Christianity 201

July 9, 2020

Father in Heaven: How Praying the Lord’s Prayer Can Help us Pray Through the Disconnect

by Clarke Dixon

We may feel a certain disconnect in prayer. Like we are trying to connect with God, but it feels like he is up there, we are down here, and “never the twain shall meet.” We may feel like the Psalmist in Psalm 42:

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
the face of God?
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me continually,
“Where is your God?”

Psalms 42:1-3 (NRSV)

Our best, sometimes only, prayer may be like one of my brother’s favourite expressions “beam me up Scotty, this planet sucks!” Lord, just let me escape this world and its problems.

Our prayers are to go much further than that, prayer itself being much deeper than that. Prayer is connecting with God, inviting God to participate in our lives as we seek to participate in God’s.

We are going to take a deep dive into prayer over the summer and we will do so through the core teaching of Jesus on prayer; the Lord’s Prayer. So let us begin, appropriately enough, at the beginning.

The very first word of the Lord’s Prayer, if we are reading the original Greek, is Father. This means that the very first thought, the very first thing we are to expect to experience, is intimacy with God. That is where prayer begins, with a recognition and acknowledgement of intimacy with God.

Prayer begins with the recognition that praying matters, because prayer is heard. We need not pray wondering and worrying if there is some God up there who might hear us. We pray knowing that God has revealed himself to us as the one who does hear, who listens as a good father does.

There are speed bumps on the way to this experience of intimacy.

For starters, religion may have taught us to doubt God’s desire for intimacy. Religion may teach us that God is there, yes, but God is just waiting to punish us.

The story of the prodigal son comes to mind. The story of a son who demands his inheritance even before the death of his father. The story of a son who went away from his family chasing the “good life.” The story of a son who realised that being a servant in his father’s household would be much better than where he ended up.

“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’
“But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.

Luke 15:20-24 (NLT)

This is our story. God is not waiting to punish us. God is waiting for us to come home. When we are done with trying to live life on our own, when we recognise that we have separated ourselves from God, when we return to the Lord, he runs to us and embraces us. No matter what religion may tell us, intimacy with God is possible, for it is something God longs for.

The whole story of the Bible comes to mind. God created us for intimacy with Him. We ran away. God kept in relationship with us through the covenants and prophets. We continued to be on the run. Then God came to us in Jesus, and in doing so opened the door to our coming home. When we return, God runs to us with a warm and welcoming embrace.

The second speed bump on the way to intimacy is that our own fathers may have taught us to be frightened of fathers. We may have learned from an early age that intimacy with a father is not possible. Some people have been seriously hurt by the very people that should make them feel safe.

I was trained in seminary to never begin a public prayer with “Father.” This is out of sensitivity to those for whom the image just won’t work. While I’m not inclined to move away from traditional language for God, some people think of “Heavenly parent,” or even “Heavenly mother” instead. Since I don’t know what it is like to live with such wounds, I think holding out some understanding is the “do unto others” thing to do. What we don’t want to lose sight of, though, is the intimacy of God the relational terms provide. Always beginning our prayers with “Creator God,” or “Lord God,” misses the reminder of intimacy which Jesus would have us think of as pray.

A third speed bump on the way to intimacy with God is our own idea that God is far away. We may, in fact, think this is what Jesus has in mind when he teaches us to pray “Father, in heaven.” There is a reason that Jesus teaches us to pray “Father, in the heavens” and it has nothing to do with distance. It has to do with the transcendence of God. Heaven is not far away, it is a completely different realm. God is not far away from us, but He is very different from us.

What we mean by the transcendence of God is that, though we are created in the image of God, God is not like us in fundamental ways. God is God, we are not. God is eternal, we are created. God is Creator, we are created to be creative, but we cannot create out of nothing. God is able to save sinners. I do well to save a document. God knows all truth. We do not, and we would do well to admit that more often than we do.  God is omnipresent, try as we might, we cannot be in two places at once. God is holy, we are often wholly messed up.

As we pray, we begin with the reminder that God, though intimate like a father listening intently beside us, is not limited to sitting beside us, nor prone to the limitations of even the best of fathers. Our Heavenly Father is God, with all the powers and purposes that go along with being God. He is profoundly capable.

In teaching us to pray “Father, who is in the heavens,” our prayers begin with a focus on an absolutely amazing fact: God, who is so not like us, and whom we rebelled against, still wants an intimate relationship with us. God, who could have hit the delete button on us ages ago hit send instead; He sent his son. God came to us Himself, as God the Son. This is the opposite of “beam me up Scotty” we mentioned earlier. Far from taking us out of the world, God enters our world of suffering, to begin the process of making a better world, to help us look forward to an even better world still. God came to us in Jesus so that intimacy with God whom we sinned against could happen.

We may feel a certain disconnect in prayer. The Psalmist is honest about that feeling of discontent in Psalm 42. But the disconnect is a feeling. The Psalmist also knows the fact of the connection:

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.

Psalms 42:11 (NRSV)

The feeling of disconnect we may feel from God is just that, a feeling, and it is temporary. The connection with God through Jesus is a fact, and is permanent.

Jesus teaches us to remember the facts as we begin to pray, praying “Father in heaven.” Let us remember the amazing intimacy we can have with an amazing God, thanks to his amazing grace.


Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor. This reflection comes from the “online worship expression” which has replaced regular church services where he ministers due to COVID-19 precautions.

July 8, 2020

Placing our Fear in the Right Place

Today’s devotional is taken from a devotional collection that was new to us, titled Hearing the Voice of God: A Devotional by David Chadwick (Harvest House, 2016). Learn more about the book at this link.

Fear God, Not Man

Today’s Reading: John 12:37-43

37 Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. 38 This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet:

“Lord, who has believed our message
    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”[a]

39 For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere:

40 “He has blinded their eyes
    and hardened their hearts,
so they can neither see with their eyes,
    nor understand with their hearts,
    nor turn—and I would heal them.”[b]

41 Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.

42 Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved human praise more than praise from God.

Hearing God’s Voice for Today:

“Many of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.”

***

Sometimes people miss the fact even many authorities came to believe in Jesus. This included influential members of the Sanhedrin, like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea.

Yet a major problem persisted. Though these authorities decided to put their faith in Jesus, their fear of the Pharisees remained strong. They were afraid to follow the Lord publicly for fear of being ostracized from their synagogues. They knew they would face rejection. Not to be able to have community with other Jews was a great fear.

The human heart is complex. People want to follow Jesus, but they fear public rejection. They want to follow him, but they also want the praises of people.

It’s impossible to have both. Some people in your sphere of influence will not like you if you choose to follow Jesus. They will label you a narrow-minded, bigoted obscurantist. They will call you intolerant. They will hate you because you love Jesus. If you follow him, you mist be willing to give up the praises of people.

If you do make your faith in Jesus public, your reward in heaven will be great. If you honour him before people, he will do the same with you before the Father.

Your public recognition of Jesus here on earth will bring you rejection from some. But from an eternal perspective, it will be worthwhile. When you hear his public commendation of your witness before the Father, all the angels and saints in heaven will break out in uproarious applause.

That one moment will soothe all your hurts from people’s rejection.

Don’t be ashamed of the gospel. It is the power of the Father in heaven to change hearts–first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles. There is no such thing as a secret-service Christian. You should never want to remain quiet about all you’ve seen the Lord do and all he has done for you.

You are called to be his witness. You begin locally, then reach out globally.

Ask yourself this question often: If you were put on trial for being Jesus’ witness, would the evidence be enough to convict you?

Don’t fear what others can do to you. Yes, they are able to kill your body. But that’s all. If you fear anything, fear God, who has the power and authority to cast both body and soul in hell. He will protect you from those who desire to do you harm.

His opinion is the only one that should concern you.


Footnotes:

  1. John 12:38 Isaiah 53:1
  2. John 12:40 Isaiah 6:10

David Chadwick has been a pastor for almost 40 years.  Along with this theological degrees, he earned a Specialist’s degree in counseling.  The love of his life is Marilynn, his wife for more than 40 years.  He has three married children, and six grandchildren.  David loves Jesus, his family, the church, and basketball—in that order.  He especially loves seeing people understand the power of Jesus’s grace to change a heart.

momentsofhopechurch.org

July 7, 2020

Heaven and The New Jerusalem: What’s the Difference?

Although some of the articles I have written here over the years get repeated occasionally, as a general rule, pieces written by third parties do not. However, I noticed this 2011 piece has had what is, for this site, a fair number of comments, including a recent question, and I thought we’d make an exception.


While the blog The Pursuit of the Deeper Truth and Proper Christian Experience has a rather long title, and a bias toward the writings of Witness Lee and Watchman Nee, here at Christianity 201, we’re an equal opportunity blog with a bias toward anything that gets us thinking and studying. In today’s spiritual climate, there is much interest in heaven and the afterlife, and it’s so easy to hear a phrase like “New Jerusalem” and rush to the conclusion “New Jerusalem = Heaven.” Thomas Marvin sees each differently and clarifies that with this post originally titled

Heaven or the New Jerusalem — Is There a Difference?

“And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. (Rev. 21:2)

Fundamentally Different, Not Just a Matter of Semantics

Many people unintentionally, mistake the New Jerusalem for heaven. When I was a child, I remember singing a song that says:

“I’ve got a mansion just over the hill top
in that bright land where we’ll never grow old
and some day yonder, we’ll never more wander,
but walk those streets that are paved with gold.”

I may have gotten a few words wrong, but the gist of the song is pretty clear. That is, that we’re going to heaven—“to that bright land where we’ll never grow old” and “walk those streets that are paved with gold.” However, in aspiring to heaven, the writer was, in referring to golden streets, addressing an attribute of the holy city, New Jerusalem.

In the many years since my childhood days of singing that song, I’ve never once read in the Bible where it says that heaven has golden streets. However, Revelation 21:21, in speaking of the New Jerusalem, does say “the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.” You can see from this illustration, the thought of heaven having golden streets, is just one example of the confusion of heaven and the New Jerusalem.

Well, someone may say, “Aren’t they one and the same—heaven and the New Jerusalem? I say heaven. You say New Jerusalem. It’s all about the same.” However, the opening verse I referenced points to a distinction. In Revelation 21:2 it says that the holy city, New Jerusalem is coming down out of heaven. This verse directly indicates a difference, for the New Jerusalem to come down out of heaven indicates that the two expressions are not synonymous.

Then what is the distinction?

Heaven, God’s dwelling (1 Kings 8:50), the place of His throne (Isa. 66:1), and the place where Christ ascended physically after His resurrection (Acts 1:9-11) is no doubt a physical place. However, the New Jerusalem is not a physical place “to which we go” but the greatest sign in the entire Bible (see Rev. 1:1) signifying, God’s spiritual, eternal building of divinity and humanity. It is the eternal, consummation of all God’s work in humanity throughout the ages, a mingling of God and man to be the mutual dwelling place for both God and all His redeemed people for eternity.

What difference does it make anyway?

The view you have between the heaven and the New Jerusalem can change your entire Christian life. If your view is that a Christian’s eternal destiny is simply to “go to heaven” when we die, you may feel that as long as you are born again or regenerated, you are basically waiting to go to heaven. In addition, one with this concept might consider their service to God in this age ends with helping as many perishing people as possible to also go to heaven when they die. This heaven or hell gospel has unfortunately caused many a well-intended Christian to miss out on the deeper meaning of their Christian life on earth today. This kind of view of a Christian’s eternal destiny is “locational,” basically a change of place, from earth to heaven, instead of hell.

From Revelation 21:2, however, we can see that the New Jerusalem is “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” From verses 9-10, we can see that the bride, the wife of Lamb is the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. I’d like to point out again that this city is “out of heaven,” so it is not heaven. Second, I’d like to point out that this city is married to the Lamb, Christ (John 1:29). Such a bride is adorned for her husband (v. 2). This implies that a process of getting ready is necessary. A bride must match her husband, to be his counterpart.

Likewise, we must be “adorned” to marry Christ, to be His corporate counterpart, His wife. Anyone you marry must be “bone of your bone and flesh of your flesh,” even as Eve was to Adam (Gen. 2:23). To be bone of Christ’s bones, and flesh of His flesh, we must be the same as Christ in life and nature. We also must grow up in His life unto maturity (Eph 4:13, 15-16). Christ, would be humiliated to marry an immature bride. He would rather wait. Such has been the case for nearly 2,000 years of church history. Christ is waiting for His bride to be prepared.

Where is the bride for Christ to come back for?

So to make my point, the New Jerusalem is not a “locational” matter—a change in location, but an “intrinsic” or “essential” matter—a change of essence or constitution. We’re not just going to the New Jerusalem, we’re becoming the New Jerusalem. To be in the New Jerusalem, one must first become the New Jerusalem. Through the process of God’s complete salvation—the regeneration of our spirit (John 3:6), the transformation of our soul (Rom. 12:2), and the glorification of our body (Rom. 8:30), we must become the same as Christ in life and nature but not in His Godhead, being conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). Such a change in essence requires that once we are saved, we cooperate with God’s central work, that is to allow God to work Himself into our entire being (1 Thes. 5:23; Eph. 3:17). Only in this way can we become the proper constituents for the building of Christ’s Body today and of the New Jerusalem for eternity. Only in such a way can we be Christ’s bride, adorned for our dear Husband.

How is this Bride-city being prepared today?

In between the type of Adam and Eve, the first couple, in Genesis 2:18-23 and the fulfillment of this type, in the eternal couple in Revelation 21-22, we have the process of preparation in Ephesians 5:25-32. Here we can see the church, for whom Christ died in the past (v. 25), being sanctified in the present (v. 26), and presented to Christ, as His glorious bride in the future (v. 27). If we see that our eternal destiny is to become Christ’s bride, the holy city, the New Jerusalem, we will not foolishly waste our precious time today. Rather we will redeem every day to pursue Christ (Phil. 3:12), to gain Him and be found in Him (vv. 8-9) and to be sanctified by Christ, by enjoying the daily washing of the water in His word (v. 26). In this way we will be daily renewed (2 Cor. 4:16) to become as “new” as the New Jerusalem.

Such a life of redeeming the time, by understanding what the will of the Lord is (Eph 5:15-18), will bring us onward to God’s eternal goal and cause us to daily live a bride-preparing life, a life of preparing ourselves to become Christ’s bride, the New Jerusalem, for our eternal marriage.

I believe, I’ve made my point, that is, that we need to be spiritually preparing today for our coming marriage to Christ. For those who still have some concerns about believers going to heaven, and how that fits with the New Jerusalem, Witness Lee does a better job than I can of addressing the matter in chapter 18 of his book, The Church as the Body of Christ.


I’ve closed comments here this time, in order that you can respond if you wish at the original post, as it appeared in August, 2011. Click here. See especially the comment/question at #20

July 6, 2020

Found Naked: Paul’s Meaning in 2 Cor. 5:3

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:39 pm
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Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked.
2 Corinthians 5: 2-3

Just hours before our 5:30 PM deadline, I received a letter from a cousin asking about a particular Bible passage. I don’t claim that this is the best answer you’ll ever find on the internet concerning this verse, but I also wanted to share my process with her when delving into difficult-to-understand verses.

Hi Paul,

I’ve been reading 2nd Corinthians chapter five, verse three and I have a question, so I thought I’d turn to you to get your take on this. In this verse it says “if so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked.”

This is not the first place in scripture that I’ve read a fear of being found to be a “naked or unclothed” spirit. My question is, what is so fearful about being found to be a spirit without covering? I think of spirit as being a kind of pure energy or light.  Not necessarily in human form. Genesis has some really interesting things to say about this as regards the condition of Adam and Eve after the fall, such that God covered them in skin (not skins).

Not the easiest question.

The IVP Bible Commentary notes:

Second Corinthians 5:1-10 is one of the most researched and written-about passages in Paul’s writings–and for a good reason. Paul is tackling the topic of the Christian hope beyond the grave, and more specifically, what happens to the believer at the point of death. In our culture the subject of death holds a certain fascination as well as repulsion. On the one hand, we try to mask the fact of death with euphemisms such as “he passed on” and “she went to a better place” and with funeral rites such as viewing the body, remarking how well someone looks and placing flowers on the grave. On the other hand, our culture, especially in recent years, has displayed an attraction to the topic of death in the form of accounts of near-death experiences, a resurgence of spiritism, the growing popularity of the New Age movement and the like… [continue reading here]

First of all, I don’t think on a basic reading of this verse I would go to the Genesis passage in parallel with this, for reasons too long to get into here.

There are some things you can do when you encounter a tough passage…

Step One: Establish the context.

With the possible exception of verse 3 (!) most people know this passage well as the one where Paul is describing — as only someone can who worked in canvas as he did — our bodies as a tent. So “when this tent is taken down” is talking about death. But here it gets tricky early on, because the word tent is reminiscent of ‘tabernacle’ so is this analogy just intended for believers? (See below.) Writing to the Corinthian church, this is a reasonable assumption. He’s talking about that covering or tent being removed, but then longing for a covering which is far better — a heavenly dwelling as the NIV puts it in verse 4. So it’s not that the metaphor is mixed, it’s just that it’s complicated; namely we do have a covering — and we are the tabernacle or dwelling place of the Holy Spirit — but we have a far better one coming. So we want to (at God’s appointed time) shed the former to put on the latter, we don’t want to be found without either. (More on what that would look like in step 3.)

Step Two: Let the translators do the work for you.

I think it’s interesting how the ‘freer’ translations are set up so the individual verses don’t show on BibleGateway.  You`re forced to read in a larger context. Eugene Peterson doesn’t (in my opinion) directly address the naked thing, but looks at the passage as a whole:

For instance, we know that when these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven—God-made, not handmade—and we’ll never have to relocate our “tents” again. Sometimes we can hardly wait to move—and so we cry out in frustration. Compared to what’s coming, living conditions around here seem like a stopover in an unfurnished shack, and we’re tired of it! We’ve been given a glimpse of the real thing, our true home, our resurrection bodies! The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what’s ahead. He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less.

JB Phillips echoes what I said looking at the passage contextually:

We know, for instance, that if our earthly dwelling were taken down, like a tent, we have a permanent house in Heaven, made, not by man, but by God. In this present frame we sigh with deep longing for the heavenly house, for we do not want to face utter nakedness when death destroys our present dwelling—these bodies of ours. So long as we are clothed in this temporary dwelling we have a painful longing, not because we want just to get rid of these “clothes” but because we want to know the full cover of the permanent house that will be ours. We want our transitory life to be absorbed into the life that is eternal.

So what does this nakedness look like? I could see how it could be used as a pretext for annihilation; an entry into a period when the soul ceases to exist. That provides comfort for people who don’t believe in a ECT hell – eternal conscious torment – but it could just as easily describe other forms of an eternity without God. Again, see what follows.

Step Three: Study Bibles and Bible Commentaries:

Space is limited so I’ll just deal with one here. I’m very fortunate to have in my collection To Corinth With Love by the U.K.’s Michael Green, published in 1988. He deals with this on pages 139-160.

► First, he points out that the Corinthians were “resurrection” people. Each doctrine we stress is often at the expense of another doctrine. So death was a topic that was less-discussed and the Corinthians were less well-versed on what we might call a doctrinal position on death itself.

► But they were very much celebratory concerning the resurrection. Therefore, to get the bigger picture, 2 Corinthians 5 needs to be read in context with a parallel passage in 1 Corinthians 15. (Space prevents a longer exposition.)

► There is a sense — gathered from Green’s writing but not expressed directly as I would like — that the danger might be in leaving this earth without making appropriate consideration for the next. In other words, the passage has an Evangelical urgency to it.

► However, nakedness is not the only metaphor. In writing to the Thessalonians, he describes the in-between stage as sleep rather than nakedness. See, for example, verse 16 of chapter 4. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. Again though notice the words in him. This echoes for me what I suggested in Step One, that these words are being spoken, if not to believers, to both followers and not-yet-followers gathered in the assembled congregation at Corinth or Thessalonica.

So there is the present age, an age to come, but also an in-between stage for those who die in Christ.

…I hope that points everyone toward the right direction on this one!

 

 

July 5, 2020

Distinction Between The Pharisees and The Sanhedrin

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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I’m exactly two-thirds of the way through reading What if Jesus Was Serious by Skye Jethani, and a small detail alerted me to something we have never discussed here. First let me share the excerpt:

Consider the duplicity of the Sanhedrin. They could have arrested Jesus while He taught openly at the temple. Instead, they snatched Him in the middle of the night outside the city to avoid public outcry. Then they held a trial under the cover of darkness so no one could come to Jesus’ defense. Finally, the Sanhedrin arranged for false witnesses to testify against Jesus to fabricate a reason to execute Him. They used their power to protect their status rather than seek justice. They manipulated the judicial system against an innocent man in order to maintain control.

The Sanhedrin repeatedly, blatantly broke God’s law, all the while they were attempting to find just one speck of sin in Jesus’ eye. They were so blinded by their self-righteousness that they could no longer discern right from wrong or godliness from wickedness.  (chapter 48; pp 128-9)

The detail concerns The Sanhedrin.

For many Christians, it is the Pharisees who are complicit in the crucifixion of Jesus. After all, it is them who are dogging Jesus throughout the 3½ years of his ministry. It’s an easy assumption to make. But it’s important to know a little bit about this other body, The Sanhedrin.

  • It is The Sanhedrin to which Nicodemus belongs.
Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. – John 3v1 NIV
With the exception of Bible translations which add supplmentary details (the Amplified Bible and the Expanded Bible) none of the other 60+ translations in BibleGateway.com mention the Sanhedrin by name.
  • It is the Sanhedrin before Jesus appears.

12 Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound him 13 and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. (John 18 NIV)

57 Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled. (Matthew 26 NIV)

[See also the comparison chart in the Wikipedia article, The Sanhedrin trial of Jesus.

  • It is the Sanhedrin before Peter and John appear in Acts 5

The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.” (5:27-28)

  • It is the Sanhedrin before Stephen appears in Acts 6.

12 So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. 13 They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. 14 For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.”

[At this point, some would have me add a 5th bullet point that says, ‘ • The Apostle Paul was a member of the Sanhedrin.’ However, Google that, and on page one alone you’ll see quite conflicting answers.]

Doing basic online research, you’ll find The Sanhedrin tend to be associated more with the Sadducees, but your results will vary.

The Sanhedrin, the 70-member supreme court of ancient Israel, had members from both the Sadducees and the Pharisees… Sadducees tended to be wealthy and to hold more powerful positions. The chief priests and high priest were Sadducees, and they held the majority of seats in the Sanhedrin. The Pharisees were more representative of the common working people and had the respect of the masses. The Sadducees’ locus of power was the temple in Jerusalem; the Pharisees controlled the synagogues. The Sadducees were friendlier with Rome and more accommodating to the Roman laws than the Pharisees were… (GotQuestions.org)

An Orthodox Jew writes,

The Sanhedrin was the essentially the Jewish Supreme Court to which the major cases were brought and which took decisions on Jewish law when there was doubt or a new situation. Since the majority of the learned Jews were פרושים they made up the bulk of the Sanhedrin.

Thus you have the difference between a philosophical and academic va a body of people performing a specific job. The first would be the פרושים, the second is the Sanhedrin.

When the Temple fell, the Sanhedrin was reconstituted elsewhere and continued for another few hundred years resulting until the oppression was too great and they were forced to disband. (Quora.com)

A reminder of how little we know:

Although eminent sources—the Hellenistic-Jewish historian Josephus, the New Testament, and the Talmud—have mentioned the Sanhedrin, their accounts are fragmentary, apparently contradictory, and often obscure. Hence, its exact nature, composition, and function remain a subject of scholarly investigation and controversy.

In the writings of Josephus and the Gospels, for example, the Sanhedrin is presented as a political and judicial council headed by the high priest (in his role as civil ruler); in the Talmud it is described as primarily a religious legislative body headed by sages, though with certain political and judicial functions. Some scholars have accepted the first view as authentic, others the second, while a third school holds that there were two Sanhedrins, one a purely political council, the other a religious court and legislature. Moreover, some scholars attest that the Sanhedrin was a single body, combining political, religious, and judicial functions in a community where these aspects were inseparable.  (Britannica.com – as in Encyclopedia Britannica.)

The takeaway for all this is that in the final scenes of Jesus’ life before the crucifixion sentence is handed down, the case is, as we would say today, escalated. In addition to The Sanhedrin, we also meet individual characters which heretofore weren’t part of the story, such as Annas and Caiaphas, as well as Pilate and Herod.

 

 

 

 

July 4, 2020

Why Job Was Singled Out

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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Over the years we have frequently featured devotionals from Charles Price, Minister at Large for The Peoples Church in Toronto. You’re encouraged to click this link if you wish to follow these teachings. Or click the header which directly follows to read today’s devotional at source.

As Gold

Job 28-29

Acts 13:1-25

“But who can endure the day of His coming? Who can stand when He appears? For He will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver…and refine them like gold and silver.” — Malachi 3:2-3

One of the things that God does—which some may argue is one of the best things God does—is bring us under pressure, because then, we begin to understand what our hearts are really like. For Job, when he was met with trial, although he worshipped, he also fell into a deep depression.

Job’s three friends tried to help him understand his calamity. Even though Job was a righteous man, his friends believed he must have done some secret sin that caused such tragedy to befall on him. Job’s friends kept urging him to confess his sins and ask God to restore him. Yet Job retorted,

“If I have sinned, what have I done to You, You who see everything we do? Why have You made me Your target? Have I become a burden to You? Why do You not pardon my offences and forgive my sins? For I shall soon lie down in the dust; You will search for me, but I shall be no more”  — Job 7:20-21

Job could not think of a secret sin that he committed.

Some of us may resonate with Job’s situation. We may feel that some hidden sin has caused the current predicaments in our life. We may have confessed our sins a million times and find that nothing has changed. The reality is not Job’s unrighteousness that was the reason why he was attacked by Satan; on the contrary, it was Job’s righteousness that was the very reason he was attacked. Like Job, our problem may not have been caused by us at all.

Yet, how did Job manage to survive all this?

Job 23:8-10 reveals Job’s attitude and understanding of God:

“But if I go to the east, He is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find Him. When He is at work in the north, I do not see Him; when He turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of Him. But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.”

Job points to all directions but does not find God. Job’s security, however, is the confidence that God knows where he is and the path he will take, no matter the circumstance. Job’s belief, when he was tested, was that he would “come forth as gold.” When we are placed in difficult situations that we do understand, may we remember that God is not breaking us, He is making us. Like Job, may we come forth from God’s testing as gold.

Prayer: Sovereign God, I pray, as I face difficult circumstances in my life and I do not understand why things are happening the way they are, may I remember that You are not breaking me but You are making me. Thank You, Lord.


Where most of our readers live, today is Independence Day, the annual 4th of July holiday in the United States. Here are some related articles just for you:

July 3, 2020

Communal Faith

NIV.Mark.2v1 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

Today I want to highlight and recommend a book that I just received in yesterday’s mail, and I’m already halfway through. Why Would Anyone Go To Church: A Young Community’s Quest to Reclaim Church for Good by Kevin Makins (Baker Books, 2020) is the story of Kevin and his wife Meg and a team of volunteers who planted Eucharist Church in the urban core of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. It’s full of insight and practical lessons for anyone who wants to do ministry in the inner-city. Learn more from the publisher about the book at this link. Follow Kevin on Twitter at this link.


…When the word gets out that Jesus is back in town, the entire region comes to see him. Before long, the house he’s in is so packed that no one can even get on the property. People are poking their heads through windows and climbing on shoulders just to hear one of his stories. Those outside the home notice a small group in the distance, carrying something between them and moving quickly despite the heat. “You should have come earlier if you wanted a seat,” someone shouts to them as they get closer. “Unless you’re carrying a pile of gold on that mat, you ain’t gettin’ in!” But the truth is that they had started scrambling as soon as they’d heard Jesus was back in town–the four friends working to track one another down before heading to the fifth, who is always at the same place: the city gate.

The men are carrying their friend, who has been unable to walk for as long as they have known him. To be paralyzed in any culture is to face unique challenges, but in the ancient world, without social assistance or accessibility laws, it was difficult to even survive. Unless you had people who cared for you. Being resourceful fellows, they decide to bypass the front door entirely, instead boosting one another onto the roof of the clay house and carefully hoisting their friend up as well. Inside, the people try to ignore the sound of footsteps on the roof, but when dirt begins to fall onto their heads, it proves impossible. Looking up, they see cracks forming as chunks of clay begin to fall, and before they can even piece together what’s happening, a human hand has burst through. The ceiling is quickly being replaced by daylight which is then interrupted by a large shadow. Something is being carefully lowered down…

…Jesus looks up to the four friends whose heads are now peeking in from the corners of his new sunroof and, having witnessed their faith, he heals the paralyzed man.

But, wait, that can’ be right.

The author must have meant that when Jesus saw the paralyzed man’s faith, he healed him. But that’s not what the text says. It says that Jesus saw their faith. Plural. The faith of the paralyzed man’s friends made him well. The Gospel accounts are filled with stories of people helping one another experience Jesus’ healing. A Roman centurion has enough faith to heal–not himself but his servant. A woman has faith to heal her daughter. Faith is never an individual exercise. There’s a reason Jesus didn’t select one good student but instead called twelve apostles and seventy-two disciples. It’s the same reason the early Christians clustered together and formed the church. It’s why the Nicene Creed doesn’t begin with “I believe” but “We believe.” Why the Lord’s Prayer begins with “Our Father who is in heaven,” not “My Father who is in heaven.”

Faith is a communal endeavour…

…Once we rediscover this side of church, so much begins to fall into place. Many of us were taught that we needed to believe the right things to belong in the church, but maybe we don’t need to have all our intellectual opinions sorted out before we start to follow Jesus. If church is a community of people called by God to move toward Jesus, then it’s perfectly acceptable to walk with others in that direction, even if you don’t know what you personally believe.

Eucharist Church celebrates Communion every Sunday afternoon, and we are quick to remind people that this table does not belong to our church. It’s Jesus’ table, and he welcomes all who desire to come to him, whether they have a lot of faith or just a tiny mustard seed of belief. What’s important is that we come to Jesus’ table together and bring him what we have. Feelings and intellectual opinions will come and go; they aren’t a good foundation for a life of discipleship. But when we bind ourselves to a group of people who have committed to move toward Jesus together, we no longer have to be anxious about what we feel or think in any given moment. We can trust that those around us will help us get to Christ, and as we grow and mature, we’ll even be able to help others.

(excerpt from pages 61-64)

July 2, 2020

Building for the Storms: A Reflection on Matthew 7:24-29

by Clarke Dixon

What do we do when the storms of life are raging against us, threatening to beat us down and knock us off our feet? The COVID-19 pandemic may feel like that for many while for others it might be concern over health, work, relationships, or stress levels. What do we do when we face the biggest of all storms, the one that really does knock us down, when death draws close? Jesus speaks about storms. Let’s listen in:

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!”

Matthew 7:24-27 (NRSV)

If we are wise, we will “hear my words and act on them.” Then we will be like the wise person who built a house upon rock, a house with a solid foundation that could withstand the storms.

That could be the end of the sermon right there. Except that we tend go in one of two directions and so end up as unwise builders.

The first bad turn is to make our lives merely about following the rules. We might hear Jesus say “hear my words and act on them” then be tempted to go through all the words of Jesus, to write up a comprehensive list of his rules.

Since Jesus is concluding his “Sermon on the Mount” here, let us go back and consider again what Jesus has been saying up to this point.

Let us consider an example from earlier in the Sermon on the Mount:

You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment;

Matthew 5:21-22 (NRSV)

We might add to our list of rules, “do not get angry with people” and move on. But that misses the point. Jesus is pushing us into a deeper righteousness here, a righteousness that surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, a righteousness that is of a better kind, a righteousness of the heart.

Instead of merely keeping a rule about anger, we want to become the kind of people who are not angry, the kind of people who are peaceable and gentle, the kind of people who would never murder. Going further in the Sermon on the Mount, instead of merely keeping a rule about looking at others with lust, or a rule about divorce, we want to become the kind of people who are faithful (5:27-32). Instead of merely keeping rules about oaths we want to become the kind of people who have integrity (5:33-37). Instead of merely following the rules about whom we love or hate, we want to become the kind of people who love like God loves (5:38-48). We want to reflect the character of God. It is about Christlike character.

As we read on in the Jesus’ sermon, we don’t want to merely follow rules about piety, about prayer, fasting, and giving. We want to be the kind of people who develop and demonstrate a deep relationship with God (6:1-24). We do not pray to keep a rule about praying, we pray because prayerfulness is part and parcel of a deep and intimate relationship with God. We do not merely follow a rule about not worrying, we become the kind of people who trust in God, who know Him to be a loving, Heavenly Father (6:25-34).

Jesus stands in contrast to the religious types of his day who were all about the religious rules. He still stands in contrast to many of us religious types today. Jesus was leading people to the heart of God in a way that the scribes and Pharisees were not. When we hear the words of Jesus and act on them, we grow in character.

What do we do when the storms of life hit? It is not what we do, but rather who we are becoming in Christ that gives us the solid foundation. We handle a crisis with things like love, integrity, trust, faithfulness, prayer, and a deep relationship with God. That character will be a solid foundation when the storms of life hit.

Let us get into the second way we might take a wrong turn and so not be as prepared for the storms as we might think.

Some Bible scholars think that Jesus is talking about the final judgement when he talks about the great storm that knocks over the foolish man’s house but leaves the wise man’s house standing. Bible teachers are divided on whether that is so, but even if Jesus is not specifically referring to the final judgement here, we can think of that final storm among the many storms we face, the one which really does seem to knock us down for the final time.

We may hear Jesus say “hear my words and act on them” and think we must be super-obedient to receive eternal life. It’s on us to get this right. We may then begin to worry. We have heard his words, some of us have heard them many, many times, but have we actually acted on them? Have we acted on them well enough? So we worry.

Let us go back and consider again what words Jesus is telling us to hear and act on. One of the things Jesus tells us to do is “do not worry.”

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

Matthew 6:25-26 (NRSV)

The reason we are to not worry is because God’s got our backs. God is our Heavenly Father who loves us and knows what we need.

There are many stressed out Christians who wonder “have I done enough to be saved?” No you have not. Neither have I. There are many anxious Christians who wonder “what if I have unconfessed sin when I die?” You will have unconfessed sin when you die. So will I. We all have sin we are not even aware of.

But there is good news!

Having told us to not worry, but instead trust God, and trust that God loves us, Jesus demonstrated God’s love by going to the cross, to take away our sin, all of it. We have not done enough to be saved. God has done enough to save us. We will have unconfessed sin when we die. Jesus died for that sin too.

Hearing the words of Jesus and acting on them puts us on a solid foundation ready to face death. What do we do when that final storm rages against us? Again, it is not about what we do, but who we are becoming. We continue being the kind of people God is calling us to be, the kind of people who trust God, in everything. We know He loves us. That is the best foundation for facing life, and for facing death. Yes, a storm may blow through that really does seem to knock us down for the final time. Do not worry. God will pick us up.

Jesus said that if we hear his words and act on them, we will be wise,
like the man who built his house upon rock. That house was ready for the storms. A Jesus shaped, God formed character provides a solid foundation for all the storms that threaten to knock us down, even death. Are you hearing Jesus? Are his words being acted out in your life?


Pastor Clarke Dixon is the pastor of a Baptist church in Cobourg, Ontario. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service. Watch today’s teaching portion at this link. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com.

 

July 1, 2020

Holiday Sadness

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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July 1st is Canada Day and in the U.S., July 4th is… well, it’s better known simply as “The 4th of July.” (Independence Day to be precise.)

Many times people feel very lonely and even severely depressed on holidays, especially when they (a) have no one to share the time with (b) many shops and restaurants are closed, and (c) they don’t have the distractions of their job. That last one hits some people especially hard. It can be especially devastating to be alone on a day when people are celebrating groups.

Of course, this year, many people are not celebrating in groups. The worldwide pandemic has suspended many holiday celebrations. Here in Canada, just about everything connected to Canada Day is cancelled for this year, though I suspect that in the U.S., 4th of July celebrations will go ahead in some jurisdictions.

If you are single and you think marriage is the cure for this, think again. My wife and I have gone through many stages in our marriage where we did not have any other couple that we, as the kids would say, hang with. This can be especially frustrating if you were hoping someone could join on the holidays to help with a particular project. Holidays simply reinforce that state of social affairs, where you have no one to call on to assist with a particular need. Of course, in marriage, you’ve got each other; and Biblically speaking that is one of the main purposes/benefits of marriage, but married couples will tell you that sometimes that isn’t enough.

But in that last sentence, I could have easily have typed, ‘Of course as Christians we’ve got the Lord…’ and that reality is one we can easily overlook.

The Psalmist understood this; Psalm 73: 25 says

Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.

Some might argue that the key to this verse is “in heaven;” that Asaph is comparing the God of Israel to other gods. But I believe he is also contrasting “friends on earth” to having a “friend in heaven.”

A similar passage is in John 6:68, when Jesus has asked the disciples if they wish to leave

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

Cynics would say that Peter is simply saying he has no other options, almost implying that he might leave if something better came along.

But time will prove the prophetic nature of his statement. Jesus remains faithful to Peter even when Peter doesn’t remain faithful to Jesus. Peter messes up but Jesus restores him. Truly, this is a friend who stays closer than a brother. Ultimately he is willing to die for his friendship with Jesus.

For some, my reference to marriage pales in comparison to an estranged relationship with a parent, or those who are true orphans, or those whose parents are no longer living. In Psalm 27:10 (NLT) we read:

Even if my father and mother abandon me, the LORD will hold me close.

Again in the Psalms, in 68:5-6 (NIV) we read:

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
    is God in his holy dwelling.
God sets the lonely in families
    he leads out the prisoners with singing;
    but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.

Or perhaps you had a sibling; a brother or sister to whom you were so close. Proverbs 18:24 (NASB) reads,

A man of too many friends comes to ruin, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

It’s interesting to note that there is a problem that can occur on the opposite end of the spectrum when you have “too many friends.” (Maybe we should be careful what we ask for!)

That’s the kind of companion you have in Christ, even on a holiday when waves of depression roll in…

…Having said all this, the scriptures directly confront the reality of loneliness. In Ecclesiastes 4:7-12

“Again I saw something meaningless under the sun: There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. ‘For whom am I toiling,’ he asked, ‘and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?’ This too is meaningless—a miserable business! Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken”

When you find yourself — and the holidays can magnify this situation — in a period of your life where you feel you have no friends, you can

  1. Ask God to send people into your life
  2. Put yourself in situations where meeting people happens naturally, organically.
  3. Try to do everything you can to be the type of person people would want to count as a friend.

On this last point, my parents would often quote this, though I don’t know the source;

He has friends who shows himself friendly.

So do what only you can do, but then rest in the knowledge that God is your refuge, your helper and your friend.

 

June 30, 2020

God’s Vast and Intricate Creative Splendor Subverted

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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Aaron Wilkinson has appeared here many times. He graduated in English and Theatre from Redeemer University in Hamilton, Ontario and blogs occasionally at The Voice of One Whispering. To read this there (with pictures) click the header below:

Gold In Exodus

If you grew up in the church, you probably know the story of the escaped slaves ending up in the desert and making themselves an aureate bovine to worship while Moses is up on the mountain being told that making golden cows-idols is a bad idea. (As an aside, gold-leaf hamburgers are a real thing served at some ridiculous restaurants.)

This story was probably told to you as it was to me: a moral tale on the importance of obedience and the dangers of idolatry. The question I had never asked was this: how did escaped slaves have gold? I recently read Exodus from beginning to end without skipping sections (possibly for the first time) and the story of the gold itself, and its eventual intended purpose, is rather interesting.

During the Burning Bush account near the start of the narrative, we read the Lord saying this:

“…You will not leave empty handed. Every woman is to ask her neighbor and the woman who lives in her house for silver and gold jeweler and clothing. You will put them on your sons and your daughters. So you will plunder the Egyptians.” – Exodus 3: 21b,22 (Tree of Life Version). See also 11:2 where this command is repeated, in case you missed it the first time.

Shortly after, we read that it happened just as God had promised.

“So [the sons of Israel] acted according to the word of Moses. They asked the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold, and for clothing. ADONAI gave the people favor in the eyes of the Egyptians and let them have what they asked for. So they plundered the Egyptians.” – 12: 35,36

Two things stand out to me at this point: first that this seems to be a move of willing compassion on the part of the slaves’ wealthy neighbors rather than a move to pay the Israelites to leave. A divine-inspired compassion, but still far from an extortion. Second, I think the “plundering” language is meant to be somewhat ironic. The outcome is the same (Israelites have gold, Egyptians have less) but the means is rather different.

I’ll have to skip over the plagues, the Passover, and other pertinent details of the story, but I do want to mention that I had never before realized that the crossing of the Reed Sea takes place during the night and the Egyptians’ demise coincides with dawn. So imagine the starry night sky and the gold- and silver-bedecked Israelites passing down below in the sea bed. Someone should paint that.

Then we get to Sinai and the delivering of the 10 Commandments. Afterwards, in the same speech, God tells Moses: “Do not make gods of silver alongside Me, and do not make gods of gold for yourselves.” – 20:23

Moses relates these instructions and the Israelites respond with a resounding ‘by golly, we’re in!” Moses goes back up the mountain and receives more instruction.

‘Tell [the sons of Israel] to take up an offering for Me. From anyone whose heart compels him… Gold, silver and bronze; blue, purple and scarlet cloth; fine linen and goat hair; ram skins dyed red, sealskins, acacia wood; oil for the light, spices for the anointing oil and for the sweet incense; onyx stones and setting stones for the ephod and for the breastplate.” – 25:2-7

At this point, I think of my Minecraft world and how stoked I feel when I have stacks of materials to make into something awesome. You might think how it would feel if someone gave you a million dollars to make your dream home. The possibilities with what you can do with all these resources are limitless and God has a plan for all of it, which includes:

♦ The Ark of the Covenant, which has gold-covered wood sides, gold rings, gold-covered rods for carrying, and a solid gold cover!
♦ Gold statues of these Cherub creatures which are wildly amazing!
♦ This really awesome tree-shaped lampstand with floral details of blossoms and bulbs! (A burning bush, if you will. In art, the Chapter 3 bush is usually portrayed as leaf-less twigs, but what if it was actually covered in leaves and flowers?)
♦ All these ceremonial clothes with gold details and a cool tent made from all this flowing coloured cloth!

And lots more! This is going to be a monumental artistic masterpiece.

Leaving the gold aside for a moment, wrapping up all this instruction at 30:11 we read “Then ADONAI spoke to Moses…” Adonai has been speaking to Moses for like 5 chapters now, so why this phrase? Well, from here to the end of Chapter 31, this phrase appears 6 times. In these speeches, he promises to send his Spirit upon Bezalel and Oholiab, two artists who will make this all happen. And at the end, God calls Moses to remember the Sabbath “…for in six days ADONAI made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he ceased from work and rested.”

Six acts of speech. Two humans who will be intimately connected with God. Then finally the Sabbath. I do believe we are meant to see this story at mount Sinai as mirroring the Creation in Genesis. And if that’s the case then the next thing we should expect is a fall.

Imagine you just came home from Michael’s or Hobby Lobby or whatever your local art supply store is. You just had a great idea for a painting and you just bought the most expensive high-quality materials you could get your hands on. You put the shopping bag on the table, take a quick trip to the washroom, and when you come out you see your kid has gotten into the paints, spilled most of them on the floor, and finger-painted a pile of dung onto the wall.

Now imagine you just got the blueprints for this awesome tabernacle and all these rad liturgical symbols and tools, and you head down the mountain and find out your brother made… a cow.

The tragedy of the golden calf is more than just an act of disobedience and idolatry. Those are surely important aspects, perhaps even the most important aspects, but these are compounded by subverted artistic potential. The scope of God’s creative vision was vast and intricate, and Aaron made… a cow.

“Then [Moses] took the calf that they had made, burned it with fire, ground it to powder, scattered it on the surface of the water and made [the sons of Israel] drink it.”

I’m left with some questions. If this story is meant to evoke the Creation and Fall, can we infer backwards that the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil would have eventually served a vast and intricate purpose? Would there have been a Knowledge of Good and Evil pie in making? Is Israel’s punishment here supposed to evoke the curse on the serpent in Genesis to eat dust? Was the tabernacle any less golden then it could have been for this waste of material? What is the “gold” in my life that God wants me to save for a special purpose? I’m sure I could ask more.

Now there’s Gold in the Garden of Eden, and there’s Gold in the New Jerusalem. There’s Gold everywhere in between. There’s entirely too much gold for me to consider all at once, but if I’m patient then I’m sure God will show me what to do with it.


My fellow Tolkien fans may appreciate both the motifs of the Tree the gives Light (Menorah / Trees of Valinor), and the deliverance that comes at dawn (Reed Sea / Helm’s Deep.) Almost makes you wonder if Tolkien was some kinda Bible-reader.

June 29, 2020

Jesus and Ritual Hand Washing (Part Two)

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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NIV.Mark.7.24 Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre.[g] He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. 25 In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.

27 “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

28 “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

29 Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”

30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

Yesterday our search for devotional sources to highlight took us to Psalter Mark, the blog of Dr. Mark Whiting. He states that his blog’s main purpose is “to explore all aspects of how the Psalter (the biblical psalms) functions as Scripture today.”

I wanted to include this article in full, but at nearly 1,500 words, it didn’t fit our format. But as I tried and tried to excerpt from it — knowing that many of you don’t click through for the ending — I decided instead to run this in two parts, yesterday and today. But if you didn’t yesterday, you’re encouraged to click the header below and read it in one sitting.

From Hand Washing to #SyrophoenicianLivesMatter: Mark 7

…Jesus and the Pharisees agreed on ample evidence from the Scriptures that the heart is the underlying problem:

  1. God judges people on the basis of their heart, ‘for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart’ (1 Samuel 16:7, NRSV).
  2. The law acknowledges the problem of the uncircumcised heart (Leviticus 26:41).
  3. Proverbs 20:9 puts the issue as a rhetorical question: “Who can say, “I have made my heart clean; I am pure from my sin”?”

Why does he tell them what they already know? The problem is that human effort, via traditions, cannot deal with the sinful heart that we each have. Not even God’s commandments can do this. They might be a helpful bandage or provide palliative care, but they do not deal with a sinful heart. This is a bigger problem than ritual impurity over the lack of hand-washing.

Jesus does not address the problem in this encounter with the Pharisees. Remarkably in the next episode in Mark’s gospel it is a Syrophoenician women—yes, a Gentile—that perceives that Jesus is the at the centre of a game changing solution to this conundrum.

Here we enter someone’s home, the details are left out by Mark. Presumably, this is a house where Jesus has been able to get peace and quiet previously—a safe house. But his effort to get some downtime has not worked. A Syrophoenician woman gate-crashes his rest. This is a bold and desperate move; Gentiles don’t barge into Jewish homes to address a Jewish Rabbi.

It is the hope that Jesus can work a miracle that has driven her to do the unthinkable. She begs Jesus to cast a demon out of her absent daughter, left suffering at home. So far so good, our sensibilities have not been ruffled even if those of polite Jewish society have.

And then we wake up because our Lord and Saviour, our role model for life, the sinless one, the man who has just preached that we are all judged by what comes from our mouths, makes what could be understood as a racial slur. Jesus implies the common label of Gentiles as dogs in what he says to his woman. So offensive is this episode that Luke misses it out of his gospel written to a Gentile audience.

In this tricky saying, Jesus explains that his ministry has been essentially to the Jews, and only in passing to the Gentiles. In this way, Jesus’ ministry is food for the children of Israel, and not food for Gentiles.

Are you feeling uncomfortable? Are we going to have to have take down any statues of Jesus and crosses that commemorate his death and resurrection, in a #SyrophoencianLivesMatter rampage? Is Jesus being racist?

We will of course never know Jesus’ tone, his demeanour, the possible twinkle in his eye when he said these words. What we do know is that despite alluding to the labelling of Gentiles as dogs, standard practice in his culture, his statement elicits the most remarkable response from this woman:

Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

In this brief exchange and based on the knowledge of Jesus that brought her to a strange Jewish house, she has understood what the Pharisees with all their hand-wringing and hand-washing have missed. She has seen that Jesus’ work starts with Jews but is the hope of all humanity. She is pleading that this might begin right here and right now with her daughter. Her faith and courage are rewarded:

Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

This remarkable new understanding of Jesus’ work is the start of Mark’s Gospel revealing that he in his deeds and his person he will address the bigger problem of the heart. Both Jew and Gentile will have the possibility of a circumcised heart as Leviticus puts it.

June 28, 2020

Jesus and Ritual Hand Washing (Part One)

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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NIV.Mark.7.1. The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)

So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”

Today our searching for devotional sources to highlight here took us to Psalter Mark, the blog of Dr. Mark Whiting. He states that his “blog’s central aim is to explore all aspects of how the Psalter (the biblical psalms) functions as Scripture today.”

I wanted to include this article in full, but at nearly 1,500 words, it was a little long for our format. But as I tried and tried to edit it — knowing that many of you don’t click through for the ending — I decided instead to run this in full in two parts, today and tomorrow. But you’re encouraged to click the title below and read it in one sitting.

From Hand Washing to #SyrophoenicianLivesMatter: Mark 7

As human beings we have an annoying trait of complicating what God instructs us to do. This is where Mark 7 begins, but not where it ends. At the start of the chapter it is the Pharisees who are complicating God’s instruction. In fact, Jesus will go on to explain they are doing something even worse.

Throughout Mark’s gospel, Jesus faces hostility from the religious leaders. It was not just Jesus that the leaders had it in for, Israel had a long tradition of prophets who criticised the status quo and thereby the leaders. In Jesus’ time it was still the case. Many people would announce a new teaching, usually centred on the need for political change. Then they set out to bring truth to power. Some, like Jesus, gave everything in the attempt.

Here, the Pharisees have taken some of God’s instruction (torah) and made an extra burden of tradition to go on top. The Law (torah) required priests to ritually clean their hands. This was an act of grace as it reminded them that when dealing with the Holy God of Israel a clean heart is essential.

Please note that this is not about hand hygiene—though this is the centre of our daily lives at present. As an aside, we might want to have a word with Jesus and his disciples on this count.

The accusation that the disciples have not washed their hands, is a claim that they have not obeyed the extra rules made by the Elders. These rules had been added as a burden on everyone. When you are travelling doing itinerant ministry, is not feasible to carry the necessary dedicated washing cups, pots, and bronze kettles. And Mark’s gospel makes it clear that Jesus liked his disciples to travel light.

Jesus, as a rabbi, is responsible for his disciple’s actions. At this level, the Pharisees are justified in bringing the matter to Jesus. The problem with their case is, however, twofold. Firstly, their motives are dubious. This, however, is not the point that Jesus takes up with them. The second issue is the key one. By focusing on man-made traditions these become a distraction from God himself.

Jesus quotes from Isaiah 29:13:

‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

We must not get self-righteous at this point by spotting what we do without thinking. In my own Baptist tradition, the trinity of words: tradition, doctrine, and ritual are often unspoken and these matters judged as peripheral. We might read what Jesus says about human traditions and then go further than Jesus does.

In quoting from Isaiah, God-sanctioned tradition, Jesus is primarily pointing out that God desires true worship. He wants hearts that are set on him. At the same time, he affirms that doctrine and ritual still have a place. In the New Testament, the disciples and Jesus’ brother, James, affirm both doctrine and ritual. In the case of ritual, we still have cleansing effected baptism, we have Christ’s sacrifice proclaimed in bread and wine, and the anointing of the Holy Spirit through anointing with oil. All these are mandated by Jesus and/or the testimony of the New Testament.

Our Christian tradition makes it easier to see some things than others. Let us not abandon other commandments of God. And Let us remember that working these out requires a framework of tradition, doctrine and ritual.

Things get worse for the Pharisees as Jesus spells out why he has quoted Isaiah. He suggests that their specific traditions get in the way of God’s commands. He mentions the idea of ‘corban‘ in which something could be set apart for God. The specific issues seem to be that some where giving land and wealth, made ‘corban‘, to the religious leaders. In doing so, some then deprived their parents of the support that was their due in old age, according to the Law.

Then Jesus gets to the revolutionary bit. Jesus’s comments about the human heart, our insides, our outsides, and purity is both great teaching, spells out a bigger problem—a problem for everyone.

With reference to our basic bodily functions, Jesus explains that what we eat cannot make us unclean. This even transforms some of the commandments of the Law. This is a trajectory that enables God’s people to eat screech owl and even pig should they wish to. The repercussions of this took years to work out after Jesus death hence the editorial note in verse 19.

The counterpoint to this is that we know a person’s heart by their fruit. There is that horrible list: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. Jesus and the Pharisees are on common ground with this list. They can also agree on its root cause.

Jesus and the Pharisees agreed on ample evidence from the Scriptures that the heart is the underlying problem:

  1. God judges people on the basis of their heart, ‘for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart’ (1 Samuel 16:7, NRSV).
  2. The law acknowledges the problem of the uncircumcised heart (Leviticus 26:41).
  3. Proverbs 20:9 puts the issue as a rhetorical question: “Who can say, “I have made my heart clean; I am pure from my sin”?”

Why does he tell them what they already know? The problem is that human effort, via traditions, cannot deal with the sinful heart that we each have. Not even God’s commandments can do this. They might be a helpful bandage or provide palliative care, but they do not deal with a sinful heart. This is a bigger problem than ritual impurity over the lack of hand-washing…

 

June 27, 2020

Works are Nice, Knowledge is Helpful; But God Wants Your Proximity

But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest. He entered and sat down with the guards to see the outcome. (Matthew 26: 58)

Peter followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. There he sat with the guards and warmed himself at the fire. (Mark 14:54)

Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. (Matthew 27:55)

This is one of my oldest son’s favorite worship songs, I Just Want to be Where You Are by Don Moen. Because today (27th) is his birthday, it seemed like a good time.

The opening lines are:

I just want to be where you are
Dwelling daily in your presence
I don’t want to worship from afar
Draw me near to where you are.

The line that got to me was, “I don’t want to worship from afar.”

I realize this is rather superficial, but in my years in church I have attended some churches which fill the back rows first, and other churches in which the front rows fill up right away. I’m not sure what accounts for the difference in church culture. I’ve been to seminars and conferences where people will pay top dollar for airfare, hotel, food and conference admission, only to grab a seat in the very last row. But I’ve also seen people at Christian events who run to grab a seat near the front, with Bibles and notebooks already open before the speaker is even introduced.

Turning to today’s scripture texts, we certainly know why Peter followed Jesus from a distance. Jesus had just been arrested, and for all he knew, he might be next. So he became a ‘distant’ follower. Knowing how the lives of Peter and 10 of the other twelve disciples ended, we know that following Jesus came with great personal risk, and this begins after that scene in Gethsemane where the story takes on a new trajectory which, for persecuted Christians, continues to this day.

The same applies to the women in the third verse cited above. Matthew Henry says that either way, it was either the ‘fury’ of those who arrested Jesus or the ‘fear’ in themselves that kept them from getting too close.

Between these two considerations, where do you find yourself?

In terms of the superficial, do you gravitate to the front rows at Christian gatherings, or are you content to stay near the back? Even if life circumstances currently make you one of the people Ruth Graham calls “broken on the back row;” may I encourage you to try moving up. It’s a way of making a physical declaration of the interior intention of your heart.

In terms of the scripture text and today’s song, can you say, “I just want to be where you are;” or are you “following at a distance?” Perhaps where you live there is a stigma associated with Christianity, or a local church. You may already be paying a price for close association with Jesus.

Whatever it is, it probably doesn’t compare to what Peter and the women felt on that terrible night. What if Peter hadn’t denied his connection with Jesus? I can say from personal experience that life changes when you are willing to identify with the body of Christ no matter what may come; when you determine to a public statement that you’re all in.

There’s something about this simple song that intensifies as you hear it. Take time to listen to it more than once. Enter fully into God’s presence.


Bonus item:

This song is not as well known. It was part of the “Jesus Music” revolution that took place in the early 1970s. The songwriter was Gary Arthur and the band was simply called The Way. The song is called Closer to God.

June 26, 2020

The Security of God’s Protection

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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A friend of mine shared this on Facebook in the last few days, but it was originally written in late March at the outset of the pandemic in North America. The author is Dianalyn Conrad. With over 3,700 posts here, I don’t often source things on Facebook, and perhaps it’s not your go-to for devotional content, but sometimes someone posts something worthy of consideration, perhaps even worthy of sharing, as I did here. She didn’t indicate where she got the image, but I’m adding it here as well.

Shut in Safety

I have always thought that Noah was safe inside the Ark because he built it according to God’s specifications. I thought that perhaps it was the strength of the gopher wood and the soundness of the architecture that ensured that the waters of the flood would not come into the Ark.

But today I encountered a verse that shifted this whole paradigm. Let’s read what Gen 7:16 says ..”The animals going in were male and female of every living thing as God had commanded Noah…THEN GOD SHUT HIM IN….

Don’t miss this…. even after Noah had built the Ark, ~ it was God Himself who shut him in, in order to shut out the waters of the flood… In other translations this verse says “The Lord sealed them inside.”

May the Almighty God seal us inside His Ark of protection through this Pandemic sweeping the planet.

It is not the fact that you have locked your house that keeps you safe at night, it is not your good driving skills that keeps you safe on the road, neither it’s your healthy eating habits that keeps you healthy – only God can shut you in and shut out the devil that is seeking to devour you.

~Father we pray that in these times, during this Pandemic, as we walk into the streets and as we drive on the roads, Oh God shut us in. Father we pray for each other and our children that in the midst of the dangers of becoming contaminated, that You will shut us in, and keep us safe. Not only from the Contagion but also out the flood waters of abuse, rape, murder, accidents and untimely deaths… Oh God shut us in, shut us in your Ark of protection , into your Ark of compassion..

In Jesus Mighty Name we pray, May GOD SHUT US IN AS WE OBEY HIM AND TRUST IN HIS WORD


There were hundreds of comments but they were all quite short. However, on the page of the person that I know who shared this, someone added,

The ark is a picture of Christ;
the wood = his humanity;
the covering of pitch = the atonement.

Those in the ark were safe, while all others perished in that watery grave of death and judgment. All that God shuts up in Christ are safe. He absorbed the the Father’s wrath, and the just judgment of the law. He took all the hits for his people. “In Adam all die; In Christ shall all be made alive.”

That (the reference is I Cor. 15.22) reminded me of another image, one which we’ve used in the past on the sidebar here at C201.


Speaking of sharing things, you never know when you can be a part of what I call “the chain of grace.” I’ve always felt that anything worth ‘liking’ is possibly worth sharing; and that ‘share’ could be a critical element of someone else’s story. You might not be an evangelist, but you can leverage your small corner of social media to make a difference in someone’s life.


Because we have some extra room today, this is a link to a very early C201 devotional on Noah’s Ark, which also included this picture which is actually part of a set of four by artist Tom DuBois called the Noah’s Ark Collection, with this piece aptly titled:  The Commission.    Tom is currently offering a  set of the pictures for only $2,900 at his website.

 

June 25, 2020

Spectacular and Sensational: Are Christians to Be Known Primarily for Working Miracles?

by Clarke Dixon

In these days of a pandemic, should we as followers of Jesus be known for doing spectacular and sensational things? Should we be fearless in the face of infection? We’ve prayed about it, we believe that God can protect us, so should we then act like we are immune? Should we declare the pandemic will be over soon? We keep praying it will be.

Of course, this is not just about the pandemic, but all of life. Is the working of miracles the Christian solution to all problems? Is the spectacular and sensational the defining mark of the Christ follower?

Jesus clarifies the defining mark of his followers in the Sermon on the Mount:

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Matthew 7:21-23 (NIV)

The defining mark of the Christ follower may not seem clearly evident here on first glance. Let us put ourselves, for a moment, in the shoes of the scribes and Pharisees. We have a passion for God’s law. We study it, memorize it, and teach it, hoping that our zeal for pleasing God is contagious.

Along comes Jesus, doing spectacular and sensational things, like casting out demons, healing people, and works of power. Yet he does some surprising things too, like healing on the Sabbath. Have you not read your Bible Jesus? Working on the Sabbath is forbidden.

We are concerned. Jesus is attracting people with the spectacular and the sensational, yet his track record of keeping the law and traditions we teach is suspect. Will the Jesus followers, of which there are now many, be all show, and no substance? Will Jesus be taking people away from righteousness through all the spectacular and sensational things he is doing?

To that Jesus says,

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 7:21 (NLT emphasis added)

The defining mark of the Christian is not the spectacular and sensational, though those things may happen. The defining mark of the Christian is the doing of the heavenly Father’s will. Jesus’ followers can not be described as “workers of lawlessness” (literal rendition of ‘evildoers’ in verse 23).

In other words, Jesus is not taking people away from God and godliness, Jesus is taking people deeper into God and godliness.

Let us remember what Jesus said near the beginning of his “Sermon on the Mount” back in chapter 5

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:17-20 (NIV emphasis added)

When Jesus speaks of the need for a righteousness that excels that of the scribes and Pharisees, he is pointing out that there’s is a faulty righteousness. There is something missing. They were all about the letter of the law, missing God’s heart.

When Jesus goes on in the Sermon on the Mount to teach about character, he is taking us toward a righteousness that captures God’s heart.

Here is the defining mark of a Christ follower; a character that captures God’s heart. In developing a character that captures God’s heart, the Jesus follower develops a righteousness that surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees. Of course eternal life depends on God’s grace and not our ability. However, salvation to eternal life does not preclude becoming more like our Saviour as we follow.

Yes, Jesus was going about doing spectacular and sensational things. And no, Jesus was not keeping the traditions in ways that would keep the scribes and Pharisees happy. However, Jesus was, and is now, calling people, not to be workers of the spectacular and sensational, nor to a wooden adherence to a set of rules, but to a deep righteousness formed of God.

What about us? What defines our Christian walk? Is it a focus on the spectacular and sensational? Do people know us to be a people who walk about with the expectation that God will hand out miracles like candy? Do we see miracles as the solution to all our, and the world’s, problems?

We should pray for miracles. I believe they happen. But while we pray for miracles, we can recognize how character that captures God’s heart solves many of our, and the world’s problems. We can think of problems in family relationships, marriage, race relations, and so much more. If our character is growing in Christlikeness, many of our problems wouldn’t exist in the first place!

We may think that we would be most like Christ if miracles would happen all around us, and through us. We are most like Christ when we love as Jesus loved, when we sacrifice as Jesus sacrificed, when we serve as Jesus served, when we forgive as Jesus forgave.

Ours is not to make people think we are the second coming of Jesus by the working of miracles every time there is a problem. Ours is to be a people who live in a deep relationship with God through Jesus, by the Holy Spirit. We respond to every problem, including every pandemic, with Christlike character. We will be known as Jesus followers, not by our miracles, but by our character.


Pastor Clarke Dixon is the pastor of a Baptist church in Cobourg, Ontario. His family are currently riding out both the pandemic and the heat wave next to their pool. This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced their regular church service. Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com.

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