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Monday, February 28, 2011

Naked and Afraid: Discussing Adam and Eve

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. --Genesis 3: 6, 7 NIV 2010
 As a child reading this passage, I always wondered why Adam and Eve suddenly felt the need for clothing after they ate the fruit.  Their condition of nakedness had been the only thing they had known until that point, so I couldn't see why the fruit would suddenly have given them a sort of moral conviction against the way they had always lived--after all, eating the fruit was the sin, not living as God had made them, in the garden.  I realized that there was more to this than my teachers were explaining.

Now I think I understand it better.  It was both a literal and symbolic gesture of fear and weakness.  Adam and Eve felt naked, that is, exposed, before God and the retribution their consciences told them was coming.  They suddenly were aware of their weak and exposed state as two people who had dared to challenge the supreme Lordship of God.  Could they stand against Him?  Could they defend their own skin from the God who had made it?  They didn't believe they could, so they used the covering they had on hand to protect their skin and camouflage themselves.  Why didn't it work?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Weekly Snippet: Bored by Names Lists? Look Again...

I was talking to someone recently, who shared with me a common problem people have when trying to read through the entire Bible--long names lists.  Specifically, most people get bored and skip ahead when they hit one of those lists of so-and-so was the father of so-and-so.  Numbers is the worst, and I, too, can admit to running out of steam on my Bible reading plan when I arrived in Numbers.  In fact, most people who have shared their desire to read the entire Bible from cover to cover have admitted to me that Numbers is their biggest challenge because the names lists just don't appeal to them in any way.

Today I thought I'd share a few interesting facts about hereditary names lists in the Bible that might peak your curiosity.  When you get to the end of this list, you might be thinking differently about those sections in your Bible:

  • The Line of Christ--This is the most significant family genealogy in the Bible, as most people would agree.  However, there's one interesting fact that many people may not realize.  Christ could trace back His family genealogy to David on both sides of his family.  Curious?  Go read the names list in Matthew 1: 1-16, and compare it to the list in Luke 3: 23-38.  The lists diverge after Zerubbabel.  The first one, in Matthew, is Joseph's line, since Jesus was his legal son, and the one in Luke is Jesus' ancestry through Mary.
  • Earth-Age Estimate--Though there are what appear to be occasional gaps in the recorded genealogies, the lists, calculated for maximum life-span of each individual, put the earth at several thousand years old, not millions or billions of years old.  The genealogy lists were an early Creationist argument against Evolutionary time estimates.
  • Who's Who of Ancient History--These lists are populated by famous people, either noted elsewhere in the Bible or generally known at the time. Some are much more important to modern readers than they may seem.  Take, for instance, Eliashib, the high priest in the days of Zerubbabel and Nehemiah.  Though he helped build the wall and led in the musical worship in God's house, he allowed his sons to intermarry with Sanballat's family and gave Tobiah a room in the house of God (see Ezra 10: 24; Nehemiah 3: 1, 13: 4-9, 28). 
  • A Perspective on National Origins-- My favorite list, The Table of Nations, in Genesis 10, traces the roots of several nations later encountered in the Bible.  What many readers don't understand is that archaeologists have discovered these aren't all local middle-eastern tribes that vanished in antiquity; for instance, check out this list of the European and Indian descendants of Japheth.  It gives you a different perspective on history, doesn't it?
  • Insight into Ancient Social Structure--People in those days had large families, which means one man could be the father of 12 children, who in turn were the parents of 12 kids each, and so forth.  In only a few years, we could have hundreds of people descended from one man.  Many of the men in these lists were the leaders of large tribes or clans of people, sometimes the population of a town, by virtue of their age and the number of descendants they had.  Especially in the early names lists, you begin to get a picture of a roll of towns sorted by tribal leader, an older man who led the family and defended it with his own "army" of able-bodied sons and grandsons.  See Joshua 14: 6-15; 15: 13-19.
  • Naming Trends--For those who like to explore the meanings of names in the Bible, you might notice interesting naming patterns during different parts of Jewish history.  For instance, many men in the time of the Babylonian exile have names that include the name of God, El.  I can only offer the theory that they were all crying out to God for deliverance, and named their children according to the mood of the times.  You'll have to do your own research to discover more about this.
Well, hope that's enough to peak your interest.  I plan to be back here Monday with more good content, so stay tuned.  Until then, this is me reminding you to stay savvy and study up--no part of the Bible is really boring, if you look closely enough!

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Word to the Leaders Among Us

In honor of President's Day (a modern holiday that combines George Washington's and Abraham Lincoln's birthdays), I thought I'd talk today about what characterizes godly leadership.  While there are literally thousands of different leadership models out there, focusing on politics, personality, workplace efficiency, and more, I prefer to talk about leadership the way the Bible models it.

If you read leadership training materials, or just browse that section at your local bookstore, you are going to see phrases like how to get ahead, the leader of the pack, separate yourself from the crowd, surviving the shark tank, and other such phrases.  The underlying principle is that we get ahead by muscling ourselves to the front or setting ourselves apart by putting down the competition.  This can lead to cutthroat tactics like lying and making false promises, attacking the competition to hedge it out, focusing on your own needs without considering those of others, and so on, eventually developing into an obsession with power and publicity.

Sometimes the competition can seem so fierce to a Christian that these tactics are tempting, especially when they seem to work, but God has called us to a higher standard of leadership--the model of Christ.  The leadership style Jesus modeled is the opposite of what the world calls good business tactics.  However, I firmly hold on to the truth that God's way is the way of life (Proverbs 12:28).  My personal experience has shown that while the world's tactics pay off faster than those of the Lord, they are much shorter-lived.  I'd rather succeed with God's blessing than get ahead as a flash in the pan.

Just what are these counter-intuitive tactics I'm talking about?  Here are a few key qualities of a leader that Christ demonstrated for us:
  1. Follow God before you lead others.  This is the most-overlooked characteristic of a good leader these days.  Society puts emphasis on education, experience, and physical attributes, but the most important quality to have is a redeemed heart.  God opposes a rebellious heart.  He requires obedience from us, and from all the people we lead; why would He bless someone who is leading others astray? See Hebrews 11: 6.
  2. Be humble.  "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall, " (Proverbs 16:18 NIV 2010).  Pride blinds us to good advice and urges us to challenge God's laws to excuse ourselves.  Those who are "incapable of error" will be laughed out of the limelight in the end, and afterward they will have God's correction as well.  There is no reproach, no secret to catch up with us later, when we freely admit the truth about ourselves--we are full of error and weakness, and others may be better at what we do.  See especially Luke 14: 7-11.
  3. Put others ahead of yourself.  This is the lesson in humility taken to the next level.  It is not enough to say that others are better than us; we must model this by serving those people in the manner of a servant.  This means that we will never be at the head of the pack.  We might even be pushed to the very back!  No worries, though.  God praises those who obey Him, even if they are at the back of the pack, and He rewards those who hang in there with every good thing (see Psalm 37: 4-7).  The Lord of all washed His disciples' feet!
  4. Be a patient teacher.  Jesus taught all the time--it seems that He hardly had a moment when He was not teaching.  There's one thing we should note, however.  Jesus was often teaching the same thing, over and over again, to the same people!  A good leader knows that progress only comes when followers learn what they should, or complete what they have been working on.  Sometimes progress can only be gained by excessive repetition.  It does no good to try to run ahead before the foundation has been laid (see Proverbs 25: 15).
  5. Know the people who follow you.  This makes sense in terms of discipleship and good planning and delegation practices. Jesus knew the people who were with Him every day--their strengths and weaknesses, what they loved and what they hated, their family and their culture, their language and education levels, etc.  He addressed them individually, on their level, for maximum impact, and He never asked them to do something beyond their capacity.  Jesus called them to individually follow Him, not en masse. See John 21: 15-22.
  6. Be steady in your purpose.  People respect those who hold steady to their integrity and their mission and carry it through, despite obstacles that frighten or dishearten their followers.  Though Jesus experienced persecution from the leaders in His day, He never flinched from doing what was right or what was needed.  By this, He emphasized the importance and value of His mission, without fine words or public scenes.  Can we be this determined? See Matthew 13: 13.
  7. Model the behavior you want.  I've heard it said, never ask someone to do something you wouldn't do yourself.  Jesus did just that.  He modeled many virtues, like honesty, humility, and patience.  Greater than all of these things was His demonstration of love to the people around Him.  Though they all abandoned Him, He did not stop demonstrating the love He wanted from them, even on the cross--even after He rose from the dead!  See John 15: 12-14.
If you take these principles to heart, you may not be the most-praised leader of modern times, but wherever you are, you will be celebrated in Heaven--not just for your obedience, but also for the lives you affected in a positive way.  Do you think you can't do this in a secular world?  Of course you can.  Jesus did!  Do you think your efforts will go unnoticed?  Of course not!  God sees all that happens, and though people may scorn you, they notice as well.  Never think that the right thing does not draw attention to itself.

A few years ago I took a course on leadership, and for one assignment I got permission to read Jesus on Leadership by C. Gene Wilkes.  If you are interested in following Jesus' model for leadership, specifically servant leadership, I thoroughly recommend this book--and I'm getting nothing for this recommendation.

Until next time, this is my reminder to you to stay savvy, and lead in Jesus' footsteps!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Weekly Snippet: A Strong Flavor We Crave

Here's an interesting thing I've noticed:  Wild food often has a stronger flavor than domesticated or farmed products.  I've sampled wild (native) pecans, which are much smaller and thicker-shelled, but they have a stronger, nuttier flavor than the domesticated "paper shell" varieties.  I've eaten wild persimmons, which are much, much sweeter than anything you can get off most grocery store shelves.  I've even had wild mushrooms, and they certainly didn't taste like the button mushrooms you get at the grocery store. Then there's the meat.  I've eaten wild duck, freshwater fish I caught myself, and mule deer sausage that a deacon's wife brought to a church dinner.  All of these were memorable experiences which outstripped farm-raised produce.  There's just no comparison between the flavor of the wild and the flavor of the farm-raised to a discerning palate.

One other thing I've noticed--it is increasingly rare for anyone to have eaten something "from the wild" in countries like the U.S.  Sure, we like to try unusual things these days, maybe even exotic produce and imports, but we are usually not adventurous enough, for legitimate and not-so-legitimate reasons, to try something "untamed."

What does this food talk have to do with Christianity?  Well, lately I've noticed that Christians, feeling that there was something somehow bland about their faith, have been seeking out the "exotic produce" of other theologies to try to spice up their table.  They look for interesting things to add to their religious practices, and struggle to spice it up with the salt of the presence of God because somehow, even the exotic tastes bland and unfulfilling.  What then?

I believe God has called us to return to the "wild" part of our relationship with Him.  It is true that there is more to this relationship than what we may be used to, but we don't have to look to other theology, popular catch phrases and books, or peer-approved beliefs to experience a deeper kind of faith.  Honestly, out of all the people I've known or read about, the people who were closest to God, and who knew the power of God, were the ones who spent the most time focusing exclusively on what God was telling them and teaching them through His word.  Their faith was not grown out of communal exercises or something exclusive to religious gurus and the people in their inner circles.  This personal faith may have begun from the teachings of others, but ultimately, it took root and grew in their hearts, and God instructed them. 

The fact is, you can live your life seeking God in groups and profiting from the spiritual lessons others have learned and passed on to you; however, if you're looking for adventure, you've got to step away from the "tamed" farm and orchard faith and into the "wild" territory with God.  There, His lessons come at a whirlwind pace, and revelations of His power in your life come so regularly that you never cease to be amazed by what is before you.  You can begin in church, but the majority of what you learn will be during the week, when you are walking (sometimes alone) with God, according to what He has taught you.

The faith I am describing is less exotic than it is just, well, real and powerful.  You can't develop that genuine spiritual taste by just adding spices--say, a peppier beat or a profoundly phrased line.  Like wild food, the wild experiences with God are not something you can imitate or extract.  Once you've tried it, you will know the difference between God's presence and anything else (see Genesis 27 as a side note).

The prophet Ezekiel had a vision in chapter 47 verses 1-12 of water flowing from the temple of God.  A heavenly being led him out into the water until it got so deep that he couldn't go on, because his feet would not touch the ground.  He'd have to swim.  This what the power of God is like for those who go out looking for it.  We start in "safe" shallow waters, where we think we are in control because we feel we can still rescue ourselves from the water if we feel uncomfortable.  Eventually, we get to the place where we either go on or turn back, but if we go on, we do so without this sense of control of our lives.  It's like that moment when we stop wading and start swimming, trusting ourselves to the power of the current.  Do we have that kind of faith that God will take care of us, even when we see we have no power to take care of ourselves?

The Bible says, "Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him," (Psalm 34: 8 NIV 2010).  I have come to believe from experience that even the metaphorical language in this verse has a literal truth in it.  Stepping out with God and entrusting ourselves to Him is a wild experience, more memorable than any meal we've eaten.  Still, the experience of trusting God and seeing Him make a way for us is like tasting something from the wild.  God's presence has a distinctive spiritual flavor, not literally discernible to human senses, but nevertheless, it is there and we can recognize it.  It is a strong taste, but once we know it, the bland should no longer satisfy--if it does, it is to our shame (see Hebrews 5: 12-16).

This is just food for thought.  Until next time, this is me reminding you to stay savvy, and seek after that strong spiritual taste, which is the power of God!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Your Valentine

A few years ago, I attended a regional church youth conference that happened to fall on Valentine's Day.  I felt it was a completely appropriate use of the day--focusing on God, not on romance.  But, you know, the two things were never too far separated.

So many people have mixed feelings about Valentine's Day, and I guess I don't blame them.  For many, Valentine's Day is a great day to spend time with the people they love.  For others, it's another lonely day, reminding them of the Valentine they lost, or are separated from (perhaps by military service), or that they don't have yet.  Others feel the day puts excessive pressure on people to spend money they don't have.

Putting all of that aside, Valentine's Day is still a useful day for Christians, no matter what their relationship status.  It's a call to think about love.  Really think about it.  The greatest love, according to the Bible, is the love that Jesus showed us by sacrificing Himself for us.   It wasn't a physical, romantic love, like so many associate with Valentine's day--one that is based on emotions or appearances.  It was a love that doesn't change according to the situation or the mood of the moment.  That love didn't go away, even when the ones He loved were mocking Him and murdering Him.

Paul gave us a very involved definition of this godly love, which we should show to others, regardless of our relationship to them or the date and time.  I know you may have been reminded of this passage a million times today, but I want to show it to you again:
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails." (1 Corinthians 4-8 NIV 2010)
 I don't know what your situation is today, but I can tell you two things: (1) You have a Valentine who loves you and is with you today, (2) you should freely share this love with others, today as much as any other day.

Your Valentine, even if you don't have a person with you today, is Jesus Christ.  He loved you before anyone else did, and loves you more than anyone else could.  If you haven't spent a moment talking with Him today, please do so now.  He'd love to hear from you.  Even if you aren't thinking of Him, He's always been thinking of you (Romans 5:8).

Furthermore, your Valentine would like you to think of others and show them love as well today.  He thought of you, even before you thought of Him.  He wishes that you would do the same for someone else today.  Have you demonstrated godly love to them, so that they, too, could enjoy this special relationship you have with Christ?  If you haven't yet, please contemplate how you can take action today, and keep up the habit long after Valentine's Day is over.

Finally, do you know the love of Christ today?  I am speaking to those who do not consider themselves to truly have a relationship with Christ.  If you don't, please take a moment to just ask Him to come into your life and comfort you today.  It's as simple as asking.  He will hear you if you ask.  He is not so far away that He cannot hear you, and He is not so abstract that He is unknowable.  He can change you, fixing everything that is messed up and giving you a new life to live, one full of freedom and joy.  He is real!  If you want to know more about Him, get your hands on a copy of the Bible and read what is written about Him, and what was written down for you to find.  It's all in there.

If you have questions or comments, feel free to leave me one.  Until next time, this is me encouraging you to enjoy this time with your Valentine!  Best wishes.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Weekly Snippet: A Letter to the Churches

Keith Green wrote a song called "Asleep in the Light," which at times is reminiscent of the tone in the letters to the churches at the beginning of the book of Revelation.  I grew up listening to it, so whereas some people might hear it as a scathing rebuke, I have always taken it as a warning to guard against such behavior in myself.  If someone came up to you today, asking about Jesus or spiritual matters, how would you respond?  Would you be too busy to pay attention? Would you give generously of what you had, but forget to present the person with the real, spiritual bread that you have been given (John 6: 51)?

It could be that you are afraid to try to share your faith, for fear that it might jeopardize your position in your workplace, social group, or neighborhood.  If so, ask God to strengthen and embolden you to share your faith when the opportunity comes--and it will, but usually when you aren't looking for it!  Also, ask other Christians to pray for you against any supernatural attacks you might encounter when you take that step of faith.  These, too, will come, as Jesus warned, "Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved" (Mark 13: 13 NIV 2010).  This is no small project to take on, but it is a worthy one, with eternal rewards.

Something to contemplate over the weekend.  Until next time, this is me reminding you to stay savvy and share your faith!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A New Name

I had originally planned a different post, but circumstances have postponed its completion.  In the meantime, I thought I'd share an interesting thought, not trying to flesh it out in a long article.

A little while ago, I read Isaiah 65: 15, which says (to the wicked),
"You will leave your name for my chosen ones to use in their curses; the Sovereign Lord will put you to death, but to his servants he will give another name." (NIV 2010).   
This passage made me recall another passage in Revelation about naming.  Remember it?
"Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it," (Revelation 2: 17 NIV 2010).

Now, God renamed Abram, Abraham, and He called Jacob, Israel.  There aren't very many other examples of people being renamed as they entered a new, more spiritual phase in their lives.  In fact, I can think of only one at this moment: Joshua (see Numbers 13: 16).

Add these passages from Isaiah and Revelation to this discussion, and you get a whole new layer of meaningfulness.   These new names the patriarchs received were like total life makeovers.  They had not only new names, but also new identities, life goals, and spiritual promises to live for.

In heaven, Christians are promised this same makeover.  No longer will we be remembered as that imperfect person we once were--the one who tried to live right and who sincerely loved the Lord, but was always falling short of total holiness.  We won't even have to remember our past failures when we are speaking with the Lord, because He won't remind us of who we were--not even our old names.  This is true intimacy with the Lord!

There's one other immediate benefit of a new name: We will no longer be an object of cursing.  Even our name will be hidden away in Christ from wicked ones who once scorned us, so they can no longer touch us with their words.   Meanwhile, those who have always been wicked will be revealed as such, so that their name is no longer given honor, but rather, is used as a synonym of shame and distastefulness.  May none of us ever find ourselves counted among the wicked!  Guard your hearts and your lives from sin.

I'm leaving this post pretty open-ended, with a question.  Can you think of any more benefits of having a new name, given to us by God?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Weekly Snippet: Rejoice in the Inconvenient

For the past few weeks, much of the United States has been blanketed with snow and ice.  My area is no different--in fact, it's snowing outside my window (again!) as I'm writing this, bringing the snow drifts up a few more inches closer to my window sill.  The drifts are already thigh and waist deep in places in my back yard.

All of this winter weather is causing a lot of inconvenience for people--canceled school, flight and shipment delays, no work, no wages, cabin fever, high heating bills, ice damage, etc.  I don't have urgent business calling me out on these icy roads today, but it's still causing me my own share of inconveniences.  For instance, my washing machine is in my garage, which is below freezing right now.  If I try to do laundry this week, I will have a ruptured pipe out there.  I'm just thankful that I don't get rid of old clothes that often, because it looks increasingly more likely that I'll need them before it heats up again out there--the supply delays the urgency of needing to do more laundry.

And that brings me around to my topic for today:  What's good about bad weather?

We all want to grumble about what's bad about snow, or rain, or drought, but what kind of blessing is there to be found in this inconvenience?

I think, first of all, that when inconvenience comes, it checks our progress and reminds us to be grateful.  When we have no obstacles, we begin to forget that God is really the one who takes care of us--not our own hands and our own efforts.  God makes it happen.  Bad weather is just another one of those things that reminds us, once again, that "The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore," (Psalm 121: 7-8 NIV 2010).  Can we remember to depend on God?

David wrote a song that seems ironic today, considering the view outside my window--a steely gray sky sifting down powdery snow, which is covering another, thicker blanket of snow. It serves to illustrate another good thing about bad weather. Give the words some thought:
"The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.  They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them.  Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world." (Psalm 19: 1-4 NIV 2010).
Right now, the heavens have quietly shut down most people's plans in my area.  People can grumble about that, but there's one thing that they can't argue about.  Snow is an act of God, and nothing man can do can turn away God's plans.  Snow is a witnessing tool!  It bears witness to the power of God--sometimes gentle, sometimes fierce, but always relentless.  It is blindingly, dazzlingly pure white, so that no one can miss the message, unless they look away, and so cold and slick that even the blind can't walk past it without noticing.  It kind of gives you pause for thought, doesn't it?

I have to run on to other things on my to-do list now, but I'm ending this post with an open-ended question.  Can you think of any other way that inconvenience is a good thing?  If possible, illustrate your example with a Bible passage.