Proving or testing

It’s Friday all so let’s Greekout. Most people who read the Bible know about James 1:3 even if they don’t know where to find it. James 1:3 says knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance, and this is talking about testing our faith so that we can know the genuineness of it and grow. What you might not know is this was a not a new concept.

In Judges 3:1-2 we read and see that God left a few nations to test Israel. If you know Judges, then you know they failed. The best verse to sum up the book of Judges is 21:25 which says, “In those days Israel had no king: everyone did as they saw fit.” This is actually repeated a few times in Judges which should give us some insight.

Let’s look at the original language to see what we have here. In Judges the Hebrew word for test or prove is nacah in 3:1 which means to test, try, prove, tempt, assay, put to the proof or test. In verse 2 the word for teach is lamad and this means to learn. teach, exercise in.

That was a lot so let’s break that down. If we combine what we see in verses 1 and 2 we see that God left enemies in the land to test the people, so they might learn how to fight. What seemed like a challenge and struggle to the people was indeed a challenge and a struggle and it was a God-ordained challenge and struggle. God intended for it to be that way because the people needed to learn.

If we jump ahead a few thousand years and books, we see in James the Greek word for testing is dokimion and it means the proving. This is the exact same concept as Judges. It means that something is happening to prove your faith so that you might learn from it. It is not just about proving the faith but proving it so that we might learn from it.

God often leaves challenges and struggles in front of us to prove us for the purpose of learning. Jesus says that he who is faithful in much will be given much. God does not test us just to see what we know or what we will do. He already knows. Instead, God is testing and proving us so that we learn and can handle more of His will and His ways. God desires so much more for you and for me, but we need to a person and a people who can handle it.

So, if you are being tested or proved right now focus on the goal. Focus on the prize in front of you. Focus on God your great and might reward.

Just a thought,

Mike

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Luther: Here I Stand

The year is 1521 and Martin Luther the German reformer and theologian was brought before twenty-one-year-old Emperor Charles V and a secular tribunal of princes and officials. He was told to recant his position and writings, or he would be condemned for heresy. Martin Luther was by all accounts was a bold man who even himself recognized that at times he had gone too far in his criticisms. In Lend Me Your Ears by William Safire, Safire says Luther was “unswayed by a condemnation from Rome” and burned the papal bull that was issued against him in 1520.[1] Luther it would seem was determined to have this meeting where he would defend his works against any who would listen.

The first day of the trial he admitted that he was the author of the books in question and asked for a second day to think through his position. It was on the second day, April 17, that Martin Luther gave his response to the tribunal, one can almost picture the quiet courtroom as Martin Luther stands, takes a breath and begins to speak. It can be assumed he knew his words would not win many fans in this room. He knew that to be condemned a heretic meant not only possible death but worse the work he has done will be discarded and burned.[2] His work, his labor, his love for God will all be questioned.

It was with that understanding that Luther spoke. Luther carefully responded saying that he could not revoke all his writings because they were three-fold. In the first group were writings that “discussed faith and good works” which even the Pope acknowledged, the second dealt with popery, and a third group where he wrote against individuals who defend Rome on the points he spoke against.[3] He then moved on to agreeing to recant his works if he could be shown where he was wrong carefully adding in that the nature of the Gospel causes division such as this. Finally, in the closing section Luther proclaims that he must be convinced he is wrong by Scripture and reason before recanting. If not, he would not and could not recant.

Luther’s speech at the Diet of Worms has always been one of my favorite speeches because of Luther’s willingness to stand for what he believed in the even in the face of death. I cannot help but hear a hint of Justin Martyr in Luther’s opening lines. Luther echoed Martyr’s sentiment that a “lover of truth” must do and say the right thing regardless of the consequences.[4] Luther in his words implored those he spoke with to listen and that he would defend his cause which he “assured was just and right.”[5]

Luther moves from his opening to explain that the books he has written fall into different categories. Because of the way he addresses the categories it suggests that he is attempting to show the absurdity of being asked to recant all his works. Not all of Luther’s writings were considered heretical by the church so to recant all his writings would be to say the Pope disagreed with approved church teaching. This was a clever play by Luther and no doubt encouraged his supporters.

What I value are Luther’s quick wit and honesty. He comes across as honest in his attempt to have a conversation about the topics he wants to address. His remarks should invite such a conversation but because the crowd he is speaking to is generally only there to condemn a discussion is not something to be found. The conversation was had but those who should have been involved were no longer a part of it. We know from history that his supporters liked his message and the movement went on to grow.

Maybe that was the point and maybe that is the bigger lesson here from Luther. The purpose of a speech to win minds and change hearts is not only about the immediate audience but the secondary audience as well. The secondary audience is those who hear of ideas that were conveyed by the speech. Luther in addressing the absurdity of being asked to recant sound church doctrine shows is a thinking man. His willingness to admit he may have been more aggressive in his attack on the defenders of the Pope than necessary shows that he is a passionate man. This helps others who hear of his words be swayed that he may have valid points.

Was Luther successful? Seeing as we recently celebrated the 500-year anniversary of the nailing of the 95 Theses I would say so. Had Luther not been clever and calm in his speech and had he not taken the time to prepare his response we might only speak of him as a footnote. Instead however many know him to be a man possessed by the desire to share the faith entrusted to the Apostles. Because Luther was successful we can like him say in the face of danger “here I stand; I cannot do otherwise. God help me.”[6]

[1] William Safire, Lend me Your Ears Great Speeches in History, (W.W. Norton and Co: New York, 2004) 344.

[2] Britannica, Diet of Worms, https://www.britannica.com/event/Diet-of-Worms-Germany-1521, accessed November 7, 2017.

[3] Safire, 345.

[4] Justin Martry, Justice Demanded, The First Apology of Justin Martyr, Apple iBook, 3.

[5] Safire, 344.

[6] Ibid 346.

Walk it out

Paul said we are saved by grace through faith and not by works, but James says a man is justified by works and not faith alone. So, who is right?

Well, they both are, and I am not just saying that because both statements are in the Bible and I need to find coherence. When we come across things in the Bible that does not seem to make sense or things that contradict one another we need to back up and look at the context (I feel like I say that a lot). So, what is the context here?

Paul is talking about salvation. Specifically, he is talking about being saved apart from our own efforts. James, however, was not talking about salvation. He is talking about showing your faith or living out your faith. I think an illustration might help.

Here is an obvious statement: When you have a child, you become a parent. But let’s break that down. You are connected to that child and you cannot be any more related to that child then you are as a parent. You cannot become more related or less related. I know that is redundant but stay with me. You share DNA with that child, you share ancestry with that child, you share a larger family connection with that child, and so on. You and that child and related. That is salvation. It happened the moment you accepted Christ as Lord and Savior, and it is done. That is what Paul was talking about.

James is talking about acting like a parent or being a parent. James is saying “OK, parent you have a child now be the parent.” This is the works portion. This is waking up a 4 AM to feed that child, teaching that child to walk, changing diapers, and so on. It is taking the thing you claim to have and actually doing with it what you are supposed to. The statements from Paul and James are not opposed to one another but completely connected.

Now as I have said many times all analogies fall short, but I hope this helps.

When we read these statements from Paul and James we should put them together to see the bigger picture. We should see that we are saved by grace, through faith, and now we need to live like that is true.

Just a thought,

Mike

 

Read the Prophets and you will profit

Did you know that 16 out of the 39 Old Testament books are prophet books? That is almost half of the Old Testament. There are generally three things people do with the Old Testament prophets. The first thing people do is ignore them. Some people realize that it is difficult to understand so they just turn their eyes and forget that those books are there. This makes me a little sad (even though I do this) because so much is missed. The second thing people do is “read” them and use them. I put read in quotes because when these people “read” the OT prophets to use them they are looking for weapons to smash the unrighteous with. They are looking to smite the non-believer with the hammer of righteousness and justice and if you read that in Thor’s voice it is better. The last thing some people do with the OT prophets is they ponder their writings. They read them and think what am I do with this, what am I to take away from this, who are you God, and what do you think of me? This is by far the best thing to do with them in my opinion.

When we read the OT Prophets and their prophecies we must keep certain things in mind. For example, audience, time, context, culture, general situation, and fulfillment. I think it is because of these things that some choose to avoid them. There is just too much to think about and too much that is honestly foreign to us to really get something from them. However, if we just keep in mind that there are things in these books that we do not understand then we can get to the things that we can understand. Zephaniah is a great example of this.

If you read through Zephaniah, then you will probably notice it is not the most chipper book in the Bible. There is a lot of judgment going on but at the end of the book there is this beautiful verse about God being a mighty warrior who saves His people, rejoices over them bring them renewal, and delights in them with shouts of joy. Now you can just jump straight there and read the beautiful verse and I am sure you will enjoy it but there is something about a journey that makes the destination better.

If instead, you choose to read through the book you will see that God is not pleased when people call on His name and the name of other gods. You read that God has a zero-tolerance policy for worshipping Him and idols. You read that those who aim to please men are seen as low in God’s eyes. You read that He is a God with a jealous love for His people.

If you choose to read all the way through you will also read how God hates when His people are prohibited to worship Him. That God desires justice and mercy. That God is not pleased and will not always tolerate wickedness. That God says one day there will be a reckoning. Before you read about God being a mighty warrior who saves His people, rejoices over them bring them renewal, and delights in them with shouts of joy you first read about a God who says one day a cleansing will come.

So why is that important? Because the words about God being a mighty warrior who saves His people, rejoices over them bring them renewal, and delights in them with shouts of joy are meant for those who love Him. They are the message to the people who call on His name and worship Him in spirit in and truth. Now don’t misunderstand me I am not being all fire and brimstone here, but the Bible teaches that one-day God will come to rule and reign here on earth and when He does – that’s that for the wicked. In the meantime, though God is saying I am also a God who delights in my children so come be my child.

If we just jump straight to the pretty verse, we miss so much about who God is and who He wants us to be. So here is my recommendation. Pick an OT Prophet book and read it. Read it and keep these questions in mind: who are you God, and what do you think of me?

Just a thought,
Mike

Reading John with glasses on

The Gospel of John is my favorite book of all time. I may have said this before but it is worth repeating. One of the reasons is because John tells us how to read his book. Mind you he does not tell you until the end of the book but he tells you nontheless.

In John 20:31 John writes “But these are written so that you may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in His name.” Now this may be a simple statement and maybe I am making a bigger deal out of it then I should but…

Let’s think about this and break it down into two parts. First, John says that everything he wrote he wrote so that you would believe Jesus is the Messiah the Son of God. So when we are reading something difficult like “in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God” we can read it through the lens John provides and know that this is there so that we can beleive Jesus is the Messiah the Son of God. We can also look at a verse like John 8:56 where Jesus says that Abraham rejoiced to see His (Jesus’) day. We can read that and see again that Jesus is the Messiah the Son of God.

For the second part John says that he wants people to have life in His (Jesus’) name. Now this one can mean either life as in eternal life meaning being saved or life as in living the resurrection life of Jesus (think Gal 2:20). There is some really good discussion that you can have with that but for now I would say it does not matter too much for an intro to reading the book.

The important thing is that you read it with the lens that John wants to you to have life in Jesus name. For example, we can look at John 8:32 and read that Jesus says you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. In it’s most basic form it just means that Jesus wants us to be free in His name. We meet Jesus find out we are apart from God, find out God loves us, and find freedom (life) in Jesus. Another example, would be the story of the woman caught in adultry. We can read that and see that Jesus is not only the Messiah, because He can forgive sin, but that He has life in His name, because the woman is not stoned.

The book of John goes so deep but in truth it all starts with reading it the right way and through the right lens. My suggestion for you this week is to go back and re-read the Gospel of John but while you read it keep these three questions below in your mind.

What is John trying to point out here:

  1. Jesus as Messiah?
  2. Life in Jesus name?
  3. A mix of both (this one happens the most)?

Enjoy!

Just a thought,

Mike

Kingdom of Heaven

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I have been thinking about the Gospel and the kingdom of heaven lately. I know it surprised me too. Jesus talks about the kingdom of heaven some 33 times so I think it is kind of important. One commentary defines the kingdom of heaven as “the rule which God exercises through the person, work, and teachings of Jesus.”[1] I think that is a pretty good definition but to go a little further Edward Schillebeekx (no I did not make that up) says the kingdom of heaven is “a process, a course of events, whereby God begins to govern or to act as king or Lord, an action, therefore, by which God manifests his being-God in the world of men.”[2] I think that one is pretty good too. But I would simplify it a little and say the Kingdom of Heaven is God ruling now.

Have you ever heard the expression that some people are too heavenly minded for their own earthly good? I have and to be honest that is how we should live. The problem is that what is meant by that is some people are only looking forward to the after-death part of heaven and not the here and now part. I am not talking about heaven on earth as in everything is perfect but God ruling here and now in us. Jesus coming to earth, living, dying, and being raised again was an invasion. I mean think about it, Jesus came to earth to bring the kingdom of heaven here. He came to bring people out of sin and death and back into God’s kingdom.

We live in this weird now but not yet place of belonging to Heaven but still residing on earth. The kingdom of heaven lives in us and we carry around the kingdom of heaven everywhere we go. The Gospel message is that we can live in that reality of heaven now. Yes, one day when we die we will move there so to speak but we have it now. Right now, at work, at home, even in the car you have the kingdom of heaven because as a Christian you have submitted yourself to Gods rule.

As believers in the resurrected Christ, we live in the reality of this. This is why Peter writes to people and calls them sojourners or pilgrims. We should live heavenly minded but we should understand that it is a destination and position we currently hold.

 

Just a thought,

Mike

[1] HCSB Study Bible

[2]  Schillebeeckx, Edward, Jesus: An Experiment in Christology. London: Fount Paperbacks. pp. 140–141.