Christianity 201

May 26, 2018

Covenant: Past, Present and Future

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Today we’re paying a return visit to Clergy Stuff, which offers daily devotionals following the Narrative Lectionary. This one is actually the reading for tomorrow. (The text follows at the bottom.)

What God Has Done

by Kace Leetch

Several times throughout the Bible, God enters a covenant with people. First with Noah and his family, then with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Here God enters a covenant, not with individuals, but with an entire nation. God’s covenant with the Israelites is this: God will be their God, and they will be God’s people.

True to form, God enters the covenant with a promise—past, “I… brought you… out of the house of slavery;” present, “I am the Lord your God;” and future, “You shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples.” God is a leader before God requires people to be led.

I am a binge-watching fool when it comes to reality TV about small businesses. Often, rich entrepreneurs step in, either to invest in start-ups, or to rescue failing small businesses. What regularly strikes me is that the failing businesses are often run by people who just don’t have adequate leadership skills. Some are pretty snooty, thinking they are above the menial tasks of their employees. Others are too passive, letting their employees walk all over them. Still others are so stuck in their ways, their aversion to change is killing the business.

God is the opposite of all of these struggling leaders. God is not above getting God’s hands dirty in order to lead. God did some difficult and horrendous—yet necessary—things to rescue the Israelites from slavery. God is certainly not passive. God stood toe to toe with Pharaoh, challenging his reign, his stubbornness, and his cruelty.

God also showed a willingness to grow, renewing the covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, by reestablishing a new relationship with Moses and Moses’ people. As the people and the relationships changed, so did God’s terms of the covenant.

With Noah, the covenant was between God and all of God’s creation. God promised never to destroy the planet by flood. Noah had no commitment in this covenant.

With Abraham, the covenant was that God would bless the earth by blessing Abraham. Again, there was no commitment by Abraham for this blessing. Later, however, God did require Abraham to circumcise his descendants as a sign of their covenant that Abraham would be father of a great nation.

With Moses and the Israelites, God included in the covenant a more defined role for the Israelites to play. They would have to put God above all else. They would have to follow God’s commandments. As the conditions and the people changed, so did God’s requirement of them and God’s promises to them. Despite people’s failures, God continued to establish, reestablish, and recreate the covenants, always starting with and fulfilling God’s commitment.

Narrative Lectionary Text: Exodus 19:1-6; 20:1-2

On the third new moon after the Israelites had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day, they came into the wilderness of Sinai. They had journeyed from Rephidim, entered the wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness; Israel camped there in front of the mountain. Then Moses went up to God; the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.”

Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

May 6, 2018

We Love in Return

This was one of those ‘how-did-we-not-know-about-this-before?’ types of discovery. Melody has been writing devotions at In Pleasant Places since January, 2013. Her blog started somewhat organically from correspondence she was sharing with a friend, as she explains in her story. To read this at her blog, click the title below.

Worshipping Our Uncontained God

You shall not make idols for yourselves or erect an image or pillar,
and you shall not set up a figured stone in your land to bow down to it,
for I am the LORD your God.”

Leviticus 26:1

This command obviously has application to us not worshipping a different god. But there is also application to our worship of the true God. To worship Him, not an image made to “represent” Him.

I think we often like to have things in front of us that we can see. Things we can visibly draw near to. But with this command, I wonder if perhaps God intentionally did not want to appear bound by our perceptions or defined by our understanding.

When we look at how these other (false) gods are portrayed in Scripture, they are encapsulated and defined within those man-made images. Our God, the true and living one, vibrant with life and energy, mighty in power, actively and creatively at work in all things – He is not like these. He will not be brought down to a man-made definition, created by our hands alongside items of common purpose.

He is holy. Sovereign. He is Creator. Even the most brilliant elements known to man cannot convey His glory.

God instructed His people to build not an image of Him, but an Ark to hold the stone tablets on which He carved His covenant. An ark containing tangible elements of His faithfulness and the holiness of His law, covered with the mercy seat upon which His presence would rest when He came to meet with them.

It was a meeting place.

But our God of the universe was not contained there. He is greater than that. An image cannot hold the One who upholds the universe by the word of His power and calls out each star by name, ensuring not one is lost.

So while we might look upon paintings and other artwork depicting various accounts in Scripture, our Christ at different points in His life and death, and while God might use these to stir our hearts to greater understanding of Him, we do not worship those things. And let us not assume any visual depiction can capture His fullness. The universe declares the glory of our God. The skies proclaim His majesty. That is His handiwork, spoken into existence in all its magnificent wonder – and our God surpasses it all.

May our view of Him remain expansive. Mindful that He is far beyond anything we have seen or known. Seeing Him as He reveals Himself in Scripture, seeing Him as He is perhaps conveyed through artists’ eyes (though we must be careful here – they could portray Him wrongly), and seeing Him as displayed in creation around us. Worshipping always this God who is greater and bigger than our eyes can currently behold and our minds can currently conceive. Our everlasting light, salvation, and glory.

“There is none like you, O LORD;
you are great, and your name is great in might…
Beaten silver is brought from Tarshish,
and gold from Uphaz.
They are the work of the craftsman and of the hands of the goldsmith;
their clothing is violet and purple;
they are all the work of skilled men.
But the LORD is the true God;
he is the living God and the everlasting King.
At his wrath the earth quakes,
and the nations cannot endure his indignation…
It is he who made the earth by his power,
who established the world by his wisdom,
and by his understanding stretched out the heavens.
When he utters his voice, there is a tumult of waters in the heavens,
and he makes the mist rise from the ends of the earth.
He makes lightning for the rain,
and he brings forth the wind from his storehouses…
Every goldsmith is put to shame by his idols,
for his images are false,
and there is no breath in them.
They are worthless, a work of delusion;
at the time of their punishment they shall perish.
Not like these is he who is the portion of Jacob,
for he is the one who formed all things,
and Israel is the tribe of his inheritance;
the LORD of hosts is his name.”
Jeremiah 10:6,9-16

 


Deciding on a devotional from In Pleasant Places wasn’t easy. I think we’ll return to this one again soon. For more, check out this one, To Love Him.

 

July 5, 2016

Blessing: Favored by God

I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. – Genesis 12:3 NIV

blessingOver the weekend, I wrote a very short story at Thinking Out Loud about what I felt was unnecessary use of the word blessing. In the course of writing, I decided to investigate how Biblical dictionaries define the word.

In terms of reliability, my default choice was an entry from Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology as sourced at BibleStudyTools.com and partially reprinted below (their rather stern copyright statement prevented us from using it in full as I would have preferred):

God’s intention and desire to bless humanity is a central focus of his covenant relationships. For this reason, the concept of blessing pervades the biblical record. Two distinct ideas are present. First, a blessing was a public declaration of a favored status with God. Second, the blessing endowed power for prosperity and success. In all cases, the blessing served as a guide and motivation to pursue a course of life within the blessing.

The Old Testament Terms for blessing abound in the Old Testament, occurring over 600 times. The major terms are related to the word meaning “to kneel, ” since in earlier times one would kneel to receive a blessing…

…Three common themes are present in formal Old Testament blessings. First, the greater blesses the lesser, a fact picked up by the writer of Hebrews to demonstrate the superiority of Melchizedek to Abraham ( Heb 7:6-7 ). Second, the blessing is a sign of special favor that is intended to result in prosperity and success ( Deu 28:3-7 ). Third, the blessing is actually an invocation for God’s blessing: “May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful” ( Gen 28:3 )…

The New Testament The parallels between the Old and New Testament usages of blessing are striking. To be blessed is to be granted special favor by God with resulting joy and prosperity. In the New Testament, however, the emphasis is more on spiritual rather than on material blessings…

…In a general sense, the terms for blessing in the New Testament are used to designate that one is favored by God. Included among these are Jesus ( Mark 11:9-10 ); children ( Mark 10:13-16 ); Mary ( Luke 1:42 Luke 1:48 ); the disciples ( Luke 24:50 ); those who “have not seen and yet have believed” ( John 20:29 ); and those who endure trials ( James 1:12 ; 5:11 ). As in the Old Testament, when these words are ascribed to God they are rendered “praise” ( Rom 1:25 ; 9:5 ; 2 Cor 11:31 )…

William E. Brown

The website CompellingTruth.org provided more background:

Perhaps the meaning of the word blessing can be most accurately understood when these three etymological meanings—blood consecration, praise, and good fortune—are taken in concert. For example, in Genesis 12:1-3, God makes a promise to Abram, saying, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” God is promising good fortune, and a good future, to the descendants of Abram, and He is saying that others will gain good fortune through him. It can be said that the nation of Israel, and all who believe in the God of Israel, are consecrated with blood—the blood of Jesus Christ—through faith. The Hebrew word barak means literally “to kneel” and when used in this context, it indicates a relationship between man, who adores God by kneeling, and God, who benefits men with His presence.

One of the best known blessing in the Bible is the Aaronic blessing, as found in Numbers 6: 22-27. Since this is quite familiar to many of you in its original form, here is how Eugene Peterson translates it:

22-23 God spoke to Moses: “Tell Aaron and his sons, This is how you are to bless the People of Israel. Say to them,

24 God bless you and keep you,

25 God smile on you and gift you,

26 God look you full in the face
    and make you prosper.

27 In so doing, they will place my name on the People of Israel—

I will confirm it by blessing them.”

 


Some background about today’s graphic image. It was found at the blog So What Faith, by Greg Smith, where he describes an unusual blessing:

In the April 16, 2014 edition of The Christian Century, a challenging blessing appears (p.9).  It was originally given to Brennan Manning by his spiritual director, Larry Hine, on the occasion of his ordination.

May all of your expectations be frustrated,
May all of your plans be thwarted,
May all of your desires be withered into nothingness,
That you may experience the powerlessness and poverty of a child and can sing and dance in the love of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

 

 

June 8, 2016

Where is God When Life is a Mess? Ezekiel Knows!

•••by Clarke Dixon

With the world in a mess, and even our own lives sometimes in a mess, we might well wonder; “where is God?” If God is truly in our world, shouldn’t things be better by now? Is God weak? Or perhaps the powers of darkness are stronger? In Ezekiel’s day the people of God could wonder the very same thing for they were in a mess. Ezekiel was among a group of 10,000 people or so who were taken into captivity from Jerusalem by the Babylonians. Things were not looking good back in Jerusalem and in another five years the city would be completely destroyed along with the Temple. Was God weak? Were the gods of the Babylonians stronger? If God’s house is destroyed is He gone? Ezekiel is called to bring some clarity to the situation. His summary of the first vision is given in verse 28 of the first chapter:

Like the bow in a cloud on a rainy day, such was the appearance of the splendour all around. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of someone speaking. . . (Ezekiel 1:28 italics mine)

So what clarity does Ezekiel bring?

In reading Ezekiel chapter one we learn that the glory of God is indescribable and incomparable.  God’s people in captivity would have been reminded by Ezekiel’s first vision of the religions around them. The Babylonians, like most nations of the day, but unlike God’s people of Israel, had statues and idols representing their gods. As Bible scholars point out, through the vision the Lord is drawing a contrast between Himself and the gods of the Babylonians. The statues of the Babylonians were lifeless, in contrast to the “living creatures” (verses 5,13,14,15,19,20,21,22) of Ezekiel’s vision which point to the living God. The statues could not see, in contrast to the many eyes, representing the all seeing nature of God. The statues could be destroyed, in contrast to the fire in Ezekiel’s vision, showing that God is the one who has the capacity to destroy and is not Himself consumed. The statues were stuck wherever humans put them whereas in Ezekiel’s vision there are many wheels and free movement. God is not stuck and will go where He wants to go! That God is alive, all seeing, the indestructible destroyer, and has the capacity of presence anywhere and everywhere is all part of the glory of God in direct contrast to the gods of Babylon.

So what is being clarified here? We could sum it up with O people of God. God is alive, all-seeing, powerful, and present. You are not in a mess because God is weak, or because the gods of Babylon are strong.” This is a good reminder for us when our world is in a mess, or when our lives are in a mess. It is not because God is weak, or because the powers of this world have any power over God.

In reading Ezekiel chapter one we also learn that the glory of God is terrifying. While the smallest of animals and the weirdest of bugs can scatter a room of humans, four creatures are seen which must have struck terror. Notice also the noise:

24 When they moved, I heard the sound of their wings like the sound of mighty waters, like the thunder of the Almighty, a sound of tumult like the sound of an army; when they stopped, they let down their wings. (Ezekiel 1:24)

The noise is part of the terror for anyone who has lived through a tornado, or stood next to a railway crossing for a fast moving train with horns at full blast. This was not just a vision, but an experience for Ezekiel, a frightening one. The people of God in Babylon have good reason for fear; God is a God of judgement. They are not in captivity because God is weak or the gods of Babylon are stronger. They are there because they are reaping what they have sown. The glory of God is terrifying because the justice of God is perfect.

Where is God When Life is a MessSo what is being clarified here? We could sum it up with “People of God, examine yourselves and see why you are in a mess. Not because God is weak, or because the Babylonian gods are stronger, but because you have been in rebellion against God.” This will be a theme of the prophecy of Ezekiel. And this is a good reminder to us also; every mess has sin behind it somewhere, even if indirectly.

In reading Ezekiel chapter one we also learn that the glory of God is comforting. Think of Genesis chapter 3 where Adam and Eve experienced the consequence of their sin in being banished from the Garden of Eden. It is an amazing fact the Bible does not end there, indeed that is only the beginning. Adam and Eve go on to experience the presence of God. In addition to experiencing the consequence of their sin, they go on to experience the consequence of God’s love. Life in the presence of God goes on! Likewise, in Ezekiel the people of God experience the consequence of the sin of the nation, yet God is present with them in captivity! That the Temple might be destroyed is not of great consequence to God. He can be anywhere and there is nowhere He would rather be than with His people. That was the point of the Temple in the fist place. His presence is an expression of His love, whether at the Temple in Jerusalem, or in captivity in Babylon.

After seeing and experiencing the creatures, the wheels, and the fiery figure on the throne Ezekiel mentions a rainbow as part of his summary in verse 28. This was a reminder of God’s covenant promises. Yes, God’s people would suffer the consequences of not keeping their covenant promises, but yes, God was still faithful and would continue to keep His covenant promises.

So what is being clarified here? We could summarize it with “O people of God, despite the fact you are reaping what you have sown, there will be a future.” This is a good reminder for us, that when our lives get in a mess, even when it is a mess of our own making, God will love us through the mess. He remains faithful.

One last thought on Ezekiel chapter 1. There is a similar vision in Revelation chapters 4 and 5 where the glory of God is seen again. The themes of justice and mercy running through Ezekiel’s prophecy point forward to God’s perfect justice and perfect love coming together in Christ Jesus, “the Lamb that was slain”. At the end of his vision Ezekiel fell flat on his face. At the sight of Jesus in the vision from Revelation the elders fall down to worship. Falling on our faces is still the appropriate response to the glory of God. As the writer of Hebrews says about Jesus:

He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. (Hebrews 1:3)

Yes the world can get messy. But God is not weak. Neither is His love.

(Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)


Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor whose writing you can check out at this link.

April 18, 2015

Being Assured and Giving Others Assurance of Salvation

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:30 pm
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I chose this to run today simply because we don’t hear enough these days on this topic, the assurance of our salvation. The author is Paul Steele at the blog Paul’s Ponderings whose writing first appeared here four years ago, and you can click the title below to read this at source.

How can I have assurance of my salvation?

This is a common question many Christians have. I think it stems from the reality that we are saved by grace through our faith. In the minds of most people (for many years this described me as well), being “saved by grace through faith” feels like salvation was out of our hands. This means salvation is a gift from God, and we receive this great and wonderful gift through our belief.

The problem with viewing salvation this way is that there is no tangible standard for us to know that we have truly received the gift of salvation. If it was based on what we did, at least we could keep a score card on our behavior so we could know if we were living up to the right standard.

Without a tangible standard, many people rely on a subjective experience to tell them that they are saved. The problem with this is that over time the feeling of the experience fades, and we are left with the same question: Am I saved?

Life is going to take us through a series of ups and downs. In one moment we feel like we are close to God and that our salvation is secure, but the next moment we wonder if God has abandoned us. If we are going to rely on a subjective experience as evidence for our salvation, then we are going to constantly doubt our salvation. What we need is an objective standard to tell us that we are saved, and thus give us confidence of our salvation.

The way I moved away from the constant roller coaster of doubt and certainty of my salvation was to focus on God. Our salvation begins and ends with God and His grace, and therefore I can know I am saved because of God. The apostle Paul wrote,

“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (Philippians 1:6; NLT)

We can trust God to save us and mold us into the people He wants us to be.

Why can we have this confidence? This confidence comes from the fact God is a Covenant Keeper and we are in a covenant relationship with Him. Deuteronomy 7:9 says,

“Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands.” (NLT)

Being in a covenant relationship with God gives us assurance of our salvation. How do we know if we are in a covenant relationship with God? We enter into a covenant relationship with God through faith and repentance as expressed through baptism (Acts 2:38; Romans 6:1-8). The New Testament is clear on the importance of baptism, and baptism is always connected to the ideas of faith and repentance. That means without faith and repentance (trusting in God and declaring your loyalty to Him alone) baptism is meaningless. Baptism is the means of entering into a covenant with God when it is accompanied by faith and repentance.

The guarantee God gives us that we are in a covenant relationship with Him is the Holy Spirit. The sign that the Jews were in a covenant relationship with God was circumcision, but through Jesus that has changed. The apostle Paul wrote;

“And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago.” (Ephesians 1;13; NLT)

The Holy Spirit circumcises our hearts and sets us apart as God’s people.

If we break the terms of the covenant, these terms are summarized in the two great commandments of loving God and loving people, God promises to forgives us (1 John 1:9). He also gave us a way to renew our covenant with Him: Communion. We enter into the covenant by being united with Jesus, the covenant sacrifice. In communion we affirm our intention to be part of God’s covenant by consuming the body and blood of the covenant sacrifice (Luke 22:19-20).

The objective standard of being in a covenant relationship with God should give us assurance of the salvation that we have.

Another way we can be certain of our salvation is through life change. We can’t follow Jesus and be guided by the Holy Spirit without our life being changed. As we reflect on our lives we should be able to see that there is a change that has happened.

The book of 1 John was written to help us to be confident about our salvation:

“I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13; NLT).

One of the common themes through the book is the love that we have for each other. For instance 1 John 3:14 says;

“If we love our brothers and sisters who are believers, it proves that we have passed from death to life. But a person who has no love is still dead.” (NLT)

If we want to know whether or not we are saved, then the evidence is going to be seen in the love we show to other people.

Can we be confident that we are saved? Yes, we can live with confidence, knowing that God has saved us. This confidence doesn’t come from a subjective experience that may fade over time. Rather, it comes from the objective standard of God’s faithfulness. We can know we are saved because God keeps His covenant. Our hope for the future can be a confident hope because it is founded on the covenant faithfulness of God, and that is the firmest foundation we can have for our faith.

Check out more of Paul’s writing at Paul’s Ponderings.