Bible

“The Great High Priest” (Hebrews 4:11-5:3)

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You can listen to the audio here You can watch the Facebook Live stream here. 

11 So let us move forward to enter this rest, so that none of us fall into the kind of faithless disobedience that prevented them from entering. 12 The word of God, you see, is alive and moving; sharper than a double-edged sword; piercing the divide between soul and spirit, joints and marrow; able to judge the thoughts and will of the heart. 13 No creature can hide from God: God sees all. Everyone and everything is laid bare, opened for His inspection; and He’s the One we will have to explain ourselves to.

For the last two weeks, we’ve been talking about entering into God’s rest, and what that looks like. That’s followed by a couple verses about the Word of God being like a sword in our lives. It seems like an odd transition. But…..it’s not.

In the previous section on rest, the writer of Hebrews notes several times that rest is tied to obedience. No obedience, no rest. Look what happened to the Israelites who had to wander…look at Moses being able to see but not enter the Promised Land. Embracing obedience and entering into rest are intertwined.

We talked about several kinds of rest in the Bible: the rest that we find in salvation, the rest we find in this life following Christ, and eternal rest in the life to come. While the Bible talks about all three, I noted that I think this passage is specifically about the rest we can experience in this life while following Jesus.

So, our obedience to Jesus is tied to the kind of rest we are offered in Jesus in this life: rest from guilt, shame, hiddenness, self-justification…..

This is where the sword of the Word of God comes into play. What does it do? It exposes everything that is keeping you from rest. If you want to rest, you have to let the Word of God do its work in you. It will lay you bare. Keep in mind this was a world where short sword fighting had been made famous by the Romans. People knew what a sword could do. This is not a gentle image.

Adam Clarke has some great commentary on this. The verb means to have your neck bent back so as to expose the face to full view. This was done with criminals so they could be better recognized. Pliny, a historian, wrote about how pleasing it was to see " the supine faces and reverted necks of the informers” (I think traitors) as they looked up at the judge.

The term was also used to describe the action of wrestlers who bent the head and neck of an opponent, taking them down, or even dragging opponents by the neck. One writer (Diogenes) criticized a victor in the Games who kept looking at a woman in the audience: "See how this mighty champion is drawn by the neck by a common girl."

This is the image the biblical writer uses to describe what the Word of God will do to us. It will expose us. It will take us down; it will drag us around. This is good news and bad news.

The good news? The Word of God reveals our disobedience so that we can surrender in repentance, receive God’s forgiveness, and rest in Him.

The bad news? We are going to need to give an account of ourselves to God, and if we are the ones giving an account, it is not going to go well.

We need someone who can defend us.

14 Since we have a great High Priest, Jesus, the Son of God who has passed through the heavens from death into new life with God, let us hold tightly to our faith. 15 For Jesus is not some high priest who has no sympathy for our weaknesses and flaws. He has already been tested in every way that we are tested; but He emerged victorious, without failing God. 16 So let us step boldly to the throne of grace, where we can find mercy and grace to help when we need it most.

1) The Jewish high priest would pass through the veil of the temple and go into the holy of holies, carrying the blood of temporary sacrifices; Jesus went through the heavens with his own blood as the permanent sacrifice, not into the symbolic holy place but into the holiest of places.

2) Jesus is not a cold, aloof high priest; he has sympathy for us. Literally, according to Strong’s Concordance, he is “touched with feelings of compassion.” Why? He knows what it is like to be us. Until I had kids, I was pretty judgmental of other people’s parenting. How hard can it be, right? Now I know what it’s like. Until I was a coach, I didn’t have sympathy for coaches. Now I know what it’s like. I remember reading one of my dad’s books when I was a kid. It was called Black Like Me, by John Howard Griffin. From Wikipedia:

Black Like Me, first published in 1961, is a nonfiction book by white journalist John Howard Griffin recounting his journey in the Deep South of the United States, at a time when African-Americans lived under racial segregation. Griffin…  his skin temporarily darkened to pass as a black man. He traveled for six weeks throughout the racially segregated states of LouisianaMississippiAlabamaArkansas, and Georgiato explore life from the other side of the color line.

It was a powerful story that stamped my young mind pretty firmly with the injustice of racism. Why did it have power? Because Griffin understood in ways he had not before what it meant to be black and live in the south in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

This isn’t a perfect analogy to what Jesus did, because Jesus didn’t simply present as if he was one of us. Jesus became fully human without compromising the fullness of his deity.  He knows what it is like to walk this world.

3) But he emerged victorious and pure from this life, the only person in the history of the world to do so. He withstood every trial and temptation. And into His perfect life Jesus accepted the weight and the penalty of all of our sins, so that His death once and for all paid our debt.

4) So let us step boldly to the throne of grace,[1]because we have a compassionate and great High Priest who is full of mercy and grace. This is good news, especially after that daunting verse about the word of God exposing everything to God’s inspection.  A throne of judgment should cause us to fear, because God’s justice will be served. A throne of grace should cause us to rejoice, because justice has already been served in Jesus.

Remember what I said earlier about the role of the high priest, even the ones chosen by human beings? The job of every high priest is reconciliation: approaching God on behalf of others and offering Him gifts and sacrifices to repair the damage caused by our sins against God and each other. The high priest should have compassion for (reasonably bear with) those who are ignorant of the faith and those who wander (wayward; misguided; easily deceived)[2]because he also has wrestled withhuman weakness, and so the priest must offer sacrifices both for his sins and for those of the people.

If you read the next few verses, you will see Aaron and Melchizadek referenced (they also come up later). They were deeply admired priests to the Jewish people. The writer of Hebrews says, just like he did with angels and Moses and the Sabbath, “Those are all amazing, but they are nothing compared to Jesus. For starters, Jesus didn’t have to make a sacrifice for his own sins.” This passage in its entirety is meant to assure us of the true and everlasting greatness of the High Priest who took upon himself the death we deserved and who intercedes for us so that we can have peace with and rest in God.

With this background in place, I want to talk about the implications for us and others. The Bible says that we are all priests and kings now (Revelation 1:6).[3]So, we better take our role of priest seriously, and it should be modeled after Jesus’ high priestly role.

  • Do we approach God on behalf of others in prayer, even the most sinful people?Who are you angry with right now? Disappointed? Hurt by? Bitter? Do you approach God on their behalf in prayer, longing for their salvation, sanctification and glorification, and longing for the restoration of their relationship with God and you?
  • Do we sacrifice to repair the damage caused by our sins and the sins of others?Genuine repentance is a sacrifice. So is genuine forgiveness. Do we go out of the way to make things right?
  • Do we reasonably bear with Christians who sin in ignorance or from error?The Bible seems to make a distinction between two types of sinners in the church: those who sin boldly and defiantly, and those who sin in ignorance or from error.The first is an attitude of rebellious predetermination that deserves really firm discipline within the church (1 Corinthians 5); the second is from weakness of some sort, and demands a different response. From Vincent’s Word Studies: “moderate or tender in judgment toward another's errors…a state of feeling toward the ignorant and erring which is neither too severe nor too tolerant. The high priest must not be betrayed into irritation at sin and ignorance, neither must he be weakly indulgent.”
  • Do we empathize with or have sympathy for those who are weak because we recognize our weakness? In this verse, the priest’s ‘weaknesses’ is literally, “has infirmity lying around him.” It’s the same word used later in Hebrews when we are told we are encompassed by a great cloud of witnesses.[4]We are encompassed by a great cloud of our weakness.[5]

As for empathizing, Adam Clarke notes:

“The word signifies, not merely to have compassion, but to act with moderation, and to bear with each in proportion to his ignorance, weakness, and untoward circumstances, all taken into consideration with the offenses he has committed: in a word, to pity, feel for, and excuse, as far as possible; and, when the provocation is at the highest, to moderate one's passion towards the culprit, and be ready to pardon; and when punishment must be administered, to do it in the gentlest manner.”

 I will close with a comment from a sermon by Spurgeon, whom I have found myself quoting a lot in this series:

Think much of the Son of God, the Lord of heaven and earth, who for our salvation loved and lived and served and suffered. He that made man was made man. As a suppliant, with cries and tears He pleaded with God, even He before whom the hosts of heaven bow adoringly. He has still that tenderness to which He was trained by His suffering; He bids you now come to Him.

 You that love Him approach Him now, and read the love which is engraved on His heart. You who have not hitherto known Him, come boldly to Him and trust Him who has come so near to you. The Man is very near akin to us. Behold how He loves us! He bends to us with eternal salvation in His hands. Believe in Him and live. God grant it! Amen.

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[1]“Confident access to God is a priestly privilege reserved for those who have been purified from sin’s pollution by Jesus’ sacrifice (7:1910:1922), and so can offer sacrifices of thanksgiving pleasing to God (12:2813:1516). On the priestly privilege of Christian believers see Rom. 5:12Eph. 2:13–221 Pet. 2:4–10.” (Reformation Study Bible)

[2]on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way] Highhanded sinners, willing sinners, those who, in the Hebrew phrase, sin “with upraised hand” (Numbers 15:30Deuteronomy 17:12), cannot always be treated with compassionate tenderness (Hebrews 10:26); but the ignorant and the erring (1 Timothy 1:13)—those who sin “inadvertently,” “involuntarily” (Leviticus 4:2Leviticus 4:13, &c.)—and even those who under sudden stress of passion and temptation sin willfully—need pity (Leviticus 5:1Leviticus 19:20-22), and Christ’s prayer on the cross was for those “who know not what they do.”  (Cambridge Bible For Schools And Colleges)

[3]“Every believer is a priest, having access in the name of Christ, the great High Priest, to the presence of God (Heb. 4:14-16). Believers, then, have the priestly work of daily offering themselves as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1-2) and of offering the sacrifices of deeds of mercy and adoring worship to God (Hen. 13:15-16). The priesthood of all believers means not only that all are now active participants in joyful public worship (1 Cor. 14:26) but also that they have the priestly calling to “do good and to share with others” (Heb. 13:16). As prophets, Christians call neighbors to repent, but as priests they do so with sympathy and loving service  to address their needs. This is why Jesus calls us to live such lives of goodness and service that outsiders will glorify God (Matt. 5;16).” http://timmybrister.com/2012/11/tim-keller-on-every-believer-as-prophet-priest-and-king/

[4]See Vincent’s Word Studies at https://biblehub.com/commentaries/hebrews/5-2.htm

[5]“The priest must be one with men. He must have gone through men's experiences and his sympathy must be with them. At this point the writer to the Hebrews stops to point out--he will later show that this is one of the ways in which Jesus Christ is superior to any earthly priest--that the earthly priest is so one with men that he is under the necessity of offering sacrifice for his own sin before he offers it for the sins of others. The priest must be bound up with men in the bundle of life. In connection with this he used a wonderful word--metriopathein (Greek #3356). We have translated it "to feel gently"; but it is really untranslatable.

The Greeks defined a virtue as the mean between two extremes. On either hand there was an extreme into which a man might fall; in between there was the right way. So the Greeks defined metriopatheia (the corresponding noun) as the mean between extravagant grief and utter indifference. It was feeling about men in the right way. W. M. Macgregor defined it as "the mid-course between explosions of anger and lazy indulgence." Plutarch spoke of that patience which was the child of metriopatheia. He spoke of it as that sympathetic feeling which enabled a man to raise up and to save, to spare and to hear. Another Greek blames a man for having no metriopatheia and for therefore refusing to be reconciled with someone who had differed from him. It is a wonderful word. It means the ability to bear with people without getting irritated; it means the ability not to lose one's temper with people when they are foolish and will not learn and do the same thing over and over again. It describes the attitude to others which does not issue in anger at their fault and which does not condone it, but which to the end of the day spends itself in a gentle yet powerful sympathy which by its very patience directs a man back to the right way. No man can ever deal with his fellow-men unless he has this strong and patient, God-given metriopatheia.” (William Barclay)

 

The BIble (Pillars of Faith Series)

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There is a lot of criticism of the Bible right now. “It’s old, it’s unreliable, it doesn’t reflect modern understandings, it’s just another religious outlook.” Some would even say it is destructive. And yet we as Christians turn to it. In 2 Timothy 3:15-17, Paul says to Timothy, “You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Our statement of faith reads: “We believe the Holy Bible to be the inspired Word of God, inerrant in its original manuscripts. It is our standard for faith and practice and the measure by which all of life and personal revelation is to be evaluated.” (2 Timothy 3:15-17; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Peter 1:21)

So let’s talk about the Bible. Why do we believe what we do about the Bible, and why does it matter? This will be a very brief overview; I encourage you to use the resources listed at the end.

 We claim the Bible is ‘breathed out,’ or inspired: God expressed himself accurately, uniquely and sufficiently through human authors.  All communication occurs in a context, so the writers use their language (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek), their jargon and their personality (there are different styles), but God inspired them and guided them so that they wrote accurately. The Bible is unique in that it is the only revelation from God to which we ascribe this level of trust. There is no other revelation that carries the authority of the Bible. It is sufficient means not only is it the only revelation of this nature that we have, it’s the only revelation of this nature that we need.

We claim the Bible is inerrant: “When all facts are known, the Scriptures in their original autographs and properly interpreted will be shown to be wholly true in everything that they affirm”  (Dr. Paul Feinberg). To say this confidently, we need to be confident that what we have today is what we are supposed to have, and that we are able to interpret it properly. Fortunately, that’s our next sections J

We claim the Bible is canonical (the books are the right books). The ‘canon’ is a ruler, a measure by which all other claims to revelation are judged. Let's look at how both of these sections of the Bible became part of the canon.

OLD TESTAMENT

  • Ezra, in the late 5th century BC, gave  22 books to the Sopherim (priests who performed their functions at the Temple, and who eventually became the Sanhedrin). These books were kept in the Temple.
  •  Shortly after, the Jews closed the Old Testament canon, because “ the succession of prophets ceased” (Josephus) and “the Holy Spirit departed from Israel.” (Talmud) 
  • Daniel, in the 7th century BC wrote (Daniel 9:2): “in the first year of his reign [Darius], I, Daniel understood from the scrolls, according to the word of the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years.” The book of Jeremiah was part of a larger collection of books/scrolls that Daniel considered authoritative.
  • The Prologue to Ecclesiasticus, written by a Jewish scribe about middle 2nd century B.C., mentions a Greek translation of “the Law itself, the Prophecies, and the rest of the books.” The implication is that there exists a collection of books that was then translated into Greek. (the info in the last two paragraphs are  from http://www.credomag.com/2015/03/25/how-did-we-get-the-old-testament-paul-d-wegner/)

Josephus wrote in the first century AD: “For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another [as the Greeks have] but only twenty-two books (they combined the 39 to 22), which contain the records of all the past times; which are justly believed to be divine; and of them five belong to Moses, which contain his laws and the traditions of the origin of mankind until his death…but as to the time from the death of Moses until the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, who reigned after Xerxes, the prophets, who were after Moses, wrote down what was done in their times in thirteen books. The remaining four books contain hymns to God, and precepts for the conduct of human life.”

NEW TESTAMENT

 There were six requirements for a book to make it into the New Testament:

A.  Apostolicity: Was the book written by a first generation apostle or disciple?

B. Antiquity: Was the authorship by a Christian leader from the church’s first generation?

C. Authenticity: Do historical traditions affirm the writings’ authorship and authority?

D. Ubiquity: Did the book have a history of "continuous and widespread approval” among Christians?

E. Universality: Is the book consistent with the OT and known NT writings?

F. Effect: Does the book change lives? Does it have a spiritual and moral effect?

 The shape of the accepted books took place fairly quickly considering how long it would have taken for the writing to circulate and be discussed. Paul was writing in the 50’s; Matthew, Mark and Luke were written in the 70’s.

  • Clement of Rome: eight New Testament books (A.D. 95)
  • Polycarp, a disciple of John the Apostle: 15 books (A.D. 108)
  • Ignatius of Antioch: seven books (A.D. 115) 
  • Irenaeus, in 130 A.D.: current canon, with some reservations
  • Origen, in 185: current canon with some reservations
  • 150-180: most current NT books were widely accepted
  • 200 A.D.: Muratorian Fragment records a list of books very similar to what we have today
  • Athanasius, AD 367 - accepted them all
  • Following councils affirm the core canon, though some traditions add certain books (deuterocanonical books)

We claim the Bible is reliable. It has been preserved accurately.

The Massoretes in the 10th century (around 916 A.D.) had complete copies of Old Testament books such as Isaiah.  When the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947 in Qumran, we found a complete copy of the book of Isaiah, both books of Samuel and fragments of almost every book in the Old Testament (dated to 100 BC). So how do the Massoret and Qumran texts compare with 1,000 years difference between the two texts? In Isaiah 53, only 17 letters are different. 10 are spelling differences (honor/honour). 4 are additional conjunctions (‘and’). One is the last 3 letters for the Hebrew word for light, added to complete the thought of "they shall see" at the end of verse 11.

From A.D. 100 - 300, there are 36,000 early quotations of the New Testament in the existing documents from the early church fathers. We could basically recreate the New Testament from these writing if we needed to. These two quotes summarize the validity and trustworthiness of the Bible:

"There is no body of ancient literature in the world which enjoys such a wealth of good textual attestation as the New Testament… if the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt." F. F. Bruce 

" It can be asserted with confidence that the sacred text is exact and valid and that no article of faith and no moral precept in it has been distorted or lost." - B.B Warfield

 We claim the Bible is knowable. It can be studied accurately.

 “We affirm the necessity of interpreting the Bible according to its literal, or normal, sense.  The literal sense is… the meaning which the writer expressed.  Interpretation according to the literal sense will take account of all figures of speech and literary forms found in the text. This means the correct interpretation is the one which discovers the meaning of the text in its grammatical forms and in the historical, cultural context in which the text is expressed.” Chicago Statement on Biblical Innerancy

There are three things to remember as we seek to read the Bible accurately.

Know the TRANSLATION.

Versions range from literal, word-for-word translations (King James) to versions that paraphrase with modern language (The message). Here is a good discussion on types of translations. I like reading biblegateway.com so I can read side-by-side translations that use different styles to communicate the same message.

Meaning always flows from the top down, so know the CONTEXT

“We can easily forget that Scripture is a foreign land and that reading the Bible is a crosscultural experience”  (Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes). Here are some  practical example of this principle in action: 

  • when Ruth uncovers Boaz’s feet and lays down beside him (Ruth 3:4), she is not seducing him. She is asking him to assume the responsibility for her care, as her husband.
  • when you hear the violent will take the Kingdom of Heaven by force {Matthew 11:12}, it’s an analogy to sheep bursting out of pen after being penned up all night.

A word is in a sentence…paragraph…section…book, etc. Take the time to read the context. 

 Know the PURPOSE

  • Is it instructive (and to whom?): Take of your shoes (to Moses); don’t get tattoos (to the Jews for culture-bound reasons); “love your enemies…pray for them” (to all). All the sections are interactions, but the first two are not for us!
  • Corrective (and for what purpose?): Many things in NT letters were written to correct.  For example, the Corinthian ladies wear a covering, and men were told not to cover their head. I’m convinced that had to do with creating a culture in the church where all people had value and dignity, and with offering a testimony to the community that clearly displayed why the early church was not like the pagan temples. We don't insists that women cover their heads and men don't, but we do seek to obey the principle behind the correction Paul gave the church in Corinth. The Bible contains timeless principles that are sometimes expressed in timely ways. We always seek to understand the expression so we can honor the principle.
  • Descriptive:  You find this in many Old Testament stories, and a lot of the Book of Acts. Not everything is meant to be read as a standard. Sometimes it just describes life. We don’t sacrifice the first thing we see after a military victory, like Jephthah did with his daughter in Judges 10; we don’t meet in Jewish temples or homes for church usually (Acts 2:46).

 We claim the Bible is true.

 “… here is a faith firmly rooted in certain... historical events, a faith which would be false and misleading if those events had not actually taken place, but which, if they did take place, is unique in its relevance and exclusive in its demands on our allegiance. For these events did not merely set a process in motion and then themselves sink back into the past. The unique historical origin of Christianity is ascribed permanent, authoritative, absolute significance; what happened once is said to have happened once for all..." J.N.D Anderson

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RECOMMENDED RESOURCES

 http://biblos.com.  An excellent site with parallel versions, links to other similar verses, cross references, commentary, and explanations of Hebrew and Greek words.

http://www.biblegateway.com.   Bible Gateway has a searchable online Bible in over 100 versions and 50 languages. There are reading plans, commentaries, dictionaries, e-books, etc.

http://www.followtherabbi.com/Brix?pageID=1458.  Ray Vander Laan’s site called “Follow the Rabbi.”   An intriguing look into Jewish worldviews and customs, as well as other cultural insights that are helpful in understanding the venue in which the Bible was written.

http://www.str.org/site/PageServer.  Greg Koukl’s site, Stand To Reason, has a ton of helpful information, including a lot of insight on how to read the Bible accurately. Just search “Reading the Bible” on his site, and you will be off and running.

http://bible.cc/.  A great online parallel Bible with TONS of resources. My personal favorite.

Cold Case Christianity (http://coldcasechristianity.com) – the website and J. Warner Wallace’s books, Cold Case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene. Wallace is a fantastic resource for looking at the historicity and reliability of the Bible as well as the Christian faith.

Can We Still Believe the Bible?: An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions, by Craig Blomberg (I have not read it ,but it’s been highly recommended).

The Case for Christ and The Case For Faith by Lee Strobel

 Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, by Kenneth Bailey.

Insights into Bible Times and Customs, by G Christian Weiss, published by Moody Press.

Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus, by David Bivin and Roy Blizzard.

Hard Sayings of the Bible, by Walter Kaiser, F.F. Bruce, and others. P

Is God a Moral Monster?  Making Sense of the Old Testament God, by Paul Copan.   A book on how to read the Old and New Testament faithfully, with a focus on understanding God in the Old Testament.

Hard Saying of the Old Testament, by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.  Insight into the historical, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds of troublesome passages in the Old Testament.

Hard Sayings of Paul, by Manfred T. Brauch. This book takes forty-eight different teachings of Paul, and provides background and context.

Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes, be E. Randolph Roberts and Brandon O’Brien

Series on Biblical books by Timothy Keller (such as Galatians For You) or N.T. Wright (his New Testament for Everyone set)

Walking In War (Ephesians 6:10-20)

"Finally, brothers and sisters, draw your strength and might from God. Put on the full armor of God to protect yourselves from the devil and his evil schemes. We’re not waging war against enemies of flesh and blood. No, this fight is against tyrants, against authorities, against supernatural powers and demon princes that slither in the darkness of this world, and against wicked spiritual armies that lurk about in heavenly places. And this is why you need to be head-to-toe in the full armor of God: so you can resist during these evil days and be fully prepared to hold your ground."

Here we see individual responsibility in the midst of corporate unity. This is not like spiritual gifts or the “Five Fold Office” mentioned earlier in Ephesians where God gave “some” to be apostles, evangelists, etc. This is a clear call to all of us.

"Yes, stand—truth banded around your waist, righteousness as your chest plate, and feet protected so you are steadied by and ready to proclaim the good news of peace with God. Don’t forget to raise the shield of faith above all else, so you will be able to extinguish flaming spears hurled at you from the wicked one. Take also the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray always. Pray in the Spirit. Pray about everything in every way you know how! And keeping all this in mind, pray on behalf of God’s people. Keep on praying feverishly, and be on the lookout until evil has been stayed. And please pray for me. Pray that truth will be with me before I even open my mouth. Ask the Spirit to guide me while I boldly defend the mystery that is the good news— for which I am an ambassador in chains—so pray that I can bravely pronounce the truth, as I should do."

 In Romans 13: 12-14, Paul writes, "Put on the armor of light… clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ." He was expanding on the words of Isaiah:

  • “Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash round his waist.” Isaiah 11:5
  • “For he put on righteousness as a breastplate, and an helmet of salvation upon his head” (Isaiah 59:17).

Paul talked other places about the nature of our fight. “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds. We destroy arguments…and take every thought captive.” (2 Corinthians 10:3- 5).

 Let’s be clear: God makes the armor. We ask for it, and He gives it, not because we are awesome, but because He is. Then we have to put it on.  Paul says, “It’s time to move. Put on that which God offers you for your good and His glory.”

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  • Put on: The Belt of Truth (aletheia, reality as opposed to illusion).
  • Stand For: The truth that God is real; Jesus was God in the Flesh; his life, death and resurrection bring us salvation, forgiveness and hope. If this is not true, “we are of all people most miserable.” (1 Corinthians 15:19)
  • Stand Against: The error that Christianity is wishful thinking (“I want it to be true!”), merely human thoughts (“The Bible just shows us how people thought about God”), or only one way of many equally effective ways.
  • Put on: The Breastplate of Righteousness    (dikaiosune, right standing with God)
  • Stand For: The truth that it is only through Jesus Christ that we are absolved from the penalty of sin, freed from the power of sin, and guarded while in the presence of sin.
  • Stand Against: The error that we are born good (“I’m on the right track, baby, I was born this way”), or that we can become righteous through our works .
  • Put on: The Shoes of Peace (eirene, peace with God; tranquility in salvation)
  • Stand For: The truth there is spiritual peace with God through our commitment to and ongoing life with Jesus Christ. This is not the same as saying that if you are a Christian, there will be peaceful coexistence of others on earth, or that you will always feel interior peace. This is a claim about a truth that is greater than our circumstances or our feelings. Romans 5:1-2: “Therefore, since we have been made right in God's sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God's glory.”
  • Stand Against: The error of false saviors (spiritual or material) and fleeting peace, which is usually some form of indulgence or avoidance. If something calms the chaos in our life no matter how little and how temporary, we tend to overindulge. Money? Sex? Being noticed and admired? Food? Vacations? Or if something brings anything unsettling, we avoid. People who annoy us…situations that aren’t just to our liking…a controlled environment (diet, exercise, social groups)
  • Put on: The Shield of Faith (pistis; “Trusting, holding to, and acting on what one has good reason to believe is true in the face of difficulties.” – Tim McGrew)
  • Stand For: The truth that there is wisdom in an ongoing trust in and response to God. A belief that the Bible matches the world.  We often think of faith as just trust in God. I think we have to include trust in God’s revelation. The Bible tells us that we are to be faithful in little things if we expect to be trusted in big things (Luke 16:10). But if the Bible is wrong, then God has not been faithful in little things. If you don’t understand the little things in the Bible, press in to them. Read. Study. Pray. Ask qualified, godly people for advice. Trusting that the biggest things are true in Christianity will trickle down; trusting that the smallest things in Christianity are true will build up.
  • Stand Against: The error that we should trust in Idols (self, hidden knowledge, politicians, the economy, health, pop psychology, etc).
  • Put on: The Helmet of salvation (soterios; saving)
  • Stand For: The truth of God's promises of eternal salvation and ongoing sanctification in Jesus Christ. “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind… “ (Romans 12:2)   “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 2:5) “…be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)
  • Stand Against: The error of gaining salvation from anything other than Christ, or evolving spiritually by thinking positively
  • Put on: The Sword of the Spirit (The Bible) 
  • Stand for: The truth of the power, trustworthiness and sufficiency of God's Word to tell us what we need to know about Christ and His plan for the world.     
  • Stand Against: The error of giving anything else equal weight in your spiritual formation; trusting outside sources or inner revelation over clear Biblical truth.

Note: In Bible times, there was no stainless steel. A sword unused became rusty, dull, and pitted. Swords were kept clean by frequent use or by honing them against a stone (the Rock of Ages) or another soldier’s sword. “Iron sharpeneth iron” (Proverbs 27:17)

  • Put on: Prayer (proseuchomai; literally, to interact with the Lord by switching human wishes (ideas) for His wishes. “They Kingdom come, they will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)  “Whatsoever you ask in my name…” (John 14:13) Accordingly, praying is closely inter-connected with pístis ("faith") in the NT. – (biblehub.com). In fact ,James 5 talks about the prayer of faith (“
  • Stand For: The truth that prayer is powerful and necessary. We are told to constantly pray (1 Thessalonians 5:16) “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” (Romans 12:12) “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16)
  • Stand Against: the error that prayer manipulates God or that prayer is unnecessary. God is not a machine. He’s not programmed in such a way that we can manipulate Him. God will answer prayer how he chooses to answer prayer. The prayers of the righteous are powerful, but not coercive. On the other hand, prayer is clearly not irrelevant. Part of being faithful is praying faithfully, and in the end praying what Jesus prayed: “Not my will, but yours be done.”

A final thought involving shields: We often read this individually: “You, Anthony! Stand!” But this letter was written to the churches in Ephesus. It’s a group command. Everyone then who saw the Roman army knew how this principle worked (see the cover of your bulletin). Now, in order for the group to stand, individuals need to stand to. It doesn’t absolve us. But it reminds us again of the importance of unifying around Christ, then standing against everything that comes against us – together.

Game On

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The Apostle Paul often used figures of speech from arena competition.  In Corinth, the people were most familiar with the Isthmian Games.  Since Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 9 in that context, it’s worth learning a bit more about the games before looking at the passage.

      Athletes had to have the right credentials. They could not compete if they did not pass a background check that had to do with social class (they could not be slaves or criminals) and personal character (they could not be liars and cheats). They trained with intensity for ten months before even being allowed in the games. They ate a particular diet; they exercised a lot; they sacrificed many comforts for the sake of the games.

      During the games, a herald (which we translate “preacher”) had quite a few roles:

  • display the prizes
  • encourage the contestants
  • convince the audience they should emulate the contestants
  • explains the rules of each contest
  • announce the victors and crown them

     In fact, when the athletes entered the venue, the herald would loudly announce: “Who can accuse this man?” If no one did, he would say that since the contestant was not a slave, thief, or person of corrupt morals, he could enter the games. After the competition, the judges declared one winner, who received a crown of some type of vegetation.

     It’s in this context that Paul writes to the Corinthian church:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”  (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)


Paul is the herald for the church – the “preacher.’ As 1 Corinthians 9 unfolds he displays the prize, exhorts the contestants, encourages people to copy them, declares the terms (rules and boundaries), and declares his own eligibility.

There’s at least one key difference - Paul doesn’t address their origin or training.  There was no herald in the church announcing who was qualified to enter the games based on their history.  If that were the case, no one would be eligible. They couldn’t earn their way into the spiritual arena through birth or hard work. They were in if they followed Christ.

Paul then tells them to train and compete as athletes who really want to win.  Jesus once said, “Count the cost if you want to follow me.” Paul picks up this theme – following Christ will demand time, attention, and effort. It will change your life if you run is such a way as to win. 

In order to do this, Paul had to discipline his body, literally “making it a slave.”  This is a wrestling analogy. Paul is going to put his sinful urges into a headlock and put them down for the count. If you’ve heard the phrase “like a boss,” that’s what’s going on here.

Then Paul says, “I do not run like one running aimlessly (ignorantly), so that I myself will not be disqualified.” No athlete would start a contest without knowing the rules. Paul was basically saying, “I do not follow Christ like one ignorant about life in the Kingdom of God. What I do is purposeful.”

 What was the prize? The New Testament refers to a number of different prizes, goals, or rewards:

  • "the calling that is above" (Galatians 4:26; Colossians 3:1)
  • "the heavenly calling" (Hebrews 3:1)
  • "the crown of righteousness" (1Corinthians 9:24; 2Timothy 4:8)
  • "crown of life." (Revelation 2:10)
  • "a crown of glory that does not fade away." (1Peter 5:4)
  • “prize of the upward call of Christ” (Philippians 3:4)

These are all part of the broader “citizenship of heaven” Paul talks about in Philippians 3.  We are citizens of Heaven, but right now we live here. There is a race and a prize even while we wait for the Ultimate Crown of Life. The most direct language Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 9 is connected with his calling as a minister of the Gospel. The prize is the blessing and reward of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ:

“Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord…?  Don’t we have the right to food and drink?  Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas?  Is it only I and Barnabas who lack the right to not work for a living? Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink the milk?  ...If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more?” But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ…What is my reward? That in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge…. “   (1 Corinthians 9:1-12 – excerpted)

Who goes to war, plants a field, or raises a herd at their own expense? Nobody – at least not willingly.  In the same way, Paul had the right to be honored and supported for the spiritual service he has given them. But Paul said that really didn’t matter. What mattered was the work of the gospel, not whether or not he was underappreciated and treated unfairly.  He went on to clarify:

“Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.  To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.  To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.  I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23) 

Remember, he’d just written about how they were to honor each other in midst of the “MeatGate Scandal.”  The ruling principle in that situation applies here as well: Paul would give up all kinds of rights and privileges and non-compromising issues to spread the gospel. Rather than make all people become like him, he was going to become like them.

So he went to the Jews and observed their ceremonies - and the Gentiles said, “What? Is he reverting to legalism? We’re the freedom people! You’re ruining the gospel!” He went to the Gentiles and hung out with them - and the Jews said, “What?  They are law breakers! You’re ruining the Gospel!”  But Paul was just seeing how he could connect with a group that needed to hear about Jesus in a way that did not compromise his integrity or the Gospel message. 

That’s the race Paul was running and heralding here: sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with integrity will bring about a prize that will not fade for all of eternity.

 

Of Food and Freedom

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The Apostle Paul often used real-life situations to highlight the unchanging truths hidden beneath the surface.  In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul addresses an issue that, while not sinful on the surface, was still causing harm to members of this fledgling church.

“Now let’s talk about food that has been sacrificed to idols. You think that everyone should agree with your perfect knowledge. While knowledge may make us feel important, it is love that really builds up the church. Anyone who claims to know all the answers doesn’t really know very much.  But the person who loves God is the one God knows and cares for.” 1 Corinthians 8:1-3 (NLT) 

Corinth was filled with pagan temples. It was common for worshipers to offer animals to the god as a sacrifice. After a tiny part was burned on the altar, the remainder would be given to the temple priest, servants or local magistrates who then sold the surplus to the town butchers. If you lived in Corinth, there were several ways that you might come in contact with meat that had been sacrificed to idols: 

  • Buying meat in the marketplace. At the end of the day, a lot of meat was taken from the temples and sold.  Christians who was shopping always encountered the possibility that they were purchasing meat previously offered to an idol. (1 Corinthians 10:25).
  • Eating dinner at the home of friends and neighbors. If your neighbors invited you to dinner, there was no good way to know if the meat they served had been sacrificed to an idol (1 Corinthians 10:27).
  • Eating in the pagan temples themselves. Some of the pagan temples could accommodate huge crowds for public affairs or community social functions.  The subject had nothing to do with the idol worship, but often the meeting would include a meal. If you were a Christian attending one of these public meetings, the meat served at this banquet had probably been offered to the temple god earlier that day.

 Two different views arose in the church at Corinth about how a believer should handle this. One group considered the food to be defiled by its association with the pagan idol. This group refused to eat the food, and they were offended by other believers who did eat.

The other group claimed that the food itself was not defiled in any way.  Since these idols were not gods at all, the meat was not really defiled. It could be eaten guilt-free. Paul goes into great detail as to why this belief is better than the other – but he doesn’t stop there.

This second group of believers looked down on other believers who abstained from eating the meat sacrificed to idols. The first group thought those eating were traitors to their faith. Predictably, the church was full of confusion, tension, arrogance, and probably a lot of gossip.

 This tension is bigger than just meat offered to idols, though. It’s really about relationships in the community --- and that community is the church of Jesus Christ.  

 “Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge.  Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies” (1 Corinthians 8:1)

Paul isn’t saying that knowledge is unimportant.  Having correct knowledge is crucial!  Rather, he’s saying that knowledge alone tends to create pride. But when knowledge is joined with love, it becomes a much better guide to righteous behavior.

"If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know" …" (1 Corinthians 8:2) 

We use factual knowledge in much the same way a building uses a foundation. I’ve been watching the construction of a drugstore here in Traverse City.  It is a very well built structure – cement blocks covered with a brick veneer.  There is nothing flimsy about that building!  But before any of that construction began, they spent over a week digging and pouring massive foundations, wide and deep. The building will be secure for a long, long time.

I think we use knowledge is a similar way – to substantiate our worth and position in a world where we are often timid and uncertain of ourselves. Sometimes it’s a tool to establish ourselves as worthwhile individuals among others who are obviously less well-informed.  Remember, the foundation isn’t wrong or unimportant to that drugstore that is being built.  Nor is knowledge bad or unimportant in the relationships we’re building.  It is a tool - and like any tool, must be used properly.

So, the first step in making knowledge useful is to know its limitations. Christians are fallen creatures with limited knowledge – being saved doesn’t miraculously turn us into all-knowing beings.  God alone has unlimited or complete knowledge!  Humility is precious, and nothing tempers our knowledge like humility. The true purpose of knowledge is to promote the welfare of others. Knowledge must be accompanied by and delivered in love.

 Those who have the greater knowledge and spiritual maturity are the ones who should accommodate the less mature. They should abstain from activities that might harm the faith and life of those who are weaker.  Paul already said in verse one that the whole “eating thing” doesn’t make believers better or worse in God's eyes, but that this sense of superiority can cause harm to others. It’s a stumbling block to the weaker brother or sister and it can lead them into confusion…and possibly even lead to sinful behavior in the young believer’s walk. So, rather than causing a brother to sin, it was better for them to forgo their Christian liberty (change their behavior) in these cases.

Our choices and our behaviors should be motivated and characterized by self-sacrificing love for those around us, rather than by knowledge (or freedom) alone. 

The Potter and the Clay (Part 2)

In the previous post, we looked at how the Potter pulls the clay from the ground and prepares it for His use. He "wedges" it to get rid of air holes, then throws it into the center of the wheel. After that, of course,  the shaping begins.

“Opening the form” happens after centering.  The potter puts his finger into the very center of the clay to create a well. As He pulls the clay towards him, the clay begins to respond.  Re-centering happens throughout this entire process. We are constantly in need of aligning ourselves with God and his ways. There is an interesting incident in Jeremiah18:

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord:  “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.”  So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me.  He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.”
      We all get marred by others:  cruel words, physical abuse; emotional manipulation.  We call them scars.  But sometimes we mar ourselves – we make choices that catch up with us.  And it’s not that the Potter has to throw us away, but there is a re-centering, and maybe a new well, a new direction in the plan.  The Potter is not stumped, but the pot may take on a different shape on the way to fulfilling the Potter’s purpose.
    Sometimes our lives take a path we don’t expect.  We had this plan – we were going to do THIS with our life – but we got marred, and something about that marring changed the shape of our lives.  And we still have the same purpose we always did, but now we might get there a different way.  
Pulling up the wall (the sides of the pot), the Potter's hands no longer fully surround the clay.  The hands change position to one hand on the inside and one on the outside and the wheel speed slows considerably.  Gentle pressure inward forces the clay upward.  Again, pressure must be steady or the form will shift off center.  God is doing something inside us, but He’s also working on the outside.  When this happens to us, there are things happening that no one else can see – but there are also things people can see.  God doesn’t just work on what we do [external]; God doesn’t just work on who we are [internal]. He works on both.
     The Potter does not need to use much pressure to make the clay take shape.  The clay is very sensitive to the touch.  The Pot has a sure foundation; the grains are aligned with the Potter’s plan; the pot is still near to the Potter.  In the same way, the believer is grounded in the truth, aligned with the will of God, and confident that the work God is doing is making something beautiful.
Once the walls are lifted then the potter begins to apply a pressure to specific places on the wall to create a shape. The wheel is turning much slower now.  The potter is now using small nudges that make big changes to the pot.  Centering really is not needed any longer at this point; just a balancing of the form.
      This is the gentle nudge, but it is HUGE in shaping the pot.   Question: Do we believe God speaks to us?  Are we sensitive to His touch?  Are we so surrendered and submitted to God that we are living in the awareness of His presence in our lives – His purpose, His plan? If we want our lives to really take shape we must be sensitive to His nudging – prayer, the Bible, godly friends, and our conscience.
The pot is removed from the wheel and set aside to dry before it is returned to the wheel for final trimming.  Re-centering occurs before trimming the foot of the pot.  Usually, if the potter is good, a few gentle taps move the pot on center.  The potter trims a "foot" on the pot.  Another foundation for the pot to sit on. 
 It is important that there is a consistency of thickness throughout the pot, or it will crack in the drying process.  There is a balance to the Christian life. Faith or works?  Intellect or emotion?  Long-term planning or in-the-moment response?  Well, yes. For example,  if we rely only on scripture and never learn to "know" God spirit to spirit - hearing his voice, feeling conviction, becoming spiritually discerning - we will not be able to be used as the potter intended.  But if we neglect the word(truth) and only rely on what we discern we will not be used as intended. Balance is crucial in forming the life of the believer.
     The drying process is a good analogy of the times when we know we are waiting on God.  The pot remains confident that the potter will return to finish the work he began (Philippians 1:6) This is Joseph as he languished in prison…Ruth as she waited on Boaz…Jesus as he waited for his ministry…. the disciples as they waited between Jesus's ascension and the feast of Pentecost…this is us as we wait at times when all we see happening is that we are drying, when actually we are being prepared for the next step in God’s process. 
The pot is fired.  Once the heat of the kiln reaches a specific temp. the clay is transformed and is no longer able to go back to the earth as soft clay.  The actual chemical composition has changed.  In Matthew 3:11, John the Baptist said: “I indeed baptize you in water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in fire.” 
If the pot never experiences the fire, the heat, the clay will never mature.  It will never be able to be fully used for the Potter’s purpose.  Trials change us. This is a pivotal point in the life of the believer.  We have to be careful that we don’t reach a place anywhere in the pot making process where we fear the fire of refinement.  Again, it is all about surrender.  
The Glazing is the final adornment process. Glaze is actually clay that has melted to make glass. Its purpose is to enhance the look of the pot, to make it attractive. 
   There is an importance placed on having a glaze that "fits" the clay body you use.  The two need to mature together in the kiln at the right temperature  and will hopefully fuse with no imperfections.   
   This sounds a lot to me like our testimony of forgiveness, grace, and hope. .  It comes from us, the clay, but it’s made possible by the Potter.  

Then the pot is filled. That’s the purpose of a vessel – to hold something. 

  • Romans 5:5 “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
  • Acts 1:8 “you shall receive power, after that the Holy Spirit is come on you: and you shall be witnesses to me both in Jerusalem…”
Now, we are ready to be poured out in the service of others.  God molds us for His purpose; God fills us with the love and power of His Holy Spirit, and now God’s vessel pours God’s life and truth into the world, to the glory of God.
And through it all, we have The Potter - steady, unchanging, trustworthy, faithful, a solid rock, a firm foundation. 
Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to [us] …We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” (Hebrews 6 )

The Potter and the Clay

Several months ago, I preached a sermon about the imagery of the Potter and Clay in the Bible. Lately, I have been talking with Amy Gilmore, a friend who actually makes pottery (I offer that in sharp contrast to my complete inability to do anything artistic).   Amy has been explaining to me how the Biblical imagery has come alive for her because of her experience.  What follows is the well-rounded perspective from one who both both potter (as an artist) and clay (as a follower of Christ).
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When searching for clay, the Potter has to reach into the ground (unless he or she is fortunate enough to have a ready-made bucket) and pull the clay loose.  In the same way, Christ reaches down into the dirt of our life and pulls us out. This as our salvation. David wrote in Psalm 40:2, "He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand."

God forms what was once a lump of earth into an object of design and purpose. 
It isn't about God making us into something we think is great; it is about letting God make us into something He loves and uses. When God offered encouragement to Jeremiah, he noted, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." (Jeremiah 1:5) Most of us want to know what God is going to make us into before we allow him to begin his crafting.  This is not submission, or faith. 


 At this point in our life we are helpless, in need of a Savior, someone who can pull us out of all the dirt that traps us.  And when we surrender to His salvation, we also surrender our purposes, plans, hopes and dreams.  As the Apostle Paul noted,  “Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?” (Romans 9:21)
Next, the clay is "wedged" in preparation for throwing.  Air bubbles are removed: pride, greed, lust, envy, gossip, meanness, unforgiveness. It’s pockets of our life we want to keep to ourselves - our checkbook; or our sex life; or our entertainment; our resentments that we nourish; our self-justification;  friends that we know are bringing us down.  Air bubbles are the secret sins from which we need to be delivered. 
After the wedging, the potter "throws" the clay onto the wheel head with a force that makes it stick. Ever had a time in life when you just crashed into something?  Job loss? Marriage failure? Sickness?  Depression?  Sometimes, that’s just life; sometimes, it's Satan trying to tear us down.  In those cases, the crash we feel is us “hitting the wall.” When that happens, God can redirect our momentum so the crash happens on his wheel instead of Satan’s wall.
When God is involved, the moments in our lives when we feel like we’ve hit a wall are times we are actually hitting the wheel. The wheel is the foundation of the faith, the core truths at the center of God’s will is the place to be.  The Potter will make sure you are centered, because an unsteady center brings about a lack of symmetry. 
Now the Potter begins to work on the clay -  our heart, our attitude, our emotions, our willingness to be molded for His purpose.   Water is applied to reduce friction between the hands of the potter and the clay. Now, our purpose, our design, our beauty begin to emerge as we allow the Potter to achieve His purpose. Think of how Ephesians describes Christ's work in our lives: “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word…” (Ephesians 5: 25ff)
We were pulled out,  we were de-air bubbled (?) and centered – and none of this has been easy.  But now the Potter is ready to begin work – His Word is watering us, refreshing us, baptizing us into new life and truth, making us a workable element in the Potter’s hand.
 As the clay spins in the hands of the potter, the particles come into alignment as well.  This alignment - think "submission" -  happens through repentance and belief.  It takes both. We cannot only repent, nor can we only believe.  Only the two together will produce fruit in our life.

What Happens in Thessalonica Stays in Thessalonica

(Part One of a Three Part Series on Sex, Purity, and Justice) 

     One of the most popular ads right now promises us a world in which we can do some incredibly stupid and maybe even fun things in Vegas, and not have them effect us at all. Unfortunately, it's just not true. Expense tabs, debt, compromises of morality, memories, and hotel towels seem to find their way back home, even in the movies.

    As much as we may want this to be true, wanting something to be true doesn't actually make it so.  I'm sure sky diving instructors don't comfort nervous jumpers by saying, "Don't worry?  This event is totally separate from the rest of your life! What happens in the air stays in the air."  For that matter, ask employers if what happens on Facebook stays on Facebook.

    What we do even in Vegas matters.  The Hangover was a raunchy movie, but even it had the decency to point out that what happened in Vegas had a ripple effect. Skydivers have to land; the words we post in social media are words we say in the real world, and they stay with us.

     We can’t segment our lives. Our experiences are all connected.  TV is episodic; life is not.  What happens in Vegas become one small story in the bigger story of my life, and that narrative does not stop.  Ever.  What happens in Vegas will stay with me the rest of my life.

    We can’t separate the physical part of us from the spiritual part of us, either.  I've talked to many people who have been determined to believe that “What happens on the outside of my body stays on the outside.”  Once again, this is not the way the world works.  What we do on the outside effects the inside.
    
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 2,000 years ago, Paul was writing to the church in Thessalonica.  In the first several chapters he noted:
  • they were full of faith (they had turned from idols to the living God);
  • they loved each other and seemed to understand community well; 
  • they were enduring persecution well; 
  • their reputation had spread far and wide. 
   In spite of all these good things, there was a problem to address. Apparently, there were a number of people who were convinced that “What happens in Thessalonica stays in Thessalonica.”  
"As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living.  Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.  This is the will (desire, purpose) of God: your sanctification  (purity): You should avoid sexual immorality." (1 Thessalonians 4:1-3)

     For Paul's readers, the word he chose for "living"would have invoked an image of walking about in an ordinary day. Paul starts this section by saying they are pleasing God (two thumbs up!) but there is more they need to know.  In this case, they needed to focus very specifically on an area that causing them to stumble:  sexual purity.

     The word translated as “sexual immorality” provides an umbrella under which a lot of sexual activity fits: promiscuity, adultery, prostitution, pornography… The list goes on.  Basically, their sex lives needed the purity of sanctification.

     At the time Paul wrote this, the Gentiles in Thessolonica lived in a culture saturated with distorted views of marriage, sex, and family. Historians recorded upper class Roman ladies identifying years not by chronological numbers, but by the names of their ever-changing husbands. One Greek writer noted: ”We have courtesans for the sake of pleasure; we have concubines for the sake of daily cohabitation; we have wives for the purpose of having children legitimately, and of having a faithful guardian for all our household affairs.”

     Paul was writing to a church with people who had this lifestyle embedded in them. They had to learn a new way of viewing sex.
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    “ The most crucial theological truth about sexuality is that God loves sex and evil hates it.  God made us sexual, and He glories in his plan for our union and joy.  Evil hates what God loves, and it has found that more harm can be done through sex then perhaps any other means.  Often the chief battleground for the human soul is the terrain of sexuality.”                                    - Dan Allender

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  Here in an important biblical truth:  sex is holy and sacred, and act of self-sacrifice, intimacy, commitment and trust.

    That's why Christians make such a big deal about it. Sex is not just another thing we do, like shopping.  Sex effects our souls. And because it's such a big deal, God has provided pretty clear instructions about how we are supposed to live in this area.

   First, he sets a boundary: sex is to be experienced only within marriage.  This may seem restrictive, but because of God's purposes for sex, that boundary is necessary.  Rivers need banks; cars need roads; stock markets need regulation; my blood needs veins and arteries.  In every area of life, we see how boundaries maximize the ability of things to flourish. Sex is no exception.
 
     Second, God intends sex to fulfill at least four key purposes: procreation, unity, personal formation, and pleasure.  While some of these can clearly be experienced out of marriage, understating how all four work together to fulfill God's purpose is important.

    Procreation: Sex brings babies.  This is not a secret. That fact that we can avoid the consequence of children does not negate that this is a key reason we have sex.  Children are a blessing, a gift from God. Not only do we ensure the continuation of humanity, but we have an opportunity to experience a glimpse of the kind of love God has toward us. God is our Father in a spiritual sense; how important is it, then, that earthly fathers embody that type of fatherhood God gives us - loving, committed, just, pure, holy?
     Unity: Sex is meant to seal bonds of trust, love and commitment.  That's one reason God sets marriage as a boundary line: during sex, we communicate with our bodies that we have made a covenant; we can now give each other everything, baring body in soul in mutual trust and self-sacrifice. It's no secret that sex within marriage might not fully fulfill this design.  Sex outside of marriage simply cannot.
     Personal formation: Sex refines us. Two very different people, with different levels of desire, different schedules, different libidos, different love languages, different personalities. different....everything.... must make this funny, embarrassing, awkward, intimate and beautiful act become good and meaningful for both people.  That's not necessarily easy. It will require patience and selflessness.  Within the safety of covenant, we have the freedom to explore sex without worrying that our marriage partner will leave because we don't do everything just right. Over time, we become better people as we learn to understand, appreciate, and whole-heartedly embrace our spouse completely.
     Pleasure:  Some may argue this is a very nice side effect, and it may well be simply a nice perk.  But if pleasure is one of the characteristics of life in eternity with God, I'm not sure why He wouldn't purposefully give us glimpses now.    

 “And ‘control your own vessel’ in a way that is holy and honorable, not overpowered by lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.” (1 Thessalonians  4:4-5)

    "Control your own vessel" is not really bumper sticker material.  It's a phrase that seems archaic, but seeing how writers use it other places in the Bible can be helpful. Based on its placement elsewhere, "vessel" can be read two possible ways:
  • "Control yourself sexually in a way that is holy and honorable." (See a comparable example in 2 Corinthians 4:7)
  • "Relate to your spouse sexually in a way that is holy and honorable. (See a comparable example in 1 Peter 3:7)
   It's a brilliant word choice.  No one in the Thessalonican church could honestly read the letter, then look around the room and say, “The rest of you should really listen up!!!”  Married or single, there is a holy and honorable way to handle your sex drive.
    Then Paul makes an important distinction: those who know God are supposed to know the purpose of sex; those who do not know God don't have the same advantage.  Those who know God are supposed to know why sex matters; those who do not know God have fun but ultimately aimless sex, unhooked from deeper notions of design and purpose. "Just do it!" would have been a relevant slogan 2,000 years ago.
     Here's an analogy: If someone gave you a car and taught you to drive safely, but didn’t tell you why you should drive, would that be enough?  Sure, driving is fun; the GPS is really cool; the leather seats are nice; learning safe driving tips is helpful.  
    But at some point wouldn't you say, “What’s the point?  This is great as far as road trips go, but where am I going exactly?  My GPS shows me where I AM, but not where I’m going or where I should be - or why I'm even on this road heading to that place. I might be having a lot of fun going somewhere bad. Wait - is this Michigan Stadium?  Ahhhhh!”
  In Thessalonica they had nice, shiny cars, and they knew how to drive, but they didn’t know the purpose. They didn't know where they were going, or why.  
     Following our desires for sex is not necessarily wrong any more than having a car and driving somewhere is bad.  The vehicle and the road are not the problem; problems arise when we follow our God-given sexual desires in a way that the roads we take break God’s will and take us to the wrong destinations.  
     We can engage in sex just for fun, or just to ease loneliness, or just because we feel like it, or because we truly love someone.  We drive the car for a lot of reasons, and the journey is nice, but we separate the act from the purpose at our peril.  God has a purpose for everything we do.  What we do with our skin effects our soul. When we have sex (or do anything, really) something is happening to our character, priorities, view of pleasure, view of people, and relationship with God.
    What we do forms us into a people of increasing or decreasing holiness and honor.
    Paul phrases the verse in a negative sense: "They don't know God so they don't understand the purpose of sex."  There is an assumed message here that is far more positive: “You understand the purpose because you DO know God.”
   But how many Christians who claim to know God actually know the purpose of sex?

 “And that in this matter no one should exploit or violate a brother or sister.” Thessalonians 4:6) 
In Paul's time, Thessalonica was the hub of a lot of commerce.  The Thessalonians understood in economic terms what it meant to exploit or violate people:
  • Transgressing the bounds of justice (a merchant who knows what ought to be done and constantly pushes the boundaries of the law)
  • Cheating and defrauding in trade and business (merchants who used weighted scales – taking more than they should at the expense of others)
  • Increasing or lessening the value and prices of goods by the buyer and seller (they would cheapen something valuable in order to profit at the expense of the seller)
  • Not keeping to the bargain, contract, covenant (they didn't understand - or didn't care about - the importance of commitment)
  • Taking advantage of the weakness and ignorance of people (they could spot those easily manipulated and take what they wanted from them)
   To an audience that understood exploitation and fraud, Paul explains that sex outside of God’s design and purpose does the same thing.  The stakes are higher, though, because now they are trading in dignity, respect, honor, and people, not merely things. Like the merchants, they are: 
  • Transgressing the bounds of justice (they know what kind of respect ought to be shown,  yet they constantly push the boundaries)
  • Cheating and defrauding (they take more than they should at the expense of the other person)
  • Lessening the value of sex (they cheapen purity, sex, intimacy and trust)
  • Not keeping to the bargain, contract, covenant (they you don’t understand the importance of covenant)
  • Taking advantage of the weakness and ignorance of people (they spot those easily manipulated and take what they want from them)
     On the one hand, this is a depressing list that reveals a treatment of people that not only damages others but damages society as well.  On the other hand, treating people with honor and holiness brings about the opposite effect: a society in which both individuals and communities flourish as honor, dignity, and value are returned to one of the most intimate acts we can do.  How is this accomplished?
  • Enforcing the bounds of justice (we know what proper sexual boundaries are,  and we protect them.)
  • Helping others flourish (if the scales are going to tip on question of sex and purity, it will be in favor of purity.  The question is not "How far can I go?" but "How pure can I stay?")
  • Attaching the proper value to people and sex (increasing the value of sex and intimacy by treating it like the precious gift it is, and helping others guard their purity) 
  • Keeping and honoring covenants (understanding that every relationship trains people how to flourish or flounder in an eventual or existing covenant. This involves treating someone else’s future or present spouse like they want others to treat their future or present spouse.)
  • Protecting the weak and vulnerable (in a world where so many people are vulnerable in this area for a lot of different reasons, honorable people stand out because they protect those most in need of a hero). 
That the kind of world purity and self-control offer. 
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A Christian's Achilles Heel

In February of 2006 I  ruptured my Achilles’ Tendon at a men’s retreat.  In one sudden burst of pain I found that I had a great difficulty walking – and you really don’t want to do that if you have a choice. 
I remember vividly sitting in the doctor's office a day or two before the surgery, getting the low-down on what I would be facing both during the surgery and in the weeks of recovery  that followed: Six weeks in a cast followed by six weeks in a boot.
After going over a lot of details, Dr. Licht looked squarely at me and said,  “I’m good at what I do.  I can repair this tendon perfectly one time!  If you follow my instructions things will go well!  If you don’t follow my instructions to the letter, and you rupture this tendon again, I won’t be as successful, and you’ll likely walk with a limp for the rest of your life!  I want your leg elevated every waking moment unless you are in the bathroom or brushing you teeth.  Do you understand?"

 For  twelve weeks I did exactly what he said.  Today, my Achilles tendon is perfect and I have no limp and no limitations.  What made the difference?  I chose to trust someone who knew far more than I. 
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Here’s a painful truth: we are headed down a road of destruction because we have trivialized the Word of God.  We bend and manipulate the Word, trying to make it to say whatever we choose; whatever suits our weak behaviors.  We don’t regard it as what it truly is: the unalterable Word of God. 

We view this book as an accumulation of interesting stories, and we assign those stories whatever value we deem appropriate.  We don’t view this as being a book of Words that were divinely inspired, coming from God, revealed by His Holy Spirit to man, and intended to be received and accepted as authoritative.  

Oh, sure, we still check out God’s thoughts on a range of topics - and we blend His thoughts with ours.  It’s not just that it’s wrong thinking, and as such an offence to God.  This kind of worldview tears apart the very safeguards that God established to protect us.  The church at Thessalonica received and accepted what Paul said AS THE WORD OF GOD,"...which also performs its work in you who believe." (Philippians 2:13)


Is it any wonder that the world around us is falling apart?  We have substituted our thoughts for His thoughts, and our ways for His ways! Even worse, some of us in the church of Jesus Christ are falling apart because we’re toying with the Word of God.
Matthew Henry (1662 – 1714), an English Bible commentator and Presbyterian minister, said this about the Bible: We should receive the word of God with affections suitable to its holiness, wisdom, truth, and goodness. The words of men are frail and perishing, like themselves, and sometimes false, foolish, and fickle; but God's word is holy, wise, just, and faithful. Let us receive and regard it accordingly.
When we receive and accept and believethe Word of God, it changes us.  We begin to be transformed into the image of the very One who saves us: Jesus Christ Himself.  Believing is the key to becoming like Christ!  And this happens when His awesome power empowers my humble consent.

Philippians 2:13 also suggests that those who do not believe will not see the transformative power of Christ and His word in their lives! "For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure."

What is “belief” in God really about?  It is when I humble my arrogant self to His glorious Lordship of my life; when I give my humble consent to Him bringing a new governmental structure in my life and my world. When I was a child, our church used to sing this hymn:

When we walk with the Lord in the light of his word, what a glory he sheds on our way! While we do his good will, he abides with us still, and with all who will trust and obey. Trust and obey, for there's no other way to be happy in Jesus,but to trust and obey.

The foundational premise for “trusting and obeying" lies in having a profound realization of the one in whom I have place my trust and obedience!  Is this God or not?  

It is no surprise that unbelievers ignore God.  They have not experienced the amazing miracle of forgiveness, and they do not possess the Holy Spirit living inside of them.

But when we say we love and follow God, ignore or twist or compromise His word, all while expecting that we’ll still reap His blessings because we’re in the Club, we're in trouble !


If I’ve truly come to trust Him over my years of following Him, then why on earth would I question his Words – His wisdom – His instruction?

- Ted Smith, at Church of the Living God, on Sunday, April 22, 2012

It's Not Rocket Science

I grew up on a small farm, less than a hundred acres. My dad had small orchards of cherries, apples, and some peaches and plums.  Although we were never wealthy, I was very happy.  Well, for the most part!

My neighbor Pat and I (Ted Smith) played together a lot, especially riding bicycles in the neighborhood. We’d pretend that our bikes were cars, and we’d identify them according to what our dad’s drove.  My dad, being a small-scale farmer, drove a rather plain Oldsmobile. 
So --- my two-wheeler became an Oldsmobile.  I was o.k. with that…..at first!  Pat’s father was an Orthodontist, and he drove a Chrysler Imperial (the word “Imperial” even sounds impressive, doesn’t it?)  So there we went, riding around the neighborhood: Pat on his IMPERIAL, and me with a plain Oldsmobile.
There is a streak in us from the get-go that seeks to identify and quantify our existence, and more often than not to exaggerate our importance.  Sometimes, when we become educated and enter the employment realm, we seek to define ourselves by our careers and the importance that comes with that job title.  I guess you could call it “positioning.” 
There’s a new television ad that I’ve seen several times recently – it features a few laborers who work for an electric utility company. They’re in a bar bragging about what they do as workman.  In the conversation they imply their daily labor somehow involves the very beer that they’re all enjoying, so one of the other guys says, “Do you MAKE the beer?”  To which another guys says, “No, We make the POWER that makes the beer!” 

If we can’t get recognition one way, we’ll get it another.  We want so desperately to be “large and in charge!”   And then, operating out of that exaggerated importance, we set out to rule the world.  Well, at least our portion of the world.  And this arrogance has gotten us in trouble since the beginning of time.  Long before Frank Sinatra sang, “I’ll Do It My Way,” we’ve been doing in our way!  Sinatra just gave it a theme song.

Look at what scripture says about this:
• Judges 17:6 (NLT) In those days Israel had no king, so the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes. 
• Psalms 10:4 (NIV) In his pride the wicked does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God. 
• 1 Samuel 2:3 (NIV) “Do not keep talking so proudly or let your mouth speak such arrogance, for the LORD is a God who knows, and by him deeds are weighed.
Like I said, this has always been a serious problem for mankind, but today it’s causing us pain and heartache like never before.  And I don’t think people realize the source of the pain.  There is hardly anything we haven’t changed to suit our wants and wishes and whims.  
  • We’ve seen the legalization of abortion --- the taking of life of a human being before birth --- and now we’re dangerously close to decisions that will withhold life-sustaining services for the elderly on the grounds of viability or practicality.  I remember when life was precious.
  • Sexual intimacy outside of marriage is no longer considered a bad idea --- in fact, it’s nearly a given that couples will live together while they contemplate marriage, if they marry at all.  The Bible still calls this sin, because it is still outside God's design and plan for our holiness. 
  • Marriage itself was once an untouchable institution.  Just a decade ago, no one would have assumed that something other than “one man and one woman” would be said to constitute a marriage in America, but as you know, state after state is challenging that standard.  
Individuals are being encouraged to accept moral lifestyles of any kind as normal, and perhaps even God-given.  Unfortunately, what is touted as a right and good for them will only prove to make their already pained lives worse, as both biblical revelation and societal analysis makes clear.  

Proverbs 14:12 (NIV) says:  "There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death." The result of all sin is destruction -- unless we humble ourselves and repent and turn from our wicked ways!"         

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Rather than elaborating on all that we’re doing wrong, I want to take a look at a group that got it right!  I want to look at the written record, left us by Paul as he writes to this church in Thessalonica, a church that he helped to establish on an earlier trip. 
Paul writes a tremendously encouraging report about this young church, and I hope it becomes instructional for us today. 1st Thessalonians 2:13 (NASB) begins:
"And for this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received from us the word of God’s message, you accepted it ..."

Two words are extremely crucial if we wish to learn and grow by this verse.
     
Received  (Greek: paralambano, par-al-am-ban´-o).  It means simply to receive something from another. In this case it’s not the whole story of benefitting from divine wisdom, but it’s the starting point. 
In some of the these early churches (Iconium, Lystra, Corinth and Jerusalem) the crowds did not even do this; they didn’t receive, nor examine nor inquire into the word of God that Paul and others delivered; rather, they drove them out of town or imprisoned them.  They failed even the first level of receiving!  So, the first noble thing we’re told about the folks in Thessalonica is that they “received” the word. 


 But let’s look at more of the verse:
 “…when you received from us the word of God’s message, you accepted it….”

Accepted  (Greek: dechomai, dekh´-om-ahee)  This word means to welcome; to receive favorably; to give ear to; to embrace; to make one's own; to approve.

The Thessalonian believers not only heard and intellectually understood the message, but also welcomed it into their hearts and made it a part of their lives. And I still haven't finished verse 13. 1st Thessalonians, chapter 2, verse 13 (NASB)  --- again, from the start, with a little more this time:
"And for this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received from us
the word of God’s message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for
what it really is, the word of God..."
  

Not as the word of men, but as THE WORD OF GOD.

(Stay tuned for Part Two: "A Christian's Achilles Heel")

Between Crucifixion and Resurrection: Two Kind of Roads

(Read Part 1: "Between Crucifixion and Resurrection: A World Without God")   
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  In Luke Chapter 24 we see an event that takes place in the time between the death and the resurrection of Jesus

A time without hope. 
A time where it looked like they had been the prophets of a failed Messiah. 
A time when they tried so hard, but in the end it looked like nothing they really mattered.

Luke 24:13-27
     Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days? “What things?” he asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him;  but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel...  Then beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. 

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     There is a world of hurt in this statement: “We had hoped he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” Can we all be honest?  There are times when Jesus feels GONE, and even if Jesus were standing right next to us, we wouldn’t be able to see him.
      There are times in life in which we feel abandoned, alone, and hopeless.  The Bible’s honest about it – there’s no shame in acknowledging what we all know to be true.  But those times didn’t last.  They are just seasons the Christ redeems.   
      There was always hope;  a God of Resurrection know how to bring life from death.  I didn’t see it at the times I was struggling, but Jesus was always there, on my Emmaus Road, walking with me. It just took me a while to see Him.
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     So what is the solution? Are there things we can do to get out of these times of despair? I don’t have a magic formula, but the Bible gives us basic principles: 

Psalm 121:1-2
I lift up my eyes to the mountains— 
where does my help come from? 
My help comes from the LORD, 
  the Maker of heaven and earth.
Psalm 123:1-2
Unto you I lift up my eyes, O God who dwells in the heavens… our eyes look to the Lord our God, until he has mercy upon us.”
"My voice you will hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto you, and will look up.”  Psalm 5:3
    I hear the language in the Bible over and over again about directing our sight toward God, toward Christ. “I will lift up my eyes…”  We even see this imagery embedded in the story of the Emmaus Road in Luke 24:30:
 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.
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     How do we look up and find Christ in the midst of despair?  I notice three things in the Emmaus Road story that are instructive.
1)     A community of Christians.  Cleopas was with a friend on the road to Emmaus. Even in the midst of his despair and disillusionment, he walked life's road with a friend. So often, we want to retreat and not let people in to the areas of our hearts and lives that seem desolate.  But we need the company of others!
2)     A study of the Bible.  Among other things, Jesus explained the Word to them.  He opened up the Bible and showed them truths that had always been there, but they had somehow missed.  The Bible is given to us so that we meet the Way, the Truth, and the Life through a message He has preserved for our hope. 
3)     A conversation with our Savior.  It's one thing to read about the Way, the Truth, and the Life - it's quite another to speak to Christ and experience his presences.  We see on the the road to Emmaus that the travelers fellowshipped with Jesus himself.  They talked; they shared supper and communion with Him. We can't talk to Christ like this, but we can pray - we can speak to God, knowing He hears, and that He is near.

Teachers Good and Bad (Part 1)

     When I had my blood clot in my right calf, the first specialist I went to recommended immediate, life-threatening surgery.  The second specialist recommended blood thinners and no worries.  Hmmmm. Tough call.  (I took the blood thinners.)   Both doctors were highly qualified, but the second one was right. 

     That experience highlighted a key question in life: 
how do I know who to trust?

    From whom should I get my news? CNN? Fox? MSNBC? CBN? Washington Times or Washington Post?  Time or World Magazine? 
    What about theology and advice for kingdom living? Mark Driscoll? Rob Bell? Benny Hinn? Joyce Meyers? Andy Stanley? Beth Moore? Sojournours or Focus on the Family?  There are so many competing voices, and it is sometimes hard to know who to listen to.
     The church in Thessolonica had this problem.  At the beginning of Thessalonians, Paul spends some time defending himself and his message, as if the church was doubting both. He begins by telling them:
“Our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake.  You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. “  (1 Thessalonians 1:5-6)

     Sounds perfect! But the next chapter takes a slightly different tone.  After giving them two thumbs up for their faith,  Paul takes a little time to help them understand why they could trust him and his message (almost as if there have been some rumors, or questions, or other teachers going against him and his message).  As he does this, he tells them the difference between good and bad teachers so they would now who to follow and who to leave.

"You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results.  We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition.  For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you.  On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests (or refines) our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority (not looking for weightiness, or glory).  Instead, we were gentle among you, like a mother who tenderly cares for her children.

Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.  Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil (weariness) and hardship (sadness); we worked night and day (labored) in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.  You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed (holy – worthy of reverence;  just – approved by God; and blameless – God’s actions manifesting into space and time). For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory."

     The passage in chapter two is painting a sharp contrast between the imitation of Christ (which we should follow) and the imitation of something else – (which we should not).

    DON’T FOLLOW                                                                    FOLLOW           
Error                                                                                                 Truth
Bad Motivation                                                                   Good Motivation
Pleasing people                                                                        Pleasing God
Flattery                                                                                           Honesty
Greed                                                                                             Generosity
Abusive Authority                                                                     Gentleness
Entitlement                                                                                Engagement


     In the next post, I will use the standards Paul sets down to help us analyze words and deeds so we can better discern where to place our trust. 
      I am also going to broaden this principle to include all our speech, because I believe Paul clearly does this in his other letters and in his life (think of his speech on Mars Hill in Acts 17).