Saturday, December 18, 2010

Philippians 1:20-21

C - commands (to obey)
P - promises (to claim)
W - warnings (to heed)
T - truths (about God)

These four things were taught to me by our church when my wife and I took a class called "Body Builders".  They relate to how we read God's Word, what we should look for in each passage.

So, when I read Philippians 1:20-21 recently, I applied these four things to the verses.
"... my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain."
(Philippians 1:20-21 NASB)

Do not be ashamed of Christ.  Exalt/honor Christ with/in my body.

If I obey these commands, I will not be put to shame before God. 

If I do NOT obey, I will be shamed before God.

To die and go before the face of God is GAIN!

I love my study bible(s).  One of them points out Matthew 10:32 in relation to the shame that Paul speaks of here.
"Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven.  But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven."
(Matthew 10:32-33 NASB)
 Paul even references this later in one of his letters to his son in the faith, Timothy:
"If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us"
(2 Timothy 2:12 NASB)
So the promise/warning here is that if we are ashamed of Christ, He will 'return the favor' when we stand before God one day.

Now, the part that really fired me up and had me studying (the Word), and reading (commentaries), and listening (to sermons/podcasts) is verse 21:
"For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain."
In a sermon I read on this passage, the pastor says,
"There aren't even any verbs in the Greek: living Christ, dying gain. I live only to serve Him, only to commune with Him, only to love Him. I have no concept of life other than that. 

Now follow this thought: He is saying I am totally wrapped up in Christ, loving Him, knowing Him, preaching Him, serving Him. Christ is the 'raison d'etre', the reason for my being, the reason for my existence. He doesn't mean Christ is the source of his life, though He is. He doesn't mean Christ lives in him, though He does. He doesn't mean Christ controls him, though He does. He doesn't mean that Christ wants him to submit to Him, though He does. 

He simply means living is Christ. Life is summed up as Christ. I'm filled with Christ. I am occupied with Christ. I trust Christ, love Christ, hope in Christ, obey Christ, preach Christ, follow Christ, fellowship with Christ, Christ is the center circumference of my life, it's all Christ. Christ and Christ alone is my inspiration, my direction, my meaning, my purpose...consumed, dominated by Christ."
That helped me to wrap my head around the first part of that verse, but the second is somewhat harder to swallow.  I guess the thing that makes that a little harder to understand is when I think of all of the wonderful blessings with which God has graced my life.  Specifically, I'm thinking of my wife and sons.  Which, of course, brings to mind Luke 14:26:
"If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple." 
(Luke 14:26 NASB)

Wow!  Not the first time I'm reading that or anything, but WOW!  In light of my marriage and how much I treasure my wife; in light of holding my son when he was just born and watching him grow this last year... still, My Lord and Savior is reminding me that as much as I love that little boy, He (Christ) has to mean much more!  But the word "hate" here is tripping me up a little... ok, a lot.  Gotta go to the Greek.

The word is μισει (miseō) which is derived from the word μῖσος (misos). 

As far as I can tell, the word really does mean 'hate'.  However, I also need to take into consideration the context in which we find this word.

Looking at Matthew 10:37 where Jesus says pretty much the same thing, "He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me."

The Greek there is ῾Ο φιλῶν πατέρα ἢ μητέρα ὑπὲρ ἐμὲ and comes out to literally say that "one that has affection for father or mother above me".  That helps... I get the impression that it isn't hate necessarily that's being advocated, but a picture of contrast is being drawn between where I place my affections.

This gets us back to verse 21 in Philippians 1, and "to die is gain".  Gain.  To die, leaving this fallen world, even with its temporal joys, and to enter into intimate, unhindered fellowship with Christ truly is gain.  How joyous that will be!

Now, perhaps there is a question or concern back in your mind about this.  Paul is telling us that while he's living on this earth, his life will be driven and focused only by Christ and preaching His Gospel.  I think it is right to say that by doing so he ultimately is pursuing his greatest joy.  Paul knows that when he dies he will be in the presence of the Lord (1 Corinthians 5:6-8), and that hope brings him joy.  

To pursue our greatest joy is what God commands of us, and our greatest joy is found in Him.  And in this passage of his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul lays out in one sentence the dynamic balance between seeking to be obedient to God and pursuing joy.  They are not exclusive - instead, they are inexorably bound.

Of course, since that moment in Eden when man chose to seek his own joy apart from God, sin has offered up myriad options of lesser joy.  They do not seem to be lesser joys, 
what would be so tempting about sin if it didn't present itself as the joy that we seek.  
"Do you not know this from of old, since man was placed on earth, that the exulting of the wicked is short, and the joy of the godless but for a moment?"
(Job 20:4-5 ESV)
Someone has put it like this: the world offers 95% joy, but why settle for that when we can have 100% joy in Jesus Christ?!?!  The obvious point Job is making is that joy of the godly is everlasting - forever.

We read in Psalm 16:11, "You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore."  And fullness of joy is exactly what Jesus wants for us.  Also we see in the following passages the coorelation between obedience and joy.
Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.
When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.
So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.
In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. 

Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.
(John 16:20-24 ESV - emphasis mine)

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.
If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
You are my friends if you do what I command you.
(John 15:9-14 ESV - emphasis mine)

And we're only going to find true, everlasting joy in Him.  That's what this passage says and I believe it's exactly what Paul means when he says it.  A life pursuing Christ will be a life filled with eternal joy, and culminating with an eternity of joyous fellowship with the unending Fountain and Source of joy.

Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!
(Psalm 32:11 ESV)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

1 Thessalonians 1:7-8

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.

For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
(1 Thessalonians 1:1-10)


Verse 7
ὥστε γενέσθαι ὑμᾶς τύπους πᾶσι τοῖς πιστεύουσιν ἐν τῇ Μακεδονίᾳ καὶ τῇ ᾿Αχαϊᾳ.  (GNT)

so that you became models to all the ones believing in  Macedonia and  Achaia.

so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.

v7:  continuing from v6, since they (the church in Thessalonica) had become imitators of Paul and those with him, they in turn have become examples for those in Macedonia and Achaia to imitate.  

There is an interesting word picture in here.  Paul says "that you became an example".

The word "example" is τύπους in the Greek.  It has in it the idea of being formed by striking, or by a blow.  Our word, "type", from which we get such ideas as "typewriter", "typeface", and "typeset" is derived from the Late Latin word "typus" (figure; form, type, character) which in turn is derived from the Greek word "tupos", τύπος (type; a die (as struck); a stamp or scar; by analogy, a shape; a statue, style or resemblance; specially, a sampler ('type'); a model (for imitation))

Think of an old typewriter, one that still has the arms that raise up to strike the paper.  This strike leaves an impression in the paper of the letter carried on that arm.  Perhaps it would be fair to say that the church in Thessalonica "left an impression" on "all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia".  Wouldn't it be encouraging to hear that our lives were so marked by the characteristics of Jesus Christ that people near and far saw us as examples of godliness and faithfulness?


Verse 8 

ἀφ᾿ ὑμῶν γὰρ ἐξήχηται ὁ λόγος τοῦ Κυρίου οὐ μόνον ἐν τῇ Μακεδονίᾳ καὶ  ἐν ᾿Αχαϊᾳ, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐν παντὶ τόπω ἡ πίστις ὑμῶν ἡ πρὸς τὸν Θεὸν ἐξελήλυθεν,  ὥστε μὴ χρείαν ἡμᾶς ἔχειν λαλεῖν τι (GNT)

[2from 3you 1For 8has resounded 4the 5word 6of the 7Lord], not only in  Macedonia but in Achaia. But also in every place the belief of yours, the one towards  God, has gone forth, so as [3no 4need 1for us 2to have] to say anything. (AB)

For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. (ESV)

They proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ ("the word of the Lord"), and this was being carried "everywhere" from Thessalonica.  Without going into detail, this city was very important to the Macedonian region in terms of trade.  It was on the shore of a gulf, so many people from many different places passed through this city.  Undoubtedly, as the new church in Thessalonica was preaching the Good News, people would take word of this back home with them, and/or carry it on with them as they continued their travels.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Mark 2:6-7

6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (ESV)

6 And some of the scribes were sitting down there, and reasoning in their hearts, 7 "Why does this one thus speak blasphemies? Who is able to forgive sins except one -- God?"  (ABP)


There are several points of interest in these two verses.  We'll go bit by bit and look at each thoroughly.


[Gk. γραμματεων - grammateus =`a clerk, scribe, secretary, recorder']  (Thayer and Smith. "Greek Lexicon entry for Grammateus". "The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon". . 1999.)

Luke, in his gospel account, refers to these as "lawyers".  The idea being that they were experts in the Old Testament, the authorities on application of the law.  A scribe was one who copied the law, and was an authority on interpreting that law.  They were a kind of half attorney, half theologian; experts in biblical law, not secular law.  John MacArthur give us this helpful definition:
"The scribes were scholars and authorities on the law, who had spent their life studying the Old Testament. In fact, one scribe, Ezra, had even memorized the entire Old Testament so that he could sit down and write it down from Genesis to the very end from memory. Some of the scribes joined the Pharisees because they were literalists and legalistic fundamentalists, who believed in everything the law said. On the other hand, some of them joined the Sadducees because they were liberals, who denied scriptural truths such as resurrection and angels. So, those were the two theological parties--the fundamentalists and the liberals of that day--and both of them had their scribes. But regardless of what party they were in, they were forever challenging Jesus, trying to trap Him in His words. By the way, the scribes later became known as rabbis. However, a rabbi today is not somebody in the Levitical priesthood line, because no one is able any longer to trace their lineage to a particular tribe." [source]


[Gk. διαλογίζομαι - dialogizomai = 'to reason, revolve in one's mind, deliberate']  

One translation says 'reasoning', another says 'questioning'.  After some time looking through Greek-English reference books, I think it leans toward 'reasoning' myself.  Then I looked up where else a form of this word is used in Mark.  Besides this chapter, it is in chapters 8:16-17, 9:33, and 11:31.  In chapter 8, the disciples are seen reasoning amongst themselves.  In chapter 9, again it refers to when the disciples were reasoning amongst themselves about who was the greatest.  Finally, in chapter 11, we see the chief priests and scribes reasoning amongst themselves.  In each instance, the context involves a discussion of sorts, either in their hearts & minds or verbally, whereby they are considering more than one point of view or reason.


So, the picture painted here is the experts on Law witnessing Jesus Christ forgiving a man's sins and then questioning in their hearts & minds whether He has the authority to do this.  Our final consideration is verse 7 when they reason, "Who can forgive sins but God alone?"  Where are they getting this?  Does Scripture support this?

This involves a brief study of sin.

First off, a couple of definitions:  1. Sin is anything (whether in thoughts, actions, or attitudes) that does not express or conform to the holy character of God as expressed in His moral law.  2. Rebellion against God's rule, missing the mark God set for us to aim at, transgressing God's law, offending God's purity by defiling oneself, and incurring guilt before God the Judge.

OK.  But what does God's Word say about it?  Well, it turns out that there are at least eight words in the Old Testament for sin and a dozen words in the New Testament.  In the O.T., the two words used most often to express this concept are chata [חטא] and ra [רע].  Respectively, their meanings are "to miss the mark" and "breaking up or ruin, calamities or evil".  Chata carries with it the implication that not only has the mark been missed, but that another has been hit.  Hence, focus cannot only be given to the passive missing of the mark, but consideration must be given to the active hitting of the other.  Then, ra can indicate not only something that is calamitous but also something that is morally wrong.  

There are a handful of other words in the O.T. that mean sin, but let's now look at New Testament words. 

The most frequently used word for sin in the N.T. is hamartia [ἁμαρτία] which, just like chata in the O.T., derives its meaning from ἁμαρτάνω = "missing the mark". 

The "mark" being the standard set by God in His Law, which is based on His attributes and character.  Therefore, when we fail to conform to that standard, be it purposefully choosing to disobey, or merely letting down our guard and falling into it, we effectively thumb our noses at God, expressing our complete lack of reverence and respect for what He has expected of us.  Which bring us to the point that all sin, whether committed as an offense toward another human being (such as adultery, murder, theft, etc) is ultimately committed against our Creator; and that offense against God far out-weighs the offense to your neighbor.  It doesn't absolve me from asking forgiveness from my neighbor, however, most importantly I must realize the offense I've committed in the presence of The Holy God.

In 2 Samuel 11, we read of the account of adultery committed by David with Bathsheba, and the subsequent murder and lies (cover up).  In chapter 12, when Nathan confronts David about his sin, David replies, “I have sinned against the LORD.
Sin is always and ultimately related to God. While sin has devastating societal, relational, and physical ramifications, the central problem of sin is that it offends and incurs the wrath of God. David demonstrates this understanding in his confession of adultery and murder: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (Psalm 51:4). This is not to minimize his sin against Bathsheba, her husband Uriah, or the people of Israel, but rather to recognize that, relatively speaking, it is God he has ultimately offended, and it is to God alone that he must finally answer. Sin is a personal attack on the character and ordinances of God.  (ESV Study  Bible, Crossway Bibles, 2008)
All of this to bring us to the point: who has the authority to forgive sins?

I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins. (Isaiah 43:25)
And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34)
The short answer:  God alone forgives sin. 

Greek Lexicon pictures(Liddell, H.G. and Scott, R. and Passow, F. and Drisler, H. "A Greek-English lexicon". "At the Clarendon press, sold by Macmillan and co.". London. 1870.)

1. The ESV Study Bible, Crossway Bibles, 2008
2. The Reformation Study Bible, Ligonier Ministries, 2005

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Halloween - A Heart Issue

Every year, as October comes up on the calendar, the whole world seems to focus on Halloween and the festivities associated with this holiday.  There is quite a bit of history known and published about  this day. Most directly, the traditional activities of Halloween can be traced the ancient Druids.
Hundreds of years before Jesus Christ walked this earth, a people in what is now called Ireland celebrated their end of summer with a festival to their gods thanking them for the previous harvest season. 
This was the end of their growing season, and they reasoned the seasonal death of plants and corresponding change in temperature on the arrival of a "god of death" that was overpowering their "sun god".  Their beliefs told them that this "god of death" forced the spirits of those that had died that year, and had done evil, to take possession in the nearby animals for a time, and then he allowed them to revisit their homes and family one last time, on Halloween. 
Therefore, the priests of this religion, the Druids, would hold ceremonies where the people were encouraged to gather up all kinds of animals, from horses and oxen to cats and sheep, cage them or tie them up, and then burn them as a warning to the those wandering spirits to not harm a living person.  
OK, so why the history lesson?  Because it's important to know from where the Druids got their beliefs.  It turns out that it's more relevant than most Christians understand.  It goes all the way back to Nimrod, who built Babel or Babylon (Genesis 10:8-10) - yeah... it's in the Bible.

You see, Nimrod conceived a one world government model in rebellion against God and went about to establishing this one world government in the land of Shinar (today is Iraq) and instituted a pagan worship system that rejected the Lord God. The primary false god worshiped was called Baal, at least in Syria & Phoenicia.  He had other name in other places:  he was called Bel in Assyria, Moloch or Molech to the Ammonites, and even Ra or Re in Egypt.

Here is why that is important.  The American Book of Days by George Douglas (H. W. Wilson Co., 1937, p 541) says, "Many of Halloween's customs are derived from the ancient Baal Festivals."

Alexander Hislop in The Two Babylons (NuVision Publications, LLC, 2006, p. 83) wrote, "The worship of Bel (Moloch) and Astarte was very early introduced into Britain along with the Druids, the priests of the groves. From Bel, the 1st of May is still called Beltane in the Almanac; and we have customs still lingering at this day among us, which prove how exactly the worship of Bel or Moloch had been observed."

The references to "lingering customs" refers to Halloween.

Let's look back at Nimrod for a moment.  It is important that you know that Nimrod incorporated into his worship system the grisly practice of human sacrifice and cannibalism.  Hislop [page 171] says, "the priests of Nimrod or Baal were necessarily required to eat of the human sacrifices; and thus it has come to pass that Cahna-Bal (cahna meaning priest & Bal referring to Baal), the Priest of Baal is the established word (cannibal) in our own tongue for a devourer of human flesh."  Here's why that is important.  "The god whom the Druids worshipped was Baal, as the blazing Baal-fires show and children were offered in sacrifice to Baal."

That's what Baal (Moloch) worshippers did. We know that because of what we read in the Bible in Jeremiah 19:5:
[They] have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it come into my mind.
There is absolutely no doubt that Halloween, was a wicked pagan worship day. It is little wonder that even today Halloweens focus is still on horror, mutilation, death, evil and the occult seeing that it is rooted in Baal worship!

Undoubtedly, we come in contact with people who regularly protest, "That may have been true in the past, but that is not true today."

And I was one such person before my conversion.

For years and years throughout my childhood this was always a time of fun and late nights playing with my cousins and siblings, but especially about getting lots of candy.  I cannot remember ever seeing anything wrong with my family's professing Christian beliefs and celebrating this holiday.  No one was sacrificing anything, except some hours of sleep and maybe their teeth to cavities.

That pattern continued until a few years ago when God called me to Himself,  saving me out of a life that was on a road straight to Hell, a life of selfish focus and total absence of any reverence to His Name, to His Glory, or what He did for me at the Cross.  It was at that time that I began to reassess everything in my life, testing it against what God tells us about Himself in His Word, the Bible.  Most of all, I learned that it wasn't so much about what I did, but the motives I had for doing those things (or conversely, not doing something).

Halloween was one such activity/observance that I took a look at, as it seemed to be one of the more obvious events that had nothing to do with my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Why had I never looked at this before?  It seemed so obvious now.  God's Word shed light on that:
In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4 - emphasis mine)
Simply enough, I was blind to the truth, until the Light (John 1:4) made me see.  What was it that I saw then?  I did not discover that dressing up in a costume was a sin, or that getting candy from others was a sin, or that hanging out around a bon-fire on a chilly night with family and friends was a sin... no, not at all.

Most importantly, when the Light shone on my heart, I didn't see anything but MY heart and the many, many ways in which I had for so many years focused my heart on anything other than Jesus Christ and the Glory of God.

It was then that I understood that is what makes Halloween a heart issue.  Where is my heart on this day?  On EVERY day for that matter?!

So, now that I'm a husband and father, my heart condition is relevant not only for my walk with the Lord, but directly affects my wife and son and their walk.  Where am I leading them?  What do my actions, thoughts, and motives mean for their walk?  Spend enough time in study of God's Word looking for an answer this question, and you'll undoubtedly get to Romans 14.  
Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.  One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.  
The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.  So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. 
Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.  I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.  
For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.  (Romans 14:4-6, 12-15)
There's a lot that could be unpacked in there, and the implications are much more far reaching than application to observance of holidays.  The most common interpretation is that if that person celebrates that day to the glory of God, then your problem with it should not hinder their worship and praise to God.  This is often used in the "first person" point of view, encouraged by our very self-centered cultural mindset - to look out for your rights primarily.

Might I suggest that instead, we look at this from a New Testament "one another", others first point of view?  Does my observance of the holiday "put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother"?  Perhaps more to the point, "if your brother is grieved by what you eat (say, or do), you are no longer walking in love."   I think that the lesson in this passage can be translated to any heart motive, not just eating.
  • In other words, am I approaching my observance (or lack-thereof) of Halloween from an "others first" point of view?  
  • Do my beliefs cause another to stumble?  
  • More so, is my heart seeking to please man (family, church members, co-workers, etc) or God?  
  • Am I just seeking a compromise that will make my life easier and cause me less friction with those around me?
  • Does my testimony to the lost/unsaved say that I place ultimate allegiance and preeminence on the Lord of the universe, the Lord of my life?  
  • Or does my testimony to my neighbors say that I don't want to cause waves and I'm just seeking a comfortable existence where I can live side-by-side with a pagan, God-hating culture and not be sickened and disturbed by my proximity to ungodliness so as to maintain the peace with everyone?
  • Does Romans 12:18, "If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all", mean that we cover over our love for Christ so as not to cause our friends and family to "look at us weird"?  
Am I suggesting that we just lock the doors, turn off the lights, and hide our families inside the house on October 31?  Not at all.  But perhaps taking advantage of the time to do some God-honoring activities such as spending time with family and friends in a manner that pays no homage to an ancient pagan holiday.

When God brought His people into the promised land of Israel, he told them to have nothing to do with the gods and pagan practices of the people that resided in that land.  He did not tell them to have no festivals and celebrations at all.  He gave them a culture with festivities and celebrations, but ones that were meant to honor Him and what He had done for His people.

[And speaking of the wonderful things God does for His people, He gave us our son on October 31, 2009.  Just over one year after He took our twin boys home to be with Him, He gave us a little something to celebrate on that day.]

I pray that God would give me grace to seek to live peaceably with all but not at the expense of giving Him the glory in all that I say, do, or think.  I pray that as I lead my family, that I would seek not my own agenda or will, but that I would strive to make my heart motives pure and that I would lead in such a way that those that follow in my footsteps do so because they see that Jesus stepped there first.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Is the Christian life as a series of negotiations?

Do you see the Christian life as a series of negotiations?
John 14:15:  "If you love me, you will keep my commandments."

You hear the preacher say that God's Word says such and such, or you read it for yourself, if you profess this then you should do such and such.  But, you don't feel like doing that.  

Would you then interpret the above verse like this?
"If you love Me, you will give Me a shot at convincing you that My way is in your best interests."

How about 1 John 5:3: "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments."

Perhaps your interpretation is, "This is the love of God, that we wait until we feel that it's easy and effortless, or nothing else that we've tried worked, then we'll try out His way".

I'm posting this because I see this all too often in my own life.  I might be tempted to sleep in on Sunday, or do/think/say something that I know I shouldn't, and then I want to negotiate or debate what I know God says about it.
"For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification." (Romans 6:19)  

I emphasized that word, and that word is underlined for a reason. The Greek word is "doulos" and it means "slave".  The New Testament Greek Lexicon defines "doulos" as:
  • one who gives himself up to another's will
  • devoted to another to the disregard of one's own interests

I am a slave.  Most translations render that word as "servant" or "bond-servant" because we don't like the word slave.  But that's what the word is and that's what we are.  Okay then, so why do I keep treating the parts of my body as my own?  Why do I want to use them for my convenience and according to my preference?  As a Christian I know that I am to present them all as "slaves to righteousness, which results in sanctification", and this includes getting those parts of my body up on Sunday morning and to church, whether it is convenient and easy or not?  Right?

There is no way around it: if we are not slaves of Christ, then we are slaves of sin (Romans 6:15-23). But we are slaves!  Either to the One or the other.

Now, we can anticipate many responses to this.  One would most assuredly be: we are not merely slaves, but also sons.

Absolutely!  The response would be: is a son supposed to question his father's commandments?  Isn't a son to obey his father, and honor him (Deuteronomy 21:18; Malachi 1:6; Colossians 3:20)?  Now, if this is the case with our earthly father, is it not much more the case with our heavenly Father (Hebrews 12:9)?

This truly is being preached at me.  You see, when I was a boy I would try to argue or reason my way out of just about anything, especially if I didn't want to do it.  My mom or dad would clearly lay down the rules, but I had to argue with them.  Sometimes just for the sport of it!  Nevertheless, I had to be convinced by obvious reason that something was really for my own good.  As you can see, I was not very obedient much of the time.

Today, that tendency is still very much at work in my daily life.  Of course, I've surrendered my life to Christ, and chosen to follow His way, but there is still a struggle there.  The difference between then and now is that I've been converted to Christ.  Before my conversion, I was a slave to those tendencies - a slave to sin.  After, I no longer have to obey the sinful ways of my youth - Christ has freed me from that bondage and replaced it with a light yoke under His Lordship (Matthew 11:30; Galatians 5:1).

Here's the point:  whether we're talking about a matter of doctrine, or whether I should go to church, or how I respond to my wife/children/employer, or any other topic under the umbrella of "Christian living", when I respond to God's commandments with a "but" or a series of excuses, I'm no better than Satan in the Garden of Eden when he argued to Eve, "Has God really said that?  Are you really convinced that it's for your own good?  God really just wants to keep something really great for Himself, and not let you have it."  You see, doing that elevates me to the same level as God in my mind - I have exalted myself to the place where I claim the right to question His authority.

So the question we should be asking ourselves: what do you do when faced with a clear commandment, with clear teaching of Scripture, that goes against what YOU want to do?  Either Jesus is Lord, or we are. If we are, He isn't; if He is, we aren't.

We need to think like a slave; and not only a slave, but a crucified slave, who has died to his old master (sin & self), and raised to life for another (Jesus Christ).

So you say, "Whoa! Wait just a minute... is it really just that simple?"  Yes and no.  You see, we take all of those "buts" and excuses and reasons and attempts to slip by or deceive ourselves and Him, and we admit, "I'm going to need a lot of help here", and we take them and ourselves to the Cross, we count ourselves dead to them, we plead for the enabling grace of God... and then... we obey.

Dan Phillips put it this way:
It all really comes down to this: move the "but."

Until now, it has been: "God says to obey, but I have these excuses/challenges/difficulties." And so you don't start. The issue is still whether to obey. This thinking is not indicative of a slave, much less a son.

From now on, it must be "I have these excuses/challenges/difficulties, but God says to obey." And then you start. Now, the issue is not whether, but how. This is thinking like a slave, and thinking like a son.

Move that "but."

Then move yours.

So whoever knows the right thing to do
and fails to do it,
for him it is sin
(James 4:17)

Adapted from Dan Phillips post on November 20, 2008 on Pyromaniacs

Sunday, August 22, 2010

1 Thessalonians 1:4-6

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.

For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
(1 Thessalonians 1:1-10)

Verse 4 
εἰδότες, ἀδελφοὶ ἠγαπημένοι ὑπὸ Θεοῦ, τὴν ἐκλογὴν ὑμῶν, (GNT)

Knowing brethren, O ones being loved by God, of your selection, (AB)

For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, (ESV)

This is a continuation of the thought beginning in verse 2, "We give thanks to God always for all of you...", with verse 3 giving details of how they're giving thanks, and now in verse 4 we see Paul explaining why they give thanks, "For we know... that He has chosen you".  The word, for, could be translated, because:  "[Because] we know... that He has chosen you".

So, they're giving thanks because they know that the brethren in Thessalonica have been chosen, or selected, by God.  The word, εκλογην, is a unique word that only appears in the New Testament, and always in regard to God's choosing of men (Acts 9:15; Romans 9:11; Romans 11:5; Romans 11:7; Romans 11:28; 1 Thessalonians 1:4; 2 Peter 1:10).  A related word, εξελεξαμην, was used by Jesus in John 15:16 when He tells the disciples, "You did not choose me, but I chose you...", and this is often pointed to as one proof-text of the doctrine of election, in that Jesus chose us, not that we chose Him.

In the next verse we read what evidence led the Apostle and his companions to this conclusion.

Verse 5 

ὅτι τὸ εὐαγγέλιον ἡμῶν οὐκ ἐγενήθη εἰς ὑμᾶς ἐν λόγω μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐν δυνάμει καὶ ἐν Πνεύματι ῾Αγίω καὶ ἐν πληροφορίᾳ πολλῇ,  καθὼς οἴδατε οἷοι ἐγενήθημεν ἐν ὑμῖν δι᾿ ὑμᾶς.  (GNT)
that our good news did not take place in you in word only, but also in power, and in [2spirit 1holy], and in [2full assurance 1much]; as you know what we became among you for you.  (AB)
because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. (ESV)

A cross reference in my bible takes me to 1 Corinthians 2, where Paul says, "And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God." [emphasis mine]  

The Holy Spirit was the confirming aspect of the message that Paul delivered to them - not his own "smooth and flattering speech" (Romans 16:18) or a self-made "persuasive argument" (Colossians 2:4).  

Peter makes a similar statement:  "For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ..." (2 Peter 1:16a).

We read in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians that "the man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Corinthians 2:14)  These believers in Thessalonica were convinced of the truth by the power of the Holy Spirit, not by a message brought to them by man only.


Verse 6
Καὶ ὑμεῖς μιμηταὶ  ἡμῶν ἐγενήθητε καὶ τοῦ Κυρίου,  δεξάμενοι τὸν λόγον ἐν θλίψει πολλῇ μετὰ χαρᾶς Πνεύματος ῾Αγίου,  (GNT)

And you [2imitators 3of us 1became], and of the Lord, having received the word in [2affliction 1much], with joy [2spirit 1of holy],

And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit,
There are three obvious aspects of this verse that I want to look at quickly.  First, "imitators of us and of the Lord" means that they looked to Paul and his companions to demonstrate for them how a follower of Christ should behave and treat others.  Just as we today need others to come along side us and disciple us in the ways of Jesus, they too looked to these men as their example.

Second, "received the word in much affliction", is not a phrase that engenders the "warm and fuzzies", right?  Contrary to much "health, weath, and happiness" teaching that passes for Christianity today, Scripture teaches in fact that the true follower of Jesus Christ will bear His reproach.  Just as Christ was rejected by the world, so too will His followers.  These believers apparently suffered affliction based on their profession, and yet we see that they still had joy.

Third, "the joy of the Holy Spirit".  What would Paul be referring to here? Joy amongst affliction?  What exactly is this "joy of the Holy Spirit"?  Would you say that you have this joy in your daily life, or at any time at all?  Are God's commandments heavy burdens to bear?  Is coming together on Sunday mornings with fellow believers simply another chore that "respectable people" do, but there is no joy in it?  I don't believe that Paul is referring to the "joy" that one finds in many modern American churches where you have loud popular music and choreographed light shows entertaining 2000+ attenders.  If man must manufacture the "joy" in the church-goer, then it's not of the Holy Spirit.  I believe that the joy that Paul refers to here is the genuine joy that a believer experiences when they do find themselves under that affliction for Christ's sake, and stop to remember that Jesus told us that we would suffer for His sake.  When we find ourselves ridiculed and rejected for our beliefs, we are tasting just a bit of the reproach that Jesus bore for us.

I believe that we Christians in America are going to see a "ramping up" of this ridicule and rejection in the next coming years.  We're already seeing it.  We've seen a steady erosion of Scriptural authority throughout the 20th century, and it's continued with a vengeance in the 21st century.  As secular society continues to chip away at biblical authority in the areas of creation vs. evolution, the family vs. gay-rights, and "every-road-goes-to-heaven" vs. Biblical Christianity (just to name a few) Christians will be vilified and persecuted for what will be labeled as "intolerant" or bigoted views.

The New Testament is replete with messages to the Christian in this arena - 1 Thessalonians is one such place.  We should not be taken aback by it or led to believe that it means that we missed something when we too receive the message "in much affliction".  What will be the tell is whether we suffer that affliction "in the joy of the Holy Spirit". 

Friday, July 23, 2010

Mark 2:1-5

And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home.
And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them.
And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men.
And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay.
And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.
 - Mark 2:1-5

1.  "...he was at home"
  • Greek is, εις οικον εστιν, which near as I can tell is, "in the house he is".
  • "The house"?  Probably Peter's house in Capernaum (reference Mark 1:29).
  • I'm reminded of Matthew 8:20: 
And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
  • JFB Commentary on Matthew 8:20 - "Knowest thou whom thou art pledging thyself to follow, and whither haply He may lead thee? No warm home, no downy pillow has He for thee: He has them not for Himself. The foxes are not without their holes, nor do the birds of the air lack their nests; but the Son of man has to depend on the hospitality of others, and borrow the pillow whereon He lays His head."

2.  The paralytic 
This man is being brought to Jesus by four men, presumably so that He can heal him of his paralysis.  But the crowd around Jesus was too large, so they couldn't get the man to Jesus directly.  This is where I just find it baffling - they apparently decide that the next logical step would be to go to the roof of the house, open a hole in that roof, and lower the man down to Him.  Just baffling!  
I can't help but wonder if this isn't a picture of what Jesus was saying in Matthew 11:12:
"From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force."

But perhaps even more surprising than these letting him through a hole in the roof is the reaction of our Lord in verse 5.
And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.
A couple things I want to look at here:
  1. Jesus saw their faith
  2. He forgives his sins, rather than physically heals him

First, I think I've usually missed the fact that all of the men in this instance would have had to be complicit in this whole deal.  Each one was exhibiting faith in going along with this plan, and Jesus saw that.  I also think that their faith was displayed by their doing it, by carrying out their plan, rather than just talking about it

These men did not just say, "Well, we tried and we just couldn't get close enough.  Oh sure, we could have tore a hole in the roof and let him down, but that would have been a little too much work.  Yeah, we talked about it, and it maybe it would have worked.  It's just... I mean, how rude would it have been to tear a hole in the guys roof, when if we were really meant to get him healed it would have just worked out, you know?  Obviously it wasn't meant to be and... well, it's the thought that counts, right?"

Sound familiar?  How many times in our daily lives do we have this kind of conversation, either with our selves or with those around us?  If we had put a little more effort into it, or even a lot more effort, it would have happened, but our laziness and complacency wins out and we write it off as "if it had been 'meant to be' then it would have happened that way"??
"Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works."                                                                      James 2:18b
My wife pointed out while discussing this passage that parents of a sick child will often go to great measures to get medical help for their child.  True; and I think typically we see their faith exhibited in that course of action.  They believe that they will find help.  Consequently, if they didn't believe it to be so, they'd be fools to spend the energy and resources pursuing an unknown.  
** [Now, I used the word "typically" above because mere observation of human actions and behavior over a length of time has lead many an observer to conclude that people often profess belief in any number of things or ideas without the corresponding follow-up in actions.  For instance, one that smokes cigarettes may say they believe that it will cause cancer and possibly be the cause of an early death.  However, if that was what they truly believed, they would cease this habit. The innate instinct of self-preservation would/should override any addiction to the nicotine.  Yet, if truly pressed, we would have to admit that we are gambling that we'll be that slim minority that appears to not reap what we sow.  Just like the teenager that believes they are immortal, we hang on to our real belief system:  that we're not susceptible to the same forces and consequences as "everyone else".
Another example:  one may profess to believe in the Holy, Omnipresent, Omniscient, and Omnipotent God of the Bible, but pursue a lifestyle that would have to leave the observer concluding the exact opposite.  This is not to suggest that Christians do not ever sin, but our style of life should be one that reflects a striving for godliness and holiness.  The world should observe a marked difference in the Christian's style of life from that of one that does not profess Christ as Lord of their life.  Scripture tells us that this should be, among other things, marked not only by obedience to the commands of Jesus, but more so demonstrated by a love for one another, and especially for God.]
Anyway, these men demonstrated their belief and faith in Jesus to heal their friend.  If they had not had this faith, they would not have gone to such lengths to get him to see Jesus.

Secondly, Jesus shows us His divinity in forgiving sins, but also shows us the priority [spiritual vs. physical].  Scripture is replete with evidence that only God can forgive one's sins.  The following passages touch on this [emphasis mine].

The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation."
Exodus 34:6,7
If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
2 Chronicles 7:14
And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."
Jeremiah 31:34
My eyes are ever toward the LORD, for he will pluck my feet out of the net.Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.The troubles of my heart are enlarged; bring me out of my distresses.Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins.
Psalm 25:15-18
LORD, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob.You forgave the iniquity of your people; you covered all their sin.You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger.Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us!
Psalm 85:1-4

Some of the scribes and teachers of the Law are present in the house, and when they hear Jesus forgive this man's sins they immediately accuse Him of blasphemy - because they KNOW that only God can do this.  In fact, I imagine them doing a double-take when they hear this

Let's try to picture what's going on here for a minute.  The people in the house would have been aware of this hole being opened up in the roof for at least a few minutes prior.  I mean, think about it: the people immediately below it had to be picking stuff out of their hair!  I imagine people were causing quite a stir as they watched this spectacle (remember, it was awfully crowded in there, so there isn't much room to which to move, so people are probably stepping on each other... at least some measure of chaos).  Anyway, they're watching as these men let a paralyzed man down on a bed, and at some point they are probably looking back and forth between this man on the bed and Jesus, waiting to see what Jesus' reaction is going to be to this unusual series of events.

Now we read in verse 5 just what Jesus' response is: He said to the paralytic, "My son, your sins are forgiven".

What?  Now, come on.  You have to admit that this is not anywhere close to the response we would be expecting if we were there watching this unfold.  I think there's much in this passage to teach about the priority of things, what's more important than another.  In this case, the state of this mans soul is of ultimately more importance than the roof of this house.  We could bring this up to today and teach a good lesson on where we place our priority.  How many times do we place greater value on things over the needs of another human being?  However, instead of looking at what Jesus did NOT say, for the purposes of this blog post we want to look at what He DID say.

Jesus correctly diagnosed this man's greatest need to be his need for forgiveness.  In that assessment we can take away so very much.  As my pastor is fond of saying, "Keep the main thing the main thing".  This would be what we see happening in this passage today.  It should also be what the world sees Christ's body on earth, the Church, doing everyday:  keeping the main thing, the main thing.  It is so easy to fall into "mission drift" and focus on meeting people's felt needs, trying to "engage the culture", or mistakenly subscribe to a kind of theology that sees Christians' highest goal to "make the world a better place".  Often, we make elaborate arguments suggesting that every little focus is ultimately lending to the betterment of the "Kingdom", and with each one of these tiny adjustments in our focus we slowly drift away from the Cross, from the Main Thing, until we find that we've completely lost our view of the Cross.

The point:  it's human to see this situation and assess the man's greatest need to be physical healing.  I think I would be correct in saying that this is our flesh talking.  Whether we're looking at our selves, or our fellow brothers & sisters in Christ, or any other person, we should be Spirit-minded and led by the Spirit.  And as we'll look at in the next section, we'll see that when we have our priorities right, our actions will affirm and confirm that Spirit led view.