Friday, October 31, 2008

Save the Cheerleader; Save the World

The line is from the first season of "Heroes", although the plotline never really gets fully developed.

Still, the point is, sometimes the fate of the world, or a nation, or a city, hangs on a single person.

You recall the bargaining Abraham did with YHWH when YHWH was on a quest to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, as recorded in Genesis 18. Abraham challenged God, saying, "Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if fifty righteous people are found in the city?" (He continues on with some manipulative language -- "Far be it from you to do such a thing..." -- which encourages me somewhat because I often find myself being manipulative in my prayers. Part of our fallen nature, I suppose.)

YHWH relents and says that if He finds fifty righteous people in the city, He will not destroy it.

Abraham then bargains God down to forty-five, then forty, then thirty, twenty, and finally ten.

The end result is that ten people were not found, but God did chase out the four righteous that He did find, Lot and his family (although "righteous" appears to be a generous term for this group).

I was reminded of this event last night as I was reading Jeremiah chapter five. The first verse triggered this memory:
Roam through the streets of Jerusalem.
Look and take note;
search in her squares.
If you find a single person,
anyone who acts justly,
who seeks to be faithful,
then I will forgive her.
Find the Righteous; Save the City.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Early Christian Prayer Styles

In the early 200's AD, the Christian writer Tertullian declares:
Christians look up with hands outstretched . . . with head uncovered . . . and pray without ceasing for all our emperors.
What I find interesting is the idea of looking up, and of having hands outstretched.

Today's practice of bowing our heads, while following the example of the justified sinner in Yeshua's parable of Luke 18:9ff, is apparently not the way it was done in the early centuries of the church.

Further, the disdain given by some non-hand-raising Christians to those other Christians who might raise their hands in worship must also be aimed at Christians who lived much closer to the events of the New Testament than do we.

Friday, October 24, 2008

It's a Free Country

I was just asked a question similar to, "Is it legal to ..."?

That spawned this response:
By the way, in the US, up until the past 30 years or so, the default status for pretty much any activity was "legal" unless specifically forbidden. We'd answer such questions as yours with, "It's a free country." Nowadays, people think they have to ask permission of their government to do anything. Sad.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Church Types

A friend just shared this with me; someone at her church has done some research, and has learned that people in a church can basically fall into one of four categories, like so:




Kingdom - These people tend to focus on taking care of the needy, mowing lawns during work-days, printing the bulletin, running the website, setting up Bible studies, knocking on doors. They are the busy workers who are "about the business of the Kingdom".

Mental - These people tend to be academic; they dig deep into the Word, do word-studies, have debates, conduct the Bible studies that the Kingdom people have set up, teach, study the history of the church, make analogies and three-point lessons.

Mystic - These people tend to be ethereal, finding God in Nature as they walk through the forest, hearing God's whispers, "sensing" God's presence, praying for healing, seeing connections in otherwise apparently-unrelated happenings.

Emotional - These people tend to raise their hands in worship, and to cry during emotional songs/sermons, and to be touchy-feely-huggy, and to get excited at what God has done for us today, and to holler out "Praise God" when good things happen.


Few of us, I would expect, fall completely into only one category. For example, I see myself as about 65% Mental, 15% Emotional, 15% Mystic, and 5% Kingdom.

What I would like to point out about this breakdown are two things:

1) People are different, having different needs, and the expression of those differences is not wrong. (It's not wrong for the Emotional people to raise hands in worship, even if it "feels" wrong to the Mental crowd. It's not wrong for the Mental group to want a "thus says the Lord" for every little detail, even if the Kingdom people are more concerned about the practicalities of getting the message out to the world. It's not wrong for the Kingdom-oriented to want to have a "paint the old retiree's house" day, even if the Mystics believe we should put more emphasis on drawing the retiree's spirit into a mood of appreciation for God's handling of the little "coincidental" (*cough*) happenings throughout his life.)

2) When a church (or preacher) focuses on only one area, that church is only serving 25% of the needs of the people in the community. Over time a church itself may collect only like-minded souls; in such a case, it has become unbalanced, and unrepresentative of and unwelcoming to the remaining 75%, and is in danger of becoming convinced that the other 75% are "unscriptural", simply because they are different.

The Eunuch Went On His Way, Rejoicing

You'll likely recall the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch[1] to Christianity, as recorded in Acts 8:26ff.

The Spirit of God had compelled the early Christian evangelist, Phillip, to go to a certain road toward Egypt, where he "happened" (*cough*) upon the eunuch, a high-ranking official, the Treasurer, in the Egyptian government. The eunuch was traveling home after worshiping in Jerusalem, as all Jewish men were expected to do.

What many of us in the 21st century fail to realize is that it was extremely rare for an individual to possess a copy of any portion of Scripture. The fact that the eunuch had a copy of the book of Isaiah testifies to his wealth, or more likely, power/prestige.

Also what many of us in the 21st century fail to realize is that for most of Scripture's history, the reading of Scripture has never been a private endeavor. The silent reading of Scripture, even among Today's Jews, is fairly well unknown. Instead, reading was always done aloud. You'll notice that the eunuch was reading aloud:
Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. (Acts 8:30 HCSB)
Although the eunuch was almost certainly a Jew (albeit one not living in Judea, the homeland of the Jews), he was "cut off" from full participation in Jewish worship because his manhood had been "cut off":
No man whose [testicles] have been crushed or whose penis has been cut off may enter YHWH's assembly. (Duet 23:1)
So when Phillip joined the eunuch in the official's chariot, the eunuch was fully aware that he was both "less" of a man and less of a Jew than other "normal" men. They started studying the Bible at Isaiah 53:7-8.
Philip proceeded to tell him the good news about Jesus, beginning from that Scripture. (Acts 8:35 HCSB)
I find it interesting that just three chapters later in the book of Isaiah, 56:3ff, the eunuch and Phillip came across some very good news for the eunuch:

3 Let no foreigner who has bound himself to YHWH say,
"YHWH will surely exclude me from his people."
And let not any eunuch complain,
"I am only a dry tree."

4 For this is what YHWH says:
"To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose what pleases me
and hold fast to my covenant-

5 to them I will give within my temple and its walls
a memorial and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that will not be cut off.

This must have sounded good to the eunuch, who although a powerful official in Egyptian government was essentially a social outcast among his own people and his own God. No wonder that after immersion, making him a part of the new Kingdom, "he went on his way rejoicing" (Acts 8:39).

===
1. Eunuchs were men who for one reason or another had part of all of their genitals removed, usually non-voluntarily. Many prisoners-of-war who were pressed into servant-hood were often made eunuchs (such as Daniel and his three friends (Dan 1:6, etc; although Daniel does not record such, it would have been standard practice for the Babylonians to do so, and was so prophesied in 2 Kings 20:16-18)), to help prevent them from being troublesome, the way "manly" men might be in such a position of slavery. The "surgery" was often crude and brutal, and very often resulted in death. Those eunuchs who survived the procedure often had the additional stigma of the stench of urine-soaked undergarments, as they had little control of their bladder functions afterward.

Three 'Tions of Christian Living

One of yesterday's sermons at church pointed out three 'tions of Christian living. My summary understanding is thus:

* Education - taking in knowledge of God

* Meditation - allowing the knowledge to infuse into every crannie of your being

* Application - knowledge expressing itself through your being once it has successfully been infused into your being

And as the preacher asked, "What do you think about all day?"

Friday, October 17, 2008

Love God, Love People

Jesus said these two things were the most important items in Life. My friend Nathan Hale has put it to music such that it rolls around in your head, just as Jesus would prefer it to do:


Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Minor Prophet Micah, in a Nutshell

  1. Israel and Judah have sinned
    1. They will be crushed accordingly.
    2. "Yet I will bring an heir to you.... The glory of Israel shall come ...."
  2. Woe to those who plot wickedness and evil
    1. The evildoers "covet and seize fields; and houses, and take them away. And they oppress a man and his household, even a man and his inheritance."
    2. Therefore, Yahweh is planning a disaster for you.
    3. "Lately my people have risen up as an enemy [to me]. You strip the robe and clothing from those who pass by trustingly, those returning from war. You drive the women of my people out from their pleasant houses; From their young children you take away my blessing forever."
    4. You listen to false prophets.
  3. Political Leaders are your problem
    1. You leaders and judges should know justice.
    2. But instead, you "hate the good, and love the evil".
    3. You have cannibalized your people, and they will cry to me.
    4. But I won't listen to them, because they have followed your example.
    5. You prophets going around preaching "Peace" are using your supporters for your financial gain, and when they refuse to feed you, you turn against them in war, in direct opposition to your message. Therefore you prophets will not benefit from my Spirit; your prophetic communications from me will cease.
    6. But one message I will give to you: you leaders are evil, abhoring justice and perverting equity.
      1. You claim to be doing the work of God, but you're really in it for the money.
      2. And you'll stoop to corruption for that money, rather than doing your job properly.
      3. Because of the evil of the rulers, the whole nation will suffer. It's your fault they suffer.
  4. Yet in the Future, Jerusalem will be the headquarters of Righteousness for not just the Jews, but for people of all nations
    1. People of all nations will come to me.
    2. And I will be their judge.
    3. Implements of war will no longer be needed; they'll be converted to domestic tools.
    4. You'll be able to relax at home without worry about attack.
    5. The other nations will have their own ways, but Yahweh will be supreme over all.
    6. And when that happens, those who are suffering will get restitution.
    7. Right now, you Israelites are going through a rough time; being taken captive, all the nations hating you, and all. But this is just temporary. You'll be made strong again, and I'll take their plunder from them, as Lord of the whole earth.
  5. A Ruler is Coming, and He's Special
    1. O Little town of Bethlehem, you'll be the birthplace of this ruler.
    2. This ruler is of old; his goings forth are from eternity.
    3. He'll let the current struggle continue, until the appropriate time.
    4. When it's time, he'll gather his other brothers back into the fold of the Chosen People.
    5. He will come in the name of Yahweh his God.
    6. He will bring Peace, and will defend his people against attack.
    7. His people will be sprinkled throughout all the nations.
    8. He will purge the world of self-trusting defenses, of idols, of witchcraft and sorceries and fortune-telling.
    9. And on the nations that refuse to listen, anger will be executed, with a vengeance.
  6. Yahweh has a controversy with his people
    1. I've freed you from slavery.
    2. I've given you good leaders, both male and female.
    3. Your enemy wanted you cursed by a prophet, but I turned the prophet's cursings into blessings.
    4. And yet you weary yourselves trying to figure out how to worship me.
    5. Here's what I want from you:
      1. All I want from you is for you "to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God".
      2. The city should provide recognition of me in public.
    6. But because you cheat your customers in your everyday transactions, and think you can get by with violence because you have money, and lie, I've made you sick as a nation. This economic downturn you're experiencing, which will lead to your ruin and shame, is your fault for your unethical ways.
  7. Woe is me; I'm living in a fallen world, and it can't get up
    1. Poverty has struck me.
    2. Everyone's out to get me.
    3. "The Man" is corrupt; even the best of them are like thorns.
    4. You can't trust anyone, even who you're sleeping with.
    5. My kids have screwed me over; all my family is against me.
    6. Yet, I can turn to Yahweh.
    7. Even if I fall, and my enemies laugh at me when I do, I can arise again because of Yahweh.
    8. I will suffer Yahweh's disapproval, because I deserve it; I've sinned.
    9. But then He'll plead my case, and execute judgement for me, not against me.
    10. He'll bring me to the light, and I'll see it.
    11. My enemy will see it also, and will be ashamed for taunting me with "Where is Yahweh your God?", and then she'll be the one that's trodden down.
    12. A land is made desolate because of the fruits of the doings of its inhabitants.
    13. The nation that trusts in its own strength will be ashamed, but the nation which is shepherded by Yahweh will see great things.
    14. There is no God like Yahweh, who gets over his anger and is full of compassion.
    15. The nations will come to Yahweh in fear and awe.
    16. Yahweh "will give truth to Jacob, and mercy to Abraham, As [was] sworn to our fathers from the days of old."
Or at least, that's the way I read it.

Man + Woman = Androgyn?

I found these Jewish thoughts on a some aspects of immersion ("baptism", mikvah) to be interesting.

From: http://www.chabad.org/theJewishWoman/article_cdo/aid/1541/jewish/The-Mikvah.htm

Family purity is a system predicated on the woman's monthly cycle. From the onset of menstruation and for seven days after its end, until the woman immerses in the mikvah, husband and wife may not engage in sexual relations. To avoid violation of this law, the couple should curtail their indulgence in actions they find arousing, putting a check on direct physical contact and refraining from physical manifestations of affection. The technical term for a woman in this state is Niddah (literal meaning: to be separated).

Exactly a week from when the woman has established the cessation of her flow, she visits the mikvah. Immersion takes place after nightfall of the seventh day and is preceded by a requisite cleansing. The immersion is valid only when the waters of the mikvah envelop each and every part of the body and, indeed, each hair. To this end, [prior to her immersion - Kent,] the woman bathes, shampoos, combs her hair, and removes from her body anything that might impede her total immersion.

Immersion in the mikvah is the culmination of the Taharat Hamishpachah discipline. It is a special moment for the woman who has adhered to the many nuances of the mitzvah and has anticipated this night. Sometimes, however, the woman may be feeling rushed or anxious for reasons related or unrelated to this rite. At this point, she should relax, spend a few moments contemplating the importance of the immersion, and in an unhurried fashion, lower herself into the mikvah waters. After immersing once, while standing in the waters of the mikvah, the woman recites the blessing for ritual purification and then, in accordance with widespread custom, immerses twice more. Many women use this auspicious time for personal prayer and communication with G-d. After immersion, woman and husband may resume marital relations.


And then a little later in the article:

Trite as it may sound, mikvah offers couples the possibility of repeated "honeymoons" during the course of their marriage. Boredom, a seemingly innocuous state of affairs, can beleaguer any relationship and chip away at its foundation. The mandatory monthly separation fosters feelings of longing and desire -- at the very least, a sense of appreciation -- which is followed by the excitement of reunion.

Over the course of a lifetime, open-ended sexual availability may well lead to a waning of excitement and even interest. The monthly hiatus teaches couples to treasure the time they have together and gives them something to look forward to when they are apart. Every month they are separated -- not always when convenient or easy-but they wait for one another. They count the days until their togetherness, and each time there is a new quality to their reunion. In this regard the Talmud states: "So that she will be as beloved as on the day of her marriage."


This reminded me of a teaching from a Jewish scholar of old:

Do not deprive one another—except when you agree, for a time, to devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again; otherwise, Satan may tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (1 Cor 7:5 - HCSB)

The article continues:

The man-woman relationship thrives on a model of withdrawal and return. The Torah teaches that Adam and Eve in their original form were created as an androgynous being. Subsequently, G-d separated them, thus granting them independence on the one hand and the possibility for a chosen union on the other. Men and women have been pulling apart and coming together ever since. The mikvah system grants the married couple this necessary dynamic. Within their commitment to live together and be loyal to each other forever, within their monogamy and security, there is still this springlike mechanism at work.

I'm not convinced that the Torah teaches that Adam and Eve were androgynous in the Beginning (although it did strike me just a week or three ago that Eve "was taken out of" Adam (Gen 2:23 - KJV)), the claim does remind me of Yeshua's statement that:

... in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like angels in heaven. (Matt 22:30 - HCSB)

This author's "push-pull" imagery reminds me of the meaning of the phrase rendered in the King James as "help meet", which I understand to mean "helper against", as in Yin-Yang.

And more:

Human beings share a nearly universal intuitive tendency for the forbidden. Solomon, the wisest of all men, spoke of "stolen waters which are sweeter." How many otherwise intelligent, calculated individuals have jeopardized their marriages and families in pursuit of the illicit because of its seeming promise of the romantic and the new? Mikvah introduces a novel scenario: one's spouse -- one's partner in life, day after day, for better and for worse -- becomes temporarily inaccessible, forbidden, off limits. Often this gives couples reason and opportunity to consider each other anew. In this "removed" span of time, from this new vantage point, they view and approach each other with enhanced appreciation.

And finally, a hint of immersion's role in Christianity:

The single greatest gift granted by G-d to humankind is teshuvah -- the possibility of return-to start anew and wash away the past. Teshuvah allows man to rise above the limitations imposed by time and makes it possible to affect our life retroactively. A single immersion in the mikvah late in life may appear insignificant to some, a quick and puny act. Yet coupled with dedication and awe, it is a monumental feat; it brings purity and its regenerative power not only to the present and future but even to one's past.

Three Categories of Religious Commandments

According to Jewish thought,

G-d's commandments, the 613 injunctions known as mitzvot, are divided into three distinct categories:

Mishpatim are those laws governing the civil and moral fabric of life; they are logical, readily understood, and widely appreciated as pivotal to the foundation and maintenance of a healthy society. Examples are the proscription against murder, theft, and adultery.

Eidut are those rituals and rites best described as testimonials. This category includes the many religious acts that remind Jews of historic moments in their history and serve as testament to cardinal beliefs of the Jewish faith, such as the observance of the Sabbath, the celebration of Passover, and the affixing of a mezuzah on the doorpost.

The third category, chukkim, are supra-rational principles; they are Divine decrees about which the human mind can form no judgment. Chukkim completely defy human intellect and understanding. From time immemorial they have been a source of amusement, a target of scorn, and an uncomfortable and shameful presence to the detractors of Jewish observance. For the observant Jew, they personify a mitzvah[1] at its best; a pure, unadulterated avenue of connection with G-d. These mitzvot[1] are recognized as the greatest, the ones capable of affecting the soul on the deepest level. Unimpeded by the limitations of the human mind, these statutes are practiced for one reason only: the fulfillment of G-d's word. Examples are the laws of Kashrut, the prohibition against wearing shatnez (clothes containing a combination of wool and linen), and the laws of ritual purity and mikvah[1].


1. immersion[s], "baptisms[s]"

http://www.chabad.org/theJewishWoman/article_cdo/aid/1541/jewish/The-Mikvah.htm

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Praying to Jesus

In my church culture, prayer to Jesus is usually considered unBiblical, with the proponents of this idea generally quoting John 16:23 as the proof-text:
And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.
Here are a few notes I just put together for a friend that are worth considering on the matter.

==============

Acts 7:59

As Stephen was dying, he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God. The NIV renders Acts 7:59 thusly:
While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."

Of course, the NIV isn't the most reliable of translations. Here are a couple of other renderings:

They were stoning Stephen as he called out: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!" (HCSB)
And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. (KJV)
And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” (NKJV)
They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!" (NASB)
And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." (ESB)
They kept on throwing stones at Stephen. He spoke to God and said, `Oh, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' (WE)

I would not want to force the [N]KJV's terminology "calling [up]on God" to be equivalent with "praying". But I think many people might see the two terms as synonymous. The translators of the NIV certainly appear to have done so.

It could be argued that this was a special situation, since Stephen actually saw Jesus. But even if it was a special situation, it still seems clear that the World English Bible's "spoke to God" is synonymous with speaking to Jesus.

It seems to me that if one approaches this passage free of pre-conceived notions of prayer, one would likely conclude that praying to Jesus is Biblical. It seems to me that one must approach the passage with an already made-up mind to claim that Stephen did not pray to Jesus.

2 Cor 12:7-10 (NKJV)

7 And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. 8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

It seems to me that the "Lord" to whom Paul pleaded was "Christ", that Paul prayed to Jesus.

Someone might argue that this was not a "prayer", but a face-to-face encounter with Jesus. But to make this claim requires going beyond what the text actually says. The text simply says that Paul pleaded with the Lord, and the context indicates that Lord to be Jesus.

In years past, when I "knew" that praying to Jesus was unBiblical, I always had a twinge of discomfort when reading this passage, because it "felt" like Paul was praying to Jesus in this passage. Perhaps I was letting my pre-conceived biases color my interpretation?

1 Cor 1:2 (NKJV)

To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:

A person might reasonably conclude that "call[ing] on the name of" is the same as "prayer".

Acts 8:14-25 (NKJV)

14 Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, 15 who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. 16 For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
18 And when Simon saw that through the laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Spirit was given, he offered them money, 19 saying, “Give me this power also, that anyone on whom I lay hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
20 But Peter said to him, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! 21 You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. 22 Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. 23 For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.”
24 Then Simon answered and said, “Pray to the Lord for me, that none of the things which you have spoken may come upon me.”
25 So when they had testified and preached the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel in many villages of the Samaritans.
Who is "the Lord" in this passage? Luke defines the term in verse 16 to be "the Lord Jesus". Unless the term shifts meaning, without any indication of such a shift, between that verse and verse 24, then the reasonable conclusion is that Simon asked Peter to pray to Jesus, and neither Peter nor Luke corrects him on the matter.

James 1:1-8 (NKJV)

1 James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,

To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad:

Greetings.

2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

Who is "the Lord" in this passage? Well, in verse 1, it's Jesus. Does the meaning change by the time we get to verse 7?

John 14:14 (NKJV, alternate reading)

If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.

Is the alternate reading valid? Most modern versions prefer this rendering.

Rev 22:20 (NKJV)

20 He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming quickly.”
Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Did John just pray to Jesus? Yes, I believe he did.

1 John 5:14-15 (NKJV)

12 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God. 14 Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.

In this passage, who is the "He [who] hears us" and the "Him" in whom we have confidence? The closest antecedent is "Son of God".

Acts 1:21-25 (NKJV)

21 “Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.”
23 And they proposed two: Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. 24 And they prayed and said, “You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen 25 to take part in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.”

Who is the "O Lord" in this passage? Is it the "Lord Jesus" mentioned three verses before, or did the meaning of the term change without any indication of a change? Leave your preconceptions at the door, please, and just deal with the inspired text.

An Example of Logic

Jesus is prophet, priest, and king.

While living on this earth, he functioned as prophet, being God's mouthpiece to humans.

Now, in heaven, he functions as priest, being humans' mouthpiece to God.

In the future, he'll function (more fully) as King.

In his current role of priest, intermediary, he functions as a go-between; we pray "through" Jesus, and he conveys our prayers to the Father.

If you send a message to your spouse using your child as the runner between you and your spouse, to whom do you speak? The message is actually for your spouse, but you speak to your child. Likewise, if you send a message to God the Father, using Jesus as the runner, to whom do you speak?

An example from TV

If you've ever watched the television sci-fi show Andromeda, you know that the space-ship's on-board computer is named "Andromeda". There is also an avatar for the ship's computer, "Romy" (short for "An'dromy'da"), a very human-looking (and hot-babe-ish (not that I ever noticed - *cough*) android. The ship's crew would often converse with the ship's computer through this human-looking interface. They would talk and interact with the avatar, but in so-doing they were really talking with the ship's computer. I tend to think of the ship's computer as representative of "God the Father", with Romy representing "God the Human", with the radio-link between them representing "God the Holy Spirit". Yes, it's an inaccurate (and perhaps distasteful to some) analogy, but it works fairly well for me.

In this analogy, speaking to Romy is speaking to Andromeda. Likewise, speaking to Jesus is speaking to the Father.

Conclusion

None of these passages or examples absolutely compel me to conclude that prayer to Jesus is Biblical. But they do cause me to lean toward that conclusion. At a minimum, they cause enough doubt in my mind that I'm reminded of Rom 14:1,4:
... don't argue about doubtful issues. (HCSB)
Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. (NKJV)

So, if someone wants to pray to Jesus, I bless God for giving that person a heart of prayer.

Friday, October 10, 2008

How To Study the Bible

I found the following question, from http://www.lipanhousechurch.org/DOCTRINES/BibleStudy2a.html, most interesting.
When Paul and Silas were forced to leave Thessalonica, they came to Berea where they found Jews "of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true," (Acts 17:11).

Question, what Bible study method did the Jewish Bereans use?
The reason I found this so interesting is because I misread the question. The question I found myself asking was:
Question: What Bible did the Jewish Bereans study for their answers?
In fact, when Jesus needed scriptural authority for such doctrines as marriage and divorce, what Bible did He use?

What Bible did Peter use when teaching the crowds the Gospel in Acts 2? What Bible did Paul use when teaching that both Jew and Gentile are sinners in Romans 3, or when teaching that each Christian has his own God-given gift in Ephesians 4? What Bible did James use when teaching about the efficacy of prayer in James 5?

Answer: The early church and her founder and her not-yet-Christian students, such as the Bereans, turned to the Tanakh ("Old Testament") as their source of authority for much of the church's doctrine. We do ourselves and the church a disservice when we ignore and remain ignorant of the first century church's Bible.

Spiritual Gifts, 3

In the Law of Moses it was established that a matter must be confirmed by the mouth of two or three witnesses, as we see here:
15 "One witness cannot establish any wrongdoing or sin against a person, whatever that person has done. A fact must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.
Deut 19:15 (HCSB)
and as reiterated in the New Testament:
On the testimony of two or three witnesses every word will be confirmed.
2 Cor 13:1 (HCSB)
When the Apostles were first teaching the Good News of Jesus, their testimony sufficed for one of the necessary witnesses, but for the second witness, God provided signs and wonders:
3 So they stayed there for some time and spoke boldly, in reliance on the Lord, who testified to the message of His grace by granting that signs and wonders be performed through them.
Acts 14:3 (HCSB)
and
20 And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word by the accompanying signs.
Mark 16:20 (HCSB)
Sometimes a man's conscience, via the Holy Spirit, might act as a confirming witness to that man:
...my conscience is testifying to me with the Holy Spirit....
Rom 9:1 (HCSB)
Other times, other men might act as confirming witnesses:
27 Therefore we have sent Judas and Silas, who will personally report the same things by word of mouth.
Acts 15:27 (HCSB)
Today, we have the Bible as a witness. Where's our second witness?

One possibility is to consider the Bible as a collection of witnesses.

Another possibility is to consider extra-Biblical history as the second witness.

A third possibility is to consider that our conscience still may serve as a witness when led by the Holy Spirit.

A fourth possibility is to consider that perhaps miraculous gifts might still serve as a witness. This fourth possibility would be most effective to those who do not know or do not accept historical claims about Jesus, such as in third-world countries, or among atheists.

I'm only saying that if God wants his Word to be confirmed to non-believers, He's free to use whatever method He wishes, including signs and wonders. Just because I may not have witnessed a bona fide miracle, that doesn't mean that God can't and won't perform one at His will. If a pagan becomes a believer because the Word has been testified to him by a teacher, and then that Word has been confirmed by the testimony of a miracle, praise be to God!

Maybe modern Americans don't need signs and wonders because we don't need them as a second witness, and therefore God doesn't grant them to us often (if ever).

Someone once said that we don't believe in modern-day miracles, not because that's what the text teaches, but because that's what we experience, and then we impress our experience onto the text and conclude that's what the text teaches.

Far be it from me to persuade you to become a "holy-roller". But I do want to warn that our culture may have adopted a false doctrine that has managed to quench the Spirit. I'm content to recognize that modern-day miracles are questionable, but that if God so wants to use His Spirit, I'm not going to deny Him that right. And as Paul encouraged in 1 Cor 14:1, I want to:
Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. (HCSB)
So far, nuthin'. But that's not gonna stop me from my eager desire.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Spiritual Gifts, 2

In my last post, I presented the case that not all spiritual gifts in the church were/are of a miraculous nature, and that they were/are acquired via at least three methods, only one of which -- the laying on of the Apostles' hands -- has ceased.

This leaves two methods for spiritual gifts to still be present in Today's church:
  1. as an unexpected gift from God,
  2. as a gift from God in response to an earnest desire and prayer
A fourth method is implied in several texts, that of gifts simply being given to Christians as a result of being a Christian. We see this, for example, in the following places:
According to the grace given to us, we have different gifts:
Romans 12:6 (HCSB)
But each has his own gift from God, one this and another that....
1 Cor 7:7
Based on the gift they have received, everyone should use it to serve others, as good managers of the varied grace of God.
1 Peter 4:10
I think it's fairly safe to say that "miraculous signs and wonders" have always been the exception rather than the rule. Such miraculous gifts usually have the purpose of "confirming the word", and once the word has been confirmed, that particular need no longer exists.

I also think it's fairly safe to say that the "miraculous" gifts, as given through the laying on of the Apostles' hands, have died out with the death of the last Apostle or shortly thereafter.

However, having said that, I think it's a mistake to claim that therefore God can not and will not give miraculous gifts to his church Today. God can do anything He wants, whenever He wants.

I believe the church has created a man-made doctrine that God has claimed that He will not perform miracles after the first century. I don't find that claim to be Biblical. And those who dogmatically claim that "we know God does not perform miracles Today" are treading, I believe, on treacherous ground.

Is God performing miracles Today? I don't know. I've seen a few indications that He is. I believe there are a lot of charlatans out there performing so-called miracles that are not really miracles. But I do not want to limit God in what He can and can not do. If God wants to perform a miracle in the 21st century, that's His business, and I'm not going to deny Him credit for what appears to be His workings in Today's world. I don't want to quench the Spirit.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Spiritual Gifts

I was raised to think that there were nine spiritual gifts, all of a miraculous nature. I've since learned that the New Testament does not teach this.

Romans 12:6-8
6 According to the grace given to us, we have different gifts:
If prophecy, use it according to the standard of faith;

7 if service, in service; if teaching, in teaching;

8 if exhorting, in exhortation; giving, with generosity;
leading, with diligence; showing mercy, with cheerfulness.
Ephesians 4:7, 11-13
7 Now grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of the Messiah's gift. ...
11 And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God's Son, [growing] into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ's fullness.
1 Corinthians 12:4-10. 28
4 Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are different ministries, but the same Lord. 6 And there are different activities, but the same God is active in everyone and everything. 7 A manifestation of the Spirit is given to each person to produce what is beneficial:

8 to one is given a message of wisdom through the Spirit,
to another, a message of knowledge by the same Spirit,

9 to another, faith by the same Spirit,
to another, gifts of healing by the one Spirit,

10 to another, the performing of miracles,
to another, prophecy,
to another, distinguishing between spirits,
to another, different kinds of languages,
to another, interpretation of languages.

28 And God has placed these in the church:
first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, next, miracles,
then gifts of healing, helping, managing, various kinds of languages.

1 Peter 4:10-11
10 Based on the gift they have received, everyone should use it to serve others, as good managers of the varied grace of God. 11 If anyone speaks, [his speech should be] like the oracles of God; if anyone serves, [his service should be] from the strength God provides....
So, the gifts given by God's Spirit which I see listed here are:
  • Prophecy (listed twice)
  • Service (listed twice, perhaps thrice with "Helping")
  • Teaching
  • Exhorting
  • Giving
  • Leading
  • Showing Mercy
  • Evangelism
  • Message of Wisdom
  • Message of Knowledge
  • Faith
  • Gifts of Healing
  • Miracles
  • Distinguishing between Spirits
  • Speaking in different languages
  • Interpreting of different languages
  • Managing
  • Speaking as an oracle of God (could be lumped with "Prophecy", but implies less of a "miraculous" flavor)
  • Apostleship
  • Pastorship
Twenty gifts listed here; perhaps there are others I've not listed. Not all of these are "miraculous", but both miraculous and non-miraculous seem to be lumped into the same category of "spiritual gifts".

Note particularly that according to Ephesians 4, apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers were/are to last "until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God's Son". Unless we've accomplished that goal, it seems to me that perhaps we should still see apostles and prophets in the church Today.

The idea that spiritual gifting ceased in the first century seems to be based on two lines of evidence:
  1. It required the laying on of the Apostles' hands to bestow the gift of the Holy Spirit, as per Acts 18:8, &tc. But the flaw in this line of reasoning is that this is not the only way that Christians acquired spiritual gifts. In the New Testament I see it happening in three ways:
    1. Laying on of the Apostle's hands (Acts 8:18, 2 Tim 1:6). This particular method died out with the death of the last Apostle.
    2. An unexpected gift from God (Acts 2:1ff; Acts 10:44-46).
    3. By earnest desire (as implied in 1 Cor 14:1,39) and request in prayer (implied in James 1:5).
  2. 1 Cor 13:9-10 which says "9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. 10 But when the perfect comes, the partial will come to an end." This "perfect" which is to come is then interpreted to mean "the completed New Testament". But perhaps it simply means "the finished". In other words, when we fully understand, our understanding will cease to be partial; when we fully know, our knowledge will cease to be partial. If this view is correct, then the completion of the New Testament does not mean that these spiritual gifts have ceased.
Therefore,
Pursue love and desire spiritual gifts, and above all that you may prophesy. (1 Cor. 13:1)
And don't grieve God's Holy Spirit, who sealed you for the day of redemption. (Eph 4:30)

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Biblical Foundation of Our Government Structure

It's common knowledge that the founders of the United States were heavily influenced by the Bible (as well as other sources). But this really came home to me the other night as I was reading Isaiah 33:22:
For YHWH is our Judge,
YHWH is our lawgiver,
YHWH is our King.
He will save us.
There's our three branches of government in the first three lines: Judicial, Legislative, and Executive.

Cool!

The last line has also been pre-empted by modern minds; we tend to think that the U.S. Government will save us.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

In the War on Terrorism ...

... this idea changes much.

Our entire response to terrorism assumes that terrorists attack for political reasons, or economic reasons, or idealogical reasons, but the evidence shows otherwise. "People turn to terrorism for social solidarity", to be part of a community (a role the church should be fulfilling, perhaps?).

Terrorists, he writes, (1) attack civilians, a policy that has a lousy track record of convincing those civilians to give the terrorists what they want; (2) treat terrorism as a first resort, not a last resort, failing to embrace nonviolent alternatives like elections; (3) don't compromise with their target country, even when those compromises are in their best interest politically; (4) have protean political platforms, which regularly, and sometimes radically, change; (5) often engage in anonymous attacks, which precludes the target countries making political concessions to them; (6) regularly attack other terrorist groups with the same political platform; and (7) resist disbanding, even when they consistently fail to achieve their political objectives or when their stated political objectives have been achieved.

Abrahms has an alternative model to explain all this: People turn to terrorism for social solidarity. He theorizes that people join terrorist organizations worldwide in order to be part of a community, much like the reason inner-city youths join gangs in the United States.
I think it's well-worth the five minutes it would take you to go read this short article. "This kind of analysis isn't just theoretical; it has practical implications for counterterrorism."