Christianity 201

February 21, 2017

Worshiping in Vain

We’ve linked to Wes McAdams’ blog Radically Christian before at Thinking Out Loud, but apparently not here. Time to fix that! Click the link in the title below to read this at source; there are some really good articles.

What is Vain Worship?

In Mark 7:7 Jesus quoted Isaiah, saying, “In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” But what did Jesus mean about worshiping in vain? I’ve heard many people explain that “vain worship” is worshiping God in unauthorized ways. One website claims it is “when we worship the way we want” instead of worshiping “the way God has told us in His word” (source). Unfortunately, I think that definition of “vain worship” ignores the context of Jesus’ words and gives the wrong impression about vain worship.

The Context – Jewish Traditions

Jesus was criticized by the Pharisees because His disciples ate food without first ceremonially washing their hands according to Jewish customs. In order to help his readers understand what was going on, Mark explained, “The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders” (Mark 7:3). And he even added, “And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches” (Mark 7:4).

The Pharisees thought their strict customs and traditions were necessary in order to keep people from accidentally breaking the Law of Moses by eating something “unclean.” However, Jesus’ disciples were not observing these customs; which is why the Pharisees were very critical of them and of Jesus.

It’s important to recognize that nothing in the context is about worshiping “the way we want” versus worshiping “the way God has told us in His word.” That is an important discussion to have, but it is NOT the discussion Jesus was having with these Jews.

The Meaning – Vain Worship

The word, “vain” means “useless” or “empty.” It means “hollow” or “unsuccessful.” When Jesus used Isaiah’s words to criticize the people of His day, He wasn’t criticizing the way they were praying or singing. He was criticizing their hearts and the way they were living.

He went on to criticize the way they kept the custom of “Corban,” but disobeyed God’s command to financially provide for their parents. He said, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition” (Mark 7:9).

Jesus was saying, “All your words about honoring God are worthless. You say you love Him, but you don’t. Your religious piety is just a show you’re putting on for people. Your customs and traditions are for your own benefit; not because you actually love God.”

The Application – Vain Worship in Modern Times

I would certainly agree that we should worship God the way He says for us to worship and we should not invent unauthorized ways of worshiping. In fact, I could not agree with that more. But if we think avoiding “vain worship” is done by simply worshiping according to the rules, then there is a very good chance that we ourselves are truly guilty of vain worship.

I can’t help but think of Christians and congregations in the 50s and 60s who discriminated against people of other skin colors. That was vain worship! They were honoring God with their lips, but their hearts were far from Him. They maintained their custom of discrimination, segregation, and racism, saying, “That’s just the way things are done around here,” while they rejected God’s commandment to love their neighbor as themselves. Critical of the church down the street for worshiping in an unauthorized way, but all the while being guilty of truly vain worship.

And we continue to do such things today. Our worship is vain anytime we honor God with our lips, but we are more concerned with keeping the religious customs and traditions of our time than we are the actual commandments of God.

It’s interesting how many religious customs and traditions we have:

  • What time we meet for worship on Sunday.
  • How many times we meet for worship on Sunday.
  • Whether or not we have a Wednesday Bible study.
  • How we dress when we come to worship.
  • Whether or not we offer an invitation at the end of a sermon.

None of these traditions and customs are inherently wrong; just as the washing of hands in Jesus’ day was not inherently wrong. But they become wrong when God’s people are more concerned about keeping traditions and customs than we are things like:

  • loving our neighbor
  • loving our enemy
  • not slandering anyone (including political leaders)
  • not being greedy or covetous

These are things God actually addresses and commands, but often we are more concerned with keeping our customs and traditions than we are obeying the actual commands of God. This is when we are truly guilty of “vain worship.”

Examine yourself. Examine your heart. Examine your life. The question isn’t, “Do you worship according to the rules?” but rather, “Do your words and your life reflect true devotion to God?”

 

 

February 15, 2017

Flexible Methodology; Fixed Message

For the last few days we’ve been reconnecting with writers with whom it’s been many years — in this case five — since they last appeared at C201. It’s great to go back and find people are being faithful to Bible study and devotion online. Dave Bish at the Blue Fish Project website is one of those. He’s doing a series on Galatians and at the end of this article, we’ll link you to another in the series.

Trampolines and Brick Walls: Don’t flex on the gospel, do flex on everything else to love the church and advance the gospel.

In his 2005 book Velvet Elvis Rob Bell argued that the church has a problem because we think of theology as like a brick wall – rigid and systematic, whereas we should look at our theology as being more of a trampoline – flexible and in which some of the springs can be safely removed. The analogy seems really attractive, though it’s pretty flawed – not least because you could removed more bricks from a wall than springs from a trampoline before everything would fall apart… but beyond that it’s also woefully ignorant.

In writing to Galatians Paul wont have any of this anti-doctrinal faith. He tackle gospel denial and says it’s Father-desertion… he speak of gospel truth and it’s about the Father’s revelation of the Son. It’s life-filled, relational, and write-down-able. And accuracy matters – because it’s curse-worthy to believe a different gospel, and to teach others to hope in something contrary to Christ. Theology is about the knowledge of the Father and his Son by the Spirit – it’s not cold and rigid, but without accuracy we’re not talking about the same God, just a similar one. Or in Galatian language a different gospel that is no gospel at all… a perversion of the gospel.” 

But, some things are flexible and some things aren’t. The gospel can’t be up for grabs, a lot of other stuff must be – at least when it comes to ministry practice.

In Galatians 2 Paul tells one of three stories to his Father-deserting friends that build his case that they should get back to where they began rather than heading off in a different direction. He tells that he went to Jerusalem to preserve the gospel for them (2v5). It’s worth a big detour upstream to Jerusalem to preserve the gospel in Turkey – just as later it’s worth a big detour to to Jerusalem to maintain the unity of the Jew and Gentile churches in Rome.

Though there were false brothers in Galatian – counterfeit-christians – the church itself hadn’t lost the plot and they recognize that God who was at work in Peter… was also at work in Pauland they recognized the grace given…to both Paul and the Jerusalem church. One gospel.

What’s curious is the test for finding out whether Jerusalem is true to the gospel.

  • Paul takes Titus in the expectation that gospel loss would mean he’d be compelled to be circumcised (v3). Meanwhile, in Acts 16v3 (possibly around the same time, depending on how you date Galatians), Paul gets Timothy circumcised so he can take him with him.  To be clear: If the Jerusalem church compels Titus to be circumcised that’s evidence that the gospel has been lost, but when Paul gets Timothy circumcised that’s the gospel advancing.
  • Likewise, in Paul’s next story – Peter stands condemned for putting himself back under food laws, and in effect saying to his Gentile brothers and sisters in Antioch that they’re not welcome unless they take on the food laws too. But in Romans 14v21 Paul says it’s best not to eat if that’ll cause problems for your brother or sister from a Jewish background.

Context and motive call for different practices. It’s a recipe for inconsistency but necessary for the inclusion of diverse peoples and for taking the gospel diverse peoples. And it works because, the gospel isn’t a matter of out conformity. Habits, festivals, food laws and bodily markings aren’t the issue. Loving the church and reaching new people require different approaches at different times and in different places. What would we need to flex to ensure that the only obstacle is the gospel?

Paul embodies this by being prepared to become all things to all people to win some… and by his substantial detours – twice to Jerusalem – to demonstrate bond between the Gentile and Jewish churches.

The real mark of the gospel isn’t what we wear, eat or celebrate. It’s the Spirit of the Son indwelling the believer by faith and enacting our adoption. All else is flexible. Sadly churches fall out over loads of things, but a true gospel priority should mean most of those things – important as they are – are matter over which we’re more than happy to flex, to serve other believers and to reach those who aren’t yet believers. Sadly, we tend to hold on to things for the sake of having church how we want it to be.

If I get this then I’ll be radically committed to welcoming any other believer and removing things that are obstacles for their conscience out of the way, and to welcoming those who don’t believe by changing anything at all – apart from the gospel. If I get this I’ll be incredibly flexible and inconsistent in my view of almost everything in church life… though that’ll look messy, I suspect the gospel shines brighter against that messy backdrop.


Continue reading Dave’s writings on Galatians with this article, What’s GOOD in this foreign country?

February 9, 2017

Leading Like Jezebel in Thyatira

by Clarke Dixon

You have influence! In every relationship, in fact every encounter, you influence and are influenced. Even where there seems to be disengagement, there is still influence. As we continue our trip through the seven churches of Revelation,we meet a person of incredible influence in Thyatira. Not good influence, but incredible:

I have this against you: you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practice fornication and to eat food sacrificed to idols. Revelation 2:20-21

You may have a Jezebel in your life, exerting incredible influence. Not good influence, but incredible. You may be the Jezebel in someone else’s life. Jezebel is not likely the real name of the woman in this church. Instead this is a nickname, pointing back to the wife of King Ahab in the Old Testament. The original Jezebel had incredible influence over the King. Not good influence, in that he was influenced away from Godly worship, but incredible. We have the capacity to influence and be influenced away from a God-focus. Therefore we need to take influence very seriously. So what are the leadership lessons we can learn from Jezebel?

One person’s influence can be extremely important. When you think of the great themes and scope of the Book of Revelation, it is remarkable that this one woman should get a mention. We are not told if she has an official leadership position. That does not matter, for we can wield incredible influence without an official position. I’ve seen some people wield incredible influence on individuals, and an entire church, even after they have passed away! Do not underestimate the kind of influence a Jezebel can have in your life, in your family, or in the life of your church. And don’t underestimate the power you exert over others. You do have influence. Are you using your influence to draw people toward Christ’s Kingdom, or away?

To claim to speak on behalf of God is a very big claim. Jezebel “calls herself a prophet” (verse 20). Broadly defined, a prophet is someone who speaks on behalf of God. Jezebel was not doing that at all. Her advice directly contradicted that of the apostles at the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 to stay away from idolatry and sexual immorality. Her advice directly contradicted the commands and wisdom of all the Scriptures from Genesis on. Do we allow people to “speak on behalf of God” in our lives who have no right to? Are the spiritual leaders of our lives full of Biblical truth and the Holy Spirit? Or are we sometimes the ones to get preachy without a good grasp of Biblical truth and fullness of the Holy Spirit?

That you reap what you sow is still true, and so what you sow as a person of influence is very important. Jezebel will reap what she has sown: “Beware, I am throwing her on a bed, and those who commit adultery with her I am throwing into great distress, unless they repent of her doings” (Revelation 2:22).

Grace is a wonderful theme in the Bible and comes to its most profound expression in Jesus. In Jesus, we do not reap what we sow, we reap what He has already sown in his death and resurrection. He sows love, mercy, and forgiveness. We reap eternal life. We also reap what the Holy Spirit sows, a Kingdom life, a life marked by the fruit of the Holy Spirit. But we might take a Jezebel detour. We might insist on doing the farming ourselves, throwing away the Holy Spirit’s seed, preferring to sow our own seed instead. Don’t be surprised by the weeds. If people are allowed to have a Jezebel influence in our lives, don’t be surprised by consequences. If we lead like Jezebel, don’t be surprised if like Jezebel, we reap what we sow. Let us reap what the Spirit sows instead.

Shepherding is a great image for leadership. The concept of leadership carries through the letter to Thyatira:

 To everyone who conquers and continues to do my works to the end,
I will give authority over the nations;
to rule them with an iron rod,
as when clay pots are shattered—
even as I also received authority from my Father. Revelation 2:26-28

“To rule” in verse 27 is literally “to shepherd” and reflects the Greek translation of Psalm 2:9 quoted here. Christian leadership is not just influence for the sake of having power, it is about shepherding. It is not so much power over, but responsibility for. There are three aspects of shepherding to think about.

First, the shepherd is not the owner of the sheep, but is accountable to the owner. All leaders are accountable to God, even if they do not believe in Him.

Second, care of the sheep is an important aspect of the shepherd’s work. We can think of Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, he makes me to lie down in green pastures.” The good shepherd leads the the sheep to good pasture.

Third, the shepherd is to have concern for the safety of the sheep. Looking to Psalm 23 again: “your rod and your staff — they comfort me.” Thy rod and staff comfort me because with them you can chase away predators.

Keeping in mind these aspects of shepherding, we can clearly see that Jezebel was no shepherd. In not repenting, she was not being accountable to God. She had no care or concern for the sheep. In fact she was leading them into danger. In contrast, Jesus is the good shepherd who lays his life down for the sheep (John 10). Are there Jezebels in your life who throw off accountability, who are influencing you though they have no care or concern for you? Are you a Jezebel, or do you shepherd people?

You are, whether your realize it or not, a person of incredible influence. But is it good? Are you a good shepherd, like Jesus? Or a wolf in shepherd’s clothing, like Jezebel?


Read more at clarkedixon.wordpress.com

February 8, 2017

Christ as Seen in Ephesians

Today we’re again paying a return visit to Robert Lloyd Russell’s blog. He is one of the most faithful and disciplined online Bible study writers I’m aware of. My hope is that when you’re finished today’s short reading, you’ll click through and look at both the content he offers and the way the studies are organized.

This is reprinted from “Abundant Life Now,” a free blog which offers inspiring moments, thought-provoking comments, and solid Biblical insight at http://RobertLloydRussell.blogspot.com/ .

Christ in Ephesians

~ Jesus Christ Is Cornerstone of The New Temple and the Head of His Church ~

The Bible is about Jesus Christ ~ “Jesus said to them, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter His glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself” (Luke 24:25-27).

Jesus Christ in the Book of Ephesians ~ As the Head of the Church Jesus Christ is the Giver of ministry gifts, the Christ of unsearchable riches, and our glorious treasure. He is also our Reconciler, and Heavenly King.

The Old Testament anticipated that the Messiah would be a Temple builder. Jesus Christ has come and is building a temple—but not a physical bricks-and-mortar temple. He is the chief corner stone and the foundation has been built with the apostles, prophets. His saints (both Jewish believers and Gentile believers) are completing this most important of all temples.

Now, therefore, you [Gentiles] are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22).

Comment ~ We have only touched the surface of Christ in the book of Ephesians. The Apostle Paul told us the Scriptures present many shadows of things to come but the reality is found in Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:17).

Compare the Following Passages:

Ephesians 5:31 with Genesis 2:24

Ephesians 6:2-3 with Exodus 20:12 and Deuteronomy 5:16

You’re invited to read one of the O.T. articles in this series: Christ in the Book of Joshua. (The entire series is linked in the page’s left sidebar.)

February 2, 2017

Religion and Sex, Here, and in Pergamum

by Clarke Dixon

Old fashioned fuddy-duddies in a society that is enlightened and progressive. That is how many people would describe Christians today, especially in the areas of religion and sexuality. In matters of religion the contemporary trend is to either deny, or affirm, all of them. You can practice one, but don’t dare say it is the only one that is true. And in matters of sexuality, there are no rules, so long as it is consensual. If only the Church would get with the times and not be so stuck in the past! But is this fair? Has society truly progressed leaving the church stuck in the past? The letter to Pergamum in the Book of Revelation helps us answer this question.

While the faithfulness of the Christians at Pergamum is commended, there is something that Jesus must address:

But I have a few things against you: You have some people there who follow the teaching of Balaam, who instructed Balak to put a stumbling block before the people of Israel so they would eat food sacrificed to idols and commit sexual immorality. In the same way, there are also some among you who follow the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Revelation 2:14-15 (NET emphasis mine)

Whoever the Nicolaitans were, the main concern is with their teaching on religion and sexuality. To understand why this is important, it helps to know something about religion and sexuality in a Roman city like Pergamum.

The word that could be used to sum up a typical Roman view of religion is confusion. Confusion because the gods were always in a mess. When men create gods in their own image, the gods start to look and act a lot like men. Character deficiencies are to be expected. If the gods could be in a mess, they would hardly be in a position to give moral guidance. You would be excused for being in a mess too. Further, you could be confused about whether the gods like you or not. You might pour out the proper libations to the proper gods, but if your boat sank, it was pretty clear they were not happy.

The Good News of Jesus Christ brought people from confusion in matters of religion, to clarity. God was not created by men, but He is the Creator Who has revealed Himself. His character and nature are clear. His moral guidance is clear. That you have the opportunity to stand in a love relationship with God is clear. Yes, you might pray and your boat might still sink, but that God loves you is still clear. The proof was not in a safe voyage across a sea, but in the cross of Jesus Christ which brings us safely from enmity towards God to intimacy with God. With the Gospel, confusion is replaced with clarity. 

The word that could sum up a typical Roman view of sexuality is power. Adultery, prostitution, sex with temple prostitutes, sex with prepubescent boys; all of this was not just allowed, it was encouraged. The free Roman male should do all this, and should not blush. You had sex, not because you were in love with someone, but because you had power over them. What kind of a Roman man are you if you cannot prove your strength and power?

The Good News of Jesus Christ brought people from a place where sex is about power, to sex being about love. You might think that the Romans were free in matters of sexuality, and that Christianity came to replace freedom with rules. But the move is not from freedom to rules. Instead it is from a power trip to a journey of love. Paul in speaking about renouncing old ways has not changed gears when he says “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her . . .” (Ephesians 5:25 NRSV). Among other things, this is still on the theme of living a new way, and not the old Roman way. In Christ, husbands are called to sacrificial love, and this includes matters of sexuality. Loving your wife means giving up the prostitutes and whatever other sexual interests you had as a Roman man. In places like Pergamum the Christians were the enlightened and progressive ones calling people away from the old status quo of sex as an expression of power to a new way of sex as an expression of love. 1

We clearly see this shift in matters of religion and sexuality at the Council of Jerusalem. The big question facing the Church at the time was whether non-Jewish people needed to become Jewish as they became followers of Jesus. Here is the conclusion they sent by letter:

It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell. Acts 15:28-29 (NIV)

In other words, you do not need to become a Jew and keep all the rules of Judaism when you become a follower of Jesus. But you can no longer live like a typical Roman! Roman confusion about “the gods” does not mix with Christian clarity about the love of God in Christ. Roman emphasis on power in matters of sexuality does not mix with the Christian emphasis on sacrificial and covenantal love.

At Pergamum, the Nicolaitans were pressuring the Christian community to ignore the wisdom of the Jerusalem council and keep living like typical Romans while also looking to Jesus. They are called to repent, keeping in mind that while Rome ruled with the power of the sword, the Romans themselves were accountable to a more powerful God.

These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. . . .  Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. Revelation 2:12,16 NIV

So are we being old fashioned fuddy-duddies, out of step with an enlightened and progressing society? Should we join with the Nicolaitans and mix our Christian faith with changing Canadian values in religion and sex? Actually, in throwing off the beliefs and ethics grounded in our Christian heritage, our society is not moving forward, but moving backward – to ethics recognizable to pre-Christian Romans. In throwing off an exclusive belief in Jesus as Lord, society is moving from clarity about God and His love to confusion. And in throwing off Christian ethics in sexuality, society is moving away from love as the anchor. When you un-stick religion and sexuality from God’s Word, you quickly become unglued. As Christians, we are called to join God in turning religion and sexuality from confusion and power, to clarity and love. There is nothing old-fashioned about that!


1 I am always indebted to the work of Biblical Scholars as I am in the habit of consulting various Bible Commentaries in the preparation of sermons. One book in particular helped shape this sermon: Sexual Morality in a Christless World by Michael Rueger, who points out the Roman view of sex as power, and the Christian call to love.)


Read today’s post at Clarke’s blog, Sundays Shrunk Sermon.

February 1, 2017

No Human Body Could Take the Full Impact of God’s Presence

With so much material to draw from, starting this month we will occasionally repeat some of the original devotional/study posts which have appeared here. This one is from 2013.


Exodus 33 20No One Can See God And Live

Occasionally I will read or hear conjecture as to what a “glorified body” will consist of when we leave this life and begin life in a New Earth governed by a new order. People speak of being able to transport instantly from one location to another in a manner reminiscent of Star Trek’s “beam me up.” Others wonder about food consumption, since scripture mentions a “marriage supper.” One discussion centered on clothing, because in God’s original order in the garden, the man and his wife were naked. (The conclusion was that yes, we will be, but our minds will be changed so we won’t think of it the same way.)

But I think the biggest change that will occur in those bodies will be that we will be able to withstand seeing God; we will be able to contain the impact of His presence. Have you ever heard that phrase, “No one can see God and live”? Where does that come from?

The reference is from Exodus 33:20. Here’s the story of a direct conversation — not a vision or dream — in context from the NLT with the key verse underlined:

Moses Sees the Lord’s Glory

12One day Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Take these people up to the Promised Land.’ But you haven’t told me whom you will send with me. You have told me, ‘I know you by name, and I look favorably on you.’ 13If it is true that you look favorably on me, let me know your ways so I may understand you more fully and continue to enjoy your favor. And remember that this nation is your very own people.”

14The Lord replied, “I will personally go with you, Moses, and I will give you rest—everything will be fine for you.”

15Then Moses said, “If you don’t personally go with us, don’t make us leave this place. 16How will anyone know that you look favorably on me—on me and on your people—if you don’t go with us? For your presence among us sets your people and me apart from all other people on the earth.”

17The Lord replied to Moses, “I will indeed do what you have asked, for I look favorably on you, and I know you by name.”

18Moses responded, “Then show me your glorious presence.”

19The Lord replied, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will call out my name, Yahweh,c before you. For I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose. 20But you may not look directly at my face, for no one may see me and live.” 21The Lord continued, “Look, stand near me on this rock. 22As my glorious presence passes by, I will hide you in the crevice of the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23Then I will remove my hand and let you see me from behind. But my face will not be seen.”

(whole chapter)

This is reinforced in the New Testament:

John 1:18 No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.

and

John 6:46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father.

and

1 Timothy 6:16 12Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.13I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate,14that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ,15which He will bring about at the proper time—He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords,16who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.

(A parallel to that last passage is something familiar if you’ve sung the chorus How Great is Our God: Psalm 104:2 He wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent. )

That doesn’t mean that some have not come close. We know that just a chapter later, when Moses received the “big ten” his face shone when he came down from the market.

The Radiant Face of Moses

29When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. 30When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. 31But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them. 32Afterward all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the Lord had given him on Mount Sinai.

33When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. 34But whenever he entered the Lord’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the Lord.

This is confirmed in II Cor. 3:7 (ESV)

7Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, 8will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory?

This is also reminiscent of the familiar passage in Isaiah 6

1It was in the year King Uzziah died that I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of his robe filled the Temple. 2Attending him were mighty seraphim, each having six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3They were calling out to each other,

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies!
The whole earth is filled with his glory!”

4Their voices shook the Temple to its foundations, and the entire building was filled with smoke.

5Then I said, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips. Yet I have seen the King, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.”

Finally, we can’t begin to scratch the surface of this topic without considering the transfiguration in Matthew 17:

1After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

Be sure to see also Revelation 10:1

Today’s reading was prepared using the online site, Bible Hub.

January 24, 2017

Was Jesus Spinning Moses’ Law?

This week’s sermon contained a verse I had never noticed before. Using modern terminology, some would argue that the writer of Hebrews is saying that Jesus spins the law different.

(NLT) Hebrews 7:12 And if the priesthood is changed, the law must also be changed to permit it.

(The Voice) Hebrews 7:12 because when there is a change in the priesthood there must be a corresponding change in the law as well.

(NCV) Hebrews 7:12 And when a different kind of priest comes, the law must be changed, too.

Hebrews is a difficult book on the best of days but this verse really arrested me as I looked at it. After checking StudyLight.com and GodVine.com — both of which reprint material from some classic commentaries — I decided to go with Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason Ministries, an excellent apologetics organization. (Greg’s new book The Story of Reality has just released this month; more info at Zondervan.com.)

Today you have a choice; you can read the commentary on this verse by clicking the title below as usual, or you can click through and watch and listen to Greg’s answer on video. (I encourage you to watch the video version.)

What Does “Change of the Law” in Hebrews 7:12 Mean?

Does Jesus change the law? Here, we are referring to the Mosaic Law. The verse says, “For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well.” What it sounds like initially is that Jesus is tinkering with Moses. Moses gives the law, and then Jesus comes in and begins to tinker with it. There do seem to be some occasions where that happens. In the Gospels, Jesus means to clarify and give a deeper insight. That is certainly not what’s going on in this particular case, however. Something else entirely is going on. There’s not a tinkering with the Mosaic Law, there is an exchange of law systems.

We’re going to employ a rule that we emphasize at Stand to Reason all the time. It’s called, “never read a Bible verse.” If you’re going to try to figure out the meaning of a verse, it is not enough to read one verse. You have to read a paragraph or more. Instead of just reading verse 12, you might start with the first verse of the chapter.

In verse 1, there is a discussion about Abraham and a man named Melchizedek who is a priest of the Most High God. Abraham has not yet had Levi, who is to be the head of the priesthood. Abraham gives honor to Melchizedek, showing that Levi, in a sense, is honoring Melchizedek. Therefore, Melchizedek’s priesthood is greater than the Levitical priesthood because the lesser gives homage to the greater. That’s the set up for the verse in question.

In verse 11, the Mosaic Law has Levi and the priests making provision for sin. The writer says that if that were adequate for perfection, what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek? The writer is arguing that Jesus is a priest, but not a Levitical priest. He was born in the line of Judah. He represents a different more unique priesthood. A priesthood like Melchizedek. So he asks, “If perfection had been attainable, what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek rather than one named after the order of Aaron? For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well.” There’s our verse.

Do you see how that verse sounds different once we have more context? Never read a Bible verse without the context. What the writer of Hebrews is talking about is not tinkering within the Mosaic Law, but a change of law systems. There was law grounded in sacrifices that make men temporarily acceptable before God through the line of Levi, but that isn’t permanent. We need a different system. Jesus is the priest of that different system. He’s the new covenant, not the old covenant. The old covenant is temporary. It was just holding over until the new covenant came. The blood of bulls and goats could never take away sins.

The writer of Hebrews says Jesus brings in a new system. He’s the only one, and He makes perfect those who are sanctified and set aside under that particular system.

The following verse says, “For the one of whom these things are spoken belong to another tribe from which no one has ever served at the alter. For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.” Yes, there’s a change in law, not a tinkering or adjustment of the Mosaic Law, but a putting aside of the entire system because this was just a picture of the perfect priesthood Jesus would provide after the order of Melchizedek.

Jesus is here now, therefore the old system is set aside. That is a central theme in the book of Hebrews, and that is what is being referred to in Hebrews 7:12

 

January 19, 2017

Lost Love: The Letter of Revelation to Ephesus

gnbnby Clarke Dixon

“I have some good news and I have some bad news.” Such is how we could summarize the words of Jesus to the Christians of Ephesus in the Book of Revelation. So let us begin with the good news:

I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false. I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary. . . . this is to your credit: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. Revelation 2:2,3,6

Works, toil, endurance, standing up to false teaching and also to bad practices. Sounds like a good report. However,there is a ‘but,’ coming. And it is a really big ‘but.’ It is something very serious, so serious that here are the consequences:

Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Revelation 2:5

What does it mean to lose the lampstand? We are told in John’s vision that “the seven lampstands are the seven churches” (Revelation 1:20). In other words, the Christian community will cease to be relevant in Ephesus, there will be no church there. Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount:

You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

If the Christians in Ephesus do not change course there will be no lampstand in Ephesus which means no Christian witness which means no glory to God.

So what is the ‘but,’ the bad news that needs fixing?

But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Revelation 2:4 (NASB)

What does this mean exactly? At first reading, it certainly seems as if the Christians in Ephesus are good at expressing their love for God. Remember they are commended for their works, toil, endurance, and standing up to false prophets and bad practices alike. On the surface of it, it looks as if they are expressing a great love for God. In fact it seems they are very religious about expressing their devotion to God. And maybe that is the clue. 

The Christian journey can sometimes look like this: We fall in love with God. In fact we become religious about expressing our LOVE for God. Then we become RELIGIOUS about expressing our LOVE for God. Then we can become VERY RELIGIOUS about expressing our love for God. Then we just become VERY RELIGIOUS. And we have left our first love. We have replaced it with religion.

We can leave our first love in two ways:

The first way we can leave our first love: by replacing love with religion as the basis of our relationship with God.

There is an easy way to tell when this is happening. We enter a church, or enter into prayer, and say, “look at me, Lord. Look at how good I am. Look at my works, toil, endurance, and how I stand up to false prophets and bad practices.” We know religion has replaced love when we find ourselves at the center of it all. We have no capacity to impress God. Nor do we need to. When God’s love is at the center rather than our religiosity, we are free to enter into church, or into prayer, and say, “Our Father in Heaven, Hallowed be Your Name.” We enter into church, or into prayer, not because we have a chance of impressing Him, but because He loves us. After all, does it not say in John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son that whosever is really religious shall not perish but shall have eternal life?” You know that is not how it goes! It is “whoseover believeth in Him, or better, whosoever trusts in Him.

The basis of our relationship with God rests first of all on His love and the fact that He gave Himself for us. We leave our first love and trade it in for mere religion when we trust, not in the love of Jesus, but in our own efforts. If the Christians in Ephesus don’t get this right, they cannot be a lampstand, and their Christian witness will be lost to the misfortune of the people of Ephesus. It will be to the misfortune of our towns and cities today if we replace love with religion as the basis of our relationship with God.

The second way we can leave our first love: by replacing love with religion as the basis of our relationship with others.

You can see the challenge the Christians in Ephesus faced. They were in a very Roman world with very Roman practices, which were very far from Christian practices. There were huge pressures to cave. It is commendable that they have not. They are to be commended for enduring, and standing up to false teaching and bad practices. However, the easiest way to endure when all the world around you is putting pressure on you to cave is to crawl into one.  Crawl into a cave and disconnect yourself from all that pressure. Hunker in a bunker. There is such at thing today as “hunker in a bunker” Christians. There we are free from pressure and temptation. We are free in a bunker, sheltered from the world around us to excel in being religious. Religion becomes the main point of connection with our friends, and the main point of disconnection from everyone else. We can excel at being religious in, but we cannot love the world around us from, a bunker. We are called to love!

Study the life of Paul and you will see that despite all the pressures on him, he never hunkered down in a bunker. He rubbed shoulders with anyone and everyone, letting his light shine. Jesus rubbed shoulders with anyone and everyone, letting His light shine. It is good to do those commendable things the Christians in Ephesus were doing; not countenancing evil, weeding out the false prophets, enduring. But it is not good to become isolated and a closed community. If the Christians in Ephesus do not get this right, they cannot be a lampstand, and their Christian witness will be lost to the misfortune of the people of Ephesus. It will be to the misfortune of our towns and cities today if we don’t keep love as the basis of our relationship with others.

Jesus shows the way:

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands: Revelation 2:1

Jesus is the example of love, walking among the the seven gold lampstands, a living presence of love. In everything he has done and everything he does, he gives us an example, not of what religion looks like, but love. May we be more like Jesus, and not so much like the Ephesians.

 All Scripture references are taken from the NRSV unless otherwise noted


Read today’s and other writing by Clarke Dixon at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

January 6, 2017

Nothing But the Blood

I’ve been wanting to find a way to share with C201 readers this video by David Wesley of a virtual choir representing several different countries singing the classic hymn, Nothing But The Blood of Jesus.

Hymnary.org notes that, “When this hymn was first published in 1876, Hebrews 9:22 was quoted underneath the title: ‘Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin.'”

At Hymnal.net a reader comments:

…There is a question about whether the Bible itself ever talks of being ‘washed’ in the blood (in Rev 1:5 the verb is better translated ‘loosed’ or ‘freed’). But my point here is a wistful sadness that the word ‘sin’ is so often used in the first line rather than ‘stain’. There is evidence that the latter was Lowry’s choice. Of course it rhymes better with ‘again’ in the third line. But more to the point, it is such a colourful word. How easily we can picture the ugly stain of sin blackening our lives like a huge ink-spill. What a pity the more common but less pointed word ‘sin’ is so often used.

Of course, both terms are theologically correct. But the charm of poetry is largely that it can create images that make us envision things in a new and vivid way. Language is one great gift God has given us that separates us from the rest of creation. It is important to make full use of its marvelous potential…

At the blog Before the Cross, Chris Howard has a longer discussion of the hymn:

Outside of blood drives, I’m sure it’s not common to hear gratitude and blood thrown together in the same sentence… Jesus Christ, being the very Son of God, was born of a virgin, lived a perfect life, was crucified on a cross for all the sins of man past, present and future and was raised again to life so that anyone believing in Him would live an eternity with Him. We are thanking Jesus for His blood spilled on our behalf. Every time we sing it, I wonder what a person unfamiliar with the gospel must think as they give church a try. Here are some of my guesses:

  • That’s gross.
  • Did I come to the wrong place?
  • Why are these people singing about blood?
  • Of all things, why are they thankful for blood?

If those are the questions, I hope they don’t leave without getting them answered and I certainly hope they come back.

Let’s face it. The lyrics aren’t exactly “seeker” friendly and some churches might treat this song like any blood-related incident, to keep the lyrics sanitary and removed from the scene, out of mind and out of sight for believer and non-believer alike. Blood evokes a strong mental image and unless you’ve been desensitized by horror movies, it usually isn’t an image someone likes to think about. There are certainly other worship songs we could sing that would bring about more peaceful, calming and relaxing images of God’s saving grace without mentioning blood.

And that’s the very reason why I think we need to sing about it. Without the blood shed by Jesus Christ, there is no cross. If there is no cross, there is no resurrection of Jesus Christ. If there is no resurrection, we are doomed.

The Blood Is Necessary

Since the first sin of man in the Garden of Eden, blood was required. Animals were sacrificed for their skins to cover up the nakedness of Adam and Eve. The sacrifice of animals for atonement of sin was still present in the time of Jesus.

And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”Exodus 24:8

“Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”Hebrews 9:22

The Blood Protects

The Israelites are instructed to place animal blood over the door of their dwellings to avoid God’s plague on Egypt.

“The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.”Exodus 12:13

Jesus, before His crucifixion refers to his shed blood as that which would forgive sins.

“for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”Matthew 26:28

The Blood Cleanses 

Redemption, fellowship and cleansing are benefits we as Christians who believe in Jesus Christ get to enjoy as a result of His shed blood.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ.”Ephesians 1:7-9

“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 cleanses us from all sin.”1 John 1:7

We often see what we prize most in light of what we pay for it. In the case of our salvation, it is we who were purchased with blood that ran through the body of our savior, the same body broken on our behalf to allow God and His creation to have a restored relationship. If you are a Christian, you are in this restored relationship.

We can sing it out unashamed. Thank you Jesus. Thank you for the blood!


 

December 26, 2016

Compromise: Making it “Easier” to be a Christian

Today we’re returning to the blog, Into the Foolishness of God by Shara Case. I got caught up in reading several articles here, and I encourage you to take ten minutes to do the same.  For today’s piece, click the title to read at source.

Your Compromise isn’t a Virtue

Friends, we are called as disciples to “preach the Word” and be ready in season and out of season”when the circumstances are for us and when they are against us. We are told to “convince, rebuke, exhort, with all long-suffering and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2).

Why? Because “the time will come when people will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth and be turned aside to fables”  (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

Do you know how the church can “do better”? By adhering to God’s Word and loving our neighbor in truth.

How is it that we can “dig deep” and “do the hard work” that God really desires of us? By searching His word and hiding it in our hearts. It is the TRUTH that sets people free, not our well-meaning actions. The opinions of culture, authors, historians or professors don’t set people free, in fact they can do just the opposite.

Lets open our arms, but with the true gospel.

Our God is holy and righteous. He is also loving and full of mercy. These don’t cancel each other out, and we can’t adhere to one and not the other.

Sin has a diabolical agenda that will take us further down the road of good intentions than we ever imagined. Following Jesus requires hard things sometimes. It means we die to sin and self. We don’t rejoice in sin but flee from it. When others are stuck, we point them to a God who loves them and wants them free. The argument of “you’re too judgmental,  God just wants us to love each other” is worn out with me. A true disciple does everything in love. Speaking the truth does not equate me with Westboro Baptist lunatics. If we ignore what He says in His Word, if we rearrange it to suit our feelings, no matter how noble they may be, we are not living as Jesus followers. We are nothing more than people-pleasers.

“In the end its like two locals telling a visitor how to get into a building. One tells the visitor he must go through the main gate, while the other says to go through an easier side door. The latter fears the main gate is too far away and too hard to enter. Initially, this local appears to make it easier for the visitor to get in, while the other seems to impose a harsher standard – until you find out there’s no side door. 

While the easier instruction is well intended, it’s sadly just another way of keeping the visitor out.” – Derek Rishmawy, The Gospel Coalition

It is precisely because we don’t want any to perish that we are speaking up. We don’t want anyone left out,  Jesus didn’t come to be exclusive, He came for all of us. Ironically, those screaming to include what God has deemed not acceptable in His kingdom are shutting the door on the very people they hope to bring in.


Application: (1) Can you think of areas where the modern church has made it “easier” to be a Christian by being lax about things scripture teaches?

(2) Does this overlap on the issue of “belonging” versus “believing” as discussed in this article?

November 29, 2016

Cursing People Who Desert or Betray Us

Today’s author was featured on a blog aggregate that also features some of my writing. David Kitz writes at I Love the Psalms. The particular one under discussion today is a tough Psalm for many readers. Even Wikipedia (not necessarily a best choice for Bible commentary) notes, “Psalm 109 is a psalm noted for containing some of the most severe curses in the Bible.” Spurgeon didn’t mess around with this Psalm either,

Those who regard a sort of effeminate benevolence to all creatures alike as the acme of virtue are very much in favor with this degenerate age; these look for the salvation of the damned, and even pray for the restoration of the devil.  It is very possible that if they were less in sympathy with evil, and more in harmony with the thoughts of God, they would be of a far sterner and also of a far better mind.  To us it seems better to agree with God’s curses than with the devil’s blessing; and when at any time our heart kicks against the terror of the Lord we take it as proof of our need of greater humbling, and confess our sin before our God. (sourced at)

Take a closer look at the text below and see what you think! Click the link to read at source and check other Psalms-based devotionals.

Cursing in the Bible

Reading:                      Psalm 109                                                                  

(Verses 6-15)

Appoint someone evil to oppose my enemy;     
let an accuser stand at his right hand.
When he is tried, let him be found guilty,     
and may his prayers condemn him.
May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership.
May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow.
May his children be wandering beggars;     
may they be driven from their ruined homes.
May a creditor seize all he has;     
may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor.
May no one extend kindness to him     
or take pity on his fatherless children.
May his descendants be cut off,     
their names blotted out from the next generation.
May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the LORD;     
may the sin of his mother never be blotted out.
May their sins always remain before the LORD,
that he may blot out their name from the earth (NIV).

Reflection

This portion of Psalm 109 contains fourteen mays of condemnation. After reading this long list of curses spoken against this unnamed individual, it becomes abundantly clear that David, the author of this psalm, was not affectionately inclined toward this man of treachery. This man, who earlier was identified as a friend, had turned against David. In the verse just prior to today’s reading, David laments, “They repay me evil for good, and hatred for my friendship” (Psalm 109:5).

Psalm 109 is called an imprecatory psalm. The word imprecatory simply is a fancy term for cursing. I am sure many Christians are unaware that there is cursing in the Bible—cursing coming from the man who penned Psalm 23—the LORD is my shepherd.

Many find the imprecatory psalms deeply troubling. I include myself in that number. Does God condone calling down curses on our enemies? What about the words of Jesus?

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?” (Matthew 5:43-46).

I remain convinced that Jesus calls us to live on a higher plane—the plane where he dwells.

Response: Father God, I need your help. I find it easy to lash out at those who have hurt me. When I want to go for the jugular help me reach out for Jesus instead. I want to be more like you, Jesus. Amen.

Your Turn: Is there a place for the imprecatory psalms in the Bible? What purpose might they serve?


Go Deeper: For a much longer treatment of this Psalm at Bible.org, which also contains a broad overview of the imprecatory Psalms, click this link.

November 28, 2016

The Shortest Path to Reconciliation

Yesterday, Andy Stanley spoke on the the three “lost” parables of Luke 15: The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin and The Lost Son. While this is very familiar to most of us, I am always amazed at how the various dynamics and nuances of this famous story result in the situation where good preachers always find something new in this parable.

The premise of the parable is set up very quickly:

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

The last seven words have been amplified and expanded in expository preaching for centuries, but Andy noted:

Andy Stanley 2013This son was gone relationally long before he left home. This relationship was broken.

The father wanted to reconnect with the son so bad, he chose the shortest road back. The father wants to reconnect relationally so much; he knows the relationship is broken; the conversation is the pinnacle of a bunch of other conversations that probably went on… He knows the son is distant… the son is gone, he’s just physically there. The father wants him back; not his body, the relationship. He chooses for the shortest route back. He funds his departure.

What the audience heard when Jesus said this was that the father loved his son — don’t miss this — the father loved the son more than he loved his own reputation, and for that culture, they summed the father up as a fool. This is when you need to go to Leviticus and find that hidden verse that says, ‘stone the rebellious children,’ because this kid deserves to be stoned. In the story the father says, ‘Okay. Let’s pretend that I’m dead. I’ll liquidate half the estate…’

…Here’s a dad who is willing to lose him physically, lose him spatially, lose him to (potentially) women.

He didn’t mention this, but I couldn’t help but think of Romans 1, verses 24, 26 and 28:

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.

26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.

28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.

Implicit in this is the idea of God “letting go” of someone, giving them over to their sin. This particular message in Romans 1 seems very final. But in I Cor. 5, a book also written by Paul and in a context also dealing with sexual sin, we see Paul using the same language but with a hope of restoration:

So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh,[a][b] so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

The language in the last phrase isn’t found in Romans 1 but occurs here. Eugene Peterson’s modern translation renders it this way:

Assemble the community—I’ll be present in spirit with you and our Master Jesus will be present in power. Hold this man’s conduct up to public scrutiny. Let him defend it if he can! But if he can’t, then out with him! It will be totally devastating to him, of course, and embarrassing to you. But better devastation and embarrassment than damnation. You want him on his feet and forgiven before the Master on the Day of Judgment.

Back to Andy’s sermon! The story in Luke 15 continues:

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

Andy continued:

He ran to his son and threw his arms around him…

…Why, when the son was leaving; why when the son had his back to his father,  did the father not from that same distance, run throw his arms around him the son? Why does he let the go? He doesn’t chase after him throw his arms around him and say ‘Stay! Stay! Stay!’? Why now? It’s the same son, it’s the same distance. It’s the same two people But now he’s running toward his son to throw his arms around him and bring him back. Why? What’s the difference.

This is Jesus’ point. This impacts all of us… The father desired a relationship. The father desired a connection the father desired a connection. — not a GPS coordinate, it was not about not knowing where the son was — it’s not spatially, it’s relationally. What the father wanted more than anything in the world was not the son living in his house, but to be connected with the son and when he saw the connection being made when he saw the disconnected son begin to reconnect he ran toward his son and he kissed him.

He concludes this part of the sermon by reminding us that Jesus is telling his hearers:

‘My primary concern is not the connected; I know where they are. And I’m grateful that we’re connected. My priority, my passion, the thing that brought me to earth to begin with was to reconnect the disconnected to their father in heaven.’ This answers the question, why would Jesus spend so much time with irreligious people? …The reason Jesus spent so much time with disconnected people is because they were disconnected. The reason Jesus was drawn to people who were far from God is because they were far from God.

The gravitational pull of the local church is always toward the paying customers. It’s always toward the connected. It’s always toward the people who know where to park and know how to get their kids in early and find a seat… The gravitational pull and the programming of the local church is always toward the 99 and not toward the 1. …We all, individually and collectively, run the risk of mis-prioritizing… how we see people.

There’s much more. You can watch the entire message at this link; the passage above begins at approx. the 50-minute mark in the service.

 

 

November 20, 2016

The Will

by Russell Young

It is clear from the Word of God that a person’s desire should be to do the will of God (Mt 7:21, 12:50) and he is working in the believer to achieve that end. “For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Phil 2:13 NIV) Since this passage is often misrepresented, it needs to be made clear that “God is working in you” so that you will choose to act in accordance to his good purpose—to will–, not that God is unilaterally accomplishing his purpose through you by making you will to do it. That is, the Father and the Spirit are working towards disposing you to do their will, but they are not removing your right to make your own decisions or to choose your own path.

In the Old Testament dispensation, and certainly in the Exodus, Jehovah stressed through Moses the need for his chosen people to do his will, to be obedient to him.  He called them rebellious because they refused to comply. God’s desire for obedience has not changed.  When a person clings to the dominance of his or her own desires and shunts God aside that person dismisses the need for obedience and is rebellious in the Lord’s eyes.

At first glance the concept of the will is intuitively understood.  To “will” means “to want” to do something.  The Merriam-Webster’s Deluxe Dictionary states the will is “(a) mental powers being manifested as willing, choosing, desiring, or intending, and (b) a disposition to act according to principles or ends.”   The Greek word for will is ‘thelo’ which means “to delight in:-desire; be disposed, intend, and please.” (Strong’s Greek Dictionary) A person’s will is asserted when he or she manifests his or her mental powers in order to act according to their own ends or principles.

It is in understanding how the motivation to want or to delight in, etc., and how that motivation is executed, particularly as it relates to doing God’s will, that provides enlightenment concerning the doing of God’s will.

A person’s will or disposition to his or her own ends guards the Holy Spirit from entering the soul of people and guards the soul from being influenced, or not, by the natural spirit of people or of the Holy Spirit. The functioning of a person’s will changes when a new “end” or desire is brought about through their knowledge of God and of a better hope. Thus, the spirit/Spirit cannot function unless the soul (the will is a part of the soul) permits it.

The hope of humankind rests in God’s initial grace and mercy through the revelation of his majesty, glory, and love without which the human spirit would remain wretched and hopelessly lost, bound in the lies of the prince of this world.  It is the realization of God’s mercy and grace, and the work of his Spirit, as well as an appreciation of the eternal joy that awaits the repentant sinner that provide the motivation for obedience to God in a person’s life.  It is at this point that the believer’s “end” should truly be to please his redeemer as an act of love through obedience and to die to his or her own interests.

The will is the aspect of a person’s being that allows for the execution of all bodily action that is not autonomic in nature.  For the will to execute an action, it must be moved, convinced, or motivated by the mind to that action.  That motivation is related to a person’s accumulated knowledge or convictions which assess the probable outcome to determine whether it is good for the achievement of a person’s “ends” or not.  The Holy Spirit has power in this regard.  He convicts, brings remembrance, guides in all truth, reveals truth, teaches, leads, directs, testifies, guards, speaks through people, provides comfort, brings righteousness, peace, joy, and hope to the believer and brings glory to God.

The will also operates by command or obligation.  That is, the will does not operate at its own directive but is directed by the mind in the pursuit of the person’s interest, goal, or “end.”  The body can make demands to ensure comfort, pleasure, or survival, but the body cannot communicate with the spirit of a person except through the soul and the soul cannot ‘will’ except through the persuasions of the prevailing spirit/Spirit.

The source of motivation for the sinner should be quite different from that of the redeemed.  The motivation of the sinner’s will is through his or her senses and reasoning which has been distorted by the lies of the evil one and through faulty knowledge and errant principles; whereas, the motivation of the believer needs to rest apart from his or her flesh—which is to be considered to be dead—and to be grounded in truths obtained from the knowledge of God’s Word as impressed by the Spirit.  Considering this, it becomes easier to discern the spirit/Spirit that is prompting the will.  When senses are prompting an action through an unregenerate or rebellious soul, it is the will of the old nature at work; when the Godly instructed intellect prompts the will of the soul bent on obedience it is the Spirit that is at work.

The knowledge that assesses the outcomes and motivates may come through the senses–may have been gained through experiences as a person interacts with the world–or it may come from a person’s intellect as developed through study or life experiences.  Memory and reasoning also impact a person’s knowledge base and affect will.  Recall brings attention to past experiences and reasoning, or rationalizing may alter or put emphasis on certain aspects of a person’s knowledge base. Study, prayer and others can influence a person’s knowledge base and reasoning.

God works to dispose a person to honour and obey him, but since that one still possesses the evil spirit, and since he or she may still be enticed by its persuasions and those of the evil one, that one may will to act contrary to the Lord’s interests for him or her.  The will is under the authority of the mind of each person to control and to pursue his or her own ends.  Humankind has been given a free will or the right to choose his or her own sovereign…either God or the evil one.  Those who are led by the Spirit to do God’s will, will reap eternal life; those who are led by the evil nature will be destroyed. (Gal 6: 7─8)


eternal-salvation-russell-youngRussell Young’s book is available now in print and eBook.  The title is Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? It is available through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514 $17.99 US


 

November 13, 2016

Relish Meat in Your Spiritual Life

by Russell Young

Teachings about spiritual maturity are of more importance than might be appreciated at first glance.  The Word speaks of the necessity of being “born again,” but a new birth is the production of a baby, or in a spiritual sense, of a spiritual infant.  An infant is incapable of doing anything; he or she is there in body, soul, and spirit but needs constant attention and cannot function as a contributor to the kingdom.  This is not the permanent state to which the believer has been called.

The believer has been delivered from the law and from his or her sinful state so that they might be useful to the kingdom of God. (Ep 2:10; 1 Cor 11─15) The writer of Hebrews has recorded: “Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teachings about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (Heb 5:13─14 NIV) Spiritual maturity comes from training about righteousness and it is something that every believer needs to pursue if he or she is to grow to spiritual adulthood. The teachings that are often presented as being of greatest importance have been referenced in Hebrews as being elementary or “milk.”  “Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” (Heb 6:1─3 NIV)

As important as the foundational teachings are, they do not provide the understandings that develop spiritual maturity.  In fact, the writer has revealed that if a person falls away through lack of righteous practices after having “tasted” the presence and the power of the Spirit—enjoying milk–, it is impossible to bring him or her back to repentance.  They are not to become “lazy” or indifferent concerning issues of righteousness. Paul stated that, “Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.” (Rom 6:19 NIV) “Without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Heb 12:14 NIV)

Spiritual maturity is a matter of applying the knowledge that the believer has that compels him or her to live righteously before the Lord.  During the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Mt 5:6 NIV) To hunger after and to thirst for demands an earnest seeking for righteousness so that their thirst and hunger might be quenched. The Lord is eager to assist in this matter. Righteousness is not given at the time of confession of faith; Paul said that it is being “awaited” through the Spirit (Gal 5:5), but those seeking it must deliberately train themselves to distinguish good from bad. Spiritual maturity comes through training and practice, from seeking and following, from crucifying one’s interests and through suffering in order to defeat temptations. Its development often requires the Lord’s discipline and the acceptance of punishment. Paul taught that we must “offer [ourselves] to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.” (Rom 6:13 NIV) If a person is to live he or she must “put to death the misdeeds of the body.” (Rom 8:13 NIV) Spiritual maturity demands the development of a special kind of living where a person’s natural spirit with its interests is put to death and the life of Christ is lived. It is obedience that brings righteousness and life. (Rom 6:16)

Spiritual maturity comes from dedication to obeying the Spirit; it is not freely given.  Those who rest in the nourishment of milk as their spiritual food will remain unskilled in in achieving spiritual maturity and even risk dwelling apart from the Lord. (Mt 13:41; 1 Jn 3:10; 2 Pet 2:21) And, those who teach that milk is sufficient food for life will produce spiritual babies and are even deceptive in their teachings. (1 Jn 3:6; Gal 6:7─8)

Spiritual maturity is to be sought; it is to be pursed with all a person’s heart, soul, mind, and body so that the believer can gain victory over the flesh, the evil one, and the world.  It is those who “overcome” who will dwell with the Lord in the New Jerusalem. (Rev 21:7)


eternal-salvation-russell-youngRussell Young’s book is available now in print and eBook.  The title is Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? It is available through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514 $17.99 US


 

November 1, 2016

Do You Need That Bigger House?

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Ever had a verse just jump off the page? We’re not currently in the housing market, but live in a part of the world where house prices have escalated greatly in some areas. It’s also a time when many are converting existing houses into what are termed monster homes. Does the Bible speak to buying a new dwelling? I realized I was rushing past this too quickly and needed to slow down and consider it more carefully.

Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land.  ~Isaiah 5:8

So what’s being said here?  BibleHub.com offers many different commentaries on this verse.

Matthew Henry:

Here is a woe to those who set their hearts on the wealth of the world. Not that it is sinful for those who have a house and a field to purchase another; but the fault is, that they never know when they have enough. Covetousness is idolatry; and while many envy the prosperous, wretched man, the Lord denounces awful woes upon him. How applicable to many among us! God has many ways to empty the most populous cities. Those who set their hearts upon the world, will justly be disappointed.

Benson Commentary:

Not that this was in itself absolutely unlawful, but because they did it from an inordinate desire of riches, and with the injury of their brethren. That they alone may be the lords and owners, and all others only their tenants and servants. Thus, “the first crime condemned is avarice and rapacity; which is strongly described in this verse, and which prevailed remarkably among the Jews. Its punishment, even the desolation of those houses which they coveted, and the devastation of those fields which they obtained so rapaciously, is set forth in the two following verses.”

Pett’s Bible Commentary begins with this summary:

The first woe is on those who have bought up or seized by force the fields of the people, so as to form for themselves large estates, actions which will finally bring desolation on them.

and then continues in great depth:

The picture here is of the man of influence and wealth taking over surrounding land by fair means or foul, and adding it to his own, and then turning his house into a Great House by adding buildings (compare Micah 2:2; Micah 2:4; Micah 2:9). As a result, instead of enjoying covenant fellowship with his close neighbours he dwells in solitary splendour, for all his one-time neighbours have been expelled. They would then have had to become servants or even bondmen. Their ‘glory’ has been taken away for ever (Micah 2:9).

This was directly contrary to what Israel was all about. When the land was originally allocated as God’s gift to His people (Leviticus 25:2) the intention was that each man should have his own piece of land in perpetuity. All were to be free men. And although the land may have to be mortgaged in hard times, always in the end it was to revert to its original owner. (See Leviticus 25:13; Leviticus 25:23-24; Numbers 27:1-11; Numbers 36:1-12; Ruth 4:1-4). But now unreasonable influence, unfair means and dishonest pressure were being exerted by powerful men to acquire and permanently possess such land, and permanently subject their fellow Israelites to servitude. God’s covenant was being overturned, and His people degraded. And we need not doubt that the fifty year rule was being set aside. God’s will was being thwarted.

The gradual accumulation of wealth is never in itself condemned, unless it interferes with a man’s responsiveness to God. But doing so at the expense of others and especially when it was in direct disobedience to God’s will, is constantly condemned.

God’s concern about this is a reminder that God watches over all men’s business dealings, whether corrupt or just purely greedy, and will call men to account for them. It will be no good in that day saying, ‘it was business’. God will reply, ‘no, it was gross iniquity’.

‘In my ears, the ears of Yahweh of hosts, of a truth, many houses will be desolate, even great and fair, without inhabitant.’ ‘In my ears’ may refer back to Isaiah 5:7 bringing out again that the cries of the oppressed reach His ears. Or it may refer to the very cry of the fields at the mistreatment of their owners (compare Genesis 4:10) as reaching His ears. Either way the cries of distress reach His ears, and they are the ears of Yahweh of hosts. (The Hebrew is literally, ‘In my ears Yahweh of hosts’). Thus the great and fair houses that have resulted will assuredly be desolated, their inhabitants removed, their widespread fields yielding but a pittance. As they have done to others, so will be done to them.

‘For ten acres of vineyard will yield one bath, and a homer of seed will yield but an ephah.’ An ‘acre’ was literally ‘a yoke’, the amount that could be ploughed by a yoke of oxen in one day. Thus ten such large areas will produce only one bath (about twenty seven litres or six gallons). We are possibly to see in this that the expectation was that one acre would normally produce a bath. An ephah is a dry measure and is the tenth part of a homer (Exodus 16:36). Thus again what is sown produces only one tenth. Thus all activity in the fields will only produce a small proportion of what should have been produced.

We’ll stop there; but you might want to go deeper with this.


Related verses:

They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them. They defraud people of their homes, they rob them of their inheritance.
 ~Micah 2:2

Woe to him who builds his house by unjust gain, setting his nest on high to escape the clutches of ruin!
~Habakkuk 2:9

Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his own people work for nothing, not paying them for their labor.
 ~Jeremiah 22:13

 

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