Rappin’ With Rick

Tassel Beats Rock

We’ve been thinking a lot about the Law lately. On Sunday mornings our study of Romans has focused on the role the Law played in bringing us to grace. On Wednesday nights James has pointed out the connection between faith and works, and how breaking one point of law makes us guilty of all. On Sunday nights we’ve explored the difference between ceremonial law, civil law, and moral law. And in our daily reading we’ve been reading, or skimming, through laws of all kinds that were given to Israel. Last week I discovered a connection between a couple of laws I had never noticed before.

In the 15th chapter of Numbers we read about a man who was caught gathering firewood on the Sabbath. The people weren’t sure what to do with him, so they kept him in custody until Moses could get word from God on what his penalty should be. They were no doubt shocked by what God told them to do. The people were ordered to stone him to death.

When I read that I assumed God had discerned an unrepentant spirit of rebellion in the man, and thus the harsh judgment. But in the very next paragraph He tells Moses to tell an obviously forgetful people to put tassels of blue on the corners of their garments to remind them of the commandments, and the need to be holy.

Tying tassels on a shirt might seem like a silly law, if that’s what it was. And maybe the people simply regarded it as good advice, or a helpful suggestion. But however it may have been viewed, God’s intent was clear. He didn’t want His people doing things that would require Him to take drastic action. He therefore ordained a helpful reminder to keep them from forgetting they had been set apart as holy.

We no longer wear tassels as a reminder, but Christ did ordain something for us to do on a regular basis. I don’t know if we ought to think of “This do in remembrance of Me” as a command or not, but if we call Him Lord, it is something we must do.

I’ll see you Sunday, around His table.

God Bless, Rick

It sometimes takes a professional theologian

I got an email from Randy Pim last week, assuring me that the Pim’s still read our newsletter, and sharing a message that a delegate from Africa presented at the recent Methodist conference on homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

In his address he said, “We welcome all people to our churches; we long to be in fellowship with them, to pray with them, to weep with them, and to experience the joy of transformation with them. Friends, please hear me, we Africans are not afraid of our sisters and brothers who identify as…(LGBTQ). We love them and we hope the best for them. But we know of no compelling arguments for forsaking our church’s understanding of Scripture and the teachings of the church universal. And then please hear me when I say as graciously as I can: we Africans are not children in need of western enlightenment when it comes to the church’s sexual ethics. We do not need to hear a progressive U.S. bishop lecture us about our need to ‘grow up.’”

The good news, and yet the sad news, is that by the relatively close vote of 438 to 384 the delegates managed to keep in place the church rule that said the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.

I read something in Touchstone last week that bears repeating here.

“Jesus doesn’t urge Peter to ‘go ahead, betray me, I understand.’ Jesus doesn’t tell the woman taken in adultery, ‘go back to your lover, because your situation is complex.’ Jesus doesn’t tell Zacchaeus the tax collector, ‘actually, keep the money you may have unjustly taken because you need it to support your family.’ Jesus dines with sinners, hangs out with prostitutes and publicans, he evangelizes the much-married Samaritan woman, he welcomes thieves into eternity. But he never confirms them in their sins, or makes nuanced allowances for their state of life; that sort of rhetoric is alien to the gospels…

This is not some complicated esoteric reading of the New Testament; it is the boringly literal and obvious one, which is why it takes a professional theologian to dispute it.”

God Bless, Rick

Azazel or Scapegoat?

Who in the world, or some other world, is Azazel?

If you are reading through The Daily Message with me this year, you may have wondered about that while reading in Leviticus 16 about the Day of Atonement and the sending of a goat into the wilderness. “Then he will set the two goats before God at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting and cast lots over the two goats, one lot for God and the other lot for Azazel.” “The goat on which the lot for Azazel falls will be sent out into the wilderness to Azazel to make atonement.”That sounds like God is telling Aaron to send a goat to someone, or something, named Azazel as an act of atonement.

As I often do when reading a different translation or paraphrase, I immediately went to my reliable NASV to see what the text really says. As expected, it simply speaks of one goat being made into a scapegoat to bear the iniquities of the people into a solitary land. It does, however, note in the margin that the word “scapegoat” may be translated as a name Azazel. And that, of course, led to a quick internet study.

I soon discovered that the word “azazel”is a Hebrew word that the seventy-two scholars who originally translated the Bible into Greek understood to mean “the sent away.” They translated it as “scapegoat”, and that has been the accepted translation in most Bibles until recently.

Now several contemporary translations and paraphrases have decided to follow the lead of the apocryphal Book of Enoch, and view it as a proper name. Why the unknown authors of what became the Book of Enoch decided to use the unusual word as a name is not known, but they created quite a mythology about him. They pictured him a fallen angel who taught men how to make weapons of war, and women how to use makeup to seduce angels. He has now become a demonic X-Men character in comic books.

I find it very sad that a beautiful ceremony God ordained to picture sins being carried away into the wilderness, a type of what the Lamb of God would do for us, has been so tarnished under the guise of modern scholarship.

God Bless, Rick

Choosing Holiness

As I write this, eight hundred and fifty Methodist delegates from around the world are meeting in St. Louis “to decide whether to change the church’s historical position that sexual relationships should be solely between married men and women.” Three plans are being discussed, and “the commission and the church’s leadership broadly support the One Church Plan which would allow the ordination of LGBTQ pastors and recognition of same-sex marriage.” An openly lesbian bishop who is in a same-sex marriage said Methodists need to learn “how to live in beloved community where every child of God is beloved, wanted, celebrated, needed in order for the body of Christ to be made whole.”

Obviously every child of God is to be loved and wanted. Every behavior, however, is not to be celebrated. And the distinction between who I am, and what I do, must not be ignored.

In our Sunday night study we recently learned that “the idea of putting sexual attraction at the core of our identity is a recent invention,” and that “from ancient times, the adjective homosexual was used to describe acts that anyone might perform, not an unchanging condition or an essential identity. It referred to an action, not a category of person.” And that while “we do not choose our feelings, we do choose our behavior and identity”

Christopher Yuan, who had regularly visited gay bath-houses before becoming a Christian writes, “I had always thought that the opposite of homosexuality was heterosexuality. But actually the opposite of homosexuality is holiness. All Christians are called to holiness, no matter their sexual feelings.”

Our author then noted, “No one chooses to have same-sex temptations, just as no one chooses to feel angry or jealous, or be tempted by drugs or pornography. Where we do have a choice is in deciding how to respond to our temptations. We can choose whether to purchase drugs, or search for pornography on the computer, or engage in same-sex behavior. Everyone is called to choose holiness, whether attracted to the same sex or the opposite sex, whether married or single.”

Contrary to the thoughts of some, the body of Christ will never be made whole by embracing sinful behavior.

God Bless, Rick

When Jesus is in the boat

When I asked Jonathan to send me a copy of the communion meditation he shared last Sunday, he hesitated, telling me that much of it had come from something he had read. I assured him that most sermons include thoughts, words, and perhaps even paragraphs that were found in places other than the Bible. After all, the Bible was written long ago, and it’s been studied and expounded upon ever since.

To claim to have discerned something in the Bible that no one else has ever discerned or commented on is probably more arrogant than accurate. In fact, I’ve openly stated that I have no idea what is“original” in my sermons, or what I picked up from others throughout the years. And quite frankly, I don’t think it matters. Unless, of course, you claim that everything you have written is original.

Having said that, I loved what Jonathan shared with us. And he has carefully noted in the printed copy he sent me what he is quoting from a source he discovered in his study. Kudos to him for his study, and for his integrity. Now, back to what he shared, and where I’m going with it.

As Jonathan noted, if Jesus is in the boat we don’t have to worry about storms, nor wonder about the reason for Him being in the boat with us. But there’s another benefit to having Him in the boat that came into focus for me on a fishing trip in Florida.

Alan, my friend from FitClub, and I had planned to go to Lake Okeechobee to fish for giant Florida bass, but water conditions led to a change of plans. The guide suggested that we head to Chokoloskee and the 10,000 Island section of Everglades National Park instead, and that we fish for tripletail. Neither of us had ever heard of tripletail, but he assured us that it was a blast to catch. And he was right!

As we were making our way through the 10,000 mangrove islands to get out into the Gulf where the crab pots that attract the tripletail are located, I realized that there was no way I could get through the maze of islands without a guide.

I trust I don’t have to explain how this relates to what Jonathan shared with us. If Jesus is in the boat with us, not only do we have no need to worry, we also have the only guide who knows how to get us where we want to go.

God Bless, Rick