Feb 16

King Kong Discipline

              My behavior was less than desirable at times while growing up. My father seared into my conscience one such time that I will never forget. I was a preteen, and for some reason, which I don’t remember, I got mad at my mom. An argument happened while we were just outside our home and I angrily stepped inside alone, slammed the door, and with all the preteen gusto I could muster I shot my mom a bird. Yep, I extended her the middle finger. I turned away from the door just in time to see the blur of a King Kong sized hand come swooping in to make contact on the side of my head. I can’t help but imagine those pilots shooting at King Kong must have felt the same shock when swatted down around the Empire States building in the movie. As I picked myself up and headed to my room, I realized that my eyes hadn’t adjusted to the dark room when I first came in and dad had been sitting on the couch. I didn’t see him, but he saw the whole thing. More punishment followed on my posterior. But you know what, I showed my mom more respect from then on, and we have a great relationship now.

                 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12:11).

                The author of Hebrews wrote to a group of Jewish Christians who were undergoing hard times. They were facing persecution, trials, and hardship of various kinds. Many were tempted to leave the faith. Sometimes adversity came through no fault of their own, just because they were Christian and the culture hated them. Other times the suffering came because of their sin. We see this type of discipline many times in the Old Testament. The Israelites would follow false gods, and the Lord would bring judgment on them to turn their hearts back to himself. Hebrews 12:4-11 deals with this second type of trial, what we would call discipline.

                Discipline is never pleasant, just like when my father punished me, but if done properly it gives moral instruction and corrects behavior. Earthly fathers do their best, but our Heavenly Father does what’s best for us. As verse 11 says, discipline is a training process. A process to work sin out of us, that we might be holy as our Heavenly Father is holy. God brings about the whole process for correction and training, never punitive. Christ already paid the punishment for sin. His blood covers us so that we do not have to pay the penalty. That doesn’t mean there are no consequences for sin.  

                It is easy sometimes for us to be discouraged when we suffer. We might be tempted to think that God is punishing us. I struggled with this years ago when I felt like every bad thing that happened was my fault and God was judging me for my sin. But this is a legalistic way of relating to God, that says, “God set up rules that I must follow, and when I don’t He punishes me. To make Him happy, I have to do this and that, or else.” This thought pattern is from faulty religious thinking, not relational thinking. “Have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son?” (Hebrews 12:5). Our “Father of Spirits,” another way of contrasting his heavenly rule to our earthly parents, gave us these words for encouragement. He is explaining why these things happen so that we endure them with a correct attitude. His discipline is out of love because we are sons. In ancient culture, fathers were very active in their children’s upbringing, but they ignored an illegitimate child. The comparison is the same for God. All chastisement is out of love and concern for what is best for us as part of His family. Rather than allow our hard experiences to nurture seeds of doubt in our relationship with the Father, we must trust Scripture and be trained by what God allows in our lives.

Feb 09

Therefore

                Whenever you see therefore, you must always ask wherefore.” I can’t remember where I first heard that phrase, but it stuck with me. Maybe it was one of the preachers in my life; maybe it was in seminary that I heard it. It is the idea that when you read “therefore” in the Bible, you must always explore why it is there. What are the previous thoughts that are influencing the following ones? Therefore is a common word to see, but Paul diligently used it in meaningful ways. Most of his letters use a pattern that lays out some doctrinal truth, followed by practical application. He would lay the foundation for our belief, and then show how it affects our lives. Most of his letters have two major sections like this, but sometimes he would utilize this literary style within a couple of verses.

                Look at Romans 5:1 for example, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith…” Here we see the transition from one section to another. Almost everything in chapters 1-4 was building an argument that Paul summarized in this one phrase, “we have been justified through faith.” Paul has shown how we are in a right standing with God through the application of Christ’s sacrifice through faith. Now Paul is about to show us how this fact of justification affects our lives. Read the rest of this entry »

Feb 02

Fasting and Races

            You know in college there are those stupid things you sometimes do, and you think, “Why did I do that?” One of mine involved an apple, race, and an early morning prayer meeting at a local park. I was a freshman and had become a Christian just a couple months before. I was passionate about learning and growing in the faith, and someone told me about this spiritual discipline called fasting. I decided to try it, and so I didn’t eat for lunch or dinner. There was an early prayer meeting the following day, so I figured I would break my fast the next morning. I had an encouraging day while fasting; I spent my meal times in prayer and didn’t struggle with the hunger. It was the next day when the problems arose. What I hadn’t considered was the meal plan and living in the dorm, no food, and no open dining halls this early. I was ravenously hungry, and all I had was an apple that I devoured on my way to the meeting. It was just enough to make the hunger pains go away; I thought I was back to normal. The meeting went well, but for some reason, a friend challenged me to a race afterward. Of course like any teenager I accepted (and won), but the second I crossed the line, I realized I had messed up big time. I was sick as a dog and shaking more than a belly dancer in an earthquake. Thankfully, one of the other guys had some crackers and candy to get my blood sugar up again, but I had learned a practical lesson about fasting. Jesus said when you’re fasting, look normal (Matt 6:16-18), but I think there is an unspoken, “don’t be stupid” that I learned that day.   Read the rest of this entry »

Jan 26

Daniel and Darius

                  There are certain stories in the Bible that almost everyone has heard of before, especially as children’s stories.  Daniel in the Lion’s Den is one of them. We love stories like these because of their simplicity and memorable qualities. What we often don’t realize is that Daniel is controversial in many ways. Part of the book is end times prophecy; part of the book is ancient history. On both accounts, there is controversy. Critics and scholars question many details. Some of which have been answered by archaeology. Read the rest of this entry »

Jan 19

The Choice is Yours

Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato are some of the greatest philosophers of all times. These men affected thought for a thousand years in the Western world, and they were all Greek. It’s no wonder that the Greeks of the first century prided themselves on their wisdom and philosophies. However, opposing the Greek model was the teachings of a humble Jewish Rabbi, and His influence was growing around the world through followers like Paul.   Read the rest of this entry »

Jan 12

Godliness Training 101

A couple of years ago I started working out with a friend from my small group at something called F3 (fitness, faith, and Fellowship). My friend runs marathons and works out regularly, so I knew the training would be good. The F3 training is an outdoor boot camp style training for men, and they meet all throughout Charlotte in the early morning. I had no idea what I was in store for. By the end of the first workout, I knew I was in trouble and out of shape. I could barely move for the next two days. I had sore muscles that I didn’t even know existed.  Some of these guys were doing serious training for different events that were impressive to see. Read the rest of this entry »

Jan 05

Happy New Years! Happy New Years! Happy New Years!

Have you ever noticed yourself saying something over and over again? It might be that same New Year’s resolution from the last five years that I’m making again. Maybe it’s just because I’m a parent of young kids that I feel that way. I’m regularly telling the kids to pick up their toys, stop fighting with your siblings, stop burping at the table, and so on and so forth. Yes, my 3-year-old has learned to burp at will and is proud to share his new skill with anyone who will listen. But it’s not always negative comments that I’m telling them. I’m also regularly telling my kids that I love them, and how much they mean to me. It seems that the repetition is just part of life right now, but I’ll keep it up because it helps communicate important aspects of life that they need to know.

I cannot overstate the importance of repetition. In many areas of life, it makes the different between mediocre work and a masterpiece. Playing an instrument or sports training requires enormous amounts of repetition to increase skill levels. All areas of education use repetition to solidify learning. But it is also used in communication and literature to highlight points the author is trying to make. For instance, in Genesis chapter 1, the phrase, “and there was evening, and there was morning— the ____ day” is regularly repeated. This chapter in Genesis is very poetic, and this phrase is one of the many literary features contained within the passage. The phrase’s repetitiveness makes it stand out as a concrete divider between the days of creation for the reader. God is clearly at work doing notable acts of creation on each day, and the literary style found in the passage helps us see the parallel between the realm created and the rulers of that realm (i.e. day 1 & day 4).

There is more to this phrase, the first thing that stands out to me is that it starts with evening, then morning. Or said another way, the day starts out with night then followed by morning. Just to be clear with the term “morning,” it doesn’t mean that the day is only from sunset till lunch. Morning seems to be more generally used to refer to the whole daylight period that starts in the morning. Just like “evening” is representative of the entire period of the night. In the creation account of day one we see that there was first darkness, then light. This seems to be the best explanation for the author’s use of the pattern. Traditionally the Jews saw sunset as the start of the next day. For instance, the Sabbath begins on Sunset of Friday and goes till Sunset on Saturday (See Lev 23:32). We are not immune from this pattern either. We think of our day starting with the morning and ending at night, but even our day technically last from midnight to midnight.

The phrase has significance in other ways, such as when the author did not use it. It is only repeated six times, even though there are seven days of creation. Genesis chapter two records the seventh day where God rest and makes the Sabbath holy. Creation is the standard for our seven-day week, but Genesis never recorded the end of the seventh day. Which in one sense means that God is still taking a Sabbath rest. A fact that the writer of Hebrews picks up on in chapter 4 and uses as an illustration of the concept that God is resting now, and through Christ, we can enter His rest as well. This doesn’t mean that God is not working in the world, Jesus made this clear “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working” (John 5:17). Without getting off on a rabbit trail, the point is that this phrase carried significance well beyond the standard division of days that we see.

The repetition of God working each day of creation shows us that there is something we can learn from the pattern of work and rest. God created this pattern for us. As we go about our day, week, and month, there are repeated aspects of our life that show what’s significance to us. It might be as simple as brushing your teeth mid afternoon every day, to working out at the gym three days a week, doing a monthly budget, or setting aside a day of rest. These things that we do regularly have formed habits in our lives and they carry significance well beyond the simple act. As we head into the new year, it is a convenient time to reevaluate our actions to see if adjustment is needed. It’s the monotony of everyday life that builds habits that will last a lifetime, not a once a year commitment.

Dec 15

Witness Testimony

This last week I’ve heard a couple of news stories that highlighted the importance of witness testimony. One story was from one of the survivors of the Charleston church shooting. That witness described the events of that horrible night and the hatred that the shooter had towards them.  Another news story was about the prosecution dropping charges because there was no witness and no way to confirm the charges against one of the Charlotte rioters from late September. In both cases, the witness and evidence, or lack thereof, made all the difference in understanding what happened.

In Matthew, there is some amazing testimony that points to the fact that Jesus is more than just an ordinary man. It is the scene where John baptized Jesus. In the account, three witnesses show Jesus’ astonishing prestige, power, and position. The verses are in Matthew 3:11-17 and it starts with John the Baptist prophesying about the “one” who comes after him. John says that he is “not worthy to carry” the sandals of the one coming (verse 3:11). In these Ancient times, it would be the position of a slave to hold the master’s sandals. Yet John, a free man and prophet, is claiming that he is not even worthy to be a slave to the one coming because of his prestige and holiness.

We learn more about the one coming after John because he will also baptize with the Holy Spirit and Fire, and bring Judgment on the wicked. All of this is Old Testament language of the Messiah. Then we learn that Jesus is the one John has been referring to. Jesus was the one who baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire on Pentecost and will bring Judgment on the world in his second coming. Jesus is the one who John was not worthy to carry his sandals and didn’t want to baptize in water because of his holiness. But Jesus insisted to “fulfill all righteousness.” That phrase means to complete all that is required to have a relationship of obedience to God. the testimony of the prophets was that Jesus is the prestigious one, the holy messiah, the one who would work in power on God’s behalf.

After Jesus baptism we see the second testimony, the Holy Spirit “descending like a dove and alighting on him” (3:16). In a time when the Jews believed that God had stopped filling people with his Holy Spirit, they see the Spirit anointing Jesus. It had been 400 years since a God gave a prophet and people had seen the Spirit’s filling. That’s longer than our country has existed! It’s no wonder they didn’t think God worked in that way any longer. The Jews believed that the anointing of the Spirit was God’s way of working through that appointed individual in His power. Here stood Jesus, with a visible sign of that power.

Then we come to the crown Jewel of the account, God’s spoken testimony. Jesus is confirmed by “a voice from heaven, ‘this is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’” (3:17). It is the final confirmation of not just Jesus’ power and prestige, but of his position as the son. Jesus is the very Son of God who is loved and whose actions pleases the father.  In intertestamental times, the Jews had a belief in God speaking through heavenly voices since prophecy had ceased. But written prophecy was still seen as more authoritative. What’s interesting is when God spoke, he took portions of Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 42:1 which were messianic scripture for the pre-Christian Jews.

All of this testimony of prophets, prophecy, Holy Spirit and God point to the same conclusion. Jesus is God’s beloved son, holy and mighty, the promised Messiah. The presentation of Jesus at the beginning of his public ministry is just a handful of verses but packed full of significance. It all works towards the truth that Jesus who was born in a manger and grew up in obscurity, would change the world with his short ministry and death. A death and resurrection that gives life to all us who believe. For all this, we celebrate Him at Christmas and will praise Him for eternity in glory.

 

Dec 08

Full of Grace and Truth

 

Last month on my trip to India, I had plenty of time catch up on some movie watching as I flew on the long international flights. One familiar technique of the directors was to start out with an opening scene which gives some critical information necessary to understanding the rest of the film. It might be part of the characters past such as in Disney’s Up, or just an introduction of the character such as in Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark with Dr. Henry Jones navigating a dangerous temple and eventually running from a giant stone ball to escape.

In the movie Up, we learn that the main character had a wonderful life with his wife and lifelong friend and they had dreams that never materialized. He wasn’t always just a grumpy old man. That opening was critical to understanding the motivation and reasons of the character during the rest of the movie. These crucial opening scenes are great techniques to storytelling, but Hollywood wasn’t the inventor of them. Throughout history, there have been many great opening scenes in stories and books.   Read the rest of this entry »

Dec 01

Who is like the Lord?

village-churchLife can be discouraging at times. Last month on my trip to India, I talked to a village pastor that Good Shepherd supports who has dealt with persecution (see the picture). An undercover government official came to him pretending to be a minister from another village. Through the conversation, the agent learned that some members of the church had converted to Christianity and got baptized. The agent then asked if he could borrow his Bible as he didn’t have one. Later that week, the police jailed 14 new believers in his church for being baptized without government permission. The evidence against them were the words of the pastor and the Bible. Read the rest of this entry »

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