Christianity 201

November 9, 2020

Using the Scriptures as a Model for Prayer

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:38 pm
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For today’s thoughts, we have some very short excerpts from a 2019 book, A Genesis to Revelation Guide to Prayer by Pamela L. McQuade (Barbour Books). I’ve chosen a few that were perhaps not as obvious as others to give you a sense of how the book works. There are also some longer articles about prayer as well but for me the centerpiece is section 4, which consists of 144 references to prayer. This 224-page book comes in a smaller size that can be carried with you in a pocket or purse or lunchbox.

Prayer in the Middle of Disaster

As judgment fell upon the land because of Judah’s unfaithfulness, Joel called out to God, the creator of the earth, to intervene and stop the destruction of the pastures, fields, and woodlands — All the elements of the earth that supported people’s needs. Only God could end the disaster and lift his judgment from his unfaithful people.

Lord help us! The fire has consumed the wilderness pastures and flames have burned up all the trees. Joel 1:19 NLT

Prayer for Sanctuary

In a vision, Ezekiel saw the people of Judah destroyed by God’s command, and the prophet cried out to God for them. Though they had fallen far from God, Ezekiel still had compassion. Though God did not seem inclined to ease their plight, in Ezekiel 11:16 he promised that even though the people would go to foreign lands, he would be their sanctuary.

When they were killing and I was left alone, I fell face down, crying out, “Alas, sovereign Lord! Are you going to destroy the entire remnant of Israel in this outpouring of your wrath on Jerusalem?” Ezekiel 9:8 NIV

Prayer for God’s Workers

Anyone who works in ministry will come to recognize that more workers are essential. Jesus told the disciples to ask God to provide workers in order to bring in the harvest of human souls. He will answer this prayer.

Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Matthew 9:37-38 NIV

A Prayer that God Overhears

Concerned about the state of their nation, a remnant of faithful Jews spoke to one another about their failings in God’s eyes. Even though they weren’t really praying, God heard their concerns. He honored them with a scroll of remembrance and promised to spare them.

Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. The scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name. Malachi 3:16.

God Hears Short Prayers, Too

Hezekiah heard from the prophet Isaiah that God was prepared to take his life. The faithful King prayed a fervent, short prayer, and before Isaiah could leave the palace, God turned him around with a new, hope-filled message for the king. God hears every prayer, even our shortest, most desperate ones.

When Hezekiah heard this, he turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, “Remember oh Lord how I have always been faithful to you and have served you single-mindedly, always doing what pleases you.” Then he broke down and wept bitterly. 2 Kings 20: 2-3 NLT

November 5, 2020

Is the Bible Still Relevant Today?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I may be cheered by news of you. . . .

Still, I think it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus—my brother and co-worker and fellow soldier, your messenger and minister to my need; . . .

Philippians 2:19,25 (NRSV)

Have you ever read verses like these and wondered just what it has to do with us? We should not expect Timothy to show up anytime soon, nor is Epaphroditus on his way. So what does it have to do with us then? Is the Bible stuck in a specific time and place? From verses like these, it sure looks like it is speaking to a time and place far from us! Does this mean the Bible is irrelevant to us? How does the Bible work anyway?

Through verses like these we learn what the Bible is not. Many Christians assume that what we have in the Bible is God speaking directly to the writers saying “write this” and they do so obediently. It is as if we expect God just took control of the hands of the writers to jot down what we all need to know without the writer’s mind being involved in the process. That is not what the Bible is. Nor is it what the Bible says about itself:

. . . you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:15-17 (NIV emphasis added)

The Bible itself confirms what the Bible is not. It is not God dictated. It is, however, God-breathed.

From verses like those that mention Timothy and Epaphroditus we learn what the Bible is. It is evidence of people responding to real events. It is the evidence of God’s relationship with humanity, and how it works out in the lives of real people. It is evidence of the reality of that relationship. It includes all the twists and turns in that relationship. It includes all the joyful moments, and tragic moments in that relationship. It includes all the drama you will find in any relationship.

The clue is in the words “testament,” as in Old Testament, and New Testament. The Bible is the testament, the testimony as to what our relationship with God has looked like over many centuries. It is the testament of how God related to a specific people he called in order to bless all peoples. It is the testament of how God revealed himself supremely through Jesus and how that revelation of himself played out in the lives of real people.

A key part of that testimony is that God created humanity for a love relationship, a relationship he was committed to despite our rebellion. This was all done out of love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16 NIV). Because God so loved the world that he would come to it in Jesus, it is reasonable to expect that he also so loves the world that he is not going to let the record of his love be false or lost.

Therefore it makes sense that the Scriptures are “God-breathed.” They were written by people responding to various and specific events and circumstances, but God is in it, ensuring the testimony not be wrong. What is written passes through the minds of the writers, yes, but it also comes from the heart of God.

This means that we can trust that God was involved in the creation of the Bible, from the situations that inspired the various writers, to the actual writing, to the editing that may have happened in some of the writings, to the collecting together of some writings together in volumes (like the Book of Psalms), to the collecting together of all the Scriptures into one collection known as the Bible. This all took a very long time. We can expect that God was in it for the long haul.

To summarize, the Scriptures were not written to us, but they were written, collected and kept for us. The Bible is an accurate testament to God’s relationship with us over many centuries, a relationship that continues on to this day.

Knowing what the Bible isn’t and what it is, how do we read it today?

  • We read the Bible as deep and deepening people. We read it prayerfully and expectantly. We read with a desire to grow deeper in our relationship with God. We read with a desire that the Holy Spirit would be as involved in our reading, as the Holy Spirit was involved in the writing.
  • We read the Bible with a thoughtful reading, with a deep dive. There are things that we instinctively know as we read. For example, as we read the verses from Philippians quoted above, we don’t expect Timothy and Epaphroditus to show up. There are things, however, that we don’t instinctively know. For example, we may not know how slavery worked in ancient times. Indeed some have used the Bible in an awful promotion of slavery because they have not read deeply and understood the context. We also may not know how apocalyptic literature worked in New Testament times, and I could go on.
  • We read the Bible with humility. Because we don’t always have the background knowledge of specific situations, customs, and ways of thinking of the ancient peoples, we may not have the best interpretation of what we read. There are words used in the original languages of Hebrew and Greek that even scholars are unsure of what they mean. It is perfectly normal and appropriate for us to sometimes say “I may not be understanding this correctly.”
  • We read the Bible with confidence. Looking at the Bible from a “secular” perspective, we have the testimony of many people over many years, in various times and places, which all comes together in a remarkably unified testimony to the reality of God. From the perspective of faith, when we trust that God loves us, we can trust that the Scriptures are worthy of our trust. God would not go to great lengths in loving us, namely though Jesus and the cross, and then allow the testimony to be full of error.
  • We read the Bible with an eye open for “training in righteousness” (1st Timothy 3:16 NIV). Since we are in a series on Philippians, I could have preached a sermon on how there are people, like Timothy and Epaphroditus, who are good examples of those who have the mind of Christ. Though there are many lessons to learn we don’t want to always be looking in the Bible only for the “moral of the story,” for lessons on how to live. The Bible is much bigger than that, so . . .
  • We read the Bible with both eyes on the full story, the true story, the love story between God and humanity, the love story which we are invited to live into and become part of.

That Paul intended to send Epaphroditus, and later Timothy, to Philippi might not seem that relevant to us right now. That is a very specific situation that already happened nearly two thousand years ago. The fact, however, that people are separated from God through sin has not changed. The fact that Jesus is Lord and Saviour has not changed. The fact that we are invited into relationship with the Creator of the universe has not changed. The Scriptures are “able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2nd Timothy 3:15 NIV). That also has not changed. Therefore the Bible could not be more relevant to us today!

When we come across very specific and personal details in the Bible, we are reminded that the writings that make up the Bible were not written to us. But they were written for us. They couldn’t be more relevant to us in our day!


The full teaching can be seen as part of Clarke’s church online worship expression from November 1st.

October 21, 2020

Before and After Times in Bible Narrative History

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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The title of today’s devotional suggests something quite profound, so off the top I have to say that I might disappoint some of you. Like everyone else who writes devotionally, I try to ensure that what is posted here – both by myself and others – is Biblically and doctrinally sound, but today’s is more of a concept I was playing with and I invite you to do the same.

John 1: 16-17:

Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given.
 (v.16 NIV)

From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another.
 (v 16 NLT)

For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.
 (v 17 NASB)

I was thinking about the idea that while the Israelites dramatically escaped Pharoah’s army in Exodus 14 and celebrated this victory in Exodus 15, they had not yet received the law until Exodus 19 with what we call The Ten Commandments — which can be read as up to 14 commandments (or this approach), 613 if you prefer — given in Exodus 20. They weren’t a “Ten Commandments” people because Moses had not been given the law.

Okay those first two links that weren’t to Exodus are too good to pass over (no pun intended).

David Lamb‘s article notes:

…Traditionally, the 14 commands are divided into 4 commandments that focus on “loving” God (Exo. 20:2-11) and 6 commandments that focus on “loving” humans (Exo. 20:12-17) for a total of 10.  In the first section focusing on God, the English phrase “You shall…” is repeated 6 times (all imperfects in Hebrew).  The command “Remember the Sabbath day” is unique (an infinitive absolute in Hebrew).  So there are 7 commands in Exo. 20:2-11 in a six and one pattern. (The two other verbs in 20:9, “you shall labor and do all your work” appear to be descriptive, not prescriptive, and therefore aren’t interpreted as commands.)…

while the website Knowledge Nuts has a different solution:

…Within these longer commandments lie other orders that could be sub-commandments or whole new laws. The section on not worshiping false idols, for example, contains four separate commands: not to worship other Gods, not to make images of them, not to bow down to them, and not to serve them. Same with the section on the Sabbath: We’re ordered to both keep the Sabbath holy and not to work on it.

To add to the confusion, Exodus 20:18 is traditionally seen as the end of the commandments. However, it’s really more of a break. After describing how the Israelites cowered with fear, the author starts commanding again in Exodus 20:22. Some of these new decrees are repetition, but some—such as a prohibition against having your genitals on display as you approach the altar—are a whole new ball game…

Okay, so now you’re wondering what’s in Exodus 20:22ff, right?

22 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites this: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: 23 Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.

24 “‘Make an altar of earth for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, your sheep and goats and your cattle. Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you. 25 If you make an altar of stones for me, do not build it with dressed stones, for you will defile it if you use a tool on it. 26 And do not go up to my altar on steps, or your private parts may be exposed.’

(Wait, what?)

But that answer is too simplistic because — remember, the chapter divisions are arbitrary — Exodus 21 continues in a sense in which the list of laws starts to grow, approaching the 613 number, as do chapters 22 and 23…

…My original point however is that Israel enjoys all the blessings of liberation from Egypt long before they kept the law.  Of course this because they were under covenant. There was the Adamic covenant and the Noahic covenant and the Abrahamic covenant, etc. (Some lists omit Adamic — though some have it — but most add the post-law Mosaic and Davidic.) …

…I tried to find a parallel with this in the New Testament. The time period between the ascension of Jesus and the Apostles and disciples being filled with the Holy Spirit is a matter of mere weeks, but there is a parallel with the completion of the Biblical canon, though it doesn’t always sit well with some people.

In theological terms biblioatry is an extreme devotion to the printed scriptures. It is extremely difficult for some who fit into this mindset to comprehend that there was a time when the Bible was not in the form we now find it. How would people be saved?

For me this like believing that the Jewish people didn’t have a history pre-law; pre-Moses. They would be the first to tell you that’s not true.


Related: From a 2011 devotional here:

…If each of the checkmarks below represents the keeping of one or several commandments and the cross represents acceptance by God, many people feel that their story should unravel something like this:

In fact, what the Bible teaches is that living “a ten commandments lifestyle” is more of the fruit of experiencing the grace of God.  The commandments were never requested of Israel’s neighbors, they were the cadence of a life lived in fellowship and communion with God.  While they are phrased in a “Don’t do this” manner, they could be interpreted — or lived out — in more of a I Cor 13 way: “Doesn’t kill, doesn’t steal…” etc.  That’s also in keeping with a “before and after” way of looking at life that incorporates life transformation.  So it looks like:

Of course, there is always the issue that most of the general population can’t name all ten commandments, and if they do, they tend to focus on the “second tablet,” the ones having to do with interpersonal relationships, and neglect the first four, having to do with our relationship with God…

 

October 17, 2020

Reading the Bible’s Big Picture

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:36 pm
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Today we return for the 4th time to the writing of Sarah Jo who writes at Blind Insanity. Click the header below to read at source and then take a minute to look around the rest of her blog. (Scriptures today are as posted in the KJV; use BibleHub or BibleGateway to study these in other translations.)

The Bible is Not About You

The Bible is not about you.

You are not David, you are not Saul, you are not Paul, you are not Timothy, you are (insert your name here).

The Bible is not about you, it is all about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Godhead, three-in-one, and what He has done for His creation.

By His grace and by His power, you are (or can be) redeemed.

If you have believed on Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, and trusted in Him to forgive you of your sins, then you have your own story. It is precious and it is even powerful, but it cannot compare to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

As an example, when we look at King David’s story, we are not meant to get out of it that we can be a “David.” … “If we just practice enough and develop the gifts God has given, then we, too, can defeat a giant.” … One message we are meant to get out of David’s story is that God shows Himself strong through normal and weak people who live in submission to Him. No matter how much they practice, no matter how much they try, it will all be worthless without complete surrender to God’s sovereign control and power. He can, and does, use weak vessels like you and me for His glory and purpose; emphasis on “weak.”

Whenever we read stories of people in the Bible, we should be drawn closer to Jesus, not closer to those people… Whenever we hear a pastor preaching, we should be drawn closer to Jesus and not closer to that pastor…

God intentionally conveyed the moral failings of his greatest servants to show that it wasn’t about them at all, it was about how He loves them and how He chose them. It was not by their own merit, but by His grace, and we see that in so many stories in the Old Testament and the New Testament. Throughout the Bible, there is an overarching theme of God’s undeserved favor poured out over mankind; His unconditional grace.

Though God didn’t write our stories into His Word, what He does (or will do, when we receive Him) is write His redeeming Word into our stories.

One of the many beautiful parts of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that He does a great work in those who trust in Him. He transforms, purifies, sanctifies, and builds His children up in the power of His Word and the comfort of His Holy Spirit.

Now, where is this message coming from?

Recently, I watched the movie “American Gospel: Christ Alone.” This specific issue in the American church was called out in that documentary.

There are some popular preachers who take Bible stories and reshape them into motivational speeches, which can often take the stories completely out of their intended context. In general, the messages are inspiring and encouraging and can leave a person feeling happy, yet no lasting fruit is produced from those messages.

The joy is temporal, but the harm can be eternal.

So, what I want to encourage you to do is read the Word of God in context. When a pastor is preaching, read the verses that they reference in their full context. They may just quote one verse or a piece of a verse, and it is your responsibility to read the context.

Please, go to church, but do not be a bump on a log. If your pastor is continually giving messages, where verses are used out of context, and their words cause you to look at anyone else other than your Savior, then get out of that church. When Jesus talked about giving us an abundant life, that had nothing to do with worldly things like health, money, or earthly loves, but everything to do with Himself.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd, the Good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep. (John 10:11)

Jesus didn’t die, so that you could have a nice house, nice car, nice plane, or favor with man. He died, so that you could live abundantly in His unconditional grace and love. He is more than enough for you. Yes, He provides for His children, because He’s good, but why should we worry about the gifts or look for more gifts when the Giver, our Heavenly Father, has already given us Himself?

So, let me conclude with this.

In many prayers over offerings, I have heard something similar to this;
“May God reward the giver with abundance in good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over.”
That is in reference to this verse below.

Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again. (Luke 6:38)

This verse is one of many used to encourage people to give to a church or organization, because you will surely receive in abundance if you give in abundance… The reason we give should not be to receive more money back, but in the hope that God will use that money for the strengthening of His kingdom. If our motivation for giving is not solely the glory of God, then it would be better for us not to give. If we give to a church that has no lasting fruit in its members, and its outreaches are built on doing good, but not sharing the Gospel, then it would be better not to give to that church at all.

So many people give for the sake of giving, not paying attention to what their gift is going to. So many people go to church for the sake of going to church, not paying attention to the fruit that is being produced, whether in their life or in their community.

Pay attention. Don’t just float along because you don’t want to be confrontational. The “gospels” being preached today are harmful to people, and actually draw people away from the One True God! True followers of Christ need to stand up for His Word, especially in the church. Maybe we are not all meant to be apologists, but we are all meant to know God and know His Word. So, if we should deny what we know, or go along with what is false, what does that say about our integrity or our seriousness about God’s calling on our lives? Only His view matters.

So, let us boldly stand up for Jesus and keep Him at the center of our lives and the center of His Word.

And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. (Acts 17:10‭-‬11)

And now I beseech thee, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment unto thee, but that which we had from the beginning, that we love one another.
And this is love, that we walk after His commandments. This is the commandment, “That, as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it.”
For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.
Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward.
Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.
If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: for he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.
(2 John 1:5‭-‬11)

[some suggested resources and contact info appear here; click through to the original article to read]

Though the Bible was not written about us, yet it was written for our benefit.

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. (2 Timothy 3:16‭-‬17)

June 23, 2020

Critical Elements of the Jesus Story Supported Without a Bible

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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One of the things that drives seekers and skeptics nuts is when we use the Bible to prove the Bible. To borrow a 2-word phrase from Wikipedia, “citation needed!” They’re looking for outside corroboration of the Bible’s facts.

Many have written on this subject, and I always thought it would be good to have a record of some of those arguments here at C201. This is part of the field known as Christian apologetics.

Branches of this include:

  • experiential arguments
  • evidential arguments
  • arguments for the reliability of scripture
  • arguments for the resurrection
  • reasoning from morality (the problem of good and evil)
  • philosophical arguments for deism (pre-suppositional arguments)
    • cosmological argument
    • teleological argument (aka intelligent design)
    • ontological argument
  • argument from fulfilled prophecy
  • creationism
  • theodicy (explaining the ways of God to humankind)

You find these fleshed out in detail at Wikipedia.

I started thinking about this yesterday when a friend introduced me to Alisa Childers at alisachilders.com. She describes herself on her YouTube page:

I’m a life-long Jesus follower and former CCM recording artist who experienced a period of profound doubt in my mid-thirties. I discovered apologetics, which helped navigate me out of unreasoned doubt and into a vibrant, intellectually informed faith. Now my passion is to read, study, and worship with all that I am!

She has a post entitled:

10 Historical Facts About Jesus From Non-Christian Sources

but in this particular case, I didn’t want to steal search engine results here from her blog, as much as I would have loved to copy and paste it as a reference. So if an internet search brought you here, click the header above and read it on her site.

Rather, I decided to break down what she had written into a few key sources. But you need to read her summary as you’re following this one.

Josephus: A Jewish historian who wrote The Antiquities of the Jews. (It was a First Century bestseller.) He is usually the first go-to source for confirmation of the Jesus narrative. As Alisa notes, he records the life of Jesus who he describes as “wise” and that “his conduct was good.” He also records the stoning of James, and mentions that he was the brother of Jesus.

Celsus: He gets the story wrong, believing that during some time spent in  Egypt Jesus got his miraculous powers, but in saying this, he is acknowledging that Jesus was able to perform miracles.

Tacitus: A respected governmental leader, the statement which follows sounds like it was ripped directly out of The Apostles Creed: “suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus.”

Thallus: This First Century author’s works no longer exist, but fortunately for our sake, he was quoted by another writer when he stated that, “there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down.”

Phlegon: The same author who quoted Thallus, Julius Africanus, quotes Phlegon as verifying Luke’s date-stamp that these events took place “in the time of Tiberius Caesar,” and also records the crucifixion day darkness as an eclipse which is a reasonable explanation.

The Disciples: Let’s face it, we know from outside sources that they were willing to die for their beliefs. Can’t overlook that. (Staying on the purpose of the list, which we would also call ‘extra-Biblical sources,’ Alisa didn’t add the Bible’s own claim that the resurrected Jesus was seen by over 500 people before the ascension.)

Pliny the Younger: He records Christian worship — Book of Acts style — and notes the personal ethical integrity of the early Christians. They were people you could count on.

Lucian of Samosata: You know you’ve arrived when you turn up in the late night talk show monologues. Lucian was a satirist. Think “The Onion.” But in a more sober moment he notes that, “it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws.”

I’ve greatly shortened Alisa’s material here in order to ENCOURAGE you again to read it on her website. Click here to read 10 Historical Facts… You’ll find fuller quotations, source footnotes for everything cited here, and over 70 reader comments.

…So, for my regular devotional readers, I know what you’re thinking today, “Where’s the green?” (We always put scripture verses in green here, to show that the scriptures contain a life that our own words do not.)

Well, that’s just the point. Sometimes you have go beyond the Bible to impress on someone the historical veracity and reliability of the Jesus narrative. Which brings me to one last extra-Biblical source that wasn’t in her list:

You. I want to avoid the cliché that “you are the only Bible some people will ever read;” but don’t minimize the power of your own testimony; the story of your own life-change. In apologetics, you can argue with a proposition, but it’s hard to argue with a story when the person is standing right there sharing it.

 

 

March 3, 2020

What Was Mary Thinking? It’s Obvious.

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.
 -Psalm 119:11

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
 – Luke 2:19

It’s several months past the Christmas season, but we were considering these two verses on the weekend and how they are related. I have to confess that in my younger days, I figured Mary simply held on to an angel’s promise as her only hope against the rumors that would circulate when she was visibly pregnant outside of marriage.

In later years, I figured that Mary’s thoughts would go toward the implications of having been chosen to bear Israel’s Messiah both in terms of what it would mean for herself and what it would mean for the baby Jesus, the infant Jesus, the adolescent Jesus and the mature Jesus.

But these would not be random thoughts. The scriptures would be clear.

In her outburst of praise to God that we call “The Magnificat” Mary directly quotes from or alludes to as few as seven or as many of 22 scriptures. We covered this back in 2013, quoting from K. W. Leslie:

Those who don’t understand how prophecy and inspiration work, tend to think of the Magnificat as something the Holy Spirit said through Mary, rather than something Mary said, empowered by the Spirit. They see her as some illiterate, uneducated peasant girl. In reality, the Spirit takes our innate abilities—the ones we have all the time, not just when we’re inspired—and points them at God. The Magnificat isn’t just a one-time freak of nature. Turns out Mary was a poet. Perhaps even a musician. Maybe untrained, with strong natural talents God put in her long before she said this. But maybe someone had trained her; we don’t know. All we have is her poem.

Her knowledge and ability didn’t show up overnight. K. W. Leslie continues,

Synagogues had a women’s section. That’s right: The Pharisees permitted women’s education. They didn’t expect (nor did they want) women to become scholars. But they did expect them to know the Law, same as the men: “A man is required to teach the Law to his daughter.” (Mishna, Sota 3.4e) You can’t obey it, or pass it down to your kids, if you don’t yourself know it. And throughout the Magnificat, Mary demonstrated she did know it. ’Cause, you know, all the quotes.

In a 2018 article here, Ruth Wilkinson wrote,

Luke records that she burst out in what is essentially a mash-up of Old Testament verses and phrases that she had memorized; verses from the books of Psalms, Job, 1 Samuel, Genesis, Deuteronomy, Isaiah… Poetry and prophecy. Truths that she’d been steeped in all her life and which suddenly, joyously, tumbled out in a hymn of praise to the God who had set her on an unprecedented path.

In 2017, I wrote,

But there is no arrogance in this. Rather it is preceded by a statement of great humility:

  • He has looked with favor on the humble condition of His slave (HCSB)
  • he has shown his concern for his humble servant girl (New Century Version)
  • he hath beheld the meekness of his handmaiden (Wycliffe)
  • he took notice of his lowly servant girl (New Living Translation)

Similarly, later verses have given rise to this being called a “song of reversals.” A new order is about to take place; a new paradigm is about to be introduced.

Did she get all the implications immediately? Maybe not. Clarke Dixon covered this here in 2018.

Did Mary really “get it”? Would Mary have been aware that “Son of the Most High” meant much more than that her baby would have a special relationship with God? That the “Son of God” she was to carry was actually “God the Son”? Keeping in mind the age and education of Mary, would she have been thinking “this must be what future theologians will call the incarnation”? Not likely.

To some extent, I agree with Clarke. If we, in the year 2020 don’t fully understand all the implications of the incarnation, I don’t think it’s fair to heap all that expectation on Mary.

At least at the beginning of the story. In those early days.

But as she ‘ponders in her heart’ the words she has ‘hidden in her heart’ I believe it crystallized for her clearer than to anyone else living at that time.

We’re told that Luke (at least and perhaps other gospel writers) would have interviewed Mary in composing their gospel accounts. I would expect that by that point, Mary’s take on the life of Christ would be more than names, dates and places; her contribution would be more than facts and figures.

I believe by that point, having pondered these things out of urgency (in the beginning) and reflection (after Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension) that Mary was in fact the greatest theologian of her day. The gospel accounts are richer because they contain, to varying degrees, her input.

Next Steps: So…let’s start with basics. Using this checklist, how many of these scriptures do you know from memory? Click here to read the list.

 

 

February 18, 2020

Biblical Writers Knew Economic Inequity

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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When I first started interacting with various Christian blogs, one of the first I was aware of was Andrew Jones aka Tall Skinny Kiwi. I still receive his newsletter and this week he quoted this Proverb:

There is abundant food in the field of the poor, but it is swept away by injustice.” Prov. 13:23

Contextually, the Proverb falls between two others I would consider unrelated, and BibleHub, which usually offers various cross-references to similar passages is somewhat sparse with this one.

Still, economic inequity is well known to all of us and it can appear in various forms. In its plain form, the verse is talking about a situation where the land produces food in abundance, but people are going hungry.

More recently, we’ve heard stories where developed nations have sent containers of food following a natural disaster, only to learn later that the supplies were being hoarded in warehouses to which the common people did not have access.

But is this proverb saying something more, or something entirely different? The website LetGodBeTrue.com offers what follows. To better understand the commentary, here’s the verse in the KJV as they are using it:

Much food is in the tillage of the poor: but there is that is destroyed for want of judgment.

Hard work brings profit, but it can be lost by foolish decisions. The poor may labor hard at farming, with much increase from their Creator. Their focused labor on a small plot of land bears good reward for their table. But other poor men, even with some advantages, may squander greater gain by following harebrained schemes that take it away.

Tillage is the tilling and cultivating of ground for raising crops. Farming was the first profession in the world, and it is a good work. It is the most basic business or investment, providing a clear view of capital, labor, and profit. Depending directly on God’s blessing, seeds are placed in the ground to wait for His increase. And He does give increase!

The average return for wheat is 200. One wheat seed planted results in 200 new ones. One bushel planted results in 200 new bushels. That is a return of 20,000%! The average return for field corn is 800 times, or 80,000%! The average return for rice is 2000 times, or 200,000%! There is much food in the tillage of the poor. You have never seen this kind of return in any investment portfolio of the rich and famous, for the world’s best hedge fund managers or investors can only sustain about 30% per year over time.

Want of judgment is the lack of good sense. It is foolish vulnerability to ideas that will not work. It is listening to vain persons and their schemes. It is a lack of discretion and prudent management. It is the rejection of critical thinking and cautious pessimism. It is wishful thinking instead, trusting more in hopes and dreams than careful analysis.

Want of judgment is hasty decisions, poor choices, lack of foresight, and risky presumption. It believes everything it hears. It is frustration with the old way of doing things and impatience to experiment with something new. It is the desire for a free lunch, no matter how many times it has heard there is no such thing. It is the dream that there are shortcuts that can lead to wealth, though the wealthiest, Solomon, denies the idea.

The proverb deals with poor farmers. They have plenty of food, for they labor at a godly trade day after day, year after year. But there are other men who may not even have enough to eat. What happened? They gave away their increase by foolish decisions. The lesson here is the value of hard work and the importance of wise financial management.

continue reading here

Dake’s commentary also places the onus on the poor farmers themselves:

The poor may sow enough to have plenty of food, but lack of management often keeps them in poverty. They have very little foresight. When they get something they quickly spend it or have a big feast and then go without for a long time.

Again, I go back to the commentary at LetGodBeTrue:

When the government approves a lottery, who lines up first for tickets? The man tired of farming! He dreams of how he will spend his millions. He can list how he will use his riches. He eagerly takes the “much food” from his tillage and gives it to the state in a no-win deal designed for the foolish and naïve. The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.

So again…what about the example I used at the beginning and the way in which I interpreted the verse for today’s headline? Does the translation Andrew Jones is using put the wrong spin on this?

I think that either way, we see that the ecosystem — to be clear, with this word I mean climate and agriculture — is able to sustain life on Planet Earth, but human intervention, whether individual or collective, is what spoils the harmony of that system. As God designed it, there is food for all.

January 2, 2020

2019 Bible Verse of the Year

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

With 35 billion chapters of the Bible read using their Bible apps in 2019, the people who bring us YouVersion have some impressive statistics to back up their announcement of the “verse of the year.” It is the most looked up, most highlighted, and most shared verse in the YouVersion community. So what is it?

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Philippians 4:6 (NRSV)

This speaks to the fear and anxiety in today’s society, and since the app is used across the globe, the anxieties felt around the world. This verse was written by someone who had great reason for anxiety and worry, for people who had great reason for anxiety and worry. It is in a letter written by the apostle Paul from prison, always a place of uncertainty in that time and place, to the Christians in Philippi who were facing persecution. So what does Paul say? Let’s consider what the Bible says about worry here, beginning with verse 4:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Philippians 4:4 (NRSV)

We rejoice, even though we may feel scared, mad, or sad. That might seem like an impossible thing to do, since we cannot normally choose our emotions. However, “rejoice” here is an imperative verb, it is an action rather than a feeling. According to Greek experts it is the activity of being glad or taking delight. It is possible to feel sad, and be glad at the same time. Paul is not contradicting himself when he says “we are saddened, but we rejoice” in 2nd Corinthians 6:10.

To give an example, I might be sorrowful that we are now in a Canadian winter and I cannot ride a motorcycle. But at the same time I can be glad that I have enjoyed motorcycling every year since 1991, and look forward to another season of riding in the spring. For another example, I am unhappy about my Mum having Alzheimer’s disease, and feeling distraught that she is now living in a nursing home. However, I am glad she is safe, and with our shared hope in Christ, I take delight in the fact that her best days are still ahead. My emotions have not changed, I am still feeling the emotions brought by grief, but I can focus my mind on things to take delight in. I don’t try to change my emotions from feeling sad to happy, but rather refocus my mind, engaging in the activity of rejoicing even while unhappy.

This is part of what happens in worship and praise at church gatherings. Whatever our emotions resulting from a difficult week, or a difficult season of life, in worship we focus on the big picture, the reality that is ours in God. There can be awful stuff happening in our lives which will result in negative emotions, but in worship all the awful stuff takes the background. The reality of God takes the forefront of our hearts and minds. We cannot change our emotions, but we can change our focus. We are told to “Rejoice in the Lord!” We focus on God. We focus on the big picture God paints for us which takes the focus off the limited perspective of our own field of vision.

Next:

Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Philippians 4:5 (NRSV)

We keep our cool, even though we may be mad enough to blow our tops. If our emotions take the forefront, then our relationships will be affected. When we allow the worries of life to take the foreground of our hearts and minds, we can easily hurt others. We can “kick the dog” so to speak. The Greek word for ‘gentleness’ has the idea of fitting, appropriate, or fair. Our response to the troubles of life can make our family and friends suffer unfairly, not to mention the poor dog. It is much better when we relate to people with the reality of God in the foreground. We relate to people, not as wounded people flailing away with swords, but as healed and healing people, experiencing grace and love from God, seeking grace and love in the lives of others.

And now for the verse of the year:

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Philippians 4:6 (NRSV)

We can pray, even though worry seems like the best, or only, thing to do. When we rejoice, we put the big picture in the forefront. In prayer, we have the opportunity to get our concerns and frustrations back to the forefront. Our frustrations and concerns are important, so should not merely be hidden away as if they do no matter. However, we do not put them forward so they can consume us. We focus on them in order to name them and hand them over to God. What is the result?

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7 (NRSV)

We may be uncertain about many things, but in Christ we can be certain God is our Heavenly Father who works out all things together for good (see Romans 8:28). One very literal translation puts it this way: “The peace of God, the one surpassing in value all reasoning, will watch over your inner selves and your thoughts” (from Scripture Direct Interlinear Greek Bible). While many understand this verse to mean something like “the peace of God is beyond understanding,” another possibility is; “having the peace of God is better than having understanding.” In other words, it is better to experience the peace of God, than have everything figured out. That is often our trouble, we want to have everything figured out, we worry and fret when we don’t. We don’t need it all figured out! Give it to God, Who already has it all figured out, Who has the power to do something about it, Who has the love to do something good about it, even if we can’t see it or understand it. Once we have given our concerns over to God, we can then refocus the mind again:

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8 (NRSV)

We have something far greater than knowing every detail of the future, and the ability to control that future. We have a relationship with the One who holds the future. Instead of worrying, let us go to God, rejoicing in our reality in Christ, relating to others with that reality in mind, giving our concerns over to God, then refocusing on all that is good. Whatever emotions you may experience in 2020, may you know peace, especially the peace of God.


Clarke Dixon appears here most Thursdays and is the pastor of a church in Cobourg, Ontario about an hour east of Toronto. Click here for his WordPress blog.

 

December 7, 2019

No Bible Verse is Trivial

This article really resonated in ways I wasn’t expecting. It’s from a site we’ve visited before, The Christian Courier. The author is Wayne Jackson. Click the header below to read at source and then check out the other articles.

Why Is King David’s “Grocery List” in the Bible?

Louis Gaussen (1790-1863) was a Swiss scholar who served as professor of systematic theology in Geneva, Switzerland. He produced a classic volume, Theopneustia — The Plenary Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures.

In this work, he responded to several criticisms often made against the concept of the Bible’s verbal inspiration.

One of these is “the apparent insignificance of certain details,” that allegedly tend to nullify the lofty purpose claimed for the Scriptures (1840, 306ff).

On such example is a passage having to do with an incident in the life of David that is quite intriguing.

The Bible student is informed that when king David came to Mahanaim, three men, Shobi an Ammonite, Machir of Lode bar, and Barzillai of Gilead:

… brought beds, and basins, and earthen vessels, and wheat, and barley, and meal, and parched grain, and beans, and lentils, and parched pulse, and honey, and butter, and sheep, and cheese of the herd, for David and for the people that were with him (2 Sam. 17:28-29).

The critic is prone to ask: “Do we really need an entire ‘grocery list,’ in this book that purports to be a spiritual document that guides one from earth to heaven?”

But the possible background of the passage could shed a floodlight of meaning upon this seemingly trivial list.

David’s beloved son, Absalom, was a rebel at heart. He was envious of his father’s success and wanted acclaim for himself.

So he carefully plotted to wrest the allegiance of David’s subjects from him, and transfer the same to himself.

And he was significantly successful. He “stole the hearts of the men of Israel” (2 Sam. 15:6).

Eventually, a full-blown rebellion was ignited.

David, with his remaining loyalists, fled Jerusalem. The king, with head covered, barefooted, and weeping, abandoned his palace for the sheltering seclusion of the forests east of Jordan (2 Sam. 15:30; 17:22ff).

Absalom hotly pursued his father, doubtless with the intention of assassinating the king. Such wretchedness!

David and his people were hungry, exhausted, and without adequate provisions.

What were they to do? Was there no assistance? Where was God?

Rather than acting directly, as in the case of dropping food from heaven for the Israelites (cf. Ex. 16:4), the Lord providentially intervened through indirect means that appeared altogether natural.

Jehovah sustained this man “after [his] own heart” in his time of distress.

Some scholars believe that Psalm 23 might well have been written to celebrate the answer to David’s prayers during this time of intense danger — especially verses 5-6 (see: Johnson 1981, 225; Kirkpatrick 1906, 124).

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil.
My cup overflows.

If there is no specific historical connection between the song and this episode in David’s life, the events certainly illustrate one example of how David was cared for by his Shepherd in the face of his adversaries.

The sneered-at “grocery list” becomes a prime example of one’s “cup running over” — even in the looming shadow of a deadly enemy!

November 23, 2019

God and You: Growing the Relationship

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He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1: 10-13 ESV

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. – James 4:8 ESV

Three years ago Charles Stanley’s In Touch Ministries posted this short book excerpt from chapter 3 of his book, Courageous Faith: My Story From a Life of Obedience.

Developing Your Relationship With God

by Charles Stanley

My grandfather taught me how crucial it is to be rightly related to God through His Son Jesus. He confided that as a young man he started his ministry feeling very inadequate because he didn’t have much education— he’d only made it to the sixth grade. In fact, he learned to read by studying the Bible. And he’d picked up how to preach by crying out to the Father and asking Him what to say.

This was extremely encouraging to me because of the inadequacies and fears I was struggling with. To think that such a great man of God had them as well gave me hope that the Lord could make something out of my life, too. And what this ultimately showed me was the amazing way the Savior can work through any simple but willing servant who is completely committed to Him. As 2 Chronicles 16:9 reminds us, “The eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.”

This is why I often say: Our intimacy with God is His highest priority for our lives because it determines the impact of our lives. The more profound our fellowship with the Father, the more powerful our lives will be—regardless of whether we’re educated, attractive, wealthy, or of prominent social standing. We don’t have to be perfect, not by any means. No, it is our relationship with God that makes all the difference in our lives— our love for Him, our willingness to serve Him, and our dependence upon His Holy Spirit.

So how did my grandfather achieve such a deep and transformative relationship with the Lord? Much like my mother did:

  1. He spent a great deal of time meditating on Scripture. He didn’t just read the Word, but he would ask questions such as: God, what are You saying to me? How does this apply to my life? What are You trying to correct? How do You want me to respond to You in obedience?
  2. He was a person of prayer. Grandfather didn’t just go before the throne of grace at night before he went to bed or when he was in trouble. Instead, he took the apostle Paul’s commands to heart: “Devote yourselves to prayer” (Col. 4:2) and “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). This meant that his life was one long conversation with God—one in which he shared all the joys as well as the sorrows.
  3. He actively listened to the Savior. Granddad was keenly aware that he was the servant of God—not the other way around. If he wanted a deep relationship with the Lord that would bring him into unified oneness with Him, he would have to train his ears to hear Him. And if he truly desired to have God’s direction, wisdom, and power, he would have to pay close attention to what the Father was saying.

Of course, this led me to ask Granddad, “How do you know for certain when God has spoken to you?” He told me that I would have a profound awareness in my heart of how He was leading me. Then he said, “But Charles, always remember this: You obey God no matter what.”

My Grandfather was an incredible example in regard to absolute obedience and this principle has become a foundational cornerstone and anchor for my life: Obey God and leave all the consequences to Him. It’s a phrase you’ve undoubtedly heard me repeat often. You do what the Lord tells you to do regardless of the circumstances or dangers you face, and you trust Him to make a path for you where there appears to be no way through.

 

June 9, 2019

Jesus in the Psalms

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:48 pm
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John 5:39:

You pore over the Scriptures because you presume that by them you possess eternal life. These are the very words that testify about Me (BSB)

You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!   (NLT)

■ Worship liturgy by Ruth Wilkinson:

The Son of God
Comes in name of the Lord
Praised by children
Delights in God’s Word

Mocked by enemies
Accused by liars
Hated without cause
Betrayed by friend
Prays for enemies

Lots cast for clothes
Given vinegar & gall

Hands & feet pierced
Bones unbroken
Forsaken by God

His betrayer replaced
Rises from death
Ascends to heaven

A priest forever
The Chief Cornerstone
Ruler of all
The Eternal King
Rules over His enemies with justice

■ From Nick Batzig at The Place for Truth

Athanasius once made the following statement about the book of Psalms: “While the entire Holy Scripture is a teacher of virtues and of the truths of faith, the book of Psalms possesses somehow the perfect image for the soul’s course of life.” The Psalter has a unique place in Old Testament revelation in that it really is a sort of miniature Bible. Every systematic and biblical-theological truth of Scripture is found, in seed form, in the Psalms. It should not, therefore, surprise us that the New Testament writers cite the Psalms more than any other book of the Old Testament. Neither should it surprise us that, in each citation, Jesus and the Apostles teach us that the Psalms are Messianic in nature. In so doing, they teach us the principles that we must follow as we seek to discover Christ in all the rest of the Psalms.

■ Timothy Keller at Crosswalk

…Most of all the psalms, read in light of the entire Bible, bring us to Jesus. The psalms were Jesus’s songbook. The hymn that Jesus  sang at the Passover meal (Matthew  26:30; Mark 14:26) would have been the Great Hallel, Psalms 113–118. Indeed, there is every reason to assume that  Jesus  would have sung all the psalms, constantly, throughout  his life, so that he knew them by heart. It is the book of the Bible that he quotes more than any other. But the psalms were not simply sung by Jesus; they also are about him, as we will see throughout this volume.

■ Nicholas Davis at Core Christianity

…At first glance, Psalm 1 doesnt look like a Messianic psalm. Theres no mention of a king or of a kingdom like we see in Psalm 2 or Psalm 110. There is nothing that ties the psalm directly to the suffering work of Jesus Christ as in Psalm 22. Psalm 1 looks like its just about any Israelite who is given the basic instruction to follow the Torah (the Law). But if we look at it again, we see something else. On the road to Emmaus, Jesus taught his disciples how to read the Bible. In Luke 24:44, he claimed that the whole Bible is about himself. This means that even all of the Psalms are ultimately about him.

■ Jeffrey Kranz at Biblia (Noting that the connection runs both ways; the Psalms point to Jesus and Jesus points to the psalms.)

…People didn’t follow Jesus only because of his miracles—they also followed him because he knew how to handle the Old Testament…

…Psalms is the most-read book of the Bible, and it’s the one Jesus quotes most often.

The book of Psalms is a collection of 150 songs and poems written to God. David penned half of them, and the rest were written by temple worship leaders (like the sons of Asaph), wise men (like Solomon), and some unknown poets (like . . . well, I don’t know).

Jesus quotes the Psalms on 11 occasions:

 


Go Deeper: Click the individual links to read more of each article by each author.

March 21, 2019

Compelling Holy Books

Is the Bible evidence for the existence of God?

by Clarke Dixon

Does the existence and nature of the Bible point to the existence and nature of God? Some people just love the Bible. Others find reading it a head-scratching experience. Perhaps, of course, there is some selective reading involved. I suspect that many who love it, and are never driven to question their faith by it, stick to their favourite bits. Likewise, I suspect that those who question Christianity tend stick to their favourite tricky bits. We want to consider the Bible in its entirety as we ask whether it is a compelling aspect of Christianity. Does the existence and nature of the Bible actually point to the reality of God?

Our expectations of the Bible play a big role in how we respond to it and whether we will find it compelling or not. There are two expectations that people often have as they consider the Bible. Either it is written by God, or it is written by men. Let us consider how these expectations pan out.

If the Bible was written by God, and if it was simply downloaded to us as if God sent us an email, then it is not what we would expect. It is convoluted. There are obviously so many authors writing at different times, under different circumstances, writing for different reasons, using different genres which reflect the kinds of writing humans do. It is not simply a “Here are some messages from God with all humans, at all times, and in all situations in mind” kind of book. Indeed what we think of as one book is really many writings written and collected over a very long period of time. That much is obvious.

In addition, the Bible answers questions we are not asking today. Have you ever wondered who the great-great-grandson of Esau was? The Bible gives us the answer.  However, the Bible does not answer questions we are asking. What about the dinosaurs? Who did Cain marry? How do we ethically use all our advances in medicine? If the Bible is simply a direct message from God, would we not expect it to be a simple message that anticipates all the questions of humanity?

Therefore the Bible is not what we would expect it to be if it is simply a message written and sent by God.

However, if the Bible is purely written out of the imagination of humans then likewise, it is not what we would expect. There is an amazing consistency in the presentation of God, the nature of humanity, the human dilemma, and the relationship between God and humanity. Despise the number of writings, the differing authors from different centuries living under different conditions, there is an incredible sense of unity in the Bible. There is also an incredible storyline that spans the many, many, many generations that lived while the writings were being written. Each generation would have had trouble making up its own part in that overall story.

Therefore the Bible is not what we would expect it to be if it is simply a product of the human mind.

So what is the Bible, then, if the Bible is not what we would expect if God simply sent us a direct message, or if we made God up? The writings we find in the Bible are the kinds of writings we would expect, if God created humanity, then humanity rebelled, then God chose and called a specific people for the working out of His purposes, making covenant promises with them, rescuing them from Egypt, giving them the law at Sinai, establishing covenant promises and consequences, bringing them into a promised land where the people kept breaking the covenant, then God appointed leaders and prophets to get them back on track while continuing to reveal more of His purposes, then He came to us as a man, teaching, working miracles, was killed, then rose from the dead, appeared to many, gave the Holy Spirit, then the many people who saw him alive went about as witnesses telling others what they knew to be true, while God gave the Holy Spirit to people who were not from His specifically chosen people so they could be in relationship with Him also, while groups of believers gathered together in assemblies which sometimes needed instructions which was given through letters written by Paul and others, while the stories about, and teachings of, Jesus, were committed to writing by four men in what came to be known as the Gospels. If all these things happened and more, then the Bible is exactly the collection of writings we would expect.

The opposite is true. If these things did not happen, then why do the writings that make up the Bible exist, why do they take the shape they do, and why do they say the things they do?

The writings that make up the Bible are records of the ongoing relationship between God and humanity throughout many centuries in history until God finally revealed Himself most fully through Jesus:

Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets.  And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe.  The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command. When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven. Hebrews 1:1-3 (NLT)

So are these writings from God, and therefore to be considered “The Word of God,” or are  they simply what humans wrote? They are both. As the Bible says of the sacred writings, what we now call “The Bible,”

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:14-17 (NIV emphasis added)

The writings that make up the Bible are “God breathed.” That means they are not simply written by God and downloaded to us, nor are they simply written by men without God’s involvement. Both God and humans are involved. They absolutely passed through the minds of people, they were absolutely penned by people, but they absolutely have God’s blessing as expressing well what we need to know. God would not have a long, long history of relationship with humanity, culminating with His very coming to us to enable relationship with Him, without providing for an accurate representation to be written and collected for future generations. So the writings of the Bible are “God breathed,” which means they are neither “God written,” nor “human invented.” Both God and humans are involved. When the writings of the Bible seem to be from another time and place, we are not surprised. They were written by people in another time and place. When the writings of the Bible seem timeless we are not surprised. The creator of time, Who still relates to us in our time, was involved!

This being the nature of the Bible, we want to check our expectations. The Bible is described by Paul as being “able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus,” and useful for “training in righteousness.” This means it is not a handbook to answer every question and satisfy our curiosity. Neither is it an idol to be worshipped. It does help us know God in Christ, Whom we do worship. Knowing about reconciliation in Jesus is infinitely better than knowing about the dinosaurs, or where Cain found a wife!

The Bible is not what we would expect if God simply sent us a direct message, nor if we made God up. However, it is what we would expect if God has had a long relationship with us, interacting with us throughout history. The Bible itself, in all its convoluted mess, in all its wonderful consistency and amazing storyline, is compelling evidence that God exists and that God loves us.


This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.

January 21, 2019

Miracles in the Bible

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:31 pm
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“a noteworthy miracle has taken place through [Peter and John] is apparent to all who live in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it (emphasis added) (Acts 4:16; see also vv. 13-14; John 3:2; 11:47-48).

Today we’re back visiting what I last called a “wealth of articles” at the blog of Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary in Allen Park, Michigan. This is part one of a two part series, you need to click the link at the bottom to finish this study.

Miracles: Then and Now (Part One)

On occasion through the years one reads or hears of a great revival somewhere in the world, a sudden outburst of the power of the Holy Spirit. It usually includes the testimony of many souls saved as well as miracles of all sorts that seem to parallel those of the Bible. Fantastic accounts of healings, resurrections from the dead, walking over red-hot burning coals, exorcisms of the devil and demons and the like are reported. What is an earnest Bible-believer to make of all this?

The subject of biblical miracles in the main has suffered disagreement over two factors–their nature and their purpose. Critical scholarship long ago consigned miracles to the ashcan of superstition, ignorance and mythical notions. More sophisticated critical studies have routinely denied the validity of miracles by means of the principles of modern science. It is asserted that divine intrusions simply do not occur in the closed time-space-mass universe of strictly uniform processes.

Bible-believing Christians have disagreed somewhat over the nature of biblical miracles but have had enduring differences of opinion concerning their purpose and longevity. My conclusion in summary is: The true nature of biblical miracles defined their purpose, and their purpose defined their continuance.

The point in this writing is to analyze in general the subject of miracles, mainly New Testament miracles, including those of the launching of the church. The church is the new body of God’s witness and work in the present stage of His overarching purpose of receiving the maximum self-glory from His creation. “Creation” in this sense entails everything that is not God. Some call this complex the world, the cosmos, the universe and the like. In any case this sharp division (between what is God and what is not God) preserves the Creator-creature distinction that is fundamental to the whole of the Bible and Christian Theology (Rom 1:25). Nothing exists in man as it exists in God.

The purpose of God getting glory to Himself means for Him to magnify His own infinitely unique person and cause it to be exclusively and universally enhanced, honored, esteemed and worshipped by rational beings. Since God exists by himself, i.e., he is self-existent, Scripture declares He exists for himself. His personal testimony, e.g., is “I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides Me there is no god” (Isa 45:5. Cf., Isa 47:8, 10; Hos 13:4; Zeph 2:15; Deut 4:35; 32:39; et. al.). And, “I am the Lord, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, nor My praise to graven images” (Isa 42:8).

MIRACLES IN THE OLD TESTAMENT

First there will be a preliminary sketch of divine miraculous activity in the Old Testament, miracles of various sizes and shapes. However, there were times when clusters of miracles surrounded an important event or person. Some of those occasions were: (1) the Creation of the universe including mankind [Gen 1-2]; (2) the great Exodus from Egypt and the formation of the tribes of Israel into a theocratic kingdom via the giving of the Law at Sinai [Exod 1-15]; (3) the choice of Moses as the leader or king-in-effect of the theocracy [Exodus 3-4]; (4) the accreditation, to Egypt and Pharaoh, of the nation Israel as God’s favored, protected  people [Exod 5:1-2; 6:1-8; 7:1-6; 8:10, 22; 9:14-16, 29; 10:1-2; 11:7; 14:4, 18]; (5) the ensuing Sojourn in the wilderness [Exod 16-40, Numbers and Deuteronomy]; and (6) the Conquest and Settlement of Canaan [Joshua and Judges].

The Law of Moses was the charter, constitution or governing legal instrument of the new nation, and it included the provision of ongoing miraculous activity for some of its functions. Examples would include health and healing (Exod 23:25), food (Exod 16:35), water (Exod 15:23-25), clothing and shoes (Deut 29:5), fertility (Deut 7:12-16) and a direct revelation from God when evidence of an unlawful act was not certain (Num 5:11-31; 15:32-36).

During the United Monarchy (kings Saul, David and Solomon) notice of the occurrence of miracles was nil. In the Divided Monarchy (kingdoms of Israel and Judah) there was an outburst of miraculous activity in the Ninth Century BC. This was during the apostasy and political decline of the northern kingdom of Samaria/Israel. The miraculous activities of Elisha and especially Elijah were used by God to rid the nation of the pernicious debauchery of the Baal-Asherah fertility cult and to call the people back to Himself. This false religion had been established by Ahab and Jezebel as the semi-official, state-supported civil religion rivaling if not practically supplanting true Yahweh worship (850 of the cult’s clergy “ate at Jezebel’s table,” 1 Kings 18:19). The great confrontation between Elijah and the Baal-Asherah priests on Mount Carmel vividly illustrated what was at stake (1 Kings 18:20-40, especially v. 39, “When the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, The Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God.”). The daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, Queen Athaliah, brought Baalism into Judah, building a Baal temple in Jerusalem (2 Kings 11:18).

The writing prophets spoke sparingly of miracles occurring in their days, the exceptions being Jonah and Daniel and the incident of Hezekiah in Isaiah 38. The prophets spoke often of the future golden Messianic Age when miracles would return as God crushed all temporal powers and set up His kingdom on the earth. See Isaiah 35 and 40.

THE INTERTESTAMENT PERIOD

The historical interlude between the testaments (ca 400-4 BC) was a barren wasteland as far as miracles, prophetism and other revelatory vehicles were concerned. The temple, the Levitical system and the nation’s political fortunes were deplorable. Even the prior Restoration Period (538-400 BC) with Ezra, Nehemiah, Mordecai, Zerubbabel, Joshua the High Priest, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi was not much of a restoration of Israel’s politics and spirituality. The return from the Exile did not fulfill the prophecies of a future golden age. Prophets and people knew fully that Israel was not free and independent but was subservient to the Persian domination.

This arrangement changed to the Hellenistic, Alexander the Great era (ca 334-166 BC) that included the ravages of the Egyptian Ptolemies and the Syrian Seleucids. The Jews had a bob-tailed form of independence under the Hasmonean priests (166-63 BC) after which transpired the harsh rule of the Roman Empire, beginning in 63 BC. Into the Roman milieu the New Testament opens with the birth of Jesus of Nazareth (ca. 4 BC).

By this time the nation was in a deeply apostate condition but still possessed a very small believing remnant such as Zacharias (Luke 1:67-80), Simeon and Anna (Luke 2:25-38), and the two from Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35).

►►Click here to continue with part two


Rolland McCune served as Professor of Systematic Theology at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary from 1981-2009, during which he also served as President of the Seminary for ten years and Dean of the Faculty for six years.

March 28, 2018

“Open Your Bibles as We Read from the Book of…”

With the 8th anniversary of Christianity 201 happening on Easter Sunday, we’ve been looking at some of the older articles on file; this one is from March, 2012…

I believe the most powerful words with which a preacher can begin any sermon is to say, “Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of…” I love analogies, I love to hear about the context in which the writers wrote, I love it when a preacher quotes contemporary and classic writers, and I need to hear the suggested application of the passage to my life…

…but it all has to begin with scripture.

2 Peter 1:16-NIV For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” 18We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.

19 We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

Verse 21 in the above is key to this discussion. No matter what my will would desire to say, my words must, first and foremost, be guided by the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Eugene Peterson translates the concluding section of the passage:

The main thing to keep in mind here is that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of private opinion. And why? Because it’s not something concocted in the human heart. Prophecy resulted when the Holy Spirit prompted men and women to speak God’s Word.

The problem we face in the Christian media, including Christian radio and television, and in Christian books, is that you’re hearing a lot of what Peter would call “private opinion.”

Any blogger or pastor or author has to be continually running a check: Is this my opinion or is this what God is saying? Is this my pet peeve or favorite subject or am I letting the passage speak?

In the U.S., there was (and probably still is) a network of radio stations that operated under the corporate name Clear Channel. That’s a radio term originally referring to certain powerful AM-frequency signals that broadcast over a wide area — especially at night — without interference from local stations that were assigned the same frequency.

Being a clear channel of what God means speaking with the power of His Word and not allowing the message to be fuzzy or subject to interference.

Continuing this theme in the next chapter — and remember the chapter divisions don’t exist in the original — Peter goes on to describe those whose signal is “interfered with” as false teachers.

Years ago, I asked a friend of mine who was doing research into cults to explain to our church exactly how does a cult get started. I used the analogy, “How does a rocket, properly aimed and positioned start to veer off course?”

I think it’s not a stretch to look at chapter two of Peter’s epistle as having some origins in what he says in chapter one: It began with someone’s “own interpretation” (NIV) or “private opinion” (Peterson).

A crowd can be wrong. Just because hundreds of people are jumping off a cliff doesn’t mean you should also. But there is a security in both (a) the way the ‘church fathers’ have traditionally dealt with a passage of scripture; established through study Bible notes and commentaries, and (b) the confirmation that comes through the reading of other passages.

In preparing today’s thoughts, I was somewhat astounded by the large percentage of commentary and writing in the Christian quarter of the internet that begins with opinions and stores, compared with the very tiny percentage that begins with a verse or chapter of the Bible. (And yes, my other blog was trending that way so I created this one to give my own life and writing some balance.)

When it’s your turn to be the speaker, make the first words out of your mouth, “Take your Bible and turn to…”

~PW

 

August 29, 2017

Precept Upon Precept

When I wrote this article for Thinking Out Loud, I was expecting to write about three paragraphs. When I was finished it was much longer, and something that I felt would have been a good of not better fit here…

It began with a  conversation I had last week at the local Christian bookstore concerning Bible features. As the guy was looking at one in particular, he said, “Oh good, it’s got the precepts.”

The first time, it didn’t really register. Then he looked at another and said something like, “Does it have the precepts?”

Huh?

It turned out he was talking about what most of us would call cross references; the notations of other passages either in a center column or at the end of the verse where something related may be found.

The idea of ‘line upon line, precept upon precept’ is taken from Isaiah 28:, 9-10 in the KJV. The NASB has:

To whom would He teach knowledge, And to whom would He interpret the message? Those just weaned from milk? Those just taken from the breast?  “For He says, ‘Order on order, order on order, Line on line, line on line, A little here, a little there.’”

The NLT is really contradictory to this idea on its rendering of this:

He tells us everything over and over–one line at a time, one line at a time, a little here, and a little there!”

implying that the learning or teaching or knowledge is linear, but not necessarily cumulative. In other words, one line at a time, doesn’t mean that line B is necessarily building on line A, but to say upon is to imply that it is or does.

(In case you’re wondering if there’s any irony to be found, you’re wrong; the verse itself is reiterated in scripture, albeit 3 verses later in verse 13.)

As we discussed this the idea of “Out of the mouth of two [or three] witnesses was brought into the conversation. This is found in the Old Testament twice.

The one condemned to die is to be executed on the testimony of two or three witnesses. No one is to be executed on the testimony of a single witness. (Deuteronomy 17:6, Holman)

A solitary witness against someone in any crime, wrongdoing, or in any sort of misdeed that might be done is not sufficient. The decision must stand by two or three witnesses. (Deuteronomy 19:15, CEB)

Those OT passages are cited in the NT by Jesus and by Paul.

But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. (Matthew 18:16, NIV)

This is the third time I am coming to you. Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.  (2 Corinthians 13:1, ESV)

In the Corinthian example, you have to go back to the previous chapter to get the context. Paul is speaking about sorting out matters concerning people who have been found in sinful practices.

Capital crime. Wrongdoing. Sin. Denial of Sin. Nowhere do these passages suggest something related to “the establishing of doctrine.” But don’t get me wrong:

I believe the Bible always corroborates itself on matters of important doctrine.

In other words, it’s internally consistent. I’m just not sure that we need to force it [scripture] into a situation where everything has to be said twice or three times in order to establish a doctrinal pattern, or make it conform to an overarching systematic theology. Or, to come at it differently, it may reinforce something but in an entirely different way than our Western way of thinking can process too simply.

I think to do so is to doubt the value of what we read the first time. It’s saying to God, ‘Now, if you’ll just show me one more time where you say this, then I’ll obey.’ I think that undermines the text somehow. That doesn’t mean to imply that at a crossroads of life we don’t ask God for confirmation of what we are to do. There is the example of Gideon, who put out a second fleece.

So what are precepts? Yourdictionary.com says

precept pre·cept. … The definition of a precept is a guiding principle or rule that is used to control, influence or regulate conduct. An example of a precept is a commandment found in the Ten Commandments.

At that we would need to get into the differences between a rule and a principle. Principles are timeless, never location-specific, widely applicable. Rules apply to one group of people in one particular situation at one unique point in time. The rest of that we need to save for another day.

A cross-reference is simply:

•noun: cross reference; plural noun: cross references
–a reference to another text or part of a text, typically given in order to elaborate on a point.

Anyone who has been reading the Bible for any length of time knows that sometimes the Bible editors have chosen to take us to a reference to a rather obscure part of the verse, not something which indicates its overall meaning. There are times when I have been completely mystified as to the inclusion of a particular reference. Many of you know the danger of over-spiritualizing things, and I don’t want to be guilty of under-spiritualizing something, but… They’re. Just. Cross-references.

Here’s my concluding statements on this:

We read scripture not so much because we’re trying to learn precepts as we are recognizing the importance of understanding the ways of God.

and

If God is saying something to us with unmistakable clarity through a scripture passage, we don’t need to start hunting around looking for a second verse.

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