Thursday, December 24, 2009


When Cara was two years old, Lisa observed her reciting Jesus’ nativity. Lisa penned as Cara spoke. Below are Cara’s words.
“Mary and Joseph went to the man at the boss-house and said, ‘Boss, do you have any place for Mary to sleep?’
“Then they went to the other boss and said, ‘Do you have any beds for Mary?’
“And Mary said, ‘My baby is about to come out.’
“And the boss said, ‘You can sleep with my animals.’
“But Mary said, ‘It’s too dirty.’ So Mary and Joseph went to the stable, and nothing licked her or bit her, and then Baby Jesus came out!’
“The animals were so happy, and they loved him. And the angels came, and the shepherds came, and the kings came, and the camels came because they have humps to hold water.
“We are so happy that Jesus was born. He is a wonderful baby.
“Baby Jesus is the Son of God!” — Cara age 2½
The word translated, “manger” in Luke 2 is translated “stall” or “stable” in Luke 13. A search of the LXX shows that the word consistently means stall or stable. Looking at the Hebrew words behind the Greek Septuagint, they likewise means stall, stable, or sheepfold.
Context influences but does not change the literal meaning of words. Tradition influences translations, but often tradition obscures the truth and beauty of Scripture. Looking at the context of Luke 2, we see the angels surprising the shepherds, saying,
Fear not! for behold I announce to you good news – great joy which shall be to all the people. For to you was born to day a deliverer who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David. And this is the sign to you: you shall find the babe being swaddled, lying in a stable.
Luke 2:10-12 (AB)
Tradition broadens the meaning of the Greek word, phatnh, to mean “manger” or “feeding trough.” By so doing, tradition obscures the poetry of Scripture, which instead tells us that Jesus, the Lamb of God, was born in a sheepfold – the most likely place for shepherds to search.
Tradition may correctly capture the humility of Jesus’ birth, but it misses the the powerful image of Jesus’ humble birth portending his sacrificial death.
Perhaps, John the Baptist knew of Jesus’ humble beginning when upon seeing Jesus, declared, “See, the Lamb of God! the one carrying the sin of the world!” John 1:29 (AB)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


I feel conflicted about Christmas. I'm happily anticipating the holiday this year for several reasons. It will be a long weekend away from the office. My older kids will come home. Dad will come down. We’ll give gifts to the kids. I enjoy the decorations Lisa displays in the house. The ornaments on the Christmas tree remind me of years past. Lisa is a wonderful cook, and I enjoy what she feeds me.
Nevertheless, there are many things that puzzle me about Christmas. The New Testament church did not celebrate what we call Christmas. The Bible is ambiguous regarding the time of Jesus’ birth, but better guesses would indicate that it did not occur in December. Personally, I think Sukkot, or Feast of Booths, is the likely anniversary of Jesus incarnation. He who came to tabernacle among men ordained this day to remind Israel that they were travelers in a hostile land. Israel was to look forward to the promise of rest that is fulfilled only in Jesus Christ. In defense of December 25, I concede that if Sukkot is the anniversary of the birth of Jesus, then sometime around the end of December the Annunciation would have occurred (Luke 1:26-38).
I am puzzled by Christians who “defend” Christmas by confronting society with what they perceive as improper celebrations. This seems by be a type of bully evangelism over the sanctity of a day never ordained in Scripture. Surely, a little peace on earth and good will toward men would be more appropriate.
At the same time, I’m puzzled by Christians who incorporate a non-Christian deity (Santa Claus) in their celebration regardless of their passion for Christmas. Consider the attributes of Santa Claus (omniscience, omnipresence, immortality, etc) and tell me that he isn’t a deity.
I am puzzled by Christians who justify the Christmas tree by quoting legends about Martin Luther, or by associating the Christmas tree with the cross. To me, the Christmas tree is a place where we celebrate family. If Jesus bore my sins in his body on the cross (1 Peter 1:24), why would I hang sentimental ornaments on a Christmas tree that symbolizes the cross of suffering and shame? Moreover, if the Christmas tree holds any religious significance at all, why would I bring such an idol (object of reverence) into my house?
Around Christmastime, I remind myself that Christians have only one New Covenant holiday. According to Hebrews 3:7, Hebrews 4:7, and Psalm 95:7-8, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” Today, is the day that God established. Today, we commemorate the incarnation and sacrifice of Jesus Christ in our lives. Today, we respond to God’s voice in faith. I ask myself, while we have Today, what value does Christmas add?
While I debate the Christian’s proper response to the Christmas holiday, I am also amazed that for a day or a season, much of the world pauses and some men still contemplate that, He who was from the beginning, appeared to men, announcing the Word of life (1 John 1:1-2). I am awestruck when I contemplate that the Word, who called the universe into existence,  became flesh and tabernacled among men. (John 1:1-14, Hebrews 1:1-2)
I am reminded that upon the birth of Jesus Christ, God reached out both to the shepherds who were nearby, and to the Magi who were far away, and he drew them to His Son. We should celebrate this, Today.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Let the river run

Carly Simon recently released a new album, Never Been Gone, in which she covers and reinterprets some of her greatest songs. Within the collection is, "Let the River Run." The compelling melody delivers a lyric charged with imagery.
Let the river run
Let all the dreamers
Wake the nation
Come, the new Jerusalem.

Some might enjoy the song without understanding the allusion. In fact, Ms. Simon seems to appropriate the allusion to convey her own Utopian vision. Nevertheless, the song alludes to Scripture, and the literary minded will want to understand the origins. For the faithful, the words "Let the river run" and "Come, the new Jerusalem" elicit hope more intensely than Carly Simon might imagine. The allusion derives from the Book of Revelation.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."

He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true."

He said to me: "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.

Revelation 21:1-7 (NIV)
The river to which the song alludes is found after the chapter break,
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever.

Revelation 22:1-5 (NIV)
After listening to "Let the River Run," again last night I was reminded how lyricists in the '60's would often allude to Scripture even when their message was not particularly Christian. The imagery from the Bible was part of the common vocabulary. My perception is that the culture is now different. Scripture no longer provides the foundation for literature that it once did.

When I listen to "Let the River Run" I do not feel nostalgic for the time when Scripture laid a foundation for literature. Scripture stands alone. I do long for the day when the river will flow from the throne of God. I long for the New Jerusalem where "the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain."

Let the river run . . . Come, the new Jerusalem.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Waiting for mud to dry

This week has been a vacation from my job, but it has not been a reprieve from work. There was a "soft spot" on the tile in our master bathroom for a couple months. A couple weeks ago that soft spot became a hole and the hole became a project. Like all fun projects, the scope increased geometrically.

The logic goes something like this.
  1. You cannot salvage all the tiles, no matter how careful you try to be.
    1. You can find coordinating tile, or . . .
    2. You can re-tile the entire shower.
  2. You cannot successfully remove tile from sheetrock.
    1. You can "surgically" cut away the bad, or . . .
    2. You can re-rock every wall holding tile with new mildew and moisture resistant sheet rock.
  3. All walls have some tile. If you intend to re-rock all walls then . . .
    1. This provides a one-time opportunity to replace the bathroom linoleum floor with ceramic tile.
    2. It also provides an opportunity to tear out the acoustic tile panels on the ceiling that the former homeowner used to cover up a disintegrating "cottage cheese" ceiling.
  4. If you have the sheet rock off the walls then this provides an opportunity to . . .
    1. Raise the shower head 12 inches (this requires an additional 10 square feet of tile).
    2. Insulate a wall behind the tub that was stripped of insulation during a room addition by the previous owner (no wonder that wall felt so drafty).
    3. And to add a larger electrical box and an extra outlook next to the vanity.
  5. Since new sheet rock must be painted, this provides an opportunity to choose a coordinating color scheme for the rest of the master bedroom.
  6. Items out of scope:
    1. Bedroom carpet
    2. Doors and trim
    3. Lighting fixtures
    4. Tub and related fixtures
    5. Toilet (although the toilet has to be removed to accommodate tiling and painting)
    6. Sink and vanity . . . for the time being.
With family coming into town today and others coming next week for Thanksgiving, I feel a little time pressure waiting for mud to dry on the sheetrock. As I wait for mud to dry, I am thankful for a vacation and the opportunity to work with my hands. I am thankful for having previous experience on various projects many years ago. I am thankful that Claire and Gabby have been willing helpers. I am thankful that Lisa (always a frugal shopper) has run many errands and has displayed incredible patience with me.

I am thankful for our home. I am thankful for family. I am thankful for the many blessings that have brought me where I am today.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Mt Pleasant Sunday

This morning we drove up to Mt Pleasant in time for church. I recorded Dad with my MXL USB.008. Somehow it acts differently on Windows 7 than it did with XP. It shouldn't on the same laptop, but somehow I couldn't keep it from clipping even with the gain switched to -20db. That I forgot my shock mount probably didn't help, but the audio is clean enough (Lisa is still coughing from her recent bout with cold or flu).

After church we went to "the farm" for a dinner of smoked turkey, hash brown casserole, home baked bread with butter and Gabby's crabapple jelly.

Pat, Jo, Lee, and Barbie joined us for an afternoon of food and fellowship. Nine people crowded around Dad's table for pre-Thanksgiving feast.

I didn't record dinner, but here is Dad's sermon . . .

Joy and Justice

Saturday, October 31, 2009


I realized last night that related pieces of information have rattled around in my brain for at least 30 years without my making any correlation. Sometimes I'm slow. Now that you're curious, I'll pose the topic of my enlightenment as a question:

To the prayer of what former king of Judah was Jesus alluding when he told the scribes and Pharisees, "I have not come to call righteous ones, but sinners unto repentance."?

For those who know the answer, pat yourselves on the back. It took me thirty years to figure it out. For the rest of you, I'll simplify the question:

What former king of Judah is credited with the following prayer?

Thou therefore, O Lord, that art the God of the just, hast not appointed repentance to the just, as to Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, which have not sinned against thee; but thou hast appointed repentance unto me that am a sinner: for I have sinned above the number of the sands of the sea. (King James Version)

If you answered either question correctly, I commend you for your extracurricular reading in the Apocrypha. The scribes and Pharisees had complained that Jesus and his disciples ate with sinners, and Jesus answered them, "No need do the ones being in health have of a physician, but the ones having illness. I have not come to call righteous ones but sinners to repentance." Luke 5:31-32 (AB)

In fairness to scholars, although The Prayer of Manasseh is mentioned in 2 Chronicles 33:18-20, there is no continuity of manuscripts proving that the apocryphal version was penned by Manasseh. Perhaps it was re-inked at a later time from oral tradition. That Jesus alludes to it, justifies our study of it especially if we contemplate why Jesus referenced the prayer.

When Jesus encountered the Jews, he always confronted them with his identity. One technique he used was to quote Scripture to associate himself with his divine nature. Luke 20:42 is an example of this. Jesus asked the scribes,

How do they say the Christ [is] the son of David? And he, David says in the book of the Psalms; "The LORD said to my Lord, sit down at my right hand, until whenever I put your enemies as a footstool for your feet." David calls him Lord, so how is he his son?

Luke 20:41-44 (AB)

Jesus refers to the Christ as being both David's son and David's Lord and then asks the Jews to explain this. Of course, they could not explain it unless they changed their theology. Were they interested in knowing the Truth, or were they content to remain muddled in their belief system? By challenging the knowledge of the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus also invited the common man to consider the meaning of the Scriptures.

When he alludes to The Prayer of Manasseh saying, "I have not come to call righteous ones but sinners to repentance," Jesus associates himself with the subject of Manasseh's prayer. Manasseh prays to God saying, You have not appointed repentance to the just, but you have appointed repentance to me because I am a sinner. Who appoints men to repentance? Who calls men to repentance? Through literary allusion, Jesus confronts the Jews with his divine identity. The subtle message that Jesus conveyed was not that the scribes and Pharisees did not need to repent. Rather, Jesus conveyed that he was indeed the one calling upon all men to repent.

Manasseh was a bad character. As king of Judah, he imported foreign gods, built idols, and initiated sacrifices on the high places. God sent the Babylonians to conquer Judah, and they carried Manasseh into prison. Manasseh repented and God restored the kingdom to him. Upon his return to the throne, he destroyed the idols and commanded Judah to worship only the God of Israel. Upon Manasseh's true repentance, God turned from wrath to favor with respect to Manasseh and Judah.

Manasseh seems to make a theological faux pas when he says that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had not sinned against God. However, when we consider Manasseh's words we should realize that the Patriarchs lived prior to the Law and God attributed them righteousness according to their faith (Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:3, Galatians 3:6, James 2:23, Hebrews 11:8-9). No where in the Old Testament does it give an account of the Patriarch's repenting. While each had his faults, their attitudes toward God expressed unwavering faith. Abraham was justified by his faith before the Law was given. Paul explained in Romans 5, "sin is not taken into account when there is no law." Even under the Law an act of faith was credited as righteousness (Psalm 106:31). When Manasseh says that the Patriarch's were not appointed unto repentance, it need not mean that they had never sinned. Rather, he recognizes that their lives exhibited the faithfulness that his own life did not.

So who does Jesus call to repentance—all men everywhere. Paul explained to the Romans that "All have sinned and lack the glory of God." Romans 3:23 (AB) Paul declared to the Athenians at the Areopagus:

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. "For in him we live and move and have our being." As some of your own poets have said, "We are his offspring."

Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man's design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.

Acts 17:24-31 (NIV)

Jesus came to call sinners to repentance. However, as Paul also said, the same one calling men to repent will someday judge all men. Though Jesus said he came to call men to repentance by faith, he also said he was given authority to judge.

I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.

Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.

John 5:24-30 (NIV)

When we consider that Jesus has both the authority to call men to repentance and to judge the unbelieving, we should acknowledge our condition and pray as Manasseh did, saying, "You have appointed repentance unto me because I am a sinner." Just as Manasseh's repentance turned God's judgment into reconciliation and restoration, our repentance to faith transfers us from realm of death to eternal life in Jesus Christ.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Hitherto shalt thou come

I stumbled upon a speech by President Lyndon Baines Johnson which he delivered at the escalation of the Vietnam War. He asked, "Why must this Nation hazard its ease, and its interest, and its power for the sake of a people so far away?" His answer? US soldiers would fight and die in Vietnam because Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy had committed the US to support the government of South Vietnam. Moreover, Johnson declared, "I intend to keep that promise." His commitment was based upon a moral principle. We as a nation had vowed an oath. "To dishonor that pledge, to abandon this small and brave nation to its enemies, and to the terror that must follow, would be an unforgivable wrong." He elaborated,

We are also there because there are great stakes in the balance. Let no one think for a moment that retreat from Viet-Nam would bring an end to conflict. The battle would be renewed in one country and then another. The central lesson of our time is that the appetite of aggression is never satisfied. To withdraw from one battlefield means only to prepare for the next. We must say in Southeast Asia--as we did in Europe--in the words of the Bible: "Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further."

Johnson quotes God's discourse in the Book of Job, Chapter 38. God asked Job whether Job had commanded the oceans, saying, "Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further: and here shall thy proud waves be stayed?" Job 38:11 (KJV)

Perhaps Johnson overreached when he compared his resolve to stop totalitarianism with God's command of nature.

Although Johnson promised, "We will not withdraw, either openly or under the cloak of a meaningless agreement," the Nixon administration did exactly that, and the war in Vietnam ended badly. The Killing Fields of Cambodia followed with millions paying the price of America's capitulation.

Today America's enemy knows we lack resolve. The question they ask is not whether we lack resolve, but how long before we grow tired of war. Iraqis are dying en masse again because US troops have withdrawn from the cities. US leadership equivocates regarding Afghanistan telegraphing the Taliban that they have indeed won; it is only a matter of time. Iran, North Korea, and even Venezuela beat drums of war while America talks compromise. America lacks resolve to finish the fight. We lack the resolve to deal more brutally against our enemy than they deal with us. We ignore Johnson's warning, "To withdraw from one battlefield means only to prepare for the next." Perhaps there is wisdom in our cynicism. In Johnson's words,

We often say how impressive power is. But I do not find it impressive at all. The guns and the bombs, the rockets and the warships, are all symbols of human failure. They are necessary symbols. They protect what we cherish. But they are witness to human folly.

Perhaps we no longer believe, as Johnson did, that righteous wars will someday end war. Instead we see war after war on the horizon and we, like the French in Indochina, prefer capitulation to conflict. C'est la vie. Perhaps we realize, unlike Johnson, that victory will not end conflict. Consequently, we choose life above sacrifice, and assuage our moral conscience with SSRI's. How we feel about life, rather than what we do in life, becomes our standard of our self-examination.

In the 1960's, President Johnson tried to entrench against a wave of aggression in the world. His successor capitulated hoping for the praise of the people. Instead Nixon resigned in disgrace after abusing the power of the Presidency. Today America faces enemies in other parts of the globe. Nevertheless, American leadership has failed to grasp that you cannot foster freedom abroad while infringing on freedom at home. America's enemy is totalitarianism; however; we fight and eventually capitulate to external enemies while condoning the decay of freedom within our borders. If we must fight foreign wars, we should fight for stability, not freedom. Perhaps we should instead defend freedom at home with the same zeal with which we try to impose it elsewhere.

The church today is engaged in war. The dramatic cultural changes of the last century challenge the church to respond. Some churches have endorsed a Christ-less Christianity. A few months ago we visited a church in a city where we used to live. In the entire service, the name of Jesus was mentioned once and then only in an empty context. The songs and the sermon were ambiguous. The production quality was somewhat better than we remembered, but the content was void of Gospel truth. I suppose the church leadership would take this criticism as a compliment because this was the direction toward which they had chosen to go. Before we moved away, they expressed determination to do anything to make church attractive to the culture. Returning, I could see nothing distinguishing them from the culture.

Some church denominations are entrenching, confronting cultural change at the front door, saying, "Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further." Yet the congregations lack the resolve to remain traditional. The liturgies of old seem empty and irrelevant. Reaching out to a specific demographic succumbs to pandering to a demographic. The effectiveness of church is judged based on how it makes people feel rather than its faithfulness to the Truth and the Light. Cultural morass creeps in disguised as youth programs and activities. The question of surrendering to the culture is not "whether" but "when." We fight a war of attrition to slow what we perceive as decay within the traditional church. We fail to see that the battle is not beginning, but rather this battle has continued from the beginning.

Jesus warned the Galileans, saying, "From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force." Matthew 11:12 (NASB) Jesus warned that violent men use religion to increase their own power and influence. This is not a new concept. Jesus referred to John the Baptist's ministry. John the Baptist had rebuked the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to be baptized by him, saying, "You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance." Matthew 3:7-8 (NASB) The Pharisees and Sadducees would submit to John's baptism if it meant that they could remain relevant. Paul warned Timothy that the battle would continue.

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

1 Timothy 4:1-5 (NASB)

The real battle lines are not drawn then between traditionalism and modernism, but rather the battle lines are drawn between truth and deception. To the extent that the emergent church and the traditional church both promote church above Christ, they are merely opposite sides of the same coin. They both seek power and influence at the expense of their congregants. The congregations seek leaders who tell them what they want to hear. Both define church as something that Paul never described 1 Corinthians 14.

In Gary Hamel's Management 2.0 blog, "Organized Religion's 'Management Problem'", he writes, "Back in the first century, the Christian church was organic, communal and mostly free of ritual—and it needs to become so again . . ."

To the extent that church models supplant the organism—the body of Christ—with an organization, they misrepresent Christ.

We organize, but we are not organic. We take "Communion", but we are not communal. Whether we rock or recite our liturgies, we ritualize the Christian experience. From a first century perspective we have fallen away. We are the apostate church the New Testament warns against.

The apostate church battles amongst itself regarding methodologies that achieve the same eventual alienation from Christ. The assembly, the body of Christ, is not a place where unbelievers should feel comfortable. We should evangelize, but we should not compromise. Likewise, the assembly, the body of Christ, should not be cold and sterile, ritualistic and intermittent. The early Christians lived together as family because the Apostles taught them to. Do we presume to understand Christianity better than those who walked with Christ?

We have forgotten that only God can say, "Hitherto shalt thou come, and no further." Christian leaders of any variety can no more define church than Job could command the oceans. The Apostle Paul described church very clearly in his letters, especially 1 Corinthians chapter 14. What we feel that church should be has little relevance compared to the Apostle's command, but we drown our guilt with professional performances or perpetual programs.

The choice confronting Christians today is not a choice between traditionalism and modernism. Rather the choice confronting us is, as it has always been, obedience or disobedience. After hearing God's discourse, Job repented in sack cloth and ashes. What will we do?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


The Greek word,  [propitious], is first used in Genesis 43 in the LXX (Septuagint). In this passage, Joseph's brothers have returned the silver that Joseph surreptitiously had refunded on their original trip to Egypt. His brothers plead their case, saying, "We do not know who put the silver in our bags." Genesis 43:22 (AB) Joseph replied to them saying, "Kindness, be to you, do not fear. Your God, and the God of your fathers gave you treasures in your bags." Genesis 43:23 (AB)

While Moses was receiving the Ten Commandments from God on Mount Sinai, Israel compelled Aaron to fashion a golden calf for them to worship. Aaron declared to the people, "These are your gods, O Israel, who hauled you from out of the land of Egypt." Exodus 32:4 (AB) Israel's rebellion angered God, and he said to Moses, "And now allow me! For being enraged in anger against them, I will obliterate them." Exodus 32:9 (AB) Moses interceded for the people, pleading, "Cease in the anger of your rage, and be propitious to the evil of your people." Exodus 32:12 (AB) In response to Moses' intercession, "The LORD dealt kindly concerning the bad which he said he would do to his people." Exodus 32:14 (AB) In this passage from the LXX (Septuagint), the root word translated in the New Testament as propitiation, appears twice: Moses asked God to be propitious, and the LORD dealt kindly.

Moses again interceded for the people in Numbers 14 after their refusal to enter the land which God had promised them. God spoke to Moses, saying, "I will strike them in death, and I will destroy them, and I will make you into a great and populous nation rather than this one." Numbers 14:12 (AB) Moses pleaded, "Dismiss the sin of this people according to your great mercy, just as kindness happened to them from Egypt to the present."

After Naaman was healed of leprosy by bathing in the Jordon River, he requested that Elisha give him dirt from Israel so that Naaman could offer burnt offerings to God on ground that was not contaminated by his former idolatry. Naaman said, "And the LORD shall deal kindly with me, your servant in this matter." 2 Kings 5:18 (AB)

David cried out to God saying, "Because of your name, O LORD, atone [propitiate] my sin! For it is great." Psalm 25:11 (AB) In another Psalm, David declares, "Lawless words overpowered us; but you shall atone [propitiate] our impieties." Psalm 65:3 (AB) Asaph, another contributor to the Psalms, writes of Israel in the desert,

And they loved him by their mouth, but by their tongue they lied to him. And their heart was not straight with him, nor did they trust in his covenant. But he is one pitying, and he shall atone [propitiate] their sins, and he will not utterly destroy. And he will fill the turning of his rage, and shall not kindle all his anger.

Psalm 78:37-38 (AB)
In these and other Old Testament passages, the words propitious, propitiate, and propitiation convey a reversal of outcome. Joseph's brothers discovered that what should have been debited against them was credited back to them. Israel's rebellion warranted God's wrath, but instead God turned his wrath into kindness. Naaman was healed of leprosy. David was forgiven his sin. When we look throughout Scripture we see propitiation turn away from the natural outcome towards kindness.

In the Old Testament tabernacle worship on the Day of Atonement, the high priest would once a year pass through the veil, into the most holy place, and sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice on the mercy seat, or propitiation seat. On this day, Israel would confess their sins, and God would propitiate. In the New Testament, the word atonement or propitiation is used to describe the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. Understanding the meaning of propitiation is crucial to our understanding of the cross. The Apostle John writes, "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." 1 John 4:10 (NASB)

At times we fill words with our preconceived ideas. Often Christians fill the words atonement or propitiation with un-Biblical theology. Some perceive atonement to be a surrogate punishment; however, the principle meaning of the word deals with kindness. While other words can be translated kindness or kind, propitiation is a special type of kindness. Propitiation reverses adverse circumstance into kindness. When we read that Christ is the propitiation for our sins, we should recall that he turns God's wrath into God's favor. The word propitiation alludes to the Old Testament system of tabernacle worship, the Mercy Seat, and the Day of Atonement. The NIV translates 1 John 4:10, "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." The Apostolic Bible renders the literal English translation, "In this is the love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his son as an atonement for our sins." We could also translate 1 John 4:10 to say, "This is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son [to deal kindly with our sins]." How does the cross of Jesus Christ demonstrates God's kindness toward sinners? The Apostle Peter writes,

He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.

1 Peter 2:24-25 (NASB)
In what way did Christ's death on the cross demonstrate kindness? He demonstrated kindness toward us by carrying our sins into death. Because he carried our sins into death, we do not have to die in our sins. The Apostle Paul explains it:

God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned—for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.

But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man's sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

Romans 5:8-18 (NIV)
Though necessary, why was the cross of Jesus Christ such a brutal ordeal? Would a peaceful death have accomplished the same objective? Some claim that God punished the Christ instead of punishing us. They claim that the Father poured out his wrath on the Son and then turned his face away. They concoct support for this theory based on Jesus' quoting Psalm 22 while hanging on the cross. However, Jesus' words are an invitation to read the entire Psalm, and reading the entire Psalm in the context of the crucifixion one would not come to the absurd conclusion that the Father ever despised the Son.

After crying out "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" the Psalmist prophetically affirmed,

God has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted;
Nor has He hidden His face from him;
But when he cried to Him for help, He heard.

Psalm 22:24 (NASB)
Christ did not suffer by the hand of God, the Christ suffered by the hands of men as Isaiah 53 eloquently prophesies. God's supposed wrath against the Son did not propitiate our sins. Rather the complete obedience of the Son merited his Father's favor. The writer of Hebrews tells us, "Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation." Hebrews 5:8-9 (NIV) Paul wrote to the Philippians regarding the depth of Jesus' obedience, saying,

Although He existed in the form of God, [he] did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father

Philippians 2:6-11 (NASB)
Jesus excruciating death on the cross is not a picture of God's wrath against sin. Rather it is a demonstration of Jesus' complete obedience to the Father. What Adam destroyed through disobedience, Jesus restored through obedience. By the disobedience of one we became enemies of God, and by the obedience of one we are reconciled to God. God's wrath will come, Jesus said,

The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand. He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.

John 3:25-26
The obedience of Jesus Christ is our propitiation. In obedience to the Father, he dealt kindly with our sins. Jesus reversed our outcome of wrath into the overwhelming kindness of God.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fire or ice

The American poet, Robert Frost, once wrote,
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
Today bloggers of the world unite to discuss climate change. Politicians say the world is getting warmer, while some statisticians now say it it getting cooler. So we, the non-experts, are left to speculate, as Robert Frost once did, “Fire or Ice?”
How ironic that Blog Action Day would waste Internet bandwidth and its immeasurable electric wattage from dubious coal-fired generators to discuss the amelioration of global climate change as if the weather was an issue of social justice or morality. We have gathered together today in virtual self-righteous hypocrisy to ignore true causes of social injustice and human suffering to talk about the weather. Why? The anti-pattern, “low hanging fruit,” I suppose.
When you address the problem that isn’t a problem, then you’re guaranteed the appearance of success. Kudos, we’ve already saved the planet. Empirical evidence reveals that the earth  in previous centuries has been warmer and cooler than present. Empirically, then, we might suppose that the earth might be both warmer and cooler in the future. To claim any degree of accuracy in our calculations, however, would be absurd. Most of us can’t solve complex mathematical equations without at least a calculator, and fewer of us can program supercomputer algorithms. Even those who program supercomputers are prone to human mistakes and their algorithms fail to account for all data. Otherwise, the weather would never surprise.
Aside from the empirical, I refuse to indulge in any debate regarding global climate change because any historical data older than 30 or 40 years is woefully incomplete and possibly a work of fiction. I place no more faith in climatologists than I do in meteorologists. They can only be right part of the time. Climatologists use current datasets to extrapolate historical sets based on certain assumptions, and then use this data to prophesy doom and gloom scenarios. Their circular logic translated by politicians into social imperatives is merely a form of shamanism or juju.
We have only begun to measure the weather; let’s give technology a millennia or two to calculate man’s impact on climate change before we start extrapolating absurd conclusions. Meanwhile, let’s focus on real issues that plague our society.
I met a man the other day who works as a probation officer for a county in the Kansas City metropolitan area. He told me that the issues he faces everyday are symptomatic of the deterioration of the family. I introduced this man to another acquaintance of mine who works in a residential treatment center for at-risk teenagers. I was amused that these two strangers knew so many people in common having never met each other. Both have dedicated their careers to ameliorate the impact of the disintegration of family within our culture.  Meanwhile, both strive to protect their own families from the destructive influences of our society. I wish them success on both fronts of the culture war.
The deterioration of the family may not be the only cause of cultural morass. Selfishness is the root of all other vices. Consequently, selfishness is the root of the family decay. In Frost’s analysis of the world’s predicament, fire and ice represent the spectrum of human self-centeredness. Greed and hatred both grow from the same root of inflated self-importance. While Frost viewed fire and ice from a universal perspective, hubris devastates at home, too.
The biggest problem the ideology of global climate change faces is the absence of a norm. The earth has gone through an ice age; deserts were once inland seas; Greenland used to be green. What in-between state is the appropriate norm, and who gets to decide the acceptable variance? Meanwhile, Martian  polar caps are shrinking, begging the question whether Earth's observed climate changes might be extraterrestrial in nature.
But climate change is not about the weather. Climate change has become a weapon of political engineering wherein scientists and politicians seek to exert patrician control over the proletariat. The global-climate-change faithful exult, not in the process of cooling the planet, but rather in the opportunity to reengineer society: hence BAD 2009.
The entire culture of global climate change is predicated upon faith in fallible humans and their mystical equations. You may believe it, but I remain skeptical. Better wisdom comes from a lesser poet than Frost: “Don’t follow leaders, watch the parkin’ meters.” Ironically, this revolution has forgotten that governmental mandates infringe on freedom. This generation rushes headlong into a type of eco-fascism demanding that the government infringe upon personal and economic freedom of others. To what end?
The nebulous facts of global climate change propels the political rise of a new patrician class at the expense of personal and economic freedom. Whether the outcome is justified will be determined by those in control. The absence of an objective norm will leave the proletariat believing their beloved fathers saved them from from something.
I agree that social values should be re-engineered or realigned, but global climate change is not my motivator. Society cannot be reformed by top down declarations from political scientists.
Unlike global climate change, the devastation of the family and the fire and ice of interpersonal relationships can be ameliorated by applying absolute standards with predictable results. Such a claim is predicated upon faith in the Creator God who has expressed Himself through graphos and logos, i.e. the Scripture and the revelation of God through Christ, His Son.
Accepting the words of Scripture, and especially the words of Jesus, as authoritative regarding family provides a framework which will transform our personal relationships. Two of the Ten Commandments deal with familial relationships:
“Honor your father and mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.”
“Do not commit adultery.”
The commandments of God that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai did not speak in part to children and in part to adults; consequently, the command to honor Father and Mother speaks to adults as well as to children. The command against adultery has been abandoned by the most modern Christian denominations in deed if not in word.
The prophet Malachi confronted Israel’s problem with divorce. He tells them that God no longer listened to them because they had abandoned the wives of their youth. Malachi writes,
. . . guard in your spirit, and the wife of your youth do not abandon! But if by detesting, you should send her forth, says the LORD God of Israel, then impiety shall cover over your thoughts, says the LORD God almighty.
Malachi 2:15-16 (AB)
The health and prosperity of the entire nation turned upon the commitment within individual marriages. Jesus echoed Malachi’s proclamation when he said, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.” Mark 10:11-12 (NIV) Most Christian churches today seek to affirm adulterous relationships as a type of second chance rather than encourage repentance. In so doing, the church has made itself complicit in the disintegration of the family.
The foundation of a family must be a committed marriage as defined by God from the beginning, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” Genesis 2:24 (NIV)
Real marriage requires selflessness to succeed. The degree of selflessness required for a successful marriage and family is enumerated by the Apostle Paul, he wrote to the Ephesians, saying,
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church — for we are members of his body.
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery — but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
Ephesians 5:25-32 (NIV)
The love and respect commanded within Christian marriage mirrors Christ’s love for us and our regard for him. Society is built one family unit at at time. Some of us still have the power to contribute to the success of one family. The church, in turn, is to build upon those familial relationships and operate as extended family or community focusing inwardly toward the building up of the whole.
To be effective the church must define itself apart from the culture, “In the world, but not of the world.” Modern Christianity is clearly of the world. The erosion of family within the church is symptomatic. Many churches cater to families, not by drawing families together but by driving them apart. Church has become like a Disney family cruise, with something for everyone, but little substance to bind all together.
Even as churches resist moral decay in the culture, they do so by engaging in external political tactics rather than internal edification. The morality of the culture should not matter to the church, but morality within the church should be of high importance. The Apostle Paul did not care about cultural morality, but he cared deeply about the purity of the church, he writes, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked man from among you.’” 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 (NIV) Clearly, not everyone belongs in church, but modern Christianity takes a different stance – they accept everyone. Today, people are not expelled from church for immorality, but rather for confronting abusive leadership.
The man expelled by the Corinthians later repented of his sin and Paul encouraged the Corinthian church, saying,
The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.
2 Corinthians 2:6-8 (NIV)
The purity of the church and the reconciliation of sinners is not inconsistent. Yet, today, churches are so eager to forgive, and even indulge immorality, that they become a stumbling block to the innocent and the guilty alike. Children learn that there are no consequences to sin, and the sinner learns that there is no need for repentance.
The modern church is more concerned with creating a culturally accommodating environment than a spiritually nurturing environment. In so doing, church has become an extension of the culture rather than an extension of the family. The church has abandoned its first love, and one wonders whether the depreciation of marriage and the family, as Malachi lamented, is to blame.
Between the rabid lust of the culture and the moral indifference of the church, Christian families today face external perils of fire and ice.
Though the culture and the church will proceed like the weather, Christian fathers can make a choice within the family to set aside their own selfishness and take upon themselves the selflessness of Jesus Christ. This begins by obeying the command, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Autumnal reminiscence

Last night I cleaned birch leaves from the valleys on the roof and noticed that 2009 has been a terrific year for moss.

I looked out my bedroom door this morning and saw that it had rained again. After a tentative summer, autumn has arrived unexpectedly. Leaves are falling and the apples (such as they are this year) are ripe. The little girls are picking what they can reach. The harvest will not equal last year's bounty. The cool summer, birds, and squirrels have taken a toll.

A week from tomorrow, the full moon will announce Sukkot and in our home we will remember the birth of the Christ, who tabernacled among men for a season.

John 1:1-14 (KJV)

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
The same was in the beginning with God.
All things were made by him;
and without him was not any thing made that was made.
In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
And the light shineth in darkness;
and the darkness comprehended it not.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
The same came for a witness,
to bear witness of the Light,
that all men through him might believe.
He was not that Light,
but was sent to bear witness of that Light.

That was the true Light,
which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
He was in the world,
and the world was made by him,
and the world knew him not.
He came unto his own,
and his own received him not.
But as many as received him,
to them gave he power to become the sons of God,
even to them that believe on his name:
Which were born, not of blood,
nor of the will of the flesh,
nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word was made flesh,
and [tabernacled] among us,
(and we beheld his glory,
the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,)
full of grace and truth.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Insipidity and self-importance

It is no mystery that Jesus often spoke in mysteries. When his speech alludes to Old Testament passages, He provides a dimension that should enlighten and constrain our interpretation of the passage. The second half of the ninth chapter of Mark’s Gospel appears on casual reading to contain several disconnected thoughts. A footnote in the 1966 Jerusalem Bible claims, for instance, “It appears that v. 50 cf. Mt 5:13, has been inserted here for no other reason than the recurrence of the word ‘salt’.”

Really? Imagine the self-importance of the translator – God’s editor –presuming that because he doesn’t understand something in Scripture that it just doesn’t belong there.

While chapter divisions in Scripture are arbitrary, there are apparent sections. Mark 9 is divided into three segments. The first section recounts the Transfiguration. The second deals with the healing of a demonized boy, and the third section, verses 33-50, addresses the disciples' sense of self-importance. The disciples argued among themselves who among them was greatest. When Jesus asked them about their discussions none wanted to admit to their petty competition. Jesus rebukes them saying, “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be the last of all, and the servant of all.” Mark 9:35 (AB)

Jesus then offers an illustration of what he means. Embracing a child he tells his disciples, “Whoever should receive one of such children in my name, receives me; and whoever should receive me, receives not me, but the one having sent me.” Mark 9:37 (AB)

John, remembers someone whom the disciples had not received. He tells Jesus, “We beheld a certain one in your name casting out demons, who does not follow us; and we restrained him, for he does not follow us.” Whether John was seeking clarity or justification is uncertain, but Jesus tells his disciples, “Do not restrain him! For there is none who shall do a work of power in my name, and be able to quickly speak evil of me. For he who is not against us, is for us.” Mark 9:38-40 (AB)

The disciples were obviously absorbed with their status as followers of Christ that they felt justified and even responsible to dictate the behavior of strangers. Their arrogance was so extreme that they commanded someone friendly to the cause of Christ to cease and desist performing miracles in the name of Jesus.

Rather than telling his disciples how to treat people, as he had with the child, he presents the logical converse, saying, “For whoever should give you a drink of a cup of water in my name, for you are of Christ, amen, I say to you, in no way should he lose his wage.” Mark 9:41 (AB) Earlier Jesus told his disciples that if they received a little child in his name, they received him and the one who sent him. Here he explains that strangers who likewise show the disciples favor will certainly be rewarded. Jesus presents scenarios wherein the disciples are both giving and receiving favor.

By rebuking the one casting out demons in Jesus’ name, the disciples responded to favor with disfavor. Jesus commanded them to share God’s grace both as givers and receivers.

Jesus follows his instructions with a series of warnings. Using the same child as an illustration he says, “Whoever should cause to stumble one of the little ones trusting in me, it is good to him rather if a millstone encompass around his neck, and to be thrown into the sea.” After instructing the disciples to receive a child in His name, he illustrates the severity of causing a child to stumble. He does not specify how the child would be caused to stumble, but in the context he confronts the disciples’ arrogance.

Next, Jesus again presents a logical converse. Instead of picturing the disciples causing a child to stumble, he presents three scenarios whereby something might cause the disciples to stumble. Rather than pointing to external sources for the disciples’ hypothetical stumbling he chooses three very personal things. He says,

  1. If your hand should cause you to stumble . . .
  2. If your foot should cause you to stumble . . .
  3. If your eye should cause you to stumble . . .

Jesus points out that while a disciple might cause a trusting child to stumble, should a disciple stumble, he would have no one to blame but himself. Jesus tells them, It better to enter into life crippled, lame, or one-eyed than to be “thrown into Gehenna, into the inextinguishable fire, where their worm does not come to an end, and the fire is not extinguished.” Mark 9:48 (AB)

Many of the disciples were fishermen. Without a hand, or a foot, or an eye, their potential in first century society would be severely impeded. Moreover, once maimed, a Jewish man became somewhat of a pariah. According to Leviticus 21, a Levite with a deformity or injury was disqualified from service in the tabernacle. Surely, Jesus words must have seemed bizarre to his disciples. The very things that they might imagine as impediments to God’s acceptance were actually impediments to their salvation.

Jesus is speaking figuratively. Our hands, feet, and eyes do not cause us to stumble. Nevertheless, our pride does. Jesus was telling his disciples that anything about them that caused them to feel superior to even the lame or blind, they should forsake to gain life. When Jesus speaks of Gehenna, he alludes to Isaiah 66:24,

And they shall go forth, and shall see the carcasses of men, the ones violating against me. For their worm shall not come to an end, and their fire shall not be extinguished. And they will be a sight to all flesh.

Isaiah 65 and 66 speaks of the time of the Messianic kingdom where “. . . wolves and lambs shall graze together; and the lion shall eat straw as an ox.” Isaiah 65:25 (AB) At this time, those resisting God will be punished. By quoting Isaiah in the context of Mark chapter 9, Jesus demonstrates the severity of the disciples' pride. By comparing them to the living dead forever burning outside the city, he implies that their pride is the same as rebellion against God.

Jesus then addresses the disciples’ confusion over their proper place. They had been arguing about who among them was greatest. Jesus concludes his discourse saying,

For all shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt. The salt is good; but if the salt becomes insipid, by what means shall you season? Have salt in yourselves, and make peace with one another.

Here Jesus alludes to Leviticus 2:13, “every gift offering of your sacrifices shall be salted with salt. You shall not discontinue salt from the covenant of the LORD with your sacrifices.” Most of the sacrifices of the Old Testament were consumed by the priests and the giver. The salt on the sacrifice made it savory or pleasing.

In Mark 9, Jesus is telling his disciples that they will all be tried by fire. They will all make sacrifices. The salt of the sacrifice demonstrates their willingness to endure trials for the sake of Christ. The salt makes the sacrifice pleasing. Jesus tells them, however, “if the salt become insipid, by what shall you season? Have salt within yourselves, and make peace with one another.”

The disciples' imagined self-importance was making their service to Christ insipid or flavorless. While a casual reader might presume to think that Mark 9:33-50 is a disconnected narrative, Jesus is actually teaching one central thought – the consequences of pride.

  • The disciples’ pride was an impediment to others’ faith.
  • It was an impediment to the disciples’ relationship with God.
  • Moreover, the disciples’ pride made their service meaningless.

The disciples had been arguing about who among them was greatest but Jesus tells them, “Have salt in yourselves, and make peace with one another.”

As I was discussing this passage with Lisa, she heard the words “Have salt within yourself” and was stunned by the imagery that Jesus used. In the New Testament, yeast or leaven always refers to the sin of pride. Some scholars believe that Matthew 13:33 and Luke 13:20 depart from this pattern, but they miss Jesus’ warning in these passages entirely. What Lisa knew about salt that I did not know, is that salt is an impediment to yeast.

In the Old Testament, leavening was banned from the sacrifices; however, salt was required.

In other New Testament passages, Jesus commanded his disciples to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees (an obvious reference to the destructive power of self-importance.) In Mark 9, Jesus tells them to have salt in themselves and make peace. He warns them to cast off their pride and take upon themselves humility and sacrifice.

The disciples were displaying the affects of leaven. They were becoming puffed up. Jesus rebukes them, saying, put a little salt on that insipid pride.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Forbearing one another

We visited a house church in the Houston area over the weekend. One of the passages of Scripture read that evening was Ephesians 4:2, “With all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love. . . Someone asked the group what the word, forbear really means. This question surprised me. I can define forbear, but I realized that I had no idea what it meant in Scripture.

The Bible in Basic English translates the phrase as “putting up with one another.” The NASB says, “showing tolerance for one another.” The NIV merely says, “bearing with one another.” Because I realized my ignorance of the word forbear, I did not contribute to the discussion. Instead, on the drive back to Kansas City Lisa helped me conduct a word study of anexomai, which is often translated forbear, endure, and such.

Any New Testament word study must include a study of the Greek translation of the Old Testament. While I use many English translations, I conduct serious study from The Apostolic Bible. Not only does the Septuagint (LXX) enlighten the meanings of New Testament Greek words, it was the version Scripture commonly available to the Apostles. The language of the LXX framed the language of the New Testament more so than the Hebrew and Aramaic.

In the LXX, anexomai first appears in Genesis 45:1. Joseph was unable to contain himself as he revealed his identity to his brothers, so he sent all of his attendants away. The Apostolic Bible says, “Joseph was not able to withhold.” Imagine Joseph, many years after being sold as a slave and deported to Egypt. He is now second only to Pharaoh. He has restrained himself as he assessed his brothers’ change of heart. Now overwhelmed by emotion, he reveals himself and asks, “Is my father still living?” Joseph was not able to withhold. Imagine the effort it must have taken for him to withhold his emotions to this moment. Suddenly, anexomai appears to be a stronger word than “putting up with” appears to be.

Job chapter 6 contains the next two occurrences of anexomai. Job asks in his misery, “What is my strength, that I remain? or what is my time, that my soul endures?” Job questions how his soul can endure his present suffering. Here anexomai again appears to be an intense word. Later in the same chapter, Job tells his friends turned accusers, “Nor will your reproof cause me to cease my words; for neither your utterance of a word will I endure. Besides that, you fall upon an orphan, you assail against your friend.” Job refuses to receive the accusations from his friends. He hears them, but he will not endure them.

The Greek translation of Isaiah uses anexomai several times. In chapter 1, God speaks through Isaiah to Israel saying, “If you should bring fine flour, it is vain; incense is an abomination to me, I cannot endure your new moons and the Sabbaths and the great day.” God rebukes Israel for their rote ceremonies because their hearts were far from God.

In Isaiah 42 God promises a day of judgment, saying, “I kept silent from the eon; shall I continually keep silent and endure?” Throughout history God has revealed himself through Creation, through prophets, and in the person of His Son, Jesus, the Christ. A day is coming when God will no longer withhold knowledge of himself. In that day, the unbelieving will have to account for their unbelief in the light of the revelation they have rejected. A careful reading of Isaiah 42 reveals a companion passage in Romans 8, but this is an entirely different discussion.

In Isaiah 46, God promises deliverance to Israel, saying,

Hear me, O house of Jacob, and all the rest of Israel! O ones being lifted up from the belly, and being corrected from childhood until old age; I AM, and until whenever you should become aged, I AM. I endure you. I made, and I shall spare. I shall take up and I shall deliver you.

Isaiah 46:3-4 (AB)

In Isaiah 63 and 64, Israel turns to God in repentance, asking God,
Where is your zeal and your strength? Where is the abundance of your mercy and your compassion, that you withhold from us? For you are our father. For Abraham did not know us, and Israel did not recognize us. But you, O LORD our father, rescue us! From the beginning your name is upon us. Why did you wander us, O LORD, from your way. You hardened our hearts to not fear you? Return on account of your servants! on account of the tribes of your inheritance that we should inherit a little of your holy mountain.

Isaiah 63:15-18 (AB)

In this passage, anexomai is translated “withhold.” God endured or withheld his blessing from Israel. Isaiah 64 recounts the pain inflicted upon Israel, and Isaiah says, “All over all these things you endured, O LORD, and kept silent, and humbled us very much.” In Romans 11, Paul explains why Israel experienced a hardening, but again, this is another discussion.

The next appearance of anexomai, we find in Amos 4. The Lord indicts Israel’s unbelief saying, “I withheld from you the rain before the three months of gathering crops . . . And you returned not to me.” God persisted in judging Israel, but they would not respond in repentance. Likewise because of Israel’s disobedience, the Lord says through Haggia, “On account of this the heaven withholds of dew, and the earth keeps back its resources.” Haggai 1:10 (AB)

Moving into the New Testament, Matthew 17, Mark 9, and Luke 9 recount the healing of a demonized young man. Jesus’ disciples had not been able to cast out the demon and Jesus responded saying, “O unbelieving and perverted generation, until when shall I be with you? Until when shall I endure you?” Jesus then rebuked the demon and the child was healed. Jesus was intensely involved in his disciples lives. He was teaching them, but they exasperated him at times? He’s asking rhetorically, How much more time do we have here? Jesus’ enduring of his disciples was not a casual “putting up with” them. It was intensive, intimate, daily involvement in their lives.

In Acts 18, the Jews in Corinth dragged Paul to the rostrum before the ruler Gallio. There they complained that Paul’s teachings were contrary to their own. Paul started to offer his defense, which was his right, but Gallio interrupted and said,

If indeed then it was some offense or evil villainy, O Jews, on this account I would have endured you; but if the matter is concerning a word and names and a law of yours, you shall see to it yourselves; for I do not want to be a judge of these things.

Acts 18:14-15 (AB)

Gallio sent the Jews away, and some of the Greeks grabbed Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue and beat him publically. In this account, Gallio was obligated to follow the legal process. However, he would not see it through to the end because it did not interest him. He abruptly ended the proceedings because he was not willing to endure.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul speaks of his affliction, saying,

As far as the present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted and unsettled; and we tire of working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being blasphemed, we appeal; as the rubbish of the world, we were all the sweepings until now.

1 Corinthians 4:11-13 (AB)

In this passage, the Bible in Basic English does not translate anexomai, “put up with” . It says, “When we undergo punishment, we take it quietly.” Of course, that is a bad translation, but at least it acknowledges that anexomai is not a casual word.

In 2 Corinthians 11, the word anexomai appears five times. Paul implores the Corinthians to endure his foolishness as he compares his credentials with those who also commend themselves to the Corinthians. Paul commends them for not enduring another Gospel, but he also chides them for enduring those who enslave them, promoting themselves, and even those who slap the Corinthians in the face.

When Paul asked the Corinthians to endure his foolishness, he was not asking to be casually ignored or put up with. Rather, he was asking them to consider his credentials using the same criteria by which they evaluated false teachers who were abusing them. They endured those who enslaved them! Paul, of course, was telling them they should rather withstand such false teaching. Paul’s play on words becomes apparent in the context illustrating that anexomai does not mean merely tolerating anything, but rather standing firm in a course of action.

Paul commended the Thessalonians telling them that he boasted of them in the assemblies for their “endurance and belief in all [their] persecutions and the afflictions which [they] endure.” 2 Thessalonians 1:4 (AB)

Paul warned Timothy, saying,

For their will come a time when they will not endure healthy teaching, but according to their own desires they will accumulate to themselves teachers tickling the hearing. And from indeed the truth, the one hearing, they shall turn away, and they shall be turned aside unto the fables.

2 Timothy 4:3 (AB)

Conversely, the writer of Hebrews implores us, “Brethren, endure the word of the exhortation!” Hebrews 13:22 (AB)

Paul told both the Ephesians and the Colossians to “endure one another.” Considering the intensity surrounding the word anexomai in the rest of Scripture, it is unfathomable that Paul uses it here to mean something less.

Paul does not tell us to forbear everyone. He says endure one another. One another conveys mutuality to the equation. We know from 2 Corinthians 11 that we are not to forbear those who teach another Gospel, or those who promote themselves at the expense of others. We should learn to spot such people and follow Paul’s instructions in Titus 3:10.

Still, “Forbearing one another” is not supposed to be easy. Paul uses an intense word to tell us that we are to remain involved in each others' lives even when it is not easy. Forbearance in Scripture is not casual neglect. Rather it is engagement or entrenchment. We are to entrench ourselves mutually in the lives of our fellow believers. We are supposed to stick it out from the beginning to the end.

I appeal then you you,
I the prisoner in the Lord,
to walk worthy of the calling
of which you were called,
with all humility,
and gentleness,
with leniency,
enduring one another in love;
hurrying to keep the unity of the spirit
in the bonding together of peace.
One body,
and one spirit,
as also you were called in one hope of your calling.
One Lord,
one belief,
one immersion;
on God and father of all,
the one over all,
and through all,
and in you all.

Ephesians 4:1-6 (AB)

Put on then as chosen ones of God,
holy ones, and beloved,
feelings of compassion,
enduring one another,
and granting forgiveness to each other
if any should have any blame against any.
As also Christ granted forgiveness to you,
so also you.
And upon all these things
the love which is the bonding together of the perfection.
And let the peace of God preside in your hearts!
in which also you were called in one body.

Colossians 3:12-15 (AB)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

". . . and they turned their lights on"

I first posted this in May 2008. After staring at the stars tonight, I decided to run it again (with a different title).

Last summer the International Space Station (ISS) flew over our house with Space Shuttle Atlantis following close behind. Atlantis had undocked and was preparing for return to earth within a day or two. It was evening after sunset, but the western sky was not dark. The ISS appeared north-northwest from Raymore as if it were coming from Kansas City, Missouri. It was on time and it appeared exactly where NASA said that it would. I had herded the girls into the front yard. Cara was living at home for a few weeks after graduating from college. She did not know what to expect except that the neighbors would think we were crazy. Nevertheless, Lisa and Cara indulged me out of kindness, but the little girls seemed to be genuinely interested in seeing spaceships.

The reflected light from the ISS moved directly toward us for several seconds before the light from Atlantis also became visible. The two spacecraft moved silently through the sky growing gradually larger, brighter, and faster as they approached. The girls watched intently as the ISS and shuttle drew near. Gabby and Claire began to wave energetically at the light in the sky, but Cara began to chuckle at Gabby and Claire. As the ISS flew directly overhead, it caught a ray of sunshine and flashed brilliance against the darkening sky. Gabby exclaimed, “They saw us waving, and they turned their lights on!” The two craft flew around the ash tree by the driveway and over the garage roof. The little girls dashed into the backyard to watch the ISS and the Atlantis disappear into the night.

I am impressed with rocket scientists and especially their project managers. It is amazing that they can build, launch, and retrieve spacecraft and preserve the life onboard. I was enthralled with the spectacular view of the ISS from my front yard. I am glad that the dazzling lights captivated Gabby’s imagination. Nevertheless, neither the ISS nor the Space Shuttle is the most spectacular object in the summer-night sky. In fact, the ISS is amazing to me primarily because it is manmade.

The moon orbits the earth every 29½ days. It rotates as it revolves keeping its dark side hidden from Earth’s view. It reflects the sunlight in a cycle that signals to some the arrival of seasons. As it orbits the earth, it pulls the ocean tides in concert with the sun. The gravitational attractions of earth, moon, and sun comprise a machine that helps keep the ocean currents flowing. Along with the sun’s heat, the ocean currents also influence the earth’s winds bringing both rain and clear skies in season.

While we are enthralled on summer nights by manmade satellites sailing silently in space, they are less amazing than the moon which is visible nearly every day. The ISS will help men learn about the earth it floats above, but life on earth is not directly dependent upon its orbiting on a schedule. Nevertheless, the sky follows an intricate if unfathomable schedule that directly contributes to life on earth.

When Daniel was a little guy, we camped near a pond along with my brother-in-law, Steve. Mars hung out over the water low on the horizon. It appeared to be so close that you could almost see its spherical shape with the naked eye. The next time Mars and Earth were in perihelic opposition was the week that we took Cara to college. Lisa and I walked the beach on Assateague Island and saw Mars hanging in the Atlantic mist. It appeared to be not too far out nor too high up, but rather just beyond breaking waves and over the open water. When I saw Mars at its brightest from the beach at Assateague, I remembered that sixteen years had passed since I had seen it with Daniel as it hovered over Uncle Paul’s pond. Gabby will be a teenager before we see Mars nearly so close again. Earth has never observed a closer approach to Mars as in 2003. It was sublime and it was fleeting, none of us will see it quite the same way in our lifetimes.

While the earth repeats a daily pattern of night and day, and the moon repeats its cycle from new to full, the planets and other celestial objects follow their choreography in such a way that no night sky is exactly like another. We might confuse the heavens’ complexity with randomness, yet each object follows its course with precision. In each day’s concert, together they play subtle variations of their repertoire.

The sky is an orchestration of infinite design and complexity in which man, by virtue of rocket science, now plays a cowbell. When we glimpse spacecraft sailing above the margin of night and day we exult, “Look, there is the Space Shuttle!” or “Wow, see the ISS?” In comparison with the beauty of space, it is like saying, “More cowbell!” We want more cowbell because men like us play cowbells. We cannot understand, let alone control, all the physics of the sun, moon, planets, and stars; however, some brilliant among us can play cowbell: “More cowbell!” That is all right; it takes a lot of human skill and effort to play cowbell in the symphony of the sky.

Man’s conquest of space declares his glory, but Psalm 19 begins by saying,

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
Psalm 19:1-4a (NIV)

Man pushes into space in pursuit of scientific knowledge, preferably useful information; yet Psalm 19 says that the purpose of the heavens is to reveal the magnificence of God. Observing the heavens without acknowledging God is like attending a symphony and ignoring the music but rather concentrating merely on the shape of the instruments. Likewise, when we observe man’s creations we should exult not only in man, but also in the God who made us all in his image. When we view the heavens, we should hear the symphony that proclaims to us the glory of God, and we should respond. Psalm 19 concludes,

May the words of my mouth
and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
my Rock and my Redeemer.
Psalm 19:14 (NIV)

The God who created the heavens and choreographed the celestial courses is also aware of the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts. Either they please him, or they do not.

When Gabby saw the ISS move from partial shadow into the full illumination of the sun, she said, “They saw us waving, and they turned their lights on!” I did not tell Gabby that she imagined fiction. Nevertheless, all the lights of the heavens shine for our benefit. They were not turned on in response to our waving, but rather so that we could see the magnificent glory of the Creator. Man is not waiting on God to reveal himself; the heavens declare his glory and “the skies proclaim the work of his hands . . . There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.” Will we thus acknowledge him?

More important than merely acknowledging God, is our relationship to him. David addresses him, “O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” When we acknowledge God, we should ask him, “Are you my LORD? Are you my Rock? Are you my Redeemer?” Then we should say, “Be my LORD. Be my Rock. Be my Redeemer.” God illuminated the host of heaven to draw our attention to him. God is now watching from heaven awaiting our response. He turned his lights on; will he now see us waving?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Though with tears he sought it

For we have become partakers of the Christ, if indeed the beginning of the support we should hold firm until the end.

Hebrews 3:14 (AB)

There is a smug mantra within Evangelical Christianity that states, “Once saved, always saved.” The inference is that once a person becomes a “Christian” by some ritual action, an eternal reward is secured regardless. Many Evangelicals believe that once a person prays a little “sinner’s prayer” their eternal destiny is sealed. Faith, they believe, is an instantaneous epiphany, which obligates God to grant eternal life regardless of the convert’s faithfulness. Evangelicals often scoff at those who think that salvation might not be so easily secured. They brand those who differ from their viewpoint as legalists who must believe salvation comes by works.

While there are legalists who think that salvation comes by works, the once-saved-always-saved Evangelicals are the worst of the lot because they teach a works-based salvation of the lowest possible standard, “Repeat after me, ‘Dear Jesus, blah, blah, blah . . .’ Congratulations, you’re now a child of God.” These so-called believers reject the truth that faith and faithfulness are the same word in Scripture! They teach salvation without repentance, and they manufacture word meanings that deceive people into false assurances of salvation.

The writer of Hebrews makes it clear that the end must validate the beginning. A plausible beginning does not guarantee the expected end. How have we “become partakers of the Christ?” Only if “we should hold firm until the end!” Hebrews does not tell us we might become partakers of the Christ, if we hold firm to the end. Rather, it says we have already become partakers of the Christ. Nevertheless, the proof requires that we hold firm until the end.

Not only so, those not holding firm to the end are in peril!

For where voluntarily we sin after receiving the full knowledge of the truth, no longer is left a sacrifice for sins; but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and a zealous fire being about to devour the adversaries.
Hebrews 10:26 (AB)

The writer of Hebrews uses Esau as a negative example. He commands believers to be involved in each other’s lives lest any should lack God’s grace. We are supposed to watch out for those in peril such as Esau,

. . . who for one portion of food delivered over his rights of the first born. For you understand that also afterwards wanting to inherit the blessing, he was rejected; for no place for repentance was found though with tears he sought it.

Hebrews 12:14-17 (AB)

Some so-called Christians mistakenly believe that in the Old Testament, salvation came by obedience to the Law. Hebrews rebuts this theory in chapter 11 revealing that salvation has always come by faith. Even scoundrels like Jepthah, who sacrificed his daughter, were enshrined in the “Hall of Faith” not because of their deeds but because of their faith in God.

Paul encouraged the Philippians to work out their salvation with “fear and trembling.” Paul exhorted the Corinthians to examine themselves to see whether they were in the faith. What was the standard of the test he proposed? “Do you not recognize yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you – except you be rejected.” 2 Corinthians 13:5 If Christ is in us, then it will become evident.

For many, salvation is more a gradual process than a instantaneous enlightenment. Saving faith is not merely intellectual assent. However, such knowledge of the truth, puts one in jeopardy should they subsequently reject the truth and fall away.

The writer of Hebrews seems almost obsessed with those within the assembly who were not fully committed to Jesus Christ. He warned against the hardening of hearts which also prevented Israel from obtaining God’s favor.

Take heed, brethren, lest at any time there should be in some of you a wicked unbelief in heart in the separating from the living God. But encourage yourselves according to each day,  as long as of which it is called today, that you should not be hardened, any of you, any by the deception of sin.

Hebrews 3:12 (AB)

The tone in Hebrews is urgent. We must continue on in our sanctification because the consequences of falling short of God’s grace are so severe.

It is impossible for the ones once enlightened, having tasted also of the heavenly gift, and becoming partakers of holy spirit, and having tasted the good word of God, and of powers of the eon about to be, and having fallen, again to renew to repentance; crucifying again to themselves the son of God, and making an example of him.

Hebrews 6:4-6 (AB)

The word translated, “having fallen”, or parapesontas, only appears once in the New Testament. Usually word meanings are best inferred by comparing many contexts. The scarcity of parapesontas actually helps us understand that to which the writer of Hebrews was alluding. The New Testament, of course was written in Greek, and the Old Testament source available to the New Testament writers had been translated into Greek. In the Greek Old Testament, parapesontas occurs in only two books. In Esther 6:10, the evil Haman is told that he must not fall short of his duty to honor Mordecai, whom he hates. Elsewhere, in Ezekiel, parapesontas is used five times to refer to Israel’s rebellion against God.

In Ezekiel 18, Israel accuses God of injustice. God reminds Israel that they are the ones who are unjust. God promises to punish the lawless and reward the righteous. In the middle of this discourse, God says,

And the lawless one, if he should turn from all his lawless deeds which he did, and should keep all my commandments, and should do equity and righteousness and mercy; to life he shall live, and he shall not die. All his transgressions, as many as he did, they shall not be remembered to him; in his righteousness which he did he shall live.

“By volition do I want the death of the lawless one?” says Adonai the LORD? “No, but as to turn him from his way and enliven him.”

But in the turning the just from his righteousness, and he should commit iniquity according to all the iniquities which the lawless one did, if he should do thus, he shall not live. In all the righteousness of his, which he did, in no way shall they be remembered; in his transgression in which he fell, and in his sins in which he sinned, in them he shall die.

Ezekiel 18:21-24 (AB)

The writer of Hebrews 6:6, echoes what Ezekiel had prophesied long before. God earnestly desires for sinners to repent. But the righteous, having fallen, it is impossible to renew him to repentance. Jesus said, “I have not come to call righteous ones but sinners unto repentance.” Luke 5:32 (AB) Yet, in Matthew 12, Jesus condemned the Pharisees for their blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. The Pharisees saw the power of God demonstrated, yet they refused to believe. Their willful rebellion sealed their destiny.

Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Christ for thirty pieces of silver and was later overwhelmed by regret. Regardless of Judas’ remorse, Jesus referred to Judas as the “son of destruction” and “a devil.” Though he had walked three years with Jesus – possibly performing miracles on missionary journeys (Matthew 10:5-15) – Judas had no avenue for repentance after his betrayal of Christ.

A good beginning is not a measure of faithfulness. Those with an intellectual acknowledgment of the truth, without having received God’s favor, face incredible risk. Should they fall away into deliberate rebellion, there is nothing that can restore them to repentance even if they become rapt with regret.

Esau wept with remorse. Yet he could not find repentance.

While some may ignore Scripture regarding those who fall away after knowing the truth, Scripture is clear that their condition is hopeless. The examples given in Scripture are extreme: Esau, the Pharisees, and Judas. However the danger is real enough that the writer of Hebrews emphasizes the risk. Paul wrote to Timothy saying,

Because of this I endure all things on account of the chosen, that also they should attain deliverance of the one in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.

Trustworthy is the word,
For if we died together, also we shall live together;
if we endure, also we shall reign together,
if we deny, that one also will will deny us;
if we disbelieve, that one is sure to abide;
to deny himself he is not able.
2 Timothy 2:10-14 (AB)

Paul states clearly that denying Christ will result in His denying us. Nevertheless, God’s grace allows us room for imperfection because if we disbelieve, Christ remains faithful. Clearly, God forgives our hamartia (1 John 1:9), but His purpose is also to cleanse us from hamartia and not to have us wallow in it. Should we reject God’s favor after knowing the truth, then is God’s judgment unjust?

Both Paul and the writer of Hebrews emphasize finishing what we started. How we finish validates how we began. Faith results in faithfulness because faith and faithfulness are the same. God knows the hearts of men better than we know our own. While we might set our hopes of salvation on doggerel recitatives, God looks passed our actions and into our hearts. He knows those who belong to him.

Paul closes his last letter to Timothy, saying,

For I am already am offered as a libation, and the time of my separation stands by. The good struggle, I have struggled; the race, I have finished; the belief I have kept. Remaining reserved for me is the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will recompense to me in that day; and not only to me, but also to all the ones loving his grandeur.

2 Timothy 4:6-8 (AB)

As we learn more about Him, are we also drawn closer to Him? Are we still clinging to the hope by which we began our lives in Jesus Christ?