Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Encouragement Rebounds

 

(left to right) Bill Spencer, Wilma Mathis, Aida Spencer, and Cindy Westfall at CBE conference, Atlanta, GA, August 6, 2022; picture by Virginia Knowles

The Apostle Paul teaches the Corinthians that “love is not envious or boastful or arrogant,” but it looks out for the benefit of others (1 Corinthians 13:4; Philippians 2:4).

I just came back from the 2022 international Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE) conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Bill and I enjoy attending CBE conferences because they are geared to support in a mutual manner the accomplishments of everyone who attends. Bill was enthusiastic about the doctoral dissertation of his teaching associate, Rev. Dr. Wilma Faye Mathis, and thought it would be helpful to everyone to learn how transformational journaling could raise women’s self-esteem.[1] As well, I wanted to attend to encourage and promote knowledge of Bill’s forthcoming masterpiece, Three in One: Analogies for the Trinity. So, he recommended the three of us do a joint workshop on “Using Biblical Female Imagery to Bolster Self-Esteem in Women.”[2] Bill wanted me to participate in the workshop and he found a way that I could contribute to our topic by my summarizing what we learn from all the feminine images used in the Bible to describe God.[3]  

I came to honor others. To my surprise and delight I was honored. Encouragement results in encouragement. It spreads!

When we came to check out the CBE Bookstore at the conference, we were encouraged by all the books featured in the Bookstore written and co-edited by Bill and me and our colleagues in the House of Prisca and Aquila series.  My book on Beyond the Curse: Women Called to Ministry (now in print for almost 40 years) even sold out! I never expected that! Some participants shared with me that they were using the Spanish translation of Beyond the Curse, Más allá de la maldición: Mujeres llamadas al ministerio (2011), in their ministries. For years I had not been able to find a Spanish publisher for Beyond the Curse, so I gathered a Spanish speaking team of translators to work with me on it. Was that effort worthwhile? Yes! Now I still know it was. When we attended the Saturday evening Awards Ceremony dinner, I had been hoping that my former student and teaching assistant and now professor, acting vice president of Academic Affairs, and director of the Women’s Institute at William Carey International University receive a Lifetime Achievement Award. And, sure enough, she did! Rev. Dr. Grace May has dedicated her life to promoting women in leadership. But, to my surprise, in her acceptance speech, she thanked Bill and me as her mentors. We were so thankful for her appreciation. Being now “retired” and looking back at our years of service, we found her comments affirming.

I had come to honor others, and, in turn, I was honored by others! Honoring and rejoicing with others has a multiplication effect. If I encourage you, in due time, you may encourage me.

If Grace’s appreciation was not enough, at our closing keynote sermon, Rev. Michele Williams, former dean at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, spoke on “Between Sisters: Using Our Collective Courage to Live Out Galatians 3:28.” Again, to my extreme surprise, she too thanked me at the start of her talk for my writings and for introducing her to CBE. I had totally forgotten I had ever mentioned CBE to her! And, now she was a keynote speaker who was very effective and moving. She preached on Zelophehad’s daughters.

Paul told the Corinthians (and us as well) “If one member is honored (or glorified), all the members rejoice together (or rejoice with them)” (1 Cor 12:26).

We need never worry about our own honor. If we encourage others and want them honored, eventually that honor may rebound back to us. We should have no reason to envy others, because our time will come. Moreover, if we as the church are one body, their honor is our honor. Christ’s body is built on a genuine love that is not envious or boastful or arrogant (1 Cor. 13:4). Yes, we should look out for ourselves but, as well, for the other members of the same body (Phil 2:4). Mutual honoring and rejoicing never ends but it multiplies over and over again. 

Aída



[1] Her dissertation will be published in the House of Prisca and Aquila series as Jesus among the Homeless.

[2] The workshop will eventually be available at cbeinternational.org. via Soundcloud and YouTube.

[3] I developed ch. 5 of Beyond the Curse: Women Called to Ministry (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985).

Sunday, July 24, 2022

How to Avoid Counterfeit Spiritual Currency: An Exposition of 1 John 2:27-3:10

 

google image: 1580519542036-c47de6196ba5

“Everybody’s raising their prices, so I thought I’d better raise mine too.” When our septic tank cleaner made this open-ended announcement to us, we knew that customer-concern was down with the skubala (Phil. 3:8). A reason had become the mantra of a cultural magi-trend: keep charges up with the Joneses’. The steady raising of prices has become a besetting condition almost as annoying and potentially dangerous as another Corona virus variant. As a result, according to Attorney Antoinette Bone,”45 percent of aging Americans are not making it financially to meet their most basic needs.”[1]

Max Palmer of Due updates and generalizes that figure to all in his May 26, 2022 update, cautioning our current situation is a lot worse than that for many of us. He estimates, “Following the pandemic and the effect that it’s had on the economy, 70% of Americans are struggling to make ends meet. It’s particularly gloomy for older Americans and people of color.” On the latest update of his blog article, “How Will You Make Ends Meet in this Economy?” he details the following suggestions: “1 Look for the bare necessities. 2 Seal up those money leaks. 3 Don’t worry about debt. 4 Take advantage of discounts and freebies. 5. Become a certified DIYer [Do It Yourself]. 6. Sharing is caring. 7. Pick up some extra cash.” Under this is listed: “Cash-in on your skills. Monetize your hobbies. Fill a demand.” The insights shared are enlightening.[2]  

At that same time this is going on, many of us are concentrating so hard on plugging the gap that we are oblivious to one of the most pernicious and debilitating strikes against our financial wellbeing, caused by the resultant rise in white color crime. While we’re focusing on where our money is going, what is slipping by us is the undercutting of our money itself.

Consider this scenario: We realize this is something that may not be happening often to any of us these days, but every once in a while, when our check comes in from our work, or unemployment, or our pension - if we’re older folks – we cash it and for one glorious moment we get our hands on a hundred-dollar bill. That’s our largest unit of currency right now. And looking at a hundred spot is not a daily occurrence for most of us unless we happen to work in a bank.

So, we trundle right off to the supermarket to fill our empty larder with hopes in doesn’t cost us all our oldest friends, you know George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Alexander Hamilton, Andrew Jackson, and our really good buddy Ben Franklin. He may have never gotten to be president, but there he gazes in resplendent glory – right on the front of the $100 bill.

But before we can take the bread and cheese and paper products home, the clerk holds up our bill, squinting at it against the light, carefully looking it over and sometimes running a special pen over it.

The clerk is straining to see if it’s bogus or if it’s got all the internal markings it needs (like the little cameo hidden beneath the treasury seal). She looks at it intently,

What happens to us if the bill turns out to be fraudulent? Plenty, if we consider a treasury agent interview for the name of whomever gave it to us and the circumstances under which we received it as unnerving. At the very least, we’re out 100 bucks. Only the one who gave it to us is responsible – and sometimes they’re long gone.

We certainly can’t blame the clerk who caught it. She or he has reason to examine these bills carefully, because, in some businesses, if she makes a mistake in her cash register account at the end of the day, the difference comes out of her paycheck.

Today, while everybody’s attention has been distracted by the renewed threat of Covid, according to a recent report of the USA’s Federal Reserve Bank, a counterfeit money scourge has been flourishing all over the world through the 180 currencies recognized in use by the United Nations.[3]

Back in the early 1980s, when we arrived here in Massachusetts, my wife and I were sent by Gordon-Conwell to Cuernavaca, a rural area of farms with grass ovens, just outside of Mexico City, to represent our new school at a meeting of Latino and American professors. Aída, by the way, was chosen by the Hispanic side to be one of their delegates, and I was a representative for the English side.

On Sunday, we went to worship at a village church and dropped in our $20 peso piece we’d put aside for the offering plate. We figured it was worth about $20 US (a respectable amount to offer in those days for newly hired neophytes).

But, as we did so, we noticed the bills already there were peso pieces of 20 times that value! We had put in about a buck worth of tithe. So, at the end of the service, I hurried up to the front and threw in a several hundred peso bill to make the difference, so they could get the $20 bucks we thought we were putting in!

Imagine my surprise, then, as I read this report of The National Bank of Arizona. Of all currencies, “the Bank of Mexico found that [among] roughly 300,000 counterfeit bills, amounting to about 99.1 million pesos,” “the most common denominations” being counterfeited were “the 20-, 100- and 50-peso notes,” the small ones.[4] 

          In an international perspective on the issue, the average exchange rate of one US Dollar to one Mexican Peso on July 18, 2022, according to Exchange Rates, org, uk, is 1 USD = 20.3332 MXN. Again, similar. So, a peso is the equivalent of about 5 cents US, since 20 equal a dollar. Who would bother to counterfeit it?

The answer, according to this Arizona branch of our Federal Reserve Bank, is those who know the best target is “unsuspecting tourists,” because they “are one of the easier ways to get these counterfeit bills into circulation.” “Typically, it’s easiest for counterfeiters to exchange their fake currency for the real thing in places with high concentrations of foreign visitors – places like touristy shops, markets, street vendors and even at some foreign currency exchanges. “

And the problem is not just with the Peso. It’s with the British pound too. The Arizona Federal Reserve bank reports: despite “state-of-the-art anti-counterfeiting features, it remains one of the most counterfeited currencies in the world,” and it cites the Bank of England reporting that the “£20 note” is the bill of choice to counterfeit.[5]

It would be a blessing if we could now report that the U.S. has stamped out all signs of counterfeiting. The United States Treasury Department does detail in its report “The Use and Counterfeiting of United States Currency Abroad” steps it has taken in a preemptive approach: “A new currency design was introduced in 1996, beginning with the $100, denomination. The new design incorporated counterfeit-resistant features that make it easier for dollar users to authenticate the notes without special equipment.”  In other words, it strikes against counterfeiters by assuring that fraudulent bills are easier to spot.[6]

But as far as deterring counterfeiters, its “Press Release on Joint Report of Use and Counterfeiting of U.S. Currency Abroad” delivers this expected bad news: “Counterfeiting of the currency of the United States is widely attempted. According to the United States Department of Treasury, an estimated $70 million in counterfeit bills are in circulation, or approximately 1 note in counterfeits for every 10,000 in genuine currency, with an upper bound of $200 million counterfeit, or 1 counterfeit per 4,000 genuine notes. However, these numbers are based on annual seizure rates on counterfeiting, and the actual stock of counterfeit money is uncertain because some counterfeit notes successfully circulate for a few transactions.”[7] And, while the $100 dollar bill is the most counterfeited outside the U.S., in parallel to the other currencies we’ve surveyed, the $20 bill is the target of choice by counterfeiters in the U.S.

So, the watchword is “caution” at home and especially when traveling abroad. Otherwise, you might come back with a suitcase full of future confetti, because what you exchanged your Yen for is not going to fly at Market Basket. Back at home, keep an eye  on  those $20s!

And, while counterfeiting is a temporal threat, in the realm of eternal threats, a parallel is one John the Apostle warns about in his letters we call 1st and 3rd John. What was this threat? And how could those wanting to remain faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ recognize its perpetrators?

The deceivers were a marauding band of what we could call spiritual counterfeiters who were out for their own gain, aiming to pollute the true faith that John had taught with bogus beliefs that would deceive and mislead the Christians. Their words and their actions were deceptive. They claimed to be righteous but their actions were not loving.

So persistent were these false teachers that John warned his congregations and his friends to beware of them in his letters and in the book of Revelation.

Some of these deceivers, like Diotrephes, who is mentioned in 3rd John 9-10, were out for power, isolating the church by spreading malicious rumors about sound Christian leaders and not letting them be welcomed by the church.

The Nicolaitans were immoral and urging everyone to do immoral actions. The Ebionites denied Jesus was God. Cerinthus mixed Christianity up with Platonism and separated Jesus from the Godhead, demoting Jesus to some lower spirit doing the grunt work of heaven.

What united these deceivers is they were all out to defraud the faithful with a counterfeit spiritual currency.

And – just think! - all this was taking place before the development of radio and television could spread all this money-grubbing enslavement all over the world.

So, what John is doing in his letters is what the Federal Reserve Bank of Arizona and its companion bank are trying to do with websites like the one we’re citing: Protect us.

So, with his warnings, the first place John turns, in 1st John 2:27, is to the Holy Spirit’s anointing from Christ that he assures his friends remains in them. Therefore, he counsels them, “You have no need to have someone teach you, but his anointing teaches you about all and is true and is not a lie.” A “lie” (pseudos) is an imitation or counterfeit, an “untruth,”[8] a “conscious and intentional falsehood,” such as the devil uses[9] and, “in a broad sense,” it indicates “whatever is not what it professes to be,” but is “exhibited for the treacherous purpose of deceiving.”[10]

For all their self-promotion, John’s adversaries were out and out villains!

But John is like a loving parent who loves and cares so much. In verse 28 that follows, he writes, “Now, children, remain in him” meaning Jesus, “so when he is revealed, we may have courage and not be ashamed.”[11]

John reminds his congregations that they know that Jesus is righteous and that all righteous people are born from Jesus, who is our creator and re-creator (verse 29). So, in 1st John chapter 3:1, he reminds these people entrusted to his care to look for the glorious love of the Father, so that they themselves can be called God’s children.

Of course, he notes, the world is not going to recognize them. Why should it? It didn’t recognize Jesus.

But, “beloved ones,” he writes in 3:2, “now we are children of God, and not yet is revealed what we will be,” when Jesus finally appears, but “we will be like him, for we shall see him just as he is.”

So, John encourages them to hold to the truth, since “all who have this hope in him will purify themselves” and then the difference will be obvious between them and all who do “sin” and “lawlessness” (3:3-4).

But John also notes that Jesus, who has no sin, can take sin away, so that all of us who remain in Jesus do not have to sin (3:6). That’s just the plight of those who don’t know Jesus.

Thus, John urges his hearers in 3:7, “Children, let no one mislead you.” Righteous people, like the righteous Jesus, do what’s right. Doesn’t that make sense? I think, if they had the expression in Greek “That’s a no-brainer,” John might have used that.

The converse in 3:8 is also clear: “The one doing sins is from the devil, because from the beginning the devil was sinning.” And, John explains, that’s why Jesus came, “in order that he might destroy the works of the devil.”

So, he sums it all up in 3:9-10: “Everyone being born from God does not continue to do sins, because [God’s] seed remains in that one and that one is not able to keep sinning, because from God that one has been born.”

In theology, this is called “the imputation of Grace.” In other words, God puts God’s mark on us and, so, as Martin Luther observed, we have moved from the delight of sinning to the delight of not sinning. It just isn’t any fun anymore to keep sinning.

For examples: waking up with a hangover stinks. You feel soiled. Watching porn makes you miserable, because you realize there’s a whole horde of heavenly hosts watching what you’re doing. Being nasty with somebody doesn’t feel right anymore. You know God created her and loves her and you know you’ve hurt God’s feelings and that’s rotten because of all the good things God has done for you. You feel like such a stinker. In other words, it’s just no fun to sin anymore.

Chapter 3, verse 10 explains that difference is what makes us stand out: “In this is visible (or evident) [who are] the children of God and the children of the devil. Everyone not doing what is right is not from God, nor the one not loving his brother or sister.” Their behavior clashed with their righteous claims for themselves.

So that takes us full circle back to task of eluding the deceivers, the imitators, the counterfeiters.

How should we avoid them? How would we recognize them? What should we do?

The National Reserve bank of Arizona notes that: “Even though tourists and foreign visitors are generally the easiest people to pass a counterfeit bill to, there’s a few simple steps you can take to protect yourself.” And it offers, “Three Ways to Protect Yourself” from getting bilked with counterfeit money. Here’s the first:

1.     Exchange At Your Bank

At a bank like theirs, they tell us, before we leave for our trip we can make the money exchange. Then we know we’re getting real currency. And, when we get back home, we just change our drachmas back for real, not counterfeit, dollars.

Sure, it’s a commercial, but it’s also wise advice. I see exchanging at our bank as similar to the first protective action John suggested in 1st John 2:27: rely on your anointing from the Holy Spirit. If you depend on God’s authority, then you won’t be misled. God’s presence in you helps you discern spiritual counterfeits.

2.     The bank’s next point is: Check the Fine Print

        The bank advises, when we’re handed our change abroad, look for those special features the department of the Treasury built into its bills “like microprint, small lines and designs, and other small print that’s difficult to replicate on all but the most expensive printers.” Emulate Sherlock Holmes and “use a magnifying glass if you need to.” If you can’t find these special features, watch out!

In parallel, since we have God’s words of truth written down for us, we can go right to the Bible and - in big print! – we can check up on every teaching and every action that people are urging on us. If what they are saying seems blurry and doesn’t look like what we see in the Bible to be right thinking and right action for righteous people to do, deep-six what they are telling us to think and to do. If we don’t, chances are pretty certain we’re being handed the spiritual equivalent of funny money, the kind that doesn’t amuse or please God. False advice, like play money, will play us. We will be deceived and mislead into error and sin. Faithful leaders should be like common currency, not flashy but reliable in the daily exchanges of values and wisdom that moves us forward.

Point 3 is: Look for a Watermark

The National Bank of Arizona cautions: real currency has watermarks, like Benjamin Franklin’s image inside the $100 bill. I think the $200 peso bill from the Dominican Republic with the picture of the three Maribal sisters who helped topple a dictator at the cost of their lives is one of the most beautifully done pieces of currency I have. Hold it up and within is a watermark of Juan Pablo Duarte, the chief founder of the country. Of the `180 currencies across the world,[12] Jeff Desjardins notes in ninety-seven are holograms; the majority have watermarks and micro-type, 42% have color varying features depending on how you look at them, and security thread is woven into them.[13] In short, no features, no go.

To me, this suggests, as 1st John 3:9 advises, we should resonate with the teaching pastors and teachers are promoting because we have the seed of Christ within us. God’s mark is in us, if we are true believers, and it should be in their teaching too. We and our Christian colleagues should resonate with it. Genuine teachers’ words and actions are righteous and loving. They do not continue to sin or encourage us to sin. We have God the Father’s anointing, Jesus’s grace, and the Holy Spirit’s wisdom in God’s word, all prompting us through our conscience to think and do the right things. Our conscience anchors us in the Lord.

If we remain in Christ’s protection, then we can’t go wrong.

So, how do we avoid getting duped? Here’s a handy summary comparing financial and spiritual advice:

1)    Go to the bank = Rely on God

2)    Check the fine print = Check the Bible

3)    Look for a watermark = Check with your conscience

This is sound advice. If we take it, we will keep from being bilked the way my wife and I were in Venice. What happened there? We came upon an exchange place around one of the famous sites. It was convenient. But, later on that day we checked at a bank we found and discovered we had lost a lot of money in the transaction. So, we hurried back to complain – and the site was, empty, closed and long gone! They took the money and ran! I wished we had held out for a reliable bank to make our exchange and not a fly-by-night kiosk.

On the other hand, years ago, when Aída and I were first married, before our son was born, we were at the seaside in New Jersey, strolling along the quiet end of the boardwalk, when a lovely young couple, friendly and smiling, came up and began to chat with us about Jesus. We were delighted.

They talked about how they had left everything to follow Jesus. We had been active in the Jesus Movement ourselves and we could resonate with what they were saying. But, as they were urging us to drop everything and join them, both Aída and I began to have independent feelings of hesitation, a check in our spirits.

I asked the name of their group, but they just kept describing how wonderful the group was, not getting around to the name. Aída was the first to say we should leave. So, I insisted they tell me the group’s name and they finally admitted they were with the Children of God. I had never met any members before, but I certainly knew about them. They had gotten deceived and enmeshed in a pernicious cult. As we began to evangelize them, they withdrew from us and left.

For ourselves, we had already checked such false beliefs as theirs against the Bible and our consciences warned and protected us. It’s important to be prepared.

One way to be prepared is to be taught at a faithful church. That’s one reason not to neglect coming to church and interacting with the faithful (Heb. 10:25), because where two or three are gathered, there is Jesus in our midst (Matt. 18:20).

A sound evangelically orthodox church that oppresses none of its members and helps all who attend to polish and employ all the spiritual gifts the Holy Spirit has given each is the spiritual equivalent to a reliable bank, a bona fide place where we won’t get spiritually shortchanged, but which always deals on the gold-standard of God’s entire authentic truth.

We’ve tried to ensure the church we planted and attend is Bible-believing and Scripture-preaching and puts all who attend into a safe and solid Christian fellowship where the word of God is accurately explained, protecting us from getting caught by cults, no matter how attractive and appealing they are. Our advice: Open up the Bible, daily, check in with God in prayer, stay faithful and attend a trustworthy church.

This is the way to avoid counterfeits robbing us, so we can get to enjoy the spiritual riches of heaven even now. After all, why settle for a counterfeit? You only end spiritually bilked and financially broke.                                  

Bill



[1] The Law Office of Antoinette Bone, PLLC, “Seniors in the US are Struggling to Make Ends Meet,” https://abonelaw.com/2021/04/02/seniors-in-the-us-are-struggling-to-make-ends-meet/ accessed July 21, 2022.

[2] See the details in Max Palmer, Due, “How Will You Make Ends Meet in this Economy?” https://due.com/blog/how-will-you-make-ends-meet-in-this-economy/

[4] marketplace.org, (https://www.nbarizona.com/blog/tips-to-avoid-counterfeit-currencies). Who would have guessed that? According to the Banco de Mexico, today’s exchange rate for both buying and selling is 20.611 pesos to one dollar. https://www.eldolar.info › mexico › dia › hoy. According to the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank, the latest posted rate is 20.4440, see https://www.federalreserve.gov/releases/h10/current/

[5]And the Euro is not completely safe either. Although the European Central Bank claims Euro banknote counterfeiting was low in 2020, it still reported that 460,000 counterfeit notes had to be “withdrawn from circulation.” About two thirds of these were €20 note and €50 banknotes.(https://www.ecb.europa.eu/services/data-protection/privacy-statements/website/html/index.en.html ). I guess 460,000 notes is small to the vast piles of money a bank processes, but in most of our pockets even a handful of these bogus bills might be devastating to our vacation.

[8] Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, and Henry Stuart Jones, A Greek-English Lexicon 9th ed. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1940), 2026.

[9] See Jesus’s words in John’s Gospel 8:44.

[10] Joseph Henry Thayer, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Marshallton, DL: National foundation for Christian Education,1889), 676; Walter Baur, Frederick William Danker, William F. Arngt, F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 3d ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1097.

[11] The translations from the original Greek text are by the author.

[12] https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-1 d&q=how+many+different+currencies+are+there+in+the+world.

[13] “10 Banknotes from around the World and Their Security Features,” (https://www.visualcapitalist.com/10-banknotes-around-world-security-features/.)