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On The Books of History

Read Joshua if you ever need to be encouraged that Jehovah is God.

Joshua is a book of action where the good guys win. The book lines up the Israelites against the inhabitants of Canaan, and time and again Israel, at the word of Jehovah, routs the enemy.

I’ve been reading Witness Lee’s Life-Study of the Bible since 2004. I’m currently a little over 40% done with the 1,984 messages which comprise the entire collection, and am currently reading through the twelve books of history.  The messages on the books of history have shown me that there is a way to interpret the books of history so that I see what God is doing today and where I stand in His move.

Remember Lancelot? or was it Joshua…

I may be wrong, but I would guess that a lot of Christians probably equate the books of history to the exciting stories of “The Old Days”. For example, Joshua is a valiant warrior-leader whose people dispossess seven tribes and conquer a vast land. Caleb, his companion who at age 80 hasn’t had the slightest dimming of his eye,  defeats a tribe of ungodly giants to take possession of a prominent hill, promising to give his daughter to whoever defeats some other impregnable enemy city. Not too far from Troy and Achilles. I mean, the books of history are the Christian version of the Iliad, right? To an American in 2014, warrior-kings, walled cities  and harlot-heroines are about as close to reality  as the Knights of the Round Table.

I find that the uneducated Englishman is an almost total skeptic about History. I had expected he would disbelieve the Gospels because they contain miracles: but he really disbelieves them because they deal with things that happened 2000 years ago.
-CS Lewis, God in the Dock, p. 94

Now, what challenges me is not to garner the moral lesson from the text, but to see what the text itself, with all of its parts and its central theme, means for us today. In other words, it’s not all about good and evil. Affirmation that the good guys win and the bad guys lose isn’t all there is. Layer upon layer of meaning come out of the books of history. That’s where revelation comes in, and for me, that’s where the Life-Study of the Bible has done wonders.

Witness Lee on the Books of History:

In studying the histories and prophecies of the Old Testament, we need the full scope, the full view, of the entire Scriptures concerning God’s eternal economy for Christ and the church, which consummates in the New Jerusalem. This will render us not only a broader view but also the deeper, intrinsic significance of God’s purpose in presenting to us the histories and giving us the prophecies of the Old Testament. The scope, the center, and the intrinsic significance of all the histories and the prophecies of the Old Testament must be Christ and His Body, which will ultimately consummate in the New Jerusalem for God’s eternal economy.

I plan to write a post once a week or so that follows my Life-Study Reading. Next up: Rahab.

Further Reading:
LifeandBuilding.com – The Bible as Revelation and History

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Five Quotes from Crazy Busy

Kevin DeYoung is a great writer. He can get your attention just by writing a few lines – that’s what happened to me anyway. Several months ago while at a local bookstore I saw a copy of this book on display. Since I was struggling with the issue of being too busy, I thought it was a good book to check out. Surely Kevin would have some good advice. I mean, he only has five kids, pastors a church, writes books, and blogs almost daily. So during our winter break I made it through this “(mercifully) short book about a (really) big problem”. Here are my five favorite quotes, in no particular order.

#1:

“Am I trying to do good or look good?”

Opening our home to others is a wonderful gift and a neglected discipline in the church. But we easliy forget the whole point of hospitality. Think of it this way: Good hospital-ity is making your home a hospital. The idea is that friends and family and the wounded and weary people come to your home and leave helped and refreshed. And yet, too often hospitality is a nerve-wracking experience for hosts and guests alike. Instead of setting our guests at ease, we set them on edge by telling them how bad the food will be, and what a mess the house is, and how sorry we are for the kids’ behavior. We get worked up and crazy busy in all the wrong ways because we are more concerned about looking good than with doing good. So instead of encouraging those we host, they feel compelled to encourage us with constant reassurances that everything is just fine. Opening our homes takes time, but it doesn’t have to take over our lives. Christian hospitality has much more to do with good relationships than with good food. There is a fine line between care and cumber. In many instances, less ado would serve better.

#2:

Limit your Expectations:

No doubt some Christians need to be shaken out of their lethargy and to get busy for the kingdom. But many Christians are too busy already. I can take “redeem the time” (see Eph. 5:16, KVJ) as a summons to better time management when in reality it’s a call to be holy more than a call to possess the seven habits of highly effective people. I can turn every “is” into an “ought.” I can overlook the role that necessity and proximity plan in establishing divine obligations. I can forget that my circle of influence will inevitably smaller than my circle of concern.
Above all, I can lose sight of the good news that the universe is not upheld by the word of my power (see Heb. 1:3). That’s Christ’s work, and no one else can do it. Hallelujah-he doesn’t even expect me to try.

#3:

Prioritize and Execute:

It’s taken me a while to see this, but now I do. And I absolutely believe it: I can’t serve others effectively without setting priorities. If I respond to every e-mail, show up at every possible meeting, and have coffee with every person asking for “just a few minutes,” I won’t have time to adequately prepare for my sermon. I may help several people during the week, but I won’t faithfully serve the many more who come on Sunday. If I attend every possible church function, I won’t be there for my son’s basketball game. Stewarding my time is not about selfishly pursuing only the things I like to do. It’s about effectively serving others in the ways I’m best able to serve and in the ways I am most uniquely called to serve.

#4:

On Raising Children (I kept this one short):

We may not be able to shape our child’s future identity as much as we’d like, but we can profoundly shape their experience of childhood in the present.

#5:

On the topic of social media:

[addiction and acedia (read: apathy) lead] directly to the third threat of our digital world, and that’s the danger that we are never alone. When I say “never alone,” I’m not talking about Big Brother watching over us or the threat of security breaches. I’m talking about our desire to never be alone. Peter Kreeft is right: “We want to complexify our lives. We don’t have to, we want to. We want to be harried and hassled and busy. Unconsciously, we want the very things we complain about. For if we had leisure, we would look at ourselves and listen to our hearts and see the great gaping hole in our hearts and be terrified, because that hole is so big that nothing but God can fill it.”

The Word of the Faith

Deuteronomy 30:11 contains the concluding word to Jehovah’s covenant with the Israelites of the second generation out of Egypt. Their parents had entered into the covenent at Mt Sinai nearly 40 years earlier. Now Moses repeated the covenant for the new generation. This is the scene: Israel is at the point of being about to enter the good land; all the camp is positioned east across the Jordan. Ahead of them lie Jericho, Ai, and all the tribes that they are about to dispossess by force. Moses is aged, 120 years old, and will not enter the land with them. He charges them to keep the commandments of Deuteronomy and to love Jehovah with all their heart and soul that they may enter and live in the good land. He then says something about the commandments they are to keep: that the commandment “is not too difficult for you, nor is it distant.” Applying this word to the gospel, Paul quotes these verses in Romans where the word is Christ who has come to where we are. 

But the righteousness which is out of taith speaks this way: do not say in your heart, Who will ascend inot heaven? That is, to bring Christ down, or who will descend  into the abyss, that is, to bring Christ up from the dead.” But what does it say? The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart; that is the word of the faith which we proclaim, that if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved. -Romans 10:6-9

For the Israelites the word was a law to keep. For them doing so meant they would live in the land which Jehovah had given them. For a believer the word is of faith – that we believe in and confess Jesus as the resurrected Lord. For us doing so means we will enjoy Him as our divine life – Christ Himself as our life and life supply as our portion. Unbelievers and believers must make this choice. 

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Trash to Treasure

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Trash to Treasure: That’s what the sign read in the Cathedral of Junk in Austin, TX. A fitting description  of 25 years of a man’s work. Our family visited this Austin attraction today and came away very impressed. We were so stirred that my brother-in-law and I went back later to speak to the artist the good news his masterpiece had brought to mind among us.

The Bible says that after Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit and fell away from God’s presence and into sin and death, God did not give them up. He visited them with good news: That the woman’s seed would bruise the deceiving serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). God not only promised that man – Christ and the church – would conquer Satan, but He even more intrinsic is the thought in the Scriptures from Genesis 1&2 to Revelation 21&22 that He is taking His chosen people from being empty earthen men to become a structure of treasure – the New Jerusalem.

God is doing His recovery work using one element that is beyond human capacity: He is transfusing and dispensing His own life into the vessels of earth that He chose to transform their earthy character into a precious, heavenly character. There are a few examples of this in the New Testament:

  1. Peter’s name is changed from Simon, meaning weak, to Peter, meaning a stone (John 1:42). Peter writes that we believers are coming to Christ as living stones for God’s building (1 Pet. 2:1).
  2. The wood, hay, and stubble in 1 Corinthians 3 contrast with the gold, silver, and precious stones in the same chapter. Yet only the gold, silver, and precious stones transfer to the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21 & 22.
  3. Adam means red clay, but in 1 Corinthians 15:45-54 the last Adam became a life-giving Spirit with a heavenly body to make earthy men heavenly men with a heavenly image.

Today God is not done building his treasure city. Day by day we need to receive the Divine dispensing to transform our natural being into one with intrinsic value to God until we become His corporate expression. We receive by simply calling on the name of the Lord and receiving Him into our spirit (Rom 10:12, John 1:12, Gal 3:5). 

The Gospel of John Project – Austin

According to this news article, a 95-year-old Christian man recently donated his life savings to fund the printing, mailing, and delivery of the Gospel of John to every household in Austin. Here in the church in Austin, we’re taking a cue from John 4:38  and “entering into their labor”. We’re going to use these gospels for the gospel.

The express written purpose of John is as follows:

These have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, we may have life in His name (20:31).

John is a great gospel to mail to unbelievers because its simple presentation of Jesus as the Son of God qualifies it to reach all kinds of people, and its profound meaning will change everyone who will read it. Consider these points:

1. John is a book of signs (2:11, 20:30-31). John has Jesus changing water into wine at a wedding. That’s a sign; it has spiritual significance: Jesus changes death into life. These signs are imbued with meaning divine as they convey the good news: that Jesus is the Son of God in whose name we have life.
2. Only in John do we find the I AM statements: I am the bread of life. I am the resurrection and the life. I am the way and the truth and the life. I am the good shepherd. I am the door. I, who speak to you, am He. I AM.  
3. In John the Trinity is incarnated and processed with clarity: The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and reality…The Spirit was not yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified…Receive the Holy Spirit.
4. John’s gospel uniquely shows how life meets the need of every man’s case: The rich need him, the poor need Him. The strong and the sick, the living and the dead all have their needs met by Jesus. So you have the pairing of John 3 and 4. After privately meeting a moral, high-class, educated Pharisee at night and presenting regeneration, Jesus then goes out of His way to meet an immoral, low-class, uneducated Samaritan woman at midday in public to give her a drink of living water. Who is like this Jesus?

How to “enter into their labor”

For the past three years I have been using the Gospel of John with Christian Students on Campus as a conversation starting point when I meet students on campus. Let me just say it’s been a powerful and accessible base for Bible study with complete strangers. We use the NIV pocket sized version. This mailing, which will be the KJV, will sound familiar to many people of all ages.

Believers and unbelievers alike will be enlightened by the gospel of John, but one thing regarding believers who want a deeper study of the Bible: the Recovery Version is a great Study Bible that presents the experience of Christ as our life and that has caused me to love the Lord more. I use it as my go-to Bible because it uniquely brings me to the heart of God in the person of Christ as the Spirit within. Here’s a footnote from the Recovery version on John, likening it to the tabernacle in the Old Testament:

The deep thought of the Gospel of John is that Christ, the incarnate God, came as the embodiment of God, as illustrated by the tabernacle (v. 14) and the temple (2:21), so that man could contact Him and enter into Him to enjoy the riches contained in God…Therefore, John points out first that Christ was the Lamb (who took away sin-v. 29) offered on the altar, which signifies the cross, in the outer court of the tabernacle, and then that He was like the bronze serpent (which caused man to have life) lifted up on the pole (3:14), which signifies the cross. This shows how Christ in His redemption was received by His believers that they might be delivered from sin and obtain life and might enter into Him as the embodiment of God, typified by the tabernacle, to enjoy all the riches that are in God. Continue reading…

Finally, here are a few practical points about using this gospel for the gospel:

-I plan to bring up John in my conversations with people I meet on campus to see if they got a copy. Who knows, it might start a Bible study?

-Perhaps there could be some sort of Gospel of John Meetup group formed?

-Because your neighbor is going to get the gospel too, this is a great conversation starting point for all Christians in this city to go meet their neighbors. Some people may even want to flyer their street to set up a “coffee and John” weekly study for the next month.

What do you plan to do with the gospel?

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Servants of Christ

Have you ever thought when you were younger, “When I grow up, I want to be a servant”? 

In my campus Bible Study we often use as an ice-breaker the question: as a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? After the giggles and the laughter, we usually hear: doctor or firefighter or pilot or mother, and sometimes there’s even an answer like, “trash man – because it would be fun to drive that truck around all day!”. 

But never have I heard our students say “When I was a kid, I wanted to be a servant when I grew up.” There is something in a man that wants to be something and do something. I’ve heard it said that men want to know something so they can do something that they would be something. 

Servants don’t get that luxury. Being a servant means you don’t get to be something of your own accord. It means you don’t choose your own way or do your own thing. It means you report to someone else and give up your freedom for their sake. Jesus Christ showed us the first pattern of one who willingly served. Mark 10:45 and Romans 15:8 come to mind. 

For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.

For I say that Christ has become a servant of the circumcision for the sake of God’s truthfulness, to confirm the promises given to the fathers, and that the Gentiles should glorify God for His mercy…

As we finish this semester, we happen to be reading through 1 Corinthians. This time through I’ve been praying over these statements:

Paul, a called apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, and Sosthenes the brother
1 Corinthians 1:1

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to announce the gospel, not in wisdom of speech that the cross of Christ may not be made void.
1:17

Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
1:25

But you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.
3:23

A man should account us in this way, as servants of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.
4:1

At first glance, we may think of Paul as the most “in-charge” apostle; he’s the one who has the last say. on everything. But that is not the tone we get from reading 1 Corinthians. His place among them seemed difficult, if not humanly impossible. It’s here he was in weakness and in fear (2:3). It’s here he was a fool because of Christ (4:10). Here he reveals “all that it meaneth” to be the Lord’s, all it involves of love and loyalty.

Here are 5 points on Paul as a servant of Christ in his evangelization of Corinth from chapters 1 and 2:

1. His serving Christ did not stem from his volunteering, but from Christ calling him – 1:1
2. His going to Corinth was not of his volition; Christ sent him – 1:17
3. He could not change the gospel to better attract Jews or Greeks at large, but only speak of Christ crucified – 1:23
4. He did not speak excellently nor use persuasive words of wisdom among the Corinthians, but demonstrated the Spirit and power – 2:1,4 
5. He did not determine to know anything among the Corinthians except Christ crucified – 2:2

In Paul’s pattern in Corinth we see someone who served Christ. We don’t get a whiff of anyone using Christ for his own means. He fully realized that all things (all people, events, time, and space included, which is everything) belonged to the believers, and that they themselves belonged to Christ, and Christ to God. He did not need the believers to be “of Paul”, for he was a servant of Christ. 

Then beginning in chapter four he reveals that he should be accounted as a servant of Christ, and a steward of the mysteries of God. 

The note in the Recovery Version on servants says:

An attendant or appointed servant, an official servant appointed specifically for a certain purpose.

Since all things are for Christ and Christ is for God, all Paul could be was a servant of Christ.

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Why Britain wanted to Open China to Trade

My dad recently emailed me a pdf of a history book his cousin wrote on Chinese immigrants to America and Canada. That side of my family sailed over in 1887 and landed in Victoria. In reading through it, I came upon the following reason for Britain’s forcing China into a trade relationship in the mid 19th century. Interestingly, one of the main results of opening China from a Christian point of view was God’s raising up of an indigenous Christian group that has recovered many truths and practices in the Scriptures, and whose fellowship I now enjoy.

China’s efforts to stem the tide of illegal opium might have succeeded had Peking grasped an important but subtle change in its trade relations with Great Britain. Heretofore, European traders had been interested in the goods China had to offer-tea, silk, porcelain and other products-and China generously opened its ports to these traders. China neither needed or wanted any goods in return; it already possessed “all things in prolific abundance” and lacked “no product within its borders.” But at this time the British began thinking of China primarily as a market for its own goods. The British wanted to make China part of its commercial empire, which had blossomed during the Industrial Revolution. To have a market for its cotton yarn and goods, vehicles, machines, ships and guns was the chief ambition of British capitalism. Ideally, these foreign markets would in return provide raw materials and agricultural products. With its 400 million customers, untapped mineral resources and fertile land, China was a prize, to be taken at all costs. The navy was Britain’s most powerful weapon for achieving that goal. Commercially-based and trade-minded, the navy played a pivotal role in the acquisition of colonies. By 1839 it had opened the way for its “nation of shopkeepers” in North America, Australia, New Zealand and India, and was ready to bring one of the oldest world civilizations into the capitalist system. 

Gold Mountain: The Chinese in the New World – Anthony B. Chan