endureth for ever
Who remembered us in our low estate / For his covenant loyalty endureth for ever
And hath delivered us from our adversaries / For his covenant loyalty endureth for ever
Who giveth food to all flesh / For his covenant loyalty endureth for ever
Oh give thanks unto the God of heaven / For his covenant loyalty endureth for ever (Psalm 136:1-26).
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The Christian and God the Father

Christians recognize and confess God as One in Three Persons according to what has been made known in Scripture: God the Father, God the Son (the Lord Jesus Christ), and God the Holy Spirit (John 1:1, 14, Colossians 2:8-9). The members of the Godhead exist as distinct “personalities” (John 8:16-18), yet remain perfectly one in nature, purpose, will, and intention: in a word, one in relational unity (John 17:20-23). YHWH, the Creator God of Israel, is One: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in perfect unity (Genesis 1:26-27, Deuteronomy 6:4-6, John 8:58).

The triune nature of the Godhead is indeed a divine mystery, a matter we take by faith based on what God has made known about Himself. Such an understanding has always proven controversial; contentions regarding the nature of God consumed Christendom for its first half millennium, and to this day the triune reality of God is not well grasped by many.

Christians must be careful lest they make too much of the distinctions among the members of the Godhead; God’s unity remains a profound element of His nature, so much so that the Scriptures speak of God in the third person singular even though He is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, there is danger in the opposite extreme as well in entirely conflating the Three Persons of the Godhead. Jesus Himself, as well as the authors of the New Testament, found profit in speaking of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; we therefore also do well to explore the Scriptures to see how we as Christians should relate to each member of the Godhead.

The danger of conflation is nowhere more apparent than with God the Father. Far too often discussions of “God” only involve understanding the triune nature of the Godhead; Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit get described in greater detail as distinct “personalities” while the Father is neglected. While Christians have good reason to refer to the whole Godhead as God, New Testament authors tend to refer specifically to the Father when they speak of God (e.g. Romans 1:1, 7).

Such conflation is understandable: most of what we imagine regarding God in general is specifically true of God the Father. God the Father is the Creator of heaven and earth, having spoken all things into existence by His Word (Genesis 1:1-2:3, Psalm 33:6-7, John 1:1-3). God the Father has all authority; any authority which exists is empowered by God the Father (Romans 13:1; cf. Matthew 28:18-19). God the Father has communicated His Word to mankind by the Spirit through the prophets and in Jesus (Hebrews 1:1-3).

Furthermore, God the Father is not only spirit but also ineffable and literally inconceivable: as YHWH, the Existent One, no image can be fashioned which looks like Him, because no man has or could see Him as He is (John 4:24; Exodus 20:1-5, John 1:18, 6:46). Thus, whatever image we may have of God the Father in our minds inevitably proves wrong, and as humans, it is hard to identify with something or someone of whom you have difficulty mentally conceiving. And yet we are given assurances that Jesus is the express image of God, the imprint of His character; if we have seen Jesus, we have seen the essential character and nature of God (John 14:6-9, Colossians 1:15, Hebrews 1:3). Indeed, Jesus represents the great testimony of God the Father’s love, grace, and mercy: the Father sent the Son into the world to redeem it by His death and resurrection, to do for us what we could not do for ourselves (John 3:16, Romans 5:6-11).

While the Father may seem more remote than the Son or the Spirit, He need not be; the Scriptures have made His desire for relational unity with humanity well-known (John 17:20-23, Acts 17:26-31). The great revelation we obtain from Jesus involves recognizing God as our heavenly Father: a loving parent, not a cantankerous curmudgeon (e.g. Matthew 6:8, 9, 14). God is our Father because we are His offspring, made in His image (Genesis 1:26-27, Acts 17:28). God was under no compulsion to save us or care for us at all, and yet He gives good gifts to all mankind, and especially those who seek His purposes through His Son (Acts 14:17, Romans 8:31-32, James 1:17). God wants to hear from us truly and sincerely, as a parent loves to receive a word from his child (1 Peter 5:7). We are invited to see the Father in the tender portrayal of the father of the prodigal son and his older brother in Luke 15:11-32, full of compassion and mercy, welcoming all those who have grown weary of sin, darkness, and death, and gently (or, at times, not so gently) rebuking those who have considered righteousness their birthright. Having God as our Father ought to elevate our understanding of ourselves as human beings: we are of great value and we ought to act with integrity and dignity, seeking righteousness and holiness as He is righteous and holy (1 Peter 1:15-16).

Yet even as God is our Father, He is also seen as our Master, and we are His servants (Luke 17:7-10). We are the creation; He is our Creator; it is not for us to answer back to Him, but to heed what He says and do it (cf. Romans 9:19-21). God would rather be the kindly Father, but also warns that He will come in judgment against all unrighteousness and iniquity (Romans 1:18-20, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10, 1 Peter 1:17-20). God is full of love, grace, and mercy; and yet He is also holy, righteous, and just!

We must resist drawing the wrong conclusions from the images of God as Father and God as Master: we are not entitled to salvation as a child would be entitled to his or her inheritance, and God is no oppressive taskmaster or tyrant. Instead, we ought to have the relational intimacy with God as a child does with a parent while proving willing to serve God as a benevolent Master.

From before the beginning until after the end, there is God (Genesis 1:1, Revelation 21:1-22:6). When it is all said and done, God will dwell in the midst of His people forever (Revelation 21:1-11). God the Father made us to love Him as He loves the Son, the Spirit, and us; in this life the Christian is to learn, grow, and mature so as to want God Himself, proving no longer satisfied merely with what God gives. Christians enjoy the great privilege of getting to know God the Father; we will spend eternity in His presence, basking in His light and love. May we draw near to God the Father through the Son and obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry
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So we built the wall; and all the wall was joined together unto half the height thereof: for the people had a mind to work (Nehemiah 4:6).

The walls of Jerusalem were repaired because the people had a mind to work. They were encouraged by Nehemiah and trusted God was with them, but they still knew that they had to do the actual work. God was not going to miraculously build it for them; others would not come and do it for them; they had to do the work.

So it is to this day: God has work for His people to do in proclaiming the Gospel and encouraging one another. God will not do that work miraculously for them; they cannot expect others to come and do it for them. May we all diligently strive to do the work of God in our lives to His glory and honor!
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But it came to pass that, when Sanballat heard that we were building the wall, he was wroth, and took great indignation, and mocked the Jews (Nehemiah 4:1).

In the days of Artaxerxes king of Persia Nehemiah heard of the broken condition of the walls of Jerusalem and was moved to work to repair them. He encouraged the people of Judah to repair the wall. While they worked their opponents perceived a threat. They mocked the Jews; they reviled their work. They conspired to fight against the Jews. They would ultimately try to cause Nehemiah difficulty with the governor and king. They wanted to terrorize Israel and stop the work. They succeeded for a moment but ultimately failed.

The Enemy of God’s purposes works the same way to this day. Christians do well to stand firm against opposition and prove faithful to the Lord Jesus!
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Part of my recent article about suicide was to admit the less than compassionate ways people professing Christ in the past have handled the issue. This article does well at going through how and why that is, the better way forward, and why we should be a bit more circumspect before quoting Puritans and their modern day fanboys.
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