Christianity 201

October 16, 2021

Rescued from a Life Apart from God to a Life With God

Eleven years ago, in 2010, many of us were glued to a live CNN feed from Copiapo, Chile; watching the rescue of the 33 miners who had been trapped underground for 69 days. That got me thinking at the time about what it means to be rescued.

In Psalm 18:17 we read:

He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me.

In II Tim 3 10-11 Paul tells Timothy,

You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.

And Paul again, speaking in a broader sense in Col. 1:13-14 writes;

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

The experience of the Chilean miners is similar to our own experience.  Maybe you became a Christ follower at a young age and didn’t experience much in the way of sin and depravity, but positionally, all of us were once captive and now we are numbered among the rescued. We’ve been set free!

But do we truly appreciate it? Instead of focusing on what you were saved out of, think of what you were saved from.  Think of what might have been — the things you were kept from and even today are kept from — were it not for the Holy Spirit working on and working in your life.

Let’s think about someone who knew exactly what she’d been saved out of. Consider this passage from Luke 7 — especially the climax of verse 47 — in the light of the personal rescue that has taken place just for you…

36Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, 38and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

39When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

40Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

41“Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”

While I believe we have a picture here of a woman who has been transformed, or at the very least is in the process of transformation. But note that her reputation has continued to follow her. It would take time (and an endorsement from the Teacher from Nazareth) before that reputation would start to change.

Additionally, the rest of the people there had every reason to be thankful as well because, by the grace of God, they had not succumbed to a life that would bring societal and community condemnation.

But wait, there’s more!

The dichotomy of what we’ve been saved from versus that what we’ve been saved out of, pales in comparison to what we’ve been saved to.

By this I mean that instead of letting sin set the standard, and focusing on whether we came from a dark background or if we dodged the proverbial bullet (and letting that identify us), we should instead focus on the idea that we’ve been saved to a life in Christ, which includes 24-hour access to his presence.

We’re no longer looking back, but we’re enjoying the present and looking forward to the future.

The Chilean miners lived each successive day in the blessing of having been rescued, but I’m sure that this doesn’t define their lives today, eleven years later. Rather they are living in the present and looking forward to the future, and for them, I hope this also includes the life in Christ we’ve discussed.

 

October 5, 2021

Fearing and Trembling

Over the past year, in the wake of differing opinions on everything from health issues to politics, I have seen a great proliferation of new books being published on how Christians should work out their differences with other believers.

It’s hard to do this, because the answers are not always black-and-white; not always crystal-clear. Two people can have different answers to the WWJD? question. (We’ll get to that in a minute!)

1 Corinthians 13:12 (NLT) states,

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

Philippians 2:12 advises us to “work out” our salvation “with fear and trembling.” As other translations make clearer, this references what was translated elsewhere as “fear of God.”

Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. (NLT)

…Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. (MSG)

But sometimes, you find yourself fearing and trembling your fellow believer, especially when the “working out” means that you walk away from certain scripture verses with a different take on them than that of a brother or sister. I know fear of your fellow man wasn’t what the verse intended; but sometimes life seems to be play out like that.

In the early days of my other blog, I would spend over an hour some days catching up with moderating and reading and responding to reader comments. With a few of them, I would reach a point where we clearly agreed to disagree. But hopefully neither of us were being disagreeable.

It’s hard not to be passionate about our pet doctrines. I can easily fall into that trap. But it becomes even more difficult when people have grown up without exposure to anyone who feels different about a particular element of theology than their own.

And then there are the people who shut everything down with, “Well, that’s not in the Bible;” expecting that the scripture would provide crystal-clear guidance on things that weren’t invented or didn’t exist back then.

Guess what? You’re right. It’s not in the Bible. But other things are, and we can interpolate where the dots connect by reading what the Bible does say about very similar things.

Especially one thing: The mind and heart of God.

The popular bracelets, buttons and bumper stickers from two years ago asked the question, What would Jesus do? Sometimes we have to (with fear and trembling) figure that out by asking the question, What did Jesus do? Knowing how he did respond (and teach us to respond) gives us an idea how he would respond to what we face today.

We’re so quick to say that “Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship;” but many people fail to express their faith in relational terms. To which I would say maybe you are missing out on something. To know what God feels about things in our modern context, you need to first know God as a friend. I have friends who I haven’t seen physically in a long, long time; others who I haven’t so much as e-mailed; but I know how they would respond and react in certain situations because I know them.

At this point however, it can still be a standoff, because the other person may feel they have as deep a knowledge of God and His will as you do. We know that while we may all stand in personal relationship to God; or if you prefer, to Jesus; the dynamic of that relationship may be quite different for different people.

So work out your doctrine with fear and trembling.

Work out your personal ethics with fear and trembling.

Work out your systematic theology with fear and trembling.

Work out how you respond to others with fear and trembling.

But remember, that all around you are other Christ followers — seeing as through frosted (or fogged up) glass — who are doing the exact same thing. With the cross of Christ in view, we will eventually find ourselves drawing closer to each other. But it may take time.

Our closing words are from the next chapter of Philippians. Here’s what Paul says in 3:12-14 (NLT)

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.


So should we just clam up and say nothing ever? Tomorrow we’ll look at the idea of “preaching to the trees;” affirming our faith in declarations even when it seems nobody is listening.

September 29, 2021

Letters to the Seven (or more) Churches in Revelation

This is a revisit to an article that was posted here eleven years ago. It’s been rewritten for clarity. It also features a graphic image at the bottom. When I tested the link, I discovered that the original site is no longer available, so I can’t give proper credit. Make sure you spend as much time looking over the chart as you do reading what follows…

(NIV) Rev. 1:9 I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”

12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

19 “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. 20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

Seven letters to seven different churches that existed when John received the vision, right?

Zoom out a little. There were a dozen or so well-established churches at the time. Could it be that the choice of “seven” means that these letters have application to the whole church? That the letters, like the rest of scripture, are not written to us but are definitely written for us?

Zoom back in. Some people teach that the seven churches represent different ages of the larger church over different eras. That this is a historical overview of church history. Perhaps. But there may be something more immediate for us to consider.

Zoom in again. Churches like the seven so-described exist today. If you’ve been around different denominations, or have attended a variety of churches, you might be able to put different names next to each letter.

Zoom in more. Even within an individual church, there are often different sub-groups to whom these different letters might apply. Or maybe they represent different stages in the history of that local church over time.

Zoom in tighter. We shouldn’t get caught up in the idea that the letters are a message that someone else needs to hear. That it’s for the church in the Middle Ages. That the message applies to the church down the block. Rather these letters contain a message that’s for me. These letters have application to each one of us. Maybe the message to the church at Laodicia is pertinent to you right now. Or maybe you’re at a Sardis or Ephesus point in your Christian life.

Zoom in!

…Here’s a bonus for you today…

If you didn’t grow up in church before the 1960s, here’s an example of the kind of visual presentation you missed out on when the letters were taught!

We considered the seven letters elsewhere at C201. Here’s a link to Seven Letters: Seven Problem Churches (It’s a short article and uses the same scripture reference, so you’re already halfway through!)


If you’re reading this at the site and not as an email, there’s a formatting problem (depending on what browser you’re using and the size of your monitor) with the last ten or so articles that normally I can fix, but this time it’s not fixing. Thanks for your patience. If you wish the text of a particular article emailed to you, use the submissions and contact tab to request.

September 24, 2021

New Testament Authors Had Different Approaches

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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It’s been five years since we last highlighted the writing of author and college president John Mark Reynolds who appears at Eidos, a Patheos blog. Click the title below to read at source, and then browse the site to see other things he’s written.

Peter and Paul and Difficult Questions

Paul and Peter are often portrayed together: two apostles with contrasting, but not conflicting messages. They were very different, a rabbi and a fisherman. Peter became the Prince of the Apostles, the first amongst apostolic equals. Paul wrote epistles that remain some of the most profound expressions of Christian truth ever written.

The powerful did not want to hear what they were saying. The Empire beheaded Paul and crucified Peter. Before martyrdom, both could see the way things seemed to be going and so both faced mental difficulties: how could Jesus be Lord, but Caesar seem to have all the power? Where was the promise of His coming?

Peter and Paul thought, prayed, and lived within the new Kingdom. They did so the best they could, but both came to see the limits of what they could know.

Despite limits, think we must. 

Life can get tedious. The world is not as the world should be, broken by sin, and so can be hard to understand. In fact, there are, most probably, problems that we will never solve to our own satisfaction. The answers may be beyond the capacity of the human intellect!

We have to accept a reasonable uncertainty, the just live by faith. We have faith seeking understanding continuously. 

The Christian does not have the option of not thinking, of doing the best reasoning possible. The Second Person of the Divine Trinity is called the Logos, the Word, a term strongly related to thinking well in New Testament times. The Bible calls us to study, to love God with our minds, and God allows Job to make his case. If the case fails, that is not God’s fault and God condemns those false friends who would stop Job from pressing his case.

Our reason has limits, but reason we must. Peter and Paul kept the faith and kept seeking understanding. Their contrasting comments on the process give me hope.

Peter and Paul 

Peter had three years with Jesus: a profound experience. We cannot be sure if he was fully literate. Nothing about his job or life would have required much formal education. Paul had, and often displayed, at least some classical and a first-rate Jewish education. He too had a profound experience of the Risen Lord, but not as Peter had. Peter saw Jesus eat and drink. He heard him teach and saw the miracles himself. Peter went to the empty tomb and ate breakfast made by the Risen Lord. Paul was confronted by the ascended Christ in a vision. He experienced healing and heard the testimony of those who had known the Lord. To a great extent, Paul knew Jesus as the rest of us after the first generation of Christian have known Jesus- through the witness of the Holy Spirit, the Scriptures, and the testimony of witnesses.

Peter comments on Paul’s writings:

14 Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; 15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.

Peter accepts Paul’s wisdom, but also points to the dangers of difficult answers. There is almost nothing so simple people cannot misunderstand it. Look at what has been done with Christ’s command to love enemies! Wrestling with the deeper things of God  provides room for twisting words. Despite this, Peter commends Paul’s writings to the attention of his readers!

Peter could not write like Paul or perhaps think as Paul thought, but he valued the wisdom given him.

Intellectual types might stop there, feeling smug, but Paul stands in the icon with Peter. While Peter, who was no intellectual, merely a saint, affirms the value of intellectually difficult writing. Saint Paul, who was one of history’s great intellectuals, looked at the limits of credentials and reason:

20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23 but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

People do the best we can, but we often confuse credentials with real wisdom. We become “scribes” in the system of our own age and opine. Our opinions can prevail when all there are only words, but then reality comes. There is no negotiating, no debating, reality. Jesus comes, is crucified, and raised from the dead. He is the power and the wisdom of God and against that reality, the one true Word, Greek words failed.

We keep thinking, reality keeps making us modify what we think. Our words must fail, but the Word endures. This gives us a heavy dose of intellectual humility. Intellectual humility was the beginning of science, philosophy, and true theology.

This much endures:  Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God, and the gospel that Paul preached. They endure because however we might try to deface that hard won realization and profound teaching, their works were icons to Christ and Christ is immortal truth.

September 3, 2021

What I Love About the Bible Despite My Misgivings About It

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

How could I, a Baptist pastor, possibly have misgivings about the Bible?

For one thing, the Bible has often been used to abuse. The movie, “The Book of Eli,” sets out a post-apocalyptic future where there is only one copy of the Bible. The main villain of the story knows that if he can get his hands on that one copy of the Bible, he will have incredible power over others. Throughout history many villains and nice people alike have used the Bible to have power over others, sometimes with terrible results.

Second, The Bible is terribly complex, convoluted, and leaves itself open to being misunderstood by everyone, including me. Such misunderstandings have often been divisive, and sometimes deadly.

So what do I love about the Bible despite my misgivings?

I love the genuine nature of the Bible

Let me take you back to my experience of preparing a study on the Book of Philemon when I was a student. Yes, we call Paul’s writings “letters,” or sometimes “epistles,” which sounds more religious, though it isn’t. But in preparing a study on Paul’s letter to Philemon I came to realize that this really is a letter. This did not sound like a letter from God to us, but from one person to another, about another person. The letter concerned a very real situation. In fact it seemed to me to be a very real situation that had nothing to do with me!

The Book of Philemon is not God saying to everyone “here are some rules to live by,” but rather Paul saying to Philemon, and I summarize, “since Jesus is Lord and Saviour, there are implications on how you are going to treat your runaway slave Onesimus, namely with forgiveness and treating him like a brother, not a slave.” What we have is an example of the good news of Jesus being worked out in a real life situation. And that has everything to do with me.

All the letters of the New Testament are like that. They speak to real situations. Through them we learn how to work the Gospel out in our lives. In fact all the writings that make up the Bible are very much tied to real world situations. Being rooted in real events, they are the record of real people responding to a real God in a very real relationship between God and humanity.

Let us consider these verses from Acts:

In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

Acts 1:1-3 (NRSV)

Notice what the writer of Acts does not say. He does not say “God told me to tell everyone this.” Rather, “these things happened, and so I’m telling you about it, Theophilus.” We can thank God for some guy named Theophilos, because though the writer wrote for his sake and learning, we get the benefit!

These are very real events the writer wants to share with Theophilus. While there are metaphors, and poetic devices in Scripture, the Book of Acts tends to not be very poetic. These things happened!

All the writings of the Bible are rooted in things that happened in history. These historical events point to the relationship of God with humanity. The New Testament especially, is rooted in who Jesus is and what Jesus did and said, and what happened including his death and resurrection. In Jesus we find the greatest self-disclosure of God. The Bible is not the greatest self-disclosure of God. Jesus is. In the Bible we have very real people responding to very real glimpses of God. Jesus is the greatest glimpse God has ever given of Himself.

We don’t want to just know the Bible, we want to know God, and we do that supremely through Jesus, whom we meet through the Bible.

I love the complexity of the Bible

Because the Bible is the record of a very real relationship between God and humanity, it is complex, and rich, with many genres, written by many different people in many different circumstances. The complex and convoluted nature of the Bible might be something we do not like about the Bible, however, it is actually something to love!

While some people come to the Bible expecting a simple rule book, we find so much more, including things like;

  • Frustration when God seem so distant, or not concerned – many of the Psalms.
  • The angst of trying to figure out the meaning of life – Ecclesiastes.
  • Questions around suffering – Job.
  • The beauty of romantic and sexual love – Song of Songs.
  • Questioning the fairness of God – Jonah (we should note that the Book of Jonah is not really about Jonah’s obedience, or lack thereof, but the reason for his disobedience; namely, his perception that God’s love of the enemy is unfair).
  • The historical event of God being with us, in Jesus – the Gospels.
  • The working out of “what does it look like to be a follower of Jesus in our day?” – the letters of the New Testament.
  • Encouragement for when we face persecution – Revelation (many interpretations of Revelation miss the point)

With the Bible we don’t have a simple rule book, but wisdom, wrestling, waiting, wanting, and the record of God with us.

While the Bible does not give easy answers, or give answers easily, I love that it leads to great questions.

There are easy answers found in the Bible. Is it okay if I murder someone? No! But it does not always give easy answers. Instead it invites us to wrestle with questions.

Consider, is it okay to kill someone? Killing someone can be different than murder, in self-defense, for example. Christians are divided on the answer to that. Those of the Anabaptist tradition point to the radical love of Jesus in responding to violence with peace and non-retaliation, this being the Kingdom-of-Jesus way. We Baptists tend to focus on the expression of love for those we want to protect from violence, which sometimes may require violence. The point is, there is no easy answer on this, people have read the same Bible and come to different conclusions on it. But wrestling with the question is a great thing to do and deepens us, no matter what answer we may come up with.

I have heard people describe the Bible as an answer book, with the answers to every question you might possibly have about anything and everything. I simply have not found that to be true. But I have always found that it leads to great questions. Great questions lead us to greater depth. Sometimes it is better is better to be deep than correct.

The Bible does provide the answers to the most important questions we could ever ask, like; Who is Jesus? Who is God? What does Jesus have to do with God? And with us? We are reminded of those important questions, and the answers when we participate in the Lord’s Supper. There is a place for deep conviction and for sharing answers. There is a place for for deep humility and living with questions. We do well to figure out which is best where.

While the Bible did not fall from the sky, I love that the Bible is God-breathed.

This is something that cannot be said of other writings:

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 3:16-17 (NIV)

We should not think of the Bible as being God dictated. The fingerprints of human authors are all over it, human authors who faced very human situations, just like we do. While the fingerprints of human authors are all over the Bible, the heart of God is in it. The writings which are collected into the Bible are what God has seen fit so that we can know Him.

Conclusion

If people are looking for a simple book dropped from heaven that explains everything and gives us simple rules to live by, we will be hard pressed getting people to love the Bible, especially if they actually read it.

But if people are looking for authenticity, for genuine writings by real people experiencing real problems, in real situations, in relationship with a real God, as really experienced in the real person of Jesus Christ, then we can be hopeful, for I know I will not be the only one who loves the Bible!

August 11, 2021

Do Bible Principles Need to be Stated Twice to Matter?

It began with a conversation I had four years ago 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, the bottom of the page, or at the end of the verse itself 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 expresses it as:

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, HCSB)

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.

And at risk of stating the obvious, there’s 2 Timothy 3:16, which reminds us that all scripture is inspired. (Italics added; four expressions of this verse may be found at this link.)

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.

May 18, 2021

Watch Out for Misplaced Bible Verses!

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. 2 Tim. 2:15 NIV

And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth. – Acts 17:11 NLT

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness – 2 Tim. 3:16 ESV

A year ago we introduced you to Lily Pierce and her blog Retrospective Lily and mentioned that she is a great writer despite a physical challenge. This time around she shares a warning about people who quote scripture verses in contexts which would horrify the original writers, and adds a principle that I heard growing up, namely that you need to look for other passages which corroborate the one in question.

Click the line which follows to link to this at her site.

The Bible Can Justify Anything, So Weigh Scripture Against Scripture

You read that title right! So, how can we discern the heart and will of God–if His Word can be twisted to fit any narrative? Well, I won’t pretend for a moment to have all the answers–as if all the answers could be had. But looking at scripture as a whole is a good suggestion.

People have gotten upset in the past when I’ve spoken against fixating on one tree within a whole forest. I think some Christians are so wary of “progressivism” that their blasphemy radar is waaay too sensitive. Viewing scripture holistically is the only sensible way to approach the Bible. The alternative is pulling verses out of context and building a doctrine out of them.

In the book Oliver Twist, the orphanage director, who serves as the parish beadle, is a mean, selfish man. When he meets nine-year-old Oliver, he gives him a cold, stern lecture (because why be kind to a CHILD WHO IS ALONE IN THE WORLD, right?) and quotes 1 Cor 13:11: When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. Hey, man, ever read the one where Jesus says that we should become humble like children? Or the one where Jesus insists His disciples let the children come to Him? Guess not.

This fictional example reflects the contradictions that lie within so many Christians who are condescending, rude, and unempathetic–in the name of Jesus. Pride and righteous indignation reign even more supremely than God in many of our hearts. Have we forgotten that Jesus said the first would be last? Or how Paul wrote that none of us have cause to boast because we are only saved by faith, not our own works? Or, like, the other countless ways we are told in the Bible that arrogance is condemned? I think the man who went out to eat after church that’s screaming at a waitress because the chef messed up his order missed the memo. The town gossip who happens to hold several “power positions” on church committees just doesn’t get it. [SN: I’ve literally heard the term “power positions” used in reference to church committees. Hmm…ever heard of “servant leadership?”]

In a totally different instance, I once wrote a post in which I said that followers of Jesus should be active in helping their neighbors. A reader pointed out the sentence fragment of 1 Thess 4:11 (and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you) as a way to negate what I’d said. I replied that, perhaps in that particular scenario, the Thessalonians–Christians in Greece–needed to keep a low profile to avoid persecution (confirmed by a Google search). But it’s clear when one reads the entire New Testament that we are called to really love our neighbors, and biblical love is an action verb. We must take up our crosses and follow Jesus, being His hands, feet, and face in the world, because the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.

The Bible has been used to justify so many things–slavery, bigotry, political agendas, etc. I don’t want to delve into it all because ain’t nobody got time for that here; countless others have written articles, essays, and even whole books on these subjects. And people disagree.

But here’s the point: weigh scripture against scripture. And always stay humble enough to learn and take direction from the Spirit.

Have you ever seen a Bible verse taken out of context?  Let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading!

April 30, 2021

The Bible’s Divine Symmetries Exceed Literary Beauty

There’s a quotation that is now widely attributed to Philip Yancey, but I’m sure he said he got it from someone else:

If Jesus had never lived, we never would have been able to invent him.

Although I Corinthians 2:9’s context is different, our New Testament begins with the life of One that no human mind has conceived (NIV) or that never entered into the heart of man (KJV). Each of the gospel writers could have ended with the phrase, ‘Seriously! This all happened! We’re not making this up!’

The story of Jesus is simply incredibly complex. It seems simple enough and for just a little money you can purchase any one of hundreds of Bible books which will provide the primary narrative to children. But as you dig deeper, it reveals layers of significance you never considered.

When I was a university student there was a course offered called “The Bible as Literature.” Knowing where my life ended up, part of me wishes I’d taken this course, but another part of me wonders if it may have caused me to reduce the Bible to only literature; to deny its “living, active… sharper than any two-edged sword” power.

Eight years ago at this time, I was reading Jesus, A Theography by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola. The use of theography is to suggest that while most stories of Jesus are simple biographies that is, they narrate “from womb to tomb,” this one is attempting to begin with “Christ before the manger,” and then move into eternity. I don’t know that the book lived up to its goals entirely, but I value it as a resource — I’d place it in my top ten — and it’s still in print. 

I’ve mentioned before that the ancients viewed scripture as a multi faceted jewel that revealed more and more with each slight turn; capturing and reflecting and refracting light in infinite combinations. To Sweet and Viola, the preferred image is that of a constellation with phrases from various sections combining to form images.

In the case of John’s gospel, the birth narrative is paralleled to the “I am” statements which are unique to that book.

Jesus A TheographyThe seven I AM metaphorical statements of Jesus in the gospel  of John are followed by their corresponding circumstances in the story of Jesus’ birth:

“I am the bread of life.”
Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which means  “house of bread.”

“I am the light of the world.”
Jesus was born under the light of the star of Bethlehem.

I am the door of the sheep.”
The doors of the guest house were closed to Mary and Joseph, but the gate to the stable was open.

“I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.”
The infant Jesus was sought by shepherds looking for a baby wrapped in swaddling bands (used for birth or burial) and lying in a manger.

“I am the resurrection and the life.”
Jesus survived King Herod’s attempt to kill him.

“I am the way, the truth and the life.”
Wise men found their way to him, recognized the truth about him and defied King Herod’s evil plot.

“I am the true vine.”
Jesus was born in Bethlehem Ephrathah, which means ‘fruitful.’

The example above, while not the strongest of the parallels introduced, is fairly typical, and the reader must decide if the this information is significant spiritually or merely reflective of the Bible’s literary value. To the believer and Christ-follower, the Bible has to be more than great literature.

The book is well crafted and well researched and on average, each of the sixteen chapters has about a hundred footnotes. Still, I find a good filter is needed when reading this; each reader has to determine what they want their ‘take away’ to be from each chapter.

For me, more than anything else, the book highlights the issue of reading of Christian books versus only reading the Bible. I am where I am today spiritually because of the influence that Christian writers have had on me. If anything their words have drawn me into a deeper examination of scripture.

But the Bible’s complexities can be distracting to some people. It’s easy to get “lost in the weeds” of its intricate details and miss out on what God is saying to you and me through any given passage.

For example … Go back to the quoted section above. Beyond things like the significance of the name of His birthplace, or the ways in which His life mirrors the “I Am” statements, what does it speak to you and me?

[Instead of just throwing the question out there; let me offer a personal response: I think that often the amazing life of Jesus compels me to worship. Not in the ‘bursting into song’ sense, but just an awe for the narrative that leaves no loose ends. For an earthly, incarnate life that is so whole, so full, so rich.]

Can we know too much? On the one hand, in terms of Bible study is there such a thing as too much information? I believe Jesus: A Theography is on one hand a valuable addition to my library, but on the other hand, it’s important that I not stray too far from the simplicity found in those children’s Bible study books.

Matthew 11:25-26 (NIV)

25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

Matthew 18:2-4 (NIV)

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

But on the other hand, making discoveries in books like these is like suddenly reading those narratives we heard has children with a pair of 3-D glasses, and seeing dimensions unfold we never knew previously; filled with ‘ah-ha’ and ‘Wow!’ moments.

Luke 24:31-32 (NIV)

Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

Again, sheer awe.

March 24, 2021

Scripture Medley: The General Epistles

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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It’s been a long time since we’ve done anything like this, so today we’re back using the services of TopVerses.com to check out some of the most sought-after verses in the general epistles, those books lying between Paul’s writing to Philemon and the book of Revelation. The number which appears next to “Bible Rank” is its overall position in searches. Note that I did skip some verses in order to select others, so refer to TopVerses for actual ranking. All quotations are NIV.

This may seem like such a random exercise. Why do this? Don’t treat this a throwaway devotional. My hope is that something will jump off the page for application to your situation today. Or that you’ll be reminded of a scripture that has settled in the recesses of your memory and now returns to the foreground. Or that you’ll see something which perhaps you’re meant to share with someone in the hours or days to follow.

See also the notes at the bottom for more ways to engage with today’s verses.

Hebrews:

Hebrews 11:1
Bible Rank: 44
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Hebrews 4:12
Bible Rank: 58
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

Hebrews 12:1
Bible Rank: 67
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us

Hebrews 11:6
Bible Rank: 87
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Hebrews 4:15
Bible Rank: 251
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin.

Hebrews 1:3
Bible Rank: 252
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

James

James 5:16
Bible Rank: 59
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

James 1:2
Bible Rank: 92
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds

James 1:5
Bible Rank: 111
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

James 1:17
Bible Rank: 149
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows

I Peter

1 Peter 3:15
Bible Rank: 122
But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect

1 Peter 2:9
Bible Rank: 131
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

1 Peter 3:18
Bible Rank: 213
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.

II Peter

2 Peter 3:9
Bible Rank: 153
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance

2 Peter 3:4
Bible Rank: 189
They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.”

2 Peter 1:21
Bible Rank: 276
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.

2 Peter 3:18
Bible Rank: 677
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.

I John

1 John 1:9
Bible Rank: 41
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 4:1
Bible Rank: 148
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

1 John 1:7
Bible Rank: 194
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

II John

2 John 1:6
Bible Rank: 1,757
And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.

III John

3 John 1:4
Bible Rank: 1,192
I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.

3 John 1:11
Bible Rank: 1,436
Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God.

Jude

Jude 1:3
Bible Rank: 1,228
Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that the Lord has once for all entrusted to us, his people.

Jude 1:5
Bible Rank: 1,352
Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that the Lord at one time delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe

Jude 1:24
Bible Rank: 2,474
To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy –

[a verse to which we have to add the 2nd half]

Jude 1:25
Bible Rank: 17,451
To the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.


What’s next? – I remember when The Navigator’s scripture memory system was more popular, you might see people on public transit with index cards memorizing key verses, or what we might call rehearsing these truths. I encourage you to do the same here. Choose one or two verses on which to meditate, or simply start at the top again and, more slowly, read through the list one more time.

Option 2 – Go back to TopVerses.com, and instead of working your way through particular Bible books, use the topical index — it appears first — to explore texts which resonate with where you are today.

With both options – Find a Bible or Bible online and read beyond individual verses to get the full context of what’s being said.

January 25, 2021

The Tree of Life

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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Ron McKenzie‘s website Blessed Economist is somewhat unique as he writes from a perspective intersecting the worlds of politics and economics, and the worlds of scripture and faith. He is the author of at least seven books, has another teaching blog Kingdom Watcher (KW), and lives in Christchurch, New Zealand. We shared an article by him here in June, 2014 and then I’m not sure what happened after that! Earlier today I reconnected with his online work. May I encourage you to click the link in the header which follows and read this article, which appeared just two days ago, at his site.

Thoughts on the Tree of Life

The Tree of Life was at the centre of the garden of Eden. God was present in the garden. The God Yahweh caused to grow trees that would give humans everything that they needed for life. The Tree of Life was in the middle of the garden because it was the source of wisdom for life. Humans had access to this tree as long as they lived by the wisdom of God.

According to Proverbs, the tree of life is the wisdom of God (Prov 13:12; Prov 11:30).

She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her (Prov 3:18).

The tree of life is the centre of the garden, because it was the source of the wisdom of God for life.

Adam and Eve had a choice between two trees. They could choose between knowing good and evil (human wisdom) and wisdom for life (God’s wisdom). Prior to the fall, they had access to the tree of life, ie God’s wisdom. They could hear God speak whenever they listened to him.

Adam and Eve chose to be autonomous and have their own wisdom, rather than continuing to rely on the wisdom of God. Once they chose to rely on their own wisdom, they unwittingly placed themselves under the control of the spiritual powers of evil. This blocked their access to the wisdom of God, because their shame prevented them from staying close to God.

God sent Adam and Eve out of the garden, so they would experience the consequence of their choice. It would be in this world, that God would eventually rescue them (see God’s Big Strategy).

Humans were already mortal, before they fell from blessing, but they were able to live long lives (up to a thousand years). They gave them immense opportunity to advance themselves.

When God expressed concern that humans would reach out and eat from the tree of life and live forever, the Hebrew word can mean forever, but it can also mean for the full extent of an age/season. God was not concerned about them having eternal life. Rather, he was saying that without his presence and wisdom, they would not be able to live their full lifespan. The consequence of living in a hostile world, vulnerable to the spiritual powers of evil would significantly shorten term their lives.

That is what happened. Since then most humans have lived less than one hundred years.

Restoration of the Tree of Life
According to the book of Revelation, the tree of life was not destroyed when the Garden of Eden was lost. It was transferred into Paradise.

To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God (Rev 2:7).

I presume that the tree of life in the Garden of Eden was not the original one. It would have been a copy of the true tree of life in the spiritual realms. Paradise is the place where the people of God live while waiting for the Parousia. The tree of life is waiting there ready for people who put their trust in Jesus. We will have full access to this tree when the spiritual realms are fully opened to us following the parousia of Jesus.

To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life (Rev 21:6).

In the final vision of Revelation, the source of life is a river flowing from the throne of God.

The angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the peoples. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him (Rev 3:1-3).

In this vision, the tree of life draws from the river of life and provides healing for the people of the nations. God will be present with his people, so pain and sickness will disappear.

 

 

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.

 

 

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