Saturday, July 30, 2011

Help Me Lord...a prayer.





Help me Lord;
To speak your words,


Walk with your strength,


 
Be your light in the darkness—


And hold out your love,           

to a lost and dying world.

Amen.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Call of Levi, Part One

Well, I’ve gotten carried away with this blog…it has grown to a two parter. So for this week I am writing a lesson on what is commonly noted in your Bibles as “The Call of Levi (Matthew).

Luke 5: 27-32

27And after that He went out, and noticed a tax-gatherer named Levi, sitting in the tax office (“tollhouse” in one translation) and He said to him, “Follow Me.”28 And he left everything behind, and rose and began to follow Him. 29 And Levi gave a big reception for Him in his house; and there was a great crowd of tax-gatherers and other people who were reclining at the table with them. 30 And the Pharisees and their scribes began grumbling at His disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with the tax-gathers and sinners?”31 And Jesus answered and said to them, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick.” 32 “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

First a little on the city of Jerusalem in the region locally known as Judea, and known to the Roman Empire as Palestine. Jerusalem was the city of the great Temple…the center of the world to the Jews of the region and the Diaspora. Jerusalem was not a trade city, but a religious center. The entire city existed on and for the Temple. According to James Dunn’s book Beginning from Jerusalem (2009) he writes, “Apart from the royal palaces and garrison, more or less all trade and commerce would be directly or indirectly dependent on the Temple.” (p.175) So we need to understand that this is a city filled with those who 1.worked for the Temple, and 2.those called to travel there by Torah, and finally 3.those who made a living directly from the influx of travelers…How about envisioning Vatican City in Rome? Or another extreme would be Washington DC (on the secular end of the scale). Those who came to Jerusalem came to worship or make money…or both…and I think an educated guess would be that being a Pharisee, teacher of the Law, or a scribe within the Temple must have been a pretty good living!

Now how about tax collectors within the region of Palestine? A note first on being Jewish in the Roman Empire; Judaism was a ‘protected’ religion in the Roman Empire. More than that, Jews were exempt from serving in the Roman army…but they could bid on local tax-collection jobs within Palestine…especially the lucrative “tourist” routs in and around Jerusalem. I found this quote in Gundry’s Survey of the New Testament (2003) where he writes of tax-collectors:

Among the Jews, tax collectors—traditionally called “publicans”—became special objects of class hatred. They collected poll taxes, property taxes, road use taxes, and sales taxes. Other Jews despised the tax collectors because they handled currency with blasphemous pagan inscriptions and iconography and cooperated with Roman overlords. These overlords auctioned the job of collection taxes to the lowest bidder, that is, to the one who bid the lowest rate of commission for a contract. A collector would gather not only the tax and his commission, but also what ever he could pocket illegally. Bribery of tax collectors by the rich increased the financial burden of those who were barely scraping by. As a result, the masses deeply resented the collectors. (p 33)
So you see, it is really is true that Jewish tax collectors were thought to be traitors to the Jewish people and down right crooks! But I’m sure they liked to think of themselves as merely good businessmen. Yet as Jews, did they long to be forgiven or to be accepted within the walls of the great Temple by the priests? I’m sure they knew full-good-and-well they were considered “un-clean” and looked at with contempt “…or even like this tax-gatherer…” (Luke 18:11) the Pharisee said in another parable.

But remember now, that one had to make a living, and if the only major industry is religion and the religious travel industry (hotel, restaurant, souvenirs, and suppliers of sacrificial animals, and of course, money changers)…what else could you do for a living? (other than to be a beggar...and there were LOTS of them)

And one more point I’d like to share to ‘color’ the background, if you will; and that is being called by a Rabbi. If I understand clearly, both from reading and conversations; Rabbi’s generally chose children to train. And being “chosen”, or “called” was a great, great honor. Adults were rarely ever called by a rabbi…imagine being asked by the President of the United States to head a cabinet position…I’m thinking you’d jump at the chance! (depending on the administration…?)

Now, the lead-in to this lesson; Jesus is now known in the region for being a teacher/preacher/healer in “…the synagogues of Judea.” (Luke 4:44) So in the suburbs of Jerusalem, Jesus has a following of those wanting to learn, or to see what he would do next; Luke 5:15 says “But the news about Him was spreading even farther, and great multitudes were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses.” It is clear that the Pharisees and teachers of the law were trying to establish what was going on; what kind of rabbi was this Jesus. At this time Jesus heals the paralyzed man, and shows his authority as the “Son of Man” (the common term for the Messiah); and the whole crowd “…were all seized with astonishment and began glorifying God; and they were filled with fear, saying “We have seen remarkable things today.” (Luke 5:26)

Now how mind-blowing for the following crowd to see Jesus on a walk to the next stop on his preaching tour of the area, come up to a “tollhouse” and instead of paying a road tax; “call” the man responsible for the collection of Roman tax and the local “hustler” of the masses! Now can you understand why someone like Levi, would throw a shindig at his place for all his fellow “tax-collectors!” You understand in the company of thieves, there is not so much friendship but comradeship of a shared profession…no-one else would spend time with them. But here, one of their compadres now, unbelievably, has been chosen by this famous rabbi, to be one of his followers. He now gets a chance at a totally new life! To learn scripture! A full and rich education! Can you see his utter joy! He gets the chance to be no-longer hated by his fellow Jews! Levi is now a “disciple.”

But the Pharisees following, now on the out-side looking in; gripe to the other disciples of Jesus “Why do you eat and drink with the tax-gatherers and sinners?” How outraged they must have been…couldn’t have this rabbi picked a more “appropriate” student? This is more than just a ritual purity or someone not committed to Pharisaic rules. According to John Nolland (1989) in Word Biblical Commentary, the Pharisee’s use of the term “sinner” here is more broad condemnation. He writes:

The term [sinner] should be understood sociologically as identifying those publicly known to be unsavory types who lived beyond the edge of respectable society…Pharisaism had strong separatist tendencies, and because of the prominence in Pharisaic piety of food and ritual cleanliness rules, Pharisees would only accept hospitality from one another. But analogy with the avoiding of communicable ritual uncleanness, the Pharisees considered it necessary also to avoid contamination from contact with the morally suspect elements for Jewish society (and Gentiles). (p.246)


And the final shot from Jesus himself, is a reminder that he is reaching out to the “sick” to make them well…to call sinners…those outside not only ‘polite’ society, but outside the teaching of the Temple…the house of God! Darrell Bock (1994) reminds us that “Jesus’ reply makes it clear that recovery, not quarantine, is the message of his ministry.” And that “…the unrighteous are aware of their need, whereas the unrighteous “righteous” are not.” (p. 108)

More next time.

References:

Darrell Bock (1994) Luke. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Robert Gundry (2003) A Survey of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

James D.G. Dunn (2009) Beginning From Jerusalem. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

John Nolland (1989) Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 35A, Luke 1-9:20. Dallas, TX: Word Books Publisher.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

On Rainbow's...again.

In my "too buisy" life of not enough sleep, I am again posting a blog from two years ago...hope you enjoy...again.
(I'll give you the footnote stuff later if you want it...I didn't do that the first time...sorry)
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From the Targums of Palestine on the Book of Genesis (see Genesis 9:11-17)


And I will establish my covenant with you, and will not again cause all flesh to perish by the waters of a flood; and there shall not again be a flood to destroy the earth.

 
And the Lord said, this is the sign of the covenant which I establish between My Word and between you and every living soul that is with you to the generations of the world. I have set My Bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of the covenant between My Word and the earth.

 
And it shall be that when I spread out My glorious cloud over the earth the bow shall be seen in the day (time) while the sun is not sunk (or hidden) in a cloud. And I will remember My covenant.

 
…And the bow shall be in the cloud, and I will look upon it, to remember the everlasting covenant between the Word of the Lord and every living soul of all flesh that is on the earth.

 
Let’s think a little about rainbows for a minute. Now they definitely bring out the “wow” factor. Any time you see one, you automatically say “wow”…Now think back a moment to Noah, and the generations after Noah. I am sure for a while, whenever Noah or his family saw a dark cloud, they wondered, “Is this it?” or “Will it (the flood) happen again?” And yes, it would rain, and like here in Colorado, I’m sure some rains were “gully washers”. The terrifying flashes of lightning and the rolling booms of the thunder that you can feel. Yet, as the storm passes, and the rain is just beginning to subside, sunlight breaks through the clouds and suddenly in the distance with dark clouds behind it; a spectacular, glowing bow of luminous color. A “token” the Targums say, the NASB says a “sign”; God remembering an everlasting covenant.


Now, we live under a “New Covenant” and just as everlasting.

“And it was now about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour, the sun being obscured;” (Luke 23:45)

 
Yet we now have a new “token” an empty cross, the more perfect “sign” that the dark clouds of the storm frame, showing the beauty of the victory, and highlighted by the pure bright light of God shining for us.
Yes, the storms we have to live through are dark, and sometimes we think that they will never end; we ask “God will you deliver me?” Yet on one lonely hill, with dark clouds behind it, the victory was won. So we know and we have this confidence, not only an empty cross, but an empty tomb…the ultimate storm was conquered…Death!
The Apostle Paul wrote,
 “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death: in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do; forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:10-14)


So, we can press on with the “token” of the empty cross before us always; and not just after the storm. Now that is the ultimate “wow” factor.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Deposed Royalty...Revisited

The sermon today highlighted our pastors recent return from the country of Rwanda, were he highlighted the healing taking place after the horrible genocide there. I am revisiting this particular post from last year where I wrote on the dichotomy of humanity...the greatness and vileness as pointed out by Blase Pascal.
It is dangerous to explain too clearly to man how like he is to the animals without pointing out his greatness. It is also dangerous to make too much of his greatness without his vileness. It is still more dangerous to leave him in ignorance of both, but it is most valuable to represent both to him. Man must not be allowed to believe that he is equal either to animals or to angels, nor to be unaware of either, but he must know both. (Pensee’s 121/418)
There is an amazing greatness in humanity, yet there is also an utter depravity. We so clearly have the capacity for astounding creativity; in the arts—musical and visual; painting and sculpture; don’t forget the sciences—Physics and Biology, and of course Philosophy…all in all the level of our inventiveness is astounding.

Yet the study of history shows over the thousands and thousands of years, the horrid level of depravity we have inflicted on our fellow man. The wars and slavery, subjugation and tyranny; the slaughter of innocents and genocide…horrid massacres of fellow human beings for no other reason that they did not fit the majority’s measure of worth.

Societies have created systems of worship based on gods that are merely mega-humanity in an effort to give the general populace something to hold to…but to no avail. Only a God that is above; infinite yet personal can be the source of absolutes mankind can seek for true salvation.
Frances Schaeffer writes of the strength of the Christian world view this way:
This strength rested on God being an infinite-personal God and his speaking in the Old Testament, in the life and teaching of Jesus Christ…He had spoken in ways people could understand, Thus the Christians not only had knowledge about the universe and mankind the people cannot find out by themselves, but they had absolute, universal values by which to live...(p. 22)

The Apostle Paul points out in Romans 1:20 that God’s invisible attributes are clearly seen…But instead we make images of the creation and worship them rather than giving worship to the Creator. In today’s world we turn the nurture given to children by their parents into nothing more than behavior necessary for survival.

And on the other end of the spectrum, we take the Judeo/Christian ideals this country was founded on and change them into a evolutionary change pointing to man as the measure of all things…humanity is passing up into a higher level of existence.

Yet in any thorough study of history it is plain to see the depravity of ages gone by is mirrored in daily life of the 21st century. There has merely been a change in the technology. Man is as fallen today as he was during the Roman Empire.

Yet what of the horror we inflict upon each other…And what of the sacrifices and blessings given to some? How do we reconcile these differences.
As Blase Pascal writes:


What sort of freak then is man? How novel, how monstrous, how chaotic, how paradoxical, how prodigious! Judge of all things, feeble earthworm, repository of truth, sink of doubt and error, glory and refuse of the universe! (Pensee’s 131/434)


Can we see the imago Dei in people? The very image and likeness of God in the humanity around us…but also can we recognize the fallen-ness in ourselves and others. Were it not for the grace given to us by God for our salvation…this is what we are called to give to one another, Grace.

But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 6:44)

Therefore, however you want people to treat you, so treat them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12)

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. (Ephesians 2:8)





Peter Kreeft(1993) Christianity for Modern Pagans: Pascal’s Pensees. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press

Frances Schaeffer (1976) How Should We Then Live. Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

"Music, Fireworks, and Joy"

I can hear the music in living color.


When I read the Bible, it sings to me in a glorious Technicolor symphony orchestra. I can hear the music of God’s grace. It paints for me a picture of how life was, is, and how it should be; colored by His love, mercy, justice, and holiness.

I feel fireworks.

When I read Pascal for the first time I honestly felt as if fireworks were lighting off around my heart. It was as if golden sparks were lighting up inside of me. Blase Pascal’s writings speak to me of a passionate love of God. That is the true fire of the Holy Spirit.

Now I have joy!

Reading the foundational writings of Philosophy…Socrates, Plato, Aristotle…what joy; I can see what I’ve been missing my whole life. It is so exhilarating for me to read works that I had been denied; now open, accessible, and understandable. This is the greatest Joy, and given as a gift from God.

Yes I know I need to be a grown-up…but inside I am a child set free and chasing butterflies across a meadow; laughing with pure joy.

“Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me; O Lord, be thou my helper.” Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing; Thou hast loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness; that my soul may sing praise to Thee, and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to Thee forever. (Psalm 30:10-12)

Sunday, July 3, 2011

"Try It Before You Buy It?" and a 300lb Gorilla

I’d like to share a link to an article written by Greg Koukl and published in Salvo Magazine, Issue 17, Summer 2011; titled “Try before You Buy”; about the pitfalls and dangers of pre-marital sex. This article is an adaptation of his Stand to Reason booklet of the same name available at http://www.str.org./

Now-a-days I think that Christians and non-Christians alike have a problem with the idea of something being a sin. Even the word SIN is passed over and re-worded to perhaps make it more palatable. I hear within Christian circles the word sin changed to “mistake” or wrong-doing, or error in judgment. But sexual sin is just never discussed…it is ignored; it is the amazing 300 lb gorilla in the room.

I personally have the hugely painful experience of being “hit-on” by a professing Christian. But this should not have happened if we get our heads out of the sand and teach loud and clear the biblical mandates for chastity, purity, and the fact that sex is ONLY to be entered into by a man and woman in the covenant of marriage.

We are in a war against the world, and the 24/7 bombardment of media…TV, magazines, billboards, and all the endless adds on the internet which promote sexuality. In the book The God Question, J.P. Moreland addresses the effect of media on men from an article by Michael Levine in Psychology Today. J.P. analyses the article this way;

Levine points out that for all of human history prior to the automobile and television, the average man was exposed to very few people in general or extremely beautiful women in particular. Limited in travel and with no television, most men learned to relate to women on a basis other than beauty. But today, says Levine, the average man sees hundreds of absolutely gorgeous women each night on television shows and commercials and gradually loses interest in less beautiful women. These findings are not hard to believe. What is surprising, and relevant to our discussion, is his explanation for this loss of interest. It is not that such exposure to television makes men think their partners are less physically attractive. Instead, men think, My partner is fine, but why settle for “fine” when there are so many beautiful women out there! I can do a lot better than this! (p.175)


In our empty lives we are driven to and lured by pop-psychology to fulfill ourselves; and high on that list according to all you see in the media is sexual fulfillment. This idea that we are repressed and inhibited is a miss-interpretation, according to C.S. Lewis, in The Problem of Pain, where he writes;

…The effect of Psychoanalysis on the public mind, and in particular, the doctrine of repressions and inhibitions. Whatever these doctrines really mean, the impression they have actually left on most people is that the sense of Shame is a dangerous and mischievous thing. We have labored to overcome that sense of shrinking, that desire to conceal, which either Nature herself or the tradition of almost all mankind has attached to cowardice, unchastity, falsehood, and envy. We are told to ‘get things out into the open’, not for the sake of self-humiliation, but on the grounds that these ‘things’ are very natural and we need not be ashamed of them. (p.391)


Do we really think its a “wink-wink-nudge-nudge” joke the struggle even Augustine had over chastity?

Let me turn this another way; when you chase after your own need for sex, who are you hurting? You are not just indulging yourself; you are using another human being as an object, nothing more. You devalue, objectify, and outright use a person made in the Imago Dei as a means to an end—your sexual satisfaction. There is no “romance” about it, no matter what the songs, movies, books all try to tell you other wise. C.S Lewis writes;

A recovery of the old sense of sin is essential to Christianity. Christ takes it for granted that men are bad. Until we really feel this assumption of His to be true, though we are part of the world He came to save, we are not part of the audience to whom His words are addressed. (p.392)


So without an understanding of the sinfulness of sin, especially sexual sin, you can see how we devalue Jesus’ sacrifice into nothing more than a story that may make you cry, but in the end you dry your tears and walk away unchanged.





C.S. Lewis (2002). The Complete C.S Lewis Signature Classics. (HaperSanFrancisco)

J.P. Moreland (2009) The God Question. Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers