With us

Chapter 19

Good Monday Morning to this week 18 of 2020 (week 7 of lockdown)

And look, Boaz came from Bethlehem and said to the reapers, “may Yahweh be with you.” And they said to him, “May Yahweh bless you”. Ruth 2:4

I’m not sure if you have realized, but around here the greetings upon arrival and departure have changed these past weeks. Not just that we don’t shake hands or give hugs, no it’s also in the way we speak and leave each other after a conversation, a web-meeting or a phone call.

The greeting of Boaz to the reapers was special in many ways. The greeting “Peace” was very common, yet the “with you” was quite unique in this setting and narrative. It doesn’t only refer to Yahweh but also to the one making the greeting, to Boaz as a man of good character and one taking responsibility.

“With you” refers to His divine presence. Ofen in OT times the narrative brought out the topics of “peace and prosperity”, travel, war, “liberation and deliverance” yet also divine commissioning.

With you 
I will be with you ….
The Lord was with them ….
God was in their midst ….

With you 
Accompaniment, protection and deliverance!
Often in situations as with Solomon as with David.
God is with Israel and with their forefathers.
Yahweh’s presence on the journey of Israel back from exile.

With you
This Jewish narrative points to exceptional experiences; cognitive, emotional, physical, spiritual, individual and within the community. On example is Moses and the ark, both
define the presence of the divine with the words. He is “among” you, he is “in your midst”.

This OT presence saying “with you” is foundational element of Jewish faith. Israels leaders and prophets emphasize again and again, Yahweh is with us and we are His people.

God is very often spoken of as “in dwelling with” his people. Yet there is also the even more dramatic call “with you” in the final spiritual-conflict victory passages:

For Adonai is holy, and the King of glory is with us, among with the holy beings. Warrior angels are in our muster, and He that is mighty in war is in our throng. The army of his spirit marches “with us”.

Or in the story of Joseph where his master suspected him of doing witchcraft until he saw the Shekhinah standing And his master saw that the LORD was with him, and that the LORD made all that he did to prosper in his hand.over him! Gen. 39.3 “And his master saw that the LORD was with him, and that the LORD made all that he did to prosper in his hand.”

In the boundaries of His people, the people of Yahweh, God’s sovereignty is reaffirmed
and His divine “withness – with you” is declared and proclaimed as a critical “must” for the rebuilding of of His community and place of His presence.

God with us is a parameter of faith. With the God of the OT to the God of the followers of and story of Jesus, His presence is “with us” as the new people of God.

For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory. Deut. 20.4

But now take courage, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord, ‘take courage also, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and all you people of the land take courage,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work; for I am with you,’ declares the Lord of hosts. Haggai 2.4

Then they will know that I, the Lord their God, am with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are My people,” declares the Lord God. Ezekiel 34.30

Prayer

Yahweh be with me, before me, behind me,
Christ in me, beneath me, above me,
Yahweh on my right, to my left,
Christ where I sit, where I arise,
May Yahweh, our God be “with us”  ever with us.

Wishing you a very good week.
Philemon 

 

Power of choice, a new liberty?

Good Monday Morning to this week 51 of 2019

This week I saw a very disturbing picture of many worship leaders gathering at the White House. The same people who write songs about Jesus are endorsing policies that are destroying the very people Jesus cares so much about like immigrants and refugees.

This took me to reading Romans 13. This chapter is one of those classic passages, used to make sure we are all being obedient citizens, which historically has led Christians into all kinds of problems:

“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities…” (Romans 13:1)

We live in times where dissent is more important than ever. All around the world we are witnessing the rise of the “strongman” and brutal leaders. These are hard-line men that rule with an iron fist and with little regard for justice or the downtrodden.

Craig Greenfield took a closer look at this:

After Jesus’ death and resurrection, King Herod arrested some of the believers, including James and Peter, and put them on public trial. The night before the trial, an angel of the Lord woke Peter up, removed his chains, opened the prison doors and led him out the main gate of the prison.

Yet after escaping from jail, Peter went on to write:

“Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to the governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.”

Or when Paul was in Damascus, he escaped from a strongman city governor who was trying to arrest him … after reaching safety, Paul wrote a surprising letter:

“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.”

The key to understanding is in the word “submit”. The Greek word hupo-tasso, which has been translated as “submit” or “be subject,” literally means to arrange stuff respectfully in an “orderly manner underneath”.

This simple meaning of “social orderliness” would have been understood by original readers, but it is a little obscured in our English translation.

This word is used in Ephesians 5:22 to encourage husbands and wives to submit to one another, and it reflects God’s concern for order and respect.

Here’s the main point – Paul and Peter believed that governing authorities are necessary for keeping the peace. God is a God of order – not anarchy or chaos.

But here’s where we go wrong. There’s ANOTHER word, hupo-kouo, which is best translated as “obey,” which literally means to conform, to follow a command, or to kowtow to an authority as a subordinate. wasn’t used by Peter and Paul, they chose not to.

Though Paul, Peter and other followers of Jesus deliberately disobeyed laws that were in conflict with God’s commands, they still submitted to the authorities by accepting the legal consequences of their actions.

As far back as the book of Exodus, the Hebrew midwives refused to carry out the Pharoah’s repugnant order to murder newborn babies.

Slavery was lawful. The holocaust was legal. Segregation and apartheid were legally sanctioned. Many of today’s laws are created to protect much “other” rather than people.

So does the law or does God dictate our ethics?

Could this be showing us another way to interpret Romans 13 as Peter and Paul meant? If we break an unjust law to highlight and protest its injustice, we should be willing to submit to the punishment for breaking such laws, so that we demonstrate our respect for the role of government, in general, no following a God of chaos, each doing whatever we want but a God of order and respect for one another and the governing authorities.

There are times when we, as followers of Christ, will be called upon to stand up with a holy ‘NO!’ in the face of evil and injustice.

This week I saw a preview of the film of the life of Franz Jagerstatter, a forgotten martyr, devout Catholic, telling the harrowing and heartbreaking true story of his life refusing to take the Hitler oath. During his military training in 1940, he notices the evil underlying the Nazi regime and arrives home dead-set on refusing to fight for the army in the future. He declared his refusal to fight when he was summoned back to the Linz barracks in 1943, where he was held in custody, transferred to Berlin-Tegel to await trial, and condemned to death for sedition.

Gregory Williams puts it this way:
The Greek word used in Romans 13 by Paul is exousia, which is defined: “power of choice, liberty of doing as one pleases.” It is translated “right” in Hebrews Revelations and it is even translated “liberty” in Paul’s own 1Corinthians 8:9.

In the original text of the Bible the translation of exousia as liberty or right would fit the context of scripture. One may translate it as power of choice. The Greek word exousia is considered to be one of the strongest words in the Greek language representing the idea of liberty. Accepting the idea that Romans 13 is actually a statement by Paul in support of individual liberty, rather than a command to submit to the commands of authoritarian rulers, will be difficult for some pastors and Christians alike to admit.

Romans 13 could be read as follows: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher liberty. For there is no liberty but of God: the liberties that be are ordained of God. Whosoever, therefore, resisteth the liberty, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the liberty? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same.” Romans 13: 1,3

God desires that every man should have the unimpaired and divine right of choice as long as that choice does not violate the right of our neighbor to make his own choices. There is a distinction between the privileges of governments granted by the people and the rights of the people granted by God. We must not only care about the rights of others while exercising our own, but we must fulfill that obligation without infringing on the rights of our neighbor to make their own choices. To accomplish that mission prescribed by God we must discover the whole truth and provide for it.

From the beginning, our Creator has allowed that men have the power to choose to be free souls under God or go under the authority of other men and their gods. That choice is never without consequences.

As Christians, we not only profess Jesus as Lord but we follow him. We proclaim the Kingdom of God is here, just as he did. We don’t claim to be residents of earthly borders but of the kingdom that is within. Jesus is the only governing authority of this kingdom. To be disobedient and resist this authority is to not feed the hungry or give water to the thirsty or clothe the poor. It’s to not welcome the stranger into our home, our land. It’s to not forgive our enemies.

So what do we do when we see injustice within the governing authorities? Do we follow Jesus to feed the poor welcome the stranger and proclaim a different kingdom than the one the world system has drawn borders around and tries to keep people out of and say “the kingdom is within you, welcome”

In the upside-down kingdom where Jesus is Lord, the table is open to everyone.

Wishing you a wonderful week as you welcome this Jesus and his arrival to the world.

Philemon

What remains?

Chapter 15

Good Monday Morning to this week 16 of 2020

His winnowing fork is in His hand to thoroughly clear His threshing floor and to gather the wheat into His barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Luke 3.17

We’re living in extraordinary times, we’re seeing things we could not have imagined, this not only in the realm of evil but also in the front of the good. How drastic of measures did it take to improve the air we breathe? 

Threshing is the beating of the crop against a stone to separate the grains from the stalk. Winnowing is a process of separation of the husk from the seeds by blowing air. The lighter husk flies away and the heavier seeds fall down. 1) the process of separating dust particles with the help of wind is called winnowing.

They used winnowing fans (or forks) to toss the harvested grain into the air. The chaff (the unwanted husks) would separate from the grain and be lifted away by the breeze, while the heavier grain would settle back onto the ground. The farmer could then gather the grain and store it in his barn.

This depiction of Jesus as the one who separates good from bad then gathers the good to himself and burns the bad, may not be our favorite image of Jesus from the Gospels.

The winnowing process has already begun, and it feels like we all in this process now currently. The words of Jesus have already begun threshing us, separating the worthless, husky part of us from the valuable, substantial grain.

H. Macmillan, D. D. put it this way, describing it as an autumn fire:

“By this autumn-fire, God purges the floor of nature. All effete substances that have served their purpose in the old form are burnt up, and only what has the promise of life and usefulness passes through the process. The straw and the chaff are consumed, and the wheat remains. As God thus purges His floor in nature, so He does in grace.
Jesus came in the autumn of the world when all things had grown ripe and old, and all growth had closed. He came to gather in the harvest of all previous dispensations. With the fire came a baptism, which thoroughly purged His floor — which consumed the stubble and the withered foliage of the old growth that had served its purpose in the religious culture of a former age, and prepared them for being worked up into the new developments of the springtime of grace.”

With water comes purification, with fire a much deeper process in which every substance is submitted. The fire of life in nature burns up all its decay and prepares it for new growth. Jesus caused, by the same fire of grace, to grow in spring freshness and beauty whose end is everlasting life.

But not once only at the end of the world did Jesus come to purge His floor with this sacred fire. He is coming continually, and His fire of purification is unquenchable. In each of these partial and temporary consumings, He anticipates and foreshadows the next season. Quench not the Spirit,” put not out the heavenly fire.

Something is in the air, change is in the making as many of us await the virus to pass, so that we can return to our ordinary life. Or will this just be the moment to “live with new grace” having come out of the winnowing process?

I wish you a good week, I wish you God’s care and provisions as you launch into another one of these “different” weeks and as this winnowing process feels as if it were forced upon you.

Philemon

 

Discovering God in the face of Jesus

Chapter 14

Good Monday Morning to this week 15 of 2020

Jesus is the one mediator between God and man. He is thus the hermeneutic principle for every word from God. Thus the prime question to put to every text in the Bible is about how it testifies to Jesus. Graeme Goldsworthy

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip,
even after I have been among you such a long time?
Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.
How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” John 14:8–9

As I dig into another Chapter of Greg Boyed’s book I’m coming to some key chapters
of his work: The dark side of the Bible. We might get to that later on in my blog, a few weeks down the road,  when we can look back to Covid-19 and have more time for these very hard questions.

Yet, let’s get to the significance of Jesus, the Christ, even while reading the Old Testament.

When God no longer confined himself to speaking through men but made himself the human utterance of revelation, he obviously introduced the final revelation.

Yes, just having experienced Easter, this makes so much sense. Yes, Jesus introduced God to us in a new way, God introduced himself through Jesus to us, and together they introduced a next chapter in the story of God and the story of man.

A Hebrew view:  The Son alone is the radiance of God’s glory as well as the one and only exact representation of God’s very essence.

Jesus the flawless expression of God’s nature!

In the Son alone, however, do we capture the full brilliance and full truth of God’s glorious character, for he is the exact representation of God’s eternal nature.

C.S. Lewis: Jesus is what the Father has to say to us! Jesus is the total content of the Father’s revelation to us, wherever and whenever this revelation comes to us.

O.T. Balthasar comments: All that God has to say to man he has spoken once and for all in Jesus, so that each of us must individually acknowledge and make his own all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden in Christ.

Jesus is not only the perfect expression of God’s essence, he is also the perfect expression of God’s purpose for creation. He is the ultimate reason for everything. Along similar lines, Paul states that Jesus is the embodiment of all of God’s wisdom

Another O.T. Balthasar quote:
The central Word which God speaks and which comprises, as their unity and end, all the manifold words of God, is Jesus Christ, the incarnate God.

David Dockery similarly concludes: For Jesus, the key to understanding the Old Testament was located in his own life and work, for everything pointed to himself.”

N.T. Wright:  Jesus was teaching that the story of the Bible as a whole, had been rushing forward toward the events of his own death and resurrection. His death and resurrection are to be seen as fulfillment, not simply as a shocking turn of events.”

Regardless of how “diligently” we may study the Old Testament, we can never say we have arrived at the full, complete interpretation of any passage until we have disclosed how it bears witness to Christ and, more specifically, to Christ’s death and resurrection.

N. T. Wright argues that for NT authors as well as for us, the very fact that God was present in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus means that the very meaning of the word “God” has to be “again and again rethought around the actual history of Jesus himself.”

Karl Barth who perhaps best captures the absolute nature of the revelation of God in Christ when he says that the meaning of “God” cannot be gathered from any notion of supreme, absolute, non-worldly being. It can be learned only from what took place in Christ, who the one true God is, we have to discover, from His becoming man, from His incarnation and from what He has done and suffered in the flesh.

Jesus makes the astounding claim that “all things have been committed to me by my Father” and that “no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matt 11:27).

Whatever value ancient “God-breathed” writings have in showing us the way to God, revealing the truth about God, and bringing us the life of God, it is only because they point toward, agree with, and participate in the One who is himself the way, the truth, and the life. Immediately after making this astonishing claim, Jesus said, “If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him” (John 14:7).

Jesus as the “Word” and “light” of God is reflected in Paul’s remarkable declaration that Christ is “the mystery of God” and that in Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”  If all the “treasures of wisdom and knowledge” are in fact in Christ, to the point that Christ can be identified with God’s wisdom, then we surely cannot consider Christ to be a source of wisdom alongside of whatever other wisdom we might find in the OT or anywhere else. To the contrary, all the treasures’ obviously includes all the truths of all the verses of Scripture. All of them are hidden in Christ.” G Boyd.

I conclude with a passage from T. J. Gorringe “God is not inscrutable, there is nothing beyond or behind what we see in Christ. We are taught to keep our spiritual eyes fixed on Jesus. For we can only behold “the light of the knowledge of God’s glory” by seeing it “displayed in the face of Christ”, and it is only as we “behold the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, with our “unveiled minds,  that we are “transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another”.

In short, our knowledge of God, our salvation, and our spiritual growth all depend on our keeping our eyes fixed singularly on Jesus Christ.

Wishing you a very blessed Week as you keep your eyes fixed on Jesus.

Philemon

Lockdown; a short exile

Chapter 13

Good Monday Morning to this week 14 of 2020

Isn’t it interesting how quickly we turn to scriptures of the Old Testament, to the people to Israel, to the prophets as we continue to face restrictions in our daily lives?

There is no real comparison to the Babylonian exile of the Jews, but let’s just see if we can yet learn from them, extract one of two ideas from their time in exile.  For example
Ezekiel’s vision “the Lord is there”  passages full of the echoes of God’s sovereignty.

This sovereign God resolved that he would be known and acknowledged. Approximately 65 occurrences and variations. “Then they will know that I am the Lord”. A divine promise that God will be known through the restoration and spiritual renewal of Israel.

God’s total sovereignty is also evident in his mobility. He is not limited to the temple in Jerusalem. He can respond to his people by leaving his sanctuary in Israel, and he can graciously condescend to visit his exiled children in Babylon.

Yes, there was great lamentation, complaining and dreaming of the better days, the days of freedom and the days of the “home” land:
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, we also wept, when we remembered Zion. We hung our lyres on the willows in its midst. For there those who carried us away captive required of us a song; and those who tormented us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember you, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy. (Psalms 137:1-6)

Just as God’s people were in his hand when they were in the promised land singing psalms by the river Jordan and under the authority of divinely anointed kings, so are they still in his hand while exiled to a foreign land, in mourning by the rivers of Babylon, and subject to foreign kings who are also ultimately under God’s authority. In other words, the first prerequisite for God’s people to survive and serve him in exile conditions is an expanded belief in the sovereignty of God.

The exiles are then given God’s instructions through Jeremiah as to how they are to live faithfully in exile. Preston Manning brings it down to four points: 

Settle Down and Build
Settle down, build houses and families, engage in productive work (agriculture) that you may increase in number and not decrease.

Pray
God is reachable by prayer from Babylon just as he was from Judea. Pray specifically for the peace and prosperity of the place where God has relocated you so that you may prosper from its prosperity.

Disregard False Spiritual Advice
You are to disregard the voices and visions of false and immoral prophets who counsel you to act contrary to these instructions. (wow this does sound familiar to all the conspiracy videos and texts we are getting currently)

Trust the Promises
Lastly, God, through Jeremiah, seeks to restore the courage and morale of the exiles by challenging them to trust in his promise of their ultimate spiritual and political restoration.

There is spiritual edification in recognizing that God stays faithful in his covenants, that he forgives all sin despite whatever historical or sociopolitical circumstance.”
James Mikołajczyk

I wish you a blessed Monday as many of your a stuck in some form of restriction. I wish you the care of the Almighty as worries and trouble keep trying to make their way into your heart to affect you faith, your joy and your trust in His promises.

Philemon