A Gift and a Promise

A gift and a promise.

For whom are they intended?

upended bible

Article from Sydney Morning Herald 26 Feb 2019

Highlighted parts of the article:

God’s sacrifice of Jesus to express his love on Earth was the favourite Bible passage of many Christians. But that is changing, as messages of hope and prosperity on social media find greater resonance with the younger generation.

“Whereas once John 3:16 was the ‘poster boy text of the 20th century, the latest star is Jeremiah 29:11”

The passage which reads: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life,” has been eclipsed in the UK by the offer of hope and prosperity in Jeremiah 29:11.

It reads: “For I know the plans I have for you” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 is also the favourite in nine other countries including Canada and Australia.

“Millennials have drastically changed how they approach the Bible’s teachings… We find that Millennials tend to share therapeutic messages – it’s far more about their own identity”

A disturbing example of the way scripture can be adopted and misapplied when context is thrown out.

A section of scripture declaring God’s sacrificial act of love for the world, that made salvation available to ALL who believe, has been pushed aside to favour a verse declaring a promise to a select and specific group of people, NOT just any individuals who choose to claim the promise.

That newly favoured text from Jeremiah is being personally appropriated by people who are not addressed in the context of that verse.

The promise “to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” is not a universal promise.
It was a promise in a prophetic context addressed to a people who had survived slaughter and destruction, who had been taken captive by an invading army, and exiled from their homeland.

It is a promise to THOSE people, that their exile would last 70 years, and then they as a people – not necessarily all individuals – would be returned to their land.

This is what the Lord says: ‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfil my good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.’ (Jeremiah 29)

While that return did occur as promised, the complete fulfilment of the prophesied promise, is still to come, when Israel as a whole recognises their Messiah, and He returns to rule over the earth from Jerusalem.

The 70 year exile to Babylon referred to in Jeremiah preceded the promise being so casually adopted and misappropriated today. The promise was not made to those who hadn’t suffered significant cost.

So, what is wiser? To claim a promise not intended as an individual promise to me?

Or to focus on the importance of God’s gift to the world, a gift anyone can receive through belief, trust, faith in Jesus?

And which promise is it wiser to proclaim to the world?

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Life on Mars?

 

It’s likely you would have heard about the great excitement about the discovery of a large body of water under the surface of Mars, and the possibilities it creates for there being life on Mars.

But what is the reason for the great interest in finding life beyond earth?

Maybe to some people it would legitimise their belief that given the right conditions and enough time, life could spontaneously come into existence without the need of a Creator?

If life could spontaneously start on earth without the need for Divine involvement then surely it ought to have started elsewhere too.

The more widespread life is out there in the universe, the more it could seem to legitimize the possibility that life doesn’t need a God to create it.

On the flip side – a completely barren universe (apart from earth) would tend to legitimize the Bible account of Creator God. If life can spontaneously come into being, why hasn’t it done so elsewhere? Why earth only?

Therefore scientists with an atheistic bent are desperate to find life elsewhere. It NEEDS to find evidence of widespread universal life.

But from a Christian point of view there’s no need to discount the possibility of some kind of life elsewhere. God could very well have created life beyond the earth for purposes of His own.
An account of that life beyond earth isn’t necessarily relevant to his relationship with mankind so didn’t need to be revealed in scripture

Thorny Thoughts Related to Grace

Yesterday I re-blogged a post from the Anti-Itch Meditation blog that expressed some of Jeff Weddle’s concerns about the way grace has been misrepresented in commonly held doctrines. I also have a few things I want to say about that topic.

 

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

People love to quote the PARTS of scripture that seem to support the doctrinal stance they prefer – often ignoring the very next sentences. Therefore, it is common to view the above quote from Ephesians 2 with an emphasis on “not of ourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast”. As a result, a passive understanding of “grace” and salvation is developed, promoting the view that grace not only makes works unnecessary, but they are made to seem counterproductive, even harmful, leading to boasting and claiming credit that isn’t ours, and robbing God of His glory.

However continuing on, the next sentence of that quote doesn’t fit with that passive definition of grace. Salvation doesn’t divorce us from works, or make works redundant, unnecessary or even detrimental to our Christian lives. The second sentence of the quote states clearly that our purpose as followers of Jesus is to do the good works that God has prepared for us, not only to do them, but to WALK IN them.

Grace is not intended to lead to passivity, but grace is intended to prepare and equip us to live effective Christian lives. As an example of that equipping, I want to repost the following. It’s something I posted in a slightly different form on this blog in November 2013. .

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A few thoughts about Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”…

Despite common assumptions, there is no indication that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was a health issue – the scriptures describe it as a messenger from Satan sent to buffet Paul.

Paul had the understanding that God COULD remove it and would possibly be willing to remove it and therefore was able to ask for it to be removed.

After seemingly having his request rejected, Paul was open enough to God’s Spirit to seek and hear God’s reason for the non-removal. He didn’t merely assume God wasn’t in the thorn-removal business.

2 Cor 12 spells out the nature of this “thorn in the flesh” and God’s revealed reason for not personally removing it:

“…because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations [given to Paul], a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

The reason for the non-removal of Paul’s thorn was because its presence prevented him from becoming conceited (proud) due to the revelation he’d been given.

God told Paul that His grace was sufficient, but sufficient for what? Sufficient for Paul to endure, or sufficient to equip Paul to personally deal with that messenger from Satan?

An interesting parallel dealing with similar issues of pride, humility and Satanic harassment can be found in James 4:6-7. I find a comparison between the two scripture passages suggests a viable answer to my question above about sufficiency.

“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

Receiving grace from God does not lead to passive submission to the world around us or to circumstances, or to the devil or his messengers.

Our starting point is submission – submission to GOD – then God gives His grace. The grace that is sufficient, grace that equips with the power of Christ, enabling us to live the life and do the works HE has prepared for us, freeing us from anything that would hinder us.

We are not saved by grace in order to remain weak, ineffective sinners crippled by  “total depravity”. Salvation by grace brings about change – we are created in Christ Jesus, “a new creation, old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” Created in Christ Jesus for good works.

 

 

 

Grace and Purifying Yourself (Recommended article from Jeff Weddle)

Please follow the link to the full article at the end of this excerpt.

It is just one of many posts from Jeff that I could have re-blogged recently.

Note that after I re-blogged this, Jeff has made a small amendment to the beginning of his second paragraph. It now starts:

“The Bible never says sin is OK to do.  ‘Should we sin that grace may abound? In no way.’”

anti-itch meditation

People who emphasize grace do so while de-emphasizing human responsibility. For some reason, because of grace, people assume everything is OK to do.

The Bible does not say this. “Should we sin that grace may abound? In no way.” Grace teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts so we would live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world.

Grace changes you. But grace’s change is not automatic. We are told not to take the grace of God in vain–to take grace to no profit, to have it do you no positive good.

That would be dumb.

If grace is as great as everyone keeps saying it is, why is our obedience to God so pathetic?

Because we’re not learning grace the way the Bible teaches it. We think grace means my sin is OK, change isn’t necessary, good works might even be opposed to grace! “If it’s grace…

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Practicality vs Airy Fairy

So much Christian discourse I come across seems to be airy-fairy head-in-the-clouds stuff.
The faith is so often “over-spiritualised” in a way that has nothing to do with everyday living or the here and now. Too often present day realities are trivialised and covered over with a religious veneer that has little if anything in common with liveable experience.

Some of it may sound spiritual, dressed up in biblicalesque language, expressions that seem like they ought to be meaningful, coming from respected people with a reputation for being Godly.

We can feel a little intimidated at times. In awe of them. If only we could attain a fraction of their understanding, their experience, their faith…

But how often do we step back and REALLY consider what we are hearing and/or reading?

The old story about the Emperor’s new clothes comes to mind. Is there really any substance to a lot of what gets passed off as Christian thought and teaching?

Should words actually have meaning that we can grasp? Or should we expect “spiritual” meaning to always be a little beyond our reach?

Why not test what we hear, what we are taught, by its ability to be understood and put into practice?

James gave the instruction to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only.”

How can we expected to be a doer if understanding is beyond our reach, or if understanding doesn’t lead to practical possibilities?

A Distance Without Limit.

The Lord is merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.
He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.
He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor punished us according to our iniquities.

or as the heavens are high above the earth,
So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;
As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.

What I find interesting about the above section of scripture is the reference to “As far as the east is from the west”, written a few thousand years ago and revealing something about the extent of God’s mercy in specific geographical terms, the full significance of which could not have been known by the writer of the Psalm.

Consider the difference in meaning if he’d written “as far as the north is from the south”.

The distance between north and south is a finite, fixed distance. Travelling in a straight line from north to south, we’d eventually reach the south pole. Any further travelling along that straight line and we’d be heading north again. There is a strict limit to how far south, or north, we can go.

In contrast, if we travel east in a straight line we will continue east and never reach “west”. There is no finite distance between east and west.
THAT is the extent that God will “remove our transgressions from us”.

Doesn’t that say something extraordinary about God’s mercy?

“Wisdom Cries Out” by Mark DuPré

This is an article my friend Steve recommended.
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“Wisdom is crying out to be heard, and is lifting up her voice where we are most likely to be.
This is not the conception we often have of God’s wisdom.”

 

This brings to my mind a section of scripture that to me has a lot of overlooked significance. It’s a reference I’ve highlighted several times in the past.

“They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved…” (2 Thess 2)

God is not hiding, or making Himself hard to find. He has made Himself known and continues to make Himself known. We need to be sure that WE want to know Him.
Do we love the truth?
Do we want to love the truth?

Mark DuPré

Wisdom Cries Out

Proverbs 8:1-5 Does not wisdom cry out, and understanding lift up her voice?
She takes her stand on the top of the high hill, beside the way, where the paths meet.
She cries out by the gates, at the entry of the city, at the entrance of the doors:
“To you, O men, I call, and my voice is to the sons of men.

Finding God’s wisdom is something we all desire. But how to get it, where to find it—these can be challenges. But before we try to figure out a repeatable formula of how to find it, it might be good to take a look at the scriptures above. Wisdom, in fact, isn’t as elusive as it seems. It’s looking to find us.

We often think that wisdom is buried, like treasure, and we have to seek it that way. Yes, it’s more valuable than…

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