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Peter, Paul, and not Mary #1 – Not Paying Back Evil for Evil

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

Paul says, “Do not repay anyone for evil” (Rom.12:17). Peter says, “not paying back evil for evil” (1 Peter 3:9). Peter goes on to say, “or insult for insult but, on the contrary, giving a blessing, since you were called for this, so that you can inherit a blessing.” When people call us names, insult, or criticize; throw them off by saying something nice about them. Not only will they look bad before others by your good words heaping fiery coals on their heads (Rom.12:20); more importantly by your actions you might lead them to salvation. Remember, before you accepted Jesus’ call, while you were still sinning with your mouth against God, Jesus died for you and your sins to bring you a blessing.


Praying through the Bible #164 – Job 21 – A Prayer from the Wicked

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

“Why do bad things happen to good people;” is the inverse of “Why do good things happen to bad people?” Most of the rich are unbelievers. Many shadowed by “bad luck” are believers. How do we reconcile this reality with a good God?

Something strange happens in Job’s second response to Zophar. He repeats the prayer of the wicked as being true to reality and contrary to the theology of his friends: (14) Yet they say to God: “Leave us alone! We don’t want to know Your ways. (15) Who is the Almighty, that we should serve Him, and what will we gain by pleading with Him?” (Job 21.14-15).

This prayer is reminiscent of Pharaoh responding to Moses: “Who is Yahweh that I should obey Him” (Ex.5.2)? God sent 10 plagues on Pharaoh; but truth is, often the righteous are the plagued in this life. The emphasis for us in the wicked man’s prayer is the last part: “what will we gain by pleading with Him?” Right before this prayer Job recounted the wicked man’s good life (21.7-13). Job’s life was the opposite. This presents a dilemma. Was Job wicked or righteous before when blessed? What did Job’s righteousness gain him? No longer is he powerful and influential; he has lost his children, lives in fear, lost his animals, and feels no joy. The problem for Job, his three friends, and all the rest, is this two-sided reality is dueling against what they believe. The good suffer; the evil prosper. Job’s friends have continually allowed platitudes of “reality” to form their theology:

Job 20.5 the joy of the wicked has been brief and the happiness of the godless has lasted only a moment?

By their theology, do you think Job’s friends were wealthy? But their view of righteousness and reality contradicts what is seen in others. Where did their warped views come from? Here’s another surprise, the Bible. Both in the old and new covenants God promises we shall reap what we sow (Hos. 8.7; Gal.6.7). So what do we do when our reality rebukes our understanding of scripture? Some change the scriptures; too often, and too easily. Their feelings rewrite what is written. Such makes our experience the arbiter of truth instead of God. Instead, what we must do is alter our view of reality until it is in sync with God’s. The full answer is not found in Job. Reality is, reality is more than just this world. To see more clearly, God revealed three realities that balance the scales in this life, between the blessings of the wicked and the suffering of the righteous. They are the crucifixion, resurrection, and eternal judgment. True reality, full reality, is not found in what is seen and temporary; but in who is incarnated. Jesus is our reality.

Prayer Challenge: Pray not to be blinded by the world’s thinking that this world is the beginning and end. Jesus suffered and died, so that we might live eternally.

Praying through the Bible #163 – Job 16-17 – A Prayer About His Children Dying

Saturday, February 14th, 2015

Was Satan right about Job? Satan’s challenge is this: Would Job be more adversely affected by the ravaging loss of his health (Job 1.22), than the loss of his children (1.11)? Hearing Job talk, it isn’t until the second round of speeches that this godly man even mentions his children: “Surely He has now exhausted me” and then prays, “You have devastated my entire family” (16.11). Was Satan right all along? Can a father – can I – care more about himself than his family?

Knowing history, and seeing it lived out with Deadbeat Dads and the selfishness of abortion, no doubt such is possible. Knowing Job, no doubt Satan was wrong. What might appear true when people are suffering is not always the whole truth. The culprit here in my opinion is not selfishness. The culprit is time coupled with the pain of the present versus the pain of the past. Plus, to Job, his children are better off than he is. Job wishes God to would to him as he thinks God has done to his children. Kill him. Living is the enemy, death is his friend. Once more Job reveals suffering’s emotional and physical effects: “My eyes have grown dim from grief, and my whole body has become but a shadow” (17.7).

“Time heals all wounds,” but before healing can happen time worsens all pains. The initial shock numbs us. Being numb all we can hold onto is our faith. The pain does not allow us to think. Time allows reflection. It is not insignificant that Job’s friends sat in silence for seven days with Job. They too were numb. Then they spoke, harshly; because they had time to contemplate, to let the pain set in. Then Job responds equally harsh, because he too had time to wonder. Experience teaches that some pains are too deep to talk about until the pain can’t be kept hidden any longer. Was this true for Job?

Then there is the reality that we might not want to admit which is present ongoing pain can preoccupy our minds and emotions so that we speak more of it than a deeper past pain. That doesn’t prove anything about past loss. While there is nothing worse than losing a child, the event itself is a puncture in time, even if the effects are ongoing.

In the past I have wondered if Satan was right about Job. First, we should not think his emotional suffering is only from his physical ailments. It is not our place to judge. Second, continual present suffering can overwhelm past pain. Third, there is truth to “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” People can only take so much before breaking; even if the last hurt is less than the first. Fourth, if I had shared my judgment with Job, I would have been as useless and offensive as his friends: “(2) …You are all miserable comforters. (3) Is there no end to your empty words? What provokes you that you continue testifying?” (16.2-3).

Prayer Challenge: Pray not to judge how others handle their pain. Judging is too easy, and too easily wrong.

Praying through the Bible #162 – Job 13-15 – A Prayer About Resurrection

Friday, February 6th, 2015

My relative was schizophrenic. Those who suffer, endure mentally twisted hallucinations and delusions forming false realities. Making this practical, pain can make us experience what I’ll call “sane schizophrenia,” producing unearthly realities. Pain can produce an irrationality of hope superseding human experience. This pained induced thinking then enables us to expand beyond man’s reality, to think like God; helping our mind grasp the unimaginable in the “sane” world. Pain can create hope.

“Schizophrenia” literally means “split mind.” And while a split personality is a misnomer, pain can also produce a seemingly split mind in anyone, including believers. The result is differing voices speak in our heads trying to drown out the others. We can find ourselves thinking blasphemous thoughts one moment while praising God the next. Pain can construct confusion.

Job prays, “Only grant these two things to me, God, so that I will not have to hide from Your presence” (13.20). The two things are: 1) Remove Your hand from me; 2) Do not let Your terror frighten me (13.21). Job wants to confront God in a way more personal and effective than prayer. Let’s focus on Job’s hope, lack of hope, and confused hope.

Here is the reality of man: “(1) Man born of woman is short of days and full of trouble. (2) He blossoms like a flower, then withers; he flees like a shadow and does not last” (14.1-2). Here is the reality of nature: “(7) There is hope for a tree: If it is cut down, it will sprout again, and its shoots will not die. (8) If its roots grow old in the ground and its stump starts to die in the soil, (9) the smell of water makes it thrive and produce twigs like a sapling” (14.7-9). Here is the confusion from pain: “(10) But a man dies and fades away; he breathes his last — where is he? (11) As water disappears from the sea and a river becomes parched and dry, (12) so man lies down never to rise again. They will not wake up until the heavens are no more; they will not stir from their sleep” (14.10-12). Here is the irrationality of hope: “When a man dies, will he come back to life? If so, I would wait all the days of my struggle until my relief comes” (14.14). Through struggle, without any empirical experience, pain contemplates a resurrection. Through creation, Job hopes that if trees have hope after death, can man?

Then another voice from the divergent mind of Job speaks: “as water wears away stones and torrents wash away the soil from the land, so You destroy a man’s hope” (4.19). Does the same God who gives hope through nature take hope away in death? Does the God who creates resurrection within nature plan to include us? This is the “sane schizophrenia” we all live and die with hoping to live again.

Prayer Challenge: Scripture challenges us to be of one mind with one another; Job shows us the struggle of being of one mind with ourselves. Pray for clarity amidst pain looking for resurrection.

Praying through the Bible #161 – Job 9-10 – A Prayer Putting God on Trial

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015

Sitting in a court room, the accused is dressed to look respectable; looking respectable looks innocent. The defendant tries to look calm. Each is faking serenity while someone else is deciding their future. Sitting there, they appear to be in total control, while the reality is control is totally out of the grasp. Job feels on trial. Job refuses to fake anything (Job 9.27-28). While admitting the Judges’ all-everything powers, he doubts the Judge’s goodness. Job wants to put the Judge on trial (9.1).

A judge not filled with goodness is not fit to judge. Job says of God, “He destroys both the blameless and the wicked. When disaster brings sudden death, He mocks the despair of the innocent. The earth is handed over to the wicked; He blindfolds its judges. If it isn’t He, then who is it?” (9.22-24). Unable to explain, unwilling to accept, knowing he himself is innocent, there is no one left to blame but God. Messianic in his thoughts, Job wishes for an intermediate; wishing for someone who could “lay his hand on both of us” (9.33). His reality is “I am on my own” (9.35).

“I am disgusted with my life” (10.1). This isn’t said reflecting back on past mistakes, missed opportunities, or regrets. This is said about the here and now, viewing life only from the viewpoint of his disease. For those who suffer, whether temporary or life-long afflictions; please do not fall into the trap of Job. He sees only his pain because he has become nothing more than his disease. His life is meaningless so he blames God.

Unlike many, Job doesn’t allow evil in this world to make him hide behind the arrogance of atheism. Job still acknowledges God; but He has become a stranger that Job doesn’t understand. The problem becomes when we decide we know more than God: “Is it good for You to oppress, to reject the work of Your hands, and favor the plans of the wicked?…You look for my wrongdoing and search for my sins, even though You know that I am not wicked and that there is no one who can deliver from Your hand” (10.3,6).

Even in the midst of his agony, even in his confusion about God’s goodness, Job is still in awe of God’s past power and love: “You clothed me with skin and flesh, and wove me together with bones and tendons. You gave me life and faithful love, and Your care has guarded my life” (10.11-12).

What Job’s accusations and praise have in common is that both are based only upon the obvious; what can be seen. What can’t be seen is the real battle over mankind between the forces of good and evil. So Job puts God on trial: “You produce new witnesses against me and multiply Your anger toward me. Hardships assault me, wave after wave” (10.17). As before Job despairs of life. If he had never been born, he would have never been put on trial.

Prayer Challenge: Look beyond the obvious; God is not to be judged by us.

Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:6 – Notice the Difference?

Monday, February 2nd, 2015

I am a sinner; I am not a sinner. I am unworthy; I am worthy. My works are unrighteous; my works are righteous. What’s the difference? Notice the Messianic prophecy, “Bethlehem Ephrathah, you are small among the clans of Judah” (Micah 5:2). Now notice the Messianic fulfillment, “And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah” (Mt.2:6). The difference is whether Jesus has come in my life.

1 Peter and Acts – Is “Obedience to the Truth” (1 Peter 1:22) Baptism?

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

Some believe “obedience to the truth” (1 Peter 1:22) refers to baptism. Although the word “baptism” is not mentioned in 1:22, why might such be true? One reason is the connections between this passage and 1 Peter 3. A second reason is it is also believed most of 1 Peter is a baptismal sermon. And third is the many connections between 1 Peter 1 and Peter’s Pentecost sermon in Acts 2:

  • Peter is the author of both the speech and the book (1:1; Acts 2:14).
  • Peter is speaking to those of the Diaspora in both (1:2; Acts 2:5,9-11).
  • The foreknowledge of God is prioritized in both (1:2; Acts 2:23).
  • Hope is important (1:3,13,21; Acts 2:26).
  • We are born again (anagennaō) and Jesus’ resurrection is a birth (odin) (1:3,23;  Acts 2:24).
  • The resurrection of Jesus is prominent (1:3,21; Acts 2:24,31,32).
  • Inheritance imperishable, uncorrupted, seed imperishable;  and His flesh did not decay (1:4,23; Acts 2:31)
  • Salvation is a topic in both (1:5; Acts 2:21, 40,47).
  • Prophecies and prophets are mentioned speaking of these times (1:10; Acts 2:16).
  • The Holy Spirit is prominent in the texts (1:2,11,12; Acts 2:4,17,18,38).
  • The Holy Spirit is mentioned as being sent from Heaven (1:12; Acts 2:33).
  • We are “children of obedience” who “obey the truth” and they “accepted his message” (1:14,22; Acts 2:41).
  • We are called to be holy, our Father is holy, and Jesus is “the holy One” (1:15-16; Acts 2:27).
  • Jesus death is the source of salvation (1:19,21; Acts 2:23,36).
  • Epikaleō/call/address(1:20; Acts 2:21).
  • Jesus was chosen before the foundation of the world (1:20; Acts 2:23).
  • These are the end times (1:20; Acts 2:17).
  • The gospel was preached (1:25; Peter’s sermon called “the first gospel sermon”).
  • Nature is used as an illustration (1:24; Acts 2:19-20).

Now having made those connections, let’s make the ones specifically in 1:22:

  • “Obedience to the truth” (1:22); “What must we do?” “Repent and be baptized” (Acts 2:37-38)
  • “Having purified yourselves” (1:22); “for the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 2:38,40 – we can also compare “this wicked generation” to the wicked generation of Noah in 1 Peter 3).
  • “For sincere love of the brothers, love one another earnestly from a pure heart (1:22); “Now all the believers were together and held all things in common. They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had a need” (Acts 2:44-45).

Praying through the Bible #160 – Job 6-7 – A Prayer About Rash Words

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

Pain brings rash words. That is the explanation – or rationalization – of Job to Eliphaz (Job 6.3). He does what is so easily and commonly done; He blames God: “Surely the arrows of the Almighty have pierced me; my spirit drinks of their poison. God’s terrors are arrayed against me” (Job 6.4). Job’s physical suffering is compounded by mental suffering brought on by spiritual confusion. God is not listening (6.8-9). Not only is disease killing Job, so is God’s silence.

Death is not Job’s enemy. His “unrelenting pain” (6.10) makes life unwanted. Death is not an enemy also because “I have not denied the words of the Holy One” (6.10). Our relationship to God defines our death. Job has loss all hope for this world (6.13). The world becomes meaningless to us when we no longer see meaning for us.

Job’s perspective on life changes when becoming ill: “(1) Isn’t mankind consigned to forced labor on earth? Are not his days like those of a hired hand? (2) Like a slave he longs for shade; like a hired man he waits for his pay” (7.1-2). He who had hired hands now considers his life like those he once hired. This should give perspective. Life is more than temporary blessings or burdens. Having flesh crawling with maggots changes how the mind sees (7.5). The question is, should it?

Job explodes with rash words once again: “Therefore I will not restrain my mouth. I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul” (7.1). Rashly he questions God’s perspective on man, wondering if man is a sea or sea monster needing to be controlled. (7.12). God is everywhere, which annoys Job. He can’t even escape God in sleep or dreams (7.13-14). Irrationality controls our thinking when suffering insomnia or a lack of rest. Job would rather be strangled than go on (7.15). And yet strangely – remember rationality has been forsaken – despite praying for God to kill him; now he prays God will leave him alone (7.16).

Then Job asks the question the entire Bible is written to answer; but he thinks the answer is contrary to reality: “What is man, that You think so highly of him and pay so much attention to him?” (7.17). He thinks divine curiosity with man brings destruction, just like how pagan gods interfered. While God’s care is contrary to reality; Job does not think this proves love. Job wonders why too much attention is paid to something so worthless. As in, why is a boy so interested in a bug then squashes it? “If I have sinned, what have I done to You, Watcher of mankind? Why have You made me Your target, so that I have become a burden to You?” (7.20). Job can’t see that God thinks so highly of mankind that He will send His Son as suffering’s final answer. Jesus will endure sin’s arrows, and drink the poisonous cup even though we have lived like maggots.

Prayer Challenge: Pray rashness and irrationality will not overcome in times of trial so that we blame God for our suffering and can’t see His love in His Son.

The Corinthians’ Supper

Sunday, January 25th, 2015

When something is wrong, you fix it. Negatively, you remove what is bad or corrupting. Positively, to correct what is wrong, you restore what is right. Think about that, no one would disagree; and yet when it comes to the Bible somehow the rules change. So the point of this lesson is simple: To correct what is wrong, restore what is right. This is exactly what the Holy Spirit inspires Paul to do in 1 Corinthians, specifically with the Lord’s Supper.

Not everything is wrong in the Corinthian congregation, but many things are. “1 Corinthians affords a better insight into the problems of a pioneer church than almost any other writing in the New Testament. Each problem was met by applying a spiritual principle rather than by recommending a psychological expedient” (Merrill C. Tenney, New Testament Survey, p.297). The spiritual problems are solved by spiritual solutions:

  • Look To the Cross
  • Listen to Authority
  • Learn to Love
  • Lift-up the Lowly
  • Live the Gospel
  • Levy Tough Love

Many of these are used in dealing with the Corinthians’ corruption of the Lord’s Supper and the Lord’s “Body.” Paul’s use of “instruction” (v.17) and the example of Jesus (vv.23-26) show that restoration of what is good and right is done by listening to authority. To use a modern day colloquialism, “book, chapter, and verse.” Paul also goes back to the cross in showing what the church supper is really about.

While there are many key phrases, one of them is “come together” (sunerchomai – 11:17,18,20,33,34; 14:23,26). While the church is by definition the “called out,” we are called out to come together. There are both good and bad, right and wrong, “better” and “worse” reasons to come together as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:17.

Notice the sinful irony in verse 18: “When you come together as a church there are divisions.” Coming together is the exact opposite of dividing. If you are coming to divide there is no reason for coming together. Stay home!

Notice the sarcasm in verse 19: “There must, indeed, be factions among you, so that those who are approved may be recognized among you.” Most people do not take this to be sarcastic, but I do. Paul does not say, “there must be factions so that those who are approved may be recognized by me.” He is not promoting divisions immediately after condemning them. He is condemning them for their factions because they think the divisions shows which ones are approved among themselves! In this case, the rich are approved and the poor, not so much.

What does Paul mean in 1 Corinthians 11:19 – “There must, indeed, be factions among you, so that those who are approved may be recognized among you.” Is this approval right and good? Or, is Paul again using sarcasm? Using the chiastic structure to interpret, consider the latter.

A – (17) Now in giving the following instruction I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse.

B – (18) For to begin with, I hear that when you come together as a church there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it.

C – (19) There must, indeed, be factions among you, so that those who are approved may be recognized among you.

D – (20) Therefore, when you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s Supper.

C’ – (21) For at the meal, each one eats his own supper ahead of others. So one person is hungry while another gets drunk!

B’ – (22) Don’t you have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you look down on the church of God and embarrass those who have nothing?

A’ – What should I say to you? Should I praise you? I do not praise you for this!

It is possible to keep points B and C together as one. Separating them keeps the word “church” in B/B’; and emphasizes in C/C’ that those who are approved among them eat while those not approved go hungry.

I think it is highly possible that Paul is not commending factions in v.19 as necessary so that those who are approved will be evident in a good way, but rather using sarcasm towards those who are approved in their own eyes, resulting in embarrassing or belittling those not approved in v.22.

Consider these other arguments besides the chiastic arrangement.

1. How Paul began the letter might influence this interpretation also (1 Cor.1:10-11). Why would Paul write to correct division and then approve it?

2. Plus in the beginning he does not doubt that there are divisions, but here he uses language that is not so certain in saying, “And in part I believe it.”  I think it is possible that Paul is turning this against the dividers, that instead of them using division to approve, Paul is saying if it is necessary you are the ones not approved.

3.  Elsewhere in both letters to the Corinthians, Paul uses sarcasm to make his point (1 Cor.4; 2 Cor.11).

4. 2 Corinthians 10:18 and 13:7 use the same word for “approved” (dokimos) and in both places the standard of approval is being condemned.

The problem is the Corinthians had turned the Lord’s Supper into their own supper; dividing the rich from the poor. The result is the unapproved poor had no unleavened bread or fruit of the vine to observe the Lord’s Supper; while the “approved” rich turned the Lord’s Supper into their own common supper. They had come together for the worse, division. Paul teaches again what Jesus meant by His supper. It is about unity, about the rich (Jesus), taking care of the poor (sinners) (2 Cor.8:9). When something is wrong; restore what is right.

Praying through the Bible #159 – Job 2-3 – A Prayer Asking Why

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

Waking up with something physically wrong with my right eye, I thought it was a stye. Hourly, my face’s right side deteriorated. Only 20 years old, I called home panicking and frightened. The entire right side of my face was becoming paralyzed. While traumatic, it was compounded by the fact I was considering becoming a preacher. How can I speak as God’s servant when I can’t even keep food from dribbling out of my mouth? One night I walked out, away from everyone, distraught. Looking up praying…suddenly I slapped my face as hard as I could. Whether just frustrated or mad at God, I don’t know. I was too confused. I do know many have suffered similar puzzling and perplexing emotions. One of whom is Job.

This is the second time Satan touches Job’s life. This test Satan thinks is worse than even losing children: (4) “Skin for skin!” Satan answered the LORD. “A man will give up everything he owns in exchange for his life” (Job 2.4). It’s frightening anything could be considered worse than a child’s death.

Job’s disease is uncertain but symptoms include boils from his head to his toes (2.7); appetite loss (3.24); and constant unease (3.26). Partial relief comes from lancing the boils with pottery shards (2.8). While Satan had taken Job’s children as a test, apparently as a test he leaves Job’s wife: “Do you still retain your integrity? Curse God and die!” (2.9). Job’ wife is the first to doubt his integrity (2.9). By saying this, she is blaming him for the loss of her children. It is beyond sad knowing Satan can use family as his servant. So far, “throughout all this Job did not sin in what he said” (2.10). The question for the rest of this book is, “While Job’s sin did not cause his suffering, will Job’s suffering cause him to sin?”

Job had good friends, or at least well intentioned. From a distance, Job is barely recognizable (2.12). After arriving, for seven straight days and nights all sit in silence (2.13). Finally the pall of silence is broken by Job. His words to his friends will turn into a prayer to God. He begins cursing his birth day (3.1). Job wished to be a miscarriage (3.16). Then Job’s words get precarious. Job’s words go beyond describing his physical predicament. Job’s words go beyond asking why suffering exists, as in, “why is light given to one burdened with grief, and life to those whose existence is bitter” (3.20). Job’s words get dangerously close to blasphemy: “Why is life given to a man whose path is hidden, whom God has hedged in?” (3.23). Before the first test, Satan claims God had built a hedge of protection around Job (1.10). After this second test Job now claims God had built a hedge of destruction around him. Job is mad at God. Job is saying he can’t escape his troubles; and its God’s fault!

Prayer Challenge: Pray about troubles. Pray asking why. But never blame God as being against us. We must accept that just like with Job, more is going on than we know.

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