The Words of Jesus

In response to Stan Guthrie's Christianity Today article Tony Campolo said:
While we, like you, have a very high view of the inspiration of Scripture and believe the Bible was divinely inspired, you are correct in accusing Red Letter Christians of giving the words of Jesus priority over all other passages of Scripture. What is more, we believe that you really cannot rightly interpret the rest of the Bible without first understanding who Jesus is, what he did, and what he said.

Likewise, we believe the morality in the red letters of Jesus transcends that found in the black letters set down in the Pentateuch, and I'm surprised you don't agree. After all, Stan, didn't Jesus himself make this same point in the Sermon on the Mount, when he said his teachings about marriage and divorce were to replace what Moses taught? Don't you think his red-letter words about loving our enemies and doing good to those who hurt us represent a higher morality than the "eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" kind of justice that we find in the Hebrew Testament? Is it really so hard to accept that, as God incarnate, Jesus set forth the highest law in the Bible, and therefore that law is more important than the Kosher dietary regulations we find in Leviticus and Deuteronomy?
I agree with what Tony said.. I don't think that I could have said it better. I often am perplexed by evangelicals who vehemently advocate the public displays of the 10 Commandments.. really.. shouldn't we be advocates for the Sermon on the Mount? What do you think?

Heavenly Recognition

Until We Meet Again
'Does the Bible teach that we will recognize our loved ones in heaven?'
Daniel R. Lockwood, Christianity Today

As the years pass, this question looms larger in my thinking. Last year, I attended three funeral services of godly saints who'd passed away. One was my 85-year-old father-in-law, whose exemplary life and witness is now just a cherished memory. For my wife, who loved her father dearly, this question is thus no idle theological speculation. Fortunately, the Bible speaks clearly to it.

The simple answer—yes—rests on two pillars of Christian belief. One is the blessed hope that we will see Jesus again (Titus 2:13). The other is the assurance that our present bodies will be raised from the dead, immortal (1 Cor. 15:12-57). Together, these pillars provide a basis for believing we will recognize our loved ones in heaven. After all, if we can recognize the Lord Jesus, possessing the perfectly restored and glorified bodies to do so, it follows that we will recognize other believers, including our loved ones. Read the whole article here.
I resonate with wanting to be reunited with those dear loved ones that have died. I think that it is a part of that blessed hope that the scripture speaks of.

Under Fathered, Over Mothered Worship

This short video deals with the topic I previously discussed in my Feminine Worship post. In the video popular song writer and worship leader Matt Redman discusses why some worship songs aren't for the blokes. In the video Matt is very transparent about some of his lyrics and thinks that today he might have used some different words.

Moses: Rescued Rescuer

But the harder the Egyptians worked them the more children the Israelites had--children everywhere! The Egyptians got so they couldn't stand the Israelites and treated them worse than ever, crushing them with slave labor. They made them miserable with hard labor--making bricks and mortar and back-breaking work in the fields. They piled on the work, crushing them under the cruel workload.
(Exodus 1:12-14)

Pharaoh issued a general order to all his people: "Every boy that is born, drown him in the Nile. But let the girls live." (Exodus 1:22)

A man from the family of Levi married a Levite woman. The woman became pregnant and had a son. She saw there was something special about him and hid him. She hid him for three months. When she couldn't hide him any longer she got a little basket-boat made of papyrus, waterproofed it with tar and pitch, and placed the child in it. Then she set it afloat in the reeds at the edge of the Nile. The baby's older sister found herself a vantage point a little way off and watched to see what would happen to him. Pharaoh's daughter came down to the Nile to bathe; her maidens strolled on the bank. She saw the basket-boat floating in the reeds and sent her maid to get it. She opened it and saw the child--a baby crying! Her heart went out to him. She said, "This must be one of the Hebrew babies."

Then his sister was before her: "Do you want me to go and get a nursing mother from the Hebrews so she can nurse the baby for you?" Pharaoh's daughter said, "Yes. Go." The girl went and called the child's mother. Pharaoh's daughter told her, "Take this baby and nurse him for me. I'll pay you." The woman took the child and nursed him. After the child was weaned, she presented him to Pharaoh's daughter who adopted him as her son. She named him Moses (Pulled-Out), saying, "I pulled him out of the water." (Exodus 2:1-10)

Where you do not wish to go

In a comment on my 10-20-30 post Therese made this comment about my accounting of what I was doing 10, 20 and 30 years ago:
"And you were following Jesus on all of those parts of your journey."
I don't think that I had considered that yesterday when I penned my memories about my life and my family. In some strange brain connection Therese's thoughts reminded me of what Jesus told Peter:
"Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go." Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, "Follow Me!" Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His bosom at the supper and said, "Lord, who is the one who betrays You?" So Peter seeing him said to Jesus, "Lord, and what about this man?" Jesus said to him, "If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!" (John 21:18-22)
Sometimes following Jesus takes us on a journey that is both hard and heartbreaking. Reading Jesus words to Peter so resonates with me this morning. It reminds me that sometimes our path takes us to places "where you do not wish to go". I am in such a place in this season of my life. I have had to take a month long sabbatical from work and church because of the difficult circumstances of my wife's hospitalization.. been almost 3 weeks now.. still struggling.. trying to walk again.. in physical therapy.

It is so easy when you hurt so bad to, like Peter, look at others and ask the 'why' questions. Why do others, like John, seem to have easier journeys.. why is my journey so often a painful one? To these questions Jesus answers our 'why' questions with another question: "what is that to you?" I think that the 'why' questions are unfruitful ones that cause you to obsess and wallow in your pain rather than process and move through it. Jesus ends by telling Peter "You follow Me!" He makes no apology.. offers no exuse.. He simply says that.. even in difficult places "where you do not wish to go".. our focus is to follow Him. Amen.

Perfected Jews?

Ultra controversial conservative celebrity book writer Ann Coulter appeared on the a CNBC show (video here) and said that Christians are perfected Jews.. which was interpreted by the Jewish host as "Jews need to be perfected".. hence it did not go over well with him. Ahem, well Ann is probably not the best spokesperson for the faith.. not sure that I am either.. so I thought that I would ask the question:
What is a perfected or completed Jew?
I think that the question somewhat betrays an inner belief that somehow Christians embrace Judaism as a legitimate alternate approach to God or that Christianity is just an extension of Judaism.. I think that some Messianic congregations arise around the idea that Christianity is a mere extension of Judaism. This idea often leads to a misunderstanding of grace and a return to the law and traditions of the Old Testament. Am I in trouble yet?

In the 9th chapter of Romans the apostle Paul makes a few astute observations about his Jewish roots and Abraham. He begins by expressing his deep grief over his Israeli brothers' and sisters' rejection of Jesus saying that he would.. if he could.. separate himself from Christ if it meant that they would come to know Christ. He then goes on to say:
But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham's descendants, but: "THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED." That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.
So, I think that the idea of a perfected or completed Jew can lead to some strange ideas about what Jesus came to do. Those who follow Jesus are not perfected children of Abraham.. we are children of the promise made to Abraham regardless of our ancestry. Here is the promise as Paul tells it in another of his letters:
Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU." So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer. For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, "CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW, TO PERFORM THEM." Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, "THE RIGHTEOUS MAN SHALL LIVE BY FAITH." However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, "HE WHO PRACTICES THEM SHALL LIVE BY THEM." Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us--for it is written, "CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE"-- in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3:7-14)
I brought all of this up to bring a bit of clarity to Ann Coulter's remarks. I think that she would have done better to stay away from this 'perfected Jew' language. What do you think? And please keep your comments focused on the topic instead of on Ann Coulter ... this blog is rated PG-13. :)

Eternal Family

A recent ad for the Mormon church features a young man who lost his mother when he was young.. in reflecting on his loss the young man makes this closing statement:
Families should be eternal.
That statement hit me funny ... what do you think of it? Here is something that Jesus says about family:
While He was still speaking to the crowds, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. Someone said to Him, "Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You." But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, "Who is My mother and who are My brothers?" And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, "Behold My mother and My brothers! "For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother." (Matthew 12:46-50)
This is quite an amazing statement from Jesus. In it He gives us a whole new perspective on family.. He seems to be saying that there are two different kinds of family. Albert Barnes has this commentary on the passage:
Dear and tender as were the ties which bound him to his mother and brethren, yet those which bound him to his disciples were more tender and sacred. How great was his love for his disciples, when it was more than even that for his mother! And what a bright illustration of his own doctrine, that we ought to forsake father, and mother and friends, and houses, and lands, to be his followers!
For myself, I find this idea to be challenging because of my love for my family and my desire to be with them forever. I guess family is a theme that permeates all of scripture.. it is a concept that needs to understood in light of what the New Testament teaches about spiritual family. Jesus speaks to the finiteness of earthly family when he answers a question about a woman that was married more than once:
"In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had married her." But Jesus answered and said to them, "You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God. "For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. (Matthew 22:28-30)
In this he speaks of a heavenly family that is different than the earthly one. When Jesus speaks to a religious leader named Nicodemus he tells them that he needs to be born again saying:
That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3:6)
When we are born again we are born into a family just like when we are born into a natural family. The difference is that one is natural and one is spiritual ... one is temporal and one is eternal. This metaphor of family is one that I like to use when I describe the relationships that Christians have with God and with each other. I think that I like that metaphor because ones like the Body of Christ, the Army of God and others fail to capture the heart of our loving community. The Family of God paints a picture of a loving Heavenly Father and children who endeavor to love Him and each other. I guess love is something, like family, that is both spiritual and eternal.

The Great Invitation

My blog friend Janna wrote a great post with the same title as this post - I encourage you to visit and read the whole post. Here is the way she begins:
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)
My pastor calls this passage the "Great Invitation". I had never heard of that concept before but find it very interesting and applicable. This passage has been described as the "how" to the Great Commandment (Mt 22:37-39) and the Great Commission (Mt 28:18-20). This makes total sense to me. The premise being that in order to be able to fulfill those other two "Great's" (loving others, God & making disciples) we need to first learn from the Master, Jesus, by walking alongside Him in His yoke.

God Is

In the following few sentences I will attempt to put a few words together to describe what I think makes God God. Knowing that what I write will be inadequate to the task doesn't discourage me ... I don't think that anyone could do a truly sufficient job.

To begin let me address three broad categories of God's attributes. I call them is-isms. "God is Almighty". "God is Holy". "God is Sovereign". Each is-ism speaks of a different aspect of God. First "God is Almighty". The attributes of God can be captured in three words beginning with Omni:
Omnipotence speaks of His power to act ... this is expressed in creation, in healing and in miracles.

Omniscience tells us that God knows everything … every thought and motive … He cannot be surprised.

Omnipresence is the ability that God has to be everywhere at one time and at all times ... He is not bound by space or time … He sees the future in the same way he sees the past.
Doesn't that seem to be enough of a definition for God ... surely enough to make most fall prostrate in worship? This, in a small way, encapsulates the idea that "God is Almighty".

The next is-ism is "God is Holy". Here we unwrap the notion of God a step further. For He is more than an Omni-God. "God is Holy" speaks of separateness. Because "God is Holy" He is separate ... separate from created beings and things. This is essential to a clear understanding of God. Because He is separate, it is somewhat impossible to understand Him and His ways. Nevertheless, understanding this causes us to see him as unique. This separateness manifests itself in three qualities ... goodness, justice and love. Without these the character of God comes into question and He is reduced to a divine despot.

The first quality of goodness tells us that at His core God is good ... His thoughts, ways and actions are all good ... He is a good God. Secondly, God is just. Because he is separate He can judge as no earthly judge can judge. He is the ultimate in fairness and is able to judge because His is separate. Lastly, God is love. In this aspect we see a divine care for creation that is matchless in extent and quality ... His love is perfect and unfailing because He is separate. Each of these qualities is important to embrace when we speak of "God is Holy" ... each balances the other out somewhat and gives us a picture of a God who is pure in nature ... One in whom we can place our trust.

The last is-ism is "God is Sovereign". While the first two is-isms speak of His power and nature this is-ism speaks of God's involvement with creation. It also breaks into three parts ... volition, involvement and kingship. Volition firstly speaks of God as one who has a will ... not only a will in the most general and universal sense but in the smallest and most personal sense. God has a will for nations and for individuals as well. This concept progresses as we understand that God is involved. He becomes involved in every aspect of creation. He brings the full extent of "God is Almighty" and "God is Holy" to bear on all of creation. He uses His power to accomplish His holiness in our lives. This is where kingship enters in. Job said, "I know that no plan of yours can be thwarted" ... this is the essence of kingship. God will have His way ... would you want it any other way. But though he rules in the events of our lives ... permitting trial and suffering to enter ... he allows us to accept or reject His rule in our lives ... He gives us free opportunity to curse Him or submit to Him.

That is my answer to the "Who is God?" question ... not that anyone was asking J

Refiner's Fire

My wife Ann is in the hospital again with another MS relapse (third time in as many months) and life has been difficult for us both. I got the following from a friend in an email message this morning and it encouraged me, so I thought that I'd pass it on.

Malachi 3:3 says:
"He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver."
This verse puzzled some women in a Bible study and they wondered what this statement meant about the character and nature of God.

One of the women offered to find out the process of refining silver and get back to the group at their next Bible Study.

That week, the woman called a silversmith and made an appointment to watch him at work. She didn't mention anything about the reason for her interest beyond her curiosity about the process of refining Silver

As she watched the silversmith, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest as to burn away all the impurities.

The woman thought about God holding us in such a hot spot; then she thought again about the verse that says:
"He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver."
She asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined.

The man answered that yes, he not only had to sit there holding the silver, but he had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire time it was in the fire. If the silver was left a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed

The woman was silent for a moment Then she asked the silversmith, "How do you know when the silver is fully refined?"

He smiled at her and answered, "Oh, that's easy -- when I see my image in it."

Sometimes in the heat of the fire it is difficult to remember that God is present attending the process and controlling the heat. My prayer for you, for Ann and for me is that we would see life, and in particular these fiery times, with an eye for redemption ... knowing that He sometimes uses fire to make us like Jesus.