The Day of Small Things

{ source }

Gentle Reader,

Let’s shift our focus from the exploration of how illness and faith intersect (as in the Detox Diaries series) and onto living the abundant life Christ said He came to give us (John 10:10). Take a deep breath; I’m not about to espouse a prosperity, health-and-wealth sort of “gospel.” My husband’s truck needs a complete engine overhaul. The truck he’s only had for three months. My medical bills come with speed and abundance that I’ve not seen in any other form of mail. If I thought that a large bank account and a body in perfect working order meant that I was in right relationship with God, then I’d be seriously freaked out about my salvation right now.

But health and wealth have nothing to do with my relationship with God. While I am immensely thankful that the latest round of blood tests have ruled out chronic hepatitis and Wilson’s disease, I still have to go see a specialist because there’s still something wrong. We definitely don’t have the money in the bank to replace the engine. Grocery shopping is a week away and we’re going to be eating creatively. Yet I have no doubt that the Lord is working on my behalf to bring me good, that I might praise and glorify His name.

So, if the abundant life doesn’t mean millions of dollars and it doesn’t mean that triathlons are realistic exercise goals, what does it mean? What does it look like?

“(God) answered and said to (Zechariah):

‘This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel:
Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’
Says the Lord of hosts.
‘Who are you, O great mountain?
Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain!
And he shall bring forth the capstone
With shouts of “Grace, grace to it!’

Moreover the word of the Lord came to (Zechariah), saying:

‘The hands of Zerubbabel
Have laid the foundation of this temple;
His hands shall also finish it.
Then you will know
That the Lord of hosts has sent Me to you.
For who has despised the day of small things?
For these seven rejoice to see
The plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.
They are the eyes of the Lord,
Which scan to and fro throughout the whole earth.’” – Zechariah 4:6-10 (NKJV; emphasis mine)

The prophet Zechariah was born in Babylon, during the Exile, a time in history when God used the Babylonian Empire to discipline His people. There were several deportations from Jerusalem to Babylon, the city was completely destroyed, the Temple ruined and many people died, either by the sword or from disease. (These events are thoroughly cataloged in Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the closing chapters of 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles). Zechariah was part of a surprisingly small number of people who came back to Jerusalem to rebuild the city and Temple as chronicled in Ezra, Nehemiah and Haggai. He was a Levite and possibly a priest. Family linage alone would have meant Zechariah’s interest in the restoration of Jerusalem and the Temple, but his calling as a prophet meant that he spoke directly to the people doing the work, directly into the process.

And what a process this was. Seventy years of exile meant decay, poverty and despair. When Nehemiah, the Babylonian king’s cupbearer-turned-governor of Jerusalem, arrived in 445/444 B.C., the people had worked for nearly a century and there was still much left to be done. Even at this late point, he speaks of opposition to the rebuilding on all sides. Some people had taken advantage of the ruin and made themselves rich and powerful. Haggai the prophet, who came in the first wave of 538 B.C., talks about the depression that dogged the heels of the Jewish people, who knew that their efforts would never come close to the former glory of their beloved city. Ezra the priest, part of the second wave of 458 B.C., writes about his efforts to bring the people back to the way and Law of God, something that meant a complete change of lifestyle, from attitude to action, for many.

It was into this atmosphere of struggle that Zechariah stepped. He was part of the first wave of returnees; this group saw the greatest damage and faced the biggest obstacles. They were the ones responsible for taking the first steps toward restoration.  His job was to encourage the people and to speak truth and hope into their hearts.

The first seven chapters of the book, titled in Hebew hyrzk  (“Yahweh remembers”) tell of Zechariah’s work in speaking the message God gave him. It was vital for the people to push forward in the reconstruction of the city and Temple, for “this was necessary to the fulfillment of God’s purposes and promises respecting Israel and the coming kingdom of Christ.” Certainly the Jewish people needed to rebuild for themselves, to regain a sense of purpose and place as the favored nation of God, but the extent of their work was to reach through the centuries. This was rededication on a massive, multi-generational scale, a rededication whose benefits those covered in the blood of Christ, Jew and Gentile alike, reap to this day.

Cyrus the Great (the Persian king who took over the Babylonian Empire) allowed Zerubbabel, a grandson of Jehoiachin, the penultimate king of Judah, to lead the first group of people back to Jerusalem and set him in the governor’s seat. This was clearly God’s handiwork, for He says through the prophet Haggai:

“‘Yet now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ says the Lord; ‘and be strong, Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; and be strong, all you people of the land,’ says the Lord, ‘and work; for I am with you,’ says the Lord of hosts.  ‘According to the word that I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt, so My Spirit remains among you; do not fear!’” – Haggai 2:4-5 (NKJV)

Be strong. Do not fear.

Get to work.

God Himself tasked Zerubbabel (and Joshua the high priest) with rebuilding. He would be with them and enable them to do all that He asked. Over and over God speaks to reassure His servant, as in Zechariah 4:6 referenced above. Yes, the task was big. Huge. Seemingly-insurmountable. But Zerubbabel did not have to do this work alone. He did not have to trudge along in his own strength. Neither did Joshua the high priest, the prophets Zechariah and Haggai or any other person surveying the wreckage of Jerusalem. One by one the obstacles would be removed and God’s will would be accomplished.

God saw the fear of Zerubbabel and his people. He knew how overwhelmed they were. He heard every sigh and spied every shrugged set of shoulders. He looks into their hearts and examines their lack of faith, the wrestling with the impossibility of the work. Through Zechariah, God, “reproves their ungrateful unbelief, which they felt because of the humble beginning, compared with the greatness of the undertaking; and encourages them with the assurance that their progress in the work, though small, was an earnest of great and final success.”

Again, He says, “be strong, don’t fear, get to work.” Take a step. Any step. Just do something, no matter how small. All the little things will add up in the end.

The return to Jerusalem was a blessing, but that didn’t mean that the new inhabitants got to stretch out, work on their tans and wait for God to do everything. He gave them a job, and a hard one at that. Certainly God promised to give them everything that they needed, but the city wasn’t going to rebuild itself. Food wasn’t going to spontaneously appear. The normal rhythms of life would not pulse again without their effort. Without their ownership.

These ancient people had been invited into an intimate partnership with God, one that required strength, confidence and a good work ethic. He offers that same partnership to us. The connection between their task, Jesus’ gift of abundance and our lives today is not difficult to make, and it is a connection that we will explore deeply in the weeks to come.

In the weeks, the days, of small things.

Grace and peace along the way.

The Detox Diaries: Confidence

http://www.believingoutloud.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/fearless.png{ source }

Gentle Reader,

I’ve been working on memorizing a few passages of Scripture, one of them being Proverbs 31:25 -

I am clothed with strength and dignity. I laugh without fear of the future. (NLT; personalized and emphasis mine)

That’s what I want. I want to be in the moment and enjoy it without any fear of the near or distant future.

Matthew Poole, on this verse:

She lives in constant tranquility of mind, and a confident and cheerful expectation of all future events, how calamitous soever, partly because she hath laid in provisions of a rainy day, and chiefly because she hath the comfortable remembrance of a well-spent life, and, which follows thereupon, a just confidence in God’s gracious providence and promises made to such persons.

A just confidence in God’s gracious providence.

Yes.

Grace and peace along the way.

To read all the posts in The Detox Diaries series, go here.

Purity of Doctrine

{ source }

Gentle Reader,

As I touched on in Friday’s post, I have been confronted with the need to, once again, examine some of the things I believe and to reconsider some of my stances on those beliefs. This is always an uncomfortable place to be, but it’s not a bad thing. After all, the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy:

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. – 2 Timothy 2:15 (ESV)

The wording isn’t past tense; he does not say, “you did your best and presented yourself.” The sentence carries with it the sense of a present, ongoing action. This verse couples well with the sentiment expressed in Deuteronomy 11:16:

Beware that your hearts are not deceived, and that you do not turn away and serve other gods and worship them.  (NASB)

Again, it is not, “you were aware and so you were not deceived.” We must be aware now and continue to be aware.

Here, my friend, is where I am. Listening to a single webcast at work last week brought to my attention a place of blindness. A place where I was not aware.

For the past few months I’ve been listening to Dr. James White’s webcast, the Dividing Line. Dr. White is a stanch Calvinist, and so there are definitely things I disagree with him on. (To balance out the listening time, I went on the hunt for a non-Calvinist who was as good a presenter as Dr. White. I came across Dr. Michael Brown, a Messianic Jew. I haven’t listened to as much of his stuff yet, but what I have, I’ve enjoyed). Despite these disagreements, I really enjoy Dr. White’s teaching, which is primarily focused in the realm of apologetics and, currently, dialoguing with Muslims. He is knowledgeable about the subjects he addresses, does not engage in bashing those on the “other side” of whatever it is he’s talking about and has a sarcastic sense of humor, which I always appreciate.

I haven’t gone through the Dividing Line episodes in chronological order, so the topics have been wide-ranging, to say the least. Last Thursday I found this floating around the YouTubeness. If you have the opportunity right now, take an hour and listen. For those of you who don’t have the time, the webcast was aired the day that Pope Francis was elected. Dr. White delves into his own view of that event while remarking on his surprise that many Christians (honestly, myself included) failed to understand the issues.

Let me make something very clear: I am not about to get into Catholic-bashing. I absolutely, one-hundred percent believe that there are true, sincere Christians within the Catholic Church. If someone were to ask me, “Are Catholics Christian?,” I would have to respond with, “Let’s go talk to some and see what they say.” And with that we have the other thing I need to make clear: While I truly believe that there are real Christians within the Catholic Church, I do not believe that the Catholic Church teaches the true Gospel.

And I just lost some readers.

I considered not writing this, but I can’t be so cowardly. The seed for this post was planted when Dr. White went through some of the Pope’s titles in the webcast. I was brought up short when he illuminated the implications of calling him “Holy Father,” two words used in Scripture to describe God Himself. (Before you object, yes, Christ calls His people to holiness. Yet we would be real idiots to think that our daily striving for set-apartness and cleanness comes anywhere near the perfect purity of the Lord). Are Catholics actually calling the Pope God? I don’t think so. I don’t think they mean it that way. Nevertheless, it makes me squirm.

I’ve never met Pope Francis. I have no idea who he truly is. Like much of the rest of the world, I was interested when he came to power. I tracked the proceedings that day and I prayed for him. There have been moments when I’ve said, “I like that he said ___________” or “I like that he did _____________.” I’m not trying to pass some sort of judgment on the man. Yet he stands in a position with accompanying titles that take my breath away.

It’s not just the “Holy Father” thing, either. How about “Vicarious Iesu Christi,” or Vicar of Christ? The term vicarious means “acting or done for another.” Tertullian, writing in the third century, applied to the term to the Holy Spirit, in Prescriptions Against Heretics, Chapter 28. And rightly so, for Jesus said that the Father would send the Spirit “in My name” (John 14:26).

But this was not the big problem for me.

“Alter Christus.”

That’s the big problem for me.

I have been to Mass before. There were things about it that I liked: the sense of sacred space, the beauty of the architecture. But I had no idea just what it was the people in attendance believed about the priest. In paragraph 1548 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read, “Now the minister comes by reason of the sacerdotal consecration which he has received, is truly made like to the High Priest and possesses the authority to act in the power and place of Christ himself.” The priest is an alter Christus, meaning “another Christ.” I can feel the heat rushing to my cheeks as I think about that. Another Christ.

No.

In paragraph 1549: “The bishop is typos tou Patros: he is like the living image of God the Father.”

The living image of God the Father?

We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints; because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth; as you also learned from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, who also declared to us your love in the Spirit.

For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyedus into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.

For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwelland by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.” – Colossians 1:3-20 (NKJV, emphasis mine)

Pretty sure all of that refers to Jesus, not a bishop.

In brief, consider:

* Transubstantiation, the dogma that declares the bread and wine to become the literal body and blood of Christ, which one must ingest in order to be saved. Thus Communion becomes a “re-sacrifice” of Jesus Christ for our sins, or as a “re-offering” of His sacrifice. This defies several passages of Scripture, most notably Hebrews 7:27, which states:

“Unlike the other high priests, He does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins for all when He offered Himself.”

And Hebrews 10:10:

“…we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (emphasis mine)

- John 6, particularly verses 53-57, is interpreted in an extremely literal way in order to arrive at the conclusion that the bread and wine must become the body and blood, because Jesus appears to be saying that we must literally eat His flesh and drink His blood. Yet verse 63 has Jesus declaring:

“The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.”

Jesus uses physical concepts to teach spiritual truth.

* The Marian dogmas, particularly the teaching that Mary is a mediator between God and mankind. Catholicism also asserts that she intercedes for people. Both deny the truth of 1 Timothy 2:5 & Hebrews 7:25:

“For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus…He always lives to intercede for them.”

- Mary is often referred to as “the advocate,” a title given to the Holy Spirit (John 14:26).

- Mary is seen as the “co-redemptrix,” meaning that she “uniquely shared in the work of Jesus to redeem the human family, both by giving Jesus His body, the very instrument of redemption, and by suffering with Him at Calvary in a way unparalleled by another other creature.” Reading that sentence actually makes me angry. Nobody - NOBODY – but Christ engaged in the work of redemption.

* Oral and written tradition. Catholicism heartily rejects sola Scriptura, or Scripture alone, and instead insists upon the existence of an oral tradition that is just as authoritative as Scripture. This means that the source of authority can (and does) come from somewhere other than the substantiated Word of God that anyone can access. This may not directly cross into Gnostic territory, but it certainly flirts with the line.

What truly baffles me is just how little Catholicism considers Judaism, the very roots from which the Christian faith grew. All of the Apostles were Jewish. Every single one of the concepts discussed here would have been absolutely blasphemous to them. There is no way they taught any of that.

There are many other points of deep concern, but this post is already nearing the 1900 word mark.

I am not a trained apologist. I don’t know the original languages. I don’t know the ins and outs of all the sophisticated, philosophical arguments. But I can read the teaching of the Catholic Church and assess it next to the teaching of the Bible. Doing so leads me to this conclusion:

There are true Christians in the Catholic Church, but they became Christians by reading Scripture and through the grace and mercy of God, not through anything the church teaches. Rome preaches a false gospel. 

I just lost some more readers.

Due to this conclusion, I will be going back over the Sola What? series I wrote two years ago and doing extensive editing. My thoughts on the subject have definitely changed. However, the direction of this blog is not taking a big turn or leap. I don’t intend to focus exclusively on Catholicism. I’m not out to “stick it to” anyone. I simply want everyone and anyone who comes across my writing to be presented with the true message of the Gospel: Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).

Grace and peace along the way.