Law

Mercy, Judgment, and All that Falls Between

Sunday night after we had arrived back home from a longer than expected return trip from the Black Hills, I pretty much just wanted to veg out and then head to bed a little early perhaps.  But that plan was interrupted by a text message from my sister that simply said:

R U watching the news?

It took a few seconds to switch on the TV and flip to Fox News, only to see Geraldo (who Rush jokingly refers to as “the grim reaper” for his ubiquitous presence in announcing celebrity deaths) and a crawl that announced that Bin Laden had been killed.

There are no words to convey what was going through my mind at that point.  I couldn’t have said much or typed anything.  In fact, I missed sending out a weekday devotional post completely on Monday from a complete inability to process or write anything useful (this blog has been on a slightly longer hiatus of the same sort).  The next day, I ended up writing a devotion for the Tuesday edition that addressed some of these feelings.  All of my friends on facebook seemed to have something to say about the matter and the opinions ran along a pretty varied continuum.  Blog posts were written and things were shared from every corner, but all I could put down at first was this post for Tuesday’s devotional.  While this could be a shameless plug for the devotional, I will just repost it here as well:

When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices,
and when the wicked perish there are shouts of gladness.  – Proverbs 11:10

After the news broke about the death of Bin Laden Sunday night, I had kind of a conflicted feeling about the scenes of celebration that I was witnessing.  I understand the sentiment to be sure; as this proverb indicates, this is a natural reaction to such an event.  I also noticed many people quoting various Bible verses both “pro” celebration and “con” celebration, which might lead some to think the Bible is a bit contradictory about this type of thing.  But that only comes from a failure to recognize the difference between commandments and observation.  The Bible observes the truth, we tend to celebrate when we feel someone gets “what’s coming to them” in whatever way that manifests.  That isn’t a commandment however.  We are encouraged to mourn the demise of the wicked and to seek their repentance and warn them of judgment if given an opportunity to do so.  God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked either and we are to take our cues from His standards and His perspective.  We shouldn’t rejoice in the death of the wicked and when we do it is another reminder of God’s perfect character juxtaposed against our own fleshly nature.

Take this time as a reminder of the fact that God loved each of us while we were still His enemy and wicked in His sight.

6For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  – Romans 5:8

A few weeks back in Bible study at our church, we were talking about the passage in the book of James where he states that “mercy triumphs over judgment.”  There has been a lot of talk about this lately in fact with Rob Bell’s book proclaiming that “Love Wins” and seeming to say that judgment will never come.  But while we are commanded to love and forbidden to judge, God is perfect in love and in judgment and has the authority to administer both.  He will judge, both the living and the dead.  His judgment is sure, more sure than the CIA or the Navy Seals or a human court or any other judgment on this earth.

In that verse I mentioned from James, we are told that judgment is “without mercy to him who has shown no mercy” and Jesus taught this same principle in Matthew 18:23-35.  Why do I share it here?  As much as we are tempted to condemn Bin Laden or someone else that we feel “deserves it,” we should never imagine that we are any better or different.  Yet, God’s rich mercy has flowed to each of us through His Son, Jesus Christ.  If you have received mercy, you must give it as well.  Leave judgment and all that falls short of mercy to the only One who is qualified to mete it out.

Categories: America, Apologetics, Bible Thoughts, Christianity, church, Culture, devotional, Discipleship, Gospel, Kingdom, Law, Messiah, politics, Questions, Salvation, theology, Truth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Thomas Jefferson – Heretic? Yes. Atheist? Think Again.

Interesting story from over the weekend that fits within the stream of recent posts on this blog.  One of Thomas Jefferson’s self made “bibles” is going on display in the Smithsonian soon.  In many ways this is hardly unique.  A lot of people do their own “cut and paste” version of Scripture, but very few go to the extreme that Jefferson did with his.  Most people are content to simply ignore vast portions of Scripture on the belief that they have been “done away with” or are obsolete or something like that.

Jefferson’s “bible” is an attempt to discern what he thought were the real teachings of Jesus.  You see, while atheists like to proclaim Jefferson as one of their own and thus try to dismiss his use of Christian terminology and thought, it turns out that Jefferson was far more interested in the words and work of Christ than they might like to admit:

During the election of 1800, Jefferson was denounced as a “howling atheist” and “a confirmed infidel” known for “vilifying the divine word, and preaching insurrection against God.” But the Virginian also revered Jesus as “the first of human Sages” and was, according to one biographer, “the most self-consciously theological of all American presidents.”

Let me be quick to point out that Jefferson’s theology and view of Christ was nowhere near orthodoxy.  Jefferson was actively engaged in remaking God to suit himself and his own views.  That is why he produced a cut and paste scripture of his very own.  Jefferson generally downplayed the miracle stories about Jesus and didn’t believe in the resurrection either based on these accounts, but atheists might want to take a pause before declaring him one of their own:

After completing this second micro-testament, Jefferson claimed in a letter to a friend that it demonstrated his bona fides as a Christian. “It is a document in proof that I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus.”

This is not your typical atheist speech pattern.  Jefferson claims about himself is that he was a “true disciple of the doctrines of Jesus.”  I would dispute this point vigorously as the things that he denies aren’t just the work of a couple of overzealous followers of Christ, they are bedrock beliefs that are rooted in the Old Testament long before Christ even lived.  Jesus’ disciples didn’t “make up a bunch of stuff,” they testified to what they saw firsthand and proclaimed how this was all shown beforehand in the Law and the Prophets.

16For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

– 2 Peter 1:16-21

Jefferson was apparently unable to recognize this and was content to create his own “cleverly devised myths” in their stead.  That makes him a heretic, not an atheist.

Categories: Agnostics, America, Apologetics, Atheists, Christianity, church, Culture, Discipleship, Faith, False Teachers, Kingdom, Law, politics, Questions, theology, Truth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Just Because He Predicted It Right, Doesn’t Mean You Should Listen to Him

A few days ago, I wrote a post explaining several reasons why a group claiming that the rapture is set to happen in May were set to be disappointed.  Even though it was about a “prophet” who had predicted wrongly before, I wanted to address the issue of a prophet whose predictions come true.  The post generated some comments that convinced me to do another post regarding the folly of trusting prophetic signs as a way of measuring God’s approval of a person or “prophet.”  It was something I had been mulling over for a bit, so here we go.

Let me start out by going “Old Testament” on you for a minute.  In Deuteronomy, as Moses is giving final instructions to the people of Israel and by extension all of us who hold to God’s Word as true and our standard of God’s character and nature; he cautions the people about prophets who will come after him:

1“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ 3you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 4You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. 5But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. (emphasis mine)

– Deuteronomy 13:1-5

I dealt with this topic with a slightly different emphasis over a year and a half ago, so this is not new stuff for me.  A prophet who prophesies correctly and yet contradicts the Word of God is a false prophet.  This is something that simply isn’t talked about much in my experience.  The plain implication of this text is that simply making correct predictions is not a ringing endorsement of a Godly person or ministry or whatever.  I hate to break it to you, but Kreskin can predict the future with sometimes uncanny accuracy also and that doesn’t make him a prophet of God.

We have an unhealthy fascination with people who can “predict” the future and I fear that we forget the words of Jesus as well.  Not only did Moses downplay the “prophet who could tell the future,” but Jesus did as well:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

– Matthew 7:21-23

Read that again.  Really soak it in and read it.  These people prophesy in Jesus’ name, and cast out demons in Jesus’ name, and perform many mighty works in Jesus’ name, and He says He doesn’t even know who they are!!!

But they did all of these amazing things with prophecy and miracles and such, how can this be?

Remember the warning from Deuteronomy 13?  The second test for a prophet is where he tries to lead you.  Is it to obedience to God as He has revealed Himself in His Word or is it to follow some “new way” that the prophet is declaring based on his “authority” from his “prophetic power” that is indicated?

Don’t get dazzled by signs, predictions, miracles and so forth.  They are unreliable indicators of God’s Spirit.  Instead, set your mind on the Word of God and learn its truth.  It will set you free.

Categories: Apologetics, Bible Misunderstandings, Bible Thoughts, Christianity, church, Culture, Discipleship, End Times, False Teachers, Gospel, Grace, Heresy, Holy Spirit, Kingdom, Law, Messiah, Prophecy, Questions, Salvation, Signs of the Times, theology, Truth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Coach Tressel Demonstrates the Meaning of Taking God’s Name in Vain

You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

– Exodus 20:7

I guess I can add this to the Bible Misunderstandings category.  I say that because I always heard this commandment explained as not using God’s name as a swear word or something like that.  While that is certainly something to avoid, the actual meaning of the verse holds more depth than that.  The word commonly rendered as “vain” also means empty and can connote lying or just empty speech of other kinds.

This is the command Jesus was speaking about when He told people not to swear oaths at all because we typically break our oaths.  If we make promises and invoke God’s character with phrases like “I swear on the Bible,” or “by God” or any other number of permutations, and find we are unable to keep them; that empties God’s name of meaning in the eyes of others.  So don’t even do it, simple instruction from Jesus.

This came to mind when I was reading some sports stories last night and I saw some news about Coach Tressel from Ohio State.  In full disclosure, I have never liked OSU very much and as a Razorback fan, my opinion didn’t go up any in the wake of the scandal that hit before the bowl game this past season.  But Tressel has inadvertently provided an object lesson of the lesser realized meaning of this command, because suddenly there are people who are dragging God’s name through the mud a bit on his account.

For those who are unaware of college football goings on, several Ohio State players violated NCAA rules by selling merchandise for benefits and when the story broke last December, Tressel acted with complete surprise and shock and lobbied to allow these boys to play in the bowl game.  Now, the truth is out that Tressel wasn’t caught off-guard in December; he had known about the problem since April of last year.  Instead of taking responsibility, he ducked for cover until he could hide the truth no longer.  He is now facing consequences for his own rule breaking as well, but some of you may now be asking, “how does this drag God’s name through the mud?”

Well, as I was reading stories about this new development, I came across this news item from a local media outlet.  This article is making a case for why Tressel should be fired for his offenses and includes the following:

When Regular Joe with a normal job breaches his contract, he gets the boot.

So should The Vest.

“I am sorry and disappointed this happened,” Tressel said. “At the time the situation occurred, I thought I was doing the right thing.”

Doing the right thing? Surely a deeply religious man with a newly released book titled “Life Promises for Success: Promises from God on Achieving Your Best” knows the difference between right and wrong.

Or does he?

Maurice Clarett and Troy Smith, the highest-profile players of the Tressel era other than current Buckeye quarterback Terrelle Pryor, were both suspended for accepting improper benefits. Tressel also had a player do the same thing at Youngstown State.

I didn’t know anything about Tressel being a Christian until I saw this.  It may be that he doesn’t talk about his faith much (I don’t know), but he wrote a book and invoked God in the title.  Now he has given cause for others to “empty the name of God” by his actions and his words.  This isn’t Christian media citing the issue, it is the local school paper.  I find it a little ironic that a secular media source is so keenly able to spot the problem here.  This isn’t even a one time mistake, but appears to be a pattern of behavior.  Let me be clear that it is not my intention to single Tressel out for ridicule or judgment.  I am citing him because this is a textbook illustration of the point.

It was this same “emptying” of God’s name that won many condemnations for the nation of Israel back in the day as well.  Jesus instructed us to hallow God’s name, which means to set it apart or keep it pure.  Let us take heed to our Master’s words and be careful how we represent the name of God as the people of God.

Categories: Apologetics, Bible Misunderstandings, Bible Thoughts, Christianity, Commandments, Culture, Discipleship, Faith, Football, Grace, Law, razorbacks, theology, Truth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Paul is More Puzzling than You Think

I find that a lot of people presume that they have Paul “figured out” more or less.  This is a function of years (millenia in fact) of theological presumptions that are so widespread they aren’t even questioned.  We never dream that the words of Peter could apply to us:

15And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 17You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. – 2 Peter 3:15-17

These words were written while Paul was possibly still alive, and we can confirm from other places in Scripture that Paul’s writing and teaching were misunderstood almost from the beginning of his ministry, both by the content of his own letters that frequently address these misconceptions, as well as by scenes like the one in Acts 21:17-24:

17When we had come to Jerusalem, the brothers received us gladly. 18On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. 19After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law, 21and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs. 22What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. 23Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; 24take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law(emphasis mine)

It is interesting to note that Peter indicates that those who “twist” Paul’s words in error are “lawless people,” in light of this other passage in Acts.  Apparently the notion that Paul taught that the Law was “done away with” or “canceled out” in some way was circulating before he was even martyred for his faith in Jesus Christ.  Scripture calls this charge against Paul false here in Acts 21, yet many will try and do hermeneutic gymnastics to wave away the problem here in this passage.  This has created an uncomfortable tension for many between Paul and James, particularly in a supposed contradiction between Paul’s proclamation of salvation by grace through faith apart from works and James adamant insistence on faith shown by works; or to state it in shorter form grace vs. works.

The problem with this particular conundrum is that it actually finds Paul in contradiction with himself in his own writings.  In Romans for instance, Paul makes some rather startling statements about “works”:

6He will render to each one according to his works: 7to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. – Romans 2:6-8

For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. – Romans 2:13

But then of course, Paul goes on to say that all have sinned (i.e. no one keeps the Law anyway) and so it is argued that these earlier statements don’t mean what they appear to mean at face value (which is to say that obedience to God is important in some way), despite the fact that Paul concludes chapter 3 with an affirmation of that very idea:

Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

Is Paul self-contradictory?  When he states in 1 Corinthians 7:19 that, “For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God,” is he just blowing smoke again?  Or do we have a bad handle on what Paul is trying to say as a whole perhaps?

I have spent a lot of time lately reading the letters written by Paul that make up a great deal of our New Testament.  I embarked on this with great care after encountering a couple of paradigm-shifting insights that came from two different sources.  One is an excellent book called Paul the Jewish Theologian by Brad Young; and the other is a 29 part sermon series from D. T. Lancaster of Beth Immanuel, which you can listen to by following the link (I recommend you listen in order although many of them stand alone very well also).  The information I have gleaned from these two sources have made reading Paul a much more understandable affair.  He is indeed difficult to understand without context and effort, but the work that is put into understanding him correctly is well worth it.  Paul’s epistles line up well with all of the other writers of the New Testament, once you understand his idioms and his perspective as a messenger, an Apostle, to the Gentiles.

Paul’s letters are written to Gentiles primarily as instruction, that they do not need to convert to Judaism to become a part of God’s people (see Romans 9-11); and his frequent admonitions against the “works of the law” are in most cases a rebuke of those who tried to convince the Gentiles that their justification would only be complete by conversion to a legal Jewish status i.e. “works of the law.” They are not an admonition to Gentiles to forsake obedience to the instructions given by God in the law that pertain to holiness (being set apart from the world).  This is why Paul sees fit to include much in his letters that amounts to instruction in righteous living, instruction that is completely in step with the commandments of the Torah as regards a life that is pleasing to God.  The Law was never given for salvation (not even to Israel as some seem to think).  In fact, the idea that salvation could be obtained by obedience to the Law is not found anywhere in the Old Testament and yet some people seem to think that is what the Israelites believed and taught. In reality, the problem was a stubborn conviction that as God’s chosen people, they were automatically immune to any need to obey or follow His instructions (an attitude that shows up in many churches today), because God would forgive them no matter what they did.  Paul lays the boom on this and consequently on Christians who might think that justification comes from some sort of “membership” in Romans 11:20b-23:

They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. 21For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. 23And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again.

Paul is very direct in warning the Gentile believers not to be cocky about their newfound position within the people of God.  This is sobering stuff and Paul continues to talk about this as he winds down the book of Romans:

14I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. 15But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God 16to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. 17In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. 18For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed

-Romans 15:14-18

Paul’s own words of what Christ accomplished through his ministry is that the Gentiles were brought to obedience by word and deed.  Two thousand years removed, there are still some who wish to diminish Paul’s message and ministry as they have done since the beginning “to their own destruction.”  Let us not be like that, rather “take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:17b-18)

Categories: Bible Misunderstandings, Bible Thoughts, Christianity, church, devotional, Discipleship, Faith, False Teachers, Gospel, Grace, Hebrew, Law, Salvation, theology, Truth | 9 Comments

Picture Perfect

I was reading some blogs and ran across an interesting question that was posed in the comments of one by the blog’s author and a frequent commenter here, Steve from theoldadam.  The question revolves around Jesus’ statement in Matthew 5 that instructs us that we are to “be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect,” which is Matthew 5:48 to be specific.  What does it mean to “be perfect?”  Is this a serious instruction for us or is it some kind of expression intended to point to our inherent imperfection in some way?

There are many who would suggest that it is the latter.  In fact, there are many who look at the entire Sermon on the Mount section of Matthew (chapters 5-7) as some kind of uberlaw that is unattainable and used to exaggerate our own sinful state.  I even found myself in this same category for many years.  I had long assumed that Jesus was “raising the bar” if you will and elevating lust to the level of adultery and hate to the level of murder.  I believed that Jesus was pointing out the utter inability of humanity to attain to God’s standard at all.  The last year or two has seen a shattering of that mode of interpretation for me.  When I saw this question about the perfection statement; it got me to thinking again.  What is Jesus trying to say? Continue reading

Categories: Bible Misunderstandings, Christianity, church, devotional, Discipleship, Faith, Freedom, Gospel, Grace, Kingdom, Law, Love, Messiah, ministry, Questions, Salvation, theology, Truth, Yeshua | 23 Comments

Living by Faith

Tonight at Bible study, we were working our way through Hebrews and the end of chapter 10 into the beginning of chapter 11 (and we had a great time too).  Most believers remember Hebrews 11 as the “Faith Hall of Fame” or some similar moniker.  But we sometimes forget the faith embodied by those mentioned there.  It wasn’t perfect or flawless.  The men and women cited there were deeply flawed in most cases, just like all of us are as well.  So what does it mean to live by faith?

It might be easier to point out a couple of things that it doesn’t mean.  The life of faith for a follower of Jesus isn’t a blind faith.  It should be an examined faith.  The writer of Hebrews says that faith is being certain and sure.  These words point to a faith that is based on something solid.  Many scoff and say that there is no proof for God or for Christianity, but in so doing they reveal themselves to be less than curious and unwilling to examine the evidence (or they try to hide behind the veil of scientific evidence, which is considered less valid than eyewitness testimony).  There is evidence (some even claim there is scientific evidence, but that is another argument) and Scripture has proved its reliability over several thousand years now.  Hebrews 11 presents a case for the faithfulness of God in the lives of many who have found him faithful, but I can certainly make a list of the times He has proved faithful in my life and I am sure many of you can as well.

The writer of Hebrews presents a second statement regarding faith that we must look to as the bedrock of this idea of living by faith.  He says, “and without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

The first step of living by faith is to believe that God exists.  This is in fact the first commandment of the 10 commandments from the Jewish perspective:

I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. – Exodus 20:2

I know most Christians don’t count this as a commandment, but they should if Hebrews 11:6 is anything to go by.  Without accepting this very basic premise, faith is pointless.  We have to believe that God exists.  Paul makes his case in Romans 1 by telling us that God has left Himself a witness:

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.  – Romans 1:19-20

There is another part to the original statement from Hebrews 11:6 though.  God rewards of those who seek Him.  I was listening to some teaching about this passage of Romans and heard an interesting comparison.  There are plenty of people who do “good things” for various reasons.  In fact, there are many atheists who do things that could be considered obedience to God’s commandments.  Things like not lying or stealing and other parts of the “moral laws” as some would label them.  We have a conscience (Paul also mentions this in Romans 1) that tells us some things are simply right or wrong.  Atheists do not expect God to reward them for these things, even though He often does so because He does not discriminate in the application of His principles(Matthew 5:44-45).  The point being, that it doesn’t take a person of faith to do some of God’s commandments; they are self-evident if you will.  But there are some commandments that don’t seem to make sense to us.  If we are honest, believers tend to point to these as the ones that are “done away with” or “outdated” or something along those lines.  Sometimes, it is because they are inconvenient or unpalatable.  But let me challenge you a little bit.  Those commandments that are doable but in some way inconvenient or less understood by us (and there are many of them), may be a perfect opportunity for you to experience God in a new way as you take them on, by faith.  They provide a framework to live out a life of faith in the one who gave them as instructions for His people.  They don’t save us, although God does promise rewards/blessings for those who keep them, and who am I to argue with Him about that.

So what do you think?  Is it worth living by faith that gives birth to experiencing the One who is faithful in all things He has promised?  It has been for me, and I invite you to take Jesus at His word and see for yourself.

Categories: Atheists, Bible Thoughts, Christianity, devotional, Discipleship, Faith, Grace, Hebrew, Law, Love, Science, theology, Truth | 8 Comments

Grabbing the Commandments

As I have started to write some of the things I have found, particularly regarding the commandments of God (lately the dietary things), I note that there is a sort of generalized resistance.  I understand it.  In fact, I have offered many of the same arguments internally as I have walked down this road.  I grew up with the same general teaching of Christianity that many of you did.  The theological arguments about the “cancellation of the law” are not new to me; they are within my upbringing and years of study.  But there are always questions to be asked and when the answers are different than we expect, we should be willing to dig deeper.

I could honestly take this post in about ten different directions, but I want to focus so I have decided to present an interesting concept that came to me during the last session of the HaYesod (the Foundation) class I recently took from First Fruits of Zion.  It involves a prophetic passage from Zechariah 8.  Let’s look at the verses:

This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Many peoples and the inhabitants of many cities will yet come, 21 and the inhabitants of one city will go to another and say, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the LORD and seek the LORD Almighty. I myself am going.’ 22 And many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the LORD Almighty and to entreat him.”23 This is what the LORD Almighty says: “In those days ten men from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.’ ”

-Zechariah 8:20-23

It is the last verse that I would like to discuss further.  The idea of ten men taking hold of one Jew is a symbolic picture.  Since there are obviously more than 10 nations or languages (and there were in Zechariah’s day as well), this is an image to represent a group from all nations collectively.  The number 10 is significant because it represents the number of men needed to form a minyan or congregation in Hebrew.  Thus we can see that a “congregation of the nations” is spoken of here.  Be patient and we will tie the images together in a moment.

These people will take hold of “one Jew.”  Personally, I always took this verse a little more literally(not completely so), so I had this picture of groups of Gentiles gathered around individual Jews begging to follow them to Jerusalem or something.  If there is “one Jew” that men from every nation would want to grab hold of, who do you think that would be?  If you said Yeshua, or Jesus, go to the front of the class.  This part of the prophecy is already a little clearer.  We see men from all nations coming to Jesus even today, but there is still more to see.

These people take hold of the “hem of his robe.”  This word in Hebrew is used for the corners of the garment, and I want to point out something very interesting about this.  Let me give a couple of verses to help this picture.

Make tassels on the four corners of the cloak you wear. -Deuteronomy 22:12

“Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner. 39And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. 40So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God.                           -Numbers 15:38-39

The word “corners” in these verses is the same Hebrew word used in Zechariah 8:23.  The corners of  Jewish man’s robe would have the tassels (Hebrew tzitzit), to stand for the commandments of God.  It is these that the men of the nations are to grab firm hold of on the person of Yeshua (Jesus).

This is all of the commandments of God.  As it turns out, Jesus said something that makes this verse so meaningful to you and I:

21Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”22Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”

23Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

-John 14:21-24

Let me make this abundantly clear.  These commandments aren’t about salvation.  You cannot be saved by doing them.  They are about love.  Do you love Jesus enough to take hold of the corner of His garment (the commandments)?  Will you follow Him wherever He goes?  Because He walks in the Ways of God and the path of Torah, God’s instructions.

Categories: Bible Thoughts, Christianity, church, devotional, Discipleship, Faith, Gospel, Hebrew, Law, Messiah, Prophecy, theology, Truth, Uncategorized, Yeshua | 2 Comments

Editing God

In a previous post on Acts 10, I mentioned the notion that modern theology acts as an editor of God’s word in some cases which results in problems in our churches today:

The attempt to play editor for God has been made before and will continue to be made until time is done.  It actually lays at the root of many of the problems facing the church today.

There are several areas where this problem surfaces, but I want to touch on one particular one today, if only because it is illustrative of the larger picture.  That area is the increasing acceptance of homosexuality in the church.  This has been a slow but steady creep of “progress” on the part of the homosexual movement, but the roots of its success lie much farther back in the work of theologians who managed to minimize the eternalness of the instructions of God and His commandments (His Torah).

As I mentioned in the discussion on Acts 10, the distinctions between clean and unclean food were not canceled out by God or done away with.  These distinctions actually predate the Levitical code (see Gen. 7:2-3), and they haven’t disappeared.  It isn’t as though God suddenly said, “I was just kidding before about pigs.”  Peter didn’t eat pork.  The aforementioned post looked that the way that some theologians have asserted that God “nullified” that section of His Law based on a bad interpretation of the vision given to Peter.  This gets combined with a mistake regarding Jesus’ statement in Mark 7:19 (which is addressed by the additional article referenced in the previous blog post) and creates a means by which a small part of God’s eternal ordinances are “edited down” to a more acceptable level.  It isn’t even malicious on the part of most of those who do it.  It is simply unthinking.  This is what we are taught, and most of us never question it.

How does this relate to homosexuality you might ask.  Try searching the words “shellfish” and “homosexuality” or the term “gay” together in Google.  You might be surprised at what you find.  There is a whole niche of people who make an argument for the acceptance of homosexuality, based completely on the fact that most of Christianity doesn’t consider eating shellfish to be wrong (when the Bible says that shellfish are an abomination).

Some Christians have attempted to counter the contention and still hold on to the “parts of the Law are done away with” line of argument, and some of them even do it fairly well, but the argument rings a bit hollow.  Notice by the way, that this article brings the Acts 10 passage in to the fray to defend the “all foods clean” position, even though that vision is not speaking about food but about men as we discussed previously (there is also a sloppy handling of Hebrews, but I don’t have time for that now).  Where the writer of this article makes his strongest points, is when he highlights all of these parts of the law that we don’t even question are in force today: Continue reading

Categories: Apologetics, Bible Thoughts, Christianity, church, Culture, Discipleship, Grace, Heresy, Kingdom, Law, Love, Questions, theology, Truth | Leave a comment

Bible Misunderstandings: Peter’s Vision in Acts 10

This is the post that I have been planning to write for the last week or so.  I guess it made more sense to wait until after I had preached the sermon anyway.  Now that the sermon audio for this message has been uploaded to the church site, I will write out some thoughts as a companion here.

When I was studying the text and commentaries and such for Acts 10, I was struck by how unusually obvious this particular misunderstanding is when we stop to think about it for a minute or two.  Let me throw this statement at you and then we will examine its validity.  Peter’s vision is not about food!

Continue reading

Categories: Apologetics, Bible Misunderstandings, Bible Thoughts, Christianity, Discipleship, Hebrew, Law, Questions, theology, Truth | 9 Comments

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