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Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

I read a story last week: Return of the Guardian King.  Fourth and final of a vividly epic fantasy series written by a woman who knows my world, my type, and my God.  Her name is Karen Hancock, and her stories have invaded my imagination permanently.

It is a book about temptation, I told a friend.  Resisting in the slow way, wearied by the persistence, common days, small things.  And massive temptations: to betray all you have believed in, to denounce the promises of God for the power of ruling kingdoms, to trade love in the good God and His simple gifts to the extravagant suit of the alluring devil.  But the large and the small are the same. 

The characters are strong against deception and temptation when they have been faithful in the daily denying of self.  To live for others, in kindness and patience, prepares each person against bitterness and despair.  Immersion in the truth and promises of God is comfort and hope.  Even if their prayer is a single cry for help from God, bad things trun to good when people talk to their God. 

The story isn’t about what is happening on the outside as much as it is about whether the characters are trusting God, whether they know with all their might that He loves them and that His plans for them are good.  When they are rebelling against him, they are miserable.  So are those around them.  So am I. 

Kiriath is in the hands of the jealous and vengeful brother Gillard, possessed by a demon rhu’ema.  Already they treat and ally with the archenemy, Belthe’adi, Abramm had warned them of.  Abramm is known to be dead.  But Abramm is also walking the mountains, chafing under the waiting in a snowed-in monastery.  Maddie is back at her childhood home, a palatial life she never embraced, and her newest royal duty is to marry some rich aristocrat who can offer troops to defend the last stand of her homeland.  But her dreams linked with her beloved’s are back, and something tugs hope alive in her that maybe Abramm survived after all. 

Shapeshifters, dragons, and the critical people who are supposed to be his friends plague Abramm on his Odyssey-like journey back to his wife and sons.  Trap and Carissa mirror Abramm’s struggle with pride and longing but in a quiet domestic setting.  Detours take the exiled king and longed-for husband to places of faith and doubt he never would have imagined – and sometimes wishes he had never asked for. 

Every character learns the power of friends: locking them against temptation, praying for their dearest concerns, teaching and challenging with the truth, dividing the attacks of dragons, delivering messages, watching with unbiased eyes, guarding against betrayal.  Again Abramm learns that it is not his strength that conquers, and that God has not gifted him with leadership and military prowess to fight God’s battles for Him.  He is but a vessel. 

Maddie meets a charming man who is attractive in all the ways Abramm never was.  Tirus wants her, wants to help her.  He understands her and shows her off, showers her with gifts and protects her from scorn.  How long can she wait for her husband whom even her dearest friends still believe is dead?  Will she believe the light-born visions and promises from God, or the technological, repeatable sight from the stone sent to her by her suitor?  Will she change her mind about regal living and the purpose of marriage?  The things that stood in Maddie’s way when she wanted to marry Abramm, and the undeniable need they had for each other – will she forget those? 

When things go from bad to worse, whose job is it to protect the ones they love?  At what cost will they buy safety and love?  Will the armies of the Moon, and the powers of the air – dragons winging terror across the skies – will they succeed in doing their worst, in taking everything from those faithful to God?  Or will they be utterly defeated?  If they cannot be defeated, what is the point in fighting and sacrificing? 

And when God’s people fail, bitterly weak, The Return of the Guardian King resounds with display of God’s mercy.  God knew we were weak when He chose us.  He knew we would fail when He sent His Son to suffer for those sins.  And a single prayer, sometimes the end of God’s longsuffering chase, brings grace empowering His servants to do the right thing.  He cannot deny Himself.  His promises will be true, however faithless we are. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Passive.  Active.  Force.  Manipulation.  Choice.  Fate.  Death.  Freedom. 

Does God mean for something to be?  Is the only way to tell God’s will through hindsight?  “Whatever will be, will be”? 

For perfect free will, one must be not only all-powerful, but completely omniscient: to know all possible actions and outcomes and to be able to cause any one of those. 

Humans tend towards arrogance, assuming that their knowledge comprises available knowledge of the world, and that if we seem to ourselves to be in control, we must truly be. 

Though “love changes everything,” knowledge certainly helps. 

Faith is not dependent on what we can comprehend with our own minds, but on the love of God. 

If prayer influences God, does that make prayer powerful? 

Can those who “love their neighbor” kill them?  How much animosity, and how much humility, is required of Christians dealing with Muslims? 

Read Blink of an Eye by Ted Dekker, the story of Seth the surfer-genius who receives a form of clairvoyance that enables him to see possible futures, when he meets a fugitive Saudi princess named Miriam.  What do they learn about the world, each other, themselves, and God?  If there’s a way to happily ever after, they will find it.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” – John 3:8

Many Christians have heard the story of the Pharisee coming at night to Jesus.  Jesus famously told Nicodemus that he must be born again, to the befuddlement of that teacher of Israel.  A bit later in the chapter sits the most famous verse in Scripture: John 3:16.  In between is this little verse – not its own statement, but part of the dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus – a verse that gets little attention and less interpretation.  I used it after high school when people asked what I was going to do with my life; I didn’t really mean it in self-righteousness, but as a joke.  Still, I’ve wondered whether Jesus didn’t intend to warn us against lives that are too stable and predictable…  (Maybe He was warning us life isn’t stable and predictable!) 

You know the other thing that really gets me?  When someone in the Bible says that if only we had enough faith or understanding, we’d get what they’re saying – and I can’t make heads or tails of it.  I want to stand in self-righteous judgment over the blind first-century fools, benefiting from 2,000 years of Christian enlightenment, but I can’t.  Verses 10 and 12 are such a rebuke.  How am I going to understand heavenly things – I can’t even imagine what that would be – if I’m not getting this talk about wind and the Spirit? 

I believe that same Spirit indwells me, that I have been born again, and that this Spirit is guiding me into all truth.  And not me by myself, but the Church which the Spirit unites and employs.  A group of friends, a small section of the Church of our God, came together and looked into this verse – and not to be arbitrary.  Some core beliefs are either implied or contradicted by how one interprets this passage.  For example, if I don’t understand what Jesus is saying, does it mean I am not “born of the Spirit”? 

So we began to study.  I looked at the context.  Since verse and chapter numbers were added in the two millennia since John was written and are not part of the inspired flow of the narrative, this is usually a good idea.  First I expanded my reading to John 3:1-12.  But something stood out to me in verse 2 that drew me back into the preceding chapter.  John 3:2 says, “The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, ‘Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.’”  Jesus’ reply is the key that more was being said by Nicodemus than we think.  How on earth does “ye must be born again” follow a confession that Jesus comes from God? 

John is a unique gospel, everyone will admit.  It is the story of Jesus’ life that is not synoptic.  Not only focusing much more on the hard sayings of Jesus; it has an entirely different perspective.  Michael Card, in his book Parable of Joy, makes the case that whereas the other gospel writers quoted from the Law and the Prophets, John had a habit of quoting the books of poetry from the Old Testament, books some Jews in Jesus’ day discounted.  Jesus is presented as the manifestation of Paul’s words, “For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness.

The Jews desire a sign.  John shows how early in Jesus’ public ministry, He turned water into wine.  But He did it quietly, almost reluctantly, unwilling to encourage the people’s enthusiasm for “signs.”  Afterward, Jesus goes to celebrate Passover at Jerusalem, and begins to seriously affront the Jewish establishment.  People might just be willing to accept this revolutionary, too, on conditions.  John 2:18 reports, “Then answered the Jews and said unto Him, ‘What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things?’”  His reply in verse 19 was rather disappointing and non-immediate.  All the same, some did believe on Him that week, “when they saw the miracles which He did.” 

God gave signs for a reason: to point to something else, to call us to response.  The miracles aren’t the point in themselves, nor do they lend authority to teachings.  Rather, miracles accompany God-given authority.  Jesus had the authority to control all created things, and demonstrated it.  Knowing all men, Jesus declined to “commit Himself unto them,” despite their eagerness for Him as their miracle-worker. 

Some men spent so much time watching signs and figuring them out, that they were more like observers of life.  This man does what’s right, so he’s in the good category.  This man does what’s wrong, so he’s in the wicked category.  Do you know any information that would help us figure that fellow out?  Or that passage or prophecy?  They sort of preside over life as judges, not caring about men or God.  Proud to have discerned anything, they rush around discussing it.  I admit I’m tempted to do the same.  Nicodemus seems to be one of these men, a strong contrast to the Lord who “knew all men.” (John 2:24)

Our Bible study’s investigation had led us through a few commentaries and memories of sermons on the passage, all of which seemed to turn the verse around or omit words and phrases.  But one Bible study help proved immensely useful.  A friend of mine checked the cross-references in his margin, which led him to Ecclesiastes, one of those Wisdom Books John was so fond of. 

As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all.”  – Ecclesiastes 11:5

Here is where I began to feel like jumping up and down.  We have the theme of birth, of the spirit, and of the wind, all of which are found in John 3.  Nicodemus, as a teacher of Israel, ought to have seen the reference Jesus was so clearly making.  Scholars call this an intertextualization.  By quoting a portion of a passage, a good communicator is referring to that entire passage, giving context and color to his point.  Jesus had referred to all these themes, trying to make a point (with faceted meaning along the way).  What Jesus did not directly mention is the second half of Ecclesiastes 11:5.  If Nicodemus had been paying attention to this Teacher from God, he would have finished the thought in his mind, and gotten the hint. 

You, Nicodemus, do not know the way of the spirit.  You don’t know where it comes from or where it is going.  Out of your own mouth you admit that you do not understand birth or the spirit.  You, Nicodemus, do not know the works of God like you say that you do. 

No, Nicodemus was like the man in Ecclesiastes 11:4: “He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap.”  There are some things, Ecclesiastes 11:3 teaches, that you cannot control (rain, trees falling one way or another, wind, new life).  But you can watch them happen.  You can even predict them when you see the signs.  If you spend all your time watching, you will forget to do something meaningful.  When harvest comes you will reap nothing. 

Back to John 3.  Verse 3, Jesus emphasizes two things.  First, He says that an event is required, a personal transforming event.  Knowledge isn’t enough.  Second, Nicodemus does not have knowledge.  He cannot see the Kingdom of God, only the works.  The Pharisee has stumbled, desiring a sign, but is facing “Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God.” 

Verse 8.  Don’t just watch the wind (Ecc. 11:4); be the wind.  Be born of the Spirit. 

Then the crux.  If you follow only what you can figure out for yourself, unwilling to believe the testimony of God about Himself, you will not see the Kingdom of God.  You are not born again of the Spirit.  Heavenly things will not be more real to you than what you see.  Faith is essential.  Whoever believes – not in signs or miracles or wisdom – in Him, the only begotten Son, has eternal life. 

Get up from your wind-watching.  Plant the seeds whose fruit you don’t know.  (Ecc. 11:6)  If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Unveiled Hope: Eternal Encouragement from the Book of Revelation by Scotty Smith and Michael Card

Written primarily by Pastor Scotty Smith with interludes by Michael Card essaying the inspiration behind each song in his album, Unveiled Hope is a different approach to Revelation.  Although it deals with controversial interpretation points (in controversial ways), the focus is on encouraging Christians through the hope offered by the unveiling of our Savior as Creator, Redeemer, Warrior, King, and God.  The Church, as Christ’s waiting Bride, is strengthened throughout the centuries by God’s work in the past, present, and future.  We are warned to worship God alone, who is revealed as all-worthy of our praise.  Praise and singing are themes of Revelation, along with suffering, sovereignty, and holiness.  All of these are addressed both directly through the instructions commissioned to the seven churches and in the imaginative (but true!) narratives that follow.  While I am disappointed in the everyday-will-be-like-today interpretations of the judgments in Revelation, which seem to leave off the supernatural nature of the things described.  One thing for which I appreciate Unveiled Hope is the way it demonstrated the relevance of what is taught in Revelation, as well as what is believed about it.

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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Chronology of the Old Testament, by Dr. Floyd Nolen Jones, is a history of the ancient world relying primarily on the most complete, detailed, consistent, and verifiable text known to man, the record of the Hebrew peoples as found in their Scriptures.  Beginning with a commitment to the sufficiency and perfect reliability of the Old Testament, the chonologer establishes a timeline of history comparable to Ussher’s famous work. 

The first section establishes periods of history whose lengths are defined by specific verses in the Old Testament, including the genealogies leading up to the flood, and from the flood to Abraham; the duration of Israel’s sojourn in Egypt; the period of the Judges; and then the dates of the kings of Judah and Israel.  This last comprises the majority of the work, as Dr. Jones treats the various accounts of the kings’ ascensions, reigns, ages, and associations with each other particularly as found in the books of Kings and Chronicles.  He refutes the compromise position of Dr. Thiele, whose dates for that era have been considered standard in conservative evangelical study. 

To close the principal manuscript, a study is done of the kings of Assyria, Babylon, and Media-Persia particularly as they compare to the 70 weeks prophecy of Daniel 9, predicting the exact year at which Messiah was to be expected.  I was especially interested in the identification of the kings Darius, Ahasuerus, and Artaxerxes (of Ezra-Nehemiah). 

Though necessarily long, The Chronology of the Old Testament is one of the smoothest narratives of history that I have ever read.  Showing care, comprehensive understanding, and a desire to communicate to an audience ranging from the novice to the studied skeptic, each technique of chronology and every theory of dates and history is presented in a way that is easy to understand and, from the perspective of this novice, unquestionable.  Along the way like an enthusiastic tour guide the author revealed the little discoveries he had made, unsuspecting, and the significance we miss when we do not appreciate the precise chronology and its implications.  For example, we learn that Jonathan son of Saul was actually decades older than David, yet they were dear friends. 

Dr. Jones is honest about the limitations of his science, confident in His God (who preserved the record for us), and firm in his stand against giving historical precedence to the Assyrian, Babylonian, Egyptian, or Greek histories since, even from a secular viewpoint, they are less complete, immediate, obvious, and consistent than the Hebrew Bible.  They are acknowledged, however, as useful tools in corroborating the testimony of the Scripture and of placing the internal timeline of the Bible into its place in our modern calendar system.  Some space is given to discrediting the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament proceeding from Alexandria and containing multiple errors and contradictions.  Also discussed are worldviews, and the King James translation of the Bible into English.  The author is avidly loyal to this translation, and occasionally vehement in his criticism of those whose opinion differs. 

A CD-ROM is included with the book containing most of the charts and timelines discussed (the rest of the charts are alongside the narrative). 

The Chronology of the Old Testament is an impressive, helpful book that I would even consider employing as a history book for homeschool children.  I enjoyed the book, learned things, and was corrected in some points which I had believed.  (One point that comes to mind is the arrival of the magi to visit Jesus.  Formerly I had been convinced that they arrived months or even years after Jesus’ birth, while the family was residing in Bethlehem.  However, the account of Jesus’ presentation at the temple in Luke precludes this possibility.)  The detailed harmony of the various Old Testament books was brought forth in a broad way I had never before envisioned.  My only concerns are these: the strength of his personal criticisms in some places for weakness in understanding or imagination (resulting, I grant, in slighting the authority and accuracy of the Bible); and the incomplete understanding that remains about the events and timeline of Esther.  Without reservation, however, I would recommend this book.  

Chronology of the Old Testament
To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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God gave gifts unto men.  Through His Spirit, He empowers His Church to grow into unity and the maturity of Jesus Christ.  Jesus promised the Spirit would guide us into all truth.  Paul specifically lists teachers among God’s gifts to the church.  Timothy Keller is such a gift.  (Actually this is the only book I’ve read by him, so I can’t vouch for anything else.) 

 

Do you read through the Bible and wonder what significance a fact or story had that God included it in His unperishing Word?  Do you ever find yourself astounded by discovery as you read, seeing depth and import in the passage that you never saw there before?  I love to find a teacher or author who has been granted insight into a part of the Bible that had always seemed way over my head (or beneath my notice).  Whether in only one chapter of all the books they’ve written, or but one exposition they gave aloud to a congregation or conference, I feel like jumping up and down, thanking God for this gift that draws me closer to my Savior. 

 

In Prodigal God, Timothy Keller blends a big-picture view of redemption and the Bible with the drama of one of Jesus’ most famous parables.  This is one of those rare books where I don’t feel like quoting or underlining, because entire chapters would be quoted and underlined.  One of the most moving points of the book is simply the title.  In the introduction, the author explains himself.  We often refer to this parable as the Prodigal Son – but Jesus specifically introduced it as the story of two sons.  Prodigal is a true description of the younger brother, who got all he could as soon as he could and spent it with equal recklessness and extravagance.  When we call the Father prodigal, we are talking about a whole different kind of spending.  He spent all He had on us, to find us and bring us back, and to welcome us into His love.  To be so extravagant also makes the word prodigal true of Him.  And how can any of His children be unmoved by His sacrifice? 

 

I met my God in this book, not for the first time, but oh, He was there!  His image sparkled as I read through descriptions of the commonly described “sinner”, the younger brother, to the older brother whose heart is equally proud and rebellious, but who is trying to use God and goodness for his own ends, to the older brother that should have been, the missing character from the pattern of the two preceding parables in the trilogy.  Who was seeking and saving the lost?  Is forgiveness really ever free? 

 

After forgiveness, what then?  What was God’s design for living as His children?  Timothy Keller spends the final chapter of The Prodigal God talking about feasts.  Jesus’ first miracle, a sign of the purpose of His ministry, is a (wedding) feast.  The night before He was betrayed, Jesus ordained a new feast for His followers as a remembrance of Him.  The close of this church age is a (wedding) feast where the Church is reunited with her Redeemer.  And eternity is something of a feast, living in the presence of God and eating of the tree of life.  Once again emphasizing relationship, this chapter presents salvation as “taste and see” believing that is lived out and continued in gratitude and celebration of the grace of God.  As anyone knows, celebration is not to be done alone.  In fact, quoting CS Lewis, Timothy Keller makes the point that relationship with God experienced in community brings out more of God than you could experience on your own.  Therefore the final challenge of Prodigal God is for you to invest in a gathering of believers with the same love with which you compassionately seek those who are lost, desiring them to share with you in the Father’s love. 

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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