Thursday, May 30, 2013

Pope says Athiests Who Do Good are Redeemed

Today is the fourth day of our twenty-first week, reading the Bible through together in a year.  Our scriptures today are:  2 Sam 21-23; Romans 3; Psalm 18.

Recently, Pope Francis declared that Jesus redeemed everybody who does good--even Athiests.  Click here to read an article on this, and watch the short video, which is a discussion between a Catholic and non-Catholic about whether it's good enough to be good enough.  

Here's a snippet of his homily:

"The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! 'Father, the atheists?' Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class. We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all. And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: We need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. 'But I don't believe, Father, I am an atheist!' But do good: We will meet one another there."

This is a controversial position for the pope to take.  So controversial, in fact, that the Vatican had to clarify what the Pope had to say.  Click here to read about the Vatican's clarification.  

While people debate what the Catholic church teaches, howsabout we look at what the Bible says.  In Romans 3 (ESV), we read:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
11     no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
    they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14     “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16     in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18     “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
This means that even if you're a "good person," whether you're Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, Athiest, Hindu, or whatever, nobody's good works will save them.  It's not good enough to be "good enough."  Because "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (v. 23 ESV)," everybody needs redemption.
But needing redemption and being redeemed are two different things.  Did Jesus die to redeem everybody?  Yes.  But does that mean that everybody is redeemed?  Unfortunately, no. God grieves over a person's stubborn refusal to receive His grace.  2 Peter 3:9 (ESV) says that God "is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance."  Repentance means turning away from evil and doing good.  But it means more than that.  It means turning away from unbelief, and embracing faith in Jesus.  
Romans 3:22 (ESV) promises "the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe."  This means that the righteousness of God cannot be achieved apart from faith in Jesus.  Further, verse 25 (ESV) speaks of Jesus, "whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith."   Then, verse 26 (ESV) describes God as the "justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus."
The "Anonymous Christian" doctrine is a heresy which says that God will redeem non-Christians who are good people, because even though they haven't received Jesus, they embody the spirit of Christ.  This is completely contrary to the word of God.  Though the Pope never specifically referenced this doctrine, his comments come awfully close to it.
Does Jesus redeem all people who do good?  That's not what the Bible says.  Jesus died so that all may be redeemed, but that doesn't mean everybody is redeemed.  Redemption comes only through faith in Him, by receiving His grace and accepting Him as Lord.  Have you received Him?  Are you redeemed?  If you're not sure, why not pray a prayer like this one:
Dear Jesus, I believe that you are the Son of God, and that you died to set me free from sin's power over my life.  Acknowledging that there's nothing I can do to be good enough or to earn salvation, I receive your free gift of eternal life.  Thank you for cleansing me of my sin.  Take control of my life from now on, teaching me to live in a way that is pleasing to God.  I love you.  Amen.  

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Absalom's End

Today is the third day of week twenty-one, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures today are 2 Sam 18-20; Romans 2; Psalm 34.

In yesterday's blog post, we talked about Absaloms in the church.  They try to impress people with their fancy wardrobe, flattering words, false wisdom, and flaunted wealth.  Yet they are manipulative, hungry for power, and rebellious against God-ordained authority.  There's good news, when it comes to Absaloms in the church.

The good news is that they tend to hang themselves by their own hair.  In 2 Samuel 18:31 (ESV), we read:  And behold, the Cushite came, and the Cushite said, 'Good news for my lord the king! For the Lord has delivered you this day from the hand of all who rose up against you.'”  The self-destructive tendencies of Absaloms is good news, because it means that their power won't last forever.  "Their destiny is destruction, their god is their belly, and their glory is in their shame. Their minds are set on worldly things (Phil 3:19 ISV)."  Often, the very things that they took their pride in, become their undoing.  Many years ago, I knew an Absalom in church who was very proud of his ability to manipulate through bullying.  He was a large man, with a commanding presence.  He loved to either impress people or intimidate them when he had a temper tantrum--either way, he got his way.  But eventually people caught onto what he was doing.  He hung himself by his own hair--meaning that he had one too many temper tantrums, and people called his bluff.  He stepped down from his position of power in the church, never to cause problems again (at least, as long as I was in that church).  Absaloms in the church tend to be self-destructive, in the end.  "They dig a deep pit to trap others, then fall into it themselves (Psalm 7:15 NLT)."

But the bad news is that they tend to hang themselves by their own hair.  In 2 Samuel 18:32-33 (ESV) we read: The king said to the Cushite, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” And the Cushite answered, “May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up against you for evil be like that young man.”  And the king was deeply moved and went upto the chamber over the gate and wept. And as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”  Even though Absalom was David's enemy, the king never forgot that Absalom was first and foremost his son.  He grieved Absalom's passing, as he grieved Absalom's behavior.  The Christian ought never gloat or take pleasure in the self-destructive tendencies of his enemies.  This is a tragic thing.  We must remember that troublemakers in the church are our brothers and sisters in Christ, deserving of compassion and pity when they let their own glory get in the way of God's glory.  

When Jesus sent out the seventy-two disciples, they came back with stories to tell of God's goodness.  Luke 10:17-20 (ESV) says, "The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.  Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”  Jesus didn't want the disciples to gloat over their victory over the devil.  He wanted them to rejoice in their own salvation, but never to take joy in the defeat of others.  

Have you recently had trouble with an Absalom in your church?  Trust that God will bring their self-glorification down on their own heads.  But grieve, because God will bring their self-glorification down on their own heads.  

It would be better if you could recognize an Absalom before he becomes an Absalom.  Through wisdom and discernment, mentoring and discipling, prayer and petition, see if the Lord won't change that person's path and make them a true and godly person instead.  What can you do to turn a future-Absalom away from that path?  Ask the Lord to show you, and to show you what you need to do, so that the battle won't have to be fought in the future.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Absaloms in the Church

Today is day two of our twenty-first week, reading the Bible through together in a year.  Our scriptures today are:  2 Sam 15-17; Romans 1; Psalms 3, 63.

As I was reading in 2 Samuel 15 today, something seemed very familiar to me.  It wasn't because I have read the story of Absalom's rise to power before (which I have).  No, there was some other reason why this seemed so familiar.  Verses 1-6 (ESV) say:

After this Absalom got himself a chariot and horses, and fifty men to run before him. And Absalom used to rise early and stand beside the way of the gate. And when any man had a dispute to come before the king for judgment, Absalom would call to him and say, “From what city are you?” And when he said, “Your servant is of such and such a tribe in Israel,” Absalom would say to him, “See, your claims are good and right, but there is no man designated by the king to hear you.” Then Absalom would say, “Oh that I were judge in the land! Then every man with a dispute or cause might come to me, and I would give him justice.”And whenever a man came near to pay homage to him, he would put out his hand and take hold of him and kiss him. Thus Absalom did to all of Israel who came to the king for judgment. So Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel.

Then it hit me.  The reason why Absalom seems so familiar to me is that I've seen him in churches before.  Oh, Absalom has had other names, and sometimes he has been female and sometimes he has been male.  I have seen him in churches before, under many different guises.  

Recently, I've been preaching through Jesus' messages to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3.  In Jesus' message to the church at Thyatira (Rev 2:18-29), Jesus rebukes that church for tolerating Jezebel.  She is not a person in the church who is causing trouble, but a spirit of manipulation and control that can manifest itself in many ways.  Click here to read my sermon notes from that Sunday.    In the same way that the Jezebel spirit can get control in a church, an Absalom spirit can also seduce the people.  He works through people, who behave much the same way that Absalom did in the Bible.

The Absaloms in the church like to impress people with fancy wardrobe, flattering words, flaunting of wealth, and false wisdom.  (Hey, that sounds like a sermon outline, doesn't it?)  Their goal is to steal the hearts of the people away from those who are in rightful leadership.  They usurp proper authority, and plot to overthrow what God has established.  The tragedy is that many people are beguiled by the tactics of Absaloms in the church.  If enough people follow them, they can cause rightful leaders to leave, just as David had to flee.  

But blessed are the Ittai folk in the church, who are not fooled by Absalom's wiles.  We read about David leaving the palace, passing by all who ware weeping over his departure.  Verses 18-22 (ESV) say:

Ittai the Gittite
18 And all his servants passed by him, and all the Cherethites, and all the Pelethites, and all the six hundred Gittites who had followed him from Gath, passed on before the king. 19 Then the king said to Ittai the Gittite, “Why do you also go with us? Go back and stay with the king, for you are a foreigner and also an exile from your home. 20 You came only yesterday, and shall I today make you wander about with us, since I go I know not where? Go back and take your brothers with you, and may the Lord show steadfast love and faithfulness to you.” 21 But Ittai answered the king, “As the Lord lives, and as my lord the king lives,wherever my lord the king shall be, whether for death or for life, there also will your servant be.” 22 And David said to Ittai, “Go then, pass on.” So Ittai the Gittite passed on with all his men and all the little ones who were with him. 

Just as surely as there are Absaloms in the church, there are Ittai people as well--folks who support godly leadership even in times of trouble.  People who show their loyalty and commitment.  People who see through flattery, finery, falsehood, and flaunting.  These people give so much encouragement to those who are in leadership!

So the question is this:  In your church, are you Ittai or are you Absalom?  

Monday, May 27, 2013

Sailing on a Pagan Ship

Today is the first day of our twenty-first week, reading the Bible through together in a year.  Our scriptures this week are:
  • 2 Sam 13-14; Acts 28
  • 2 Sam 15-17; Romans 1; Psalms 3, 63
  • 2 Sam 18-20; Romans 2; Psalm 34
  • 2 Sam 21-23; Romans 3; Psalm 18
  • 2 Sam 24; 1 Chr 21; Romans 4
Today, I want to focus on just one verse.  Acts 28:11 says:  "After three months we set sail in a ship that had wintered in the island, a ship of Alexandria, with the twin gods as a figurehead."

The twin gods, Castor and Pollux
About this verse, Matthew Henry writes:
"Those little foolish pagan deities, which the poets had made to preside over storms and to protect seafaring men, as gods of the sea, were painted or graven upon the fore-part of the ship, and thence the ship took its name. I suppose this is observed for no other reason than for the better ascertaining of the story, that ship being well known by that name and sign by all that dealt between Egypt and Italy. Dr. Lightfoot thinks that Luke mentions this circumstance to intimate the men’s superstition, that they hoped they should have better sailing under this badge than they had had before."

Since Paul was a prisoner, he really had no choice as to the vessel upon which he would sail.  Sailing on a pagan ship with these pagan deities certainly would have been abhorrent to any good Jewish man.  As a "Pharisee of Pharisees," Paul must certainly have looked disdainfully upon the craft.  Yet, I pose this question:  If Paul were free to travel on any vessel he chose, would he have avoided this one?

To my knowledge, there is no Old Testament prohibition against sailing on a ship that's marked with an idol.  Yet, we do know that Jews in Biblical times would avoid entering the homes of pagans and unbelievers.  We also know that OT heroes regularly attacked idolatry, even pulling down other people's idols and destroying them.  In Acts 19:19, Paul's evangelistic efforts result in the people of Ephesus destroying their witchcraft books--no doubt, other pagan articles, including idols, were fuel for that fire.  Jewish Christians in the NT were so skittish about idolatry that they wouldn't even eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols.  The church at large believed that unity in the body of Christ was so important that it even encouraged Gentile believers who didn't share the same convictions about idol-meat, to avoid it for the sake of their Jewish brethren (Acts 15:19).  

Paul's stance on the matter of eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols was both lenient and strict.  In 1 Corinthians 8:4, he argues, "Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.”  So the meat is nothing, either.  It is simply meat.  If he wanted to, he could eat it with a clear conscience.  Yet, he says in verses 7-13:

However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol's temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? 11 And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. 12 Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.

So, would Paul have chosen to sail on the Castor and Pollux ship?  I suppose it depends on whether or not he had any people with him who would object to it on a religious basis.  The ship, in and of itself, would not have been a problem for Paul.  But offending a brother or sister in Christ would have been a great sin.

Can you think of an similar issues today?    Where are the areas where you can exercise your freedom in Christ--and even assert your right to do so?  On the other hand, what are the issues where you ought to give up your own freedoms, for the sake of a weaker believer?  What do you think?

Friday, May 24, 2013

Are You a Nathan?

Today is the final day of our twentieth week, reading the Bible through together in a year.  Our scriptures today are:  2 Samuel 11-12; 1 Chronicles 20; Acts 27; Psalms 51, 32.

In our OT scriptures today, we read about David and Bathsheba.  Often, when you read a story, you "read yourself into" one of the characters.  This means that you pick a character with whom you most identify, and you sympathize with that person.  For example, you might see yourself as kind of a flawed good guy, and you might identify with David.  You are susceptible to temptation, and, though you could never imagine yourself in a situation like that one, you might have been in a position of trying to hide your sin at one time or another.  Or, you might see yourself as a victim to life's manipulations, and so you identify with Bathsheba.  She had no recourse, no choice in any of this.  Reading yourself into characters is a good way to get into a Bible story.  But it's a good idea to read yourself into a variety of characters, so you can get a full perspective.  If you more readily identify with Bathsheba, then put yourself in David's shoes and try to figure out what made him tick.  Or, if you feel a commonality with David, try to figure out how Bathsheba must have felt.

The main character I want to get you to identify with today, though, is neither David nor Bathsheba.  It's Nathan.  Nathan, who heard from God and needed to have the guts to say something that was hard.  God had a rebuke for him to give the king--and Nathan certainly didn't take that task lightly.  He'd seen David kill the messenger before.  So he decided to tell David God's truth in a way that the king might understand, and in a way that just might soften the blow.

In 2 Samuel 12:1-7a (ESV), we read:  
And the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man's lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” Then David's anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”  Nathan said to David, “You are the man!

What a good servant of God, Nathan was!  What a good friend to the wayward king, to step out of his place of comfort, put his own neck on the line, and say what David needed to hear, even if David didn't want to hear it.  

Has God called you to be a Nathan to anybody?  Maybe the Lord has placed you in a relationship with someone, and given you insight into something that they can't see for themselves.  It could be that God wants to use you to get them back on the right track.  It's important to know the right way to approach that person.  Everybody's different.  David's ego wouldn't have withstood a direct rebuke--he most likely would have gotten angry and taken it out on Nathan.  But Nathan found a way to speak the truth in love, in a way that would be received.

Are you a Nathan in somebody else's life?  I pray that God will not only tell you what to say to them, to give them the rebuke that they need--but that God will also give you the gentle words that mix correction with encouragement.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Your Enemies Are, Like, So Lame!

Today is day four of our twentieth week, reading the Bible through together in a year.  Our scriptures today are:  2 Samuel 9-10; 1 Chronicles 18-19; Acts 26; Psalm 89.

Earlier this week, I revealed my age by talking about listening to Petra's music, back in the late 1980s.  Since I did it then, I might as well do it again.  Also back in the 80s, I remember Valley Talk.  You may remember...

"Like, gag me with a spoon!" (Translation into English: Nobody actually wanted to be gagged with a spoon.  Simply means, "yuck!")

"That is so rad!" (Translation into English: radical)

"That is, like, so groty!" (Translation into English: grotesque)

And, of course, "He is, like, so lame!"  (Translation into English:  Has nothing to do with ability to walk.  Simply means, "useless, powerless, unworthy of attention.")

And, by the way, I have no idea why everything was "like," rather than "exactly."  Just sayin'.

In 2 Samuel 9, King David found out that his enemy was, like, so lame.  He had come into power, made his kingdom secure, and now wanted to show kindness to the remnants of Saul's house.  Verse 1 (ESV) says, And David said, 'Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan's sake?' They told him that Mephibosheth, a grandson of Saul, still remained.  He had been injured as a child, and was (literally) lame in both of his feet.  It was customary in David's day to put the descendants of your enemies to death, so they would not seek vengeance on behalf of their ancestors.  Mephibosheth could have a had a claim to Saul's throne, and might have mounted a rebellion, yet David saw no threat in him.  Instead, the king wanted to show kindness to Mephibosheth, and offered him an inheritance and a place at the royal table, for the rest of his life.  This certainly ran counter to the expectations of the people in David's court.  But grace and mercy are more powerful than vengeance.

David knew that his enemy was lame--and was unlikely to pull off any kind of insurrection.  Yet he did not find this out until after he inquired after Saul's household, so that he might show mercy.  In other words, he didn't decide to show kindness because of Mephibosheth's injured feet.  The young man's handicap really had nothing to do with the mercy that David showed.  Yet, certainly the disability reassured David when he considered that his enemy's descendant was powerless to overthrow him.

When you pause to consider your enemies, I hope that you'll decide to show them kindness, whether or not you think they are a threat to you.  Remember that they are, like, so lame!  Not meaning, of course, that they have injured feet--but that they really are no threat after all.  When Jesus stood before him, Pilate said: "Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?”  Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above (John 19:10-11)."  If Jesus were speaking Valley, he might have said, "Pilate, you're like, so lame!"  

David and Jesus realized the same thing--that our enemies are only as powerful as God allows them to be.  Therefore we don't need to fear them.  Fearing God is a more important matter.  Since your enemies are unable to hurt you outside of God's allowance, why not show them grace and mercy?  Why not seek them out just so you can be kind to them?  That's what you'll do if you want to be a man or woman after God's own heart.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

To Build a House

King David Charges Solomon to Build the Temple
Today is the third day of week twenty, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures today are: 2 Sam 7-8; 1 Chr 17; Acts 25; Ps 132.

Today's OT scriptures are all about house building.  Our story begins with David ruminating on how the king lives in a palace of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent.  David expresses his desire to build God's house, and God declares in return that He will build David's house.  It concludes with God declaring that He will, in fact, build David's house.  Of course, the meaning of "house" changes throughout the discourse.

The Oxford Annotated Bible points out that in vv. 1-2 of 2 Samuel 7, the word "house" refers to a "palace"; in vv. 6, 6, 7, 13 it means "temple"; in vv. 11, 16, 29, 25, 26, 27, 29 it means "dynasty"; in v. 18 it means "family status."

The point is this:  When we build God up, God will build us up.  When we work for His glory, He will see to our security and provision.  When we exalt Him, He will take care of us.  The greatest news is that this isn't all about temples and dynasties.  In 1 Chronicles 17:13 (NRSV), God says, "I will be a father to him, and shall be a son to me.  I will not take my steadfast love from him...."  God declares His steadfast love for us as well.  Just as God blessed David, who was a man after God's own heart, so when we press in toward God, the Lord will bring blessing to our lives.

So, what would it look like, for you to be a builder of God's house?  For you, would that mean working in the church?  There's an unending amount of volunteer work to be done in the church.  Just ask your pastor, and I'm sure that you'll get a beaming smile, along with a long list of things to do.  Maybe building God's house means finally submitting to the unrelenting hints, messages, and completely beseiging word that God has been giving you--that you need to surrender your life and follow God's call to full-time ministry.  Our, perhaps building God's house simply means being a positive example of Christian character to people right where you are.  Whatever it looks like for you, building God's house results in God building your house.  He will be your Father, and you will be His child.  And that's the kind of house we'd all love to live in! 



Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Importance of Good Music

Today is day two of our twentieth week, reading the Bible through together in a year.  Our scriptures today are:  1 Chron 14-16; Acts 24.

Wow--what a full day it has been today!  Instead of posting an apology for not posting, I'll just keep it short and sweet by sharing with you a song that I loved when I was a teenager.  Petra was my favorite Christian band in the late 1980s (and boy, do they definitely sound like a 1980s band, now that I listen to them again today).  Their song "Kenaniah" is about the same Chenaniah that we meet in 1 Chronicles 15. 

David appointed Chenaniah as song leader for Israel, and entrusted him with the task of teaching the people the songs of Zion.  As the primary songwriter for Israel, David knew that music was an important tool for getting people's hearts and minds in the right mindset for worship.  The levitical law was all about proper ritual, but David knew that the people needed more than ritual in order to be ushered into real worship.  Music draws heaven down to earth, and draws our spirits upward to God.

Likewise, music can be a tool used by the Evil One.  It can take our minds off of the things of God, and cause us to linger on sinful thoughts or depressing, angry, lustful, or otherwise ungodly emotions.  Satan knows how powerful music is, and uses it to his own glory.  Just watch the way that popular entertainers are worshiped by their fans, and you can see how the devil likes to use music to draw people away from God.

Philippians 4:8 (ESV) says, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."  Music can be a tool for us to fix our minds on the things of God.  If you only listen to Christian music when you're at church, then you're missing an opportunity to fill your mind with godly things throughout the week.  There are so many styles to choose from--every kind of music that exists has its corresponding Christian artists.  I hope that you'll consider the impact that worldly music might have on you, and also the impact that Godly music can have on you.  I'm glad that groups like Petra were around when I was a kid, and I'm glad that Christian radio has a lot to offer today.  I hope you'll listen to Christian music--not just at church on Sundays, but throughout your week as you set your mind on the things of Christ.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Spiritual Leaders - Honor and Dishonor

Today is the first day of our twentieth week, reading the Bible through in a year together.  Our scriptures this week are:

  •  2 Sam 6; 1 Chr 13; Acts 23; Psalm 60
  •  1 Chron 14-16; Acts 24
  •  2 Sam 7-8; 1 Chr 17; Acts 25; Ps 132
  •  2 Sam 9-10; 1 Chr 18-19; Acts 26; Ps 89
  •  2 Sa 11-12; 1 Chr 20; Acts 27; Ps 51, 32
David dancing before the Lord
Today, I want to look at the honor and dishonor of two spiritual leaders of God's people.  2 Samuel 6 tells the story of David leading the ark into Jerusalem, and the example of godliness that he showed the people.  Though he is no priest, David makes sacrifices to God as he leads the procession.  He worships right along with the people, discarding his royal robes and dancing before the Lord in only an ephod (a thin tunic worn as underwear).  When his wife Michal grows angry about his un-royal behavior, she mocks him, saying, “How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants' female servants, as one of the vulgar fellows shamelessly uncovers himself (v. 20 ESV) !”  Yet, David is not so concerned with his own dignity as much as he's concerned with honoring God with his behavior.  His worship is unrestrained, unfettered, unhindered by social convention.  Holding nothing back, he gives himself completely to his God-inspired dance.  His un-kingly response surprises us even today  In verses 21-22 (ESV) he says, “It was before the Lordwho chose me above your father and above all his house, to appoint me as prince over Israel, the people of the Lord—and I will celebrate before the Lord I will make myself yet more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in your eyes. But by the female servants of whom you have spoken, by them I shall be held in honor.”

Though she certainly has other reasons to be upset with David (2 Sam 3:12-16), the subject of the conversation between David and Michal is honor versus dishonor.  She is concerned with the king's decorum; he is occupied adulation of his Great King.  He is less concerned with honoring himself, and more concerned with honoring God.  Though his worship is contemptible (other translations render this word as "undignified") in her eyes, it is beautiful in Gods sight.  Besides this, David has always been a man of the people.  Coming from humble beginnings as a shepherd, he finds it difficult not to worship alongside his people.  Sitting on a dignified dais, aloof from his kinsmen, was never David's style.  

Contrast this to the example of self-glorification that we see in the high priest of Israel, in our Acts 23 narrative of Paul's interrogation.  Verses 1-5 (ESV) say:

And looking intently at the council, Paul said, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.” And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” Those who stood by said, “Would you revile God's high priest?” And Paul said, “I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’”

This high priest, whose actions were certainly un-priestly, was so concerned with his own sense of power and importance that when Paul's words threatened his exalted status and doctrine that denied the Messiah, he ordered Paul to be struck.  He violated the law that says that the accused must be allowed to speak in his own behalf (Jn 7:51), and he also violated the law of love.  Ananias was despised as a religious ruler, and was assassinated in AD 60.  For us, he represents the kind of religious leader that is self-important and dignified, yet who does not embody the spirit of Christ.

Soon, the people of Antioch will be selecting new deacons.  Perhaps your church will be choosing new leaders soon, as well.  The question I ask you is this: what kinds of leaders will you choose?  Those who are interested in their own dignity and the respect they get from others, or those who are only concerned with giving pleasure to God rather than to people?  I hope that as you participate in your church's selection process, you'll look for the kind of person who is willing to be undignified for Jesus.  And I hope that you will be "even more undignified than this" as you give your whole self to God.

Friday, May 17, 2013

"Let Us Go to the House of the Lord!" -The Inner Life of Prayer

Today is the final day of week nineteen, reading the Bible through together in a year.  Our scriptures today are:   2 Samuel 3-5; 1 Chronicles 12; Acts 22; Psalm 122.

Clearly, the designers of our Bible reading schedule chose Psalm 122 to go along with 2 Samuel 3-5 because in the historical passage we read about David taking Jebus (Jerusalem) for his capital.  Now that Jerusalem has been taken, we pray for her peace.  

Psalm 122 is a Song of Ascents.  This means that it was a song that David wrote, to be sung by the Jewish pilgrims who would come up to Jerusalem for worship.  The "house of the Lord" would not be established as a constructed temple until Solomon's day, so this phrase must have referred to tabernacle worship.  Psalm 122 (ESV) says:
I was glad when they said to me,
    “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”
Our feet have been standing

    within your gates, O Jerusalem!
Jerusalem—built as a city
    that is bound firmly together,
to which the tribes go up,
    the tribes of the Lord,
as was decreed for Israel,
    to give thanks to the name of the Lord.

There thrones for judgment were set,
    the thrones of the house of David.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!
    “May they be secure who love you!
Peace be within your walls
    and security within your towers!”
For my brothers and companions' sake
    I will say, “Peace be within you!”

For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
    I will seek your good.
I was glad when the said to me, "Let us to go the house of the Lord!"
 Asbury Bible Commentary has this to say:

Christian readers recognize passages of the Songs of Zion from music of the church, classical and modern, appropriating this ancient city as something of the capital of the universal people of God. Their faith can no longer be confined to the chief city of any political state. The final Son of David foresaw the day when persons would worship neither in Jerusalem nor in Samaria (Jn 4:21-24). Worship in the Spirit and according to the truth would not be tied to one place. Further, the people of God themselves, Messiah's people, would be in reality the temple of God, individually (1Co 6:19) and collectively (1Co 3:16Eph 2:19-221Pe 2:4-5). The vision of history's climax exalts this truth. There the New Jerusalem is no place at all, but the redeemed people of God of all ages and cultures become in reality the eternal dwelling of God and the Lamb (Rev 21). These ancient Songs of Zion seem still capable of expressing much of the truth of that reality, as they are sung now to a theologically different key.

So, with this in mind, let me share with you an entry from my personal prayer journal, from October 2012.  In it, I interpret Psalm 122 not just as a call to ascend a literal hill to physical Jerusalem, but as a call to enter the Holy City that is within our hearts--a call to prayer.

If we take seriously the Bible's reminder that "you are God’s sanctuary and that the Spirit of God lives in you (1 Cor 3:16)," then we need to read this and other scriptures that talk about the peace of Jerusalem and its temple in an allegorical light.  Certainly the psalmist intended his words quite literally in his day, but these words have an even deeper spiritual significance when we understand them in the context of our own spiritual journey.  A song of ascents was intended to be sung as pilgrims ascended Mount Zion on their way to worship at the Temple.  Similarly, this psalm is good preparation for our own inner pilgrimage as we ascend into the temple of our hearts to worship the living God.

Verses 1 and 2 say, "I rejoiced with those who said to me, 'Let us go to the house of the Lord.'  Our feet are standing within your gates, Jerusalem."  When understood from a spiritual perspective, these verses invite the reader into an inner place of God's presence.  But just as the high priest would know a mixture of joy and fear as he entered the Holy of Holies, so the believer must experience the same giddy trepidation at the prospect of an inner journey to the courts of the Lord.  Thus verse 2 speaks of standing within the gates of Jerusalem.  It is as if the traveller has ascended as far as the gates but upon reaching his destination, pauses in breathless awe of the city's splendor and fearful magnitude.  So the inward pilgrim cannot enter the spiritual Jerusalem lightly, but with sober prayer pauses at the gates before entering.

Verses 3 and four refer to Jerusalem as a city that is solidly joined together, and a place where the tribes to up to experience God.  These two ideas are linked together, if we understand Jerusalem as representing the interior self.  Since the believer is the City of God, the Lord wants each of us to be solidly joined together.  In other words, God wants us spiritually healthy.  This is because the Lord knows that people will come up to us as His representatives, in order to experience God.  Only by making regular visits to the Inner Sanctuary can I develop the kind of spiritual wholeness that can help people who come up to me for guidance.

Verse 5 talks about thrones of judgment that are paced in Jerusalem.  Just as the king would pronounce judgment from his throne, so the King of Kings speaks words of judgment, correction, and truth from His throne within my heart.  Hebrews 10:31 (ESV) says, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."  Certainly this is true for me, when I experience God in the throne room of prayer.  But His judgments always come with a way of restoration.  Unless I allow my heart to be judged by Him, I can't become the man He wants me to be.  

Verses 6-8 reminds me to pray for the peace of Jerusalem--the peace of my own heart.  When I'm at peace, those who love me will also prosper.  This is because being at peace, I will be in a better condition to help them.  The corollary of this is that when I'm not at peace, those who love me will not prosper.  I have to seek my own peace, not just for my own sake, but for the sake of those around me.  For my brothers and my companions' sake, I go to prayer in order to find God's peace within my own heart.  By seeking my own peace, I can extend it to them.

Verse 9 again reminds me that seeking well-being, wholeness, rest, and peace through prayer is not just for my own good.  It's for the sake of the house of the Lord our God that I regularly go to "Jerusalem" (the inner chamber of my heart) in prayer.  This is not just because I'm a pastor--every believer affects the church by their own spiritual health or unhealth.  

By sharing this with you, I hope that you'll discover how we can read the Psalms in a way that the relates to your spiritual life today.  These are not just recordings of how poets felt thousands of years ago--they are expressions of our own joys and fears, sorrows and spiritual ecstasy.  We simply have to understand them from a spiritual perspective, and not limit our experience of the Psalms to a historical or literary study.

I also hope that you'll take seriously the call to the inner life of prayer given to us by God's Word.  When in the spirit you ascend to Jerusalem, endure the judgments at the throne room of God, enter the Holy of Holies, and experience God's presence, then God will do the repair work that the walls, gates, and ramparts of your soul so desperately needs.  Pray for the peace of "Jerusalem," and your soul will be at peace.  Then that peace will not only remain in you, but will extend to your friends, your family, and to the house of God.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Clearing Up Misconceptions

Today is the fourth day of our nineteenth week, reading the Bible through in a year together.  Our scriptures today are:  2 Samuel 1-2; 1 Chronicles 11; Act 21; Psalms 96, 106

In Acts 21, we read about Paul clearing up misconceptions about his ministry and teaching.

17 When we arrived in Jerusalem, the brothers welcomed us warmly. 18 The next day Paul went with us to visit James; and all the elders were present. 19 After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20 When they heard it, they praised God. Then they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the law. 21 They have been told about you that you teach all the Jews living among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, and that you tell them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs. 22 What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. 23 So do what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow. 24 Join these men, go through the rite of purification with them, and pay for the shaving of their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself observe and guard the law. 25 But as for the Gentiles who have become believers, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication.” 26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day, having purified himself, he entered the temple with them, making public the completion of the days of purification when the sacrifice would be made for each of them.

Was it true that Paul was teaching Jews that they should forsake their Jewish identity if they received Jesus as the Messiah?  Certainly not!  Paul was more Jewish than many of the Jews to whom he ministered.  He had a rich Jewish heritage, was a student of the famous teacher Gamaliel, and was zealous for the law.  But his teachings that Christ gives us freedom from the bondage to the law had confused people.  Paul believed that for Jews to keep the law was good, but bondage to the law was a problem.  Further, he taught that Gentiles did not have to adopt Jewish practices in order to become Christian.  So misconceptions about his ministry arose among many of the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem.

So the brothers encouraged Paul to clear up the misconception by showing his loyalty to Jewish tradition.  He did this by paying for the haircuts of four young men who took a Nazarite vow.  (Click on this article to read about one man who made a contemporary Nazarite vow.  Interesting.)

Sometimes, you have to go out of your way in order to clear up misconceptions.  Even when you think that people are being silly or misinformed or even ridiculous.  The unity of the body of Christ is so valuable that we need to keep it even if it means we have to go to extraordinary measures.  Jesus tells us not to become a stumbling block to "little ones" (Matthew 18:6; Mark 9:42).  Clearly, the Lord was referring to children, but I believe He also meant those who are immature in their faith.  Paul argued that we shouldn't allow our freedom to impede someone else's weak understanding.  “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive.  No one should seek their own good, but the good of others (1 Corinthians 10:23-24).

In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, Paul says:     

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

Today I wonder--is there any place in your life that has caused misconceptions and barriers to someone else's faith?  Don't let your freedom become a stumbling block to others.  Take the time to clear up any misconceptions that people might have.  As Paul writes in Ephesians 4:3, Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

A Nazarite Haircutting Ceremony