CONTEXT MATTERS

a blog by David S. Jesse

Return to Eden: Part 4 – The Renewal of the Covenant

RETURN TO EDEN is a nine post series that will look at the entire Bible – Genesis to Revelation – as a complete story of God’s passionate plan to restore humanity to Himself.  If you missed post one “A Broken World,” CLICK HERE.

Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine;and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”…On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled…Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended.  And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder… Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” (Exodus 19:5-6; 16; 18-19; 20:18-19 ESV)

When GOD gave the Torah at Sinai, He displayed untold marvels to Israel with his voice.  What happened?  GOD spoke and the Voice reverberated throughout the world…It says: And all the people perceived the thundering; wherefore R. Johanan said that GOD’s voice, as it was uttered, was distributed into seventy voices, in seventy tongues, so that all the nations should understand.  When each nation heard the Voice in their own dialect their souls departed, save Israel who heard… (Midrash Exodus Rabbah 5:9)

The descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were finally free.  After hundreds of years of bondage in Egypt, the God of their Fathers had moved mightily to bring them out.  And now, He was offering them a new life.

Part of the problem that we have due to our familiarity with the story, is that we sometimes glaze over the details.  Like the phrase “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”  This is a phrase that most Christians have heard numerous times.  Both John (Revelation 1:6) and Peter (1 Peter 2:9) mention it.  But what exactly does that phrase mean?

An entire kingdom of priests is a nation or people where each individual has direct access to God.  That’s what a priest does.  He goes before God on behalf of others.  And the Hebrews at the foot of Mount Sinai were being given a unique role in the world: to be God’s priests.  But something went terribly wrong.

They rejected God.  Yes, they agreed to honor the covenant and obey everything that God commanded them to do.  But the unique opportunity to individually go before God – to be in personal, one-on-one relationship with the Creator – was more than they could handle.  But I’m jumping ahead of myself.

The giving of the Law – the Torah – at Mount Sinai is the pivotal event in Jewish religious history. It is the moment that Israel agreed to be God’s people.  And the legends that grew up around the events of Exodus 19 and 20 are simply amazing.  Here’s the background.

According to the ancient Jewish sages, Shavuot is more than just a feast to commemorate the beginning of the wheat harvest.  It was the anniversary of God coming down in fire and thunder and smoke to the top of Mount Sinai.  It was then that He shouted down what is known as the Ten Commandments – the summary of the entire Torah – to the people.  The people agreed to obey everything that God commanded.  It was the moment that Israel ceased being a roving family, and became a nation.

And over the centuries following this seminal moment, many stories arose about what exactly happened.

As we saw before, the Hebraic mind seeks to answer the question “why”.  And one question in particular was asked: Why does it say in Exodus 20 that all of Israel saw the thunder when God came down on the mountain?  Thunder can’t be seen; it’s a sound.

By the time that Jesus and His disciples walked the Earth, consensus had arisen among the sages.  This is how the Jewish historian, Philo described it:

Then from the midst of the fire that streamed from heaven there sounded forth to their utter amazement a voice, for the flame became articulate speech in the language familiar to the audience, and so clearly and distinctly were the words formed by it that they seemed to see them rather than hear them. (De Decalogo. IX-XI)

The sages believed that the voice of God was so loud and powerful, that it manifested itself into fire that spoke to all listening in their own native language.  Stop and read that again.

Now back to the “kingdom of priests” thing.  The people feared what they saw.  In the core of their beings, they knew there was no way they could stand as priests before this God who so powerfully was manifesting before them.  They may have been freed from physical slavery, but their souls were still in bondage.  And they asked Moses to be the one to intercede for them.

Things went downhill from there.  When we put a person between us and God, we lose our sense of accountability to Him.  The priest; the rabbi; the preacher; they are the ones that have to answer to God, not us.  And that’s the way Israel reacted.  As Moses went to the top of the mountain to be their advocate, the people quickly turned from their worship of the One True God.  They wanted a god they were familiar with and that they could see and touch.  They compelled Aaron to make them the gods they had worshiped in Egypt.

And when Moses returned, his anger was justified.  He called on those from the tribe of Levi to slaughter all who refused to repent.

And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses.  And that day about three thousand men of the people fell.  Exodus 32:18 ESV

So we need to stop and think about the pictures these stories paint.  Fire.  Thunder.  Lightning.  The Voice of God.  The fire dividing into tongues that declare God’s covenant opportunity to every nation of the world.  3,000 lives being lost in judgement.

Now fast forward around 1,500 years.  These pictures make another appearance.

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place.  And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.  Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven.  And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. Acts 2:1-6 ESV

Astonishing.

Every picture of the giving of the Covenant to Israel at Sinai is seen at the Feast of Shavuot that took place just ten days following the ascension of Jesus back to Heaven.  As all of Israel gathered together in the Temple to commemorate the Covenant at Sinai, the pictures from their legends about what happened 1,500 years earlier manifested themselves once again: the mighty wind;  the presence of God; the tongues of fire; the languages of the nations; all of them.

Only the reaction of the people is different this time.  Rather than fearing the presence of God, they embraced it.  Rather than rejecting the personal relationship with the Creator, they accepted it.  Rather than fleeing from God’s presence, they welcomed it.

You see, things were different because their hearts were different.  Jesus had already become their eternal Passover Lamb, freeing them from the spiritual bondage that overwhelmed Israel at Mount Sinai.  Rather than receiving the Covenant on tablets of stone, the Spirit of God was able to write it upon their hearts.

“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD : I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Jeremiah 31:31-34 ESV

The Hebrew word translated above as “new” is “chadesh.”  While it is most often translated as “new” like in this passage, that misses the nuance of the word.  It’s the same word that is used to describe the lunar cycle, and the appearance of the “new” moon.  It is more accurately translated “renewed.”  This covenant wasn’t a new covenant.  It was the same covenant that God offered His people at Mount Sinai.  But because of the redemptive work of Jesus on the cross, the people this time were free – in their hearts – to accept that covenant.  The covenant was renewed.

Oh, there’s one more picture that I forgot to point out.  Do you remember how Moses charged the Levites to slaughter those who refused to repent for worshiping the golden calf?  How many were killed on that Shavuot?  3,000.

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.  Acts 2:31 ESV

You may believe in coincidence, but I don’t.  That wasn’t an accident.  Every detail was ordained by God before the creation of the world.

So let’s regroup here.  Jesus fulfilled the first four of the seven feasts of Israel in every possible detail during His first coming: Passover; Unleavened Bread; First Fruits; and Shavuot.

The Hebrew word for “feast” used in Leviticus 23 is “moedim.”  It is more clearly translated “appointed time.”  It’s God’s appointments with us.  He planned seven times each year when we would commemorate when He has chosen to move in time on His people’s behalf.

So if Jesus fulfilled the first four of the seven “appointments” of God during His first coming, wouldn’t it be safe to assume that He will fulfill the remaining three during His second coming?

Next Post: The Conclusion of the Harvest

Out of CONTEXT Verse: Isaiah 54:17

No Weapon...

The 2012 NFL Playoffs were dominated by the story of  future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis’ return to play with the Baltimore Ravens, and his quest to finish his storied career by winning a second NFL Championship.  Throughout the playoffs – both in video clips from the sideline and during interviews – Ray Lewis was claiming a promise from Isaiah 54:17:

No weapon that is formed against you shall prosper. – Isaiah 54:17a NASB

Again, this is a great inspirational maxim.  It is true that we can stand in faith that God is on our side and will protect us.  But over the years, I’ve heard this quoted so many times by people who think that it’s God’s direct promise to an individual. It is not.

The entire context of Isaiah 54 is about the restoration of Israel at the end of days.  It is about the time when God will restore Israel and “enlarge the place of your tent” (vs. 2) to include those from all of the nations who will come together to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Verses 4-8 make this crystal clear:

“Fear not, for you will not be ashamed;  be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more. For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called. For the LORD has called you like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit, like a wife of you she is cast off,” says your God. “For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,” says the LORD, your Redeemer. – Isaiah 54:4-9 ESV

Let’s step back and think about this for a moment. Whoever is the recipient of the promises of this passage is also the recipient of the judgment that proceeded it. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, Israel is referred to as the “bride” of God Almighty.  The entire book of Hosea is given over to this theme.  But Israel was unfaithful to the Bridegroom.  They were adulterous by worshiping other gods.

Rejoice not, O Israel! Exult not like the peoples; for you have played the whore, forsaking your God. You have loved a prostitute’s wages on all threshing floors. – Hosea 9:1 ESV

It is only after Israel has been judged and repented of this spiritual adultery that it is restored to right relationship with God Almighty, the nations are brought into perfect relationship as well, and at that time God promises that “no weapon formed against you shall prosper.”

This is not an individualistic promise to anyone who wishes to claim it. And that leads to one final point.

I once heard a wise man say that “a gospel that isn’t true for everyone, isn’t true for anyone.” In our Western Christian culture, we have become so oblivious to the challenges and struggles of Christians around the world that we make ridiculous statements about what God will and will not do for us if we “just have faith.”  I wonder what the thousands of Christians in the Middle East who are taking a stand for their Messiah would say to Ray Lewis, when he reduces the promises of the Kingdom of God to a football game by saying, “No weapon! No weapon! No weapon!” These TRUE champions who are winning the battle of the ages are being beheaded by the sword of I.S.I.S.. Does Isaiah 54:17 only apply to the NFL playoffs, and not to them?

Huh…I guess CONTEXT MATTERS!

Next CONTEXT POST: I know the plans I have for you…

 

Guest Post: A Fresh Understanding of the Sabbath

What is the Sabbath? Should we keep it? How do we keep it? Is it really that important?

These are questions we may or may not have ever considered in our walk of faith, but the questions are never the less becoming more and more frequent. I keep the Sabbath day, along with my wife, every week. No, not Sunday; Saturday or the 7th day. When we first made the decision to start “honoring” the Sabbath as Scripture puts it, we started out very basic. Friday evening, we would simply start recognizing the day. As time moved on, we began eliminating certain “work” from our schedules. Then we began honing in on getting things accomplished throughout the week so we wouldn’t have to worry about them on the Sabbath.

All these things are what Scripture tells us we should do, but one thing Scripture does not really tell us is… WHY? Why does God not wish for me to mow the lawn on Sabbath? Why shouldn’t my wife make an elaborate home made meal? Why does God care what I do on the Sabbath? Well, when we peek into Scripture we find something very interesting; God kept the Sabbath. In fact, God was the first one to keep the Sabbath. Remember, during creation week?

And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. – Genesis 2:2

What does it mean, “God rested”? God does not have muscles, or exhaustion that He needs to rest. What is the big idea here?! Well, the answer lies in the culture the Scriptures were directly written to; The Ancient Near East. The “ANE” is the time period of the mid-late Bronze age within the geographical area of the modern day “Middle East”. This was the time period that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, were born into. The ancient nation of Israel was also established in Canaan during this time period.

In the ANE, creation was not focused on materializing something. It was focused on giving function to an object that had no purpose. EVERYONE thought that their god(s) materialized the earth and universe. However, the belief of a deity giving a creation function, now that was true power. This is why Ba’al was worshiped in Canaan, because it was believed he made the storms. Astarte, also in Canaan was believed to bring about wealth as a pagan fertility goddess. Ra, who was worshiped in Egpyt was believed to govern the sun whereas Konshu was believed to have governed the moon. Each pagan god was esteemed by the belief that they gave function and governance to a small portion of creation.

This is when the God of Israel comes in. According to the creation account in Genesis chapters 1 and 2, the God of Israel not only materialized every aspect of creation, He gave function to every aspect of creation. This was unheard of in the ANE. Israel worship the only God that claimed to have complete sovereignty over the entirety of creation. This is how great our God is. He alone governs and reigns over creation, not daring to allow His glory to be shared.

Some argue that every time you see the word “created” in Genesis 1 and 2, it could be read “gave function”. Not saying that God did not form and materialize all things, of course He did. But putting emphasis on the fact that He is establishing order and a functioning creation.  Take the first verse in the Bible:

In the beginning God created (Gave function to) the heavens and the earth. – Genesis 1:1

Why would God need to give function to heaven and earth?

And the earth was without form, and void. – Genesis 1:2

Creation was formless and void, without purpose and function. God moved upon the waters and brought order to the mucky chaotic mess of earth. This concept also makes sense when we apply to ourselves and followers of Christ.  2 Corinthians  5:17 says:

Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation…

When you became a Believer, did you start existing? NO, of course not. You existed before coming into the covenant and love of The Messiah, but once you entered The Covenant, you were given a purpose, you were given function within His kingdom.

You may be thinking, “this is great, but what in the world does this have to do with the Sabbath day?”. In the beginning, God did not have a kingdom. Hear me out, don’t throw the stones yet. In the beginning, God was… God. He created the heavens and the earth for the purpose of being His throne and kingdom to govern. The concept in the ANE was that God created and formed the heavens and the earth to reign over. Once completed, God took up His residence on His throne…. resting in his governance.

This is why Isaiah wrote:

Thus saith the LORD, “The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? And where is the place of my rest?” – Isaiah 66:1

When God rested on the Sabbath day, it wasn’t because He was tired or worn out. “Resting” meant His creation was completed and He had taken up residence on HIS THRONE. This is similar to a presidential candidate running for office. They work, work, work, and run, run, run. Debate, kiss babies, get support and then finally, when the votes come in, he/she is elected. Then, on Jan. 21st they are inaugurated into office and for the first time, they get to enter into the oval office and “rest” in the seat of authority.

Sabbath is a day we rest from our own efforts to recognize just how great our God is. Where our world stops being our “us”, and re-focuses on our God, seated on His throne, ruling and reigning over all of creation.

For more information regarding how ancient Israel perceived the Sabbath, check out our DVD teaching titled “The Ancient Sabbath Day: How did God keep it?” available athttp://foundedintruth.com/store/

Pastor Matthew Vander Els is Founder of Founded In Truth Ministries and leads a fellowship in Fort Mill, SC. Not only is the focus of his studies the Hebrew Roots of the Christian faith, but the archaeological and anthropology of Ancient Near Eastern kingdoms and civilizations. By studying not only ancient Israel, but the neighboring kingdoms that surround them, we can gain priceless insight into the culture, context, and language used in the Holy scriptures.

Return to Eden: Part 3 – Jesus’ First Coming

RETURN TO EDEN is a nine post series that will look at the entire Bible – Genesis to Revelation – as a complete story of God’s passionate plan to restore humanity to Himself.  If you missed post one “A Broken World,”CLICK HERE.

And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.  And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.  And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.  The tombs also were opened.  And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.  Matthew 27:50-53 ESV

If this is the moment of Jesus’ death, it’s a strange place to insert a discussion of His resurrection.  At the moment that the Messiah dies, Matthew notes that the preparation for Him to rise took place.

Most of us in the Western Church leave it there.  These are the facts: Jesus died.  An earthquake took place.  The veil was torn.  The graves were opened.  When Jesus rose, these graves also gave up their dead.  These risen bodies were seen by many in Jerusalem.  That’s all we need to know.  Just the facts, please.

But that’s not the way to see through the shadows, and into the face of God.   The Western Mind is obsessed with answering the question, “what”.  The Eastern Mind seeks to look beyond that; it seeks to answer, “why”.  So why did Matthew mention these events at this moment in his narrative?

We’ve already seen that the Passover shadowed the work of the Messiah on the cross.  That feast takes place on the 14th day of the first month of the Hebrew religious calendar.  However, the Passover meal is eaten after sundown that evening, which according to the Biblical reckoning of time, begins the 15th day of the month.  This meal initiates a seven day celebration known as the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  It reminds Israel that their release from slavery in Egypt was so sudden, that they were forced to eat bread that had not been given time to rise.  But later, leavening became symbolic of sin.  And when Jesus died as our Passover Lamb, He removed the sin from our lives.  He was placed in a tomb, and the Psalmist said that “…as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12 NIV)  The Feast of Unleavened Bread shadowed the removal of sin from our lives.

And then we come to the first day of the week following the Sabbath that occurs during the seven days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  This day is called the Feast of First Fruits.  But the preparations for this feast actually began at sundown on Passover.  It is at that moment that the priests would go to the Mount of Olives, and ceremonially bind 10 sheaves of barley, without cutting or actually harvesting it.  This was called “marking the sheaves.”  Then, at the beginning of the first day of the week (which takes place at sundown), the priests would return to the sheaves and in a great ceremony, harvest those first fruits, take the barley into the Temple and grind it into wheat, and prepare loaves of bread that would, the next morning, be ceremonially waved before God in the Temple, as the High Priest shouted, “If God is faithful to bring us the first fruits, He will be faithful to bring the remaining harvest!”

This is why Matthew chose to make mention of the graves being opened at the moment of Jesus’ death.  And why he also made it clear to his readers that the dead didn’t rise until Jesus did.  He was revealing the shadow of the Feast of First Fruits.

In addition to being the place where the priests would go to bind the sheaves for the offering at the First Fruits, the Mount of Olives is a major cemetery.  It was in Jesus day as well.  It was where some of the most famous and notable Hebrews had been buried.  So when the priests were going out to “mark” the sheaves for the offering, the graves of many were “marked” as well.  And at the moment when the priests harvested these first fruits, Jesus and these others were raised from the dead, as our eternal High Priest shouted to eternity, “If God has been faithful to bring us the First Fruits, He will be faithful to bring the remaining harvest!”

But the shadows of Jesus first coming don’t end there.  There is one more feast in the spring that Israel was commanded to observe.  And the pictures in it are nothing less than stunning.  In Hebrew it is called “Shavuot.”  You know it today as Pentecost.

Next Post: The Renewal of the Covenant

Perry Noble Is Wrong

Perry Noble is WrongThat’s not being very “nice,” I know.  But it needs to be said.

Perry Noble (pastor of NewSpring Church in South Carolina) addressed “The Nines” online conference last week, and said that the Church is too focused on “behavior modification,” and that it should refocus on simply calling unbelievers to “follow Jesus and be nice.” (To read more about his statements, CLICK HERE)

As simple, inclusive, and “nice” as Noble’s statements are, they’re wrong. In fact, they fly in the face of Jesus’ words on what it really means to “follow Him.”

Yes. Jesus called “sinners” to repentance, and not the righteous. He was criticized for focusing on those who were outside of the religious mainstream of Israel; even those who were considered the worst of the worst in Jewish culture. That’s one of the most amazing things about Jesus’ ministry. He welcomed all and even gravitated to those who were considered unreachable.  This is the amazing grace of God.

However, when Jesus called others to “follow Him,” He didn’t mean they should simply walk behind Him and observe Him.  He was calling them to something much greater than that.  And suggesting anything less is missing the real point of this call.

In Jesus’ culture, a rabbi’s call to an individual to “follow him” (lech acharai in Hebrew) was a specific idiomatic expression that held a great deal of weight.  It meant more than “walk behind me.” It meant that the rabbi was convinced that the disciple (talmid in Hebrew) was capable of becoming like the rabbi.  When Peter, James, John, Andrew, and even the tax collector Matthew heard Jesus say these specific words to them, it would have stopped them in their tracks.  This amazing rabbi who had been shaking up the entire nation was telling them that He believed they had the ability to be so much more than they were being. They had the potential of being like Him.

But there’s more.  There was a great deal of cost in this calling.  Consider these words from the Gospel of Luke:

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” – Luke 9:23-24 ESV

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. – Luke 14:26-33 ESV

Following Jesus is a serious matter.  It’s an amazing, honoring call to abandon everything – even our very lives – based on our “rabbi’s” confidence in our potential to be so much more than we have been up to that point.

Sorry Perry. Discipleship is more than following Jesus and being nice.

Magic Michelle

A Great Christian Movie!In July 2012, I wrote the following satirical look at the movie “Magic Mike” by turning it on it’s head. A few of you have been asking about it, so here it goes for your reading pleasure…

Guys, there is a new movie coming out soon that I cannot wait to see!  It’s called Magic Michelle.  Here’s the synopsis:

When your life is a fantasy, how do you deal with reality?

As a female stripper, Magic Michelle has everything she could ever want: parties that last all night, hot guys and superfluous money. She takes a younger performer under her wing, teaching her the ropes on how to be the best. As she keeps at the top of the game in the clubs, Michelle struggles with trying to develop a relationship with a guy she really likes. Will she have to choose between her dream world and real life?

This movie looks so great!  And what’s even better is that a bunch of guys in my church are going to go see it with me!  We’re so pumped that we get to go see some of the hottest women in Hollywood strut around the big screen basically (and hopefully completely) naked.  At first I was a little bit worried about talking about going to see this movie.  I was afraid that some of these judgmental Christians I worship God with every Sunday would think that it was wrong.  But then I started seeing all these guys posting status updates on Facebook, all of them saying they were going.  And not just your everyday church members either, but Sunday School teachers, youth group workers, men’s ministry leaders.  I’m so glad that we’ve been able to move past the judgmental stuff in church.  Who cares that as men, we’ve been struggling with lust and have seen pornography destroy millions of men.  I’m stronger than that (I think).

Now, I’m not saying that the teenage guys in our churches need to see it.  I mean, it is rated R.  They’re obviously not mature enough to control themselves at this point of their lives.  But I’m sure I am.  Those of us going are all adults.  There’s nothing to worry about.

Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re probably thinking.  Jesus talked about lust as a bad thing.  But I’m not “lusting” really.  I’m just going with a bunch of my friends to watch a few hot women dance around on stage naked.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  What could be the harm?  Of course, I’d never let my wife go to see anything like this.  I mean, we all know that women can’t handle that sort of thing.  But it’s clearly different with men.

If you want to go with me, just plaster it all over Facebook like everybody else.  It’s time those that don’t know Jesus discover that we’re really not any different from them anyway.

OK, I’ve got to go.  I need to get back to reading 50 Shades of Grey

See you at the movie!

Out of CONTEXT Verse: Philippians 4:13

This is the “holy grail” of out of context verses.  In today’s Christian culture, it’s the verse memorized right after John 3:16. It’s quoted over and over again as we work through whatever it is we’re going through. Believers use it to convince themselves that they can conquer the world for Jesus (metaphorically  speaking, of course).  For those of you who may be “reference deficient,” here it is:

I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.

Philippians 4:13 KJV

I don’t want to burst Christendom’s bubble, but what you’ve believed about this verse from the moment you first heard it quoted (or tattooed the reference across your chest) is completely wrong. This verse never says that you can do anything you set your mind to because Christ gives you strength.  Zig Ziglar might be able to inspire to you believe and achieve anything, but this verse shouldn’t. Let’s look at this verse in context.

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am in to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:10-13 ESV

Paul isn’t talking about supernatural power to conquer the world. He isn’t talking about a “name it and claim it” approach to life. This verse isn’t intended to be a supernatural steroid-shot to get your life on track again.

This verse is about contentment. Paul is saying that the secret to enduring every circumstance – both abundance and need; plenty and hunger – is the strength of Christ.

Sorry Joel Osteen, but you might be able to inspire tens of thousands of your loyal fans that God is going to help them “live their best life now” if they only really, really believe this verse, but you won’t be applying this verse correctly. This verse is about learning contentment, not overcoming your problems. It’s about a simple trust in Christ that builds the spiritual stamina necessary to endure through trials and tribulations, and remain faithful.

Jesus’ disciples struggle. They face persecution. They face challenges that seem impossible to endure. This verse should remind us that the secret to remaining faithful during these obstacles is not that God has given us a Christian catchphrase to inspire us. The Spirit of God and the example of Jesus’ sacrifice and endurance should empower us to stand in faith no matter the circumstance.

Huh…I guess CONTEXT MATTERS!

Next CONTEXT POST: No weapon formed against me shall prosper…

The 11th Commandment

Psychologists have proven that humans have a strong tendency to fool themselves into thinking that they’re better off than they are.  It’s called “Illusory Superiority”.  Essentially, the theory says that when we compare ourselves to others, we tend to notice the areas where we consider ourselves superior, and ignore the areas where we come up short.  I’ve been seeing this first hand lately.

I teach a discipleship class for young adults.  A few weeks ago, I felt led to ask them five questions, as a sort of “spiritual barometer”.  When I wrote down the questions beforehand, they seemed random and disconnected.  But as we discussed them, an interesting picture emerged.  Here they are:

  •  On a scale of 1 to 5 (1 meaning you’re ready to completely walk away, and 5 meaning you’re closer than you’ve ever been), how would you rate your relationship with God?
  • How often do you read the Bible?
  • Why do you go to church?
  • What would you change about your church?
  • How do relationships with others influence your walk with God?

 

What was shocking about the answers the class gave was how consistent they were.  Since that night, I’ve asked numerous others these questions.  I know a youth pastor who asked the forty students he leads on Wednesday night the questions.  The answers are almost always the same.  And that’s where things get distressing.

As to the “1 to 5” scale, over 90% of those asked have answered a “3”.  When probed as to what that means, they say, “Well, it’s not as good as it’s been before, but not as bad as it could be.”  Then, when asked about how often they read their Bible, those same people answer “Almost never.”  Of course, as someone who has personally experienced the power of daily Bible reading, I was a little surprised that those who answered “Almost never” could even consider themselves as being at a “3”, but we’ll come back to that later.

When asked why they go to church, I started to hear what I call “Sunday School Answers”: “For fellowship” or “For spiritual nourishment”.  With my discipleship class, I just looked at them and said, “Seriously?  You never use words like that in the real world.  What’s the real reason?”   Then they answered, “Because I’m supposed to.”

I was encouraged by the answers to question 4.  Most people asked have agreed that they desire to see the Holy Spirit moving; to see God’s people making a difference in the world.  They use words like “revival” and “on fire”.  As to how relationships affect their walk with God, they almost always said that the impact was significant.

So based on these answers, here’s a description of the “average American Christian” today:  The average American Christian rarely, if ever, reads their Bible; goes to church on Sunday because they feel like it’s what they’re supposed to do; would love to see their churches making a greater impact in the world, but admits that this isn’t really happening.  Because other Christians around them have a tremendous impact on their walk with God – and since nearly everyone considers their relationship with God a “3” – this makes sense.  We become like those we spend time with.

But nothing could have prepared me for the response one person I discussed these questions with had.  He is very active in his church.  In fact, he is considered a leader among his peers.  His answers were identical to those above.  But his reaction to them, and the subsequent response, was unbelievable.

As we talked, this individual broke down into tears.  He wept as he was confronted with the reality of his situation.  And he vowed then to make a change.  We talked about “first steps”, and the obvious answer was the discipline of daily Bible reading.

Four days later I saw him again, and asked how things were going.  He sheepishly responded that he hadn’t gotten started yet.  I metaphorically scratched my head, but graciously said that I would ask him again the next time I saw him.

Apparently he was prepared that next time.  Once again, he said that he hadn’t yet started, but he believed he had a very good reason.  He said he couldn’t just “pick up his Bible and start reading.”  He said he needed to find the right plan that made it interesting and compelling so he could truly get something out of it.  You could tell he felt vindicated by this excuse.

What do I think about his excuse?  I think he’s a fool.

And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

Deuteronomy 8:3/Matthew 4:4  

The Word of God is clear: our physical hunger for food and the need our bodies have to be satisfied is a reminder of the need our spirits have to feed on the Scriptures.  But as the answers to these five questions indicate, the “average American Christian” eats maybe one or two meals per week.  That’s the real reason we go to church.  If we didn’t, most of us would die off completely.  So we’re spoon fed the Word on Sunday morning and maybe one other time during the week, and we’ve convinced ourselves that this is not only acceptable, but that it is more than enough.  This is what we see in others in our churches, so we’ve become numb to the reality that this isn’t at all what God wants.  The Church in America can be described in one word: apathetic.

We know this isn’t right, but we see the problem as being outside of ourselves.  We want the Church to have an impact, but we don’t see the reality that WE are the Church.  We look at others, and believe that THEY are the problem, when we are, in fact, all the same.  We’re all “3’s”.

I once heard a writer say that Moses must have left off one of the commandments when he was on Mt. Sinai.  He said that the 11th Commandment has to be “Thou Shalt Not Fool Thyself.”  Most of us are pretty good at doing that.  We convince ourselves that things are really better than they are, or that our excuses are actually pretty reasonable.

So in response, I have two points to make.  The first is for the young man who is waiting for the right reading plan to come along to help him out.  If he hadn’t eaten but one or two meals per week for the past several months, he wouldn’t wait for the ultimate recipe to show up.  He’d take the first bowl of oatmeal he came across.   My advice to him: Thou shalt not fool thyself.  All the tears and words of regret and later excuses don’t really mean much.  If you really believed that your relationship with God needed to get back on track, you’d have left the room we were talking in, found your Bible, gotten alone with God and started working on that relationship.  You’d have eaten “the first bowl of oatmeal” you could find.  You’re dying spiritually, and you don’t seem to care.

And to the rest of us who would qualify our relationship with God as being a “3”, while in the next breath admitting that we read the Bible and spend time with Him maybe once a week if at all, I remind you of Jesus’ words to the Church at Laodicea:

“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot!  So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. “

Revelation 3:15-16

“Neither cold nor hot” sounds a lot like “it’s not as good as it once was, but not as bad as it could be.”  It sounds a lot like a “3”.  Jesus’ words to those of us in that category sting.  He says that we think that everything is wonderful, when we don’t realize that in reality we are “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”  Jesus tells a world full of “3” Christians, “Thou shalt not fool thyself.”  What I’ve realized over the past few weeks, is that someone who rates their relationship with God a “3” – while saying they rarely, if ever, spend time with Him – is really only a “1” or a “2” that is doing just that – fooling himself.

We love to talk about Jesus standing at the door of our hearts and knocking as if that has something to do with salvation.  It doesn’t.  It was Jesus’ description of His relationship with the Church at Laodicea.  His promise to that church is the same promise He makes to you and I:

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

Revelation 3:20

Maybe He’ll bring some oatmeal.

GUEST POST: The Search for Relevance

RelevanceThere is a yearning for something more in the church today.  One young blogger describes it as a search for authenticity.  She has identified a problem within the church.  What if the church is looking for relevance and truth in all the wrong places?  What does it mean to be authentic?

The blogger writes:

The more I talk with others our age, the more I hear stories with the same theme… I have heard account after account of individuals who grew up in church and feel as though they missed it. They sat through countless church services and know the traditions, but they do not know Jesus.

 This is why millennials are leaving the church.

 It’s not because the church doesn’t have a cool worship band, or fancy lights or stage. It isn’t because the pastor hasn’t updated his look to sport skinny jeans, a beard and tattoo. It isn’t because the church doesn’t have a Starbucks or eco-friendly restrooms… Even though this is what some might say attract people from my generation.

 If you want to attract a millennial, you need to be authentic. 

http://www.scissortailsilk.com/2014/09/29/what-millennials-really-want-from-church/

 One thing is true; it isn’t about the trappings offered at the church!  She is absolutely right about that!  She has done a masterful job of identifying the trouble with our western gentile churches.  She wants truth.  She wants a relationship with the Father through the Son.  She wants to Love people and actively demonstrate that love!  She wants to see obedience to the Father demonstrated by the ministers and by fellow-believers!  And she wants to find a way to be close to Him.

 She wants to walk like Jesus!

It’s clear that she finds much hypocrisy within the church, and doesn’t want to be preached to about morality.  How can the church learn to be more like Jesus in order to deliver truth devoid of hypocrisy?  Jesus told his disciples to go and make disciples of men.  What did they do that the church is not doing today?  What gospel did Jesus teach?

What if I told you that all the answers have been available to us for centuries?

The trouble is that the church is looking for love (and authenticity) in all the wrong places.

All 44,000 different denominations of the present-day church have forgotten their first love.

We have a definition of Love in the Bible.  We are told HOW to Love God and HOW to Love our neighbor!  It is the very same gospel message that Jesus and his disciples taught.  It is the gospel of the kingdom, and it has nothing to do with disco lights, coffee bars or praise and worship bands.

Never did Jesus say, “Go and tell everyone that I am the Messiah and that I am going to die and be resurrected so you don’t have to obey My Father anymore.”

No.  He said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)

He said, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he spoke about me.” (John 5:45-47)

Every word, deed and teaching from Jesus came directly from the Scriptures.  Sometimes we forget that the New Testament writings were not the ‘scriptures’ in His day.  The Church rarely looks at the Old Testament in order to understand the ‘New.’  But, that is like looking through the wrong end of a telescope!

Jesus said, “The scribes sit on Moses’ seat (where the Torah was read to the people).  Whatever they Say (when they read the Torah) to do, DO.  But, do not DO what they DO.” (Matt 23: 1-4)

This sounds confusing until you understand that the scribes and Pharisees had corrupted the words handed to Moses by adding to the Law.  Once that happens we no longer have the pure words of YHVH.  What’s authentic about that?

What is truth?  According to Psalm 119 the Torah is Truth.  It is also the Way and the Light.  It brings Life.  Just as Jesus described himself: The Way, Truth and Life!  The Psalm is a kind of ‘proof-text’ that demonstrates that Jesus is the Word made flesh.  In other words, He is the walking-talking-Torah!

Jesus was and IS the Word made flesh.  That is more than just a cute phrase that we learned in church.  It actually means that the Word of God took on flesh and walked among us.  How can He be the ‘Word of God’ if He walked contrary to the instructions given to Moses by the very hand of God?

The short answer to that question is that He didn’t!  He was our model for living in the spirit of GOD’s Law (Torah).

Jesus, walked, talked, and performed miracles under the authority of his Father by PERFECTLY following the Law of GOD.

We are told to look for a prophet like unto Moses.  What did Moses do?  He received the Law at Mt. Sinai and before his death he made sure to remind the Israelites of that Law.  You can see this recounting of the law in the book of Deuteronomy.  The same book that Jesus referred to more than any other when he was teaching!

If reminding people of the Law given at Mt. Sinai was Moses-like, then it is certain that Jesus is indeed THE Prophet of whom we must ‘shema’ (listen and obey).

Truth is found in the Torah.  Obedience is celebrating His feasts and meeting Him at His appointed times!  That is when we really have a relationship with Him: when we are in His will meeting Him at His appointed times (including Sabbath!).

If we seek to observe the same truth that was exemplified by Jesus and the disciples there will be no need to worry about attracting the millennial generation.  All those who seek the truth, regardless of age, will be drawn unto Him.

You want authenticity?  1Jn 2:6 The one who says that he abides in him must live the same way he himself lived.

Julia Glattfelt had “A Rood Awakening” several years ago.  A writer, lyricist and theatrical director, her articles may be found at Bulldozerfaith.com

Out of CONTEXT Verse: Psalm 118:24

This is the DaySing along with me!

This is the day (This is the day)…
that the LORD has made (That the LORD has made)…
I will rejoice (I will rejoice)…
And be glad in it (And be glad in it)…

Now that this Sunday School song from 30 years ago will be stuck in your head the rest of the day, let’s get something clear: this verse isn’t about today, or Monday, or any random day at all. It’s about the most important day in history.

I get it. We like this verse because it encourages us to have a positive outlook on life. It helps us get through Monday. It prepares our hearts for worship on Sunday. That’s fine. It’s good sentiment. But it’s still bad interpretation. Let’s look into the context:

The LORD is my strength and my song;
he has become my salvation.
Glad songs of salvation
are in the tents of the righteous:
“The right hand of the LORD does valiantly,
the right hand of the LORD exalts,
the right hand of the LORD does valiantly!”
I shall not die, but I shall live,
and recount the deeds of the LORD.
The LORD has disciplined me severely,
but he has not give me over to death.
Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the LORD.
This is the gate of the LORD;
the righteous shall enter through it.
I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
This is the LORD’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the LORD has made;
   let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Psalm 118:14-24 ESV

These verses are about our redemption; about our salvation; about Jesus.

We see this in the New Testament writings numerous times:

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? – Matthew 21:42 ESV (See also Mark 12:10 and Luke 20:17)

This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. – Acts 4:11 ESV

So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” 1 Peter 2:7 ESV

Each time, it’s in support of the argument that Jesus is the Messiah.  It’s clear, that the “stone” is Jesus.

Also, three times in this Psalm we see the word, “salvation.” In Hebrew, this is “yeshuw’ah”. Jesus, in Hebrew, is Yeshua.

But as he (Joseph) considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus (Yeshua), for he will save his people from their sins.” – Matthew 1:20-22a ESV

And finally, we see in this Psalm that the “right hand” of God is the power behind these verses. It is what is accomplishing the work. In our culture, someone who works in conjunction with another to accomplish that persons goals is often called a “right hand man”.  It’s no different in this passage. Jesus is God’s “right hand”:

So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. – Mark 16:19 ESV

This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. – Acts 2:32-33 ESV

But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. – Acts 7:55 ESV

…that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places… – Ephesians 1:20 ESV

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is,seated at the right hand of God. – Colossians 3:1 ESV

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high… – Hebrews 1:3 ESV

Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven… Hebrews 8:1

But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God… – Hebrews 10:12 ESV

…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:2 ESV

Yes, every day is a gift from God that we should rejoice in.  But let’s be clear: the “day” referred to in Psalm 118:24 is about a day that is greater than every other day. It is about the day of our salvation. It is a day we should rejoice in. It is the greatest day in history.

Huh…I guess CONTEXT MATTERS.

Next CONTEXT post: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me…

 

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