Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Looking For a City

 For he (Abraham) was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” Heb.11:10 (NIV).

Disclaimer. As I wrote this piece the Southern Gospel song of the same title ran through my head. For those who know me and my marked dislike of this music genre, if you hear me humming that tune please, stage an intervention.

What was he thinking? Abraham received his inheritance, the Promised Land (verse 9) yet lived as an alien. A nomad in his own country, Abraham never put down roots. He was on a quest, the search for a particular city.

Urban areas weren't unusual at this time. Cain built the first city and named it for his son Enoch (not the Enoch of Heb. 11:5). What captured Abraham's attention wasn't located in the temporal realm. Where did he come up with such a crazy idea?

The longevity of early man provided subsequent generations opportunity to receive first hand accounts from their ancestors, including Adam and Eve's experience in the garden. Lamech, Noah's father could have spoken to his grandfather and passed on what he'd learned to his son.

Noah's great-grandfather was the Enoch of Heb.11:5. Enoch's son Methuselah lived right up to the time of the flood so Noah would have had a direct access through his grandfather to learn of Enoch's adventures with God. While the Book of Enoch isn't part of the canon of scripture in the West, it was well known to the ancients. It is the most quoted book in the New Testament and a very interesting read.

Abraham descended from Noah's son Shem and according to Jewish history lived in Shem's home for an extended period of time. Here he learned about the one true God. In degrees of separation, Noah was four away from Adam and two from Enoch. My point, the possibility of accurate oral transmission of actual historical events to Abraham was high.

Abraham was neither born again or spirit filled, but he had more dramatic, personal encounters with God than the average Christian. So focused on the eternal city, Abraham never set up a permanent abode. He refused to be tethered to the temporal that would hinder his pursuit of the spiritual. He had a stronger grasp of the supernatural than most believers today. I need a page from his book.

Paul talked about the object of Abraham's quest, the Jerusalem above, in Galatians 4:26. This is a real place. Even today in Israel paintings of Jerusalem below and above are very popular. They know it is right above them.

The bible is filled with accounts of ordinary people with extraordinary experiences, those who hungered for what couldn't be accessed through the natural senses. Has the church's withdrawal from the things in the spirit and the supernatural realms sent people searching for answers in new age practices and even witchcraft? Is it time for believers to revisit, reclaim and restore their spiritual heritage to its rightful place?

How about you? How would your walk with God change if it contained a more spiritual component like Abraham's? If you caught a glimpse of the city he pursued would it change your attitude toward the temporal world? Are you ready for a business-not-as-usual Christian experience?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Choices, Choices

"For now I could have sent my hand and stricken you and your people with the pestilence and you would have been obliterated from the earth. However, for this I have let you endure, in order to show you My strength and so that My name may be declared throughout the world"
Ex. 9:15-16 Tanach.

"And now send, gather in your livestock and everything you have in the field; all the people and animals that are found in the field that are not gathered into the house - the hail shall descend upon them and they shall die"
Ex. 9:19 Tanach.

The landscape looked like the aftermath of a cataclysmic holocaust. All of Egypt was in ruins devastated by hail and falling fire (Jewish scholars consider that a miracle in itself; fire ascends not descends). Anything living, man or beast, caught outside died. Trees, plants and grasses were gone. Momentarily Pharaoh came to his senses. "This time I have sinned" Ex. 9:27 Tanach.

Nowhere does the Bible record celebrations in Goshen. Their location made the Israelites immune to the misfortunes that fell on the Egyptians. No fists pumping in the air and high fives. Also noteworthy was God's attitude toward His adversaries.

The plague before the hail and fire was lethal, wiping out Egyptian livestock. God told Pharaoh that this same plague could have been extended to him personally and to all the Egyptians. Why did God spare them? He wanted them to have another opportunity to get to know Him. Eliminating them completely wouldn't have enhanced recognition of Him throughout the world...just the opposite would have occurred.

Now another plague was bearing down on Egypt. God warned Pharaoh to take preventive measures to minimize the damage. Some of Pharaoh's own servants got the memo, took God's advice and were spared the hail and fire's destructive power. Those who didn't lost everything-again.

Opposed to being ready, willing and eager to crush His enemies, God took extraordinary measures to spare the Egyptians the consequences of their actions against His people. His desire to see men saved is greater than His need to see them punished. Don't misunderstand, the plagues still came. Their impact was horrible, but a way of escape had been extended.

Today, just like then, it is all about choice. God's more eager to populate Heaven than Hell but He leaves the disposition of that matter in the hands of each individual. He'll do everything short of making the decision for us. Choose wisely. He doesn't remove the consequences if we get it wrong.

How about you? How, if at all, do these passages of Scripture change your understanding of God's interest in His enemy's welfare? What situation and/or people oppose you and how can you extend mercy to them? When you see your enemies receive the reward of their actions, what should your response be?

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Burn Baby Burn

"I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled? But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and now I am straightened til it be accomplished" Luke 12:49-50

For those old enough to remember, R&B disc jockey Magnificent Montague's phrase "Burn baby burn" was associated with the 1965 Watt's riots. Based on the tone of their remarks, I think some Christians have adopted this posture also. Those who love hellfire and brimstone may find this passage in Luke is something they can sink their teeth into. Or not.

The insights for this piece were gleaned from David Bivin and Roy Blizzard, Jr's book: Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus - New Insights From a Hebraic Perspective. The authors devoted several pages to the verses above and I'll attempt to capsulate their thoughts.

Translation is a tricky business. Sentence structure, verb tenses, regional dialects and idioms make capturing what's expressed difficult. If some one attempted to translate my journal notation, "Today the market took a dead cat bounce" where would they begin?

People fluent in English but unfamiliar with stock market terminology would be hard pressed to understand my writing. What if that person was required to translate my statement into another language. They could erroneous come to the conclusion that I have a vendetta against felines. They may try to ascertain how high a dead cat would bounce and what conditions would be necessary to facilitate such action. Without careful research, all sorts of crazy, off-the-wall interpretations could be ascribed to my words and none would describe the market's movement.

Bivin and Blizzard believe, based on sentence structure, patterns of description and the fact that the most of the writers of the New Testament were Jewish, that originally much of what we now have written in Greek was originally translated from Hebrew. If true, and their research is compelling, most who read the New Testament do so third hand. How does this apply to the passage in Luke? Their understanding from a Hebraic perspective reads as follows:

"My task,' Jesus said, 'is to set the world on fire. This I am doing. The earth is burning. I have already begun to sow the seeds of judgment, and one day there will be a  final judgment. But I do not look forward to that Day of Judgment, that final moment - the moment of my return - when men will no longer have a chance to accept me as Lord. How could I wish for that! I am required to baptize the earth, to judge the world. That is the task I've been given by my Father. But in the meantime, until that judgment is complete, how difficult it is for me! How I agonize as some men decide to become my disciples and others decide to reject my messianic claim."  page 98

Verses 51-53 of that passage in Luke provide additional clarification of Luke 12:49-50.

Sounds very different from what we normally read, doesn't it? It has an entirely different voice; one of reluctance and sadness, not one of anticipation to set things straight.

In conclusion, what if Bivin and Blizzard's translation is correct? If Jesus isn't really looking forward with excitement to Judgment Day coming sooner rather than later, should we His disciples think differently?

Tuesday, August 4, 2015


"So Moses spoke accordingly to the Children of Israel; but they did not heed Moses, because of shortness of breath and hard work."  Exodus 6:9  Tanach

Their workload was already grueling and monotonous. Now thanks to their newly arrived deliverer Moses, life was exponentially harder. Pharaoh interpreted God's demand to release the people for a three-day worship service as laziness. Since the slaves had so much spare time on their hands, they could gather the straw needed and maintain their daily quota of bricks. Despite God's assurance of deliverance and the revelation of his previously unknown name Hashem (Merciful), the Israelites were too exhausted to receive God's word. Sound familiar?

I doubt anyone reading this is actually a slave, but many might feel that way. Some struggle under the weight of crushing circumstances. Stressful jobs, severe financial shortages, chronic health issues, dysfunctional families, loneliness and hopelessness are real issues. Harsh task masters come in many flavors, all bitter to swallow. Tired of life, some would love to stop the world and get off. Just like the Israelites they are too overworked, worn out and discouraged to hear what God is saying. Nothing new.

The enemy employs this tactic successfully in different iterations. Slavery's fine but a bit too obvious. Create a system that promises power, success, wealth, happiness and people jump on board voluntarily. Once committed, keep them engaged with opportunities that offer more. Throw in some unexpected curve balls that bring increased pressures and there's no time or energy left over for God. Works every time.

There's a solution, but it comes with a price. Salvation and reconciliation with God is free, no strings attached. It cannot be purchased or earned.

"Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom though it cost you all you have; get it" Proverbs 4:7.

Written by Solomon the wisest man who ever lived, the words seem paradoxical and are true. The free gift comes with a cost. To receive all salvation contains requires change on our part. We need to learn a brand new way of living which means we need to relinquish things, even good things in order to acquire what is best. It's called sacrifice.

Establishing new priorities can be expensive on many fronts. It may cost us the time and energy spent on amassing more and higher grade possessions, the pursuit of leisure activities and so forth. God's not against us having nice things and times of relaxation. The problem comes when life is so full of the quest for these things that He is squeezed out.

How about you?  Are you amply supplied or barely getting by, which is just another of the devil's methods? What are you willing to pay for a vital, intimate relationship with God? Are there good things you can let go of in order to attain what's best?