Thursday, June 22, 2006

Deuteronomy 18:9-14- Why Christians are Afraid of Harry Potter

I get tired of the fear that many Christians show when confronted with culture. It seems that in practice, many of us believe Christ to be quite powerless in this world. So we wonder if J.K. Rowling, the author of the hugely popular Harry Potter series, is out to vanquish Christianity with her pen. [for a better approach see here] We protest the movie Brokeback Mountain, because it is obvious that the homosexuals are more powerful than Christ as well. I am heartened by the response that many Christians have had toward the DaVinci Code, using it as a way to talk about Christ instead of running from it. This is the way we should approach this world, like Christ did- not running from it because of its filth, but running to the filth, confident of Christ's rule over this world.
Deuteronomy 18:9-14 are a big reason why Christians are scared of things like Harry Potter, witches, and astrology. These verses are a clear forbidding of any practice that might be a shortcut to succeeding in life through using the supernatural for your own ends. God does not allow this, for when you try to use the supernatural (even God) for your own ends, you end up in idolatry, and it ends up destroying you. This is a passage that does not lose its meaning when we read it in our day. These practices are still outlawed for the Christian. The powers of darkness are still around, and this world is still under their influence, despite Christ's decisive victory.
What should a Christian do, stuck between being a bearer of the true light, and having a new heart that is incompatible with the world's darkness (but fully able to experience it and participate in it). I think that a major problem that Christians have with culture today is that they have forgotten who they are. They are connected with Christ, they have new hearts, they are light bearers to a dark world, reflecting the True Light, and yearning for the day when he makes all things new. If Christians would just be who they are, then nothing that world throws at Christ can ultimately hurt them. Christ will set all to rights, to borrow a favorite phrase from N.T. Wright. The Christian's connection to Christ by the Holy Spirit is the amazing proof that the world cannot defeat Christ. He took you, filthy as you were, and now lives in you to fufill his plans for this world. Trust that he will (and is able to) do it; anything less is fear and unbelief.
Israel was told to not participate in the detestable practices of the Canaanites, and told to be blameless, "for these nations which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune tellers and to diviners."(vs. 14) This is the reason God is clearing the land of these nations. They don't listen to Him. I think that is the crux of the issue. You either listen to God or you listen to the world. If you listen to God, you know his promises are sure and his purposes firm to the glorious end that he desires. If you listen to the world, you are left without an identity and without hope in the world, except what you can manipulate to your own ends, as far as your power allows. Israel's identity is the people of God, which is why they were forbidden to mix with the culture; Israel's hope is in God, which is why they did not have to strive for power- their king was God.
As Christians, our identity is in Christ, and his plans are indestructible (he proved that at the cross) and full of love for a broken world (he proved that at the cross) and our hope for this world is in him.
Listening to God through the prophets is the subject of the next post on Deuteronomy 18:15-22.

Eating the Offering- Deuteronomy 18:1-8

*Bryan has some family visiting, so I will attempt to post about Deuteronomy in his absence.

Deuteronomy 18 is divided into three sections, dealing with three different areas of Israel's life. The first section talks about the provision for the Levites, the second about some abominable practices they were to avoid, and the third about prophets that will come after Moses. I will divide it into 2 or 3 posts.

The priests, or Levites, had "no portion of inheritance with Israel." (vs. 1) All the tribes recieved land that was their own, an inheritance that would sustain them for as long as they lived in the land that God gave them. The Levites did not have a secure inheritance, that is, they depended on their brothers to give them what God required (vs. 3-4) Thus the Levites are an Old Testament example of living the life of faith. Their dependence on the faithful offerings of their brothers was not one-sided, however. The Levites offered their lives to God in serve and "minister in the name of the Lord."(vs. 5) They would offer what they recieved from their brothers to God, ministering on the behalf of their brothers, keeping everyone faithful to the covenant. If the brothers got lazy and didn't bring their best, or didn't bring anything, then the Levites would suffer, and Israel's relationship with God would suffer in turn.
Revelation 1:6 declares that Jesus has "made us... priests to his God and Father." As priests of the new covenant, we minister in a new way. We offer Christ's life- his body and blood to the world. They are united to Christ and made priests as well. Christ's body and blood, the offerings of the Great High Priest, are recieved by us in holy communion and we as the new Levites, recieve and eat this offering, symbolizing the life of Christ in us. As the Levites were dependent upon the community for their life, we are dependant upon this holy communion. For what is symbolized by taking in the bread and wine has actually happened to us by our union with Christ.

Friday, June 16, 2006

How to Change this World

I listened to a session from the “Reform and Resurge” conference for pastors put on last month by Mars Hill Church in Seattle. The title of the session was “Beyond Brokeness: How Jacked Up Punks Will Change the World” He talked about how messed up we all are, and the amazing fact that God is using us to change this world, to bring healing, to restore it. He talked about how the gospel is more than personal piety and getting people in church, it is about the kingdom of God. This kingdom is being established through ‘jacked-up punks.’ The speaker, Anthony Bradley, gives this compelling vision of the kingdom based on Isaiah 61:1-4. Christ binds up the brokenhearted, he brings liberty to the captives, he gives oil of gladness instead of mourning- we are now oaks of righteousness- our new identity is for His glory.(vs. 1-3) Then verse 4-

“The shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.”

The work of Christ does not stop at the cross and with our personal salvation- his mission and now our mission is to redeem the entire creation and rule it in all his justice, love, and beauty.

It was an inspiring message for me, as my faith lately has been more of a head thing than a heart thing. I have been living out of my former identity, instead of my real one- I’m an oak of righteousness, the planting of the Lord. If you want to listen to it, get it here.

Listen to this message, and some others on the same topic. Check out Bryan’s message from a previous post, as well as Mark Driscoll’s sermon from last week titled “Missional Ministry.”

posted by matt

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Deuteronomy Chapter Seventeen: Stay the Course

In Deuteronomy 17 we see the theme of staying the course rising again to the forefront. It manifests first off with a reiteration of the forbidding of idolatry (see also the posts on ch.12 and 14). The importance of being free from pagan practices is most clear in the next chapter (ch.18 v.10) where Moses reports that some forms of idolatry have sunk so low that they make their children pass through fire. So, while we may feel unsettled about the legal imperative to kill those caught in idolatry (v.5), we can at least trust that if weren't for this firm justice a thick evil would take root. Also, and here I am repeating what I have already written about, this death sentence is not enacted on whimsy (v.6-7).

The theme of staying the course takes a different shape in verses 8-13. Here Moses allows for complicated legal matters to be decided by the Judge/Priest (v.8-9). And, Israel is called to not "turn [...] to the right or the left" from the judgment that the Judge/Priest declares. This again displays the importance of following God and listening to those wiser in times of transition.

In the last section the theme hones in on a potential king that will rule Israel in the distant future. 1st Sam. ch 8 clearly shows that Israel's desire for another king, besides God, is a grievance to God but, and in spite of 1st Sam. Ch.8 we have guidelines on how a King should live. This illustrates God's holy accommodation, though it grieves him he allows it under strict guidelines. The future king is to live in a spirit of modesty. We learn in v.16 that the king is strictly forbidden from returning Israel to Egypt so that he may prosper. The heart of that command being: don't put your people in bondage for your own benefit, don't make them a 'means' to your 'end'. Here God, via Moses, honors human dignity and commands the future king of Israel to do the same. But not only can the king not use his people for his benefit, he must deny decadence in all areas of life, even if it doesn't compromise the immediate health of his people (transportation and military v.16, sexuality v.17, monetary worth v.17). Further, the king must submit to the law of God: "It shall remain with him and he shall read in it all the days of his life, so that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, diligently observing all the words of this law and these statutes [...]" (v.19). And then we read that he must not exalt himself above anyone else in the community of Israel (v. 20). Here we see a true portrait of biblical leadership: the Servant-King. The final verses solidify this they read: "[he must not] turn aside from the commandment, either to the right or to the left, so that he and his descendants may reign long over his kingdom Israel" (v.20). Here, and this is telling, we have an edict which is given to the king, further it is exactly the same syntax as the one given earlier in the chapter to Israelites seeking help in legal matters (v.11). So, while all of Israel must submit to the rule of the Judge/Priest, the king must submit to the rule of God's law; so in the end we come to understand not only that king and the common-folk alike are held accountable to God, but that the king is himself common-folk.

In Jesus Christ we have a King who is also simultaneously Judge and Priest, that mentioned, he is still our great Servant-King.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

A Sermon Link

Hello out there, Sorry the Deuteronomy post is late in coming. I have been spending a good chunk of the week working on a sermon, which I gave today. I gave the sermon at Maple Ridge Church in Amherst, Massachusetts. Here's a link to listen to it, if you so desire. It should be there later on tonight (Sunday evening).

By the way, the picture isn't me...just in case you were wondering. Although... nah.

Now, that's a blogging fact.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Guest Column: The Spirit of Prophecy

I asked my bud Teague to write a post for Quest. Here's the post, thanks Teague. This is good stuff. Hope everyone in the blogosphere likes it as well.

“He said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’ Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, ‘This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day’” (Luke 24:44-46).

“For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10).


As the word hangs there in the ether, what comes to mind? A hairy man in burlap, pointing his finger and shouting? A one world government? The end of the world? For many of us, the only thing we definitely associate with prophecy is a big question mark. Yet, as the preceding scriptures show, the New Testament contains some clear statements about prophecy. Jesus taught that all scripture, prophecy included, found its fulfillment in Himself. While every prophecy has an historical fulfillment relating to the circumstances in which it is given, its full meaning is only realized in the person and work of Christ. This holds true even of prophecies whose fulfillment we still await.

The “end times” seem to be a continual sources of curiosity, intrigue, and confusion among Christians. Mountains of books—fiction and non-fiction—have been written on the subject. Movies have been made and remade. Every teacher worth his salt has weighed in. Theologians and fanatics alike have fastidiously woven scripture and world events into timelines. What has been lost in all of this is Jesus. Many have searched the prophets more diligently for the antichrist than for Christ, though the prophets themselves did not do this (1 Peter 1:10, 11). Wars, rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes, pestilence, and persecution are clues in a cosmic “who dunnit” instead of being seen for what they are: signs of His coming (Matt. 24:3-14). When Christ ceases to be the center and interpretation of the end-times, it is little wonder that there is so much confusion about them among believers.

To put this in theological terms, the chief value of prophecy lies in its Christology, not its eschatology. Jesus said the law and the prophets all hang on two commandments: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:37-40). “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers” (1 John 3:16). Prophecy has no purpose other than to draw us into Christ and to make us living sacrifices in His image (Rom. 12:1, 2). If our treatment of prophecy does not compel us to live for Jesus instead of ourselves, we may fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, but, not having love, will be nothing in the sight of God (2 Cor. 5:15; 1 Cor. 13:2).

Saturday, June 03, 2006

G.K. Chesteron Quote

Here's a qoute from the quotable G.K. Chesterton. This particular one is from his classic apologetic Orthodoxy. The book is simultaneously hilarious and insightful. I mention it here because it has particular resonations with the end of the previous post (the Lewis quote).
The Criminal we must forgive unto seventy times seven. The crime we must not forgive at all. [in Christianity] there was room for wrath and love to run wild. And the more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild (102 Orthodoxy)."
If you haven't read Orthodoxy go buy it now. Read it and report back.

Deuteronomy Chapter Sixteen: Celebration

Well, we are nearly half way through the book of Deuteronomy; it has certainly turned out to be a fruitful journey in amateur exegesis, though often arduous. Also, I have to apologize for the lack of posts lately. The next few weeks I'm hoping to pump out around three posts a week, so check back often.

By the way, the picture is unleavened bread :)

Remembrance is a major theme in the Old Testament, and Deuteronomy is no exception (for a look at this in detail click here), God continually brings His people to remember the exodus from Egypt; this is so that Israel's devotion will have a reference point. This remembrance comes to a head in the celebration of Passover, "Observe the month of Abib and celebrate the Passover of the Lord your God, because in the month of Abib he brought you out of Egypt by night" (ch.16 v.1). Though the exodus from Egypt should be at the forefront of Israel's thoughts here Passover is instituted as an official celebration of remembrance.

Even their eating habits in the celebration of Passover have roots in their exodus from slavery, "Do not eat it with bread made with yeast but for seven days eat unleavened bread, the bread of affliction, because you left Egypt in haste--so that all the days of your life you may remember the time of your departure from Egypt" (v.3). As a Christian the similarities between this text and that of 1st Corinthians 11:25-26, "and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, 'This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.'" While Israel is called to remember their liberation from physical slavery with the "bread of affliction" Christians are called to remember their liberation from "the bondage of sin and death" when they partake of the bread and wine.

The Passover doesn't happen on Israel's terms; that's what we learn in verses 5 and 6, "You must not sacrifice the Passover in any town the LORD your God gives you except in the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name." These verses remind us that while God will liberate his people from bondage not only does the liberation happen on His terms but the worship does too. And really that is a good thing, left to our own devices we dig our own graves (Psalm 9:15); (for a longer meditation on this click here). Concluding the celebration of Passover there is to be a time of rest and assembly (v.8). This conclusion of Sabbath and congregation serves as a wonderful end to the week of focused remembrance.

The other two celebrations in chapter 16 are: The Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) and The Festival of Booths. Two marks of both these celebrations are: joy (v.11, 14) and inclusivity (v.11, 14). During the Feast of Weeks, a one day celebration marking the end of the wheat harvest, God commands Israel to "rejoice before the Lord your God;" not only does this show that God desires a joyous people but also the command nature of this verse implies that joy has more potential to burst out when we are "before the Lord" when our celebrating Him, in this case for providing a harvest. The same could be said for The Festival of Booths, where the Israelites slept in booths in remembrance of the transience of their desert journey, Israel is commanded to "be joyful at your feast". The second similarity these two celebrations share is one of inclusivity; but it is not inclusivity for it's own sake, no, it is the joy which God desires to spread, "And rejoice before the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name—you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, the Levites in your towns, and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows living among you" (v.11) and in verse 14 we read, "Be joyful at your Feast—you, your sons and daughters, your menservants and maidservants, and the Levites, the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns." God desires that not only the well off enjoy the celebration, in fact He goes out of his way to include the marginalized and the foreigner. This theme saturates the Bible and is most visible in the Kingdom of God that Jesus Christ announces as bursting from his ministry, that all tribes and tongues enjoy the Lord forever.

* * *

There is another section in chapter 16 of great importance. It's a meditation on Justice. In v. 18 we read that there should be judges appointed in the land. Immediately following v.18 we have the meditation, "Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous. Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the LORD your God is giving you" (19-20). The message here is that bribery sends you down a slippery slope, the ultimate end being the decay of justice. Because of this justice must always prevail, it is for the betterment of the community. That noted, mercy too should be held up, alongside justice, as it's companion, C.S. Lewis says it well, "Mercy, detached from Justice, grows unmerciful. That is the important paradox. As there are plants which will flourish only in mountain soil, so it appears that Mercy will flower only when it grows in the crannies of the rock of Justice" (God in the Dock).

That's it for this week folks. Keep those emails and comments coming. Halfway through Deuteronomy.