The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’
“For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever.
“Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the Lord.
When you think about a prophet, do you usually think about kind words coming out of his or her mouth? Often times, contemporary society paints prophets to be doom and gloom sort of people.
In a difficult chapter of Judah’s national history, the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel said through Jeremiah, “Amend your ways and your doing and let me dwell with you in this place.”
When injustice happens and when innocent blood is shed and when oppression occurs, the Lord is not found in that place. Even if they think of themselves as holy because of their rituals, God calls for them to amend their ways and let him dwell with them.
God wants to dwell with us—isn’t that shocking?
Jesus calls each and every one of us to repent (to turn away from our unjust actions) and seek the Kingdom.
Repent and reclaim the mantle of the Beloved child of God.
Why should we read the Bible?
It’s not just for the knowledge or increasing the depth of our understanding of Western civilization (since so much of Western culture is rooted from the Bible) or picking up nice proverbs we can use throughout everyday life. We should read the Bible because it is God’s Word and He uses it to transform people, no matter how good or bad they think they are.
For me, I want to read the Bible because of the transforming power it has. This transformative experience is what I desire, I want it to change and guide me, to create a heart that loves others and loves Him.
I read the Bible to be changed and to shape my will to God’s. That his will, in fact, would be done on earth as it is in heaven. Might his will start first within my bankrupt heart.
Why do you read the Bible?
“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
II Corinthians 5:18-21
In light of so many stories on racial tensions in the news, I was struck by the words Paul wrote in his second letter to the church at Corinth. He reminded his Corinthian friends that they were called to the ministry of reconciliation, since they were reconciled to God in Christ.
The questions I was confronted with in this passage were this:
What role am I taking as a reconciler? How am I living as an ambassador and seeking to reconcile broken people in a broken world? How do I love my neighbor who might have more or less zeros on their paycheck and might have a different skin color from myself?
Most important: If I self identify as a follower of Jesus, do I actually live as one?
“In the beginning was the Word…”
In the first words from the Gospel of John, we read that Jesus existed before the foundations of the world and that Jesus created the universe billions of years ago through a word. Through an act of creation, setting in motion the cosmos through an incomprehensibly big bang. The Word spoke and creation followed.
Then we read in John that this Word decided to become flesh, he came down to the ground in order to bring God’s Kingdom and His will to the neighborhood. He healed people, turned water into wine, and challenged the religious leaders of the day. Then we find out he did something.
Jesus cried over the death of his good friend. He cried when he saw the tears of people he loved. Jesus’ heart ached.
Jesus the Messiah is not a Stoic or some distant philosopher. He weeps for his people who choose to walk in darkness and reject the light that is given to all. He mourns for those who remain in darkness.
Jesus comes to us in truth and in tears. Yes, he is truth.
He is also life in all of its implications.
I am in the middle of preparing a brief message on the crucifixion scene in the Gospel of Mark and it reminded about the author’s style in the composition of this account. During my preparation, I was reading in a commentary about the questions surrounding when to date this particular gospel. It ultimately comes down to the rebellion of the Jewish people against the Roman forces and the resulting destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. Due to the lack of comments about the destruction of the temple and other clues, scholars place the composition of this book during the Jewish rebellion or before. 50s-60s A.D. is a safe bet for the earliest gospel account (Paul gets the earliest writer of the New Testament award).
Placing the context of the gospel is important for the preacher and leaders within the church (lay-leaders, not necessarily those on staff at a church) because questions will come up. There will be questions concerning the Gospel of Thomas or Judas. There are fragments that seem to imply that Jesus had a wife and there will undoubtedly be many more compromising documents surfacing. I am convinced by the likes of NT Wright that we need to know not only God’s Word, but the context surrounding it.
We need to understand the context and dig into that first century so that we can enrich our own faith and defend the faith when National Geographic runs stories on the Gospel of Judas. Knowing what we believe and why we believe it is not just our pastor’s job or the job of a seminary professor. No, it is our job as the Church. It is your job as the faithful member of your local church and as a leader within the community. There are so many tools at our disposal now, I beg you to consider to dig into the depths of the Christian faith.
What has helped you explore the depths of the faith?
I wrote last month on how we can find God’s will (if you haven’t read it, check them out here and here). I originally thought that God’s will was for me to marry the “one” and to work at ACME Enterprise, but instead I discovered that God’s will was for me to be sanctified in Christ and be renewed in him. It wasn’t about taking the right train to find the right person who will then introduce me to the right mate three years into the future. As Paul would relay to the Romans, God’s will is found in not conforming to the world, but instead being transformed through the work of Jesus (Romans 12:1-2).
If God’s will can be found through the transforming work of Jesus, then we can verify this will through believing in the name of Jesus and loving each other (I John 3:23). In short, trust in the testimony concerning Jesus the Messiah and then out of that belief will flow love toward each other.
The thing I didn’t get as a high schooler was that God’s will is not this mystical map or target I needed to hit. Instead it is a life that is easy to talk about but much harder to live into. That’s where Holy Spirit shows up in our theology and in I John. He shows up to assure and confirm that we are in Christ. He shows up to affirm that we are children of God.
God’s will can be found and it can be assured when we trust in the testimony of Jesus, for God will give us his Spirit to confirm whose we are and will lead us into who we are meant to be—sons and daughters of the King.
How do you find God’s Will?
“You don’t take the Bible literally!”
Have you ever heard that phrase? Perhaps you have been told this.
I’ve found that nothing is quite as damning as being questioned on whether you take the Bible literally by someone within the evangelical circle. So to start the new year right, I’m going to make a shocking plead here: Don’t take the Bible literally. Take the Bible seriously instead.
Like everything we read (inspired by God or otherwise), it is important to understand what we are reading. As I’m certain many have heard or discovered, the Bible is a collection of books. Within the pages of the Bible you will find histories, prophecies, poetry, and letters. And if we are going to understand what was penned years ago, then we are going to have to understand the genres.
Reading the poetry of Solomon in Song of Songs takes one method of interpretation (hint: the sampling of fruit in Song of Songs probably doesn’t mean literal fruit) while a letter by Peter takes another. Revelation is a form of apocalyptic literature that was not meant to be taken literally, the beast rising from the sea with ten horns and seven heads with diadems and blasphemous names on them is there to convey a point and is not a crazy looking lizard (unless you interpret it to be a start to a Godzilla movie).
Here’s a good resolution to embrace, quit taking the Bible literally, take it seriously. Handle it with care and allow it to speak into your life (through the work of Holy Spirit). I look to Paul’s encouragement to Timothy to rightly teach God’s Word to others, to be a caretaker/steward of it (I Timothy 1:3-7). After all, there were people even in their day that spoke confidently about things they did not understand (I Timothy 1:7). These bad teachers Paul referred to did not take God’s Word seriously, they chose to take God’s Word and twist it.
It is my hope you consider taking God’s Word seriously and not literally in this year.
Have you ever been accused of not taking the Bible literally?
When I’m worn down and feel drained, I like to remember an end scene. I like to think of a big party where I am personally invited to be with friends and loved ones.
In fiction, there are often closing scenes in great stories that draw us into a celebration, when evil is vanquished and good prevails. I remember the coronation scene at the end of The Lord of the Rings, where the city of Gondor is renewed by the return of the rightful king. I also think about the scene at the end of the Star Wars saga where all the worlds celebrated the defeat of the Empire and look towards a renewed peace.
Why do these endings strike me?
Because they echo another party, one that will come at the close of this present chapter and mark the beginning of a new dawn. John saw this party and recorded it for us, writing:Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.
I picture this scene with loved ones, with friends, and departed saints. Not only are my grandparents there, but all those who I have read about from throughout the ages. This party is a future reality, a hope that will be there and an encouragement when things go wrong. This feast full of laughter, wine, and unbridled happiness is coming.
I know it’s not always easy to believe this, it can be a pain to place hope in something down the road, but as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, this feast will get here. The best Thanksgiving dinner you ever had pales in comparison to this one.
Why am I confident in this?
Because the risen Messiah promises it. The dead don’t typically rise, and if they rise bodily, then we ought to listen to them! And the one who conquered death will come to right the world, it might be next Tuesday or the next century, but he will return.
Until he returns, I will place my hope in his promise, for where else can I go? Only Jesus offers the word of life.
What gives you hope?
The Bible is a really old book.
Has that thought ever come to mind? What about these ones:
It’s kind of old fashioned and the book should be placed in a museum. I mean, it has crazy stories in it and a few good lessons, but we all know that our post modern (or remnants of modernist) way is superior, right?
Consider this for a second.
What if we are not superior to the Bible? What if we have no place to sit and judge over this book?
Maybe Scripture is fully human and yet divine at the same time. What if God decided to use a diverse amount of people to communicate the Grand Drama of God redeeming the world by using human words? Maybe it still literally retains God’s voice in this book? Is it possible? What do you think?
Our minds are full of violence. Even the noble ideals of the Enlightenment philosopher in Europe ended up in the Great Terror of Revolutionary France. Even the workers paradise of the communist experiment ended up in the horrors of the Maoist, Stalinist, and other communist regimes. Even the noble ideals of the Manifest Destiny pushed Native Americans to death and small reservations. Humanity has produced some horrors, sadly they even come in the name of God.
But what if we were called to something else. Called to take on a new mind, one that is not filled with Holocaust and hate, but humility and grace?
The Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 2:5-8,
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Maybe Jesus’ insights were superior than the insights of the French Revolution, that we have a responsibility over a right. I think the community of Christ followers might do well to make responsibility as a foundation to life instead of our rights. After all, we might be free to eat meat offered to idols, but out of love for others who might stumble, we ought to give up those rights (see I Corinthians 8). Or as Luther would put it, “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject of all, subject to all.”
Let’s follow Jesus and lay down our rights so that we might bring the good news of God’s work in Jesus to all. An ambassador for the Kingdom of God is certainly founded in responsibility of representing Jesus.
While I am out bonding with my beautiful daughter, I have the great privilege of bringing a powerful writer. Julie Caulder blogs over at Incite Faith and her passion is finding redemption in brokenness. I have learned a lot through her transparent writings, and I highly recommend subscribing to her blog Incite Faith. More on her follows this post. So without further ado, take it away, Julie!
I have a confession:
I used to hate reading the Bible.
I never understood why reading the Word was so important. It seemed more like a chore than a commitment. I never approached the Word with passion and zeal, but with fearful restraint. What I didn’t know then God has since revealed to me now.
God has revealed to me His Word has the power to transform our heart and renew our minds. When we’re burdened, worried, or afraid, God’s Word has the power to focus our attention where it belongs; on His truth.
Spending intimate time with God and reading His Word has been both challenging and convictin
In 1 Kings 19, Elijah was afraid and ran for His life, then an angel touched him and said “Get up and eat.“ When trials come out first reaction is to run. We run from our situation and ourselves. We complain about our circumstances and stay in our mess because facing the truth about who we are would mean change.
Honestly, I didn’t want to change. I felt the way I was living was justified after all I’ve been through. I played the victim more than leaning on God’s redemptive grace. But God never gave up on me. The more time I spent with Him, He reminded me of His Word. There was something He needed me to know and He was ready to work in my life. His Word needed to pierce every unwilling part of my heart. God wanted to change my life, He wanted to change me, and it was going to start in His Word.
God Himself gave us everything we need to live an abundant life; Jesus, His Son, The Holy Spirit, and the bread of life, His Word. If the Word of God doesn’t change you from the inside out, then it’s useless.
I spend time with God in the morning before work, after work, and before bed. Why? Because I know how easy it is to be bogged down by distraction and busyness that we neglect time with the Lord. Like Elijah, we need to “Get up and eat” daily. Our minds are more vulnerable in the morning and God’s Word is what sustains us and gets us through our life and day. To limit our distractions, we need to pick up our Bibles daily and get distracted by His truth, not the noise of the world. God’s Word is the only thing worth being distracted by.
Everything in God’s Word is truth. It cuts through everything hindering our relationship with Him. It tears down the veil of our hearts and reveals the truth of who we are and what we’re made of. While scary, His Word is necessary to live a life of faithful and relentless obedience.
No matter where God has you, make it a point to “Get up and eat” daily. God wants to reveal His truth and Himself to you and that’s only possible through His Word.
God’s Word sustains, comforts and remains.
How much time are you spending in His Word?
Julie Caulder has a passion for people and meeting them where they are in their struggle. She believes in the power of transparent community and in God’s redemptive grace. Her life motto is: “Love God, Love Others, Go!” You can connect with Julie on Twitter @InciteFaith