Tag Archive for Bible study

DN=: Part 12–Civil Liberties

 

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. (1 Corinthians 6:12 NIV)

 I’m free to choose who I see any old time
I’m free to bring who I choose any old time
Love me hold me love me hold me
I’m free any old time to get what I want
“I’m Free” Mick Jagger/Keith Richards

 

One of the main functions of a father is to establish and enforce boundaries for his children.  The intent of setting these boundaries is to protect his children, because he knows more than they do.

 

There is no condemnation in this, only a sense of love and protection.  The child picks up on this, and remains content within the security of the boundary.

 

Now if an earthly father can manage to set healthy boundaries in love, how much more effective and useful are our heavenly Father’s boundaries!  Would it not stand to reason that an omniscient God, who knows every possible outcome of every possible choice we could make, would know what’s good for us and what isn’t?

 

The most obvious example of this is the 10 Commandments.  A lot of people are put off by them because of the “Thou shalt not” tone that most of them have.  So why would a loving Father God put such restrictions on the freedom of His children?

 

One word—consequences.

 

LIBERTY DN= FREEDOM FROM CONSEQUENCES

 

Some consequences of violating God’s boundaries are obvious.  Take for example “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”  If you break that commandment, the most obvious and immediate consequence is generally the breakup of a marriage.

 

Long-term and indirect consequences are difficult to predict, however.  We can’t know for certain how young children will be affected by the divorce—how they will cope with the sense of loss, how they will develop socially as they grow, what baggage they might carry into their future relationships and marriages.

 

God sees every potential negative consequence, and wants to protect us from them.  Nevertheless, our nature instinctively reacts to any kind of boundary to see it as a restriction on our freedom.  Christian or not, nobody likes being told what to do, or to have their “freedom of choice” taken away.

 

But when you stop to think about it, this is a ridiculous notion.  NOBODY can take away your freedom of choice, not even God.  He’s the one who gave it to you in the first place.

 

God doesn’t set boundaries to take away our choice.  He places them there to assist us in making the right choice, because he knows which choice will have good consequences and which will have bad consequences.

 

However, somewhere along the line our culture developed a callous disregard for sin, or crossing God’s boundary lines, and its consequences.  Our culture has been brainwashed to believe that God’s boundaries, as set forth in the Bible, are out of date and out of touch with progress.

 

Since the Bible is God’s Word, and therefore our most definitive written source of Truth, this Truth gets dismissed along with the Bible.  Inside this moral vacuum, people get the idea that they can create their own truth—a moving target that is relative to whatever suits their whims at any given moment—and anything contrary to that amorphous worldview then becomes a violation of their civil liberties.

 

Only here’s the problem.  Since Truth is universal, and it’s found in the same place where God’s “restrictive” boundaries are, then it would follow that the consequences of crossing those boundaries are also universal.

 

The consequence of mentally turning sin into civil liberties is that to do so, the concept of civil responsibility is totally abandoned.  You can’t be “free to do what you want any old time” and be your brother’s keeper at the same time.

 

Fortunately, God has a way of evening things out.

 

(To find out how, come back for Part 13–Fair Play)

 

DN=: Part 6–Judgment

 

Those people are on a dark spiral downward. But if you think that leaves you on the high ground where you can point your finger at others, think again. Every time you criticize someone, you condemn yourself. It takes one to know one. Judgmental criticism of others is a well-known way of escaping detection in your own crimes and misdemeanors. But God isn’t so easily diverted. He sees right through all such smoke screens and holds you to what you’ve done.

 You didn’t think, did you, that just by pointing your finger at others you would distract God from seeing all your misdoings and from coming down on you hard? Or did you think that because he’s such a nice God, he’d let you off the hook? Better think this one through from the beginning. God is kind, but he’s not soft. In kindness he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change.

 You’re not getting by with anything. Every refusal and avoidance of God adds fuel to the fire. The day is coming when it’s going to blaze hot and high, God’s fiery and righteous judgment. Make no mistake: In the end you get what’s coming to you—Real Life for those who work on God’s side, but to those who insist on getting their own way and take the path of least resistance, Fire!

 If you go against the grain, you get splinters, regardless of which neighborhood you’re from, what your parents taught you, what schools you attended. But if you embrace the way God does things, there are wonderful payoffs, again without regard to where you are from or how you were brought up. Being a Jew won’t give you an automatic stamp of approval. God pays no attention to what others say (or what you think) about you. He makes up his own mind.

 If you sin without knowing what you’re doing, God takes that into account. But if you sin knowing full well what you’re doing, that’s a different story entirely. Merely hearing God’s law is a waste of your time if you don’t do what he commands. Doing, not hearing, is what makes the difference with God.

Romans 2: 1-13 The Message

Sorry for the long quote there, but I wanted to point out two phrases in the very same passage: “Judgmental criticism” and “righteous judgment.”  Both phrases have forms of the word “judge” in them, but they are very different.

 

It should be clear from the context that righteous judgment belongs to God alone, for God alone is righteous by nature.  Because of His unattainable righteousness and holiness, He alone has the authority to judge in the sense of meting out justice for our sin.

 

As we have talked about in Part 3, righteous DN= self-righteous.  The only way that a person could attempt to judge another’s destiny would be from a position of self-righteousness.

 

But as we have also discussed, self-righteousness is unrighteousness.  How then can the unrighteous judge anyone?  Indeed, they have already been judged themselves, not only for the sins they themselves have committed, but by the greater sin of attempting to push God out of the Judgment Seat which is rightfully His.

 

This is the difference between judgment and being judgmental—it’s all about who is passing the judgment.  God is qualified and has the authority to judge sin.  We aren’t, and we don’t.

 

EXERCISING JUDGMENT DN= BEING JUDGMENTAL

 

Although self-righteous, judgmental criticism is a problem for all people, the distinction between God’s judgment and man’s judgmentalism is relatively clear.

 

What is not as clear as it needs to be, however, is the difference between judgmentalism and exercising sound judgment.

 

My son, do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight, preserve sound judgment and discretion. Proverbs 3:21 NIV

 

One of the complications of the English language is words with multiple meanings.  “Judgment” is one of those.

 

God will sit in judgment of us all; therefore, we should not stand in judgment of one another.  Yet we are to preserve sound judgment?  How does that work?

 

It’s really not that difficult when you stop to think about it.  If your judgment is toward a person and stems from motives of criticism and self-righteousness, then you are being judgmental.  This is the bad one.

 

However, if your judgment is focused toward an action or situation, and is based upon wisdom, common sense or sound reasoning, then this is the good kind.

 

Where the problems arise, is when a spirit of offense prevents the person being judged from distinguishing between the two.

 

If someone attempts to shame you for your sin, make you feel like a bad person, tells you you’re going to Hell, calls you a name, places a group label on you, or blames you for something for which you are not directly responsible because of your association with that group, then that person is being judgmental, and your offense is justified.

 

If, however, the other person is attempting to help you correct your behavior respectfully, sharing from his or her own experience a bad result from their having done something similar, calling you by your own name, looking you in the eye, emphasizing the solution instead of the problem, but most importantly, is focusing on the behavior without attempting to analyze your motives or your character. . .then you need to work past the emotional reaction of offense and listen to what you are being told.

 

Chances are this person knows something you don’t.  And they are exercising sound judgment, without being judgmental, by telling you that.

 

(Coming up next, STORYTIME! Going to do something a little different for Part 7–Hatred.)

 

DN=: Part 4–Holy

Another troublesome churchy word is “holy.”  Like “righteous,” the word “holy” also has some unnecessary baggage attached to it.  What I mean is that just as some people see the word “righteous” and think “self-righteous,” some people see the word “holy” and think “holier-than-thou.”

 

If you’re not familiar with the term, “holier-than-thou” is used to describe the attitude of a Christian condescending to non-Christians based solely on church affiliation or some other man-made construct (such as denominations) apart from the grace of God.

 

Naturally, this attitude is very off-putting.

 

HOLY DN= HOLIER-THAN-THOU

 

The word “holy” simply means “set apart for God’s purpose.”  It can refer to a day, a place, a nation or an individual.  Mostly, however, it refers to God Himself.  As Isaiah wrote:

 

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

(Isaiah 55: 8-9 NIV)

God is holy, or set apart, simply because He’s God, and we’re not.  When people put their faith in Jesus Christ, trust in His saving work on the cross to make them righteous, and make Him the Lord of their lives, then they also become holy.  They are still human beings, but now they have been set apart from the rest of the world to do God’s work.

 

It is critical to understand the progression here.  God makes us righteous through JESUS’ work, not ours.  In the same way, God makes us holy only when we realize that we AREN’T made righteous by the good that we do.

 

If a person claims to have faith in Jesus, but still lives as he did before being saved, then how has that person been set apart?

 

He hasn’t.

 

Christians are SUPPOSED to stand out.  We are SUPPOSED to be different from everybody else.  Otherwise, what would be the point of being one?

 

The irony of holiness is that just as we were set free in order to become servants, we were also set apart to become unified—not to the world, but to each other.  As Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus about Jesus:

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.  But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.  (Ephesians 4: 11-16 NRSV)

 

When Paul refers to “saints” in this context, he is referring to all believers, not people (such as himself) who are referred to with a St. in front of their name.  The “work of ministry” for which said saints are being equipped is the service to which we are called upon having been made free.  Still with me so far?

 

In addition to the teaching, preaching and shepherding gifts Paul mentions above, there are many other spiritual gifts that believers receive when they are made holy.  I’m not going to go into all of them here, but in light of the sudden aggressive turn our culture is taking lately, I feel it necessary to expound upon one of them—discernment.

 

(And I will do that in Part 5–Discrimination)

 

Breaking Catholic: Part 9–Spirit and Truth

 

God is Spirit, and those who worship God must be led by the Spirit to worship him according to the truth.  (John 4:24 CEV)

I distinctly remember the occasion when a lady joining the Catholic church met our bishop for the first time.  This particular bishop was one of the most down-to earth bishops I had ever met, yet this lady still said after meeting him, “I have never felt so holy.”  Just because he was a bishop, she regarded him as being above regular humans.

 

But what example does this set?  Even if a bishop, when addressing God, calls himself “your lowly servant” (as this particular bishop was known to do), he still has the fancy robe, wears a mitre (the tall pointy crown-thing) and sits on the big fancy chair, which looks rather like a throne.  He is royalty because he is perceived as royalty, regardless of what comes out of his mouth.

 

By contrast, consider Jesus, the King of Kings, God in human flesh.

 

The Greatest became the least, born in a manger in the home of a carpenter, living as a peasant instead of as a king, and suffering the most horrible and humiliating death imaginable—execution by crucifixion:

 

The soldiers assigned to the governor took Jesus into the governor’s palace and got the entire brigade together for some fun.  They stripped him and dressed him in a red toga.  They plaited a crown from branches of a thorn bush and set it on his head.  They put a stick in his right hand for a scepter.  Then they knelt before him in mocking reverence: “Bravo, King of the Jews!” they said.  “Bravo!”  Then they spit on him and hit him on the head with the stick.  When they had had their fun, they took off the toga and put his own clothes back on him.  Then they proceeded out to the crucifixion.  (Matthew 27:27-31 The Message)

The soldiers brought Jesus to Golgotha, meaning “Skull Hill.”  They offered him a mild painkiller (wine mixed with myrrh), but he wouldn’t take it.  And they nailed him to the cross.  They divided up his clothes and threw dice to see who would get them.  (Mark 15:22-24 The Message)

 

 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining.  And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.  Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.  (Luke 23:44-46 NIV)

 

So the soldiers went and broke the legs of the first man and then of the other man who had been crucified with Jesus.  But when they came to Jesus, they saw that he was already dead, so they did not break his legs.  One of the soldiers, however, plunged his spear into Jesus’ side, and at once blood and water poured out. (John 19:32-34 GNT)

 

To save our souls from sin, the Creator of the universe sent his One and Only son to be flogged, beaten, publicly humiliated and finally killed, naked, on a cross.

 

The Catholic church, on the other hand, claims that “the work of our redemption is accomplished”[1] only when we attend their masses, go through their rituals, receive their sacraments and submit to their man-made laws and traditions, else we be excommunicated, as the Jews in Jesus’ day were put out of the synagogue for not conforming to the legalism of the Pharisees.

 

Nevertheless, Paul was clear when he wrote to the early church at Ephesus:

 

For it is by free grace (God’s unmerited favor) that you are saved (delivered from judgment and made partakers of Christ’s salvation) through [your] faith.  And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [of your own doing, it came not through your own striving], but it is the gift of God;

 Not because of works [not the fulfillment of the Law’s demands], lest any man should boast.  [It is not the result of what anyone can possibly do, so no one can pride himself in it or take glory to himself.] (Ephesians 2:8-9 Amplified)

 

Although the Scriptures were written thousands of years ago, they are still fresh today in the lives of every believer.  Through the power and illumination of the Holy Spirit, God’s Truth leaps off the page to convict us individually of our sin and lead us on the straight and narrow path of our sanctification, that is, our journey of being gradually transformed into the image of Christ.

 

Indeed, many people in the Catholic church are on this journey.  However, if they are, it is likely in spite of the Catholic church’s teachings, not because of them.

 

Again, as I said at the beginning, nothing in this series was meant to offend.  I have simply told my own story and presented a few facts to explain it.  Everyone’s story and perspective are different.

 

But Truth, as well as being eternal, is universal.  This means that the Truth behind what I say will apply to anyone who reads these words regardless of their background.  Be you Catholic, Protestant, atheist or any other ideology, I pray that you have found something here that has led you back toward the Father.

 

Amen.



[1] http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19631204_sacrosanctum-concilium_en.html#_ftnref1

 

Breaking Catholic: Part 4–First Hand

 

 

I received a Bible, probably at about age 9 or so, in Catholic Sunday School, or CCD as we called it.  (This has now been changed to PSR, most likely because “Parish School of Religion” is much easier for a grade-schooler to say than “Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.”)  By then, it was already too late for me.  But it wouldn’t have mattered anyway.  The Bible was something we carried to CCD, not something we actually used.

 

Without studying the Bible first hand, you don’t really know anything about the real Jesus, his inner circle of disciples, and how they gave birth to what is now known as Christianity.  It wasn’t until I actually started to read the Bible that I realized that most of what I thought I knew about had been shaped not by the Church, but by popular culture.  What faith I had was based not on the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but on that of Cecil B. Demille and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

 

As our pastors at Cherry Hills say, “You can’t be deeply influenced by something you don’t know.”  The significance is that you can’t live out Jesus’ teachings without having read them yourself.  And even reading about the teachings isn’t enough, because that’s just head knowledge.

 

But the Catholic Church doesn’t even allow for the head knowledge!  If you can’t even go that far, then you are NEVER going to get to the place where head knowledge becomes heart-changing, life altering Truth.

 

And here is where Catholicism begins to break down completely.  Catholics, historically, have not been encouraged to read the Bible.  According to Monsignor Daniel Kutys:

Until the twentieth Century, it was only Protestants who actively embraced Scripture study.  That changed after 1943 when Pope Pius XII issued the encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu.  This not only allowed Catholics to study Scripture, it encouraged them to do so.[i] 

 

Although the pope issued this encyclical 70 years ago, there has not been much trickle-down to the laity (i.e. the folks in the pews).  According to a 2012 survey commissioned by the Bible Society, in partnership with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, 57% of churchgoing Catholics don’t read the Bible week-by-week outside of a Church setting.[ii]

 

Since the Second Vatican Council in the 1960’s (known as Vatican II), the Catholic church has been on a mechanical three-year cycle of readings, called the Lectionary, in which they tell their followers that at the end of the three-year cycle, they will have covered all of scripture.  Therefore, a faithful Catholic who attends mass every Sunday is under the impression that after three years, they have had the entire Bible read to them.

 

This is dangerously false.  According to the Catholic Lectionary Website, only 27.5 % of the verses in the Bible are covered by the Lectionary.  And that’s if you go to mass EVERY DAY!  If you’re only meeting your minimum obligation of every Sunday and Feast day, that figure drops to 12.7%.

 

Understand, this is only since Vatican II, when the Magisterium began openly encouraging Bible study.  Before that, when the mass was in Latin and only had two readings instead of three, the figures are even more shocking.  Only 4.7% of the Bible was covered.  Forty-five of the 73 books in the Catholic Bible were ignored completely, including all of the Historical and Wisdom books of the Old Testament and the book of Revelation.  [iii]

 

But even if the Bible were being covered completely in the 3-year span, it wouldn’t matter to the congregation, because how is the Bible going to sink in if you’re having it read TO you?

 

Actually, that is possible in certain situations.  For example, back in the Middle Ages, when most people were illiterate, the only way they could obtain knowledge from the Bible or any other book was to have someone read it to them.  Indeed the worldwide literacy rate today is not much above 40%, with the exceptions of course being in developed nations such as our own.

 

If you were one of those people who could not read, then you would be ready to receive whatever was read to you, because you would know it was the only way you were going to learn.  Your receptiveness would be even more acute if you were prepared specifically to hear what was in the Bible.

 

But this is overwhelmingly not the case in 21st-century America.  I don’t know ANY Catholic who goes to church to hear what is in the Bible (there may be some, but I haven’t met them).  They go because it’s what you do on Sunday (or Saturday night).  It is all part of the tradition (more on this in Part 6).

 

Bible study simply isn’t part of the Catholic culture.  It never has been.

 

The Word of God is proclaimed during the mass, but the people in the pews don’t have their own Bibles to follow along.  At best, there might be a worship aid in the pew.

 

Without the opportunity or active encouragement to be in the Word first hand, Catholics disconnect from the readings.  They are just waiting to hear “This is the word of the Lord,” so they can wake up and robotically respond “Thanks be to God.”

 

How rare is the priest who actually TEACHES practical application of the Bible readings in their homily (a commentary that is the ancient predecessor of the modern-day “sermon”).

 

(I did meet one priest that got it though.  For a more uplifting story, come back for Part 5—Confession)



[i] http://www.usccb.org/bible/understanding-the-bible/study-materials/articles/changes-in-catholic-attitudes-toward-bible-readings.cfm

[ii] http://www.catholic-ew.org.uk/Home/News-Releases/2012/Catholic-Bible-Engagement

[iii] http://catholic-resources.org/Lectionary/Statistics.htm


Doubt: Part 11–The Death of Doubt

 

Finally, THIS is the happy ending.

 

God called my bluff, and decided it was time for me to make the move to close the gap between us.  I announced my impending divorce to the church choir and tendered my resignation from the music ministry.

 

That night, as the church emptied, I hit my knees in the back of the church and finally acknowledged my need, my complete and utter dependence on the Daddy who was always there, even when I tried to run away to hide from Him.  He was with me even through the years when I publicly called his children weak-minded fools, when I lashed back at Him in anger for everything I assumed was His fault.

 

He waited, and watched.  When I finally turned around to face Him, he was right there where he had been all along.

 

Doubt died that day, once and for all.

 

There are still days when I doubt myself, but I never doubt my Abba, my Lord and my God.  What I have found is that every time I acknowledge my weakness and my dependence, God asserts His might and power by reminding me what He told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9a NIV).

 

I have still never seen God, just as I have never seen the wind.  However, just as I have seen the effects of the wind, I have seen the effects of God.  I don’t have to try to wrap my brain around the intricacies of DNA or photosynthesis or the size of the universe to try to logically point to an Intelligent Designer.  I just have to look in the mirror and around at my home and my family.

 

I am married again, and the two of us really are of one mind and spirit.  All of my children respond to God, because they have a spiritual leader in their house that is just as much, if not more, concerned with their spiritual growth as their physical and intellectual growth.  The peace and love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit reign in our house.  Now to be sure, there are times that are not peaceful, challenging, and even infuriating.  All families have these.

 

However, as a family, we are now in a place where the solid rock and firm foundation we come back to is our personal relationship with the God of the Universe, the salvation made possible by the sacrifice of His Son, and the guidance and comfort of the Holy Spirit.  I see the evidence of this every day.

 

And that is all I need to send doubt packing.

 

Doubt: Part 10–Religion

 

 

 14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save him?  15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?  17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.  19 You believe that there is one God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.  (James 2:14-19, 26 NIV)

 

 

Even though I believed in God on that day in 1989, I had programmed myself for too long to be independent.  It was all I knew how to do.  The feeling of God’s peace, love, warmth and comfort only lasted a minute that day.  Obviously, I have never forgotten it, but a seed planted takes time to grow, longer if you don’t water it.  I didn’t.

 

Instead, I pushed forward, finished college, and entered the work force.  Full steam ahead, stick to the script.  Living the American Dream by golly!

 

Except my American Dream was a nightmare.  After failing at my first three jobs, I tried to start my own business instead, because obviously, the problem was them not me.

 

Then an interesting thing happened.

 

Many of my business contacts were Christians.  Not the robotic, going-through-the-motions churchgoers that I had observed growing up—these people lived differently, and they were like that all the time.

 

They reminded me that I really needed my Daddy, the one that my second-grade Sunday school teacher had tried so clumsily to tell me about.  Except this time, it felt genuine.

 

I heard miraculous testimonies and saw people living lives that I could not explain, except by one thing—remembering that October afternoon at the cemetery.  I had already been forced to acknowledge that God was real, but this was something new.

God was Abba, my Daddy, and he actually cared about me.  He wanted to protect me from harm, and he wanted me to lead my family.  And my spiritual maturity took a big leap forward.  But this is still not the happy ending.

 

You see, at this point I am in my mid-20s physically, but still a child spiritually.  I am cracking a Bible for the first time.  I don’t know anything about salvation except for the fact that it’s Jesus’ job.  I am going to church with my family now, and have us all baptized into the same religion, but I am still running the program of everything-depends-on-me.  I know there is a God and I know that He cares, and I am grateful for this, but I have still not acknowledged my dependence.

 

Sometimes when we won’t let go of our pride, God will use circumstances to knock us down to the point where the only place to look and move is upward.

 

Eight years later, my marriage failed.  I was going to church every week and was active in music ministry, but it was still just religion.

 

And all religion is is a churched-up way of repeating the same old pattern of trying to meet our own needs through our own efforts.

 

Sure, we wrap it all up in God-speak, but Jesus already called our bluff 2,000 years ago when He said to the Pharisees:

 

 “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
    their teachings are but rules taught by men.’”  Mark 7:6-7, (quoting Isaiah 29:13) NIV

 

(To be concluded in Part 11–The Death of Doubt)

 

Possibility or Promise?

 

God’s plan for our redemption didn’t begin with Jesus’ birth.  It started with a promise made to his great37-grandfather, a guy by the name of Abraham.

Back when he was still called “Abram,” God promised him that a son coming from his own body would be his heir.

The thing about God’s promises, though, is that they don’t always come to pass right away.  About 10 years later—still no baby.

At this point, Abram is about 85, and his barren wife Sarai is 75.  She believed God’s promise up to the point of Abram fathering a child, but not as far as her being the mother.  So she suggested that Abram get with her Egyptian maidservant, Hagar.  Abram and Hagar were the parents of Ishmael, so God’s promise was fulfilled, right?

Wrong, actually.  God had promised a miracle.  Ishmael was not a miracle, because he was the result of Abram and Sarai taking matters into their own hands.

In other words, Ishmael was possible.

God’s plan all along, though was to establish his covenant with Isaac, the child Abram (now Abraham) had with Sarai (now Sarah) at the appointed time.  The Bible says that Ishmael was mocking toward Isaac, so Sarah cursed him, saying, “that slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac (Genesis 21:8 NIV),” even though Ishmael was Abraham’s firstborn.

So what’s the big deal about this promised inheritance?  Well, Isaac was the father of Jacob, later renamed Israel.  He was the heir of the covenant promise made to Abraham, which was to inherit the land of Canaan, known today by his own name of Israel.

And Ishmael?  He became the father of many Arab tribes, including one who had a descendant named Muhammad.  Maybe you’ve heard of him.  He started a religion called Islam.  A lot of people that practice it think they ought to be living in the land of Canaan.  So thousands of years later, there’s still war and stuff over this same strip of land.

And all because Abraham, the father of our faith, didn’t even have enough faith himself to go all in on God’s promise.

So what does this mean to us, the people halfway around the world who only read about the Middle East in our newspapers (or whatever it is that people read today that isn’t a newspaper)?

Well, 37 generations after Isaac, the child of the promise, a boy named Joseph was born.  He had a wife named Mary who had a child named Jesus.  He made a few promises of His own, not the least of which was, “that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16b NIV).”

Now here’s the interesting bit about that.  In saying this, Jesus extends the promise made to Abraham to “whoever” believes that he is the son of God.  “Whoever” can even include the children of Ishmael, because the inheritance is now for any individual who believes, regardless of their bloodline.

In other words, Jesus is where the promise meets the possible.  He didn’t come just to save white, middle-class Americans like me.  He came to save the Arabs and the Jews too.  As John wrote in his vision of the throne room of heaven:

. . . with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.  You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.  (Revelation 5: 9b-10 NIV)

Some believe that peace in the Middle East is possible.  I wonder how a lasting peace could be possible when “possible” was what created their situation in the first place.

God’s promise seems like a better deal to me—a kingdom and royal priesthood made up of ALL who believe.  In heaven, there will be no white, black, Arab, Jew, male or female.  All people will have found their ultimate common ground in the person of Jesus Christ.

Until that day, seek the Truth of God’s promise in your life.  Don’t settle for what is possible by your own efforts.

Christianity’s PR Problem–Part 7: The PRize

THE PRIZE

 

            So to sum up from the previous six posts, the most effective solution to Christianity’s PR problem is for the individuals within the church to live lives of service.

            We PRaise our God, PRotect our spouse’s hearts, PRovide for our children, PRactice grace with our extended families and PRove to the world that Jesus Christ is the Lord of our lives by visibly living out or faith. 

            But let’s face it, all that service can be tiring.  If we put too much emphasis on pouring ourselves out for others, it can be all too easy to neglect the refilling process.

            Fortunately, we don’t need to look any farther than the Ten Commandments to find out how to solve this problem:

Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.  On it you shall not do any work . . . (Exodus 20:9-10a NIV)

God gave us the Sabbath for a reason.  He knew we would need the rest.  To paraphrase Stephen Covey in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,   you can’t sharpen your saw if you never stop sawing.

            Now I don’t want to get into the legalistic argument of what constitutes “work.”  Keeping the Sabbath is not about following the letter of the law.  That’s religion.  Jesus came to set us free from that.

            The point is that we were created to love God, love one another and serve the world.  We can only do that effectively if we take time to chill out and recharge.  With the concept of the Sabbath, God gave us a simple template to follow to make sure that we stayed refueled in order to carry out His ministry effectively.

            Paul knew that he would need this refueling when he wrote:

…Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the [supreme and heavenly] prize to which God in Christ Jesus is calling us upward.  (Philippians 3:13b-14 AMP)

If life were all about pressing on, with no time for resting, we would burn out.  Thus, we would not complete our mission and win the PRize.

                So what is this PRize of which Paul speaks?  It can’t be the salvation of our souls.  As we already covered back in Part 5, we are saved by grace, God’s unmerited favor, and not through our own efforts.  In other words, we don’t earn our golden ticket to Heaven by “straining forward” and “pressing on.”

                So what is the PRize then?  Would you believe, more rest?

                I’m not talking about the Sunday-afternoon-nap-on-the-couch-with-the-ball-game-on-after-killing-the-all-you-can-eat-buffet-after-Church kind of a rest though.  This PRize is much bigger:

So then, there is still awaiting a full and complete Sabbath rest reserved for the [true] people of God; For he who has once entered into [God’s] rest also has ceased from [the weariness and pain] of human labors, just as God rested from those labors peculiarly His own.  (Hebrews 4:9-10 AMP)

                The PRize that I am pressing on toward is to hear my Savior say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.  Come and enter your master’s happiness.  Take the free gift of the water of life and enter into my rest.”

                To that end, I will continue pressing on—toward the PRize, and toward His rest.  I’m glad to have you along for the ride.