Following Up on the Church “Retreat”

On Saturday I posted my thoughts on Church Retreats, you might want to take a look at that post here. Of course, that post was about the word “retreat” and not about substance as it relates to church retreats…

I am back from it now, and I can file this report for your consideration.929 028-LR

First, I had a great time. Since I am quite new here, I had a great opportunity to get to know people better, and while I’m not going to claim that they were necessarily blessed by this, it was a wonderful blessing for me!

Second, the setting was beautiful, and you will be seeing many photos from the site.  it was at Camp Wamava in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia.  Remote and rustic, but not too rustic, I’d be happy to go back there most any time.

Third, the gathering was well-attended and people brought their kids, who seemed to have lots of fun things to do, and even their dogs in several cases; good times.

Fourth, and much more importantly, a guest speaker named Fred Liggin from the Williamsburg (VA) Christian Church was invited to be the principal speaker. Fred was interesting, informative and inspiring for everyone.  His message was one of encouragement and insight; a message of action and of advancing the cause of Christ in the mission fields of our own neighborhoods, and I can only hope that it reaches far and wide.  incidentally, Fred has a blog here on WordPress that you might want to take a look at.

Having sald all of this, there is a larger issue that I hope you might think about:  It is all well and good to go off to a conference, workshop, retreat or whatever type of a session that gives you hope and inspiration.  Even if you never attend anything, you might read about something in a book or on this or some other blog, that really gets your attention and that gives you great ideas for how to be a follower of Jesus.  If you finish your event or your reading and then think about what you’ve picked up for a day or two and then go back to business as usual, you may have just wasted your time.

Following Christ as His disciple is not a passive occupation; it is an active one.  Making disciples requires that something be done.  Now this is not to say that we earn our Salvation, for there is no way to do that; it comes by grace.  Our response to His grace, however, does require something: Service. Service as His disciple necessarily implies that something will be accomplished.

My prayer for all who attended this, or any other retreat or training session of whatever type recently is that we will be moved to put the great ideas and insights that we may have gained into practice.  That anybody who has read something that inspires them will put it into practice, and that we will, all together as the Body of Christ will be more effective in our reaching out into the world around us, to help do our part to change lives for Christ.  My prayer is that by doing this, we will shine the light of Jesus Christ right here in the darkness of this world.

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Prophet and Covenant

The nature of History

History is always an interesting subject, for it contains events that hold lasting significance. It is not merely a collection of all events that have ever taken place… such a collection would be impossible, in fact. History is a record of events that have significance for some reason. Anyone who records history, whether modern or ancient, begins with a philosophic point of view. One historian may have the point of view that political matters are most important, and this person would record political history. Another might believe that social trends were what mattered, and the result would be social history.  In the case of the Bible, the most important consideration was the story of the relationship between the Jewish Nation and their God.  The result is sacred history: the history of Covenant people.

The Old Testament Books of History are those that follow the Pentateuch. Interestingly, they are all written by prophets. These prophets are referred to as “former” prophets, for they collected information, and used their revelations from God to make a judgment on whether or not it was relevant to the story of Covenant. This also demonstrates for us the second element of history; events. All things that happen are not historical events, because most things that happen do not contain relevance to your philosophical point of view. For example, you get out of bed every day, but no biographer is likely to write a record of each time you get up in the morning. But the day you graduate from Medical School is an event that will shape your entire life, so that occurance becomes an historical event. The third element of history is the actual meaning of an event. If you graduated from Medical School, but never practiced medicine, the event of your graduation may be little more than an asterisk in your biography. To sum up, history has three components: a unifying philosophy, events, and significant events. Since Old Testament History is recorded by prophets, the unifying philosophy of it is by necessity the history of Covenant.

Two Occurrences

Two events recorded by the former prophets illustrate their unifying philosophy. The first is contained in 1 Kings 13. There is a young prophet and an old prophet, and in the end the young prophet dies because he defies God’s instructions to him. The point is clear: obey the commands of God. The second is better known and is contained in 2 Kings Chapter 5. In this story, a Canaanite general named Naaman is the central character. If you read the chapter very carefully, you will see that a covenant is made:

Parties:                         God, through the prophet Elisha and Naaman

Terms:                          Dip yourself seven times in the Jordan

Promise:                       You will be healed of leprosy

The bottom line here is, comply with the covenant terms that have been offered and live, or don’t comply and die. This is an event that is cited by New Testament writers as an example of covenant-keeping. (2 Peter 2:1-22; 2 Peter 3:11-18) Both of these instances reflect the covenant priority of the authors, and of the Hebrews in general.

Latter Prophets

Latter prophets are broken into two groups: Major and Minor prophets. These distinctions do not refer to their importance or lack of importance, but rater to the size of the record (books) they left. The Major Prophets are Isaiah, Jeremiah Ezekiel and Daniel; the Minor Prophets are Hosea through Malachi. The latter prophets did not act as historians, but more in the role of Lawyers of the Covenant. They were preachers of God of the hour, with a message for that hour. With the coming of the latter prophets came an ominous new turn; the lawsuit motif.

Lawsuit Model

In ancient treaties of the region, it was typical for a party that believed itself wronged by its treaty partner to send a message to the offending party requesting him to make corrections. If the corrections were not made, the offended party would send an official notice to the offending party demanding a hearing before the original witnesses to the treaty; all of this happening prior to force being used.

Remember, when the two parties swore their oath and touched the blood of the oath-swearing animal, they gave permission to each other to shed their blood if they did not keep their oath, so this was a

serious process. It is not all that much different from legal proceedings today, other than in the remedies allowable by law. In the Old Covenant, the original witnesses were identified: see Deut. 30:19; 4:26. The prophet Micah provides a good illustration of this model:

  1. Micah, attorney for the prosecution calls upon Israel to defend itself:

 “Listen to what the LORD says:
       “Stand up, plead your case before the mountains;
       let the hills hear what you have to say.”

(Micah 6:1)

 

2. He calls upon the Covenant witnesses:

“Hear, O mountains, the LORD’s accusation;
       listen, you everlasting foundations of the earth.
       For the LORD has a case against his people;
       he is lodging a charge against Israel.”

(Micah 6:2)

  1. In verses 3 and following, Micah makes God’s case against the nation and makes it clear that the time for talk is over.

Hosea took a similar approach, in laying out God’s case. Following are the specific sins listed by the prophet in making his case:

 

Passage Terminology used The Code
1:3 “Departing from the Lord” EX 20:1-3
1:5; 5:7 “Children conceived in sin” EX 20:14
2:8 “Used for Baal” EX 20:1
4:11 “to prostitution” Deut. 5:18
4:6 “rejected knowledge”

“no faithfulness of love of God”

Deut. 30:1-10
4:17 ff. “rulers love shameful ways” Deut. 17:14 ff.
10:4-5 “”false oaths… lawsuits” Deut. 23:21
12:7-8 “dishonest scales” Deut. 25:15
13:1-3 “sacrificing babies, kissing calves” Deut. 18:9 ff.
9:7-8 “the prophet considered a fool” Deut. 18:14 ff.

 

Note carefully that the sins or breeches of contract listed by the prophet here are all violations of the Law of Moses. This provides us with further evidence that the message of all of the prophets are within the Covenant context.  They used both general and specific terms, but all of the terms they used belong in the same category system: total breech of faith to a covenant partner, and as such are more or less synonymous. Such terms include, but are not necessarily limited to the following, and make reference to what is expected of a covenant partner: love of God, justice, hearing his voice, faithfulness, hesed or mercy, walking in His way and obeying the voice of God. A similar chart can be made from the Books of the other prophets, as well.

Prophetic Curses

Many of the passages contained in the Old Testament books of prophecy contain curses and doom. It is interesting to note that the curses contained are the curses specified in the Torah as the curses to be suffered in the event of breech or default of the people. Following is a list of some of them:

 

Prophetic Vision Echoing The Torah
Jer. 8:17 “terror, fever, drain away your life” Lev. 26:15
Jer. 5:6 “wild animals against you” Lev. 26:22
Eze. 5:10 “eating one’s own children” Lev. 26:29
Isa. 29:3 “besieged in cities…” Deut. 28:53
Isa. 29:9 “stunned, staggering, but not from beer” Deut. 28:29
Amos 6:7 “You noblemen, you shall be first” Deut. 28:56 ff.
Micah 1:15 “I will bring a conqueror” Deut. 28:49
Nahum 3:13 “Look at your troops; they are all (like) women!” Lev. 26:36
Micah 6:16b “The scorn of the nations” Deut. 28:37

 

Summary

The prophets of the Old Testament demonstrate the conditionality of covenant. The whole notion of obey and live or disobey and die, which comes from the Law itself, relates to conditionality. God’s hesed is very much evident as well. Note that time after time the prophets list ways in which God shows patience with a stiff-necked people, how God has come to their aid over and over, and how God has done everything possible to help them, and indeed how the sacrificial system itself provides a means to God’s grace. In addition, the very fact that there were prophets sounding warnings at all is a sign of God’s hesed. God gave warning after warning to the people that they had strayed from the path. Remember also that keeping covenant has two aspects: keeping faithfully what you have promised, and second helping your partner when he falls short. The other side of the covenant coin is that if your partner utterly fails to keep his obligations, you are no longer bound to keep your promises… and that is where the Old Testament prophets saw Israel going, and that is where they told the people they would end up.

 

A crisis of faith occurs when the people of God put their faith, love and hope on something other than God, and it becomes even more acute when they refuse to understand conditionality of covenant. This was certainly the case during the time of the pre-exile prophets. Jeremiah, for instance was telling of the woes to come, but others were telling the people that God would never allow Israel to be overthrown, for they were the elect of God. Sadly, these people could not comprehend conditionality. Yes, Torah said God would never forsake Israel… but it was conditional on Israel not forsaking God.  Israel had long forsaken God, and the day of reckoning came!

One other thing that you might notice here, is that it wasn’t the purpose of the prophets to simply tell about the future in the sense that we might have expected.  They had a different purpose, to bring God’s warning to the people at a time of crisis in their relationship with God.  We need to bear this in mind when we try to understand their message, particularly if we seek to find meaning for our own future.

Surrounded by His Glory

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Yet another work week: O what fun!

While we might have preferred to take another day off, we are once again grinding away, but that isn’t so bad, is it?  Consider the opportunities to share our faith, and the opportunities to show the example of Christ’s love to those around us.  Consider the chance we’ll have to bring Christ to others, and to walk side-by-side with Jesus through our days.

When we stop to notice, His glory is all around us.  If we are in the country, maybe we can see His awesome creation; the mountains, the trees, the pastures and forests.  If we are in the city, maybe we will notice His glory through vegetation, planters and trees; we might even see His work in the sky overhead.  If we are near the shore, we might see and hear His majesty in the breaking surf or the rolling thunder of a storm.  No matter where the week might take us, God’s glory is all around.

In the workplace, though, there is an even better chance to see His glory, for in shining His light to others in the way we speak, the way we behave and the manner in which we approach problems, we can become part of His reflected glory when others see Christ in us.

Let’s all have a blessed week!

Sunday Class Notes: September 29

“Let brotherly love remain”

Today’s Text               Hebrews 13

Introduction

This final chapter of Hebrews begins by continuing the practical exhortations and instructions that began in chapter 12.  It concludes with the ethical admonitions and personal information that the epistles of the NT usually close with.  The presentation of arguments is over now, and even though the letter did not begin with the usual sort of opening, it concludes with the usual sort of closing.

Points of Interest

13:1-6:              Verse one literally reads “Let brotherly love remain”. In the next two verses is a twofold example of what brotherly love looks like in practice: hospitality and thinking about those who are less fortunate.  The idea of hospitality in v. 2 can be summed up by saying, offer friendship to one another.  More has been written of course about entertaining angels, and that reminds us of Jesus’ words in Matt. 25:35.  In v. 3 we see the idea of the less fortunate expressed as “those in prison” and those who are “mistreated”.  We should bear in mind that the author is referring to people who are in prison and mistreated for their faith in Jesus Christ, and again we have an echo from Matthew 25. Brotherly love can be summed up as putting the interests of others ahead of our own. While the first three verses give us examples of what we should do, verses 4-6 tell us what we should not do.  First, we should realize that holiness does not allow for sexual immorality; sexual immorality is something that kills relationships, and it is clearly not putting the interests of others ahead of our own.  As for the love of money, we should be content with what we have, for loving money will kill our relationship with Christ Himself.

13:7-8:              The leaders spoken of here are said to have proclaimed the Word of God, so we can infer that the author is speaking primarily of those whose ministries lie within the areas of preaching and teaching.  The proclamation of God’s Word is the central aspect of the Great Commission both before and after someone enters into relationship with Christ, and is worthy of respect and imitation.  Verse eight is one that is often written about, but in context it is telling the reader that as Jesus is constant and dependable, so is the example of those who proclaim His Word.  Paul told the Corinthians to follow his example, for he was following the example of Christ.  So it was with the “leaders” spoken of here.

13:9-16:            The author has made extensive remarks in this letter regarding the temptation to return to the old (OT) ways.  In doing this, he has repeatedly shown the superiority of the New Covenant over the Old.  Here, he makes one last appeal to the people to move away from the Old Covenant practices, recognizing the total and utter superiority of the New.  He begins by talking about “foods”.  Even though the NIV adds the word “ceremonial” to “foods”, the Greek text does not contain this word, thus we can infer that the meaning is in reference to which foods are clean and which are unclean. (Lev. 11)  Verse 10 refers to the food sacrifices that the priests ate, and there is no counterpart in the New Covenant; thus they are not permitted to eat from the altar of our Covenant (the cross). The next two verses refer to the OT practice of bearing a sacrifice outside the city to be burned on the ash heap (Lev. 4) and comparing it with Jesus who was crucified outside the city.  We do not bear the sacrifice, but instead we bear the disgrace of His crucifixion though suffering for our faith. By this we are made holy through His shed blood. In verse 15 we see that we offer sacrifices of praise and good deeds, not of animals, verse 16 exhorts the people to continue offering sacrifice in this way, for it is pleasing to God.  We must understand that all of this centers on the example of Jesus who put the interests of others ahead of His own interests: brotherly love.

13:17-25:           Verse 17 is one that is not “politically correct” today; thus it may be problematic for some.  Earlier we were called to “remember” our leaders; here we are commanded to “obey” them.  Those who lead through the preaching and teaching of the Word of God have an awesome responsibility and are not only responsible for their own lives, but for watching over the lives of the members of their flock.  Those members can make this a “joy” or they can make it a “burden”.  Making it a “burden” for the leaders will not be a benefit to those who do so; in fact it is disobedience to God Himself.  Frustrating the efforts of your leaders will result in your loss. Verses 18 ff. are the closing personal remarks and greetings.

Church “Retreat”

This weekend I am away at a church “retreat,” can you believe that? That I, of all people, would go to a “retreat?”

Who came up with the idea that the church ever retreats?

There is not a single word in Scripture to justify such a ludicrous notion: Retreat, indeed!

Jesus gave His people a Commission:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20

How can anybody read that and think of retreat? This is an attack order!  Let Satan do the retreating, we are on the offensive at all times.  We have superior weapons, superior firepower, superior allies and a superior King!  In fact, we also have “All authority in heaven and on earth” on our side, so who came up with the idea that we should ever think of retreat?

OK, all ranting aside now, I can see the value in coming together to plan, to strategize and to charge up the old batteries in preparation for a new assault on the forces of darkness, but retreat?

Never!

By this time, you have probably come to realize that I am ranting and raving about a single word, and you are correct.  Why am I picking on a mere word?  Because words mean things. I hope that one of these days, some clever person will come up with a better word, something like a church training session, or a church strategy session, or a church something or other!

Whatever we call it, let’s just bear in mind that the Enemy is the one that looses this battle, that we have nothing to fear, and that we must always be moving the Gospel of Jesus Christ forward… and one of these days, I’m going to come up with the right name for a church whatever it’s called!

Proclaim His Praise

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It is good to praise the Lord
    and make music to your name, O Most High,
proclaiming your love in the morning
    and your faithfulness at night,
to the music of the ten-stringed lyre
    and the melody of the harp.

Psalm 92:1-3

At first glance, this is a simple Psalm of praise, but a little closer look reveals an interesting approach to the day.  Notice that it says “proclaiming your love in the morning.”  Have you ever tried that?  To begin the day proclaiming God’s love has a way of adjusting a person’s attitude to a place where we are more likely to notice the things that are really important, as opposed to the things that are simply there.  It has a way of helping us to prioritize the right way, so that when the day’s trials come we are better grounded in His love and not simply being tossed to and fro.

Notice also that the Psalm goes on to say “…and your faithfulness at night.”  Faithfulness, as we have seen in our posts on Biblical covenant is a covenant term that means covenant keeping.  To be reminded at the end of each day that God keeps His promises is a wonderful tonic for our souls.  Whatever the day has brought our way, even if things haven’t gone our way, we need to keep in mind that God is reliable, trustworthy and true.  This is a recipe for a good sound night’s sleep; praising God for his faithfulness.

It is always exciting to see how much the Bible has to say that is practical and helpful in our daily lives, and every time we are reminded of these things, it seems that we walk a little more closely with our Lord the whole day through.