Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Corporate Worship

The worship of God is the work which has been commanded by God or established with the sure testimony of God. God pronounces that He is honored by it. It is a work which must be performed with the immediate or principal purpose of obeying God and honoring Him. Indeed, it must be performed in the light of faith in Christ.

Philip Melanchthon, Loci Communes, 1543

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Prayer as an Offering

In the HSCB [Hosea 14:2] reads: “Take words of repentance with you and return to the Lord. Say to Him: 'Forgive all our sin and accept what is good, so that we may repay You with praise from our lips.'” The last phrase literally reads, “and we will pay you with the bulls of our lips.” As the imagery is clearly that of sacrifice, this passage has generally been interpreted as expressing a desire for a new beginning. The words being assessed as a sacrifice are acceptable only when they can be presented as representative for past actions and future commitment. In this way, the prophet made clear that at the heart of all his expressions concerning the nature of true worship and relationship with God is a call for confession and repentance. This is the crux of the attitude to be brought to all worship. Apart from confession and repentance we cannot enter into worship, and apart from accompanying commitment of personal worship and service, worship has not been achieved. Herein resides the bridge into what one takes from worship.

Timothy M. Pierce, Enthroned on Our Praise, p. 189-190

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


This past Sunday I preached at Hus Memorial Presbyterian on living a life worthy of the gospel (Philippians 1:27-28). Of the three ingredients I related—unity, humility, and obedience—I lingered on the last to drive home its importance.

Obedience in the context of is the expected, normal Christian life lived in full surrender to God as a practical and acceptable worship. Believers do not earn their salvation daily, but work out their salvation in ways that demonstration the fruit of the Spirit's work (Ephesians 2:10). But this is only part of the picture. To even get to this point requires obedience. In , the writer points out that the believer has life in Christ, but the disobedient shall not see life. The opposite of belief is disobedience rather than unbelief. Obedience is an integral and expected part of belief. The Pharisees wanted to know what work of God they could do, and Jesus answered, "This is the work of God, that you believe on him whom he has sent" (John 6:29).

Assuming we are obedient in believing the gospel, how are we to be obedient? The first way is to do those things that God has commanded us to do. In Luke 17:5, the disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith. The answer is startling. After telling them how a little faith can work, he teaches them through story that the proper thing to do is obey their master (i.e. God). It is that simple. We just have to know what to do, ergo read his word.

Is there a practical application to this? You bet. We just had a national election. The executive and legislative branches of government will have a decidedly more liberal agenda than the past administration. I do not like the idea at all, but Scripture tells me to pray for and obey them (Romans 13; 1 Timothy 2; Hebrews 13). The question is: can I do that with a whole heart as I should?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Who Christians Are

We Christians are nothing else than worshipers of the Supreme King and Head, under our Master, Christ.  If you examine carefully, you will find that nothing else is implied in that religion. This is the sum of all that we do; this is the proposed end and limit of sacred duties. Before Him we all prostrate ourselves, according to our custom; Him we adore in joint prayers; from Him we beg things just and honorable, and worthy of His ear.  Not that He needs our supplications, or loves to see the homage of so many thousands laid at His feet.  This is our benefit, and has a regard to our advantage.  For since we are prone to err, and to yield to various lusts and appetites through the fault of our innate weakness, He allows Himself at all times to be comprehended in our thoughts, that while we entreat Him and strive to merit His bounties, we may receive a desire for purity, and may free ourselves from every stain by the removal of all our shortcomings.
Arnobius of Sicca, The Case Against the Pagans, Book I, cap. 27

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Two Thoughts for the Price of One

I am currently reading a work of historical fiction--about 750 pages in length. There is no dialogue, but the word pictures are colorful and vibrant in their descriptions of the author's make-believe world. And what is the title of said tome? Theology of the Old Testament by Walter Brueggemann. The author was highly recommended by one of my seminary professors, and this title came up fairly often in the bibliographies of academic works. At the beginning of the book, I was certain Brueggemann is a deist promulgating his ideas in light of Historical Criticism. Now that I am past the halfway point, he might be better described as a post-modern deconstructionst. Who knows? He might be both.

In the same vein, my sister, Karen Norton, sent an a-mail today containing the following:
There was a time when I could spend hours in a bookstore and also come out with a sack full of reading material. I can still spend hours in the store, but more often than not I come away empty handed. I guess I got tired of looking at so many of the books and while the title may have been intriguing I found the content lacked a scriptural basis.
While her thesis is the disappointment in evangelical authors that have no concern for the primacy of Scripture, the end result is the same. Philosophy is trumping truth.

On the flip side...
I was eating at Olive Garden with my wife today. On one of his return trips, the waiter asked, "Where do you fellowship?" A bit stunned, I told him, "Maranatha," and Sandi asked him, "What prompted that?" He replied, "Spiritual intuition." He had recognized the working of Christ in us and desired a small bit of Christian fellowship. The Lord works in and through us, even when we have no knowledge of it.

Philippians 1:9-11 (ESV):
And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Be Good!

I was thinking about what I might pass along to a young couple getting married. What might encourage them in their married lives? I did not want to be typical or trite. Marriage is far too important for such things. Then it came to me: Be good! Now that certainly does not sound as romantic as "Love each other" or as enduring as "Remain faithful," but it has importance.

Usually, when someone says to be good, it is meant as an admonition to not misbehave or embarrass, but rather keep a respectable deportment in a situation. It is the least expectation. Society does the same with peace by referring to a lack of open conflict. From a scriptural viewpoint, the true meaning goes much further.

In Exodus 33:18, Moses asked God to show his glory. God responded by promising to cause all His goodness to pass before Moses (33:19). See the picture? The glory is reflected in goodness. And what comprises that goodness? It is listed in Exodus 34:6-7:

Slow to anger
Abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness

God tells Moses what it means to be good and do good by describing Himself. With these as a regular part of the marriage, blessing should be inevitable. Through it the couple demonstrates the glory that is there as God intended in the marriage union.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Christian Education

An old acquaintance asked for my input on Christian education. The beeping sound he heard was me dumping my load. I thanked him for the opportunity and thought this would be a good place to reiterate some of what I shared.

I have given this much thought over the years but do not have a final conclusion on the proper course, but here is what I see. Ideally, a mini-seminary in each church would be ideal, but that may not be the best route.

Content—The whole counsel of God
Over the years, I have made comments about the need for expository teaching of all Scripture. The usual reactions include (with my response):

1. "We cannot cover everything on a Sunday morning and Wed. night." - How do you know? Have you ever tried?
2. "People won't sit through a long series." - Yes, they will, if they see the need and the relevance.
3. "We need to address current issues/events/needs [pick one]." - Plans can be adjusted if need be. But do they need to be? What is more important: temporal needs or eternal truths? I will allow that there are times the former should be addressed, but which of these is driving the philosophy of education?

After reading Shepherding God's Flock by Jay Adams and other works I don't remember at the moment, I put together a 5-year plan to go through all of Scripture and the major doctrines. Admittedly, it is more of a survey than in-depth study, but people are introduced to where things are and what they say.

Method—Large group
The example from the pulpit should be systematic and expository, but it does not have to be entirely lecture. In the last two years attending my last church, I encouraged the men to ask questions at the end of my messages about what was said. Basically, I treated it like a quasi-classroom. They got so comfortable with that that some would raise their hands in the middle and ask. We all enjoyed it. Not only were they comfortable enough to ask, but something on their minds got resolved and did not detract from the rest of what I was saying.

Do you may remember that Willow Creek did a study of their teaching philosophy and determined that they had done things wrongly? Their solution was to put into effect a plan empowering people to be self-feeders. I humbly disagree with that approach, because it appears to be leaving a sheep without a shepherd. The examples of self-feeders in Scripture are as rare as hen's teeth—one might make a case for the Ethiopian eunuch. The Biblical example is discipleship (2 Tim 2:2). These are older, mature, godly people teaching and being a living example to younger. This is most natural in the home, but connections need to be made where that is not possible. Sheep left to themselves will usually get lost and/or starve to death.

I think this little gem needs to be polished up and reset in its place. I have two examples of why this is true, both involving my former high school Sunday School class. The first came about when the elders decided to teach a survey of doctrine to the adults. I had been given the task of teaching the same adult topic/passage to the high school class. For this survey, I decided to use the Nicene Creed. It had all the elements I needed to cover, and where it was weak in eschatology, I filled in. The students loved it. The second example came when I was at a loss concerning which direction to go in the class. At this time we were operating without elders, so I had to do what I thought best. I decided to teach the Heidelberg Catechism telling them along the way which parts I disagreed with and why. Again, they loved it. Now maybe it was partly the instructor, but they learned and retained much of it.

After seeing their reaction, I decided to try putting together a similar thing starting with the London Baptist Confession of Faith but geared to the Plymouth Brethren. It didn't get far though.

The early church began this type of thing, usually as a prelude to baptism and church membership, and it was carried forward through church history. As a credo-baptist, I would not use it in that way, but I still think it important in order to lay out the basics of theology.

These elements need to be integrated into the thinking of the local church. It is a massive undertaking because of the planning required. It is an unpopular notion because it runs contrary to modern evangelical thought. It will work because it has been proven over and again in Scripture and history.

Ruminate on that awhile.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Triune God

One of the chief obstacles to understanding the triune God of love is the modern change in the notion of person. In the language of the fathers, person (persona, ύποστασις) means independent, individual subsistence. In modern times, however, there is the additional quality of self-consciousness, which is entirely lacking in ancient usage. If we are to continue using the notion of person in relation to God, we must be careful to realize that no implication of self-consciousness is present in its theological expression. There are not three self-conscious personalities in God but one divine self-consciousness confirmed in God's threefold being. There are not three separate wills in God but one will. There are not three minds in God but one mind. One divine energy pervades the three modes of being or persons. . . . There are not three personalities in God, there are are three "persons." One self-identical nature or essence exists in three individual persons.

Paul C. McGlasson, Invitation to Dogmatic Theology

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Since the force of this will act is so great that in satisfying us with its own gratification it takes the place of the deed, it follows that it will be punished in place of the deed. It is sheer folly to say, "I willed, but I did not act." Rather you should complete the act, since you will it; or you should not will it at all, since you are not going to complete it. Actually, you condemn yourself by the confession of your conscience, for if you desired a thing that was good you would have tried to carry it through to completion; if, on the other hand, you fail to carry it through to completion because it is evil, you ought not even to desire it. Whatever position you take, guilt holds you fast, for you have either willed what is evil, or you have failed to accomplish what is good.

Tertullian, On Penitence

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Foolish to Disbelieve God's Providence

Those who disbelieve in the reins of providence and are foolish enough to maintain that the universe, consisting of heavens and earth, for all its ordered arrangement, is without a guiding hand, seem to me to resemble a man sitting in a ship traversing the sea who watches the pilot take the tillers and move the rudders as required, bearing now right and now left, and directing his ship into ports of call.

Now that man would be a manifest liar, obviously resisting the truth, if he said that there was no helmsman at the poop, that the vessel had no rudders, that it was not directed by the movement of the tillers, but that it was carried along automatically, that it overcame the force of the waves on its own, that it struggled of itself with the impact of the winds, and that it was in no need of help of sailors or of a helmsman to issue orders for the common good to the crew.

Theodoret of Cyrus, On Divine Providence, Discourse 2

Friday, July 4, 2008

Independence Day

Another Independence Day is here, and I was thinking about the true freedom in Christ.

What is he free from?
Rom 6:6-7
We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.

Is he indeed free?
Rom 8:2
For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

What is he free for?
Rom 6:22
But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.

What is he not free to do and not do?
Gal 5:1
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

What should be his conduct?
1 Pet 2:16
Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.

I am privileged to live in a society where Christ can be openly acknowledged. However, this is neither my country nor my home.

Phil 3:20-21
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

That yet awaits.

Monday, June 23, 2008

True Happiness

The highest degree of happiness is, not to sin; the second, to acknowledge our sins. In the former, innocence flows pure and unstained to preserve us; in the latter, there comes a medicine to heal us.

Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 56, to Cornelius

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Flood of '08

We have endured the flood of 2008 and lived to tell about it. One of the most endearing aspects of this calamity was the volunteerism demonstrated by the community. Unlike Katrina victims with their hands out, Cedar Rapidians worked to clean and restore.

I am not getting cozy with the "brotherhood of man" thing or the "spirit of midwestern America." This is most likely because Linn County is quite conservative (as a county, we supported Alan Keyes in a Republican caucus). I firmly believe this is because of the high percentage of Bible-believing, God-fearing people. Humanitarianism and philanthropy only go so far; it is the gospel that teaches sacrifice.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Busy, busy

No, I haven't forgotten this blog. There are too many things happening at once. I could easily fill it with quotes from my constant reading, but that would not help me to rightly divide and teach God's word. Have patience, please.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Compassion of Christ

Do you wish then to know in what manner the Word of God, who was again the Son of God, as He was of old the Word, communicated His revelations to the blessed prophets in former times? Well, as the Word shows His compassion and His denial of all respect of persons by all the saints, He enlightens them and adapts them to that which is advantageous for us, like a skillful physician, understanding the weakness of men. And the ignorant He loves to teach, and the erring He turns again to His own true way. And by those who live by faith, He is easily found; and to those of pure eye and holy heart, who desire to knock at the door, He opens immediately. For He casts away none of His servants as unworthy of the divine mysteries. He does not esteem the rich man more highly then the poor, nor does He despise the poor man for his poverty. He does not disdain the barbarian, nor does He set the eunuch aside as no man. He does not hate the female on account of the woman's act of disobedience in the beginning, nor does He reject the male on account of the man's transgression. But He seeks all, and desires to save all, wishing to make all the children of God, and calling all the saints unto one perfect man. For there is also one Son (or Servant) of God, by whom we too, receiving the regeneration through the Holy Spirit, desire to come all unto one perfect and heavenly man.
Hippolytus, Treatise on Christ and Antichrist

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Theology of Numbers: God's Community

There are many attributes of God which draw our praise and lead to worship. One that has little chance to make such an impact is community. Within the Triune Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have a perfect relationship and interaction--having done so and will do so for all eternity. With this in view, we should expect to find in Scripture God working in such a way that promotes community with himself as not just a participant but the central figure.

The building of community runs through Numbers in various ways. From the encampment organization at Sinai to the encampment in the Trans-Jordan, God works within his elect to build a united body working together for the common good which is found only in him. The Lord did his work in predominately three ways which are expanded below.

Organized around the Tent of Meeting. God is organized and orderly as seen by reading the opening chapters of Genesis. The physical world was brought together step by step with intricate design to maintain life and ultimately to glorify the Creator. By placing himself at the center, the Lord focuses the attention of his people so that they are forced to have others in the line-of-sight when looking on him. In addition, each does his part according to God's order and arrangement to the benefit of all.

There is a goal. We are not speaking here of God's goals, of course, but those of his people. Looking back at this book we see and remember that the ultimate prize was a promised flowing with milk and honey. Israel forgot that during the wandering. We might be tempted to excuse the people when recounting what they had to endure: lack of water, discontent with the food, internal conflict (chap. 12-14), and external raids (21:1-25:5). Any of these singly could best a dedicated group, and each did just that to Israel for a season. The people forgot that it had been enabled from the very beginning of the journey through God's empowerment to not only endure the desert but to enter victoriously into Canaan (chap. 32). In retrospect, Israel's cardinal sin was to reject the promised rest (14:1-38, Cf. Heb. 4).

Revelation during the journey. The Lord had delivered through Moses several laws in the books Exodus and Leviticus. The revelation during the wandering was basically elaboration or explanation of what had been given at Sinai. In addition, different transmission methods were used in teaching. Several examples are given in canonical order.

The Ark of the Covenant (10:33) The ark was a reminder of God's dwelling place with men having promised to dwell above the mercy seat. God, through the Levites carrying the ark, led the procession as sovereign and went ahead to find a resting place for his people.

Judgment and blessing (11:1-23, 31-35) In a relatively short span of time, the people complained about their circumstances and the lack of variety in diet. God does not want a complaining people, so he first sent the judgement of fire but followed with the continued grace of manna and the bounty of quail, following with a great plague to deal with those who stirred up the people.

Holy Spirit (11:24-30) The elders were appointed to be Moses' assistants. The Holy Spirit came upon and endowed them with authority. Later he enabled Balaam to speak the word of God (24:2-9). God both qualified and equipped these men for the job.

Opposition of Aaron and Miriam (12:6-8) Miriam was the eldest of the siblings and watched over Moses when he was placed in the Nile waters. Aaron, the middle child, had been anointed as high priest. Their familial acquaintance clouded their perspective and place. Though Moses was youngest, he communed face-to-face with God. Each had their respective roles and enablement in God's dealing with the people, and he alone had the right of choice.

Spying out the land (13-14) The Lord had promised Israel that the land was theirs for the taking. The spies brought back proof of the goodness of the land, yet the balked at any idea to trust God and enter. Because of this, God condemns the entire generation to die in the wilderness. Yet after the judgement is passed, he renews his promise to the nation (15:1) though it be delayed.

Degrees of sin (15) The punishment is to be equal to the sin. For the Sabbath-breaker, the judgment was just in that he had sinned with premeditation (or in arrogance) which deserved death. The unintentional sin could be covered with the appropriate sacrifice, because there was no evil design but an accidental infringement.

Levitical leadership (16-17) In similar fashion to the family power struggle earlier, Korah determined that he had as much right to the priesthood as Aaron. He was backed by Dathan, Abiram, and On from the tribe of Reuben in an attempt to influence via the right of the firstborn. God reconfirms Aaron's priestly work and position through the budding of the almond branch on his staff.

Priests, Levites, and offerings (18-19) The Lord recapitulates the law surrounding the Levitical priesthood and sacrifices along with instuction of how they are to be supported.

Moses' sin (20) Moses got so tired of those complaining, rebellious people that he hit the rock when he should have spoken to it. We know that Moses received punishment, and he accused the people of that in the first four chapters of Deuteronomy, saying, “I could not go in because of you.” It almost sounds petulant, but Moses laid the finger right where the blame lay. The people tried and tired him.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Guard against Heresy

And my advice to my readers is to adopt a similar expedient [as Ulysses], viz., either on account of their infirmity to smear their ears with wax, and sail through the tenets of the heretics, not even listening to [doctrines] that are easily capable of enticing them into pleasure, like the luscious lay of the Sirens, or, by binding one's self to the cross of Christ, hearkening with fidelity, not to be distracted, inasmuch as he has reposed his trust in Him to whom before this he has been firmly knit, and to continue steadfastly.
Hippolytus, The Refutation of All Heresies, Book VII

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Psalm 139

I am currently in a class entitled "The Heart of the Matter" which looks at what the heart is, what it does, and how it affects our life. In the first session several verses mentioning the word heart were read and categorized by the action concerning the heart. One of those was:
Psalm 139:23-24 (ESV)
Search me, O God, and know my heart!
    Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting!

There was plenty of discussion over what David thought and felt when writing this, but one comment struck me because it was based on: 1) the context of the psalm—a rare occurrence in evangelicalism; and 2) David's understanding of God's intimate and detailed knowledge of the individual. A rough outline of the psalm looks like this:
1. God's Familiarity as Seen in His Attributes
    a. Omniscience (1-6)
    b. Omnipresence (7-12)
    c. Foreknowledge (13-16)
2. Proper Response
    a. Delighting in God's Knowledge (17-18)
    b. Following God's heart (19-22)
    c. Requesting continued work (23-24)
The comment previously mentioned was from verse one, "you have searched me and known me." How often do we think about that? How often would we want to? I am like most other people and relish in the comfort that nobody with whom I have contact can read my thoughts unless I voice them, and even then they are heavily edited. To borrow a phrase, what happens in my thoughts, stays in my thoughts. The potentially unpleasant fact is that God knows.

Here is a thought-provoking question: how would I think differently if I understood that God was listening? Here is another: should I think differently knowing that God is listening? I leave the former question for you to ponder, but to the latter question, a typical Christian would say, "Yes, of course." I say, "It depends." If I am a new believer, this seems to be an obvious conclusion that I do not yet have a handle on, and that is fine as long as there is progress. If I am an older believer, this question should not even arise since the Lord's presence will be known daily. Remember how David was a man after God's own heart? He understood the Lord's presence. And when caught red-handed and red-faced in murder and adultery (Uriah and Bathsheba), he confessed immediately. David's sin caused a momentary break concerning God's familiarity, but it was revived through the accusation, and action was taken.

So what is my reaction to this wonderful news? Do I use that understanding to purge sin from my life? Do I hate the things God hates and love what he loves? Do I delight in worship the Lord for his familiarity with me?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Luther on Worship

The very highest worship of God is this that we ascribe to him truthfulness, righteousness, and whatever else should be ascribed to one who is trusted. When this is done, the soul consents to his will. Then it hallows his name and allows itself to be treated according to God's good pleasure for, clinging to God's promises, it does not doubt that he who is true, just, and wise will do, dispose, and provide all things well.
--Martin Luther, The Freedom of a Christian

Friday, April 18, 2008

Theology of Numbers: God's Care

The people mentioned previously who are bored or confused by Numbers will probably not expect any depth of theology in it. On the other hand, they may see theology as boring and confusing, so there would be no surprise. In fact there are several elements of God's work that become clear when examined. The first concerns the Lord's care for his people. This was manifest in four ways:

Presence – From the first day out of Egypt, YHWH was with his people. First, he led the nation "by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light . . . [which] did not depart from before the people" (Exodus 13:21-22). This continued throughout the wilderness journey (Numbers 9:15-23). Certainly, the people knew the correct general direction—knowledge was not the issue. What they lacked was wisdom concerning timing in travel and best path.

Second was the promise to Moses that "I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel" (Exodus 25:22). God chose to dwell among his people and be intimately involved with the affairs of life by giving instruction through his servant Moses. This was explicitly demonstrated when Moses and Aaron each had his authority questioned (Numbers 12:4-9 and 16:19-21 respectively).

God's desire is to be dwelling among his people. This covenantal concept was delivered to Joseph through an angel “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21) for the fulfillment of the prophecy that “'the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel' (which means, God with us)” (Matthew 1:23). God was with his people.

Provision – Throughout the wilderness journey, the Lord supplied abundantly.
  1. Manna was supplied six days per week and was versatile for preparation as the people could ground, beat, boil, and make cakes with it (Numbers 11:7-9).
  2. Quail was provided when the people grumbled though it was used also to judge them (Numbers 11:31-35).
  3. Water was miraculously given when needed most (Numbers 20:8).
Though they felt forsaken in their need, the supply came in its proper time and portion. Jesus reiterates this promise with a reminder to put the kingdom of God before all else and he will supply the need (Matthew 6:25-34).

Patience – The Israelites constantly grumbled against the provision of God. At times the divine patience wore thin and the people experienced disciplinary judgments. God’s forbearance, however, is indicated in the fact that he did not abandon his people.

Protection – The desert weather did not adversely affect the people. Sihon and Og, with mighty armies, were not able to prevail against Israel (Numbers 21). The would-be curses of Balaam were turned into blessings (Numbers 23-24).

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Overview of Numbers

Most people I have encountered equate a study of Numbers with a study of the phone book. This is probably brought about from ten chapters of organization material followed by a confusing mish-mash of history and doctrine. This is the way I first viewed it, but things changed. After reading it a few times, a logical, beautiful pattern began to develop that goes something like this:
  1. Organization at Sinai (1:1-10:10)
  2. Disorganization in the wilderness (10:11-21:35)
  3. Reorganization on the plains of Moab (22:1-26:65)¹
  4. Preparations for entry to Canaan (27:1-36:13)
Through each stage of the journey, YHWH showed himself faithful to the nation. With justice, grace, and mercy the Jews are shown and taught what is required of a holy people of a holy God.

¹The first three points are adapted from James E. Smith, The Pentateuch, Joplin: College Press Publishing, 1993.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Profitability of Scripture

There is a weekly Bible study where I work. We were finishing the book of Daniel and trying to decide where to go next. Someone in jest mentioned Leviticus or Numbers then added that they would probably be too boring. "No!" I exclaimed. "They're anything but boring." You see, the person who finds those or any other Old Testament books boring has never studied those books. And herein lies the rub--most Christians find those books boring. Get my drift here?

Consider Paul's statement to Timothy:
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. ( ESV)
What had Timothy learned and believed from childhood that was so profitable? Most Christians today would say it is the New Testament books, then grudgingly admit under pressure that Paul may have been considering the Old Testament as well. How sad. The apostles' Bible for preaching the gospel was the Old Testament--Jesus was the fulfillment of all that Moses and the prophets had written.

Without going too far down Diatribe Drive, perhaps we should take a side street. Paul told Timothy that the OT Scriptures were profitable. Who doesn't enjoy a profit? In economic terms a study of the OT would have a rather high return on investment (ROI). What investor in his right mind would pass on something that good? Spiritual investment is no different, and the dividends are more secure and lasting. I have done a personal study on the book of Numbers and come away with many concepts and pictures that are directly attributable to the local church and believers individually. I plan on sharing some of them as this progresses.

And if you were wondering, for the work study we finally decided on Acts. I would have preferred an epistle, but I don't mind. It's still profitable.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Sometimes the ancients say it best

In whom was it possible for us, the lawless and ungodly, to be justified, except in the Son of God alone? O sweet exchange, O the incomprehensible work of God, O the unexpected blessings, that the sinfulness of many should be hidden in one righteous man, while the righteousness of one should justify many sinners!
-- Epistle to Diognetus 9.4-5

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

In the beginning . . .

Every blog and blogger has a beginning. This is mine. My purpose is to share things that I have learned through 35 years of studying God's word and lay it down in a profitable way. I will certainly make mistakes using this technology, so bear with me.