Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Wavering Faith in a Widow, Serving in a Wicked State, and Near Total Apostasy

I was reading today in 1 Kings, the very familiar stories of Elijah - Elijah and the widow (ch. 17), Elijah and the prophets of Baal (ch. 18), Elijah in the cave (ch. 19). It's so familiar, I have to be honest, I was surprised that I saw a few new things in these chapters. I know I shouldn't be, God's word is living, and his Spirit is actively revealing, but I was. Here's a few things that jumped out to me this time round:

1. The widow really is an enigma. Elijah tells her to cook him a cake, which is the last of her food. Her son and her were going to eat it and get ready to die (the famine/drought was having an impact not just on wicked Ahab and Jezebel, but everyone in the land). She was told by Elijah that if she did this, her jar of flour wouldn't run out until the drought had ended. She believed Elijah and gave him the food.

Shortly after this, her son gets sick and dies. She's devastated and says to Elijah, "What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!"

Her memory is short - she and her son would have already been dead had it not been for Elijah.
Her faith which seemed so strong - she gave up  the last of her food - now seems weak.
Her sin and guilt are weighing heavy on her. It's Elijah's fault, but only in the sense that he brought her sin to remembrance. It's her fault - she's the one who's sinned (in her mind).

But Elijah pleads with God and he restores the boy to life and health. The widow exclaims, "Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is true."

Now you know? The endless supply of flour didn't convince you? You seemed to know earlier when you cried, "What have you against me, O man of God!"

Like I said, she's an enigma. Full of faith - so much she gives up her small families last supply of food because she believes the word of God through his prophet Elijah. Weak of faith when tragedy strikes what is dear to her, her son.

How much like the widow are we? Oscillating between boldness and fear, faith and doubt.

Oh, and Elijah is the same:
450 prophets of Baal - no problem, bring em on. I mock them and their God. Jezebel - RUN!

2. Elijah and Obadiah both served the Lord. Ahab was a wicked king, the most wicked in Israel to this point - "Ahab did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him." Elijah was God's mouthpiece of judgment - he called Ahab and his pagan wife out, confronted their sin head on, took on their false prophets, proclaimed judgment. He was outside the court of the king speaking into it. Obadiah, on the other hand, was inside the court of this wicked king. He too served and feared the Lord (1 King 18:3-4, 12-13). See also Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah, Nehemiah, Esther, etc.

We live in a wicked nation, under a wicked government - every nation, every government is, more or less. Certainly some will be called to be the prophetic voice that proclaim judgment. Some, on the other hand, will follow the example of Obadiah and serve God from with the fallen system. Which is harder, more dangerous? I think serving from within is probably harder. It takes wisdom, discernment, courage, patience.

Both are needed. Both are God-honoring.The tendency is deny the validity of one or the other. Those who serve God from the outside can't imagine how one could work alongside and for the benefit of pagan rulers. Those on the inside wish the prophets would shut up and stop making it harder for them. But each needs the other, each have been appointed by God for their specific task.

3. It hit me this time just how far Israel had fallen away from God. Israel had always been plagued with an unhealthy willingness to tolerate pagan deities in their midst. And, at times, Israel had fallen into syncretism - worshiping other God's alongside the Lord. This scene, however, paints a different picture. In the people's mind, there was serious doubt that the Lord was the true God. Maybe Baal was really the man in charge. Look at 1 Kings 19: 22-24 closely. Elijah's test is well known. But that the people even needed this test is stunning. Really, Baal may be the true God? Did you forget the Red Sea? Forget Jericho? Forget how God drove out all the Baal worshipers from before you when he gave you the land? Yep.

Again, those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. I hate reading Judges and the books of Kings & Chronicles. I hate it because I see myself so often in the cycles of sin and forgetting.

May God give us good, strong memories!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Israel, the Land & Being 'in Christ'

Christopher Wright's treatment of 'the land' in Old Testament Ethics for the People of God is truly thought provoking. Central to his treatment are the dual themes of divine ownership and divine gift. The land as divine gift lies at the core of God's promises to Abraham - there would be seed, land, and blessing. The land was far more important that we, as NT Christians, probably acknowledge. In many ways, the land would be a gauge within Israel of their relationship to God - it was given as an inheritance, which speaks of unique sonship. Moreover, removal from the land was the ultimate in threats and punishment, realized in the exile and subsequent return.

Yet, God makes it clear that the land is his prior to Israel's possession of it (Exodus 15:13, 15) and will remain his even during their conquest and possession of it (Lev. 25:23). Ownership hasn't completely passed from God to Israel; God retains ownership of it and Israel possess/uses the land under terms of a covenant. Israel is called to remember the sojourner/alien in their land because they are likewise aliens and sojourners in God's land. In fact, God's land cannot permanently be bought and sold, but has been allotted to his people in an equitable way. The people of Israel couldn't use and abuse the land any way they saw fit - living in the land came with profound responsibilities to the land and to fellow Israelites living in the land.

Interestingly, the notion of land all but disappears in the New Testament. Does this mean that it has no bearing on us as New Testament believers? Wright argues that it still has bearing, in three distinct ways: paradigmatically, eschatalogically, and typologically (my spell-check loved those words). Paradigmatically, Israel was to live in the land, in relation to the land and to one another in the land, as a model for how God intended his people to live. In many ways, Israel is spoken of in Edenic terms. Yet, there is an understanding that sin has now tainted the experience of living in Eden. Israel's life in the land is meant to be a model for how people are to live out the reality of being God's people. The broad commands to love neighbor and love God were to be made concrete in Israel's life.

Eschatologically, we now see that Isreal's life in the land had an already but not yet aspect to it. They already experienced the blessing of dwelling with God in his land, of living out kingdom principles. But, there was a not yet element to it - they never quite experienced the rest they were promised, and what they did experience was still tainted by the presence of struggle and sin. All their hopes and promises point us ahead to the eschaton. Israel was a foretaste of a restored Eden - small and imperfect. It points to a more universal and more perfected restoration - a renewed creation where harmony between God's earth and his people is restored. The prophets especially point us in this direction.

Wright's most interesting contribution, in my humble opinion, is in the typological way of understanding the land. As stated above, the theme of the land all but disappears in the New Testament. But, Wright contends it is replaced, in large measure, by the language of being 'in Christ'. Wright articulates this succinctly,
"To be in Christ, just as to be in the land, denotes first, a status and a relationship that have been given by God; second a position of inclusion and security in God's family; and third, a commitment to live worthily by fulfilling the practical responsibilities towards those who share the same relationship with you" (pg. 192). 
This is certainly evident in Paul (see especially Ephesians 2:11-3:6, and also much of Galatians), but also in the author of Hebrews insistence what we have in Christ is better than what God's people experienced in the old covenant.

The ethical implications of this parrallel are striking. Just as the ancient Israelite bore responsibility for those who shared the land with him - and this is foundational to the whole ethical and economic systems in Israel - so Christians bear a responsibility for those who are in Christ. Wright contends,
"The extent of this kind of language in the New Testament [Christian fellowship and the responsibilities it entails] leads me to the view that it has deep roots in the socio-economic ethics of the Old Testament. There are so many similarities which show that the experience of felloship - in its full, rich, 'concrete' New Testament sense - fulfills analogous theological and ethical functions for the Christian as the possession of the land did for Old Testament Israelites. Both (land in the Old Testament, fellowship in the New) must be seen as part of the purpose and pattern of redemption, not just as accidental or incidental to it...This gives to both that deeply practical mutual responsibility that pervades both Old and New Testament ethics." 
 While I certainly want to study and ponder Wright's assertions more, it confirms my suspicions that the concpet of being 'in Christ' is maybe the most important idea in the whole of the Bible - foundational to our identity, our understanding of sanctification and ethical living, and at the very core of what it means to be saved. Great stuff!

Song of the Week

I really like this song, but haven't heard much else by Finger Eleven.

Finger Eleven, "One Thing"

One Thing by Finger 11 on Grooveshark

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Metallica's "One": some devotional thoughts

This summer they boys are looking at some of their favorite songs from a biblical perspective. A few weeks ago, they dove into one of the best metal songs of all time - Metallica's "One".  Here's the lyrics:

I can't remember anything
Can't tell if this is true or dream
Deep down inside I feel to scream
This terrible silence stops with me

Now that the war is through with me
I'm waking up, I cannot see
That there's not much left of me
Nothing is real but pain now

Hold my breath as I wish for death
Oh, please God, wake me

Back in the womb it's much too real
In pumps life that I must feel
But can't look forward to reveal
Look to the time when I'll live

Fed through the tube that sticks in me
Just like a wartime novelty
Tied to machines that make me be
Cut this life off from me

Hold my breath as I wish for death
Oh, please God, wake me

Now the world is gone I'm just one
Oh God, help me
Hold my breath as I wish for death
Oh please God, help me

Darkness, imprisoning me
All that I see,
Absolute horror
I cannot live,
 cannot die
Trapped in myself, body my holding cell
Landmine has taken my sight,
Taken my speech, taken my hearing
Taken my arms, taken my legs
Taken my soul Left me with life in hell

Here's some of the questions they considered:
1. In a sentence, how would you describe the mood of this song?

2. The song's theme and lyrics are based on Dalton Trumbo's 1939 novel Johnny Got His Gun, telling the tale of a soldier who is hit by an artillery shell and loses his limbs, eyes, ears and mouth. His mind functions perfectly, however, leaving him trapped inside his own body. What war do you think this novel is about?

3. War has been a part of our world’s history almost since the beginning (but not in the Garden). Read Genesis 3 & 4 and explain in a paragraph why you think war is a part of our world now?

4. Is God always opposed to war? Why or why not?

5. What about this song do you think is true/right?

6. What about this song do you think is false/wrong?

7. Imagine you are a friend of this soldier from the same platoon. You visit him in the hospital. What do you think you might want to share with him (maybe look at Revelation 21:1-8 before you go talk with him)?

8. Creative writing: Imagine that this soldier became a Christian and believes the story of the Bible. Write a four line epilogue from a Christians point of view (try and rhyme a few lines, but don’t get stuck on that). Before you write, consider the following Biblical people who suffered and how they responded: - Job (read Job 1:1-22; Job 42:1-6) - The prophet Habakkuk (read Habakkuk 3:17-19) - Paul (read 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, also 2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

And, finally, here's the final verses as written by the boys.

Caleb's version:

As I lie in my bed
As I watch the days float away
One thing helps aid my pain
It's Jesus, holy Jesus, and everything he has done

And Jake's:
The Sovereign Lord is my strength
He enables me to go onward.
There was a man named Job who was very upright
He put up a great fight against sin.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Spiritual Lessons from Baseball 4

Baseball is a cruel game, and a game that defies predictability. The best players strike out at the most inopportune time. The bottom of the line up comes through when you think there's no hope. You see it all the time.

This past week in my boys little league playoffs, I saw the clean up hitter go down looking in the bottom of the sixth inning with his team down by two. I saw the best hitter on another team ground out with the bases loaded to end the inning. At the same time, I saw a triple from an unlikely hero, and a kid get his first (maybe second) hit of the season to drive in a run. Crazy. And it's not just little league. Remember Billy Buckner - the Red Sox first-base man who let the ball roll through his legs in game six of the world series? Yeah, for his career he had only 128 errors on more almost 14,000 chances. In other words, he messed up less than 1% of the time! Inopportune time for a solid player to make a mistake...but it happens.

When I was a baseball novice, I'd look at who was coming up in the lineup and say, "Oh good, we got this," or, "Nope, we're done." I've seen to much now - baseball is fickle. It's unpredictable.

The spiritual lesson here is that sinners and saints be equally unpredictable. In the Christian sphere we place certain saints on pedestals. We hold them up as exemplars of godliness. That isn't all bad - it's good to have examples to emulate (see 1 Cor. 11:1). But, we have to remember, just as baseball hero's strike out, spiritual hero's stumble and fall.

The difference between a great ball player and a not so good one - they don't allow the errors, strikeouts, etc, to become habit. They'll figure out what they did wrong, and make adjustments. They won't dwell on their failure, but learn from it. You have to have a real short memory in baseball. You made an error in the field, you better shake it off cause you're up in the bottom half of the inning.

So it is with the saint. When a saint stumbles and fall, they don't wallow in self pity and become morose. They have short memories - enabled by the grace and forgiveness of God to leave past failures in the past.  They learn from their stumble - what led me to this uncharacteristic sin? Did I neglect prayer? Have I not been regular in meeting with God, with his people? What string did the devil pull when he was tempting me and why did it work? They'll learn, but they won't be fixated. They'll learn so that their journey to Christ-likeness isn't derailed, but advanced.

I like what  Daniel Doriani says in Putting the Truth to Work. He writes,
"Character changes slowly, but change it does, so that no single action is absolutely predetermined by it. It is possible to do something that is out of character and so to violate our nature. Yet when we do so, we may begin to change who we are. Aristotle, with pagan wisdom says, "We become just by doing just acts." CS Lewis, with Christian wisdom, says, "Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you...into something different from what it was before. And taking your life  as a whole, with all you innumerable choices, all you life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature."

The saint may do something out of character, something hellish. He must guard against it become habitual and a part of his character. On the other hand, those of us who don't feel very 'saintly' can, by slight increments, be formed into the holy ones we are. By God's grace we can, little by little become what we are - turning from sinners to saints. There wonderful hope in that.

The number nine hitter can make adjustments and get better! The liar can become a man of integrity. The scoundrel, a person of faithfulness.

Song of the Week

I'm in a Rush mood.

 Rush, 'Stick it Out'

Stick It Out by R U S H on Grooveshark

Oh, and I have to include 'The Trees'

The Trees by Rush on Grooveshark