November 29, 2013

Bunyan On Suffering Well

There is that of God to be seen in such a day as cannot be seen in another. His power in holding up some, his wrath in leaving of others; his making of shrubs to stand, and his suffering of cedars to fall; his infatuating of the counsels of men, and his making of the devil to outwit himself; his giving of his presence to his people, and his leaving of his foes in the dark; his discovering [disclosing] the uprightness of the hearts of his sanctified ones, and laying open the hypocrisy of others, is a working of spiritual wonders in the day of his wrath, and of the whirlwind and storm. 
We are apt to overshoot, in the days that are calm, and to think ourselves far higher, and more strong than we find we be, when the trying day is upon us. . . . We could not live without such turnings of the hand of God upon us. We should be overgrown with flesh, if we had not our seasonable winters. It is said that in some countries trees will grow, but will bear no fruit, because there is no winter there.  
~ John Bunyan: Seasonable Counsel; or Advice To Sufferers
We must understand that there is more to learn and more of God to be gained our times of suffering. John Bunyan understood this. A person needs only read his biography. Believe it or not, God is usually closest to us in these times but because of our pain...we don't or can't see Him there. We must try to see Him during these times and what He has to teach us. It builds a faith that is capable of enduring death and will not fold up under the first sign of pressure and misery. We sorely lack this in feel-good preaching and applications sermons that are more interested or content with preaching to where people are at rather than where they need to be.

What's more is if the faith is way it should be it will be able to endure hardship and struggling with a wry sense of grace that can only come from God. It is in these struggles...when we are walking through the valley of death struggling to keep not only our lives but our faith also...that we pick up the supplies and resources we need to scale the mountains of faith and reach their pinnacle in Jesus.

If they forced our Master to much more will we struggle and suffer if we willingly choose to follow in His footsteps. He was tempted, we will be tempted. He suffered, we will suffer. He died, we will die. Christians that do not suffer are not Christian. Christians that do not die to self will not rise again as a new creation. The two principles are inseparably linked. To live is to die and to die is to live. The Christian must be consoled with the fact that there is always the glorious culmination of the suffering in the eternal reward. One must never lose sight of this fact. That is why we are repeatedly called to persevere in the faith until the bitter end. It is in the suffering and pressure that the diamond of faith is born. It is in the unremitting pressure of suffering and struggle that the ugly coal and carbon of sin is best squeezed until there is no more darkness in it. What emerges is beauty personified in the glorified believer who is the image or impression of the glorified Christ. This is why Jesus prayed the prayer for all believers in John 17...

John 17:20-24 “My prayer [disciples] is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me, “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

Christmas Comes But Once A Year (1936)

This is one of the Fleischer Studios' Color Classics series of cartoons. It is a series in which orphans receive defective Christmas presents and Professor Grampy comes to the rescue to save Christmas. The theme song is priceless. 

Christmas comes but once a year.
Now it's here. Now it's here.
Bringing lots of joy and cheer.
Tra, la, la, la, la!
You and me, and he, and she,
and we are glad because.
Why? Because, because, because,
There is a Santa Claus.
Oh, Christmas comes but once a year.
Now it's here. Now it's here.
Bringing lots of joy and cheer.
Tra, la, la, la, la!

November 28, 2013

Give Thanks

The First Sermon Ashore
Jean Louis Gerome Ferris
There is no better way to praise and thank God than with His own words through His own self-revelation in the Bible. We see something unique in Psalms 8. A Divine set of bookends (figuratively speaking) to hold man and give him importance the way only God can. This is a Psalm of thanksgiving or a Todah Psalm. The function of a Thanksgiving or Todah Psalm, or Psalm of Declarative Praise (Westermann) is to praise God for something He has done for the Psalmist, to offer thanksgiving in the form of worship. This is what Thanksgiving is all about. A person communion with God giving God the utmost credit for things that we really didn't deserve since sinners are only worthy of death.

There are three main aspects to Todah Psalms: 
1) Praise for a deed God has done or an experience of God by the Psalmist.
2) It is an immediate response evoked by God’s action.
3) The tone is one of joy. 

A todah is really a kind of praise offered to God that arises out of personal or communal experience yet in the context of overall commitment to God. The experiential dimension of todah psalms is easily seen in the middle section of the psalm as the worshipper recounts or gives testimony of his experience. In the case of Psalm 8 it is a highly specialized form of Todah/Thanksgiving Psalm sub-catagorized as a Salvation History Psalm that recounts in some way the story of God’s creation of the people of Israel and concluding with praise to God for his deliverance, or calling the people to respond in praise and faithfulness to God’s grace. These tend to be more theologically reflective than other psalms, since they move to exhortation based on Israel’s experience of God in her history.

God is clearly being viewed in verse 1 & 2 as majestic and thereby He is being praised.

O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
above the heavens.
From the lips of children and infants
you have ordained praise
because of your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger. ~Psalms 8:1-2

As we know from the second part of verse 1 God’s creation (the heavens) is also glorious. Although not has majestic and amazing as God Himself His creation is none the less impressive in its own right. The grandeur of celestial objects like the moon and stars are admired for their beauty.

When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place... ~Psalm 8:3

The Hubble Space Telescope over the last 15 years has produced some of the most beautiful images of space ever seen. Images that were always there but invisible until now. Just because you can't see things doesn't mean they aren't beautiful or don't exist ;). God here is being given a rightful position above the heavens.

Man is being given a dignified position as God’s creation, not necessarily because of something man has done to warrant it. The truth is that man is rightfully deserving of punishment and ultimately death because of his sins. This is what verse 4 & 5 dwell on. Why would the Lord take any concern for such a lowly singular creature as opposed to other aspects of creation. The concept of why is easy to tell but impossible for a human to explain. It is by God’s grace or unmerited favor that man is looked upon as having value. It is God who has given us our value...because He chose too, just as God chose Israel to be his chosen people. It wasn’t because they were the largest among people, the most deserving or the most righteous.

What is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor. ~Psalms 8:4-5

We then see an indirect reference to Adam and man in general in verse 6, 7 & 8 and his dominion over creation.

You made him ruler over the works of your hands;
you put everything under his feet
all flocks and herds,
and the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air,
and the fish of the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas. ~Psalms 8:6-8

God is again in clear view in verse 9 as majestic as he was in verse 1 & 2, again He is being praised.

O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth! ~Psalms 8:9

Another way of viewing this chapter is :

• The Lords Majesty (v. 1) His name and the revealed character of God. Praise to the Lord.
• The Lord’s Strength (v. 2) Strength in humbleness of children’s praise stills the enemies of God.
• The Lord’s Creation (v. 3-8) Man’s glory is indicative of how God made him and how he positioned him.
• The Lord’s Majesty (v. 9) The praise ends were it rightfully began, we go full circle back to God

God is completely surrounding man here in love just as He does bookends. Not only that, where man is being mentioned in this Psalm, God is working through man with sovereignty and providentially. Giving man his self-worth, giving him his purpose. God crowned man with glory and honor. Please note it says God crowned man, not man crowned man. This becomes important when thinking about the fact many people find their self-worth in other people.

He is divine and we are not. He is perfect and we are not. He is our creator and we should praise Him and thank Him if only for this fact. Not only for our own existence but also for his other works of creations such as heaven, heavenly objects and even each generation of children that comes. God is everything and without him nothing exists. All believers know this and to some extent so do non-believers whether they chose to acknowledge it or not. If they do not acknowledge it.

So thank Him today. If we are to give thanks today which is the whole point of the day…give thanks where it belongs…with God.

Westermann, Claus., Praise and Lament in the Psalms, John Knox, 1981.

November 26, 2013

Jar of Thorns

Where is God in all of the crisis and all of the chaos? 

He's right there with you.

He’s usually nearer than He has ever been before but we cannot see it either because of the suffering or our sin obscures Him. Suffering forces us to depend solely on God. If not, we will be tempted to say, “My power and my strength built this and what I have that is good…is my own doing!” This is just not true as it is the work of God, the sovereign God of the Bible. This is why we struggle and are broken. Most will never reach this point until death because they are never really humbled, never really broken and contrite.

We must be still under His rod and be truly humble. Straining against the sharp spines and hooks only causes more pain.

Being Christ-like sometimes requires that one cleans up after others that make a mess or catastrophe of things. Sometimes being Christ-like requires that one allows others to go their own way in error and make messes of things. They make a mess of things because they thought they knew better acting in their sin end up destroying everything they touch because of their sin. You will then come along in support of them to clean up after them because they were too bold or foolish to listen to calmer minds that knew the trouble they would get themselves into. We see this a lot in the mature believers versus the immature believers. We see this in the parent child relationship.

A true mature Christian will allow these mistakes as a learning process and still be willing to come along after to clean up. A really mature Christian will tolerate the brazen foolishness, do the clean-up and patiently endure more in silent suffering grace hoping that God’s grace will eventually affect those in error and they will end up seeing the errancy of their ways. This is the difference between a Christian that matures and one the merely gets older but does not mature. We see this in Christ’s actions with people like Peter and the other apostles. We see this in the relationship Jesus had with Nicodemus. We should see this in our pastors and elders.

Many people (including myself) need to realize that at times they we not have answers to issues and acknowledge this fact instead of trying to bulldoze through an issue on sheer willpower and stubbornness. It will greatly speed resolution of current crises. I find that too many times too many people “know too much” and are unwilling to humble themselves in grace. Altercations and conflicts then result and things that could’ve been easily resolved or ended sooner in terms or suffering become intensified and unnaturally prolonged. A war of attrition then ensue with God and as my father used to tell me…your arms are too short to battle or fight with God. He has much more time than you to wear you down.

Issues that could’ve been about obedience and learning then become about winning arguments or convincing someone (including the self) that they were right rather than learning from the suffering and resolving problems with things like hidden sin that God was trying to show us through our trials.  As a believer we must accept that, no matter how bad a situation appears…it is temporary and it has been allowed in our lives by a sovereign God. It is better to not fight it and try to get to the root of the problem through prayer and honest examination of one’s life. God usually will not force things on us unless we are really thick-headed…so learn where possible and look to Him when prolonged travail appears inevitable. Being Christian has always been about suffering and endurance. It is not about happy thoughts and paradise on earth. It is not about you best life now or name it and claim it. For a Christian it's about the destination, not the journey. It's about Jesus, not us.

Jesus opened the Sermon on the Mount and minced no words doing so. The beatitudes are not recommendations for the Christian life…they are expectations. They are not a how to guide…they are what you should already be. Furthermore, the words below for persecution δεδιωγμένοι and διώξωσιν better translate to hunted, chased or pressed from behind forcing one to flee. The implication is to not stand and fight the persecution but rather to flee it. God in these situations is our defender and justifier. Every beatitude essentially says a person should humble themselves in meekness in one shape or another and it will benefit them in a passive manner or the benefit of this behavior will be acted or enacted upon them by someone or something else (usually God Himself or God through other people). In other words, if one is meek, poor in spirit…their reward is already assumed. It is not a matter of if...its a matter of when.

If a righteous man is a blessed man than these statements assume you will be meek, poor in spirit, mourning, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful, etc. At the end we see the statement that surmises them all…Blessed are those that are persecuted for being Christian (righteous) because why? Because in the end, the final reward is heaven which will make all suffering pale by comparison. I pray this comforts any in suffering right now.

Matthew 5:3-12
~Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
~Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
~Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
~Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
~Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
~Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
~Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
~Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
~Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

It is often the suffering that puts the jewel in the crown of righteousness. Sometimes to wear the crown of righteousness one will have to wear a crown of thorns first. If so our Master, then so too us. Sometimes the things that separate the two are nearly indistinguishable as they sometimes come packaged the same on the outside and it isn't until later that we see that the suffering was necessary to get to the reward. I speak from experience as many Christians is incredibly hard to see the jewels somewhere else when you are in a suffocating constraint surrounded by thorns that obscure your vision.

We see the Apostle Paul through all his sufferings never lost sight of where he was going although at times he too was beaten down. 

2 Corinthians 1:8-11 ~ We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

Paul also advised others to keep their wits about them in persecution and suffering also.

2 Timothy 4: 5-8 ~ “But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. 

We must persevere as Christ did until everything reaches its culmination in God's plan. In this way we best fulfill the will of God by glorifying Him in our perseverance through our suffering which shows we believe in what He has inevitably promised us. Eternal Life.

November 23, 2013

Them Bones

Although some people’s faith tends to be skeletal and not muscular (pun), this post will not be allegorical nor made into metaphor. No, we will be actually talking about pieces from the skeletal system or bones. No, not the good doctor from Star Trek…actual bones in a person’s or animal’s body. As I do with all these topical posts I will attempt to do them in order where they are found in the Bible. Where I can I will tie them together if the intent of Scripture allows it.

The first place we see a bone is in Genesis 2 (duh).

Genesis 2:21-22 ~ “So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.”

This passage is critical in understanding the male/female relationship. They are inseparably connected. We are created in two sexes and both bear the divine image to do the will and the work of God in the world. To do His will we do it together, not one or the other...both. We see unity of spirit in the proper godly loving relationships. Without this union the work is somehow incomplete. Somehow some way it is through this union of men and women that we as human best emulate the image that is God. It is a multiplicity of personality joined together in unity action. Perhaps that is why marriage is one of the earliest institutions instituted in the Bible (singleness is fine, the Church at large still has a combination or both male and female singles). Whenever those of either sex disregard this divine order by mixing and matching sexes, roles, quantities and even kinds, all sorts of evil and detrimental consequences result in the end. It is most likely the reason that things like homosexuality are considered such an abomination to God.

Man and woman in unity is the intended order. Most likely this is as pure an image of the Trinity as we will ever get in this life. A unity that is in reality a unity or covenant of three: the man, the woman in Christ or God.

Moving on we see the bones of Joseph are transported long after his death. The question is why?

Joshua 24:32 ~ “As for the bones of Joseph, which the people of Israel brought up from Egypt, they buried them at Shechem, in the piece of land that Jacob bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for a hundred pieces of money. It became an inheritance of the descendants of Joseph.

If we search Scriptures, they tell us why Joseph’s remains were moved. By mentioning Jacob and Joseph it is tying the Torah or books of the Law written by Moses to those of later writers of the historical books of which Joshua is the first. We see continuity or continuation due to the immutability of God's character. Joshua acts as culmination and conclusion to the desert wanderings and books of the Law and what God start with Moses (and Abraham). This takes place in a context of covenant renewal and shows three burials in Israel’s history. All of these being buried at the same time show stability and permanence of God’s promises not only of Promised Land but also that Abraham’s descendants would be more abundant than the stars. Joshua is buried in verse 29, Joseph verse 32 and Eleazar the High Priest in verse 33. Joshua is Moses heir. Eleazar is Aaron’s heir. Joseph’s bones are the tie to Jacob and therefore Abraham.

The next narrative shows us judgment through the jawbone of an ass. Samson clobbers a thousand men.

Judges 15:15 ~ “And he found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, and put out his hand and took it, and with it he struck 1,000 men.

Through the power of the Holy Spirit we see Samson break the bonds he has been restrained with by the his own people to treacherously turnover to the Philistines. His own traitorous people intended to give Samson to the enemy. This is similar to believers today that would encourage fellow believers into sin. Encouraging them into the very thing that will hold them prisoner. Through the power of the Holy Spirit we see Samson defeat a town’s worth of mere men who do not have the power of the Spirit in them. We see the power of God working through man. Through the power of the Spirit we see the breaking of bonds and a defeat of the enemy. This analogy should sound extraordinarily familiar to a Christian. What we see immediately following this incident is even more telling.

Judges 15:18-19 ~ “And he was very thirsty, and he called upon the Lord and said, “You have granted this great salvation by the hand of your servant, and shall I now die of thirst and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?” And God split open the hollow place that is at Lehi, and water came out from it. And when he drank, his spirit returned, and he revived. Therefore the name of it was called En-hakkore; it is at Lehi to this day. 

Even a man who has just exhibited supernatural endurance and strength is shown to be dependent on God’s provision. Even a supernaturally endowed man is susceptible to dehydration and he therefore calls on the God that had just imbued him with extraordinary strength to provide for him an absolutely ordinary need. What 1000 men failed to do a lack of water will do very effectively. What do we learn? That the supernatural and the ordinary all flow from the same source: Almighty God. Our entire existence is owed to God, without which we would have no needs satisfied nor could we exist. From the great to the small, from the individual to the nation, from the atom to the galaxy cluster…existence and being is found in God.

Next we arrive at Ezekiel’s valley. It is a rather lifeless valley.

Ezekiel 37:1-6 (full context 37:1-14) ~ “The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

Ezekiel is taken “in the Spirit” to a valley that was full of bones. Then the Lord asks Ezekiel, "Son of man, can these bones live?" Ezekiel’s reply is respectful and accurate, "O Lord GOD, you know." God then commands Ezekiel to prophesy over the bones. Subsequently, God would cause breath to enter the bones, and they would live again and God would reconstitute them sinew and flesh and cover them again with skin.

There was a then a sound, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. So Ezekiel did as he was commanded and breath came into them (a la Adam in Genesis 2) and they lived and stood on their feet in an exceedingly great army. When we reach verse 11 we get an explanation of this strange vision. We find that this army of revived bones are the whole house of Israel. At this moment during the time of Ezekiel, Israel is essentially dead. No land, no city, no nothing. A valley of dry bones with no life…as with anything God is involved with, an appearance or insinuation of impossibility is not deterrent for an omnipotent God nor should it be a deterrent for one of His faithful. In God's economy, dead to the world means alive in Him and to live for this world is to die to God.

The Lord has Ezekiel prophesy that the Lord would “open Israel’s graves and raise them from their graves". He would put the Spirit, His Spirit within them and they would live and He would place them back in their own land so that they would know that He is the LORD. Because He had spoken it, He would do it. Is this not an exact image or shadow what God does through Jesus for the believer? Even in an imagery directed at Israel...we see hints of Christ and the coming Kingdom of God.

The image of many “dry” bones in the desert indicated that these bones (Israel) had been there for a long time drying in the desert sun. Ezekiel’s vision was of a people that would spend a long time in a dry godless place before being reborn. This place could've been physical, geographical or spiritual. God essentially told Ezekiel to preach to a pile of dry dead bones…and as the Word (His Word) is preached we hear rattling and clanking like the sound of bowling pins and dried sticks banging together. God’s Word brought them back to life like death in reverse. First sinew, then flesh, then skin and finally the breath of life from God called from the four winds. Just as God spoke things into existence, just like Jesus raised Lazarus from the grave. "Lazarus! Come forth!"

Is this not exactly how we see the new creation of the Christian? God gives life where there is none. God gives eternal life where there was none. God quickens man and puts a heart of flesh where there was once only a dead stone.

It is an imagery of hope to an exiled sinful and lost people that have been promised that they will be restored if they obey their God. When God told Ezekiel to prophesy to the wind the is an interesting parallel. The word for wind would’ve been ר֖וּחַ or ruwach/rauch in Hebrew, meaning breath/ exhalation (from God) or spirit/Spirit. This is the same word in Greek πνεῦμα used by Jesus when speaking with Nicodemus about the blowing of the wind and the new birth through the Spirit in John 3:5-8. This of course is similar to the imagery of the breath of life breathed into Adam…the life spark of man comes from God, both in this life and the one beyond. This use of words and imagery is not an accident.

…and finally, almost as a reversal of the bones of Ezekiel’s valley that come to life…we have the tombs referenced by Jesus that are filled with dead men’s bones. In other words. The Pharisees are the absolute opposite of Ezekiel’s skeletons yet they are still alive. The Pharisees visually give off an illusion of life superficially on the exterior but inside they are spiritually dead and therefore condemned. Why are they condemned? Because they reject Jesus Christ and His Gospel therefore they reject the promises and truths of God. They are therefore abusing God’s mercy and grace. It is a choice to choose death and reject life God offers as He is the source of everything including life.

Matthew 23:27-28 ~ “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”

This is the polar opposite of Ezekiel’s valley of rattling and clanking bones. Contrary to the Pharisees, outwardly Ezekiel's bones give off an image of death and no life but it is not these bones from which the life will emanate but it will be God will breathe the new life into them. Just as He does through His Spirit when a Christian becomes a new creation. In their return to life, we clearly see the Sustainer of Life that is giving life to otherwise dead beings...God Almighty. The very God the Pharisees reject. The Pharisees are an image of us dead in our sin and self-righetousness. The image of the bones coming to life is us during our conversion as we rattle to life and respond to His holy and life-giving call in our lives.

November 21, 2013

Can't Get No Satisfaction (Except Through God)

There are four things I’ve found in Proverbs that the Bible says are never satisfied. It helps to understand that Agur (probably Solomon) is speaking through an artificial mode of expression but the imagery is unmistakable. It describes sinful human lusts and desires. These descriptions can refer to nearly any avaricious or materialistic human being too.

Proverbs 30:15-16 ~ “The leech has two daughters, “Give,” “Give.” There are three things that will not be satisfied, four that will not say, “Enough”: Sheol [death], and the barren womb, earth that is never satisfied with water, and fire that never says, “Enough.”

There is an insatiable nature to all these things. What they are essentially pointing out in their context is the cruel covetous nature of man's selfishness. There are few words spared here to describe the rapacious heart of man.

A human’s greediness and cruelty are compared to that of a creature the sole end of whose existence is to gorge itself with blood. A creature [leech] that will not relinquish its grip on its victim. Most of us from personal experience know that these descriptions are not overwrought. If anything, they are possibly understated. What is worse is that the sins of mankind are being compared to one of the lowest forms of life and it is parasitic.

There is nothing that humanity can imagine in the form of cruelty can surpass what man has already been guilty of. We need only look at the last century to see just how far man can sink in godlessness and depravity. The 20th Century is a showcase of mechanized warfare, genocidal exterminations and the like. The ingenuity with which man has been able to perpetrate evils against other living beings borders on the ingenious (in a bad way). Things like the systematic slaughter of six million Jews in the 1930’s and 40’s is dwarfed by the horrendous evil that is modern abortion. A procedure that takes the lives of the unborn at the rate of 1.3 million a year. The barbaric manner in which some of these abortions are performed defies words. The ones that do come to mind are dismemberment and chemically burning to death. Sorry folks, anything that takes the life if one and physically and psychologically injures another is not “healthcare”. It’s more akin to war.

It is often the case that people do care not who suffers. So long as they satisfy their own covetousness. It is in this schism or gap between God who is holy and these selfish behaviors that are indwelling man that we see the profound need for the Gospel. It is the only thing that has the ability to transform the savagery of man who acts no better than an animal at times into something capable of entering the Kingdom of God.

Isaiah 11:6 ~ “And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little boy will lead them.”

Revelation 21:4 ~ “and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”

In light of this…why does Agur write that the barren womb is not satisfied? Why is it that the earth that is never satisfied with water? Why does fire never say enough? We know that death is never satiated. All die, it’s a proven statistic. What of these other things mentioned? These others are just about as easy to understand. What is interesting in this imagery is that the womb that never says enough produces the life that Sheol or the grave consumes. The avenue for life into the world through the womb ends in the mouth of the grave. In birth we see the blessing of God and the gift of life. In the grave we see the curse of God and the enemy that is death. A death that Christ eventually uses to ultimately turn us to the blessing of eternal life. It is only through physical death through the curse of the Fall that one can reach the perfect blessing and gift of eternal life. It wasn't meant to be this way we are. Might as well make the best of it. Right?

John 12:24 ~ “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit”

The earth described in Proverbs 30 is in a Hebraic grammatical arrangement that more specifically states that: The earth [that] is not filled with water [is never satisfied]. In other words it is talking about parched earth of land during a drought. In the Middle East this would seem even more obvious in its semi-arid conditions. Try pouring water into sand…it appears as if you could never stop pouring. As for fire mentioned...the fire when first kindled consumes nearly everything in its scorching path. In a strange way we see allusion about the fires of anger, Hell and other things. Their flames are never satiated…just like men’s lust and greed once kindled.

Deuteronomy 32:22 ~ “For a fire is kindled in My [God’s] anger, and burns to the lowest part of Sheol, and consumes the earth with its yield, and sets on fire the foundations of the mountains.

Proverbs 27:20 ~ “Sheol [grave] and Abaddon [Hell, destruction] are never satisfied, nor are the eyes of man ever satisfied.

Fire once it is lit will continue to burn all consumable material unless acted on by an outside source. Anger once lit engulfs everyone in sight. It peppers everyone in earshot. It will drain its fuel turning everything to ash. We see this in everything to a campfire to the sun which rises in the eastern sky every day. James adroitly makes this analogy about a person’s speech also. It is ironic that the human tongue exposes or confesses the truth of the desires/covetousness of the heart.

James 3:5 ~ “So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire!

It is therefore sad that these are the most extreme examples of comparison that we can use to describe human covetousness…yet they fall woefully short of the reality at times. The depths to which human desire can sink are still limited to written words and the words sometimes fail in their task to convey the full scope of man’s depravity.

Every excess seems to provoke a further craving for more. It is because man was created to relate to an infinite eternal God and pursue the truths of this infinite eternal God. Instead, we turn aside or turn away from the infinite God and use these mental and emotional faculties given to us by God and misuse them to pursue sin, the finite and the godless. We are therefore never satisfied because sin as an end in limited. Even though pleasures of sin may last a season, eventually they come collecting their due. Instead of eternally pursuing God we pursue the desires of our hearts which are godless. It is another way of stating Blaise Pascal's age old quote:
There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.” ~ Blaise Pascal, Pensées
This then returns us to the first thing that is not satiated…the grave. In our constant pursuit of our sin we end up killing ourselves because the wages of sin is death. Anything that is not of God that we pursue with blind zeal leads to death. It is a self-perpetuating nefarious cycle and the only thing that breaks the cycle or interrupts it is the intervention of God either through our trusting in His Gospel or our death and glorification in Christ. If we do not trust God’s truth in the Gospel we are essentially given over to God’s eternal wrath in Hell…whose flames are never satisfied either!

The truth is that in the full scope of salvation history, Agur wrote these words before Christ came in His first advent as Savior and Messiah. The Gospel had not fully been revealed through Jesus. What we really need to take away from this is this: It is only through Christ/God that any of these things can be satiated or overcome. It is God who brings the rain until the land is no longer in drought (1 Kings 18:41, Zechariah 10:1, Matthew 5:45). It is God who will eventually remove the need to give birth to give life (Matthew 22:30, Romans 7:1-3). It is God who can produce a fire so that it does not consume (Exodus 3:2, Daniel 3:25, Isaiah 43:2). 

Most importantly, it is God who can and has conquered death and shut the mouth of the grave once and for all (Romans 1:14, 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, 25-26, 55-57; 2 Timothy 1:10, Hebrews 2:14, Revelation 20:14).

November 18, 2013

The Devil’s Haircut or A Righteous Restyling

A hairstyle or haircut usually refers to a styling of hair on the human scalp either male or female. The fashioning of hair is usually to be considered an aspect of personal grooming, beauty and fashion. The haircuts and cutting of hair in the Bible though tend to take on more practical, cultural, or spiritual consideration.

From a practical standpoint we see a haircut as part of the procedure for cleansing from skin diseases like leprosy:

Leviticus 14:8-9 ~ “The person to be cleansed must wash their clothes, shave off all their hair and bathe with water; then they will be ceremonially clean. After this they may come into the camp, but they must stay outside their tent for seven days. On the seventh day they must shave off all their hair; they must shave their head, their beard, their eyebrows and the rest of their hair. They must wash their clothes and bathe themselves with water, and they will be clean.

This is the conclusion of the ceremony and also involved laundering cloths and shaving off hair and then bathing completely. After this the people would then be able to return to the community. Further steps would be needed eight days later without the aid of a priest as the priest assisted with the first set of ceremonies. Homes were also cleaned of contamination. It should be noted that any type of skin rash or imperfections could be consider leprosy as of the writing of the Law, not the actual disease that causes the rubbing away of limbs and appendages. It should also be noted that at this time shaving off hair could be considered a sign of rebirth and or mourning.

From a spiritual and cultural standpoint, there is a prohibition of a certain type of haircut in Leviticus 19. This is still practiced by Hasidic and Orthodox Jews. It is the prohibition to not cut or round the corners of their heads. The corners or payot/peyos refers to a man’s sideburns. We understand that this is a chapter that refers to cultic practices that surround the Jews at the time. The pagan nations around Israel at the time practiced cutting their beards in a certain fashion and did so in connection with the worship of their gods. If an Israelite adopted the same style people might take this to be a symbol of his religious beliefs, signifying that he upheld pagan worship. The surrounding verse support this context. Verse 26 says not to practice divination. Verse 27…

Leviticus 19:27 ~ “Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.

The verse following this verse tells people to not cut bodies for the dead or tattoo one’s self. All these were practiced by the surrounding pagan culture. They all appeared to be mourning practices. The concern was not the acts themselves but the ideas and principles behind the actions and the impression they projected. There was a fear that these practices would defile the thinking of the people. Therefore the so-called prohibition against tattoos today based on this verse is semi-valid for the same reasons. If anything, we should frown upon the tattoo culture of today because of the idolatrous sensual associations of many that are tattooed…not the tattoo itself.

When an Israelite took a Nazarite vow, he was initially not to cut his hair. When this time of separation was completed, it was then that he shaved his head and burned the hair.

Numbers 6:5 ~ “During the entire period of their Nazirite vow, no razor may be used on their head. They must be holy until the period of their dedication to the Lord is over; they must let their hair grow long.

Numbers 6:13 ~ “Now this is the law of the Nazirite when the period of their dedication is over. They are to be brought to the entrance to the tent of meeting.

Numbers 6:18 ~ “Then at the entrance to the tent of meeting, the Nazirite must shave off the hair that symbolizes their dedication. They are to take the hair and put it in the fire that is under the sacrifice of the fellowship offering.

We will see Paul (and others) take a Nazirite vow and shave his head in the New Testament (Acts 18:18, 21:24).

Acts 18:18 ~ “Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. Then he left the brothers and sisters and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. Before he sailed, he had his hair cut off at Cenchreae because of a vow he had taken.”

The significance of the Nazirite vow is that it was often used to signify being set apart of consecrated. This vow was not mandated nor required. As such it did not act in the form of a sacrament similar to a baptism. In essence those that had performed this vow had literally been set aside for a special purpose. Its underlying principle was that of maintaining purity so God's blessing be maintained. The name Nazirite from the Hebrew root nazar, meant "to separate". Not only did it symbolize the consecrated character of all the Israelites, but it did so at the individual level too…in a visible pious manner. Samson and Samuel were two prominent Old Testament life-long examples. It was usually a voluntary dedication to God’ service.

Because of the vow’s connection to Samson it is probable that the imagery in the vow spoke of or represented the strength and vitality of the individual. The long hair of the Nazirite would have symbolized the dedication of the Nazirite's strength and vigor to God.

The Nazirite specifically did not withdraw from society except in the particulars of these restrictions as they were acting as visible examples of consecration in their lives and behaviors along with growth and then shaving of their heads.

As mentioned above, when Samson (under a life-long Nazirite vow) had his head shaved all his strength left him.

Judges 16:19 ~ “After putting him to sleep on her lap, she called for someone to shave off the seven braids of his hair, and so began to subdue him. And his strength left him.

Moving to the time of the Kings was see that the miscreant Absalom cut his hair once a year because it got too heavy.

2 Samuel 14:25-26 ~ “In all Israel there was not a man so highly praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the top of his head to the sole of his foot there was no blemish in him. Whenever he cut the hair of his head—he used to cut his hair once a year because it became too heavy for him—he would weigh it, and its weight was two hundred shekels by the royal standard.”

This is a perfect example of how a people or persons can be consecrated and set aside for use by God and fail horribly in the purpose they have been chosen for. In the end, even though was are chosen for God’s purposes, we are still responsible for our choices in this life. We see this in the nation of Israel in the Old Testament and we see it today in the negligence and failures of many unbiblical churches today. They/we can be chosen but either uncooperative/stiff-necked or outright apostate and in rebellion.

In another case of blatant disobedience Ezra heard that Jews had intermarried with the pagan Canaanites and other nationalities. He was so disgusted and upset that he ended up plucking hair from his head and beard

Ezra 9:1-3  After these things had been done, the leaders came to me and said, “The people of Israel, including the priests and the Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples with their detestable practices, like those of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites. 2 They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them. And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness.” When I heard this, I tore my tunic and cloak, pulled hair from my head and beard and sat down appalled.

In a similar instance at the same time as Ezra, another case of inappropriate intermarriage takes place. Nehemiah punishes and pulled out the hair of some men of Judah as he charged them not to intermarry.

Nehemiah 13:23-25 ~ “Moreover, in those days I saw men of Judah who had married women from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab. Half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod or the language of one of the other peoples, and did not know how to speak the language of Judah. I rebuked them and called curses down on them. I beat some of the men and pulled out their hair. I made them take an oath in God’s name and said: “You are not to give your daughters in marriage to their sons, nor are you to take their daughters in marriage for your sons or for yourselves. 

To further show that shaving one’s head was a sign of mourning and demonstration of grief we need only look to Job after losing his children.

Job 1:20 ~ “At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship

What separates Job from the typical pagan reactions of grief that would’ve been similar is his sincere act of worship to God in his grief. This is something that those in the pagan culture that also practiced shaving their heads wouldn’t have done. He does not shake a puny fist at the sky in defiance of God, cursing Him also. No, he does just the opposite. He does not ask, “Why me?” He bows to the ground and says, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”

…and as Scripture further says, “…in all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.”

This is the difference between a pagan or borderline Christian and a true reverent and repentant Christian. So it was true then, so it is true now. This is exactly why Job 1:1 tells us that Job was

Job 1:1 “…blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.”

In another narrative of disobedience, Jeremiah tells the people of Jerusalem to cut off their hair. As we know from history, it will be to no avail as the people of Jerusalem will be sent into exile anyway for their disobediences and sin against God. He is trying to instill a sense of remorse and repentance in a recalcitrant people but they would have none of it.

Jeremiah 7:29 ~ “Cut off your hair and throw it away; take up a lament on the barren heights, for the Lord has rejected and abandoned this generation that is under his wrath.

Finally, we see Ezekiel use his own hair in one of his skits for the people of Israel.

Ezekiel 5:1-4 “Now, son of man, take a sharp sword and use it as a barber’s razor to shave your head and your beard. Then take a set of scales and divide up the hair. When the days of your siege come to an end, burn a third of the hair inside the city. Take a third and strike it with the sword all around the city. And scatter a third to the wind. For I will pursue them with drawn sword. But take a few hairs and tuck them away in the folds of your garment. Again, take a few of these and throw them into the fire and burn them up. A fire will spread from there to all Israel.

Ezekiel then dramatizes Jerusalem's fall. He takes a pair of scales and divides the hair into thirds...(a) He was to burn up one third in the city when the days of the siege have ended (1/3 would die of plague and famine). (b) Take the second third and slash [it] with the sword all around the city. Scatter one third to the wind (God would “draw a sword” to chase after Israel). (c) Take a few strands from the hair and secure them in the folds of his [Ezekiel’s] robe (those spared the first two judgments would be God preserving a remnant). (d) Take the remaining strands, throw them into the fire, and burn them in it, fire will spread from it to the whole house of Israel. These last few hairs mentioned seem as if they would spark a blaze that would have purifying effect on the whole remainder of Israel. Why do I say this? It says “the whole house of Israel” in this scenario even the remnant. If the remnant wasn’t to be destroyed then why burnt or put through fire? Fire is a symbol of judgment or purification in the Bible.

To summarize…

In nearly all of the instances pointed out above we see either an element of consecration or and element of separation unto God for holy and righteous purposes. We also see these instances of unique grooming as punishment and chastisement for not being holy or righteous. We can also see them as symbols of mourning used by righteous men to show that all is not right with the world (or themselves). That is because the system of the world which is of the devil holds sway in the hearts of all but the righteous. In the case of the prophets of Jeremiah and Ezekiel we see them as portends of judgment that is inevitable for being unrighteous.

All stem from righteousness or unrighteousness. All stem from either the obedience to God and His statutes or a failure to do so. In some way, all these haircuts are symbols of a separation from the things of the Devil, and adherence to him or punishment for thinking like him in a rebellious manner. In a strange way…they are the Devil’s haircut, either in a deliberate fight against what the Devil stands for by standing for God or it is a symbol of having given into the Devil’s deceptions and temptations.

But like hair…we can divest ourselves of the burden of sin and rebelliousness by shaving it off of our person or being and we can start over. As I said in the beginning of this post, head shaving was a common Ancient Near Eastern symbolism for rebirth. In the case of the Bible a rebirth and consecration (setting apart) for use by God. This is what each and every Christian is to be after coming to the saving knowledge of Christ. A new creation set apart as a holy people for use by God. That principle is all over the New Testament.

Romans 12:1-4 ~ “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

2 Corinthians 5:17 ~ “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

1 Peter 2:9 ~ But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
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