Christianity 201

July 19, 2018

Slimeball Sibling (How Not to React When a Brother Reaps What He Has Sown)

by Clarke Dixon

How do you respond when someone suffers a mess of their own making? Do you find your attitude is different when it is one of your own, when a loved one suffers the consequence of bad or even immoral decision? Are you gracious and understanding or do you say “I told you so”?

When foolish people are brought down, we might cut them some slack: “there may be reasons, pressures and influences that we know nothing about”. Or we might think “good, they are getting what they deserve”. Sometimes we are gracious and sometimes we add to the pain the already suffer.

In the Bible we are given an example of how not to be a brother. Back in Genesis we read about two brothers, Esau and Jacob. Esau’s descendants were the Edomites. Jacob’s descendants were the Israelites which split into two kingdoms, Israel to the North and Judah to the South. The Edomites were neighbours and relatives to the the people of Judah when Babylon came along and destroyed Jerusalem and the temple. Here is what the Lord had to say to the Edomites through the prophet Obadiah:

10 “Because of the violence you did
to your close relatives in Israel [Hebrew is “your brother Jacob],
you will be filled with shame
and destroyed forever.
11 When they were invaded,
you stood aloof, refusing to help them.
Foreign invaders carried off their wealth
and cast lots to divide up Jerusalem,
but you acted like one of Israel’s enemies.
12 “You should not have gloated
when they exiled your relatives to distant lands.
You should not have rejoiced
when the people of Judah suffered such misfortune.
You should not have spoken arrogantly
in that terrible time of trouble.
13 You should not have plundered the land of Israel
when they were suffering such calamity.
You should not have gloated over their destruction
when they were suffering such calamity.
You should not have seized their wealth
when they were suffering such calamity.
14 You should not have stood at the crossroads,
killing those who tried to escape.
You should not have captured the survivors
and handed them over in their terrible time of trouble. Obadiah 1:10-14 (NLT)

Out of all the nations, Edom was the closest in blood relationship to the suffering people of Jerusalem. According to the prophet Obadiah, the Edomites ought to have helped rather than heaping on more hurt. Edom acted more like an enemy rather than a brother. Do we serve up opportunities for healing, or dish out further hurt? When our loved ones mess up, do they feel they can come to us? Does our presence feel like a safe place, where they can experience grace and growth? Or does coming to us just feel like yet another war zone?

“But they deserve it!” That might be our next thought. However, Judah deserved the consequences. God had said all along that if He was kept in the picture, He would be in the picture. But if not, then the people were on their own among stronger empires bent on expansion. Judah messed up and paid the consequences. Yet Scripture records that Edom still did the wrong thing in heaping on more hurt rather than helping. When fallen loved ones reap what they have sown, it is better for us to focus on what we are sowing rather than on what they are reaping. We have the opportunity to sow good seeds of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23 NLT). We have the opportunity to help.

So we ought to be gracious to loved ones when they suffer the consequences of their misdeeds, but we can stick it to to everyone else, right? Not so fast. Esau and Jacob parted ways long before Edom heaped hurt on Judah. In fact well over a thousand years had passed which makes these “brothers” very distant relatives indeed! God expected Edom to be helpful rather than hurtful despite that distance.

How big is our family? Those of us who are Christians are part of a very large family. Having been adopted into the family of God we have brothers and sisters in Christ all around the world. Many of them may seem distant. Some of them might seem odd. Some of them might even make us want to shake our heads in disgust. Nevertheless, are we giving space for healing when we see a brother or sister in Christ suffer a mess of their own making?

Our family is actually even bigger than that; much, much, bigger:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. Ephesians 3:14-15 (NRSV)

Never mind just loving our relatives, Jesus taught us to love our enemies as well!

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven … Matthew 5:43-45 (NRSV)

Not only did Jesus teach it, he did it:

For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. Romans 5:10 (NLT)

Fact is, you have never had an enemy you are not related to.

How can we start living out this message from Obadiah? Since we tend to be more gracious and understanding toward our own, we can start by treating everyone like one of our own. When people get themselves into a mess of their own making, ask, “what if it was my son or daughter, mother, father, brother, sister? What if it was the person I most admire and love in the world?” Keeping in mind the Golden Rule we can also ask “what if it was me? Would I want everyone saying ‘serves you right’ or could I use a good friend right now?”

We know that love for family is important. Being gracious and understanding is part of that. We get that. We want to help rather than cause further hurt. What we tend to forget is just how big our family really is. Love for family is super important. Grace within family is super important. You have a big, big family.


Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. (I also got to hear this sermon preached live at Clarke’s church!)

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based (32 minutes).

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

March 9, 2018

Should Christians Take Each Other to Court?

We’re paying our third visit to the online resource, Start2Finish.org which includes various blogs, podcasts and Bible study materials materials available on everything from a phone app to print. They feature various authors, but our writer today, Keith Harris, was presented here previously.

Lawsuits & Social Media

Should a Christian file a lawsuit against another Christian? Is there ever a time when you believe it is appropriate to the courts in order to settle a dispute with a brother or sister? Suppose a fellow Christian was a financial planner who handled accounts for church members. If this planner misappropriates, mismanages, or embezzles funds from a church member, is this worthy of taking him to court?

If you are like me, your mind recalls Paul mentioning something about the topic of taking a brother to court. It is in his first letter to the Christians in Corinth. “When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints” (1 Corinthians 6:1)? He goes on to ask, “So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church…Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers?” (1 Corinthians 6:4-6). Why do you think Paul is so concerned about a brother taking another brother to court? Why would it really matter? If a brother or sister has been wronged by another person, even if that person is a fellow Christian, doesn’t the offended party have a legal right to seek restitution? The question of legality arises in the context of Paul’s discussion on this subject. “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful” (1 Corinthians 6:12). Historically, we have not connected this statement with the concerns raised regarding lawsuits. But I have become more and more convinced that this entire chapter deals with the foundational elements of Paul’s concern with unity among the Christians in Corinth.

So how do these issues which Paul addresses in this letter relate us today? Is there any parallel we can draw between their context and our own? I think the connection becomes clear when we begin to see Paul’s juxtaposition of the unrighteous and the saints. Check out 1 Corinthians 6:1 again, “When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints?” He goes on to offer examples of those that are unrighteous: sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, greedy, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Paul says these will not inherit the kingdom of God. This list of examples of those that are unrighteous is place just prior to his clear statement concerning those within the church at Corinth. “And such were some of you” (1 Corinthians 6:11). You used to be numbered among the unrighteous. You were once involved in these unrighteous activities. But…

“…you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).

Paul once again presses the saints up against the unrighteous. Why? His point appears to be helping these Christians see how foolish it is to bring grievances among brothers and sisters before those who have no interest or standing in the church. This picture, graphic as it may be, is illustrated in Paul’s exhortation to not be joined to a prostitute. It is the picture of one who has been cleansed of filth and dross taking a dip in a sewage pond. What sense does that make?

Paul concludes his thoughts by exhorting, “So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20). This is a statement that incorporates all that he has stated to this point in the larger context of this chapter. Refrain from joining with the unrighteous. This is not Paul saying they should avoid all contact with those outside of Christ. After all, how would they accomplish the will of God if they never interacted with those outside the faith. Basically (and I understand I have greatly simplified this), what Paul is saying is that there is no reason why two Christians should take their grievances to those outside the church. Doing this would be the same as a Christian joining his/her body with a prostitute. For the Body of Christ to do this fails to bring glory to God.

Now…what about our context? I am saddened by the vast number of Christians who rant and rave on social media. Often, message of disdain and disrespect fill the news feed. And all too often, Christians pour their hearts out over issues within the church. And they do this in front of the whole world. Is it possible that doing so is congruent with what Paul addresses among the Corinthians? Why is it that so many have no problem airing their differences and grievances regarding the Body of Christ on social media for all to see? And I mean all to see. Paul would say, “So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame” (1 Corinthians 6:4-5). Without a doubt, Paul’s major concern throughout his ministry was the church. This letter, this discussion, is no different. What do our actions and words say about the Church for which Jesus died? What impact are we having on the unrighteous? How are we influencing the unrighteous? Maybe closer to home…what impact are we having on our children/teenagers? How are we influencing them?

Technology, even social media, can be very beneficial. Think about the number of people that can be reached with the message of Christ through these avenues. Think about the number of people that can be turned away from God through these avenues. We must be diligent to remember the power of a word. Our message must be one of love and hope. We cannot allow ourselves to be deceived into thinking that it is okay to abuse and slander a brother or sister. It is not okay to overtly, or passively (as is the case with far too many), berate a fellow Christian. When we speak/type/post, we must allow the love of God to penetrate every word. So glorify God with your body. Glorify God with your speech.

October 6, 2017

Priorities and Prayers

Today we’re reconnecting with Melissa Turner at Tin Roof Sky. She doesn’t post often, but she has great insights. There are two posts for you today. Click the titles below to read at source.

Priorities

“But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do,
    what God is looking for in men and women.
It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor,
    be compassionate and loyal in your love,
And don’t take yourself too seriously—
    take God seriously.” Micah 6:8 (MSG)

Recently, my good friend Google alerted me that there was an accident ahead on my route to work. My daughter and I had to take an alternate route through a residential section.

She was marveling at the sizes of the houses we passed. (Probably because our own humble abode comes in at well under 1000 square feet). I told her that as adults, we have to decide how much house we NEED versus how much we WANT. We have to prioritize, and make sure we’re meeting the needs of ourselves and our family, without going overboard in an attempt to impress someone or fill a hole in our own selves.

Above all, I told her, our priorities need to line up with God’s.

He hasn’t made a mystery of what’s important to Him. In Micah 6:8, He says He wants us to be fair, be just, be compassionate, and be loyal. Oh yeah, and to be humble before the Lord, instead of thinking too highly of ourselves.

God makes it sound so simple, doesn’t He? Yet we constantly have to be reminded of His priorities, as the ones the world offers try to invade and take over.

Let’s reassess today. Let’s make sure that what we’re doing, for Him and for others, lines up with His words. Let’s set an example for our families and the world around us by the way that we order our lives.

Express Delivery

“In the evening his disciples went down to the sea, got in the boat, and headed back across the water to Capernaum. It had grown quite dark and Jesus had not yet returned. A huge wind blew up, churning the sea. They were maybe three or four miles out when they saw Jesus walking on the sea, quite near the boat. They were scared senseless, but he reassured them, “It’s me. It’s all right. Don’t be afraid.” So they took him on board. In no time they reached land—the exact spot they were headed to.”
John 6:16‭-‬21 MSG

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:

We serve a God of suddenly. 

Sometimes, our deliverance takes awhile. God is waiting on us to “get it,” to work though a process, to grow to a certain point.

Other times, He shows up and shows out. He comes in and like a the supernatural being He is, saves the day in one fell swoop.

Now, I don’t know why He chooses to make us wait sometimes, and delivers instantaneously others. I don’t know why some people get miraculous healings that doctors can’t explain, and others get their healing on the other side of Glory. What I do know is that God not only has the totality of our lives in view, but everyone else’s as well.

I want all my prayers to be answered “jiffy quick” as my Pastor’s wife is fond of saying. I want Him to bend the laws of gravity, time, and space for me every single time. But I have to remember that He is in charge, not me. And whether He snatches me up out of my problem, or works His plan out through my waiting, He will give me whatever I need at that exact moment.

 

November 12, 2016

Scales of Justice

Let God weigh me on the scales of justice, for he knows my integrity.
 -Job 31:6 NLT

The LORD demands accurate scales and balances; he sets the standards for fairness.
– Proverbs 16:11 NLT

The website keyway.ca notes that “While the traditional “scale of justice” is usually regarded as a man-made notion, it actually had its origin in the Holy Scriptures.

scales-of-justiceThe idea here is not a general sense of justice (i.e. “do justice, love mercy”) but rather something more measurable; something that can be quantified. As reflected in a large number of translations of Prov. 16:11, the reference weight was placed in a bag and then the thing to be measured was placed in a bag on the other side and the measurement conducted. (Other translations use pouch or sack.) Many translations and commentaries note that the reference weight or standard is His, the various stones comprising it belong to him.

But there’s also a sense here if practicality. In other words, instead of a more abstract sense of justice, there is an everyday application not to be missed. Thus Eugene Peterson’s Message Bible says, “God cares about honesty in the workplace; your business is his business.” It’s easy for us to appear to have the highest ethical standard; to defend certain Christian principles; but to then be basically ripping people off in our businesses, especially if we are the purveyor of goods or services.

Matthew Henry writes, “God takes more exact notice of us than we do of ourselves; let us therefore walk circumspectly. He carefully avoided all sinful means of getting wealth. He dreaded all forbidden profit as much as all forbidden pleasure.” (italics added)

The Pulpit Commentary notes that we are within our rights to spiritualize our various types of transactions we conduct with others, quoting the verse in the Latin Vulgate: “”The weights and the balance are judgments of the Lord;” in other words, God is present in our various marketplace dealings.

Then, a footnote in the Geneva Study Bible takes this even further, “If they are true and just, they are God’s work, and he delights in it, but otherwise if they are false, they are the work of the devil, and to their condemnation that use them.”

It’s interesting to note that in Daniel 5, when “the handwriting on the wall” appears for King Belshazzar, his life of debauchery is expressed not using the adjectives we might use to describe so despicable a person, but using the the language of mathematics.

This is the inscription that was written: mene, mene, tekel, parsin  (:25)

The phrase mene, mene, tekel, upharsin is usually translated numbered, numbered, weighed, divided. I’ve also seen it referenced as number, number, measure, balance. Thus the conclusion, you are weighed in the balances and found wanting.

None of us wish to be found deficient (NASB) before God. We need to see to it in those areas where our integrity is measurable and quantifiable.


various commentaries used today sourced at BibleHub.com

 

 

June 15, 2016

The Uncomfortable Message of Repentance

Clarke Dixon continues his series in Ezekiel… click this link to read at source.

•••by Clarke Dixon

The Church is called to deliver an uncomfortable message. If we look to Peter’s first sermon to the people on the Day of Pentecost following the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus we will find a key word. Upon being asked “what should we do?” (Acts 2:37), the very first word out of Peter’s mouth is “Repent” (Acts 2:38). This has been a central part of the Church’s message to the world ever since. The word “repent” literally means ‘to have a change of mind’ and the Church is to call people all over the world to have a change of mind in their worldview, and in their ethics. This does not sit well with everybody and needless to say many Christians find this message of repentance to be uncomfortable. Given that the culture of Canada is slowly but surely slipping away from Judeo-Christian values, a proper call to repentance will become even more uncomfortable for the Church in Canada in the days to come. Perhaps we would rather have a comfortable message, like “every religious worldview is valid,” or “God does not really care about how you live”. But we must go with an honest message, not a comfortable one.

Ezekiel was called to deliver an uncomfortable message as a prophet and there are some things we can learn from his experience. Let us consider the following passage:

You shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear; for they are a rebellious house. 8 But you, mortal, hear what I say to you; do not be rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you. 9 I looked, and a hand was stretched out to me, and a written scroll was in it. 10 He spread it before me; it had writing on the front and on the back, and written on it were words of lamentation and mourning and woe. (Ezekiel 2:7-10 emphasis mine)

This is going to be uncomfortable! While Biblical scholars debate whether Ezekiel was to literally eat the scroll, or rather if it is meant to be taken figuratively with Ezekiel knowing well the word he is to speak, there is no doubt about one thing. This will be a bitter message. The people will not want to hear it, and no doubt Ezekiel did not want to deliver it. Sounds a bit like the message of repentance the Church is called to deliver today. However, let us read on:

1 He said to me, O mortal, eat what is offered to you; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel. 2 So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. 3 He said to me, Mortal, eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it. Then I ate it; and in my mouth it was as sweet as honey. (Ezekiel 2:1-3 emphasis mine)

Bitter words of “lamentation and mourning and woe” end up being as “sweet as honey”? Could it be that the call to repentance is sweet? Let us consider why the scroll is sweet.

“Words of lamentation and mourning and woe” are sweet because apathy is bitter. There is nothing worse than a broken relationship with God. If you don’t believe me, ask Adam and Eve. Our hearts break for people when they experience health troubles and the like, but do our hearts break for people who experience a broken relationship with God? To be unaware of, or without care for, the judgement the lost are facing, and so to not share the good news of God’s love and salvation in Christ would be a bitter thing. To hear the word of woe and so have a broken heart for the lost is sweet indeed.

“Words of lamentation and mourning and woe” are sweet because injustice is bitter. Mention the justice and judgement of God and eyes roll. Yet when a criminal gets off on a technicality we cry out for justice. People naturally tend to have a keen sense of justice, it is part of having a conscience. Throughout the world you can hear cries for justice, it is something humanity yearns for. If you love justice you are really going to love God, for his justice is perfect, more thorough than any legal system, more keen that any judge, more to be trusted than any jury. The scroll is sweet because God’s justice is perfect.

“Words of lamentation and mourning and woe” are sweet because a missed opportunity is bitter. Contrary to what many believe, the prophets of the Old Testament did not share predictions of the future to satisfy curiosity. Rather prophets speak on behalf of God, often pointing to the future so that people could make wise choices in the present. Ezekiel is to bring a message of woe, he is to help the exiled people see that they are now experiencing the consequence of their sin by being in exile. But Ezekiel also will deliver a message of hope, God will remain faithful to His covenant promises. The hearers of Ezekiel’s message, in hearing the bad and the good, have the opportunity to make a good decision regarding their standing with God. The Church, in its prophetic role, is to speak of the coming judgement, and the love and grace of God in Christ, so that people can make the wise decision of facing the future with Christ on their side. In fact Christ has already shown He is on everyone’s side through the cross, but those who reject Him show that they do not want to be on His. It is a bitter thing to miss the opportunity for reconciliation with one’s Maker. To be motivated to think through all the implications of one’s relationship with God is sweet. The scroll is sweet because it speaks of the God-given opportunity to experience grace.

“Words of lamentation and mourning and woe” are sweet because being stuck is bitter. The yucky feeling of regret can lead us to a better place. Over the past three years I have lost 107 pounds. Mind you, I am not 107 pounds lighter for my weight has been up and down like a yo-yo and I have gained weight over that time as well. But had I never experienced the yucky feeling of regret I would be well over 300 pounds by now. To be feeling healthier has been sweet. While the evil one can use regret to keep us in a bitter place, the Holy Spirit uses regret to change us and bring us to a sweeter place. The Holy Spirit uses regret to drive people to repentance, to lead people to that place of being unhappy living in sin, and wanting to live in Christ instead. Regret leads people into the arms of God, and there is no sweeter place to be. The scroll is sweet because it un-glues people.

The Church has a similar calling in the world as Ezekiel did for God’s people in exile. We are to call people to repentance. Throughout history being a prophet has been an uncomfortable thing, but truly, the message of repentance is very sweet.

(Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)

 

 

May 10, 2016

The Bible Project: An Overview of the Book of Joel

If you haven’t already seen the fine work being done on video by The Bible Project, we couldn’t help observe that this is a perfect fit for us at Christianity 201. This overview of the writing of Joel (one of the ‘The Twelve’ or what we call the minor prophets) provides a great overview of this book.

Note: I would love to post the whole series here, but I know you come here daily for a teaching or inspirational writing that is written out in words, and some devotional websites can easily get lazy and just post videos. Still, feel free to use the comments or the contact page to let me know how this works for you. And really consider checking out The Bible Project on YouTube (link above) or subscribing to the channel.

December 3, 2014

What Science Cannot Accomplish, God Can

Regular contributor Clarke Dixon begins a series of Advent meditations. Click the title to read at his blog, Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon. (Should that be Shrunken?)

Finding Hope

small__5645102295We Canadians can tend to be a hopeful bunch. Perhaps for some of us it is learned through the yearly reaffirmation of that hopeful phrase “there is always next year” when the Toronto Maple Leafs are knocked out of contention. Perhaps it is our yearly experience of spring following a hard winter. Whatever it is, we are hopeful.

Where do we place our greatest hope? Some might say on winning the lottery, but when you look around, science must be near the top of the list. And for good reason. Because of science we getting better at treating diseases and closer to finding cures. Because of science we enjoy quite good health care and many other comforts. As Christians we celebrate science and encourage our youth to pursue it with excellence. It is a very hopeful and hope inspiring enterprise. But it is limited:

Science cannot lift the shroud of death. Even if a cure is found for all kinds of disease, we will die from something else, old age if nothing else. Old age is an age old problem. Even if we produce some kind of miracle cure for aging, people will still die from violence, accidents, or disasters. Science can help us live longer but what it cannot do is keep us from dying. Compare this to hope placed in God:

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
(Isaiah 25:6-8a NRSV)

This prophecy of Isaiah points forward to the coming of Jesus, whose death and resurrection took place on that very mountain of Zion. His resurrection points to the fact that God has power over death. That is a power we cannot replicate through our best scientific endeavours. Only the Creator has the power to mess with the creation to that extent.

And only God has the ability to deal with the core problem that leads to death. We think the core problem is that our bodies are prone to failure, and so we seek physical cures. But think back to Adam and Eve and the banishment from the Garden of Eden and the introduction of death. We die because our spirits are prone to failure, we die because of sin. Science can help us deal with some of our physical problems, but only God can deal with our sin problem. He does, has done, and will do:

 When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
  “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ
(1 Corinthians 15:54-57 NRSV)

Science cannot wipe away all tears from all faces. Science can help wipe away tears, and does keep certain tears from streaming. How thankful I am for what good science has meant for my child with Type 1 diabetes. Just a century ago grief filled tears were the only prognosis for a parent. But here also, science is limited. Though science can save a good number of people from the effects of disease, how far does it go to ensure people do not experience the effects of injustice, fighting, hatred, and war. Tears have always been with us, but with God things will be different:

Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
(Isaiah 25:8b NRSV)

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”
And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
(Revelation 21:3-5 NRSV)

God, who is Creator, is also the One who is re-Creator. “Every tear” includes every tear ever shed by His people.

Science cannot take away disgrace from people. We should mention here that it is not science itself that gives hope. It is good people using science for good ends that inspire hope. The advances made possible through science can also be used for evil. If we look at the history of humanity, it is a history of bright moments and achievement. But it is also a history of disgrace. While the name Nobel is often associated with awards for pursuing peace, it is also associated with the creation of deadly weapons, which have been used to maintain peace and wage wars alike. Such is the history of humanity, a mixture of beauty and disgrace. But while we continually fall into disgrace, it was in God’s heart to lift us to a place of grace:

. . . and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.
(Isaiah 25:8c)

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
(Romans 8:1 NRSV)

In no moment of world history has humanity fallen into disgrace further than when we lifted up Jesus to crucify him. And in no moment of history has God’s grace been more evident.

It is good to have hope in scientific discovery and advance. But as good as it is, it is limited. I am reminded of a van we once owned which proudly displayed a “limited” badge. We bought it with some excitement, but years of ownership proved its limitations alright. It was limited in power, in endurance, and in reliability. It earned its “limited” status well! We approach science with great excitement over its ability to inspire hope. But it is limited. When we stand before the Creator we have sinned against, our only hope will be in the salvation revealed in Jesus Christ.

It will be said on that day,
Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
(Isaiah 25:9 NRSV)

February 28, 2014

Having the Understanding to Know God

NIV Jer. 9:23 This is what the Lord says:

“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
or the strong boast of their strength
or the rich boast of their riches,
24 but let the one who boasts boast about this:
that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,”
declares the Lord.

I chose today’s scripture passage first, and then scanned the internet to see who had done a good job of presenting this passage. That led me to a sermon notes blog by New Zealand’s Sam Hight. What follows is the first 60% of the article, you’ll want to click through to read the entire piece.

Boast in the Lord


I want to break this passage down into manageable bits to start, just to make sure that we understand the general idea of what is being said.

So first, we have three things which we are not to boast in: wisdom, might, and riches. Second, we are told the thing which we should boast in: our understanding and knowledge of the LORD. Third, that particular understanding and knowledge of the LORD is given some more detail to help us get the message properly.

That seems pretty straight forward… But is it? Well, maybe it is, but we should take a careful look, just in case we miss something.

One of the biggest problems among Christians today, is that the words of the Bible are not considered carefully enough. People who say that they care a great deal about God don’t take the time to really read what he has said to us in the Bible.

It’s too easy to walk away with just a general impression of what is written. An impression which is more in line with your preconceived ideas which you have brought to the text. If we really want to learn from God we must be willing to have our ideas shaped by scripture, and not just look to support what we already believe with a vague interpretation of a verse which seems to support our view.
As the saying goes, “the devil is in the detail.”

So, some questions to get us thinking deeper about this passage:

  1. How is this boasting supposed to work in practice? What does it look like? Do we walk around yelling “I know God, I know God”? Do we wear a T-shirt or a wristband which proclaims our allegiance? Is that boasting correctly?
  2. How often should we be boasting? Can we boast all the time or are there certain occasions which suit boasting best?
  3. What are these things that God practices: “steadfast love”, “justice”, and “righteousness”?
  4. How does God practice these things? Does it mean that he needs to keep trying until he gets it correct? That sort of practice? Well obviously not, because God is perfect and unchanging… so what then?

That’s a lot of questions, and we could ask more if we wanted. So maybe it isn’t as simple as we might have first thought… It just highlights that we have to take the time to read and think carefully.

Let’s take a look at BOASTING

In my preparation, the more I considered this passage, the more I realised that I didn’t know what it actually meant to boast in knowing and understanding God.
Prior to reading this scripture, my understanding of boasting was that boasting is always a bad thing. But what we find here is that boasting is not always a bad thing because we can boast in God and it’s considered a good thing! It seems that boasting itself is neither good nor bad, but what you boast in is what makes it good or bad.

So what exactly is boasting?
Psalm 34:1-3 gives us a quick picture of boasting the right way. Let’s read it:

1 I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
2  My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
let the humble hear and be glad.
3  Oh, magnify the Lord with me,
and let us exalt his name together!

I really enjoy that last line: “let us exalt his name together!”

So boasting about something is when you communicate that that something is important, and in doing so you are usually outspoken about that thing. You stand up at every opportunity and make a big deal of it. For example, you might buy something new, a new car perhaps, and you are very proud of your new car and you take every opportunity to speak of how great a car it is. It’s so fast, it has a really loud stereo, what a fantastic safety rating, you got it at the lowest price, and so on. People might start to get sick of hearing about it from you because you go on and on and on and on and on; and you keep saying it in such a way that you show to them that you think your car is better than theirs!
Boasting about a new car like this would be a bad sort of boasting.

Now, I want to make a distinction here, because it’s not always bad to talk about your new car. It is bad if you talk about it like it is more important than it really is, and it is bad to talk about it to the point that people are annoyed with you. You have to watch people’s reactions to what you say, and if it clearly annoys them in the way I’ve described then you need to stop. It’s just polite in most situations anyway. You also have to check yourself – to see whether you are making an idol out of your car, your new phone, or whatever it may be.

Okay, so we know what boasting is, and we’ve seen some good boasting and some bad; but what about these three things that we are told not to boast in? Wisdom seems like a good thing. The Bible constantly tells us that it is a good thing, especially in the book of Proverbs. But we are not to see it as something to constantly speak about or to deliberately remind people about in ourselves. We’re not to tell people that we are wise. The same goes for might and riches. They are not bad things, a lot of good can be done for God and for his people using wisdom, might, and wealth, but we shouldn’t make them our focus when talking about ourselves and we shouldn’t be deliberately drawing attention to ourselves through them. Why? Because doing so glorifies our self. It shows a lack of humility. If we boast about our wisdom, our might, and our riches (or our new car), we are effectively boasting about our self, and raising our own importance above God and that is very wrong.

The better way, if you absolutely must talk about these things, and sometimes we must, especially when educating the next generation to come, is to speak of them as blessings from God. Or wait until someone notices them and then use the opportunity to glorify the Giver of wisdom, the Giver of might, the Giver of wealth.

I really want you to get this: It is not wrong to be wise, to be mighty, to be wealthy… but it is wrong to be using those aspects of yourself to make yourself to be seen as more important than you really are… to be making an idol out of your giftings. It can be a fine line between being honest about your God-given abilities and making too much of yourself in a not so humble way; but you should never define yourself primarily by your wisdom, your wealth, or your great achievements.

It might help to remember that, in any case at all, the person who understands, and knows God, is always in a far better position than the person who is wise, mighty, and rich.

When we talk about ourselves, the things that we boast about the most are what we become known for. What do you think you are known for?

Clearly, every person on the planet who is honouring God wants to be known for their faith in him, but let’s tease this out a little more by presenting the different options of what a person can actually boast in and be known for.

A person can be known in the way that secular society and non-Christians want to be known

Society would have you believe that it is foolish to believe in Jesus Christ, and that it is better to be known for being rich and smart. In fact, even a lot of religious people think it’s foolish to believe in Jesus Christ, and they put their “wisdom” above him and over his word. They say that man evolved from a common ancestor to apes and that the Bible is just being metaphorical or poetic when it talks about six days of Creation and Jesus performing miracles. Their wisdom is more reliable than the Bible to them, and this becomes their boast.

But know that their judgement will come. Jeremiah and the other prophets speak of the judgement which will come on those who boast about their false wisdom and who claim to be religious and follow God.

That’s awfully negative, but it is truth, and we shouldn’t shy away from the truth in shame. But that negative is not for the people of God. We have a positive boast and a positive eternity to look forward to.

How else can a person be known? What about as someone who call them self a Christian but makes the wrong things their focus?

Do you want to be known as someone who boasts about the false prosperity gospel of health, wealth and happiness, someone who ignores the obvious truth that we must suffer? 2 Timothy 2 says to share in the suffering as a good soldier of Christ. And Jesus said in Matthew 19 that only with difficulty will a rich person enter the Kingdom of Heaven. “God, make us poor if that will help us enter in!” You won’t hear them saying that!

Do you want to be known for boasting in the latest false revival of false spirituality? You know the ones, where miracles are reported left, right, and center, but nobody can really pin down an actual case. These things are really just people making things happen in their imaginations – many times they genuinely believe, but they’ve had the wool pulled over their eyes. Years ago, and to my shame, I used to be a part of a church where people went up the front for prayer and to feel what they thought was the Spirit and to fall over. God has given us a powerful psyche and we can use it for good or for bad – don’t use it to fool yourself into believing something that is stupid when you look back on it. I thank God that he showed me the error of my ways, and the greatness of his glory – you can’t resist God’s Spirit but you can resist a guy yelling in a mic and pushing you.

It’s sad, but you probably couldn’t count the number of leaders in the last few years who have been at the center of so-called “revivals” and who have lasted a short while before being caught having affairs, stealing money, or falsifying miracles. But let’s move on from that to a far better boast…

A person could instead be known for their love and commitment to God through their boasting of him and his great works:

Let me outline how I think we are meant to boast about the LORD:

[continue reading here]

June 1, 2013

Two Different Measures

As we begin a new month, before we start today, I just want to say how absolutely amazed I am at the people who are blogging Bible study and devotional material on a regular basis. We’ve featured at least a couple of hundred by now, though we probably only see a very small tip of the iceberg; but clearly God is working in the lives of many people in many ways. Though the readership of some may be very small, there is no way — and I say this from personal experience — you can accurately measure what it’s doing for them to be posting material like this each day.

Today’s feature comes from a blog with a creative name re-Ver(sing) Verses; and appeared under the title Deuteronomy 25:15. Click the link to read at source, and again, you’re encouraged to explore the rest of the blog. Also, I need to add that when we feature the writing of others, we usually leave it to you to click through and see any related graphics or pictures, but I had to include this one.  Zec, the author, follows this format each day with a brief, analysis, conclusion and sometimes other sections.

Deuteronomy 25 15

You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.Deuteronomy 25:15 | NIV | Other Versions | Context

Brief

Deuteronomy 25 continues a long string of laws that have been put in place for this new people after they had escaped from captive in Egypt. In particular, Deuteronomy 25 looks into laws dealing with criminals [Deu 25:1-3], a law on animals/tools of labor [Deu 25:4], laws on family [Deu 25:5-12], and laws on justice [Deu 25:13-19]. Zoning in onto the laws on justice, there were two laws stated in this chapter – one on general justice [Deu 25:13-16]; and the other a promise of justice against the Amalekites [Deu 25:17-19]. Focusing on the law on general justice, we shall examine some common tools of the trade – weights and measures as we look into how important it is for us to lead our lives with integrity so that we can enjoy our lives to the fullest in God.

Analysis

accurate and honest weights – Back in those times they use scales and weights to weigh a lot of things – Leviticus tells us about ephahs and hins [Lev 19:36], ephahs a measure of all things dry [Exo 16:36], like corn; hin a measure of all things liquid, like oil or wine [Exo 30:24]. When you do business with somebody else, and you’re selling corn, it is easy for you to cheat a few grams off every buyer for per 100g that you sell. Your hands move so fast to weigh it and sweep them into a bag that your buyers will never find out. Or your weighs and your scales could be weighted, and your buyers would never know – they won’t usually have any means to measure it at home, and even if they do, they usually won’t bother measuring what they bought.

accurate and honest measures – And there are some things that are sold not by weight but by length, like cloth. Recently I had to buy some cloth for an exhibition, and I was trying very hard to keep my eyes on the ruler, but the seller measured it so fast that I wouldn’t be able to tell if he did give me exactly 5 yards, or if I only got a length closer to four-and-a-half yards at the end of it. I’m sure they sold cloth back in the old days, but even till today these inaccurate measures and dishonest weights still exist.

What does the Bible say about them? The Lord detests dishonest scales, but accurate weights find favor with him [Proverbs 11:1]. This is a matter of integrity, and often it’s so easy to gain a little here and there that we tend to do it naturally and think of it as harmless. It isn’t harmless though. It harms your integrity. The Lord frowns on it. It incurs the Lord’s wrath – For the Lord your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly [Deu 25:16]. Let us learn to be honest and have integrity in small things and big things alike.

Symbolically

Bias and deviation – we often hold some kind of prejudice against certain people, and some kind of bias for others. It is easy to be quick to judge somebody just by his race, his size, his face – it is easy for us to have double standards – we often have two different measures in our house [Deu 25:14]. But no – honest weights and accurate measures – let us measure a man for his own worth, and let us weigh a character not with a prefixed weight. Let us not judge, for who are we to judge? Let us accept those of low positions. A man who has integrity has no space in his heart for bias and deviation.

so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you – This is a promise. A promise from God, a promise to be fulfilled by God. Who says we cannot enjoy our lives in the grace of the Lord? In the context of this verse this promise is a huge one – to live long in the promised land – land of milk and honey, a great and fruitful land. Back in those days, people had longer lifespans that we do today, and the promise of a lengthy lifespan is a great one to enjoy. Compare the blessing of longevity for honest people to the curse for the dishonest people – the bloodthirsty and deceitful will not live out half their days

[Psalm 55:23]. When we talk about blessings of longevity, one other instance comes into mind – Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you [Exo 20:12,Deu 5:16|Article]. This is a great blessing that comes after we’ve fulfilled important duties of what God expects of us.

Conclusion

I had to step aside from myself as I studied this verse, for, who am I kidding? I am certainly by far not the most upright person, especially when it comes to little things. I often find my integrity lacking when it comes to little, little things. It is hard to always be gracious and magnanimous all the time – traits which are often demanded by integrity – especially so when you’re short on money or you’re in a hurry. It’s hard to be rooted to the ground, it’s hard not to jump at a fantastic opportunity, albeit a dubious one. It’s hard to call a wrong as a wrong and a right as a right, especially when you might have much to lose.

We must, though. We must. The Bible didn’t say, ‘you should’ or ‘you ought to’. We must – because if we do not, we will incur God’s wrath knowingly. Sometimes what constitutes as right is a blurry picture. Let us steer clear of the grey areas that we so often pounce at, and instead, build our characters based on integrity. If it is right, let us call it as right. If it is wrong, let us call it as wrong and seek to better ourselves next time. It’s hard, but certainly possible.

With God’s grace, let us have honest and accurate weights and measures.


Here’s another post from the same blog, where Zec tackles a tough passage, Matthew 15: 27.

October 28, 2011

Confronting Greed

As I write this, the “Occupy” protests are spreading around the world, and sadly, becoming more confrontational, as neighborhoods try to take back their public spaces, and police grow weary of trying to keep the peace, and the costs associated with so doing.

At the root of the protests is corporate and personal greed.  In many ways, the protests are borne out of the situation in the U.S., the other locations are merely copycat protests.  I don’t know the source of the stats which follow, but they purport to show the ratio between the take home pay of the average worker, and that of the average CEO:

At his blog, Dream Awakener, J. R. Woodward posts this classic prayer against greed in a blog item titled, Praying With Occupy Wall Street.

O Jesus, Who chose a life of poverty and obscurity; 

Grant me the grace to keep my heart detached from the transitory things of this world.

Let it be that henceforth, You are my only treasure, for You are infinitely more precious than all others possessions. My heart is too solicitous for the vain and fleeting things of earth.

Make me always mindful of Your warning words: “What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world, but suffer the loss of his own soul?”

Grant me the grace to keep Your holy example always before my eyes, that I may despise the nothingness of this world and make You the object of all my desires and affections.

Amen.

What should the Christian’s response be to the Occupy movement?  I believe the answer is rooted in Micah 6:8

No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
      and this is what he requires of you:
   to do what is right, to love mercy,
      and to walk humbly with your God. (NLT)