Faith Not Sight

October 21, 2014

I don’t like the fact that our bodies disappoint us with aging or disease or both. Somehow it just doesn’t seem fair that the best body we will ever have is at age 18 (at least in this life). We see the aging process in others, but eventually we have to admit to it in ourselves. What Paul called “the outer person wasting away” is observable in life (2 Corinthians 4:16).

Yet Paul placed beside this unwelcome fact another wondrous observation. In Christ, the inner person can continue to grow and become better. “Our inner person is being renewed day by day” (1 Corinthians 4:16). God is transforming us to become more and more like His Son. Our character, our kindness, and our love can grow and mature throughout our lifetime. The best our inner person can be in this life may be the day we breathe our last.

Paul compared this body that disappoints us to a tent (1 Corinthians 5:1). Tents are temporary. They are fragile and frail in comparison to a permanent structure. The disappointments of our bodies are reminders we are sojourners here. We are just passing through; this is not our enduring home. A tent may become frayed and worn until it wears out, or it may be suddenly pulled down, but it is never permanent.

The God who renews our inner person also builds us a permanent dwelling. As Paul wrote, “[W]e have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (1Corinthians 5:1b, ESV). In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul described our physical bodies with words like “perishable,” “dishonor,” “weakness,” and “natural”. While the resurrection body that we await at Christ’s return is described by words like “imperishable,” “glory,” “power,” and “spiritual.” The transient will be swallowed up by the eternal.

The processes of the outward wasting away and inward being renewed take place in the course of daily life. Daily life filled with its ups and downs, its trials and temptations, and its moments of doubt and faith. Paul used the word, “groaning,” to describe this present life. He spoke of “slight momentary affliction,” although slight affliction doesn’t seem to adequately describe Paul’s life (see 2 Corinthians 11:23-28). He could only call it that when weighed on the balance with eternal glory. The eternal outweighs the transient and makes the walk of faith worth it all.

Paul had confidence that to be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord. The God who is doing a great work of renewing and transforming in our inner person is also preparing for us a permanent dwelling place. Eternal glory is worth it all “for we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7, ESV).


Tactics for Handling Conflict

September 30, 2014

Dr. Nick Stinnett spent twenty-five years studying successful families. Yes, every family has conflicts even successful ones, but successful families develop strategies for dealing with conflict. Here are some tactics to use in developing your own successful family’s conflict resolution skills.

Tactic #1 – Deal with Conflicts Quickly.

  • “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry…” Ephesians 4:26
  • “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” Ephesians 4:31
  • As a practical matter, you may have to schedule a time for a discussion.

Tactic #2 – Deal with One Issue at a Time.

  • 68% of both husbands and wives say that disagreements are seldom resolved.
  • Blaming and bringing up other issues will cloud the situation.

Tactic #3 – Be Specific.

  • The real issue in an argument can be elusive.
  • State the offending action or situation, your feelings, and possibly impact.

Tactic #4 – Become Allies.

  • Attack the problem not each other.
  • One strong family member states it this way: “It would be silly to get caught up in personal attacks when we fight. All that does is hurt feelings and fan the fires. We try to see ourselves as being on the same side–as a team. The enemy is the problem. We fight it—not each other.” Stinnett & Beam, Fantastic Families, p. 92

Tactic #5 – Ban the Bombs.

  • “I know more about my husband and children than anyone else does. I know their fears, their vulnerabilities. I have power to hurt them. … I feel that it would be a serious violation of the trust we have in each other to use our knowledge, or closeness, as weapons. Even when I get very angry, I keep sight of that. To use sensitive areas as attack points is a good way to destroy a marriage or parent-child relationship.” Fantastic Families, p. 92-93
  • Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Eph 4:29 NIV
  • Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Eph. 4:32, NIV

Tactic #6 – Open Up Understanding.

  • Be an active listener.
  • Check out and confirm what is being said. This involves repeating back for evaluation what you think the other person has said.
  • Many arguments are solved simply by coming to an understanding.

An Interconnected World

September 12, 2014

A 1967 Psychology Today article first proposed the idea of six degrees of separation. In his experiment, Stanley Milgrim asked volunteers from Nebraska and Kansas to pass a package to two people in Massachusetts by passing the package to a social acquaintance that they believed were “closer” to the target. The participants received the name and a vague clue as to where the target person lived. Milgrim found that the packages arrived by passing through the hands of just five other people. Thus the term six degrees of separation—we are separated from anyone in the United States by just six people.

A study published in Science also demonstrated this connectedness. The study enlisted 61,000 participants in 166 countries for the experiment. The participants were to pass a message to one of 18 people. They were to use the Internet by contacting a social acquaintance of theirs that they thought might be “closer” to the target person. On average, it took about five to seven intermediate steps to reach the target. This phenomenon was dubbed the small world effect.

A study by Microsoft analyzed 30 billion instant messages sent by 240 million people in June of 2006. The study found that 6.6 steps linked these people, and a study done of Facebook found people there linked by only three degrees of separation.

God has given us the staggering task of taking the gospel to the whole world (Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 16:15). With a world population over seven billion it may seem overwhelming. The task challenges our faith.

God is wiser than we are. He knows that it is a smaller world than we might first think. Maybe if we with faith reach out to the people we know, and they in turn reach out to the people they know… Maybe everyone could hear the gospel if we live by faith. It’s an interconnected world.


To Be a Living Sacrifice

September 5, 2014

Does Jesus make a difference to the way you live your life? Paul makes an appeal. It is a strong exhortation with the authority of the Apostle Paul behind it (see Romans 12:1). The appeal is motivated by the mercies of God which Paul has explained in the first eleven chapters of Romans. Because of the difference that Jesus makes, Paul says that it should change the way we live.

Paul wants us to present our bodies to God as a living sacrifice. Paul has already said earlier in the letter that we are to present ourselves to God (6:13). The emphasis on bodies may remind us that we are not to let sin reign in our mortal body (6:12), and that we are to put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit (8:13). It is with our bodies that we serve. It is a living sacrifice as opposed to a dead sacrifice like the animals killed and placed on the altar under the Law of Moses. It is a thank offering. I do not add to the work of Christ. My service is the joyful response to what has been done for me. It is to be a holy sacrifice. We are set apart for God, and we are to be holy, walking not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit (see 8:4). It is well pleasing to God when we live this kind of life.

Presenting our bodies to God is then called by Paul your “reasonable service” or “spiritual worship” depending on translations. Let’s tackle the service/worship word first. It is latreia in Greek (G2999). This is the normal word for service done within the temple, which explains worship as the other translation. For Paul, Christians are priests and the people of God, the temple. Paul has smashed any secular versus sacred distinction that we might create. What I do in everyday life, I do as if service to God. Or as Paul did say, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord” (Colossians 3:23, ESV). I don’t get to bracket off a portion of my life and say this part is mine, God, you can’t have it.

But what kind of service is Paul talking about? The Greek word is logikos (G3050). A classical Greek lexicon would define this word as “possessed of reason.” The standard Greek New Testament lexicon (BDAG) suggests “pert[aining]. to being carefully thought through, thoughtful.” It is translated as “reasonable” (KJV, NKJV, NET) and “spiritual” (ESV, NASB, NIV84). It is the kind of service that reason gives. And possibly, the most helpful suggestion is to say that it is the opposite of the “futile thinking” and “debased mind” found in Romans 1:18-32.

If it sinks in what Jesus has done for me, then it makes sense to be a living sacrifice! But someone has quipped, “The problem with a living sacrifice is that it keeps trying to crawl off the altar.” Paul wants us to have renewed minds. He does not want us squeezed into the world’s mold. When we get it right, we dedicate ourselves to be a living sacrifice.


Improving Your Bible Literacy

August 22, 2014

By Bible literacy I simply mean having a good working knowledge of what is in the Bible and feeling comfortable reading and studying the Bible. Bible literacy in our country is at a low according to recent surveys. How do you buck this trend in your own life? First, make a commitment to read the Bible. Here are a few tips for improving your Bible literacy by improving your reading.

Get an Overview of the Bible Story. The Bible is a library of books divided into the Old Testament and the New Testament. We need to become familiar with this library. The first step is to become familiar with the historical narrative of the Bible: the overall story of the Bible I would recommend beginning with the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and Acts. They provide the story overview of the New Testament. Reading Genesis through Esther provides the story overview of the Old Testament. With this historical framework, you are better prepared to explore the whole library.

Look Up Words in a Dictionary. The Bible has unfamiliar words: apostles, disciples, redemption, justification, propitiation, and the list could go on. Look up unfamiliar words in a dictionary. I would start with a Bible dictionary, but a regular English dictionary is helpful too. Every good reader I know uses a dictionary frequently.

Ask a Reporter’s Questions. The Bible is understood in the same way we understand any other book. Yes, I value the Bible as inspired by God, but because God has chosen to communicate in written language, we use the normal tools for understanding something written. We ask the same questions a reporter asks. In “The Elephant’s Child,” Rudyard Kippling made the questions memorable:

I keep six honest serving-men

(They taught me all I knew);

There names are What and Why and When

And How and Where and Who.

Asking and answering these questions is an important part of reading for understanding.

Context, Context, Context. Sentences mean something in context. Lifted out of their context, they may appear to mean something they do not. That’s why we need to read books of the Bible and not just proof texts here and there. Examine the context of the passage, the broader context in a given book, and the context of the Bible as a whole. We also attempt to learn what we can about the historical context. All these are important strategies for reading and understanding.

Construct a Timeline. The Bible covers a lengthy period of history. It can help your understanding to look at a timeline or construct a timeline with major events and people on it. The NIV Study Bible has a very nice timeline in it. The ESV Study Bible also provides a timeline via tables with dates and events.

Look Up Places on a Map. The Bible has unfamiliar places. Looking them up in a Bible atlas aids in understanding. Journeys and battles may make more sense once we see things on the map.


What Are Strong’s Numbers?

August 15, 2014

Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible was first published in 1890. It is a concordance of the King James Version. The concordance was compiled under the direction of Dr. James Strong, but more than 100 colleagues aided in the production of the concordance. Produced in the nineteenth century everything had to be done by hand. It was a very labor intensive project, but it has been useful to Bible students ever since.

The unique feature of this concordance was that it exhaustively cross-referenced every English word of the KJV with the word in the original languages. Each word in Hebrew and each word in Greek were assigned a number. These numbers are known as Strong’s Numbers.

Strong’s numbers allow the English readers to get back to the original language without knowing Hebrew or Greek. If they are curious about a particular word, they can look up the English word in the concordance, locate the verse reference, and then find the Strong’s number. This number tells them what original language word stands behind the English translation. With the number, the word can be looked up in the Hebrew and Greek dictionaries at the back of the concordance. This feature is helpful in digging deeper in a passage, evaluating translations, and doing word studies.

With a Strong’s number a student can do a word study on the original language word. He or she could find every occurrence of the particular Greek or Hebrew word regardless of how it may be translated. Most translations render the same Greek or Hebrew word with some variety due to the range of meaning each word has. But doing a word study on the original language word may help the reader see this range of meaning. It may help the reader see connections within the text that become lost in translation.

For example in John 21:15-17, John uses two different Greek words for love in Jesus’s question and Peter’s reply. Does that have significance or not? Some say that it does. I tend to think it is just a case of synonyms, and the main concern is that the question is asked three times (reminiscent of three denials). By using Strong’s Numbers a reader could look at John’s use of these two words for love in the entire gospel.

Strong’s numbers have been applied to translations beyond the KJV. The numbers have also become searchable in some Bible software packages and apps (e.g., Logos, Accordance, and Olive Tree Bible Study App to name a few). In computer-based searches, the search can be done much more quickly than with Strong’s Concordance and looking up all the references by hand in a Bible.

In addition some dictionaries and word studies use Strong’s numbers, so the reader can find additional information (e.g., Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (by Harris, Archer & Waltke), or The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology: Abridged Edition.)We are blessed with tools that help us carefully look at the text of the Bible.


I Will Not Be Afraid

July 26, 2014

If I am honest with myself, I have to confess that my life has been lived in relative safety. What fears I’ve experienced have been in the big scheme of things little fears. So how do you learn courage when you’ve experienced safety? You look to the lives of those who truly have experienced danger. You attempt to analyze their courage and learn from it.

King David was a man of action. He was a warrior. He knew battles. He had learned how not to be afraid. Psalm 3 makes for interesting reflection. The psalm heading says that the context of the psalm was Absalom’s rebellion. David found himself fleeing. David found himself with many rising up against him. But notice his response.

But you, O LORD, are a shield about me,

my glory, and the lifter of my head.

I cried aloud to the LORD,

and he answered me from his holy hill.

I lay down and slept;

I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.

I will not be afraid of many thousands of people

who have set themselves against me all around.

(Psalms 3:3–6 ESV)

His relationship with God gave him courage to face his circumstances. God was his protection (shield) and victory. The reference to glory and lifter of my head convey the idea of God as the source (my glory) and giver of victory (the lifter of my head).

Because he has this confidence in God he could go to sleep. Have you ever had worries that kept you up at night? Fears can give us insomnia. David had the confidence that he could sleep. David is also not concerned with the odds. The ESV’s “many thousands” is the same word as in the little ditty: “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” (1 Samuel 18:7, ESV) David could confidently be in the minority because he was on God’s side.

As a modern reader, I stumble a bit with “breaking the teeth of the wicked.” But this is likely a wild animal image (see Psalm 58:6). Breaking the teeth is to render powerless the enemies of God. The people of God have the assurance of God’s victory.

Like David we can learn to be courageous in our faith. We can be courageous even if the odds are ten thousands to one, because salvation belongs to the Lord. Walking with God, I will not be afraid.


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