When Enough is Enough

bible

Paul wrote to Timothy that All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3: 18-17).” God through His prophets has provided us with a wonderful collection containing history, laws, moral, ethics, spiritual guidance, and more.  It reads in the style of prose, and poetry; it has inspired song, and volumes upon volumes of teaching.

There have also been countless philosophers, moral “sages,” and social commentators that has tried to provide us with all of the same categories as are provided by scripture. They have at times denied the accuracy of the biblical accounts, or sought to replace them with “up to date,” or “socially progressive” alternatives.  These attempts have been augmented by the “new priesthood” of the 21st Century West: the scientists. Gone today for many is any faith in the words and pronouncements of men in black, wearing backwards white collars. But, if a person in a white lab coat, and carrying a clipboard makes a statement, “it must be true.”

Whether scientific pronouncement, existential philosophy, or new spiritual guidance; if it departs from the word of God, it must be tested by the Word. Galatians 1:8 reads, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!” Even angels’ words fall short!

Let us rest in the words of Proverbs 30, “Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar (vs 5 -6).”

Does this mean we cannot make commentary on the scriptures? No. But we are to use scripture to interpret scripture, not social convention. And we are to never try to pass off our words for God’s.

As we look at the world around us today, let us remember the true road map, the real Route 66, the Bible.

Padre

The Baptiser (Part 2)

john-baptist

John the Baptiser (Free Bible Images)

John left his priestly home and went to the wilderness and ” . . . the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.  He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 3: 2-3).”  Here he warned the people of their alienation from God. 

“John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire (Luke 3: 7-9).”

His message to prepare for the coming of Messiah was clear.  When asked how to prepare he preached a message reminiscent of the two great commands – love God, and love your neighbour.  Social justice, and not just blind or thoughtless following of the Law was to be in their hearts.

“Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized.“Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,”he told them. Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do? He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay” (Luke 3:11-14).”

He was not Messiah, but came to bear witness to His coming. Of Messiah he said,  “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie (Luke 3:16).”

John 1:28 tells us that John was on the other side of the Jordan, baptising.

“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!  This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’  I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.” Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him.  And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One (John 1:29-34).”

John clearly identifies Jesus as Messiah. And in what follows we see a recognition of Jesus’ majesty and John’s humility.

“The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. . . .  Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus (John 1:35-37, 40).”

The Baptiser’s two disciples, Andrew and John followed Jesus.  They were seekers after spiritual knowledge, and took their master, John’s words about Jesus as the fulfillment of his teaching on the coming of the promised one.  John seems to have no problem with their departure, in fact it can be seen as his purpose in thus identifying Jesus as the Lamb of God.

This interpretation of the event seems supported by a further event in John 3: 22f,

“After this, Jesus and his disciples [including John’s previous students Andrew and John – my reference] went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized. (This was before John was put in prison.) An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him. To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.”

Note John is neither envious or upset by Jesus’ ministry, or by His message.  “He must become greater; I must become less.” But this does not diminish John’s example for us, nor the impact of his teaching.  We will look at these in the third part of this study.

Padre

 

 

 

 

 

The Baptiser (Part 1)

john-baptist

John the Baptiser (Free Bible Images)

John the Baptiser (often called “the Baptist”) was Jesus’ cousin.  He was of a Levite family (while Jesus was counted as being of the Tribe of Judah). John’s father was a priest, and his mother Elizabeth was the cousin of Jesus’ mother, Mary.

John’s birth was an act of divine power. Elizabeth was barren and advanced beyond the age of child-bearing. Yet, God had His plan.

“There was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron.  Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly.  But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old. Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear.  But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.  He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink,and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born.  He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord (Luke 1:5-17).”

The words of the Angel Gabriel were fulfilled and this man of God was born,

“When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy, and they shared her joy. On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him after his father Zechariah, but his mother spoke up and said, “No! He is to be called John.” They said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who has that name.”  Then they made signs to his father, to find out what he would like to name the child. He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him (Luke 1:57-66).”

What he was destined to be was an itinerant preacher and prophet.  In fact, it was John who broke the post-Malachi “silence of heaven.”  He was a prophet and fore-runner of Messiah (his cousin Jesus).  He preached a message of repentance and of preparation.  This was two-fold. One of personal accountability, and the second of making the landscape ready for the coming Kingdom of God.

The extent to which the cousins’ interacted in their childhood is shrouded in the scriptures. But, we do know that they were reunited at the River Jordan (Matthew 3:13-17) at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  Luke also records this event, but precedes it with an account of John’s own ministry,

“During the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God’s salvation (Luke 3:2-6).’”

This man, with “the spirit and power of Elijah,” had come to prepare the way.

Padre

[Next time: John’s teaching, and role with Jesus].

 

 

 

Deflection

114866708.1L.jpg

John chapter 4 provides a lengthy account of Jesus’ encounter with a Samaritan woman. Because of its give-and-take narration of a lengthy exchange between the two, it lends itself to numerous lessons for commentary.  These include xenophobia, Jewish/non-Jewish relations, and the Gifts of God.  It is on the aspects of accountability, reflection, and deflection which I will focus today, however.

The text in full reads (and italics are mine):

Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples.

So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee. Now he had to go through Samaria.  So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” “I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet.  Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.  Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.  God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he (vs 1-26). . . .”

Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah? (v 28-29)”

Here is a woman drawing water outside of the normal times for such an activity.  Is she an outcast? Perhaps.  It is noted she is a Samaritan (enough for a Jew to avoid her), yet Jesus engages her. This alone, therefore is not enough to isolate her. But, for certain she is a woman whose marital status, and present living arrangements are suspect.  She is “caught out” by this fact, when Jesus calls attention to it (as noted in the italics). Her response is one of deflection.  No admission of what at the time would be seen as at least implied sin, but rather a quick change of subject.

How often have we done that when a topic gets a little too close to home? Our personal shortcomings are to be moved away from quickly.  “After all there are more important matters to consider.”  She does exactly that.  The result, however, is the opening of her eyes to a greater truth than even her own sins.  The coming of Messiah.

This realisation of the incarnation of the Holy One is enough for her not only to own up to her own weaknesses, but to acknowledge them to the entire community, ” Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did.”  She in her excitement at the presence of the divine, lets down her walls and shields, and in so doing brings the good news to others.

What greater impact might we have if we owned up to our flaws like that?  Can we remove the “Super Christian” mask long enough to see that we, like “all have sinned,” and in so doing see the potential to see the need to share the way beyond our sin (through Christ) with others?

Deflection in the end only fools ourselves. So rather than deflecting today, let us confess our mistakes and focus on the “living water” that washes away those flaws, and leads to eternal life.

Padre

But It’s Impossible

2d356c45e9141c064e37417e167fd473

I had a discussion today with a class on the message of the miracles of the New Testament.  I noted that the calming of the sea in Mark 4:35-41 (and Matthew 8:23-27) not only showed Jesus’ power over the elements, but was remarkable even to his disciples as in their minds only God could control nature.  “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” The realization must have been staggering to them.

The immediate responses I received, on the other hand were, “It’s impossible,” and “”How do we know?” To the second, the short answer is that a witness (Matthew) recorded it.  To the first, I responded that if it happened, it by definition is not impossible. To which, I received the “Well, I don’t believe it” reply.

I gave the following points to ponder.  If an Inuit was told 100 years ago of a place where it was never colder than 50 degrees F, and that less than a inch of precipitation fell in a year, might they show disbelief?  But, does their disbelief mean the Sahara didn’t exist. And if a resident of North Africa were told of a land where feet of frozen rain fell each year, and that the temperature seldom rose above 50, might they show a similar skepticism? In short, just because we with our limited experience have not witnessed an event, does than stop it from being true?

The challenge in this age of doubt is for people (including people of faith) to open our horizons to the power of the divine.  We need to see beyond our “facts;” and trust.

The message of the miracles is as important today as it was to the first disciples.  We need to step out of our comfort zones and assumptions, and marvel at the acts.  It should not be a case of “Well, it’s impossible;” but rather of “Who is this, that even the winds and waves obey Him.”

Are we open to that, today?

Padre

 

Bible Fruits Smoothie

 

There are seven fruits (not including grains) referenced in the Bible.  These are grapes, olives, dates, figs, pomegranates, almonds, and apples.  I was wondering how these would work as a fruit salad, and struck on the idea of trying them as a smoothie instead. It seemed prudent to omit olives from the trials (for what to me was self-explanatory) and stick with the “sweet” fruits.  After some trial and error, this is what I arrived at.

I hope you may find it enjoyable.

Bible Fruits Smoothie

250 ml Pomegranate Juice [Joshua 15:32 and Numbers 13:23]

125 ml Almond Milk [Numbers 17:8]

50 ml Apple Juice [I Chronicles 2:43 and Song of Songs 7:9]

6 Large Purple or Black Grapes (seedless) [Numbers 13:23]

3 Dates (pitted) [Psalms 92:7–8, and referenced Joel 1:12]

2 Figs [Numbers 13:23]

6-8 Ice Cubes (more for thicker consistency)

Soak the figs and dates in apple juice for 2 hours, then add the whole fruits and un-absorbed juice to blender with the ice, grapes, and liquid ingredients.  Blend until smooth.

Pour into a large glass (or share in smaller glasses) and serve.  There is a tiny bit of grittiness from the fig seeds, date pulp, and grape skins but it is relatively smooth, and has a sweet flavour.  I have experimented with adding a Tablespoon of honey [Proverbs 24:13] but find it a little too sweet for my taste.

Reading on the various ingredients there is fibre, anti-oxidants, vitamins, and other “good stuff” in this drink.  But more importantly to me, it is non-alcoholic, and tastes good.

I would love to hear back from anyone who tries this, and would welcome any refinements to the recipe.

Padre

 

 

Beyond Philosophies

bible

Pastor Vince today presented a very thought provoking message on the place the church should be in.  This place is in the gospels, epistles, and histories of the scriptures, not in man-made creeds, philosophies, and speculations.

True, the Apostle Paul made reference to human philosophies.  He referenced them on Mars Hill, and in his letter to Titus.  But, he never diverges from Christ and Him crucified.  The truth is the truth no matter who says it, but the arbiter of truth is God’s Spirit, not Plato, Aristotle or Nietzsche.

The Scriptures are here for our understanding, and read in light of the wholeness of God’s word this is easy.  This is no place for diminishing the Bible to a series of “proof-texts,” nor expanding it to a psycho-philosophical treatise.  Peter wrote on this trend, ” . . . our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:15-16).”

As the pastor noted, life is in the Word of God, not in that of even the wisest man.  I am well-educated, have had clever professors, and I work in a world where philosophy and theology for theology’s own sake exists.  This is the road to academic competence, not to spiritual life.  We need to seek the simplicity of the gospel, and not venture into the mental space that builds up our egos not our souls.

Padre

Elizabeth a Curse?

images

In Luke 1:25 we read Elizabeth’s words,  “25 ‘The Lord has done this for me,’ she said. ‘In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.'” But what favour?  She is pregnant.  So what disgrace?  She had been barren.

Deuteronomy 7:12-14 paints a picture for us. “12 If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the Lord your God will keep his covenant of love with you, as he swore to your ancestors. 13 He will love you and bless you and increase your numbers. He will bless the fruit of your womb, the crops of your land—your grain, new wine and olive oil—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks in the land he swore to your ancestors to give you.14 You will be blessed more than any other people; none of your men or women will be childless . . . .” Elizabeth’s childlessness, rightly or wrongly, would have been seen by her contemporaries of her or Zechariah’s sin.

As Zechariah was a priest, of good reputation (he had not been barred from his temple functions), then in many’s minds the fault must have been Elizabeth’s.  This in people’s minds would be the issue of unfaithfulness/adultery.  Numbers 5 : 20f reads, “ But if you have gone astray while married to your husband and you have made yourself impure by having sexual relations with a man other than your husband”— 21 here the priest is to put the woman under this curse—“may the Lord cause you to become a curse among your people when he makes your womb miscarry and your abdomen swell. 22 May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells or your womb miscarries.” 

Remember the Middle East in the 1st Century was obsessed with the ideas of shame and honour.  In fact, they believed that honour was a limited commodity like gold or silver. If you had it, someone else didn’t.  Shame likewise could diminish the honour someone held, making more available for you.  So quick judgement of Elizabeth by her peers would be in keeping with her culture.

In addition to the perceived sin, and shame versus honour considerations, Elizabeth’s barrenness had a practical aspect as well.   Children were security for the future. There were no pensions or retirement plans.  It was your children that took care of you in your old age.  No one else would!

So even on a personal level, Elizabeth would have “felt cursed” by the lack of children. Her pregnancy with John was a blessing on several levels.  She had a carer for her dotage. Zechariah had an heir. People’s mutterings about sin in the family were proven for naught.

This is a wonderful little passage.  Elizabeth is moved from a state of “disgrace” to “favour.” Her relative sinlessness (for all people are sinners), is shown to her fellows. Her future is for the time being secured.  And in the end, a great prophet enters the world through her.

As a side point, let us be quick to recognise favour in others, and slow to shower disgrace.

Padre

 

 

 

 

 

Beyond Doubt and Even Giants

Pastor Vince brought his message from Numbers 13 this week.  He focused on the power of God in our lives in making things change.  If it is not our circumstances that are modified, it is often ourselves.

Drawing from the same passage, I would like to reflect on the mindset of the people involved.

“23 When they reached the Valley of Eshkol, they cut off a branch bearing a single cluster of grapes. Two of them carried it on a pole between them, along with some pomegranates and figs. 24 That place was called the Valley of Eshkol because of the cluster of grapes the Israelites cut off there. 25 At the end of forty days they returned from exploring the land.26 They came back to Moses and Aaron and the whole Israelite community at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran. There they reported to them and to the whole assembly and showed them the fruit of the land.”

So far, so good.  The scouts of Israel find that the land that has been promised is truly an abundant one. But . . .

“31But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” 32 And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. 33 We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anakcome from the Nephilim).”  Yes, the land is great, but there are giants.  We can’t do it.

Despite coming out of the land of Egypt with power.  Despite the parting of the Red Sea, they still had a slave mentality.  “We aren’t good enough.  We aren’t strong enough. We aren’t big enough.”  Does it sound familiar?

But hope is found in the preceding verse, “30 Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, ‘We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it’.”  Caleb saw potential, not doom.  He and Joshua were ready and willing to go, not just onward, but right away! No slave mentality here, but faith in what they had already witnessed.

Do we see the giants or the grapes?  Do we see strong cities, or the God who divided a sea?  Can we, today, look beyond doubt?

PadreAbhar-iran