Loopholes

www.bible.com/1713/php.4.8.csb

Within every code of laws, there exists exceptions and loopholes for those smart enough to figure them out. A notable example of this is the movie “I, Robot” based loosely on the Isaac Asimov tome of the same name. In the movie, the three laws of robotics are repeated for the sake the audience, and the rest of the movie is the antagonist of the movie having actually found the loophole to the laws. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice it to say that the laws made it illegal for a robot to hurt human beings or allow them to be harmed. VIKI, the movies antagonistic supercomputer, discovered that human beings hurt themselves all the, and in order to keep them from doing this, she decided she needed to take over management through her millions of android proxies. The movie illustrates the breaking of a few eggs to make this particular omelet. By instructing the computer to honor all human life, individual human lives were sacrificed in the process “for the greater good.”

You might think that the law of Love as described in the Bible might also have some loopholes. The two laws of Christianity are simple: Love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and the second, love your neighbor as yourself. Whereas the Old Testament laws numbered 623, these two cover just about every situation, right? Well, you might think so. But since we are human, we tend to look for shortcuts. I can’t tell you how tired I am of hearing this: “I just want to be able to walk through the pearly gates.” It’s like saying, “I only want to do enough to walk get in the door. I’m not trying to be a saint.” What’s the minimum effort to get into heaven? Is it a marginal faith in Jesus? An acknowledgement that God exists? Apparently it is for some.

But real salvation, salvation that allows you to walk into the presence of God, is the saving faith in Jesus Christ, and submission to his Lordship in your life. It isn’t measuring your life against a list of rules. Jesus didn’t call us to rules, which is why the rules He gave us don’t sound like a list of do not’s. His rules are do’s, and do’s that allow for a lot of creativity. How many different ways can you love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind? How many different ways can you show real sacrificial love to anyone who is your neighbor? Our God challenges us to be creative with our obedience. Who wouldn’t want to serve a God like that?

All of this to bring us back to our loophole. Why do you suppose Paul found it necessary to include this passage at all? Because of whatever loopholes followers of Christ will believe they have found. I have found this passage useful for those who ask about using email, the internet, or modern communications and media. “Is it okay if . . .” kind of questions. All I have to do is point to this verse and ask if what they want to do meet these criteria. I believe God knew that the world would advance beyond the first century. I believe He anticipated advances in media and technology. That’s why I believe the Bible continues to speak to each and every generation in a relevant and contemporary voice. Because for God, there are no loopholes. There are no “bare minimums” when it comes to salvation. Saving faith followed by immersion is the absolute base criteria, and when done ought to result in a Christian interested not in the bare minimums, but in how much they can do to show Jesus just how much they love and trust Him. I believe anyone looking for loopholes are lost.

Dear Lord, You have made me to be Your servant, saved me from the wickedness of my sin, and called out of darkness into light. Lord I know there is not enough I can do to deserve this favor, and I thank You over and again for the grace You have given me. May I ever serve and love You, for You alone cared enough for me to save me. Thank You Jesus. In Your Name I pray, Amen.

Those who Fear

www.bible.com/1713/psa.103.13.csb

What is your perception of God like? Is He in close fellowship with you? Or is God distant, standoffish, and disapproving? Are you nervous about when God finally comes in judgment, or do you welcome it, insofar as you anticipate what He’s going to to all those wicked sinners?

It is no coincidence that our perception of God is not unlike the perception of our own fathers. In fact, one plays directly into the other, which is why many people who have “daddy” issues also have God issues. It isn’t by accident either, as our fathers have the task of representing God to us. This comes up in the Ten Commandments when we are told to respect our father and our mother. Why these two in particular? Because our respect for these two bleed over into our veneration of who God is and our respect for authority in general.

This is why we need good fathers, men who will protect us and counsel us, men who will discipline us when we need it, and encourage us when we falter. We need men who model God, and who instill a fear of God in us. When we have no “fear” of our father, meaning we aren’t scared of disappointing him, or fear his anger, we also lose our fear of the same in God.

I would encourage you to seek God’s presence in your life. You have greater responsibilities than just existing from day to day. He has called you to higher purposes, and you can hear His voice when you condition it your hearing through prayer and Bible reading. I encourage you to spend time in each every day to be able to hear the “still small voice” of the Lord.

Lord Jesus, I just need You today. I don’t need money, fame, or any distractions. Let me wholly be devoted to Your leading and direction. Let my mind and my heart wholly fear You, affording You the respect and awe that is already yours. You are God. And I need to me reminded of this every day. Thank You Jesus, for it is in Your Name I pray, Amen.

Genesis 40 Revisited

Genesis 40 presents a short story that 1) establishes Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams, and 2) provides a connection to the Pharaoh later on (when he has disturbing dreams). As such, the chapter feels like connective tissue for the larger narrative, not really significant in itself, but important because it connects the larger story. I really had not given this story much thought on it’s own, until I began to notice significant details, it seems to me, carefully chosen details, that demonstrate significant prophetic elements of the Christ and His dual nature.

To summarize, the story is about two servants of Pharaoh, the cupbearer and the chief baker, who for unknown reasons are thrown into prison where Joseph is. They both have striking dreams which make them unsettled. As Joseph interprets both dreams they discover their unique fates three days hence. The cupbearer will be restored to Pharaoh’s service. The chief baker will be beheaded and impaled on a tree. As you read through the chapter, it becomes obvious that elements of Christ’s story are involved.

The cupbearer represents Christ’s divine nature. He was sent to prison, just as Christ was sent to earth, where he resided for some time. Since he is called a cupbearer, he resembles Christ’s role to the One who bears the cup of God’s wrath. It is because of Pharaoh’s fierce anger that the cupbearer is in prison. But this cupbearer will be resurrected after three days and restored to his position in Pharaoh’s court, just as Christ died, was in the grave three days, and was resurrected to the right hand of the Father. Christ bore the full cup of the wrath of God in Himself, and even prayed that the cup would pass from Him in the garden. Christ was the divine Cupbearer raised to life.

The chief baker, on the other hand, did not see life at the end of three days. As the baker of bread, he represents the body of Christ, just as the cupbearer represents the blood. The baker’s specific charge is never given, just as Jesus was innocent before God. The baker’s three days preceded his death, both beheaded and impaled. He could never be hung by a rope as hanging by gallows had not been invented yet, and he had no head to hang him. He was impaled on a tree.

The specifics to each man, their dreams, and their fulfillments could have been anything. All that was needed was to get Joseph established as an interpreter of dreams and a man at Pharaoh’s side at the right time, and yet, these two men and their two dreams offer pieces of the Christ story to those who look for them. Though the two men themselves are incidental, it seems to me that their stories, intertwined with Joseph, are intended to point to the Savior, Jesus Christ. Joseph in many ways is the Savior of Israel in Genesis. So when we see an episode like Genesis 40 that contains “a filler story”, we need to stop, take a look around, and ask questions like, “why is this story here?” Even insignificant stories in the Bible are important.

The same God who gave these men their dreams also gave Joseph their interpretation. Though no one realized it at the time, God was telling Joseph the story of His own Son, His death by crucifixion, His sacrificial death, even though He’s done no wrong. For the Father’s fierce anger over sin He would bear that wrath, but would also be raised to glory, through these two men, caught in circumstances bigger than themselves, God would tell the story of His Son, who is both bread and cup, flesh and blood, Man and God. All the pieces are there. They are just in a different order.

The problem with this is that no one else in Scripture picks up on it. No one tugs at this thread to unravel the story and show it as Christological. Far less significant texts in Genesis are dealt with Christologically, like Genesis 3:15, the character of Adam, the “seed” of Abraham, the character of Abraham and his justification by faith, the opposition of Hagar and Sarah as Sinai and Zion, etc. Joseph is never treated Christologically in the New Testament. He’s never considered a type of Christ formally, and he,s only mentioned in Acts 7 in Stephen’s sermon, in Hebrews 11:22 and Revelation 7:8. Only Stephen takes any time with Joseph, but not as a Christ figure. In the Old Testament, it seems his progeny, Ephraim, soiled the name of Joseph, as Ephraim became synonymous with the rebellious northern Kingdom of Israel.

So as it is, take this interpretation with a grain of salt. There is no New Testament precedent for taking this story for any more than it is, but as it stands, the details are fascinating. As some have said, Jesus can be found in all the books of the Old Testament. As Jesus said, those with eyes to see and ears to hear will find the kingdom. Maybe this is one place to look.

Like a Tree Planted

I am sorry I haven’t posted for a few days. We’ve been on vacation to Williamsburg, VA, and experienced there where we experienced everywhere, the CORONA! But I did get to do one thing that I won’t soon forget, standing the waves at the seashore at Virginia Beach.

We got there early enough on Saturday to get a good spot on the shore line, before a lot of people had arrived. The sun was up and the temperature was still pretty decent. Even my son who spends his days on his computer enjoyed getting into the water and lazying around in the waves. My wife and daughter also enjoyed themselves. I enjoyed getting down into the waves and just feeling the movement of the waves rolling in. The sound of the waves was enchanting, and had I a place to lay down, I probably would have, fallen asleep, and gotten a worse sunburn than I already have.

But this text above reminds of that day. A tree planted by the waters experiences those same waves (or current). But unlike me, who had to constant adjust my position to stay upright, a tree digs into the shore and is steady and steadfast. That’s really the difference between those who follow current trends and those who stay rooted in God’s word, isn’t it?

“Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit.”
(Eph 4:14)

I don’t know what you choose to govern the affairs of your life, whether you choose to follow the latest popular wisdom coming from CNN or TMZ, or if like me you anchor yourself in God’s Word. I suspect if you are reading this blog, it’s probably the latter. But in this age where “truth” changes from hour to hour, I would rather keep my truth well anchored in the shoreline of God’s word.

I have felt the waves, and I enjoyed feeling the waves bob me up and down, but I wouldn’t want to live like that. I need something solid to rest my feet upon. I know of no surer place that the Word of God, an unchanging, immutable Father who never changes, who is the Rock and the shelter of my soul. In Him I rest.

Lord Jesus, thank You for being my Rock, my anchor, and my hope. More than ever, I need You as my support and foundation of a life constantly bombarded with tossing waves and stormy seas. I have no surer Rock than You. In You Name I pray, Amen.

Season of Singing

With the outlook of Corona looking as bleak as it does, it seems odd to put forth this idea of singing. I usually reserve singing for times of joy, or singing along with musicals. Yes, I’ve been known to watch the occasional musical. I also sing at church, but only when I get a feel for the song put forth as worship.

I’ve gotten really tired of singing a new song every week. I really wouldn’t mind going back and singing a new song from a year ago. But I guess I’m used to singing the same 50 songs from the hymnbook and trying to rearrange them every week into a good combination of five. I remember when introducing a new song every month caused consternation and complaints about not being able to worship. Now the shoe is on the other foot for me. Whereas once I tried to introduce a new chorus, now they are being introduced to me.

I am resistant to change, and I’ll freely admit that it is because I am getting older. I miss the church of my youth, when I didn’t know as much as I do now. I used to not know how things worked behind the scenes. I guess ignorance is bliss after all. I didn’t know about the how playing the music required a lot of practice to make it look easy. Of how picking the songs and even how the songs were played caused a lot of blow back if it wasn’t done “correctly” or as folks remember it being played. So, here I am suffering from what others have decided is good worship, and I am the one silently complaining about how songs ought to be played.

As a result, I haven’t done much worship. Oh I could break out my guitar and play a few songs for myself, but in a house of six people, there’s rarely a place just to be myself. Even now I share my office with my daughter who is also working on important things at the moment. She’s in high school so she has many important projects underway.

So I guess I haven’t felt much like singing, and I miss it. When I’m struggling with music at my home church, I’ve been attending church conducting in-person services just down the road. They have a worship leader there familiar with older material, but likes to take liberties with it. The Church of Christ down the street also sings the older songs, but at a cadence I’m not familiar with, and without instrumentation.

I guess this one is just me complaining I guess. I really don’t have anyone to blame but myself, and I guess that is the point. I don’t know how many of you have been in the same boat, but in truth, the only one at fault for not worshiping is yourself. You can control your time and your spirit. If you can’t worship in singing, worship in listening to others sing. Almost everyone has access to personal music devices anymore. How hard is it to fire up your favorite worship music?

I think it is a hard truth that no one will play worship music in a church setting exactly the way you want it. That’s not what church is about. Church is not tailored to your specific likes and dislikes. If it did, it would be the church of YOU, not of Christ. I believe that in every church service, in every church, there is something there for you, just as there is for everyone else present. And Church really isn’t about what you want, but what you bring to it. If you bring a scornful heart, you will receive nothing but scorn. If you bring a complaining heart, that’s all you will receive. But if you bring a worshipful heart, a happy heart, and soul longing for the presence of Jesus, then that is what you will receive at Church. Even when they don’t realize it, the fact that everyone is present at church offers a presence of Jesus that is unavailable by yourself.

“For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there among them.”
(Mat 18:20)

I think that is something we are all missing right now.

Dear Lord, I repent of my lack of worship and my scornful heart. I have not acquitted myself well of the spirit of Jesus that is within me. I have been unfairly critical of others, and my need for worship my way, and forgotten the maxim, “submit yourself to one another.” Father, please forgive my complaining and murmuring against your people, many of whom are blessed by the word and music they have received. Help me to find my place of worship, my heart of worship again, so that I may rejoice in Your Holy Name as I once did. I pray this in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Refuge

www.bible.com/1713/nam.1.7.csb

image_ae0d8d72-06e8-4ea8-848e-9ee4315099ad

Have you ever needed a place to “hole up” for a bit? I am reminded of those old western movies where the outlaws had a hide-out, kind of a stronghold or refuge where they could hide from the law and be safe from arrest. Even further back, David and his men had strongholds in the wilderness to protect them from capture by Saul’s forces. Jesus often retreated to the wilderness to avoid the crowds and to get some rest.

From outlaws to the Messiah, we find that a place to retreat to is important. For you it may be your home, or a place in your home where you can be alone, or in the comfort of close friends or family. You may be the kind that needs that kind of intimate encouragement (and I think we all are) every so often to keep you “sane”.

I had a conversation with a person not long ago who had no such place, whose life flitted from work to home to bars and the bed. This person never had a respite, a safe place to vent or unwind. And over time, this person’s soul was slowly worn away, until this person was in a kind of survival mode, just doing what needed to be done to get by. It is a hardscrabble way to live. And I don’t think Jesus intended us to live that way.

As Jesus once said, “take my yoke upon you, for my burden is light”. More than this, God intended us to take Him as our refuge, because this world offers few places for refuge away from evil. Sometimes even the church is no refuge from wicked plans and evil people, and I admit that with both experience and sorrow. But not every church is like this, don’t misunderstand. I have had some of the best, most profound experiences in the presence of other believers, and even in the midst of people I didn’t like.

So may I encourage you to find that place of solace and of rest, even if it is to pause in your day, acknowledge the Lord above, and give Him thanks. Prayer doesn’t have to be located anywhere special, but it alone can be a powerful place of rest. Your soul needs it.

Heavenly Father, I know that today, I need to make You my place of solace and rest. I know that the only place I can rest is in Your presence. Lord may I descend into prayer as I would be cradled by Your powerful protective arms, to hold me as my soul needs restorative strength. I pray Lord Jesus to hold me close so that I may weather the strains and pressures of life. Thank You Lord for being my refuge. In Your Name I pray, Amen.

As a Christian

www.bible.com/1713/1pe.4.16.csb

I think it should be important to point out the statement here, “If anyone suffers as a Christian”, since we do an awful lot of suffering. I think it would be easy to miss the distinction.

We all suffer to some extent. Some suffer from insufferable pain. Others from life circumstances they’ve thrust upon themselves. Still others from what others have done to them. But how much of your suffering is done “as a Christian”? What does that mean?

For one thing, I don’t think it means when you leave a tract instead of a tip, and then the server cussed you out that you are “persecuted for the faith!” That’s just being cheap and ungrateful. That’s not Christian.

 For another, I don’t think it means standing up for the old hymns when everyone else wants to sing choruses at the worship service, or insisting on using hymn books when others use a screen. It’s not insisting everyone use the King James Bible because the others are “full of errors” because all of that is just insisting on your own rights above others, which is not the counsel of Scripture. You are not suffering “as a Christian” when others don’t agree with your worship preference. Playing the martyr and being a martyr are two very different things.

If you suffer as a Christian, you are experiencing active persecution. We don’t know much about that here in America until here recently with the COVID. When the government chooses to block you from worship, and you go anyway and get arrested for going to church, that is suffering as a  Christian, because you are suffering because you are obeying God’s command to attend with a church. 

If you go to church and Islamic insurgents come and burn down the building with you in it, then you are suffering as a Christian. If you are beaten because you have a Bible, are caught telling someone about Jesus, or wear a cross, then you are suffering as a Christian.

These are occasions to glorify God. These are occasions to “consider it all joy my brethren when you encounter various trials.” These are the ones who cry out from under the altar and ask the Lord how much longer have to wait until judgment day. These are the martyrs, who give their life because that is better than giving up Jesus. They are persecuted and put to death all day long for His sake, and glory awaits them, not the person who got offended by your choice of music for the worship service.

 Lord help me today not be so easily offended by things that don’t matter. I know that real persecution exists, and let me lift up my brothers and sisters who really suffer it. Father I lift up all those who even today are laying down their lives because of their faith in Jesus. May You welcome them with open arms. Thank You Jesus for Your love and grace and peace. In Your Name I pray, Amen.

Whence Comfort?

www.bible.com/1713/2co.1.3-4.csb

Where does your comfort come from? A soft, fuzzy pillow? A teddy bear who is always ready to listen to your troubles? A shoulder you know you can’t count on to cry on from time to time? A familiar listening ear? Or even from God Himself?

He is the “God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction.” That’s a tall order, but a necessary one. We are in need of a Comforter, and weal in our time of affliction. And who else is there? Who else can comfort us?

When I was a child, I needed someone who was stronger than I was, like my parents, who would be comforters. I could run to my mother or my father in the middle of a thunderstorm and weep in their arms, knowing there I would be safe.

As adults, we find we have the same needs for such comfort when the storms of life are too big for us. But to whom shall we turn? Whose arms do we run to when we are the ones who are supposed to have it all together? May I suggest the Comforter, the One who made us, Who calls us His own. His arms, though we often can’t see them, call upon our eyes of faith to feel. Do you trust in the Lord God to help you through and comfort you when you scared?

As an adult, we are not so much scared of the storms, but the catastrophes, both personal and public. We are scared of the hurricanes and tornadoes, the wildfires and the pandemics. We ought to have some fear of them, as such fear inspires caution and taking measures to protect ourselves. But what about personal illnesses, creeping cancers and major organ failure, when you can see the monster coming for you with the face of tumors and anuerysms? We still need a Comforter, and arms that can enfold us, and tell us its going to be okay. I still need that. I still cling in faith to the God who raised His Son from the dead. I still trust in His promises He made for me. But I fear those times especially when my faith will be tested. I know times will come when I question God and ask why He would put me through such things. I’ve done it before. And when the test was over was when I realized with relief that it was all done to strengthen me, improve my faith, and help me forward to the next test.

When I am confronted by someone who questions God, all I do is ask if God has been faithful before. Has God answered your prayers in the past? Has He blessed me when you weren’t looking? Inevitably, the answer is yes. Even in the darkest times and hardest situations, God’s light has always found a way to shine through. Then I ask if God has stopped being faithful, stopped loving, stopped hearing prayer. So too here the answer must give way to grudging acknowledgment. Even in my dark times, God has been working behind the scenes to bring about His glory and show His love to me.

So today, as you are going through the test, remember what God has done for you. It was not accidentally that when Israel was going through hard times, God reminded them of the Exodus, of bringing them through the Red Sea and their time at the Mountain, or the bread in the desert. He reminds them of their past for the sake of their present. He will remind you too.

God, You have been so kind to me, especially when I didn’t deserve it. I called on You and I thought You weren’t listening. I called to You and You didn’t seem to answer. I was angry at You. I hated You because I thought You loved me and You turned Your back to me. I thought I was Your child, and You were silent. Thank You for being so patient with me, because I discovered at the end of my trial, You were right there all along. I cannot know all the things You shielded me from, and the disaster I could experienced, because You do love me. I repent and apologize for all the mean things I said and did, because in my human frailty, I couldn’t see the light, the care and compassion You have for me. I twisted and fought at the end of my rope because I could see the One who was pulling me in. Thank You God for loving me and granting me peace. In You Name I pray, Amen.

How’s Your Conversation?

www.bible.com/1713/col.4.6.csb

Curious thing. Checking the Greek text underlying our English translation is this word translated “conversation”. The Greek word behind it is the same word we use in John one concerning the Christ. He is the Logos. This conversation is our logos. Now logos literally translated is “word”, and so we refer to Christ in John one as the “Word” of God. But what is the “word” of us?

If we refer back to John one for a moment, we find that the Word was in the beginning with God, was with God, and was God. God and His Word are synonymous. The Word that went out from God and became flesh was His real representative in every way that matters. Jesus, this Word made flesh, represented God’s grace, kindness, holiness, and at times, His necessary judgment. Jesus represented the very nature of God, but in flesh, so that we could see Him and hear Him.

Now consider for a moment what effect your words have on others. Your words go forth and represent who you are. You are your words. And even words that “slip out” represent the heart that uttered them. Hence James says that the tongue has yet to be tamed. Why? Because the heart is deceitful and wicked, and only the Lord can change it. Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.

So this warning is actually quite timely. Just as Jesus is the Word of God, so to your “word” ought to be gracious, “seasoned with salt”, and full of answers for the hope within you. You might be wondered what “seasoned with salt” might mean. I doubt it means you need to have “salty” language. “Salty” language implies you spread plenty of expletive in your conversation that offers bites and jabs at the conscience, to call attention to your speech, because it just isn’t interesting without it. I believe rather that “seasoned with salt” implies that your conversation is flavorful. People will want to hear what you say because you speak in a way that is inviting and encouraging. And if you are talking about the gospel, how could it ever be boring?

Lord Jesus, help me today to tame my tongue, to make my conversation inviting and interesting, because You are on my lips. May my word go forth from me, representing not my fallen and corrupted heart, but the new heart You gave me at baptism, renewed, recreated in me as a heart of flesh rather than stone. Thank You Jesus for calling me Your own. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Relevant

www.bible.com/1713/rom.8.6.csb

So when I saw this image this morning, I knew this one that Youversion had put together was spot on. This image, of a TV set showing a Bible verse, looks like output from an old Commodore 64. I think it is an apt reminder that what we put into our mind always has an output. If you eat, breathe, and drink violence, harm to others, addictive behaviors and so on, it will be reflected in your actual behavior. You cannot drink poison and believe it won’t affect you.

As I mentioned yesterday, the mind is the battlefield between the flesh and the spirit, and the temptations of the flesh, though redeemed by Christ, still war against the promptings of the Spirit. The one who wins, as the old saying goes, is the one you feed. You feed the temptations of the flesh by giving in to them, and committing sin. You “feed” the spirit by spending time with Him, the Holy Spirit, both in reading the word, in prayer, and other spiritual disciplines.

So the choice is really yours. Don’t waste it.

Heavenly Father, again I come to you, woefully inadequate for the task at hand. I am bring nothing to this particular table, but yet, it’s not about who I am, but about who You are. Though I am inadequate, I am a child of God. Though I fail, in You I have success. Lord I bring all that I am to You to use at Your will. Help me to stand, so that I may offer to others what You’ve freely given to me. Thank You Jesus. Amen.