Archive for the ‘Bible’ category

Love: Who is Your Enemy?

August 27, 2018

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Asking who is your enemy may seem like a strange way to begin a blog article about loving your neighbor, but bear with me. My question is inspired by a different, but related, question. My question is inspired by the question asked by an expert in the law many years ago: “Who is my neighbor?”

This question followed a theological dialogue between the expert in the law and Jesus in which the expert in the law sought to test Jesus. (See Luke 10:25-29) As Jesus often did, though, the test put to Jesus turned into a challenge to the so-called expert.

The expert in the law asked Jesus the loaded question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered with his own question, “What is written in the law?… How do you read it?” Not to be shown up, the expert in the law answered:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (quoting Deuteronomy 6:4 and Leviticus 19:18)

The expert in the law was probably looking for some debate, but Jesus wasn’t interested in debate. Instead, he simply concluded, “You have answered correctly…. Do this and you will live.”

The expert in the law had the tables turned on him. He wanted to test Jesus, but Jesus put the test to him, and now he was in defensive mode. He might said, “Wait a minute!” And then the question followed that leads me to my question, “Who is my neighbor?” If we have to love our neighbors, and if loving our neighbors is the measure for inheriting eternal life, we better know who are neighbors are!

But there is a back story here that leads from the one question to the other question. Apparently, the First Century Palestine Jews had interpreted Leviticus 19:18 to mean, “Love your neighbor; hate your enemy.”

How do we know that? It isn’t found anywhere in Scripture, but Jesus quoted the statement in the Sermon on the Mount when He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy….’” Ah, and now you know where I am going, because Jesus followed with this:

“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)

Lest there be any doubt who my neighbor, Jesus stretched it so far that love must reach all the way from my friends to my enemies and everyone in between!

And that leads me to the question, “Whos is my enemy that I must love?”

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Progression of Revelation in the Bible Part 2

August 26, 2018


In Progression of Revelation in the Bible Part 1, I made the point that the Old Testament Scriptures anticipate and point toward Jesus. Jesus said he was the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. The thrust of the Scriptures from the Old Testament to the New Testament also progresses from physical to spiritual, from law to grace. I will pick up on those themes and get into the progression from law to grace in this piece.

Before doing that, though, I am taking a short sidetrack to recall an observation I made years ago as a college freshman in a world religion class. As I as I studied (and read) the Bible for the first time in my life I realized that the fabric of the Scripture, from beginning to end, is an intricately woven tapestry. I wasn’t a believer then, but I could see (as a budding English Literature major) the incredible, unlikely harmony of the Scriptures.

I say unlikely, because the Old Testament and New Testament are a combination of writings that were penned by dozens of people and collected over a period of many centuries. All of them wrote down the revelation each one of them received from God. The “book” of the Bible would be, perhaps, the finest masterpiece of cohesive literature ever written if it were written by a single author, but it’s cohesiveness and internal integrity is all the more noteworthy by the fact that it was written by dozens of authors across a large expanse of time.

People who understand the Bible only on a surface level claim it is full of contradictions. We should hardly find it surprising if it was full of contradictions, having been written by so many people over such a long time, but the thing is: a deeper reading of the Bible reveals an uncanny, transcendent, incredibly subtle and nuanced consistency and harmony.

The intricacy and harmony of the Bible is quite stunning given its authorship: the fact that it was written by people, and not by the hand of God Himself.

And this fact led me to another thought when I first read the Bible in its sweep from beginning to end: if God is God, 1) He could reveal Himself in a way that creatures made by Him could understand His communication; and 2) He could preserve the integrity of that communication. Why? Because He is God.

I didn’t become a believer immediately at that point in my life, but I could not deny the uncanny tapestry of the Scriptures.

I recall these things as I consider the Qur’an, and the progressive nature of the two religions’ Scriptures. In the Qur’an, statements in the later sura expressly contradict and abrogate (negate) earlier sura. The later sura are also the problematic ones in which we see statements about killing infidels, etc.

In the Bible, by contrast, we see the earlier Scriptures affirmed, explained and extended in the person of Jesus. We see a progression from Law to the spirit of the law, and from law to grace, and the seeds of that progression are there in the very beginning.

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Progression of Revelation in the Bible Part 1

August 26, 2018


My new favorite Podcast is the Unbelievable Podcast by Justin Brierley on the Premier Christian Radio in the UK. I was listening this morning to a dialogue with Abdu Murray, a Muslim, turned Christian, and Aliyah Saleem, a Muslim turned atheist. The discussion got me thinking about the idea of progressive revelation in both scriptures, the Bible and the Qur’an.

In Islam, the later sura exceed the earlier sura in importance. When a statement in a later sura contradicts a statement in an earlier sura, the doctrine of abrogation applies. The earlier statement is negated by the later statement. Thus, the statements found in the later sura carry the most weight.

A similar, but very different, idea arises in Christianity. Christians interpret the Old Testament through the lens of Jesus in the New Testament. In Christianity, however, statements in the Old Testament are not abrogated (negated); rather they are affirmed, explained and extended.

Jesus doesn’t give us the option of ignoring or negating the Old Testament. Perhaps, the most famous example of the way Jesus interpreted the Old Testament is found in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus said,

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:17-18)

Rather than abrogation, we get the idea of progressive revelation. Jesus affirms, builds on and extends the intent and purpose of the revelations revealed in the Old Testament. Even more significantly, Jesus says He is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets.

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Forces and Influences

August 24, 2018


“This is what the Lord says to me with his strong hand upon me, warning me not to follow the way of this people:  ‘Do not call conspiracy everything this people calls a conspiracy; do not fear what they fear….'” (Isaiah 8:11‭-‬12 NIV)

“When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?” (Isaiah 8:19 NIV)

These verses from Isaiah hit home with me today. Some people might call me a believer. I am a believer, but I’m also a skeptic. I am skeptical of the world and the various pressures and ways in which it “gets in my face” and “urges” me to conform.

Of course, I am being inappropriately anthropomorphic. The world doesn’t do these things. Or does it? Paul says,

“[W]e do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)

If there are forces pressing upon us to conform, they aren’t always human forces. Being anthropomorphic isn’t entirely accurate, but it’s the best we can do, perhaps. We are the unwitting pawns in the battle. Some of us play our parts with gusto.

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Looking at Both Sides of the Wall

August 21, 2018

Ancient city walls and modern buildings in Istanbul, Turkey

Wayne Gruden, a Christian ethicist, makes a case for building a wall. He cites to biblical passages that reinforce the idea that walls provide protection, peace and security to those inside the walls. These are good things, he says, and he cites to support for this proposition in the Scriptures.

The Psalmist prays (for Jerusalem) for “peace within your walls and security within your towers” (Psalm 122:7) and praises God for strengthening the bars of Jerusalem’s gates, making peace within its borders. (Psalm 147:12-14) David prayed to God to build up the walls of Jerusalem. (Psalm 51:18) King David built walls around Jerusalem, and King Solomon strengthened those walls after him. (1 Kings 3:1)

God used the Babylonians to visit judgment on the people of Israel by breaking down the walls of Jerusalem and burning down the temple and the palaces. (2 Chronicles 36:19. See also Jeremiah 52:14) The first thing the remnant did when they returned to Jerusalem was to rebuild the wall. (Nehemiah 2:17)

Indeed, walls and gates and towers are all pictures that convey the peace and security that the ancients hoped and prayed for from God. They stand for that very peace and protection for which they longed in the harsh world of the their time. Proverbs says, “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” (Proverbs 25:28) Certainly, building walls in a hostile world is a prudent thing to do. On different levels, we do this (provide peace and security) for our families, our communities and our nations. Basic decency demands it. Therefore, Wayne Grudem concludes that “the Bible views border walls as a morally good thing”.

I agree with him, but I think he takes it too far. Few people, for instance, believe the Berlin Wall was a morally good thing. We also can’t view the moral goodness of providing peace and security in a vacuum. We need to consider the big picture, too.

Walls are not good or evil in themselves. They can protect and maintain peace and security for the people within the walls. They were a critical and necessary component of life in most centuries gone by. People who were not protected by walls were exposed to the vagaries of every vagabond with bad intent. But walls that are designed to keep people captive to an oppressive regime are not good.

Walls can be used to provide peace and security, but they can also be used for evil purposes like oppression. The issue isn’t walls, but purpose and intent. For Christians that means God’s ultimate purposes and intent.

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The Gospel and Justice Go Hand in Hand

August 20, 2018


I am on the Board of Directors of Administer Justice, a faith-based legal aid clinic. Bruce Strom, the founder of Administer Justice moved on five years ago to form the Gospel Justice Initiative that has established 75 other faith-based legal aid clinics around the country. The tagline for GJI is “communicating the truth of the gospel through justice.” That tagline inspires this blog.

Justice, especially with the social prefix, is code in some circles for a liberal, progressive political orientation. Gospel, in some circles, suggests conservative “Christian” people who ignore issues involving justice. These perceptions are often inaccurate mischaracterizations, but one thing is true: focusing on one to the exclusion of the other misses the heart of God.

We have no better example of God’s heart than Jesus: God who become flesh and lived among us, being obedient to the purposes of God the Father, even to the point of dying on the cross for us. His life is the Gospel incarnate. This Jesus will ultimately mete out justice to all mankind.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all his angels are with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. The people of every nation will be gathered in front of him. He will separate them as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right but the goats on his left.” (Matthew 25:31-33)

Do you know the basis of the justice that Jesus will mete out?

It will be based on what people did when they saw the hungry, the thirsty, the strangers, the needing clothes, the sick and the imprisoned. (Matthew 25:34-46)

Why? …. Because Jesus said,

“Whatever you did for one of my brothers or sisters, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)

When John the Baptist was in prison and wanted some assurance of who Jesus was, before Jesus answered him, “[Jesus] healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight.” (Luke 7:21) Then Jesus said:

“Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.” (Luke 7:22 alluding to Isaiah 61:1-2)

The message Jesus gave to signal who he was – the Anointed One, the messiah the prophets spoke about – was given only after the demonstration. (more…)

All The Little Things

August 18, 2018


I spend some Saturday mornings meeting with people at a low-income, legal aid clinic. Many people come with “one” big issue, but the conversations often reveal a myriad of things they are dealing with. The one big issue brought them to the desperate point of reaching out, but that one big issue often belies many little things that plague them. The little things they tolerate in their lives, often lead to the big them that brought them to the point of desperation.

The circumstances aren’t always the result of bad decisions, bad behaviors or other failures, but often they are. We can be our own worst enemies, and lack of knowledge and understanding compounds the problems that result from those failures.

I often feel overwhelmed by the loads that people carry. Simple answers are rarely available. Many peoples’ lives are bogged down by a thousand little things, and the one big thing is the just tip of the proverbial iceberg.

The best I can do in our short session on a Saturday morning is to identify the key issue(s) to be dealt with and a strategy for dealing with them, but I can often only recommend treatment for the symptoms. It isn’t hard to see evidence of the virus behind the symptomatic issues that are demanding immediate attention. We might call that virus sin.

Sin, in its etymology, means simply “missing the mark”. We miss the mark in many small ways that we might assume are insignificant, but the little things add up. They form habits of thought and behavior that are counter-productive to achieving the things we all want – comfort, security, harmonious living with our family and world, and satisfaction in life.

Sin isn’t just doing something that God frowns upon. Sin is falling short of the way we are meant to live. A thousand little bad decisions, a thousand misunderstandings that are unwittingly adopted, a thousand little things that we allow to creep and remain, without addressing them, pile up and weigh us down.

To be fair, we all struggle with sin that threatens to undo us. Some of us just manage it better than others. Some of us learn to use our sinfulness to our own selfish advantage. Others are steamrolled by it and the sins of others that leave destruction in its wake. Regardless of our ability to manage our sins, it catches up to us – now or later. The most beautiful, white-washed tombs are as empty as a pauper’s grave. Sin also has real consequences for us and for the people around us.

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