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Posts Tagged ‘bible study’

handsBoth Jesus and Stephen were attacked by religious leaders for threatening to destroy the temple just as some are attacked for trying to destroy the church! Both Jesus and Stephen defended themselves with the same argument, an argument that can help us sort through some of the difficult questions surrounding our attitudes toward church.

Jesus declared that the temple was made with human hands, and this would be destroyed.  But, in three days, he would build another temple not made with hands.

Similarly, Stephen argued to the point of death that  “. . . the Most High does not live in houses made by human handsHe quoted then the prophet Isaiah speaking the word of the Lord:

 Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me?
says the Lord.
Or where will my resting place be?
  Has not my hand made all these things? (66:1)

Both Jesus and Stephen make a big distinction between those things made with human hands and the things God makes with his own hands.  The Jews were already familiar with the context for these phrases—which was why they tore their clothes and gnashed their teeth!  Look at these OT passages and you will see easily what the Jews had for centuries described as made with human hands:

            Deuteronomy 4:28There you will serve gods made by human hands, gods of wood and stone, gods that cannot see or hear, eat or smell.”

        2 King 19:18:  They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands.”

            Psalm 115:4:  “But their idols are silver and gold,
    made by human hands.”

Idols—false gods–were made by human hands, so when both Jesus and Stephen used these very words about the holy temple, the Jewish religious leaders were horrified!

While he was holding the coat of those throwing stones, Saul probably didn’t understand why Stephen would use those blasphemous words, but later as Paul, he would make the same argument in Athens.

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.. . .

The church of Christ, the one Jesus declared He would build,  is not made with human handsThe prophet Daniel was among the first to know this. Look at his interpretation of the dream of Nebuchadnezzar:

 “Your Majesty looked, and there before you stood a large statue—an enormous, dazzling statue, awesome in appearance. 32 The head of the statue was made of pure gold, its chest and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze, 33 its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of baked clay. 34 While you were watching, a rock was cut out, but not by human hands. It struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and smashed them. 35 Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were all broken to pieces and became like chaff on a threshing floor in the summer. The wind swept them away without leaving a trace. But the rock that struck the statue became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth.

44 “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever. 45 This is the meaning of the vision of the rock cut out of a mountain, but not by human hands—a rock that broke the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold to pieces. (Chapter 2)

The kingdom not made with human hands is big and powerful and eternal and everywhere!  The Jews thought the temple represented this eternal kingdom, but they were very wrong.  That temple would be broken down stone by stone as Jesus said.

In contrast, the temple Jesus promised to build was “his body” (John 2:21).  Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17  

Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? 17 God will destroy anyone who destroys this temple. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

And this is the only temple where God dwells, one not made with human hands; rather, in “you together” (translating a plural pronoun). And “you together” are his body, the church, his temple that he is building with his own hands—and this is where God is present!

Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,  in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.  In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Eph. 2:21).

Conclusion:

We can judge better what is from God by looking at who made it.  If people are the creators, originators, or founders, then we should be clear that whatever it is, it is not the equivalent of that which is made by the hand of God.

Now, don’t knee-jerk and jump to a very false conclusion.  Not everything man-made is evil per se. The temple in Jerusalem was not evil per se. Jesus worshipped there, taught there, healed there, and prayed there. The early Christians did the same.

The problem was that at least these religious leaders had turned the temple into an idol!  They owned it, they were proud of their workmanship, they worshipped the temple and defended it to the point of putting the Son of God to death for reminding them that God’s kingdom was not made with human hands.

Some Christians own their church! Some are totally proud of their workmanship!  They worship their worship. They heroically defend their brand—to the point of putting those to death who would remind them that God’s kingdom is not made with human hands and that God does not dwell in churches made with human hands.

Stephen died for reminding the Jews that even the ground around a burning bush could be as holy as the temple. God could not be contained in Jerusalem. Stephen’s God was bigger than theirs. Theirs was so small, he was contained in a building of brick and stone—just like an idol.

We dare not believe that we can contain God in our buildings or behind our signs or within any traditions or fellowships that we might have created ourselves.

An even greater challenge is to step out of buildings that are made with our human hands and be willing to take off our shoes because God is there, and we are on his holy ground.

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water-in-desert-pic-754528After a long trip, there is nothing like coming home! The dogs bark, the kids are peeking out the door; they then attack you with purest joy. Sitting in your chair, lying in your own bed, and eating your own food out of the frig instead of out of vending machines, oh, the joy of coming home!

Isaiah has just put hope back into the heart of his hearers by saying, “He (God) will make a highway for the remnant of his people,” a highway leading home—just as he did for Israel long ago when they returned from Egypt”  (11:16).

And the flashmob erupts in jubilant song! Everybody is singing,

You comfort me . . .You have come to save me

And have given me strength–

And a song, a song of victory! (12:1-2)

Sherrylee and I were in Israel last November—a quite pleasant time of the year, but we have been in Mediterranean countries in June—and it is HOT!  You can’t get enough to drink.

So when Isaiah says that on that great Celebration Day, you will drink deeply from the fountain of salvation, he is drawing on an experience every Israelite must have had.  Dusty, miserably hot, and thirsty—really thirsty—but what wonderful relief and refreshment to drink from an abundant supply of cool, pure water!

Flash forward 700 years and you will hear Jesus using the same words, talking about “living water” to the Samaritan woman in John 4 and water that will quench your thirst once and for all in John 7. 

We have trouble comprehending the power of this image because water is a cheap commodity, everywhere available, but to promise a desert person that they will drink deeply is to promise them life—with its sweetest pleasure!

Of course, praise is followed by the intense desire for proclamation: “Tell the nations what He has done!”  “Make known his praise around the world!”  These passages don’t describe obedience to the Great Commission; they are beyond Paul’s sense of obligation to the Jew first and then to the Greek.

This is pure joy at salvation overflowing the banks! This is so much pleasure at the goodness of God and His leading His people to Zion, to their home, where they belong, that no one could keep from telling the world:

For great is the Holy One of Israel who lives among you!”

Go grab a big class of cold water and celebrate!

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Our neighbors have a 30 foot live oak tree that at one time was strong and beautiful—thick trunk and strong branches, but then began to die.

In fact, the tree died—at least I thought it died. These neighbors,however, called a tree doctor who did massive surgery on this tree to save its life.  When he was finished the tree was only the trunk and a half-dozen large branches, chopped off at the end, mimicking half-amputated limbs. No branches, no leaves—just a bald, amputated tree.

The tree stayed that way for at least a year and maybe longer. I don’t remember when I first noticed a single branch starting to grow out of one of the “dead” branches. Then other little shoots started growing out of the other bare branches, scrawny little branches with a half-dozen leaves each, which made this tree look like a bald man with 10-12 individual hairs combed straight out from different spots on his head.

That was two or three years ago. Today, this tree has a short, but full head of hair—really. That resurrected “dead” tree once again provides a haven for birds and offers some shade from the summer sun.

Forcefully and with frightening power, Isaiah has described for Israel and Judah their pruning—no, pruning is too understated—better, the brutal chopping off of their branches and leaves until they may think there is nothing left alive!

But with Chapter 11,  Isaiah declares with beauty and power: “You are not dead!”

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him” (11:1-2a)

Once again the message of the prophet is that God is the Author of life and death—and His will is to choose life!  You may appear chopped to death; you may appear barren of any sign of life, but God brings life from what appears dead!

The Jews understood these verses as a messianic prophecy, and we Christians do as well. We know that Isaiah is foretelling the coming of the One who said “I am the Life,” and who came to live among people who were dead (Ephesians 2:1-2).

Notice what the Spirit of the Lord that rests on Him brings:

  • Wisdom
  • Understanding
  • Counsel
  • Might
  • Knowledge
  • Fear of the Lord

We today readily appreciate the first five gifts; we treasure wisdom, understanding, knowledge. We know the value of good advice and of strength well used.

We don’t know what to do with the “fear of the Lord,” yet for the One who brings Life, “he will delight in the fear of the LORD.” The prophet must not be talking about angst; he must be talking about respect, honor, deference, loving submission.  In western culture, we hardly have the vocabulary to describe the “fear of the Lord.”

But Isaiah goes on to say what it looks like to delight in the fear of the Lord:

“He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes or decide by what he hears with his ears;

Pretty hard to deceive someone who does not judge by what he sees or hears! Objectivity and just believing what can be seen and heard does not seem to be characteristic of the Almighty Judge.

but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.

So the prerequisite for social justice is righteousness. To seek social justice before or without righteousness is not the way of the Lord.

“Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.”  

I just saw Miss Haiti 2012 at a conference in Indiana. I knew who she was because she wore a tiara and a sash that said “Miss Haiti 2012”.  We can recognize the Branch of Jesse by his righteousness and faithfulness—and of those who are his branches.

Verses 6-8 list pairings of natural enemies: wolves and lambs, leopards and goats, calves and lions, cows and bears, lions and oxen, babies and cobras. The point of listing each of these deadly adversaries is to say that on his holy mountain, natural enemies will not “harm or destroy” each other.

That thought makes me question the validity of the very phrase natural enemies. Let’s try some other natural enemies and test this out:  rich vs. poor, conservative vs. liberal, minority vs. majority, weak vs. strong. Would you add others?

I am not suggesting that there are no contradictions or counterpoints any more than I would say that there is nothing natural.  Isaiah’s prophecy reveals a new order of natural, where peace will reign in God’s creation because “all the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD” (v. 9).

In his conclusion Isaiah describes the Root of Jesse standing “as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.”  The following verses continue the gathering of His people: the scattered, the missing, the conquered, those exiled– from the four corners his people will come together again, but this time in peace.

Sounds to me like we should hesitate to pray, “Lord, come quickly,” until we find ourselves being transformed into a people of peace, a people being gathered together with others very different from ourselves—as different and as apparently threatening as babies and cobras.

In our world driven by rivalry, where so much is measured in red and blue, black and white, haves and have-nots, a peaceable kingdom seems impossible.

But don’t forget that we were as dead as that big oak tree—until the Branch of Jesse came to life and brought life.  He who brings life to the dead can—and will bring peace to a world full of enemies.

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 With the political arena as hot as it is during this election year, and with the unreasonable fear propagated by the talk shows and political pundits, this chapter from Isaiah really has something to say to us!

You will remember from chapter 7 that Samaria and Israel were plotting against the southern kingdom of Judah, which left the king and his people “like trees shaking in a storm!” (7:2)  Isaiah’s message was that before a child could be born and be old enough to know good from evil, God would have used Assyria to erase the kingdoms of Samaria and Israel—so don’t worry!

The first four verses of chapter 8 deal with the birth of this child, Isaiah’s son Maher-shalal-hash-baz.  So everything is just as God said it would be! Trust Him to be in control.

But not everyone believes God is in control!

In verse 11, the prophet  receives a warning from God that he “should not think like everyone else!”  You may want to put the next verses on your TV screen for the next few weeks:

 “Don’t call everything a conspiracy, like they do, and don’t live in dread of what frightens them.

Which conspiracy are you afraid of? Are you afraid of the left-wingers creating a social welfare state, bankrupting the country, led by a closet-Muslim president who isn’t really a citizen of the United States?

Or are you afraid of right-wing tea cuppers who want every citizen armed to the teeth, led by someone who believes the American Indians are descendents of the lost tribes of Israel, therefore the U.S. should obliterate Iran before it gets a nuclear weapon and blows up the world!

Which conspiracy keeps you awake at night?

13 Make the Lord of Heaven’s Armies holy in your life. He is the one you should fear. He is the one who should make you tremble. 14 He will keep you safe.

It’s not even ironical that Isaiah follows this exhortation with a prophecy that both Israel and Judah will stumble—because as a people, they will not trust the Lord.  Instead they would turn to palm readers and go to séances to consult the dead, saying, “With their whisperings and mutterings, they will tell us what to do”(v.19)

“But shouldn’t people ask God for guidance? Should the living seek guidance from the dead?” (v.20)

Or as Isaiah might have said it today, “Should people who believe in God seek guidance from CNN or Fox?”

Here are the choices the prophet gave to his audience—and they are still ours today: Either “Look to God’s instructions and teachings,” or, “contradict His Word.”

Those who choose the latter will be in the dark, so they will first experience an emptiness, a hunger, that makes them angry, so angry that they rage against their government—and their God—for not being there for them!

“They will look up to heaven 22 and down at the earth, but wherever they look, there will be trouble and anguish and dark despair.”

If you despair about the coming election, or the state of the world; if you find yourself drawn to conspiracy theories or horoscopes; if you have a hunger that you can’t seem to fill, or a rage that you can’t seem to quench . . . Isaiah has a word for you:

Make the Lord of Heaven’s Armies holy in your life. He is the one you should fear. He is the one who should make you tremble. 14He will keep you safe.

Just say, as Isaiah said, “I will wait for the Lord. . . I will put my trust in Him.”

Now that puts this election into a whole different light, doesn’t it!

 

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Isaiah must have been reading the book right before his on the shelf because Chapter five’s first 4.5 verses sound so much like Song of Solomon:I will sing for the one I love . . . .“  You might question his choice of a vineyard as the subject of this love song. In our day, it might have been a beach or a mountain retreat, but a vineyard worked for Isaiah.

The writer sings the song of One who poured his heart and soul into finding exactly the right place for a vineyard, clearing it of stones, cutting a winepress out of the stones, even building a watchtower to keep its tender treasures safe.  Everything that could be done to make this vineyard happy was done—EVERYTHING!

“…but it yielded only bad grapes!” 

That’s all that needed to be said. It had just one raison d’etre – and it failed.

Down comes the protection, down comes the watchtower, back come the stones, the briars and thorns, the animals that trample the tender plants into oblivion—and it becomes a desert!

What had the people of Judah and Jerusalem done to deserve such a scathing reckoning?  It’s a very chilling list if we read this as a warning for us as well:

  • V. 8“What sorrow for you who buy up house after house and field after field,
    until everyone is evicted and you live alone in the land.”
  • V. 11,12“What sorrow for those who get up early in the morning, looking for a drink of alcohol
    and spend long evenings drinking wine to make themselves flaming drunk.12 They furnish wine and lovely music at their grand parties—lyre and harp, tambourine and flute—but they never think about the Lord or notice what he is doing.”
  • V.18,19aWhat sorrow for those who drag their sins behind them with ropes made of lies, who drag wickedness behind them like a cart!19 They even mock God and say, ‘Hurry up and do something! We want to see what you can do.”
  • V. 20What sorrow for those who say that evil is good and good is evil, that dark is light and light is dark, that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.”

Not a very long list brought total destruction by the One who loved the vineyard!

I couldn’t help but thinking about all the small lots in Southlake that are being bought up to build solitary McMansions ! About all the university students so eager to get back to college parties—something they probably heard their parents bragging about from their own glory days!

I couldn’t help but thinking about all the political rhetoric we have heard in the last couple of weeks—the twisting of truth, calling what is evil good and what is good evil . . . .

This chapter does not have a happy ending. Sorry about that, Disney fans. “If someone looks across the land, only darkness and distress will be seen.”

Are you better off than you were four years ago?

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Unity Requires Grace!

Whenever someone starts to talk about unity, other people get nervous that somehow people who shouldn’t be in the fold of the saved might be allowed in.  I suppose too many people under grace would somehow water down the value of salvation, or those that were really good would be disappointed to learn that they didn’t really need to be that good to get in.

Even those who further narrow the passage way believe in grace.  In fact, it is the measure and scope of God’s grace that seems to be one of the most difficult problems. Too much grace and we have Romans 6: “Shall we sin that grace may abound??”  Too much grace and we are tempted towards universalism, or salvation for everyone!

But not enough grace and we find ourselves in legalism, sectarianism, and judgmentalism, which all of us believe to be out of step with the spirit of Christ.

What if we quit speculating about grace and just listed the sins toward which we know God has extended grace.  This is just a blog, not a book, so you’ll forgive me for just hitting the high points without a lot of footnotes.

Old Testament

  1. Lying              –                                              Abraham lied twice about his wife
  2. Cheating      –                                              Jacob cheated Esau out of the blessing
  3. Idolatry        –                                              Aaron made a golden calf for Israel to worship
  4. Rebellion     –                                              Aaron and Miriam rebelled against Moses’ leadership
  5. Lust                –                                              David lusted after Bathsheba
  6. Adultery      –                                              David took Bathsheba to bed and got her pregnant
  7. Murder        –                                              David had Bathsheba’s husband Uriah killed
  8. Challenging God’s righteousness      Job

New Testament

  1. Adultery      –                              Jesus and the adulterous woman
  2. Stealing        –                              Thief on the cross
  3. Denying Jesus           –              Peter
  4. Power struggle         –              “Who will be the greatest in the kingdom”
  5. Hatred/Vengence   –              “Do you want us to call down fire on them?”
  6. Persecuting Christians –         Saul of Tarsus
  7. Murder                        –              Saul and Stephen
  8. Racial prejudice/hypocrisy – Peter with the Greek Christians

And then there is the lists of  “and so were some of you” that Paul mentions: “You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips” Colossians 3:7.

So how does this list of sins stack up against those sins for which you are willing to deny fellowship with others who call on the name of the Lord?

 

Let’s acknowledge two very important truths about sin/grace here:

  1. All sin has consequences.  Grace did not mean Paul was not hated and persecuted by the Jews. Grace did not mean that David’s infant son by Bathsheba did not die.  All sin has consequences.
  2. We are called to repent of all sin!  But as I think back over the above list, I don’t remember Abraham or Jacob or the Sons of Thunder repenting—at least not in a way that was worth recording.

So I can acknowledge that God’s grace is extended to all (“God so loved the world”—not “God so loved the Good People”)and still acknowledge that there are people who will not accept the grace of God.

Two verses of Scripture have changed my need to speculate about the portion of grace you have received.

John 1:14 – The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory,the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

If Jesus could be full of truth and full of grace at the same time, then I should strive for the same.  All truth and no grace is just as wrong as all grace and no truth!  Full, to me, means going for the most truth possible and the most grace possible.

James 2:13“Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

What this says to me is that if you are in doubt about whether to exercise mercy or judgment, you should always choose mercy.

Ephesians 2 says that God is rich in mercy.  If you need help in deciding whether to show grace or to exercise judgment—think about being “full of grace” like Jesus and “rich in mercy” like God.  I have a hard time seeing how you can go wrong following these paths.

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Tomorrow Sherrylee and I are driving about seven hours to Searcy, Arkansas, because her father Max Johnson and his wife Opal are being presented with a Christian Service Award from Harding University during their lectureship.

The presentation will probably last a total of five minutes, but good time management is not really a relevant issue here. Sharing special moments with those you love—at any cost—especially your parents—is what it is all about!

Have you ever noticed in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) that “honor your father and your mother” is the first commandment which is about something other than the uniqueness and holiness of God?  Commentators often see a shift of direction in the fifth commandment, moving from God-centered commands to neighbor-centered .

Jesus probably saw it this way too as you can tell from his summary of the ten commands: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and, love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12).

I like to think about this fifth commandment as being the bridge between the two groupings.  After all, your parents are not really neighbors and they haven’t been divine since you were about ten years old.

Yet, in some ways they still have their feet on both of these banks. My mother is 88 years old and lives about five miles from Sherrylee and me—and so she is my neighbor.  And you can’t call God Father without thinking about your own father, can you?

So what does God mean when He commands us to honor our fathers and mothers?  And what does that look like for me when I’m thirty? Forty?  Fifty?  Sixty?  Or older?  (My mom just lost a friend of hers who was 107. She was being cared for by her 80-year-old daughter—or maybe it was her almost 60-year-old granddaughter—Mom wasn’t sure!).

Mom would laugh if I told her that the core meaning of the word God wrote on the table of stones is weighty. She is definitely not weighty! But the way the word is used has to do with something that is weighty with value. My mental image is of those balance scales that are still used in many countries to determine the value of something. The heavier the scales register, the more valuable the commodity.

The fifth commandment says that parents are to be considered precious, of extraordinary value, like a pair of huge diamonds that always drop their side of the scales to the bottom.

The Ten Commandments were not given to children; Jesus accused the Pharisees and teachers of the law of breaking the command of God to honor father and mother (Matthew 15:3ff).  We never outgrow the command to honor father and mother!

Jesus reprimanded the Pharisees for not using their money to take care of their parents.  I know a good man who was a corporate executive for a multinational firm for many years, who retired financially secured, but who spent all of his retirement taking care first of his wife’s parents, who lived into their nineties, and then his own until their deaths.  He honored his parents and hers at great personal cost—because they were weighty—precious jewels.

Jesus also quotes the command not to curse father or mother to the Pharisees, so I wonder if they were doing that too?   Could your parents frustrate you so much with their insecurities, with their lack of comprehension, with their lack of inhibition, with their legalism, with their insistence on their own way, could they make you want to curse??  Maybe the Pharisees and their parents weren’t so different from us after all???

Honoring father and mother has everything to do with honoring God!  To paraphrase the Apostle John, if we can’t honor our earthly father and mother, how can we truly honor our heavenly Father? (1 John 4:20)

And so we drive a total of 14 hours for a five-minute ceremony to honor Max and Opal—but we do it because they are precious to God and to us.  If our little trip were put in the balance scale on one side, it wouldn’t even register compared to the weighty people on the other side.

 

 

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