Thursday, August 31, 2017

Devotional on Genesis 13:1-14:24

Genesis 13:1-14:24

It is not always a bad thing to achieve peace by separation. I am not talking about divorce; but I am talking about communities. Abram and Lot were all good; but their people were not. The text does not fault either Abram or Lot. Community growth often comes with trouble. Peace can sometimes be established by some degree of separation.

An important point can be made as we observe that Abram did not accept tribute from the king of Sodom (14:24). God’s salvation in the Old Testament often comes by God’s hand in military victory, deliverance or recovery from near-fatal illness. The people of Sodom experienced God’s salvation (14:20). For them to pay for it would undermine the salvation experience. God’s salvation is freely given; but to have it, it must be accepted as a gift.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Genesis 11:1-12:1

Genesis 11 is all about packing up and moving. There are several reasons people make big moves. At the beginning of the chapter, people made major moves because God had confused their languages. In Genesis 11:31, it was Terah who decided to move to Haran. In Genesis 12:1, God told Abram to make what might have been the same move (Genesis 15:7). Whose idea was it to make this move, Terah’s or Abram’s (by God’s oracle)? This question has implications about what kinds of things motivate people to move. Terah may have moved as a part of the confused-language trouble. Abram might have come along because he was a part of the family; but God had a providential plan for Abram in the move.

Christians often detect evidence of God providentially enabling their moves. They describe their moves as, “God opened a door for us to make this move.”

Whether we believe God acted to locate us in a particular geographical location for his own purposes, or we believe we made the best decision we could when given our circumstances at the time, it is important that we pursue kingdom ministry (missional vocation) for the communities in which we find ourselves.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Devotional on Genesis 9:1-10:32

Genesis 9:1-10:32

There is much to say about these two chapters. We will focus on the covenant of the rainbow.

God established a covenant with Noah’s descendants and with all the animals that he would no longer destroy the earth by flood. God also established a token reminder of this covenant. He indicated that the rainbow would serve as a reminder of the covenant. It was a reminder for God of this covenant. We should not read here that God was in danger of forgetting this covenant; but rather, when the rainbow appears, God participates with humankind in a special way in focused remembrance of the covenant.

This token of remembrance reads very similarly to the time Jesus established the Lord’s Supper as a reminder of the covenant that came about in his death. Jesus indicated that he participates in the special remembrance and what is remembered is the new covenant.
While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom." (Matthew 26:26-29, emphasis mine)
Isaiah refers to this covenant and the prophet describes it as having been broken by Israel.
Whoever flees at the sound of the terror shall fall into the pit; and whoever climbs out of the pit shall be caught in the snare. For the windows of heaven are opened, and the foundations of the earth tremble. (Isaiah 24:18)
God’s covenant is not unconditional. Fidelity to covenant is necessary. Entering into covenant is an event. Keeping covenant is a commitment.

Some other points about today’s reading:
Eber (10:21, 25) is the ancestor from whom the Hebrews inherited their name. They were one of the clans of Shem. By comparison, the Canaanites were descended from Ham (10:6).

A question that can be asked and may be a suggestion for further study is “Why did Noah curse Ham’s fourth son Canaan in 9:25-27?” Why did not Noah curse all four of Ham’s sons? Why did not Noah curse Ham? There are some pretty good answers to these questions but they are beyond the scope of a daily devotional.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Devotional on Genesis 7-8

Genesis 7:1-8:22

As I am apt to do when writing something brief about a Bible reading, I write about features that are particularly interesting and perhaps more often overlooked.

An interesting feature of today’s reading appears in 8:13.
In the six hundred first year, in the first month, on the first day of the month, the waters were dried up from the earth; and Noah removed the covering of the ark and looked, and saw that the face of the ground was dry.
What month was that? It was the first month, Nisan/Abib, and the first day. The writer is using the Jewish calendar to report the date of the beginning of the end of the flood. The Jewish calendar was established in Exodus 12:2 when the Passover was instituted. The date emphasizes the liturgical importance of the flood. The coincidence of the name of Noah’s boat (ark) and the name of the furniture in the tabernacle that represented God’s presence and covenant (ark) is really no coincidence. One is God’s salvation in the flood. The other is God’s salvation in the Exodus. Both are closely tied to covenant (Genesis 6:18; Exodus 25:16). The first day of the first month is also the date the first tabernacle was dedicated (Exodus 40:2).

In New Testament times, the flood and the Exodus were both treated as symbolic of Christian salvation. For example, Peter links God’s patience during Noah’s construction of the ark and his eventual salvation in the flood with Christian baptism. He says,
And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…. (1 Peter 3:17)
Similarly, Paul links God’s salvation in the Exodus with Christian baptism in 1 Corinthians.
I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.

For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 10:1-4; 12:13)
In the above reading, Paul emphasizes two important facts about baptism. Firstly, it is critical that God’s people commit themselves to a life of righteousness or else God’s saving act will not profit them. Secondly, baptism is supposed to link fellow believers together in productive fellowship. Let us commit ourselves today to righteousness and Christian fellowship.

Devotional on Genesis 5

Genesis 5:1-5:32

There are several worthy points that can be made with a technical look at this chapter.

Verse 1 says, “This is the list…” (NRSV). “This is the written account...” (NIV). “This is the document...” (CSB). “This is the roll...” (NET Bible Notes). This verse references an external source that the Genesis author copied. Here is one point that can be made. As we grow to understand the meaning of divine inspiration, our definitions need to be informed by the Scriptures themselves. In the Bible itself, the inspired writers were able to consult other written sources without violating the meaning of inspiration.

The lengths of Enoch’s and Lamech’s lives appear to be symbolic. Enoch lived 365 years (vs. 23). That number matches the number of days in a year. The writer (or the Scroll of the Family of Adam) may be signaling that Enoch had a full life.

Lamech lived 777 years (vs. 31). Biblically, the number seven signals divine completeness. Lamech’s life, it seems, was complete.

The ancient genealogies in the Bible may not necessarily be reported with precision. The meaning of the numbers may be more important than actual associated histories.

Lamech had high hopes for his son Noah. He hoped that Noah would find a way to make farming easier (vs. 29). Noah was a great man; but he didn’t do that. It is important that our children have direction in their lives. Sometimes, it is effective to give them direction when they otherwise have no useful interests. When they (or anyone in our lives) find a good ambition, it is good for us to support them in their efforts.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Devotional Commentary on Luke 1-2

Luke’s prologue (1:1-4) features some several important details that we should keep in mind as we read the rest of this wonderful Gospel.

Luke’s mention of an “orderly account” (vss. 1, 3) betrays an interest in history. Note the date precision of 2:1-2 and 3:1-2. “Orderly” denotes logical order rather than temporal (chronological) order. Much of Lukes account is indeed organized in logical/typological order.

Luke’s mention of “events that have been fulfilled” refers, in Luke, to events that tie themselves verbally to Old Testament passages. Luke does not intend to imply that these Old Testament passages are directly intended to apply to the Gospel setting. Luke lifts the original Old Testament meaning up and extends it to his Gospel context. See “Scripture Fulfillment” in the appendix.

Luke acknowledges that he is aware of other people’s efforts at writing Gospel accounts; but none of them work for the meaning Luke wishes to teach; so he has embarked on his own “orderly account.” Luke was aware of Mark’s Gospel. He was also aware of some of the materials of which Matthew was also aware. None of these materials accomplished what Luke hoped to accomplish; so Luke wrote his own.

One important point here is that all four Gospel writers had their own sermons to preach and some of those agendas don’t overlap. Thus, trying to force the four Gospels into a single parallel account badly undermines the intended points made by each individual writer.

“How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (1:34). This question is not a vow of perpetual virginity, as cool is it is that Mary was a virgin. The important point in this context is that God sent his son. “Son of the Most High” and “ancestor David” emphasizes Kingship. (2 Samuel 7:12-13, 16; Psalm 2:1-7; Luke 2:4, 11; Acts 2:30, for an interesting parallel, see Isaiah 45:1-4 in reference to Cyrus, God’s messiah) Luke is less interested in Joseph’s family than is Matthew.

A quick point can be made about the angels’ song in 2:14. Worshiping God that way invoked Second Temple language. The writers of the New Testament were avid readers of the Second Temple literature (Apocrypha). We would find benefit, if only for background study, to read the Second Temple literature.

Jesus is our example not only in his suffering (Philippians 2:4-8) but also in doing the hard work of labor, schoolwork and character growth (2:40, 52). He was not born with divine wisdom. Everything he knew he had to learn. We gain knowledge the same way—through hard work.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Will they be in heaven?

I want to challenge you, dear reader, to exercise your ability to interpret history and current events theologically and doctrinally.

I begin with a somewhat lengthy reading, with a few highlights. I will observe a few points. Then, I will ask some difficult questions.
Acts 13:13-52 (NRSV)
13 Then Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. John, however, left them and returned to Jerusalem;
14 but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down.
15 After the reading of the law and the prophets, the officials of the synagogue sent them a message, saying, "Brothers, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, give it."
16 So Paul stood up and with a gesture began to speak: "You Israelites, and others who fear God, listen.
17 The God of this people Israel chose our ancestors and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it.
18 For about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness.
19 After he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance
20 for about four hundred fifty years. After that he gave them judges until the time of the prophet Samuel.
21 Then they asked for a king; and God gave them Saul son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, who reigned for forty years.
22 When he had removed him, he made David their king. In his testimony about him he said, "I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after my heart, who will carry out all my wishes.'
23 Of this man's posterity God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised;
24 before his coming John had already proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel.
25 And as John was finishing his work, he said, "What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but one is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of the sandals on his feet.'
26 "My brothers, you descendants of Abraham's family, and others who fear God, to us the message of this salvation has been sent.
27 Because the residents of Jerusalem and their leaders did not recognize him or understand the words of the prophets that are read every sabbath, they fulfilled those words by condemning him.
28 Even though they found no cause for a sentence of death, they asked Pilate to have him killed.
29 When they had carried out everything that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb.
30 But God raised him from the dead;
31 and for many days he appeared to those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, and they are now his witnesses to the people.
32 And we bring you the good news that what God promised to our ancestors
33 he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising Jesus; as also it is written in the second psalm, "You are my Son; today I have begotten you.'
34 As to his raising him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way, "I will give you the holy promises made to David.'
35 Therefore he has also said in another psalm, "You will not let your Holy One experience corruption.'
36 For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, died, was laid beside his ancestors, and experienced corruption;
37 but he whom God raised up experienced no corruption.
38 Let it be known to you therefore, my brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you;
39 by this Jesus everyone who believes is set free from all those sins from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.
40 Beware, therefore, that what the prophets said does not happen to you:
41 "Look, you scoffers! Be amazed and perish, for in your days I am doing a work, a work that you will never believe, even if someone tells you.' "
42 As Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people urged them to speak about these things again the next sabbath.
43 When the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who spoke to them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.
44 The next sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.
45 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy; and blaspheming, they contradicted what was spoken by Paul.
46 Then both Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, "It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you reject it and judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life, we are now turning to the Gentiles.
47 For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, "I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles, so that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.' "
48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and praised the word of the Lord; and as many as had been destined for eternal life became believers.
49 Thus the word of the Lord spread throughout the region.
50 But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, and stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their region.
51 So they shook the dust off their feet in protest against them, and went to Iconium.
52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
This episode is possibly the quintessential case example of the human side of divine inspiration. Paul was surprised that so many Gentiles were interested in hearing about Jesus. He was surprised that the Jews were so jealous of the interest the Gentiles had in what Paul and Barnabas were teaching. Suddenly, Isaiah 42:6; 49:6 took on contemporary meaning (possibly also Acts 22:21). There was no booming voice from heaven telling Paul what to make of this situation. Paul put it together on his own. This episode sheds a very bright light on the meaning of inspiration (see my earlier article on this subject). When God generously gives wisdom, he is inspiring (James 1:5). It is God's breath. He inspires the gifted with wisdom to interpret experiences. Paul interpreted his and Barnabas' experience in Antioch Pisidia as a divine commission to overtly preach directly to Gentiles.

Now. I wish to ask some pointed questions based upon history and current events. May we ask for wisdom from God to interpret these events doctrinally and theologically? Let us try.

Many Christians died by martyrdom during the early days of the Reformation. John Wycliffe was actually not martyred; although this grave was officially desecrated, his bones burned and dispersed into the River Swift. I suspect the point was to deny Wycliffe his part in the future resurrect. After all, the Bible in some places suggests that some remaining bones are required in order to participate in the resurrection. That false conclusion may explain the church's interest in burning those deemed to be heretics. They may have been trying to keep them from being resurrected. I am speculating. Wycliffe's crime was that of translating the Latin Bible into English!

There were several great Christians who were officially burned as martyrs for their roles in translating―and publishing―the Bible in English. These spiritual giants include William Tyndale, John Huss and John Rogers.

Now, here is the really hard question. These guys (and other men and women of faith) who paid the ultimate price for their great faith and ministry―will they be in heaven or hell? There are many today who would answer in an analytical way, like performing a litmus test. "Were they baptized after repenting of their sins? Were they baptized for the right reasons? Were they baptized by immersion?" If we conclude that these people will be in heaven even if they did not follow the technically accurate plan of salvation, then what do we do with the biblical plan of salvation? Do we just discard it so Tyndale can go to heaven?

Reformer Ulrich Zwingli did not approve of the Anabaptists' rejection of infant baptism. The Anabaptists concluded from scripture that only repentant believers should be baptized. Zwingli promoted the practice of executing Anabaptists by drowning. Zwingli gave his approval to execute an important Anabaptist, Felix Manz, by drowning. Manz: heaven or hell? What if he was not baptized by immersion?

One more. This one may be especially difficult to answer.

The movie The Stoning of Soraya M is a true story of an Iranian Muslim woman named Soraya Manutchehri. She was a faithful wife; but her husband was tired of her. He trumped up false charges of infidelity against her and the townsfolk stoned her to death. She maintained her innocence but accepted her fate in the most brave way she could. It is a very disturbing movie.

This righteous Muslim woman Soraya Manutchehri: heaven or hell?

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Genesis 12:1-20

Genesis 12:1-20

God tells Abram to journey through territory that eventually becomes the inheritance of Israel. This oracle may have come to Abram when he still lived in Ur of the Chaldeans or perhaps it came to him after his family had settled in at the place they called Haran. In any case, this journey kicks off God’s plan for Abram to make of him a “great nation” that will be a blessing to “all the families of the earth.”

Similar cases of covenantal language appear in chapters 15 and 17 but God’s statement to Abram in 12:2-3 is central to the whole Bible. It is the Bible’s thesis statement. God planned to make a people for himself through whom he would reach the world. The core thought defines the vocation of God’s people:

In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

It is not the vocation of God’s people to be God’s exclusive people—the only ones who are saved and at the expense of those who, by their very heritage, will never find God’s favor. No. It is the vocation of God’s people to channel God’s favor to the world.

The meaning of that vocation became more evident to the writers of the Bible as they experienced more and more contact with Gentile nations. We will see it in a chilly way in the early days of the nation and during the Assyrian crisis when the kingdom of Israel was destroyed beyond recovery. We will see it in a prominent way when the people of Judah are carried into captivity. We will see it in the days of the Roman oppression. We will see it in the preaching and ministry of Jesus Christ. We will see it as the primary vocation of the church.

Everywhere Abram journeyed he built a monument to Yahweh and he worshiped God. We all have secular lives; but everywhere we go, we should be leaving monuments in people’s minds that testify to the reality and character of God. Do people see God working in me?
Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been fathered by God and knows God. (1 John 4:7, NET)

Friday, August 11, 2017

Promoting Enns' "The Sin of Certainty"

I just started to read Pete Enns' book, The Sin of Certainty. My stack of books "to read" is getting a little tall. (Sorry, Dr. Enns). This book is going to be great! I wish to transcribe a few nuggets from the introductory material in the book. -Neil

Most Christians―I'd be willing to bet, sooner or later, all Christians―have unexpected uh-oh moments that threaten familiar ways of believing and thinking about God, moments that show up without being invited, without a chance to prepare for what's coming and run for cover.

Maybe we've read a book, listened to a podcast, watched Secrets of the Bible Revealed on cable TV or a Disney movie on a plane that introduced instability to our once stable faith. Maybe we've met new people who don't share our ideas about the Bible or God at all, but who are just plain nice and what they say makes sense. Maybe we've experienced a deep loss or an unspeakable tragedy that leaves us questioning everything we ever thought we believed about God, the world, and our place in it.

I believe these uh-oh moments get our attention like nothing else can. In fact, I believe they are God moments. I don't claim to know how it all works, and I've learned the hard way over the years not to think I can speak for God, but I believe uh-oh moments serve a holy purpose―at least they have for me. They help break down the religious systems we create for ourselves that sooner or later block us from questioning, wondering, and, therefore, from growing. (7-8)

When we are held captive to our thinking, moving to what is not known and uncertain is automatically seen as a fearful development. We think true faith is dependent on maintaining a particular "knowledge set" and keeping a firm grasp on a tightly woven network of nonnegotiable beliefs, guarding each one vigilantly, making sure they all stay above the water line no matter how hard the struggle―because if what we "know" sinks, faith sinks right down with it. (17-18)

Dr. Enns writes his books in a very contemporary style. His books are broken up into little bite-sized subchapters―much like blog articles. A reader can pick up the book and literally read for five minutes and not have to back-track to get back into the thought-flow. His writing style is easy-reading even for readers who find it difficult to focus on what they are reading. His books are great serious content packaged in a format acceptable for readers who otherwise obtain most of their "knowledge" from Facebook.