Category Archives: Bible

Ezekiel’s temple

Does anybody else ever wonder what Ezekiel’s vision of a temple is all about? Every year in my reading I come to the end of the book of Ezekiel and read the description of Ezekiel’s temple and wonder again what it’s all about. It’s difficult to wade through because my version uses cubits which requires mathematical calculation into something I can understand. In fact I’ve started jotting modern measurements in the margin to make the reading easier next time!

As far as I can tell no one credibly claims that such a temple has ever been built.  So why then are  9 chapters (Ez 40-48) devoted to it? Is it something that is supposed to be built some day? There are no commands to anyone to do so.

Last year I looked at a commentary that had a write up on it. That author acknowledged that no temple like it had ever been built. He noted that it focused mostly on horizontal layout and didn’t even give vertical dimensions for anything but the gates, nor did it mention much about furnishings, or useage. He held a symbolic view of the temple as opposed to a literal view. He opined that therefore the whole 9 chapters was speaking to us about sacred spaces and their importance. Er, maybe, but what exactly is it telling us about sacred spaces and their importance??? Unfortunately he didn’t elaborate.

This year I decided to do a lttle more research and did a web search, specifically on images. Right away some interesting sites popped up. Paul Jablonowski has an online book Sons to Glory . I don’t know what the rest of the book is about but there is one chapter with pictures of a scale model of Ezekiel’s temple that was built by the author after much study of the passage.

Another was a page entitled “Ezekiel’s temple” at Lambert Dolphin’s site (which seems to be off-line at the moment)  and a third was “Will Another Jewish Temple Be Built?”.  These sites offered a much more intriguing view of these chapters beyond merely a vague notion of sacred spaces.  They argue for a literal interpretation, that is, they see it as a plan for a temple that will be built some day, probably by the Messiah, probably during the Millenium.

This too brings up questions such as what is the purpose of all the meat hooks and tables and sacrifice equipment? Would there be sacrifices again? Why? This temple also has windows, unlike any previous temple.

Here’s a new site: Ezekiel’s Temple  which has a cool video tour too. They seem to think the outer court will be lined with restaurants! Hmmm….

 

The measurements given are good enough to construct models, even though it seems that there is not much agreement on exactly what this temple is or when or where it is to be built.

 

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Oblivious to God’s provision, love, and authority

A friend working in a formerly communist country in Europe, recently made this comment:

English camp this past week was a great treat for me – getting out in the woods, teaching, and spending time praying and sharing the gospel with young people who are oblivious to God’s provision, love, and authority.  It nearly bowls me over to realize how lost this country is.

I work at the opposite end of the earth and was just thinking a similar  thing, that so many people do live as though they were oblivious to God’s provision, love, and authority. Here the problem is not communism. In fact, everyone here has to have a religion by government mandate. Most consider themselves followers of a certain prophet though a significant minority claim to be followers of Jesus. Here they all believe in God but it often seems to be more of a preventive belief, ie do certain rituals just in case so that God won’t be angry and send disaster. It seems that in all religions there are a number of people who in essence rewrite their religions to suit themselves. One prophet follower said that she didn’t want to study her religion too much because the more you know the more you are responsible to do.  Another friend told me that recently some in her village church have been challenging those who oppose the use of black magic by saying things like “How do you know we should do such and so? How many times have you been to heaven and back?”

I was in my home country a few months ago and it was shocking to me how commonly accepted it is now to not only use profanity in the media but to openly mock people who believe in God and to mock even God Himself. Even some who claim to be Christians seem to have their own ideas of “God”, they in essence create a god according to their liking and not according to what He has revealed in Scripture.

The internet is full of websites, Youtube videos,  and commentary by people who don’t seem to have made much of an effort to study the Bible themselves but yet wax eloquent on how it is all fiction and how organized religion  is just a racket to control people. Instead they hold up other ideas that have far less concrete evidence for them and declare them as fact.

All of the above are oblivious to God’s provision, love, and authority. All of them show a profound ignorance of the Bible, from the formerly communist Europeans to the functionally illiterate Asian peasants to the highly literate but Biblically-ignorant internet bloggers and writers  of the English-speaking world.

Is the problem functional illiteracy? If everyone were literate and had the Bible in a language they could understand, would they all believe?  If people worked hard to broadcast radio programs and to bring Bibles into communist lands for people to read, would all believe? Never before have so many Bibles and helps in so many forms – written, audio, paper, digital – been available to the average person in the English-speaking world. Do all believe?  Many do believe and delight in being able to study God’s Word in such depth. But not all. Indeed, perhaps never before has there been such public scorn for God as there is now.

Jesus explained our condition to Nicodemus in John 3 like this:

19     “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.      20     “For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. ”

We all start out like that. For most of us the problem is not that we can’t read, not that we don’t have access to a Bible but that we simply don’t want to know. The problem is, we don’t want to acknowledge that our deeds are evil, we want to think we are good. We reject God’s authority – we want to write our own rules according to our own desires. We think we are the ones who order the world and provide by our own efforts. And we like to think that love, especially divine love, means uncritical acceptance of any and all behavior – even though we ourselves would never think of  “loving” our own children that way.

We are experts in coming up with all kinds of excuses and we especially like to blame other people – Christianity is the religion of the colonizer, the evil capitalists, and the evil West. The institutional Church is corrupt and has been used to control people. There are too many hypocrites in the church, too many abusive clergy.  All those accusations have some truth to them. But it was not God who commanded us to colonize, to be corrupt or to control other people, nor to be hypocrites, or to abuse others. He didn’t ask us to believe in an organization, or in people who say they are religious. Instead He has  commanded us each and individually to repent and believe the gospel. That is, to repent and to trust in what God has done for us, namely that Jesus Christ who was perfectly sinless died and has atoned for our sin, appeasing God’s wrath against our sin thus making it possible for us to have eternal life and fellowship with God Himself. Now THAT is a good deal!

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Christians, buck up!

Bamboo- the more you cut it, the more it grows.

As I have traveled and talked with a lot of people in the first of my worlds during the last couple of months, many have expressed concern over the way things are going in this country, not just politically and economically but more specifically they find a growing intolerance of the Christian faith. Many feel fearful thinking about what may lie ahead. But today I was challenged that we need to buck up, because we serve a mighty God who is perfectly capable of providing for His own.

Today in Sunday school there was a guy from China speaking. He was apparently raised as an atheist as most Chinese are now days. He said he enjoyed reading western literature (for college?). He noticed there were a lot of quotes from the Bible and references to Jesus in the  literature he was reading. He became curious about the Bible and wanted to get a copy to read. But they had been destroyed during the cultural revolution of 1967-77 and he couldn’t even find a copy in the library. Eventually he did get ahold of an old beat up Bible from a friend, one which had survived the cultural revolution. He read it and began to wonder if maybe there really was a God. He then came in contact with some Christians in one of the Three-Selves church (the gov’t official church) and he became a Christian. A few years later he went to seminary, a Three Selves (3S) church seminary in Nanjing and also studied abroad. Later he became a professor at a seminary and taught for nearly a decade.

There are two kinds of churches in China, the official government sponsored 3S Church (about 15 million people) and the house churches (about 60-70 million). The 3S stands for Self-governing, Self-supporting, Self-propagating. It sounds good but the problem is that it is controlled by communism.

He said that on the surface the 3S church may look to Amerian tourists to be “free” and very similar to American churches with choirs, etc. But the difference is that the 3S churches are government controlled. The government decides who can attend seminary and who can be ordained and even who can be baptized. He said that in the 1990’s came what is called the “reconstruction of theology” movement in the 3S seminaries. It basically changed two things 1) justification by faith and 2) authority of Scripture.

According to this movement, all religions must be compatible with socialist society, and must not be exclusive. So instead of preaching that mankind is sinners and needs to be justified by faith they must preach that the important thing is to be nice to other people. In essence they created a new doctrine: man is justified by love.

The other thing is that they would teach that the Bible is just human words. They are not allowed to preach from Revelation or about the judgment, and not too much about sin.

Anything sounding familiar? It struck me as he talked that perhaps that is where this country is also going – to a centrally controlled or government controlled church, dictating what can and cannot be preached, moving towards a theology of justification by “love” with ridicule, harassment and possibly even persecution for those who do not conform or who believe the Bible is God’s authoratative Word.

He said that he realized that teaching went against the clear teaching of the Bible and eventually he decided that he had to stay true to Scripture and leave the 3S church, and his job. He began meeting in his house with 4 other believers. Eventually they were cramming 60-70 people into their small living room! They divided and became two and those two also eventually divided until now there are 13. He said they focus on Bible training, worship and prayer. They don’t have buildings and they don’t have complex structure.

He also told me later that because of his Hebrew and Greek background he is helping with the new Chinese Standard Bible translation that is being done in simplified Mandarin. The New Testament is now available and the Old Testament is in process.

He didn’t say much about persecution other than to say that it seems less now than it had been in the recent past. When questioned, he said that yes they are monitored, their phones and emails are monitored. He said small groups may stay under the wire as long as they stay small but once a group gets to 100 people or more it gets a lot of attention from the authorities.

One of his companions told me that he doesn’t like to speak about his own persecution, he doesn’t like to think of it as a big deal. But she said he had spent time in prison because he started writing articles against the reconstruction of theology movement. He was also a leader of a group of home churches. When he leaves home he has to always be prepared to possibly not be able to come back. She said he did not call his family on this trip because their phone will be monitored. (I think he will be speaking at a conference next week in Chicago). But his attitude is that he will not be fearful because the God of the universe takes care of him. He will not fear the authorities because he is on the right side and they are the ones in danger.

It is a real encouragement to me to hear Chinese believers like him telling of their ministry and their desire to continue to follow the Lord despite the harassment, and even threat of persecution and imprisonment. I find it humbling and at the same time immensely encouraging and challenging. They have survived communist persecution and thrived. So come on, folks, let’s buck up! Our brothers witness that God is taking care of His children in China. And that same God can certainly take care of His children in this country too, no matter what happens!

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Bibles, Bibles, and more Bibles

I am back in the US for a couple of months. Yesterday I was hanging around at a Barnes & Noble waiting for a friend. Although they are not a Christian bookstore they had an amazing number of Bibles. I didn’t have any paper with me so just jotted down what I could on the back of a receipt. I got the major ones  – but the list is not exhaustive. Here’s the list:

Transformation Study Bible

Apologetics Study Bible

Chronological Study Bible

KJV/ESV/NKJV/NIV/NLT Study Bibles

Archeological Study Bible

Inductive Study Bible

Application Study Bible

Scofield Study Bible

Ryrie Study Bible

MacArthur Study Bible

Quest Study Bible

Master Study Bible

Essential Study Bible

Teen Study Bible

Stewardship Study Bible

Woman’s Study Bible

Childrens’ Study Bible

American Patriot’s Study Bible

ESV Minister’s Bible

Green Bible

Life Application Bible

African Heritage Bible

Dead Sea Scrolls Bible

Catholic Bible

Catholic Teen Bible

Life Recovery Bible

Expanded Bible

Devotional Bible (Lucado)

Hope for Today Bible (Osteen)

Student Bible

Couples’ Bible

Moms’ Bible

Baby Keepsake Bible

Fire

Everyday Life Bible (Joyce Meyer)

Notetaker’s Bible

Sportsman’s Bible

Stockcar racing Bible

The Message

Life with God Bible (Foster, Willard et al)

Bloom Bible

In addition they had “plain” Bibles of at least the following versions:

KJV, NKJV, NIV, NAB, NLT, NRSV, CEV, ESV, Amplified, LB, Good News (TEV), Philipps, Berkley, TNIV, Jerusalem. Surprisingly, there were no plain NASB. And in the used book section I found a mint condition illustrated Reader’s Digest Condensed version!

I am overwhelmed.

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God’s immense and unfailing grace

Here is a wonderful story of God’s immense and unfailing grace as He takes one born cursed and makes them blessed.

Ruth the Moabitess

Anton Bosch

The history of the Moabites is filled with immorality, seduction, lust and incest.

The nation was born out of the incestuous relationship between Lot’s oldest daughter and himself after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19). Lot’s descendants would not be known by his name, but as the Moabites and the Ammonites. These two nations had a similar birth and history and are often mentioned together as the cause of Israel’s unfaithfulness to the Lord.

It was Balak, king of Moab, who hired Balaam to curse the people of God. And when that did not work, Balaam instructed the Moabite women to seduce the men of Israel, lead them to worship their idols and so bring God’s judgment on the people of Israel (Revelation 2:14). Because of this, twenty-four thousand Israelites were killed by the plague (Numbers 25:9) and the Moabites were forever banned from the assembly of the Lord’s people.

A few hundred years later Solomon would marry, amongst others, Moabite women (1Kings 11:2). Once again, these women would seduce Solomon to worship their false gods and to erect high places for them (1Kings 11:7). Solomon’s relationship with the descendants of Lot and his subsequent worship of their idols would lead directly to the division of the Kingdom into the northern (Israel) and the southern (Judah) tribes (1Kings 11.32-34).

Once again a liaison with the descendants of Lot would prove to be the downfall of Israel. And once again Moab would use the same seduction of Lot’s daughters and Balaam to lead Israel to worship idols and to incur the wrath of God. No wonder the Lord banned them from the congregation for ever.

In the book of Nehemiah we come across Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite (Nehemiah 2:10). A Horonite is a native of Horoniam, a city of Moab (Jeremiah 48:3-4). Yet again, the Moabites and the Ammonites would seek the downfall of the people of Israel. Sanballat used every trick in the book to discourage Nehemiah in his work and when mocking, attacks and blackmail did not work they resorted to their old and proven trickery.

Sanballat tried to lure Nehemiah into an unholy alliance, just as Moab had done on previous occasions (Nehemiah 6:2). Fortunately, Nehemiah saw through his scheme and would not even meet with the enemy. When this did not work the Moabites tried to tempt Nehemiah to sin by entering the Temple (Nehemiah 6:13), in the hope that the Lord would judge Nehemiah, as he had the people of Israel. This too did not work.

But just when it appeared that Moab would fail in his seduction, we read that quite a few Israelites had married Moabites and Ammonites (Nehemiah 13:3, 23). Once again this mixed multitude would degrade the values of the Lord’s people so that many of their children could not speak the language of Judah but had adopted the language and customs of the infiltrators (Nehemiah 13:24).

Even worse, the High Priest’s son married Sanballat’s (the Moabite) daughter. Over and over, Moab would find every opportunity to infiltrate the people of God and to draw them away from serving Yahweh. Fortunately, Nehemiah was ever alert and dealt appropriately with each occurrence of the corruption: “So I contended with them and cursed them, struck some of them and pulled out their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, “You shall not give your daughters as wives to their sons, nor take their daughters for your sons or yourselves. “Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? Yet among many nations there was no king like him, who was beloved of his God; and God made him king over all Israel. Nevertheless pagan women caused even him to sin. “Should we then hear of your doing all this great evil, transgressing against our God by marrying pagan women?” (Nehemiah 13:25-27).

However, when Nehemiah turned his back, the High Priest went as far as to vacate a room in the temple for Tobiah the Ammonite. The High Priest had brought one of the leaders of Ammon and an enemy of Israel right into the temple when they were not even allowed amongst the Lord’s people, let alone live in the Lord’s house! (Nehemiah 13:4-9).

Can you see how the flesh and the enemy will find every opportunity to infiltrate the church and the life of the believer? We cannot allow these things the least opportunity to get a foothold in our lives – they only have one agenda – the destruction of the people of God.

The history of Moab seeking the destruction of Israel and Judah spans the entire history of Israel in the Land, from the exodus, to Israel’s zenith, and finally to the return from captivity. The seduction, schemes and infiltration is unceasing.

But right in the middle of the story we find this woman “Ruth the Moabitess” (Ruth 2:2). Not only does she come to live in Israel, but she marries a prominent Hebrew. And as if that is not enough, she becomes the great-grandmother of David the King and an ancestor of Jesus (Matthew 1:5). Why did God allow this when He Himself banished all Moabites from the congregation? Surely Ruth posed the same danger to the welfare of the People as every other Moabite and surely she should have been condemned with the rest of them?ruth-glean

No. Once again we have an illustration of God’s immense and unfailing grace. Ruth had forsaken her people and her gods and had unconditionally clung to the Lord and His people (Ruth 2:16,17). Once Ruth turned to the Lord, He graciously received her, forgave her past and removed the curse that had hung over her. Not only did the Lord accept her, but He included her and used her as though she had always been an Israelite. It was as though her past and ancestry did not exist.

In the same way the Lord still receives each one who genuinely turns to him and who turns their backs on their idols and their past. He receives us unreservedly, wipes away our past and removes the curse that hung over us. Just like Ruth, He not only allows us to participate in the blessings of His people, but He even uses us and incorporates us fully in His work and His plan. He treats us as though we were always His children and as though there never was a time when we were His enemies and banished from His presence.

Oh what marvelous grace! Ruth is no longer the Moabitess, but she is the ancestor of the Lord Jesus! Likewise you need no longer be known as the sinner, addict, abuser, or whatever you were before, and you can bear His name – Christian.

From: http://www.antonbosch.com/Articles/English%202008Ruth%20the%20Moabitess.html

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Lessons from Job

Recapping the story, Satan saw Job, the righteous man. In fact it was God who brought it up “Have you considered my servant Job? There’s nobody like him on earth. He’s blamess, upright, fears Me and turns away from evil.”

Satan said, “Of course he does, because You have blessed him and made him rich and prosperous. Try taking that away and see how faithful he is!”

God gives him permission to do so but with limitations, ie he can’t harm Job himself. So in the course of a day Job loses all his livestock (his wealth) and all his children. Of course he is in shock and sorrow but he still acknowledges God as sovereign and the source of all, and worships Him.

God again pointsjob-boils out to Satan that Job remains faithful and righteous despite undeserved misfortune. Satan asks to touch him physically, sure that he will curse God. God again grants permission, with limits – he cannot take Job’s life. So Job gets covered with boils.

Lesson 1: God puts limits on what Satan can do to us.

Lesson 2: Suffering is not just about us. There is a cosmic aspect to it.

I once had a large twin boil in a place where those who need to sit a lot can least afford it. I can testify to the exquisite pain. But to have them from the soles of your feet to the crown of your head????!!! Job is in such a state that his wife advises him to curse God and die. Yet Job says we should accept all that God gives us, not only blessing but also adversity.

Lesson 3: All that happens, good and bad, is allowed by God.

Job’s  three friends come to comfort him but they are so appalled at his condition that they weep and tear their robes and throw dust in the air. They sit there in silence for a week. Then in chapter 3 Job begins to speak. He is in despair, in pain, despairing of life itself. His friends begin to answer him one by one. At first they gently remind him of God’s justice and how He punished evil. Job answers that he is innocent.

They come back a bit stronger and say that God knows all and is just and He blesses the righteous and punishes the wicked. Job agrees that God is just but still declares his innocence and wants to defend his case before God.

The friends get more annoyed at his protestations of innocence and come back accusing him of wrong doing and saying he needs to repent. Job again protests that he is innocent and goes over how good his life was before and how he lived upright before God and men and how humiliating it is now. He again longs to be able to present his case before God.

So Job’s three friends were no help. Their answer was that God punishes evil. Therefore Job must have done evil and should repent of it.

Lesson 4: Man thinks suffering is punishment from God. (but that’s not the whole picture – see below.)

There was also a fourth guy present, Elihu, who seemed not so well known by Job and his friends. So he waits patiently until the others have had their say. Elihu gives a long rebuke to Job and his friends. He says that it is wrong to blame God for being unjust. God is compassionate. In fact He uses pain and suffering to warn men, to keep them back from the pit. He chastens men with pain, He reminds men what is right.

Lesson 5: God is just. He is also compassionate. He uses suffering  to warn us and to remind us of what is right so that we will not go to eternal destruction.

And the God speaks. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? … Are you able to command the lightening? … Are you able to lead the constellations in space?”

Who can answer back to God? Who can instruct Him? Can we tell HIm a better way to run things? His ways are unsearchable. His knowledge beyond our ability to grasp.

Lesson 6: God is totally and absolutely beyond what man can comprehend. “Sovereign” does not begin to cover it!

Lesson 7: We are to trust in WHO God is, and not trust in blessings or experiences – nor are we to trust in our own perspective of things.

Job repents.

Lesson 8: Even when you think you are innocent, you don’t have the whole picture. Remember that before accusing God of wrong-doing!

God restores Job’s fortunes – doubled them in fact.

Lesson 9: God is good. God is just.

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Glossing over our debt

The Bible has a lot to say about forgiveness but sometimes it’s easy to just gloss over what it is saying without it really sinking into our hearts.

A good example is the story of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:23-35. To recap, a man who owed 10,000 talents was brought before the king. He was unable to pay it and begged for mercy. The king had mercy and forgave the debt, that is he cancelled it. Though the debt was forgiven, the man went out to collect from another man who owed him 100 silver coins. That man too begged for mercy but he did not have mercy, instead he had him thrown into prison. Though he had been forgiven much, he had no mercy on those who owed him.

What usually escapes us is the enormity of the first man’s debt.

How much is ten thousand talents? One silver talent is the amount needed to pay a day’s wage to 6,000 people. So for 10,000 talents you could hire 60 million people for a day. Or, you could hire more than 164,000 people for a whole year, or 656,000 people for 3 months. (Ands if these were gold talents, multiply all of the above by 30.)

How much is 100 silver coins? A day’s wage for 100 people.

That man’s ENORMOUS debt was forgiven, canceled. And he was worried about a measly 3 months wage for only one person????

That is a picture of us. God has forgiven us of a debt of offense we could never pay. So how then can we dare hold ANY grudge against ANYBODY?

Think about that the next time you start feeling offended!

Matthew 18:23-35 (NET-Rosa’s modified version)
23  “For this reason, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his slaves. 24  As he began settling his accounts, a man who owed [money equivalent to a day’s wage for 60 million people] was brought to him. 25  Because he was not able to repay it, the lord ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, children, and whatever he possessed, and repayment to be made. 26  Then the slave threw himself to the ground before him, saying, ‘Be patient with me, and I will repay you everything.’ 27  The lord had compassion on that slave and released him, and forgave him the debt. 28  After he went out, that same slave found one of his fellow slaves who owed him [money equivalent to a day’s wage for 100 people]. So he grabbed him by the throat and started to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ 29  Then his fellow slave threw himself down and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will repay you.’ 30  But he refused. Instead, he went out and threw him in prison until he repaid the debt. 31  When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were very upset and went and told their lord everything that had taken place. 32  Then his lord called the first slave and said to him, ‘Evil slave! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me! 33  Should you not have shown mercy to your fellow slave, just as I showed it to you?’ 34  And in anger his lord turned him over to the prison guards to torture him until he repaid all he owed. 35  So also my heavenly Father will do to you, if each of you does not forgive your brother from your heart.”

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Noah’s window – or was it a roof?

Translation is not always easy. The story of Noah’s ark, for example. In Genesis chapter 6:16 there is a verse that says “Build a roof/window/skylight/opening for the ark. Finish it to a cubit (18 inches or about half a meter). OR Make it 18 inches high. Or leave 18 inches above it. OR…”. Well, you get the idea. The Hebrew word translated “window” or “roof” is only used once in the entire Bible so there’s no other context to compare it to. And it is different from either of the normal words used in the Hebrew for roof or window. Some scholars think maybe it meant some kind of window or skylight or opening around the top of the ark to let in light and air. Other scholars thought it meant a roof, specifically a sloped roof. Most older versions translated it as an 18 inch window. Many newer versions translate it as an 18 inch space between the roof and the sides of the ark – like a kind of ventilation. Others translate it as a roof that is 18 inches high at its peak – thus being very slightly sloped. One of the groups here translated it as a roof with the eaves extending 18 inches beyond the sides of the ark. To them that is what made sense because it would keep the rain out. Well, it turns out that according to some commentaries, that is also an option.

For an interesting discussion I found on the net see http://www.genesisfiles.com/NoahsArk.htm

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Themes and Wordles

I’ve been doing some in depth study of the books of Esther and Daniel this past year in order to help translators. So imagine my delight when I learned about Wordle. It’s an online program which makes word clouds out of text. What a fun way to see some themes of a passage! Check out Wordle at http://wordle.net/ and make you own word clouds, or rather, Word clouds.

Here are two I did on Esther and Daniel:

 

 

Thanks to whover sent me to http://markedbyfaith.blogspot.com/ where yipeng has wordled each book of the New Testament.

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Why is it getting so hard to go to church?

Lately I have been finding it harder and harder to go to church.

When was a kid, we went to Sunday School and then church and went back again for the evening service. We went every Sunday rain or shine (or snow) and to midweek service too. I loved Sunday School and children’s church. In college I joined a collegiate ministry and was involved in Bible studies, prayer meetings, and went to every conference, retreat and training program they ever had. As a young adult I spent two years as a missionary nurse in South America, came back for more training and went to Asia to help with Bible translation. In my early years in Asia, though at first I struggled with language, church was an oasis in the midst of a predominantly non-Christian society. You’d think I would really like church.

But too often nowdays I come out of church feeling upset and wishing I hadn’t gone.

So what happpened?

I think the thing that is most disturbing is what I can only call Bible Abuse.

I am not a world class exegete but even I can see that far too many sermons are somebody’s ideas with some Scripture tacked on it with the whole lot passed off as God’s truth. Some sermons allude, allude, allude but never ever get around to plainly stating what Scripture says. Some take Scripture and come up with jaw-dropping “applications”. Some tell so many stories that any point is lost in the constant shift in story lines. Some preach psychology. Some preach self-esteem. Some preach prosperity. Some preach that we need to do more and work harder and by leaps and bounds give us lists of 6 steps to this, 3 steps to that, 7 principles of the other.

People nowdays seem to be forever imposing stuff on the Biblical characters too. I went to a workshop about how adults learn. I was astonished to be told that Jesus used these methods. Imagine that! Those very methods – that we didn’t rediscover until the 21st century! And they showed a film to prove it! And did you know Jesus was a CEO? Did you know that He was rich and wants you to be rich? And remember Jabez and his magic prayer? But somehow when you read the Bible yourself, it’s not like that at all.

So what is going on? The Bible is treated as if it were a some magic “dust” that you can sprinkle on your talk to give it authority. If you can associate your ideas with the Bible, and tell us that Paul used that method, or better yet that Jesus used that method, then that will make it binding on us. You can be very selective too. Look at all the verses on God’s love – and ignore the ones that talk about His hatred of sin and His justice and holiness. Not only that, you can twist a verse around and tie it in knots and make it say whatever you want it to. With a bit of practice you can even go from “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good” (Psalm 136:1a) to “We must praise God [preferably with modern worship bands] so that He will then be obligated to bless us and give us what we want.”

Is this not Bible Abuse?

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Trials and suffering not about me

Another thing to ponder is that trials and suffering aren’t always just about me.

Many people think trials and suffering come as punishment for bad behavior. Our human response to our own hardships is often “why me?” And our response to others’ hardships, cravenly, is too often “He probably deserved it.”

But are trials and suffering and hardship really a punishment for bad behavior? Well, sometimes, yes. Scripture says that God does punish the wicked, and it also says that He disciplines His own that they may share in His holiness (Hebrews 12:7-10).

James said “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” Joy?? You must be joking! Why? “because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4) So trials also come for the purpose of testing and strengthening our faith.

But sometimes trials and problems are also for God’s glory. Jesus healed a man born blind (John 9). People asked Jesus whether it was the man or his parents who had sinned resulting in the man being born blind. Jesus answered neither, but that this had happened so that God’s work would be revealed in the man’s life. What was God’s work? That a man born blind was healed – people said that never had anyone heard of a man born blind being healed. A sign that Jesus was indeed sent from God.

And sometimes trials aren’t about us at all. Many times our trials and sufferings have profound effects on other people. As I interacted with other friends and acquaintances of my friend who just died, I could see that his life and death have also impacted them in various ways.

Look at Job. Satan came to God asking permission to test Job. He was sure that Job would curse God and die when all his blessings and protection was taken away. But God knew that wasn’t so. He gave permission for Satan to test and try Job.

Job’s “friends” assumed that Job must have done something wrong to deserve such a heap of troubles. Job himself asked why, he knew he hadn’t done anything wrong, and didn’t understand why he was so afflicted. He moaned and groaned and wished himself dead, yet he also declared that “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15). He still trusted God even though he didn’t understand why he was undergoing such trials:

“But if I go to the east, he is not there;
if I go to the west, I do not find him.
9 When he is at work in the north, I do not see him;
when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him.
10 But he knows the way that I take;
when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.”
(Job 23:8-10)”.

Job’s trials weren’t really about him at all. They were primarily for our benefit. His trials and trust and God’s reply were recorded for all succeeding generations to see, that we too might understand that God is sovereign. He knows things we don’t know. Even when we don’t understand, even when we don’t see where He is at work, we can still trust Him to work all things for good and for His purposes.

So yes, knowing Who He is and that He is absolutely trustworthy and absolutely able to do whatever He purposes, we can indeed consider it pure joy when we encounter various trials, knowing that there is
purpose in them especially when we continue to trust in Him.

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Anxious thoughts

When my anxious thoughts multiply within me,
Your consolations delight my soul. Ps 94:19

I memorized that verse many years ago back when I was still in college. Over the years I have gained a much greater understanding of some of what those consolations are:

He hears us (1 Jn 5.14-15)

He knows our thoughts (Ps 139.2,4)

The Holy Spirit intercedes with groanings too deep for words (Rom 8.26)

He is able to save forever those who draw near to God (He 7.25)

All things work together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom 8.28 )

Nothing can separate us from the love of God. (Rom 8.38-39)

He will supply all our needs (Ph 4.19)

He will complete the work that He has begun in us (Ph 1.6)

Disciplne…sorrowful…yet yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness (He 12.10-11)

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you (Jas 4.8 )

His Word will not return empty without accomplishing what He sent it out for (Is 55:11)

He will not allow temptation beyond what you are able (1 Cor 10.13

A couple of friends are going through some really hard things right now. I feel distress on their behalf. I want to comfort and encourage them. For the one it is a serious health issue. For the other it is an interpersonal conflict and I feel confused by the seeming lack of communication on both sides. I struggle with wondering why God allows these things to happen to them, yet I sense that He does have a purpose in it. How can I comfort and encourage them? Is there something I could do or say? Or is this the time to just sit back and continue to pray that they would come through as gold (Job 23:10)?

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Sermon on the Mount

While reading through the Sermon on the Mount today I jotted down some summary statements. The beatitudes of course listed praiseworthy attitudes: poor in spirit, mourning, gentle, hungry/thirsty for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for righteousness.

Then we are told to:

1) Let your light shine/ Be salt
2) As to the Law, be perfect. (Ie it is the following the intent of the Law that counts, not just the letter.
3) Practice your righteousness for God (not men)
4) Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness (ie do not store up earthly treasure, do not worry about your life)
5) Treat/judge others as you would like them to treat/judge you.
6) Beware of false prophets.

The interesting thing was the last one. It surprised me. It has always been there but somehow it seems to get ignored in sermons and it had escaped my attention that this too is part of the sermon on the mount, part of basic kingdom teaching. It must be important yet we hear so little of it today…..hmmmm, I wonder why????

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In the beginning

Sunday, while driving gingerly home in a wild and windy snowstorm, I was pondering the pastor’s Christmas sermon. Matthew showed Jesus’ geneology from Abraham, Luke took it back to Adam, but John took it back to the beginning:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning.

Jesus was from the very beginning, He was face to face with God. He was God.

3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood a it

He created all things and He is the source of life.

9 The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God– 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

Though not everyone recognizes Him or believes that He is who John says He is, yet whoever does is given the authority to become children of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

THIS is what we celebrate: God incarnate come into the world to bring us salvation. Thanks be to God!

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Thoughts on God’s sovereignty

God’s Sovereignty

I have been pondering the sovereignty of God lately. I was listening to a sermon where the peacher was saying how we so often think God has a “perfect will” for our lives in big things like who we marry, where we go to school, what job we take, what house we buy etc. and we agonize over these decisions and later always wonder if somehow we missed it. Yet we tend to think that the little things of life are less of a big deal. Yet, time and time again, it is those little things that determine the course of history. Like, the cry of a baby long ago from the rushes at the side of the Nile River. That baby’s cry led to the finding of Moses, and from there the world was changed. Last month a bridge fell. Amazingly few people were killed in what could have been SO much worse. Many people who were on the bridge or who might ordinarily have been on the bridge at that time commented on the little things that happened that day – a colleague running late picking them up. Working a little late to get a computer virus off a machine. Getting sick and having to call in sick for work that evening. Heavy traffic causing them to get stuck up waiting a second time at a red light. An impulsive decison to take a different route. A bus load of children stopping a very few feet from the edge of the break, not crashing into the burning truck next to it nor going off the edge on the other side.

I have been reading through the book of Isaiah recently. If there is one message there, it is of the sovereignty of God. God Himself is directly quoted in much of the book. His message is loud and clear – He hates sin and will punish it. He is holy. Yet He also determined that a way of salvation would be available for the whole world. He is loving, compassionate, and merciful. He is the Creator and has the power and authority to do as He wants to. His plans from long ago cannot be thwarted and will happen. He will even raise up people to accomplish His will who do not know Him. He will punish, yet restore. “that men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun that there is no one besides Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other,” (Is 45:6) “And all flesh will know that I, the LORD, am your Savior and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.” (Is 49:26b)

Romans 8:28 “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” It doesn’t say that all things are good. But all things works together for good. And Who else could coordinate all the little things in all the people’s lives in all of history?

A friend recently shared some hard truths about her marriage. Their adult children confronted them, told them bluntly that their relationship to each other, which is admittedly full of conflict, has been hard on them as children, is hard on other people and does not honor God. Have they considered just getting a divorce. The husband/father responded, “But I promised I would never divorce her.” To which their son-in-law in tears responded, “But is that what you should promise? Or should it be that you promised to love her and cherish her no matter what, even to the point of sacrificing yourself?” Ouch. She sadly commented to me that she and her husband have not even talked to each other about that meeting with their kids.

It is true, my friend’s relationship with her husband is stormy, many public outbursts that are embarassing indeed for others around them. From a human perspective, especially from a 21st century Western perspective, why keep it up? The kids are grown and on their own, why keep up the charade? But yet, from God’s perspective, all things work together for good. It doesn’t mean all things are good. They are not. And it certainly doesn’t mean everything is easy – it most assuredly is not. Yet, is it possible that in this stormy relationship, God is fulfilling His good purposes? Is it possible that the friction over money is God’s way of trying to point out to the one his irresponsibility in caring for those God put in his care? Is He trying to point out to the other that her trust should be in Him and not in earthly security? Is it possible God is trying to show the one his laziness and self-centeredness and the other her manipulative ways and self-centeredness? Is it possible He is trying to teach the one to look honestly at himself and his own sins and see himself as God sees him, rather than always justifying himself and blaming others for everything? Is He trying to teach the other to forgive and to not hold grudges in the same way that He has forgiven her and is not holding grudges? And is He possibly also teaching lessons to their children, and to us their friends and colleagues?

Does God put each of us in the crucible best suited to separating the dross from the gold?

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Hermaneutics

I think that’s Old English for “How to Interpret the Bible”! Anyway, check out Twin City Fellowship http://twincityfellowship.com/hermeneutics.php for a free 10-session downloadable course on how to interpret the Bible. You will be amazed!

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Sabbath ponderings

A couple of weeks ago I was working with people from three different language groups south of here. They were all trying to translate the 10 commandments into their languages. Although all three language groups have many Christians, they are from an animistic background and many of their neighbors are still animists. They found that nobody really knew what the “sabbath” meant, not even church people. So we discussed ways of translating it that would be meaningful, like “Resting Day” or “Stopping Day”. That was okay. But what do you do with “Remember the sabbath and keep it holy”? What exactly is a “holy” day? They do not have words for “holy”. In some contexts one could use “clean” if the meaning was understood to be “free from sin”. And earlier we had talked about a “holy mountain” and a holy place” in Exodus chapter 3. Mt Horeb is referred to as the “holy mountain” or “the mountain of God”. That gives the idea of the place being “holy” because God appears there. So when Moses was commanded to take off his shoes because the ground was “holy”, it was because he was in the presence of God.

But what does it mean to keep a day “holy”? Certainly “clean” or “free from sin” doesn’t fit here – that would imply you were free to sin on the other 6 days! A day when God appears? Not exactly. They were suggesting things like “go to church” or “a day to meet with God”. “a day to worship God”, “a day to pray and praise God”. But when you think about it, none of those things were specifically commanded. All are certainly good things to do, but none is really complete. I suppose if God had given a list of specifics undoubtedly the corrupt heart of man would have reasoned that do those things and tick them off and you’re done! No, it’s not that easy. The essence of keeping the sabbath holy is an attitude of mind. If you set the day apart as holy you may do many or all of those things. But neither are those things limited to the sabbath. You should pray and praise God EVERY day. You should meet with God EVERY day. EVERY day should be a sin-free day! Here the meaning is to make the day special in order to honor God. To stop working because you honor God. He commanded it, and He rested Himself giving us an example to follow. A “holy” day here means a special day, a day set aside, dedicated to God. All He actually commanded was to rest. To cease from daily labor. Why? As a reminder of the covenant between God and the Israelites. As a reminder that He had created the world in 6 days and then rested. To honor Him as their God, they observed the sabbath.

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Send the poor to the poor?

An interesting comment the other day by a guy from one of the ends of the earth. They had just done a devotional on Elijah how during a drought God had sent him to a poor widow of Zarephath. (1 Kings 17:8ff) The man asked, “Why would God send a poor prophet to be taken care of by a poor widow? If I sent my son to the city to go to school, I would look for a family that was well off for him to stay with. Why didn’t God sent Elijah to a family that was better off?”

Why indeed? Years later Elisha stayed with just such a family, the Shunnamite woman who provided him with his own furnished room.

Perhaps God sent Elijah to a poor woman so that His provision would be more clearly seen. If only the rich help others, then they get all the blessing. Maybe too, when the rich help, they are often just relying on their wealth and not on God to provide, whereas the poor woman had to trust God to provide the wherewithal for her to feed the prophet.

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Prayer

There’s a lot of talk about prayer these days. A lot of folk seem to be confusing prayer with meditation, even mystical meditation. See for example : http://www.beliefnet.com/blogs/godspolitics/2007/02/jim-wallis-revolutionary-prayer.html where the author says:

But, at least for me, prayer is more often becoming a time of listening than talking. There is so much noise in our world and our lives (much of our own making); prayer becomes a quiet space enabling us to stop talking long enough to see what God might be trying to say to us. The disciplines of prayer, silence, and contemplation practices by the monastics and mystics are precisely that – stopping the noise, slowing down, and becoming still, so that God can break through all our activity and noise in order to speak to us. Prayer serves to put all the parts of our lives in God’s presence, reminding us of how holy our humanity really is. [?!!?]

Others say that prayer should be specific, concrete, detailed, out loud, and with confidence. (As if God needs to be told how to carry out His business, never mind that His thoughts are not our thoughts, His ways not our ways.) Others say it is most effective when done by groups of people gathered in the same place at the same time in synergy. (As if God is a politician and pays more attention to bigger numbers of lobbyists.)

But what does the Bible say? In order to start to answer that question I did a search of the New Testament on words prays, prayer, pray, praying. (This could be expanded by also looking at words like ask, request, etc). You can do it yourself using a good concordance, or a computer Bible. I kind of organized the results according to the following topics:

When and where did people pray?
What did people pray for?
How are we to pray?
Are there postures?
Procedures?
Attitudes?
What are the results of prayer?

My preliminary results (I won’t include my list or analysis because you really ought to try this yourself!) are as follows:

When and where did people pray? There are no specific commands as to time of day, location, what direction to face, or what constitutes a quorum. People prayed in prison, in the temple, in their houses, by themselves, in groups, on the rooftops, in an inner room, in the wilderness, on mountains, on the beach, and apparently just anywhere. They were told to pray when they are sick or suffering, to sing when cheerful. Pray all the time, at midnight, night and day.

What did people pray for? Surprisingly, not as many specific concrete things as you might think. Sinners prayed for mercy and forgiveness. Jesus prayed that the cup [of His imminent suffering] might pass – yet surely He knew it wouldn’t? He more than once told His followers to pray that they would not fall into temptation, that they would have strength to escape all the [bad] things that are about to take place. People prayed for those imprisoned for their faith. They prayed for the salvation of others. Speakers in tongues should pray that they can interpret. Paul prayed glorious prayers for people’s spiritual growth: that they do no wrong, be made complete, be given wisdom and understanding, knowledge of God’s will, strength, that their love might abound, that they would be sincere and blameless and thankful, that they would walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, that the name of the Lord would be glorified in them and they in Him. For himself Paul often asked that a door would be opened up for the word to spread, that he would be bold in speaking it. He asked prayer for protection from evil men, and that he would be released from prison, and that he could visit again for the purpose of ministering to them. We are also told to pray for rulers and authorities so that we can lead a tranquil and quiet life. We are told to pray for each other, for spiritual leaders, evangelists, and for those who mistreat us. (Anybody else out there starting to feel like your prayer life has been missing the mark???)

How are we to pray? Jesus of course gave us a model: praise, request for daily food, forgivenss for sins, help in forgiving others, that we not be tempted but rather be delivered from evil. We should devote ourselves to prayer, pray in the Spirit (after all, He intercedes for us), but also pray with our minds. We are to be on the alert (not zoned out), persevering (not losing heart, nor a once for all time prayer). Prayer is also described as supplication, petitions, requests, thanksgivings, entreaties. (Doesn’t sound much like quiet meditation, does it?) Jesus is said to have offered up prayer with loud crying and tears, the Holy Spirit also groans, so prayer doesn’t have to be silent. We are to pray in faith, to pray without ceasing. We are to pray earnestly, one guy, Epaphras, was said to labor in prayer. We are to pray without wrath and dissention – and not treating your wife right can mean that your prayers won’t be answered! We must also forgive others when we pray – or we won’t be forgiven.

Are there postures? Doesn’t seem to be. Some people stood, some knelt, some threw themselves on the ground. No mention of prayer rugs. Some lifted holy hands. No particular posture required, nor are any forbidden.

Procedures? Do not use meaningless repetition. (If it bores us, how much more must it bore God?) Other procedures are mentioned such as wearing headcoverings for women and NOT wearing head coverings for men was discussed in 1 Cor (though it’s not clear if this was for public worship or for everywhere, for leaders of public worship or everybody, whether hair is enough, etc.) Anointing the sick with oil in James. Praying for others sometimes involved putting hands on them. Other than that, nada, zip.

Attitudes? First and formost believe. Have faith. Not doubting. Yet also with humility, “not my will but Yours”. Do not lose heart. Prayer with thanksgiving is mentioned often. Rejoice. Be of sober spirit and sound judgement, alert. Be anxious for nothing. Avoid long prayers for appearance sake. In fact, in one place we are advised to go into our inner rooms and pray to our heavenly Father in secret.

What are the results of prayer? Results in peace that passes all comprehension. Sinners are justified. People regained sight, were restored from their sicknesses, released from prison, delivered from peril, food is sanctified, it rained, it stopped raining, helps other people, prayers ascend as a memorial to God, and are incense on the altar in heaven whose fragrance goes up before God. God hears the prayer of the righteous.

So, I am encouraged to pray more. I don’t need to do washings and change clothes and face east at certain times of the day. I don’t need to wait until I find a group or a prayer partner. I don’t need to wait until I am in a church or on a mountain. Even if I am somewhere where I can’t stand or can’t kneel, I can still pray. Even if I don’t know the details of what someone is going through at the moment, I can pray that “they would be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in their hearts through faith; and that they, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that they may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” Wow! Wouldn’t you like people to pray that for you?

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