Tuesday, December 7, 2010

On tithing

Today I saw a tweet advertising a blog post from a church consultant. The post provided a top 10 list of why churches were going broke. Number one on the list was, "People aren't tithing." . . . And I thought churches were going broke because church consultants were skimming the profits!

Many Christians have no concept regarding the history and practice of tithing. Tithing is something their church tells them to do, and so they either obey or not depending on their personal dispositions. They might have some verse in Leviticus taken out of context and tattooed in their memory, but they don't understand the history or the full instructions regarding the tithe. In all my time in churches and around Christians, I don't ever recall anyone teaching the history and practice of tithing in Scripture. I have heard preachers make promises regarding tithing, but none have outlined where it started and how it was practiced. I have had discussions with Christians before where I asked them read Scripture regarding tithing. A memorable response went something like, "I've read that before, but it never registered."

Tithing, such as it is taught in Scripture, is part of the Old Testament Mosaic Law, you know, the same law which Jesus Christ abolished in his flesh "with its commandments and regulations." (Read Ephesians 2:14-16) This is the same Law of which Paul said, "For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, 'CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW, TO PERFORM THEM.'" Galatians 3:10 (NASB) Preachers who establish tithing by touting Old Testament Law are putting their congregations under a curse. In many cases, preachers are very clear on this point. They say in effect, give me your money, or else something bad or nothing good will happen. That's a curse. "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law . . ." but preachers sell out their congregations for 10% of the gross.

With this in mind, let's look at the Biblical history of the tithe. In Genesis 14, Abraham gave 10% of the spoils of battle to Melchizedek Observe a couple things from this passage: Firstly, Abraham kept nothing for himself. Melchizedek received 10%, the men who fought with Abraham received a share, but Abraham returned all that was left to the king of Sodom. Remember Sodom? The king of Sodom took the biggest share of all – how does that relate to today? Secondly, Abraham's tithe was a one-time gift. This was not a recurring practice. It is logically impossible to base tithing to a church upon Abraham's gift to Melchizedek – first we would have to go fight a war in the Middle East.

The tithe taught in the Old Testament Law originated with Jacob. Jacob might have remembered Abraham's tithe, but if so he doesn't mention it. More likely, Jacob, the wheeler-dealer, interacted with God the same way he did his father in law, Laban (Read Genesis 24-31). Jacob promised,

If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father's house, then the LORD will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God's house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.

Genesis 28:20-22 (NASB)

The tithe was initiated by Jacob and not by God. Jacob, of course, was renamed Israel. When Israel came out of Egypt as a nation, God reminded him of his promise. The nation of Israel was bound to keep Jacob's promise to God. Jacob originated the promise, but his offspring were obligated to fulfill it. Western civilization has a distorted view of familial relationships, so this might be hard for some to understand.

New Testament theology views Abraham as the father of all believers. He is not our father by blood, but rather by faith. "Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all." Romans 4:16 (NASB) Abraham was never under the Law because he lived and died long before Moses. So, while we have Abraham as our father Christians are not obligated to fulfill the vows of Jacob.

Some might argue that tithing is not an obligation of Law, but rather a pattern of practice. If so, then what pattern should we follow? Abraham's one-time gift? Or the pattern of practice Moses commands in the Law? If you don't already see a logic trap, watch out! I have never heard a preacher endorsing a Biblical practice of tithing. Deuteronomy 14 explains tithing this way:

You shall surely tithe all the produce from what you sow, which comes out of the field every year. You shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God, at the place where He chooses to establish His name, the tithe of your grain, your new wine, your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and your flock, so that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always. If the distance is so great for you that you are not able to bring the tithe, since the place where the LORD your God chooses to set His name is too far away from you when the LORD your God blesses you, then you shall exchange it for money, and bind the money in your hand and go to the place which the LORD your God chooses. You may spend the money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen, or sheep, or wine, or strong drink, or whatever your heart desires; and there you shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household. Also you shall not neglect the Levite who is in your town, for he has no portion or inheritance among you.

At the end of every third year you shall bring out all the tithe of your produce in that year, and shall deposit it in your town. The Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance among you, and the alien, the orphan and the widow who are in your town, shall come and eat and be satisfied, in order that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hand which you do.

Deuteronomy 14:21-29 (NASB)

There are two aspects of the tithe in Deuteronomy 14. There was the annual tithe and a tithe that occurred once every three years. Deuteronomy 26 calls this "the year of tithing." Amos 4:4 talks about Israel bringing their tithes every three years (some translations say "third day", but the word's most likely meaning is interval hence year since that is what is prescribed in the Law).

The annual tithe was intended to be a celebration unto the Lord. The giver consumed his own tithe in the place where the Lord had chosen for his name – that is either at the Tabernacle or at the temple in Jerusalem. If a man's tithe was too much to carry, he was instructed to exchange it for money and then with the money he was to buy whatever his heart desired including wine and strong drink. How many churches encourage their congregations to have a drink and celebrate God? (Read Psalm 104) Nevertheless, this was God's Law for Israel!

A man's generosity was supposed to reach out to the Levite and the foreigners, too. A rich person might need a little help from his community to consume his tithe (Read Deuteronomy 26).

In Israel, each year 1/10th of the GDP was consumed in one place. For a few weeks each year people bought and sold sheep, oxen, wine, and strong drink, and whatever else they could think of. This was a divine economic stimulus package! You might compare Old Testament tithing to a good old-fashioned Christmas with lots of food and lots of presents. What would happen to the US economy if we suddenly stopped celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ? Imagine what tithing did for Israel in the Old Testament.

Every three years, the tithe was collected in the local towns and the Levites, orphans, widows, and aliens lived off of this. In other words, the year of the tithe funded the social welfare programs for Israel. Again, the tithe was a type of economic stimulus. In all likelihood, the year of the tithe was not the same for every person. Every year, some were celebrating in Jerusalem while others were contributing to the local storehouse.

In the year of the tithe, one tenth of the collective tithe went to the temple treasury. So the temple funding from tithing amounted to 1/3 of 1% or 0.33% of the GDP. That's less than we pay in sales tax.

What passes for tithing in Christendom is nothing like the tithing of the Old Testament. Passages of Scripture referring to the Old Testament tithe, therefore, cannot be used to justify the collection of tithes in New Testament churches. Tithing as taught by churches follows neither the obligation of the Law nor the patterns of practice established by the Law. Tithing as often preached is an extra-biblical doctrine – meaning it has no basis in Scripture.

The Old Testament tithe benefited the entire nation. Jacob promised God 10%, and God told Israel how he wanted them to give it. Not surprisingly, God just wanted people to remember Him and to celebrate His blessings. By celebrating God's blessing in the way he commanded, the tithe exploded into an economic windfall for the nation.

Is there a New Testament justification for tithing? There is a New Testament justification for giving generously but not by obligation to any particular entity. Giving in the New Testament addresses the needs of real people while generating exuberant thankfulness to God (Read 2 Corinthians 8). I suggest that in our Christmas celebrations this year, we follow that example.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Evangelical freestyle

Friday was one of those days that we'll remember for a long time. I took the day off work because Lisa was catering dinner for about 200 people. She doesn't do this sort of thing often; she needs a good reason to want to work that hard. Nevertheless, I know my job when it comes to catering. My job is to do whatever needs to be done. So my day started taking the girls to the community center so they could swim their 1000 yards. If Lisa kept her routine of taking the girls, then it would either extend her day, or create time pressure on the food preparation. My taking the girls to the pool gained Lisa some time. How much time, Lisa had no idea.

Gabby lollygagged in the pool. It was Friday and I've relented that the girls' Friday routine need not be as rigorous as Monday through Thursday's. With a half lap to go, and Claire already finished and ready to leave, I coaxed Gabby (age eight) to swim freestyle as fast as she could. I had to walk fast to keep up with her. I saw her take two breaths in the 25 yards, but she told me she took three. Unfortunately, the burst of energy did not prevent her from lollygagging in the shower for 45 minutes. I'm glad she showers on the community center's dime rather than on my own.

By the time we joined Lisa at the Evangelical Free Church where the dinner was being held, it was practically noon. We all worked in the kitchen all afternoon prepping, cooking, and cleaning until suddenly the food was all hot and ready to put out in the chafers. I had never been in an Evangelical Free Church before, and I guess I still can't say that I've attended one, but in case you're interested Evangelical Free is not like sugar free. The place was loaded with 'em!

A funny coincidence leads to angst

Lisa has catered two events in the last two years, and other than our family, one person has attended both events. A coworker of mine seems to be following Lisa around.

When she recognized me, she asked me if I attended that church. I explained that Lisa was helping a long-time family friend. It immediately caught me as odd that I was in a position where in the time allotted and with the background noise, I could not express what I believe. I had to choose a label: Evangelical Free or not-Evangelical Free.

I did not have time say that while I've never attended and don't intend to attend an Evangelical Free church, that I consider the people there brothers and sisters. I could not express that through October we celebrated the Lord's Supper in our home with many people from different denominational labels. I could not say, that I find church labels offensive but I find the Gospel to be the "power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes." Romans 1:16

This week I read a little bit from John Calvin's Institutes. I also ready a bit from Herodotus' Histories. I have to admit, I enjoy Herodotus much more than Calvin. I've been working on a blog post about Calvin, but I hesitate to publish because it will offend. I don't identify with Calvin. He doesn't represent the Christian faith as I see read it from the pages of the Bible. I do identify with Herodotus. He writes, I think, historical fiction – that is to say he embellishes the tale to emphasize the irony of life and death and fate. Herodotus struggles to understand the world without saying aloud, "The gods must be crazy." Calvin presumes to invent a god who is crazy, impose him upon the world, and burn at the stake those who disbelieve him (google "Servetus").

I haven't given Calvin a second thought for years, but recently read a research summary from Barna ( Is There a "Reformed" Movement in American Churches? ). I am annoyed that a segment of Christianity still associates itself with Calvin. Aside from the despicable Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, KS, I doubt that Calvin would give passing grades to many churches in America. Would Calvin really lend his name to churches who do not exhibit his murderous rage? Why then, would churches identify themselves according to Calvin? Do people actually read Calvin before proclaiming themselves Calvinist?

The Apostle Paul asks, "Is Christ divided? Was [Calvin] crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of [Calvin]?" (1 Corinthians 1:13) So I took some liberty with that translation, but the point is can we really label Christianity according to sect? By doing so, we offend Christ.

In a more general sense, organized church frustrates me because you just can't from point A to point B – point A being Scripture and point B being everything that happens in a church building on Sunday morning. I'm also puzzled by folks that say that the New Testament does not prescribe church practices. It seems to me that the New Testament just doesn't prescribe their practices, and so they jump through hoops to dismiss the prescriptive practices in the New Testament.

They say that the Book of Acts is descriptive; not prescriptive. OK, maybe, but Acts describes what the Apostles did, and that sounds like a reasonable model to emulate. Good enough for Peter
might be good enough for us. Even if you discard the Book of Acts, Paul is emphatic regarding church practices in 1 Corinthians 14:37, "If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord's command." Read 1 Corinthians 14:26-40. That's prescriptive!

Does your dispensational predilection make you uncomfortable with Paul's directive? ("Was [Clarence Larkin] crucified for you?") Perhaps Paul's instructions had an expiry date in margins of the original autographs? Not OK, but what about Jesus' teaching in Matthew 23:8-12?

"But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth 'Father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called 'Teacher,' for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted."

Do we think that God is fooled when we use synonyms for Rabbi like, "The Reverend" and "Pastor"? Why do we revere any man other than Jesus? Why do we revere other men's writings above Scripture? Are we really supposed to make some people more important than others? Surely, we are to make other more important than ourselves, but that's universal and not specific to the one man with a title or a book.

By the way, the word pastor appears once in most English translations of the Bible (Ephesians 4:11). It was not used in context of an ecclesiastical position, but rather describes the realms of gifts in which people operate. In the Greek, poimen, appears several times. Why is it translated shepherd everywhere but Ephesians 4:11? It's translated pastor because the translators are injecting common practice into Scripture rather than asking us to derive our common practices from Scripture!

Jesus tells us not to make distinctions among us because, ". . . you are all brothers." You might think that followers of Jesus might try to take His words as Gospel truth, but then again . . . what would we do with Calvin? Just because the "Reformers" were anti-Romanist, doesn't mean that either were right!

There is a better way to go about this than the sectarian status quo! "His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness." 1 Peter 1:3 (NIV) In Matthew 7:15-23, Jesus tells us what to do with Calvin and a lot of other so-called leaders, but I don't expect everyone to agree with me.

From angst to thanks

As I worked last night clearing the buffet, washing pots and pans, and mopping the kitchen floor, I debated with Calvin and marveled that his ideas have endured his Putrification. Nevertheless, last night I was confident that I was where I was supposed to be. Some fellow-believers—mostly unknown to me–were coming together in a building owned by an institution that I cannot understand. However, they were coming together to raise money for a school and orphanage in Guatemala. Their generosity would have a direct and immediate impact upon poor in a foreign country.

Command those who are rich in this present world . . . to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.

1 Timothy 6:17-18 (NIV)

I'm thankful that Christians can some days work together for furtherance of the true kingdom. To the extent that my family and I could work for last evening's success, I am thankful for the opportunity.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Acknowledgement offering

Combined Old Testament / New Testament word studies enlighten us to the meaning of New Testament Scripture passages. This methodology is underutilized or poorly executed because Old Testament Scriptures are usually translated from Hebrew while New Testament Scriptures are translated from Greek. How do we find adequate word correlations between the two languages?

While promoting Hebrew over the Greek, scholars fail to tell us that their Hebrew sources are, in fact, relatively modern translations of the autographs they represent. God has preserved His word through opportune translations not by preserving original manuscripts. Scholars might also fail to tell us that the writers of the New Testament utilized Greek sources for their Old Testament quotations. For instance, Luke 3:23-38 does not agree with the Hebrew text in Genesis 11, but it does agree with the Septuagint (LXX). It's a minor discrepancy, but it demonstrates what record Luke presumed to be authoritative. Likewise, Luke 4:18 does not agree with the Hebrew record of Isaiah 61, but it does agree with the LXX, and in this case what's missing from the Hebrew is important for Christian theology.

When it comes to understanding New Testament vocabulary and concepts, often the best place to research is in the ancient Greek translation commonly known as the Septuagint, or LXX. While LXX most accurately refers to the Greek translation of the Torah, the ancient Greek translations of the Old Testament as a whole, at the very least give us a relevant commentary regarding the meaning of the original words and phrases. They also help us define the meaning of New Testament vocabulary more precisely.

Thankfully, The Apostolic Bible makes the Old Testament Greek translation accessible to the modern Bible student. Over a year ago, when I was reading in the 2 Corinthians 9, I came across the word homologia. The Apostolic Bible translated the word in English as "acknowledgement offering." The word offering is italicized because it was inferred by the translator. In the LXX, the first occurrence of homologia is found in Leviticus referring to a type of sacrifice. The translator of the Apostolic Bible apparently believed that the usage of the word in 2 Corinthians was an allusion to the sacrifice in Leviticus.

"Speak to Aaron and his sons, and to all the congregation of the sons of Israel! And you shall say to them, The man, a man from the sons of Israel, or of the foreigners lying near them among Israel, who ever should offer his gifts according to every acknowledgement offering of theirs, or according to every choice offering or theirs, as much as they should offer to the Lord for a whole burnt offering what is acceptable unto you is an unblemished male of the herds, and of the sheep, and of the goats."

Levitucus 22:17-19 (AB)

Homologia is often translated, "confession"; however, "acknowledgement" is arguably a better word choice regardless of whether the word alludes to ritual sacrifice. The Apostolic Bible does not translate homologia as "acknowledgement offering" in every instance. Nevertheless, there is no compelling evidence in the context as to why a different word would be more appropriate. Furthermore, parsimony, requires us to examine whether we can translate a word the same way in each occurrence. If, for instance, homologia alludes to Leviticus 22, then it should be translated in such a way as to bring the Old Testament sacrifice into the idea. In other words, if the writer's vocabulary was likely framed by his knowledge of Old Testament vocabulary, then our translation should attempt to convey the thought and not just choose a compatible word.

As I looked at homologia again recently, I found evidence that the New Testament usages of homologia are deliberate references to Leviticus 22. To support this assertion, it helps to first look at the other Old Testament references in summary.

  1. Deuteronomy 12:6, 17 establishes the conduct of acknowledgement offerings: the presenter ate from his own offering. He offered his acknowledgement offering at the Tabernacle or Temple – the place where "the LORD your God himself should choose."
  2. In Jeremiah, a remnant of Israel escaped Nebuchadnezzar and established themselves in Egypt. In Egypt, they vowed to offer acknowledgement offerings to the queen of heaven rather than to the Lord. For this betrayal Jeremiah tells them,

    But hear the word of the LORD, all Jews living in Egypt: 'I swear by my great name,' says the LORD, 'that no one from Judah living anywhere in Egypt will ever again invoke my name or swear, "As surely as the Sovereign LORD lives." For I am watching over them for harm, not for good; the Jews in Egypt will perish by sword and famine until they are all destroyed. Those who escape the sword and return to the land of Judah from Egypt will be very few. Then the whole remnant of Judah who came to live in Egypt will know whose word will standmine or theirs.

    Jeremiah 44:26-28 (AB)

  3. In Ezekiel chapters 40 through 48, the prophet records a vision of the Messianic kingdom. In chapter 46, Ezekiel foretells the Prince entering the temple through the east gate to offer acknowledgement offerings. Only the Prince could enter through the east gate, because God had entered the new temple through the east gate to establish his throne forever.
  4. In Amos 4, the prophet rebukes Israel for their impiety. While they loved the rituals including the acknowledgement offerings, their hearts were far away from God.

Homologia appears in three passages of the Book of Hebrews (chapters 3, 4, and 10). The three contexts refer to Christ Jesus as our "chief priest", our "great chief priest", and the "great priest over the house of God." The appearance of the word "priest" near homologia echoes back to the ministry of the priests and their preparation and administration of the sacrifices. For instance, we easily understand Jesus' ministry as a priest compared to the offering for sin in Hebrews chapter 5, why would we overlook Jesus' ministry as priest in the acknowledgement offering? Only because the meaning of the word was lost in translation.

Hebrews 3:1 tells us to "contemplate the apostle and chief priest of our acknowledgement offering – Jesus Christ." In the NASB, this phrase reads, "consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession." The NIV says to "fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess." When we translate homologia as "acknowledgement offering," then a better picture of participation with Christ, our priest, appears. When we use the word "confession", we are active, but when we use the word acknowledgement offering we are interactive. Interacting with our great chief priest!

This image is intensified in Hebrews 4:14-5:10. The writer of Hebrews encourages us to keep the acknowledgement offering because we have a chief priest who is able to sympathize with our weakness. Because of Jesus Christ as our chief priest, we are encouraged approach the throne of grace with confidence. If we translate homologia as "confession," it becomes unclear what we bring with us when we approach the throne of God. Nevertheless, when we observe the acknowledgement offering, we present something of ourselves, and by Old Testament pattern, something of our free will! We have confidence in our priest that our offering will be received.

The three occurrences of homologia in the Book of Hebrews most certainly are allusions to Leviticus 22. Nevertheless, the Apostle Paul also uses the word homologia in 2 Corinthians 9 and again in 1 Timothy 6. 1 Timothy 6:14 nods toward Leviticus 22 when Paul tells Timothy to keep the command (the acknowledgement offering) without spot or blemish. Just as the sacrifices of the Old Testament could not be blemished, neither should our acknowledgement offering. Paul instructions in 1 Timothy mirror Moses' instructions in Leviticus.

Paul commends the Corinthians' intent to give an offering to the holy ones in Jerusalem. Paul equates their gift to an "acknowledgement offering to the good news (Gospel) of the Christ." Like Timothy's acknowledgement offering before many witnesses, so the Corinthians sacrificial giving to help their brothers in Christ would glorify God and result in "the simplicity of the fellowship." It would also result in an abundance of grace.

What is our acknowledgement offering?

We know from 2 Corinthians 9 that an acknowledgement offering can supply the needs of fellow believers. In 1 Timothy 6 and Hebrews 3 and 4, the acknowledgement offering appears to be more abstract. An acknowledgement offering might take many different physical forms. So what is the substance of our acknowledgement? Hebrews 10 answers this question.

And having a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of belief, with hearts being sprinkled from a wicked conscience, and the body being bathed with clean water. Let us hold fast the [acknowledgement offering] of the hope unwavering! For trustworthy is the one promising. And let us mind one another for stimulating love and good works! Not abandoning the assembling of ourselves, as the custom with some, but encouraging one another, and by so much more as much as you see the day approaching

Hebrews 10:21-25 (AB)

The acknowledgement offering in 2 Corinthians 9, 1 Timothy 6, Hebrews 3, 4, and 10 are all focused on Jesus Christ. Paul ends 2 Corinthians chapter 9 exclaiming, "Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!" Our acknowledgement offering is in response to Christ. 2 Corinthians 9 says it is an "acknowledgement offering to the Gospel of Christ." Hebrews 3 tells us to contemplate Jesus Christ as "the apostle and chief priest of our acknowledgement offering." In the same passage verse 14 tells us that "we have become partakers of the Christ." Just as the Old Testament worshipper ate part of his acknowledgement offering, we too participate in Christ's sacrifice. Hebrew 4 tells us to observe the acknowledgement offering because Jesus is our great chief priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses. Hebrews 10, again encourages the acknowledgement offering because Jesus Christ is a great priest over the house of God. In every case, the acknowledgement offering is made because of Jesus Christ.

Our acknowledgement offering is made to God, the Father. The Corinthians monetary gift brought glory to God. Timothy is told to make his offering in the sight of God and Christ. Hebrews 4 tells us to approach the throne of grace with confidence. Hebrews 10 tells us to draw near to God having a clear conscience and a cleansed body. Whereas the Old Testament worshipper made his acknowledgement offering at the Tabernacle or the Temple, we make our acknowledgement offering before the very throne of God!

Nevertheless, the acknowledgement offering is not only between a man and God. Our acknowledgement offering is also outwardly active. Timothy's acknowledgement offering was before many witnesses. The Corinthians, likewise, sent a gift to believers in Jerusalem. In Hebrews 3, after we are told to contemplate Jesus Christ, we are told to encourage one another. Likewise, In Hebrews 10, we stimulate each other toward love and good works and encourage one another. While our acknowledgement offering focuses on Christ, it also reaches other people, especially fellow believers.

So about the acknowledgement offering we know several things. It is to be spotless and without blemish just as the Old Testament sacrifices were also to be. In 2 Corinthians 9 and also in Hebrews 4, we see that the acknowledgement offering results in grace. When we need God's favor, we bring to him our acknowledgement offering before his throne with confidence. Our acknowledgement offering reaches beyond our personal relationship with God touching other people with encouragement. Our acknowledgement offering is made to God, our Father, with Jesus the Christ acting as our great chief priest of God's household. In our offering we also become partakers of Jesus Christ. What is this acknowledgement offering we bring to God our Father?

The actual substance of our acknowledgement offering is summarized in Hebrews 10:23. "Let us hold fast the acknowledgement offering of the hope unwavering!"

Regardless of its physical expression, the acknowledgement we offer to God through Christ is our spotless, unblemished, unwavering hope that God will fulfill what he has promised! What greater offering can we bring before God than the full conviction that His word is true? If we hold this unwavering hope, then it will guide our thoughts, our actions, and our relationships. In this hope we stand before God in Christ receiving his grace which we then reflect to fellow believers and the world!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Off the map

I just realized that I have not blogged in October! Not even once. So as midnight approaches, I'll try to get one short post in under the wire so as not to fall off the map.

For the last seven weeks we have hosted Sunday dinner in our home. We patterned these events after the ecclesiology of the New Testament church. We served a full meal, followed by the elements of the Lord's Supper. We then shared together according to 1 Corinthians 14:26-40. We titled the events as Lord's Supper Fellowship Celebration.

Each week was different. We certainly didn't know what to expect.We met some new friends and we became better acquainted with others. Each week, whether it was a small group or a larger group, it seemed that the right people were present.

We did not want to compete with organized church, so we scheduled this to compete with the NFL instead. I think this was a wise choice. I imagine that some who might have otherwise joined us are more loyal to their favorite football team than they are to whatever local assembly they attend. Poaching church pews was never our intent. Our purpose was, in part, to encourage unity and not to create division.

Over the seven weeks, rather than "attending" church, we sought to practice "being" the church. Being part of the church, the body of Christ and the household of God, is sharing life with fellow believers. We believe this is better accomplished by sharing hours together in a home than spending minutes together in the cacophony of a church foyer.

If you joined us, we thank you. We were richly blessed by your coming.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

When brothers live together in unity

Psalm 133

A song of ascents. Of David.

How good and pleasant it is
when brothers live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron's beard,
down upon the collar of his robes.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the LORD bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore.

David introduces a couple similes to describe the glory of unity. He says that it is like precious oil poured on the head. David also says that it is like the dew of Hermon falling on Mount Zion. Understanding these similes unlocks the meaning of the Psalm. Understanding the similes requires little bit of Bible history and geography.

Mount Zion, or the temple mount, is part of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. Hermon is a mountain on the historical northern border of Israel (part of Lebanon and Syria today). Hermon is a snowy mountain, the Mount of Olives is not parched, but it is warmer and more arid than Hermon. Psalm 133 is a Psalm of ascent, which Israel sang as they climbed up toward Jerusalem on their way to a feast. These three required feasts occur in the more arid and warmer months of the year. As the people climbed the mountain towards Jerusalem, they sang of the refreshing dew of Hermon. We can stretch the metaphor a bit by acknowledging that Zion and Hermon were very different mountains. Brothers living together in unity does not necessarily mean homogeneity. Rather the image in the Psalm demonstrates one supplying what the other lacks. If only the cooling dew of Hermon would fall on Zion as worshippers trekked their way to the temple! Brothers living together in unity is refreshing.

Exodus 30 speaks of the special anointing oil in the Tabernacle. The anointing oil was a blend of myrrh, cinnamon, calamus, cassia, and olive oil. Aaron and his sons were anointed as priests using this oil. The cinnamon and cassia poured over Aaron's head would have induced a warming sensation. The aroma would have been overpowering for anyone in the vicinity. Brothers living together in unity is warming and stimulating.

Within the images of the Psalm you have the cooling dew of Hermon and the warming fragrant oil of anointing both used metaphorically for brothers living together in unity.

Nevertheless, for the Christian there is a prophetic dimension to these metaphors. The word, Christ, means "anointed one." So naturally, we should pay close attention to the anointing of the Christ. In the Gospels, there are three accounts of Jesus' anointing by women. In Luke 7, Jesus' feet are anointed by a sinful woman in the city of Nain in Galilee. In John 12, Mary, the sister of Lazarus, also anoints Jesus' feet at a dinner in Jesus honor prior to the Triumphal Entry. In Matthew 26, an unnamed woman anoints Jesus' head on the night before the Last Supper and Jesus' subsequent arrest. Some very bad Bible scholars categorize these three anointing as one event with differing recollections. Anyone, taking the time to read the Gospels can see that they are three distinct events. Twice Jesus' feet are anointed and once his head is anointed.

The sinful woman in Nain anointed Jesus' feet early in Jesus' ministry. The feet of the prophet were anointed to spread the Gospel. Mary, Lazarus' sister, anointed Jesus' feet prior to the Triumphal Entry near the end of his earthly ministry. The feet of the king were anointed prior to his entry into the city. Finally, the unnamed woman anointed the head of Jesus the high priest. When we see Aaron's anointing as the prototype for Christ's anointing, then the dimension of the Psalm takes us to Calvary where Jesus, our high priest, offered his own blood as the atonement for our sins. The unity we have we have in him.

When we see the oil of anointing in Psalm 133 from the New Testament perspective, then we can look again at the dew of Hermon falling on Mount Zion and perhaps recall Peter's words, "Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord." Acts 3:19 (NIV) Peter's reference to "times of refreshing" came at Pentecost, or the Feast of Weeks, during which the Jews would have sung Psalm 133 on their ascent to the temple. While we might not draw a direct correlation between Psalm 133 and Acts 3:19, there was a general anticipation of God's blessing on the nation of Israel.

Perhaps the refreshing dew of Hermon reminds us of Christian baptism. As Peter also said at Pentecost, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call." Acts 2:38-39 (NIV)

Baptism declares our unity, as Paul writes, "For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink." 1 Corinthians 12:13 (NIV) Likewise, Paul wrote to the Ephesians, saying, "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." Ephesians 4:3-6 (NIV)

We are called to unity. In our collective unity with Christ, God directs his blessing. When we experience the unity we have in Jesus Christ, as Psalm 133 says, we experience what is "life forevermore."

Saturday, September 25, 2010

So, how did it go?

So some questions have arisen about the Lord's Supper Fellowship Celebration, so here's my brief attempt at an explanation:

We believe that the church of Jesus Christ is an organism rather than an organization. Consequently, we are not starting a church. Jesus establishes his own assembly. (Matthew 16:18)

We are trying to act faithfully as members of the body of Christ. When Christians assemble together, we believe that it is a manifestation of the living church regardless of the meeting place. (Matthew 18:19).

While location is theoretically irrelevant, in Paul's letters, the only mention of a church meeting together is in someone's home (Rom 16:5, 1 Corinthians 16:19, Colossians 4:15, Philemon 1:2) Conversely, Paul told the Athenians, "[God] does not live in temples built by hands, and he is not served by human hands as if he needed anything." Acts 17:24-25 (NIV) Within Biblical Christianity there is no such thing as a sacred building, but rather we are individually and collectively the temple of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 3:16 and Ephesians 2:19-22) As Paul says in Ephesians 2:19, we are "members of the family of God."

In practical terms, we believe that a home is a natural place for family to gather together. We deliberately chose the time of 1:00 PM so as not to compete with organized church meetings. Obviously, we would rather compete against the NFL. We've committed our home for this purpose for seven weeks. We would love for people to come join with us as often as they can.

Wherever believers assemble, we believe Paul's teaching regarding our gathering together is prescriptive not merely descriptive. Paul, writes, "If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord's command." 1 Corinthians 14:37 (NIV)

Last week, the Lord's Supper Fellowship Celebration began with people arriving, visiting, and becoming acquainted. We then ate dinner together. After dinner (Luke 22:20), we celebrated the Lord's Supper.

The celebration of the Lord's Supper is central to our common faith. The Apostle Paul writes, "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the fellowship of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the fellowship of the body of Christ? For as one loaf of bread, we the many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread loaf." 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 What fellowship do we have apart from the sacrifice of Jesus Christ? If this is our bond, then we can and should remember it together.

After sharing the elements of the Lord's Supper, we had a time of sharing patterned according to 1 Corinthians 14:26-40, "What then shall we say, brothers? Whenever you come together . . ."

After sharing, we ate dessert and continued visiting until people left.

The group that came last week included Christians from very different church backgrounds. Nevertheless, this gathering seemed to be natural. And so it should because we are all members of the same body.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

As I watch the moon rise

"'So beginning with the fifteenth day of the seventh month, after you have gathered the crops of the land, celebrate the festival to the LORD for seven days; the first day is a day of rest, and the eighth day also is a day of rest. On the first day you are to take choice fruit from the trees, and palm fronds, leafy branches and poplars, and rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days. Celebrate this as a festival to the LORD for seven days each year. This is to be a lasting ordinance for the generations to come; celebrate it in the seventh month. Live in booths for seven days: All native-born Israelites are to live in booths so your descendants will know that I had the Israelites live in booths when I brought them out of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.'"
Leviticus 23:39-43 (NIV)

Last night as Lisa and I finished working in the courtyard outside our bedroom, we paused to sit on our new deck and absorb the night. Lightning was flashing to our north and the moon and Jupiter rising in the east. The trees framed our view of the sky, and drifting clouds teased us at times revealing then obscuring the night sky.

I reminded Lisa that today would be the beginning of Sukkot, sometimes called the Feast of Tabernacles or Feast of Booths. The Feast of Tabernacles is central to the Gospel of John. John alludes to the feast when he tells us, "the Word became flesh, and did tabernacle among us." John 1:14 (YLT) That is to say that Christ made his temporary dwelling among men. The Feast of Tabernacles is also the background of John chapters 7-9. The footnotes in my NIV Bible state the following, "The earliest and most reliable manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Jn 7:53-8:11." There are two things we need to understand about this.

  1. These 12 verses are Scripture. The translators' remarks are simplistic. These verses appear in several different manuscripts in various places, if I recall my prior research correctly.
  2. They were probably not written by the Apostle John, and certainly interrupt the continuity of what John is trying to communicate.

On the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus made two assertions about himself in front of the crowd that was assembled for the feast. In John 7:37-38 Jesus shouted out to the crowd, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." John 8:12 tells us, "When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'"

Alfred Edersheim, a 19th century theologian, tells us that the Feast of Booths featured two specific rituals, the "Pouring out of Water" in the morning and the "Temple-Illumination" in the evening. Jesus' assertions most likely occurred in concert with the rituals of the feast. While the priest is pouring water into a basin by the altar at the morning sacrifice, Jesus stands and shouts, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink!" Likewise, in the evening, as the caldrons are lit illuminating not only the temple mount but the entire city of Jerusalem, Jesus again addresses the people saying, "I am the light of the world!"

The illumination of the temple recalls the Solomon's dedication of the temple in 2 Chronicles 7 when the glory of the Lord descended and filled the temple. The fires glowing in the outer courts of the temple were merely a re-enactment of God's descending upon the temple.

When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the LORD above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to the LORD, saying,
"He is good;
his love endures forever."

2 Chronicles 7:3 (NIV)

At this re-enactment, Jesus tells the people that he is the Messiah. This event also recalls Simeon, in Luke 2, when upon seeing the newborn Jesus, cried out prophetically saying,

"Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all people,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel."

Luke 2:29-32 (NIV)

The Pharisees argue with Jesus, until Jesus indisputedly clarifies his identity by saying, "Before Abraham was born, I AM." Not only did Jesus claim that his preexistence, he used for himself the most sacred name for God, "I AM." At this point the Pharisees pick up stones to kill Jesus, but he slips away from the temple.

Jesus did not merely make claims regarding himself, he demonstrated his identity. Upon leaving the temple and walking into the shadows of the city, Jesus illustrates his claim, "Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life," by granting sight to the man born blind. Jesus did this by creating new eyes for the blind man from the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7 and John 9:6).

As I reflect on the Feast of Tabernacles, I am struck by the lack of Christian holidays in Scripture. The Torah (Genesis – Deuteronomy) dictated the holidays that Israel celebrates. While there are a few additional holidays, such as Purim and Chanukah, most of the Jewish holidays were determined before Israel was even a nation. Christians, depending on the flavor, have no lack of holidays from Christmas to Easter. Neither Christmas nor Easter was sanctioned by New Testament Scripture. The Apostle Paul even depreciates the importance of the Sabbath in Romans 14:5-8. Aside from the Lord's Supper, which we are supposed to celebrate often, holidays in Christianity are take-it-or-leave-it. We can marvel at the meanings encapsulated by the Old Testament holidays, but we aren't obligated to observe them.

Hebrews 3 and 4 allude to the reason: The only day that matters is, "Today."

It still remains that some will enter that rest, and those who formerly had the gospel preached to them did not go in, because of their disobedience. Therefore God again set a certain day, calling it Today, when a long time later he spoke through David, as was said before:
"Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts."
For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.
Hebrews 4:6-11 (NIV)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

So what’s it about?

Starting September 19, Lisa and I plan on hosting in our home, for seven consecutive Sundays, a Lord's Supper Fellowship Celebration. Over the years many people have accepted invitations to eat at Lisa's table. She has a well-deserved reputation as a great cook. After these dinners we have enjoyed fellowship with our Christian friends. Our plans for the Lord's Supper Fellowship Celebration are much the same. Come together, have a meal, celebrate the common bond we have in Jesus Christ.

There will be a couple differences from dinners we've hosted in the past.

First, we will also serve the elements of the Lord's Supper, bread and wine, for those who want to participate. We have not done this at previous dinners because invitations were specific to certain families. According to Paul (1 Corinthians 10:17) one purpose of the Lord's Supper is recognizing our unity. Having an exclusive guest list is not an ideal way to build unity. In fact, Paul rebuked the Corinthian believers because each ate his own dinner leaving some to go hungry while others over indulged. Paul's complaint with the Corinthians was that some were "approved" while others were not (1 Corinthians 11:17-19). Ignore the awful translation from the NIV here. They were not approved by God – the word "God" appears nowhere near here in the Greek. The so-called "approved" were causing division; consequently, Paul would not praise them for their observance of the tradition he had otherwise taught them.

Paul's instructions to the Corinthians can be confusing, and if you understand them differently than I do, you're still invited for dinner. Some people assume that Paul restricted the Lord's Supper to a tiny cracker and a sip of wine. Nevertheless, he did not specify exact portion control. Paul told the Corinthians that when they came together to eat, to "wait for one another." The words translated "wait for one another" can also mean "look out for one another." He then says, that if anyone is hungry let him eat at home. Paul wasn't putting the kibosh on a full meal. The meal was an Apostolic tradition (Acts 2:42, Acts 20:7-12). In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul was telling the Corinthians not to be divisive, to look out for one another, and also to discern the body of the Lord. In light of 1 Corinthians 10:17, the body of the Lord which we are supposed to discern, is actually the assembly of believers! In the context, the phrases "look out for one another" and "discern the body of the Lord" have parallel meanings. Someone who eats his own dinner while a hungry brother eats nothing cannot be discerning the body of the Lord, can he?

The instructions regarding the Lord's Supper in 1 Corinthians 10 and 11 dealt with unity in fellowship. The fellowship in the New Testament church wasn't ethereal. The fellowship they shared was tangible. In Acts 20, the Ephesians' fellowship went past midnight to daybreak. They even had a post-midnight meal after witnessing Eutychus' resurrection from the dead. I don't expect anything that exciting, but we're not planning a fixed end time just in case.

Some might wonder if the Lord's Supper isn't something that is supposed to be done in a church building. Well, no. Nothing in the New Testament says anything about partaking of the Lord's Supper only in a church building. Nor does Scripture tell us that the Lord's Supper must be administered by someone who is "approved." In fact, Christian sects have undermined the purpose of the Lord's Supper by creating such things as the Anglican Communion or the Roman Catholic Communion. The communion celebrated in church buildings often celebrates disunity or sectarianism. It isn't the Lord's Supper if it divides us along sectarian boundaries. If Communion is administered by those who are "approved," it further establishes division even within the sect.

Paul doesn't say where or when to celebrate the Lord's Supper, but he does say, "As often as you should eat this bread, and should drink this cup, you announce the Lord's death until he comes." "As often" sounds like implicit permission to me. Together we can fellowship in the memory of Jesus' death and celebrate His promised coming again "as often" as we like.

The second difference between the Lord's Supper Fellowship Celebration and other dinners Lisa and I have hosted is already alluded to. The invitation list is pretty wide open. If somehow you don't feel invited, talk to me. If you come, I'm hoping, but can't guarantee, that you meet a brother or sister you didn't previously know. If you think we're off the wall crazy, come anyway. The purpose is to establish unity in Jesus Christ, not to divide according to insignificant church traditions.

We've asked participants to read 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 because Paul gives instructions about how to meet together. He begins saying, "What is it then brethren? Whenever you should come together . . ." Paul isn't offering suggestions, he is emphatic. He says, "If any thinks to be a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize what I write to you that they are commandments of the Lord." If you want to know the Lord's commands for whenever Christians assemble together, you can read and interpret 1 Corinthians yourself.

In the mean time, if you're wondering if we Ramsey's are getting in over our heads, the answer is, "Always. Come and join us."

By the way, the Bible quotations in this post are taken from the Apostolic Bible. If you don't know what that is, come to dinner on the 19th, and you can look at my copy.

As always, RSVP's are greatly appreciated by the cook.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

You’re invited

For seven Sundays, September 19 thru October 31, we are hosting a Lord's Supper Fellowship Celebrationi in our home. Come to one or come to all. The purpose is Christian unity through fellowshipii.

Arrive any time. Dinner will be served at 1:00 PM.

What to bring? Read 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 and bring something on Paul's list, if you like.

RSVP's are much appreciated by the cook.

i Not affilicated with any organization or sect.

ii “The cup of the blessing which we bless, is it not fellowship of the blood of the Christ? The bread which we break, is it not fellowship of the body of the Christ? For as one bread loaf, we the many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread loaf.”

1 Corinthians 10:10-16-17 (Apostolic Bible)

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Having just returned from a quick trip to Minnesota to see Daniel, I was reminded of quote from Enzo Ferrari.

I truly believe that when a man tells a woman that he loves her he means that he desires her. The only true love can be a father's love for his son.

While I disagree with Ferrari's extremism (I truly love my wife and daughters) I understand how his sentiments arise. Ferrari's emotions toward his son were ancient and instinctive. A man's love for his only son is special.

I was explaining to Lisa the other day the Old Testament concept of eternal life. Embedded within the pages of the Old Testament, the expectation of eternal life was coupled to progeny – independent of the resurrection of the dead. God promised Abraham, ". . . your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him." Genesis 17:19 (NIV) Likewise, God's promise to David states,

I have made a covenant with my chosen one,
I have sworn to David my servant,
"I will establish your line forever
and make your throne firm through all generations

Psalm 89:3-4 (NIV)

In the Old Testament spiritual economy, eternal life and eternal consciousness were not intertwined. A father lived on through his son, and the son's identity reflected his father. Solomon, in a dream, spoke to God, saying, "You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day . . ." 1 Kings 3:6 (NIV) Solomon understood that he was the beneficiary of God's promise to David.

The relationship of unity between a father and his son was emphasized by Jesus' own teaching. Jesus declared in John 10:30, "The Father and I are one." When Phillip asked Jesus to show the disciples the Father, Jesus replied, "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father." These expressions of relationship were well understood by the Jews; however, not many received the message that Jesus was indeed the Son of God.

The power of a father's love for his son is encapsulated in the concept of monogenēs. The offspring extends his father's life. This was particularly true regarding the monogenēs. Monogenēs is frequently translated from the Greek as, "only begotten" or "only son." According to Hebrews 11:17, Abraham's monogenēs was Isaac. Nevertheless, Abraham also fathered Ishmael and another son by Hagar, six sons by Keturah (Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak and Shuah), and the innumerable "sons of his concubines" according to Genesis 25:6. Isaac wasn't special because he was the only son of Abraham. Isaac was special because he was the chosen son of Abraham. Isaac was Abraham's monogenēs. Isaac encapsulated all the hope of God's eternal promise to Abraham.

When Enzo Ferrari spoke of a father's love for his son, he understood it to be special. Though he did not express it in Biblical terms, he understood the concept of monogenēs. A father's love for his monogenēs transcends all capacity of words to express.

When the Apostle John speaks of Jesus being the monogenēs of the Father, he leverages this expression to convey the closeness between Jesus Christ and God the Father. The fact that Jesus was the monogenēs of the Father does not mean that he was a created being. According to John and the writer of Hebrews, the Christ was indeed the Creator (John 1:3 and Hebrews 1:2). Just as in Abraham and Isaac's case, the word monogenēs expresses a special relationship, but does not literally mean only offspring. The Son of God pre-existed the incarnation of Jesus. At the incarnation the nature of the Son of God became also the Son of Man. Jesus Christ embodies both the Creator and the Creation. As such, Jesus special relationship to the Father was strongly expressed as monogenēs in the writings of the Apostle John.

Paul expressed the relationship between Christ and the Father a little differently, saying, "In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form." Colossians 2:9 (NIV) Jesus Christ was God in human form. John predicates his Gospel on this same assertion.

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things were made;
without him nothing was made that has been made.
In him was life, and that life was the light of men.
The light shines in the darkness,
but the darkness has not understood it.

There came a man who was sent from God;
his name was John.
He came as a witness to testify concerning that light,
so that through him all men might believe.
He himself was not the light;
he came only as a witness to the light.
The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.

He was in the world,
and though the world was made through him,
the world did not recognize him.
He came to that which was his own,
but his own did not receive him.
Yet to all who received him,
to those who believed in his name,
he gave the right to become children of God —
children born not of natural descent,
nor of human decision or a husband's will,

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
We have seen his glory,
the glory of the [Monogenēs],
who came from the Father,
full of grace and truth.

John 1:1-14 (NIV)

Why did he who was most special to the Father become a man and dwell among men? The Apostle John writes, "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." 1 John 4:10 (NIV) The Father loved us so much that he would send his Monogenēs to suffer and die as the propitiation of our sins. If a father's love for his monogenēs, is the supreme love, as Enzo Ferrari declared it to be, how great is God's love for man?

Where Adam and Adam's race failed in faithfulness and obedience to God, God sent his monogenēs, a very part of Himself, to become the propitiation for our sins. Whereas Adam had been disobedient to God, Christ . . .

. . . became obedient to death — even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:8 (NIV).

The writer of Hebrews tells us, "Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek." Hebrews 5:8-10 (NIV)

Not coincidentally, God's promises to Abraham and David, converge in the person of Jesus Christ. Paul explains that by faith in Jesus Christ we become partakers in God's promise to Abraham, "Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. [Abraham] is the father of us all." Galatians 4:16 (NIV). Not only was Jesus Christ the seed of Abraham as promised in Genesis and recounted in Galatians 3, Jesus was also the rightful heir of David's throne.

In the Old Testament, the concept of eternal life dealt with progeny, in the New Testament, eternal life is sharing in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ the two concepts of eternal life converge. Jesus, the man was a descendant of Abraham and of David. Promises to the Patriarchs are fulfilled in Christ. Nevertheless, as children of faith, we share in Christ's death and resurrection. The writer of Hebrews demonstrates the better promise we have in Jesus Christ. Hebrews 11 recounts how the believers of the Old Testament walked by faith. Nevertheless, "These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect." Hebrews 11:39-40 (NIV) John closes the Book of Revelation with a quotation from Jesus,

"Behold, I am coming soon!
My reward is with me,
and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.
I am the Alpha and the Omega,
the First and the Last,
the Beginning and the End.
"Blessed are those who wash their robes,
that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.

Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts,
the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters
and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

"I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches.
I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star."

The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!"
And let him who hears say, "Come!"
Whoever is thirsty, let him come;
and whoever wishes,
let him take the free gift of the water of life.
Revelation 22:12-17 (NIV)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Off topic

I assigned Claire to read Paul Johnson's A History of the America People. I remember the histories I studied in school were synoptic, impersonal, and boring. It took me years to realize that I love history. Johnson is a great writer with a love of history and a fondness for America that has little to do with liberal or conservative politics. His narratives are both informative and entertaining. Nevertheless, Johnson is a bit difficult for a 12-year old to read, so it has been important for Claire to keep track of new vocabulary. Her daily reports provide me the opportunity to reinforce what she's learning, but they also provide me opportunities to teach off topic.

Sometimes, the most important lessons are learned tangentially.

The other day Claire sent me her vocabulary list including the word, "antinomian." She defined antinomian as, "A member of a Christian sect holding such a doctrine." Well, I think I can spot a non-answer when I see one. I challenged Claire to explain whether she was antinomian. Further, I asked her to look up the meaning of the Latin phrase, "Sola Fide."

At dinner we discussed that antinomianism holds that salvation comes without keeping the Law. Sola Fide asserts that salvation comes by faith alone. A few days later we continued the discussion as I asked Claire, based on her understanding of Sola Fide, to also define Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura, Solus Christus, and Soli Deo Gloria. English derives itself from the Latin and Greek, so it wasn't too difficult for her to grasp:

Sola Fide: by faith alone

Sola Gratia: by grace alone

Sola Scriptura: by Scripture alone

Solus Christus: through Christ alone

Soli Deo Gloria: unto God's glory alone

In support of Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, and Soli Deo Gloria, I offer you Romans 5:1-11 (KJV):

Therefore being justify by faith,

we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:

By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand,

and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

For when we were yet without strength,

in due time Christ died for the ungodly.

For scarcely for a righteous man will one die:

yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.

But God commendeth his love toward us,

in that, while we were yet sinners,

Christ died for us.

Much more then, being now justify by his blood,

we shall be saved from wrath through him.

For if, when we were enemies,

we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son,

much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.

And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ,

by whom we have now received the atonement.

Sola Scriptura is implicit in this passage as well, because for one to receive the message of grace by faith through Jesus Christ unto God's glory one must believe that the Scriptures are true.

While I'm thankful for the opportunity to teach theology on a tangent from Claire's American History reading, I'm most hopeful that the Five Sola's will mean for her more than mere vocabulary. Encapsulated within those five Latin phrases is the hope of eternal life.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

All the comfort I need

Gabby came into our bedroom the other night and was visibly upset. She was having trouble sleeping, and she asked me to read her a comforting Bible verse. I told her, "Bring me my Bible." She asked, "Do you want your fat one?" I told her that my other one would be fine. She returned with my well-worn NIV, and I read for her Psalm 91. A couple months ago The Wall Street Journal featured a powerful photo from Afghanistan. I've been thinking about Psalm 91 ever since. The verse partially quoted in the print edition of the Journal reads,

You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day . . .

You can read the whole Psalm here. I read Gabby the entire Psalm, after which she looked at me and said bluntly, "That's all the comfort I need," and then she ran off to bed.

Lisa was somewhat puzzled why I would read Gabby Psalm 91 as a comfort. Anyone with general knowledge of the New Testament would recognize Psalm 91 as a Messianic Psalm. The devil quoted Psalm 91:11-12 at the temptation of Jesus in Matthew chapter 4. It reads,

For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.

If even the devil knows that Psalm 91 is a specific promise to the Christ, why would I be reading it to my seven-year old who is seeking comfort? Why wouldn't I try to find a passage that applies to her?

My explanation is simply this: because I am in Christ, I partake in the promises to Christ. Likewise, it is proper for Gabby to seek her comfort from God even if she can't yet understand theologically how the promises apply to her.

Do I think that God will send his angels to keep me from ever stubbing my toe? No, but I believe that the angels guarded the Christ as Psalms prophesies they would. In fact, Matthew 4:11 says, "Then the devil left him, and the angels came and attended to him."

"Where is the comfort in that?" you might ask. The comfort comes from my realizing that the promises to Christ are eternally significant promises. The promise that the Christ would not strike his foot against a stone meant that God would ensure that Jesus, the Christ, would remain an unblemished sacrifice until the time ordained when he would carry my sin into death and grant me hope through his resurrection.

I inherit that greater promise through faith, and I benefit from that greater promise for an eternity . . .

. . . and that's all the comfort I need.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Hamartia: take 2

by John D Ramsey

These questions came to my phone this afternoon, and it was great to think through them tonight.
Thank you for responding to my question about "whats it mean not finding repentance" I was reading your blog about hamartia, my other question is do you know or have an idea what the sin unto death is in 1 John 5:16? in the same letter he says if we confess our sins or our missing the mark, and then he says if we see a brother sinning a sin not unto death, pray for him and there is sin not unto death, so what will be the nature of this sin unto death? By they way I am growing alot from your blog articals, thank you so much.  

Blog posts are compact (even some of my long-winded posts), and so sometimes the brevity of the medium means that ideas are incomplete. Blog topics are not exhaustive. My point in writing "Hamartia" was to examine the word we commonly translate as "sin" from a more accurate perspective. That is to say, sin is more a condition, than an action.

That doesn't remove man's responsibility his actions, rather it points to the source of the actions rather than on the actions alone. Because sin is a condition, a baby can be born into sin having never acted sinful. When we think of sin as a condition rather than specific sets of actions, we realize that God is most interested in our hearts.

When my oldest daughter was very little, and we would see some outlandish fashion on someone in public or on television, I would tell her, "If you never dress like that, I'll give you a dollar." Of course, it didn't take her very long before she realized she would never be able to collect. I tried to bribe her with a million dollars, but again, regardless of what I promised, she realized she would never collect because she could never (as long as she lived) attain the standard of "never" doing something. As long as she lives, there remains the possibility. In a similar way, we can never, by acts of obedience to God, undo the fact that we have been disobedient to God nor can we overcome the fact that we inherited Adam's sin. We can never attain sinlessness by our actions or lack of actions. Paul says, "All sinned and lack the glory of God." It was from this condition that we are justified by his grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

This all said, I think that in 1 John 5:16, you cannot separate the condition from the action. A literal translation from the Apostolic Bible: "If anyone should see his brother sinning a sin not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give to him life, to the ones not sinning to death." Now the John's pronouns and antecedents may need sorting out (most English translations help out adequately here), but the word "sinning" in the context indicates a continuing condition and the word "sin" indicates behavior. So in this passage, I concede that John is using the word sin (hamartia) to indicate behavior. In truth, it is difficult to separate attitude from action. In fact, the next verse John says, "Every unrighteousness is sin." Perhaps he sees the distinction between the words and drives home the point that from his perspective attitude and action are the same thing.

The hardest part of this passage, then, is inferring what John meant by a sin unto death and a sin not unto death. To answer this, I defer to James, who wrote about lust or evil desires saying, "once desire conceives it gives birth to sin, and when finished sin gives birth to death." There is an escalation from evil desire to sin and eventually to death. But James is not fatalistic about sin and death because he closes his letter saying, "Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover a multitude of sin." There is hope that someone can be turned back to the truth.

John's "sin not unto death" and "sin unto death" seem to be in agreement with James. Sin will lead to death, but there is time to turn back. It isn't that there are lists of minor and major sins. It is that sin, like a disease, progresses until it accomplishes death. Sin destroys man's relationship to God. In fact, sin always, in some capacity, supplants God in our lives. John drives this home in the last sentence of this letter, saying, "Sons, guard yourselves from idols."  Likewise, in 1 Corinthians 10, Paul talks about overcoming temptation saying, “Flee idolatry.” Paul told the Colossians that greed was the same as idolatry. Sin effectively replaces God’s will with our own, and this leads us away from God and ultimately to death. The nature of sin is still attitude even when it is played out in our actions.

James talks about turning a sinner back to the truth, but John tells us how, ". . . pray, and God will give him life."

Sunday, July 18, 2010

I’ve been busy, what’s your excuse?

The 2010 swim season apex occurred in the second heat of the first event: girls 8 and under medley relay. Gabby anchored. When her friend touched the wall after the butterfly leg, Gabby soared into a perfect dive and entered the water with barely a splash. She surfaced with her face down to business and her arms and legs pulling and pushing her team to victory. In the length of the pool, I saw her take 3 breaths (Gabby says she took 4). Gabby's coaches told her team that they had improved their time by 10 seconds over last week. I believe it. She looked like a swimmer. Seven weeks ago, she looked like a little girl.

Both girls learned to swim this summer. They joined the local swim team, listened to the coaches, and learned. They stayed after practice and worked on new techniques. We told them that they only had to participate in the intra-squad meet. They ended up swimming in all seven events including the league championship meet yesterday. Both have made amazing improvements, but Gabby's stretching the lead against the competition visually demonstrated what they've accomplished. Of the first year swimmers on the squad, I don't think anyone has excelled as much as my girls. Each week they have displayed major improvement. They plan to build on their gains throughout the year and return next year for another swim season.

As a home-school family, our summer break has been officially over for a few weeks. We are gradually ramping up the assignments knowing that August will set the tone for the rest of the year. As the littlest one in the family, I'm assigning Gabby reports on the littlest countries in the world. This week she's studying Trinidad and Tobago. Claire's assigned country is Hungary. I've also assigned Claire to read Paul Johnson's A History of the American People, but not until I'm finished with it. Claire is currently reading Joe Posnanski's biography of Buck O'Neil, and Gabby is researching Yanaton Netanyahu. Perhaps they'll learn to recognize heroes instead of idolizing celebrity.

This summer, we've tackled a major repair project on the house. It don't like just fixing things. I prefer to make them better. It's a type of psycho/physical therapy for me. Lisa knows this, and so she heroically manages the budget through the project phases.

A few weeks ago, I was complaining about what the previous homeowner had done. It was obvious that he had "never worked in construction." Gabby asked me if I had ever worked construction. I gave her my blue collar resume from nearly 2 decades ago. Now she measures every man by the standard of whether he has worked in construction.

There is more to do with the house, but we're taking a break after reaching a milestone.

At the office, we survived a data center move and an office move. I think my Black Ops team is stronger now than we've ever been. On Friday, I commented to one of my guys, saying, "This has been a very productive week. You've accomplished a lot." He agreed and then told me that he hoped this level of productivity didn't become the norm. I just laughed. I was hoping that it would. We reach a milestone with a project mid-August which will fundamentally alter the daily responsibilities of the Black Ops team. If we were tracking this according to CMMI, we would be moving some core processes from level 2 to level 3 with a roadmap to level 4. Regardless of the company's vocabulary, we're approaching a major milestone. I'm excited to move beyond.

Recently, Lisa and I took in Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No 1 with the Kansas City Symphony, Vladimir Feltsman on the piano. As the house lights were about to dim, I received notice of a major outage at work. My team responded, and by intermission all was resolved. A year ago, I would have been missed the concerto. At the end of the concerto, Lisa asked me if it was really as fantastic as it seemed. I suppose it was. I still hear Tchaikovsky's melodies and rhythms in my head.

A few weeks ago, we took the little girls to see Shakespeare's, King Richard III, at the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival where I learned that treachery is actually a form of self-loathing. Who knew?

Jim and Julie celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on July 3. Holly, the little flower girl at Lisa and my own wedding was there with her husband and baby. I remember Holly's first birthday back when Lisa and I were still in high school. Somehow, seeing my own kids grow up does not make me feel old, but seeing other children become adults does.

We were at Dad's on July 4. Daniel, Claire, and I knocked down a box of clays. I mostly missed, but after a warm-up, I did OK. Claire hit a few and then decided that she didn't want to bruise her shoulder before a swim meet the next day. Daniel looked practiced. He attributed his preparedness to Xbox.

Earlier this month, the big kids were home at the same time for the first time in 18 months. What would families do without Facebook? Daniel and Rhonda couldn't stay for long, but Cara was here for 9 days. Thanks to her, I have some awesome artwork for my office if I can get the frames finished.

We also took in the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art while Cara was with us. Afterwards, we took Cara and the girls to The (New) Dime Store in Brookside. I asked Cara if she remembered the place from her early childhood. She said she did not and I responded saying, "How sad, your happiest times were right here." I should have remembered that treachery is actually a form of self-loathing. I suppose that parents have more memory of their children than children have of their parents. Still, I wish our older kids felt the affinity for Kansas City that their mom and I do.

On a personal level, I grew tremendously. I actually joined my girls in a few games of Farkle. I don't play games, but I did, and I think the girls enjoyed it. Historically, I have played chess with Daniel, but chess isn't a game. It's a sport, or perhaps a mental sublimation of war. I find games in general to be pointless, but I played Farkle.

While Cara was home, I replaced the rotors and pads on Lisa's 1997 Saturn, although I hate auto repair. I don't find auto repair therapeutic. The only benefit to home auto repair is mitigating damage to the budget. During the repair process, Lisa reported that I only said, "Farkle," once.

I've been absent from blogging and nearly silent on Twitter and Facebook. Social networking can become a mental sublimation of life. Recently, my life has been too busy to permit me time to write. Perhaps now, as I approach milestones, I'll have more time. I've been contemplating topics such as the erosion of justice in America. When did bureaucratic extortion replace our justice system? As if, somehow, two wrongs make a right.

I've also been contemplating the proper application of Biblical promises. My hypothesis is that the promises of the Old Testament, in general, were made to the Christ. We ultimately experience the fulfillment of those promises through Him, and not merely because of Him. This is my hypothesis, and I hope to have time to research and expound on this in coming months.

In the meantime, I've noticed that my readership statistics have waned. While I expected a summer contraction, I am a bit alarmed by the general weakness. I know I have not been writing for some time, but honestly, you have not been reading, either. I suppose a writer must be most forgiving of his audience. Therefore, let us reaffirm our contract. I will write as frequently as I can, but I ask that you in turn visit the archives on occasion.

Leave a comment or two when you do.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The church of King Henry VIII

Thursday's A-hed, In England, Buying the Farm Can Be a Fate Worse Than Debt, outlines the abusive power held by English churches to extract money from unsuspecting neighbors. Unfortunately, the reader may mistake the church of St John the Baptist in Aston Cantlow, and even the Church of England, as being Christian. Nevertheless, from a Biblical perspective, the church of St John the Baptist is unlike Christ's church as outlined in the New Testament Scripture.

Paul told the Athenians at the Areopagus, that God "does not live in temples built by hands." Yet so-called Christians continually call the church building "God's house." The building becomes the center of worship even though God doesn't live there. Whether the Church of England, and especially the wardens of St John the Baptist, believes in God is perhaps a dubious assumption. Nevertheless, the so-call church benefits from the presumption of Christianity. It's easier to extort money in the name of God than in the name of greed. Still, the excuse, It's for the building, just doesn't ring true.

Even 2 Chronicles 6-7 makes it clear that Solomon's temple was not for the benefit of God. If 2 Chronicles 7:19-22 prophesies the eventual destruction of Solomon's temple, I doubt that God holds the building, St John the Baptist in Aston Cantlow, with any regard (its association with William Shakespeare notwithstanding). God holds his name in higher regard than any building, but churches hold church buildings in higher regard than they hold God's name. Jesus told the Samaritan woman in John 4,

Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem . . . Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.

John 4:21, 23-34 (NIV)

If the ancient temple does not matter in worship because God is spirit and worship is spiritual, then how can any building assist "worship in spirit and truth?" Jesus tells us that geography and architecture are meaningless in worship. Emphasis on a building disparages the Gospel preached by Jesus Christ.

Even if the building is somehow important, the church is un-Christian to sue. Paul berated the Corinthians for suing each other in the courts. He writes, "The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers." 1 Corinthians 6: 7-8 (NIV) Apparently the Church of England has no qualms about suing Christians for financial gain. Of course, God doesn't care about buildings, so obviously the church wardens can't expect Him to provide. The Wall Street Journal quotes it as saying, "The church cannot be expected to forgo sources of funding to which it is entitled." Assuming the church, St John the Baptist, was somehow entitled, according to Paul they should rather be cheated than take a church member to court!

But nothing in Scripture entitles St John the Baptist in Aston Cantlow to any money. Even the Old Testament tithe rendered only 0.33% to the temple (one percent every 3 years). The Levites, who collected the tithe in the year of the tithe, did not use it to support buildings. They used it to support orphans, and widows, and foreigners. The tithe didn't support buildings, it supported people. The church of St John the Baptist's entitlement comes not from Scripture, but from the dead reprobate King Henry VIII.

Since King Henry VIII's laws are obeyed within the parish of St John the Baptist in Aston Cantwell while Christ's laws are ignored, we should never mistake the church of St John the Baptist, and the greater Church of England, as being anything other than the Church of King Henry VIII.