To Hell and Back: How Far Does Jesus Go for Us

In my recent preparation for a sermon in Hebrews, I came across a unique phrase that required further study. The verse is Hebrews 2:14. It reads, “Now since the children share in blood and flesh, he likewise shared in them, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil…” (NABRE)

Now, the phrase at once raises the question, “Does Satan have power over death?” The answer to that question, is “Yes and No.”

Take, for example, Psalm 90:3, “You turn humanity back into dust, saying, ‘Return, you children of Adam!’” G-d has the power of death, not Satan. Or Matthew 10:28, where Jesus warns us to fear his Father, and not human villains. He states, “And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.” In a way, then, Satan does not possess power over death.

Yet we have read the verse in Hebrews. Is this a contradiction? Absolutely not!

Scripture, when taken in whole, shows us that Satan is a tool of God. David Allen, a professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, writes, “It is because he was the instigator of sin through his temptation of the first couple in the garden. God, not Satan, holds the ultimate power of death, ‘but the power which he presently wields is also the power by which he is destroyed.’” [David Allen, The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture, Hebrews page 219.] In his large work solely on the topic of the Devil, Paul Carus comments, “It is noteworthy that Satan, in the canonical books of the Old Testament, is an adversary of man, but not of God; he is a subject of God and God’s faithful servant.”

Now, in my preparation for the sermon, I began (and still am) looking into Satanology, the study of Satan. We must, when dealing with a subject as grave and dangerous, I believe balance is a key. For example, Paul states that we are not ignorant of Satan’s purposes (see 2 Corinthians 2:11), but we must also seek to be simple concerning evil (see Romans 16:11).

I endeavor, then, to keep these two admonitions in balance. As I stated, I have been researching (and continue to do so) the teachings of Scripture on Satan. Carus’s section, addressing the views of the Devil in early Christian quotes, at length, two chapters of the Gospel of Nicodemus.

Here it is,

1 Quarrel between Satan and the prince of hell concerning the expected arrival of Christ in hell.

WHILE all the saints were vv rejoicing, behold Satan, the prince and captain of death, said to the prince of hell, 1

2 Prepare to receive Jesus of Nazareth himself, who boasted that he was the Son of God, and yet was a man afraid of death, and said,  2 My soul is sorrowful even to death.

3 Besides he did many injuries to me and to many others; for those whom I made blind and lame and those also whom I tormented with several devils, he cured by his word; yea, and those whom I brought dead to thee, he by force takes away from thee.

4 To this the prince of hell replied to Satan, Who is that so-powerful prince, and yet a man who is afraid of death?

5 For all the potentates of the earth are subject to my power, whom thou broughtest to subjection by thy power.

6 But if be be so powerful in his human nature, I affirm to thee for truth, that he is almighty in his divine nature, and no man can resist his power.

7 When therefore he said be was afraid of death, he designed to ensnare thee, and unhappy it will be to thee for everlasting ages.

8 Then Satan replying, said to the prince of hell, Why didst thou express a doubt, and wast afraid to receive that Jesus of Nazareth, both thy adversary and mine?

9 As for me, I tempted him and stirred up my old people the Jews with zeal and anger against him?

10 I sharpened the spear for his suffering; I mixed the gall and vinegar, and commanded that he should drink it; I prepared the cross to crucify him, and the nails to pierce through Ibis hands and feet; and now his death is near at hand, I will bring him hither, subject both to thee and me.

11 Then the prince of hell answering, said, Thou saidst to me just now, that he took away the dead from me by force.

12 They who have been kept here till they should live again upon earth, were taken away hence, not by their own power, but by prayers made to God, and their almighty God took them from me.

13 Who then is that Jesus of Nazareth that by his word hath taken away the dead from me without prayer to God?

14 Perhaps it is the same who took away from me Lazarus, after he had been four days dead, and did both stink and was rotten, and of whom I had possession as a dead person, yet he brought him to life again by his power.

15 Satan answering, replied to the prince of hell, It is the very same person, Jesus of Nazareth.

16 Which when the prince of hell heard, he said to him, I adjure thee by the powers which belong to thee and me, that thou bring him not to me.

17 For when I heard of the power of his word, I trembled for fear, and all my impious company were at the same time disturbed;

18 And we were not able to detain Lazarus, 1 but he gave himself a shake, and with all the signs of malice, he immediately went away from us; and the very earth, in which the dead body of Lazarus was lodged, presently turned him out alive.

19 And I know now that he is Almighty God who could perform such things, who is mighty in his dominion, and mighty in his human nature, who is the Saviour of mankind.

20 Bring not therefore this person hither, for he will set at liberty all those whom I hold in prison under unbelief, and bound with the fetters of their sins, and will conduct them to everlasting life.

CHAP. XVI.

1 Christ’s arrival at hell-gates; the confusion thereupon. 10 He descends into hell.

AND while Satan and the prince of hell were discoursing thus to each other, on a sudden there was a voice as of thunder and the rushing of winds, saying,  2 Lift up your gates, O ye princes; and be ye lift up, O everlasting gates, and the King of Glory shall come in.

2 When the prince of hell heard this, he said to Satan, Depart from me, and begone out of my habitations; if thou art a powerful warrior, fight with the King of Glory. But what hast thou to do with him?

3 And he cast him forth from his habitations.

4 And the prince said to his impious officers, Shut the brass gates of cruelty, and make them fast with iron bars, and fight courageously, lest we be taken captives.

5 But when all the company of the saints heard this they spake with a loud voice of anger to the prince of hell:

6 Open thy gates that the King of Glory may come in.

7 And the divine prophet David, cried out saying,  3 Did not I when on earth truly prophesy and say, O that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men.

8 For he hath broken the gates of brass, and cut the bars of iron in sunder. He hath taken them because of their iniquity, and because of their unrighteousness they are afflicted.

9 After this another prophet, 4 namely, holy Isaiah, spake in like manner to all the saints, did not

I rightly prophesy to you when I was alive on earth?

10 The dead men shall live, and they shall rise again who are in their graves, and they shall rejoice who are in earth; for the dew which is from the Lord shall bring deliverance to them.

  1. 84

11 And I said in another place, O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?

12 When all the saints heard these things spoken by Isaiah, they said to the prince of hell, 1 Open now thy gates, and take away thine iron bars; for thou wilt now be bound, and have no power.

13 Then there was a great voice, as of the sound of thunder saying, Lift up your gates, O princes; and be ye lifted up, ye gates of hell, and the King of Glory will enter in.

14 The prince of hell perceiving the same voice repeated, cried out as though he had been ignorant, Who is that King of Glory?

15 David replied to the prince of hell, and said, I understand the words of that voice, because I spake them by his spirit. And now, as I have above said, I say unto thee, the Lord strong and powerful, the Lord mighty in battle: he is the King of Glory, and he is the Lord in heaven and in earth;

16 He hath looked down to hear the groans of the prisoners, and to set loose those that are appointed to death.

17 And now, thou filthy and stinking prince of hell, open thy gates, that the King of Glory may enter in; for he is the Lord of heaven and earth.

18 While David was saying this, the mighty Lord appeared in the form of a man, and enlightened those places which had ever before been in darkness,

19 And broke asunder the fetters which before could not be broken; and with his invincible power visited those who sate in the deep darkness by iniquity, and the shadow of death by sin.

(this is reproduced from http://www.sacred-texts.com/bib/lbob/lbob10.htm accessed 23 June 2017)

This Gospel of Nicodemus is not canonical, and thus has no authority to provide us with any teachings on the truth. However, when coupled with Paul’s mysterious description of Jesus’s actions during his death, it provides a possible outlet of what Jesus was doing. Paul writes, “He ascended on high and took prisoners captive; he gave gifts to men.” (Ephesians 4:8). This is a quote from Psalm 68:19, where David writes, “You went up to its lofty height; you took captives, received slaves as tribute.” Jesus, as the Apostles’ Creed informs us, “descended into hell”. It is, as Mary Healy so beautifully expresses, “The great paradox is that Jesus conquered death through death—not by escaping it but by experiencing it, destroying death from within.” [Mary Healy, Hebrews, page 65]

Jesus went to hell and back for us.jez-timms-207948

There really is no end of his love; it is a sweet and fragrant flower, always blooming. May we relish, nay, worship Jesus for the great love wherewith he loves us.

 

3 Tips for Avoiding Comparison

Introductory Thoughts

In 2 Corinthian 10:12 Paul writes, “Not that we dare to class or compare ourselves with some of those who recommend themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.” (NABRE)

Comparing ourselves happens to us all. If you are a businesswoman, you may compare your dress to another. If you are mechanic, you may see your tools as old and dirty compared to another’s. A student may compare their aptitude for learning with another. A pastor may compare his congregation to another’s. The list could go on and on forever. We are all constantly being tempted with comparing ourselves with others.

I am reminded of James 1:14. In his letter to the “twelve tribes of the dispersion” (1:1) James provides a brief look at temptation. He states, “Rather, each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” (NABRE) This desire is fueled when we are lured and enticed. It is, in fact, when we see other possibilities that our desires are ignited. For a biblical example, see the interaction between Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:1-7.

Now, why bring all of this up? I recently read an article from The Banner of Truth magazine about a puritan preacher by the name of Thomas Boston. He was expounding on Romans 8:18, focusing on the suffering that we endure. Mr. Brooks refers to it as “crooks”. [Ian Hamilton, “The Crook in the Lot”, The Banner of Truth (April 2017, Issue 643), 2.]

These crooks are “unforeseen troubles (‘thorns’) that afflict, unsettle, or disturb us in any way.” [Ian Hamilton, “The Crook in the Lot”, The Banner of Truth (April 2017, Issue 643), 1.]movus-munay-52406

If you are still reading and wondering, “What does this have to do with comparing ourselves?” Hang on! It is coming. One final reference to Mr. Boston’s work. The difficulty of facing different crooks is that we see others and belief that they do not experience the same strains that we do. I provide Mr. Hamilton’s lengthy quote,

“It is one of the devil’s stratagems to try to persuade us that other people don’t have the crooks in their lot that we have. Comparisons truly are odious. You and I never really know what is going on in the lives of others (we barely know what is going on most of the time in our own lives!).” [Ian Hamilton, “The Crook in the Lot”, The Banner of Truth (April 2017, Issue 643), 2.]

So here they are…

3 Tips for Avoiding Comparisons

Tip #1- Avoid looking at the best of others’ lives

One of the sad repercussions of social media is the furthering of FOMO (fear of missing out). karl-fredrickson-34579.jpgThe negative result of seeing the best and happiest of times in others is that we believe our lives to be boring, or drab. The same can be said of clothing. When we post a selfie we are wearing our best clothes, or our hair is just right. Or our homes, jobs, school, etc. Or we see those Pintrest projects and try to emulate them, and the results are disasters.

The danger of this is that we don’t actually see what is going on behind the scenes! For example, if I post a picture of my beautifully children smiling and happy, you don’t see the struggles to get them to stay still, smile, and do it together. Often, when we carry this thought process through, it prevents us from making the comparisons of our imperfect lives with those of the picture-perfect lives of others.

 

Tip #2- Avoid forgetting about their problems

Along the same lines of tip number one, this tip requires empathy from us. As we look at the pictures, or hear the stories of others, one important aspect is that we remember people are going through similar issues, as are we. The fact is that others are going through difficult circumstances, and it is not a normal matter for us to provide everyone a recourse of the sorrows and struggles in our lives.

Taking a moment to contemplate the complications in others’ lives helps us from comparing ourselves with others.

Tip #3- Avoid looking at others

This tip may require a little more sacrifice on our behalf. Simply avoid opportunities to look at others! Perhaps an example will prove helpful. I really enjoy Facebook and Twitter. I love finding out about others’ lives, what is happening at various institutions, and keeping up with families who live at great distances. One thing about using these mediums is that it gives fuel to our comparing fires. Simply saying “no” to them prevents us from seeing only the positives in the lives of others.

The same can be said of going shopping. When we do not see all the clothing that we do not own, we don’t compare nearly as much. We also become more thankful for the clothing we do have!

Concluding Thoughts

So, how are we doing? Do we find ourselves comparing ourselves with others? Spend a few minutes and begin implementing these tips, and enjoy the freedom and peace that comes along with it.

 

Unexpected Benefits of Memorials

“What do these stones mean? On the Importance of Memorials”

I delivered this sermon on 11 June 2017 in honor and recognition of our graduates. The wording will be slightly different for ease of reading, but for the most parts the points are consistent. I read an article in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society by Daniel I. Block entitled, “What Do These Stones Mean” The Riddle of Deuteronomy 27 (JETS, Vol. 56, No. 1, March 2013). About the same time my pastor asked me to preach and prepare for the graduation service, and God reminded me of the importance of memorials, and from this and the passage in Joshua chapters 3-4, the sermon was born.

Begin by reading Joshua 3:7-17,

The LORD said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. 8 And as for you, command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, ‘When you come to the brink of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.'” 9 And Joshua said to the people of Israel, “Come here and listen to the words of the LORD your God.” 10 And Joshua said, “Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites. 11 Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is passing over before you into the Jordan. 12 Now therefore take twelve men from the tribes of Israel, from each tribe a man. 13 And when the soles of the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the LORD, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall stand in one heap.” 14 So when the people set out from their tents to pass over the Jordan with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, 15 and as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), 16 the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho. 17 Now the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan.

 

This passage sets the stage for one of the more remarkable events in the history of Israel. Similarly, graduation is a significant accomplishment. It is one of the greatest achievements one can make in one’s life. In Scripture, we see similar accomplishments in the lives of God’s people. We see the deliverance of Israel from Egyptian slavery and we see the crossing of the Jordan River. In both of these amazing events, the Israelites are instructed to construct or observe some type of memorial. In the Exodus the establishment of the Passover meal began, see Exodus 12:14. In Joshua 4, shortly after the crossing over the Jordan river the Israelites were to have twelve leaders (one from each tribe) and build a monument to be a reminder that God had been with them and will continue to be. Perhaps the greatest memorial we observe is Communion, the bread and the cup, where we celebrate the death of Jesus and our deliverance from sin and death, see 1 Corinthians 11. The purpose of these memorials was to remind God’s people of the victory He provides, Exodus 13:8-9.

To begin with, we must note that:

1. An amazing accomplishment has just taken place

The children of Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness, wandering around in a bleak desert.

desert pic

Can you imagine walking around this for forty years?

After the death of Moses, Israel, under the leadership of Joshua, begins to embark on their journey to the Promised Land. The first obstacle they approach is the Jordan River. The timing of this crossing could not have been worse, from a human perspective. Our writer informs us that “the Jordan…overflows all its banks during the entire season of the harvest” (Joshua 3.15). To Israel, it seemed they had reached an impasse.

I imagine that looking back on your schooling you probably thought that graduating was an impasse, a river overflowing its banks, impossible to pass. By the grace of God, even when it seemed you would be washed away, you made it! This goal is seriously one that has taken almost your entire life to complete, and you have finished it. The same thing could be said about our struggles at work, striving for promotions, the accolade we desire.

I want us to think for a moment, what accomplishments have we been a part of? What has God brought you through? What seemingly unconquerable moment has Jesus granted you victory over? You have two spaces to write where God has given you victory. “In you” is where God has provided deliverance from a sin, or helped you progress on your way to deeper intimacy with Him. “Through you” is where God is working in other’s lives through you.

This is a time of celebration! A time of rejoicing! Be excited at the journey, but relish in the victory. Graduation has been reached, this chapter has ended, the goal has been reached, the river has been crossed.

Can you imagine the excitement of Israel as they crossed? Finally, after hearing about this land they are finally entering it. Think about Abraham in Genesis 12:1 where God promised him this land, around 500 years! But before they left the river bed they did something quirky. They had twelve men, one from each tribe; grab a stone on their way out.

2. A special monument is established to help remind us of it

The consistent focus is on God’s Word (Torah). Moses was instructed by God to build a memorial of large stones in Deuteronomy 27.2-3. Joshua fulfilled this in Joshua 8:30 on Mt Ebal. God then instructed Joshua to give himself entirely to the reading and meditating of the Torah (see Joshua 1.8), which would have included this command to build a monument. Now, honestly, after going through that amazing miracle, stopping and building a monument seems a little anti-climactic.

I think, however, if we stop to glean from this it can help you graduates, but also us as a faith family. God is constantly at work in our lives. I love how the author of Hebrews puts it, “May the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep by the blood of the eternal covenant, Jesus our Lord, furnish you with all that is good, that you may do His will. May he carry out in you what is pleasing to him through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” God works in us to bring about good in our world. There are many times that we get caught up in life, in high school, in projects, in kids, in careers, and we, to our own detriment, fail to see God’s work in our lives. Or, on the chance that we do recognize God’s hand, we do not make a note of it (literally or metaphorically) and we easily forget it. One of the reasons God required this monument was to provide future generations of evidences of God’s works (Joshua 4.6-7).

We set aside today to honor our graduates. They have spent years working toward this goal. They have been tested, they have completed exams and projects, and as a result they are bestowed the honors and recognition of completing the high school degree. They ‘graduate’ which comes from the Latin word gradus, meaning step. This step is complete. The river has been crossed, the monument raised. The course is complete, the diploma given.

The monument, though certainly a recognition of a great accomplishment, is not only that. It is also a look forward to what is next.

3. A past reminder with a future look

The stones were not only meant to remind them of a past action. Certainly they reminded the children of those who crossed the Jordan River of this momentous event. But that is not all it was.

Interestingly, these stones were still standing at the time that writer recorded the events that took place in Joshua chapter four. We don’t know how long, but it was still standing to that day.

Now, you may be wondering, how does this reminder give us a look to the future? This is where an event such as the crossing of the Jordan River, or graduation, brings on another level of significance. The goal has been achieved, success is enjoyed, but it is not the end itself. It is a point on an incredible journey in which our lives grow and experience life. The children of Israel would look back at this monument and remember what God had done in their lives. Then, after remembering what he did, they could look forward and press on into the future.

Romans 8:31 “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?”

I love how the Apostle Paul puts it in Philippians 3.13-16, “Brothers, I for my part do not consider myself to have taken possession. Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus. Let us, then, who are perfectly mature adopt this attitude. And if you have a different attitude, this too God will reveal to you. Only, with regard to what we have attained, continue on the same course.”

As graduates, this monumental moment is a testament to your own determination, hard work, and willingness to work toward completing a goal. You know that it took the combined effort of friends, family, and teachers to help complete this task. And so it was with Israel. They worked hard in the desert, and with God’s help they achieved the goal: entrance into the promised land. But they did not stop there. They looked out onto a new horizon, one filled with possibilities and excitement. The monument reminded them of what God had done in the past, and it is from a place of confidence that the children of Israel would march forth into this new frontier.

And so it is with you, graduates, your accomplishments are a monument to what you have accomplished, how far your drive and desire can take you. And it also reminds you that God was with you every step of the way. Looking to this monument, you can take courage and forge ahead into the new field to which God is calling you.

Congregation, your past accomplishments, your victories, are meant to help remind you of what God has done in your own life. They are meant to encourage you to push forward, to stand up to the tasks because you know God has delivered you in the past you will be delivered in the future.
Application and Closing Thoughts:

We honor our graduates today for the achievements they have made. We recognize that the diploma is a monument to their hard work and effort. We have seen in our own lives monuments to God’s work. We rejoice over the victories that God has provided. We, from the view point of history, saw how Israel built monuments.

With Israel, we look and rejoice over our accomplishments, astounded at how God moved and worked in and through us. With a bright hope, the graduates, our faith family, you and I, can look to the future with an expectancy and joy.

3 Steps to Understand the Bible Better

How do I understand the Bible? It’s a book that was written many years ago by people of a completely different culture. On top of that, the world has changed drastically. Just think of communication. During biblical times letters were carried by some type of animal or ship. The process was tedious and time-consuming. Today we can call, text, or have a face-to-face discussion via services such as Skype.
With all of these challenges, the question seems to change from, ‘How did I understand the Bible?’ to ‘Can I understand the Bible?’. And rightly so! Rest assured, you can understand the Bible. God has revealed his love for us through his Scriptures. I want to share with you three steps to help you understand the Bible more.
You can understand the Bible…
From the beginning it is important that you understand this is a journey. After reading this, you will still have more to learn. I have been reading the Bible since I was fourteen, and even after all this time I am still learning. It is one of the amazing truths about God’s Word. It is an inexhaustible mine of spiritual gems, all waiting to be gathered and taken into our hearts.
These steps are in no order of importance, although I do believe them to be foundational to our overall understanding of the Bible. So grab your Bible, and let’s dive in!
Step One: Understand the world in which it was written.
 
I cannot stress this one enough. There is an abundance of bad commentaries, sermons, devotionals, and Christian-mindsets as a result of simply not understanding the world in which the Bible was written.
Let me give you one example. The world of the Bible was predominately a patriarchal society. (You can check out the Christians for Biblical Equality for a fair treatment on the topic of the patriarchal world.) When reading through the Old Testament, particularly, one can be amazed at the treatment of women. Granted, the laws and rules laid out in the Torah were extraordinarily better than surrounding nations. (Rob Bell book reference) Still, it is helpful to understand that women were seen as less than man, to put it nicely. So when reading through a passage about the selling of a daughter, one is able to understand that the world in which those books were written had a much lower view of women than many cultures do today.
Or how about another one. The Bible constantly uses the shepherd as a picture of God’s dealings with humanity (for a few references, check out: Isaiah 40:11; Psalm 78:52; John 10:11; Hebrews 13:20; and 1 Peter 2:25). But why? I mean, I have never met a shepherd.patrick-schneider-213969
Now, understanding the world of the Old and New Testaments, we see how important shepherds were. They helped raise animals that would have provided milk, materials for clothing, and food. Of course, there were also the sacrifices! So they were vitally important to the biblical writers. It was an easy way for God to point to something they knew well to picture his desire to be with and take care of them.
Without at least a basic knowledge of this, the imagery may be lost. There are other variants to consider, but this is more of an overview.
Step Two: Get an idea of what the meaning looks like today.
Once you have an idea of what is going on, then begin to visualize how that looks today. This step is a little more difficult, because while some resources are out there for this (devotional commentaries seem to be the best for this step), there are often few that convey the meaning in today’s terms. For example, Ephesians 5:22-28 address the husband and wife relationship within a first century, Roman household. (For a more thorough treatment of this passage, see Rachel Held Evan‘s help overview of various literature.) With that understanding, it is helpful to realize the relationship of headship of the husband over the wife was customary. Paul’s key point, however, is mutual submission, which he uses to begin the entire passage. Taking this understanding, then, we can begin to see that for today, in which an equality exists between husbands and wives, the idea of mutual submission is the focus.
Step Three: Make a personal application to your own life.
This is where reading Scripture begins to be awesome. Because this is where Scripture meets your life.
When Scripture teaches either a direct point (see Hebrews 3:1 in which we are commanded to consider Jesus), indirect point (such as are found in narratives, see 1 Samuel 15:22-23), or simply a story in which no apparent point is made (see the graphic events in Judges chapter 19), the whole purpose of it is to apply to your life (see 2 Peter 1:3).
The whole purpose of Scripture is to apply to your life.
Once we get to this point, it is time to get personal. What do I mean? I mean that when you come across Scripture, it is time to figure out how it can apply to your life. Perhaps an example would prove helpful. Psalm 1:1 says, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in company with scoffers.” (NAB) This will look different for each one of us. For me, however, it might look like this: in order to be happy (which includes a spiritual sense) I must avoid the company of bad people. Oh, in case you were wondering, this isn’t speaking about just being around people. Paul covers that in 1 Corinthians 5:11. The picture is the gate of a city, where government and social outings occurred. This is an intimate gathering, not simply an association. My application would be: I must consciously avoid building intimate relationships with people who are actively opposing God. I may take it a step further and say that I need to avoid a certain coffee shop where I am tempted to be around such individuals. But I think that gives you the gist of it.
Wrapping it Up
These steps will take time and effort. It is worth it! Push past the steps that may not suit your particularly personality and gifts. Personally, I love the first step and struggle with the second and third steps. What do you struggle with? How can I help you?

How to Love Others More

Have you ever had trouble loving people? Is there a co-worker who just grinds your gears? Or an in-law (or blood relative) that knows how to irritate you beyond comprehension?

We all have been there. I know I have. I remember someone I used to work for, and this individual would purposely do some really hurtful actions. I never murdered this individual, but I can sadly say I had so not-so-fond thoughts.

Most people know some of the Ten Commandments, one of which is, ‘You shall not kill.’ (Exodus 20:13, NAB) I’m working on a sermon that addresses this verse. Initially, I was intrigued. I have spent more than half of my life in church and have heard this command numerous times. The excitement of a new study excited me.

So, I set to work. Initially I began with a note pad and pen (which is my custom). However, about five minutes into my research I realized this job required something bigger. So I borrowed a white board from another room and set to work. In about ten minutes I had recorded most of the important material related to my study.18588963_10208822612382542_2713873779717572604_o

It was during this time of research that I found something incredible, and one that, I hope, will enable me to be more faithful in my love of others.

The word used for killing in Exodus 20:13 is רצח. I began looking for other usages of this, and once completed I summarized it with a basic definition of “to deprive of life.” Now, this is a very basic definition, I know. For in some instances, depriving something of life may save others. Or, it could provide the necessary sustenance for continued life. But for my study, I began to look at life in Scripture. Of course, life began in Genesis 1:20-28 with the creation of animal life and ultimately crowned with humanity. (You can check out my thoughts on the creation of האדם in a previous post.) Life, or נפש, is the key to our appreciation and ultimate love for humanity (and animal life too!).

Humans, however, are different. We were created בעלם אלוהים. And so, because humanity is the image of God, our lives are intrinsically valuable. That is, we matter because God matters. Or, God’s image in us makes humanity intrinsically worthy.

Now, it is possible to simply gloss over that. Chances are, you already did. But in the off chance that you are reading this contemplatively, humanity is intrinsically valuable.

It is not a particular religion, a sexual orientation, or a political party that makes humanity worthy. It is the fact that they are human.

It is not a particular religion, a sexual orientation, or a political paevelyn-paris-33498.jpgrty that makes a human being excellent. It is the fact that they are a human being.

It is not the color of one’s skin, the level of intelligence, or the physical or mental capacity that makes a human being invaluable. It is the fact that they are a human being.

Because “When God created human beings, he made them in the likeness of God; he created them male and female.” (Genesis 5:1b-2a, NAB) That is what makes a human being worthy.lechon-kirb-25696

Now, how does this help us love others more? When we stop looking at people in categories, we start to what is really there: people. She is not a Muslim, she is a human being created in the image of God. He is not queer, he is a human being created in the image of God.

When you and I begin to see God in others, our ability to love them is transformed. That is why Paul could write, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28, NAB) There is humanity, gloriously and wonderfully bearing God’s image.

Do my words convey my belief that people are created in the image of God? Unfortunately, not always. But I am reminded of the weight of such ill-used words in Matthew 5:21-26. The Rabbis of Jesus’ day had broken the law down to manageable loads. In fact, the commandment regarding killing was boiled down to simple murder. As long as you don’t murder anyone, you’re good! (If these were the true standards, we would be much better off!) But Jesus wouldn’t let that slide. God’s standards are infinitely higher than we could ever imagine. Murder, as expressed in Exodus 20:13, does not involve just the literal taking of life. It goes beyond that to our words, the very basis of our communication to others. Whether it is Raqa or fool, if it does not proceed from the view of love and value, we are in trouble. (By the way, this does not absolve us for confronting errors, for in the next few chapters Jesus does just that, as well as recommending it in Matthew 7:1-5.)

So, are you having trouble loving others? Just see them the way God sees them: image bearers. I am amazed at what I can overlook when I see someone as a person, uniquely, incredibly, and fantastically made בעלם אלוה’ם.

P.S. I do not mean to convey that our own sins and shortcomings do not need to be addressed. When Jesus was speaking with the woman caught in adultery, his words were, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:11, ESV) While Jesus saw her humanity, he did not simply condone her sin. Likewise, it would be a mistake in the desire to love others that we would ignore sin in our own lives.

Mother’s Day: The Best Mother

Where would we be without mothers? As a man and a father, I can say that on this side of eternity I will never truly understand everything they do. My own mother as well as my wife cause me to stagger in unbelief at the amount of work they accomplish, the love they shower on the family, and the countless hours spent worrying and caring for us.

Scripture, the Tanakh and the New Testament, was written during the patriarchal period. I doubt many people would argue with the fact that women were treated unequally, to say the least. However, several prominent women stand out as incredible women of virtue. Rahab, Ruth, Hannah, and Abigail, all women of wonderful faith.

But one sticks out to me: Mary. I was raised in a independent, fundamental baptist church. In order to keep from ‘compromising’ they put Mary on the back shelf, in order to not appear to ‘worship’ her, as they accused Roman Catholics of doing (which is absolutely absurd, but let’s stay on task). So I never really thought about her, other than that she gave birth to Messiah.

Mary stands out as the preeminent mother in Scripture.

But when I really began to look at Mary, I was overwhelmed at her simple faith and trust-informed action. I wish to spend the next few moments with you looking at Mary and hopefully encourage our mothers (my own mother and my wife stand as examples of this as well).

Simple Faith

One of the first aspects of Mary’s life that draws me to mirror her life. This poor girl, unknown to the world of first century Israel, became the mother of God, the theotokos. This betrothed young lady is visited by Gabriel, an angel.

Let that sit in just for a moment. Just meditate on the fact that this simple lady, waiting to join Joseph, has Gabriel (consider his history in Israel, that was an incredible honor!) come and declare a wonderful announcement: she would bear the Messiah.

After being told she would bear Jesus, her saintly reply was, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) Can you imagine that simple faith? Even when she asked how it would be possible, she was not asking from a position of doubt but of curiosity of means. What simple faith!

Contrast that with our own lack of belief. When God says that he will never leave us, our reply: Why are you so far off God? When God said that he desires to be with us every day, our reply: Only when it is convenient for me, God. But Mary? Her reply: whatever you say Lord! That is the essence of simple faith.

After being told that her Son would die and she would experience a pain compared to a sword piercing her heart, Mary simply believed. That is simple faith.

Another act of simple faith (and should we say profound faith?) is her interactions with Simeon. During a prophetic utterance, he mentions something terrible, “…and you yourself a sword will pierce…” (Luke 2:34). This, of course, is a reference to the horrific torture and death her Son would endure and the pain a mother would be overwhelm with at the thought and eventual sight of it. Now, as a father, I cannot grasp this. How could a parent cope with such an utterance?aaron-burden-21616

How can Mary, after being told such a thing, have simply “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart”? (Luke 2:19) Again, this is the essence of simple faith. What a challenge to us! If God were to tell me of some horrific death one of my children were to undergo, I confess that my faith is weak and that I would struggle. I would take them and flee for protection. But not Mary. Mary trusts in God, that God would protect them. This is such a challenge to me, and as a mother she is an incredible example.

Trust-Informed Action

Trust-informed action? What in the world? Let me break this down and then we can look at this in the life of Mary. Action is our efforts in accomplishing a task. For instance, if I want to build a bookshelf I set up plans, procure the materials, and then begin the work. Now, it would be foolish if I were to just grab some two-by-fours and start building. My action would be building, my truth-informed aspect is that planning and procuring part.

Mary’s life was trust-informed. She knew the Scriptures. If one was to compare her song (Luke 1:46-55) with that of some of the songs in the Tanakh (see Exodus 15:1-21, for example) one would see how close they are. Though Scripture is silent to this, I imagine she would think of the many Psalms that speak of the Messiah as her Son grew up. Whether she learned this through Synagogue or attending Temple doesn’t matter, the fact is Mary’s faith was informed by Scripture.

Mary’s actions were informed by the sweet Scriptures.

But it did not stop in her head.  She “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” And then she spent her life raising her Son, the Messiah.

Do our lives reflect this? Do we know the Scriptures like Mary, and do we follow through with it?

Mary’s life as a mother is incredible. My wife and mother are incredible. Happy Mother’s Day, and may we all be more like Mary!

How can I journal my prayers?: The Warm-Up

What is prayer journaling? What is involved? How does it look? What do I do?
Perhaps you find yourself asking these questions. And these are good questions to ask. In fact, when my wife first recommended journaling my prayers I had no idea where to begin. So I set out to find out how! I read different blogs, a few books, and a couple of articles on the web. What I came to find out is that there is no one set way to prayer journal.
At first this disappointed me. I am of a practical nature, and when someone informs me of something that will help I really want a step-by-step list of things to do. So when I saw a variety of ways to engage in prayer journaling, I was not thrilled, to say the least.
However, after spending some time searching for the way that called to me, I found that writing it out in a typical journal format was the best. Since then I have toyed with a few other ways, but I always return to, what I call, the traditional way.
To begin with, let me suggest a few things. If you are interested in prayer journaling, it might be helpful to do the following (this is not exhaustive or a list to be completed in any particular order, so if you are like me, I’m sorry!):
  • Do some soul searching:What makes you you? What causes you joy, sadness? Why do you get out of bed every morning (or evening, if you work overnight)? Some practical suggestions are taking a personality profile. Here is a website that offers a fun, basic personality profile. Spend time, and I mean thorough time, learning about you. When you begin to learn about yourself, how you react and interact, then you can begin to narrow down what type of journaling in which you may be inclined to engage. For example, I am introverted. When I am around a lot of people I get exhausted! I like to think, to contemplate. I enjoy crafting a thought and then writing it down in a journal. The same applies to my prayers. I spend time thinking of what I am going to say to God.

    What makes you you? Finding you is a great place to start on your prayer journaling journey.

    For others who are artistically gifted, art may be the avenue in which they pray. If they need strength for a difficult time, painting a picture of a field with a rock while meditating and praying to the God who is their rock may prove to be helpful. The bottom line is to find out who you are and then proceed to the type of journaling. I’d also recommend taking an Emotional Quotient test and a multiple intelligence test.

  • Find out what method is better suited for you:When you are looking for a certain prayer journaling method, it is important to find one that is best suited to you. I’ve already mentioned discovering the youness of you, so that should be a factor. With that being said, people are at different stages of life. A college student can do things that a married mom with four kids and a job cannot. A stay-at-home dad may be able to spend more time engaged in his method, while the executive wife has little time. So, what stage of life are you at? What is the freest part of your day? Do you have access to a physical journal? Will you use electronic means?
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    Will you use a traditional journal? A laptop? Or a canvas? The possibilities are boundless.

    Do you have the ability to write? Or do you prefer painting? Not only should the specifics of the journal and the means of journaling come into examination, but also the time. What does your life best equip you for? Does your career demand work regardless of time? Do you maintain a 9-5 job? Learning the best time to journal is as important as journaling itself. Being consistent is the key to helping you in your walk as well as deepening your perception of God.

  • In the initial stages, utilize several different methods for certain periods of time:Begin by finding two or three methods. Research them, explore them, read about how different people do different things. And then set up a time to try them out. Be realistic here, because if you determine to use a certain method for a year you may never branch off and find anything new! Perhaps two weeks would be a good place to start. After you understand the basics of the method, then begin practicing that for two weeks. Avoid the temptation to jump back and forth. Stick with one long enough to where you can work out your own kinks and also get an honest evaluation. If at the end of that period you don’t like any of them, find some new ones!
  • When you truly start, go all in:Once you have found your method, go all in! The time to play it safe is over. It’s the third period (that is a hockey reference, in case you did not know!) with a minute left of play and your chance to bag the game and head home in victory. Now, does this mean that you determine to spend seven hours a day journaling your prayers to God? Well, probably not. Of course you may have that free time, in which case, more power to you! But if you are like the average individual, your time is limited. Once you find your method, that extension of you, then go all in! For example, I love the traditional way of journaling. I’ll share the practical aspects of that soon, but one of the elements I love about journaling is its artistic nature. I love calligraphy, I love drawing.
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    I love felt-tip pens. There is something aesthetically pleasing when writing with one.

    I love the old world: leather-bound books, verbose works, and beautiful handwriting. So I use a leather-bound journal, I have a felt-tip pen (thanks Mrs. Burnside!), and I love crafting the beauty of the written language as I create a prayer to God and an extension of myself. If drawing your prayers is your preference, then get quality materials for the art. Make it a beautiful extension of your soul to God’s.

Imagine the training required for a marathon. A lady trains for months, years, to take on that arduous task. Training, nutrition, proper sleep all play into the success or failure. In a similar way, the ground work for prayer journaling is more important. Our goal is to connect with God on an ever-increasing, intimate way. Like a crazy person, we could just wake up one day and decide to run a marathon. And like a crazy person we would fail. Just as a marathoner spends time in preparation, so you and I need to put in the work of learning who we are, what methods are appealing, how they look practically, and then when to run the marathon. Once you’ve reached this point, your prayer life will change.
What about you? What have you found helpful on your own journey in prayer journaling?