Tag Archives: Bible

On the Cusp of the Promised Land

Twelve leaders of the people went in to spy out the land before going in to take it.

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Ten of those leaders said “no,” it can’t be done. There’s giants there. The enemy is too big. It’s too much work. It’s more comfortable here. It’ll cost too much. Take too much sacrifice.

Two of the leaders said “yes.” God has promised to be with us and to give it to us.

The people listened to the ten, and as a result they all remained in the desert, wandering, for 40 years.

This is the story we read in Numbers 13-14. For leaders of the church – pastors, elders, board members, deacons – this is a serious story. Because we have that decision to make too: to say “yes” to what God is doing and wants to do, or to say “no.” The naysayers’ arguments will always be logical, practical, and appeal to our sense of security. Change is hard work. Change is unknown.

But the stakes are high. The cost of listening to the naysayers is remaining in the desert. With the Promised Land within reach. And more than that, with the Promised Land given and, well, promised, by God. Along with His promise to never leave us or forsake us (Is. 41:10). Along with Jesus’ promise that in fact, we would do greater works than He did while on earth, with faith and obedience (John 14:12).

Saying “yes” doesn’t mean it will be easy, of course. We still have to fight. We still have to work. It will require change and sacrifice – not just as a church or a leadership team, but as individuals too.

But saying yes will be worth it.

Saying yes is how we will see our churches on fire for Jesus, passionately living for Him. Passionately telling others about Him.

The question before each of us is: how will you answer?

 

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Discipleship in the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price

The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it (Matthew 13:45-46).

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The merchant sold all he had for the pearl of great value because he was able to recognize its value and beauty. Once he possessed it, however, he was functionally poor (in the sense he couldn’t buy food, clothes, pay rent, etc).

This parable is not about using God to become wealthy, but it’s about the worth of the Kingdom of God – the worth of ‘possessing’ Jesus.

In the parable, the merchant sees its worth. Now, in order for him to become a merchant, and to be able to recognize the worth of the pearl, he had to be taught. He had to apprentice under someone (probably his father, in that culture).

This is where we see the importance of discipleship in the Christian life. Teaching, but also modelling and apprenticing others in the ways and teachings of Jesus, “teaching them to obey everything [He] commanded…” (Matt. 28:20).

The challenge for all Christians is to see the beauty and glory of Jesus so much that we devote our lives to Him, “selling all that we have,” and “taking up our cross daily and following Him.” And the job of mature Christians is to help others  in the church to see Jesus properly (that is, to see His beauty, glory, and inestimable worth). This is especially true for church leaders – elders, deacons, teachers, worship and small group leaders, and of course, even the pastors.

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Having said that, we can only train others as far as we ourselves have gone. If I’ve only studied to learn about the size, colour, and shape of pearls, then that will be all I can teach and show. I won’t be able to teach about the lustre, surface quality, or nacre quality of them.

The other aspect of this is that being able to see Jesus’ true worth is a gift and grace from God. So maybe it’s not so much teaching and modelling to others how to see Jesus, but to see Him better, or, to see Him more accurately.

And so the challenge for me then is to know Jesus intimately and recognize His presence, work, glory, and beauty in and around me and in and around the life of those around me, in order to point them to Jesus to be able to recognize Him better themselves.

And as we see the glory of Jesus, we are changed more and more to be like Him (2 Cor. 3:18).

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Being Seen in Order to See

Nathanael

As they approached, Jesus said, “Now here is a genuine son of Israel—a man of complete integrity.” “How do you know about me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus replied, “I could see you under the fig tree before Philip found you.” Then Nathanael exclaimed, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God—the King of Israel!” Jesus asked him, “Do you believe this just because I told you I had seen you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this John 1:47-50.

Jesus saw into Nathaniel’s heart, then when Nathaniel was awed by that Jesus promised he would see even greater things than that.

God already knows everything about us, including what’s in our hearts: “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight…” (Heb. 4:13), and “People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). Yet like Adam and Eve, we try to hide from God anyway. It’s too uncomfortable to allow God to see everything about us. It’s too exposed.

But if we do, if we willingly be transparent before Him, what great things our eyes will be opened too – we will see Jesus as Lord like never before, and we will see what He is doing in the events and people around us more and more too.

We’ll better see what He’s doing within our own hearts, too, and He will continually reveal more and more darkness that He wants us to bring to the Light for healing, and forgiveness, and freedom.

We’ll see with new eyes, beyond the physical realm and into the spiritual world beneath the surface of things.

But since our inclination is to hide instead, how do we do it? How do we open ourselves up to God? “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4:10). That means submitting to His commands and seeking Him through prayer, scripture, and the community of believers, the local church.

When we do, we will be more effective agents for His kingdom and glory regardless of our occupations or vocations.

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Fire, Light, and Food: A List of Biblical Images for the Word of God

The Bible is full of imagery, and a lot of imagery about itself, the word(s) of God.*

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One of the reasons why is because the imagery points to an invisible reality behind the words of God. They are not mere words, but there is a spiritual element to them. They are powerful and transformative. So when the author of Hebrews says “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires,” the author means that as we read the Bible it does something to us that a normal book can’t in the same way.

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This is probably not an exhaustive list, but I haven’t seen any others like it. What invisible reality do you think some of the images point to?

Images that have to do with Judgement/Destruction

Fire – Jeremiah 23:29; 20:9; 5:14

Hammer – Jeremiah 23:29**

Sword – Hebrews 4:12; Ephesians 6: 17; Revelation 1:16; 2:16; 19:15; Hosea 6:5; Isaiah 49:2

Mirror – James 1:25

Detail shot of hammer forging hot iron at anvil

Images that have to do with Life/Growth/Riches:

Nourishing Food – Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4; Hebrews 5:12-14; Isaiah 55:1-3; Jeremiah 3:15; 23:28;  1 Timothy 4:6

Light – Psalm 119:105, 130; Proverbs 6:23; 2 Peter 1:19

Honey – Psalm 119:103; Proverbs 24:13-14; Psalm 19:10

Milk – 1 Peter 2:2; Hebrews 5:12-14

Water – Ephesians. 5:25b-26; John 15:3

Seed – 1 Peter 1:23; Luke 8:11

Worker’s Tool – 2 Timothy 2:15

Midwife – James 1:18

God’s Breath – 2 Timothy 3:16

Silver, Gold & Jewels – Psalm 119:72, 127; 19:10; Proverbs 8:10, 11; 3:14-15

Honey-comb

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*I’m not distinguishing between logos and rhema for the purposes of this post.

**fire and a hammer can also be used for growth – we burn forests so new growth can happen, and demolish old buildings for new.

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A Parable about Reading Scripture

What can I compare to reading the Bible? It is like a famous and talented chef, who went to a city and opened up a restaurant. Every day he would prepare unique, delicious, and exquisitely prepared meals for free to all who would eat them.

Exquisite Meal

The rich of the city never went, since they were always full on their own food.

Of those who recognized the generosity and value of the chef’s meals were three people:

One man would come every day and take a tiny fork-full of the meal and swallow it without chewing, and then would rush on to his day’s work.

One woman would only come once in a while, but when she came she would eat as much food as she could. She always thanked and complimented the chef and say how much she loved eating his food, but then would disappear for a long time before she came to his restaurant to gorge herself again.

Finally, one man would come for a meal every day, and take his time eating the meal and tasting and savouring every bite, and getting to know the chef personally, then would go on to his day’s work with the energy it gave him.

Now, who do you think the chef appreciated the most? Let them who have a heart to obey, obey.

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Of Quakers and Their Ways: A Brief Review of “Quaker Faith & Practice”

I’ve always been interested in reading how different “streams” of Christianity practice their faith, and last year read the “Hutterite Confession of Faith” (see my review here) which was great. So when I saw “Quaker Faith and Practice” on Amazon, I wanted to pick it up. Unfortunately, the Canadian version was unavailable, but I picked up the British fifth edition (and I’m curious what the differences in content are, if much. The Canadian one seems paired down in comparison though).

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Subtitled “The Book of Christian Discipline of the Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain”

One thing I found surprising right off the bat was a lack of the history of the Quakers; how they came to be called that, when and by who they were founded, etc. The introduction was a history of the manual itself only. In that way, this book really is a manual for Quakers themselves who (presumably) know this history already. This information is readily available on Wikipedia of course, but reading it from a Quaker perspective would have been insightful. Because of that I won’t say much more about their beginnings here beyond to say that the term “Quaker” began as a derogatory term, but over time gained acceptance amongst their practitioners (who also call themselves “The Society of Friends”).

Listening as Essential to Worship

As a non-Quaker, I found the parts on the necessity of listening in silence until God speaks, especially in community, to be fascinating. I knew of the Quaker practice in their worship gatherings already, but reading the ideas behind it (especially the emphasis on doing it in community – not as individuals in the same room but doing it together) encouraged me to continue trying to practice it in my own life, both on my own and to now include others when I can.

Photo: Stephen Coles

Photo: Stephen Coles

True silence… is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment.” William Penn (2.14)

Worship is our response to an awareness of God. We can worship alone, but when we join with others in expectant waiting we may discover a deeper sense of God’s presence.” Advices and Queries (1.02/8)

The sections “Meeting for Worship” (2.35 ff), “The Sense of the Meeting” (3.02 ff), and “Our Community” (10.01 ff) were also worthwhile readings.

I skipped past all the business regulation items, of course, it having no relation to me; however, the fact that they aim to conduct business meetings as they do their times of worship is great – and one day if I’m in a church business meeting (and am able to) will introduce this idea to the participants.

Concerning Direction

I was very saddened to read of all the more liberal theological & moral ideas that has seeped into Quakerism; They mentioned it was introduced at the Manchester Conference in 1895 (19.60), and not as a bad thing. And so God is sometimes referred to in terms like “whatever he is to us,” or as a non-personal seeming “inward Light.” The Bible was seen as a non-authoritative book by some sections (which, when compared to Jesus/The Holy Spirit I agree it is subservient. George Fox is quoted saying “If we did not have the Scriptures… Jesus is enough” which I like), and personal experience of the Light as superseding it. My own thought on this is that, while God is bigger than the Bible and will still speak to us outside of the Bible today (as Quakers teach), he will never contradict the Bible (which some sections in this document disagree with).

While this book is meant to be a manual, there are a lot of personal testimonies and anecdotes included in each section from Quakers throughout history; the writers were careful to include both men and women and non-Europeans when they could. These were fascinating, but because of what I found in my previous comment, I tended to skip many of them that were post-1700’s.

Of course, like in every denomination, not all Friends are theologically liberal and not all of them are conservative, but either way they are a part of the global Body of Christ and their voice is worth listening to and engaging with and learning from.

Recommended Quaker Authors

On the plus side, reading this document has inspired me to seek out other Quaker writings, such as those by George Fox (the founder), Thomas Kelly (his “Testament of Devotion” being on my to-read list for some time already) and William Penn. Interestingly, as I was writing this review I learned that Dallas Willard was a Quaker (I’m reading his “Divine Conspiracy” right now & recommend it). I’ve also loved Richard Foster’s works, another Quaker, especially “Streams of Living Water” and the more famous “Celebration of Discipline,” both of which I highly recommend.

Obligatory Quaker Oats Pic.

Obligatory Quaker Oats Pic.

It turns out that there is a Winnipeg Quaker fellowship. I’ve wanted to check it out in the past, and after reading “Quaker Faith and Practice” I’m honestly not sure if I want to anymore (and after snooping around on their website). Besides, if I did, I’d have to get over my feeling of intimidation in going too!

So, in conclusion there are some valuable ideas in “Quaker Faith and Practice” that I will refer back to and continue to learn from and practice in my life, but as a non-Quaker I wouldn’t recommend it overall, and especially not to an immature believer.

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Expanding Our God-in-the-Box

You put God in a box. And so do I.

We don’t do it on purpose, or even consciously, of course, but because we are finite beings it’s impossible for us not to. And all our boxes look different; they’re constructed by our upbringing and our church backgrounds (or lack thereof); by our relationships and our media consumption; by the way we read Scripture and pray (or don’t do those); and by a host of other things which would be impossible to name them all.

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These boxes say “God is like this, but not like that” or “God does this, but doesn’t do that” and such things. And invariably they contain both a lot of truth about God and a lot of untruth, even lies.

But because our boxes are all made up differently and because we all carry one, one of the great things that I’ve noticed about including more people into my life and into the groups I’m part of is that our “God-in-the-boxes” crash against each other. And as they crash together my box actually expands and grows – even splinters, and cracks open. And God becomes bigger in my life. Becomes more of who He is and who He wants to be in my life.

Now, if this is true for me then I can reasonably expect that it is also true for you. While this doesn’t mean we will always agree with everyone, which is a good thing, it does mean that we don’t need to be hesitant to include others. Rather, we should be eager to do so, knowing that we will see more of God because of them.

It also means that we need to learn to listen well. Not to discount or shrug people off when they don’t agree with us. Part of what breaks our boxes as they collide is our differing opinions. So, what does the Indigenous Christian, or the Latino Christian, or the Indian or African or other non-Western Christian say about God? What does the Calvinist or the Arminian say about Him? What do poor or wealthy Christians say? What do LGBQT Christians say about God, even?

One of the beautiful things about the Kingdom of God is its diversity – which we’ll finally experience to its full extent at the End of Time, when we’ll be able to say with St. John:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!””

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