Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Update on one "Purpose Drive Life"

EXTRA, EXTRA! Read all about it!!

Ohio man holds woman captive and reads Bible to her: story

Well, apparently, that didn't go over too well... maybe he should have read The Purpose Driven Life to her.

We all remember that story from 2005, right? You know, the hostage (Ashley Smith) reads chapter 33 of PDL to her captor, (oh, and gives him some of her drugs), and is then allowed to go free.

Ashley Smith, suggested that, "You know, your miracle could be that you need to -- you need to be caught for this," Smith continued. "'You need to go to prison and you need to share the Word of God with them, with all the prisoners there."

Good point! So, did he? Having just been exposed to the inspirational words of PDL (and having just taken a nice trip down Methampheta-lane), what ever came of our hostage-taker, Mr. Nichols?

<drum roll, please>...

He "converted to Islam while in jail"!

Perhaps too much time has been spent on trying to determine our purpose and the purposes of others, and not enough time learning what God's purposes are?

Isaiah 46:8-10
"Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors,

remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me,

declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,"

Proverbs 19:21
Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.

John 18:37
Then Pilate said to him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world— to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice."

So, a little less self-focus (what is my purpose?) and a lot more Godly focus (what are His purposes?) would do us all a lot of good.

Monday, February 23, 2009

I be baptized!

That's right, this past Sunday, February 22, I was baptized at my local church, Plainfield Bible Church.

This is something that I've been wanting to do for several months: proclaim God's work of regeneration and conversion in me. I'm posting my testimony as delivered at the baptismal service. Beverly recorded video of the service, and I've embedded that video below, as well.


I've heard many testimonies in my life, and they usually start something like this: " I grew up in Christian family".

Well, I did. We went to church most Sundays and always said grace at dinner. Some of my earliest memories are of being at my grandparents’ church, or at Vacation Bible School, where I memorized my first Bible verses and learned all of the songs. I never thought much about being Christian. It seemed we were Christians in the same way we were Americans. It seemed that everyone I knew was a Christian. Everyone I knew celebrated Christmas, right? And it seemed that most everyone I knew went to church or knew they should. So, as a kid, I just never gave it much thought, that's just how it was. Church was a normal part of my life. I bring this up to make one very important point. Like standing in a garage hasn't made me a mechanic, going to church didn't make me a Christian.

As a boy, I was taught in Sunday school all about Jesus and His life and His death on the cross. I was also taught that all I needed to do to be a Christian was to ask Jesus to "come into my heart". I should also tell you that saying a prayer, and asking Jesus to come into my heart didn't make me a Christian either. I don't know if my saying this comes as a surprise to you, and it may even offend some of you. But that isn't scriptural. I've looked for the "ask Jesus into your heart" verse in my Bible. I can't find it.

But, I said that little prayer and on June 28, 1987, when I was 10 years old, I was baptized at a Baptist church not too far from here. I know that I was 10 years old because I still have the Bible that was given to me with that date written in it.

So, when pastor asked me to say a few words today, I had planned to tell you about all of the many different things that have happened to me over the years, and to recall the people that have helped to shape who and what I am today. But the more I thought about that, I figured we'd be here pretty late if I did. So instead, I decided it'd be better to just explain why I'm up here today and how I came to know the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Over the past year, I feel that I have grown more spiritually than in all of the other years of my life. It is in this past year that I’ve learned many things, and what it really means to call myself a Christian.

One of the most important things that I've learned is that God has known all along that I wasn't going to be able to live up to His law. And I learned that that isn't what He gave it for. I have heard someone say that "the law is a mirror", that when I hold that mirror up to myself, it allows me to see my sin more clearly. And I learned that’s why it’s not enough for me to simply know Romans 3:23, that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” It needs to be personal. I had to learn that it means me, not just everyone else. That was a very hard one for me, to learn that I wasn't better than anyone else, I had done nothing deserving, I had nothing in myself worthy of standing on, and was in no position to look down at others. I learned that I was perhaps the worst of them all.

If I have been a little vague about what I'm talking about today, I'm talking about the 10 commandments. And I'm talking about every command that Jesus has given us. I used to be so blind about this, I used to think that commandments were just Old Testament stuff. I mean, Jesus changed things, right? That's why it's the New Testament. All of those "rules" weren't relevant to my life today. But God’s law is relevant today, and Jesus said that He didn’t come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it, and that not one part of it would pass away until all was fulfilled. He also said that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments. So, then how does His law apply to me, to my life today? I learned that the New Testament says that God has written His law on my heart, on all of our hearts. I have heard it put this way, and it really had an effect on me, and has stayed with me. It's pretty simple, maybe you've heard this:

  1. Have you ever told a lie? Over my lifetime I’ve told many.
  2. Have you ever stolen anything? Many may say that they’ve never stolen, but it's only because they don’t want to admit it. We’ve all taken things that were not ours. I’m certainly guilty of that.
  3. Have you ever cussed or used God's name to express disgust? God says to keep His name holy. Just turn on the television today for more than 5 minutes and tell me if you do not hear God’s name used to mean something terrible. It’s so commonplace that we don’t even notice it anymore.

I've learned that my sin is not just the things that people see me say or do. All of those things that I do in private, and the private thoughts of my heart and mind... God sees those things. And it may be that these private things are the most critical things. Jesus tells me that "out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander". He also tells me that my just looking with lust at a woman is committing adultery in my heart. Having hate in my heart for another, means I am a murderer at heart. I am guilty of all of these. When God looks at my heart, He does not see anything pretty about it. God sees me for what I really am. A lying, thieving, blasphemous, adulterer at heart.

I know that today, in a culture that values a false doctrine of "self-esteem", you might think I'm being a little hard on myself. But I'm putting it out there like it really is. That's what happens when I apply the mirror of the law to my heart. It's the truth. If it wasn't the truth, why would I need a savior?

It was at this point that I really started to understand what the gospel is all about. You see, 2000 years ago, the Word, Jesus Christ, became flesh. He was born of a virgin. He lived a sinless life, and he sacrificed Himself in my place. When Jesus was on the cross He was paying the penalty for my sin. If the wages of sin is death, and I’ve broken His law, then I deserve those wages, but instead, Jesus has paid my fine. He paid that fine in His blood. On that cross, an actual legal transaction took place. His righteousness was credited to my account, so that God can now legally dismiss my case. That’s the good news of the gospel. That is what I am putting my faith in.

The way I see it, when I said that prayer 21 years ago, I don’t think I properly understood those things. Don't get me wrong, I’m not saying that no 10 year old is capable of understanding it. I’m just saying that I don't think this one did. And so, I’ve thought about whether or not I should be baptized again, and if it isn't obvious yet, I have decided that this is the right thing to do now. It is my desire to demonstrate my obedience and identification with Christ in baptism.

Now, I want to explain the significance of baptism, at least as I've learned it, for anyone here that may be curious. I want to explain why I am doing this. First off, I know that being baptized doesn't play any part in saving me. Instead, it's a symbol; it just symbolizes the death, burial, and resurrection of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. But it’s more than that too. When I get baptized today, I am demonstrating my union to Him in that death, burial, and resurrection. For whom did Christ die? Me. Whose sins did he bear on that cross? Mine. For whom did he rise 3 days later? Me.

Paul tells me in Galatians, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."

In Romans, Paul tells me, "Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life."

So, in front of all of you here today to witness this, I quote the words of a fellow brother in Christ, when I say that,

"I want to confess my glad obedience to the command of my Lord and Savior. In this symbolic way, I show my identification with the one who bore my sins, took my place, died and rose again for my justification. As Christ went through the suffering and death to secure my salvation, so by my immersion in water, and coming out, I publicly declare my identification with my Lord in His death burial, and resurrection on my behalf, with the intention going forward to walk with Him in newness of life." *

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

All Christians have a calling to please God

"...a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God."
Philippians 4:18b

Just a little look into the words used here:

a sacrifice (thusían; 2378) acceptable (dekteén; 1184) pleasing (euáreston; 2101)

thusian [2378]:

thusia (thoo-see'-ah); sacrifice (as in, literally or figuratively, the act or the victim of the sacrifice):

from thuo (thoo'-o) [2380]:

primary verb: to rush (or 'breathe hard'); by implication: to sacrifice; by extension, 'to immolate' (or slaughter for any purpose)

dekteen [1184]:

dektos (dek-tos'); approved (figuratively, propitious: presenting favorable circumstances, i.e. 'satisfaction' or 'appeasement'):

from dechomai (dekh'-om-ahee) [1209]:

primary verb: to receive (in various applications, literally or figuratively)

Compare to lambano (lam-ban'-o) [2983]:

A prolonged form of a primary verb: to take (as in, literally or figuratively, to actively 'take hold of'; whereas, dechomai is rather passive, as to say 'to have offered to one')

euareston [2101]:

euarestos (yoo-ar'-es-tos); fully agreeable:

from eu (yoo) [2095] and arestos (ar-es-tos') [701]:

[2095]: neuter of a primary eus (good); adverbially: well

[701]: agreeable; or by implication, fit

Source: New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary

This verse is from Paul's letter to the church in Philipi, specifically in a part of the letter where he is thanking them for the gifts they have sent him: "
having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent". Without going into a lengthy explanation, suffice it to say that this church was sacraficing from their own provision, so as to support Paul's missions; much like your local chuch today might pledge support to a missionary.

So, if I were asked to explain what Paul means by
"a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God" in my own words, having learned a little more about the original Greek, I might say:
"What father is not satisfied and honored by the selfless giving of his children? How much more does an offering (or gift) mean when the recipient knows that a sacrifice was made to bring it? In this way, our sacrifices and offerings to God and others should not be our left-overs or what we can comfortably do without. But, in as much as He gave everything to redeem us while we were undeserving, how much more should we give sacrificially to Him, who deserves everything, and His children, our brothers and sisters in Christ? In this sacrificial act, God is pleased with His children."

In addition to the obvious gifts we give, here are some ways we please our Father in heaven:
  • Faith (Hebrews 11:5-6)
"By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him." [emphasis mine]
  • Praise (Psalm 69:30-31)
"I will praise the name of God with a song;
I will magnify him with thanksgiving.
This will please the Lord more than an ox
or a bull with horns and hoofs." [emphasis mine]
  • Generosity (Hebrews 13:16)
"Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God." [emphasis mine]
  • Obedience (John 14:21)
"He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him." [emphasis mine]
  • Focus on service to Him (2 Tim. 2:4)
"No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him." [emphasis mine]

In blessing and in trials, we are to praise Him and keep focused on His truth. Today, we are bombarded with all kinds of news about "global recession" and "bail out plans". The water-cooler discussion quickly turns to 'doom and gloom' with regard to what the future holds for our jobs and our retirement accounts. But Christians should have a different world-view, especially in times of difficulty and trial, one based on the immutability and promises of God. As children of the King, our future is far from uncertain and our eyes are to be focused on an inheritance that is unaffected by economic instabilities.

In times when the world sees the glass as half-empty, they should see an apparent difference in the Christian's attitude, something that causes them to react. They may react postively, or they may react negatively, but either way as the winds and rain of the storm washes away their foundation of sand, we should see that as an opportunity to share the gospel, offering them a fresh start on the foundation of the Rock.

And in keeping with the subject of Paul's letter to the Philippians, how much more does our pledge to missions have an effect in a world that is feeling a cold wind blowing? I believe this would be "acceptable and pleasing to God".

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Abundant Redemption

Psalm 130

1Out of the depths I have cried to You, O LORD.

2Lord, hear my voice!

Let Your ears be attentive

To the voice of my supplications.

3If You, LORD, should mark iniquities,

O Lord, who could stand?

4But there is forgiveness with You,

That You may be feared.

5I wait for the LORD, my soul does wait,

And in His word do I hope.

6My soul waits for the Lord

More than the watchmen for the morning;

Indeed, more than the watchmen for the morning.

7O Israel, hope in the LORD;

For with the LORD there is lovingkindness,

And with Him is abundant redemption.

8And He will redeem Israel

From all his iniquities.

My pastor once suggested that, when studying and meditating on a chapter in the Word of God, selecting a "theme verse" may better help one to remember the lessons or truths in that particular passage. I try to incorporate this method, and in the case of the 130th Psalm, I did not hesitate in picking out "And with Him is abundant redemption".

Now, I like to see how "key words" are used elsewhere in Scripture; I feel this helps me get a more complete sense of the original meaning that the author had in mind. I do trust that the Holy Spirit has led the translators and scribes over the centuries in keeping the integrity of the scriptures; that's not my point. My point is that it helps me to get into the head of the author, so I can appreciate the full "body", if you will, of a particular word or phrase, especially helpful with other languages. By seeing how that same word is used in different contexts, I can begin to understand the scope of its use.

As a side note, I'd like to mention that this is not only something we can do to help us understand the passage better, but it is our responsibility when studying and interpreting the Bible. Why do we study His word? We study it in order to better understand and know God, as well as to apply His wisdom and His teachings to our daily lives. Therefore, it is vitally important that we understand, as best as we can, the original, intended meaning, not some subjective meaning that we "feel" it is saying to us. Too often today, in Bible study groups, a passage is discussed amongst the members of the group as if the point was to come to some consensus as to "what this could mean for us today".

An illustration: Take for instance, what the author/creator of a award-winning recipe might say to you if you were to call him up and tell him that his recipe produced the most foul tasting dish, or even just a "ho-hum" bland dish. I imagine he'd have to ask you what ingredients you used and if you followed all of the steps without mistake. If you replied to him by saying that, well, you "felt" his call for "ground beef" really meant "crumbled tofu" and his reference to "basil", you were sure that he must have meant "rosemary", and so on and so on... can't you imagine that he might come to the conclusion that you, in fact, had not followed his recipe, and therefore, he cannot be responsible for the final product? I venture to say, that a similar conversation might be had between those who interpret the Bible to mean what they "feel" it means, and the men who wrote the Bible and the Holy Spirit that inspired it's every word.

So, in our modern English, words can have and often do have many different meanings, depending on the context in which they're used. I am by no means a linguist, or a language scholar, but I have to imagine that the same creative freedom exists in most other languages, thereby allowing writers to impart nuances of meaning to seemingly common ideas. By attempting to understand why that author picked that word, discovering what idea they had in their head and how they wrestled with putting it into words, I find that it helps me to understand just a bit what they were thinking, of what idea they were trying to communicate.

Anyway, in looking at the word "redemption" in the seventh verse, I found that this Hebrew word for redemption, "peduth" or "peduwth", is used four times in the Old Testament: here in Psalm 130:7, Psalm 111:9, Isaiah 50:2, and Exodus 8:23. In both instances of use in the Psalms, it is generally translated as "redemption" (However, in a translation called "God's Word", it is written as "forgiveness").

In Isaiah 50:2, it's most usually translated as "redeem" (or "ransom" in the NASB):

Is my hand shortened, that it cannot redeem?

Or have I no power to deliver?

Here the reader still reads the idea of redemption, and even when you substitute 'ransom', it still conveys the classical meaning of redeeming. Although, personally, I tend to associate the word 'ransom' with 'redeeming at a cost' as in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, but the overarching meaning of redemption is obviously still there.

Now, the use of "peduth" that really confused me occurs in Exodus 8:23a:

Thus I will put a division between my people and your people.

[my emphasis; from the English Standard Version]

In some other prominent translations, it's written as: difference, distinction, 'distinguish between', or 'make a clear distinction'. So, I'm trying to figure out how this same word can mean 'redeem' or 'redemption' and 'division' or 'distinction'. Perhaps taken out of the context of the entire chapter it doesn't make sense.

So, we go back a bit to verse 20, where in my Bible it has a section title of "The Fourth Plague: Flies". Verse 23 is part of what God is telling Moses to tell Pharaoh in the foretelling of the fourth plague. This plague was "an invasion of flies", and the use of the word "peduth" in this context was to mean that God would spare His people from this plague, specifically the land of Goshen where the Israelites lived. He was putting a "division between" - in other words, He drew a line between those on whom His wrath was being spilled, and those that He called His own.

I admit that it takes me some time to really grasp some concepts, and so it took me a minute or two to put this all together. There's a note at the bottom of the page in Exodus (at least in my study bible) that mentions "in the Septuagint, Vulgate; Hebrew reads I will set redemption between". The original meaning would have literally read, "I will set redemption between my people and your people." Building on the imagery in Isaiah 50:2, 'is my hand shortened, that it cannot redeem?' and this concept of putting something between 'my people and your people', I imagine the arm of God being set between the two peoples. I picture the Father placing His arm around His children, protecting them, delivering them from danger. Can you picture, for a moment, a father bringing his children into the protection of his arms, bringing them closer to him, in order to shield them from some present threat? He is placing "a division", which happens to be himself, between his children and that which is harmful to them.

This does give me comfort in the thought that my God shields me from evil when necessary. Yet, I do not think myself overreaching in that I see the correlation between His protecting the Israelites in Egypt from His wrath, and His protecting His elect from His wrath in judgment. Our redemption is found in Christ Jesus, He was set as the 'division' between us and the wrath of God. In His work on the cross, a 'ransom' was paid through His shed blood and we were 'redeemed' from the clutches of death and sin. A 'distinction' was made between the sheep and the goats, between the wheat and the tares (weeds).

His redemption truly is abundant, plenteous, overflowing, and unlimited!