Wednesday, July 31, 2013

"Will" vs. "Shall" in the Bible

Today is the third day of our 30th week, reading the Bible through together in a year.  Our scriptures today are:  2 Chronicles 22-23; 2 Kings 11; Matthew 8; Psalm 131.

I love words.  That's part of the reason why my blog is called "Love the Word."  (Read my side bar entitled "Why Is My Blog Called 'Love the Word?'" for more details on this.)  My wife calls me a "word nerd."

This blog post is for word nerds everywhere.  If you're not a word nerd, then turn back now--the content of this post may be too dangerous for you.  If you are a word nerd, then I shall talk about something today that shall be of great interest.  This is about the difference between these two similar words, in biblical usage.  Youshall find that it matters a lot, which words we use.

When I was a senior in high school, my best friend told me that I had been using the two words incorrectly.  He should know, because he learned English as a second language (and spoke it immaculately).  Sometimes ESL people know our language better than we do ourselves, because they learned it more intentionally.

My friend told me something about these two words that checks out, according to an article entitled The Difference Between "will" and "shall", by Maeve Maddox. While both helping verbs indicate the future tense, will involves a person's intention, and shall suggests a certainty that this thing is definitely going to happen.  In legal terms, shall also indicates obligation on someone's part.  Maddox points out thatshall is rarely used by Americans these days--something that I think is sad, because the difference between these two words is significant.  In British English there's a difference between will and shall when you use the two words in the first, second, or third person, but I'm not going to get into that.  Maddox shares something about the etymological history of these words, that as a "word nerd" I really enjoyed:

The two words existed as separate verbs in Old English, the form of English spoken from 450-1150 C.E.
The verb willan meant “wish, be willing, be about to.”
The verb sculan (pronounced [shu-lan], had the meanings “be obliged to, have to, must, be destined to, be supposed to.”
In modern usage traces of the old meanings persist for speakers who use both forms.
Will can imply volition or intention, while shall can imply necessity:
I will scale Mount Everest. (“and no one can stop me!”)
You shall take the garbage out before you do anything else. (“You have no choice, Junior!”)

You might ask, "Why does any of this matter?"  Of course it does--let's look at Matthew 8:1-22.  First, I'm going to use the New King James Version, which I believe does a horrible job distinguishing between these two words.  Please note the places where I have underlined, and my own comments in parentheses.

Jesus cleanses a leper
When He had come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him. And behold, a leper came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, if You are willing, (indicating, of course, intention) You can make me clean.”
Then Jesus put out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; (indicates Jesus' desire to heal the man) be cleansed.” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed.
And Jesus said to him, “See that you tell no one; but go your way, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”
Now when Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him, saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented.”
And Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.” (Jesus is indicating what He plans to do.)
The centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will (should read "shall") be healed. For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.
10 When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed,“Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel! 11 And I say to you that many will (should read "shall" because the point isn't that they will desire to come, but that they definitely are going to come) come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.12 But the sons of the kingdom will (should read "shall" because it's not the father's will that any should perish [Matthew 18:14].) be cast out into outer darkness. There will (should read "shall") be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.” And his servant was healed that same hour...
18 And when Jesus saw great multitudes about Him, He gave a command to depart to the other side. 19 Then a certain scribe came and said to Him, “Teacher, I will (correct word is used here, because he's indicating his intention) follow You wherever You go.”
20 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”
21 Then another of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”
22 But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

The King James Version does a much better job with the will vs. shall issue.  No doubt the NKJV editors changed the "shalls" to "wills" because "shall" sounds stilted...but they've lost a lot in translation.  Here's the KJV:

When he was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him.
And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thouwilt, thou canst make me clean.
And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.
And Jesus saith unto him, See thou tell no man; but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.
Jesus and the Centurion
And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him,
And saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented.
And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him.
The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed.
For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.
10 When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.
11 And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shallsit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.
12 But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: thereshall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
13 And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour...
18 Now when Jesus saw great multitudes about him, he gave commandment to depart unto the other side.
19 And a certain scribe came, and said unto him, Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest.
20 And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.
21 And another of his disciples said unto him, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father.
22 But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead.

In the KJV, the English is much more precise.  Every time the word will or wilt is used, it indicates intention.  When the word shall is used, it indicates certainty, but you can't read into that certainty any hint of intention.  Why does this matter?
When these words are correctly used, they indicate the areas where God is willing, and the areas where God is not willing.  Jesus is willing to heal.  Jesus is willing to cleanse.  But Matthew 18:14 (KJV) says, "Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish."

When we understand the heart of God as unwilling that any should perish, then we must translate the future tense as shall whenever it speaks of damnation.  Shall it happen with certainty?  Yes.  Some will be condemned.  But is it the Father's will?  No.  It is the natural consequence of our sin, but it is not the Father's will.

You see, there's a lot of theology tangled up in the difference between will andshall.  This isn't arguing "about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers (2 Timothy 2:14 ESV)."  These words matter--and the difference in meaning matters.  

When you approach the Greek or Hebrew Bible in order to translate it into English or any other language, it's important not only that you translate it into language that uses common vernacular.  It's important that you translate it correctly in order to give a sense of who God is and what God wants.  Translations that abandon "shall" because it's not used everyday in modern American English lose an important quality in understanding God's will.  And understanding the difference between these two words shall serve you well, in the future.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Specks, Planks, and Fruit

Today is the second day in our 30th week, reading the Bible through together in a year.  Our scriptures today are:  2 Kings 9-10; Matthew 7; Psalm 49.

Some years ago, when I turned 35, I was feeling a bit old so I decided to go to the doctor and get a physical.  I'm not the sort of person who goes to the doctor unless there's a problem, so this was a big deal for me.  I asked the doc to give me a complete workup.  When all the tests were in, he told me that my cholesterol was high (never mind that he didn't tell me I was supposed to fast before the cholesterol test) and that I had some weight to lose.  "Just eat a few more vegetables and a few less desserts," he said.  Then, patting his own massive gut, he said shrugged and said, "But who can really do that, anyway?"

That was the last time I visited that doctor.

I mean--what kind of doctor gives medical advice that he himself isn't willing to take?  And, something so basic, too!  He was trying to take the speck out of my eye, when all along he had a plank in his own eye.

In Matthew 7:1-5 (ESV), Jesus says:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Come to think of it, as I'm writing this blog post this morning and using Dr. So-and-so as my example, I'm judging him quite a bit, aren't I?  See, this is how it works.  When you judge me, then I judge you right back.  I might have a speck, and you might have a plank.  But then once I realize that you have a plank, I get judgmental about you judging me, and my speck turns into a log!  And round and round it goes!

That's why Jesus said it's better not to judge at all.  "For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you."  

Once I read an article in which the author addressed that commonly used Christian aphorism, "Love the sinner; hate the sin."  The writer said, "I have a problem with that.  It takes so much time getting to the point where I hate my own sin, that I don't have time to hate yours."  

Things that make you go "hmmmm...."

Now, I know what some will say.  I've also heard that Christian aphorism that says, "God hasn't called me to be a judge, but He has called me to be a Fruit Inspector."  This is based on Matthew 7:15-20 (ESV), which says:

15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them.

Let's be very careful here, and understand what Jesus is talking about.  Here, our Lord isn't talking about evaluating people's sin.  People who use the "fruit inspector" phrase generally mean that they're not judging the people who commit the sin; they're simply judging the sin according to God's righteous standard.  This is often a way of getting away from admitting our own judgmental attitude.  We sanitize it and call it "fruit inspection."  But all the while, we're pointing out someone's speck while our planks vibrate like a diving board that somebody just jumped off of.  What Jesus was talking about here were false prophets.  These folks aren't just "sinners" who are minding their own business in their sin, but people who are trying to spread their rebelliousness and lies to other people.  In other words, sin-missionaries.  What they have to say sounds good (sheep's clothing) but in the end the sin that they spread will devour like a ravenous wolf.

There's a big difference between someone who sins (don't we all fall into that category) and someone who tries to spread their disease to other people.  When we convince other people to sin, then we feel more normal ourselves.  If we can convince enough people that our sin is okay, then maybe it will become culturally acceptable even.  Maybe we can convince some preachers to say that our sin isn't really sin.  In fact, if we're all born sinners, then our sin isn't really sin because God made us that way, so it's really God's fault--right???  And anyway, doesn't God want us to do the things that make us feel good???

You see the way false prophets work?  They warp the truth and twist the mind until you don't know truth from lies anymore.  Jesus sounds awfully judgmental when he calls these people names.  But these people are worthy of His judgment!  Their fruits are open for inspection by all believers, because it's only by inspecting these fruits that we can identify true teachers from false.

Turn on any episode of trash TV and you can see someone whose life is an immoral train wreck, defending their own sin before a live audience.  Sometimes audience members will even get into verbal throwdowns with the TV show guests.  Invariably, the guest will use this oft-quoted Bible verse.  "The Bible says don't judge or you'll be judged," they say.  And they're right.  They might be wrong in their behavior, but they're right in their quote.  It's not our job to judge or to condemn another person.  "Let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone," Jesus says in John 8:7 (NLT).  Be careful about trying to take the specks out of someone else's eye when you have a log in your own.  Don't "love the sinner but hate his sin."  Love the sinner and hate your own sin instead.  

But when it comes to false teachers who claim to speak for God but who actually spread falsehood, sin, and lies--these you will know by their fruits.  Don't trust them, for they are wolves in sheep's clothing.   

Monday, July 29, 2013

Seek First the Kingdom--Pray!

Today is the first day in our 30th week, reading the Bible through together in a year.  Our scriptures this week are:  

  • 2 Kings 7-8; 2 Chr 21; Matt 6
  • 2 Kings 9-10; Matt 7; Psalm 49
  • 2 Chr 22-23; 2 Kings 11; Matt 8; Ps 131
  • 2 Chr 24; 2 Kings 12; Matt 9; Psalm 50
  • Joel; Matt 10
In Luke's gospel, Jesus teaches His disciples to pray after they ask Him to show them the secrets of prayer.  In Matthew's gospel, we have an entire chapter in which Jesus teaches us how to pray.  Right in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spends considerable time talking about how believers ought to pray.  This might sound a bit strange for you to hear, since my Bible's heading that says "The Model Prayer" only covers verses 5-14.  Yet, a closer look will reveal that the entire chapter is about prayer.

Upon first reading, verses 1-4* don't seem to be about prayer.  
“Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.

"These verses are about charity," you might say.  But we must understand that almsgiving is an act of worship.  It's our out grateful response to God--our thanksgiving for the goodness He has shown to us.  Because God has blessed us, we want to bless others.  We want to give back to ministries that help other people, that support Kingdom work.  We do this not as a tax write-off, or as a way of showing off our generosity.  We do this as an act of prayer and personal devotion.  Therefore, Jesus says that our giving should be done in secret--out of the eyesight of those who may give us glory for the generosity we've shown.

Then, Jesus tells us how not to pray.  

“And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. “Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.
Just as the hypocrites give with the intention of others seeing their liberality, they also pray so that others may hear their ostentatious words.  As prayer isn't about showing off to other people, it's also not about showing off to God.  The Lord isn't impressed with your displays of archaic vocabulary and flowery speech.  He simply wants you to give Him your heart.  Privately.  Personally.  It's between you and Him.

Next, Jesus gives us His model prayer:

In this manner, therefore, pray:
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
10 Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
13 And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

The amazing thing in these verses is that Jesus only spends one line asking for the kinds of things that we generally ask for, when we pray.  "Give us this day our daily bread" sums up all the petitions we send up to the throne--everything from requests for health and healing, to provision and prosperity.  All the rest of it is about getting our spirits aligned with God.  How would it be, if when we pray, we spent the same proportion of time on requests, and the same percentage of time on seeing God's Kingdom?  It would revolutionize our prayer lives!

The next couple of verses deal with our relationship with other people--because Jesus knows that our relationship with God depends a great deal on whether we are able to have a good relationship with others.  This forgiveness is part of our prayer life.  When we pray verse twelve, we have to keep in mind verses fourteen and fifteen.  

14 “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Though it has fallen out of fashion in many circles, fasting is an important part of prayer.  It involves giving up something that your flesh values, so that you can focus instead on the demands of the spirit.  Fasting may involve a dietary sacrifice, or sexual abstention, or eliminating unnecessary technology from your life for a time.  Fasting eliminates distractions, so you can devote more of your time to prayer.  This is what Jesus has to say about fasting:

16 “Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. 17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.

Just as verse 3 tells us that almsgiving is a private matter, and just as verse 6 says that in-depth prayer should be done in the secrecy of your heart's inner chamber, fasting is a personal thing between you and God, and not for all to see.

When we pray, too often we focus on material needs, the acquisition of products, physical and financial security.  But Jesus wants us to pay attention to spiritual things rather than this world's delusions.  When we pray, we're really making an investment in the heavenly realm.  We're devoting our time to God, rather than using it for earthly pursuits.  

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also...
24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

Prayer is an investment of our time, and a contribution of our energies into the Kingdom of God.  When we pray, God takes our devotion and utilizes it in unseen ways.  When we pray, we've got to take our eyes off of earthly pursuits and see the value in the invisible investments that make all the difference.

Again, Jesus says that when we pray, we've got to worrying about material necessities like food and clothing.

25 “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?
28 “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Jesus tells us not to worry about these things when we pray.  Yet, how often when we go to prayer in the inner chamber of our hearts, do we spend 99% of our time focusing on these physical things?  How about a flip-flop way of praying, in which you spend 1% asking God to take care of physical needs, and 99% of your time in prayer, seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness in your life?  Then, Jesus says, everything else will be taken care of by your Heavenly Father who already knows what you need before you even ask for anything.

Finally, Jesus says that...

22 “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

What does He mean by this?  Much could be said (and rightly so) about the eye being a synonym for the soul...but that is a topic for another conversation.  Here, I simply want to point out the Middle Eastern concept that the eye represents desire.  If something is the "apple of your eye" then it is the object of your desire.  If someone has the "evil eye," then they have an unhealthy, or jealous, desire.  Here, Jesus is saying (in part) that just as a lamp displays how things truly are, your desires display the true state of your body and soul.  If your desires are bad, your whole being is full of darkness.  But if your desires are good, your whole being will be full of light.

When we read Matthew 6, it's easy for us to miss the fact that one way or another, the entire chapter is about prayer:  prayer and giving, prayer and fasting, prayer and privacy, prayer and God's Kingdom, prayer and relationships, prayer and worry.  I hope you'll make prayer a priority in life.  It is the central Christian discipline, and the source of the believer's strenth.

*Unless otherwise noted, all scriptures are taken from the New King James Version. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

God Cares About the Little Things

Today is the final day of our 29th week, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures today are:  2 Kings 4-6; Matthew 5.

In our 2 Kings passages, we read about the great and mighty deeds of God, as done through the prophet Elisha.  There was the multiplication of the widow's oil, which paid her debts and kept her family out of slavery.  Then there was a miraculous birth, as foretold by the prophet.  A child was raised from the dead, and an entire village was saved from potential poisoning.  Then there was the miracle of multiplied grain, followed by the healing of a leper (not to mention the supernatural curse of leprosy which Elisha's greedy servant incurred upon himself).  Later, that same servant was allowed insight into the spiritual dimensions, where he saw angelic defenders ready to protect him from his enemies.  But of all the miracles recorded in these chapters, none stands out to me more than the miracle of the floating axe head.  2 Kings 6:1-7 says:

Now the sons of the prophets said to Elisha, “See, the place where we dwell under your charge is too small for us. Let us go to the Jordan and each of us get there a log, and let us make a place for us to dwell there.” And he answered, “Go.” Then one of them said, “Be pleased to go with your servants.” And he answered, “I will go.” So he went with them. And when they came to the Jordan, they cut down trees. But as one was felling a log, his axe head fell into the water, and he cried out, “Alas, my master! It was borrowed.” Then the man of God said, “Where did it fall?” When he showed him the place, he cut off a stick and threw it in there and made the iron float. And he said, “Take it up.” So he reached out his hand and took it.

Why does this miracle stand out above the rest, when it seems like the other miracles involved very important matters and this was a trivial concern?  

That is exactly the reason why it excites me so much!  Most believers know that God might choose to intervene in issues of great importance.  They might dare to pray for a miracle in matters of life and death, serious illness, personal protection, or national security.  But it's just such a surprise to read that God would care about a man's lost axe head.

Yet, God did care.

That axe head had been borrowed, and God cared about the man not losing face with his friend.  Or, God knew that purchasing a new axe head might put a strain on personal finances.  Still, you might say that it wouldn't put that much of a strain on anybody's money.  That may be true--but the truer it is, the more it underscores the very important point that God cares about the little things

If it's important to you, then it's important to God.

These men of God knew that if they could trust God to take care of the big things, they could also trust Him to take care of the little things.  Too many believers will trust God for the big things in their lives, but they think that their smaller concerns are too trivial for the God of the universe to care about.

The miracle here is that the God of the universe cares about you!     

What are the "axe heads" in your life, that you need to trust God for?  Take your little problems to the Lord, as well as your big issues.  Remember, if the big things aren't too much for Him, then He can certainly tare care of even your littlest needs!


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Father Figure

Today is the fourth day in our 29th week, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures today are:  2 Kings 2-3; Matt 4; Psalm 48.

Today's 2 Kings 2 passage is all about father-son relationships.  Elijah and Elisha enjoyed such a relationship, even though they weren't biologically related.  During a critical time in Elijah's life, God had brought a young man named Elisha to him, to provide encouragement and a sense of continuity in his ministry.  Elisha would succeed his "father" Elijah, and would do even greater things than he had done.  What a bond they must have shared as they lived together, ministered together, and shared everything in common!  
Rick Pino's song, "Spirit of Elijah" is about the relationship between Elijah and Elisha.  Verse one and the first chorus are sung from the perspective of Elisha, who shows his loving dedication to his "father" Elijah:
[Verse 1]All Iʼve ever wanted was to be a sonAnd to wash the father's hands and help him as he runsIn a day where young men are running on their ownI will chase the fathers heart, I will chase the double portion
Iʼll be a double portion sonIʼll turn my heart to yours for now the time has comeFor curses to stop in our landAnd together weʼll run as heaven smiles over usAnd weʼll run, and weʼll run, yeah weʼll run
I've had many "fathers" in my life.  Of course, there's my own biological father.  I have many fond memories of canoeing with Dad, building a clubhouse together, singing in the church choir alongside of Dad, and countless other things that bonded us together. Unlike many children, I was blessed to have my father live in my home, to guide me and teach me for my entire childhood.  Mom and Dad eventually divorced, but I thank God that it wasn't until after my brother and I grew up.  My unpopular opinion is that there's a lot to be said for "staying together for the sake of the kids."  There's not time to explore that idea here and now, but there's my opinion on it.  Then there was my maternal grandfather.  Granddady Lemon and I didn't see each other as much as I would have liked, but there was a bond between us that was undeniable.  In his eyes, I was a little version of himself.  He told me that he and I were "simpatico."  I remember him taking me on his lap and telling me how special I was.  Some of my most cherished possessions are things that he handed down to me, to remember him.  I miss Granddad dearly.

Then, there are the other "fathers" who weren't related to me by blood.  My father-in-law, Earl, has been a father to me since before Beth and I were married.  He has helped me through tough times and spoken truth to me that I needed to hear.  His insights have been invaluable to me.  My stepdad, Rock, has been like a father to me since he stepped into my life and married my mom.  He has given me a listening ear, as well as good advice, and has helped me out of a jam many times.  Growing up, Pastor Tim was a father-figure to me.  Though he had no children of his own, he spent a lot of time with the youth in our church.  Then there were godly men in our church, like Louis and Philip, who showed fatherly concern for me and gave me the advice I needed, whether I wanted to hear it at the time or not.  And, though a pastor isn't supposed to let church members enter into a parental role to them, Warren was there in more recent years, to become a surrogate grandfather to me after the death of Granddaddy Lemon.

I can only imagine the pain that Elisha experienced as he anticipated his "father" Elijah's departure from him.  Twice, prophets warned him that Elijah would be taken from him that day, and twice, he said, "Yes, I know it; keep quiet."  He couldn't bear the thought of losing his father.  Meanwhile, Elijah kept trying to leave Elisha behind, because he didn't think his "son" could endure the pain of seeing him taken up to heaven.  Finally, when Elijah saw that Elisha was going to stick with him to the end, he asked him to tell him something he could do for him, before he was taken away.  I love Elisha's answer.  He asked for a double portion of the spirit that was upon Elijah.  This wasn't a vainglorious expectation of an awesome ministry.  Basically, Elisha was saying, "Dad, I want to be just like you.  In fact, I want to be twice as much like you as you are."  What an awesome thing to say!  And he got it.  When the prophet was taken up to heaven, his mantle fell down from that fiery chariot.  Elisha picked it up and took it with him--a keepsake of their relationship, but also a ministry tool that would work wonders--twice as many miracles as Elijah had performed in his work for the Lord!

The second verse and chorus of Rick Pino's "Spirit of Elijah" is sung from Elijah's perspective as he lives out his father-son relationship with young Elisha.
[Verse 2]All Iʼve ever wanted was a father's heartTo be here for you every time, no matter the costTo love you as my very own and help you as you runTo put you on my shoulders and be here to cheer you on
Youʼll be my double portion sonIʼll turn my heart to yours for now the time has comeFor curses to stop in our landAnd together weʼll run as heaven smiles over usAnd weʼll run, and weʼll run, yeah weʼll run
I'm now in my forties, and have been in ministry over twenty years.  I've had many "sons" over the years as well.  I have two biological sons, and words can't describe how much they mean to me!  My heart swells with pride as I see the excellent man that my 17-year-old, Aaron, is becoming.  I take delight in those things that he has discovered, where he knows more about something than I do, and he can teach his old man.  (Amazing--I could never build my own computer like Aaron has done!)  While many kids his age are out partying, he is a dependable, responsible man.  I can't wait to see what God has in store for my recent high school graduate!  Then there's Daniel.  At eleven years old, he is developing his musical talents and running his own blog (  He fascinates me with his young insights, and entertains me with his humor.  His interests are so diverse, from videography to martial arts to wilderness survival.  I'm eager to see what God develops in him as he grows to be a man.  

There are also others who have been "sons" to me, even though I'm not biologically or directly their father.  I think of surrogate sons like Michael and Josh--two boys in a church that I served years ago, who needed fathers in their lives.  What a joy it was to step into that role, if only for a time!  I was H.T.'s pastor for several years, and he still send me a Father's Day card every year, to let me know that he considers me to be a spiritual father to him.  Then, there's my son-in-law Joe, who has a spirit of adventure and carefree attitude that are marvelous to behold.  I've known Joe since he was fourteen, and have watched him grow from childhood to manhood.  Placing my daughter's hand in his was a difficult thing to do, but I look forward to a lifetime of growing in our father-son relationship.  

Finally, there's my first grandchild, my four-month-old amazing boy, Elijah.  I had no idea that I'd feel those same parental feelings for my grandson!  I mean, I knew that I'd love him, but I always figured I'd feel parental feelings that were a bit "dialed-back" from the way you feel about your own kids.  Boy, was I wrong!  You love your grandkids with the same kind of love you have for your own kids...the difference is that you worry about them more because you're not the one raising them!  Elijah is all potential--but I can already imagine our relationship growing and watching him develop from infancy to childhood, through adolescence and into manhood.  If I can pour into him the same love and wisdom that my granddad gave me, then I'll be happy.  If God would give my grandbaby a double portion of the blessings that He has given me, then I'll be the happiest Papa of all.

Our nation is in serious trouble because of a lack of father-child relationships.  Generations of men have shirked their responsibilities, and have lost the privileges, of fatherhood.  Abandoning their children and grandchildren for the sake of financial gain or freedom, they have given up the greatest treasure they could have ever had.  The result is that men have lost their attachment to the generations that could give them the most joy, and younger people have lost connection to the men who could give them great wisdom.  Poverty, behavioral problems, crime, child abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, health problems, sexual and gender problems, educational difficulties, and incarceration can result from fathers neglecting their responsibilities.  Click here to read statistics on father absence from the National Fatherhood Initiative.   It's time that fathers and grandfathers step up to their own responsibilities, and reclaim their children in the name of the Lord!  It's time that children turn to their fathers once again as a source of godly wisdom.

Elijah and Elisha understood the father-son connection.  We must understand it too.  I pray that God will send the spirit of Elijah upon America once again, that we might reclaim something that has been lost. Malachhi 4:5-6 (ESV) says:   

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”

Lord, turn the hearts of the fathers back to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers!   Rick Pino's song says that when that happens, 

...the spirit of Elijah will come to our land.And the rains of revival will pour once again.

Today, I'd like to dedicate "The Spirit of Elijah" to my grandson, Elijah.  May the first verse and chorus be his, and the second verse and chorus be mine.   

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Spirit and Power of Elijah

Today is day three of our 29th week, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures today are:  2 Chronicles, 19-20; 2 Kings 1; Matthew 3; Psalm 20.  

Today's scriptures look at two different characters who are very similar in spirit and power.  Elijah the Tishbite was an Old Testament prophet through whom God worked mighty miracles.  John the Baptizer was a New Testament prophet through whom God worked no miracles, yet through whom God proclaimed the advent of the Messiah.  Elijah's ministry brought death to hundreds of followers of false gods.  John's ministry was one of peace and justice.  So why are there so many scriptural comparisons between Elijah and John?

In Luke 1:16-17 (ESV) we read about the angel's prediction of John's birth.  He says:

16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 17 and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

Some have suggested that this means that John was a reincarnation of Elijah, but the Bible never teaches reincarnation.  This simply means that the Holy Spirit would be in John in the same way that He was in Elijah--and that there would be similarities between their ministries and even their personalities. 

Matthew 3:1-12 (ESV) shows that John followed Elijah's fashion advice.  Both were wild men of the wilderness.  But while Elijah's ministry was one where literal fire was called down from heaven to consume God's enemies, John never brought that kind of heat.  He did, however, give a lot of fiery sermons.

John the Baptizer
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
    make his paths straight.’”*
Now John wore a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

 Compare this with 2 Kings 1:7-10 (ESV), which describes Elijah:

He said to them, “What kind of man was he who came to meet you and told you these things?” They answered him, “He wore a garment of hair, with a belt of leather about his waist.” And he said, “It is Elijah the Tishbite.”
Then the king sent to him a captain of fifty men with his fifty. He went up to Elijah, who was sitting on the top of a hill, and said to him, “O man of God, the king says, ‘Come down.’” 10 But Elijah answered the captain of fifty, “If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty.” Then fire came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty.

In Jesus' day there was a tradition that said that before the Messiah came, Elijah would return.  This was based on Malachi 4:5-6 (ESV), which says:

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”

For the fulfillment of this prophecy, John seems to fit the bill, as someone who comes in Elijah's "spirit and power."  Jesus certainly believed this to be true.  Matthew 17:10-13 (ESV) says:

10 And the disciples asked him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” 11 He answered, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. 12 But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.

When we read about the similarities between the personalities and the ministries of Elijah and John, it's no wonder that Jesus said that John was the Elijah who was to come.  John truly came, not as a reincarnation of Elijah, but in the same spirit and power that motivated that ancient man of God.

Today, you and I have the opportunity to share in something similar.  Christians should go into the world in the spirit and power of Jesus.  Of course, we aren't Jesus--but He has given us the Holy Spirit, along with His power and authority to do good and proclaim the Lord's truth.  In John 14:12-14 (ESV), Jesus says:

12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

In Luke 4:16-21 (ESV), Jesus went into the synagogue in his hometown and read from Isaiah 61.  

16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, 
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,    because he has anointed me    to proclaim good news to the poor.He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives    and recovering of sight to the blind,    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,19  to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”
20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Today, if we take up the mantle that Jesus leaves to us, we can fulfill this scripture as well.  In the spirit and power of the Christ, we can likewise be anointed to proclaim His good news.  We can proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind.  We can set at liberty those who are oppressed and declare the year of the Lord's favor.  

In Jesus' day, the people were waiting for "an Elijah" that was to come.  But only John decided, "I'll be him!"  Today, many people are waiting for someone else to speak in Jesus' name and act in His power.  But God is calling you to say, "I'll be him," or "I'll be her!"  This spirit and power is available to every Christian who has the courage to say "yes" to following in the Lord's footsteps.

*See also Isaiah 40:1-5