Monday, December 4, 2017

What about Witchcraft and Sorcery?

The ancient Israelites were forbidden involvement in witchcraft and sorcery. In fact, there were a number of other forbidden practices including:
  • Divination
  • Exorcism
  • Fortune-telling 
  • Necromancy
  • Magic
  • Secret arts
  • Spiritism
  • Astrology
  • Wizardry
  • Conjuring
  • Soothsaying
  • Using omens
  • Using amulets
  • Speaking enchantments
  • Speaking charms
  • Consulting mediums
  • Casting spells
What were these practices?

Modern literature and film have developed these concepts in the popular genres of science fiction and horror. The things we read in books and see on screen are generally far removed from what we find in Scripture.

In the Bible diviners, fortune-tellers, sorcerers, etc. were consulted by those who wanted information that they could not obtain through normal means, often knowledge of the future. They were 'advisors' of sorts.

The Hebrew source words behind these terms provide only marginal insight into the various practices. One Hebrew term, translated divination, fortune-telling, or omen, 'may' suggest that the practitioner had a keen gift of observation. However, he expressed his advice so as to suggest a source of other-worldly power.

Another Hebrew term, translated medium, meant, to ask. The practitioners of this art pretended to consult pagan deities, the dead or other-worldly powers.

Other Hebrew terms suggested that insight was obtained by reading the clouds, or by reading the stars. (A king could only wish for a matching set to cover all weather conditions.) Others consulted livers cut out of an animals; still others, arrows thrown on the ground. All of these were akin to today’s palm readers and astrologers.

King Saul consulted a medium in hopes that she could conjure up the deceased high priest Samuel. The king wanted to know whether Israel should go into battle against the Philistines. Because of sin in his life, he was getting no answers from God. (1 Samuel 28)

King Nebuchadnezzar had an assortment of 'advisors.' Yet, none were able to use their arts to tell and interpret his dream of the great statue (Daniel 2). Years later when King Belshazzar witnessed a hand writing a message on the wall, none of his advisors were able to read and interpret the writing (Daniel 5). In both cases the kings were perplexed and desired understanding. True knowledge and understanding came only when God revealed his messages to his servant Daniel.

On yet another occasion King Nebuchadnezzar stood in a literal ‘Y’ in the road desiring to know which branch to take. (One road led to Jerusalem and the king wanted to know if he should lay siege to the city.) He ‘shook the arrows,’ consulted idols, and ‘looked at the liver.’ These were different kinds of divination. (Ezekiel 21)

When God originally forbade Israel from consulting the practitioners of these dark ‘arts,’ we learn the reasoning behind his prohibition:
The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me [Moses] from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him.     —Deuteronomy 18:15
God wanted His people to depend upon Him for advice. He wanted His people to listen to His revealed word, not ‘made-up’ advice that ultimately came from the minds of men. He still wants people to listen to Him.

In our day there are many voices. If you are actually listening to fortune cookies, the Ouija board, horoscopes, palm readers, tarot cards, anyone who claims to speak with the dead, etc., you are NOT listening to God. The Bible is God’s revealed word. Jesus is God's living message to mankind. God's message is reliable. It is sufficient.

Remember: Wisdom is only as good as its source!

Monday, November 27, 2017

"That's NOT What I Meant!"

A friend told me of his challenging childhood with an abusive father. He had difficulty accepting God as a father figure because of his past experience. If God was anything like his father, he wanted no part of Christianity.

Another friend told me that he had imagined that if Christ visited churches today He would probably say, “None of you are 100% correct.”

In both I talked with my friends about the challenge to understand Scripture in light of the baggage of our past experiences and past teaching. Perhaps that is, in part, why James instructed:
Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.   —James 3:1
We must never treat God’s word lightly asking, “What does that mean to you?” Rather, ask, “What did God actually say and what did He intend to communicate?

Our Creator was not silent. He spoke into His creation a message with real content and meaning. God really did intend for man to understand something specific. In other words, God did not blurt out words without meaning, leaving us to interpret as we wish. He meant something.

How do we know that God’s Word is not left up to man’s interpretation?

The prophet Jeremiah wrote about a new covenant that was to be radically different from the covenant that God had with Ancient Israel.
“They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”   —Jeremiah 31:34
Isn’t is clear that something would be communicated so that God could be known? The writer of Hebrews offers clarity...
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son….   —Hebrews 1:1–2
Take this thought one step further...
In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God and the Word was God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.    — John 1:1, 14
God revealed himself to the fathers of Israel, to Moses, and He revealed His message through the prophets. Ultimately, however, God communicated ’in’ His Son. Jesus was not merely a messenger; Jesus WAS the message! By listening to and watching Jesus, man can know, ‘This is what God meant!
But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.     —2 Peter 1:20–21
Every person carries past experiences and teachings that influence the way they interpret God’s message. Yet, His Word contains relevant content that came from His mind with meaning that He intended to communicate.

We must do our best to discern God’s message and respond to Him in faith and humility. Otherwise, we risk His rejection, “That’s NOT what I meant!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Eclipse Monday

August 21, 2017: Jackson, MO

It the third monthiversary of the highly anticipated total solar eclipse of 2017. For most, a return to the mundane day-to-day tasks has eclipsed their memory of this momentous occasion. Not wanting my more than mundane eclipstical experienced to be lost among the many stories that would surely eclipse mine, I decided to wait for that magical moment that was sure to bring back the memories of that dark day.

About a billion and twelve photos were taken...and I think all but twelve were posted. No doubt you saw many interesting shots and some real prize-winners. (Did you see the pic from the space lab that showed the moon's shadow on the earth. I wanted to take a pic like that, but I don't have a high end camera...or a ticket to the space lab!)

When it comes to photography, I like to play the game, but I am an 'amateur novice.'  That means that I rely on sheer luck most of the time. (The rest of the time I rely on ordinary luck.) Months in advance of the big day I began making plans to get to a location of 'total eclipse' so I could point my lens heavenward. I'll have to say that it was a day that eclipsed a lot of other days in my life. Here's a chronicle of my dark day...

Eclipse Monday started early…12:04 a.m. I had driven from my home in Quincy, IL through St. Louis where I anticipated terrible traffic tie-ups. Apparently my procrastination paid off; the 10 o'clock traffic was light, the sky dark (dark because it was night). I arrived at mom’s house in Jackson, Missouri where a ‘total’ eclipse of the sun was expected later that day, Monday, August 21, 2017.

I’m not an eclipstical chaser or celestial scientist, but this was a special event. The shadow of the moon was to sweep right through the state of Missouri near enough to where I lived that I could travel to see it. I could choose to see the total eclipse in St. Louis (two hours away), mom's (four hours away) or even at my friend's in Jefferson City (two hours away) if my other locations were not suitable due to clouds.

Yes, you have to think about clouds. The moon was going to eclipse the sun whether I was there to see it or not; whether there were clouds obscuring the view or not.

Mom was already in bed and asleep when I arrived, so I texted Kris, checked in on facebook and turned down the covers in my basement bedroom.

Up at 7:00 a.m. A little groggy, I hit the shower, dressed, had a handful of mixed nuts (which mom always has on hand) and prepared to rush off to the hardware store for a 3-way light bulb. (The bulb in the lamp bedside my bed was out, and Mom’s Motel has standards.)

8:00 a.m. – Poetic interlude...
   Out the door to the hardware store;
   saw a few clouds, hoping not more.
   Fa la la la laaa, la la la laaaaaaaa.

Mostly sunny, as predicted, but off in the distance to the southwest there were clouds. Weather usually arrives in Jackson from the southwest. The current clouds were not the puffy kind…cumulonimbinocularous or something like that. Those would be OK because they generally move along quickly. These were the thin, expansive, lingering cloud strips...cirriusly. With these clouds he sky would be bright; but if they hung around they would surely eclipse the eclipse.

It was a $15 bulb…Outrageous! Then again, the package said it would last 22.5 years and save over $200 over its years of service. Pleased with my purchase I hurried home. Then, while tangling with the tamper-proof packaging, I began thinking about the savings. "I" bought the bulb, so "I" wasn’t going to save anything. The bulb is supposed to last 22.5 years and mom is currently 83 years old. In all likelihood she will not capture all those advertised savings. I sure hope that lamp (or at least that bulb) comes to me when she’s gone. Suddenly, the price of the light bulb seemed to eclipse the advertised savings. (You kind of expected that...right?)

Mom is up! She rehearsed the history of the adjacent properties which segued into an introduction to the new neighbors and their remodeling efforts. For some unknown reason, or for no reason at all, we STAND and talk...chairs all over the house...all around the room...and we stand. (I figure mom just likes to use her new knee. Why let it go to waste sitting down...???)

9:20 a.m. – The sky is clear. Mom is talking to the Weather Channel as they cover the eclipse out west: "...and animals will go back to acting normal and there you have it," said the Weather Channel.
Mom: “Humpf.

Light breakfast with mom.


It's not porridge, but you can
guess which is for mama bear.
Lots of personal chatter with mom. Texting chatter with my two younger sisters who also live in Jackson. I think our eclipse Monday chatter scarcely ranks above squirrel chatter. It's really nuts, but we amuse ourselves. I think Joy Kaye is planning to don a foil cap with her spiffy eclipse glasses.

10:07 a.m. – I took a picture of the sun with the special eclipse glasses over the lens of my iPhone. Yep, the sun is actually there. Skies are crystal clear. More squirrel-chatter texting.


Photo taken with my iPhone using
the eclipse glasses over the lens.
11:02 a.m. – Our tailgating plans are coming together. (We accidentally started planning an eclipstical tailgate party at 8:30.) Not sure if Amy is still bringing the smoked bologna or not. I sure hope so because bologna is round...like the sun...and the moon...and that's no baloney. (Hey! That’s no worse than everybody getting silly over ‘Moon Pies,’ which have absolutely nothing to do with the moon.)

Lots more squirrel-chatter texting about the foil cap.

11:12 a.m. – I just overheard a penetrating question asked on The Weather Channel: “Julie, can you tell us exactly why the eclipse is traveling from west to east?”

Sure. What we have is the earth rotating on its axis, the moon revolving around the earth and the earth revolving around the sun...and things are lining up that way.” (Hmm...'And things are lining up that way.' That was stellar! The camera did not cut away to Julie, but I’ll bet she is a bombshell beauty with a celestial figure. With a scientific explanation like that, how else could you explain how she got a job on TWC???)

11:20 a.m. – I pick up my sister, Joy Kaye, (in my car) from her work. Amy, my other local sister, joins us shortly thereafter. (My sister Cindy couldn't come. Cindy sells sea shells by the sea shore. [kidding]) Mom and I go down the hill to check in on the new neighbors, Mike and Torie, and invite them to our party.

They only recently bought the house down the hill from mom. It's the lovely two story house that dad built and everyone in the family would love to have. But mom needed to sell it instead of dealing with renters.

I wanted to meet these new neighbors to make sure they were neighborly neighbors. They seem like really nice folks; real kind toward mom. (First impression--Approved!)

They say they'll come up later.

11:30 a.m. – Friends, Stan and Millie join us from Bernie, MO where they would have been unable to see the ‘total’ eclipse. They brought sandwiches! (very thoughtful)

Yep! That's the carport eclipsing the sky.
Noon-ish a.m. – We decide to eat lunch even though the moon is moving into the path of the sun; or the earth is moving into the shadow of the moon; or…(refer to the TWC explanation above). We had set up a table and chairs on mom’s carport, the carport providing an ongoing total eclipse of…the sky. Every minute or two someone would jump up, run out from under the carport, slip on their magical eclipstical glasses and take another peek at the lunar lunge.

“It’s a moon!” someone shouted.

That was confusing; everyone had to look. (Translation: the moon had eclipsed the sun to the point that the sun had a crescent-shaped appearance, like the moon does in its various stages during the month.)

The tomato on my burger eclipsed the beef patty...fitting, I thought...and worth mentioning...on eclipse Monday. (No pic, sorry; I was hungry.)

12:40 p.m. – The neighbors join the party and kick up the wild factor a notch. (They said, "Hi, how you doin'?" We said, "Fine." Introductions made all around. Like I said, WILD!!)

12:59 p.m. – The eclipse is well under way with totality to occur at 1:16 p.m. in our location.



Joy using the 'hole in paper' technique to view
the eclipse. (Mom at her 'post.')

Mom, hanging onto a support post to balance herself, looking at the eclipse: “Just find you a post and hang on!…It’s going fast!” (Much laughter!)


Our results from our 'pin-hole eclipse viewer.'

1:04 p.m. – Amy helps me take another pic of the eclipse with my small point-and-shoot camera (on a tripod). I can't attach a filter on the camera, so Amy holds a pair of the eclipse glasses over the camera lens. (I’m sure I am the only person in the world to have had that idea.) I position myself below the camera to hide my eyes in its shadow so as to protect my eyes while fiddling with the camera settings.

Shadows on driveway cast by leaves.
We knew all about the 'pin-hole in the paper' technique for viewing the shadow of the eclipstical phenomenon before totality. We poked multiple holes in paper and tried various sizes of holes. We called it 'science.' We also observed the weird shadows cast by the leaves of the trees.

As the moment of totality approached we began noticing a visible change around us. It was like dusk or dawn, but noticeably different. The lights dimmed. We began to feel the uniqueness of the event.


Then someone shouted, "Look at the sunset!"

Of course, there was no sunset, or sunrise....

The phone camera photo does little justice. It's one of those moments where you just have to be there. It was the wrong time of day for a sunset--1:04 p.m. It was in the wrong position--North!
'Northern Sunset'

1:15:30 p.m. – The countdown.

Stan: “Thirty seconds!


Fifteen seconds!


Ten…nine…eight…
Three…two…one…

1:16 p.m. – The last ray of pure sunlight is eclipsed by the moon…
The kids on the school grounds several blocks away went absolutely wild. (No wonder the animals were quiet!)

Mom: “I can’t see anything!

Joy: “Mom, take off the glasses. It is safe, the eclipse is total.

Mom: “I can’t see anything!

Joy: “MOM! YOU CAN TAKE OFF THE GLASSES. IT’S SAFE!” ((I think the eclipse, affected mom’s hearing aids.)

Look, the sun is setting all around us.

Wow!

Cool!

Unbelievable.

Look at the stars.” (Planets)

I fumbled with the settings on my big camera (a bigger and better point-and-shoot than the other one). I think I finally found the right settings. “Click.”

PUT YOUR GLASSES BACK ON! The sun is back.

1:18 p.m. – The next phase begins and we dart out and in to the carport viewing the fading of the eclipse as it is swallowed up by the glorious light of the sun returning to its normal intensity. (Hmm. Actually the sun's intensity never changed, just our perception of things.)

Once things were back to normal we cleaned things up, said our "Goodbye's" and all returned to our homes.

I’ve heard several folks comment about how frequently eclipses occur. (About every 18 months according to Brian Resnick in an article entitled, When is the next total solar eclipse? That seems reasonable considering that the moon perpetually casts a shadow somewhere; so it frequently casts its shadow somewhere on the earth. However, many of those solar eclipses are not total eclipses and many occur in far off places. (One recent total eclipse appeared only over the Pacific Ocean, making it really tough to drive in and view it.) So, technically speaking this wasn't really a once-in-a-lifetime celestial event--eclipses happen all the time.

Front to back: Mom, Joy, Millie, Stan, Amy.
As for me, I almost chose to watch the eclipse from ShawNature Reserve in West St. Louis County, one of my favorite places on the planet. However, I’m really glad that I was in Jackson, MO. I’m glad I drove four hours to visit my mom. I’m glad my two younger sisters were able to join us. I’m glad Stan and Millie came up from Bernie. And I’m glad we all got to meet my mom’s new neighbors and get to know them a little. All of that made it a once-in-a-lifetime event for me.

For an amateur novice clicking a point-and-shoot camera I really needed more time. But the celestial bodies were in motion and would not wait for me. I guess this will be my practice run and in seven years I can give it another try!


Yep! That's me. Eclipse glasses and foil
cap with a look of amazement on my face.
It really WAS amazing!
Perhaps you’d like to join us for the next one. That’s right! Jackson, MO is in the path of the next total solar eclipse in the U.S. on April 8, 2024. And if all goes well, I guess this total solar eclipse thing will be a twice-in-a-lifetime event!

Something to Take-away:
1. Life is short. Doing things with family and friends makes it better. We all acted silly, cracked a lot of dumb jokes...and saw a total eclipse! There is time to be alone; sometimes we need to be alone. But that day we made a cherished memory together.

2. Life is short. There are a lot of things to see in the world. We are often mesmerized by man's achievements, and rightly so. But God's creation always trumps man's creations. Sometimes you have to go somewhere to see something amazing that God has made; sometimes it comes to you. Whenever you have the opportunity, open your eyes to something that is uniquely God's work. Rainbows, forests, canyons, a full moon, a solar eclipse; the opportunities are many. Don't let the grandeur of God's creation become 'usual' just because it happens once a day (sunrise, sunset). And remember, a picture (photo) may 'speak a thousand words,' but a picture can never compare to the memory captured in the moment with our eyes. Don't forget to stop and look.

--Mark Stinnett

Monday, November 20, 2017

Do You Think This is an Odd Pair?

Quick! Fill in the blank…

The rich and _______________.

You might have though of a synonym like wealth: The rich and wealthy. You might have thought of something that compares with, or goes along with rich, like power: The rich and powerful. Or, you might have considered a contrasting idea, like poor: The rich and poor.

My simple point is that there are familiar ways that things are paired together. With that thought in mind, take a look at this proverb:

     Better is a poor man who walks in integrity
     Than he who is perverse in speech and is a fool. 
     —Proverbs 19:1

What did you expect to be paired with ‘poor man’?

It might not be obvious at first, but the ’poor man’ is compared to 'the fool,' i.e. the 'foolish man.' The poor man’s way of life is described by the phrase, 'who walks in integrity.' The fool’s way of life is described by the phrase, 'who is perverse in speech.' Now that we have the parts of proverb matched up, how do we make sense of this saying?

The word 'poor' in this proverb comes from one of eleven different Hebrew words to describe the poor. It is used almost exclusively by Solomon and indicates destitution. How does it strike your mind that a destitute person would walk in integrity? In many ways poverty and integrity are odd partners. A man who is destitute lacks the basic needs of life. He probably does not have a place to live (homeless). He has nothing that resembles a wardrobe of clothing, but has only the clothing on his back. He does not have enough food. It is an understatement to say that he is in need.

Now, imagine a destitute man with integrity. That means that even though he has virtually nothing, he is a man of good character. He is an honest man, reliable and fair in his dealings with others. He is morally good. Judging him by his worldly possessions, he is empty and practically worthless; yet judging him by his character, he is complete.

Compared to the poor man of integrity is the fool who is perverse in speech. Used primarily in the Book of Proverbs the Hebrew word for perverse means to twist or to make crooked. It is used to describe sin. So, perverse speech suggests the sin of deception.

Perverse speech describes the way of the fool. It is curious that the Hebrew term used in this verse for fool literally means to be fat. It has a positive sense of strength, though it is usually used in a negative sense of heaviness and inactivity, therefore often translated with terms such as stupid and fool/foolish. However, the idea of strength appears to fit this context when compared to a parallel proverb (Proverbs 28:6).

     Better is the poor who walks in his integrity
     Than he who is crooked though he be rich.
     --Proverbs 28:6

In both proverbs crookedness or perversity of speech might even be the means by which the individual became strong/rich.

The lesson is simple, but so difficult for people to embrace:
We would all agree that it is better to be strong/rich than to be destitute. However, if strength and riches are accompanied by sin, they are of no real value. The man of integrity is better off even if he is destitute of the world’s goods.


So, “Do I have to give up my possessions to be a man or woman of integrity?” Wrong question!

Rather, we should ask ourselves: “Am I a man/woman of integrity?

Do you value integrity???

Monday, November 13, 2017

I Heard a Frightening Silence


As a preacher I frequently receive calls at my office from strangers with needs. I have been asked to visit someone’s relative in the hospital (a person I did not know). I have been asked to provide transportation for people I did not know. I have been asked to take charge of an unruly dog. People have been asked for assistance with food, clothes, rent, utilities, air conditioners, gasoline and prescriptions for medication. Most often people just want money.

I have had a number of occasions in which people have lied to me and selfishly taken what was given; a few times, my own money. I have observed that some people ask for help with necessities while hiding their undisciplined spending on entertainment, junk food and 'extras.' As a result, I have learned to be more cautious. In fact, I have learned to listen for clues that would tip me off to made-up stories and lies.

On one occasion a lady called the church building and asked for money and then added, “If you don’t help me, my children will not have Christmas presents this year.”

Judge me if you wish, but that week I had already heard three sob stories that just did not check out. Utility bill, rent, food. But now, money for some lady’s kids’ Christmas? Really!? She sounded rehearsed, like a salesman's spiel.

I paused briefly trying to gather my thoughts wondering what to say. I blurted out the first thing that came into my mind, “Will you be putting my name in the ‘From:’ line on the 'To / From' card?"

She hung up.

Perhaps mine was a clever response to yet another undisciplined swindler, yet perhaps there was a legitimate need. I don’t know. I didn’t probe further. I treated her lightly and she hung up, releasing me from any obligation. I had displayed an uncaring attitude of: "Whatever."

My thoughts sway to and fro when I think of the 'Christmas lady.'

I feel a little guilty, not because I refused to buy her kids gifts, but because I cast her aside so quickly. She will not soon be forgotten. She reminds me that I need to inquire with kindness, to probe deeper into the situation. I can still be frank and ask pointed questions that might uncover a fraud, but I need to ask with gentleness and real concern. I need to watch my attitude. 

   He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor 
   Will also cry himself and not be answered.
   --Proverbs 21:13

I am quite sure that God does not expect anyone to simply throw their money to someone who asks, just because they ask. Yet, when they ask, I need to remember that God is deeply concerned about the poor. Those who are stingy will experience a frightening silence in their time of need.

So, reflecting on this Proverb and the 'Christmas lady,' I have reasoned: If in the future I misjudge a situation, I would much rather give generously to someone who has no real need than to withhold from someone who is truly poor and in need. For then I can be assured that in my time of poverty, God will not turn a deaf ear to me.

I want to be wise.
I want to refrain from being judgmental.
I want to be generous.

I want to be heard...

Monday, November 6, 2017

Is God Trying to Control My Behavior?

I heard someone was talking about the way Christians try to control other people by labeling certain behaviors as sinful. That was a new perspective to me, but I guess it makes sense. It might be similar to the way the strict Pharisees and Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day controlled the people through their interpretation of the Law.

The people were warned about violating the ‘traditions of the elders,’ that is, the interpretations of the Law of Moses which had been handed down for centuries. If a person’s thinking and/or behavior did not line up with expectations of the religious leaders, he could be “put out of the synagogue.”

The threat of being put out of the synagogue was not an idle threat, but one of grave religious and social consequences that in many cases would also have economic implications. Two instances of such a threat are found in the Gospel of John:
  • On one occasion a blind man was healed by Jesus. His parents were afraid of saying that Jesus was the Christ because they would be “put out of the synagogue.” (John 9:22)
  • John later mentioned a number of Jewish rulers who believed in Jesus. Yet, they were afraid that they would be "put out of the synagogue" if they confessed their belief because in Jesus. (John 12:42-43)
To explain the consequences in a more general way, to be put out of the synagogue was to lose the acceptance of the religious leaders, and consequently family, friends, and acquaintances.

What a terrible prospect! If a person did not believe the accepted teaching or did not display the accepted behavior, he would be rejected by the society in which he lived. It is easy to see how such a threat could be used to control an individual’s behavior.

The idea of control suggests forced behavior. So, it would appear that the Jewish rulers exerted control and forced compliant behavior. It would also seem that some people today believe that Christians wish to force certain behaviors on others. They presume an attempt to regulate behavior by labeling behaviors as sin.

I do not believe that Christians in general are guilty of such a practice, but I can understand how some people might think that about some Christians. Perhaps there is a deeper concern: Is God trying to control my behavior?

The gospel answers the question. The gospel calls, or invites people to respond to Jesus Christ. An invitation suggests choice, not force. The Apostle Paul admitted that he desired to persuade people to respond to the gospel. However, persuasion still allows personal choice; and consider Paul's motivation:

Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men.... (2 Corinthians 5:11)

Paul was not trying to control anyone. He simply knew that one day God would judge people.

So, the gospel call/invitation allows people to accept or reject Jesus. Those who reject Jesus are not obligated to conform their behavior to be like Him. People should bear in mind, however, that all choices have consequences. Still yet, no one is forced to accept Jesus.

So, let’s further refine the question: Is God tying to control the behavior of Christians?

Again, control suggests force and God has chosen to allow people, even Christians to make their own choices. Forced behavior diminishes or even destroys faith and love. Just look back at the example of the Jewish rulers. Also consider the ‘Great Commands.’ They are worded as commands, but even so, they are not forced on people. God allows us to choose whether we will love Him with all our heart, soul and mind. It is as if God has said, IF you really do love me, you will do what I ask. Actually, God did say that in both the Old Testament (Exodus 20:6; Deuteronomy 7:9) and in the New Testament where Jesus echoed God's words. (John 14:15; 15:10; among others.)

God does have high expectations from those who devote their lives to Jesus. His expectations may seem strict, but they are attitudes and behaviors that reflect his divine character. So, when we (Christians) respond to people about Jesus, it is reasonable to say that God’s expectations are demanding, even restrictive. It is also reasonable to say that God allows every person to choose how he/she will live (and bear the consequences of their choices). Finally, we can tell people that we are really serious about our conviction and want to persuade others because of God’s judgment. Even then, God simply does not force anyone to do anything.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Nobody's Perfect

“Nobody’s perfect.”

How easily those words roll off the lips. After all, it is true, “nobody’s perfect.”
How often do you think that simple statement is used as an excuse?

What are we really saying when we say "Nobody's perfect"?

Nobody’s perfect. So, ‘I’ am not a perfect human being. Since I am not perfect, it is clear that God did not expect perfection, otherwise He might have created me differently. In fact, my imperfection is the reason for God's grace. The grace of God covers my imperfection. So, it is not bad if I sin because God doesn’t expect me to be perfect and ‘do right’ ALL the time, otherwise he wouldn’t have offered grace.

Surely you can see the silly reasoning.

The Apostle Paul cut through this senseless way of thinking. After assuring Christians that God’s grace was greater than their sin, he continued with a rhetorical question (in Romans 6:1):
Are we to continue in sin that Grace may increase?
So, it is true that no one is perfect. And it is true that God recognizes our imperfect humanity. Yet, it is also true that God is holy and he expects those who follow Christ to be holy. (See 1 Peter 1:15.) So, you might say that God is understanding of our humanity but also demanding.

How do we make sense of this? How can God demand holiness and purity and righteousness, yet at the same time recognize that it is humanly impossible for people to measure up to His flawless character? Or, from a different perspective, how can God be loving and understanding and tolerant of imperfect mankind, yet demand that disciples of Christ rise to His high standard of moral purity and holiness?

We must understand that God is true to his character. Since He is completely pure and holy, then He cannot tolerate impurity or unholiness; He cannot tolerate sin. It is against his nature.

However, we must also recognize that God is love. Love is just as much a part of God’s character as holiness. Yet these two attributes do not struggle against one another. God does not react in holiness in one instance and then in love in another instance. He is not divided in His mind wondering whether it is better to love or better to maintain holiness. He is completely holy at all times and He loves at all times. The two attributes exist in perfect harmony in the character of God.

We must recognize that God’s love does not ignore or overlook sin. Rather, God’s love toward mankind motivated Him to take action regarding man’s sin problem. Instead of lowering His standard of holiness He provided the means by which mankind can become holy like Him.

That is what the cross of Christ is all about. It was an expression of God’s love for mankind; a sacrifice that was voluntarily made for sinful man. On the cross Jesus was forsaken by God as He died for you and for me so that we would not have to suffer rejection and death.

Yet at the same time, the cross of Jesus is an expression of God’s justice. God's wrath is justified because He is holy. Sin stands opposed to the very character of God. The death of Jesus was a voluntary and sinless sacrifice for sin. His sacrifice satisfied the wrath of God.

The death of Christ on the cross expressed God’s love and His holiness. God created man in His image. He still desires that we come to be just like Him. He has provided the way.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Cleave, Clave, Cloven, Cleft

Cleave or Cleave?

You will not run into the word ‘cleave’ in modern translations of the Bible, but it appeared in at least 100 verses in some older translations. Cleave is actually the spelling of two distinct English words with nearly opposite meanings:

  • One ‘cleave’ means: to divide or split.
  • The other ‘cleave’ means: to stick to.
If you look at the two words' etymologies (the history of usage and spelling of a word), you will find that the two words have different origins. In addition, the sticky cleave had two early spellings: ’cleve’ or ’cleeve.’

The ’dividing’ cleave is clave when used in past tense. Some folks might remember references to animals with cloven (split or divided) hooves in the King James Version of the Old Testament. The word cleft came from the word cleave and refers to a hollow or split place in a rock. Many folks are familiar with the song Rock of Ages:


     Rock of Ages, cleft for me;
     Let me hide myself in Thee.

Modern translations no longer cleave to the use of these words.
So, what does this have to do with anything?

Words

Words are important. If we cannot agree on the meanings of words, we cannot effectively communicate. God’s word is no different. God has communicated to mankind something from his mind. He knows what he meant and he communicated it using the common language of his people. If we are going to understand God’s message, we need to pay attention to his Word. We need to give attention to words as they were used in their original cultural setting.

Little Words

Some of the most important words in the Bible are little words. Jesus was declared ’the’ King of Israel by a man named Nathaniel. How much difference would it have made if Nathanael had referred to Jesus as ’a’ king of the Jews?

Prepositions are also ’little words’; they show direction, location, or time. Imagine a man running. How does your mental image change if the man is running ’to’? Running ‘into’? Running ’from’? Running ’with’? ’Over’? ’Because’?

Prepositions are vitally important. They help us ‘get our bearings’ within the text.

Context

Context has to do with the surrounding text of a word. The Apostle Paul wrote: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” Before and after that statement he was writing about the resurrection from the dead. The context, the surrounding verses on the resurrection, must influence the meaning of the phrase ’bad company.’

Applied

In the older translations that use the word ‘cleave,’ the meaning is obvious in every case. When cleave means ‘stick to’ it ALWAYS appears as 'cleave to' or 'cleave unto.' When cleave means ‘divide or split,’ the context ALWAYS makes the meaning obvious. The context and use of prepositions provide meaning even when two different words with identical spellings appear in the text.

The purpose is not to encourage an academic approach to Bible study. Rather, every English-reading person can discover meaning in the Scriptures. The following will help:

  1. Pay close attention to the context. Ultimately, the context gives meaning.
  2. Give attention to the little words. Articles (the, a, an) and prepositions are of greatest importance. They generally remove ambiguities.
  3. Keep an English dictionary handy.

God intended for his message to be understood. So, instead of asking, “What does it mean to me/you?” read the text carefully and consider the context. Then ask, "What did God mean?”

Monday, October 16, 2017

Can You Hear the Voice of Wisdom?


     Does not wisdom call,
     And understanding lift up her voice?
     --Proverbs 8:1

Consider the stark contrast:
Wisdom calls in the day, in the heights, in places where people gather.
The wicked woman prowls around at night, in the dark streets, preying on the naïve fool who walks alone.

Proverbs 7 and 8 tell even more:
  • Wisdom speaks truth; the strange woman flattery.
  • Wisdom speak noble things; the foreign woman deceitful things.
  • Wisdom utters righteousness; the adulterous woman draws her prey into wickedness.

I have never heard anyone accuse 'Wisdom' of speaking deceitfully. I have never heard anyone say that 'Wisdom' has no value. I have never heard anyone claim that it is foolish to lead or govern with 'Wisdom.' Almost everyone would agree that 'Wisdom' is good.

Wisdom presents herself in the light of day; openly for all to hear; ready for critical inspection. She calls, not arrogantly to gain attention; she calls to offer counsel, hope, riches, justice, life.

Why? Why? WHY!?
Why do so many refuse Wisdom?
  • Is it that Wisdom has so little to offer?
  • Is it that Wisdom has no value?
  • Is it that Wisdom has not made herself known?
  • Is it that Wisdom waits in the shadows?
  • Is it that Wisdom is difficult?
  • Is it that Wisdom is just not popular?

In chapter seven, the foolish young man chose the adulteress.

Wisdom calls...
Wisdom calls aloud...
Wisdom calls aloud in the daytime...
And all choose!


We choose to listen to wisdom OR
   ...listen to our heart,
   ...listen to our mind/intellect/reasoning,
   ...listen to our self.

There are many sources of wisdom in our world, but only one that is divine.
Choose God's wisdom.
Choose life.

Monday, October 9, 2017

When I Thought Truth Was Simple


My co-worker and I were discussing truth. She boasted, “You have your truth and I have my truth.” I answered with a brief illustration in which two people witnessed a hit-and-run auto accident but reported different colors when describing the escaping car. I told my friend that the car could not be ‘both’ blue and green. She still maintained, “You have your truth and I have my truth.”

Unfortunately, she could not accept that she had inserted the word ‘truth’ for the more accurate word: ‘perception.’ After all, a blue car really isn’t green regardless of one’s perception. (Even changing lighting does not change the true color, but only one’s perception.)

The thinkers of our day have taught us to despair with Pilate, “What is truth?”

People have approached truth in a variety of ways. The Sadducees tested Jesus by asking probing questions. (They believed if they could trip Jesus up with a tough question, it would prove that he was not the Messiah.) Probing questions do not establish truth. In fact, the wise answers Jesus gave did not ‘establish’ truth. He was the Messiah with or with the question, and with or without an answer to the question. Unanswerable questions do not establish truth.

I read an exhausting multi-page ‘explanation’ of a Bible passage on the Holy Spirit by a man who could not accept a simple straightforward declaration in Scripture. He began, “What if…?”

Translation: He did not know what it meant, but wanted to offer a suggestion to promote his perception. “What-if” statements are often used to change perceptions. Truth already exists with or without the “what-if.”

Truth really DOES fall in the category of “black and white.” The problem is that many people are not in love with reality so they try to obfuscate* truth. In other words, they tend to ‘muddy the waters’ or ‘deal with gray areas’ or ‘blur the lines’ or ‘use fuzzy reasoning’ (not to be confused with ‘fuzzy logic,’ if you know what that is).

Many people are astoundingly proficient at keeping truth out of focus. Gray areas sell books. Fuzzy thinking is more easily accepted. Blurred lines are more easily followed. Muddy waters obscure the reality beneath, the reality many do not wish to face.

My dad inquired about a toy I was playing with on one occasion. Knowing that it was not mine, he asked me to show him where I had found it:
I stopped and pointed to a place in the grass, but dad asked, “Is this where you found it?”
“No”
Still in ‘our’ yard I stopped and pointed again, but dad asked, “Is this where you found it?”
“No.”
I stepped into the neighbor’s yard and stopped and pointed once more, and again dad asked…
“Yes” (Toy returned to neighbor with apology.)

There was but one reality, the exact spot where I had found the toy. I did not have one reality, dad another, and the neighbor another.

Some questions are very difficult to answer. Yet, truth does not change just because of our clouded perceptions, inability to discern reality, or refusal to accept reality. Truth can be hidden, but in reality, truth is quite simple. So, why do so many people have difficulty with truth? Perhaps they wish to escape from reality!

The most profound truth ever told is that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God, deity in the flesh. The Holy Spirit validated that truth when Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. God verbally declared that truth at the same event. Jesus acknowledged that truth and did not deny it. All the questions and explanations and perceptions change nothing. Truth IS.

What do you say about the truth of Jesus?

*Obfuscate - To make more difficult to understand. (The word was used to make a point; the sound of the word is much like its meaning.)