“To a Mature Man” Stage 3–Baptism

– – As you know, brother, Baptism is a lot more than getting wet. It is being born again. Whether representationally or in actuality, there is a rebirth at baptism. Baptism is one of the richest ordained traditions that goes all the way back to Noah’s day (Gen. 7), through Moses (Ex. 14) and Joshua (Josh. 3) down to John baptizing Jesus. When John objected, Jesus made sure that all righteousness was fulfilled in his being baptized. Baptizing is also at the center point of the great commission of the Son of God. (Matthew 28:18-20) And so the church cannot neglect this stage.

Baptism always presupposes judgment. There is a reason why a person must start a new life with a new birth, because the old life is doomed to the same fate God poured out in his flood upon the perversity and wickedness of His rebellious creatures. It is this old life that must be left behind. Baptism is the safe place of obedience which is for the new believer like an ark to rise above the waters of judgment.

Furthermore, it is a separation from the world. By submitting to God, at baptism, you pass from the cursed slavery of Egypt into the miraculous salvation of God. The Red Sea was the gate that excluded all the servants of worldly powers and drowned them in their own hubris and vengeance. It was only those who moved forward and saw the salvation of the Lord who were saved through the waters. This is why the believer  must disown his inheritance in the world which perishes.

Once obedience and separation have been achieved at baptism, that is when the Holy Spirit comes. For Jesus, he took the form of the dove and from this time on began leading the Proto-Christian. (That sounds a little like calling the human woman named Barbie, upon whom the Barbie doll was based, the proto-Barbie.) The next stage is more about this leading. The Believe cannot move on to the next stage of the Christian life unless he has received the Holy Spirit.

Consider Jesus’ words in John 14:15-17:

If you love Me, you will keep My commandments [and] I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.

Notice the underlining: Obedience, and the need for separation from the world.

Now, at this moment, this actual birthing of the seeded and en-wombed Christian (stage 1 and 2) that a man can say he is a new creature. Or To use the analogy from the end of the last post, he is coming out of childhood into the years of testing in preparation for adulthood. He is born of water and spirit now, and since he has set himself apart from the world, the Heavenly Father will call him His son, and gladly that. Because he has obeyed God fully in submitting obediently to Him, and cast off his earthly identity as a citizen of the world doomed to destruction, the Holy Spirit himself can give breath to the reassembled bones and sinews of the now revived image of God.

Application

1. Repent from your sins, and turn to God.

There can be no sanctification without separation from this perishing world. Casting off not only what you do that is wrong, but also the patterns of life which make this world opposed to God. This is when a person owns his faith and declares it openly: “I am not an old-human anymore. I am a new-human.” It is the beginnings of Christian adulthood.

This does not mean you will never be in the world again, or that you won’t be back in the world before long to do God’s work, but from this moment forward, you are a pilgrim on a journey to a better country. It is passing through the waters of judgment on human evil, and turning to the One who is your Savior who will by your obedience pull you through the waters of judgment.

This may practically take many different forms. Now that you have been baptized, your first loyalty is confirmed to God over family, friends, business, country, etc. Some things will likely need to be moved out of the center of your life, especially yourself. All has been placed under God’s judgment and yourself with it. Like Joshua, you have passed into the promised land, through the waters of the Jordan.

2. Receive the Holy Spirit.

The most essential element to this baptism is the Holy Spirit himself. The person who seeks to enter this stage must be completely assured that they are seeking to receive Him. They, after this, will have presented themselves to a spirit with whom after much long reflection they may not wish to be filled. They must take care to know for sure that they are up for it. If he wishes to be a temple of the same Spirit that filled and empowered Jesus Christ, then, according to A.W. Tozer said a believer must do this:

  1. He must present himself. (This is where the act of Baptism comes in.)
  2. He is to ask to be filled.
  3. He is to receive the Holy Spirit.
  4. He is to believe he is filled.

All this to say, you can’t conjure the Holy Spirit. He comes from God according to the will of the Father, at Jesus’ intercession (John 14:15-17). He is eager to fill those who are set apart and who are obedient to Him.

Once I was teaching kids about the Holy Spirit, and one of the 7th grade students asked, “How can I know that I am filled with the Holy Spirit?” Great question, to which different denominations have a range of answers from bearing spirit-fruit to speaking in tongues. My answer is two fold:

  • Action. The spirit is producing the four participial phrases in Ephesians 5:19-20 speaking to one another in psalms hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks in all things and submitting to one another in the fear of Christ.
  • He’ll let you know.

If Jesus was baptized to fulfill all righteousness, anyone who follows Jesus into the new humanity must do this essential repentance of burying the old man, and being reborn in the new. And as Paul told the Roman Christians, “if any one does not have the spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” (Romans 8:9)

3. Avoid the trap of license to sin.

Every stage has its pitfalls. There is a hazard of someone letting the Holy Spirit of God empower him to do nothing for God in his life. This is what is meant by license to sin. Now that a person is freed from sin, and born anew, it is tempting to let that good feeling of forgiveness be wasted on a servant with a selfish heart. If the Holy Spirit empowers you, and you find yourself living of yourself, by yourself, for yourself, sinning and doing what is less than obedience to God, then you have mocked the Holy Spirit, and grieved him in his heart. When the Spirit of God made man alive during the days of Noah, and man’s heart was purely evil, it grieved God. Still today, if the Holy Spirit come to live in a person who uses his enlightening power as a means to greater sin, will grieve him, quench him, and silence him. We must respond to the question posed by Paul with the same answer given by Paul, “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may increase? By no means ever!” (Romans 6:1)

Final thought:

The Christian who is baptized and receives the Holy Spirit and keeps himself holy in his walk, will find that his baptism stage will be short-lived, because he will begin to be lead by the Holy Spirit into another stage, far more difficult, and no less necessary.

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Prayer, Bible-reading, and Fasting: A Practical Guide to Spiritual Discipline

My dear sister in Christ,

– – We all are fighting many battles. We each have many victories and many defeats of which we can boast. To aid you in your plight, I have some thoughts on Spiritual Disciplines that I hope may be useful to a practical person such as yourself. May you find the blessing of a loving brother reflecting the love of the Big brother too both of us: Jesus Christ.

– – It may not seem like it, but Jesus can really identify with everything that we go through. On the surface, it looks totally different: Jesus was not a wife and mother of two adorable yet sinful children. The reason he can is because all three temptations to which Eve and Adam fell, are the same three temptations with which Israel was tried in the wilderness for 40 years. and by which Jesus was tempted by the devil for 40 days. The three roots of all the sin in our lives can be boiled down to these:

  1. Cravings–Selfish desires to satisfy the lust of our flesh.
  2. Mistrust– Not fully believing that God is good, or His word is trustworthy
  3. Rebellion– gaining power for ourselves, independent of God, submitting to anything but Him.

Adam and Eve both fell to these three temptations in Eden, Israel fell to these in the Wilderness, but Jesus in the Wilderness did not. This stage of Jesus life comes after Jesus’ Baptism, and he enters by the holy Spirit’s leading into the desert and he beats Satan’s temptations and leaves with the Holy Spirit’s power, which he cultivated in three practical ways: Fasting, Prayer, and the Word of God. These three practices have a specific objective to teach a particular State of being, which can counteract the State of sin into which we are born. These three practices have the potential by the Spirit’s aid to strengthen the Christian for any struggle he or she faces: whether tangible or intangible, visible or invisible, emotional or rational, external or internal.

Preliminary caution: Nothing can be done except by the leading of the Holy Spirit. Make sure He’s even on board with you, or you are going nowhere like a boat with sail raised and no wind.

  1. Fasting. Jesus ate nothing for 40 days, and Satan said, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.” In the Greek it is clear that he was not trying to get Jesus to doubt that he was God’s son. On the contrary, he was saying that since he was the son of God he had the power to gratify his own desires. However, Jesus humbly responds with the lesson that Moses told the people of Israel that God was trying to teach them in the wilderness for 40 years: “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” The key thing Jesus held to in his temptation here was radical DEPENDENCE on God. It is the only way we can beat this particular root cause of sin in our lives: we depend on God for everything. Jesus learned this lesson of Dependence on God through Fasting.
    – – Practical ways to do this. Fasting means 1. denying ourselves something precious to us in which we find great happiness and joy, and depend on for our very livelihood for a period of time, and 2. replacing that very thing with reading God’s word, talking with God, listening for God in silence, doing things for others and serving God, focusing all your energies mental and physical on trying to know God intimately, doing nothing until you hear God’s voice tell you to, etc. Example: Instead of eating a meal, spending time reading scripture. Instead of watching TV, praying, instead of listening to music, practicing silent waiting on the Lord to Speak. Any period of time that practically works for you: an hour, a day, a week, a month, as the Holy Spirit leads you.
    Again, the goal of this practice is to depend on God for everything, your sustenance, your sanity, your spiritual well-being. Not only will the fruit of the Spirit self-control be added unto you, but also the fruit of patience, and peace.
  2. The Word of God. In addition to Scripture memory, which we both have had and has served us well, there is an even greater importance on appreciating the whole Story of the Bible. G.K. Chesterton helped C.S. Lewis recognize the Bible as the True story meant to capture the imagination as well as the mind’s search for truth when he said this, “Christianity met the mythological search for romance by being a story, and met the philosophical search for truth by being a true story.”~Everlasting Man The Gospel story from Genesis to Revelation serves one purpose: to reveal God’s righteousness from faith to faith. (Romans 1:16) The Bible does not assume that we just assume God is righteous, it shows us how especially in the Old Testament leading to the Gospels. This way the Word of God reveals God shows us one thing “God is trustworthy.” When Jesus was tempted to jump off the pinnacle of the temple, Satan told him, “Son of God, God said he’d take care of you, so go ahead and jump.” Jesus’ response “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” Indicates there was an implicit temptation of mistrust in Satan’s suggestion. Jesus however responds by saying in essence, “God has shown Himself to be trustworthy more times than I need. I will not test Him.” He learned this from reading the Hebrew Old Testament, and seeing the story of the Bible unfold to where he was. Through all he read, he learned radical TRUST in his father.
    Practical ways to do this: Reading God’s Word as a true story will give your imagination opportunities to wonder at God again, to take into your heart the same truths you wish for your own children to embrace. The Bible isn’t a collection of laws, but a story with laws in them, and that story reveals two main things: God is good, and we are rebellious. One resource I highly recommend is the Bible Project. They have Youtube videos explaining the Bible themes, Books of the Bible, Hebrew words, and more all in engaging, animated videos which kids from 4th Grade and up can appreciate. I recommend their Video series on the Torah (The first 5 books) and their “read through the Bible” series on each book of the Bible, and also reading the books of the Bible trying to trace the story line from Genesis to Revelation.
    Again, the goal here is to teach you the same radical TRUST Jesus had in His father by seeing how God has dealt with the world up to this point.
  3. Prayer. This is the big one, and I am glad to hear how you have already incorporated this one into your life so much! When Satan tempted Jesus with all the kingdoms of the world, if he would simply fall down and worship Satan, there was only one way Jesus could say no to that temptation. DEVOTION: a love for God that would rather have Him than anything else. Fasting, and reading God’s Word foster this too, but there is something about the intimacy and communion of prayer, rivaling marital copulation in love shared. Prayer is where we meet with God, know God, love God, and are met, known, and loved. E. M. Bounds wrote a book, “Power through Prayer” explaining these principles that prayer is where a Christian derives his power. The secret to this is two fold: on the one hand, we are made in God’s image, and the more time we spend with the one whose image we bear, the more our broken image is remolded and reshaped into His likeness. (Example: Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story the Great Stone Face.) But on the other hand, God is love, and this love can only be shared and expressed in a close intimate encounter and continual DEVOTION to the beautiful God whose beauty melts the heart of stone with His pure love.
    Practical ways to do this: “Pray without ceasing.” I like to apply this by making God a part of every conversation: not talking about Him, but talking with everyone as if God is standing right next to you. Talking with Him about everything. It takes practice, but it becomes super easy the more intimate and excited you get when you recognize how He is feeling, acting, and thinking toward others around you in any given moment in time. Also, setting aside time to keep Him as the main thing. Everything else in the world will vie for your attention, and every responsibility will chain you up unless you make the choice deliberately that God is the the most important person in your life, and you would rather have Him than ANYTHING. Finally, praying with people so that it becomes not only a personal devotion, but a mutual encouragement to share God’s love.

One final thought: Please do not pursue the practical at the expense of the personal. It may be my personality coming out here, but I believe there is a personal root to everything. I encourage you to follow these practical steps wherever you can, and do not forget that He’s right there personally available for all of it. Expect to fail and learn to depend on God even in your failures.

May God bless you, my sister, and I hope that we both may mutually grow into the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge. God’s peace be with your spirit.

How Personal is He?

There’s a post on Facebook that has been floating around for a while that I have a real issue with. This is an article about my issue with it.

The post is a cartoon drawing with two scenes. The top scene is a man on his knees praying toward the Clouds of Heaven asking, “God, please speak to me!” The next scene is a large hand reaching out of the clouds to hand him a Bible. While I get the point (if you want to know what God said, read the Bible. “G-doi!”[Little shout out to Wreck it Ralph for that one.]) I immediately reacted against it. “Oh come on! God is a lot more personal than that!”

Isn’t He?

A certain man had two sons. He was a busy man, and worked in his office with the door closed. One day, one of his sons knocked on his office door, and asked to speak with him. In response, the man slipped a piece of paper to his son that said, “I love you, son. If you have any pressing concerns read my notes I left you.” The son left and went to read his father’s notes. A little later the other son knocked and asked to speak with him. Immediately, the father swung open the door, and invited the child into the office and showed him what he was up to.

Which son did the man show more love to? Which one do you think will continue the family business when they are older?

Consider this verse: John 20:31–“These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”

I learned this verse in AWANA, a program for children to learn Bible verses from an early age, based on the idea of 2 Timothy 2:15, “Study to show yourself approved, a workman that needs not to be ashamed rightly dividing the word of Truth.” Though I barely understood these words as a 7 year old, I did understand the idea of Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed: AWANA. I got the Citation for completing the whole program and purchased the white gold citation ring with my name and that verse on it, as a reminder of my pledge to “rightly divide” His Word.

It was in Seminary that  this”training” came into question. I heard a professor from Wheaton, John Walton,  say these words which would shock most of my many self-proclaimed fundamentalist friends:

“The Bible was not written to us. We believe the Bible was written for us, like it’s for everyone of all times and places. But it wasn’t written to us. It wasn’t written in our language, it wasn’t written with our culture in mind or our culture in view.”

I am inclined to agree with him to a point. If the Bible was written “to” us (and for this writing, I say us representing American, technological, free people) it would have been written in English, and He probably would have used emojis. 🙂 Just saying. The Bible records two very distinct conversations: The Old Testament records God’s personal involvement and conversation with the people of Israel as a testimony to the Nations of His Goodness and unfailing love for all who would Hear His voice and keep His word; the New Testament records the conversation between Jesus Christ, the Son of God, his followers, and the people of the whole known world at that time. Even this verse in John 20:31 is written to John’s audience at his time. Just because it has been translated into English does not mean that it was written directly to “you” O ye noble English speaker.

Let me put it this way. Which is more meaningful to you: to get a letter from a friend with inside jokes and shared understandings? Or to read a letter from your dad to your older brother who are both fishermen who talk about life using fishing metaphors and you’ve never been fishing a day in your life? (A little shout out to Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs for that one.) “Better is a friend who is near than a brother who is far away.” Solomon said to his son.

I’ve been deep in the languages, and submerged myself into some of the contexts of the Bible. The Word of God is so much more profound than in English: but it’s also a lot simpler than most teachers make it out to be. What really gets me fired up about this, is It’s also a lot more interpersonal than most Christians think it is, and also a lot less intrapersonal than most American Christians think Let me explain.

I have sat under teachers who have said, “You have got to have a relationship with this book.” I cringe every time, because a book can’t talk back, can’t hold you, can’t convict you, except on your terms. It’s a lot easier to tie yourself to a book than it is to stare into the face of another human being eye to eye. Especially if the book isn’t even written directly to you in the first place.

On the other hand, I have watched my fellow believers swaying to complete misappropriations and misapplications of the Biblical Text. As a result they emotionally mislead many and themselves to their own disgrace. It’s a lot easier to read whatever you want into the words of the Bible than to read it as a conversation between two other people, in which you hopefully know One of the parties very well. Or rather in which One of the two parties hopefully knows you very well.

Both of these approaches are shallow and lead to error. One sucks all the blood out of a body, the other suffers from internal bleeding. What is the answer? Is there a third way?

Yes.

Paul, suffering persecution unto the end of his life, passed the torch to his “son in the faith” Timothy saying this, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ JesusAll Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

“From whom.” I’ll be honest, I’m not entirely sure what Paul means here. One helpful note from translation: the “Whom” is plural! That throws out the idea of it all coming back to God teaching you, which is what I thought at first. Paul is writing a letter, so it could be he’s referring to something or someone not referred to in the text like teachers in the past, but . . . The word could be translated “who” or “what.” And directly after he says “knowing from ‘whom’ (pl) you’ve learned it he goes on to describe  the “sacred writings” of the Old Testament.

This is common sense. Interpretation is not a science; it’s an art. In electricity, energy passes from a positive electrode to a negative electrode. Interpretation is like tracing the path of the bolt of lighting between them. In communication the positive electrode is the speaker, the negative electrode is the listener. The meaning is the spark they share between them.

Many people would love to load a bunch of meaning into 2 Timothy 3:16 as the verse for the authority of the whole Bible: Old and New Testament. Paul wasn’t referring to his own letters, he was referring to the sacred writings of the Old Testament. To say he meant more than that is to set up another negative electrode with which there is no “spark.” The New Testament is gonna have to look somewhere other than this statement of Paul for its authority, which I do affirm.

Let me share my interpretation of this passage: Paul is praising Timothy for how he has grown in Bible study. This is an older man commending his follower in how well he has followed him. And when Paul is gone, Timothy will 1. Know what he’s been taught. 2. Be deeply assured in faith about it, and 3. Know the sources that it is based in.

You have read so far so kindly, let me pause for a second. Is he talking about teachers or scriptures? Both are valid interpretations. We do need multiple teachers just like we need multiple eyes to see 3-D, and two people to verify truth. The grammar of the language Paul used to write this thought to Timothy could go either way, but the usage of the words for “learning” really make it sound like he’s talking about people. Multiple teachers.

So, he goes on to continue the same thought of 1. Knowing what he’s been taught, 2. Being deeply assured in faith about it, and 3. knowing the people who taught him. 4. by discussing the sacred writings. Aha! And how do these writings function? One thing to note is that, Paul at no point of this passage does Paul refer to the Sacred writings as God’s Word to Timothy. The Old Testament served the purpose of “giving wisdom that leads to Salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”

We see from this snippet of conversation why wisdom is important (because it leads to Salvation), but how do the texts give wisdom? Could it be through seeing how the spark of meaning jumps between God and His people in a specific and personal way? Is it wisdom to take a letter between two people talking about cars, and put yourself in the position of the recipient, when you have no idea what a carburetor does? Or is it more humble to say, I would rather see what the letter meant to the original recipient before trying to understand what it meant. Which way is more human and accurate?

And what about this “faith” thing? Faith is internalization of truth as reality that externally shapes your world around you. But truth that is not kept between two people is not truth. It is a man talking to himself, and you can find that in any insane asylum. Faith is like putting your weight on a rock while climbing a cliff knowing it is sturdy enough to hold your weight. Woe to those who put faith in an engine to start that has only positive electrodes distanced from the negative ones. Because such an engine will not combust with true fire.

The beauty of the divinity of the Scriptures (which is absolutely true, and attested by Jesus Himself in conversation in the book of John), is that God speaks by divine revelation communicated very humanly between at least two people. Search the Scriptures and see if you find anything that is not written or spoken from one person to the hearing of another. Hint: before you go thinking about Proverbs, remember it was largely written from a father to his son. Kings, Chronicles, Samuel? Nehemiah? Hmmmm.

All of the sacred writings of Scripture have the very breath of God in them. When God breathed in the second chapter of Genesis it was to put life into the man. If you are reading the Old Testament, and you are not feeling the life in them, perhaps it is because you’re trying to suck air through a hole in God’s cheek, instead of aligning yourself with the person on the other end of God’s breath to whom He is speaking, and feeling in that moment “the cool of the day” in Eden, “the whirlwind of the storm” in Job, “the gentle whisper” to Elijah at Mt. Horeb.

It is because of God’s breath/spirit in these passages they are profitable for teaching, exposing, improving, and training in righteousness.  Without God’s breath, they are not. Without God’s spirit they will not make the man of God fully complete to outwardly complete every good work.

Is it possible to read the Scriptures and miss God’s breath entirely? Jesus said to the religious leaders of His day, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.”

Let me regather: The point I made in the beginning is God is more personal than to hide himself behind words distant or disconnected from our own hearts. The way we handle the Bible: Old and New Testaments must be human/humble acknowledging that God spoke directly to others, and we can get in on that spark if we just line up the electrodes and watch the meaning unfold. That’s where the fire is! I’ve seen it! It’s real! He is real! Not only this, but God still speaks directly to us! He still directly speaks to each one who has the ears to hear, as the Holy Spirit living within His people guiding them into all truth, especially the truth of the Holy Scriptures. But the question of this whole grappling is “How personal is He?”

You see, dear reader, one of the reasons I hate sin so much, is it blinds us to the Goodness of God. That is why the “goodness/kindness/loyalty of God leads us to repentance.” And is it in a father’s accessibility to his children that we recognize God’s own goodness, or in a father’s cold detachment through a book that once meant something and is supposed to mean something again. Whenever I have gorged myself on the empty pleasures of this world, whether food, movies, wrongful sexual stimulation, it is SO hard to see Him. And I hate that. Because when I see Him, I enjoy His likeness in all things, especially in the face of another human being. That is where the same spark exists. Love is the true fire between two faces that kiss, and don’t let anyone tell you that physical touch means nothing to love.

It is exactly my point that God’s engagement with the people of God in the Holy Scriptures is just as personal as a kiss between two lovers. He made them, breathed into his nostrils, clothed them, spoke to them, instructed them, led them, said “please” to them, shared His secrets with them, performed great miraculous wonders for them, showed Himself to them, pursued them, wanted to be pursued by them, grew angry with them, was grieved by them, disciplined them, brought them back to life, saved them out of slavery, fed them, gave them water, adopted them, taught them, fortified them, fought for them, protected them, beautified them, glorified them, and sang songs of gladness over them.  And that is just some of the things we have recorded! Then He walked among them and touched them, gave himself up for them, won the victory for them! He was their friend, their father, their God, their beloved. How much more personal can you get? Why would you think that God would be any less personally, actively involved in your life?

I think I’ll close this grappling with just one more thought. If the people of God represent God in the world, then they must pay great heed to this question. We become like the One we worship. And if we worship a God who is like a book, then the church will see itself as a book that the world can pick up and read and be saved, or a book that can be overlooked and rejected. If we worship a God who is personally, actively engaged with us in the same way He has been personally, actively engaged in the pastthen we are going to go after this world. Why? Because that’s what Jesus did. He went after the world so that the world could have life through him, not through a book. It was Jesus the people of Israel rejected, not the Scriptures. It was God’s last demonstration of His forbearance to the people who had killed all his servants and been exiled and returned enslaved: “I’ll send them my Son. Surely they will hear Him.” Let those of us, who have been entrusted with the very gates of the Kingdom of Heaven, with which little children are so familiar, not be included in this woe: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.”