Christianity 201

July 4, 2015

Passing the Torch of Leadership

“Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them–to the Israelites.
~Joshua 1:2 NIV

 

Brian StillerToday’s post is by Brian Stiller, former President of Youth for Christ Canada, former President of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, former President of Tyndale University College and Seminary and now Global Ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance. Brian has lived many lifetimes! You can read more about him here.

What makes what follows so interesting is that it was written in 1987. It appeared in an EFC communications piece, The Sundial, and my wife typed this out so we could share it here.

When we fail to pass the torch

As we look at churches and organizations today, we can see that there are many in need of torch passing. But either the senior leader desperately holds on too long with no attempt to train or give opportunity to the younger, or the tension produces so much conflict that the younger leader heads off to some other more flexible opportunity. Out of it all, energy and vision are suppressed. This leads to an increasing loss of touch with reality and a lack of clear goals and effective strategy.

How can the torch be passed?

There is a wonderful example in the Old Testament of the passing of the torch – from Moses to Joshua.

The announcement, “Moses, my servant, is dead”, boomed out across the tents in the valley. What would happen now? many wondered. Fortunately for the people of Israel, Moses had carefully nurtured and developed a younger leader – Joshua.

What Moses did then lends powerful ideas to this generation.

Leadership includes different styles

Moses recognised that leadership emerges out of different styles. Whereas he was a crusader, Joshua was a manager.

Moses was angered by the treatment of his kinsfolk. Later he defended some young women who were being harassed while tending their sheep. Ultimately his crusader instinct led him to say yes to God’s call to lead the people out of Egypt.

How different Joshua was. Right from the beginning we see his obedience. Never is there conflict between himself and Moses. There was no sign of trouble because of a strident spirit or a self-centered personality.

Moses didn’t look for someone identical to himself. A different style was needed. Moses’ and Joshua’s backgrounds, personalities, styles, means of operation and public profiles were vastly different. Yet each was a leader and each, from his base of strength, was used by God in a particular way and particular time.

Different times call for different styles

It’s easy to be trapped into believing in a “best” form of leadership. My generation has grown up thinking its cloth must be cut from a certain model. Since World War II church leadership has been characterized as aggressive, charismatic, individualistic and out going. This view of leadership, however, has been typecast from a specific time and culture. It’s time we looked for other models.

Moses was a restless and dominating figure who led his people out of bondage and defined the basis of the community by his special contact with God. How different was Joshua! Learning from his tutor, Moses, he took the patterns and ideas expressed by his predecessor and molded them into a working society. Each leader was competent but their styles were different.

Passing the torch is inevitable

It’s not always easy to make the transition from one generation to the next. My generation has lived with the “long shadow” syndrome. The long shadow occurs when a key senior leader, often a creative and crusading “Moses”, continues for so long that his or her shadow blankets the one who is following. And the up and coming leader never gets an opportunity to nurture his or her own vision. Instead, the potential leader gets trapped by serving the older and never really develops the fine edges of his or her own leadership.

Managing Moses’ ideas

Joshua became the manager of Moses’ ideas. And how necessary it is that crusaders nurture and train managers to put their ideas into order and practice. Joshua succeeded because he refused to succumb to the weakness which plagues all managers: maintaining the status quo. Rather, he nurtured his vision and risked beyond the borders of Moses

July 3, 2015

Come, O Lord

Rev. 22:20 He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus

I Cor 16:22b …Come, Lord! 23 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.

In the early days of the Jesus People movement, Calvary Chapel had a record label called Maranatha! Music, which meant people often knew more about the meaning of the word discussed in today’s Bible study than they do presently. (The company still exists, mostly producing worship compilations.)

Today’s writer is Jeff Loach, who I’ve gotten to know online over the years at Thinking Out Loud. His blog is called Passionately His, and to read today’s post online, you’re invited to click the title link below to read at source, and then look around at other articles.

Marana tha!

Marana tha. It’s not a phrase we hear tossed around much anymore, even in the church.

Marana tha. Even though it’s alluded to among the very last words of the Bible, most of us aren’t acquainted with it.

Marana tha. Interestingly, I have heard several people speak about it in the past few weeks, given all that’s going on in the world.

Marana tha. “Come, O Lord.” It’s becoming a popular prayer again.

Marana tha. This simple Aramaic prayer, uttered by Paul in 1 Corinthians 16 and hinted at by John in Revelation 22, says so much in so little space.

Marana tha. It’s a term of submission, in which we name Jesus as Lord, suggesting we ourselves are not Lord. It’s a term of hope, in which we look to the future we know God has in store for all who love him. It’s a term of desire, in which we long for Jesus to make right what the human race has made wrong. It’s a yearning for order, a yearning for peace, a yearning for justice.

Marana tha. We are invited to pray that prayer, for the restoration of God’s world and the meting of God’s justice. And while we wait for the wonderful return of our Lord, he invites us to answer our prayer with action on his behalf.

We can’t hasten the second coming. But we can help to prepare the world for it.

For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people.  And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed (Titus 2.11-13, NLT).


Speaking of the classic Jesus Music days, you can’t go back any further than the band Love Song, considered to be among the first who pioneered what is today called Contemporary Christian Music. This song is simply titled Maranatha.

July 2, 2015

Does Everyone Get the Same Reward; Same Punishment?

Today we pay a return visit to Biblical Proof, the blog of Alfred Shannon, Jr, a member of the Church of Christ. A year ago I noted the way he defines his writing: “I preach, and teach the Gospel of Christ, and I adhere to the principle of speaking where the bible speaks, and remaining silent where the bible is silent.” (italics added) This one today will get you thinking.

Reward and Punishment

Will all the righteous receive the exact same reward in heaven? Will all the wicked receive the same damnation in hell? Some think so, but what saith the scripture? (Gal 4:30).

In the parable of the talents (Luke 19:12-27), servants were given a set amount of funds to invest while the master was gone. One was able to take one mina and produced 10 more from it. And the master told him, “Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities” (Luke 19:17). Another servant produced 5 more minas and was told, “You also be over five cities” (Luke 19:19). Thus it appears that while all faithful followers are given eternal life as a reward, in that eternal life we will have differing responsibilities or roles based on our productivity for the Lord here. It is an application of a principle stated earlier by the Lord, “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much” (Luke 16:10).

One person can measure the character of another by observing how he does with small things. If a person is willing to steal small things because “it doesn’t matter” then you can be sure that given the opportunity he’ll steal larger things as well. If someone is trustworthy enough to pay you back a dollar that he owes you will be reliable with larger sums as well. That is why eternal life is said to be determined by seemingly small things. “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:34-40).

Another passage to consider is “For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works” (Matthew 16:27). One way to read this passage is that each person will get either eternal life or eternal punishment based on what he has done. But it is also possible that Jesus is saying Christians will each be rewarded in proportion to what they have done.

A more obscure passage is Paul’s discussion of each man’s works. “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire” (I Corinthians 3:11-15). In the context, Paul describes himself as a master builder and those he has converted as material being built up into a temple for God. Seen in this way, the success of those Paul converts to Christ are a benefit and joy to Paul when they too reach heaven. “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For you are our glory and joy” (I Thessalonians 2:19-20). The opposite would also be true. If someone you worked with and converted does not make it, you’ll suffer loss, though you yourself should make it.

This is what John had in mind when he said, “For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward” (2 Jn 7-8). It is clear he is not talking about losing his own reward, but since he is concerned about others, whom he has worked with, he is expressing a desire to see them in heaven that his joy may be as full as it can be.

In regards to punishment, there also seems to be degrees of punishment. Here Jesus is found saying to three cities… It will be better in the Day of Judgment for Sodom, Tyre, and Sidon, than for those of Capernaum, Chorazin, and Bethsaida. The punishment will be more severe for them than for those of… Sodom… Tyre… and Sidon (Mt 11.21-24).

In the parable of the servants Jesus said, “And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more” (Luke 12:47-48). Related to this is the warning in Hebrews 10:28-29, “Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?”

Jesus warned the scribes and Pharisees by saying, “…hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation (Mt 23:14). The apostle James warned all those who sought to be teachers by saying, “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment (Jam 3:1). It was the apostle John who foretold the ending to the Devil and the false prophet by saying, The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev 20:10). John also said that the “bottomless pit” is where the Devil was cast into (Rev 20:3). It is evident that those who mislead so many like Billy Graham, all the Popes, and all the many false prophets of the world will share the worst part of hell with the Devil and his angels.

Conclusion: I can only suppose that the very wicked seek to comfort themselves with the idea that God won’t punish them more than those who sought the Lord but came up shy of the mark. Many think that they can mass murder the innocent, starve the poor, or live abominable lifestyles like homosexuals and adulterers with impunity and suffer no more than anyone else. If Sodom and Gomorrah could but speak, they would testify to the contrary. It is conclusive, the greater the sin, the greater the punishment!

The same applies to the righteous. Some shall receive a greater reward for all that they do for the cause of Christ. It is totally improbable and contradicts biblical accounts that God will not reward greatly those who were beheaded, cut in half, tortured, tormented, and tossed into fire and the lions den for the cause of Christ. In fact, many refused deliverance that they might obtain a better resurrection (Heb 11:33-38). Jesus said to his disciples, “Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.  And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life (Mt 19:28-29). It is conclusive, the greater service to God, the greater the reward! Be not deceived, God is not mocked, for whatsoever a man sows that shall he also reap (Gal 6:7).

July 1, 2015

Praying For Your Children

As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
  Psalm 103:13 NIV

praying boy and dogEven if you’re not a parent, you might be a grandparent, Godparent, aunt, uncle, brother, sister, teacher, Children’s ministry leader, etc. Or perhaps you can use this as a checklist to see how you measure up yourself! This is a return visit to the blog Into The King’s Garden by Angel Koerner Bohon. Click the title to get the source for this and think of someone who has children in their sphere of influence you can send it to. (The text in each section alludes strongly to scripture passages you will recognize, but if you want to study them further, copy and paste into BibleGateway.com)

Virtues to Pray for Your Children

1. Salvation — “Lord, let salvation spring up within my children, that they may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.” (Isa. 45:8; 2 Tim. 2:10)

2. Growth in Grace — “I pray that my children may grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Pet. 3:18)

3. Love — “Grant, Lord, that my children may learn to live a life of love, through the Spirit who dwells in them.” (Gal. 5:25; Eph. 5:2)

4. Honesty and Integrity — “May integrity and honesty be their virtue and their protection.” (Ps. 25:21)

5. Self-Control — “Father, help my children not to be like many others around them, but let them be alert and self-controlled in all they do.”
(1 Thess. 5:6)

6. Love for God’s Word — “May my children grow to find Your Word more precious than much pure gold and sweeter than honey from the comb.” (Ps. 19:10)

7. Justice — “God, help my children to love justice as You do and act justly in all they do.” (Ps. 11:7; Mic. 6:8)

8. Mercy — “May my children always be merciful, just as their Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)

9. Respect (for self, others, and authority) — “Father, grant that my children may show proper respect to everyone, as Your Word commands.” (1 Pet. 2:17)

10. Biblical Self-Esteem — “Help my children develop a strong self-esteem that is rooted in the realization that they are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 2:10)

11. Faithfulness — “Let love and faithfulness never leave my children, but bind these twin virtues around their necks and write them on the tablet of their hearts.” (Prov. 3:3)

12. Courage — “May my children always be strong and courageous in their character and in their actions.” (Deut. 31:6)

13. Purity — “Create in them a pure heart, O God, and let that purity of heart be shown in their actions.” (Ps. 51:10)

14. Kindness — “Lord, may my children always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.” (1 Thess. 5:15)

15. Generosity — “Grant that my children may be generous and willing to share, and so lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age.” (1 Tim. 6:18-19)

16. Peace-Loving — “Father, let my children make every effort to do what leads to peace.” (Rom. 14:19)

17. Joy — “May my children be filled with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Thes. 1:6)

18. Perseverance — “Lord, teach my children perseverance in all they do, and help them especially to run with perseverance the race marked out for them.” (Heb. 12:1)

19. Humility — “God, please cultivate in my children the ability to show true humility toward all.” (Titus 3:2)

20. Compassion — “Lord, please clothe my children with the virtue of compassion.” (Col. 3:12)

21. Responsibility — “Grant that my children may learn responsibility, for each one should carry his own load.” (Gal. 6:5)

22. Contentment — “Father, teach my children the secret of being content in any and every situation, through Him who gives them strength.” (Phil. 4:12-13)

23. Faith — “I pray that faith will find root and grow in my children’s hearts, that by faith they may gain what has been promised to them.” (Luke 17:5-6; Heb. 11:1-40)

24. A Servant’s Heart — “God, please help my children develop servant’s hearts, that they may serve wholeheartedly, as if they were serving the Lord, not men.” (Eph. 6:7)

25. Hope — “May the God of hope grant that my children may overflow with hope and hopefulness by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Rom. 15:13)

26. Willingness and Ability to Work — “Teach my children, Lord, to value work and to work at it with all their heart, as working for the Lord and not for men.” (Col. 3:23)

27. Passion for God — “Lord, please instill in my children a soul that ‘followeth hard after thee,’ one that clings passionately to You.” (Ps. 63:8)

28. Self-Discipline — “Father, I pray that my children may acquire a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair.” (Prov. 1:3)

29. Prayerfulness — “Grant, Lord, that my children’s lives may be marked by prayerfulness, that they may learn to pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers.” (1 Thess. 5:17)

30. Gratitude — “Help my children to live lives that are always overflowing with thankfulness and always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Eph. 5:20; Col. 2:7)

31. A Heart for Missions — “Lord, please help my children to develop a desire to see Your glory declared among the nations, Your marvelous deeds among the peoples.” (Ps. 96:3)

 

June 30, 2015

The Sin of Self-Importance

We end the month with a return visit to a blog with an unusual name, re-Ver(sing) Verses.  I love the format used there each day, when you click the title below, take a minute to look through other recent devotionals. (The format is also a good model how of to present Bible study material.)

3 John 1:9

 I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us.

3 John 1:9 | NIV | Other Versions | Context

Brief

By the time John got to writing the book of 3 John, it was understood that he was already very old, nearing a hundred. By then all the other apostles had been martyred – indeed, according to history (not the Bible), it was said that all the apostles except for John were martyred. Imagine living till that age? Almost ever single one of your peer would most likely have departed. While you will likely have a lot of friends, most of them would be a lot younger than you, and your friendship is based on your mentorship to them. Hence why the title of ‘the Elder’ that John calls himself by is doubly apt – whether or not he truly was an Elder in title or not, or simply in connotation. We know little about the Early Church except from what little the authors of the New Testament tells us, but most of those writers – Paul, Peter etc were all prominent leaders who regularly speak to different churches or visit different churches. Little is known about what goes on in a normal, regular church with a normal, regular leader. In 3 John we were given a glimpse of 3 obscure leaders in the early church days – Gaius, to whom John addressed the book of 3 John to, Diotrephes, who is our character of interest today, and Demetrius, who was the least mentioned but probably most commended. In this study we will focus on the very obscure Diotrephes from the very obscure book, and identify the common traits in a church leader that John has condemned as evil – that which we should not imitate.

Analysis

I wrote to the church – the assumption here is that this was the same church that Gaius was most likely a part of. The idea here was likely, John wrote something to the church, most likely some greetings and teachings, only to be rejected by Diotrephes. In order to reject them, he would have to be of a certain ministerial position – a position of certain authority and leadership powers, at least within the church itself. As a result of Diotrephes, the letter was likely destroyed or not read out to the church, and hence, John was now writing to Gaius, most likely another church leader, so that his message can be passed on to the Church. This was perhaps also an explanation for what he did not bring up the matter of Diotrephes with the Church but with Gaius, as any letter to the church would probably end up with Diotrephes and not paid heed to.

but Diotrephes, who loves to be first – the love of preeminence is pointed out specifically by John here. If Diotrephes is, as we assumed, a man holding a certain office in the church, likely pastoral, and likely amongst a core few key positions, there will certainly be a certain importance to this man. Indeed, even till today, we do afford our pastors and ministers higher importance as a respect of their positions. However, Diotrephes was likely being too self-important, even to the point of abusing his authority. It was out of his own pride, ambition, and self-interest. There are some scholars who believe that Diotrephes preferred a different gospel to the one the apostles preached, and thus did not welcome John, but that is something I cannot speculate on.

will not welcome us – there are two possibilities here, firstly, that John was physically unwelcome when he tried to visit the church, and secondly, his voice and words were unwelcome as Diotrephes disregarded his letter, paid no heed to his words, and withheld the letter from being read to the Church. Either way, this emphasizes the tyrannical rule that Diotrephes has over the church. While a church leader was meant to lead while walking in the truth (like Gaius, as praised by John in v2), Diotrephes not only rejected them and sought preeminence, he also had malicious words for them and chased some of them out of the church. John had harsh words for Diotrephes, implying that he was evil, and he implores Gaius never to follow his example – do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God [3 John 1:11].

Conclusion

Wow, this is like First Century AD Church politics, no? How dramatic, really. We see John, most likely a reputed figure in the Christian world and a mentor figure over several church leaders – the last of apostles, an old man with lots of respect reserved for him, being undermined by a pompous Diotrephes, who had some power in a church where Gaius, a commendable man, was also in. How complicated, but in truth, it happened in the first century, and it’s still happening today. Many times in the midst of our love for preeminence – let’s face it, we all like to be important – we lose sight of what is most important, what the church is about. We lose sight of God, and John’s warning is harsh – do good, or you are not from God.

As much as 3 John was a letter that commends Gaius, and as much as it reads, for a bit, like a complaint letter against Diotrephes to Gaius, the message is clear: lead the church properly, righteously, with the love of God. Do not imitate what is evil, but imitate what is good. And that Diotrephes?

Evil man!

For us modern day Christians, we may not be church leaders, but let us not become modern day Diotrephes, but instead imitate the good of Gaius and Demetrius.

 

June 29, 2015

Redefining What it Means to be ‘Spiritually Deep’

People who read a blog with a title like Christianity 201 crave spiritual depth. A teacher who presents historical background we’ve never heard. A preacher who exhorts his audience to strive for higher levels of commitment. An academic who connects the dots from text “A” to text “B” and both of them to text “C.” An author whose preferred style means that every page is heavy with deep truths. A blogger who mines the classic Christian writers and shines new light on those lost works.

And I am in favor of all five of those.

But what is true depth? What does it mean to say he (or she) is a “deep Christian?” Does it mean academic honors, or research ability, or literary giftedness, or a visionary spirit, or having your doctrine correct?

I don’t think so. Otherwise spiritual achievement would be reserved for intellectuals. That’s actually what many Christian websites communicate. People read them and say, “Yes, I could be that spiritual, but only if I were smarter.” In other words, they regard depth as something that’s out of their league.

The name of this blog, Christianity 201, implies that kind of depth. I should be quoting Spurgeon right about now, or making an observation from reading the New Testament today in Greek (which, for the record, I don’t read.)

I think there’s something much more important at stake, but something much more commonplace. I think to be that person, who is regarded as a “deep spiritual thinker” you want to be doing a different set of things:

  1. Try to live your life by the highest ethical standard, in ways both visible and invisible. Start today by going through your e-mail and finding personal letters from people that you never answered. Or phone calls you never returned. Or a bill you’ve never yet paid. I believe strongly that much of our standing before God consists in doing right things. That includes sins of omission. “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4: 17 NASB)
  2. Aim for excellence. I am so very tired of people whose work for the kingdom of God is “just enough to get by.” They spend hours supposedly studying the great works of Christian literature, but then their blog post on them is full of careless spelling errors. They are renowned as a true worshiper of God, but their guitar is never tuned. “‘If a man dedicates his house as something holy to the Lord, the priest will judge its quality as good or bad. Whatever value the priest then sets, so it will remain.” (Leviticus 27: 14 NIV) That’s an interesting chapter to study; also consider, “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.” (I Cor 3: 12-13 NIV)
  3. Humility. Some of the most spiritual people I know do not believe that they are. Again, the Christian internet tends to have its own “stars” and many of these people really believe the stuff about themselves that’s online. But again, truly ‘deep’ Christians never see themselves as such. They are aware of the shortcomings. Sometimes Paul found it necessary, by way of introduction, to provide his listeners with his spiritual pedigree, or spiritual resumé. But then he goes on; “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3: 8-9 ESV).

So let’s summarize this in a prayer:

Lord show me if I’ve directly or indirectly wronged anyone today. Remind me if I’ve missed the mark of your highest (and deepest) calling through sins I’ve committed and sins of omission. Also, help me to my best Lord, that’s for sure, but help me to aim for the best. Don’t let me offer up anything either to you or for you that has less value than I am capable of giving. Finally, in whatever spiritual community or faith family I find myself, don’t let me start to believe my own press. When others say something good about me, let me know when to give You the credit, and when to correct their impression.

June 28, 2015

Maybe They’ve Never Seen The Real Christ

francis chanFrancis Chan in the book, ChurchLeaders.Com Top 100 (2012):

As Christians in America, we often complain about how antagonistic people are toward Christ.  Personally, I’m not sure that Americans are really rejecting Christ.  Maybe they just haven’t seen Him.

Try to be COMPLETELY honest with yourself right now.  Is the following true of you?

    • You passionately love Jesus, but you don’t really want to be like Him.
    • You admire His humility, but you don’t want to be THAT humble.
    • You think it’s beautiful that he washed the feet of the disciples, but that’s not exactly the direction your life is headed.
    • You’re thankful He was spit upon and abused, but you would never let that happen to you.
    • You praise him for loving you enough to suffer during his whole time on Earth, but you’re going to do everything within your power to make sure you enjoy your time down here.

In short:  You think He’s a great Savior, but not a great role model.

The American church has abandoned the most simple and obvious truth of what it means to follow Jesus:  You actually follow His pattern of life.  I pray for those who read this article – that we don’t become cynical or negative toward the church.  Instead, let’s make a personal decision to stop talking so much and begin living like Jesus.  Then we can say as the Apostle Paul,Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”  (1 Corinthians 11:1).  My guess is that you’ve never had someone say that to you, and you’ve never said it to anyone else. Why not?

May we make it our goal to someday have someone say of us:  “The day/hour/15 minutes I spent with _________ was the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to walking with Jesus.”


This morning our pastor mentioned my name in the sermon. That always zaps me back to attention! He was discussing all the various names given to God in scripture, and that there are, by some counts, over 600! Then he said he saw this on my blog.  Actually, Pastor Mike Stone of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, Georgia posted these on his blog in 2010, and I thought it would be good to reproduce them here one more time. For those who want to dig a little deeper; the second-last one is also the title of a very hold hymn, which is how I came to learn of these names while still a teenager.

Genesis 22 – Jehovah Jireh – The Lord, my Provider

Exodus 15 – Jehovah Rapha – The Lord who heals

Exodus 17 – Jehovah Nissi – The Lord, my banner

Exodus 31 – Jehovah M’Kaddesh – The Lord who sanctifies

Deuteronomy 33 – Jehovah Chereb – The Lord, my Sword

Deuteronomy 33 – Jehovah Magen – The Lord, my Shield

Judges 6 – Jehovah Shalom – The Lord, my Peace

1 Samuel 1 – Jehovah Sabaoth – Lord of the hosts of heaven

Psalm 3 – Jehovah Kahbodi – The Lord, my Glory

Psalm 10 – Jehovah Malech-Olam – The Lord who is king forever

Psalm 18 – Jehovah Chezeq – The Lord, my strength

Psalm 18 – Jehovah Misqabbi – The Lord, my strong tower

Psalm 18 – Jehovah Naheh – The Lord who smites the enemy

Psalm 18 – Jehovah Seli – The Lord, my Rock

Psalm 20 – Jehovah Hoshea – The Lord, my Savior

Psalm 23 – Jehovah Rohi – The Lord, my Shepherd

Psalm 24 – Jehovah Milchamma – The Lord, mighty in battle

Psalm 27 – Jehovah Ori – The Lord, my Light

Psalm 89 – Jehovah Gannan – The Lord who is my defense

Psalm 91 – Jehovah Machsi – The Lord my Refuge

Psalm 98 – Jehovah Hamelech – The Lord, my King

Isaiah 40 – Jehovah Bara – The Lord, my Creator

Isaiah 49 – Jehovah Goel – The Lord, my Redeemer

Jeremiah 16 – Jehovah Ma’oz – The Lord, my Fortress

Jeremiah 23 – Jehovah Tsidkenu – The Lord, my righteousness

Ezekiel 48 – Jehovah Shammah – The Lord who is present


The book mentioned at the beginning of today’s post is available from CBD

June 27, 2015

When Values Shift

SCOTUS - NYT

While we normally leave the topical subjects for the Thinking Out Loud blog, there is no denying that today (Saturday, June 27) the United States woke up having entered a whole new era. Something that was once illegal (and still is in many places) and was considered an abberation (according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM) is now the law of the land, mandated by a constitutional ruling by the Supreme Court.

Now, I don’t wish to discuss the particular issue here, but rather, I simply want to note that we’ve seen over the last few years leading to this decision has been a huge shift in values, and I couldn’t help but think of Isaiah 5:20:

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.

I know that among my readers are those who have different feelings on not only the issue of the day, but on many different areas where the sphere of spiritual concerns overlaps the sphere of civic or legal issues. Some are truly rejoicing in the events of yesterday, for many different reasons. My point is simply that through one Supreme Court decision we have witnessed a tectonic shift of huge proportions in the last 48-or-so hours, and many Christ-followers who don’t monitor news reports may be unaware of it.

Interestingly, BibleHub posted a link to Habakkuk 1:14 (NLT)

The law has become paralyzed, and there is no justice in the courts. The wicked far outnumber the righteous, so that justice has become perverted.

There are some who would argue that the only thing that changed yesterday is that another court, the court of popular opinion, grew vocal enough to tip the scales of justice.

Unfortunately, there are also a few who have a misunderstanding that if something is legal it is no longer sin. It is important to recognize that there is not a one-to-one correlation between the two. Many things that are legal are still sinful, and many things that the law says are illegal have little to do with the spiritual condition of the heart.*

It’s more to the point to refine our understanding of what sin is and isn’t. The word means ‘missing the mark.’ It connotes an archery image of firing our arrows but not quite hitting the bulls-eye, or worse, not even hitting the target sheet at all.

I believe that knowing God’s best exists means we can’t settle for anything less; we can’t be content with the good or the better knowing there is a best.

When we fail to be concerned with aiming for the best we grieve Father, Son and Spirit.

The ultimate question of the day therefore is the question that should guide the everyday actions of all believers: Can God be trusted?



*If we take a simple Ten Commandments approach, the 1:1 correspondence will hold more often, since many of our laws derive from Judeo-Christian teaching. But society accepts many other things which would go against Bible teaching. To the contrary, if where you live it is against the law to make a left turn at the corner of Central Blvd. and Main St. during the evening rush hour, that does not derive from scripture. Still we should note that in the second case, the left turn, it can also be argued that the principles of Romans 13 apply:

1Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

The problem is trying to read this in the reverse, and saying that what the law permits, God also is okay with; the logic of that does not hold. The “governing authorities” of verse one are not the ones to whom we hold ultimate accountability.

June 26, 2015

Perfection Bore Our Penalty

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Today’s thoughts are from a first-time source here, the Living By Faith blog written by Steve Fuller. You are, as always, encouraged to click the title link below to read this at source and then visit the rest of the site. As you’ll see, the video below is part of today’s meditation.

How Worship Transformed Me (“Grace so Glorious”)

Longing for More

We are seeing God work in amazing ways here in Abu Dhabi.

But at the same time, I’ve been longing for God to do in me what Paul prays in Ephesians 3:16-17 

… that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.

It’s true that Christ dwells in every believer.  So why does Paul pray that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith?

Doesn’t Christ already dwell in our hearts?  Yes.  That happened at conversion, as we see, for example, in Romans 8:9-10.

But it’s also true that God can give us a greater heart-experience of this indwelling.

Which means that it’s possible for us to know and feel more of Christ’s love, majesty, and glory.

That’s what Paul is praying for the Ephesians believers.

And that’s what I’ve been lacking — and longing for.

“Grace so Glorious”

So tonight I came home and watched a YouTube of “Grace so Glorious” by Elevation Worship (included below).

And as I listened, by His mercy, God gave me a greater taste of Jesus’ glory than I have had in weeks.

Here are the lines God used to help me see more of Jesus —

Perfection bore our penalty.

Jesus was morally perfect.  But because of his great love and mercy, he bore our penalty.

Oh, the glory of a Savior’s love.

He loved us while we were his enemies.  That’s a glorious love.

To know, forever we are welcomed home.

Not condemnation, but a loving welcome home. Forever.

Worthy is the Lord of all the glory forever.

He is worthy.  And at this point in the song I was deeply seeing and feeling how worthy he is to be glorified forever.

O wondrous day when I will see the face of Him who ransomed me.

That day is coming.  And He is, and will be, worth it all.

Here’s the YouTube

I pray that God will touch your heart as he has touched mine.


Christianity 201 brings together the best of Bible Study and Devotional content from the internet. While authors on consecutive days may not agree on every last detail of Biblical interpretation, articles are chosen because they either begin with, end with, or have scripture in the middle. Be sure to link through… some the writers featured here may become part of your daily online routine.

June 25, 2015

When the Parables Come Home to Roost

“And I remembered the word of the Lord…”  Acts 11:16a

Many of us who grew up in church learned the various parables and teachings of Jesus and then simply filed them away in the back of our minds somewhere. However, there are times when things happen in life and you find yourself saying; “Oh, so that’s what Jesus was talking about!”

So it was with me this week, with the parable of the wages.

Matthew 20:1 For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

“About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.

“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

“‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

This week I found myself in a situation where I assumed that somebody was receiving a whole lot of money that, as it turns out, was not the case. It took about 24 hours, but in the in-between time I was feeling both bitter and angry. In the parable above, it’s a story about someone getting eleven-times the amount. The workers in the early morning, or the first hour (sunrise or about six in the morning) are paid the same as those as those hired late in the day (or five in the afternoon).

In my story, the person was claiming to be the beneficiary of an amount about five hundred times more than I was paid for a similar project with the same employer. I knew that the situation was more complex than that, but the economies of scale were completely out of line with a more meager amount I had agreed for doing something similar.

And there’s the key phrase: I had agreed.

Tempering all my frustration was the parable from Matthew 20, parked in the back of my mind. I had agreed. The workers in the parable cried, ‘Unfair!’ But I had agreed. The landowner finds himself in a position to be generous with those who had been waiting to work but were not hired. (Interesting to note that they were still available for work, they hadn’t given up and gone home even thought it was 5:00 PM.) I had agreed. The employer in my story has restructured some of their affairs and perhaps now is in a better position to be more generous. I had agreed.

In the end, the other person in my story is probably considered more qualified, deemed to have paid more dues and has more platform.

And in the end, as it turns out, they are not on the receiving end of anything close to five hundred times the amount I was paid.

The parable suddenly jumped from a back-of-mind story to something with immediate relevance to my life; my world.

The parables do that. The teachings of Jesus do that. The words of scripture do that. In the full verse of Acts 11:16 (above) Peter specifically remembers something that Jesus has said and quotes the passage. Here’s the full context.

At C201 we put scripture verses in green to remind us that, just like a branch that is alive is green inside, so it is that the scriptures have life.

Watch out for those Bible passages you filed away in your memory bank a long time ago. When you’re feeling angry, or frustrated, or bitter, or disappointed; the parables suddenly spring to life. They come back to humble you, to correct you, to lead you to healthier thinking, to spur you to right actions.

All scripture is God breathed

 

June 24, 2015

Hoping to Let Ourselves Off The Hook

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Time for our always-appreciated midweek post from Clarke Dixon.

You Are Only Human

We have all heard it. Some of us have even said it: “We are only human.” Typically, what we mean by that is “cut me some slack, I’m not perfect.” I must confess that I used to be a perfectionist but gave it up because I found it too depressing. I needed to cut myself some slack. Now I am only a perfectionist while working on home renovations. The weather has to be perfect and I have to be perfectly in the mood otherwise renovations are put off for another day!

There are none of us perfect. None of us were perfect students in school. Those of us who are parents know there is no such thing as a perfect parent. There are no perfect teachers. There are no perfect prime ministers. Sometimes we need to cut each other some slack. But do we maintain this attitude toward people like the leaders of ISIS and Boko Harum who are also not perfect? After all, they along with Hitler and Stalin are only human. Do we cut some slack to the people involved in things like human trafficking? Or is there not a place for higher expectations, for saying enough is enough?

The Psalmist writes “they are only human” but it means something quite different to what we normally mean:

19 Rise up, O Lord! Do not let mortals prevail;
let the nations be judged before you.
20 Put them in fear, O Lord;
let the nations know that they are only human.
(Psalms 9:19-20 NRSV)

In Psalm 9 there are some people who could say “I am only human, cut me some slack.” They are less than perfect. In fact they are oppressive, they are murderous. They are destructive and wreak havoc in the lives around them:

9 The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.
10 And those who know your name put their trust in you,
for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.
11 Sing praises to the Lord, who dwells in Zion.
Declare his deeds among the peoples.
12 For he who avenges blood is mindful of them;
he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.
13 Be gracious to me, O Lord.
See what I suffer from those who hate me;
you are the one who lifts me up from the gates of death.
(Psalms 9:9-13 NRSV emphasis mine)

The theme of rescue from evil men runs through Psalm 9 and also Psalm 10 which many scholars believe were once one Psalm. We may not be as bad as the oppressors spoken of in these Psalms, we may never bring another person to “the gates of death.” But we may, like them, wreak havoc in the lives of those around us. This Psalm has something to say to us also. Let us look especially to verses 19 and 20:

“Do not let mortals prevail”

This prayer of the Psalmist is very much like a prayer that our Lord taught us to pray: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.” Not the oppressors’ empire come, but God’s kingdom. Not the oppressors’ will be done, do not let them prevail, but the Lord’s will. How often do we pray “Thy kingdom come” then strive to build our own empires and to have our wills prevail. Oh Lord, I am mere mortal, do not let my way prevail, may Your kingdom and Your purposes prevail in my life.

“Let the nations be judged before you”

We do not like to hear about judgement. But we do like justice. Justice does not happen without judgement. God’s sense of justice is impeccable:

4 For you have maintained my just cause;
you have sat on the throne giving righteous judgment. . .
8 He judges the world with righteousness;
he judges the peoples with equity.
(Psalms 9:4,8 NRSV)

God’s judgement is right and good. In fact it should not escape our notice that this Psalm calling for God to act in judgement is actually a Psalm of praise:

1 I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.
2 I will be glad and exult in you;
I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.
(Psalms 9:1-2 NRSV)

That God will bring judgement to evil men is something that should inspire praise. Oh Lord I am mere mortal, while I depend on Your grace, may I be aware of those things you would judge in my life.

“Put them, in fear, Oh Lord.”

A better translation of fear is ‘terror’. Things would be better for the oppressed of the world if the oppressors of the world were terrified by the thought of the judgement that is looming over them. People do not have an appetite for hellfire and brimstone sermons any more. Yet we still need them for people think they can get away with murder. Many people need to be very afraid. Oh Lord, I am mere mortal. May I never think I can get away with murder, but may Your Holy Spirit convict and unsettle my heart.

“Let the nations know that they are only human.”

Now that we know the context we can see that “Let the nations know they are only human” is no “cut them some slack Lord” kind of prayer. Rather this is ”let them know they are only human and that therefore they need to seek You in repentance.” Since we are only human we should be turning to God. We should be turning to God for ethics, our sense of right and wrong. We cannot come up with that on our own. After all we are only human. We should be turning to God for salvation, for redemption from our sin. That is something we can not attain on our own. We are only human. God brings His perfect justice and grace together through Jesus at the cross. Since we are only human we ought to turn to God in repentance, going our own way will not get us very far. Oh Lord, I’m only human. So I turn to You and turn my life over to You.

When we say “I’m only human” we are usually trying to get off the hook. But knowing we are only human, we should be getting onto God.


Read more of Clarke’s writing at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon.

June 23, 2015

The Desires of Your Heart

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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If God promised to give us the desires of our heart, why don’t we have what we want?

Today we return to Blogos. This post is by Lesley Mitchell. Click the title below to read at source, and then be sure to look around the rest of the site.

Psalm 37:4 and the Desires of our Heart

Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4

King David wrote Psalm 37. It’s important to read verse 4 in context with verse 3: “Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

King David truly trusted in the Lord and delighted in him.

“I cry out to God Most High, to God, who fulfills his purpose for me. He send from heaven and saves me, rebuking those who hotly pursue me. God sends his love and his faithfulness” (Psalm 57:2-3).

It is interesting to note that not everybody is given the promise that the Lord will give them the desires of their heart. The “you” refers to those at the start who “do not fret because of evil men” (verse 1) but who “trust in the Lord and do good” (verse 3). They “delight in the Lord” (verse 4) and “commit their way to the Lord” (verse 5). They are “still before the Lord” and they “wait upon the Lord” (verse 5). They “refrain from anger and turn from wrath and do not fret” (verse 8). They are meek.

The Psalmist was clearly referring to those in ancient times who were in covenant relationship with the living God. The desires of their hearts included living in the Promised Land (verse 3) and pasturing their flocks in safety. They longed to see justice, with wicked people being thwarted (verse 7). In fact, the whole Psalm keeps repeating the assurance that such righteous people “will inherit the land and dwell in it forever.” This idea of inheriting the Promised Land speaks of trust in God’s promises to Abraham and to Moses, that their descendants — who remained faithful to the covenant — would dwell securely in that Promised Land forever.

Today, the principle of verse 4 still holds good. Those who are in the new covenant can trust God’s promises that they will gain a heavenly inheritance — a new heavens wherein righteousness will dwell. They know they are included in the promise to Abraham that all nations would be blessed because of his faith. They rest in God alone. The troubles and injustices of this world do not make them fret, for they know everything hidden will be brought into the light before the judgement throne of Christ. The wicked will be cast down and the righteous (those who have Christ’s righteousness imputed to them) will be welcomed into the blessing of God. Their heart’s desire is for God to be vindicated and for justice to flow like a river.

When our heart’s desire is in harmony with God’s desires, then we receive the promise of our heart’s desire.tweet Rather than seeking after wealth, fame, power and pleasure (in which there is nothing but emptiness), we desire to be in relationship with God and to seek his Kingdom first, and then everything else will be added. But our priority is for God’s will to be done, not our own.

 

 

June 22, 2015

Remembering God’s Law, God’s Provision, God’s Mercy

Yesterday we looked at the topic of different things that can be used to remind us God’s faithfulness to us. Things like special places, memorial stones, etc. are permitted, but not if they become idols, that is not if they become objects of worship. One special reminder that Israel carried with everywhere they went was the Ark of the Covenant. To the best of my knowledge, we haven’t dealt with that here recently, so let’s dive in.

From the website, GotQuestions.com:

God made a covenant (a conditional covenant) with the children of Israel through His servant Moses. He promised good to them and their children for generations if they obeyed Him and His laws; but He always warned of despair, punishment, and dispersion if they were to disobey. As a sign of His covenant He had the Israelites make a box according to His own design, in which to place the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments. This box, or chest, was called an “ark” and was made of acacia wood overlaid with gold. The Ark was to be housed in the inner sanctum of the tabernacle in the desert and eventually in the Temple when it was built in Jerusalem. This chest is known as the Ark of the Covenant.

The real significance of the Ark of the Covenant was what took place involving the lid of the box, known as the “Mercy Seat.” The term ‘mercy seat’ comes from a Hebrew word meaning “to cover, placate, appease, cleanse, cancel or make atonement for.” It was here that the high priest, only once a year (Leviticus 16), entered the Holy of Holies where the Ark was kept and atoned for his sins and the sins of the Israelites. The priest sprinkled blood of a sacrificed animal onto the Mercy Seat to appease the wrath and anger of God for past sins committed. This was the only place in the world where this atonement could take place.

The Mercy Seat on the Ark was a symbolic foreshadowing of the ultimate sacrifice for all sin—the blood of Christ shed on the cross for the remission of sins. The Apostle Paul, a former Pharisee and one familiar with the Old Testament, knew this concept quite well when he wrote about Christ being our covering for sin in Romans 3:24-25: “…and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” Just as there was only one place for atonement of sins in the Old Testament—the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant—so there is also only one place for atonement in the New Testament and current times—the cross of Jesus Christ. As Christians, we no longer look to the Ark but to the Lord Jesus Himself as the propitiation and atonement for our sins.

From the Apologetics website, Tekton:

1 Kings 8:9 There was nothing in the ark save the two tables of stone, which Moses put there at Horeb, when the LORD made a covenant with the children of Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt.

Heb. 9:4 Which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant…

Contradiction? No. Kings and Chronicles refer to a time after Solomon. Hebrews refers to a time just after Israel left Egypt and when the Ark was first made. That’s a span of almost 500 years. Do you think the manna and the rod were still fresh? No, they were organic materials and would have crumbled away long since.

Some have noted that nothing in Exodus states that the rod or manna were put in the Ark. This is true; that they were there was an extrapolation of the rabbis and other Jewish writers based on Ex. 25:16, “And thou shalt put into the ark the testimony which I shall give thee.” The gold jar tradition is testified to by Philo. One would have to assume that sometime in that 500 years, the jar was lost or removed, which does not seem unlikely given the loss of thousands of other artifacts through time.

Objection: The rod of Aaron would no more have rotted than the wooden portions of the ark itself.

It’s one thing to repair the tabernacle or the ark, and another thing to replace the rod of Aaron with a fresh substitute. The gold jar, admittedly, would not have rotted as would its contents. The jar’s value as a relic would be severely (totally?) reduced by the absence of supernatural contents. It is reasonable to suppose that the jar was set to a different purpose after the manna had been reduced to dust, or that the jar was taken in mischief.

The special status of the ark would have prevented any rearrangement of its contents.

Let us not neglect dealing with periods in Israel’s history (as in Judges) where Israel was occupied by invaders if not possessed by apostate leadership. We are not able to assume that the Levites were able to keep the ark completely safe and secure throughout the aforementioned 500 years (even as the fact that we have no idea where it is NOW speaks against this).

What about the fact that any non-Levite/non-Kohathite who improperly handled or looked on the ark would be instantly struck down by God?

Even assuming that the prohibitions associated with the death penalty were absolute rather than at God’s discretion, what would prevent heathens from seizing the poles and tipping the ark’s contents out?

Later Update: A reader has pointed out that Exodus 16:31-35 also implicitly indicates that the ark contained both the rod and the manna, particularly v. 34: “As the Lord commanded Moses, Aaron put the manna with the tablets of the covenant law, so that it might be preserved.” While this is not explicit, it does fit a natural assumption that they went together in the ark.

Hopefully that gets you started.

Go Deeper: For a further exhaustive study, including many scripture references, check out the Ark page on Bible.org

 

June 21, 2015

Remembering God Without Making Idols

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5aYou shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God…

It’s interesting that as God was giving these commandments to Moses, the people at the bottom of the mountain were building a calf out of gold. They were immediately in violation of the text above…

For almost all Evangelicals and most Mainline Protestant, the Second Commandment is explicit in its prohibition against idols. The King James used the phrase “graven images” by which some interpret “engraved” or three-dimensional objects; though in the early days of printing, photographic plates were engraved.

We have no problem with Bible story books which picture Jesus — some recent ones using a rather cartoonish style of illustration — but the Jesus doll we recently saw in a Christian bookstore (for $50 US) would clearly cross the line for many people (and for a number of reasons.)

On the other hand, our friends in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches have no problem with statuary, their houses of worship are filled with them, as are many of their homes. (The Catholic Church’s catechism even ‘rearranges’ the Ten Commandments to exclude the second one altogether, balancing things out with a split of the command regarding coveting into numbers 9 and 10; though Catholic Bibles themselves do not so tamper with the text.)

This doesn’t mean that are not other physical means whereby we’re encouraged to remember.

  1. The Jews were told to “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.” (Deut 11:18) Then, two verses later, “Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” (:20) In the most literal form, this gave way to phylacteries, the small boxes containing small scrolls worn on the forehead of Jews while praying. In a less literal form, most of us have plaques with Bible verses on the walls or end tables of our homes.
  2. There are certain locations that help us remember when God met us there or somewhere nearby. In the story of Jesus and “the woman at the well,” there is mention that this is Jacob’s well, and all the significance that entails. A girl whose testimony we heard talked about driving through northern Ontario and recognizing the terrain as nearby a camp where she felt close to God as a much younger person, and she pulled her car over to the side of the road and prayed. Is there a special physical location where you have memories of meeting with God?
  3. There are times where God instructed his people to construct a memorial. Joshua 4:9 reads, “Joshua set up the twelve stones that had been in the middle of the Jordan at the spot where the priests who carried the ark of the covenant had stood. And they are there to this day.” While many Christian facilities have plaques that honor the donors who gave money toward the building of that place, others, either with a plaque or through the naming of the facility, honor a particular part of a Bible story. The Christian conference grounds I attended as a child was named Elim Lodge, after a reference in Exodus 15.
  4. We learn the ways of God chiefly through narrative. You don’t sit your young children down and teach them the doctrines of systematic theology, but rather, you tell them stories from both the First and Second Testament. We can represent those physically by having artist renderings of Jesus walking on the water in our homes. Some of you have children who had Noah’s Ark bedsheets. While I like the first idea better than the second, these all reinforce the stories.
  5. Speaking of Noah, sometimes God just likes to give us reminders. We all know the scientific reasons why rainbows appear after a rainstorm, but God imputes significance to this by telling Noah to accept it as a pledge that he will never flood the earth again. (But maybe the rainbow was supernatural; it rained for 40 days, but then there’s a year between the rain stopping and Noah being given the rainbow as a sign.)

These are all examples of tangible objects which serve as reminders of God, Jesus, Bible stories, and places where God revealed himself.

So we don’t need statuary, and the Bible’s commandments are not to be trifled with. It’s true that contextually idols were the trademark of other surrounding nations, but I believe that the commands are 100% applicable to the idea of making statues of those who have been conferred sainthood, and certainly could be applicable to statues of Jesus himself.

I will concede however, that there are sculptors who have carved three-dimensional works that are simply an extension of the two-dimensional images mentioned in point #4 above. An example would be the Good Shepherd statue at the former Crystal Cathedral, which reminds us of the picture Jesus paints of himself in John’s Gospel. However, the danger comes when we worship those pieces, or suggest that the sculptures themselves have some supernatural abilities or powers.

I also realize this is a very limited interpretation of Exodus 20:4 which seems to ban any image of any created thing. But here, the context is concerning the things which come between us and God; the first four commandments are about not allowing anything to stand in the way of our relationship with God. This is in line with Romans 1:25, “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator…”

Summing this up, you can’t read the Second Commandment without knowing the First Commandment. Nothing is to come between us and God.

 

 

June 20, 2015

The Father Image Jesus Wanted Us To Keep

AMP Mark 4 : 2a And He taught them many things in parables (illustrations or comparisons put beside truths to explain them)…

PHILLIPS Mark 4 : 1 – 2a Then once again he began to teach them by the lake-side. A bigger crowd than ever collected around him so that he got into the little boat on the lake and sat down, while the crowd covered the ground right up to the water’s edge. He taught them a great deal in parables…

When you look at the ministry of Jesus there are at least three things that separate Him from all others who came before and all others who have come after:

  • Miracles
  • Questions
  • Parables

While all the parables contain more depth than we see in the first reading, one that is especially rich is the one we call The Parable of the Lost Son, or The Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Two years ago, for Father’s Day — which happens Sunday here in North America — our pastor spoke on this parable and as always happens with this particular section of Jesus’ teaching, there is always a new takeaway waiting if you look for it.

Before we gloss over this point too quickly, let me say that we need to approach familiar Bible passages with the attitude of expectancy. I do this every year at Christmas and Easter and I am never disappointed if I have my radar set to look for a new insight or revelation.

I knew of a pastor once who would begin some of his messages with a prayer that ended, “…and God if there’s anyone here who feels they’ve heard this all before, help them to know that your desire is to write this on the tablets of their heart.” (And that was before computer tablets!) Some messages we simply need to hear over and over and over and over and over and over again.

But that’s not what I mean here. I’m talking about where we haven’t heard it all before because there is so much depth to the passage in question. I’ve said that I think all scripture is like that to some degree, but in some passages, the potential message outlines are infinite.

I am continually fascinated by the concept of scripture as a multifaceted jewel which reveals, refracts and reflects with each slight turn. The geometric properties of a large diamond mean that each face is interconnected directly to several others, which in turn are attached to others.

Christianity 201, 1/24/13

Today, the takeaway had to do with the father in the story running to meet his returning, contrite, repentant son. Our pastor pointed out that traditionally, because of the son’s shame in losing his money to Gentiles, the town would gather to shame him as he re-entered. But instead, the father runs to meet him, hug him, kiss him and give him a ring.

NIV Luke 15: 20b … But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

Usually, the focus here has to do with the way in which the father runs to meet the son, that he was essentially shaming himself by lifting his tunic to run to do so. He thereby identifies with his son’s shame, his indignity, his disgrace.

But there’s a parallel between this event and what happens minutes later in the story where the father has to take shorter but equally important walk to meet his other son, the elder brother.

The Voice Luke 15 : 28b The older brother got really angry and refused to come inside, so his father came out and pleaded with him to join the celebration.

The NLT has “begged” instead of “pleaded.” Young’s Literal Translation has “entreated.” This was not a 30-second conversation. This other young man required convincing; he needed to be persuaded.

So the parallel is that the father leaves his party of which he is the host, and leaves his home to go outside and beg the older son to come in. He is identifying here with the elder son’s appraisal of the injustice of the situation, his feeling that his performance based approach has counted for nothing.

And in terms of performance, Jesus was sinless. Jesus’ life was characterized by the injustice of the condemnation of an innocent man. Jesus had to leave the comparative ‘party’ of heaven to come to us. Jesus suffered the indignity of the cross.

…I grew up in The Peoples Church in Toronto, Canada under the ministry of Dr. Paul B. Smith. Each Sunday night as the choir sang Just As I Am, Dr. Paul would remind everyone that, “If you take one step toward God, God will take ten steps toward you.”

So imagine how much the speed at which God will move to embrace and welcome and restore you if you yourself come home running…

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