Monday, December 24, 2018

SS: Light of the world

Has anybody ever been to Ruby Falls?  In the caverns that go to this underground waterfall, there are lights and interesting rocks that look like steak and potatoes.  I don’t think they really do this anymore, but at some point when you get to the falls, the tour guides would turn the lights off to see what it was like when Leo Lambert discovered it.  What would you feel like in a cave with the lights out?  I already feel nervous being underground because of fears that the ground above me would fall and I’d be crushed.  But in the dark it would feel scarier. 

Leo Lambert must have been a strange and brave guy.  Do you know why we have lights up at Christmas time?  Because in John 8:12 Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

At Christmas, we celebrate him entering the world as a baby.  He is the light.  If he is light, then what was it like before he came?  Dark.  Why was it dark?

I’ll tell you another story.  Greek mythology has the story of Sisyphus, a man who had made the gods mad.  As his punishment, he was doomed to roll a boulder up a hill for eternity.  Once, the rock got to the top, it would roll back down and he would have to start all over.  He would never be able to escape this punishment and please the gods.  The job could not be done.

Now, back to reality.  Who are our first parents?  Adam and Eve.  They were the first people God created and the parents of us all.  God placed them in a perfect garden for them to enjoy and care for.  He gave them one rule.  What was it?  Don’t eat from the tree of Knowledge.  What did they do?  Eat from the tree of Knowledge.  Since then, they had to leave the garden and God took away their privilege of living forever.  They died and so will we one day.

But even sadder is that all of their children and grandchildren born after them are born outside of God’s will.  We are all people who love ourselves first.  We want to sin because we want our way more than God’s.  And when we disobey God and sin, we have a punishment.  Death and separation from God forever. 

How do we solve this problem?  For the Old Testament believers, God formed the nation of Israel and said you can have someone die in your place.  So they would take a lamb or a goat and sacrifice it at the temple.  But what would happen after that?  Leviticus 9:7 They would sin again and need to do it again.  They needed something better than an animal to take their place.

So God sent Jesus as a baby who would live the only perfect human life, and then as an adult, he was killed on a cross by the Jewish leaders and Roman soldiers, and doing that, he suffered hell for us so that anyone who believed in him would be saved from their sins and live with him in heaven after they die.  Hebrews 9:11-12

After this we acted out the Christmas story, reviewed the lesson, and played bingo.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

SS lesson: camels and needles

This was over a week ago.  My life gets so busy and I get so tired.  And these lessons work so much better on paper than in real life and I need to start on the next one soon.

I had many glasses and one measuring cup.  They had different amounts of water.  The question was, could it fit in the measuring cup?  Two out of 5 could.

Then we moved on to a needle with an eye.  Can it fit?  A thread could.  A yarn couldn't.  A whole cloth couldn't.  And even with the thread it took me and my assistant and some of the girls many tries before we could get it in.

Jesus actually talked about this in the Bible, only instead of trying to fit yarn and fabric through the hole, He talked about something MUCH bigger.  Let’s read this account.

We acted out Mark 10:17-25.
17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
23 And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is[b] to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
So what was the rich man’s problem?

I’m going to propose that the problem isn’t greed or his riches.  It is that he wanted to follow Jesus using his own means and his own resources.  And we simply cannot be saved from our sins and live with Jesus in heaven using our own skills. 

There’s this story that says the Eye of a Needle was a gate outside Jerusalem that was so short that a camel carrying riches had to kneel down and take all its cargo off to enter through. 

Let me tell you the truth.  There was no such gate.  Nobody would make a gate that way.  People who tell that story make entering God’s kingdom humanly possible.  But it is not possible for a sinful human being such as me and you to see God’s face and be able to live without help.  Jesus said an eye of a needle and meant a literal eye of a needle. 

The disciples give the important part of the story next in verse 26: Who then can be saved?

And Jesus give his glorious answer: With man this is impossible but not with God.  All things are possible with God. 

Let me take you to another passage where Jesus said something that made no sense – John 6.  First, in verse 35 he said, “I am the bread of life.  He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.

Skipping to verse 53, Jesus says, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.  For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me.”

So, did Jesus says we have to eat and drink him to be saved?  What did Jesus do to save us from our sins?  He died on the cross.  His body was broken and his blood was spilled and he took the punishment for our sins. 

What must we do with this information?  We must believe in Jesus and accept his punishment for our sins.  We can’t pay our debt against God the Father, but Jesus could.  And Jesus did.  So now we must be friends with him and follow him.  And to do that, we spend time with him.  How do we do that?  Reading the Bible, praying, going to church.  Jesus said that only God is God, and Jesus is God.  So Jesus was good for you, and he came back to life so that he could still be with you. 

After the lesson, I told them that the piece of fabric is really many threads in one.  We unraveled it some and then we could fit it in the eye.  In much the same way, the Lord has to unravel me over and over and eventually I will receive a new body that doesn't want to sin anymore and then I can finally reach the kingdom of God all by his work and not through anything I could do or decide.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

7 ways we can end abortion in churches and society.

More and more, I feel led to be a better voice in advocating for the life of unborn children.  While we debate the place of guns, war, or capital punishment, another life is snuffed out, dismembered, and vacuumed down a tube in the name of women's health and reproductive rights.  We can't overturn Roe v. Wade until we change the culture.  But we must change the culture and I need people with better EQ than me to help me.  Here is how we can start.

1. Talk about sex regularly in church.  Do you know that 1 in 4 women in your church pews have had an abortion as regular church-going Christians?  This needs to stop.  We need to reduce this number.  If churches were more open about sex and its results and the positives of marital sex, maybe our culture would not be so confused.

2. Promote adoption, share positive stories, and even champion open adoptions where the birth mother can watch her child grow up and have a relationship with the adoptive parents of her child.  We need to erase the stigma that was attached to adoption before 1973.  Before then, if a child got pregnant, they would take her far away for her to have the baby and then take the child away and send it to be adopted before she could even decide what to do.  This should not be. It doesn't happen any more, and people need to continue to make this possible.

3.  Recommend abstinence over contraceptions.  Just because people in your church are going to have sex no matter what does not mean you need to say, "Kids will be kids" and give them birth control.  They need to learn self control and their rights to not be used by their friends to satisfy sexual curiosity.  Contraception actually increases teen pregnancy and is promoted by the abortionists so that they can get teens pregnant and to come into their clinics.  Let’s tell the kids both young and old that they don’t have to follow their strong desires and to deny themselves of things they don’t need, and they will be happier and less heart-broken.

4. Support Pregnancy Resource Centers.  PRCs debunk the argument that pro-lifers don’t care about children after they are born.  They provide clothes and diapers and food for the kids, classes for the mothers and even GED classes and job-hunting skills.  No we can’t end war or crime.  We can barely keep our lights on sometimes.  But churches need to promote these centers the way they promote other charities and without shame. 

5.  Let’s get political.  Don’t vote democrat.  You don’t have to vote Republican, but don’t vote for the party that takes my tax money and gives it to Planned Parenthood, wants to remove all restrictions on abortions we’ve made thus far, and also believe in socialism.  It’s not the government’s job to solve everything.  It’s the church’s.  If the church isn’t doing it, it should, but the government cannot solve the problems.  But don’t vote for the Democrats.

6.  If there are parents in the church who have a girl in their house who is pregnant, tell them to not go for abortion as the first thing in their minds.  Shame the dads who want to kick their girl out of the house if she continues in her pregnancy.  They parents did not get the girl pregnant.  The girl made her own decision.  They should be proud for loving their girl anyway and promoting life.  They should not be in an environment where they feel like they have to hide the situation.

7.  The intersection.  If you care about the intersection, you should care about ending abortion and voting pro-life.  The intersection is the meeting of any class of people who have been considered oppressed.  Secular society considers black people, women, and even gay people to be oppressed.  If there is a black woman who happens to be a lesbian, then society considers her to have the greatest voice in matters. Abortion attacks both black people and women the most.  I will talk about that in later blogs. 

Sunday, October 21, 2018

SS lesson: Unknown God

Today we went around, said our names and somebody we like best in the world and why.

God is like that but much more.  For example, one of my favorite people is a woman named Debbie.  She would call me and have lunch with me and do things for me.  She gave me my green hoodie and her late husband let me be a children’s minister at his church for three years, and she even did the major job of helping me plan my wedding.  She knows about all my problems and loves me anyway.  Jesus is even better than that.  Debbie can’t always be there for me.  She has two kids and two grandkids, one of which should be born the next month.  She has a job and is always traveling.  Since I moved to Locust Grove I haven’t seen her in over year though I have talked to her.  

Jesus can always be there for me even though I’ve never seen him.  He will never die or change or not love me as much as before.

We don’t know how wonderful he is and won’t until we will finally see him.

Next we started a KWL chart.  It has three columns: Things you Know, things you Want to know, and things you Learned.  The subject is God.

I had two very insightful young ladies in my class today and one brilliant teen helper, and among the four of us, we Know that God is our Savior, that he died on the cross, that he made us, and that he knows everything.  We Want to know how he is God and what he looks like.  We held off on the "Learned" column for later (and I remembered it at the end.)

Next we talked about Paul.  He was on a mission trip to Athens, Greece.  He wanted to teach them about God and Jesus who he sent.  The people in Athens believed that God was real, but they also believed that all of the other gods of false religions were real as well.  When Paul arrived in Athens he called the people out and taught them that there is only one God. 

My teen helper mentioned that the Greeks believed there was a god for every town.  I think that is insightful for what Paul says next.  Next, I showed the kids a graphic of the altar to the "Unknown God."  The Greeks had an altar just in case they missed some God.  And Paul said, "I'm going to show you this God."

Starting in Acts 17:24 -

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for

“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;
as even some of your own poets have said,
“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’

So from reading this, what are things that we can know about God

-Made the world and everything in it (creator)
-Lord (he rules) heaven and earth (ruler)
-Is not confined to temples or altars (this would go with my helper mentioning the local gods for each town.  The true God is God of all of them)
-He doesn’t need people to serve him
-He gives all people life and breath and everything (He sustains us)
-He made from one man and woman (Adam and Eve) every person on earth. 
-He decided how long everyone would live and where they would live.  (Judge)
-He decided that they would seek God and find him. 
-He is near everyone. (Father)

Next, I had the girls make a mobile out of hangers, string, and paper about who God is.  While they were working, I moved on to a lesson from John 4. 

Jesus and his disciples were traveling through Samaria, a land they didn’t like.  His disciples went to get food and Jesus rested at a well.  He spoke to a woman who was there by herself in a time when good Jewish people didn’t talk to Samaritans, and good men did not talk to women.  While they talked, Jesus made known that he knew about her five husbands and now a man who is not her husband is in her life.  She was impressed and decided to ask about where it was alright to worship. 

John 4:19-24
The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Jesus saw a woman who didn’t know God and showed her God, himself.  People who don’t know our God imagine that he is this distant entity beyond the mountains who doesn’t really care what’s going on.  But he does, so he sent Jesus.  Jesus is the Messiah who would solve the problem of our separation from God.  Why are we separated?  Because of sin.  What did Jesus do?  He died on the cross to take that sin for himself.  Then he came back to life, giving us his righteousness.  Since he was God, he was the only good human being to ever live.  And you can only come to God by knowing and loving Jesus.  

Finally, we filled in the Learned column.  We learned that God is our Keeper, our Father, and that he decided where and when I would live.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Reckless Love and My Reformed Presbyterian Beliefs - how I reconcile them

The song, "Reckless Love", causes many passions in the Christian world these days.  There's people that love the passionate lyrics of God's relentless love and people who don't like that it describes God as reckless and relies too much on emotions.  I echo all sentiments but I mostly like the song as a Reformed Presbyterian Christian.

Why?  Mostly because it captures in lyrical form God's irresistible grace, the concept of Reformed soteriology that if God has called you to salvation, then he will send his Holy Spirit to change your heart until you come to believe in Jesus and surrender your life to him.

It also debunks the false notion that God will not tamper with your free will.  I tell you, I'm glad that he very much does that, and here's the lyric from "Reckless Love" that backs it up:

"There's no shadow You won't light up
Mountain You won't climb up
Coming after me
There's no wall You won't kick down
Lie You won't tear down
Coming after me"

and you also have the verses that say, "Before I spoke a word, you were singing over me."  "Before I took a breath, you breathed your life in me."

My beliefs aren't really popular.  One, people love their free wills and protest, "So we don't have a choice in our salvation?"  I say that people have wills and will follow them, but our wills aren't free.  Without God's intervention, we can choose God, but we won't because we love ourselves and our ways so much more.  Our hearts need to be changed by none other than the Holy Spirit.  It's like and illustration I've used before of me going to a graveyard and inviting people there to a party.  They have the choice to go, but they can't make that choice - they're dead.  They must be made alive.

The other objection is the idea that not all people will be saved.  What about 2 Peter 3:9 which says, "The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance"?

I honestly believe Peter is directing that sentence to all people that God has called to salvation, the elect.  He will not will any of them to perish, and they won't perish.  But if God means that he wills all people everywhere to be saved, then everyone will be saved.  But not everyone will be saved, so he must just mean that God doesn't will his elect to perish.  This idea is backed by Jesus's prayer in John 17:9, "I am praying for them.  I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me."  

God wants us to share the Gospel of Jesus to all people, but only those he has called will respond and believe, and those are the people he will chase down recklessly until they turn to him.  And he will wait until the last one of them repents before he finally sends Jesus back and ends this current age.  

And if you are one of the believers, you have a lot to be thankful for.  You should not be proud or complacent.  You must be humble knowing that God's grace is not obligated, and you must not be complacent because you must still work your salvation with fear and trembling.  You must spread the Gospel to all people and you must work for justice and you must watch yourself so that you don't sin, but you go knowing you won't be alone and that you will see the fruit of your labors because God plans the means as well as the ends.  The idea of a universe where something is outside of God's control is not possible because God must be absolutely sovereign, even when we don't understand it or are comfortable with it.  But he's also good and loves his creation more than we ever could.  These things we will never quite understand because we are not him.  And for that I am glad.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

SS: Ananias and the need to obey

I write these down as the way I want them to go, now how they actually did go.  This lesson went will despite one child wanting to talk recess and nothing else and all of them learning the need to obey, not necessarily the need to follow Jesus.  Now, the lesson:

First, we played "Simon Says."  Obeying is easy when it's a game.  Why is it important to obey?  Why is it important to obey God?

Think of a carousel.  It's colorful, has music, and you get to ride animals.  You seem to be moving, but really, you are going nowhere.  You are going in circles and stuck in a rut.  Disobedience, like the ride, seems fun a first, but in the end, your life is meaningless and you are stuck.  When you start to obey God, however, life may seem more difficult, but you have more options in life and will thrive.

Next, we turned to a sheet that had a list of things to obey, and the kids had to rate whether it was easy to obey or not.

Finally, we got to the good part, the Bible story.  In Acts 9, the man who became Paul, was on his way to put Christians in jail.  Then, Jesus stopped him and his buddies with a blinding light and asked, "Why are you persecuting me?"  "Who are you?" asked Paul.  "I am Jesus, who you are hurting."  Jesus told him that he must now follow Jesus and tell non-Jewish people about him.

Then Jesus visited a Christian named Ananias to go to this house to Paul, yes that one, and pray for him to see again.  He will be a Christian now. 

Ananias had a choice to make.  He knew that Paul had been putting Christians in jail and attending their executions.  Why would he want to pray for him to see again and to become a Christian?  But Ananias went and prayed for Paul.

After that, Paul came to tell many people about Jesus, made most of Europe Christian, and wrote half of the New Testament.  If you are not Jewish, then chances are you are a Christian because of Paul. 

Luke wrote the book of Acts and told this story to show how the work of Jesus continues after he left the earth and until he comes back.  Does he need us to help?  No.  But he wants us to help, and we do that by obeying him.  Just like Ananias kept on obeying, YOU can keep obeying. 

Here is one more story of a man who obeyed God even when it was hard: John the Baptist.  He had many followers.  But God told him that when Jesus comes, he is to tell everybody to follow him because he was the one that people have to believe in to have their sins forgiven and to go to heaven.  And what happened?  More people followed Jesus than John.  In John 3:30, John tells people, "He must become greater, and I must become less."

Would it be hard to tell people to follow Jesus only to know that it will result in them loving him more than you?  It is hard for me because I like having people listen to me and follow me.  I like my fans.  But if they follow Jesus in a way that leads them away from me and to thrive more, then I will have to cheer them on even though I miss them greatly.  But I hope to talk and interact with them forever in God's completed kingdom, and maybe even for a time in the here and now.

Judges: Samson - God's dumb jock

It took me a month and a half to get around to blogging about Samson.  Why?   My schedule changed and I still don't have a rhythm.  Samson's story is 4 chapters long.  Samson is so conflicted.

First, the Philistines are attacking Israel.  Israel sinned by worshiping other gods again, and God sent an enemy to seriously scar them.  Israel is repenting again and they need a savior.

So God goes to a childless couple in the tribe of Dan to announce that Manoah and his Mrs. will have a son.  He was to be a lifelong Nazarite and avoid alcohol, grapes, and never cut his hair.  Just like Jesus, he was a longed for child, and he was supposed to be set apart and holy.  The only thing is, Jesus was the only perfect man who ever lived.  I don't see any indication that Samson ever tried to live holy.

He grew up and saw a sexy lady among the Philistines.  He wanted to marry her.  His parents warned him not to do so because she was not an Israelite.  But Samson followed his urges and married her.  Then he found a lion along a path and killed it.  He passed by the lion again, and some bees made honey in it.  Samson ate some knowing full well that it is unclean to touch a dead body.  He also gave some to his parents and defiled them.  Then he made a riddle and messed with the minds of his new in-laws.  He placed bets on if they could solve it.  They threatened Samson's new wife for the answer and she made his life miserable until he told her.  Then they found out.  In payment, he went to a Philistine town, killed some men, and took their clothes.  Then he went home and they gave his wife to the "best man."

Later on, Samson came back for his wife, found out that she had been given to another man, and then grabbed 300 foxes, tied their tails together, and set them on fire.  They ran and burned down towns.  Then, men came to attack him and he killed them all with the jawbone of a donkey.

Samson led Israel for 20 years, but in his old age, he had not learned to stay away from Philistine women.  He went into a prostitute in Gaza.  The paparazzi ambushed him, hoping to catch him in the morning, but at midnight, he took the gates of the city and marched them all the way to Hebron.

Then, he fell in love with Delilah who coaxed him into telling the secret of his strength.  He told many lies such as, "Bind me with new cords," or "Bind me with old cords" or "Tie my hair to a loom."  Each time she told her Philistine friends.  Each time they came.  He knew he couldn't trust her. Yet he still told her that he had never cut his hair.  So she told her friends and they cut his hair, captured him, gouged out his eyes, and made him do slave labor.  But then his hair grew back, he found the main poles of the place he was in, and caused the building to collapse and kill many Philistines and himself. 

Samson was a puzzle.  He slept around and never tried to honor the Lord with his choices, and yet God chose him to judge the Philistines.  He's like Donald Trump.  I can't stand him, but he still is doing what he said he would do when elected and he's still better than the alternatives.  It shows how far away from God both Israel and America had come to fall under such weak leadership.  We only have the choice between godless and more godless.

And yet, I know I have not always followed the Lord in my attitudes and practices either.  I certainly don't deserve to be leading the church in any capacity, but God can made straight lines with crooked sticks.  And I'm thankful that he uses anybody at all to carry out his will.  And I'm certainly thankful he finally sent Jesus to save us and will do so again.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Take care of what you got

For the first time in ten months, I taught Sunday School.  And it was good to be back.  And for my comeback, I taught on a parable I didn't understand for the longest time until I heard Brooks preach on it about a year ago.  It is in Luke 16:1-12.

Basically, there is a wealthy man who has a manager that is going to have to fire because he was being dishonest with his money.  The manager, let's call him Bob, was frightened and had to figure out a new source of income.

So he went to one of the men who owed the rich man money and said, "How much do you owe?"  "800 bushels of wheat."  Bob said, "Why don't you just pay me 400 bushels?' 

Bob went to another guy and said, "How much do you owe?"  "1000 jugs of oil."  Bob told him he only had to pay 800.

At the end, the wealthy man took back Bob and he had new friends.

At first, it seems like Jesus is praising Bob for cheating the rich man out of his dues. But then you remember what tax collectors did.  They would take more money than the people owed so that they could make a profit.

Suppose I worked for a library and some child had a late book and owed a dollar for a fine. If I took only a dollar, I would have to give it to the librarian, and I wouldn't have any left.  But if tell the kid he owes 4 dollars, then the library gets its dollar, and I get 3.

Basically, Bob was making the people pay more than what they owed to the rich man to make money himself.

But do you know what's more valuable than money or houses or cars or iPhones or even your friends?  Knowing Jesus.  What are we supposed to do with what we know about Jesus?  Share it with people.  Tell them how they can become right with our holy God even though we have sinned and sin can't be forgiven.

You see, we all have sin.  And if that sin goes on in itself, we can't see God or live in heaven with him.  But Jesus said that he would take the punishment for our sins by what he did when he came to earth.  He lived the only perfect life and then died on the cross.  And since he was perfect, he came back from the dead.  Knowing this and believing Jesus is the only way to be forgiven of our sins and to live in heaven.  Nothing is more valuable. 

So, what if I treated Jesus the way Bob treated the rich man's money?  I would probably go to my friend and say, "To get to heaven, you need to pay for your sins.  You need to know Jesus, but first you also have to life a perfect life starting now, oh, and give me $100."  Is that good?  No, because the only thing you need to do to get to heaven is to know Jesus.  He will make you good.  Knowing him will make you want to obey his commands.

Finally, I turned to John 1:35-37 to see how telling about Jesus was done correctly.  John the Baptist had two disciples.  Then Jesus walked by, and John said, "This is the Lamb of God who will take away the sins of the world."  The two men turned and followed him.  John didn't say to first get baptized or sell their money to the poor.  He said to follow Jesus and nothing more.  And his job was done.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

For my students: past and present

It's a new school year and for young people and CBC/CCS, I've missed a whole year of your lives.  And there's people before then in Loganville; I've missed 5 years of your lives.  Right now I'm watching you all from a distance and wanting to get back in to teach the Bible and to make disciples, but for now, I'll just give some advice.

1. If you were once a student of mine either in after school or at Sunday School and you see me and I say "hi" to you, seriously folks, say "hi" to me.  What is wrong with you?  I know many of you are in 4th grade and starting to mature, but if saying "hi" to adults is not cool or immature, choose to be uncool and immature.  Life is too short to care what other people think other than God and those he has placed over you.  Don't set age limits on your friendships and be friendly.

2. Be careful of your anger.  I have one main person in mind when I write this, but it can apply to all.  In fact, I can write this to myself.  Nothing makes me sadder than to see my young friends making the same mistakes over and over when it's relating to people who either anger or annoy them.  But remember, you have somebody who is already angry at injustice in the world, both in general and against you.  He is God.  He sent his Son Jesus to die for your sins and even the sins of those who have wronged you.  And he will correct all injustice.  So you don't have to do anything.  To do so is to say, "I'm better than God and know better what I'm doing."  That is idolatry and that is sin and not okay.  But Jesus died for you and you can come to him for forgiveness and correction.

Also remember, he has placed parents and teachers in your life if you need a visible reminder that God cares about injustice and is already angry so you don't have to be. 

Also, when I've been in situations where I was provoked to be angry or rude, I've found it helpful to look the people in the eyes.  Also, looking people in the eyes is the hardest thing for me to do and I can't stand it.  But practice looking people in the eyes and you may find that these people have souls and are hurting too, which is why they are hurting you.  It doesn't excuse it, but it will help you understand.  I don't know who I'm quoting, but remember, "You have more in common with people you disagree with than you do with God."  Let us all remember that, both you and me.

3.  My old students in college, I'm mostly thinking of Aubrie.  I miss you.  When you started middle school and decided to start having my dad teach the class at Trinity Grace instead of me, I regret not carrying on that class.  If I could start over, I would have split the class boy/girl and taught you.  You were always amazing and you still are, and I hope you are still growing in your faith now.  Say "hi" if you read this and maybe we can do some kind of spiritual formation. 

For both you and the ones I still see, you never outgrow your time with old Sunday School teachers/ children's ministers.  I consider myself a fellow student with you and in church situations, we are all one family.  Let's not break those ties.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Judges: Oh, Shibboleth!

I'm supposed to be moving on to Samson soon.  But here's the part of Jephthah's story that gets forgotten by me and others, but it also introduced the term "shibboleth" into out culture.  In our culture, "shibboleth" means, "a custom, principle, or belief distinguishing a particular class or group of people, especially a long-standing one regarded as outmoded or no longer important."

It's not a good thing.  

But anyway, this story goes back to Jacob's family.  Jacob had two wives and two concubines.  Their soap opera is found in Genesis 29-30.  Jacob loved Rachel more than he loved Leah, but Leah was the older one, the first wife, and the one who bore six of his 12 sons and one daughter.  Rachel finally had two sons.   Her first was Joseph.  Jacob loved Joseph the best and adopted his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, as his own.  They became tribes in Israel.  Apparently, those two tribes must have had bad blood or something.  Or possibly it was the two Joseph tribes versus Gilead, which was a clan of Manasseh who stayed on the east side of the Jordan river.  Jephthah was from Manasseh and fought to save Israel from the Ammonites.

Ephraim came late and said, "Why didn't you call us to help with the Ammonites?  We're going to burn down your house."  Jeph replied that he did call, they said no, and he won.  Why are they causing this drama now?  So conflict brewed and a battle was fought.  Gilead won.  And then, if ever an Ephraimite tried to cross the river, a guard would tell him, "Say 'Shibboleth'".  Ephraimites could only say, "Sibboleth."  If he said it without the "sh" sound, then the guard would kill him.

Sometimes I wonder about Jephthah.  Did losing his daughter over his foolish vow tip him over the edge?  It seems many men after some personal tragedy usually do something to ruin their reputations forever.  It seems like the incidents that got Bill Cosby in trouble with sexual assault happened after he lost his son to a murder.  It seems that RC Sproul, Jr. kept falling off the wagon with vices after he lost his first wife to cancer.  It shows two things.

1) When people suffer a loss, don't let them be alone.  They are suffering and need Christians around them to remind them of God's promises and his commands.  They need support.  If hurting people go unsupervised for long, their wounds will explode into further trauma.

2) If you suffer a loss, look to the past mistakes of others and never say, "this won't happen to me."  Keep going to church or start going.  Endure the awkward conversations and the dumb things that people say.  And remember, although life is hard and people fail you, God has never made a mistake and will never change.  He has not stopped loving you, and he will keep you until he calls you home.  Believe in him.  Don't be alone, and don't just lay down and die.  Do what Switchfoot says, "I dare you to move.  I dare you to life yourself up off the floor."  

I experienced a really bad job loss in October.  I didn't stop even though I wanted to.  It turns out my life was not over.  I got a job at a restaurant, and in the new year I began running for my sanity and volunteering for a pregnancy center.  I also go involved with Celebrate Recovery and my music skills have improved much.  I still feel very alone as some tragedies have more stigma than others, although that should not be the case.  We all have problems and we all need God's grace and to show God's grace.  But I also need to beware that I have to work harder not to make the same mistakes as before.  I don't know how I'll do it but I must move forward.

And Israel moved forward with three judges before Samson: Ibzan, Elon, and Abdan.  

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The basement and the God upstairs

Years ago I read some book by Francis Schaeffer.  I can't remember the title but I was fresh out of seminary wondering what to do with my life.  In that book, Schaeffer had described people in this house and God was supposed to be on the roof.  In today's terms, we would see the people in a basement or ground floor and God on the first floor.  It can also be said that we are in some machine and God is outside the machine.

Pre-modern people believed that people could escape the ground floor and go up to the first floor where God is.  Either that or God could come to the ground floor and bring us up.  But they believed in God and could have some kind of access to him.

Modern people believed that God was upstairs but that we couldn't get to him and he wasn't going to try to get to us.  The underlings in the basement had to make a utopia based on that belief.

Post-modern people don't believe in anything outside the basement.  This ground floor is all there is.  Even if there is a staircase or elevator, they've blocked it up and can't get upstairs and God can't get to us. 

I read that book and wrote a song that I hope to upload again someday called "God in the Machine."

Last week I read an article entitled, "When Ground Floor Projects Are Pushed One Floor Up."  It is based on the same house/machine assumption.  Stephen McAlpine is looking at the sexual revolution.  Whether its the ability to have lots of heterosexual sex without restraints, or the LGBT agenda, or abortion rights, or the wish to have children without having sex, it has all become a religion.  And it confirms my beliefs that if there is no God upstairs, then there is nothing else to live for.  We must live for our pleasures and our whims because it is all we have.  And its a poor substitute for the perfect and holy God, so it must get wilder and wilder as we get bored with it.

And it makes me thing of the women at the pregnancy center that I volunteer for and the one I volunteered for in the past.  They all are in sexual relationships outside of marriage and having children but at the same time they think that they are Christians.  They think they can serve both God and the sexual culture.  But we must find a loving way to tell them that they cannot do so.  Either you believe that there's a God outside the machine who you must serve or your go against what he has revealed in Scripture and have unmarital sex which leads to pregnancies, some pregnancies to abortions, and all of it to broken relationships and struggling to make ends meet. 

Is it judgmental for me to say all this?  Maybe.  I know I'm not perfect either and am also struggling to make ends meet.  But the main thing that kept me from having sex before I got married to Tim was my belief in God and that he has commanded to not commit adultery.  In fact, the main thing that kept me from pursuing same-sex relations is my belief in God and that he has made marriage and sex to be between a man and a woman with no room for questions.  And I'm in a healthy relationship now that is not entangled by previous relational baggage.

And I have had many people say, "well, 'adultery' simply means that you can't have sex with someone other than the one you are married to, but if you are both unmarried than you are fine."  But if you are unmarried and having sex and then break up and marry someone else, then you've already cheated on your spouse.

And I've heard just about every argument for people trying to reconcile Christianity with LGBT identity.  "God made me this way."  "That was only a cultural command."  Look, from creation, God made man male and female (binary) and commanded them to get married and have children.  He commanded sex within a male and female marriage and forbid it outside that context.  And he would not forbid you to do something and then make it impossible for you to carry that out.  1 Corinthians 10:13 says he will always provide a way out for you if you are tempted.  I can understand having strong emotions for someone, but that is not a call to be in a romantic relationship with them.  It could just simply be a call to a really good friendship.  People simply do not know how to be friends anymore because they live in a basement, have blocked up the stairs to the first floor, and have found no substitute for God other than this meaningless thing called sex.  And there is no way out of this machine until God breaks in and rescues you.

And he did that by sending Jesus to die for your sins.  There was no way to approach this holy God and live because you would die with your sins.  But God send his Son to die for your sins.  Jesus also lived the only perfect life and credits it to all who will believe in him.  It is only that way you can come upstairs and meet your God. Will you choose today between sexual perversion and serving Jesus?  You can't serve both.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Judges: The story of Jephthah

At last I get to the story of Jephthah.  I finished Gideon.  I lightly touched upon Gideon's son Abimelech, but I'm not going to do a blog about him because it's painful for me to read Judges 9.  It's very detailed and rather confusing.  He was not a true judge or king of Israel.  He rose up after Gideon died, killed all his brothers, and tried to rule Israel.  Eventually, they all turned against him and he died. 

Then Israel had peace and worshiped the Lord again.  Tola came from the tribe of Issachar.  Then Jair came from Gilead from the part of the tribe of Manasseh that lived east of the Jordan river outside the promised land.  Jephthah would come from this same clan.

Abimelech was the son of a concubine and was ridiculed by his brothers who were born do Gideon's wives.  Gideon was from Manasseh's tribe, but from the west side of the Jordan.  Jephthah was born to a prostitute and was ridiculed by his brothers through his dad's wife.  They disowned him and he moved out into the wilderness.

But then, Israel began to worship the false gods again, and God send the Ammonites to oppress them.  Jephthah had joined a band of ruffians who wreaked havoc around the country.  He must have done a good job with the thug life.  When the nation of Ammon rose up, his brothers finally found a use for him. 

Jephthah had many flaws, as we will see toward the end of this blog, but he proved to be a godly man.  Much godlier than Abimelech.  He did not seek leadership.  He sought the Lord when he was asked to lead.  And he made his brothers repent of their sins against him before he would say yes.  But he never sought revenge against them.

Despite God's mercy on Jephthah, you can still see that he was influenced by his wayward culture.  Before he went to fight the Ammonites, he made a vow to the Lord that if God would give him a victory, then he would sacrifice the first thing that came from his house as a burnt offering.

The fact that he made a vow in the first place is a problem.  God called him to leadership.  He should have had faith that God would give him the victory without having to make a rash vow.

But here's the bigger problem: the first thing to come out of his doors was his daughter.  His only daughter.  Apparently, when Jeph made his vow, a burnt offering would include a human life.  Not just his dog or a sheep, but his own daughter and only child.  If there had been proper education in Israel, Jeph would know that God abhors human sacrifices and that he drove the pagan nations out of Canaan because they burned their children as sacrifice to their gods.  Why would he do the very thing that broke the camel's back in causing God to say, "It's time," when he drove out the pagans?

Some commentators, including my Old Testament prof from Erskine George Schwab, and one of my favorite bloggers David Murray, conclude that Jeph didn't actually kill his daughter.  They suppose that the story was open ended enough that the girl convinced her dad to not kill her but to let her live as a virgin the rest of her life and serve God in the tabernacle. 

I want to believe that.  I really do.  I love Jephthah and consider him a great guy.  He apparently learned from his father's error and had only one wife.  He tried his best to follow the Lord.  Anything good about him is purely God's grace, which is true for all saved people.  But I somehow think, and Matthew Henry agrees, that Jephthah went through with it and sacrificed his daughter.  Many people were dedicated to the Lord such as Samson and Samuel, but they didn't remain virgins.  Samuel had sons and Samson was a player.  Prophetesses such as Huldah and Deborah were married.  Virginity is not necessarily next to holiness, though it's required if you are unmarried.  Perhaps Jephthette (the Bible doesn't say her actual name) decided to never marry in exchange for her life, leaving Jeph without an heir.  But maybe Jeph actually did kill her.

And one more thing: atheists like to use this story to explain that the God who they don't believe in approves of human sacrifice.  "See, he's a monster after all."  To them, God doesn't exist and he's a monster and they hate him.

But God hates human sacrifice and murder.  He did tell Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, but stopped him at the last minute and provided a lamb as a substitution.  That showed Abraham that a sacrifice would be provided for our sins one day in Jesus.  But God did not stop Jeph for some reason, and his daughter seemed willing to go along with it.  But at this time, people had mostly stopped following the Lord and those who did were terribly compromised.  It also seems quite pagan that the Israelite girls would go off for four days every year to mourn Jephthette as a tradition.  Girls that never knew her. 

But God left the story open ended to perhaps conclude that Jeph did the right thing and spared his little girl.  Or maybe God didn't tell us because he didn't want the Israelites thinking that human sacrifice was alright.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Hagar: What did happen, not what should happen

In order to get more Bible reading in, I downloaded Matthew Henry's Commentary to my Kindle and have been reading it alongside my Bible.  My plan succeeded, and I'm being fed more from the word and have been having a better attitude about life, though I will always have a long way to go.

I love Matthew Henry and his Reformed views on things, but I just could not help quite disagreeing with his views on Hagar in Genesis 16.

This is the part of Genesis where Sarai gets tired of Abram not having kids so she suggests that he sleep with her servant Hagar and have a son through her.  He does that, and it results in Hagar getting pregnant with Ishmael.  She knows this and starts showing contempt for Sarai.  Then Sarai starts abusing her, possibly giving more work to do.  Hagar gets overwhelmed and runs away.

Matthew Henry considers her running away from Sarai a sin.  I don't know if it's sin or not, but it's a perfectly natural response to her situation.  Abraham and Sarah (their later names), brought her into their marriage without consulting her.  They never talk to her or use her name.  They only talk about her and then Abraham uses her to get a son.  It is only when she runs away that God appears to her, calls her by her name, and treats her like a human with rights and feelings.  He tells her to go back to Sarah, serve her, and bear Abraham's son, Ishmael, who God will bless.  Although he is not the promised son that would be born through Sarah, he's still Abraham's son and will be blessed, too.

I'm writing on this for the second time this year for two reasons. 

1). I'm about to write about Jephthah, and Bible naysayers like to try to discount the faith by using both his story and Hagar's story.

As for the case of Hagar and other concubinage in the Bible, liberals like to say that God commanded childless women to provide a handmaiden for the man through which he can have a child.  We can't realistically expect men and women to save sex for marriage when God commanded such things.

But that was never the case.  God has never desired for a man to have sex with anyone other than his wife, whether he gives them children or not.  It was the culture in Mesopotamia to do that and one that Sarah adopted that God never commanded.  Things that our Bible heroes do are what did happen, not necessarily what should happen.  God still took the situation and used it for his glory and our redemption, but what he expressly desires is for one man to have marital relations with one wife and no more.  Adam never had more than one wife.  And Noah had only one wife along with his three sons who only had one wife each.  All the population of the earth comes from them.

And as we see in this story, God is the only one who tried to treat Hagar with dignity and honor.  Only when he did, then Sarah and Abraham began treating her the same.

2). I read this article that broke my heart.

Basically, these men on this show who are married to each other desired a child.  So one of them chose an egg donor from a catalog, used his sperm to create a child, and this woman bore the child.  The network filmed the childbirth on the show without her consent, and the men gawked at her anatomy in the process. 

I find it appalling that somebody can purchase a child out of a catalog, manufacture that little girl, and then add her to the household like she's an accessory.  Just a fashionable purse or poodle to support your lifestyle.  Meanwhile, the woman who bore the child and carried her inside her body for nine months has no rights in the process and will have no relationship with her baby.  This baby will have no woman in her life close enough to talk with as she gets older and reaches puberty.  Both mother and baby are used as objects to satisfy the desires of this richer people who are already living a lifestyle outside God's will.

It reminded me of Abraham and Sarah in their treatment of Hagar.  They wanted a child but did not want to wait on God's timing.  They just used another woman to be a surrogate with no consideration of her desires or dreams. 

But as God redeemed their situation, God can redeem this situation.  All children are in God's image and must have rights.  God can reach the two men on this TV show and save them from sin and reform them, just like he did for Abraham, Sarah, me, and you.  He can reconcile this little girl to her mother.  Perhaps they can all teach the world that sexual sin does harm people outside of those committing the sin.  Innocent people get caught in the trap and lose their dignity as humans when it goes unrepented.  But God is so merciful and can still save people such as that in bring Christ into their lives.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Judges: Gideon, a weak man from a weak clan in Manasseh

The Israelites still search for a Savior.  So far, they have had Caleb, Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, and Deborah.  All were good people who did their jobs.  And they brought Israel back to worshiping the true God.  But they all died, and the people went right back to cheating on Yahweh with gods who would allow them to get drunk and sleep around.  God rescued them from Israel and then other oppressors over and over again, but they kept going back to their adulterous idolatries.  So this time, God sent the Midianites who didn’t even let the people eat their cattle or raise prophets.  It was like working at Piccadilly on a Sunday night.  Swarms of hungry, irrational customers come, touch our pies, decide they don’t want it after all, and then give it back to you without paying for it.  And you have to throw it away because you can’t put it back on the line.  They care nothing that they are wasting the company’s food and money.  They only care about their entitlement issues.

Okay, rant over.  The Midianites were so much worse than this.  The people were starving, which let them to thresh their grain in hiding.  This led to our friend Gideon, who was found doing that very thing inside a winepress.

I have to laugh every time I read Judges 6:12 when the Lord calls Gideon a mighty warrior.  (It says Angel of the Lord, but as with all cases when the Angel of the Lord appears in the Old Testament, it proves to be so much more than and angel.  It is God himself.  And if God appears in a body, then it has to be Jesus.)

Gideon is no warrior.  He is a poor boy having to do his farming behind closed doors so the enemy doesn’t see him.  Even after God raises him in power, he makes foolish mistakes in his old age through pride.  Gideon is no warrior.

But God is a warrior.  And God will not be upstaged by anyone, which is why he likes to include unlikely characters in his plan for redemption.

First Gideon argues that God has let the enemy wreak havoc on his country.  How could a good God let that happen?  And like all people who ask this question, they forget how often they have betrayed the Lord who said that disobedience of his commands, cosmic treason, would lead to death.  God is very patient with Gideon and says, “Go in the strength you have.  Am I not sending you?”

Then Gid says that he is from a weak clan in Manasseh.  How can he do anything?  God says the same thing.  Just go.  “I’m the one sending you.  I will give you power.”

This is where Gideon gets annoying.  He asks God for a sign.  Not for the last time.  God is so patient with us.  He lets Gideon go get a goat and a cake of bread to sacrifice him.  And then, this is where the Angel of God proves that he is actually just God.  He consumes the offering, making Gideon afraid of his death because he’s seen God.  But God calms him down and tells him to cut down his dad’s Asherah pole. 

Gideon’s own family was involved in Baal worship, and Gideon had to ask why God was sending Midian to Israel.  But he knew about God’s sacrifices which means, they had somehow blended the two religions, which God commands we should never do.

Does this happen today?  Are idolatrous practices so commonplace in our culture that they somehow show up in our homes and get syncretized with our Christian worship?  Do we follow horoscopes or have Ouija boards?  Do we watch shows on HBO where we know there’s going to be lots of nudity just so we can be caught up with our neighbors on the show?  Who are we trying to impress?  Certainly not God who calls us to be set apart and to worship him only and to obey his commands.

So Gideon went and tore down his dad’s Asherah pole.  The people wanted to kill him but his own dad, Joash, stood up for him saying, if Baal is god, then he can defend himself.  If not, then Gideon’s done a good thing.

So the town gave him a new name, Jerub-baal.  The man who tears down Baal.  Impressive for such a poor boy that nobody loved.

Afterwards, Gid annoys God with two signs that he will lead Israel against the Midianites.  One night he wants God to make a fleece all dewy but the ground to be dry.  The next night, he wants God to make the fleece dry but the ground all dewy.  Once again, God is very patient with this slow guy and does it.

Chapter 7

Now, Gideon gathers his brethren from the tribe of Manasseh to fight the army.  But God wants a small army, because if a huge army wins, people will say the army won and not God.  So, Gid dismisses anyone who is afraid.  But there are still too many people.  So Gid sends them to a stream for a drink.  The ones who gathered the water in cupped hands were dismissed.  You know, then ones who would still be able to see an enemy coming as they drank.  He dismissed the wise ones.  He kept the ones who knelt down and lapped the water like a dog. 

This reduced the army to 300 foolish men, so that the people would definitely know that God won the war. 

Then, before the battle, Gideon still couldn’t sleep, so he took a nighttime stroll toward the camp of Midian.  He overheard a Midianite saying that he dreamed a huge hunk of bread came and crushed the whole camp.  This emboldened him and led him to take his army and defeat Midian, making their presence flee from Israel.  They even captured the kings Oreb and Zeeb and killed them. 

I’m beginning to see that while we are waiting on Jesus to come, God sends people to lead who are weak simply because we need to keep our focus on God and not ourselves and our heroes.  From the time Jesus left this earth on his ascension until now, God has sent many people to lead the church and even lead it back from trusting in man and not God.  He sent people like Augustine who in the fall of the Roman empire reminded the people that God’s city is much better than man’s.  The Romans had a god for everything that did not keep them from falling, and the true God has given them a better home that is not of this world that they will see someday.  But he had flaws.

Martin Luther came along and led Christians back to putting the Bible at the center of theology and looking to Christ alone for salvation, not Christ plus a plethora of saints and his mom.  But he had a quick temper and said anti-Semitic things that last to this century.

Calvin took Luther’s first steps and systematized them, but even he had a quick temper.

Spurgeon is one of my heroes, but he fell for evolutionistic thinking. 

Even my most current hero, RC Sproul, had flaws.  He loved Thomas Aquinas a bit too much.

While they are all good men, they had feet of clay and we still look to he true Messiah who does all things perfectly and will make all things right.

Chapter 8

Later on, the tribe of Ephraim complained that they weren’t being used in the war against Midian.  But Gideon replied that they never offered to help and didn’t even offer to feed the troops.  They just sat back and watched.  But for now, he would not retaliate because he had to still fight Zebah and Zalmunna. 

Then all the people try to make him king, but he refuses, because as God planned, there is no way Gideon and his army defeated the Midianites.  God did. 

Just the same, there was something in Gideon’s pride that wanted to be king.  He ended up making this gold ephod (a priestly vest) that the people ended up trying to worship.  The tabernacle where God wanted everyone to worship was in Shiloh in Ephraim, and Gideon still had bad blood with them.  So he tried to worship God in a way that God did not command, which is always wrong, and will always lead to false God.  “False worships made was for false deities,” says Matthew Henry on this chapter. 

Also, he married many wives and had 70 sons.  God never wanted people to marry more than one person at a time, but having many wives guarantees a dynasty.  And he had one son through a concubine who eventually killed all 70 of those sons, making Gideon’s secret desire naught.  Plus, the concubine’s son was named Abimilech (son of a king).  And he fought for his right to be king and failed.  And the people began to follow false gods again, never learning their lesson.

But the next big judge, Jephthah, was also born to a man who slept with a prostitute.  Like Abimilech, he was ridiculed by his siblings born to wives of their fathers.  But he became a godly man, and I look forward to his story.