Thursday past I started doing something a little different. I might slip back into old patterns, but I made a change. See if you can catch it.
I wrote: "At Luke 1:50, Mary says "And his mercy is for those who fear him." But later at 1:74, Zechariah, John the Baptist's father, says "that...we might serve him [God] without fear.""
This was what I had originally wrote: "In Luke 1:50, Mary says "And his mercy is for those who fear him." But later in 1:74, Zechariah, John the Baptist's father, says "that...we might serve him [God] without fear."
Yes, I have substituted the word in with the word at. Here is my thinking behind it.
Verses are not divine, nor are the chapter references. They are very helpful, and were all added much later after the bible was written. Yet too many Christians - consciously or otherwise - approach them as if they are inherent to the text. We read the bible as if the verses are the defaults, and the bible is a stringing together of truths contained in verses. Bet you never saw a bumper sticker which bridged two verses, as in "...holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him (Luke 1:49b-50a). That is one quick example, there are no doubt better ones.
And we often read verses out of context, and lose the real meaning behind them. "Where two or three are gathered" (Matthew 18:20) is used for when the turnout is small at a prayer meeting or bible study, but it is about God's authority residing in two or three witnesses for church discipline. The widow's mite at Mark 12:44 is another example. Jesus is not commending the widow giving all she had to live on. Why? Because that would be devouring widow's houses, which he had just condemned at v.40. But verses - and the bible editors who have added sub-headings which divorce the first condemnation from the widow's offering - make it harder to see. Jesus teaches on the devouring houses, and then sits and observes the very thing he just taught was wrong. The verses (and subheadings) trip us up.
We should see verses are geographical references, to help us find our place in the text. And we should remind ourselves of that often. Using the word at versus in doe that, in a small way.
So as I was writing on Thursday, it occurred to me that what I intend to say when I make a reference to a verse is 'at' verse such and such. 'At' connotes place, and verse references are place references. 'In' connotes something different, to my ears and reading. Both are actually prepositions of place, but the sense to me is different. While not exactly the same, it is not unlike saying, in regards to other books, find it 'at' or 'on' page 15. We don't say 'in' page 15 (but we do say 'in' the 3rd paragraph.)
So for now I am using at, versus in.
For additional consideration, one of my favorite links (to the right) includes a site where we can read a post titled "The case against verse-by-verse."
In today's reading in Luke, an apparent contradiction in the text caught my eye.
At Luke 1:50, Mary says "And his mercy is for those who fear him." But later at 1:74, Zechariah, John the Baptist's father, says "that...we might serve him [God] without fear."
Such apparent contradictions often appear in scripture. A few minutes of work and we can often bring some clarity to these kinds of things.
It was similar in the OT reading for today, where at Numbers 22:20, God tells Balaam to go with Balaak's men. V 21 says Balaam did so. But at v. 22, we read "But God's anger was kindled because he went." It is an apparent contradiction, all the more evident because Balaam would utter these words in his discourse at 23:19: "God is not a man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?"
When we read such things, we should stop and consider. Did God change his mind with Balaam? The explanation might be as easy as God seeing some intent or design in Balaam's heart when he rode off with Balak's men that caused his anger.
So too with the instruction in Mary's words to fear the Lord, and the apparent contradiction to serve without fear spoken by Zechariah.
Mary's counsel is easily understood as reverent fear or awe. That is how we much approach God. Zechariah's counsel means we can be fearless in our approach to God. we can be bold to approach the throne, as the Bible says.
Those truths do not contradict.
The truths of scripture are worth a little work, and a few good study resources, we can enhance our understanding and appreciation for all the truth it contains, even the apparent contradictions.
Paul's letter to the Colossians contains wonderful encouragement and counsel on prayer. He writes in 4:2 "Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving." The exhortation to continue in it suggests Paul's expectations that his readers would be praying. He is saying continue, not start. For too many Christians, we would need to read 'start praying.' It is likely the least practiced of Christian disciplines, only ahead of fasting perhaps.
Paul also expects prayer to be kind of guard keeping, a watching, alert: as he says, "being watchful in it." Prayer is not to be a passive or subdued thing: it is part of the spiritual battle and fight for faith. And it includes, on yesterday's theme, thanksgiving. Oh that I was more thankful! And prayerful!
The surprising thing in the text though, on reflection, is Paul's request that his readers pray for God to open doors to declare the word, the mystery of Christ (they mystery made known, 1 Cor 2: 9-10) Paul is not perceived to be a shy and retiring fellow. He was often bold to declare the gospel, often at great peril to himself. But he recognized the need for prayer. He wants prayer for God to open doors, that he might make the gospel clear.
If Paul, how much more us? So we should pray, and ask for prayer.
We think of being thankful when things go well, when we get our way (whether in the good sense when things go well, or in a petulant way when they do not). Thankfulness is conditional for too many of us, and for me.
In today's readings from Colossians 3, Paul writes about the new self. The new self is a remarkable being, with all kinds of features and attributes not found in the old self. (That old self is represented in today's reading from Numbers, especially 15:39 where we read about the inclination to whore after our own hearts' and eyes' desires.)
We are told in Colossians 3 to put to death the earthly in us: capital punishment for 'sexual immortality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.' (v. 5) So to for anger, wrath, malice, slander, obscene talk and lying. An then in vv. 12 and onwards we are instructed on what we are to do and be like, in keeping with the new self. Two thoughts occurred to me as I read.
First, 'let the peace of Christ rule', v. 15. Note the wording. Not 'make' the peace of Christ rule, but 'let' it rule. It would not, I think, be consistent with all of scripture to read too much into that wording, because we must work at faith, not just passively wait for change or growth. But a measure of the life of faith consists in letting the peace of Christ rule. Don't fight the peace of Christ ruling in your heart. As we put on the new self, and fight and put to death the old self, we can 'let the peace of Christ rule.' Don't fight it, in the best sense. Again, I dare not say passively, but the thought occurred to me that we can in some measure let the price of Christ rule, or we can - adversely - not let it rule. We can fight it. We should not. We should let it rule!
The second thing, from which I drew today's title, is the end of that same verse, 15, where Paul writes "And be thankful." We are often thankful, as I noted in opening, when things go well or we get our own way. The command here is more simply, be thankful. Be a thankful people. Thankfulness is here a hallmark of letting the peace of Christ rule in our new selves, including the body, v. 15. It results in thankfulness.
This thankfulness is not conditional on life going well, or things going our way. It is a thankfulness derived from new perspective, new hope, new trust in Christ. Setting our minds on things above, not below, (vv. 1-2), would help in this!
And think of the witness: a thankful, grateful people is a powerful witness in a world of hurt, bitterness and self-interest.
In Number 13:1, we read "The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, "Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel."
After having read that many times, today it struck me. "Go spy out the land that I am giving you."
We know from the balance of the text in this chapter, God is not saying "Go get a sneak preview of what I am giving you." or "Go size things up." He wants them to spy out the land.
Spies do covert work, and the clear implication is there will be work ahead, to fight for the land. We know more on what they had to report from Moses' instructions in vv. 17-20. They were to check to see if the people who dwelled there were strong or weak, few or many, and so on.
God has repeatedly said he is giving his people the land of Canaan. That promise extends back to Abraham in Genesis 15. It is repeated many times: this will be their land. If God is just giving the land, he can deliver it to his people without their working with him. He can dispossess the land from its current inhabitants, who practice all kinds of evil right up to idolatry and child sacrifice. He can have them walk in with signing and rejoicing. No fighting might be required.
Instead, the text presents the sovereignty of God together with God's call for the responsibility of his people. God remains sovereign above all, yet his people are called to work as well. That work is part of God's sovereignty.
Colossians 1:29 from Friday's readings (we read Sunday readings on Fridays...), and verse 29 has an echo of this theme that occurred to me from the passage in Numbers, where Paul writes: "I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me."
God is and remains sovereign in and over all things, including the giving of the promised land to his people, and in Paul's own ministry's efforts.
So to in our's.
I sometimes like to ask readers' of CS Lewis' Mere Christianity if they agree with his Newfoundland reference. The usual response is a bemused look as if I am making it up. I am not. See below.
"Doctrines are not God: they are only a kind of map. But that map is based on the experience of hundreds of people who really were in touch with God—experiences compared with which any thrills or pious feelings you and I are likely to get on our own are very elementary and very confused. And secondly, if you want to get any further, you must use the map. You see, what happened to that man in the desert may have been real, and was certainly exciting, but nothing comes of it. It leads nowhere. There is nothing to do about it. In fact, that is just why a vague religion—all about feeling God in nature, and so on-—is so attractive. It is all thrills and no work: like watching the waves from the beach. But you will not get to Newfoundland by studying the Atlantic that way, and you will not get eternal life by simply feeling the presence of God in flowers or music. Neither will you get anywhere by looking at maps without going to sea. Nor will you be very safe if you go to sea without a map." C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Now there's another one. In some recent surfing around The Spurgeon Archive, I noticed a link to an article titled "Vanity Fair and Spurgeon." The two are not usually associated, so with curiosity piqued, I clicked. It appears an article and caricature of Spurgeon appeared in the magazine in 1870. What follows is a gem of a quote, at least if you are from Newfoundland, and a Baptist!
"He belonged to a family of Independents, some of whom were preachers, and has always been very independent himself; but, like a shaggy young Newfoundland, he took to the water at the first sight of drowning souls, and became a Baptist from conviction."
The full review in Vanity Fair is worth the read. Click here.
In Numbers 10:29, we read "For the Lord has promised good to Israel."
He has been leading them, rescuing from Egypt, by various signs and wonders. They have received instruction in terms of the tent of the tabernacle, and a pillar of cloud leads them by day, and a pillar of fire by night. We read it all, and we wonder. We may puzzle at some of the law and ceremonial bits, the various proscribed offerings, but we wonder, as God was in their midst, teaching, instructing, commanding, leading, and saving. It is all captured well in 10:29, "For the Lord has promised good to Israel." He has promised good, and had already done much good, to which they were witnesses.
And then we read, like a clap of thunder, in Numbers 11:1, "And the people complained in the hearing of the Lord about their misfortunes."
Wha?! God is in their very midst, and had delivered, again and again, with signs and wonders (Psalm 77: 11-20), and yet they grumble and complain?
Do we think we'd be any different? 'Well, we would have recognized the irony of it all, we would not have grumbled in the very presence of God, we wouldn't be like that...'
Because in fact, we are like that. We are just like it, and we would have been just like it then. In Colossians 1, in today's readings, Paul tells the church in Colossae "to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance with patience and joy, giving thanks to the Father...."
That is our command and Paul's prayer, but we fall short. We are not fully pleasing, not bearing fruit as we might, not enduring 'life's slings and arrows' with patience and joy, with thanks.
We have great promises for now and eternity in Christ, great hope, as we read in Hebrews recently. God has promised to do good, and has done it, and will do it.
We could complain a little less, and be more thankful and joyful. Paul's prayer should be our's, for each other.
One of the favourite blessings or benedictions used by Christian ministers and pastors, found on greeting cards, and coffee mugs, is from today's reading in Numbers 6, vv. 24-26:
"The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace."
It is called the Aaronic blessing, the words that the Lord commanded that Moses tell Aaron, his brother, who together with his sons were made priests. The verse immediately after it not oft-cited but also important, "So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them." God had called and named this people Israel, and v 27 may be suggesting that in blessing them, that calling and naming was being driven home. What a blessing!
The last chapter of Hebrews, 13, is also in today's readings and contains another blessing or benediction in vv. 20-21:
"Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep,
by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us
that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen."
It seems to me, as beautiful as the words of Numbers 6 are - and we should use them and appropriate them to us as Christians of the New Covenant - it may be that we should, when we read those words or cite them , consider the greater calling and blessing of being found in Christ, as per the words of the Hebrews benediction. The text in Numbers is beautiful, but in Hebrews we have fuller meaning, spelled out for us. Maybe worth a note in the margin of your bible, or a mental note in your head: when we read or say the Aaronic blessing, there is an even fuller meaning, captured in Hebrews, giving us cause for praise.
I don't run. Actually, most people don't. But when we do, we think running it is about going fast. The Olympics place a lot of attention on fast running, 'fastest man in the world' and all that. For a 100 metres. For less than 10 seconds.
But the Christian life is not about running as fast as you can, 10 or 15 seconds. The writer of Hebrews reminds us it is about running with endurance.
Endurance racing is, one imagines, hard. When I hear about endurance racing, I imagine people with leg cramps, falling over at the finish line. They don't walk around all smiles for the camera. If they do, they could probably have run harder for longer?
That is the Christian life. You pace yourself, you run hard and then you run and run and run (and you run to win, 1 Corinthians 9:24). We can take great and simple encouragement from this metaphor.
John MacArthur has written "You know, the Christian life is a race. It's not just sitting in some great, sanctified pillow waiting for the Rapture. That isn't the point. We are called to run a race." John MacArthur
Christian, run with endurance. Run.
The first verse of Hebrews 11 is much loved and oft-cited. "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."
It is often used to support the idea that faith is not about visible things, or present things, but future things, all a little vague. Some even turn the verse completely on its head, to suggest - when they hear it - that faith is not grounded, it is not logical. Both readings neglect the real meaning - and comfort and joy - suggested by the actual text.
Let's look at the second idea first. Faith is not blind. Lots of people believe things blindly. They believe things without real foundation or supporting evidence.
Christianity is not among them. We believe because of the testimonies and witness of 1) God in nature; 2) God in history, especially his chosen people, 3) God revealed in Scripture, 4) God's witness, Jesus Christ, and 5) God revealed in the body of believers, the church. Faith is not blind. Faith struggles, asks questions, doubts, ponders, reasons, and ultimately - by grace - holds. It not without reason or supporting evidence!
Well, what about the first idea, faith not being about visible things or present things. It's about some vague 'tomorrow,' nebulous ideas about what will happen, Christ's return, heaven, and so on.
Faith is what we believe and accept about the truth of God. When we say we believe, we have faith, we are trusting to be true, embracing the truths (by grace), of who Jesus is, his atoning sacrifice for sin, and our justification, 'thanks be to God.'
In Hebrews 10:23 the text reads "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope." Our hope is not some vague or generalized hope, as in 'I hope yo have a nice day.' It is a grounded, real world hope, based on our salvation secured by what Jesus has done (10:19-22). That is a hope secured at a point in history. As the creeds say, "was crucified, died, and rose again, and acceded into heaven, he sitteth at the right hand of the Father...".
So our hope is not vague future oriented. It is real here and now, based on what God has done for us in Christ.
The conviction of things not seen is laid out for us in the full text of Hebrews 11. The writer gives the example of men and women in history, in the Old Testament, who had faith about what God was ultimately doing. They are witnesses, Hebrews 12:1, and model convictions of things not seen.
Faith then is about things hoped, the confidence we can have. It is also about conviction, being convicted and convinced of the truth, even if we can not yet see things unfolding or happening in the way we are told they will. But we are told, and we can have conviction, settled confidence, that it will come to pass the the Bible says.
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, based on what Christ has done, and the conviction that what has been promised will come to pass. Because, as Hebrews 10:23 reads, near the end, "for/because he who has promised is faithful."
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