In the south western region of Belgium, surrounding the city of Ypres is a remarkable set of World War I commerative sites, including cementaries, memorials, battlefield sites and more. A day long tour can take you to some of the most memorable sites along a series of front lines of both the British (and allied forces) and the opposing Germany armies. For four long years, the battles raged back and forth over mere metres and kilometres. LIttle changed from the beginning to the end fo the war. The front moved, in large measure, 4 times, back and forth.
The war was horrible. Conditions were terrible in the trenches. Chemical warfare was first used, and by both sides. Thousands died in single days, and 250,000 in 4 years. The vast majority of those killed are, as the grave markers say "known only to God." And lest you doubt the nature of original sin, you can see commerative plaques marked with bullet holes...from the next World War which took place just 20 years later. How could an entire continent go down the horrible path again, in such short time?
Seeing it all now one wonders about the nature of man, sin and 'his help.' What hope is there?
In today's readings, Psalm 124 says our help is from God. At the very first verse we read that if it had not been for the LORD being on the side, Israel would have lost. They would have been swallowed alive. The LORD protected them, as noted at v.6. V7 says they escaped like a bird from a trap, complete liberty! That is because of what we read at v8: God made heave and earth. That is the nature of the God, powerful to save, who does indeed save them.
God saved Israel in history, in real battles and wars. And he saves his chosen now, his 'called out.' It is a greater salvation, for eternity. Our help temperoally and for eternity is from the LORD.
In Acts 10 in today's readings we find the story of Cornelius. Cornelius was a centurion, of the Italian Cohort. This was a cohort of the Italian army, likely volunteer-citizens, someday from regions close by like Syria, who were stationed in the region for security purposes.
Cornelius is a God-fearer, someone who while not likely Jewish, respected the faith and adhere to its broader principles: fear God, give alms, pray. And here in Acts 10, he has a vision of an angel.
And his reaction is "And he stared at him in terror."
That is the reaction almost everywhere in scripture where an angel of the Lord appears to someone. Terror. Fear. Trembling. Falling down. That what it is to meet a heavenly being.
In our world, people talk about angels and even hearing God speak as if it is a sweet, light or ethereal experience. Rest assured, from the biblical witness, it would not be. It would result in terror and fear.
If you hear someone say they saw an angel, ask how quickly they fell face down in fear and terror.
In today's reading from Psalm 38, we learn that sins are like wounds, which stink and fester.
We often approach sin as simply a transgression of what we know/think God might otherwise want us to do, but only that. The true picture of sin - in our self-centredness - is hid from our eyes, minds and hearts. Psalm 38 counters that tendency to downplay what sin is, and the Psalmist here is honest to a fault.
Sin is grievous and serious, and the Psalmist feels the weight of it. He is weighed down, burdened, and grieved. The offence God takes against his sin is real.
When we sin, we either suppress it and move on, trusting in God's mercy and grace, or we deny altogether.
In Psalm 38, we have a more 'holistic' confession and recognition of the personal burden of sin, and the nature of the transgression against God.
But we do not need or have to stay down. At v9, the Psalmist is longing for the LORD, and his sighing is heard by God. At v15, he waits for God, and has confidence that God will answer. Confession is part of that, at v18. At vv21-22, he calls on God, confident in an answer.
God saves, from sin ultimately and in response to the burden of sin individually and personally.
R.C. Sproul is a gifted bible teacher, communicator, pastor and author. He is knowledgeable, well-educated, and very smart. That helps.
But a quote I heard from my mentor Dr John Patrick years ago also forms an important ingredient in Sprout's giftedness and effectiveness. American author Wendell Berry once wrote about a character Winnie Quinch, and he wrote "she loved books, and she loved children, and taught children by introducing the one to the other." That made her a great teacher.
R.C. Sprout loves God. He shares that love. And he loves, above all, the God of the Bible. He does not love God in the abstract, or with vague notions of God from impressions gathered in life. Hold that thought.
R.C. Sproul also loves the Bible of God. As a blurb on his book Knowing Scripture from JI Packer says, "The Bible excites him and his excitement is infectious." (That's where the blog title comes from.) The book is a layman's intro or brief interpretative guide on how to read the bible (not the why, though it helps!). It unpacks how to read and interpret, how to understand different genres, how to approach historical and didactic passages, how to understand culture commands vs moral, and so on. It is a very good book. Click here for the e-book on Amazon Canada.
As I read this book, my own excitement for the Bible and understanding its truths is enhanced. I love the Bible. I love it in its form (single column and double, good leather - and bad? - small, large, with notes and without, in chronological and traditional organization, and on it goes). That's why the Bible Design blog is among the favourite links to the right.
Above all, I love the God of the Bible. I love to read about him, to see how he is working. I love to see pearls of truth appear from reading from various portions of Scripture, to see how the unified whole reveals a consistent, purposeful, loving, and merciful God. I have read the bible (relatively) regularly my whole Christian walk, but less than I should. The times I have read it most regularly have been the best. Reading it more opens it more, enhances understanding, and - here's the kicker - allows me to know God more. I feel it in my walk, the 'benefits' (I am not trying to make a utilitarian argument here) of reading Scripture. Reading scripture is spending time with God.
Our call in the Christian faith is to know Jesus, to know God. That is relational. It is about the relationship, not only knowledge about God. We know God through the bible. That is where we get the truth about who God is, what he has done in history, and is doing in the church. By reading the bible, we know more about God, yes. But we also know God more, in a pure relational sense.
Delighting in God, as Sproul does, means delighting in his Word to us, as Sproul also does. If we find our relationship with God dry, then I venture to say we have not been excited by and delighted in God's truth, the bible (Psalm 119).
We must love God. To do that in truth, we must love the God of the Bible. That is saying the same thing. The one true God is the God of the Bible.
That is done, Christian, when we love and delight in the Bible of God.
The Bible is the word of God, his revelation of truth. It tells us who we are, who God is and what his plans for us are. It reveals an ethic for living, and why and how we are to trust in Jesus for salvation. People have been challenging the bible (in its current compiled form and before) for centuries, and yet it stands.
In today's readings in Acts 8, we read about Philip being led by the Spirit to meet and preach to a court official of Candace, Queen of the Ethiopians. So the question arises? Is Candace a historical person? If the bible is recording events that occurred at a point in time and history, what of Candace?
A quick search tells us there was no Candace, Queen of the Ethiopians in that era. 'Aha,' the critics cry, 'another nail in the coffin of bible reliability.'
Not so fast. It does not take long to ground this person in history.
The NET Bible is a great resource, a translation of the bible providing translation and interpretative helps verse by verse. I have been using it for years, as an important tool to unpack the English translation. forHere is what they say about what they achieved:
"The NET Bible is a completely new translation of the Bible with 60,932 translators’ notes! It was completed by more than 25 scholars – experts in the original biblical languages – who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. Turn the pages and see the breadth of the translators’ notes, documenting their decisions and choices as they worked. The translators’ notes make the original languages far more accessible, allowing you to look over the translator’s shoulder at the very process of translation. This level of documentation is a first for a Bible translation, making transparent the textual basis and the rationale for key renderings (including major interpretive options and alternative translations). This unparalleled level of detail helps connect people to the Bible in the original languages in a way never before possible without years of study of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek."
So, what does the NET bible say about 'Candace' of Acts 8:27? Here are the notes on this verse:
"83tn Or “the Candace” (the title of the queen of the Ethiopians). The term Κανδάκης (Kandakh") is much more likely a title rather than a proper name (like Pharaoh, which is a title); see L&N 37.77. A few, however, still take the word to be the name of the queen (L&N 93.209). BDAG 507 s.v. Κανδάκη, treats the term as a title and lists classical usage by Strabo (Geography 17.1.54) and others.
sn Candace was the title of the queen of the Ethiopians. Ethiopia refers to the kingdom of Nubia in the northern Sudan, whose capital was Meroe (not to be confused with Abyssinia, which was later called Ethiopia and converted to Christianity in the 4th century a.d.). Classical writers refer to several queens of Meroe in the 1st century b.c. and 1st century a.d. who had the title Candace (Kandake). The Candace referred to here was probably Amantitere, who ruled a.d. 25-41.
Some translations actually use the title, Kandake, not Candace. Our problem in reading Candace is that it is a modern name, and Ethiopia is a modern country, formerly Abyssinia. But it just takes a little work to unpack the bible to our greater understanding. Other characters in the bible are also real, in time and place in history: Pontius Pilate, Herod, Caesar Augustus. So too, 'Kandake', or more properly, Amantitere.
For more on the NET bible, click here. Various downloads (MS Word, Kindle, etc,) are available here.
In today's readings in 1 Samuel 8, we come to a pivotal and disturbing point in the history of God's chosen people, Israel. After having been called out, chosen and redeemed and in a covenantal relationship with God, the people of Israel decide, 'we want a king.'
Israel did have not a king to this point. They had prophets and judges appointed by God. The nations around them had kings. Kings, as Samuel warned them, would take their sons for chariot drivers, others for labourers on the land, daughters for cooks. Kings would take their land, and a tenth of their remaining production. In short, the people will become slaves to kings (1 Samuel 8:10-17). ` Who wants that? Despite the warning, the people of Israel did.
Samuel, God's chose judge, warned them, but the people wanted a king, for several apparent reasons seen in the text.
1. They wanted a king to judge and lead them in battle, 1 Samuel 8:5,20. This was a slap in the face to Samuel, who judged them. They did not need a king. We will soon see in addition to Samuel, they already had a very good king! They did not need a king to lead them, because they had just defeated the Philistines in battle. (1 Samuel 7:10) Because the Lord had thundered! But still they want a king to judge and lead them for battle?! (1 Samuel 8:20)
2. They wanted a king to judge them because Samuel was old and his sons (who would arguably replace him) did not walk in God's ways, 1 Samuel 8:4. This is deception. They had already seen how God had dealt with Eli's sons who were coming after him but were failing to walk as their father had. They had reason to trust that God would 'protect' them and ensure that Samuel's sons did not become judges, that God would deal with them as he had with Eli's sons. That is conjecture perhaps, but we do know the elders of Israel did not ask or pray for new or better judges to replace Samuel. They just wanted a king.
3. They wanted a king to be like the other nations, 1 Samuel 8:5 and 8:20 (the latter verse reads "that we may be like all the nations." God had called out his people precisely to be different from the other nations. Repeatedly they are told 'do not be like the other nations.' And here, so soon, they say 'we want to be like them. in this regard, to have a king.' How could they?
4. They wanted a king because they were rejecting God, 1 Samuel 8:7. Samuel is no doubt dismayed by the request of the elders, but God tells him "Obey the voice of the people...for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them." God goes on to place all this in the context of everything that has happened since he brought them out of Egypt, forsaking him and serving other gods.
We should not be amazed, because we would have been doing the same thing. We do the same thing now. We reject God's ways, we want to emulate the world, we want what the world has, we ultimately, in our sin, reject God.
The great battle in life is to walk with God and in his ways, or not. It is to want him, or not. We have a king, who reigns, leads, protects and judges.
Early in the history of the church, as seen in Acts 6 in today's readings, the role of teachers and preachers in the church is given as distinct from others who have ministry roles.
Luke, the writer of Acts, tells us about a gathering of 'the twelve' and a larger number of disciples, to decide who would assist in distributing charity to widows in need, Acts 6:1-2. But at v4 the apostles say "We will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word."
Many church ministers are cast in multiple roles as community organizers, social workers, planners and the like. Their real role is thereby neglected, which is to be devoted to prayer and the ministry of the word. Inasmuch as other aspects of 'church life' require pastoral engagement, all is good. But ministers should feel free to say to their churches, "I will devote myself to prayer and the ministry of the word."
The 'ministry of the word' is also called, more simply, preaching the word of God (v2). That is what ministers should have as a priority. That is what churches should recognize and free their ministers to do.
As John Piper points out in a sermon on this text, the effect of not abandoning the ministry of the word is then seen at v7, where we read "And the word of God continued to increase." Devotion to the ministry of the word will have its fruit.
Giving up preaching the word (v2), in a great understatement, was not deemed to have been a good call Indeed.
Churches, free your ministers to be devoted to prayer and the ministry of the word!
In today's readings in Acts 5 the apostles insist on preaching, whatever the risks.
As it says in the previous chapter at 4:33, "with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus." At 5:32, they say "we are witnesses to these things..." (and hence we must speak). They can not be stopped. When they had been imprisoned earlier, 5:18-20, an angel of the Lord freed them from prison, and said "Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life." What would you do?!
The boldness of the apostles and disciples to speak in the face of the great risk to themselves - imprisonment, beating - is remarkable. They are bold to speak. They say at Acts 5:29 "We must obey God rather then men." At Acts 5:41, after just having been beating for preaching and speaking the truth, they "left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name [Jesus]." And they kept speaking and teaching: "they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus."
They were bold to speak, insistent on testifying to what they had seen despite the risks (real, not imagined or future...again, they had already been imprisoned and beaten), and what is more, counting it an hour to suffer dishonor for the name of Jesus.
Some thoughts. First, there are some in the world who truly suffer for the name of Jesus. We should learn their stories and pray for them. There are people in the 'free west' who lose jobs, for example. There are people in the developing world who lose their lives, who risk life and limb. We should stand with them.
Second, for our reflection, are we ready to count it dishonor when it comes time to suffer for the name of Jesus, in whatever way come to us? To stand up in seemingly small ways, at the office, with family or friends, to defend the honor of the faith, the church, and Jesus? To stand up in big ways? To consider how we witness? Our lifestyle choices? Choosing to risk being labeled 'geeks for the gospel'?
Jesus preached in the sermon on the mount that we are blessed when other revile us and persecute us and utter evil against us on his account. Rejoice and be glad, he said, for so they persecuted the prophets. (Matthew 5:11-12)
Worth reflecting on.
In today's readings we find Psalm 37. The margin note in my bible reads "He [God] will not forsake his saints." I think it could be easily changed to "A paradigm for faithful living." Paradigm means a pattern, model or template. A paradigm for life would be simply a way to live, a pattern or template for living. Psalm 37 struck me as that this morning.
It contains warnings about a most common 'enemy' of life, for all of us. The Psalm starts with a warning not to worry about evildoers, not to be envious of them. We all know wrong that we would not do, that we would judge truly wrong and face no temptation regarding. But we also know wrong that we would secretly say of, 'I would do it if I would not get caught, or did not have a conscience. I wish I would do what they do.' The Psalmist says not to be envious of wrongdoers, and if we are honest, we fall into this. We should be honest with ourselves, admit the temptation and nip it.
The counter to it appears in the verses that follow the opening, at vv2-4. The Psalmist says to trust in LORD, do good, and he will act.
That 'trusting' and 'doing of good' are further unpacked at v5 and 7, where we read the instruction to commit your way to the LORD, to trust him, and be still before him.
Trust in God is a key element in the fight against sin, and for righteousness. I have read before that all sin is really a belief that greater delight is in the sin and not God. Sin is at its core a lack of trust in what God says is good and better for us, just like when children fail to obey their parents because they prefer the delight of the disobedience they want to engage in, and fail to trust their parents' bigger picture and great understanding. (Going to bed now will mean you are able to get out of bed in the morning; brushing your teeth will make visits to the dentist more enjoyable!, cleaning up your room will reduce frustration when looking for things, etc).
God wants us to delight in him. A key moment of progress or enlightenment in the walk of faith is recognizing and savouring the greater delight we have in God in comparison to anything else in this world. That includes being patient (v7 and 34).
The command of faith is to 'delight yourself in God.' (v4) That makes the Christian life and the fight of faith, in the words of John Piper, a fight for the greater delight we can and should have in God. That is why the Psalmist counsels against sin and contrasts it with trusting in God, and delighting in him.
"It’s a fight to believe God’s promises of happiness over the false promises of happiness we hear from the world, our fallen flesh, and the devil. And yes, it often involves denying ourselves pleasure, but only denying ourselves a lesser, viler pleasure in order to have a much higher pleasure..."
That's what Psalm 37 seems to unpack, to my reading this morning. Don't go after or envy evildoers (v1), or materialism, (v16), Our present day security and future eternal security lie in trusting and taking refuge in our greater delight, God, and in his ways.
John Piper, again:
"Fight for the right joy! There is greater joy in God than you’ve yet known. Don’t give up. Don’t settle for the lesser joys. Make it your aim to be a full, unashamed, bold Christian Hedonist! Pursue your pleasure in God, the greatest Treasure that exists, with all your heart (Matthew 22:37). “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21)."
Today is Easter, or Resurrection Day, the day we remember, commemorate and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the grave. Jesus is the Messiah. He is the passover lamb, who died to atone for the sins of God's people.
As I reflected on this today, I was thinking about something to share (in our 5 day reading plan, we read Sunday's readings on Friday, so there are usually no posts on Sundays). I considered 'the word made flesh,' thinking to find something along those lines, bringing together the word, the Bible, which this blog is about (or more correctly, the God of the Bible), and Christ's resurrection.
Instead, I came across a story in The Spectator of a painting by Hans Holbein is Jesus in the grave, called "The Dead Christ in the Tomb." As the story notes, we have lots of paintings of Christ before his crucifixion, or on the cross, or resurrected. Few show him in the tomb, dead.
It is a graphic picture, and we might be inclined to say it is inappropriate for this day. But as I read about and looked at it, it seemed appropriate. He was dead. Dead. But as Scripture tells is, at 1 Corinthians 15:55-57: "Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
Reflect on his death, real and vivid as captured by Holbein. And give thanks: he died, was buried and was resurrected. "Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
Derek Butler - I am a Christian, husband, father, son, brother, friend, reader, et al, all inadequately. This blog is a tool to encourage daily bible reading, for myself and others.
Click above to access the 5 Day Reading Plan used here. I am using the 5 readings Monday through Friday, with other postings on topics of interest Saturdays and Sundays.
Some Favorite Sites
Desiring God Ministries
Bible Design Blog
Calvary Baptist Church