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Archive for January, 2011

Groundhog Day, Again?

January 28th, 2011 No comments

So teach us to number our days,
that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.
  —Psalm 90:12 (KJV)

It’s the time of year when I watch Groundhog Day. (Actually, it’s one of my favorite movies and I watch it several times a year, but I’m always reminded to see it again when February rolls around.)

If you haven’t seen Groundhog Day, well, you certainly ought to. It’s the story of an obnoxious TV weatherman named Phil Conner, played by Bill Murray. Read more…

Rules

January 25th, 2011 No comments

Most people think Christianity is all about rules: quit doing that and start doing this other thing. When I meet people who believe that, I tell them, as gently as I can, that they have been misinformed. It’s not always easy, because often the people who told them so were Christians!

But this misconception isn’t new. In fact, people were making the same mistake only a few years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. It was so common in a town called Colossae that Paul, a leader in the early church, wrote them a letter and said this:

So why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”? Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires.
  —Colossians 2:20-23 NLT

It’s sad that so many Christians talk about rules and morality with non-Christians, because it can give them a mistaken understanding of Christianity. First, since different Christians may not agree on which rules they’re supposed to obey, it makes us look like we’re either ignorant, or quarrelsome, or both.

Even worse, though, an understanding of Christianity that’s based on obedience and rules can make Christians look like hypocrites, because even when we agree on a particular rule, we don’t always obey it. It is not unheard of for Christians to skip church on Sunday or contribute less than a tithe of their income. They call in sick when they aren’t, they sometimes drink too much, and, sadly, they get divorced about as much as non-Christians.

But rules are beside the point. Some rules are good and others are bad, but Christianity isn’t about them. As you read the stories about Jesus in the Bible, you see he was always getting in trouble with people who thought he should obey their rules.

What Christianity is about is a new way of relating to God. It’s about what Jesus did at the Cross to reconnect us to God, so that God could make us into new people. God’s plan is to make Christians into new people, who don’t need rules any more than Jesus did, because the greatest desire of their heart is to please their Father in heaven.

(This article appeared in the January 26 issue of the Hi-Desert Star.)

King James Bible at 400

January 22nd, 2011 No comments

From a couple of weeks ago, a brief article in the New York Times on the importance of the King James Bible. This year is the 400th anniversary of its printing. I’ve been writing short articles about the King James Bible, and I suppose I should upload them here.

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New Years Resolutions: What Should We Work On?

January 3rd, 2011 No comments

The Bible describes a series of mass deportations after the empire of Babylon conquered Israel’s southern kingdom of Judah. Great numbers of Israelites were taken to Babylon from about 600 BC and especially after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC. But Babylon had its own problems, and when it was conquered in 538, the Persian Emperor Cyrus allowed Jews in Babylon to return to Israel.

Several books of the Bible describe what happened when they returned. One of those books is Haggai. In chapter two of the book of Haggai, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Haggai telling him to ask the people who returned this question: “Does anyone remember this house – this Temple – in its former splendor? How, in comparison, does it look to you now? It must seem like nothing at all!” (Haggai 2:3).

The decades had not been good to the Temple. Foreign occupiers had profaned what wasn’t destroyed in the initial conquest. Jews who remembered Solomon’s Temple could only shake their heads and weep. Since Israel was still governed by Persians, it wasn’t likely that the Jews would be allowed to rebuild a Temple. But through the prophet, God made them an amazing promise:

The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts and in this place I will give prosperity, says the LORD of hosts.—Haggai 2:9

That promise was fulfilled in time. A second Temple was eventually built in Jerusalem. A few centuries later, a foreigner named Herod married his way into the Jewish royal family, and to win favor from the people, and perhaps to create a name for himself, he began a massive project to rebuild the Temple. Authorities disagree how long that project took, but we read in John 2:20 that it was still underway after 46 years.

Herod’s Temple must have been really something. Mark records an incident where the disciples were struck by its magnificence: “As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!'” Jesus wasn’t impressed, and replied, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” (Mark 13:1-2)

In 70 AD, the Roman general (and future emperor) Titus destroyed Jerusalem, and razing the Temple. In this way he fulfilled Jesus’ prophecy, just as Herod had fulfilled Haggai’s.

But the promise that God made through Haggai still endures. The Apostle Peter makes an amazing offer to all who put their faith in Christ:

Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.—1 Peter 2:4

By all accounts, Herod’s Temple was truly magnificent, but God is building a new Temple: a spiritual house whose chief cornerstone is Christ. This new Temple far surpasses Herod’s Temple, just as it had surpassed those sad ruins that Haggai looked at.

Our role as Christians isn’t to build a new Temple: God is doing that, far better than we could ever do. But a New Year is a time to pause and reflect on what we’re doing and where we’re going.

What are you doing with your life? Are you like Herod, working on things that will only endure a few years after you’re gone?

How about our church? What are we working on, and will it last? It isn’t our responsibility to build the church. Jesus told his disciples he would do that (Matt 16:18). But he did commission us to make disciples. He wants lots of living stones for the glorious new Temple he’s building.

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