Saturday, 18 May 2013
"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." Matthew 19:24
This was after Jesus's exchange with the rich young ruler whom He told to sell all his possessions. Some have tried to suggest that this proverbial "eye of a needle" was a small door in the city gate. If a merchant or traveler arrived after the gates were closed, they would have to take all the stuff of their camel, and the camel would have to crawl through the gate door on its knees.
This picture of a camel on its knees was supposedly the way the rich man had to be in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. He had to take all of his stuff off, so to speak, and enter through the narrow gate (Matt. 7:13). But there is no evidence that any such "eye of a needle" existed, in form or reference. Jesus was contrasting the largest living thing in Jerusalem, a camel, with the smallest opening, the eye of a needle.
To understand the audaciousness in Jesus's metaphor, squeezing a giant camel through a tiny needle's eye, just look at the disciple's reaction. They were "greatly astonished" and asked, "Who then can be saved?" Jesus replied, "With man this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible." Such a response would not have been needed if the illustration was merely suggesting that a rich man take his stuff off and get on his knees.
"You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, 'Abba! Father!'" Romans 8:15
In Mark, Jesus refers to His Father in heaven as "Abba." We also see this term used by Paul in Romans and Galatians. There is a prevailing thought that this use of the word "Abba" is the same as using a childlike address of "daddy" or "papa." But it isn't true. "Abba" is simply an address to a father or one's own father -- in reverence, not childishness. (Yes, it's also the band who sang Dancing Queen.)
The origin of the "daddy" interpretation comes from German Lutheran New Testament scholar Joachim Jeremias who wrote in 1971 that "Abba" is like "the chatter of a small child." He also suggested that when Jesus used this word as a title for His Father, it was seemingly "disrespectful, indeed unthinkable to the sensibilities of Jesus's contemporaries to address God with this familiar word."
However, "Abba" is what Jesus and Paul used simply because it was the word to use. Though Jeremias has been contested by other scholars, the myth of "Abba" as "daddy" remains. It is true that Jesus had a deeply intimate relationship with His Father. It is one that we can have as well through Christ. But understanding and coming to that kind of relationship doesn't require us to contort words to meet our sensibilities.
"Judge not, that you be not judged." Matthew 7:1
A friend of mine recently joked that those who say, "Don't judge lest you be judged!" are actually saying, "Shut up and let me sin in peace!" The Bible doesn't tell us we shouldn't judge at all. In fact, there are more verses that tell us to judge than not to judge, though we must do so with righteousness (Proverbs 31:9, John 7:24). Those passages that tell us not to judge are really telling us to not judge hypocritically.
Take Matthew 7:1, for example. A couple verses later comes this famous instruction: "Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye."
Note that Jesus doesn't say not to correct your brother. He says to first make sure that you've taken care of your own sin so that you can properly correct your brother. This is an instruction on how to judge righteously. Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:16 that scripture is to be used "for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work."
Jesus goes on in verse 6 to tell us not to give dogs what is sacred or cast pearls before pigs. A person must wisely discern the true character of others and not go on proclaiming the gospel to those who adamantly reject it. This kind of discernment is also a form of right judgment. We must handle God's word properly, and share it with those who truly desire to hear it.
Friday, 17 May 2013
My folks have been attending Jonesboro Baptist Church pastored by Mel Blackaby since moving to the Atlanta area. My dad had the chance to share his testimony earlier this year. The following is my dad at the pulpit, introduction by Rev. Blackaby...
Tuesday, 14 May 2013
A friend of mine whimsically commented, "The world is a magical place full of liberals waiting to be offended when the truth is spoken." Words couldn't be truer. Although I can't be too harsh. Wait until the winter rolls back around and wish a conservative "Happy Holidays!" Forget that "Holiday" actually means "Holy Day" -- you've just declared war on Christmas!
The world is at no shortage of subjects to offend. Without question one of the most hot-button issues right now is same-sex marriage. This sparked another friend to ask, "What do you think is the most offensive verse in the Bible?" To those who favor same-sex marriage, passages that define homosexuality as sin (Romans 1:26-32, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, 1 Timothy 1:8-11) would be offensive. In turn, those who attack scripture for saying such things offend those who believe it.
However, I wouldn't call those verses the most offensive in scripture. I was thinking about this for a while before I came up with an answer. This isn't my answer. I got this from another pastor I was reading, although I don't remember when and where that was now. But I thought he made a compelling argument. The most offensive verse in the Bible is Genesis 1:1, "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth."
Think about it: Whether or not you believe the rest of scripture depends upon the very first verse of the whole Bible. If you can believe that God created all things, that there is an all-powerful, all-present being who summoned out of nothing all that has been made, then you can believe everything else in the Bible is true...
- You can believe that God created everything in six days and that He created it with age: fully-grown trees, plants and animals, fully formed mountains, fully developed stars and planetary systems, and the light from those stars already seen from earth. After all, if God created all things, He is also the governor of time and space.
- You can believe that God made a fully grown man whom He placed in a perfect garden to care for all of creation, and then created a woman from the man's rib, that the two would become one flesh and populate the earth.
- You can believe that through that first man, sin entered the world, and that sin separated us from God, and though God cursed man for his disobedience, He promised a mediator between God and man, who would reconcile all things back to Him, as had been the plan before time began.
- You can believe there was a man named Noah who built an ark, that God brought Him animals to survive on this ark while the earth was destroyed in a flood, judging mankind and cleansing the land from sin, that only Noah, his family, and the animals were spared, and that God gave a rainbow to promise that He would never destroy the world by a flood again.
- You can believe there was a tower that mankind in his hubris tried building to get to heaven, but God intervened by confusing the languages of men and scattered them throughout the whole world.
- You can believe there was a man named Abraham who had a wife named Sarah who were promised a son though they were beyond childbearing years, that Abraham would become the father of all nations, and that through his line God would fulfill His promises.
- You can believe that God spoke to Moses through a burning bush, on fire yet not consumed by it, that Moses told Pharaoh to free God's people from slavery, that through miraculous plagues Pharaoh finally relented, and that Moses parted the Red Sea and led the Israelites to safety.
- You can believe that Joshua led the people to the promised land, the land God promised to give to Abraham's descendants.
- You can believe Samson was strong enough to lift city gates and knock down buildings.
- You can believe David could kill a giant warrior with a sling and a stone.
- You can believe Elijah never died but was carried away to heaven in chariots of fire.
- You can believe Jonah was in the belly of a big fish for three days.
- You can believe the prophesies of men like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel.
- You can believe that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin, conceived by the Holy Spirit.
- You can believe that in Jesus's lifetime, He performed many miracles, healed the sick, raised the dead, walked on water, commanded all of creation, since He Himself created all things.
- You can believe He was the Son of God, both fully God and fully man.
- You can believe the things He said were true.
- You can believe Jesus loved us so much that He died on the cross for our sins.
- You can believe Jesus was buried in a tomb for three days, and then He came back to life.
- You can believe He hung around for 40 more days after His resurrection, that He was seen by hundreds of witnesses before ascending into heaven.
- You can believe He charged His disciples to spread the gospel throughout the whole world, that it happened and continues to happen.
- You can believe in the Holy Spirit, sent to us by God to dwell within us, that God no longer dwells in temples built by human hands but that we are the temple of God.
- You can believe that the Apostle Paul killed Christians, but by the Holy Spirit gave His life to Christ and became one of the greatest missionaries for Christ the world has ever known.
- You can believe that Jesus is coming again, that we will be caught up with Him in the clouds, that He will judge the living and the dead.
- You can believe that the church is the bride of Christ, and that we will all sit down and eat together at the wedding feast of the Lamb.
You can believe all this; that all the words of scripture are true; that words about sin and repentance are true; words about the elect and predestination; that there's a heaven and a hell; that God is three in one, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; that no part of scripture needs to be cast out or disregarded; that we must be followers of Christ Jesus and walk true in the faith all the way to the very end, and those who finish strong will receive the crown of life.
And it all begins with one verse: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." That's what I believe to be the most offensive verse in the Bible. If you believe that verse, you can believe the rest of it. If you're offended by that verse, you can be offended by the rest of it.
Thursday, 09 May 2013
Last week on the National Day of Prayer, I posted a video for a song called Anthem. I wrote the song a year ago while driving through Illinois and Missouri. (Truth be told, I was trying to keep my cool while navigating some nasty traffic, so I was praising God!) I had come up with the entire song on that drive except for one line -- the beginning of the second verse, "His cause He will defend."
I needed something that rhymed with, "His kingdom never ends." I liked the word "defend," but couldn't think of a proper phrasing for it. Nor could I recall any Bible verses that used the word. So when I got home, I did a word-search on Bible Gateway. I found three places in Psalms where "defend" makes a strong declaration.
Psalm 43 begins, "Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people, from the deceitful and unjust man deliver me!" David pleads to God to defend him against his enemy's taunting, requesting God's light and truth as guides. The Psalm ends with an often quoted verse: "Why are you down cast, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God."
Psalm 72 was written by David's son, Solomon. We read, "Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the royal son! May he judge Your people with righteousness and Your poor with justice. Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people, and the hills in righteousness! May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor!"
True righteousness and justice comes from God. To the king He gives the power to defend, promoting the well-being of all people. He governs in such a way that true justice prevails for everyone, even among the weakest and the poor. By the king's example, the people will follow in godliness, and therefore the land will be blessed.
But it's Psalm 74, written by Asaph, where I found the meaning that best applied to a lyric already borrowed mostly from Psalms. "Arise, O God, defend Your cause; remember how the foolish scoff at you all day!" The people of Israel are God's chosen. Through them He will shine a light to the Gentiles. But how can the Gentiles see the light if their attitude is to mock the Lord?
That light is the Lord Jesus Christ. From God's chosen people, He came to shine a light before all men (John 1:4,9). God is continually working to defend His cause. Those who mock the Lord will not prevail. Victory belongs to Him alone. He is bringing all things in the universe into submission under Christ, so that at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord!
Raise an anthem to His holy name
His banner before, the battle is the Lord's
Every knee shall bow and tongue proclaim
That Jesus Christ is the Lord
He has summoned all the earth
Crown Him with many crowns, the Lord renowned
Come and see His mighty work
All of creation sings His praise
His cause He will defend
Let us exalt the name above all names
His kingdom never ends
All of His people know His grace
Wednesday, 08 May 2013
I praise God. I try to praise Him often. The past week has been a tough week, full of things most might call disruptions though they are really just a part of life. And yet during my long drives, the attitude of my heart has been to praise God. In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, we are told it's God's will for us to have thankful hearts. Even in what most would call difficult circumstances, I praise God for His goodness. I urge you to be thankful in all things.
As Christians, this should be our foundational attitude when it comes to how we engage the world. When I say "engage the world," I don't just mean when we go out and preach the gospel. I mean in even the most menial tasks, personal or impersonal, alone or with company, in a grocery store aisle or a face-to-face conversation. Your attitude should be one of gratitude and thanksgiving for what the Lord has done.
A lot of us are content to hang an inspirational plaque in our homes or a poster in our office that mentions God. Maybe it mentions thankfulness and that's the extent of our attitude. We post things on Facebook like a little cliche proverb, or take a Bible verse out of context because it uses words we like, and we say, "Aahh, I really needed this today!" But that thankful attitude never comes out anywhere else. It's only exhibited in the signs we hang rather than the way we live.
Meanwhile, when we're around others, we complain, we're argumentative, we're negative, we're spiteful, we vent to those we want to agree with us and feed our egotistical blathering, altogether ignoring that we need to "be at peace, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all, do good to everyone, rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, abstain from every form of evil" (various verses from 1 Thes 5).
By the way, that "abstain from every form of evil" part? Yeah, you were with me until I hit that verse, right? Perhaps you had been saying to yourself, "I really need to check my attitude and have a more thankful heart." But as soon as I said "abstain from every form of evil," subconsciously you said to yourself, "Eh, I don't need to check my attitude that much."
It's easy to agree with saying, "Be positive!" Even unbelievers understand the benefits of being positive. But abstaining from evil requires a different form of obedience. It means that you might have to sacrifice something that makes you happy. Yes, sin is pleasurable or it wouldn't be so tempting. But it's also fleeting. Hebrews 11:25 tells us that Moses refused to be an Egyptian prince, and by faith chose to suffer for God's will instead of the fleeting pleasures of sin.
So abstaining from evil means you might have to give up things that make you happy. But here's something to remember -- happiness is cheap. You can't control happiness. Happiness can be taken from you in a second. You could be floating on cloud nine and all it takes is one snide comment or one thing to go wrong and you're brought down to the pits of despair. Happiness is conditional. It will not sustain you.
But the joy that we find in the Lord is so much greater than fleshly emotions. This kind of joy is not something that happens for a moment and then fades away. Psalm 16:11 says, "You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore." That's what we find in Christ. When we are obedient to His calling, which means abstaining from evil, what we gain is eternal.
Remember that sin separates us from God. You cannot have the eternal joy of the Lord and the fleeting pleasures of sin, too. No number of inspirational happy verses, the verses that you like to hear and make you feel good, will sustain you if you're ignoring passages about repenting from sin and staying away from evil. Sometimes getting to joy can be painful. But the reward is eternal and far more amazing.
So be thankful in all things. Pray for me as I pray for you also. Stop spending more time reposting inspirational Facebook thoughts than you are reading the Word of God. As you read scripture, pray over what you read. Pray the words that you are reading. You will come to a fuller understanding of the text as you do so. Be filled with the Holy Spirit.