Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Don’t Get Too Familiar with the Bible - Peter Krol

Beware the deceptive wiles of familiarity — that sweet but double-edged virtue that makes you feel at home in the word of God. Familiarity of the tender variety persists in reminding you of the gospel and deepening your communion with Christ. But if you’re not careful, cold-hearted familiarity will betray you with kisses, poison your wineglass, and watch impassively while your life slips steadily away. You might not even realize it’s happening.
Unexamined familiarity will prevent you from looking at the Book. Because such familiarity crowds out curiosity, it imperceptibly stiffens necks, hardens hearts, and deafens ears. Familiarity may lead us to assume things that are not in the text, and it may blind us to things that are.
How Familiarity Works
A reasonably harmless example: I’m preparing to attend a Bible study on David, Abigail, and Nabal in 1 Samuel 25. I’ve been here before; I know this story. I give the text a cursory read-through and prepare to discuss ways to avoid David’s hasty foolishness and to imitate Abigail’s thoughtful service. I’m no unschooled moralizer, however, so I can see Jesus in David’s eventual choice to act like a true king.
But at the meeting, the unfamiliar-but-wildly-curious folks see things I’ve never seen. The death of David’s chief spiritual advisor introduces the tale (1 Samuel 25:1). The narrative’s first mention of God comes when David swears to murder every wall-urinator in Nabal’s household (1 Samuel 25:22, KJV). Abigail directs David’s attention — not primarily to her gifts (mentioned in her speech once) — but to the Lord and his promises (mentioned seven times). David praises her — not for her gifts (absent from his response) — but for the Lord’s use of her to counsel and restrain him.
My familiarity tricked me into thinking I knew the story, but I had missed the point. The Anointed One acts like God’s king only when reminded of God’s word to him. By contrast, the innocent sagess rides in on a kingly donkey, yet humbles herself, takes all the blame, and brings the Lord’s free gift of salvation to many.
Don’t allow familiarity to blind you to the text. Always look at the Book.
Familiarity May Misconstrue the Bible’s Truth
Familiarity looks away from the Book; curiosity looks toward it. Careful observation reveals many things we always thought were in the Bible but really aren’t:
  • Adam and Eve regularly walked and talked with God in the Garden of Eden.
  • Jesus’s ministry lasted 3 years.
  • Jesus died at the age of 33.
  • Jesus walked through walls after his resurrection.
  • God commands Christians to pray before every meal.
  • Money is the root of all evil.
The Bible says God walked in the Garden the day they ate the fruit (Genesis 3:8) but never says this was his common practice. Jesus began his ministry at about age 30 (Luke 3:23), and John records three Passover events during his ministry (John 2:136:411:55); but no Gospel states that these were the only Passover feasts Jesus and his disciples celebrated before he was put to death. Jesus entered locked rooms (John 20:1926), but we are not told of his entry method; perhaps he picked the lock, knocked until they opened, or had others let him through the roof on a pallet.
Like a Twitter addiction, familiarity sometimes creates intimate feelings without true closeness. We assume and repeat errors in children’s Bibles, Sunday school curricula, and informal conversation. We resist the allure, however, when we look at the Book.
Familiarity May Pilfer the Bible’s Riches
How much we miss when blinded by friendly familiarity! Its seductions are like busy little bees with no hive. We labor long and hard to search, follow, and understand their trail, but we’re rewarded with stings rather than honey. Looking carefully at the Bible’s first book, consider but a few points of drama commonly missed:
  • Chapter 3: It was not “Eve” that ate the fruit on that ancient earth-shattering day. The narrator calls her “the woman” — the one taken from man — until Adam renames her in light of God’s promise to provide a Savior-Seed through her (Genesis 3:16–20). Naming her “Eve” — “living” — evidences his faith that they will not yet die.
  • Chapter 4: God had promised to give the woman a son to crush the serpent’s head, and this son arrives to his mother’s exuberant delight: “I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD” (Genesis 4:1). However, the savior becomes a slayer, and God must appoint a replacement who will call on his name (Genesis 4:25). Vanity of vanities!
  • Chapters 6–9: Eden is reborn when men and their wives, food, water, animal mates according to their kinds, and wood from trees are all squished up into a three-decker mini-world with a window and a door. The “windows of the heavens” open, along with the “fountains of the great deep” (Genesis 7:11), to cover “the face of all the earth” (Genesis 7:3) Do you see the three-decker world at work? At the Flood, God clicks “reboot,” and we ought not be surprised at the end by a naked man in an upgraded garden and the pronouncement of a new curse. The Flood could cleanse the face of the earth from life, but it could not cleanse the face of man’s heart from sin.
  • Chapter 12: When God calls Abram to leave his country and kindred, he doesn’t tell him where to go (see Hebrews 11:8). He wanders aimlessly until God appears to him in Canaan and says, “This is it” (Genesis 12:7). What faith! Chapter 17: Though realizing the Hagar incident had been a bad idea, Abram still believes for 13 years that Ishmael is his promised son. Notice his utter shock when God promises another son through Sarah (Genesis 17:16–21).
Though familiarity can be a devious enemy, it can also be a delightful friend (Psalm 119:11). May the Lord open our eyes to behold wondrous things in his law, day after day after day (Psalm 119:18–19). 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Pursuit of Perceiving God

Hebrews 12:14-17            December 28, 2014             Link for audio/video/manuscript

We were made to see God, to have the glorious, majestic, face-to-face relationship with God like Jesus Christ had. We will see God when we pursue seeing God in all His holiness; it is then we will be satisfied and be at peace in the wholeness of our hearts and with one another. But this is not a race we can run and win by ourselves but we can together by the power of God within us. Because God is holy, we can run the race no matter how hard the course. Strive for peace and holiness, give grace to all, forgive those who have hurt you, love God with all of your heart - and we will all win!

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Birth of God

Luke 2:1-7                December 21, 2014             Link for audio/video/manuscript

Our most sovereign God left glory and entered human time and space in the flesh as a baby - but still remained God. Jesus, who is God, who created the universe, became flesh like us. The One who knows all things came into the world to learn and grow in wisdom. The all-sufficient One lives with us and is hungry and thirsty. God in the flesh endures abandonment and judgment from God the Father. The Creator of life suffers and dies. The Creator of life re-creates life and rises from the dead. This is our God, who was born in the flesh, whose name is Jesus, who came to save us from our sins!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Praise We Didn’t Plan - Jonathan Parnell

The Psalms are an inspired record of the fight of faith; that’s one of the reasons we love them. By the time we get there in the story of Scripture, two competing realities grab our attention — the promise of God and Israel’s terrible situation. It goes like this:
On the one hand, there is the fact of God’s promise. Going back to Genesis, we see God’s word to bless Abraham and make him a great nation through which the whole world would be blessed (Genesis 12:1–3). This promise perseveres over hundreds of years and progresses into the promise to David, that he would have a son who would reign as king forever over a rescued and restored Israel (2 Samuel 7:16).
But on the other hand, there is the fact that Israel is deep in idolatry. The chosen people of God just can’t seem to listen to him for long, and therefore, judgment ensues, and they are taken captive by foreign powers. Captivity is where they find themselves by the time the Psalms have been collected. The stage has been set for these two competing realities to go head to head. God promises greatness and blessing, but they’re surrounded by turmoil and captivity. God says one thing, but they are experiencing another. Eventually these two competing realities lead to one central question: Is God going to keep his promise and do what he said?
Enter the Ascents
These two realities, and this one question, form the background to that section of psalms known as “The Psalms of Ascent.” This section, beginning with Psalm 120 and stretching through Psalm 134, is joined under that idea reflected in its name — “to ascend.” It means to step up or come out, and in the wider context of the psalter, these psalms envision the day when Israel comes out of their foreign exile. The hope is focused on the deliverance the Messiah will bring, rescuing his people from their captivity and restoring Jerusalem to glory and peace.
This section of psalms jumps right in the middle of the tension. It cuts through the competing realities and determines that God’s promise will take the day. If the Psalms at large are a record of the fight of faith, the Psalms of Ascent are an absolute brawl. We have so much to learn from them.
Psalm 120 starts the journey in exile, with the psalmist in distress about his situation. “Woe to me, that I sojourn . . . Too long have I had my dwelling among those who hate peace” (Psalm 120:5–6). Put simply, the psalmist finds himself where he doesn’t want to be. He is a sojourner, unsettled, dreaming of a better day.
But then Psalm 121 comes next to remind God’s people that God is our keeper. Although we may be in exile, God keeps our going out and our coming in (Psalm 121:6–8).
Psalm 122 follows with homesickness for Jerusalem, but not just any Jerusalem. The psalmist dreams of a peaceful Jerusalem under the throne of David (v. 5).
Psalm 123 echoes the plight of their situation, but makes clear that their eyes are fixed on God (vv. 3–4). Psalm 124 says God has been faithful to keep his people in the past; 125 assures the people of coming peace in Jerusalem; 126 dreams yet again of that peace. Then Psalm 127 brings children into the picture, implying that God is going to make good on his promise to send a son of David. Psalm 128 envisions the coming day of peace and blessing in Jerusalem; 129 reminds the reader that Zion’s enemies will be put to shame; 130 refocuses the hope on God’s plentiful redemption. Then Psalm 131, a Psalm of Ascents of David, stands forth as a model of faith. Like David, the faithful reader should have a steady, patient soul that trusts in God.
By Psalm 132, the reader has gained good altitude. As the longest psalm in this section, it stands as the center of the overall message. It is all about the Messiah, refocusing the reader on the peace of Jerusalem that the son of David will bring by this reign. Psalm 133 highlights the unity and peace of that day, and Psalm 134 calls the people to praise.
This is the high note that the following two psalms continue to carry. Though neither names an author, their “anonymity” suggests they are added here with editorial intent. They repeat the praise of Psalm 134. “I know that the Lord is great, and that our Lord is above all gods,” Psalm 135:5 tells us. And then Psalm 136 repeats that marvelous line over and over: “his steadfast love endures forever.” This is praise and hope and wonder, leading us straight to Psalm 137:1: “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.”
Wait, what?
That Relevant Question
This should be surprising to us. We’ve been ascending this whole time, step by step, song by song, rising from Psalm 120 through Psalm 136, and then, all of a sudden, there is weeping. Weeping? We’ve read about the Messiah coming, about unity restored, about enemies banished, and then there is this jarring, depressing picture of an enslaved people. We’re back to Psalm 120. Israel has captors, tormentors — powers opposed to the will of God. And so they ask, “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137:4).
There may not be another question so relevant for Jesus’s church in the rough and tumble of life in a fallen world. “How are we supposed to praise you here, God?” “How do we sing of your wonders here?”
Have you ever asked that? Have you felt that tension? Like Israel, we also live in competing realities. We have this new-creation redemption Jesus has accomplished, but this old-creation setting in which we’re left to live. We have promises deep and wide enough to make praise combustible. But we have situations so bleak and sad that we can barely lift our heads. How do we sing your praises here, God? Here where terrorists murder 132 children? Where thousands of babies are slaughtered every day? Where racism wreaks havoc, and governments commit atrocities, and the godless get more gain? How do we sing your song here?
Out of the Depths
We, too — new creatures in Christ, on this side of the cross and empty tomb — find ourselves in sojourning, on the road and not yet home. We might have thought that this great salvation we enjoy means smooth sailing from here out. We might have expected that since we are in Christ, the kingdom is complete and the waiting is over. But no. That’s not how it goes — not yet.
Even in all this grace, overcome with all this glory, one look around confirms that we’re not home yet. There is a new Jerusalem for which we long, a lasting city upon which our hope is set. Which means, we’re called to a kind of praise we didn’t plan. We would have never designed it this way, but God knows what he’s doing. He’s let us taste a joy that defies this world, a mirth that confounds its wisdom. How do we sing the Lord’s song here? By breathing in the air from there. We humbly realize, that for now, as one writer puts it, “the new humanity that is created around Jesus is not a humanity that is always going to be successful and in control of things, but a humanity that can reach out its hand from the depths of chaos, to be touched by the hand of God.”
We’re in a fight of faith here, but we never fight alone. As distant as the New Jerusalem might seem, we can still reach out our hand. Home’s not that far away.      2014 Desiring God

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Prophetic Promise of Peace

Isaiah 9:1-7              December 7, 2014             Link for audio/video/manuscript

Just as the Jews of Jesus’ day earnestly looked for a Messiah that would come as a great warrior king and deliver Israel from her enemies and establish Israel as sovereign among all the nations – so to do we often look for the return of Christ coming down from the heavens on a white horse to rescue us and claim victory over war, violence, terrorism, hate, prejudice, bitterness, brokenness, injustice, sin, satan and evil forces of the world. But the reality for us is that Jesus has already come! He has come and he rose from dead and ascended into heaven. God has fulfilled His promise to come with His presence, and because God’s promise has been realized in Jesus - we have peace. Jesus is our God, our King, our “Prince of Peace” - our victory!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Vicar of Baghdad and the Persecution of Iraqi Christians

Four Iraqi Christian children, who were all beheaded by the Islamic State, refused to betray Jesus and graciously died in his name when the ISIS militants gave them one last chance to say the Islamic words of conversion, the Rev. Canon Andrew White revealed in a recent interview.
In an interview last week with the Christian Broadcast Network published on the Orthodox Christian Network, White, who is the only Anglican vicar in Iraq and is know as "The Vicar of Baghdad," detailed the plight of Christians in Iraq and recounted two instances when Islamic State's forceful conversions directly pulled the strings of his heart.
Speaking on ISIS' brutal mistreatment of religious minorities, White recounted the recent incident when ISIS militants beheaded four kids, all of whom were under the age of 15, when the kids refused to say that they would follow the Prophet Muhammad and told the ISIS fighters that they will always "love" and "follow" Jesus.
"ISIS turned up and they said to the children, 'you say the words that you will follow Muhammad.' The Children, all under 15, four of them, they said, 'no, we love Yasua [Jesus]. We have always loved Yasua. We have always followed Yasua. Yasua has always been with us.'" White said. "[The Militants] said, 'say the words!' [The Children] said, 'no, we can't do that.' They chopped all their heads off."
"How do you respond to that?" White asked. "You just cry. They are my children. That is what we have been going through. That is what we are going through."
White spoke of another instance, which happened a few days prior to the children's beheading, where a male Christian adult was forced to say the Islamic words of conversion, or else all of his children were going to be beheaded. With his children's lives at stake, the man could not afford to be bold and caved in saying said the words of conversion.
White said that later that day, the man called him to ask if Jesus still loved him even though he had said the Islamic words of conversion.
"[Militants] say to one man, an adult, 'you say the words of conversion or we will kill all of your children.' He was desperate. He said the words," White said. "Then he phoned me and said '[Father], I said the words, does that mean Yasua doesn't love me anymore? I have always loved Yasua. I said those words because I couldn't see my children be killed.' I said, 'Jesus still loves you. He will always love you.'"
White, who is now staying in Israel after fleeing from Baghdad after receiving personal death threats from the Islamic State, said that it is "impossible" for Christians to live in Iraq because of the Islamic State's brutal mistreatment of religious minorities.
"They have threatened to kill me. They are after me. They wanted that Abuna [Father] from England," White said. "So the Archbishop of Canterbury said 'you've got to leave now.'"
White further notes that over 250,000 Christians have now fled from the caliphate and are living as refugees in the Kurdish North.
ISIS mistreatment of children and religious minorities goes well beyond just the forced Islamic conversions. White noted that many children, not just the four he previously mentioned, are being either beheaded and their bodies cut in half.
In addition, Yazidi refugees interviewed by the Daily Mail say that ISIS not only systematically kills yazidi and Christian men and women, they have also brutally cut the throats of babies. One 13-year-old Yazidi from one particular Yazidi village claims that the militants killed over 100 kids from his village.
ISIS militants are also kidnapping and selling off baby girls as sex slaves. A recent pricing guide released by Islamic State leadership reveals that Christian and Yazidi girls aged 1 to 9 years old are being sold as sex slaves for just $172.
Although ISIS recruits kids and other young adults to join the caliphate by advertising a false sense of Islamic Purpose, the ISIS leadership are also said to brutally treat their rank-and-file fighters.
Testimony from one 15-year-old former ISIS fighter says that ISIS leaders drugged fighters to make them more likely to commit a suicide bomb attack in battle. Additionally, a United Nations report states that ISIS militants are using kids as human shields in battle and also force them to donate blood to wounded ISIS fighters.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Benjamin Watson – Response to the Ferguson Decision

At some point while I was playing or preparing to play Monday Night Football, the news broke about the Ferguson Decision. After trying to figure out how I felt, I decided to write it down. Here are my thoughts:
I'M ANGRY because the stories of injustice that have been passed down for generations seem to be continuing before our very eyes.
I'M FRUSTRATED, because pop culture, music and movies glorify these types of police citizen altercations and promote an invincible attitude that continues to get young men killed in real life, away from safety movie sets and music studios.
I'M FEARFUL because in the back of my mind I know that although I'm a law abiding citizen I could still be looked upon as a "threat" to those who don't know me. So I will continue to have to go the extra mile to earn the benefit of the doubt.
I'M EMBARRASSED because the looting, violent protests, and law breaking only confirm, and in the minds of many, validate, the stereotypes and thus the inferior treatment.
I'M SAD, because another young life was lost from his family, the racial divide has widened, a community is in shambles, accusations, insensitivity hurt and hatred are boiling over, and we may never know the truth about what happened that day.
I'M SYMPATHETIC, because I wasn't there so I don't know exactly what happened. Maybe Darren Wilson acted within his rights and duty as an officer of the law and killed Michael Brown in self defense like any of us would in the circumstance. Now he has to fear the backlash against himself and his loved ones when he was only doing his job. What a horrible thing to endure. OR maybe he provoked Michael and ignited the series of events that led to him eventually murdering the young man to prove a point.
I'M OFFENDED, because of the insulting comments I've seen that are not only insensitive but dismissive to the painful experiences of others.
I'M CONFUSED, because I don't know why it's so hard to obey a policeman. You will not win!!! And I don't know why some policeman abuse their power. Power is a responsibility, not a weapon to brandish and lord over the populace.
I'M INTROSPECTIVE, because sometimes I want to take "our" side without looking at the facts in situations like these. Sometimes I feel like it's us against them. Sometimes I'm just as prejudiced as people I point fingers at. And that's not right. How can I look at white skin and make assumptions but not want assumptions made about me? That's not right.
I'M HOPELESS, because I've lived long enough to expect things like this to continue to happen. I'm not surprised and at some point my little children are going to inherit the weight of being a minority and all that it entails.
I'M HOPEFUL, because I know that while we still have race issues in America, we enjoy a much different normal than those of our parents and grandparents. I see it in my personal relationships with teammates, friends and mentors. And it's a beautiful thing.
I'M ENCOURAGED, because ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem. SIN is the reason we rebel against authority. SIN is the reason we abuse our authority. SIN is the reason we are racist, prejudiced and lie to cover for our own. SIN is the reason we riot, loot and burn. BUT I'M ENCOURAGED because God has provided a solution for sin through the his son Jesus and with it, a transformed heart and mind. One that's capable of looking past the outward and seeing what's truly important in every human being. The cure for the Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner tragedies is not education or exposure. It's the Gospel. So, finally, I'M ENCOURAGED because the Gospel gives mankind hope.

The Glorious Provision of God’s Grace

Philippians 4:10-23             November 30, 2014          Link for audio/video/manuscript

It’s been said that a contented man is one who enjoys the scenery along the detours. In the face of the difficult circumstances of conflict, anxiety and ungodly influence Paul was joyfully “content” because he was a thermostat for Christ rather than a thermometer of his circumstances. Paul was content in Christ and his contentment came from knowing Jesus - and in knowing Jesus he could do all things through Christ who strengthened him, as he pressed on toward the goal of the upward prize of God in Christ Jesus. The glorious provision of God’s grace is that the gospel penetrates all strongholds, even the strongholds of relational conflict, fear/anxiety and ungodly influence deep within our own hearts.