The Super Hero of the Bible

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It’s time to save the world again! With all the superhero movies in theaters, it makes me think that Hollywood is looking for a Savior.

It shouldn’t surprise us that somewhere in us, we are always looking for a Savior, someone who will go to bat for us, defend us, and deliver us. It sounds like the people of Israel in 1 Samuel, “No! But there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” (1Sa 8:19-20) Throngs will attend the massive cineplexes to find a savior on Friday night, and never think to look at their local church on Sunday morning.

Then I began to wonder about the superheroes of the Bible, you know, men of great strength like Samson, or great speed like Elijah. It reminds me of those who faced great challenges, like Noah, who was charged with building the first boat, for the first flood, to save all animals, and all mankind from the end of the world. Sounds like a super hero job to me.

But all of these heroes were ordinary men and women like you and me. What happened to them to change them to heroes? The answer lies in Hebrews 11:1, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets”. Every single one of these ordinary people were dramatically changed by the voice of God. But there is one hero who outmatches them all.

Still looking for a Savior?

Everyone has a favorite hero, and I think there’s a lot to be said for the comparison of our modern superheroes and the pantheon of gods and goddesses of the ancient world. For every Superman today, there was a Zeus in the days of the Bible. For every Thor, there was a Baal. People then worshipped these superheroes as gods, with real control over their destinies. Sadly, just like modern superheroes, these ancient heroes had a problem. They could not be everywhere at once. They were godlike in their powers, but they could never be God, because they couldn’t be here and there at the same time.

In Superman II, the world is in need of Superman, because the arch-villains of Krypton have made their way to earth. But Superman was occupied with Lois Lane in the fortress of solitude, and didn’t know the earth was in trouble. He couldn’t save the world until after many lives were lost.

In 1 Kings 17, Elijah challenges the priests of Baal. They work and worship in vain to get Baal to light the offering on the altar. Elijah mocks them suggesting that Baal is away on vacation, or perhaps indisposed, unaware of their plight. But Elijah’s God, the God of Israel is always near. “For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?” (Deuteronomy 4:7) In no time, God lit the altar of Israel, and proved once again that He is God, and there is no other.

Listen to what he says in Isaiah: “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.” (Isa 45:22)There are many heroes, and many superheroes that may call for attention, devotion, even worship, but only one God. The people of the ancient world had a tough time figuring this out. What about you?

Who your superhero?

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Oh How I Love Your Law!

Just as prayer is the breathing out of our conversation with God, so the reading of His word is the breathing in. So this month, it is time to take a deep breath.

God’s Word says that it is sharper than a two-edged sword. It cleaves even the soul from the spirit. It is so sharp that it can divide the old man from the new creation. It is a useful tool to have, a lot like a pocket-knife.

When I was much younger, my dad gave me my first pocket-knife. It was a camping knife, with one blade and several utensils, including a can-opener, fork and spoon. I didn’t carry it around much then because I really didn’t need all these tools all the time, and of course, you couldn’t take it to school. So I never really appreciated that knife. But, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to see my pocket-knife as an indispensible tool.

I’ve moved up to a multi-tool knife, with the requisite knife, but this one also has a couple screw-driver heads, wood saw, and even a corkscrew, for those special occasions. On countless occasions, when I’ve needed to tighten a screw, or install a piece of hardware for the bathroom or a computer, just having that piece of metal in my pocket has made the difference between looking for a tool, and getting the job done.

I’ve found the knife useful over the years, but nearly lost it in St. Louis. I was attending a Glenn Beck – Bill O’Reilly tour date and got all the way up to the gate. But there I saw that security was scrutinizing everybody, looking through pockets and pulling out anything that looked dangerous, including pocket-knives. I started to panic, because I didn’t want to lose this knife. I managed to hide it in the bushes outside the entrance. And I worried about that knife all the way through the show, until I could get my hands on it again on the way out. It is a rare occasion that I do not carry this knife.

So, like my pocket-knife, I hate to go anywhere without a copy of the Word somewhere on my person. I feel naked without it. Whether it’s a physical copy or an electronic one on my cell-phone, the Word of God is that important. I hope that by the end of this month, you will feel the same way. The Word is far more useful than a pocket-knife, and nourishes the soul. May you learn to love the Word, and cherish it. Breathe in, breathe out.

Worry and Anxiety

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is there a difference? Worry is something we do, almost reflexively. A lifestyle of worry is anxiety. Anxiety can become a medical condition, treated with medication. Jesus calls us not to a lifestyle of worry and self-doubt, but to trust in Him. When we worry, we proclaim that He is not enough for our needs, that our faith in His provision is faltering. I know this because worry has been the fault in my own family. And though there are times I have been anxious, I try not to think about the what-ifs. I encourage you to think about this text in the context of your own life. Ask yourself if there is anything that you hold on to that God cannot take up for you. “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” He offers to share the burdens with us, rather than we bear them alone.

Wrestling for What?

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Jacob’s struggle with (the angel of) God at Jabbok is given little detail and it leaves much to interpretation. It appears to say that Jacob wrestled with an unknown assailant until dawn (from sometime the night or morning before) and prevailed. But before he released his assailant (after a crippling blow to his own hip), he begged for a blessing. Many understand this as “wrestling” in prayer. But this was a true, physical confrontation. The wrestling is unique to Jacob’s path.

Is this God’s allowance for Jacob’s free will?

Is this saying that we cannot win against God until we submit to Him?

The story of Jacob wrestling with God is so vague that interpretations of it reveal more about ourselves than the original story. The story itself is nearly inscrutable. So any attempt to understand the story without immediately inserting ourselves into it is challenging.

The word translated “wrestled” literally means “to stir up dust” or “make dusty”. So the idea of Jacob and God here is that they had a “dust-up”. It is just that vague.

We need to set the scene. Jacob spent some of that night sending off gifts to appease his brother Esau. Then, he was speaking to, organizing, and sending ahead his wives and children in different groups. Finally he found a place to be alone. Whether he had moonlight, starlight, or torchlight, it was still dark, and could have been early morning by this time.

By modern pictures, the terrain around Jabbok is rocky, as river beds and river banks usually are, making for unsure footing unless you can see where you are going. So that Jacob encountered this “man” in the dark, on unstable ground (with a river running through it) and stirred up the dust with him. Dust stings the eyes and gets into places, making you feel grimy, especially if he exerted himself and perspired. If Jacob wrestled with God, he was a mess quickly.

Isn’t wrestling about submission? in order to win, doesn’t that mean your opponent is in a hold they cannot break from? So for hours, at least, Jacob and God grappled in the mud, the dust, the water, trying to gain a hold on the other. The point of this physical confrontation, for lack of any other information, is submission. It’s done in the dark, so that Jacob doesn’t see the face of God while he is wrestling. Only when he submits (and changes his relationship with God)  in the morning does he see (the angel) of God’s face. That’s why daybreak is crucial in the story, lest Jacob see the holiness that is represented by the angel and die. What’s why the angel forces the confrontation to a close by breaking Jacob’s hip (a very painful injury). Only when he is broken does Jacob submit. So maybe its not that Jacob couldn’t pin God, but that Jacob wouldn’t let God pin him. And God limited Himself to the power and strength of a man to bleed off Jacob’s will? It is assumed that the Angel attacked Jacob, and thus Jacob defended himself. Over time, Jacob realized this was not mere man.

We get an answer to our questions about this text in Hosea. When he “wept” he finally “prevailed”:

“He strove with the Angel and prevailed; he wept and sought his favor . . .” (Hosea 12:4)

Isn’t this the only way to win with God?

No one else in Scripture wrestles with God. Thus it is not prescribed as normal practice. We cannot then recommend that anyone else wrestle with God. If a person is wrestling with God today, it means they refuse to submit to him. Contrary to popular opinion, it is not a noble deed.

TIME OUT FOR MOM

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Mother’s Day shouldn’t just be one day a year that we give special honor to these women, but it is usually this one day that we spend extra effort to be in church. A couple of churches ago we had a gentleman who resisted the impulse to attend worship most days of the year. But on Mother’s Day, his mother requested only one gift from him, his attendance in church. She gave up special dinners, gifts and all she could expect from a son who in all other respects loved and respected her. But on this one issue, he resisted her, except on Mother’s Day. It is a special gift to give to your mother to honor her especially on Mother’s Day.

Is one day enough to show your mother you honor her by showing up in her church on Mother’s Day?

In Joshua 1:17 it says “Just as we obeyed Moses in all things, so we will obey you. Only may the LORD your God be with you, as he was with Moses.” The people were answering Joshua’s call to take the land of Canaan, but saying “the Lord your God” not “the Lord our God.” They didn’t take ownership, or enjoy a personal relationship with God. God belonged to someone else, and they just enjoyed the benefits of that relationship. We did the same things growing up in our mother’s house. She had a relationship with God. She prayed, she read her Bible, she took us to church, she leaned upon the Lord’s strength when we frustrated her.

We have been taught that Church just isn’t meaningful. Have you ever asked yourself why Mom ever went to church in the first place? Was her world so much different, the temptations so at odds with today that she wasn’t tempted to stay at home, especially on Sunday, when the prospect of getting kids up and ready for church just like every school day was every reason to skip church and take a day off?

Mom went to church every week to get that strength that doesn’t come from an energy boost. Mom went to church because she worshipped Jesus there. Hers was a personal relationship with God, not one that relied on others. She spoke to God personally, listened to His voice, and acted according to His will.

God’s plan is for everyone who approaches Him. You have questions? He welcomes them. You need answers, He has plenty! You need to belong? Welcome to the body of Christ! You need friends? We’ve got ‘em to spare! Don’t think the Church belongs to your mother. It can be yours too. He makes it very simple in the Scriptures:

  1. BELIEVE on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved. (Acts 16:31)

  2. TURN FROM YOUR SINS (2 Corinthians 7:10)

  3. CONFESS THE NAME OF JESUS as Lord (Romans 10:9)

  4. BE BAPTIZED for your sins, the gift of the Holy Spirit and Eternal Life (Acts 2:38)

  5. LIVE FOR CHRIST! (Philippians 2:12)

This faith can be yours for the asking.

The Big Ten

A long time ago I learned that we use the ten digit system because we have ten digits: eight fingers and two thumbs. Now we may wonder why God so designed us this way. Everything we do that involves numbers is based on the Base 10 system, meaning that we have 10 numbers, 0-9, for which we apply value. For example, when someone says, “I have 123 friends on Facebook!” they mean that they have one times one hundred (ten times ten) plus 2 times ten plus 3 parts of ten in counting their friends. It’s as old as using our fingers to count. The Base 10 system drives everything we do, from getting gas at the gas pump ($3.74/ gallon!) to paying our bills. It is the very foundation of our number system, and so it is with our law.

God gave the Israelites ten basic laws to govern their behavior with one another. The first five deal with the subject of the first great commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.” Those first five explain what loving God means: Not to worship other gods, not to build idols of God, Not to misuse God’s name, Not to misuse God’s day, and not to ignore God’s representatives. The second five explain what God meant when He said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Don’t kill your neighbor, don’t break up your neighbor’s marriage, don’t steal from your neighbor, don’t lie about your neighbor, and don’t desire your neighbor’s stuff. Is it any surprise when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, He chose these two? (Mark 12:28-31)

More recently, the Ten Commandments have come under fire for being posted in public places (forget the fact they are etched in stone in the U.S. Supreme Court) because they advocate a particular religion, though Jesus is nowhere mentioned in the Ten. It has been the foundation for English and America law for centuries, and has never needed explaining, because everyone knows them, either inherently, or by faith. Of particular concern for us is where Christians ought to stand on the issue. Since we stand on Christ and the New Testament, should we support the movement to post the Ten Commandments? What do the Commandments represent?

Take a moment and consider the Ten Commandments written positively.

#1 – Respect the One True God

#2 – Respect God’s Uniqueness

#3 – Respect the Name

#4 – Respect the Sabbath

#5 – Respect Your Parents

#6 – Respect One Another’s Life

#7 – Respect One Another’s Marriage

#8 – Respect One Another’s Property

#9 – Respect the Truth

#10 – Respect Your Neighbor

A few nights ago our dog got out. This doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it’s a challenge to get him back. I could tell where he was by the sound of other dogs barking for all they’re worth. My dog tends to attract the attention, and one of my neighbors was furious, for his dogs were barking ferociously at my canine intruder, and he was no less fierce. What he shouted to me over the creek was not especially encouraging, and included language I’ll not include here. But all I could say in response to his especially sage advice about keeping my dog on a leash was simply, “Thank you!”

As much as these laws help us understand our relationship to God, they also govern our relationship to one another. What happens when these laws are ignored? Our neighbors are strangers, who feel no compunction to shouting profanity across a creek at you when they don’t even know your name. Not only do these laws govern civil behavior, but they provide an important basis of interaction between neighbors. When we all know what the basic rules are, we don’t have to live in fear, but in freedom. Even when I don’t know who you are, I know there will be a certain civility in our conversation and a reasonable expectation of mutual respect.

It’s difficult for us to love our neighbors when we live in fear of them. We dare not tread on their property because they will lean out the back porch and shout at us. We dare not touch their front door, or they will warn us off the property. If we lose the Ten, we stand to lose so much more. What can you do to make sure the Ten are a part of your life? And encourage it in others?

If you had to put together a top ten list of laws and commands for people to follow, what would you list? Maybe common sense would be on that list somewhere, along with getting a job and supporting your family. Maybe you would add something in there about marriage and divorce, and who ought to participate in it. But would we have come up with the list that God gave us?