God, The Same Yesterday, Today, And Forever


I think most who identify as Christians believe God is the same yesterday, today, and forever—which is how the Bible describes Him. But to listen to some talk about the Bible, it would be easy to think that the Old Testament shows God as different from the New Testament.

The natural conclusion would be to assume that only one testament or the other reveals the true nature of God.

The biggest mistake in that line of thinking comes in not seeing that the Old and New Testaments show the same God. Both show Him to be sovereign, loving, just, righteous, holy, omnipotent, merciful, omniscient, gracious, forgiving, patient, and on and on.

Some people have this snapshot of God as WRATH in the Old Testament and a contrasting snapshot of Jesus as LOVE in the New. It’s a false dichotomy, and a sincere look at what Jesus taught and what the prophets and the psalms reveal, should make that clear.

But why the Old and New Testaments? In theological terms, “testament” means “agreement,” specifically God’s agreement with His people. So, while God does not change, His agreement with His people does.

Until Jesus came, the agreements or covenants God established were most often (but not always) conditioned upon humankind’s response: if they did certain things, God would bless them, but if they did certain other things, they put themselves under God’s curse.

Adam and Eve essentially had such an agreement with God. If they obeyed Him, they would live, and if they disobeyed, they would die. Abraham had a covenant with God, and so did Jacob and Moses and David and Solomon. In truth the Abrahamic covenant was with his descendants, too; the Mosaic covenant was on behalf of the people of Israel; and God’s agreement with David was with those in his lineage, culminating in Jesus.

And Jesus initiated a new covenant, a new agreement.

And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. (Matt. 26:27-28)

Paul referenced the new covenant on more than one occasion. He wrote of it to the church in Corinth, for example:

Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant. (2 Cor. 3:4-6a)

The writer of the book of Hebrews went to some length to explain the new covenant (8:6-10; see also chapters 9 and 10) and how it differed from the old (I’ll let you read that for your homework).

I don’t want to get sidetracked with a long explanation about the old and new covenants, but what’s important to understand is that God’s character is exactly the same from everlasting to everlasting. But that doesn’t mean that He treats every person the same way or that He deals with every people group the same way.

I think in this age of “tolerance” we’re looking for uniformity. Nothing is “fair” unless we all have the exact same hand dealt to us. Then, and only then do we think it’s fair because it’s now up to us to do with that hand whatever we can.

Such a silly notion. If that were the accurate view of justice, then none of us could be smarter than any one else. We couldn’t be more athletic or better singers or taller or ambidextrous or more mechanical or . . . well, anything that could be perceived as an advantage. We have to have that same hand to play as the next guy.

In contrast to that silliness, God seems to delight in working with people that have a disadvantage. David was the youngest in his family, Abraham didn’t have any sons, Ruth was a widow, Joseph was a slave. The whole nation of Israel, in fact, God said was not His pick because they were more numerous or stronger or more righteous than the other nations. In fact, He said the opposite was true.

He used the small and weak in order that we could all see Him at work. It’s hard to take the credit for a victory when we’re outnumbered, when the other army has more advanced weapons, and when they have the tactical advantage. In those circumstances, when God brings the victory, we can only say, Praise God!

No matter what, though, God’s point and purpose is to make Himself known. He says it over and over again. He wanted Israel to display His glory to the nations. He wants His Church to make disciples of the nations. Always God has done what He’s done that we might know Him, even when what He did was to kick His children out of the garden He’d made to be their home, or to exile them from the Promised Land, or to give His Son as a sacrifice that all who believe might be reconciled with Him.

Our ways aren’t God’s ways, so we don’t always recognize what He’s doing, especially if we expect Him to treat everyone the same, or worse, if we expect Him to act the way we would act.

But no mistake: God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. However, we need to believe what He’s told us about Himself and stop looking for Him to behave the way we think He should. After all, He is God, not an idol we can move from place to place or dress up in purple if it suits us.

He is the sovereign, and He tells us what is righteous. How dare we shake our fists at Him or tell Him He was wrong to judge people whose heart He knew intimately. Who are we in comparison to who is He?

I’m not perfect in love or goodness. I don’t know all truth. I’m certainly not sovereign or all powerful. And if it comes right down to it, I am most certainly not the same yesterday, today, and forever. I’m more like a vapor that appears for a little while and them vanishes away.

Not God. He’s as sure as His word, and His word abides forever!

From the archives: this post is a revised version of one that appeared here in March, 2015.

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The Old Testament Foreshadowing The New


It really makes me laugh, when I’m not groaning, when an atheist says that the Bible is made up, that the gospels were written hundreds of years after the fact, that some churchian guys just got together and fabricated the whole “Jesus myth.”

There are so, so many problems with that concept, some of which I’ve addressed before (the impossibility of all the New Testament copies, written in various languages, and yet all saying the same thing, being conspiratorially made up at the same time, with no evidence of such a hoax, being perhaps the greatest issue and the one I’ve mentioned most). But one thing that is impossible to miss is that the Old Testament foreshadows the New Testamet.

In the Old Testament, Israel was promised a Savior, a Messiah. In the New Testament, Jesus is proclaimed the Christ (which means Messiah), the Savior. In the Old Testament a substitutionary system of sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins is presented, which the Jews were to follow. In the New Testament, Jesus is identified as the Perfect Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

There are smaller instances, or types, in which an Old Testament person or his action foreshadows some aspect of Christ’s work, revealed in the New Testament. There’s Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac, along with the provision of a ram that substituted for the son, pointing ahead to God’s willingness to sacrifice His Son who IS the substitution for each of us.

Then there’s David, the rejected boy, who became king, just as Jesus was the rejected of the religious Jews, yet He came to be their spiritual king. There’s Moses who led Israel out of captivity, just as Jesus leads those who believe in Him out of the slavery to sin and death and the Law.

There are literally dozens, maybe hundreds of these kinds of Old Testament foreshadowings. I just learned of another one today.

My church is reading Exodus together, then someone will write a meditation on it. Today we read about how the tabernacle was put together after the Israelites all gave the needed materials and the craftsmen constructed the parts.

In this particular passage, one of the pieces detailed is the ark. That’s essentially a box that contained, at the time, only the stone tablets of the Law. On top, covering the ark, was what the Old Testament calls, the mercy seat. Image. Mercy covering the Law.

Well isn’t that precisely what the New Testament teaches? Jesus dying in our place freed us from the Law; God’s mercy overcomes the Law.

James says, “Mercy triumphs over judgment” and of course, judgment is a result of law.

The author of Hebrews says, “Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.”

Paul says, “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” Or mercy. Because the Law was always under the mercy seat.

Published in: on July 13, 2018 at 6:05 pm  Comments (2)  
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Idol Worship


As I read from the Old Testament prophets, one topic is repeated over and over, no matter which people group is the subject of the prophetic message or what era the prophets wrote. Over and over, from Isaiah to Jeremiah to Hosea to Amos and all the others, the topic of idol worship comes up.

None of them makes light of the subject. In fact, idol worship is most often named as the cause for coming judgment regardless of the nation. Sure, prophecies also pronounced judgment for things like violence against God’s people and taking His name in vain, for profaning His temple and living in immorality.

But by far the most repeated affront to God seems to be the worship of false gods.

Isaiah makes repeated statements that these gods that the various nations worshiped were no gods at all. Here’s perhaps the most scathing:

He plants a fir, and the rain makes it grow. Then it becomes something for a man to burn, so he takes one of them and warms himself; he also makes a fire to bake bread. He also makes a god and worships it; he makes it a graven image and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he eats meat as he roasts a roast and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, “Aha! I am warm, I have seen the fire.” But the rest of it he makes into a god, his graven image. He falls down before it and worships; he also prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god.” (44:14b-17)

Today we read this kind of passage and think, Well, duh! How could they not figure out that if they made the thing, of course it was no god.

I suspect the people of that day knew the piece of wood wasn’t a god, but they perhaps thought what they had created represented the god of their choice.

In our sophisticated society today there aren’t as many visible idols as there likely were in the prophets’ day. But we still have idols. Take freedom for example, or as I recently learned from Abdu Murray in his book Saving Truth, the correct term is autonomy. But even the good kind of freedom can become an idol in our hearts.

My point here is not to thresh out the idols we are currently holding. Rather, what I learn from the Old Testament prophets is how seriously God takes idol worship. Today I think we are more or less OK with idol worship. I mean, yes, we should give God our undivided love, but, you know, there’s a football game on. Or we’re just so busy we don’t have time for, you know, reading the Bible or praying every day! Because work is so important or my schedule is so important or working out is so important or watching my shows is so important.

Funny how we as Christians can become quite clear about how heinous sins are that we don’t commit. But when it comes to worshiping our pleasure, our wealth, our power, our use of time, our family, our country, our, our, our . . . well, idol worship isn’t really number one on our list of sins to avoid.

But I don’t think God has removed it from His list. I think it’s still the heinous act that He coupled over and over with forsaking Him.

The thing is, the people of Judah didn’t see themselves as forsaking God. They did worship Yahweh. They just added the gods they brought from Egypt, too. Later it was the gods of the Canaanites they included with their Redeemer.

Yet He had said, No other gods. None.

He took their partial obedience as disobedience, their dabbling with foreign women as the precursor to following foreign deities (an illustration of the power of women, but that’s another story).

He even referred to Himself as jealous. Here’s one example, but there are others:

—for you shall not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God— (Exodus 34:14)

Some have likened this jealousy to that of a husband who wants to protect his wife from lecherous predators who want to hit on her. Perhaps. Certainly it’s clear that God wants His people to be His and not ones who scatter their favors hither and yon.

Hosea uses the strong example of adultery and prostitution in regard to those who look to other gods beside the LORD.

Clearly God does not consider idolatry as some sort of lesser sin. How could He? Jesus repeated in the Gospels that the number one commandment above all else is to love God.

I suspect that since we have done way with little wooden statues that we bow before, we think our form of idolatry is not like theirs and therefore not as bad. Or perhaps we think, as Christians, forgive and justified by faith, we don’t have to pay attention to sins of the heart because they’re forgiven.

But like Paul asks in Romans, just because we are covered by grace, does that mean we are to continue living in sin? May it never be, he says. May it never be!

Published in: on April 27, 2018 at 6:21 pm  Comments (2)  
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What’s Satan Doing These Days?


william_blake_003_dragonI believe that Satan is the predator of my soul, the enemy who seeks to devour me spiritually, if only he could. He can’t because nothing can separate me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus—not even angels or principalities or powers (Rom. 8:38-39).

So what’s Satan doing these days? I mean, the Bible gives us some notion of his activity “back then.” In the Old Testament we know he targeted Job and brought immeasurable suffering on him and his family in an effort to prove that Job’s faith had a foundation built on his health and wealth, not on God’s character.

Further, we know he, or one of his demon followers, opposed Michael as he set off in answer to Daniel’s prayer. We also know that, being the Father of Lies, Satan must have been behind the false prophets that misled Judah and Israel. We know in fact that he lied about God’s word to Eve:

The woman said to the serpent, “From … the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.'”

The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die!

I suspect Satan was the prime mover in a lot of the idol worship of the day, with its child sacrifices and temple prostitutes, but I’m not sure that’s verifiable. But he did prompt David to take a census of Israel, apparently in opposition to God’s dictates. And the prophet Zechariah saw a vision in which Satan was accusing the high priest (Zec 3:1).

In the New Testament Satan and his forces seem to have been less covert. He himself spent forty days tempting Jesus in the wilderness (Luke 4:2), capped by three specific temptations that called into question Christ’s deity (Matt. 4:3-10). In addition, numerous people Jesus encountered were demon possessed, at least one with a “legion” of evil spirits.

The Pharisees, according to Jesus, were following after their father the devil. Satan also entered Judas and prompted him to betray Jesus.

Paul said Satan hindered him from going to the Thessalonians, and he admonished the Corinthians to put on the armor of God to be able to stand against the devil.

Peter, writing in the first epistle bearing his name, said, “Be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (I Peter 5:8b).

There’s that devour business again. So the question is, has Satan stopped prowling about? Or does he only prowl about in places far, far away?

Or is he just as active today in exactly the same ways in the US as he was in Biblical times and Biblical places? If the latter is the case, then he is accusing some before God’s throne, demanding to test others, using schemes and snares to capture still others to do his will (see 2 Tim 2:26) and actually possessing some.

Yes, possessing some. While we in our educated, rational society look for sociological or psychological reasons for bazaar anti-social behavior, I am suggesting we shouldn’t dismiss the possibility that Satan is at work. We know he tempts, but he also tricks, lies, seduces, and bends some to his will.

I believe he is especially active when his territory is threatened, but I don’t have Scripture to prove this. Nevertheless, understanding the way conflict works, it seems logical.

Think for a moment about political conflict. There are two segments of society that don’t receive a great deal of attention from a candidate during an election—those he knows he cannot win, and those he knows he’s already won.

So too, I suggest, Satan ignores some while working double-time against others. (NO, I didn’t say political candidates are from Satan! 😆 Stay with me here).

Satan doesn’t need to give a lot of attention to those who are adamantly opposed to God. He already has them. Nor does he need to spend a lot of attention on those who are solid believers.

What he hates, I submit, are believers who have an impact on the “undecided,” who are forging into new territory—evangelizing, planting new churches, challenging Satan’s lies, and showing the love of Christ.

Thankfully, his efforts are futile as long as we believers stay alert and gird ourselves with the FULL armor of God.

So, what’s Satan doing these days? If we stay on our spiritual toes, I suspect it won’t take long before we see that he hasn’t changed. He’s still prowling about, still seeking somebody to devour.

This post is an edited edition of one that first appeared here in June 2010.

Published in: on January 30, 2017 at 5:56 pm  Comments (2)  
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God, The Same Yesterday, Today, And Forever


Misty_Morning_-_geograph.org.uk_-_903235_by_Joe_McCartneyI think most who identify as Progressive Christians believe God is the same yesterday, today, and forever—which is how the Bible describes Him. But when they read the Bible, or at least when they hear other people talk about the Bible, they determine that the Old Testament shows God as different from the New Testament. Consequently, only one testament or the other can reveal the true nature of God.

Of course the mistakes in that line of thinking are many, starting with the idea that the Old and New Testaments differ in their revelation of God. Both show Him to be sovereign, loving, just, righteous, holy, omnipotent, merciful, omniscient, gracious, forgiving, patient, and on and on. The Progressives have this snapshot of God as WRATH in the Old Testament and Jesus as LOVE in the New. It’s a false dichotomy, and a sincere look at what Jesus taught and what the prophets and the psalms reveal, should make that clear.

What can we say about the differences in the Old and New Testaments? Is one accurate and the other false? Categorically, NOT. Both are accurate and both are true.

It would be helpful to remember what “testament” means. In theological terms, it means “agreement,” specifically God’s agreement with His people. So, while God does not change, His agreement with His people does.

Until Jesus came, the agreements or covenants God established were most often (but not always) conditioned upon humankind’s response: if they did certain things, God would bless them, but if they did certain other things, they put themselves under God’s curse.

Adam and Eve essentially had such an agreement with God. If they obeyed Him, they would live, and if they disobeyed, they would die. Abraham had a covenant with God, and so did Jacob and Moses and David and Solomon. In truth the Abrahamic covenant was with his descendants, too; the Mosaic covenant was on behalf of the people of Israel; and God’s agreement with David was with those in his lineage, culminating in Jesus.

And Jesus initiated a new covenant, a new agreement.

And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. (Matt. 26:27-28)

Paul referenced the new covenant on more than one occasion. He wrote of it to the church in Corinth, for example:

Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant. (2 Cor. 3:4-6a)

The writer of the book of Hebrews went to some length to explain the new covenant and how it differed from the old:

But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises.
For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second. For finding fault with them, He says,
“BEHOLD, DAYS ARE COMING, SAYS THE LORD,
WHEN I WILL EFFECT A NEW COVENANT
WITH THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL AND WITH THE HOUSE OF JUDAH;
NOT LIKE THE COVENANT WHICH I MADE WITH THEIR FATHERS
ON THE DAY WHEN I TOOK THEM BY THE HAND
TO LEAD THEM OUT OF THE LAND OF EGYPT;
FOR THEY DID NOT CONTINUE IN MY COVENANT,
AND I DID NOT CARE FOR THEM, SAYS THE LORD.
“FOR THIS IS THE COVENANT THAT I WILL MAKE WITH THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL
AFTER THOSE DAYS, SAYS THE LORD:
I WILL PUT MY LAWS INTO THEIR MINDS,
AND I WILL WRITE THEM ON THEIR HEARTS.
AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD,
AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE.” (8:6-10; see also chapters 9 and 10)

I don’t want to get sidetracked with a long explanation about the old and new covenants, but it’s important, I think, to understand that God is exactly the same in His character from everlasting to everlasting. But that doesn’t mean that He treats every person the same way or that He deals with every people group the same way.

I think in this age of “tolerance” we’re looking for uniformity. Nothing is “fair” unless we all have the exact same hand dealt to us. Then, and only then do we think it’s fair because it’s now up to us to do with that hand whatever we can.

Such a silly notion. If that were the accurate view of justice, then none of us could be smarter than any one else. We couldn’t be more athletic or better singers or taller or ambidextrous or more mechanical or . . . well, anything that could be perceived as an advantage. We have to have that same hand to play as the next guy.

In contrast to that silliness, God seems to delight in working with people that have a disadvantage. David was the youngest in his family, Abraham didn’t have any sons, Ruth was a widow, Joseph was a slave. The whole nation of Israel, in fact, God said was not His pick because they were more numerous or stronger or more righteous than the other nations. In fact, He said the opposite was true.

He used the small and weak in order that we could all see Him at work. It’s hard to take the credit for a victory when we’re outnumbered, when the other army has more advanced weapons, and when they have the tactical advantage. In those circumstances, when God brings the victory, we can only say, Praise God!

No matter what, though, God’s point and purpose is to make Himself known. He says it over and over again. He wanted Israel to display His glory to the nations. He wants His Church to make disciples of the nations. Always God has done what He’s done that we might know Him, even when what He did was to kick His children out of the garden He’d made to be their home, or exile them from the Promised Land, or give His Son as a sacrifice that all who believe might be reconciled with Him.

Our ways aren’t God’s ways, so we don’t always recognize what He’s doing, especially if we expect Him to treat everyone the same, or worse, if we expect Him to act the way we would act.

But no mistake. The Progressives have it right: God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. However, we need to believe what He’s told us about Himself and stop looking for Him to behave the way we think He should. After all, He is God, not an idol we can move from place to place or dress up in purple if it suits us.

He is the sovereign, and He tells us what is righteous. How dare we shake our fists at Him or tell Him He was wrong to judge people whose heart He knew intimately. Who are we in comparison to who is He?

I’m not perfect in love or goodness. I don’t know all truth. I’m certainly not sovereign or all powerful. And if it comes right down to it, I am most certainly not the same yesterday, today, and forever. I’m more like a vapor that appears for a little while and them vanishes away.

Not God. He’s as sure as His word, and His word abides forever!

Ebola


6136_PHIL_scientists_PPE_Ebola_outbreak_1995The US news media has a short attention span (unless a story hits one of their pet peeves like the Donald Sterling fiasco did). Seemingly all but forgotten, for example, is the struggle Ukraine has with Russia. After the US started bomb runs in Syria, ISIS faded to a secondary story, too.

The new hot story is the Ebola virus because, like the beheadings in Iraq/Syria, Americans are involved! I don’t mean to speak lightly about this subject, and I love my country, but honestly there is such an insufferable self-importance about so much of what holds the attention of those who feed us the news.

The fact that hundreds were dying in West Africa wasn’t enough to move the Ebola story into the limelight, but when one, then two and three American aid workers became infected, suddenly Ebola was in the top tier of news items. When an average Joe American traveler contracted the disease and soon died from it, well, now it’s not just news. It’s a crisis.

Of course there has been talk about pandemics in the past, but I’ve not lived through a real health crisis like the Black Plague or the Flu epidemic in the early twentieth century, so I don’t really know how fearful this spreading pestilence can become.

And pestilence it is, though that’s not a word in common use today. We favor “pandemic,” I suppose to emphasize the widespread nature of whatever disease is moving from person to person. But pestilence emphasizes the fatal nature of the disease, and I think it’s more accurate when referring to the Ebola virus.

Pestilence, though not a common word today, is a term used in Scripture, most often by the prophets warning of coming judgment. Jeremiah 14:11-12 is an example:

So the LORD said to me, “Do not pray for the welfare of this people. When they fast, I am not going to listen to their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I am not going to accept them. Rather I am going to make an end of them by the sword, famine and pestilence.”

These judgments, also recorded in Ezekiel and Habakkuk, are directed primarily at Israel because they forsook God to worship idols.

Revelation echoes these judgments but on a worldwide scale:

I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth. (6:8)

Of course, just mentioning Revelation stirs up some people. On one hand are those who want to trot out the End Times Charts. On the other are those who secretly wish (or nearly so) that Revelation weren’t in the Bible because they don’t think it adds much, being all symbolic as it is. Why bother with it when we can’t really understand it?

Well, I’m of a different mindset. I believe God speaks through Revelation as much as through any other book. I believe some is literal and some symbolic, and by relying on the Holy Spirit, we can know with a high percentage of accuracy, which is which. God didn’t give us this glimpse into the future to confound us. He wants us to know what He’s communicating.

One thing that’s clear is this: God will bring judgment on the earth because of our rebellion against Him. In the Old Testament, He brought judgment against Israel, His chosen people, in precisely the ways He’d said He would through the prophecies of Jeremiah. Consequently, I have no doubt the warning of judgment in Revelation is also true.

In fact the language in Revelation and in Jeremiah is eerily similar, both warning of the sword, famine, and pestilence. The scope of the judgment is really the only difference.

So is the Ebola virus the beginning of the pestilence God is sending? Are we, in fact, in the end times? Is the tribulation about to fall? (And the rapture before it, for those who hold to a pre-trib view).

Here’s where I depart from those who work out the end times charts. We simply don’t know God’s time in regard to these matters. He told us we can’t know, so I’m not sure why some people get so hung up on trying to figure out the time and sequence of all these things.

In the Old Testament, God sent numerous foreign incursions against both Israel and Judah before the two nations were taken into captivity by Assyria and Babylon respectively. Which one was the start of God’s judgment? The time Egypt came in and captured Jerusalem? Or when Edom broke free of Judah’s control? Or when Aram attacked Israel?

The answer is none and all of these. God sent His prophets to warn His people and He sent enemies and famine and, yes, pestilence, to judge them, to warn them, to show them what their end would become if they did not repent and turn back to Him.

These were not the final judgment but they were judgments. So too, we can look at the wars and rumors of wars, the drought and famine in various places, the pestilence rapidly spreading in West Africa, and perhaps in places beyond, as God’s hand of judgment, just as He said.

But is it the final judgment?

Why should we ask this question? Are we planning on waiting for the final judgment before preaching repentance to those who deny God?

In short, the Ebola virus should concern Christians because it reminds us that God’s judgment is sure and that many people will be lost unless they turn to the Savior. We should have some urgency about us, even as those charged with health care here in the US now have in preparing to fight an outbreak of Ebola. It’s coming, they suspect.

But we Christians know. If not Ebola, one day there will be pestilence poured out on rebellious humans who refuse God’s mercy. May we be faithful to shout from the mountain tops: Here is your God; lift your eyes to the One who hung on the tree so that you might be healed and repent.

Remembering


Lord's_cup_and_BreadAt church Sunday we took communion. It’s one of the religious rituals Christians adhere to, since Jesus Himself instituted it. “Take, eat; this is My body,” He said. “Do this in remembrance of me.” Same with the wine, which He said was His blood. Then the command, recorded in 1 Corinthians: “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

So today I was reading Psalm 77–and the author, a musician named Asaph, said, “I shall remember the deeds of the LORD; / Surely I will remember Your wonders of old.” Then he began to recount things that God did to bring Israel across the wilderness to the Promised Land. In Psalm 78, also written by Asaph, he said

They did not remember His power,
The day when He redeemed them from the adversary,
When He performed His signs in Egypt
And His marvels in the field of Zoan

The rest of the Psalm recounts the things that God did for Israel and their callous response:

Yet they tempted and rebelled against the Most High God
And did not keep His testimonies,
But turned back and acted treacherously like their fathers;
They turned aside like a treacherous bow.
For they provoked Him with their high places
And aroused His jealousy with their graven images. (vv 56-58)

In light of Jesus telling believers to remember, Israel’s not remembering stands out in stark contrast. They had symbols and rituals to remind them, too. God instituted a system of sacrifices and the celebration of Passover and the Sabbath day of rest. And still Israel forgot.

Christians have baptism and communion, the latter being the only one that Jesus ordained specifically as a remembrance.

I recall thinking recently that the need for this continual remembrance seemed odd. How could a believer ever forget Christ’s body broken for us or blood spilled for the cleansing of our sins?

And yet, how many people today identify as Christian but speak only of Jesus as a good role model, a great moral teacher, even a way to God. But they leave out the concept of Him dying to buy forgiveness for sins. So, yes, it seems there are people who remember Jesus but forget His broken body, His shed blood.

Remembrance, then, needs to take a high place for the Christian. If we forget what God has done for us, we lose the purpose of His coming, we lose the way of reconciliation with God which He provided.

Another thing Asaph paired with remembrance was telling–specifically telling the next generation.

I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings of old,
Which we have heard and known,
And our fathers have told us.
We will not conceal them from their children,
But tell to the generation to come the praises of the LORD
,
And His strength and His wondrous works that He has done. (Ps. 78:2-4, emphasis mine.)

Of course a person can’t tell something he doesn’t remember, so the telling starts with the remembering.

How often the prophets admonished the people of Israel for forgetting God, His covenant, His law, His Sabbaths. No wonder Jesus instituted Communion as a way to remember. We are a forgetful people, more mindful of what’s happening today than what Jesus accomplished all those years ago.

So to help us remember, God gave us His word, written down so we could know for sure what He said and what He meant. He gave us the symbols of bread and wine and the rituals of eating and drinking. How easy, how common, how routine.

And I think that’s the point. Jesus didn’t demand we go on some long, hard pilgrimage or pay some enormous portion of our income in order to connect with Him. For one thing, he doesn’t want a part of our time or product. He wants our whole lives. All of us. Each moment, not just Sunday. Every dime, not just a tithe.

So in the simple acts of eating bread and drinking wine, everyday kinds of things, Jesus says, Remember. And in the remembering resides praise!

Published in: on January 27, 2014 at 5:48 pm  Comments Off on Remembering  
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There’s A Reason The Old Testament Is In The Bible


The_Holy_BibleI heard a part of a sermon today emphasizing that the whole Bible is about Christ, not just the New Testament.

This theme is something my not-so-new-any-more pastor Mike Err has reiterated throughout his first year with us.

I admit, I’m always a little taken aback. For a moment. I have been blessed to sit under some outstanding preaching as an adult, and I forget that isn’t the case for everyone.

Over at Spec Faith the issue came up in a tangential way. Regular contributor Yvonne Anderson had occasion in her article to give Wikipedia’s description of “Christianity”

a monotheistic, Abrahamic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ as presented in the New Testament.

Yvonne pointed out two things she disagreed with in that brief sketch, but my mind was drawn to that last phrase: “presented in the New Testament.” The statement directly contradicted the sermon I’d heard . . . and all the sermons I’ve heard this year from Mike Erre, and practically all the sermons I’ve heard over the years preached in my church.

And then something dawned on me. If Christianity was presented in the New Testament only, why did our Bible continue to include the Old Testament? What did the Old Testament have to say about Christianity if Christ wasn’t part of the Old Testament?

Some people accuse the Apostle Paul of making up a new religion, which is how Christianity came into being. But only someone who doesn’t know the Bible would come to such a conclusion.

All throughout Jesus’s ministry on earth, He made the connection between the Old Testament and Himself.

    * He compared Himself to the bronze snake Moses lifted up to cure the people stricken by disease brought on because of their disobedience.
    * He declared His existence before Abraham.
    * In the Sermon on the Mount, He expanded commands God gave His people from of old.
    * He connected Himself to a statement David made about the Christ.
    * Upon reading a scripture about the Messiah, He declared it’s fulfillment that very day.

Further, when He was talking with the two disciples on the road to the town of Emmaus, He scolded them for not believing what the prophets taught about the Messiah:

Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.

“Moses” refers to the first five books of the Bible, and all the prophets would likely mean, all the prophets, from Isaiah to Malachi.

In fact, throughout the forty days Jesus remained on earth after His resurrection, He apparently spent His time, or at least some of it, teaching His followers from the Old Testament.

Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:44-47)

Then the apostles preached about Jesus by declaring His Messiahship, based on the Old Testament. Peter’s first sermon is a good example. After quoting a prophetic passage about the Messiah which David wrote, Peter drew this conclusion (words in all caps are quotes from the Old Testament):

Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. And so, because he was a prophet and knew that GOD HAD SWORN TO HIM WITH AN OATH TO SEAT one OF HIS DESCENDANTS ON HIS THRONE, he looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that HE WAS NEITHER ABANDONED TO HADES, NOR DID His flesh SUFFER DECAY. This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. (Acts 2:29-32(

All throughout the letters, Paul, Peter, James, the author of Hebrews, Jude, John continue to refer to the Old Testament to clarify, support, or illustrate their points.

It’s apparent Jesus didn’t see Himself as starting something new and His followers didn’t see themselves as starting something new. Rather, Jesus is the completion of what God has been doing from before the foundations of the world. And we know about His work with mankind from the beginning because of the Old Testament.

Published in: on September 18, 2013 at 7:03 pm  Comments (1)  
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Things Change, Don’t They?


I’m not a Bible scholar and I’ve never taken a course on the history of the Middle East, but I think contemporary understanding of the Bible might be missing an important truth: things change.

For example, I believe land topography changes. Just this summer I saw a news item on TV showing how much the drought here in the Midwestern US had dropped the level of certain lakes. That was in one year. Imagine what would happen over a period of three years in a land with no irrigation.

So I look at a map and think, Why couldn’t the Red Sea actually have stretched all the way to the Mediterranean during the time of Moses? Think, too, about the effect of the devastating plagues on the land. Was there even a Sahara Desert in Egypt before the locusts and hail and tainted river water?

Those who experienced the brunt of the recent “super storm,” Sandy have come away saying “Mother Nature” is more powerful than we are. The wind and rain and waves tore up man-made structures, but also uprooted trees and washed away coast land.

Imagine what forty days and forty nights of super storm could do.

I read the Bible and see Samson killing a lion not far from what today is the Gaza Strip, I read about deer and other wildlife not known to flourish in and around Israel, and I think, why couldn’t those animals have lived there when the vegetation was different? I read about all the variety of trees and forest areas various people cleared and the fruit trees the Israelites were instructed not to cut, and I think, things have changed.

I think the same could easily be true about culture. How many times have I heard sermons describing the plight of women in Israel–except, the Bible doesn’t seem to give the same picture. I wonder if some of these ideas about what life was like for women then haven’t been influenced by what life is like for women in the Middle East now.

They were subservient, many teaching the Old Testament claim. How do we explain the judge Deborah? Or Abigail who saved her husband and all that belonged to him by taking action herself? What about Jael who single-handed killed a fleeing opponent? How about the woman who defended her city by throwing down a millstone from the wall? Or the city whose leader was a woman? What about Athaliah who took the throne in Judah for six years? Or Jezebel who was the power behind Ahab’s throne? Obviously not all the women who took power or leadership were good. The point is, they are far more prevalent than you’d think if the culture had such a strict attitude toward women and their subservient place in society.

The New Testament is similar. Aquilla, for example, took his wife Priscilla with him to evangelize. Paul was confronted about going to Jerusalem by Agabus who had four daughters, all prophetesses. Anna prophesied in the temple over the baby Jesus. And as an adult He Himself spoke to women frequently, and in public. Paul counted women like Euodia and Syntyche as fellow workers. Nympha hosted a church in her house. Paul noted the faith Timothy’s mother and grandmother had. Lydia was a business woman as well as a leader in her community.

Granted, some of these women lived and traveled in areas heavily influenced by Greek culture. But that reinforces my hypothesis. Culture changes, often because of the influence of other cultures. This principle was one God warned Israel about. They were to avoid intermarrying with pagan women so they wouldn’t become idol worshipers themselves.

Things change. Land changes. Culture changes. And people change. No one is a better example of this last fact than Paul who went from murdering those following Christ to evangelizing people for Christ. Unless you count Peter, denying Christ one day and preaching Him before thousands a couple months later. How about the believers in Corinth who went from approving of immoral behavior in their midst to repenting and disciplining the one living in sin. Or Onesimus, Philemon’s slave who ran away, only to come back because He came to faith in Christ and Paul sent him back.

Too often I think we read the Bible as if things then were just like they are now. And I think we look at things now as if they will always be like they are. Unless, perhaps, they get worse.

Believing that things, land, culture, people don’t change ignores the power of God. Thankfully the Bible is full of examples to the contrary.

Which Is Better, Old Testament Or New?


If I were a betting woman and ran an official poll as the fine folks at Gallup do, I would put my money on the New Testament as the choice of most people in answer to the question, which is better, Old Testament or New? Of course, that would simply be people’s opinions, but I think they’d have solid evidence to back up their support for the New Testament.

After all, which testament, if any, has red font, indicating Jesus’s exact words? New, of course. From which testament do pastors most often draw their sermon text? I suspect that would be New also. Which testament has the most quoted verses? Being that John 3:16 is in the New, that one’s not even close.

The problem with all this evidence, however, is that it isn’t consistent with the only source that really matters–the Bible itself.

Jesus made a pretty clear statement about the importance of the Old Testament, but even more so, the inter-working of both Old and New Testaments:

“For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?” (John 5:46-47)

How much plainer could Jesus be–what God said through Moses revealed the Messiah, but if someone doesn’t believe that revelation, how can he believe in the things the Messiah says?

It’s such a relevant question for today in light of the professing Christians who want to divorce Jesus from that “wrathful, vengeful God of the Old Testament.” But how can they? The Old Testament speaks of Jesus, and Jesus reveals the Father–that would be the same “wrathful, vengeful God of the Old Testament.”

Yes, indeed, Jesus spoke of God’s wrath:

“He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36)

He also spoke of God’s vengeance, or act of meting out just punishment:

“Now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly.” (Luke 18:7-8a)

I don’t think I need to belabor the point. Jesus isn’t the kinder, gentler version of God. In fact, He doesn’t in any way contradict God’s character or purpose or work. Rather, “In Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.” (Col. 2:9)

2 Thessalonians makes it clear that God the Father and Jesus are working in concert when it comes to vengeance:

For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. (1:6-8, emphasis mine)

So what’s the answer–New Testament or Old? It was a trick question. Neither is more important or better in any sense. The Old shows Jesus promised, the New shows Him as the promise fulfilled. In tandem they tell of God’s work, person, and plan. Without the Old, the New would be like one hand clapping, and without the New, the Old would be the other hand clapping. Together they create the complete picture of God and His redemptive work on behalf of sinful man.

So which testament is better? Both together.

Published in: on October 29, 2012 at 5:55 pm  Comments (2)  
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