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Posts Tagged ‘Ephesians’

A while back I was at a Bible study where, if I were to summarize the point, we studied the justification for cussing.  It was one of the most frustrating Bible studies I have ever attended.  How can one take the clear statement of Paul in Ephesians 5 and make it mean nothing – or the very opposite?  Positions in the group ranged from situational ethicists to ultra-conservative to Christian libertarianism to utter liberality (without much Christian consideration). 

Hardest to refute, for me, at the time was the question of definition.  Who defines which words are profane, and which jokes are coarse?  And if the majority culture decides, what does that do to Christian absolutism – let alone the call not to be like the world?  I believe that the cultural inacceptability of certain words and topics is a remnant of a spiritual life in this civilization, not part of the ‘rudiments of the world’ to which Christians should not be conformed.  It is obvious, at least, that profanity is usually associated with non-Christian cultures. 

The Pyromaniacs give a refutation of this point at their blog, using the thrust and context of Paul’s words in Ephesians 5.  Phil Johnson says that cussing is the emblem of the godless brotherhood.  In lieu of real Christian community, their weak substitute for love is this commonality built on treating sacred things lightly and good things badly and modest things crassly.  Of such things they talk.  For such talk they laugh.  Paul was discouraging us from settling.  I prefer the edification of a loving assembly that urges me to align my perspective with God’s.  Not that we cannot make jokes!  We were made to laugh!  But laughter is crude that pokes fun at that which God has called serious.  Lightness in conversation leads to lightness in living. 

I’ve said enough for one post.  Read Team Pyro’s blog on cussing.  I tell you, it’s good.  And read my next post.  Comment, too.  I am interested in discussion.  Rules here are that comments may not contain any foul language. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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At camp a few weeks ago our whole group learned the armor of God verses from Ephesians 6.  As a counselor, I was working with the junior high girls to learn and understand their verses.  (Praise for teamwork; other people were on the job, too, including the ‘Bible hour’ teacher and some of the other staff and counselors.)  The language of the Bible is sometimes more grammatically complex than everyday usage, so breaking the verses down phrase by phrase and discussing the meaning can help the kids keep the verses in their heads and hearts, as well as legitimizing their inflection.   So I was helping one of the girls with verse 17: “And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:” and started explaining the sword of the spirit part.  I don’t even remember what I told her, but I know that since that day I have been trying to figure out what it means. 
 
A few questions:
How significant is the comma after “salvation”?  Since “take” is not repeated, are we to equate the term “helmet of salvation” with the term “sword of the spirit”?  Or is there any way to “take” one without the other? 
 
Does the sword belong to the spirit, depend on the spirit, or consist of the spirit?  Cross references usually lead to Hebrews 4:12, whose subject is also the word of God, which seems to cut things, including soul from spirit.  But the Greek for “word” is different in Ephesians from Hebrews. 
 
Back from camp, catching up with a friend, she reported that her small group is going through Ephesians, and that one of the teachers was excited to get to the armor of God and the sword Jesus uses to kill the wicked.  (See Revelation 19:15, 21)  Is that the image here?  Earlier in Revelation the sword seemed to be more of a tool for discipline, discerning the spirits of the churches.  The Revelation sword proceeds from the mouth of Jesus. 
 
Is spirit supposed to be capitalized?  Are we talking about the Holy Spirit, my spirit, or things spiritual?  Or should the sword be used against the spirit? 
 
When Paul says, “which is the word of God,” is the antecedent the sword or the spirit? 
 
I looked up the Greek for this verse.  My use for Greek extends to definitions, but I’m helpless when I come to grammar and tenses.  But I did notice that the Greek for “word” is an utterance, not something written (in the Greek, rhema).  Usually I hear teachers explaining the sword of the spirit and (ignoring that little phrase, ‘of the spirit’) holding a Bible above their heads telling their students that they have to know the word of God, and to study it, to use it like Jesus did when he was tempted in the wilderness.  Except the next thing teachers say is that the sword is the offensive weapon in the armor list (some add prayer, from verse 18).  I don’t see how resisting temptation is an offensive act in the spiritual war we’re fighting. 
 
So what is “word of God”?  Are we talking about words God has spoken, or words God is speaking?  Ephesians 6:19 includes Paul’s prayer request that words (different Greek than verse 17: here it is logos) be given him.  Given him?  By whom?  Whose words are they if they were given?  What did Paul want to do with words?  This is one of the first times in this whole article where the biblical context answers the question, because Paul says he wants to use the words to preach the gospel boldly (which seems rather offensive). 
 
Finally, verse 18, about prayer, rather than being a new sentence, is presented as a continuation of the thought in verse 17.  But what does prayer have to do with the “word of God” or “sword of the spirit”? 
 
How exactly ought we to apply this verse, then? 
 
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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The hero stays long enough to be sure the citizens are safe and able to continue their lives. He goes on to the next needy village, in each town met with both opposition and a grateful following. Without asking for anything in return, he does whatever it takes and risks his life to save the common people from enslavement and despair.

After some time of absence, his enemies begin to creep back in. First one citizen at a time and then groups at once, these wicked men reassert their power. With subtle trickery they ensnare the people, weighing them down with tasks and restrictions. When a brave man remembers the hero, the bad guys devise a new plan. They defame the hero. “He was a liar,” they say. “Didn’t he just come here to get power?” “He is not who he says he is, and has no authority to talk to you.” “You’re smart people. Does it make sense? He told you to change everything you’d ever believed in, your whole way of life. And now he’s not here. We’re going to stand by you and help you.”

It’s a classic tale of good guys versus bad guys, and the innocent bystanders used as pawns by the bad guys. Of course the hero is trying to rescue them, to grant them freedom from their self-serving oppressors. We have a showdown of sorts, some harsh words calling each other out. The little people hang in the balance, uncertain which man has their best interest at heart. Which man is telling the truth?

In such an epic tale of good versus evil, how do we decide? Who do we root for? Who do we follow? How do we determine which man is good?

The story at the beginning is the background of the book of Galatians. Paul is our hero, bringing the good news about salvation through Jesus to the province of Galatia. Wherever he went, he met opposition, whether it was from the Jews who didn’t embrace Jesus or from the pagans who felt threatened by a religion that worshiped God without temples, rituals, and idols. He also freed a bunch of people from the purposeless lives and oppressive requirements of their old religions. Paul taught the people about grace, about a God who wants to dwell with us – not in a castle on a hill, but right with us, even inside us. After establishing the believers and teaching them for a while, he moved to the next city, running a circuit around the Mediterranean.

In his absence, some Jews who infiltrated the Christian church, began to teach and insist that salvation was not only the work of Jesus; men had to add to it. They taught that to be saved and to continue to live a life pleasing to God, every Christian had to keep the Mosaic Law. This law included rituals about diets, hand-washing, illnesses, sacrifices, commerce, as well as moral regulations.

When the Galatians protested that Paul had taught them that nothing good they did was good enough to earn salvation, these false teachers challenged Paul. He isn’t an apostle, they said. He lied to you. He was out for his own gain. And now he has abandoned you. Many were swayed, and returned voluntarily to their oppressed way of life. Some wrote to Paul.

Obviously, we’re on Paul’s side, because he wrote half the New Testament. But put yourself in the Galatians’ shoes. How would you know which person was truthful? Which was the good guy? I mean, the Jewish teachers were all about doing good things. So was Paul.

Galatians 5 is Paul’s explanation for why a Christian is expected to do good things. Based on this chapter, goodness comes from the Holy Spirit at work in every believer. This is why a Christian may be anticipated to do good things: not because he is in need of goodness to get or maintain his standing with God, but because the works are automatic.

Ephesians 2:8-10 puts this whole thing rather concisely: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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It’s an interesting question.  In the book it makes a vivid point.  The Christian and the other man are driving together.  The other man believes in a God, rather because it was undeniable.  But he hasn’t trusted Jesus for salvation because he’s not sure he likes God.  After all, there is suffering in the world, and God could have stopped it. 

 

“The time is now…” says the Christian, referring to accepting God’s grace through Jesus’ death on the cross. 

 

“I know, I know.” 

 

“So what’s the problem?” 

 

“I can’t; I just can’t.” 

 

The Christian uses one of those pushy phrases, “Can’t or won’t?” 

 

And the conversation concludes with the non-Christian asking, “Is there a difference?” 

 

(adapted from a book by Joel Rosenberg, but I really don’t want to give anything away, so I did leave out a lot.  You should read his books.  Latest review coming later this week.) 

 

That question sums up the thoughts I’ve been thinking for weeks now.  Can’t or won’t; is there a difference?  Christians have been debating this for centuries.  I believe there is much more biblical evidence for an answer of “No, there is no practical difference.”  If you won’t trust Jesus, it’s because you can’t.  We humans are born completely without strength (Romans 5:6), utterly without righteousness.  Calvinists call this Total Depravity.  So how does anyone choose Christ?  He chooses them first, and gifts them with faith.  That’s what I believe, and it’s a topic pretty rampant in the New Testament. 

 

But there are those verses that don’t seem to fit, and I’ve been wondering if interpreting them away is fair.  Sometimes I believe the verses that initially seem contrary, in context and the original languages, actually say just the opposite of the meaning we get by just reading them.  Take James.  If you pull any one verse out of that book of the Bible, and try to build a doctrine on it, you’ve got a mess on your hands.  But if you read the book as a whole, one long argument with both sides of a balance, you get the idea that James knew exactly what he was saying.  He just didn’t have to go over all the doctrines of justification by faith alone, because they were already there, already “givens” in his proof.  I had an experience like that on Sunday as I taught our ladies Sunday school class.  We’re in the middle of a series, and I cannot possibly re-teach the four previous lessons just to build one more point.  I have to summarize the lessons before and move from there.  This is a point made in the ever-fascinating Hebrews 6.  We can’t keep reviewing the basic doctrines. 

 

Can’t or won’t?  Some people say it’s the other way, that because we won’t, we can’t.  God’s foreknowledge saw that we wouldn’t, so He left us helpless so we couldn’t.  I think this is rather illogical.  There’s no cause.  The question abides: if some won’t, why do some will? 

 

Can or will?  When people talk about free will, what do they mean?  Is there a different kind of will, one that isn’t free?  What does will mean?  I see it as the ability to choose.  If you have a will, you can make a decision.  Is it possible there are wills that will always make the right decision?  Are we saying that Jesus didn’t have free will here on earth?  Is it possible that there are wills always making wrong decisions?  Or could we explain human nature as will-enslavement to sin and evil?  “There is none righteous, no, not one.”  I believe this is taught in Ephesians 2.  (Read it in Greek; it’s ten times better!) 

 

In that chapter, we are told that before salvation, we humans were incapable of doing anything without the empowerment of the devil.  After salvation we were made alive through the empowerment of God.  But we now seem to have the ability (can) to move on our own.  This movement and will and choice can lead us into service of the devil again (Romans 6 and 7) though not empowered by him, or into submission to God, whose power through us produces good works.  Why did God leave us with that choice?  And are those choices, as quickened spirits, matters of true free will?  Doesn’t God still have control?  Is it true that we could have chosen the right thing when we as Christians chose the wrong?  If so, why didn’t we?  If not, why can’t we? 

 

What I’m coming to is a place where there are questions either way.  Right now I don’t have answers.  I still believe that God is sovereign, that predestination is true, and that God chose (elected) those whom He would save.  The details?  Why did God let the first humans sin and how did they decide to sin and is God responsible for allowing sin and death into the world?  Is God in control of our choices now?  Does God ordain my sin and rebellion?  Does He ordain the rebellion of nations?  Does He want to have rebels so He can punish them?  Does He want to have rebels so that His forgiveness can be demonstrated?  I don’t have answers to these.  Some days I think that I know.  Other days I’m in doubt.  Most days I’ll argue strongly for complete sovereignty and predestination of every event, choice, and inclination – whether I believe it or not. 

 

And all these things are difficult to express, to write down or even to talk about.  I run circles around the main questions, hoping to stab in and pierce through to the core truth.  Almost any question in life can be brought back to the issue of predestination.  Just now I can’t say what I believe. 

 

Can’t or won’t?  I’m pretty sure it’s can’t.  I can’t tell you facts I haven’t discovered, or conclusions I haven’t reached.  At least that’s settled. 

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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In high school Awana (Journey 24-7), students are required to read through the Bible in four years.  For each book they read, they most also give a summary to a leader.  I’m a leader (strange – I feel like a teenager still, even though I’m almost twenty four – unbelievable!), and tonight I listened to a young man summarize Ephesians, one of my favorite books of the Bible.  I don’t know if I mentioned studying the book this year to where each chapter explodes with meaning now (the word of God is living and powerful – energes).  Anyway, as a leader I get to ask questions to see if the student has really read the book or just the provided summary.  My leaders loved this privilege, and I follow their example. 
 
“What does ‘breastplate of righteousness’ mean?” I ask. 
 
This is from Ephesians 6:14, “Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness.” 
 
The most annoying thing about this passage of Scripture is commentaries.  I open a commentary and the most common observations are the purpose of the pieces of armor – as though we needed help to understand that a helmet protects the head and a shield is to defend ourselves.  I believe the focus of the text is on the virtues listed, and the study ought to be 1. How they protect us.  2.  How to implement them. 
 
Much has been said about the grace issue here.  I believe in grace.  Righteousness is not something of our own.  Nor can it possibly be referring only to Christ’s righteousness imputed on our behalf in this verse.  Righteousness describes a way of life.  How do we live that life?  The New Testament is filled with the message: grace, faith, abiding in Christ.  “For I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.  I do not frustrate the grace of God, for if righteousness come by the law then Christ is dead in vain.”  (Galatians 2:20-21)
 
How does righteousness serve as armor?  How does it protect our hearts? 
 
Earlier in Ephesians, Paul writes: “(For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth)  Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:9-10)  What is righteousness?  Strong’s says it has to do with “integrity, virtue, purity, correctness of thinking and feeling and acting.”  The figure of a breastplate is often associated with sobriety.  Sober is, also according to Strong’s, “1) to be sober, to be calm and collected in spirit 2) to be temperate, dispassionate, circumspect.”  Purity of thought and action, truth over passion are all consistent with righteousness.  And these are conditions of the heart, or things which may affect a heart.  Think of this: if a heart is unprotected by truth and integrity, why shouldn’t it demand that its passions rule?  Why should it check its passions and prevent some that are not pleasing to God, not pure?  How would it even know to do so? 
 
Ok.  So most of us know mentally about purity and right from wrong.  We even know the truth.  But our hearts forget.  Some teachers rightly advise wielding the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God against heart temptations.  Paul suggests an additional strategy.  A life built on reality, a life meet for the God who created us and the way He created us, is the best way to condition and exercise our hearts to submit to the truth.  What does James say about sin?  James 1:14-16, “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.  Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.  Do not err, my beloved brethren.”  The heart and the righteousness go together.  Proverbs 4:23, “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.”  This goes back and forth.  The heart must be kept to maintain our walk.  Our walk must be maintained to keep the heart.  And none of these are our work. 
 
This is my experience.  When I neglect my relationship with God (even if it is when I get caught up in “doing” things for Him), I slip up.  The temptation-induced lust in my heart births disobedience.  And then I don’t care in what category I put that sin, inevitably my heart is more vulnerable.  I experience more spiritual attack on my heart (desires, imaginations) and am more likely to get more and more distracted from my walk with God.  Once my focus, in fact, is on the things my heart wants and senses, my tone towards God gets accusatory, and for the silliest things I doubt His love.  This is because my heart thinks love equals worship and submission, but is not interested in loving anyone else, including God. 
 
Yet my experience with walking with God is so unaccountably opposite.  I believe these are spiritual realities.  But logic does not say how spending time in conversation with and dependence on a Being I cannot physically see or hear could so much affect my life. 
 
I have marveled so many times: “If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13) 
 
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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Last Friday I had some of my dear friends over to spend the night.  As the girls fell asleep to a movie in my living room, I prayed for them because I had to.  There was no urgent need, but urgent feeling.  The next day as we spoke I felt convicted to get back to praying specifically on a regular basis.  I have been praying, but it has been need-based, and not diligent. 
 
Sunday morning my pastor preached on prayer.  I know this fact, even though I wasn’t there, and that’s enough.  Sunday afternoon there was a youth leaders meeting where the veterans reiterated the essential role prayer plays in making a meeting or ministry successful.  Filled with a sense of the needs, and the knowledge that God wanted me to refocus, I had a marvelous Sunday and Monday filled with intentional prayer.  And then I stayed up late, and slept in and stayed up and slept in.  I’ve been praying, but it hasn’t been the intentional, set aside time I resolved to do. 
 
Wednesday my mom taught the Awana Sparks about the Lord’s Prayer, and in our weekly debriefing of funny things kids said, she shared part of her lesson.  Afterward I read a new article on one of my favorite websites – it was on the Lord’s Prayer, too. 
 
This week I also received in the mail the newest Michael Card album, Hymns.  The first or second song (most listened to if you push play right before you fall asleep each night) is Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.  There is a part of that song I remember a pastor talking about a long time ago.  The author of the hymn wrote “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it… Here’s my heart, o, take and seal it…”  He did wander.  That’s the testimony of his life.  He knew himself.  His heart needed sealed. 
 
So does my heart, because it wanders.  In some ways this week has been beautiful, but it’s only because I’ve spotted God’s grace and messages, not because I’ve had victory in yielding to them.  I know everything about the need to be content, but I just am not content.  My heart isn’t focused.  I’m not diligent with my time or energy, or responsible with my money.  I’m tired. 
 
On Sunday something said at the leader’s meeting reminded me of Galatians 6:9: “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.”  Like a breath of keenest fresh air to one suffocating, I needed every ounce of the hope in that verse.  There is conviction in Paul’s words also.  That is what I want to focus on today.  
 
Proverbs 4:20-27, “My son, attend to my words; incline thine ear unto my sayings.
Let them not depart from thine eyes;
keep them in the midst of thine heart.
For they are life unto those that find them, and health to all their flesh.
Keep thy heart with all diligence;
for out of it are the issues of life.
Put away from thee a froward mouth, and perverse lips put far from thee.
Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee.
Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established.
Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil.
 
The word “keep” in verse 21 is shamar, “keep, give heed” like a shepherd or watchman. The word “keep” in verse 23 is natsar, “guard, watch over.”  So Solomon’s words, inspired of the Holy Spirit, are to be kept.  And my heart is to be kept.  How is this done? 
 
The first thing Solomon mentions after this command is speech.  There is a lot about speech in Ephesians, but this reminds me also of James, whose vivid description of the tongue as the spark that sets a forest on fire opens with “If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.” 
 
We’ve probably all heard the question, “Who’s being walked?  The dog or the human?”  A man holds a leash with the cord wrapped around his hand several times in the manner of a bull-rider.  The dog strains ahead, eager, easily distracted.  Sometimes the man seems to be pulled along against his will.  Other times the firm hold on the leash restrains and directs the pet.  The image of a bridle in James is that of me being both dog and master, horse and driver.  The bridle doesn’t just restrain; it guides.  It controls and regulates.  This is self-control, one of the fruit of the Spirit, also known as temperance.  Many of the fruit of the Spirit involve a self-command or restraint. 
 
Solomon goes on to talk about our eyes.  Ok, I can’t resist.  One of the best songs kids ever learn is “Oh be careful little eyes,” and actually I think we should make teenagers and adults sing it, too.  Do you remember it?  Oh be careful little tongue what you say, oh be careful little tongue what you say.  For the Father up above is looking down in love, so be careful little tongue what you say.  Oh be careful little eyes what you see.  Oh be careful little feet where you go.  Tongue, Eyes, Feet.  Ponder your path.  Don’t get distracted.  Keep control of your tongue.  Guard your heart.  Commit to focusing on wisdom and truth and goodness.  “Set your mind on things above.”  
 
Galatians 5:22-23 lists the fruit of the Spirit.  All the virtues are connected.  Love is a choice.  Joy is something we are commanded to have.  Peace, Philippians tells us, is a result of giving our anxieties to God in prayer.  Patience, kindness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.  Meekness has been described as power under control.  This may be what Mr. Darcy had in mind when he defended his character and his quiet nature by saying, “Where there is real superiority of mind, pride will always be under good regulation.”  While at first impression this seems like another evidence of Mr. Darcy’s arrogance, it has been suggested by those sympathetic to his character that what he was saying was a strong enough mind knew how to keep his pride – his selfish impulses – under control.  His reluctance to speak when he might be tempted to go too far is a sign of his meekness rather than of his pride. 
 
Dennis Prager is a strangely blended Jewish moralist who speaks, writes, and hosts a radio show.  Though his is by no means an absolute authority, he makes a good point by saying that happiness comes from the mind making choices over the instinct for fun or pleasure.  The mind knows better than feelings.  It can make choices based on the long-term.  Essentially he is saying that self-control brings happiness. 
 
Self-control, or temperance, is from the Greek egkrates, “strong, robust; having power over, possessed of (a thing); mastering, controlling, curbing, restraining; controlling one’s self, temperate, continent.”  Strength is active, working both on itself and on progress.  Tolkien describes a curb not only as a limit to where one can go, but as a tool for navigation: a ditch, bank, or curb would enable one to stay on a road in the dark or in a fog.  So limits restrain us, but they also get us to our destination.  Solomon warns against off-roading. 
 
Peter says to add temperance to knowledge, and patience to temperance (2 Peter 1:6).  A pastor is told to be temperate in Titus 1:8.  He is also required to be sober: “curbing one’s desires and impulses, self-controlled, temperate”  Titus 2:5 uses the same word to describe that which a young woman ought to be taught.  It is translated “discreet” in KJV.  Modesty is a consequence of discretion.  Sobriety is the opposite of drunkenness or dissipation, in which control of yourself is loosed.  Dissolution is a word meaning exactly that “cut loose”, and it leads to all sorts of sinful indulgence and decadence.  I need to be moderate. 
 
Paul depicted this virtue in 1 Corinthians 9, in the metaphor of an athlete. 
 
1 Corinthians 9:24-27, “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all,
but one receiveth the prize?
So run, that ye may obtain. 
And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things.
Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. 
I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: 
But I keep under my body,
and bring it into subjection:
lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
 
Every man who strives for the mastery (enters the contest, contends for the prize) is temperate in all things.  Verse 27 says “I keep under my own body,” the word used here is a practice of athletes, to use their bodies roughly to make themselves tough or conditioned.  It comes from a word for the part of the face that turns into a black eye if punched.  Some Christians known as ascetics took this too far; they were so focused on abusing themselves that they forgot to do anything fruitful.  Rather, this is the same word Jesus employs in Luke 18, where He is teaching me to be diligent in prayer. 
 
Luke 18:1-8, “And he spake a parable unto them to this end,
that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; 
Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: 
And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying,
Avenge me of mine adversary. 
And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself,
Though I fear not God, nor regard man; 
Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her,
lest by her continual coming she weary me. 
And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. 
And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him,
though he bear long with them? 
I tell you that he will avenge them speedily.
Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh,
shall he find faith on the earth?”
 
The judge was made weary (kept under, conditioned) by the widow’s persistent appeal. 
 
Back in 1 Corinthians 9, Paul also says that he brings his body under subjection, he makes a slave of it using stern discipline.  One stern discipline, an exercise in self-control and dependence on God, is fasting.  Fasting should never be about indulging my own cravings, whether sensual, for food, for the praise of men, or to soothe my conscience.  Isaiah 58, beginning in verse 3, contains God’s design for fasting. 
 
Isaiah 58:3-11, “Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not?
wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge?
Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure,
and exact all your labours.
Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness:
ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high.
Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul?
is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the LORD?
Is not this the fast that I have chosen?
to loose the bands of wickedness,
                            to undo the heavy burdens,
                                                   and to let the oppressed go free,
                                                               and that ye break every yoke?
Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry,
and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house?
when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him;
and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?
Then shall thy light break forth as the morning,
and thine health shall spring forth speedily:
and thy righteousness shall go before thee;
the glory of the LORD shall be thy rereward. T
hen shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer;
thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am.
If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger,
and speaking vanity;
And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul;
then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday:
And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought,
and make fat thy bones:
and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water,
whose waters fail not.”
 
In a paradoxical way, while fasting is about denying one’s self, it is for the purpose of releasing bonds and weights.  Fasting is reliance on God, not only for what I don’t have, but also with what I do.  Fasting is always accompanied with prayer.  1 Peter 5:7 says to cast all your cares on Him, for He cares for you.  In the Sermon on the Mount, right after Jesus speaks on prayer, He goes into teaching on fasting.  Though food is good, or other things from which you might fast, the exercise of self-denial and sacrifice and dependence and focus on God is good.  All things are lawful, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians, but not everything is beneficial.  When I practice what is beneficial, I am stronger for the unexpected temptations when I must deny myself. 
 
I must be ready, then, by exercising self-control, to do good works.  Pray with perseverance and persistence.  Be steadfast.  Stand therefore.  Gird up the loins of your mind, and be sober, that you may be ready in and out of season to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.  Hope is even described in the Bible as an anchor – the image of stability and strength.  Do not be slothful, but fervent in whatever you do.  Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.  
 
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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Last fall I read George MacDonald’s The Highlander’s Last Song: a beautiful book if you read it for the descriptions of the Scottish landscape and life, and for the romance. When I read it, I was trying to enjoy some easy fiction instead of deep theology, but my discernment alarms started to go off when he wrote about the Cross.

A burdening selection: “Mother, to say that the justice of God is satisfied with suffering is a piece of the darkness of hell. God is willing to suffer, and ready to inflict suffering to save from sin, but no suffering is satisfaction to him or his justice… He knows man is sure to sin; he will not condemn us because we sin… [mother speaks] Then you do not believe that the justice of God demands the satisfaction of the sinner’s endless punishment? [son] I do not… Eternal misery in the name of justice could satisfy none but a demon whose bad laws had been broken… The whole idea of the atonement in that light is the merest figment of the paltry human intellect to reconcile difficulties of its own invention. The sacrifices of the innocent in the Old Testament were the most shadowy type of the true meaning of Christ’s death. He is indeed the Lamb that takes away the sins of the world. But not through an old-covenant sacrifice of the innocent for the guilty. No, the true atonement of Christ is on an altogether higher and deeper plane. And that is the mystery of the gospel…” (The Highlander’s Last Song, originally “What’s Mine’s Mine” by George MacDonald, this edition edited by Michael R. Phillips and copyright 1986, published by Bethany House)


Tonight, opening Tag Surfer on WordPress, I came across this post (and sermon link – advertised as only 14 minutes) titled, The Cross. The author begins, “The Father was not punishing Jesus in our place on the cross.” In the fourteen minute sermon, though he uses several Bible verses, all of them are taken out of context, contexts which usually include a reference to the blood of Christ taking away our sins, redeeming us, etc. I felt at one point like there was a blow to my heart, when he reported that at the Crucifixion, Jesus and God cheered and celebrated. So much for man of sorrows, and sweating blood in Gethsemane. And the whole way through this horrible, deceptive sermon, this man is associating the biblical view of the Cross and atonement with darkness, with a shackled and blind and guilty perspective of our own that we project onto the Cross, creating a mythology. That is not true! The Bible teaches clearly that Jesus had to suffer and die on a cross so we would not have to die. He is the propitiation, the sacrifice, the lamb, the substitutionary atonement, the righteous fulfillment of God’s wrath against our sin. By His stripes we are healed.

The wonderful young men over at Elect Exiles have been doing a wonderful job reminding their readers what the Cross was. Come on, readers; click the links!!

Why Did Christ Die?
Christ’s Righteousness, Not Our Own
Saving Reconciliation
The Need for Reconciliation

I started looking up the verses about why Jesus died. There are a lot. There couldn’t have been a better reminder of what my God did for me, this Good Friday. (all verses are from the KJV)

Isaiah 53:5-10, “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.”

2 Corinthians 5:21, “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”

Romans 5:8-11, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.”

1 John 4:10, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

1 Corinthians 15:3, “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;”

Colossians 1:20-22, “And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight:

Ephesians 1:7, “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;”

Colossians 2:14, “Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;”

Matthew 20:28, “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Matthew 26:28, “For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”

Romans 4:25, “Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.”

Galatians 3:13, “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:”

Titus 2:14, “Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.”

Hebrews 2:9, “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.”

Hebrews 9:28, “So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.”

1 Peter 2:24, “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.”

1 Peter 3:18, “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:”

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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