Vexing Verses

What book of the Bible do you find to be the hardest to understand, and the scariest? Most would probably say it’s Revelation, and who would deny that the images found in Revelation are hard to interpret and are indeed frightening. It might surprise you, however, to discover that the verse many believe to be the most difficult to interpret, as well as a verse that causes many to live in anxiety, are both found in the little book of James.

A couple weeks ago we confronted James 4:5 in our Wednesday night study. Confusion about that verse centers on two things. When James says, “Or do you think that the Scriptures speaks to no purpose,” it’s impossible to determine if he is referencing what he has just said, or quoting an unknown Scripture. The other problem relates to the possible quote no one can find; “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us.” Is he talking about the Holy Spirit or our spirit, and is he saying God jealously desires a relationship with us or that we have a jealous spirit? We decided any way we looked it, it was true, and that we’d leave the debate to the theologians.

The verse that many find frightening is one we ended on last Wednesday night.“Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4:17) It is from this verse that “sins of omission” arise. If you’re not familiar with them, they are the opposite of “sins of commission.” They aren’t what you do, but what you don’t do.

If this verse is read in isolation, it does sound like a blanket warning about failing to do whatever you know you should do. If it’s kept in context, however, James may simply be saying that we must do what he’s been telling us to do.

If this is a warning about failing to do everything we know we should do, I think it takes away any sense of peace in our relationship with God. How would we ever know if we’ve done everything we’re supposed to do? Some have suggested this can be addressed by praying for forgiveness for everything we did, and didn’t do, but I’m not sure if that would really be confession of sin, or just a lame attempt to cover the bases.

Last Sunday we were reminded that we are to consider ourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. I think it would be hard to feel alive to God if we’re always walking under the cloud of unknown sin. I think it might be best to simply walk confidently in grace, and do our very best to walk in obedience.

God Bless, Rick

Two Kinds of Soldiers

I recently received a no-doubt broadly sent email that shared some interesting facts about the soldiers who guard the tomb of the Unknowns. Even if you’ve seen it, please let me share them now again.

The soldiers who guard the tomb must meet specific physical requirements, and commit two years of life to guard the tomb. They must live in a barracks under the tomb, and cannot drink any alcohol on or off duty for the rest of their lives. They cannot swear in public for the rest of their lives and cannot disgrace the uniform or the tomb in any way. After two years, the guard is given a wreath pin that is worn on their lapel signifying they served as guards of the tomb. There are only 400 presently worn. The guard must obey these rules for the rest of their lives or give up the wreath pin.

During the first six months of duty a guard cannot talk to anyone or watch TV. All off duty time is spent studying the 175 notable people laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. A guard must memorize who they are and where they are interred. Every guard spends five hours a day getting his uniforms ready for guard duty, making sure there are no wrinkles, folds or lint on the uniform. In 2003 as Hurricane Isabelle was approaching they were given permission to suspend the assignment, but respectfully declined the offer. Soaked to the skin, marching in the pelting rain of a tropical storm, they said guarding the tomb was not just an assignment, it was the highest honor that can be afforded to a service person.

Now, contrast that with the soldiers who guarded the tomb of Christ.

“Behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. And his appearance was like lightning, and his garment as white as snow; and the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men.”

“Behold, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened. And when they had assembled with the elders and counseled together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, and said, ‘You are to say, “His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’ And they took the money and did as they had been instructed;”

When standing guard over the reputation of the risen Christ, which guard do you most resemble?

God Bless, Rick

Something More

If ever promises, threats and warnings could make a difference in people’s lives, surely those found in Deuteronomy would do it.

In our daily Bible reading many of us have just finished Deuteronomy, where Moses goes over the laws a second time before the Israelites enter the Promised Land. And the promises found in the Law were truly amazing. God promised to establish the Israelites as a holy people, and to bless them in every way possible if they would just obey Him. And after they had seen Him free them from bondage and miraculously care for them for forty years in the wilderness, you’d think that would have been enough.

But then He also warned them what would happen if they didn’t obey Him. He even listed a host of specific horrible curses He would send upon them if they turned away from Him. And Moses told the people to take to heart all the words of warning and to teach their children to carefully observe the Law, because their life depended on it.

The people swore they would, but Moses knew they wouldn’t. He even told them he knew they would turn away from God and do evil after his death.

The Law had been carved on stone, God’s promises were put to song, and the warnings would be shouted from Mt. Ebal after defeat in battle due to disobedience. But hearts couldn’t be changed by the Law. God knew it would take something more, and we even find hints of what it would be in Deuteronomy itself.

Moses told the people that God would raise up another prophet like himself, and the Law ordained that a man hanged on a tree is accursed of God. Whether these were specific prophecies concerning the Messiah or not has been debated for centuries, but we do know that Philip told Nathanael that they had found Him of whom Moses in the Law wrote. And after quoting what Moses said about the Lord raising up a prophet like him, Peter said that God raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless us. And Paul said Christ was able to redeem us from the curse of the Law because cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.

Indeed, what the Law couldn’t do, Christ did. He took away our sin, and gave us a grateful heart that changes everything.

God Bless, Rick

It’s What Bring Us Together Today

I have to admit that I had fun using Scott’s misunderstood announcement of his and Renee’s 20th anniversary as an intro to last Sunday’s sermon. I do, however, also have to admit that my sermon on Paul’s analogy of our relationship with Christ as our second marriage was probably preaching to the choir.

Sadly, many in today’s world do not understand marriage as we do, and our Sunday night study is giving us insight into what has happened. I am here quoting some of what we will be looking at this Sunday night as we begin the last chapter of Love Thy Body.

“In marriage, too, we see the deadly fruit of the atomistic, contractual view of society. To be sure marriage begins in consent—but it is consent to enter into a covenant, not a contract. In a covenant, we do not merely agree to perform specified services for a limited period of time. Instead we pledge our very selves, ‘for better or for worse, until death do us part.’ We promise to sacrificially care for any children that result from the marital union. When we enter into marriage, we accept a set of rights and obligations that pre-exist our personal choices.

By contrast, a contractual view of marriage turns each person into an independent transacting party seeking his or her own enlightened self-interest. Some pundits are even starting to express outright hostility toward marriage. An article in the New Republic says, ‘The current model of life- long, co-habiting, monogamous partnership has never been such an outdated ideal…I would rather retain my single status with a few rewarding lovers to fulfill different needs at different times of my life.’

Because marriage is being painted in such negative hues, not surprisingly, fewer people are getting married. A study from the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University found that many of today’s young adults are deciding that saying ‘I do’ has become too risky—that it’s not worth the trade-off involved in giving up their autonomy. ‘Today’s singles mating culture is not oriented to marriage,’ the study says. ‘Instead it is best described as a low- commitment culture of “sex without strings, relationships without rings.”’”

All the more reason for Christians to model their committed relationship with Christ in their marriages.

God Bless, Rick