04 November 2015

Culturally Understanding the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) Pt 4

In the prior three parts I have been looking into the cultural aspects and understandings of the actual surface level story of the prodigal son. How would those listening in the first century have understood the finer points of the story? By understanding how they understood it, we can better understand it. Now I wish to examine the underlying story, the application side as it was being directed and applied to those hearing it at the time. Sadly this is not the angle or depth that is taken by most commentators that I examined. The cultural and historical application of it seems to have almost been totally lost in mainstream teachings. As mentioned before, most simply see this is an example of how God welcomes and loves any repentant sinner that comes to him.
The problem I have with that assessment is that it does not fit the relevance of what is being said, to whom it is being said, and doesn’t fit the players in the story. If you recall, this chapter contains three parables, this being the third in the trilogy of stories.  The chapter starts by stating:

And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:2 ESV)

So, we know some of the main people being addressed here by Yeshua are the Pharisees as usual. One thing that people seem to gloss over in the story is that it is two sons and a father - the father and two children already related to him. The father figure in the story represents Yahweh, and the sons are children of God – part of his family in the beginning. And one of the children forsakes the family and leaves.

The Pharisees listening to this story represent those two tribes of Israel that are still serving and maintaining a covenant relationship with Yahweh. They are the older brother in the story. That alone should assist in revealing that the younger son is not representative of just sinners returning to God in general. The one returning is one that beforehand was in close covenant with God – not a stranger to God and the covenant as everyday people coming to God would be.

03 November 2015

Culturally Understanding the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) Pt 3

In the first two parts we looked at the prodigal son himself. His request, his leaving, he ruin and his return. After his return, the attention is then turned to the older son who returns home to the celebration.

"Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.' But he was angry and refused to go in. (Luke 15:25-28a ESV)

In their culture, the eldest brother is the one responsible for assisting in the reconciliation process between the father and younger brothers if the need arose. This older brother should have stepped in way back at the begging of the story, and tried wholeheartedly to stop the younger brother from doing what he was doing in breaking the father’s heart to begin with, but he did not.

The older brother was obviously not doing his duty – he was not being respectful to the father or loving to the brother. Now that the brother has returned, he is more upset and refuses to even join the party. In doing so he is showing his hatred of his brother, as well as disrespecting the father himself, and he deserves punishment now himself.

02 November 2015

Culturally Understanding the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) Pt 2

In part one we began looking at the prodigal son parable, covering through where he has left his people, cut all ties and rights to them, took everything he owned and lived recklessly and lost everything. He had nothing left, nowhere to go and of course could not simply call his parents to come and pick him up.he  He knows going home would mean dealing with the ridicule of the rest of the village, as well as that of his brother who now has the rights of the rest of the father’s possessions.

These options are not ones he can bare to deal with, not at this point and time at least. Instead, he chose another route:

So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. (Luke 11:15 ESV)

It is the fact that pigs are mentioned here that most commentators say he was living, spending, and now working among the Gentiles. The word here translated as hired in our text, is often translated as “joined to” and comes from the root word meaning to glue or attach. It is used elsewhere to refer to everything from dust clinging (Luke 10:11) to joining oneself with a prostitute (1 Cor. 6:16).

01 November 2015

Culturally Understanding the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) Pt 1

Most people familiar with biblical stories, have heard of the well-known parable commonly referred to as the Prodigal son, which is found in Luke 15:11-32. Now most all bible scholars will tell you that you should never push the symbolism or story line of a parable too far, and that the main thrust of the message is more important that all of the little details one can try to pull from it – and this is true.

And while this is a fairly simple story as far as the amount of details we have, there is still a lot that can be missed simply because we are of a different cultural background than the original hearers.

Lately at our church we have been learning more and more about the cultural surroundings of the first century writings, especially the Hebrew mindset behind them. This same Hebrew understanding needs to be applied to the parables, like this one.

There would be points and details that they would have immediately grasped and story gaps that they would have filled in simply because of their background and understanding. So, I would like to dig into this story a bit, and examine this story in light of some of the cultural surroundings and understandings that may escape us, and to fill in some pieces that we may miss.

29 October 2015

Review: The Ancient Giants Who Ruled America: The Missing Skeletons and the Great Smithsonian Cover-Up (Richard J. Dewhurst)

The Ancient Giants Who Ruled America: The Missing Skeletons and the Great Smithsonian Cover-Up The Ancient Giants Who Ruled America: The Missing Skeletons and the Great Smithsonian Cover-Up by Richard J. Dewhurst
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There was a lot more in this book than I had assumed. For the most part, this whole book is story after story, news clip after news clip, historical document after document, giving testimony to just find after find of "giants" amount the "mound people." These mound people being inhabitants of the North American continent way before the American Indians.

The stories of these findings are so many, it is near impossible to try to ignore them or pass them all off as just a bunch of hoax stories. The evidence is just too overwhelming. Sadly, most in the American (and world) public arena have no clue such history exists. Aside from just the giants found, the thousands of average size people at the same time seemed to have more advanced systems of town life than we might assume.

The bulk of the stories are from the last 150-200 years, so we're not talking ancient history and myths, we're talking reported accounts of these things being uncovered just in the times since Englishmen came to this continent and started digging and plowing things up. I was just overwhelmed by the amount of data contained here.

28 October 2015

The Battle is the Lord’s: Where are the Men? Part 4

Well, I ended the last part making the statement that one of the last major rebellions against tyranny and oppression, one of the last major battles for truth and freedom, took place in the middle of the nineteenth century. Properly referred to as the War Between the States – or as it is more commonly known by the inaccurate title of the Civil War. 

Following the war, the government “thinkers” and humanistic “educators” knew that in order to prevent a future war where the people would again take up arms to fight against government tyranny, they needed to weed out the spirit of truth and justice, and to replace it with submission and passivity in the people.

The way they set out to accomplish this was through a compulsory state education system. You see, up until a little while before that time, our country did not have any state sponsored public schools.
In the 1620’s, when the Pilgrims and Puritans came to this country seeking religious freedom, they were products of the Protestant Reformation. So, for the roughly 220 years from 1620 to 1840, American education had a distinct moral character, and stemmed from an almost entirely Christian and Calvinistic orientation.

27 October 2015

Review: The Bible's Cutting Room Floor: The Holy Scriptures Missing from Your Bible (Joel Hoffman)

The Bible's Cutting Room Floor: The Holy Scriptures Missing from Your Bible The Bible's Cutting Room Floor: The Holy Scriptures Missing from Your Bible by Joel M. Hoffman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Overall an interesting read, though with some issues. First, the title, while meant to engage and intrigue the reader, is kind of presenting a false assumption. He is assuming that most any biblical sounding writing should have been included in the "Holy Scriptures," regardless of its content or acceptance in culture and history. While he does not push that issue throughout the book, the implication is still there, and the book falls short of making the case for that implication.

Basically, the book examines a handful of extra-biblical historical writings, and how their inclusion in today's accepted biblical books would have added to the biblical narrative. His analysis of such writings as the Book of Adam and Eve, Apocalypse of Abraham, Book of Enoch, and writings of Josephus provided some interesting insights.

The Battle is the Lord’s: Where are the Men? Part 3

In the previous two parts we've looked at David and Gideon's stories in the Scriptures. Now, I would like to just mention two biblical stories, one from each testament, both with similar results. The first is from Leviticus 10 and the story of two of Aaron’s sons, who were just ordained as priests in the Lord’s service:

Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.

Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said, ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’ (Lev. 10 1-3 ESV)

Two new priests, sons of Aaron, on their first duty in the temple, and what do they do? They stray from what they are supposed to do. Now, it says they offered “unauthorized fire” – or as the KJV puts it “strange fire.”

Theologians go back and forth on what this fire was, and what made it unacceptable, but without going into detail on that, we know that it was fire that was not supposed to be used in the temple service. God expected all aspects of the service to be specifically what he laid out, and this was obviously not what he had specified; and it cost them their life. 

26 October 2015

The Battle is the Lord’s: Where are the Men? Part 2

In part one we began looking at the story of David and Goliath, and David's reliance on God for the battle. Now we turn to the story of Gideon, from the book of Judges, where God made it especially clear that the battle would be won by him and not by the might of the army. When they came up against the Midianites the army of Gideon numbered 22,000 troops. 

The LORD said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’ (Judges 7:2 ESV)

So, Gideon told the people that whoever was fearful should return home, and 12,000 departed, leaving the army at 10,000. Now that was a lot of scared people there.

And the LORD said to Gideon, “The people are still too many. Take them down to the water, and I will test them for you there, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you,’ shall go with you, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ shall not go.”

So he brought the people down to the water. And the LORD said to Gideon, “Every one who laps the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set by himself. Likewise, every one who kneels down to drink.” And the number of those who lapped, putting their hands to their mouths, was 300 men, but all the rest of the people knelt down to drink water.

And the LORD said to Gideon, “With the 300 men who lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hand, and let all the others go every man to his home.” (Judges 7:4-7 ESV)

So with 300 men, Gideon went forth and chased down the Midianites and destroyed them. 

25 October 2015

The Battle is the Lord’s: Where are the Men? Part 1

In the book of 1 Samuel, we have probably one of the most well-known stories in the Bible; that of the battles of David and Goliath. It has been portrayed in movies, cartoons, children’s books, and is one of the most frequently told Sunday school lessons around. 

I would like to take a look at the story in a bit of detail, as well as some other verses, as we touch on courage, fear and the sovereignty of God. Let’s take a look at 1 Samuel – which I have slightly edited in arrangement to focus on relevant points:

Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle. And they were gathered at Socoh, which belongs to Judah, and encamped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim.

And Saul and the men of Israel were gathered, and encamped in the Valley of Elah, and drew up in line of battle against the Philistines. And the Philistines stood on the mountain on the one side, and Israel stood on the mountain on the other side, with a valley between them.

And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. (v 1-4)

So, we can envision the scenario: two armies, each on a hill, with a valley between them. Then, from out of the enemy’s camp comes this giant – whose height is six cubits and a span. They say a cubit is the measurement of distance from the tip of the middle finger down to the elbow, and can be anywhere from 17 to 22 inches in length. A span is roughly 9 inches – and is the measurement from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the pinky. So, Goliath stood in height somewhere between about 9’3” and as high as 11’9” based on the biblical text. (Yes, I am familiar with the fact that other manuscripts, including the Septuagint, have a different height listed, making him a bit less "giant" than that - but also understanding the history of giants from Genesis 6 on, it is not hard to understand this as being a larger than average person.)

22 October 2015

A Cultural Understanding of the Parable of the Pounds (Luke 19:11-27) - Part 4

Okay, we come to the close of this little series, as we wrap up the cultural understandings behind this parable, and how a better understanding gives us a better application of this parable than is usually gleaned from it. In the last part we saw the importance of understanding audience relevance when it comes to applying this parable, and conclude that the king who left and was to return was returning to the same audience he left, to hold those same people accountable, and that was what Yeshua himself had promised to do wo his first century hearers.

So, while we may glean from this parable an idea of being faithful servants to the Kingdom in our own life, it is a great error when we see ourselves as working for a still future Kingdom, rather than understanding that we are working within a currently acquired one. This type of "already but not yet" teaching is what has crippled the church from doing the work it should have been doing all along.

Instead of acknowledging and taking the power of the kingdom now, and setting about to do our masters work under his now reigning authority, the church in general has cowered behind their doors, not challenging the culture around us, not standing boldly in the king’s name and power, and instead teaches that Satan is “king” and still in control, and they must therefore await a future coming in power that will rescue them from it all.

For those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, this parable clearly teaches us about an event to start and finish within the span of one lifetime, and would begin soon - within the life of those listening. It speaks of the soon to come time when Yeshua would ascend to the right hand of the Father to receive the fullness of the Kingdom:

This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, "'The Lord said to my Lord, "Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool."' Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified." (Act 2:32-36 ESV)

21 October 2015

A Cultural Understanding of the Parable of the Pounds (Luke 19:11-27) - Part 3

We have looked in the first two parts at parables and cultural understandings in general, as well as the specific parable in question in it's historic/cultural context to the audience hearing it at the time. 

Before moving on though, I want to bring to your attention a little point that should be fairly obvious to most, but is sadly glossed over due to presuppositions on the timing of events. I’d like to set this up by reading a couple sections from a recently released (2009) commentary on Luke. This section is in response to the initial Apostles question in Luke where they asked if the time was now for the Kingdom:

It is easy to see why people would make this mistake. The more they heard what Jesus said and saw what Jesus could do, the more certain some people became that he was the promised King. Jesus was healing the blind; he was saving sinners, including the kind of rich people who almost never repent; he was preaching the kingdom of God. Soon the gathering masses would sweep him right up to Jerusalem in a frenzy of messianic expectancy. It was almost Palm Sunday, when people would shout, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Luke 19:38). Is it any wonder that they thought the kingdom of God was coming right away?

This all backs up everything I have said before, and we can see why there may have been some confusion for the disciples about the events to come soon. The commentator continues:

20 October 2015

A Cultural Understanding of the Parable of the Pounds (Luke 19:11-27) - Part 2

In part one we laid a little foundational work on parables in general and some basic hermeneutical practices often forgotten by modern readers. Now I would like to turn some attention on this one particular parable to look at in a little more detail to see what kind of things get missed at first reading. Lets take a look at Luke chapter 19, starting with verse 11:

And while they are hearing these things, having added he spake a simile, because of his being nigh to Jerusalem, and of their thinking that the reign of God is about presently to be made manifest.

He said therefore, ‘A certain man of birth went on to a far country, to take to himself a kingdom, and to return, and having called ten servants of his own, he gave to them ten pounds, and said unto them, Do business — till I come; and his citizens were hating him, and did send an embassy after him, saying, We do not wish this one to reign over us.

‘And it came to pass, on his coming back, having taken the kingdom, that he commanded these servants to be called to him, to whom he gave the money, that he might know what any one had done in business.

‘And the first came near, saying, Sir, thy pound did gain ten pounds; and he said to him, Well done, good servant, because in a very little thou didst become faithful, be having authority over ten cities.

‘And the second came, saying, Sir, thy pound made five pounds; and he said also to this one, And thou, become thou over five cities.

‘And another came, saying, Sir, lo, thy pound, that I had lying away in a napkin; for I was afraid of thee, because thou art an austere man; thou takest up what thou didst not lay down, and reapest what thou didst not sow.

‘And he saith to him, Out of thy mouth I will judge thee, evil servant: thou knewest that I am an austere man, taking up what I did not lay down, and reaping what I did not sow!  and wherefore didst thou not give my money to the bank, and I, having come, with interest might have received it?

‘And to those standing by he said, Take from him the pound, and give to him having the ten pounds — (and they said to him, Sir, he hath ten pounds)  — for I say to you, that to every one having shall be given, and from him not having, also what he hath shall be taken from him, but those my enemies, who did not wish me to reign over them, bring hither and slay before me.’ (Luke 19:11-27 YLT)

19 October 2015

A Cultural Understanding of the Parable of the Pounds (Luke 19:11-27) - Part 1

I would like to take a look at a parable that you are all probably familiar with, but one where much of the meaning gets lost by our modern thought and lack of cultural background. Most bible readers these days are quick to just accept their initial surface level reading, and end up missing much of what is actually being taught.

This is of course one of the root problems in the modern church; they take a real generic understanding, add to that the habit of ripping verses out of their context. Then compile this error with ignoring audience relevance as well as the historical and cultural backgrounds to what they are reading. Once we start to see the cultural understanding of things, we can begin seeing much more and things start to make more sense in the whole scheme of things.

Before we jump into the parable, let me just go over some background information on parables as a review. First off, what exactly is a parable? Here are some technical definitions given by various sources:

…denotes a placing beside...It signifies a placing of one thing beside another with a view to comparison….It is generally used of a somewhat lengthy utterance or narrative drawn from nature or human circumstances, the object of which is to set forth a spiritual lesson. (W.E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words, pg. 830)

The Dictionary of Judaism in the Biblical Period tells us parables are:

Instructional narrative, metaphors, or similes, which appear throughout Mediterranean and Egyptian literature of antiquity.

Important to the discussion today, is that this last definition refers to the fairly common place of the use of parable with ancient literature. Speaking in parables was more of a cultural practice back then that it is in our time, and for that reason, we may not grasp as much from them without a little work in understanding them.

Scholars and historians speak of two types of theologians; the conceptual and the metaphoric. A conceptual theologian is typically what we in the West have practiced for centuries – it is one who constructs theology from ideas held together by logic. Theologians like this tend to be more serious, abstract and write in a scholarly manner, making them harder to understand by the average person.

Paul works with both ideals and metaphors – but in the West we tend to emphasize his ideas and concepts, and push to the side his metaphors – thus making him out to be more of a conceptual theologian in our minds.

On the opposite side, most people view Yeshua as purely metaphoric – or as Kenneth Bailey put it – “a village rustic creating folktales for fisherman and farmers.” Yeshua’s primary way of teaching was through metaphor, simile, parable, and dramatic action, rather than through reasoning and logic.

For some people, this takes Yeshua out of the category of a serious theologian or philosopher, and puts him strictly in a category of being more like a dramatist or poet. They turn him into a man who gave lots of nice little teachings about love and good living, and not much about deep theology.

However, for those who have seriously examined his parables and metaphors more closely, have found that they are filled with serious theology. Much of this theology is easily missed due to our minds being filled with our own modern cultural thoughts which miss the application of what he is saying.

Metaphors are used to communicate ideas in a way that rational arguments are not always able to do. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, metaphors are like picture stories to help get points across. We sometimes use them today when we speak using stories and examples to get our point across.

A metaphor though, is not just an illustration of the idea, it is a form of theological discourse, and a parable is an extended metaphor that sets the scene for viewing things through a new worldview lens.

We tend to want to view these parables as a good launching point for a general idea being put across, but that is not really the proper way to view them, or not really the way they were viewed historically in that culture. I like the way Bailey states it:

The listener/reader of the parable is encouraged to examine the human predicament through the worldview created by the parable. The casing is all that remains after a shell is fired. Its only purpose is to drive the shell in the direction of the target. It is easy to think of a parable in the same way and understand it as a good way to “launch” an idea. Once the idea is “on its way” the parable can be disregarded. But this is not so. If the parable is a house in which the listened/reader is invited to take up residence, then that person is urged by the parable to look on the world through the windows of that residence. Such is the reality of the parables created by Jesus of Nazareth, a reality that causes a special problem. (Kenneth E. Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels)

He goes on to describe how - when it comes to the logic and reasoning as modern theologians do, the understanding of the theology involved requires  a clear mind and a little hard work. However, for the theology presented by Yeshua, grasping what is being portrayed in his stories and dramatic events is not always grasped by contemporary readers, and to fully understand, requires knowledge of the culture of the storyteller.

So, we will never truly grasp the nature and implications of his sayings without having a grasp on the surrounding culture of which he spoke those things.

In order to truly unlock the truths in the parables, we must first consider a few necessary steps. First, we must realize that digging for the true meaning is necessary and important.  Sure, anyone can read the Bible and be blessed by much of what is said; we may even receive blessing from a misapplied use of the stories and events we read. However, an ear better trained in the language and culture of the Bible will hear and understand much more from the text and its true intent.

To avoid doing the work required to get this understanding, the modern church tends to “indigenize” them – figuring the first century people thought and acted much like we do today, and we interpret based on modern understandings. We look at these stories as just little ditties that have a universal appeal to all men for whatever they can get from them. This makes the understanding of the Bible to be more of a relative book of teachings that varies from person to person, with no absolute meaning. I believe this type of mentality is one of the main causes of all of the disagreements, debates, and divisions in the church that leads to a new church on every corner that cannot get along with the church down the street.

We read stories like that of the prodigal son, and we see a rebellious teen, a jealous brother, and a loving father, and we just take the nice story as application for what we can. However, we totally miss the fact that in the Middle Eastern culture where this story was taking place, for a son to ask for his inheritance while the father was still alive, was equal to telling the father you wished he would just drop dead. This greatly heightens the loving response of the father in the story, who normally should have gotten mad and cast the son out of the house.

Secondly, in order to get a better understanding, we need to realize the historical nature of the Word of God. The Bible is truly the Word of God, but it is also to be seen as the Word of God spoken through real people in real historical settings. Ignoring the historicity of it will mean missing the original intent and audience relevance. It is interesting how most people remember and apply the historical settings of other literature we read, but ignore it when it comes to the Bible.

Thirdly, we must seek to find the meanings in the parables that are legitimate, and not seek to stretch the boundaries of the metaphor too far. In other words, we cannot over examine every jot and title of a story looking for meanings and parallels in everything it says. This again is where audience relevance comes in – for we cannot force a meaning or understanding into the story that would have been totally alien to the original audience.

People throughout the centuries have found interpretations within the stories of Yeshua that have enforced their own views and ideas, ideas like Marxism, Existentialism, etc. – but that would have been totally foreign to anything Yeshua ever intended or thought to convey to his audience.

So, in essence, I think Bailey put it best when he summarized by saying:

Simply stated, our task is to stand at the back of the audience around Jesus and listen to what he is saying to them. Only through that discipline can we discover what he is saying to any age, including our own.

Look with me please at Mat 13:10 where we are told why Yeshua chose to speak in parables, or as the literal translation puts it, similes:

Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.

This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

    ‘You will indeed hear but never understand, 
    and you will indeed see but never perceive.
    For this people’s heart has grown dull,
    and with their ears they can barely hear,
    and their eyes they have closed,
    lest they should see with their eyes
    and hear with their ears
    and understand with their heart
    and turn, and I would heal them.’

But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. (Matt 13:10-17 ESV)

So, we can see from Yeshua’s own words that he was intentionally speaking in such a manner that made it more difficult to understand, because the main target audience he came to speak to, were already pretty much blind and deaf to the truth. And he was instead coming to those who were given the ears to hear, that the plans of God would be fulfilled through them instead.

In the next part I will begin looking at the parable itself now that we have a basic background established. 

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

16 October 2015

Prayer & Thanksgiving: The Christians Duty - Part 5

I will resume where I left off in part 4, in which we we looked at the first three of six cures for cynicism. We'll now conclude by looking at the last three cure.
4. Cultivate a Thankful Spirit – a thankful spirit will undercut cynicism like nothing else.

As you begin to pray each day, stop and look back over the previous day, and as mentioned, look for the hand of the Lord in the little things throughout the day. They may be things that are not always as noticeable at the time, but if you stop and think about it, these things can become more evident when viewed in hindsight.

As you reflect on the previous day - and you find evidence of the love of the Father acting within it - it should more easily stir up the spirit of thankfulness. Remember what Paul said in Romans 1:21:

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Rom. 1:21)
Just look at how prevalent the idea of thankfulness is in the writings of Paul:

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. (Rom. 1:8)

I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; (1 Cor. 1:4)

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers (Eph. 1:16)

I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy (Phil. 1:3-4)
We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you (Col. 1:3)

We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; (1 Thes. 1:2)

And we also thank God constantly… (1 Thes. 2:13)

For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you… (1 Thes. 3:9)

We ought always to give thanks to God for you… (2 Thes. 1:3)

But we ought always to give thanks to God for you… (2 Thes. 2:13)

I thank God … as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. (2 Tim. 1:3)

I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers… (Philemon 4)
And looking back at some of our opening Scriptures, Paul exhorts the church to follow such a thankful pattern:
Don’t worry about anything. Rather, in every area of life let God know what you want, as you pray and make requests, and give thanks as well. And God’s peace, which is greater than we can even understand, will keep guard over your hearts and minds in King Jesus. (Phil 4:6-7) (KNT)

Devote yourself to prayer; keep alert in it, with thanksgiving. (Col 4:2) (KNT)

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thess 5:16-18 ) (ESV)
Maintaining a thankful heart is a most powerful way to stay drawn into the fellowship of the Father as well as those around you. While cynicism looks at the world around us and calls it phony - then pulls back from it - a heart filled with thanksgiving can look reality in the face - and rejoice to see God’s hand and care in all things. That should cause us to be both thankful - and generous.

5. Cultivating Repentance – the cynical heart thinks it is just a disinterested observer looking for authenticity around it – thinking it is humble because it actually offers nothing. It also feels great pride in thinking it can see through everything around it. C.S. Lewis keenly observed the problem with thinking you could see through everything when he said:

You can not go on “explaining away” for ever: you will find that you have explained explanation itself away. You cannot go on “seeing through” things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it… If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To “see through” all things is the same as not to see. (CS Lewis - The Abolition of Man)
In order to see all the wonder and hope around us, we must restore the innocent eye of a child. Cynicism, in supposedly “seeing through” everything, is actually lacking a purity of heart. When a Christian falls into cynicism, their heart gets out of sync with God. There is a fracture between what is actually going on in the heart, and what is showing in the outward behavior.

Life continues, and we continue to act, speak and perform like a Christian - speaking about Jesus, yet lacking any true presence of Jesus in our life. This is in fact a disconnect between what we present on the outside, and what we are on the inside. Not only do the words of those around us sound phony, but our words sound phony. Our empty religion makes everything around us seem just as empty and phony. James tells us:

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Make your hands clean, you sinners; and make your hearts pure, you double-minded lot. (James 4:8)
This term double minded, only appears twice in Scripture, both times by James, and it carries a meaning of being wavering, doubting, and divided in interest. We become double-minded when we live in this phony manner, and it usually leads to a split personality type scenario. We begin to create the public us and the private us.

In an earlier section we looked at how we may create multiple public versions of ourselves – different “faces” for different groups – well, this continues that process, but involves the darker, hidden private us, that few if any know about. 

If you are loving to your friends to their face, but then talk bad about them behind their back – you have created two personalities. If a husband frequently views porn online, and then warmly greets his wife, he has created two personalities. Repentance is needed to bring these two sides back together – to bring reality and balance back to life.

Cynicism sees this need of repentance in everyone else, but lacks the humility to get the beam out of their own eye. While church should be the one safe-haven where we can be ourselves and be loved by others – that is rarely the case. For many, church becomes a big smoke and mirrors effort too.

Remember the story of David, as he shows up at the battlefield to hear the ridicule and cursing spewing from the mouth of Goliath?  The people of God were acting cowardly – not relying on their God as they should. David saw the split between their outward profession and their lack of action, and he took action as they should have - and God gave him the day.

David intimately knew and was in contact with the good Shepherd, and in His strength he took comfort and confidence that lead to action. How often do we as the church, let cynicism cause us to shrink back - rather than charge the battlefield in the strength of the Lord? We need to seek to bring our professed faith into harmony with our actual practice.

The pure in heart begin by seeing through themselves, having already dealt with the bears and lions in their own valley of the shadow of death - and that allows them to see with more clarity the ridiculousness of the cursing of the “Goliaths” in their lives.

By cultivating a lifestyle of repentance, we deal with our own impurity, and avoid the negative position that cynicism takes, and it leads to purity in heart and spiritual healing. We need to have the faith and courage in our Father just like David, and in our individual battles, as well as alongside our church body, stand up and proclaim with David:

This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand…that all this assembly may know that the LORD saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give you into our hand. (1 Sam 17:46-47)
6. Looking for Jesus – how often do you just stop and look and think about ways you may be seeing Jesus in the world around us? This is similar to what I spoke of back in point four, but instead of looking back at previous days to find events that showed the Father’s hands around you, this is more of a right here, right now looking in your daily walk.

More often than not, we have been influenced by the cynicism of the world around us, and we are quick to look for - and find - all of the injustices around us. It causes us to focus on other people’s lack of integrity - on their split personalities.

We need to look around us, looking for that spark of truth instead, that spark of Jesus that the cynicism might otherwise miss. Remember what we are told in Hebrews:

Heb. 13:2 - Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
Cynicism makes us look in the wrong direction. It will make us look for all of the cracks in the people around us, even those in the church. Our heart gets in the habit of viewing the world this way, and that will easily get brought over into the church.

Instead of seeing others as a work in progress, through the eyes of grace and beauty, watching as the Father’s hands are molding out the rough edges, we only seem to “see” the roughness. We need to be more like Paul, who though dealing with the highly corrupt practices of the church in Corinth, still had the ability to say:

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— (1 Cor. 1:4-5)
Think about it – and recall just how bad the church at Corinth seemed to be. They were bad off, yes, but he saw the good work being performed in them by Jesus. Rather than simply focusing on the corruptness, he saw Jesus, and that is something we need to focus on doing more in life.

Once we get a grip on the ways that cynicism has crept into our life and heart, we can begin to focus our hearts on being thankful, and in so doing, begin a better, healthier prayer life.

And now I end right where we began:

Don’t worry about anything. Rather, in every area of life let God know what you want, as you pray and make requests, and give thanks as well. And God’s peace, which is greater than we can even understand, will keep guard over your hearts and minds in King Jesus. (Phil 4:6-7) (KNT)

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

15 October 2015

Prayer & Thanksgiving: The Christians Duty - Part 4

So in this segment, we are going to begin looking at three of six cures for cynicism that can assist in defeating a dead prayer life.

1. Be Warm and Wary

When Jesus sent out his disciples, he told them:
Matt. 10:16  "Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
When we are faced with the evils in this world, many of us feel the desire to strike out as a wolf, which can lead to becoming cynical - rather than maintaining a sheep-like spirit. Jesus tells us to be warm, yet wary - warm like a dove, but wary like a serpent.

Then after other warnings about some of the obstacles they will run up against, he tells them not to fear those who can only kill the body, and then comforts them by telling them:

Matt. 10:29-31  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.  Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
We must never forget that we are valued and loved by our heavenly Father. He is there to take care of us. So why do we fear? Why do we turn when faced with evil, when we should boldly engage it? Why do we not ask and seek daily blessings from our Father? When it comes to prayer, is any topic or desire too small or trivial? Are we thinking God is “out there” and too busy to worry about the little things we desire?

14 October 2015

Prayer & Thanksgiving: The Christians Duty - Part 3

So far we've taken a look at some of the issues that affect a persons prayer life, and have begun looking at some ways to get out of that rut. We now turn to how using the Lord's prayer can be a help. Many people use the Lord’s prayer as an outline to assist them to go through a prayer time – breaking down each segment into a topic, and then praying accordingly.

For instance, the first segment – “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name” – is about praising God and honoring his name – so you can begin your prayer by spending some time in praise and thanksgiving to the Lord. This section alone should give you plenty to pray about if you stop and think of all He is and does.

When done, you move to the next segment – “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven“ – would launch you into praying for things that would advance the kingdom and God’s purposes on Earth. Prayer for how you can be used to advance the kingdom is an essential portion of prayer. 

I won't go thru the entire prayer, but hopefully you can see how breaking it down and using each section as an outline of sorts can be a great help if you find yourself at a loss for words at prayer time.

Let's look at one of the many issues that can affect a Christian’s prayer life.

13 October 2015

Prayer & Thanksgiving: The Christians Duty - Part 2


People often struggle with prayer because they feel as though they do not know HOW to pray correctly, and so they steer clear of doing so at all. Or, if they start off having an active prayer life, they may feel as though it is making no difference in their lives

Maybe they are finding it hard to slow down – to quiet their mind for prayer. Maybe they struggle with doubt. Are they being heard? Is God listening to them? These struggles lead to a lifeless prayer life, or a prayerless life.

Let's explore one of the root causes for a weak prayer life, and some ways to break free from it. You would imagine that there were times when the disciples of Jesus had the opportunity to ask their master pretty much any question their heart desired, and we find some examples of those times.

If you had such an opportunity, what might you ask him? They had been through so much and had seen so much - so many miracles. You would think they might ask how to turn water into wine, or how to walk on the water, or raise the dead, or any of the other amazing things they had experienced along the way. But when the time came, they did not inquire about any of those things - but we find in Luke 11:1b that instead they said 

12 October 2015

Prayer & Thanksgiving: The Christians Duty - Part 1

As we approach the Thanksgiving season, I wish to share a message I preached a few years back at this time of the year.
Don’t worry about anything. Rather, in every area of life let God know what you want, as you pray and make requests, and give thanks as well. And God’s peace, which is greater than we can even understand, will keep guard over your hearts and minds in King Jesus. (Phil 4:6-7) (KNT)

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thess 5:16-18 ) (ESV)

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people (1 Tim 2:1) (ESV)

Devote yourself to prayer; keep alert in it, with thanksgiving. (Col 4:2) (KNT)
The Christian life should be a life filled with prayer. As Paul stated in Colossians above, we should be devoted to it. It is our lifeline – our direct connect with our Father. We use it always - in all situations – to seek all that we need while here on Earth.

03 October 2015

Are You Arguing Over Principles or Methods? - Part 6

This is the final part of our series on principles versus methods. Be sure to read the first five parts before continuing.

Principle: mothers are to feed their children. Methods: scheduled feeding or not – bottle feeding or not.

Principle: we should be good stewards of our body. Method: working out or not, eating junk or not, juicing or not, etc.

Principle: children are a blessing from the Lord. Method: birth control or not, planned pregnancy or not, natural child birth or not, hospital or not, etc.

Principle: modesty is a Christian virtue. Method: to wear make-up or not, jewelry or not, bathing suits or not, etc.

Hopefully you can see by now the difference between principles and methods. Churches or people who fight or split over methods are just wrong. People who go as far from one extreme to the other are missing the point. While the principle should steer you clear of caking on makeup and jewelry, and wearing provocative clothing, it should likewise not be used as a justification for looking frumpy.
We need to stop and look and realize just how bound we are by the pressure of our day. We need to stop seeking to strain out a gnat and swallow the camel. Our temptation is to reason something like “If they were really committed, they would employ my method. My method is the preferred method of choice among everyone I know that are sold out and dedicated.”

02 October 2015

Are You Arguing Over Principles or Methods? - Part 5

We've been looking, in the first 4 parts, at how to handle controversies, by deciding if it is an issue of a principle or a method. be sure to go back and read the first four portions before continuing here.

Remember, if we are truly living in a lifestyle of love to God, that will also bring about loving others, which should bring us to where we need to be even amidst controversies like we are discussing. The world is a big place, made up of a multitude of different types of people. Why can’t we just move around it without insisting, as if we were some kind of Unitarian Muslim, that everybody has got to dress the same way, act the same way, eat the same food or drink the same drinks? Why do we not act like we’re Trinitarians?

Trinitarian culture allows us to have a set, yet broad and recognizable culture which contains true variation and diversity within it, which is appreciated and loved. In a more Unitarian culture, it is a top-down, everybody in lock step with each other – that is what a true Unitarian Muslim culture is.

There are many sub-cultures of Christians who don’t have this distinction, yet they are behaving like Unitarians – everyone should do it my way - everyone should dress their daughters like I do - everybody should speak like me - everyone should worship like me. This is not the Christian faith.

An important piece of advice to keep in mind is – we should never react – but should always act. We act on things, but should avoid reacting to the other person’s things. Those of a Unitarian mind tend to react when faced with an issue, which leads to a tightening of the grip on things, which leads to more rigid methods.

01 October 2015

Are You Arguing Over Principles or Methods? - Part 4

We've been looking at how to handle controversies, especially if you identify the issues as being over a principle or a method of reaching that principle. Be sure to go back and read the first three parts to catch up as we continue our thoughts.

Too often we want to be meddlesome – we want to be the Lord in someone else’s life. We say “This person is not answering to me properly. I wouldn’t have done that if that were my child!” Well, it is time to realize, it is not your child. The one whose child it is, they are answerable to God. You may be thinking they are making a mistake – so what should you do? What is the quickest way to be able to communicate that? By loving them, receiving them, and not be quarrelsome like this.

There are certain things that are important to remember when such discussions appear to be necessary, and I will just run through a few of them quickly.

First, methods are not bad. When discussing principles and methods, it is not to say we should just observe the principles without employing any kind of method. Methods are a necessity – you have to pick one to accomplish almost anything. It is just important that you understand what the difference is between a principle and a method. What is it you are trying to do? I am driving to heaven in my Ford, and if the Ford breaks down I am going to walk. I know where I am going, and I always know the direction I am headed. I always have my eye on the ball. So, the method is not bad, it is necessary, and it may differ from person to person.

Secondly, what is settled in history, and what is settled in principle are two different things. Cultivate humility of mind. You might win an abstract argument, yet in real life the historical outcome may be very different from how you envisage.

30 September 2015

Are You Arguing Over Principles or Methods? - Part 3

We resume where we left off in part two. Actually, I will repeat the closing paragraph from part two to get us started.

The Bible commands us to strive for likemindedness and unity, and this comes about by loving one another while seeking to approach each other in humility to discuss things of a doctrinal matter. It means avoiding being obnoxious, cantankerous, or losing perspective when it comes to these discussions.

We are told in 1 John 1:7 that “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another” – so if we are both walking in the same light – regardless of if in a Ford or a Chevy - we should both be moving closer towards God and our unity with each other should be growing more and more.

If along the way, I see my brother falling into bad things, like mistreating his wife or family, or failing in some form of a basic duty, then it is my duty in love to walk along beside him and call him out on those things – “look brother, I need to talk to you about this.” That is showing love and that is our brotherly duty – it is being accountable to one another, and should be acceptable behavior that should be accepted by each of us. We do not avoid doing this just to keep the peace. We must keep the peace based on God’s terms, keeping it based on his ways and not based on our own ways.

Review: Vision of New Jerusalem: Now! - Marty Angelo

Vision of New Jerusalem: Now! Vision of New Jerusalem: Now! by Marty Angelo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A nice easy read that is like a three-fold read, at least in the way I have divided it in my reading mind. Section one is a personal testimony of the author and how he went from prison inmate to Christian, and all of the hurdles and studying along the way.

Part two, which is the majority of the book, he discusses his coming to and understanding of the AD 70 Preterist doctrine and how it differs from the modern futurist rapture centered type views.

Part three is the last couple of sections in the appendix. He has written some modern applicational type articles on how this eschatological view can and should be applied to everyday living. Originally I thought that this was actually going to be the majority of the book's topic, but it was just a couple articles at the end after he discussed his coming to his present view.

An interesting read of an interesting journey and how to live in the kingdom age NOW.

View all my reviews

Review: The Unseen Realm - Michael S. Heiser

The Unseen Realm The Unseen Realm by Michael S. Heiser
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When it comes to the topic of the divine council and the unseen realm stuff, I guess I kind of felt a good majority of people already had a general grasp on it. About a year ago I was given the opportunity to preach at our church and I spoke on some basics of the divine council view (view sermon here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EV9P_...), and found out that the understanding was nowhere near as common as I guess I thought it was.

A month or so later I was asked if I had checked out Michael Heiser's stuff, of whom I had never heard of, and was glad to see I was on a lot of the same paths that he was. So, when I heard of this book coming out, I HAD to get it. It was everything I hoped it would be and MORE.

29 September 2015

Are You Arguing Over Principles or Methods? - Part 2

In part one (HERE) of our discussion we began looking at the difference between principles and methods. Principles being the basis for why something is done, and the method being how the principle is accomplished and how there are varying methods that different people can use, and it doesn't mean one is better or more right than another.

Often times, when we come to deal with someone in the Church body, we come at things from one of two extremes. In one extreme, we approach them in disagreement, basically looking down upon them as a weaker brother than us, and constantly attack their methods.

The other extreme would be to approach them in a manner that would be a warped view of love, in that we pretend we must never challenge or admonish them, or ever bring up a discussion on issues of truth. Both are extremes that we have to work to not fall into.

We are to abhor and challenge what is truly evil, while holding fast to what is good, while loving one another and always seeking to outdo them in showing honor. Can you imagine a church where this is truly going on – and everyone is actually fighting to show more honor to each other?

When we are brought into the family of God, God receives us in as we are. However, he does not then just leave us to our own devices, but he continues a work in us to mold us into the person we should be. Everyone who is received in is received in at different stages of life, and the work of the Spirit may be very different in one person as compared to the next. We must remember this, for the Spirit does not bring us in and make us all immediately mature in all things.

Bear One Another's Burdens - Do You?

Another little devition I gave recently for our Lord's Supper service...

I was scanning through my Bible app, looking at the section that shows me a snapshot view of all of the verses I have highlighted in the past. 

I run across some that always give me grief as I read them and realize how far off the mark I tend to fall. So I figured I would share some of the grief this morning. 

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Phil 2:3-4)

This verse always comes to mind when I view the way Christians deal with each other online. Pretty much every professing Christian fails in this type of area when they deal with other Christians online.
They treat each other horribly – there is no humility – there is no looking to the interests of others – it is all about making the other person look stupid. It is about being right, not kind of humble. 

28 September 2015

Are You Arguing Over Principles or Methods? - Part 1

About ten years ago, I heard a lecture by a pastor that really stuck with me. It is from that lecture that I have gleaned pieces and even stole whole chunks of to use for this article. We are going to be looking at principles and methods, and how we should stop to distinguish which is in our focus when we are approaching a brother or sister in Christ to exhort or admonish them. 

Many people seem to not understand the difference, and so our churches across the land today contain many individuals who are quarrelsome and divisive, and do so under the guise of being zealous for God. They are quick to force their own understanding of an issue upon the conscience of another. 

Many people, when they get new light shed on some doctrine, are quick to want to go out and try to shine that light and shove that understanding upon others, and often time in less than a true loving manner.The internet has become a battle ground of doctrinal fights, where words are thrown out with little to no love of consideration for others. It becomes very impersonal as we just use key strokes to lob words at others with condescending attitudes and often including false assumptions.

Something to Pray For - Without Ceasing

A little Lord's Supper devotional I gave a while back...

I just wanted to share a prayer of David from Psalm 25 that would not be a horrible thing for us to remember and pray for ourselves daily.

To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me. Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame; they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous. Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long. (Psalms 25:1-5 ESV)

I gleaned some tidbits of info on this section from the words of John Calvin, and added some additional comments of my own:

The Psalmist declares at the very outset, that he is not driven here and there, after the manner of the ungodly, but that he directs all his desires and prayers to God alone. Nothing is more inconsistent with true and sincere prayer to God, than to waver and gaze about as the heathen do, for some help from the world, and at the same time to forsake God, or not to betake ourselves directly to his guardianship and protection.