Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Going through the motions

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. (James 1:22-24)

Have you ever been fooled – whether for fun or not? While some of us are more gullible than others, it is actually not that difficult to be deceived. The idea of deceiving ourselves sounds pretty crazy. Who would want to do that? And yet we do it more often than we think. It can be quite a challenge to be completely honest about our ourselves.

James warns us not to deceive ourselves. In this case it has to do with listening to the word (which includes reading it), but not doing what it says. When we read the Bible, but don't put into practice its teachings, we fool ourselves. When we continually expose ourselves to the Bible, we somehow convince ourselves that we are doing what it says, even when we don't.

That means that there is likely many of us right now who even though deep down we believe we are being true to the teachings of Scripture, we are not.

If we are deceiving ourselves in this way, how can we ever be set free to see ourselves according to reality? I believe we can by first, asking God to reveal to us the truth about ourselves. Then by fixing our gaze upon his Word, we need to ask ourselves if we are truly living according to it. Be careful though! This exercise in and of itself won't safeguard us from the deception. The only way to be free of it, is to do what God says.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

God's Scalpel

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

As I mentioned yesterday, since the beginning of human history, Satan has constantly attacked God's word. This attack is primarily aimed at people. Of course those who do not know or believe the Bible are completely unaware of these attacks. They are not aware of the mountain of lies under which they are buried.

But what about those who do know the Bible? This incessant onslaught must be taken seriously. Let us not think that we are immune to such things. Far from it. Twisting God's Truth is an effective tactic of the devil. The more he can make it sound right, the easier it is for us to believe his lies.

It is only as we truly know the Scriptures that we can discern Truth. But that's just the beginning. Knowing what is true and right doesn't automatically mean we will reject what is false. In order to stand firmly on God's Truth, we must be willing to turn from lies, whether those lies are fresh temptations or things that are already firmly entrenched in our lives.

God's Word is likened to a sharp, double-edged sword. While a sword is a weapon, which in evil hands can do much damage, God's seeks to use it on us for our good. In his love the sword of his word is like a surgeon's scalpel seeking to free us from spiritual cancers.

If we do read the Bible on a regular basis, then we put ourselves in the place of being open to God's work of surgery in our lives. But how often does he confront things in our lives, which we are unwilling to allow to be changed - whether it be lies we believe, sinful habits, or man-made traditions that God never intended for us to follow. If we read the Bible, but regularly resist what God wants to do in our lives, we will become calloused and insensitive to what he is trying to say to us. To read the Bible, but not allow God to do what he want in our live, will do us absolutely no good.

Monday, May 29, 2006

The Best Defense

The first words of the devil in the Bible were, "Did God really say..." (Bereshit / Genesis 3:1). This captures the essence of Satan's primary tactic against God, his purposes, and his people: opposing, challenging, and contradicting God's word.

It should not surprise us, then, when several times each and every day, we are challenged in this same way. From the temptations we deal with in our own hearts and minds, to the manipulations of the advertising world, to the lure of affluence, to the philosophies of modern educators and writers, one way or another we hear these words echoed: "Did God really say?"

The only way to stand again this incessant barrage is to truly know God's Word for ourselves. When Satan tempted the Messiah, even through the misuse of Scripture, Yeshua effectively resisted him by quoting the Bible correctly.

Unless we truly know the Scriptures, we are at risk of falling for the devil's schemes. It is not good enough to be able to quote a list of disjointed Bible verses or to solely rely on the interpretations of others. To stand firmly in the midst of the spiritual battle we are in, we need to know the Bible for ourselves. And only possessing a superficial knowledge of the Scriptures is not much better than not knowing them at all. Simply having a little bit of Bible understanding is not going to do much good when Satan uses the Scriptures against us.

Unless we - both personally and corporately - ground ourselves firmly in the Scriptures, we will not know how to answer the challenge, "Did God really say?"

Sunday, May 28, 2006

TorahBytes: Mercy in Wrath (Shavuot)

LORD, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O LORD. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy. (Habakkuk 3:2)

The book of the prophet Habakkuk begins with these words:

How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to
you, "Violence!" but you do not save? (Habakkuk 1:2)

Habakkuk was distressed over the injustices of his day. God's response to him was that judgment would come, for he would deal harshly with his people through the wicked Babylonians. But this would not be the end of the story. As Habakkuk continued to seek God, it was revealed that Babylon too would be judged for its wickedness.

Habakkuk's response to the things God showed him was a prayer that comprises this week's Haftarah. It is a special reading for the Festival of Shavuot (English: Pentecost or Weeks).
Habakkuk's words are an example of the heart of the Hebrew prophet. While everyone else is going about their business, often oblivious to what is really going on around them, the prophet understands the time in which he lives.

Most people might be busy at their jobs if they are not getting drunk or wasting their time with various distractions. Spiritual leaders give themselves to their religious duties, thinking if they are faithful to their rituals, God will be pleased, or appeased, and not let harm come to them and their nation. At the same time, the politicians make deals, trying to buy favor with their enemies or building up arms in the hopes of intimidated them.

The prophet sees through all this. He knows the depths of depravity of the society in which he lives. He knows how God feels about people's rejection of him and his ways. He sees through the vain attempts to avoid inevitable judgment by our busying ourselves with our own agendas or just plain denial. Habakkuk knows about all this, and cares.

Yet Habakkuk also knows that God is a God of mercy, so he pleads with him to have mercy one more time:

LORD, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O LORD. Renew
them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy. (Habakkuk 3:2)
Note that he doesn't ask for mercy instead of wrath. His hope is that as God's anger is unleashed, so too would his mercy be extended.

Is this not our hope today? God's wrath will not be held back much longer. As his judgment draws near yet again, so we, like Habakkuk need to cry out for God's mercy once more.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Biblical Truth is Beautiful

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, "Your God reigns!" (Isaiah 52:7)

For some reason there is a lot of resistance against the sharing of biblical truth. In fact there seem to be a general distaste toward speaking about Yeshua and using the Bible as a point of reference outside of believers' circles.

The reason we are given for this is that it is wrong to influence people to change their beliefs.

But why is that, especially when those who are most reactive toward the sharing of biblical truth are, at the same time, so open to other kinds of influence? Western society today is built on an aggressive commercialism that is designed to manipulate people into spending enormous sums of money in order to purchase all sorts of products. Why is it that we put up with millions of dollars worth of advertising for things such as dark colored, over-sugared, fizzy drinks that are essentially bad for us, or we don't mind companies splashing their logos on our shoes and shirts, to encourage others to purchase their products.

Most people have no problems with the great many philosophies – many of the them quite evil - being fed to us through television and other media. Yet we have been shamed into keeping any biblical truth to ourselves.

We need to get God's perspective on this: "How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news..."

Sharing biblical truth is beautiful. It's what we all need to hear. There is nothing shameful about speaking about the true God and his ways. Not only does biblical faith and truth lead to eternal salvation, it gives us all we need to live a good life.

Let's not forget that we are in a spiritual battle for the lives of people everywhere. The pressure to keep silent is a devilish tactic designed to intimidate us and keep people in darkness.

The only way to deal with this pressure is to not give into it. It's time to proclaim the Truth.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Compromising with the World

I have being having an email discussion with one my TorahBytes readers about the challenge of being in the world, but not of it. I think one of the reasons why we have the kind of difficulty with this that we do (especially in our North American context) is we don't see the world for what it really is.

This use of the word "world" is not referring to the creation, but the unbelieving world system and the various ways it expresses itself.

It seems that many of us believe that we can be friends with the world at some level. Perhaps if our eyes were open to see the world's true evil nature, we would not so readily compromise as we do.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Requests or Commandments

I have often heard people refer to God's direction in their lives as his asking them to do this or that. These people believe, rightly so, that God does communicate to us directly. But what I picture when I hear this sort of thing is God being something like a company president calling an employee into their office and offering them an important assignment. While they know that it is best to accept, the choice is still theirs.

If I were to picture what God's directives were really like, it would be that of an army commander giving orders that must be followed.

Since when does God ask us to do things? All throughout the Bible he gives commands, not requests. God is not our Executive Director, but Lord, Master, and King.

Commandments are not just an Old Covenant concept, for Yeshua said, "If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love" (John 15:10 ).

I am not saying that we may not struggle in our need to obey God's words to us. That obedience does not come easy is evident in the lives of Moses, David, Elijah, and others, including Yeshua himself. But that God expects to be obeyed is not questioned.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

True Mercy – Part 2

Following up on yesterday's post, I get the impression that some people think that the concept of Yeshua being the friend of sinners means that he preferred the company of criminals over spiritually minded, hard-working people – that he would rather hang out at the local bar or brothel than the synagogue.

First, the way the term "sinners" is often used in the Gospels to refer to commoners as opposed to the strictly religious. While this would include people engaging in truly bad behavior, it primarily referred to those who did not adhere to the standards of the religious leaders.

Yeshua loved everyone. He had compassion on all. How a person looked or what their background was didn't matter to him. He hung out with rich and poor, those from so-called respectable ones as well as those from questionable backgrounds.

While he loved (and still loves) all people, he did not tolerate evil whether it was found in his own followers, or in the lives of leaders, or the common people. In order to be his followers, it was necessary to embrace his lifestyle. What made him different from other religious leaders was that he was not prejudiced against someone because of their background, personal history, or social standing.

Yeshua did not prefer one person's company over another. It was his relationship with God that motivated his pursuit of relationship with others.

Monday, May 22, 2006

True Mercy

One of the most beautiful themes in the Scriptures is God's mercy. While God is a God of judgment, he does not act of vengeful rage. Rather he is slow to anger and abounding in love. Though he cannot tolerate sin, he doesn't lash out at us as soon as we transgress, but patiently waits for us to turn to him. If we stray from him, he longs for us to return, and is he is quick to accept us when we do so.

God's mercy is seen so clearly in the life of Yeshua especially in contrast to the religiosity of the spiritual leaders of his day. At that time (as is common still today), religious people thought it was their duty to keep themselves from the non-religious, partly out of fear of contamination. While purity and holiness are essential for those who follow God, we can think that our societal structures can ensure our godliness. As a result we can tend to prevent those who so desperately need God from getting in touch with him.

In trying to come to grips with the reality of God's mercy there are those in our day who have taken it to wrong conclusions. It appears that some think that God's vast mercy extends to overlook all evil. They think that as believers we can do anything we want and not seriously affect our relationship with God. Using terms such as "unconditional love," we create an absolute that is not Scriptural. To know God through Yeshua, we must repent. If we love him, we must keep his commandments. To take him for granted, or to think we can adopt any lifestyle we wish and be assured of eternal life mocks his mercy rather than embraces it.

The good news is that as soon as we are able to recognize this error and turn from our wickedness, confess our wrongs, and rely on him, he will receive us again. So great is his mercy and love.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

TorahBytes: Brotherly Love (Bemidbar)

Brotherly Love
Then they [Jonathan and David] kissed each other and wept together - but David wept the most. (1 Samuel 20:41).

The Bible teaches in a variety of ways. It contains stories - both non-fiction and fiction, personal and general letters, rules, prophecy, poetry, and proverbs. Because it is written in the way it is, we are forced to ponder over what it says. It is through careful thought that we discover its great riches of wisdom. But because of the way many of its stories are written, they are vulnerable to misinterpretation and abuse. However, it is this same vulnerability that makes it so wonderfully effective in how it touches our areas of need.

One story that has been sadly abused is that of Jonathan and David. Jonathan was the eldest son of Israel's first king, Saul. Jonathan would have been the heir to the throne had it not been for his father's disobedience to God. As a result, but known only to a few, David was chosen by God to be Saul's successor instead of Jonathan. Still, Jonathan and David were best friends.

The intensity of their love and affection for one another has led some people to surmise that there was a romantic component involved. A reference used to support this view is found in David's lament over Jonathan's death in battle:

I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother; you were very dear to me. Your love for me was wonderful, more wonderful than that of women. (1 Samuel 1:26)

To draw such a conclusion regarding the friendship of these two men, reveals what I believe is one of the greatest tragedies of our day. To conclude that the intensity of love between Jonathan and David necessitates a romantic component, shows that we have lost any understanding of the validity and reality of true brotherly love.

Jonathan and David should be a model of the kind of love that is possible between two men. I want to focus on male relationships for two reasons. First, intense love between men is very different from a similar love shared between two women. Second, this kind of relationship between two males is very rare today.

The relationship between Jonathan and David demonstrates the reality of the kind of heart connection that can exist between two men. We were made for relationship - close relationship. Our individualistic society chokes life out of us. We actually need one another far more than most of us would admit.

Because, in our day, love is equated with romance, we don't know how to deal with feelings of love and affection for one another. Since many men are taught to suppress and not trust these kinds of feelings, when we have them - which most of us do at some point - we may not know how to express them appropriately.

No matter what we think about these things and no matter how we deal with our emotions, men are made for intimate, non-romantic, relationships with other men. Our hearts cry out for brothers in whom we can confide, with whom we can work alongside, for brothers who can encourage one another.

I wonder how many relationships between men have never come to fruition due to fear and our inability to understand the dynamics of male to male love.

In our day we have an additional obstacle. Should we discover in ourselves a heart of love for another person similar to that of Jonathan and David, we might resist the desire to walk out that relationship, because we don't want it to be misconstrued as romantic.

But are we going to allow the warped perspective of a lost culture to determine how we are going to live, or will we align ourselves with God's perspective as revealed in the Scriptures? May God help us to rediscover the reality of brotherly love.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Does anyone know what time it is?

Every time I am confronted by yet another sign of our current generation's condition, I do a double take. On one hand I am not surprised at where the culture is going, since I am aware of where it has been. Yet on the other hand I still react with a level of shock and sadness as if part of me continues to deny that it is as dark as it might be. That's the part of me that still thinks (or wants to think) that the world is a wonderful, fun, and beautiful place – that the bad news we hear about day by day is the exception rather than the rule. While I am aware that according to the Bible, judgment will come one day, that really isn't my concern.

But perhaps it is later than I think. Does anyone know what time it is?

The fact is we live in what might be the darkest era of human existence (or am I being too negative?).

Our entertainment is full of blasphemy and sexual perversion. Marriage is mocked. The abuse of addictive substances is so widespread. We tolerate the slaying of the unborn. The threat of terrorism is growing as is the specter of nuclear war . The world's poor are exploited. And a world-wide pandemic is around the corner.

Doesn't anybody know the time?

In a couple of weeks the Festival of Shavuot (Pentecost) will be celebrated. It was on the day of Shavuot almost 2000 years ago that a gathered crowd in Jerusalem were urged, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation" (Acts 2:40). If they were living in a corrupt generation – one that needed saving from, then what is the state of our generation today? And if it is corrupt, how then are we to relate to it?

I need to know the time!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Da Vinci Antidote

The Da Vinci Code calls into question many historical events as well as the testimony of the New Covenant (New Testament) writings. The claim of conspiracy and cover up regarding Yeshua and his followers will continue to capture many hearts and minds. While doubtlessly we will continue to hear from countless experts debating the validity of the Code's claims, I wonder how many will refer to what is the irrefutable response to all such theories.

The real antidote to the Da Vinci Code is the Tenach (Hebrew Scriptures, Old Testament). The Tenach, which was completed centuries before Yeshua came on the scene is our objective standard of truth and reality, It is in this collection of writings Yeshua's birthplace (Micah 5), his divine origins (Isaiah 7, Isaiah 9, Psalm 2, Proverbs 30), the time of his coming (Daniel 9) his death (Genesis 3, Isaiah 53, Zechariah 12, Psalm 22), and his resurrection (Isaiah 53, Psalm 16).

While having a good understanding of history is helpful, history is not what provides us with our foundation of faith. God spent centuries preparing the world for the coming of the Messiah through the people of Israel as recorded in the Tenach. Our understanding of who he is and what he did for us is wholly dependant what was already establish prior to his coming.

As for the New Covenant writings, even though they are the most reliable documents of the ancient world, their reliability is dependent on their being the fulfillment of the Tenach. It is the Tenach upon which the truth of the New Testament depends.

Let people argue about conspiracies and cover-up. If we want to stand against attacks on God's truth, we must be grounded in the Scriptures.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Strong Opinions and Relativistic Thought

I find it interesting that in our day of relativistic thinking (the truth is whatever you believe it to be), people have such strong opinions. Would it not be more logical that if there is no such thing as objective reality, then everyone's opinion is equally valid. In fact, it would be more important for people to get in touch with what they themselves think than to embrace the perspective of others.

Yet people continue to be so strong in their opinions and many still think it is appropriate to convince others of their point of view. One might say that these people don't believe in relativistic thinking or they would be more tolerant. But what makes their thinking relativistic is that the opinions, which they hold so strongly, are very often no based on objective reality, but upon their feelings and personal preferences.

So they come to their conclusions based on a relativistic world view, and then (not always, but often) make their opinions absolute as they hope others would agree with them. If you don't believe me, listen to a radio call-in program for a few minutes.

Perhaps the reason why people so strongly state their opinions and get so emotional when their opinions are challenged is due to their opinions being based on emotions in the first place. Objective truth doesn't need an emotional defense. It stands on its own. But if the basis of our opinions is our feelings, then the only way to protect those opinions is with emotional arguments.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Responding to the Da Vinci Code

I really appreciated this column from yesterday's National Post newspaper (the National Post is a national Canadian daily):

Don't ask the state to protect the faith
by Lorne Gunter

Feelings and Biblical Truth

Another aspect of post modernism is the elevating of feelings over fact. Stemming from the idea that truth is based on one's own perceptions, rather than on objective reality, how a person feels about something is reason good enough to believe it as true.

Again this is contrary to the Bible's view of truth and reality. Truth is objective, not subjective. Objective refers to that which exists outside of ourselves, while subjective has to do with how we perceive things from our own perspective. While it is true that we all perceive things differently to an extent, reality exists apart from ourselves.

I am concerned that the Bible is all too often interpreted via feelings. Years ago a leader of a congregation told me that his conviction regarding a particular controversial biblical topic was based on his gut feeling. While it is possible that his feelings were in line with what the Bible objectively taught, should those feelings be allowed to dictate what our life standard should be?

While we may not overtly state that we hold certain convictions based on feeling rather than clear Biblical teaching, I have a feeling(!) that we do this more often than we might readily admit.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Bible and Post Modernism

It is said that we live in the post modern age. One of the key notions of post modernism is relative truth. Less and less people today believe in objective, absolute truth. Truth is based on personal perception, not on objective reality. Something that is true for one person may not be true for someone else.

Those who honor the Bible, usually claim to believe in absolute, objective truth, which is appropriate, since the Bible contains assertions about God and life that are true regardless of anyone perspective. Through the Scriptures God reveals truth.

But I wonder how much post modernism has affect even Bible believers. Do we not today put more value on "what the Bible means to me" than on what the Bible means. How many regular Bible readers do you know who actually spend time trying to understand the intended meaning of the Scriptures. While it is important to learn how to apply what the Bible teaches, we need to start by what it means. Only then can we apply appropriately.

Let's beware of a post modern Bible interpretation that asserts that what really matters is what the Bible means to me, rather than what it really means.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Faith vs. Religion

My son was telling me yesterday how someone at his work was asking him about his religion. He tried to tell them that he didn't have a religion, but a faith. While I understand that any belief in God that has set teachings and set rituals at all is technically a religion, this kind of discussion reveals a basic misunderstanding in our society.

When people think "religion" they think of a set of "have-to"s imposed upon the member of that religion. What defines a member of one religion over the other is the rituals they perform and the meetings they attend. From that starting place, most religions include certain lifestyle variations that may affect things such as food, clothing, entertainment, marriage, and so on.

When I read the Bible, while these things are present among people of faith, they do not represent the essence of these people's lives. The Bible contains accounts of people who have encountered God. As I read and reread the Scriptures I am struck by the reality of God in those people's lives. While there are descriptions of those things that we might think of as religion, they are not in the forefront. Rather we see people encountering God amidst real-life issues.

What has taken me a long time to realize is that there are many today, who while claiming to have a living faith rather than a religion, actually define that faith more in religious terms than through their experience with God.

As I read the Bible, it challenges me to make sure that my life proceeds out of a living encounter with God rather than molded and controlled by a set of religious expectations.