Category Archives: Seminary

“I fear the Lord, the god of heaven…”

Fear_The_Lord

And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, “Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” (Jonah 1:7-9)

 I find Jonah’s response interesting: I fear The Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land. It seems like such a simple phrase that we could easily skim over it without appreciating its implication. But the way the sailors respond made me pay closer attention to this little gem: Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, What is this that you have done! For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them. (Jonah 1:10)

 First, we need to note that both times we see the word Lord here it is the formal title for Yahweh. It’s not ‘lord,’ it’s Yahweh. Jonah had told them he was fleeing from Yahweh and they probably didn’t think anything of it at the time. Most ancient religions thought that gods were geographically limited; there was a god of the mountains, a god of the plains, a god in this desert, a god in that desert, etc. So when Jonah told them he was fleeing from Yahweh, they probably thought all he needed was a change of zip code. And then, something terrible happened

“The Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. (Jonah 1:4)”

 Suddenly a routine trip was enveloped by a life-threatening tempest! So they cast lots to figure out whose god they had offended and it turned out that Yahweh was upset (Jonah 1:7). That’s when Jonah says that his GodYahwehcreated the air, land, and sea. This one phrase reveals that Jonah’s God made it all and controls it all. This is not a god, but The God. This god is not limited to a zip code, but is The God and creator of the entire earth. This God’s sovereignty is not limited to a specific region, but encompasses all regions. Uh-oh. Even if they are able to make it back to dry land, it doesn’t look like they’ll be able to escape this God. No wonder they asked Jonah what to do (Jonah 1:11), followed his advice to throw him overboard (Jonah 1:15), and then offered sacrifices to Yahweh (Jonah 1:16). (Fun little factoid: the crew aboard this ship were actually Jonah’s first converts!)

Do we ever think, like Jonah, that we can somehow run from God’s presence? As though we could possibly escape Him?

7 Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.

13 For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.

17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
I awake, and I am still with you. (Psalms 139:7-18)

4 Quick Thoughts on Marriage

One of the things I absolutely love about my seminary is that they truly value the marriages of their students. As a result they have a couple’s banquet every year where the married students are served dinner by the professors, child care is provided, and a miniature sermon about marriage is presented. This year one of my professors, Carl Laney, gave four reasons why marriage should be held in honor and I thought they were so great I’d share them here.

  1. God ordained it. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24).” Marriage is the first institution created by God. Any other time God has made a covenant with man it has been regarded as something sacred and holy. In the same way, marriage should be viewed as a sacred institution that was created by God.
  2. Jesus blessed it. Jesus blessed marriage by turning water to wine at a wedding feast (John 2:1-12). He did this because marriage is something that deserves to be celebrated. Furthermore, Jesus said that there is a supernatural element to marriage. God joins the husband and wife, and we ought not separate what God has joined (Matthew 19:4-6; Mark 10:6-9)
  3. Children illustrate it. From the beginning, the biblical view of children is that they are a blessing. When a child is born, they have DNA from both the mother and the father. This is an illustration of the bond that occurs at marriage. Children are a vivid reminder of that unity that God creates when he weds a man and a woman.
  4. Death alone ends it. Marriage is intended as a lifelong covenant between a man and a woman in the sight of God and their family. The Bible says that wives are bound to their husbands as long as he is alive (Romans 7:2; 1 Corinthians 7:39). It also says that men are to love their lives to the point of dying for her (Ephesians 5:25-30). This lifelong devotion is meant to serve as a picture of Christ’s devotion to the Church.

There you have it! May your marriage be blessed and may it be a blessing.

Suspicious circumstances

I remember working in the fields in Tennessee. The entire summer was filled with back-breaking labor, especially during harvest season. One year, there was a new girl from out of town who was helping in the fields. News travels fast in a small town, so I had heard about her; it turns out she had moved to care for one of the widows in town. It was obvious that she had a kind heart. After all, it’s not every day you hear of someone moving to a totally new area to care for someone else. I saw her from time to time and, if I’m honest, I thought she was pretty. She was also an incredibly hard worker, which I couldn’t help but respect.

Fast forward a few months: the harvest is over and I’m having a celebratory camp out with the guys. It’s a bit of a tradition for us to cook over the fire and have a couple beers (nothing too crazy because we still have to load all the bales into the barn, but enough to make you feel good). As the night began to wind down, we all headed to our separate tents to get some rest before the harvest was moved off the field. I drifted off to sleep, happy that the harvest season had been a success.

Then in the middle of the night, I was startled awake by someone in my sleeping bag! The first thing I noticed was the alluring smell of a woman’s perfume. I asked the obvious question “Who are you?” Then she responded, and I knew it was the woman from the fields, the one who had moved to town to care for a widow, the pretty one. There I was, after having a few drinks, and this young, beautiful woman crawled into my sleeping bag in the middle of the night.

Oh wait…

That’s not my story…

This story belongs to Boaz!

You see, there’s a very highly debated portion of the story of Boaz and Ruth. Earlier in the story, Naomi gives the following instructions to Ruth: 3 “Wash therefore and anoint yourself, and put on your cloak and go down to the threshing floor, but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. But when he lies down, observe the place where he lies. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down, and he will tell you what to do. (Ruth 3:3-4)” Ruth obeys and, after Boaz had eaten and drunk and his heart was merry (Ruth 3:7), Ruth wakes him up (Ruth 3:8).

Perhaps I’m the product of a hyper-sexual culture, but I can’t help myself: I find this situation to be a little suspicious. For example, if I told Connie that something like this happened to me last week—that a pleasant smelling woman had crawled into my sleeping bag—she would probably be a little concerned. It seems as though a lot of evangelical scholars want to say that Ruth’s intentions were completely innocent, but I just find that hard to believe. Let’s look at what we know.

  • Ruth is a widow living with a widow, which means they don’t have anyone to provide for them.
  • Ruth has been picking grains in the summer, but the harvest season is over. This means her primary means of provision is about to end.
  • Boaz is single, and from the story it sounds like he is successful. (If I had to guess, I’d say he was probably a widower, but it doesn’t say that so I’m just guessing.)
  • Ruth was previously married, so she knows how a man might respond to a washed and anointed woman laying down next to him at night.

Ruth asks him to spread his wings over her because he is a redeemer. So how does Boaz respond? He says to her “May you be blessed by the LORD, my daughter.” And Boaz’s response is, for me, what makes all the difference in the world. In this story, I think Boaz is the good guy. The fact that Boaz mentioned The LORD and calls Ruth “my daughter” lead me to believe that he is the only virtuous person in an otherwise shady situation. Ruth is anointed, wearing perfume, and sneaking up on Boaz in the middle of the night after he’s had a few drinks. However, if Boaz intended to take advantage of a vulnerable widow, it’s unlikely he would have called her “my daughter.” If Boaz intended on sinning against the Lord, it’s unlikely that he would have mentioned God, and even more unlikely he would have used the Tetragrammaton, which is the most sacred name the Jews have for God. In fact, it’s so sacred that modern Jews won’t even say it! Instead, they say Adonai, which means “my God.” Would Boaz have used the most sacred name possible for His God in a moment of trespass? Would Boaz have called Ruth “my daughter,” a term that highlighted their age difference and subtly highlighted Boaz’s role as potential provider in her life? To quote LL Cool J: I don’t think so.

Also, the fact that their conversation centered on the Boaz being a kinsman redeemer makes me pretty certain nothing shady happened. Ruth said, “Spread your wings over me, for you are a redeemer,” not “shut up and kiss me, you big hunk of man!” Later, Boaz tells everyone not to mention that “the woman” had been there (Ruth 3:14). The fact that he says “the woman” instead of “a woman” could mean that everyone knew Ruth had been there to talk to Boaz. It doesn’t seem to have been a secret, midnight rendezvous so much as a late-night meeting. Ruth was desperate and needed to know ASAP if Boaz intended on redeeming her, because the other guy hadn’t made a move and Ruth had been living there for months by that time. For these reasons, I think that Boaz did not take advantage of Ruth. While we’ll never know Naomi or Ruth’s motives, we can trust that Boaz responded in a way that honored God.

She just so happened…

“…and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz.”

Ruth 2:3

I absolutely love this phrase, which occurs in Ruth chapter 2. So far, if we’re honest, this story has been slightly less than delightful. Because there was a famine in Bethlehem (which literally means “house of bread”), a man named Elimelech (literally “God is my king”) brings his wife Naomi (“pleasant”) and their sons, Mahlon (“sickly”) and Chilion (“wasting away”) and travel to Moab (“nothingness”). So a man whose king is God takes his pleasant wife and their sickly, wasting away sons from the house of bread to nothingness to escape a famine. The sons marry two Moabite women: Ruth (“beauty”) and Orpah (“double-minded”). Pretty soon all the men die! Naomi, because of her bitter luck, changes her name from “pleasant” to Mara (“bitter”). She decides to head back to Bethlehem with her daughters-in-law but at the last minute Orpah changes her mind and stays in Moab. At this point, it’s just Ruth and Mara. Did I mention that all the men died? This is bad news in a society where a woman’s livelihood depended primarily on her husband or sons!

When the ladies return to Bethlehem, Ruth heads to the fields to pick up grains after the harvesters. Mara and Ruth are literally living off of crumbs at this point. But Ruth just so happens to go and pick grains in Boaz’s (“strength”) field. Boaz just so happens to be the one person who can marry her and “redeem” her from widow status. The rest is history with Boaz marrying Ruth, King David being born within a few generations, and, eventually, Jesus being born in the flesh through this very lineage. And it all took place because Ruth just so happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz.

I can’t help but wonder how many things just so happen to occur in my life. How many of my coworkers do I just so happen to work with on a daily basis? How many of my neighbors do I just so happen to live within 100 yards of and see on a regular basis? The phrase “just so happened” is, of course, a literary device. It’s a subtle reminder that God is in complete control. God is in the details of our lives; orchestrating and developing our stories the same way a conductor directs a symphony.

Tips for Sharing Your Faith

This semester at Western Seminary, I’m taking a class called Practicing Evangelism and Apologetics with Dr. Gerry Breshears and Pastor Jim McGuire. At first I wasn’t exactly sure what I should expect from this class and I was a little nervous because evangelism is one of my weaker areas. However, we had our first class session last night and I really enjoyed it. We went around the room and all shared our testimonies. Despite my nervousness, I really appreciated having a chance to intentionally articulate what God has done in my life; it was even better to do so in a safe environment where I could receive advice on how to be more effective. I learned a ton in the class and want to take a few minutes to share some pointers about sharing your testimony. Continue reading Tips for Sharing Your Faith

Themes in Proverbs

While taking a class with Professor Carl Laney, I ran across an excellent list of “Themes in Proverbs.” This is his list but I thought it was worth sharing. He starts by saying “The individual proverbs are not generally grouped together topically or in a thematic series. They are quite mixed and any one chapter may contain a great variety of topics. Some of the more important themes and topics in Proverbs include the following: Continue reading Themes in Proverbs

The revealed life

Colossians 3  If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

As you may have noticed, I’ve been spending a lot of time in this passage and I want to finish by looking at verse 4. This passage has covered the believer’s past (being raised with Christ), their present (being hidden with Christ), and naturally concludes with the future promise of being revealed with Christ in glory. All these verbs (being raised, hidden, and revealed) are written in the passive voice because from start to finish, our salvation is not dependent upon ourselves, but upon the perfect, completed work of Christ. This reality should shatter all pride in our accomplishments and relieve any fear of failure on our part because none of it depends upon us.

This passage concludes the same way as all human history: Christ being revealed in glory. But the unbelievable part is that we will be revealed with Him. If the reader were puzzled by the preceding description of their life being hidden with Christ for the present, this verse describes the future revelation of Christ with their life. For the Christian, their life is hidden with Christ today, and will be revealed with Christ in the future. The wording here describes a personal connection and shared destiny with Christ: “and you with Him” (Col. 3:4). If believers share Christ’s destiny through being raised with Christ and by having their lives hidden with Christ, then we finally find out what that destiny actually is: “you also will be revealed with him in glory.”

Here we have the answer to every “why” question in the Christian life. Why yearn for the things above? Why focus intently upon the things above and not the things upon the earth? Why have we died? Why does it matter that our life is hidden with Christ? And, in light of the rest of Colossians 3, why should we put to death the earthly members within us? Why should we put on the new man? Why should we strive to honor Christ in public as well as private? Not because it will be easy—quite the opposite, in fact—but because it will be worth it. Currently, Christ is seated at God’s right hand; one day, we will appear with Him in glory (see also, Romans 8:17b). The natural response to such a gracious gift is gratitude, thanksgiving, and obedience. Thus, the instructions in the rest of Colossians are not a duty, but a delight. If we understand the free gift we’ve been given—a gift that redeems our past, directs our present, and secures our future—we will strive, with every fiber of our being, to bring glory to God.

Related Posts:

The hidden life

In chapter 2 of Colossians, Paul sets forth a defensive strategy for the Colossians: resist captivity (Col. 2:8-15), resist judgment and disqualification (Col. 2:16-19), and resist the elemental spirits of the world and false religions (Col. 2:20-23). Colossians 3:1-4 serves as a transition-point before Paul teaches how to go on the offensive by mortifying the flesh (Col. 3:5) and putting on the new self (Col. 3:12). This passage has some very profound implications for Christian living, and one thing that really grips me is the security that we have in Christ.

For example, Col. 3:1 says that Christ is seated. The sitting position signifies the completion of Christ’s work. This contrast between Jesus and the Levitical priests is demonstrated in Hebrews 10:11-14: the priests stand because their work is never finished; Jesus offered one perfect sacrifice—Himself—and is now seated. His work is done, there are no questions about it; His sacrifice was accepted and Christ now enjoys a seated position of honor because He has earned it. Christians never need to question whether or not they are saved because they did not save themselves. As previously discussed, we have been raised by Christ and with Christ and now share His destiny. His work is completed and He is now seated in a position of honor and glory. Christ would have the seat pulled out from under Him—marking an incomplete sacrifice for sins and unfinished work—before a Christian would lose their salvation.

Another amazing statement is found in Colossians 3:3: “…you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” The Greek word for “hidden” here (krupto) is the root of the English word “encrypt;” in the same way that encrypted data is considered safe, so the Christian’s life is safe because it is ‘encrypted’ with Christ. Through Paul’s use of the perfect tense, we know that this “hiddenness” occurred in the past—presumably at the time of our salvation—and has ongoing effects. In the same way that someone in the witness protection program is safe because they are hidden, so the Christian’s salvation is secure because it is hidden with Christ.

A Simple Idea for Christian Decision Making: Up or Down?

“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2).

At one time or another we all face major life decisions. If you’re like me, it often feels like God directs you to a point, but then He leaves you to take that final leap of faith. I often feel like I’m brought to a ledge and told to leap. Don’t worry, just jump and trust that God will catch me. Or perhaps it feels like He leads you to an intersection, where you have two or more possible choices and it’s up to you to make the right decision.

I’m not one of those people who receives a sense of deep, unshakable peace about a decision. Instead, I often feel the opposite: nervous, excited, and perhaps more than a little curious; almost like I’ve just been strapped into a roller coaster. And so, at life’s precipices, I prayerfully leap regardless of whether or not it makes sense. I do so because I know that God has called me to be faithful to Him, not successful in this life. The last thing I want is to finish this life and show up at the next one as someone who was very successful in the eyes of the world but completely unfaithful in the eyes of my Heavenly Father; a temporary success but an eternal failure.

Recently, I’ve been studying Colossians 3:1-4 and run across a new way to make decisions. As I’ve discussed before, in this passage we’re told to set our minds on the things above and not on the things that are on the earth. While it would be easy to just casually pass over that verse without much contemplation, I have slowly realized that this is one of the most practical Bible verses I’ve ever encountered. This verse separates all things into two essential categories: things above and things upon the earth.

How easy would it be for us to make decisions if we asked this simple question: “Am I seeking the things above or am I seeking the things upon the earth?” I’m quickly realizing that this framework can apply to virtually anything from dating, to marrying, to raising children, to buying a home, to choosing a college, to determining a career path, you name it. Sure, not everything fits into a simple up or down division; sometimes both decisions are ‘upward’ options, such as buying a home. Then you can simply determine which decision takes you higher. For example, which home would put you in a better position to reach out to neighbors and share Christ? Which home would give you an extra room to allow others to stay with you if they needed? Which home would be better for practicing hospitality? Or perhaps you feel God leading you to choose a house that would be smaller, but would allow you to be more generous with your money. Perhaps, by choosing a house that has one less room, you’re able to fully fund a well to be dug in Africa every other year. When there’s not a black & white, right or wrong answer, perhaps there’s a good and a better option. Perhaps there isn’t a clear-cut right answer, but perhaps there is an option that gives you more ability to seek the things above.

From now on, I think Colossians 3:2 is going to be one of the first Bible verses I share with people who are faced with big decisions and want to know God’s will. What does God want you to do with your life? Set your minds on the things that are above, not on things that are on earth. While this may not tell us what to decide, it certainly tells us how to decide. Our decisions should be made in light of eternity, not in light of the next 5, 10, or 50 years. We need to see this life as a short opportunity to make an eternal difference. I challenge you need to seek counsel from fellow believers and from the Holy Spirit to ensure that you are making decisions that seek the things above and not the things upon the earth.

What does it mean to be raised with Christ?

“…you have been raised with Christ…” (Col. 3:1)

It’s really easy for us to get things twisted. We read a simple phrase like the one above and perhaps picture ourselves walking alongside Christ with our arm over His shoulder as He helps us along. Perhaps something like this:

But the truth is, this is a passive verb. It’s more like “you have been raised by Christ and with Christ.” Christ is the one doing all the work. Christians are raised with Him and by Him. We’re raised with Christ in the sense that, now that He’s picked us up, He’s taking us where He’s going. We’re along for the ride! It’s really more like this:

This word is used in the Greek Old Testament to describe someone getting a donkey off the ground with its load. “If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him. (Exodus 23:5)” The term used for rescuing the donkey is used to describe us in Colossians 3:1.

The most interesting thing to me is the fact that, in order to rescue us, Christ had to come down to earth to pick us up. His death on the cross was the ultimate falling down to raise us up. To save us from death, He endured death and conquered it. We are able to be raised because Christ was raised first. Acts 26:23, 1 Corinthians 15:20, and Colossians 1:18 all describe Christ as being the “first born.” Notice they all say “first” and not “only.” Christ is the first of many who will conquer death. Romans 8:29 describes Him as “the firstborn among many brothers!”

Praise be to our great Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, for coming down to earth in order to lift us up to Heaven.