Christianity 201

July 23, 2020

Hallowed Be Thy Name, Rather Than…

by Clarke Dixon

Jesus teaches us to pray “Hallowed be thy name” in other words, to pray for God to be honoured greatly. There are, however, at least two things that happen instead of the “hallowing” of God’s name. They happen now, and they happened back in Bible times.

Let us go back to the Israelites at Mount Sinai, having just been rescued from Egypt:

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the LORD.” They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.

Exodus 32:1-6 (NRSV)

The story of the golden calf is well known, but there is an interesting detail that is easily overlooked. Aaron speaks of a festival to “the LORD.” When English translations capitalize “Lord,” they are following a tradition of not using God’s name as a matter of respect. Therefore LORD is referring not to just some generic God who cannot be known, but to the God who has made himself known within history, the same God the Israelites knew rescued them from Egypt. The golden calf is not a representation of some other god in place of God, but rather is a gross representation of the God who rescued them. It was a misrepresentation.

None of us like to be misrepresented! Neither, of course, does God. The many warnings against fashioning idols in the Bible are not just about substituting other gods for God, but also about misrepresenting God, mixing the Creator with creation. God is to be considered holy, set apart from creation. His name is to be hallowed, not misrepresented.

We might also turn to the book of Job, where following a lengthy theological discussion on why the righteous suffer, God says to Eliphaz,

My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.

Job 42:7 (NRSV)

We don’t like it when people speak falsely about us. Neither does God.

Therefore, let us be careful with God’s Word, and handle the Scriptures well. This means being aware of things like context, genres, and how a passage fits with the whole story. Many have dishonoured God rather than greatly honouring him by not being careful in interpreting God’s Word. If we are praying for God’s name to be hallowed, we will want to do our homework and dig deeper than we sometimes do.

One scholar has written about how for many years, centuries in fact, church leaders interpreted certain Bible passages in anti-Semitic ways. The holocaust was a wake-up call and now practically no one goes with those older interpretations. Let us not make the same mistake.

We may also misrepresent Jesus without even being aware it. For example, images of Jesus as a white man with blue eyes are likely not close to reality. Being a Jew from Judea in that time, Jesus would likely have had a darker skin than is often depicted, brown eyes, and short, dark hair. Worse than misrepresentation in physical appearance though, we nourish Jesus when we imagine him as a Republican or Democrat. We want to be careful we don’t re-create Jesus in our own image. For God’s name to be hallowed, let us go to the Bible, especially the Gospels to discover Jesus.

The second way people can fail to honour God can be found in the Book of Deuteronomy, where we find Moses speaking to the people about entering the promised land:

Take care that you do not forget the LORD your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today. When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery,

Deuteronomy 8:11-14 (NRSV)

Once the Israelites settle in the land, there is great danger that God will be forgotten rather than greatly honored. Why? Good times and affluence. It is little wonder that God is largely forgotten here in Canada in our day!

In good times especially, the temptation is to forget God and our need of him. Then in times of difficulty, we can think we have done good without God up until now, why not keep going? In good times and bad, God, far from being highly honored, is forgotten.

We forget God and take his goodness for granted. I am reminded about my first Air Cadet camp when I was put into a specialty flight that was focused on survival. We were to have a weekend in the woods, but it got rained out. Our motto became “we survive, weather permitting!” I did learn however, that the first thing you do if your plane goes down in the deep woods far from anything, is light a fire. This is to help the rescuers find you. The second thing is not to look for food. The average human can live quite some time without it. What you need to do is find a source of water. We cannot live for long without water. We forget that, because we take water and the need for hydration for granted. We are always hydrating without even being aware of the need. We take water for granted, until we crash the plane.

We can be like that with God. We live with the goodness of God in evidence all around us, with his provision of what we need for life. Yet we can forget him. At least until we crash the plane and stand before him facing eternity. Then we will realize how much we have depended on God. Then we will realize, if we have not before, our need of forgiveness, of reconciliation, of a mediator between ourselves and God, for we have created a chasm between ourselves and God that we cannot fix. God has spanned that gap, through coming to us in Jesus. God has done all we need for us to enjoy eternal life beyond this life.

Just as we can enjoy a glass of water, we can enjoy a relationship with God now. Let us not wait until it is too late to receive reconciliation, forgiveness, grace and love. We don’t want to find ourselves in a crashed plane without any water. We don’t want to find ourselves facing death without God in our lives.

We are to pray “hallowed be thy name.” We hallow God’s name when, instead of forgetting God, we trust God, and enter into a relationship with him through Jesus.

Instead of being misrepresented or forgotten, may May God’s name be greatly honoured among us.


(This reflection comes from an “online worship expression” which has replaced regular services at Clarke’s church during the pandemic. This one was filmed on a hike in the buggy woods so there are bloopers at the end! You can also watch the reflection alone here.)

April 19, 2020

Jonah and the Psalm

by Ruth Wilkinson

I recently posed this question as an informal Facebook poll: “Did the story of Jonah happen literally as it appears in the Bible?” The majority said yes. No surprise. The Church has been defending the story’s miraculous nature since the early Church Fathers. For many, it’s even a test of faith in God’s sovereignty; can you believe God didn’t do it, without believing God couldn’t do it?

JonahintheWhale_RuePeople often say that it “must have happened—Jesus says it did.” Fair statement, but one that needs some thought. What is the relationship between Jesus and Jonah?

Let’s assume that the event literally happened to Jonah, son of Amittai, prophet to King Jeroboam. That Jonah’s psalm in chapter 2 was his prayer, recorded as he prayed it.

Why would Jonah sing his gratitude to God in the middle of this mess? Why does Jonah never expresses remorse?

And where does Jesus fit in?

Now the Lord had appointed a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the fish three days and three nights. Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from inside the fish.

Matthew records Jesus saying: “…For as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish three days and three nights, so the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.” Matthew 12:40 (HCSB)

Both events involve a prophetic man who comes back after three days of being given up for dead, but in all other respects, narrative contrasts are greater than similarities.

  • Jesus is in conversation with God all through his approach to the grave: Jonah is silent until he can’t stand it any more.
  • Jesus laments God’s turning His face away; Jonah is the one who turns his back.
  • Jesus enters his grave as an act of submission: Jonah embraces death as part of his rebellion.
  • Jesus, as God, returns by an act of power and of will: Jonah as vomit.

I called to the Lord in my distress, and He answered me.
I cried out for help in the belly of Sheol; You heard my voice.

Jonah finally breaks his silence. Some suggest he’d been unconscious, others that Jonah physically died and was resurrected, based on Matthew’s “sign of Jonah,” and the reference to Sheol.

For Christians, “Sheol” can bring to mind medieval pictures of Hell, but to Jonah the image is very different. Sheol was beneath the earth, the farthest place from Heaven, where the dead descended to (or were raised from if God opened the gate). Those who entered it became silent shadows, without knowledge, passion, or hope. Yet God ruled there, and in the Messiah’s day the righteous would be released to joyously participate in His kingdom.

Some see a connection here with 1 Peter 3:18-20 and Ephesians 4:9 but there’s no real support in scripture for the idea of Jesus “descending to Hell.” Peter speaks of earth, and Paul of the past, not of metaphysics. Instead, they drive home for us the understanding that Jesus overcame time and space to walk in the dust, and “humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross.”1

You threw me into the depths, into the heart of the seas,
and the current overcame me. All Your breakers and Your billows swept over me.

For modern songwriters, switching ‘voice’ mid-song is a no-no. Not true for the Psalmists who switch from addressing God, to His people, to the writer’s own soul and back again. Jonah moves from speaking about God, to direct, dramatic accusation.

Jesus also recognizes God’s hand in directing his path, but He does it with an attitude of humility and submission that culminates in His prayer, “If this cannot pass… Your will be done,”2 modelling not blame but trust and obedience.

But I said: I have been banished from Your sight,
yet I will look once more toward Your holy temple.
The waters engulfed me up to the neck;
the watery depths overcame me; seaweed was wrapped around my head.

Jonah has what he wanted—to be far from the face of God—and realizes he should have been more careful in his wishing.

He’s bound and suffocating, tangled in something beyond his strength. He echoes Psalm 88: drowning, God’s wrath, an innocent sufferer, accusation, demands for rescue, loneliness.

At His loneliest moment, Jesus draws instead from Psalm 22 and its anticipation of praise in better days. Like Jonah, Jesus grieves God’s absence. Like Jonah, He identifies Himself as an innocent. Unlike Jonah, He actually is one.

At least Jonah is looking in the right direction—back where he came from.

I sank to the foundations of the mountains;
the earth with its prison bars closed behind me forever!
But You raised my life from the Pit, Lord my God!
As my life was fading away, I remembered Yahweh.
My prayer came to You, to Your holy temple.

Jonah continues to deny the cause of his trouble—his own choices. But something has changed.

He’s run as far as he can but still has a connection to the One from whom He ran. He knows to whom he speaks, how he will sound in those ears and what the response is likely to be.

In the darkest place possible, his heart and mind turn to the brightest. In the grip of the worst monster, he looks toward the most loving Father. At his farthest from home, his mind turns to the Holy of Holies, the centre of all Creation.

To “remember” is not just to recall, but to be intentionally mindful. Of the past—what God has done. Of the present—where He meets us. Of the future—in which he awaits.

This is where Jonah comes closest to Jesus, who in His own climactic moment on the cross contradicted His own sense of abandonment and declared the words of Psalm 31:5, “Into Your hand I entrust my spirit…” trusting God to “…redeem me, Lord, God of truth.

Jonah, weakened and lost, cannot save himself but Yahweh-remembered can and will. Jonah is freed from the pit.

Those who cling to worthless idols forsake faithful love

Has Jonah learned anything? Has he changed? He hasn’t admitted his guilt. We see no contrition. Instead, he condemns “those” who forsake faithful love which comes from the God that Jonah fled. So who is he talking about?

Those” sailors whose misfortune it was to give Jonah a ride? They’d been pagan until they met with Yahweh. Afterward they’d sacrificed and made vows to the LORD, a step toward becoming “Hebrews.” But Jonah didn’t see that happen. He was already underwater and sinking. All Jonah knew of them was that they were “those who cling to worthless idols.” Perhaps he assumes they’ve lost their chance.

Those” Ninevites, violent and cruel people? He’s endangered his own life to scuttle their chance at receiving the faithful love of God. Is he hoping that this proverb is a promise?

All that’s left is himself—the prophet who clung to the idol of his nationalistic hatred, forsaking the faithful love of God. Jonah’s not the only prophet to object to his assignment. So did Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel and Jeremiah. He is, however, the only one who upped sticks and ran. The others spoke honestly to God and received His response. Jonah built a wall of silence and refusal between himself and God.

Jonah and Jesus again part ways. Jesus didn’t only accept His role, He chose it. “…He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men.”

One rabbinic writer said:

Jeremiah sought the honor of God and the honor of Israel;

Elijah sought the honor of God and not the honor of Israel;

Jonah sought the honor of Israel and not the honor of God.”

One might even substitute “Jonah sought the honor of himself…” Jesus sought the honor of the Father through obedience, pursuing and rescuing those who clung to their idols and could not, on their own, find the freedom of letting go.

…but as for me, I will sacrifice to You with a voice of thanksgiving.
I will fulfill what I have vowed. Salvation is from the Lord!

Then the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

The fish has been carrying around 180 extra pounds of ballast. Enough is enough. The LORD lets her off the hook. It’s time for Jonah to head inland.

Three days of silence, a burst of eloquent gratitude, and either hypocritical self-righteousness, or an excuse to head to Jerusalem instead of Nineveh. No wonder she was sick.

Jonah heads reluctantly to Nineveh, wanders around—in silence for three days—before delivering his message.

But Jesus spent His ministry reaching out and being available to not only men like Himself, but to enemies and invaders, strangers and rejects, women and children, heretics and hypocrites. After His resurrection, He allowed only moments to pass before reconnecting with the people he’d come to save.

****

However… what if instead of Matthew’s rendering, we look at Luke’s record of the same statement: For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so also the Son of Man will be to this generation. Luke 11:30 (HCSB)

Despite the fact that Luke wouldn’t have heard it first hand, his understanding of the Jonah/Jesus parallel seems better grounded: just as Jonah’s message of God’s grace toward Nineveh had “overturned” the city, so would Jesus’ overturn the world.

The verb in Jonah’s message to Nineveh seems intentionally ambiguous. Throughout Scripture, it’s translated as demolished, overturned, overthrown, transformed or turned around. Those who (eventually) heard it inferred a threat of destruction, creating fearful repentance. But was this true prophet of Israel not also used to point to an alternative fulfillment?

Nineveh was beautifully, life-givingly “overturned.”

So, yes. Jesus wanted us to remember this story. He wanted us to learn from it.

I’d argue that the least important question about this story is whether it “happened.” What matters is that we learn from Jonah’s mistakes and are free to not repeat them. That we learn from Jesus’ example and are free to make it real in our lives.


1 Philippians 2:8 HCSB

2 Matthew 26:42

March 4, 2020

Altars Powerfully Mark the Movements of God

Today we’re back once again highlighting Seedbed, and an excellent devotional by J. D. Walt. This one falls in the middle of a series title, “People who Say Such Things,” and I can’t encourage you strongly enough to click through and read several of these. You might even want to subscribe!  Click the title below to read this at source.

People Who Say Such Things: Show Us How to Build an Altar

Genesis 32:22-28 (NIV)

Then God said to Jacob, “Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.”

2 So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. 3 Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.”

CONSIDER THIS

When is the last time you built an altar?

We will say goodbye to Jacob today but not before he completes the God cycle. What is the God cycle? Thanks for asking. It is the movement from promise to struggle to blessing to worship.  Remember, it was at Bethel where God first revealed himself to Jacob through a dream. As Jacob ran from the consequences of his broken life, God met him in a dream, revealing to him the Covenant Promise given Abraham and Isaac would also determine his destiny.

Yay God! Right? Yes, . . . but. Perhaps the biggest lesson of the Bible so far is how the promises of God necessarily mean struggle. Something in us wants to believe the presence and promises of God mean an easier path. It does not. God’s promises mean an infinitely and eternally better life, but they almost guarantee a harder path. The way of the Cross is the way of blessing and yet struggle.

After the promising dream in Bethel, the next twenty years delivered the struggle for Rachel, the struggle of Leah, the onerous yoke of Laban, and more than a dozen children who would define the legacy—and all of this under the impending cloud of doom from an angry older brother bent on revenge.

Remember, through it all . . . God. Promise. Struggle. Blessing. God blessed Jacob. God prospered Jacob. God favored Jacob. God delivered Jacob. Following the miraculous change of heart of older brother, Esau, and the happy reunion on the far side of the River Jabok, God instructed Jacob to complete the cycle. The time had come to worship.

Then God said to Jacob, “Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.”

Promise. Struggle. Blessing. Worship. Certainly we worship our way through it all and yet there is something to be said for building a new altar from time to time to mark significant God moments and faith milestones. They call for something more than the usual.

2 So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. 3 Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.”

People who say such things show us what building an altar requires. First, it’s a community affair: “So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him.” Second, it means a personal and community call to repentance: “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you.” Third, it means a call to a renewed heart level consecration to God: “Purify yourselves.” Fourth, it calls for an outward sign of the inward reality: “Change your clothes.” Finally, it means sharing the testimony that it might become the shared witness of all: “Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.”

Altars powerfully mark the movements of God while extending them forward for all who will kneel. So let me ask you again, when is the last time you built an altar? It’s been too long for me. I see one coming on the horizon. You too?

 THE PRAYER

Father, I want to be a person who says such things. Help me become this kind of person in my deep heart and this kind of leader in my relationships with others. You don’t so much need this from me as you want it for me. Guide me in the who, what, where, when and how of building an altar to mark your movement in my life, to complete the cycle of promise, struggle, and blessing with worship. Come Holy Spirit, and train me be such a person of faith. I pray in Jesus name, Amen.

THE QUESTION

So when is the last time you built an altar? What was that like? How did it go? What might the altar on the horizon look like in your life, family, church, community?


Get J. D. Walt’s latest book, THE FIRST REAL CHRISTIAN, or his new church-wide Lenten Study, LISTEN TO HIM. Subscribe to get devotionals like this in your email inbox here.

March 9, 2019

To Help You Remember

Today we’re back at the blog Brothers of the Book, written by Bill Hood. He’s currently doing a study on the book of Numbers. I read several of the articles in preparation for choosing this one. Click the header below to read at the source.

Tassels Of Remembrance

Numbers 15

God commanded the Israelites make “Tassels of Remembrance” so that they would forget about Him.

At the end of today’s reading God tells Moses to have the people of Israel make tassels on the corners of their garments. They are to look at these tassels and remember all the commandments of the Lord.

Numbers 15:37-40 ESV
“The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner. And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God.”

Why were they to remember the commandments of the Lord? They needed to remember these commandments so they wouldn’t chase after their own self-centered desires which would lead them away from God. They were to separate themselves from the world and consecrate themselves to God; that is what it means to “be holy to your God”. Doing things our own way and in our own power was a problem then just as it is today. We forget who God is, what He has done, and what He has promised to do in the future.

This forgetfulness brought devastating consequences for the people of Israel. God brought them out of Egypt, led them safely through the wilderness, and brought them to the land He had promised them. The people sent spies into this Promised Land who came back and said “Be afraid! Be very afraid! Don’t go into the Promised Land for there be giants!” Staring at the obstacles we face in life can only do one thing, cause us to take our eyes off of God. If you are staring at your problems, you are not looking to God. We have extremely short memories. If we take our eyes off of God, we tend to forget about Him and all that He has done and can do.

In their own power, the Israelites could never have taken control of Canaan. Separate from God, they had every reason to be afraid, but they were not separate from God. God had led them here and had gone with them and would continue to go with them. How could they forget that? Only two of the spies said “Hey the land is great let’s go get it for God is with us”.

Numbers 14:6-9 ESV
“And Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes and said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.”

What was the consequence of the Israelites refusing to take the Promised Land as God instructed?

Numbers 14:30 ESV
“not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun.”

God killed all of the spies except for Caleb and Joshua – that’s how grievously they had sinned against Him. The rest of the Israelites age 20 and above were condemned to die in the wilderness, with the exception of Caleb and Joshua once again.

Later in today’s reading we see a man who ignored God’s prohibition against work on the Sabbath. He was found collecting sticks. The man was put to death because He forgot to observe God’s commandment. He forgot about God and it killed him. When we take our eyes off of God, when we forget about Him, we end up far from Him – the consequences of that are staggering. God loves us and He doesn’t want us to forget about Him for our own sake. He commanded the Israelites to put tassels on their garments as a way to keep Him constantly on their mind. When Jesus was asked which was the greatest commandment He said this:

Matthew 22:37 ESV
“…You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”

All your heart, all your soul and all your MIND. God is supposed to be first in your life. How can you forget about that which is the highest priority in your life? I don’t know, but we seem to do it every day. Or is it that we say God is number one when He really isn’t? Does what we say we believe match what we do? Brothers, it is easy for us to forget about God. The world around us is full of noisy distractions. We need to put constant reminders of God before our eyes. We need to have our own tassels of remembrance!

Vivere Victorem! (Live Victorious!)

Your brother and servant in Christ,
Bill

Dying to self, living to serve!

November 11, 2015

gods Forget GOD

by Clarke Dixon (click here to read at source)

We have a prosperity problem. Prosperity causes us to forget God. We intuitively feel this in Canada as our relative affluence seems to be related to our religious apathy. Scripture seems to point this out also:

12 When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, 14 then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 8:12-14 emphasis mine)

This being the case, perhaps we should be praying for a downturn of the economy? If, as we Christians believe, there is nothing as important as one’s relationship with God, then perhaps more misery might make many souls merry?

Or is prosperity really the problem? Let’s take a look at those verses again, but let me move the highlighting:

12 When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, 14 then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 8:12-14 emphasis mine)

Or as another translation puts it, “your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God”  (NIV). We do not have a prosperity problem. We have a heart problem. Proud hearts are prone to forgetting God.

The heart problem was to be the heart of the problem for God’s people as they entered the Promised Land. Things would be better for them, this is the land flowing with milk and honey after all. But in prosperity and all that has been achieved would be the danger of self-congratulations:

. . . then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, 15 who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, 16 and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good. 17 Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today. (Deuteronomy 8:14-18 emphasis mine)

We are prone to being self-congratulatory. We are prone to wanting the glory. Just look at all we have achieved. A great team of men and women worked hard to put a man on the moon. We might ask who should get the MVP award for making such an achievement possible. Who deserves the most glory? The astronauts? The scientists? The technicians? The taxpayers? And in deliberating the question we forget that God put the moon there in the first place, not to mention the earth, not to mention the materials in the earth fit for building a spacecraft, not to mention the rules of physics, not to mention the potential of the human mind to dream, and the capacity of human hands to create. Even in the greatest of human achievements, God deserves glory.

As humans we have great potential. Yet we do nothing without God’s gift of potential. We innovate. But we do not innovate without God. We succeed and achieve. But we do not succeed and achieve without God. We live. But we do not live without God. We love. But we do not love without God. To God belongs the glory.

Deuteronomy chapter eight does not leave us without an antidote to our forgetfulness. Though some translations take verse ten as concluding verses 1-9, I think the NIV gets it correct with putting it with what follows:

10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. 11 Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, . . .  (Deuteronomy 8:10-11 NIV emphasis mine)

Praise is the cure for forgetfulness. It is in praising God that our hearts are humbled. It is in praising God that our hearts are filled with the wonders of God. It is in praising God that we recognize where the glory truly belongs.

Praise keeps us from stealing God’s glory. Even in matters of salvation we are prone to wanting to steal God’s glory. We think we can be good enough that God will have to accept us. “Yes, He is holy, but I can be holy too.” Actually no. We can no more be good enough before God based on our own righteousness than the Israelites could cross the Red Sea on dry ground by their own miracle working. We depend on God’s grace, God’s work of salvation through Jesus Christ. We cannot steal God’s glory.

So do we have a prosperity problem? We have a heart problem. It is in trying to be gods, we forget GOD. If we have no appetite for God, perhaps it is not that we have too much stuff, so much as we have stuffed ourselves with too much of our own glory.

Not to us, Lord, not to us
but to your name be the glory,
because of your love and faithfulness.
(Psalms 115:1 NIV)

All Bible references are from the NRSV unless otherwise noted.

 

June 21, 2015

Remembering God Without Making Idols

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5aYou shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God…

It’s interesting that as God was giving these commandments to Moses, the people at the bottom of the mountain were building a calf out of gold. They were immediately in violation of the text above…

For almost all Evangelicals and most Mainline Protestant, the Second Commandment is explicit in its prohibition against idols. The King James used the phrase “graven images” by which some interpret “engraved” or three-dimensional objects; though in the early days of printing, photographic plates were engraved.

We have no problem with Bible story books which picture Jesus — some recent ones using a rather cartoonish style of illustration — but the Jesus doll we recently saw in a Christian bookstore (for $50 US) would clearly cross the line for many people (and for a number of reasons.)

On the other hand, our friends in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches have no problem with statuary, their houses of worship are filled with them, as are many of their homes. (The Catholic Church’s catechism even ‘rearranges’ the Ten Commandments to exclude the second one altogether, balancing things out with a split of the command regarding coveting into numbers 9 and 10; though Catholic Bibles themselves do not so tamper with the text.)

This doesn’t mean that are not other physical means whereby we’re encouraged to remember.

  1. The Jews were told to “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.” (Deut 11:18) Then, two verses later, “Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” (:20) In the most literal form, this gave way to phylacteries, the small boxes containing small scrolls worn on the forehead of Jews while praying. In a less literal form, most of us have plaques with Bible verses on the walls or end tables of our homes.
  2. There are certain locations that help us remember when God met us there or somewhere nearby. In the story of Jesus and “the woman at the well,” there is mention that this is Jacob’s well, and all the significance that entails. A girl whose testimony we heard talked about driving through northern Ontario and recognizing the terrain as nearby a camp where she felt close to God as a much younger person, and she pulled her car over to the side of the road and prayed. Is there a special physical location where you have memories of meeting with God?
  3. There are times where God instructed his people to construct a memorial. Joshua 4:9 reads, “Joshua set up the twelve stones that had been in the middle of the Jordan at the spot where the priests who carried the ark of the covenant had stood. And they are there to this day.” While many Christian facilities have plaques that honor the donors who gave money toward the building of that place, others, either with a plaque or through the naming of the facility, honor a particular part of a Bible story. The Christian conference grounds I attended as a child was named Elim Lodge, after a reference in Exodus 15.
  4. We learn the ways of God chiefly through narrative. You don’t sit your young children down and teach them the doctrines of systematic theology, but rather, you tell them stories from both the First and Second Testament. We can represent those physically by having artist renderings of Jesus walking on the water in our homes. Some of you have children who had Noah’s Ark bedsheets. While I like the first idea better than the second, these all reinforce the stories.
  5. Speaking of Noah, sometimes God just likes to give us reminders. We all know the scientific reasons why rainbows appear after a rainstorm, but God imputes significance to this by telling Noah to accept it as a pledge that he will never flood the earth again. (But maybe the rainbow was supernatural; it rained for 40 days, but then there’s a year between the rain stopping and Noah being given the rainbow as a sign.)

These are all examples of tangible objects which serve as reminders of God, Jesus, Bible stories, and places where God revealed himself.

So we don’t need statuary, and the Bible’s commandments are not to be trifled with. It’s true that contextually idols were the trademark of other surrounding nations, but I believe that the commands are 100% applicable to the idea of making statues of those who have been conferred sainthood, and certainly could be applicable to statues of Jesus himself.

I will concede however, that there are sculptors who have carved three-dimensional works that are simply an extension of the two-dimensional images mentioned in point #4 above. An example would be the Good Shepherd statue at the former Crystal Cathedral, which reminds us of the picture Jesus paints of himself in John’s Gospel. However, the danger comes when we worship those pieces, or suggest that the sculptures themselves have some supernatural abilities or powers.

I also realize this is a very limited interpretation of Exodus 20:4 which seems to ban any image of any created thing. But here, the context is concerning the things which come between us and God; the first four commandments are about not allowing anything to stand in the way of our relationship with God. This is in line with Romans 1:25, “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator…”

Summing this up, you can’t read the Second Commandment without knowing the First Commandment. Nothing is to come between us and God.

 

 

July 23, 2011

Spiritual Drought and Spiritual Famine

Earlier in the week while reading The Peoples Bible (a new edition NIV which highlights frequently searched verses at BibleGateway.com) I was again confronted with Amos 8: 11-12

11 “The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign LORD,
   “when I will send a famine through the land—
not a famine of food or a thirst for water,
   but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD.
12 People will stagger from sea to sea
   and wander from north to east,
searching for the word of the LORD,
   but they will not find it.

We’ve been hearing much in the last few days about drought in the United States and famine in east Africa.  Perhaps that why the topic has been on my mind.  This passage is discussing a spiritual drought and a spiritual famine.  I decided to see what was available on this passage online, and a search brought me to my own blog, Thinking out Loud, and a post that was written just a few months ago in April…

A few years back, Wood (Woodrow) Kroll wrote a book which bears the same name as the organization he heads, Back to the Bible (Multnomah Publishing). The following is taken from pages 67-68:

Two Old Testament prophets from Israel would feel very much at home at the dawn of the twenty-first century. I think they have much to say to us as the did to those who heard them in person…

Amos was a lowly shepherd from Tekoa (Amos 1:1) a village not far from Bethlehem. He made no special claims for himself, in fact, when his authority to speak for God was challenged because he was not what people expected of a prophet, Amos said, “I was no prophet nor was I a son of a prophet, but I was a sheep breeder and a tender of sycamore fruit”(7:14). Amos was a pretty humble guy, but when God appeared to him and said, “Go prophesy to My people Israel” (7:15) he could do nothing else.

Amos prophesied during the days of King Uzziah, when Israel’s economy was flourishing. He looked at a society in which the people of God had become complacent and noticed that the Jews had no intimacy with the heavenly Father and paid no attention to those charged with teaching them the Word. When he spoke these words to his countrymen, Amos actually predicted our day: “‘Behold the days are coming,’ says the Lord God, ‘that I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord'” (8:11).

That famine has arrived. In our physical and financial prosperity, the church has become spiritual anemic and biblically illiterate.

The prophet Hosea echoed the cry of Amos. He ministered to Israel during the chaotic period just before the fall of the nation in 722 B.C. In that respect he was ominously familiar with what happens to a nation who forgets God and His Word. Unlike Amos, Hosea was a member of the upper class. He was one of the most unusual prophets of the Old Testament.

Strangely, God commanded Hosea to marry a prostitute (Hosea 1:2-9). His wife, Gomer, eventually returned to her life of sin, but Hosea bought her back from the slave market and restored her as his wife (3:1-5). Hosea’s unhappy family life served as an illustration of Israel’s sin. The people of God had fallen out of love with God, grown cold toward Him and no longer heeded His Word. They rejected the one true God and served pagan Gods.

In that context, Hosea prophesied with words that have a chilling ring for the church of the twenty-first century. He spoke for God when he said, “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me, because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children” (4:6). The Israelites forgot God’s law. They failed to read his word and showed no respect for it. Therefore God promised that he would forget His people as they had forgotten His Word. That simply meant that He would withhold His blessing and all the good things that would have been theirs had they spent more time loving God by reading His Word.

~Wood Kroll