Category Archives: Bible

Sacrificing to our Paychecks

PC: Léonard Cotte on Unsplash

I had a dog growing up. I envied him most of the time. Why? He was always so happy. It didn’t matter what was going on he was always happy. Nothing seemed to get him down. Ever. His happiness was in stark contrast to my own unhappiness and I thought about this contrast on many occasions. Eventually I came to realize that the essential element to his happiness was his trust in me. He knew I would pet him, feed him, shelter him, love him. He never doubted or worried that these would be provided for him, he just knew that they would be there. It is this attitude of trust that enabled him to simply be who God made him to be, a dog. I noticed that a similar attitude prevailed amongst the squirrels that played in the tree outside my house as well. They too didn’t worry about their needs, they just knew that they would be provided for, and because they knew this they were able to be who God made them to be, squirrels.

To my knowledge we are the only one of God’s creatures in whom this attitude of trust for provision of our needs does not prevail. So we build businesses and careers. Why? To make money. Why? To provide for our needs. For our family’s needs. How do we go about building these? We take from others. We take fathers from their sons and mothers from their daughters. We take them and stick them in cubicles and behind desks and phones where all their talent and energy is spent earning a paycheck. And what have we gained by devoting ourselves to these paychecks? For all the wealth and advancements and ‘quality of life’ improvements we may have gained all the ills that have plagued every society in human history still continue unabated. We still kill one another, steal from one another, abuse one another, and do numerous other heinous things to one another. Not only do these problems continue, but so does the problem of death; we will all inevitably die.

The most significant result of us sacrificing ourselves to our paychecks is not prosperity, but rather that we no longer have any idea who we are or what we should be doing. We no longer realize how strange of a world we live in. A world in which water falls from the sky in order to bring our food out of the dirt. A world in which every species dies, but yet the species continues to live. A world which is constantly in motion spinning around its axis while rotating around the sun suspended in space, but yet never seems (from our perspective) to move.

Why do we not hear what the world is saying to us? Why do we simply acknowledge its workings as facts and think nothing further of them? We do not hear because we, even us who consider ourselves Christians, have bought into the lie which teaches that the world is a neutral zone in which god or religion, any god or religion, is optional.

How should we respond to this as Christians? There are perhaps several ways, but I think the essential element is to understand and remember Psalm 19. The first part of the psalm begins by praising God for his creation:

1 The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
4 Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
5 which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

It is the pslamist’s reflection upon God’s creation which prompts his praise of God’s law, precepts, and commandments:

7 The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the LORD is sure,
making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
9 the fear of the LORD is clean,
enduring forever;
the rules of the LORD are true,
and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.

Why was he prompted to praise God for His law, precepts, and commandments? Because when he reflected on the creation around him he saw glory of God and because he saw the glory of God he saw who he really was, a sinful and evil person who was unworthy to dwell with God, which prompts his conclusion:

12 Who can discern his errors?
Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.

A similar response is made by the prophet Isaiah, who also saw that he was sinful and evil after seeing the glory of God:

 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”  – Isaiah 6.5 ESV

We see the same world that the psalmist saw, but yet we do not repeat his words, nor the words of the prophet Isaiah. Why?

Because the heavens do not declare the glory of God to us. We do not listen to their speech or hear their voice. We ignore it and resist it. In fact we go so far as to erase them from our mind by lighting up the night sky so as not to see the stars and paving all our cities with concrete, brick, and steel. Because if we listened to them their speech would be unbearable to us. We would realize that all our efforts to provide for ourselves have been one huge act of rebellion against God. And we would realize that there is no way to stop this rebellion since it is the result of the sin which is inherit in everyone.

What is it then that we should hear from the heavens and creation? What are they telling us? When Solomon dedicated the temple he had built to the LORD the glory of the LORD came and filled it [1 Kings 8.10-11]. The heavens and creation then, by declaring the glory of the LORD are telling us that the entire earth is His temple. Right now you and I are in God’s temple and he is in the midst of us. When we become aware of God’s presence we recognize how evil we truly are.

If the world truly declared the glory of God to us [Ps. 19.1] we would understand why the remainder of the Psalm praises the law of the LORD and finishes with:

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

One of the things that Qohelet realizes in Ecclesiastes is that there are many things that he does not have control over that can and/or will destroy everything he has worked so hard to accomplish. He concludes that God has made things this way, so follow God. I think we would do well to do the same. God will provide for us and we will be who He made us to be. We are of more value than many sparrows.

If you enjoyed this post please click “Like” and/or leave a comment. Your feedback is important to me as I decide what to focus on post-seminary now that my health is recovering and I get closer and closer to normal.

Life and Death in the Wilderness

Photo: Yuliya Kosolapova on Unsplash

Note: I am currently in the process of going through my drafts and cleaning up and publishing the good ones I have in there. This post was started in 2015 and was just finished today.

I was struck by the imagery of the appointed readings for Morning Prayer on Thursday last week. The First Lesson was from Ezekiel 37.1-14. In this passage Ezekiel is in the Valley of Dry Bones, surrounded by the result of death, and God promises the prophet that He will reverse this curse:

“Therefore prophesy, and tell them, ‘This is what the sovereign LORD says: Look, I am about to open your graves and will raise you from your graves, my people. I will bring you to the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and raise you from your graves, my people. I will place my breath in you and you will live; I will give you rest in your own land. Then you will know that I am the LORD—I have spoken and I will act, declares the LORD.’ ” – Ezekiel 37.12-14

The eventual end of every person is to die, this is inevitable and unavoidable. Primarily we conceive of death as a physical occurrence. However, there is also a spiritual dimension to death, a dimension which can perhaps simply be described as not believing and trusting in Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection and thus not being indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Or in other words, not being a true Christian.

It is this view of death, as both physical and spiritual, that is in view in Ezekiel’s prophecy. Ezekiel was a prophet to Israel while they were in exile in Babylon. Not only had many Israelites been killed physically as a result of the Babylonian conquest, but God had used Babylon to judge Israel because she was dead spiritually as well. She had abandoned God for other false gods and refused to repent and return.

This is not merely a description of a nation that lived over 2,000 years ago however. It is a description of all humanity since the Fall. We all die physically because we are all dead spiritually. Our physical reality is indicative of our natural spiritual state.

The Second Lesson was from Philippians 3.7-21. In the preceding verses (3.1-6) Paul describes his human credentials and says that no one has better spiritual credentials from a human standpoint than he does. But he regards these as liabilities, saying:

But these assets I have come to regard as liabilities because of Christ. More than that, I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things… Philippians 3.7-8a

Why are these liabilities though? Because they blind us to our true spiritual state. We focus on our false selves, what we do well, our gifts, our accomplishments, our goals, our greatness. We do not focus on our true selves, our vileness, our frailty, our death. God came to us out of love for us, and we hated Him and executed Him in an attempt to hide our own evil from ourselves. Being alone with our true selves is a very scary thing.

Both of these Lessons occurred during what modern Christianese would call a “wilderness experience” or a “desert experience,” which basically refers to a period of time in which God feels absent or things are not working out well for some reason. In the case of Ezekiel the Israelites were in exile in Babylon. In the case of Paul he was writing to the Philippians from prison. In both of these cases things are not working out well and to the people directly involved it seemed as though God was absent for some reason, at least initially. But in reality God wasn’t absent from either of these situations. In reality God had brought them into the wilderness so that there was nothing around to distract them from their true selves and they were forced to confront what they found there. Ultimately they each responded differently.

The Israelites, as a nation, failed (or refused) to recognize the evil and vileness that was in their hearts. Instead their basic thought process seems to have been: “God exiled us because we failed to keep the Law and follow all its rules, so now we are going to be extra sure to keep the Law and all its rules so that God does not punish us again.” Their concern was not turning from sin, but avoiding punishment. They did not love God. They only loved themselves. They were not concerned with God wanted. They were only concerned with what they wanted and their own comfort.

Paul on the other hand recognized the evil in himself and recognized that only God could cure the sin that lived within it (e.g. Romans 7.21-25, 1Corinthians 15.9, 1Timothy 1.15). He was not concerned with avoiding punishment. He was concerned with loving God and pursuing Him more and more. In fact if you continue reading in Philippians you read:

My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already attained this—that is, I have not already been perfected—but I strive to lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus also laid hold of me. – Philippians 3.10-12

Paul is not concerned for his own comfort, but only for being as much like Christ as possible. He truly repents of his old ways and pursues the way of Christ. He is not concerned with his external status or situation, but only with being holy as Christ is holy.

I believe that God uses the wilderness experiences of our lives, those times when something tragic or unexpected happens and it seems like God is absent, to expose what is in our hearts and force us to confront it. When we are brought to this point we have two choices: 1) choose death and refuse to recognize the evil and sin in us, or 2) choose life and truly repent and follow Christ. The first choice is extremely tempting because when we’re in a wilderness experience I think our main concern is getting out of the wilderness and back to the way things used to be, especially if we were happy and things were going good. The problem with this choice though is that it ignores our spiritual state and condition and prioritizes our own comfort. To be sure, it isn’t that wanting to get back to “normal” is a bad thing, because it isn’t. The problem is, I think, when we allow ourselves to get so focused on getting back to normal that we don’t take any time at all to examine what is going in our hearts during this time.

In my own experience I’ve found that I usually don’t understand or know what was going on in my heart during a wilderness experience until after I have gotten through it and got back to something close to normal. Once I’m in better circumstances I’ve found that I am in a much better place to reflect and examine the experience than when I am still in the experience. There are far too many emotions in play during the experience that it really prevents me from seeing things accurately. I think it is when we are on the other side of a wilderness experience that the choice between the way of death and the way of life presents itself to us. We can choose death and not examine our hearts, or we can choose life and examine our hearts and ask God to help us repent of whatever evil was revealed to us in it. Even if in the past we’ve chosen death and refused to acknowledge whatever sin(s) God brought to light there is still time to choose to acknowledge them and follow Christ.

I do not believe a perspective like Paul’s, who values Christ more than anything, even physical comfort comes easily. Following God and being obedient to what He called you to do, ending up in prison, and still being joyful and eager to serve Him isn’t something that just happens. It is born from coming face to face with the evil in your own heart and asking God to help take it away. And it is when all the distractions are taken away, our talents, our skills, our accomplishments, our greatness, that we are able to come face to face with our own sinfulness.

It is in the wilderness that God does his best work in us. It can be a very painful work. But if we cooperate and don’t fight him we will be closer to Him than we were before. Closer to being holy as he is holy. We will not die, but live eternally.

Questions Do Not Indicate Doubt

PC: Joel Overbeck | Unsplash

The story of Lisa (and Michael) Gungor recently came to my attention (I’ve been kind of busy the past 6 years or so with seminary). There’s a lot that I suppose could be commented on regarding her story, but there was one aspect in particular that stood out to me: the shutting down of her questions: 

 
“We went to this very wild, charismatic church, and the church was exciting and the way of Jesus was revolutionary to me. And I had little questions, but you weren’t really allowed to ask them.”

Here’s the deal: questions don’t indicate doubt, they indicate curiosity and engagement. Questions, assuming they’re honest, come about as a result of being engaged in thinking about something. If you are teaching a topic and someone asks a question regarding it it means that they are engaged and care about what you are saying! It means that they have been following and processing what you are saying and are trying to understand it better. Perhaps something is completely new to them. Perhaps it conflicts (or seems to conflict) with what they already know. Perhaps they find the topic interesting or intriguing and want to know more about it. So for a child, who is growing up in church, to be asking questions about the faith is a good thing and something that should be welcomed!

Unfortunately though that’s not what happened in Lisa’s case. Questions were apparently viewed as doubt and doubt “was the opposition of faith.” The problem with this logic is, as I’ve tried to show above, that questions do not indicate doubt, but engagement and curiosity! When you are apathetic and not engaged by a topic is when you fail to be curious about it and do not ask questions regarding it. Questions are good, and should be asked. 

The results of their curiosity being shutdown were not good. The questions didn’t go away. They kept gnawing away at both of them until they found answers to them. That is after all the only way to get rid of a question: answer it.

I don’t know what their exact questions were since they don’t mention them specifically in the article. However, the “problem” of evil seems to have been one of them given the mentioning of their experience from their visit at Auschwitz and Lisa’s problem with reading the Old Testament. This is a very good question! In fact, this question is only a “problem” within the Judaeo-Christian worldview. After all, if God is good and created everything, then why does evil exist? Why the horrors of Auschwitz? Why modern day genocides? Why senseless murders? 

These are not new questions. Christianity has been around for 2,000 years and so have these questions. The ultimate answer (because there is quite a bit to discuss regarding this issue) to the “problem” of evil is that God allows it and uses it to accomplish His purposes, one of which is to bring glory to Himself. Yes, I am quite sure that God could have accomplished His purposes and glorified Himself through some other means, but He didn’t and in the end we have to discuss what God actually did, not what He might have done or could have done.

Issues with the Old Testament are also not new. In fact they are so old that the New Testament even deals with some of them! Specifically, that Christians are not under the Mosaic Law because through their union with Christ they died to the Law because Christ did what the Law could not: free us from sin! (see Romans 6). In Galatians 3 also Paul argues that people have always been justified by faith, not by doing the Law. He goes on to say that the Law was just a tutor whose purpose was to lead us to Christ, but now that Christ has come there is no longer any need for a tutor.

Obviously there is much more that can (and should) be discussed regarding these two questions. My point here is simply to show that questions are not evidence of doubt or a lack of faith. Questions are evidence of curiosity. They are evidence that someone is thinking about the faith and wanting to learn more about it, or reconcile things that don’t make sense. Honest questions should be engaged with honesty and compassion. The goal of engaging these questions is not to win an argument or convince someone of our view of things, but to win the person. To communicate to them that we understand where the question is coming from and why it is an issue for them. To communicate to them that we love them and are concerned about them. They could be motivated by genuine curiosity, or they could be motivated by pain, but we will never know until we engage them.

But whatever you do, don’t shut questions down or consider them to be a lack of faith. Especially if they’re coming from children. The questions aren’t going to go away. The person asking them will eventually answer them, and part of that answer will be: “God doesn’t love me.” And nothing could be further from the truth. 

Bible Study 101: Translations

One of the most important decisions to make when it comes to studying the Bible is the selection of a translation, but with all the available choices in English it isn’t always easy, or clear, which one to choose. This decision however doesn’t need to be complicated or difficult if you know a few things about the translations.

First, recognize that no English translation is going to perfectly reflect the underlying Greek or Hebrew. Any time you translate from one language to another you lose something in the translation; it’s just going to happen regardless of how hard you try. Why? Mostly because every language works differently from other languages. There is different vocabulary, syntax, grammar, pronunciation, etc. Even between languages that are similar there is at least some difference. For example, in English the basic word order for a sentence is subject-verb-object [the student wrote a paper]. In Biblical Hebrew basic word order is verb-subject-object [wrote the student a paper]. In Biblical Greek the subject, verb, and object can be in any order they want.*

So if we did a word for word translation of say Jonah 1.16a it would come out like this in English: “Then they feared the men a great fear the LORD.” Not very understandable. So we have to change a few things in order for it to make sense in English. In the verse the subject is “the men” and “the LORD” is the object, so accounting for these we now end up with: “Then the men feared the LORD a great fear.” This is a little better than what we started out with originally since we now have a subject-verb-object word order, but it still isn’t very good because it doesn’t make sense of the phrase, “a great fear.” What “a great fear” is actually doing here is adding emphasis to the “fear” of the men. Hebrew does this by repeating the same root in the verb [“feared”] and the accusative noun [“fear”],** but in English we would use an adverb such as “exceedingly” or “greatly” in such a situation. If we take this into consideration then we end up with: “Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly.” 

Second, recognize that each translation takes a different approach to translation. Some translations [e.g. New American Standard Bible] emphasize a word-for-word approach to translation [our translation above followed this approach]. While this approach helps preserve aspects of the original text that are useful for study purposes it also requires you to know [or learn] certain nuances of some terms because the English word may not have the same nuance as the underlying Greek or Hebrew. For example, if you ask someone, “Do you fear _______?” You’re usually wanting to know if they’re afraid of something. If this was all you knew of the term you likely would conclude that men were afraid or terrified of the LORD. You would then read the next part of the verse with this meaning in mind and would conclude that their motivation for offering a sacrifice to the LORD and making vows was their terror.

You conclusion however would be incorrect. True, in Biblical Hebrew [and Greek] “fear” could refer to being afraid or terrified of something, but it could also refer to having reverence for something [the same Hebrew verb is translated as “feared” in Jonah 1.16 and “honor” or “revere” in Leviticus 19.3]. Some people recognized that a word-for-word translation such as “feared the LORD” does not easily convey the sense of the underlying Hebrew, and so they prefer a thought-for-thought approach to translation. In this approach you lose certain aspects of the original text, but the meaning of the text is more readily apparent because you do not need to struggle with foreign expressions and awkward syntax.

A translation that emphasizes this approach is the New Living Translation [NLT] and it translates Jonah 1.16 as, “The sailors were awestruck by the LORD’s great power, and they offered him a sacrifice and vowed to serve him.” In this passage then we see that the main emotion of the men [sailors] was not terror! The sailors had tried everything they could in order to survive the storm they were in and were at their wits end. So when the sea calmed after they threw Jonah overboard they were amazed that the LORD had the power to stop the storm and calm the sea! They were not scared! They recognized that it was the LORD, the God of heaven, who saved them and that He was more powerful than their gods, and so they chose to serve Him.

Third, know your own intellectual abilities and be honest with yourself about them. These two different approaches to translation result in different reading levels. Translations that follow a word-for-word approach generally have a higher reading level than those which follow a thought-for-thought approach. The following chart estimates the reading levels of certain translations [source]:

KJV — 12
RSV — 12
NRSV — 11
NASB — 11
ESV — 10
HCSB — 7-8
NIV — 7-8
CEB — 7
NKJV — 7
NLT — 6
GW — 5
Message — 4-5
NCV — 3
NIrV — 3

So if you’re trying to read a certain translation, say the KJV or NASB, and are having difficulty understanding it, choose one that has a lower reading level, perhaps the NIV or NLT. You will find your Bible Study to be much more rewarding when you understand what is going on in the text, which in turn will motivate you to continue to study and read the Bible. A site like BibleGateway has many translations available for free online that you can use and read. So if you’re not sure of which translation to go with you can compare them there.

Hopefully this helps explains some of the reasons as to why there are so many English translations and is useful in selecting one.

* This is because Biblical Greek uses a noun case system in order to determine the function of a noun in a sentence. In this system the ending of the noun determines its function in the sentence. And if you know Biblical Greek you also know that technically there is a word order to it, but this is an article on English Bible translations, not New Testament Greek, and thus such a a topic is well beyond the scope of it. Here I am talking very generally.

** This is called a cognate accusative construction.

Book Recommendation: Truth Matters

“Truth Matters” is written to answer common objections raised against Christianity by skeptics, pundits, etc, and also to address legitimate questions that sometimes occur to people. It deals with matters such as the reliability and trustworthiness of the biblical manuscripts, why is there is so much evil, the claim of contradictions in the Bible, and also the claim that early Christianity was actually diverse, but then “orthodoxy” eventually stomped all the others out. It is written for high school students, so it is quite readable and understandable. And while it doesn’t go into all the intricacies of the arguments, it does give a fairly good overview of the basic contours of them.

Why Squirrels are Better

 

How to be happy: be a dog!

This just in from the stating the obvious department…

While I was still living in FL God provided me with a frequent image to consider: squirrels (don’t laugh! this is going somewhere serious I promise!). You see there is a tree in the backyard of my parent’s house that I would watch the squirrels play in every morning before I did my daily Scripture readings. I would often be jealous of them. They didn’t worry about their jobs, money, or many of the other things that I worried about. They simply ran around the tree chasing each other, gathered material for nests, and (after checking to make sure the dog was inside) hopped down to the ground to search for food. Their lives seemed so simple, happy and worry-free; I wondered why my life had to be so complex, sad, and worrisome.

I’m not sure that I truly learned the lesson God was teaching me back then (actually I’m not sure I’ve truly learned any lesson God has ever taught me), but it’s a lesson I am being taught again as I near the end of another semester of seminary. I even find myself worrying about the same things I did back then! What will I do after seminary? Am I currently pursuing the right path for after graduation? Will I have enough money? Actually I am even worrying about more things! Am I being called to marriage or singleness? Can I personally do ministry without the support of a wife? Will having a wife (and likely kids also) be a detriment to my ministry?

Squirrels have not been my only teachers regarding these concerns, but Scripture also. The Psalms address these concerns in numerous places I believe, but Psalm 95.1-7 has stood out to me in particular:

Oh come, let us sing to the LORD;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the LORD is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.
Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.
Psalm 95.1-7a ESV

These verses recount God’s creation of the world and everything in it, including humans. As a result of this we, along with the rest of creation, should recognize that we not only exist due solely to God’s decision to create, but that we are dependent on Him for our daily sustenance (e.g. food, water).

Jesus explicitly teaches this several times in the New Testament. First in Matthew 6.25-34:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Matthew 6.25-34 ESV

It doesn’t matter how much money we have or how big our house is, if God doesn’t send the rain to water the crops and fill the rivers and lakes, or the sunshine to grow the crops we won’t be alive for much longer. No matter how fit or healthy we are we will not live a moment longer than God has decided that we should live. So what should we do? God knows that we need food, water, and clothing, and He will give these things to us, just like he does to the birds (and squirrels!). And just like the birds (and squirrels!) are obedient to God and serve Him the way He intends for them, so we also should follow God and be obedient to His teachings and live the life he intends for us, a life of holiness. We should not be anxious about food, water, and clothing.

Jesus again teaches us not be anxious when He is in Martha’s house:

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
Luke 10.38-42 ESV

Martha is busy with all the preparations* for Jesus and His disciples, but how does Jesus describe her? As anxious about many things! A rebuke! It is Mary who Jesus describes as having “chosen the good portion,” which is listening to the words of her God and Savior and following Him, rather than being worried about food and entertaining guests.

Even the Apostles struggled with being anxious! They were once worried that they had no food, even though they had already seen Jesus feed thousands of people with just a few fish and a few loaves of bread:

When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Matthew 16.5-12 ESV

But why is it significant that we not worry about these things? Because they are symptomatic of what is in our heart. The passage I quoted above from Matthew 6.25-34 has a parallel account in Luke 12.22-31 and immediately following adds:

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
Luke 12.32-34 ESV

I believe one of the fundamentals of the Christian life is to learn to set our hearts and desires on heavenly rewards rather than earthly rewards. This means learning to hear God’s voice and being obedient to what He calls you to do and trusting that He will provide for your needs along the way. The second part of Psalm 95 is instructive regarding this:

Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your fathers put me to the test
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
For forty years I loathed that generation
and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart,
and they have not known my ways.”
Therefore I swore in my wrath,
“They shall not enter my rest.”
Psalm 95.7b-11**

God has called us to follow Him and to trust Him to provide for our needs along the way. We should not be worried about whether we will have food, or water, or clothing, or whether we will be married because God knows what we need and will give us what we need. What we should be worried about is whether or not we are being obedient to Him, following Him where He is leading us, and trusting Him to provide for us. If we are not doing this it is a sign that we love the things of the world, such as money or power or prestige, more than the God who made us. It is a sign that Sin is ruling our lives.

ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.

 

*The word translated “serving” probably refers to the preparations for a social event, such as a meal. See BDAG, διακονία 2.b.

**The incident at Meribah and Massah is found in Exodus 17.1-7 where the Israelites grumbled against Moses and did not trust that God was with them and would provide for their needs on their journey to the land He had promised, even though they had already seen Him provide bread for them from heaven (Exodus 16). Also, Hebrew 3.7-4.13 has an excellent exposition of these verses which I highly recommend reading.

 

Propaganda Disguised as “Scholarship”

Recently Newsweek ran a rather lengthy article entitled, “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin,” which claims to be an exploration, “of the Bible’s history and meaning” and “is not intended to advance a particular theology…” but this is simply not true. That a particular theology is not being advanced is blatantly obvious in light of the fact that rather lengthy sections are devoted to attempts to counter the claim that the Bible condemns homosexual behavior. Sorry, whether or not something is or isn’t taught in the Bible is a theological claim.

Secondly, the article isn’t really even an exploration, it’s a propaganda piece. There is no mention or discussion or even an attempt at the articulation of the actual beliefs of the “Evangelicals” that are the target of the author’s rant. An actual exploration of the religious text of any community should include an unbiased and fair investigation into the beliefs of that community and an accurate articulation given as to what that community has to say about their own religious text. Once such beliefs are understood and articulated then counter perspectives and arguments can be given.

So since such a perspective never made it into the article, probably because it would have made the article boring and far less controversial, I offer the following Evangelical responses to it, none of whom I know to, “wave their Bibles at passersby, screaming their condemnations of homosexuals.”

Dr. Dan Wallace (biography and credentials): Predictable Christmas fare: Newsweek’s Tirade against the Bible

Dr. Darrell Bock is responding in parts, thus far two parts have been published:
Responding To Newsweek’s Take on the Bible, Part 1 On the Base Biblical Text- Do We Really Know What We Have?

Responding to Newsweek’s Take on the Bible, Part 2 Translation Issues and Constantine

Responding to Newsweek’s Take on the Bible, Part 3 On Three Kings and Claims about Differences and Contradictions

Responding to Newsweek’s Take on the Bible, Part 4 More Claims of Contradictions and Conclusion

His blog (where future response will show up), along with his biography and credentials is: Bock’s Blog

Dr. Ben Witherington (biography and credentials): News Weak—- The Problems with Mr. Eichenwald’s Article

Father Lawrence Farley is an Eastern Orthodox priest who serves in Canada. While not the recognized scholar that the other authors are, his response is no less valuable because of it. He touches briefly on all the points the article makes. And for clarity’s sake, he probably wouldn’t label himself an Evangelical, but nonetheless he at least is in agreement with Evangelicals on this issue. Newsweek Nonsense: an Expanded Response

Commentaries. One of the articles refers the reader to commentaries, thus I will offer two quality ones that are available for free online so that they may be used by those interested for reference and investigative purposes.

Dr. Constable’s Expository (Bible Study) Notes

Bible Study Resources by David Guzik

I feel at this point these responses are a representative and a fairly complete Evangelical response to the Newsweek article, so I don’t think I will be adding any more at this point. If however I happen to run across one I will be sure to add it to the list.