Feed your soul

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Night God Screamed

What would it be like to hear the creator of the universe scream? My imagination runs wild on this one. I see palm trees bending in a howling wind, mountains trembling, seas churning and rivers changing courses, all under the onslaught of unleashed, raw power moving over the face of the earth. 

Actually, the very first thoughts that come to my mind when I hear "scream" are thoughts of either frustration or fear. I don't think God experiences either of those sensations, though. I think a good case can be made that both are the result of lack of trust in God. We get frustrated because things don't go the way we want them to, not trusting God to provide for us, protect us and use all the circumstances in our life for our good and His glory. Or we do attempt to trust Him, but are wary of what He may do and whether or not we'll like it. If those are human responses, rising up out of self-centered flesh, then God would never scream. 

Unless...God raised His voice because He had something important to say. Of course He would do it in a godly, holy and perfect way, not the way we would do it. 

In John 7, Jesus is at the Feast of Booths (Feast of Tabernacles). The Feast, coming at the time of harvest for the grape and olive crops, lasted 7 days (really 8, the last day being a Sabbath) with activities and ceremonies becoming more and more vibrant every day. The 7th day was the biggest day of the biggest feast of the Jewish year.  

There were two main celebrations that occurred on the 7th day, the Outpouring of the Water and the Illumination of the Temple. The Illumination of the Temple involved gigantic lamp stands being lit after hours of song, celebration and recitation. The light from the lamps lit up the Temple and much of the surrounding city. It was a reminder of the light that led the Jews through the wilderness. It also reminded them of the promise  that God would send light and salvation throughout the world, starting right there in Jerusalem. It was a reminder of the promised Messiah. 

The Outpouring of the Water was similar in nature. It brought back to mind and heart the water that flowed from the rock at
Meribah (Ex 17:1-7). It was also a celebration of God's provision. But, it also looked forward to the day God would pour out living waters, His Spirit, on the entire world (Zc 14:1-9). The priests would carry water from the Pool of Siloam and pour it out over that altar, mixing it with wine as an honor and a sacrifice to God for His provision in the past and His promise for the future. Both rituals were highly anticipated and attended by nearly everyone in Jerusalem for the feast, more than a million people. 

It was during the Outpouring of the Water when it happened. Just as a priest was pouring the water and wine over the altar the crowd pressed into the temple, singing, praying, playing instruments, just as the priests were arrayed on the steps, singing and waving torches, leading more than a million people in joyous celebration to God...Jesus stood up and spoke. The ESV says He "cried out" (7:37), the NIV "loud voice". The Greek word is "ἔκραξεν". It describes an emphatic, emotional, loud proclamation...like the cry of a Raven.

God screamed. 

Not in any worldly way you and I might scream. But, in a heavenly, holy way designed to gain and hold the attention of His children

The voice of Jesus rose above the din of the celebration, dominating the entire Temple, commanding the attention of everyone attending the feast. During one of the most beloved ceremonies, a ceremony designed to point toward the Messiah and the outpouring of God's Spirit on the entire world, Jesus appeared, right in the middle of everything at the precise moment everyone's attention is tightly focused...
and He screamed. 

What He had to say, must have been important.

If there was ever a time for Jesus to tell us what was most important in our lives, most important in His incarnation...this was it. He could have said, "It's all about love, people!" He might have shouted, "Relationship....that's why I came!" This would have been the time to tell us, "I want you healthy, rich and comfortable! I want you to have the best, most successful, happiest life you can possibly have"

He could have said any of those things. But, in truth, all of them would have just fed the already self-centered, self-righteous, self-entitled egos of the leaders and many of the people gathered there.  If He wanted to take the crowd in that direction, He could have simply said, "It's all about you!"

Instead, He screamed the most important, most valuable, most precious message He brought to His children, "If anyone thirsts, let Him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water." (Jn 7:37-38)

Aside from demonstrating that He was the object and focus of the feast, Jesus proclaimed Himself to be the source of living water, salvation. As for those that believe in Him, they will become vessels of that same salvation, witnesses to the Son-ship and Lordship of Christ, messengers of the gospel. 

Something very similar happened, not much later, during the Illumination of the
Temple when Christ says, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life."

The focus is on Christ and the gospel, not on the benefits of a relationship with Him. The benefits are there, but the priority is on who Christ is and His call to carry the gospel to the world, regardless of the cost or even in the absence of any worldly benefit a relationship with Him may present.

The crowd wanted the benefits. 

Because the crowd didn't get the message, not long afterward, they were calling for, demanding, screaming for His crucifixion...and not in any godly way.

In much the same way, God's words, the voice of Jesus Christ, rises up above the din of our lives, calling for our focus and our attention to be squarely on Him, not ourselves, calling us to become vessels of living, pouring water, salvation and grace. Calling us to a celebration that is all about Him and the transformation of His children into holy messengers of His saving grace. 

I want to learn from the feast described in John 7 & 8. I want to learn that the greatest blessing is not in having my expectations and desires fulfilled, but in seeing the grace and love that was poured into me...poured out again.  

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

What About Those Double Brackets

We've all done it before, come to a passage in our Bibles that is notated, footnoted or set apart in some other fashion, and

just kept right on reading. In the past, I've convinced myself, when I actually noticed them, "I will go back and look...sometime. It's probably not that important, anyway. I want the word of God, not somebody's footnote!" Sometimes we ignore those notations altogether, passing over them as if they don't exist. "Huh? Where did that come from?" 

This is the case with John 7:53-8:11, which is enclosed with a set of double brackets in the ESV. The NASB has these verses enclosed in single brackets. The NIV has a simple notation, "The earliest manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53-8:11.". The King James, unfortunately, has nothing at all. Therein lies the reason for this posting. 

Returning to the ESV, the translation our church uses, if we read the notation that comes with the brackets, we see this, "Some manuscripts do not include 7:53–8:11; others add the passage here or after 7:36 or after 21:25 or after Luke 21:38, with variations in the text." There seems to be a lot of confusion over this story, commonly known as the story of "The Adulterous Woman".

What do we do about those double brackets?

The key phrase in understanding how we approach them is what we see in the NIV, "The earliest manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53-8:11 in them."

Let me explain. 

First, we all have to understand that God did not inspire His word in English, neither the Old Testament
(OT) nor the New Testament (NT). The original manuscripts were written in one of three languages; Hebrew (OT), Greek (NT), Aramaic (Some parts of the OT). Since Aramaic is closely related to Hebrew, we can generally say the Bible was originally written in Hebrew and Greek. 

Those testaments are the inspired words of God, the OT written in the language of His chosen people and the NT in the world language of the 1st century. The problem we face is that we have none of the original manuscripts. The materials used and the techniques in storing and preserving them have not withstood the test of time. Most manuscripts have simply disintegrated, some have been lost in catastrophes, some purposefully destroyed by those who are the enemies of God and His people. Given the natural human tendency to venerate artifacts, this may be a blessing in disguise.

Still, God has faithfully preserved His word. 

The Hebrews had an exacting process in copying their
texts. Archaeological and extra-Biblical discoveries have borne this out, time after time. Due, in large part, to a dedicated group of scribe/scholar/priests called the Masoretes, we can, with great confidence, say the OT we have is an accurate portrayal of what the original writings of Moses, Joshua, the scribes and the prophets were inspired to document. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, some dating back to the late 2nd century and 1st century BC in Qumran were sensational. Even more so was the fact that they verified that our modern OT books were accurately and faithfully reproduced. 

Our NT manuscripts present a little more of a challenge and it has to do with how they were handed down and translated. 

The NT church was in its infancy and growing/spreading fast. They had a body of Scripture, the OT, as a firm foundation but it soon became quite clear that, after 400 years of silence, God was speaking again, this time, not through prophets, but through Apostles. 

With Christ's ascension came the promised outpouring of the Holy Spirit, seen in Acts 2. Prior to that, Jesus made a promise to His disciples in John 14:25-26 that the Spirit would help them remember His teachings. With these two events, Scripture was being written again, this
time by Apostles chosen by Christ who were first hand witnesses to His life and ministry and were inspired by the Holy Spirit to give us a written record of the spread of the gospel. All the books of the NT were either written directly by the Apostles, or by those who were under their direct teaching or, as F.F. Bruce says in his excellent "The Canon of Scripture", "by those in the direct circle of influence of the Apostles", meaning those who lived with and traveled with the Apostles. In other words, the Apostles were personally in the presence of Christ and inspired, by God, to record His life, death, resurrection and the formation of the church in the 60 or so years following His ascension.

History shows that the OT took over 1500 years to complete. In comparison, the writing of the NT went with lightning speed, most likely starting with James in about 50 AD, and ending with John's writings sometime around 90 AD, a total of about 40 years or so.  

As the Apostles wrote their gospels and their letters, these writings began to circulate among the churches. It soon became clear that many of them were divinely inspired, imbued with authority and power by the promise of Jesus to those charged with recording the events of His life and ministry. Those Spirit empowered writings would have a tremendous impact on the formation of the church and the lives of its members. The originals were widely circulated and were read regularly in the new churches and respected as having authority equal to that of the OT, even claiming to have the same authority themselves (1 Cor 14:33, 2 Pet 3:15-16 and 1 Tim 5:18 b which quotes Luke 10:7)     

But, given the medium (usually papyrus scrolls and sheets), it was obvious that they would not last forever and copies were made and distributed. As the church grew, this became a bit of a cottage industry with those early copies being rendered hundreds of times. 

By the end of the 1st century, with the original Apostles having passed on and the leadership of the church growing, more students of these Scriptures arose, all of them approaching the writing of the Apostles as authoritative. There arose a body of teaching that adhered, over time, to a clearly specified group of letters and writings as being divinely inspired. 

By the end of the second century, there were a number of lists of authoritative writings compiled by church leaders (the
Early Church Fathers), who were students/disciples of the original Apostles. These lists and their authority as Scripture were later affirmed by the writings of  another group of pre-325 AD church leaders known as the Ante-Nicene Fathers. This eventually led to the ratification of those lists into the canon, first listed in its entirety, just as it is today, by Athanasius in 367 and affirmed by two world church councils; The Synod of Hippo in 393 and the Council of Carthage in 397. 

It's important to understand that these councils did not convene to decide which books went into the canon. They gave official recognition to the writings that were already being used by the church and viewed as authoritative by the church, since the first century. The popular idea that they voted or that certain books were left out is a myth. There are no "lost books" nor are there any truly "hidden books". The councils literally said, "These are the books the church has recognized as Scripture since the end of the Apostolic era. There are no more."

The criteria, all along, for determining authority in the writings was four-fold; Apostolicity (written by or recognized as authoritative by an Apostle), antiquity (written in the time of the Apostles), catholicity (recognized and used by the majority of the early church and the Early Church Fathers as authoritative) and inspiration (the evidence of harmony and consistency with the rest of Scripture).

Taking all this into account, we can see that the canon of Scripture was, for all purposes, closed once the Apostles passed away. Anything written after John died, was automatically ineligible for the canon. The Council in Carthage did nothing to establish the authority of the books of the Bible, they only recognized it.  The canon was determined by the authority of the books. The canon did not establish the authority of the books. 

In the years between the end of the Apostolic period and the convening of the Council at Carthage, the books of the NT were copied over and over again, sometimes with scribes and copiers making notes in the margins. Copies were passed around, recopied and written over again, sometimes making correction for developments in the language, sometimes incorporating notes from previous copies in an effort to clarify.

Over time, variations began to appear, nothing of a serious nature, but variations in notes, punctuation and minor details,
never anything that would impact doctrine or theology but minor variations nonetheless. 

So, there were a lot of Greek manuscripts floating around. Over more time, some of the notes made their way into the body of the copies. Some may be concerned with this, but God had His hand firmly on His word. Foreseeing that imperfect men would copy His word, He actively  and providentially preserved it undiluted and pure, but we'll get to that below. 

This is where things get interesting.

In 400 AD, Jerome, a biblical and language scholar of extraordinary capabilities was charged by Pope Damasus, to write a new translation of the Bible into Latin. Jerome was an gifted scholar, but the manuscripts he had available to him were largely from the Byzantine era and were fairly recent, given the times. Jerome's translation became the Vulgate, the Latin Bible.  

Fast forward to 1516, when Erasmus, another noted scholar, undertook the task of developing a new and improved Greek
translation. Erasmus assembled as much of the original texts used for the Vulgate, combining them with a small group of other Byzantine era manuscripts along with 6 manuscripts from the 12th century, and produced an all new Greek translation of the NT, thought, at the time, to be the most accurate. Unknown to those involved, they were using manuscripts that were not as accurate as earlier manuscripts would have been. Remember our note from the NIV? Erasmus' manuscripts became known as the Textus Receptus, the Received Texts. 

Now, follow the developments. Erasmus' work became the basis for Luther's translation of the Bible into German in 1534. 

In 1611, Luther's work was used, along with that of Erasmus, to write an English language translation. You may have heard of it. It was called the King James Version of the Bible (KJV). 

The KJV had John 7:53-8:11 in it, as well as the revised ending of Mark. This was the direct result of Erasmus using far later manuscripts than earlier ones. 

In the years after 1611, much progress was made in the
study of the ancient languages, particularly Greek. Along with
those developments, major archaeological discoveries were made. Older manuscripts and fragments, some dating back
to the late third and early fourth and fifth centuries, were discovered in St.Catherine's 
monastery at the foot of Mt. Sinai (Codex Sinaiticus), Alexandria (Codex Alexandrinus) and the Vatican (Codex Vaticanus, origin unknown), all of them predating not only the Textus Receptus but much of the basis for the Vulgate as well. These earlier, better texts have become the basis for most of our modern translations like the ESV, NIV, NASB, NKJV, RSV, ASV, RASV and other well respected versions. 

None of the older (earlier), more reliable texts have our passage in John.

As near as can be determined, it was added sometime in the 5th century, perhaps later. Depending on the manuscript viewed, it appears in different places in John or, in a few cases, even in Luke. 

Furthermore, none of the Early Church Fathers mention this passage. Many of them were quite prolific commentators, writing enough commentaries between them that it is possible to assemble an entire NT from their writings. None of them, not one, ever quote from this passage, comment on it or acknowledge its existence. 

The conclusion is obvious; John 7:53-8:11 simply does not belong in our Bibles. It's the same case with the same proofs for the verses that follow Mark 16:8. 

What do we do with this?

We realize that we are dealing with translations. We also accept that some early translations were not as accurate as our later ones, the later ones being based on older, better, more accurate manuscripts and a more complete knowledge of the languages used in writing them. 

We thank God for His promise that His word, "...will not pass away." (Mt 24:35). He promises to preserve it and preserve it He did, at the foot of a dusty mountain like Sinai, in a dry and arid region like Alexandria and in the bowels of a vast and ancient storehouse beneath the Vatican. 

We thank God that He has given us people that have devoted their lives to the accurate transmission of the Scriptures, even when it goes against the grain of accepted tradition. God has preserved the purity of His word through their scholarship, commitment and service to the body of Christ. 

Finally, we treat the words inside those brackets just as we
would the chapter headings and numbers, pericopes, verse references, table of contents, page numbers, cover pages, maps, charts, even the order of the books...as something that was added by man, not inspired and certainly not in the earliest and best manuscripts.

Lastly, we hold tight to what the Bible says about itself. If we look at the first five books, the Books of the Law, as the beginning of the Bible, we see this in Deuteronomy 4:2,  "You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you." We see it again at the end of the Bible, in Rev 22:18, "I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book," Now, there's a set of brackets added by God, one at the beginning and the other at then end.

We can discuss both passages in Dt. and Rev. and whether or not they pertain to their particular books or the entire Bible. Opinions vary. Still, I believe it's a good standard to view all Scripture by. Man cannot add to or subtract from it. The canon was completed, not by man, but by God, long before those words inside the brackets were ever thought of. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

Jesus died so that I....

A few days ago, I was listening to one of the more popular woman teachers on the scene today. She's been around for a while and has a fairly huge following. I listen occasionally, almost always with a fair degree of unease and have found that I have to listen very carefully and analytically, with my Bible open, to figure out why. 

Her message, like the message of so many others that have risen in popularity, is subtle and smoothly intoxicating, drawing you in to a theme that, while attractive and sensible on the surface, puts those who accept it without careful, prayerful consideration, on a dangerous path. 

Her primary proposition on this particular morning was "Your identity in Christ", a safe and sound enough sounding idea. But, therein lies the problem. We'll get to that in a moment. 

She built her case, expounded Scripture (much of it taken out of context) and came to her conclusion, "Christ died so that you could find your true identity." 

An explosion went off in my mind and heart. 

The whole message was based on the idea that the only Son
of God took on flesh, suffered, died an indescribably horrible death, was resurrected and ascended into heaven, all so that...I could embark on a voyage of self discovery??

This is not a message peculiar to one off-the-path teacher in the church today. It is everywhere around us. We are repeatedly told that the reason Christ died is so that we can get, become or realize that we already are something we really want to be, which has enough truth in it that it becomes easy to grasp, but also easy to get wrong. 

When we do get it wrong, the craziness begins. It happens when a very subtle shift is made, when the reason for all this becomes centered on us and not on Christ Himself. 

"Jesus died so that you..."

We need to be extremely careful here. Although our identity in Christ is a vital part of our salvation, nowhere in the Bible does it say Christ died so that we could find it. 

But, the deception doesn't stop at our identities. Just fill in the blank at the end of "Jesus died so that you_______" and you're on your way down the wrong path. 

There are plenty of similar propositions to be cautious of, all of them finding their attraction in a "me-centered" theology, a theology largely focused on "me" and what I get out of God's plan of redemption. 

This is not really theology, which is the study of God, but "meology", the study of...well...me

We hear   these propositions frequently. There's the familair "Jesus died so that you...." There's also "God wants you to have...", "Jesus came to give you....", "You can have....", "You already have...", "You'll get....", "You command....", etc. If you listen carefully, you'll hear them in a lot of different forms.

Fill in those blanks with anything that does not point directly back to God and His glory, and you're probably listening to questionable teaching.

Here's what the Bible says about why Jesus came...

Isaiah 43:25

25 “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.

Isaiah 48:10–11
10 Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.
11 For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.

Matthew 10:39

39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Mark 10:29–31
29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel,
30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.
31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

We miss so much of the richness of our salvation and so
many of the blessings of our sanctification when we reduce the work of the cross to what we get out of it. God sent His Son to glorify the Father in the redemption of His precious children. The story of the Bible is not our story, it is the story of Christ and God's self- revelation through the work of the Trinity. When we begin to embrace the truth, 

"Jesus died so that He could bring glory to the Father."

rather than the deception...we'll see that being caught up in God bringing glory to Himself is a far better place to be than being caught up in...me.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Have You Fed Your Soul Today?

If you're reading this posting, you probably have fed your soul today. You have, most likely, gone to church or are planning on going to church. I pray that the church you attend feeds you well, with the word of God. I pray that you enjoy a feast that will nourish and energize your spirit, keeping it vibrant and vital, challenging you and causing you to grow in your knowledge and awareness of Christ and His saving, sanctifying presence in your life. 

It's important to nourish our souls, feed them a healthy diet to help them to strengthen and grow. It's important, and far too easy to neglect, far too easy to relegate to the bottom of our to-do list, far too easy to "get a shot" on Sunday morning and think we're doing OK in that area of our lives. It's far too easy to feed our bodies and starve our souls. 

We live in a culture that places a heavy emphasis on health. Those who exercise know the value of regular work outs.

Those who don't, know they should. Nutrition is  a hot topic, even among those that struggle to maintain healthy diets. 

Most of us feed our bodies something a number of times a day. The evidence of how we eat and what we eat is put on display in how we look, in how our clothes fit and how we interact with our environment. 

But, being human beings, we are more than just our bodies. We are body and spirit. There is a non-physical element to our being, one we can't readily see, but one that makes us who we are, makes us human. Our bodies are vital to our existence, our spirits are too (James 2:26).  Both need to be cared for and fed.

Yet a lot of folks believe things are different when it comes to nourishing our souls. Many would like to think our spirits

reflect our good intentions rather than what we feed them. Many believe their spiritual food, in very small, infrequent doses, can sustain them. Many think they can have a healthy spirit that's feeds only on junk food or no food at all. Many think their spirits will flourish on anything but the food their creator has given them to feed their souls, the Bible. 

If you are one who struggles in this area and find it hard to open your Bible on a daily basis, try this, just for the fun of it. Eat physical food only on the days you read your Bible. Have a meal only on the days when you immerse yourself in the word of God. Feed your body the same way you feed your spirit. Try this for a month or two or three...then go look in the mirror. 

That's what your spirit looks like.

See? The evidence of what we feed our spirit is put on

display just the same as the evidence of what we feed our
bodies is put on display. It's a little harder to see but it
shows up in our hearts and in how we live our lives. If we starve our bodies, we become emaciated and weak. We get the same result if we starve our spirits. We need sustenance in order for our bodies to be healthy. It's the same thing for our spirits. If we neglect to nourish our spirits, they become weak, leaving us with no motivation in life other than what our bodies crave.

We all know where that leads. 

We begin to struggle. We loose our spiritual strength and the capability to control our flesh. Our bodies begin to dictate what we do and how we do it. We become the embodiment of Paul's struggle in Romans 7...  

Rom 7:22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being,23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.

Feed your body...but feed your spirit too...daily and well....strengthen it, nourish it, grow it, make it healthy. 

Jer 15:16 Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts.

Psalm 119:103 How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

May you dine on sweetness for your soul today.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Fully God, fully man. So what?

In John 1, we hear that the word became flesh. Later on, in John 5, we see this idea expressed a little bit differently when Jesus speaks of Himself as the Son of Man while claiming the same authority as the Father. The concept of God coming down to earth, taking on flesh while not abandoning any of His godly attributes is a difficult one to grasp, yet it is vital to understanding why Christianity is totally unique among world religions.

It's also vital to our understanding of how we relate to God. 

Every other faith depicts a god(s) that is elevated above and set apart from humanity. He, she, it is superior, powerful, sometimes demanding, frequently fearsome, always distant, capricious, difficult to access or approach and, quite often, dangerous.

In Christ, God, rather than being set apart from man, becomes man. He dwells among us, even dwells in us (John 14:17). He is a God who relates to His people, experiences the things they experience (Heb 4:15), walks where they walk, feels their pain and knows their joy. He is a God who delights in His children (Psalm 41:11).

He suffered (Heb 2:18). Try to find a god in any other religion that lives among His people and suffers, not just as  a martyr, but in the place of  His children, providing a way for them to come to Him, not by their efforts...but by His, ensuring their salvation by the works of His own hand.

In Christ, we have a God that comes to us rather than a God that must be aspired to, worked for, searched for, always apart from and never attainable, at least not in this world. In Jesus, God
becomes a God that relates to us and we to Him. He is flesh and blood, accessible, loving, self sacrificing and drawing His children to Him by His grace and mercy, not by His demands. Jesus comes to us with open arms, ready to embrace us, becoming our advocate to the Father, not as prosecutor. 

Our Savior is unique, personal and loving, bestowing honor and blessing upon those who come to Him, believe in Him and obey Him. Even our obedience to Him rises up, not out of fear...but out of our love for Him. 

What an awesome, amazing, singular, one true God we serve!