Keeping God’s Commands By Loving Him


“If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.” (Deuteronomy 30:16)

This is the way the English Standard Version translates Deuteronomy 30:16, the verse of the day today in a Bible I use. I highlight the phrase that jumped out at me today, the one I have been contemplating since I read it this morning.

When I went looking for some deeper meaning, I found the other translations take it in a slightly different direction:

“For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws….” (NIV)
“I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments….” (NASB)
“I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments….” (NKJV)

Only one the English Standard Version instructs us to obey the commandments of God “by loving the Lord….”.  Most of the time I believe we think about loving God by obeying His commands – not obeying God’s commands by loving Him. It’s a subtle difference, but it piqued my curiosity further.

I also discovered that the Hebrew word for love in this verse is “aheb”, which means (not surprisingly) “to love”. But it dawned me as I looked at the other verses in which that word is used that it seems to mean to love with affection. Abraham loved Isaac (Gen. 22:2); Isaac loved Rebekah (Gen. 24:67); Isaac loved Esau (Gen. 25:28)(more than Jacob); Rebekah loved Jacob(Gen. 25:28) (more than Esau); Isaac loved the “savory meat” that Esau provided (Gen. 27:4); and Jacob loved Rachel (more than Rachel’s sisters that his father-in-law insist he marry first) (Gen. 28:18).

Clearly, all of these uses of the word for love used in the commandment in Deuteronomy to love God imply a kind of personal affection, even to the exclusion of affection for other things (or people). Thus, we are commanded to have affection for God and to walk in His ways and keep His commandments: or, as the ESV translates, to obey God’s commands by loving Him (with affection).

The real light bulb moment today, though, wasn’t in the breaking down of this verse, but in its juxtaposition with my daily Bible reading, which is taking me currently through Numbers (after having left the detailed instructions about the Tent of Meeting in Leviticus). So many rules for the priestly duties of the Levites in connection with the Tent of Meeting and Ark of the Testimony and the altar where endless sacrifices were to be offered up have me wanting to get through these passages quickly!

And they have me asking, why? I know… they foreshadow the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins.” (Lev. 9:22; Heb. 9:22) The writer of Hebrews tells us Christ has appeared, now, as the ultimate high priest, entering once for all into the holy places, securing for us eternal redemption. (Heb. 9:11-13) All the sacrifices commanded by God in Leviticus, Numbers and so on were just copies of heavenly things: “For Christ has entered, not into the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God in our behalf.” (Heb. 9:24)

All the many sacrifices offered by the Levites at God’s commands as God’s chosen people wandered in the wilderness, carrying with them the Tent of Meeting and all of its accouterments, were just copies of the one sacrifice, “once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” (Heb. 9:26)

As I read through these passages in the Old Testament, I find myself asking, “Why?” as if I were one of them, not knowing anything about the plans of God that were devised before the foundation of the world. What were they thinking as they did these things?

Continue reading “Keeping God’s Commands By Loving Him”

The Remarkable Consequence of Ritual Cleansing

Ritual Baths along Way of the Patriarchs or Way of the Fathers. The name is used in biblical narratives that it was frequently traveled by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Samaria, Israel

I am reading through the Bible again this year, but I am reading it in chronological order using the You Version Bible app.  I am not sure how old I was when I realized that the books of the Old Testament are not in chronological order and that events in one book overlap events in other books. But that isn’t the point of this blog piece.

I am in Leviticus right now. The struggle is real! So many laws! So many times the text goes over the same things, or so it seems, but I am trying to maintain focus, and I am asking the Spirit for help in understanding what is going on, what God is saying, what He is foreshadowing, etc.

The last couple of days I have been reading the instructions for all the various types of offerings (animal sacrifices if we want to be blunt), and I have just gotten into laws for ceremonial cleansing for various “leprosies” and other “unclean” conditions. It can seem so mundane, archaic, maybe even naive and unenlightened to a modern mind.

For instance, it doesn’t take too long to figure out that all kinds of skin conditions were labeled leprosy. When we read in the English Standard Version about leprosy in houses, we realize that it’s probably talking about mold. (Some translations call it mold in fact.) The vocabulary and understanding of the Bronze Age mind was limited. It’s no wonder the Richard Dawkins of the world, reading these passages with a 21st Century mind, scoff at first blush.

But, underneath that temptation to scoff is a heavy dose of pride and lack of appreciation for what God is doing in the information and instruction that He was inspiring Moses to write in these passages. God was speaking to them in their language and according to their understanding to set the stage for a global plan that would be unveiled over many centuries and millennia that, even now in the 21st Century, is unfolding and being revealed.

Jesus is the key that unlocks the door to the Old Testament Scriptures.

I don’t claim to have all the answers or all the insights, though I am reminded of the words of Jesus to the Pharisees: “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5:39-40)  For the scoffer, Jesus might have said, “You don’t study the Scriptures because you think that they are mythical superstition that has no life. Those Scriptures testify about me, and you refuse to come to me to have life!”

Jesus is the key that unlocks the door to the Old Testament Scriptures. But, I still struggle sometimes to find the relevance, significance or meaning in some of these passages. I’ll be honest. I am sure I’m not alone.

One thought comes back to me today as was I reading about the ceremonial cleansing rituals. A thought that goes back many years, but with a new twist today. It has occurred to me before that many of the cleansing laws, laws about what animals they can eat and not eat, and so on, acted like in place of our modern knowledge of germs, disease and other health dangers that the people in that time simply didn’t know. I have long been struck by that thought, but I had never made the additional connection that strikes me with significance today.

Continue reading “The Remarkable Consequence of Ritual Cleansing”

The Difference Is In What We Do


These were the words I read this morning when I opened my Bible app:

“So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:10 ESV)

As I think about this exhortation from Paul, I realize that our faith is meant to be manifested in doing good. It also occurs to me that, maybe, we have gotten the emphasis wrong.

I can understand how it happened. Common people didn’t have the Scripture to read for themselves. The church had gotten corrupted by power and wealth. Priests sold indulgences and turned faith into a religion of required observances and superstitious piety.

John Wycliffe and others made Scripture available to the common people, and Martin Luther and the people he inspired rediscovered the that salvation is received by faith. It’s a matter of grace, not of works, lest any man boast.

These things were inspired by the Holy Spirit at the time, but we always flirt with the danger of settling into religious ruts that prevent us from appreciating and considering the whole counsel of God. Western Protestantism has tended for centuries to accept the stuffy air of an academic, heady faith that gets too little exercise in the “good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them”.[1]

This is the progression: We are “saved through faith”; this is not our own doing; “it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast”.[2] But we can’t stop there. We have to realize the truth of the very next statement: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”[3]

We are saved by faith, not by works, in order for us to do the good works God prepared for us to do.

We are saved by faith, not by works, in order for us to do the good works God prepared for us to do.

Paul’s words in Galatians and the entire thrust of Scripture suggest that the hallmark of Christian faith is the good that we do that flows out of the salvation we received by faith.

Continue reading “The Difference Is In What We Do”

21st Century Reflections on 2nd Century Description of Christians

Rome, Italy. Trajan Markets, built in 2nd century AD by Apollodorus of Damascus in the time of Emperor Trajan

The following descriptions of Jews contrasted with Christians in the Roman Empire inspire my thoughts today:

“Rome respected Judaism because the religion was ancient and enduring. Jews had survived opposition for over a thousand years and, in spite of that opposition, had spread throughout the Roman Empire and beyond.… Roman authorities did not require Jews to venerate the gods (say, through sacrificial offerings in local temples) or to serve in the military, and Romans viewed and used at least some local synagogues as civic centers, which implies that Judaism served the larger Roman public, however modestly. Jews were far more integrated into Roman society than it might at first appear.

“…. Jews worshiped one God, Yahweh, to whom they were exclusively devoted; followed a rigorous set of ethical and religious practices; and refused to participate in pagan rituals and festivals. They observed a way of life that set them culturally apart. The Jewish rite of circumcision kept Romans who were attracted to Judaism from wholesale conversion. Jewish kosher laws required that Jews shop in their own stores, their dress codes made them noticeable, and their commitment to marry only fellow Jews prevented them from assimilating into Roman culture.”


“Christians appeared to live like everyone else. They spoke the local language, lived in local neighborhoods, wore local styles of clothing, ate local food, shopped in local markets, and followed local customs. ‘For Christians cannot be distinguished from the rest of the human race by country or language or custom. They do not live in cities of their own; they do not use a peculiar form of speech; they do not follow an eccentric manner of life.’ At a surface level Christians appeared to blend in to Roman society quite seamlessly.

“Yet they were different, too, embodying not simply a different religion but a different—and new—way of life. ‘They live in their own countries, but only as aliens. They have a share in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign land is their fatherland, and yet for them every fatherland is a foreign land.’ They functioned as if they were a nation within a nation, culturally assimilated yet distinct at the same time. ‘Yet, although they live in Greek and barbarian cities alike, as each man’s lot has been cast, and follow the customs of the country in clothing and food and other matters of daily living, at the same time they give proof of the remarkable and admittedly extraordinary constitution of their own commonwealth.’”[1]

This is the fascinating description of Christians from an anonymous letter writer in the Second Century to Diognetus, a Roman official, which the writer of the book from which the excerpt is taken compares to the Roman view of the Jews in the same time period. The comparison inspires a number of thoughts that are worth exploring.

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An Intriguing Interview with Dr. Hugh Ross

When we try to rely on science, alone, to answer the big questions, we can’t do it without sneaking philosophy into the equation.


In this age in which fake news seems to dominate the public domain, how do we know what is really true? How can we trust any news? That is a legitimate question today, one that people in my generation didn’t ask as often as we have to ask now.

Skepticism that was once the esoteric tool of elite, fringe intellectuals is now, perhaps, as a hammer in the intellectual toolkit of the common person. What years of intellectualism was not able to accomplish has been achieved in less than a generation by the constant barrage of biased and untrustworthy “news outlets” in the Internet age.

Such an atmosphere of skepticism might cause despair of ever knowing, or being able to know, what is really true. Perhaps, the only thing we can trust is skepticism itself.

Many people have retreated to science and what can be known about the world that we observe with our five senses. It’s kind of a last bastion of truth in a world that can’t be trusted without concrete evidence.

Some people even hold to a position that science is the only way we can know the world: the five senses are the only way to know truth. These people discount philosophy, theology, psychology, sociology and “soft” sciences.

The people who take the position that science is the only way of knowing truth are actually proposing a philosophical position – one that can’t be proven by science – in making that statement. Not even science, then, is the safe harbor we wish it was.

Frankly, mathematics might be the only certain way of knowing things, if the truth be told, but mathematics doesn’t tell us anything about the most important questions that people ask. Why are we here? Where does life come from? Whether life is good? How to treat our fellow humankind, animals and the planet?

We try to rely on science, alone, to answer these big questions, but we can’t do that without sneaking philosophy, or theology or other “soft” sciences into the equation. What we observe with our five senses can’t answer those questions without help.

That leaves us with the more difficult talk of synthesizing and harmonizing all the ways we analyze truth and reality, including science, philosophy, theology, psychology, sociology, etc. It would be more convenient, and may seem like an easier task, to eliminate one of more of those disciplines from the mix, but we would be missing nuances of truth and reality in the process.

In the end, the best we can do is strive for honesty, integrity, objectivity, knowledge, understanding and humility in our efforts to understand the nature of reality and truth. Humility is important because it recognizes and factors into the equation the fact that we are finite creates with limited perspective and capacity.

With that introduction, I am providing a link to an interview with Dr. Hugh Ross who has spent his life trying to synthesize and harmonize what he knows about science, which is a lot, with philosophy and theology. I like him because of his humility and commitment to science, logic and understanding.

Continue reading “An Intriguing Interview with Dr. Hugh Ross”

Significance in the Way Christianity Spreads

Islam rivals Christianity in its “travel” around the world. But the spread of Islam looked different than the spread of Christianity.

Os Guinness talks about differences between Christianity and other religions in an interview with Justin Brierley a few years ago. He made a statement that Christianity is the only “traveling religion”.

He observed that Hinduism began in India and remains primarily in India. Buddhism began in India and remains primarily in India and Eastern Asia. Islam began in the Middle East and remains primarily in the Middle East. Christianity, however, began in the Middle East. Then it moved to Europe; and then it moved to North America; and now Christianity is growing fastest in Africa and Latin America and Asia.

While I think Guinness overstates the case little bit, he got me thinking about the how the major world religions have spread. For instance, Islam, which rivals Christianity in numbers, grew very rapidly during the life and immediately after the death of Muhammad. It spread throughout the centuries into Europe and down into Africa and more recently across Southern Asia.

To that extent, Islam rivals Christianity in its “travel” around the world. But the spread of Islam looked different than the spread of Christianity. This is the significant fact, in my opinion – not so much that Christianity has traveled through all the world (though it has) like no other religion.

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Remembering Palmyra: a Call to Enter Through the Narrow Gate

The destruction of the ancient ruin of Palmyra is a war crime, but we risk a greater loss.

The Palmyran Valley and Oasis
The Palmyran Valley and Oasis by Steve Murray

Sometimes things we read in the news hit close to home, even from halfway around the world in an ancient, foreign land. A friend from college has a personal connection to the ruins of the temple in the Palmyra Valley of Syria. He visited there and took the photos I have published in this blog with his permission. I started this blog article years ago, when ISIS was at it’s public height.

He describes the Valley, sitting about 125 miles north-east of Damascus, Syria, in the desert, as it appears above, “a welcome relief after weeks, months on the road” for the travelers along the Silk Road from the east. The “peaceful place… filled with memories” was no longer peaceful and filled with pleasant memories when I began this piece. I don’t know how things stand today. The news has moved on, leaving whatever ravages that continue out of the pubic eye.

“’Among the great cities of antiquity, Palmyra is comparable only to Petra in Jordan, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and the Athenian Acropolis in Greece,’ argues GW Bowersock, professor emeritus of ancient history at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.” (quoted in Isis’s Destruction Of Palmyra: ‘The Heart Has Been Ripped Out of the City’ by Stuart Jeffries in the Guardian Sept. 2, 2015)

With fond reminiscences of a peaceful time, relationships developed between disparate brothers and sisters who shared good will and historic significance of this desert oasis along the ancient silk road, the utter sadness and ache of the loss of the ruins is deep and vacuous. And more so now that my part of world has largely forgotten the devastation that exploded in front of the world’s eyes just a few short years ago.

Palmyra’s Baalshamin temple ‘blown up by IS’

read the headlines in Britain. Another British headline grimly pronounced,

ISIS behead archaeologist who wouldn’t give up priceless artifacts for terrorists to loot and destroy.

In the Atlantic, the headline read with finality, An Ancient Temple in Palmyra Is Destroyed. “Reports of the site’s destruction come just days after the Islamic State killed Khaled Asaad, an 82-year-old Syrian expert on Palmyra who refused to divulge the location of artifacts despised by the militant group [and coveted for the booty they would bring]. Asaad had run Palmyra’s antiquities department for 50 years.”

“The taking of the historic city of Palmyra by Islamic State represents ‘the fall of a civilisation’, according to Syria’s antiquities chief Maamoun Abdulkarim. Speaking to Reuters today, he said: ‘Human, civilized society has lost the battle against barbarism. I have lost all hope.’” (Mark Woods Christian Today Contributing Editor 21 May 2015)

Temple at Palmyra
Temple at Palmyra by Steve Murray

Barbaric, incomprehensible, brutal, evil, criminal, atrocity …. Words fall short. No regard for history, culture, art, life …. The ISIS militants did not even have regard for their own lives. The wrought unspeakable destruction and the taking of precious life in the Venice of the Sands.

Christians, humanists, peaceful Muslims, people of all stripes condemn what ISIS has done. The destruction of the ancient ruin of Palmyra is a war crime. The killing of Khaled al-Assad, the curator and protector of the Palmyran antiquities, is an atrocity of the worst order. If he had only given his life to protect those beautiful, ancient ruins…, but ruins were destroyed with him. The various reactions to the crime and atrocity are understandable and expected.

The worldwide reports emphasized a common theme: the harsh clash of religious fundamentalism in the nature of the destruction and violence. “ISIS did not merely blast apart old stones—it attacked the very foundations of pluralistic society” (The Rubble of Palmyra by Leon Wieseltier in the Atlantic Sept. 4, 2015). Indeed, ISIS displayed the worst of religion – the worst of humanity.

And the recent destruction of ancient historical artifacts and buildings is nothing new.

“In this iconoclasm – literally, the destruction of religious icons and other images or monuments for religious or political motives – Isis has its place in a rich history of destruction. Moses reduced the Golden Calf, made from Israelites’ golden earrings, to dust. Centuries later, the 93 carved relief sculptures of the life and miracles of the Virgin Mary in Ely Cathedral’s lady chapel, were hacked off during the Reformation. In between Moses and the mutilation of Ely was something called the Iconoclastic controversy in the history of the Eastern or Byzantine Christian church. Between AD 726 and 843, the then emperors of Byzantium believed icons were not only a reversion to the pagan idolatry of the ancient Greeks and Romans, but that their existence was the chief obstacle to the conversion to Christianity of Jews and Muslims, to both of whom the image was anathema. Iconoclasm, then, is by no means only an Islamic thing.” (quoted in Isis’s Destruction Of Palmyra: ‘The Heart Has Been Ripped Out of the City’ by Stuart Jeffries in the Guardian Sept. 2, 2015)

www.yourmiddleeast.com 660 x 390
www.yourmiddleeast.com

As tempting as it is to reel in sadness and righteous anger (something the irreligious seem to have learned well from the religious in recent times) over the destruction of such significant ancient preserves, there is a greater loss.  Ross Burns, adjunct professor of ancient history at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, whose life is devoted to the preservation, study and appreciation of antiquity, appropriately recognized,

“[T]here are more important considerations in Syria in 2015 than the preservation of ancient monuments. ‘The physical damage to monuments has to be assessed against the scale of the human tragedy….’” (Id.)

Continue reading “Remembering Palmyra: a Call to Enter Through the Narrow Gate”