Monday, January 31, 2011

What I learned from reading Judges

I really enjoyed reading Judges. Often I would sit down to read a big chunk of it (like 8-10 chapters), but I couldn't because I was getting so much out of it, that I wanted to think about it and blog.

Judges shows how the nation of Israel went through a common pattern:

Often when I read about the history of Israel, I get really shocked at how dumb they could be to keep leaving God for the idols of Baal. But then I think about how commonly we in the post-incarnation period leave God for our own idols.

Israel would leave God for years upon years, and then God would send a Judge to help bring them back. For us, we make small decisions daily that either move us closer, or further from God. And this must have been how it was for Israel. Slowly over time they must have made decisions that lead them to Baal, such that one day the tent of God was gone, and the idols were everywhere. I am sure that did not happen overnight.

And so when I get judgemental about Israels unfaithfulness, I should look at myself. Everyday I choose things besides God, and it is only by his grace that I have not strayed far enough to the point that I would be serving other gods.

So I have learned that God is faithful: to Israel then, and now to us as the church. We don't deserve his grace any more than they did. We have all departed from him, and it is only him that keeps us.

As the famous hymn says:
O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

Friday, January 28, 2011

What I learned from reading about Gideon

The life of Gideon (Judges 6:11-8:35, Hebrews 11:32)
  • God calls Gideon a mighty man of valor
  • Gideon complains that God isn’t acting in the same way for Israel now, as he has done in the past
  • Gideon gives God excuses
  • God promises to be with Him
  • Gideon demands a sign
  • Gideon gets a sign
  • God tells Gideon to destroy the altar of Baal in his fathers house
  • Gideon does it, but does so at night because he is afraid of what family and others will think
  • Gideon demands another sign from God (the famous fleece)
  • God gives the sign
  • Gideon demands God do it again
  • God gives the sign again
  • God wants to prove the victory in Battle is His, so he pares down the army of Israel from 32,000 to 300. (see below - Great Story 1)
  • The 300 men defeat the army of Midian
  • God gives Gideon further victories over Succoth, Penuel. (Great Story 2
  • Isreal wants Gideon to rule over them, but he says that only the LORD will rule over Israel
  • Shortly after that he asks for some gold from the people of Israel, and he uses it to make an ephod. It says that all Israel whored after it, and it became a snare to Gideon. 
  • Gideon dies
  • Israel returns to worshiping Baal.
The story of Gideon ends in Hebrews 11 when he is listed with the other great heroes of the faith. It is interesting to note that Gideon was not perfect. He demanded sign after sign from God. At the end of his life he creates this golden ephod which becomes an idol for God's people. He also did many great things. And in the end he is listed as a man of faith.

Two quick observations:
  1. God called Gideon a mighty man of valor before Gideon had done anything. God sees in us our potential, and uses us before we are ready. He then causes us to succeed despite our shortcomings. God doesn't call the equipped, he equips the called.
  2. Even the heroes in the Bible are not perfect. God uses imperfect people to accomplish his goal of declaring his glory among the nations. The only perfect one is Jesus, and we should see him high above anyone else. Jesus is a greater Gideon, who perfectly leads his people into battle, and is our perfect Judge!

Great Story 1
In one of the great scenes of the Bible, God chooses the men for battle by how they drink water from the water. The ones who lap up the water like a dog are now the army, and the ones who kneel down to drink go home

Great Story 2
Gideon and his guys are tired and hungry from battle and ask for bread. The officials in Succoth wouldn’t give Gideon bread, so Gideon says that when he gets back from his current battle he will, “flail their flesh with the thorns of the wilderness, and with briers”. After all was said and done, he came back to Succoth and did it! He is a man of his word!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Looking back to redemption

Today in my time in the Word I was reading Judges 6. In verses 7-9 it reads:
When the people of Israel cried out to the LORD on account of the Midianites, the LORD sent a prophet to the people of Israel. And he said to them, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: I led you up from Egypt and brought you out of the house of bondage. And I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you and gave you their land. (Judges 6:7-9 ESV)
What came to my mind when reading this, was that when Israel cried out to God, God reminds them of when he redeemed them from Egypt. He points them back to the time that he saved them so that they would remember God's saving power.

Now, in the post-incarnation era, when we are in trouble and need to cry out to God, we should always look back to God's saving power at the cross. It was at the cross that Jesus redeemed us from our sin.

God has always been about saving his people. For Israel, it was from Egypt, and they were to look back and take solace in that saving power. For us, we are to look back to Jesus, and his saving power.

The whole Bible is about Jesus...

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:27 ESV)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

My Defence of the Participation and Enjoyment of MMA.

One of the things that I have enjoyed most over the past 5 years has been watching and following the sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). As a quick point of clarification, MMA is the sport, and the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), is a type of “league” (and most popular) so to speak for MMA.  

Earlier today a dear friend posted on Facebook questioning whether or not Christians can fight in the UFC, and I suppose by extension, whether believers in Christ should watch it. 
I have thought about these things before, but I thought this may give me a good opportunity to bring some of these thoughts together. They are by no means exhaustive, but just a few quick thoughts that came to mind. 

1. Context makes it allowable
One of the questions by friend asked was “With numerous Biblical commands on us to love our neighbour (Matt. 22:39), be kind and compassionate (Col 3:12), be gentle (Gal. 5:23), how does fighting square with that?” Based solely on these commands, and without any context, it seems to me that body checking someone in hockey, shooting someone in paintball, and maybe even stealing a base in baseball may be prohibited. 

It is the context of the action that affects whether it is allowable or not. If GSP and Josh Koscheck went outside the octagon two days after their UFC fight and fought for no good reason, then I would say that is wrong. But, when they enter the octagon, there are rules, regulations, and agreements that make their fighting allowable. The same police officer will break up the fight outside will pay $500 to watch the fight in the octagon.

In the same way in the NHL, when the Leafs play the Sens, and Colton Orr fights Matt Carkner, it is okay, because it is a recognized part of the sport. If they fought on the streets it would not be okay. Context would also allow me to fight someone who came into my house to steal my possessions or harm my family. If I saw the same guy on the sidewalk walking his dog (a different context), it would not be allowable. 

2. Paul’s experience with Boxing
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
(1 Corinthians 9:24-27 ESV)
Paul used this boxing analogy to illustrate a point. He is saying that when we compete, we need to do it compete in a way that will allow you to win. When Paul boxes, he doesn’t do it by swinging at the air aimlessly. I think it is fair to infer from this that he would box by swinging at the opponent, to win the fight.   

As a side note, he even says, “I do not box as one beating the air.” Does this mean that Paul personally boxed? I am not sure. 

The question that remains is, “Why would he use something for an analogy if the example in the analogy is something wrong in itself?” If we are supposed to follow Paul, as he follows Christ, then why would he use an analogy of something that is by nature sinful? In my interpretation, when he talks about boxing as not to beat the air, he means I box to hit the other guy and win, because that is the goal of boxing. Just like I don’t run aimlessly, I run with the purpose of winning the race. 

3. Fight analogies
In addition to the boxing analogy, Paul gives us a command to fight, and said he did it himself:
Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6:12 ESV)
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2 Timothy 4:7 ESV)
In both of these verses he qualifies his fight by saying it is a “good” fight”. I think this means there is fighting that is good, and fighting that is bad. His spiritual battle is a “good” fight. We would all agree that someone fighting someone weaker than they are to steal their money would be a “bad” fight. Where does MMA come in? This is where I would argue that it maybe wrong for some, but not wrong for others. For some it is “good” fighting, and for others it would be “bad” fighting.

4. MMA is not illegal
It is legal according to our government. This does not make it right, necessarily, as the government allows things that I do not think Christians should engage in (sex outside of marriage, abortion, etc.) But it does say something that you are not breaking the law of the land by participating in MMA. 

5. What is the point or MMA?
My friend, in his Facebook post also said, “But the point of UFC is to hurt your opponent.” 
I would disagree with this point and argue that the point of MMA is not to hurt your opponent, but to defeat your opponent. It is obvious that you are going to hurt you opponent if you defeat them, but I still think the distinction is important. 

I could also use the analogy of disciplining your child by spanking. The goal is not that they get hurt, but to correct their behavior. But it is obvious that in the action of spanking, the child is going to get hurt. As a parent, the goal is not to cause lasting damage, but temporary pain for the purpose of future correction.

In MMA, the goal is not that they get hurt, but that you win the fight. It is obvious that in the action of fighting your opponent will get hurt. As a MMA fighter, the goal is not to cause lasting damage, but temporary pain for the purpose of winning the fight, and for sport, competition, entertainment, earning a living, etc.

6. Mutual respect among MMA fighters
Mutual respect amongst opponents is some of the greatest honour you will see in competitive sports. When hockey players shake hands after the playoffs, it is usually not with true joy (on occasion it is), but mostly ritual. When MMA fighters embrace after knocking each other around, it shows that the heart behind the battle is to see who is best, and to compete for the prize. Rarely is their a fight held and there is hatred towards the opponent. The vast majority of the time (95% and up in my estimation) are two guys competing like Paul instructs us to compete. To gain the prize. 

7. It is okay that it is not everyone’s cup of tea
I am arguing that participating in, and watching MMA fighting can be a wrong for some, and not others. God has made us all different, and so let us embrace that some will enjoy it, and glorify God with it (yes I just said that), and for some it will be sin. 

I would love to hear your thoughts and interact more on this!

"balanced life with a little bit of God" = Matthew 7:21-23?

This quote from Francis Chan in Forgotten God makes me angry. It makes me angry because it is true. It also makes me angry because I see a lot of it in myself:
Nowhere in scripture do I see a "balanced life with a little bit of God added in" as an ideal for us to emulate. Yet when I look at our churches, this is exactly what I see: a lot of people who have added Jesus to their lives. People who have, in a sense, asked Him to join then on their life journey, to follow them wherever they feel they should go, rather than follow Him as we are commanded. 
We have our own plans to live like everyone else in the world, and add Jesus in as fire insurance. This is an insult to his Kingship, and we live in danger of Matthew 7:21-23

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Forget about God's Will for your Life!

From Francis Chan's book, Forgotten God:
It is easy to use the phrase "God's will for my life" as an excuse for inaction or even disobedience. It's much less demanding to think about God's will for your future than it is to ask Him what He wants you to do in the next ten minutes. It's safer to commit to following Him someday instead of this day
In working with students, I often hear talk of wanting to know "God's will for my life". I also often feel like it is a cop out for not wanting to commit to something that they probably know they should do. But, they haven't seen it written out in their alphabet soup, so God's will is still hazy.

I just wish that people would be obedient to what God has revealed, and then concern themselves with what God has not yet revealed. God has revealed so much to us in his Word, and yet we often spend more time thinking about the things he has not revealed!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Shamgar !!!

Judges 3:31
After him was Shamgar the son of Anath, who killed 600 of the Philistines with an oxgoad, and he also saved Israel.

Shamgar with his Oxgoad!
He slays 600 Philistines!
Almost looks like a Jedi!

One interesting note about Shamgar is that he was a Judge of Israel, but most likely not even an Israelite. According the notes in the ESV Study Bible, "Shamgar's name is apparently Hurrian, not Israelite, and his designation as “son of Anath” probably refers to the Canaanite warrior goddess Anath. If so, it is ironic that God used a non-Israelite warrior to deliver Israel from its enemies."

I think this guy is just about as cool as Ehud. And with these two dudes combined, Judges 3 could be the best chapter in the OT.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

What I learned from reading Joshua

Central Theme - Promise Fulfilled

Summary Verse: Joshua 21:45
Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass. 
God is faithful to his promise to give them the land
  • Quite often God says, with regard to an upcoming battle, “and I will give them into your hand”
  • God is going to make sure that they get the land that he promised
  • Moses promised each tribe their land in Deut 3, and Numbers 32, and now it is being given in Joshua 13-21
God protects and cares for his people 
  • throughout many battles in the first section of the book, God keeps his people safe.
Joshua is a ‘type’ of Christ'
  • God has a purpose to give Israel victory in battle, and Joshua is God's chosen agent to bring victory. 
  • One day Christ will battle sin once and for all and achieve a final victory, with us, his people at his side.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Baptism is not the Gospel and legitimacy for Parachurch

Just reading again in the Word, and this verse in 1 Corinthians 1 stood out to me.

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Corinthians 1:17 ESV)
1. Baptism is not required for salvation. Paul here distinguishes the gospel (which is the power for of God for salvation -Rom 1:16), and baptism. They are not one in his mind. In fact, Paul prioritizes the preaching of the gospel. If baptism was necessary to be saved, it would be quite mean for Paul to give them the gospel, but leave them short of being saved, by leaving baptizing to someone else.

2. This verse also seems to give credibility to Parachurch organizations. If one of the ways we distinguish the church and the parachurch is that the parachurch does not administer the Ordinances, then Paul here seems to be acting more as a parachurch guy, in the process of church planting.

These are not developed thoughts, but just some fresh, initial reactions.

I would be curious for comments from you on your thoughts on one or both of my thoughts on the text. I am open for push back!

Monday, January 03, 2011

Significant Cultural trends of the past decade

I read this article today on the Ten Most Significant Cultural Trends of the Past Decade. I would recommend reading the article for an insight into our culture. Here is the list:

  1. Connection
  2. Place
  3. Cities
  4. The End of the Majority
  5. Polarity
  6. The Self Shot
  7. Pornography
  8. Informality
  9. Liquidity
  10. Complexity
I was particularly intrige by #4, The End of the Majority. It is true that there are fewer and fewer categories in which there is a clear majority anymore. This line was interesting to me: "Barack Obama is a minority, but so is Sarah Palin. Republicans are a minority—so are Democrats, and so are independents." 

We all feel like we are the persecuted ones, but in reality, in increasing ways, everyone is persecuted and no one has the support of the majority of people anymore.

What stands out as interesting to you?

Biblical deception

Today I was reading in Joshua and read about Rahab. In this account, she lies to her people in order to save the Israelite spies.

This account describes what happens, and so does not necessarily comment on whether it was ethically okay to do this. According to the events, God does bless Rahab by allowing her to be spared, while the rest of Jericho was destroyed a few chapters later.

In my opinion, Rahab was justified in her actions to do a greater good by lying. I think there are times where it is okay to do something that is normally sinful in order to do a greater good. To clarify, I don't think is is always okay to commit a sin for a greater good. In this case however, I think she was justified.

Other accounts of deception are in Exodus 1 (the midwives), 1 Samuel 16 (Samuel deceives Saul about his true reason for going to Bethlehem).

What are your thoughts on this issue:

1. With reference to Rahab?
2. In general?