Archive for April, 2012

Persecution

Monday, April 30th, 2012

You, however, have followed my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, my faith, my patience, my love, my endurance, as well as the persecutions and sufferings that happened to me in Antioch, in Iconium, and in Lystra (See Acts 13-14). I endured these persecutions and the Lord delivered me from them all. Now in fact all who want to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
2 Timothy 3:10-12 (NET)

The least claimed promise of God – the promise to be persecuted. Paul states this as a fact – something that “has really occured or is really the case”. Facts can be verified by experience. This fact has been verified in Paul’s life and in the lives of the Apostles, missionaries and pastors all around the world. The premise of the statement is simple: if I have been living a Godly life, I will be persecuted. Persecution is to be expected; persecution is the norm.

Now comes the clincher: have I been persecuted? I cannot say for certain yes. What does that say about the life I live?

Those are hard question to ask myself, but if I am to live by the promises of God, those are one of the promises.

מֹשֶׁה

Monday, April 30th, 2012

When the child grew older she brought him to Pharaohs daughter, and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, “Because I drew him from the water.”
Exodus 2:10

Moses stretched out his hand toward the sea, and the Lord drove the sea apart by a strong east wind all that night, and he made the sea into dry land, and the water was divided. So the Israelites went through the middle of the sea on dry ground, the water forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.
Exodus 14:21-22

The name of Moses was something of a brilliant prophetic word play. Although the background of the story was entirely Egyptian, Moses’ name was rendered in Hebrew. Moses was the one drawn from the Nile (the source of life with high spiritual connotations for the Egyptians) and that was the motivation for his name, yet his name spelled in Hebrew more correctly means “the one who draws out” rather than “the one drawn out”. In Egyptian hieroglyphic, Moses name would have had the meaning of “child” or “born”. It is possible that his name in Egyptian would have been longer and included an attachment to a deity – “child of (deity)” or “born of (deity)”, due to the significance of the Nile and his naming by a princess capturing his name. The understanding of his name in Egyptian attest to where he began and the capture of his name in Hebrew attest to the prophetic destiny that he has.

The implication for the Israelites is something to this effect: “You called him ‘born one’ in your language and after your custom, but in our language that name means ‘drawing out’ – which is what was to become of him. You drew him out of the water, but he would draw us out of Egypt through the water.”
NET Bible Notes

What a prophetic piece of work by our God! What brilliant play on Moses’ name to bring out the work that he was called him to do. 

During that long period of time the king of Egypt died, and the Israelites groaned because of the slave labor. They cried out, and their desperate cry because of their slave labor went up to God. God heard their groaning, God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob, God saw the Israelites, and God understood….
Exodus 2:23-24 

So now go, and I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”
Exodus 3:10

We might think that God only heard the Israelites’ cry in Exodus 2:23-34, that says it was a “long period of time” before they cried out and God heard them. We might be inclined to think that God turned a blind eye to the m and covered his ears to their cry for many years. But when we see the evidence that God had already made preparations for the Israelites’ salvation in the prophetic naming and preparation of Moses, we know that God already knew. God knew (years before) that Moses would bring the Israelites out of Egypt (Exodus 3:10). In fact, our God does not exist within the confines of time – He knows, knew, will always and has always known. He did not ignore their cries, he was working all this time, preparing for the great deliverance. In His grace, God (who isn’t confined by time) used a man (who is confined by time), Moses, to deliver the Israelites.

Now read this passage:

 Listen: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.
Luke 1:31

Jesus means “Yahweh (God) saves” and was a fairly common name in 1st century Palestine. Mary was instructed by an angel to name her baby, Jesus. This is no less than a prophetic act, years before Jesus did the work of saving the world, centuries before you and I are saved by God! What a mighty and graceful God we serve!

The Milgram Experiment

Friday, April 27th, 2012

The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?”

The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.” So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.
Exodus 1:15-21

The Milgram Experiment was social psychology experiment used to test a person’s obedience to authority figures. It measured the willingness of the participant to obey an authority figure against their own conscience. The study used a device that was setup to look like an electric shock generator controller by an authority figure. The participant was then told to quiz (multiple choice question) a student strapped to the device to help him/her learn a set of paired words. The student would then be strapped up and put out the participant’s view. If the student answered the question wrong, the participant would administer a shock to him/her and the voltage would increase 15-volts for every wrong answer. This went on to a maximum of 450-volts. The authority figure was also given fixed verbal prods to encourage the participant to continue if they wanted to stop. The electric shock is not real (of course) and the student is just an actor. Recorded sounds were also used to replicate any noises of suffering.

In the original experiment held at Yale University, 65% of participants administered a final 450-volt shock. This experiment was replicated in many places and the results were aggregated. It was found that regardless of time and place, 61-66% of participants were willing to inflict fatal voltages to the students. Read more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment

In Milgram’s article was published in 1974 titled “The Perils of Obedience”, he wrote:

The legal and philosophic aspects of obedience are of enormous importance, but they say very little about how most people behave in concrete situations. I set up a simple experiment at Yale University to test how much pain an ordinary citizen would inflict on another person simply because he was ordered to by an experimental scientist. Stark authority was pitted against the subjects’ [participants’] strongest moral imperatives against hurting others, and, with the subjects’ [participants’] ears ringing with the screams of the victims, authority won more often than not. The extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study and the fact most urgently demanding explanation.

Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority.

What is the significance of the Hebrew midwives allowing the boys live? They made an intentional choice not to do what the king of Egypt had ordered them to do. In Milgram’s experiment, they would not be found in the compliant 60+%. They understood the difference between authority and morality. What the king of Egypt said was authoritative, but what superceded that was a morality that came from God (Genesis 9:4-6). They knew that the consequences of disobeying the king of Egypt would be severe and could possibly mean their death but their fear of God was even greater than their natural fear (Acts 5:29). They protected the Hebrew families and thus were blessed with families of their own (Proverbs 31:30).

Did they lie to the king of Egypt? Well, they didn’t have to. The fact was that the Hebrew women had quick and easy deliveries – unlike the Egyptian women. They must have had knowledge of how Egyptian women gave birth – long, tedious and painful. It is interesting that Egypt was a metaphor of human effort while the Hebrews were a picture of reliance on God. Symbolically the midwives arriving means the death of a male child – since they were commanded to kill, and the birth is not just a birth, it was a lease on life! It was God sparing them from death. Now the passage looks like something from the New Testament about our new birth! Re-reading the passage with these symbols: “God reliant women are not like human effort women; they are vigorous and attain life before death arrive.” Whoah! What a prophetic statement from Godly midwives!

What a picture of humble obedience and a prophesy of great mercy and grace! What can we take from this story? First, fear God, not man in every circumstance, even when it is difficult. Second, rely on God’s favour, not man’s effort for life and life thereafter.

Destiny

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Into your hand I commit my spirit;
you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.

But I trust in you, O Lord!
I declare, “You are my God!”
You determine my destiny!
Rescue me from the power of my enemies and those who chase me.
Psalm 31:5, 14-15 (NET)

In the midst of immense opposition, David finds himself in a state of great distress (Psalm 31:9-10). His enemies are powerfully and openly conspiring against him, his very life is in danger (Psalm 31:13). The conspiracy is so great that even his closest friends leave him (Psalm 31:11-12). It is at the height of this Psalm that David declares this powerful statement, “You are my God!”

His plan is not to hide or wallow in sorrow. His plan is God. His defence is God. Favour comes from God (v16), confidence and pride is in God (v17), protection comes from God (v19-20). His offense to silence his enemies is also from God (v18). His answer to His own distress is God’s goodness (v19). The connection between v5 and v19 is clear – David has committed himself to God’s refuge and because of that he shares in God’s goodness and favour.

My plan in the face of opposition is simple: God.

Blood

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.
Leviticus 17:11:

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.
1 Peter 1:18-19

God made blood. He created the idea of a liquid in creatures that carries life. It was created with a purpose – for atonement of sin. Since death is the penalty of sin, the loss of blood (which is the life) of a creature is the only way to meet that penalty (Hebrews 9:22). The loss of life of the creature is the loss of it’s blood  (Genesis 9:4-6). In God’s Covenant (Old Testament Law and New Testament Law of Grace), blood is the central and only way by which sin is atoned for.

God remains above the Laws he created; in His very nature, He had no obligation towards us or His Law, which He put in place for created beings. Yet He choose to submit Himself under His own Law and atone for our sin with His own blood – the blood of Christ. The very blood of God was used to atone for my sin. The precious blood of Jesus Christ was given for the redemption of my life. 

His blood is central to everything that has been accomplished for us:

  • Redemption (1 John 1:7; Hebrews 9:12)
  • God’s presence (Hebrews 10:19-20; Hebrews 12:22-24)
  • Reconciliation (Colossians 1:20)
  • Justification (Romans 5:9)
  • Sanctification (Hebrews 13:12)
  • Glorification (Revelation 7:14-15)

There is no other way to respond to this than to accept His grace and be utterly grateful.

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Oh! precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Sanitised

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

He is to present the bull at the entrance to the tent of meeting before the LORD. He is to lay his hand on its head and slaughter it there before the LORD. Then the anointed priest shall take some of the bull’s blood and carry it into the tent of meeting. He is to dip his finger into the blood and sprinkle some of it seven times before the LORD, in front of the curtain of the sanctuary. The priest shall then put some of the blood on the horns of the altar of fragrant incense that is before the LORD in the tent of meeting. The rest of the bull’s blood he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering at the entrance to the tent of meeting. He shall remove all the fat from the bull of the sin offering—all the fat that is connected to the internal organs, both kidneys with the fat on them near the loins, and the long lobe of the liver, which he will remove with the kidneys— just as the fat is removed from the ox sacrificed as a fellowship offering. Then the priest shall burn them on the altar of burnt offering.
Leviticus 4:4-10

Worship in the Old Testament looks nothing like what we know. The Law required a form of worship that was fundamentally different. Worship, repentance and atonement took its form in bloodshed – a bull for the sin of a High Priest or unintentional sin for the congregation, a male goat for the ruler, a female goat for individual Israelites and a turtle-dove or young pigeons for the poor. All this was on top of the lamb that was offered daily in the morning and evening service. Moses’ Tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple would have been filled with screams of distressed animals with priests shuffling around with blood on their hands. Also, anything that had touched the blood of the sacrifice would have to be destroyed. There was a sequence to the events as well (Numbers 6:16-17). First the sin offering, then the burnt offering and then the peace or grain offering. The Law required that sin be dealt with first with the sin offering, then the worshipper could commit himself to God with the burnt / grain offering, only then could he have fellowship and communion with God with the peace offering. In those days, people understood the connection between blood (and life) and sin.

Church in these modern times is sanitized. repentance and atonement is responding to an altar call with soft piano playing in the background and praying a simple prayer. Our twenty first century church is filled with music designed to please the ears with hosts (or ushers) trying their best to make you feel comfortable. An offering is no longer a live animal (or grain, flour, oil or bread/cakes), but a few pieces of valuable paper or plastic from our wallets. The sequence of events have been slightly jumbled up and it is now a mish-mash of repentance, committment and fellowship simultaneously. These days we remove anything unsanitary and unsightly from our churches – no crosses and altars in our seeker friendly churches.

Yet, the story of Jesus is one that is highly unsanitary and plain unsightly. His story is steep in symbolism of blood sacrifice for atonement and fellowship. His crucifixion wasn’t done with medical grade sanitation. His cross, our best known symbol, is on of the most gruesome forms of ancient execution. Wearing a golden cross on our neck is perhaps comparable to wearing a golden electric chair, guillotine, breaking wheel or club (for bludgeoning to death). Jesus’ story doesn’t begin with His birth, it really begins with blood (Genesis 3:21).

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.
Hebrews 10:19-22

Blood is still the means of our salvation. Christ blood is central to our worship, our repentance, atonement and fellowship. The one religious ritual that Christ instituted involves symbolic blood and flesh and is a reminder of His sacrifice on the cross. The significance of His blood (and sacrifice) is more important than having a sanitized church. May we never forget the importance of His blood.

Jezreel

Saturday, April 21st, 2012

Then Jehu killed all who were left of Ahab’s family in Jezreel, and all his nobles, close friends, and priests. He left no survivors.
2 Kings 10: 11 (NET; also read 1-11, 30)

So Hosea married Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim. Then she conceived and gave birth to a son for him. Then the Lord said to Hosea, “Name him ‘Jezreel,’ because in a little while I will punish the dynasty of Jehu on account of the bloodshed in the valley of Jezreel (I will visit the bloodshed of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu), and I will put an end to the kingdom of Israel.
Hosea 1:3-4 (NET)

On God’s command, Jehu took away Ahab’s dynasty by executing all seventy of his sons. He then executed Ahab’s entire family in Jezreel. A century later, on God’s command, Hosea prophetically names His first born son Jezreel because what happened at Jezreel will happen instead to the house of Jehu (symbolically the northern kingdom of Israel).

Then the people of Judah and the people of Israel will be gathered together. They will appoint for themselves one leader, and will flourish in the land. Certainly, the day of Jezreel will be great!
Hosea 1:11

“At that time, I will willingly respond,” declares the Lord. “I will respond to the sky, and the sky will respond to the ground; then the ground will respond to the grain, the new wine, and the olive oil; and they will respond to ‘God Plants’ (Jezreel)!
Hosea 2:21-22

Hosea’s son, Jezreel, is marked by bloodshed. He is named after the place where one of the bloodiest mass murders happened in the bible. He is named as a prophetic proclamation of the punishment against unfaithful Israel that God will carry out. Just like his siblings, he is named in shame as an illegitimate child conceived through prostitution (Hosea 1:2-8). Yet in generations to come, his name will be restored. God will remove His shame and cause His name to be great. His name means God plants or God sows, and God promises that He will plant.

Such is the mercy and grace of our God.

Dependance and Correlation

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

So Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” He replied, “Say it, Teacher.” “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed him five hundred silver coins, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered,“I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.”
Luke 7:41-43 (NET)

Therefore I tell you, her sins, which were many, are forgiven, thus she loved much; but the one who is forgiven little loves little.
Luke 7:47 (NET)

Jesus, the great mathematician, outlines the relationship between two variables: forgiveness and love.

  • Where there is forgiveness, there is love. Love is the evidence of forgiveness. There is a dependence – a causal relationship.
  • The proportion of forgiveness is the proportion of love. Larger forgiveness, larger love. There is a direct linear correlation.

If Jesus was my lecturer, He would draw a graph representing the relationship between forgiveness and love to look like that (see graph below). That is what it looks like in His kingdom. He might plot points on the graph representing the debtors who owed five hundred and the other owning fifty. He might also plot the points for Mary and Simon. Mary would be top right and Simon closer to the centre.

x-axis = forgiveness, y-axis = love

There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
Romans 3:23-24

There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, between a twenty first century believer and a first century believer, a man and a woman. There is no difference between Mary and me. Mary sinned and fell short of God’s standard, I sinned and fell short of God’s standard. Mary was forgiven much, I am forgiven much. Mary loved much. What about me?

Where am I plotted on this graph? Is mine in the top right, centre or bottom left?

ἐκκλησία

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

The common translation for church in the New Testament is ekklesia (ecclesia) but If I was in Corinth in first century A.D. and I asked a passer-by for an ekklesia to get me to a church, I’d most likely end up in civil assembly – like a city meeting. This is because ekklesia is the word for assembly/gathering and not the religious assembly we have come to know as church, but a civil assembly.

In the New Testament, “ecclesia” (signifying convocation) is the only single word used for church. It (ecclesia) was the name given to the governmental assembly of the city of Athens, duly convoked (called out) by proper officers and possessing all political power including even juridical functions.
–  Encyclopedia Britannica

Ecclesia [mediaeval Latin, and Greek – from : SUMMONED] -A regularly convoked assembly, especially the general assembly of Athenians. Later, the regular word for church.
– Oxford Universal English Dictionary

The Greeks had words for religious assembly such as thaisoi/thiasos for a religious society or synagogue for a Jewish gathering. Ekklesia was simply an assembly with no religious connotation. In Acts 19:32, 39, 40, ekklesia is a civil body in Ephesus (a disorderly group of citizens), but in every other place of its approximately 115 appearances in the New Testament, it is translated as church. Looking at the etymology of the word “church”, it is derived from the greek word kuriakos, which means belonging to the Lord (Revelation 1:10; 1 Corinthians 11:20). So why is the word church used where assembly or gathering might be more appropriate?

Because their assembly was how they did church, it was church in first century A.D. They gathered together as an assembly, like we do. In 1 Thessalonians 1:1, Paul writes the letter “To the ekklesia of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”, also in Galatians 1:2 (in plural form). We know that the Christians did gather together in synagogues and homes, did community together (Acts 2:42, 46, 5:42; 20:20), had a line of authority of elders and deacons and enjoyed the teaching of the Apostles (Acts 14:21-23, 15:22). Paul’s letters were written to these gatherings.

So we know that the early christians had organised meetings and at it’s core, it was an assembly of people who believed in Jesus Christ. An important point to note is that the ekklesia wasn’t just a bunch of people tied together by spiritual ties or membership in a club but it was a physical assembly. Ekklesia comes from the verb ek-kaleo, which meant “to call people together” or “to summon” people. Thus, you couldn’t be a member of an assembly without actual physical attendance – duh.

Just like the assemblies of the early Christians, when we do church, we come together, bring unbelievers to believe and affirm each other in what we already believe in. Did the early church look like what our modern church looks like? Probably not. After all, we’re comparing the first century with the twenty-first century, it would be strange if it were exactly the same. That said, we do have many of the same elements/principles in our assembly – the lines of authority, the worship, the teaching, the fellowship and community and the breaking of bread. I’m sure they had many of the same problems that we have now, just look at the letters that Paul and John wrote to the churches! We’re flawed and we’re broken, but this is church. That is why we need the Messiah.

Three points to take from this:

  • Dont be deceived that we can belong to a church without actual physical attendance – that certainly wasn’t the understanding of the early church.
  • Don’t be deceived that there shouldn’t be any authority in church other than God – the early churches had Apostles and elders.
  • Don’t be deceived that the church should be perfect and problem free – the early church sure didn’t look like that.

Fear

Monday, April 16th, 2012

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God… It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Hebrews 10:26-27, 31

We cannot escape the fact that our all-powerful God has an all terrifying side. The bible talks about fear of God in two ways – reverence and terror. While we talk about the reverence and awe of God, we seldom hear about the side of God that punishes, banishes and utterly destroys. The same God that hands out love and grace, also carries out divine justice. On Judgement Day, our God will judge and He act out this divine justice against His enemies. Terrifying!

Christians are exempt from this side of God. We who accept Christ have no reason to fear (in a terror sense). 1 Thessalonians 5:8 says that we are not appointed for wrath and Romans 8:1 says that we are not under condemnation. 1 John 4:17-18 also tells us that fear is not to be in our nature, because Christ perfect love drives out fear. At the same time, the early church walked in the fear of the Lord (Acts 9:31) and Paul tells the Phillipian church to work out their salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). When Ananias and Sapphira was punished for their deceptive act, “Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.” Jesus himself convinced crowds that fearing God was a good thing (Matthew 10:28).

Could it be that our understanding of the fear of the Lord is inadequate? Could it be myopic and shortsighted because of the cultural sway against hellfire and brimstone preaching? Possibly.

When the fear of God is mentioned, it is often related to God’s final judgement. Isaiah 2:10,19, 21 speaks of God’s Judgement Day. On this day, the Lord will be feared. People will run in terror from His presence. Hebrews 10:26-27, 31 warns believers not to turn their back to the gospel lest they suffer God’s wrath on Judgement Day. So why have we taken God’s judgement so lightly? Just because we escape this judgement doesn’t mean that others will escape it too.

We have a duty then to turn God’s wrath away from others by revealing God’s wrath to them – instilling fear in their hearts! This might not always be the best way to do it, but it certainly is one way. Afterall, the same Spirit that convicts the world of sin and affirms God’s love to us is also the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11:2-3). Let us not be blind to the danger of Judgement Day.

A shrewd personsees dangerand hides himself, but the naive keep right on going  and suffer for it.
The rewardfor humility and fearing the Lordis riches and honor and life.
Proverbs 22:3-4