Monday, January 06, 2020

Cloud of Witnesses

Part of the sermon this morning quoted from Heb 12:1: "Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us".  Pastor Ron didn't get into that part, but I know I have often heard people talk as though this crowd of witnesses is watching us.  I don't think that's quite the picture we're supposed to get.

A witness basically does 2 things:  1.  Observe or experience something; 2.  Tell others about what was observed or experienced.  Different uses can emphasize one or the other.  The witnesses in a wedding, for example, are primarily there to observe the wedding taking place (presumably so that if questions come up, they can testify that it happened).  The witnesses in a court proceeding are primarily there to tell what they have observed or experienced.  When Jesus says in Acts 1:8 that "you shall be My witnesses", he seems to primarily have in mind telling what you've seen and experienced in Him.

In Heb 12:1, some seem to assume that the cloud of witnesses is in "observing" mode - they're watching us.  But in context, I don't think so.  This is preceded by Heb 11, giving us testimony after testimony of what God's people have done through faith in God.  *These* are the cloud of witnesses,  testifying to what God does though faith.  They're in "testimony" mode, not "observing" mode.  And it's in view of their testimony that we're supposed to "lay aside every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles us".  We're to do this, not because there's this big crowd watching us, but in view of their testimony of what God does in a life through faith.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Broken hearts

Tonight, at a very good Bible study time at church, a discussion was raised regarding broken hearts.  My own impression at the time was that some of the differences expressed were due to using the phrase 'a broken heart' from different perspectives.  It wasn't until I got home that I realized that that one little phrase 'a broken heart' could have (at least) 3 different meanings, depending on context:

1.  A heart broken by the hurts, pains and harmful things that are endemic in this sin-wracked world.  This is essentially a damaged heart.  This broken heart is the effect of sin by one person (or persons) against another.  This heart needs healing in Jesus, and you wouldn't ask to have your heart re-damaged,

2.  A heart broken in repentance.  This is the heart that looks at it's own sin, and is broken by how it has disappointed and grieved God.  An example of this usage is in Ps 51:17: "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;  A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise".  This heart needs forgiveness and restoration.  If you are intent on growing in Christ, you might very well ask for the discernment of your own sin that would bring rise to it, so that your own hindrences to growth can be dealt with.

3.  A heart broken by compassion.  This is the heart that sees the sin in the world, and its effects, and is moved to bring healing, restoration, and the Gospel to those under sin's thrall.  This is what I believe is referred to by the line "Break my heart for what breaks yours" in the Hillsong United song "Hosanna".  This is not a request to damage my own heart, but to bring me to the same compassion that God has for the world.

This is rather the nature of human language (or at least, the way human language is used - I really don't want to get into the Prescriptivism/Descriptivism wrangle here).  Words don't always carry a precise, technical meaning.  This is why, for example, you may find multiple definitions for a single word in a dictionary - different meanings apply in different contexts (and I'll parenthetically note that it can be dangerous to look at list of meanings and choose one that matches what you want or would like for a sentence to say.  You have to examine a sentence to discern which meaning was originally intended).  Phrases, even more so.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Old Christian music grump

I got saved in the spring of 1973, and largely grew up spiritually with the Jesus Music of the '70s and '80s.  It's not like I didn't appreciate at least *some* of the hymns (I went to Asbury College, a decent Christian college with roots back into the Holiness movement, with professors who encouraged us to read hymn lyrics (pretty good advice, actually)).  Of course, back then there were those who objected to Jesus Music, saying that the hymns were good enough.

As I approach my 60's, I'm finding the the temptation is definitely there to become one of those 'the old music is good enough' old grumps, except that in my case the 'old music' is my 60's/70's Jesus music compared to modern CCM (rather than comparing 'the old hymns' to the new music).  I'm tempted to grump about the superiority of the old CCM versus the current CCM.

I've tried to look at why this comes up and not just succumb to the temptation.  So far, this is what I've come up with:
  1. I'm not really comparing apples to apples.  Anytime you compare 'old music' to 'new music' (particularly when the old music is something you remember from your much younger years(for those of us who have much younger years)), you're not really comparing equivalent music.  In any period of time, you're got schlock music, and good music, and everything in between.  In remembering the old music, you by and large don't remember the schlock music from back then.  It was forgettable, so you forgot it.  But when dealing with the current music, you don't have much choice but to face it all.  You're comparing the best of the old stuff with the entirety of the range of quality of the new.  It's not surprising that in that comparison, the new stuff comes up short.
  2. I've got years of emotional investment in the old music that I can't possibly have invested in the new.  I've been a Christian over 40 years.  Over the years, Christian music (both hymns and CCM) has comforted and instructed me, and helped me hang on.  It's unlikely that the new stuff is going to have the same emotional impact as my old familiar music, and expecting it to do so would be unreasonable.  Nor would it be reasonable to expect younger Christians (to whom my 'old music' may very well be new) to react as I do to my old, familiar music - they simply can't have the same time of emotional impact as I've had.  I'll have to admit, this latter part is something I struggle with.
  3. Overidentifying with music, and taking it personally when people don't share your tastes. - Would John have included the 'lust of the ear' in his catalog of worldly characteristics (see 1 John 2:16) if music had been as much a part of the world then as it is now?  Note that  in the world, it's not unusual to find that people react negatively when you put down their music.  Dis their music, and you'll get a reaction (even if they  don't use that terminology).  Though taste in music is primarily subjective, we like to regard our own musical likes and dislikes as though they are fairly objective truth.  I like it, so liking it must be  right, right?  There are reasons I like my music, so other people should accept those reasons and like it, ,too.  At one point, I realized  that I  tended to refer to the Jesus Music of the '70s and '80s as "My Music".  I no longer think that that's necessarily healthy.  Having personal likes and dislkes is fine - you're going to have them.  Over-identifying with them isn't.  It means that you're going to become proud of and over-protective of those preferences - like the world, reacting to dislike your preferences in music very negatively.  There is value in the old hymns and the older music - be willing to share the  value you  see in them, but avoid acting like those who don't see the same value, and who prefer other music must be missng it.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

BAM! arguments, or gentle correction?

Surprise!  I've actually made a post without waiting over a year!

I've long thought that 2 Tim 2:24-25a ("And the Lordʼs slave must not engage in heated disputes but be kind toward all, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness.") should govern our discussions a lot more than it typcally does.  Even in Christian discussions, "heated disputes" often characterizes our disagreements rather than "correcting with gentleness".

But lately, the followup verses (2 Tim 2:25b-26  "Perhaps God will grant them repentance and then knowledge of the truth and they will come to their senses and escape the devilʼs trap where they are held captive to do his will.") have gotten my attention.  We often offer an argument expecting that that argument will effectly stop our opponents in their tracks, that they'll find themselves so  thoroughly refuted that they shut up (there's a reason that a common form of click-bait headline is effectively "X's response  DESTROYS opponent Ys argument" (of course, if you click through, you  typically find that it doesn't really destroy the opponent's argument).  We *want* our side to be that "victorious".  If inflates our pride in being on the  "right side").  But this passage from Paul doesn't seem to engender that expectation.  It's more like you leave the effectiveness  of your gentle correction up to God, with the result dependent on whether God gives then the grace, repentence and recognition of the truth necessary to escape the error they're in (of couse, this assumes that  our gentle correction (or heated argument) was correct in the first place, which if we're honest, is regrettably not always the case).  The attitude is what gets my attention.  It's not "superior", or prideful, or arrogant (all of which  are attitudes that often turn off those we're trying to reach).  It's a gentle presentation of the truth, leaving the results up  to the Father's grace.  Are we doing this?

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Out to look right, or to do right?

A few years ago, I posted a "proverb" of mine:

The wise man wants to act righteously, and and welcomes correction as an aid to doing it. He will defend his reputation against unfair attacks, but only after examining the criticism to see if there is anything to learn from it. For him, doing right trumps looking right.

The fool wants to look righteous and regards correction as an obstacle to that goal. Defending his reputation is the first priority, and only after he once again feels his reputation is secure will he, possibly, examine the criticism for validity. For him, looking right trumps doing right.
It's derived from Ps 15:4c, Pr 12:1,15, and 2 Cor 13:7, with a generous dose of C. S. Lewis's principle of First and Second Things..  As usual with my  insights, it's pointing to some aspect of humility.  But when reading through Matthew recently, I realized that it could also be derived from Mat 6:1-18. Jesus warns against practicing your righteousness in front of people, in order to be seen, and gives 3 examples.  He even says "be careful not to"(HCSB, CSB, NET, NIV) or "Beware of "(NASB, ESV), doing this, which implies that it's something easy to slip into if you're not careful.  If you're only focused on "doing good", it's going to be easy to slip into doing it for the wrong reasons - for building up your own reputation, for making yourself look good to other people.  You have to be wary of, to be careful of, slipping into this.

Rather than doing your deeds before people, Jesus advocates just the opposite: do  your giving anonymously, pray in private rather than making a spectacle of public prayer, when fasting, do your ordinary grooming so people can't see you're fasting.

Does this mean  everything has to be done anonymously?  I don't think so;  Jesus also says in Mat 5:16: "let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven"".  People will see your good works, but your light should shine in such a way that they glorify your heavenly Father, not glorify you.

Attitude makes the difference.  Are you out to advertise yourself, or are you out to do what Father wants, regardless of how you look?  Are you the wise man, wanting to  do what 's right, even if you end up looking wrong, or are you the fool for whom looks and perception are everything?

Friday, January 06, 2017

A note on I Cor 8:1

Recently, I went over the notes I've made on the Olive Tree software I use to read the Bible, and ran across this note I made on I Cor 8:1, which seems share-worthy:

"Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up".  Knowledge tends to point to itself and gets all wrapped up in the fact that it knows what it knows. This is very head-puffing.  Love takes that same knowledge, and constructs.  Note that 'edify', though very much a "religious" word, tends to because of that become vague almost to the point of uselessness.  'Build up' is heading the same way.  To get the idea across in our culture, I'd use the term "construct", or maybe just "build" by itself.  Knowledge on its own inflates the head of its owner to the point where it is empty and flimsy.  Love takes that same knowledge, and builds something solid in the lives of others, whether or not the others realize that that person knows what he does.  Love isn't interested in showing off its knowledge.  Love is interested in making that knowledge productive in other's lives.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Gathering Together

In a home fellowship I attend, today Mat 18:20 came up: "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there among them".  It hit me that there is no corresponding verse for the 'lone ranger' among us, saying "For where you sit by yourself in my name, I am there".  This, of course, doesn't mean that there's a problem with private prayer - Jesus practiced it, and encouraged it in us (Mat 6:6), - but it implies that failing to gather together with other Christians in Jesus name will mean that we miss something of Jesus' presence.

You may find some of those with whom you gather together irritating, or see them as hypocrites.  You may not like the worship style or other aspects of the service.  But letting that keep you away will mean that you will miss something of Jesus' presence that you can get no other way than gathering together with your flawed brothers and sisters in Christ, in His name.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A short quote from John Newton (writer of "Amazing Grace")

"Whatever it be that makes us trust in ourselves that we are comparatively wise or good, so as to treat those with contempt who do not subscribe to our doctrines, or follow our party, is a proof and fruit of a self-righteous spirit. Self righteousness can feed upon doctrines, as well as upon works; and a man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature and the riches of free grace. Yea, I would add, the best of men are not wholly free from this leaven; and therefore are too apt to be pleased with such representations as hold up our adversaries to ridicule, and by consequence flatter our own superior judgments. Controversies, for the most part, are so managed as to indulge rather than to repress this wrong disposition; and therefore, generally speaking, they are productive of little good. They provoke those whom they should convince, and puff up those whom they should edify."

I  had not realized that they had blogging in John Newtons time.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

A few reflections on Acts 3

Oh, wow, has it been a long time since I've posted(2 and a half years).  I've got a couple of posts in draft stage, but they've never made it to published state.  Time to rectify that.

The following dates back to shortly after my last post.  A friend from church had asked me to look at the first few verses in Acts 3.  The following was the result:

Last week you asked me to look at the first part of Acts 3 (Peter and John and the healing of the man born crippled).  Here's what I've come up with.

One thing I see is that when God wants to draw attention, He certainly knows how to do it.  Anyone else (other than this cripple) who was seen in the temple walking and jumping around probably would't have drawn much attention.  But this guy was probably something of a fixture around the temple.  Most of the people in the temple court had probably seen him regularly and knew his condition.  They'd probably given him money.  When he shows up jumping around the temple courts, they know who he is and know how amazing the sight is, and they know that this isn't a fake.

Through the whole situation, I'm seeing Peter as a man whose eyes are on Jesus.   He knows that he himself has nothing to offer except the authority to speak in Jesus name, and faith in that name.  And he does have faith, of a level that can only be God-given. It's one thing to speak in Jesus name and watch what happens.  It's another to speak and then grab the cripple by the hand and haul him up.

But the thing that gets my attention is Peter's response to the crowd.  He asks 2 questions:
  1. "Why are you amazed?" I can just see someone in the crowd respond "Peter - Duh! A man crippled from birth is walking around, jumping, and dancing like a monkey.  For most people, this falls pretty firmly in the 'Amazing' category". But for the man whose eyes are on Jesus, and who knows who Jesus is, this isn't amazing.  In Jesus presence, these things happen.

  2. "Why are you staring at us as if this man had been healed by our power or piety?" Peter's eyes are on Jesus, not on himself. He knows he doesn't have the power to heal, and after denying Jesus, he knows that he doesn't have any piety in and of himself. He knows who Jesus is, and he knows who he is, and between the two he knows which one really deserves attention.
I think most Christians have little problem with acknowledging that it's God's power, not ours, that heals and touches people.  What we have problems with is acknowledging that our piety has nothing to do with it. If God has us involved with healing or touching someone, we wouldn't mind a bit if it is seen as a reflection of our own spiritual growth or knowledge, our own 'piety'.  But for Peter, whose eyes are on Jesus, it's actually puzzling that people might perceive this event as reflecting well on his own piety.

As a man whose eyes are on Jesus, Peter then proceeds to point to Jesus, not himself, as the author of this healing.

An additional note:

If I'm right, and this man had been a 'fixture' in the temple for an extended period (which seems likely, given that 'the people recognized him'), then it's likely that he was there during Jesus' ministry, and Jesus didn't heal him during Jesus' earthly ministry.  You have to wonder if Jesus looked at him at some point and thought 'Friend, I'm not going to heal you today.  But your healing is going to play a big part in the start of building my Church'.  When God doesn't answer us today, sometimes He may be saving the answer for a time that will produce a bigger result than we expect.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


When Jesus says in the Beattitudes, "Blessed are the meek", most of us have problems making that practical. What in the world does it mean to be meek? The typical modern use of the term tends to imply a milquetoast, shy, and weak person, and that doesn't seem to be what Jesus is getting at. So what does the meekness that is blessed mean?

My own approach to this was to use what I believe is a Brainstorming technique: if you're having trouble defining or grasping a word, ask "What is its opposite?". For me that had an immediate answer - the opposite of meekness is arrogance. And the essence of arrogance seems to me to be that it ignores legitimate boundaries. Arrogance takes what it wants, whether there are legitimate obstacles in its way or not. It assumes rights or authority it does not have, ignores legitimate authorities who would oppose it, and ignores the rights of others when those rights get in the way of what it wants.

Well, if the essence of arrogance is that it ignores legitimate boundaries, it seems likely that the essence of meekness is that it instead respects them. This is a definition (or at least description) that I can get hold of. The meek person can be strong, even bold and assertive, but it stops when it comes up to a legitimate boundary or restriction. It allows its strength to be limited by legitimate laws, rules, or authorities. I've heard meekness defined as 'strength under control', but it seems to me that that is mere self-control(to what degree self-control can really be considered 'mere'. We could use seeing lots more self-control). A meek person allows himself to be controlled by legitimate outside authorities, not just by himself.

Make no mistake, even this kind of meekness seems 'weak' to the arrogant. The failure to take what you want, regardless of rules is regarded by the arrogant as a character failure and a sign of weakness. You can expect to have some people still regard you as weak when practicing this kind of of meekess. But their disdain is not itself a legitimate restriction, and shouldn't be regarded as one.

You've probably noted the heavy usage of the term 'legitimate' in the above. The meek won't necessarily allow themselves to be limited by restrictions that aren't valid, though they are free to allow that and beyond ("if someone wants to take your coat, give him your shirt also") or to go beyond legitimate restrictions ("if someone forces you to go a mile, go with him two". But they are also free to ignore restrictions that are not legitimate or to require others to respect legitimate restrictions (see Paul in Acts 16:37)

And this type of meekness seems to me to make the Beatitude understandable. Jesus says of the meek, not that they will acquire the earth, nor that they would conquer the earth (that would be more what the arrogant aim for), but that they will inherit the earth. The earth is handed over to them by someone else. And I suspect that it's handed over to them simply because they can be trusted with it. They won't take it as an indication of authority beyond what they actually have, they won't abuse it, they won't use it selfishly. They will not go beyond proper boundaries in using it, and they therefore can be trusted with it. The arrogant may think the earth is going to be theirs, but God controls the earth, and will ultimately give it to those He knows can be trusted with it (and it will probably drive the arrogant crazy!)