Friday, May 13, 2011

Inactivating This Blog

All future activity will be posted at MyOpera. Those of you who link to this blog please update. For those of you who email me at my Gmail account, it's now . While I do not intend closing this blog, per se, it will eventually be inactivated because I won't be posting here any more.

The reason is Google has begun an intrusive campaign, demanding a cellphone number for all accounts as the only way they will interact when something doesn't work properly. I realize they have a massive user base, but they have already displayed a contemptuous lack of accountability to users too many times.

Blogger Outage

In case you didn't know, Blogger was not available for posting during the past two days. You could still read what was already up, but no one could add anything. Not even the folks who are paying for their Blogger accounts were exempt. That's an awful lot of commercial operations that couldn't post new content, some with typically a lot of posting activity.

What does this say when a company like Google (which owns Blogger) with an advertising budget bigger than the gross national product of most countries can't keep such an essential service working?

I had already decided to reduce my emphasis on this blog, using it mostly for Bible studies and a few purely spiritual posts. Frankly, I was getting more reaction and traffic at my other blog. Even more importantly, it was a move of the Spirit I should not trust Google so much before this outage hit.

Learn to hear and obey such spiritual impulses.

Ezekiel 20

Ezekiel offers a date we regard as mid-August 591 BC, referring to the seventh year of exile. The elders of the Exile came to inquire of Ezekiel, but the Lord rejected their inquiry. The Lord asked Ezekiel if he was ready to place judge on God's behalf.

The Lord comes as a witness against the elders, who are representing their nation. He chose the nation, and raised His hand in their presence, as it were, swearing an oath to faithfully draw Israel out of slavery and out Egypt. He promised to take them to their own country, the best land reserved just for them. He also swore to execute the Law of Moses generously in their favor.

They rebelled from the very first word of Moses regarding their deliverance, and at every step along the way. During the Exodus, during the Wandering, during the Conquest, and ever after when they had settled in the Land, the nation as a whole preferred the pagan deities, any deity except their own God.

Every time they turned from Him, He came very near to destroying them. Only because He wished to protect His own reputation among the Gentile nations did He withhold justice against their sins. Did it gain Him anything? Was His kindness and patience repaid? No, His own people had continued to embarrass His name among the nations. Over and over again, He reminded them, and reminded them yet again in the presence of Ezekiel: If people would simply embrace the most basic requirements of His Laws, their lives would be as good as it gets on this earth.

So the Lord rebuked the elders and told them to go away, stop bugging His prophets. Let them go and inquire of their pagan idols. Apparently the portion of the nation willing to obey Him was a tiny, slender minority. The nation as a whole would lose their place, and He would simply restrict His blessings to only those who were faithful. Some day, He would restore those faithful few to the Land, and hear their prayers, receive their offerings and answer their inquiries.

This promise came on two levels. In the literal sense, this would have been hyperbole, since the Returnees never quite rose to this level of commitment again. However, by seeing it as a parable, we realize He promises to make a New Israel, one which would not stray again because it would not be possible, since it was a spirit kingdom. Those who become the New Israel must do so in the Spirit, drawn from every Gentile nation, not based on DNA or the Law.

This becomes an issue when Ezekiel is commanded to prophesy of destruction arising from the scrub forest in the Negev. Those who face the south will have their faces scorched. Among other things, this is a warning not to turn toward Egypt, expecting some good thing to come from there, as it would only embarrass them. To this the people whined Ezekiel was using a parable and they couldn't understand. It's because they didn't accept the message in the first place. The Hebrew literature and language had been parabolic from the start, as was most of God's revelation from the very beginning. It wasn't out of reach; everyone spoke in parables to each other every day. That was Hebrew. Complaints of non-literal language was just an excuse to disobey.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ezekiel 19

This chapter is written in the dirge form. It is truly a lament from God over how things turned out. It was not what He wished, but it was what justice demanded. We have two parables using common symbols for Hebrew history.

In the first parable, we have the nation, but specifically the royal house of Israel, Judah, depicted as the lion. The household is the lioness, and her whelps are various royal sons. One of them, Jehoahaz, was taken hostage to Egypt by Pharaoh Necho. Another, Jehoiachin, was taken hostage to Babylon. These things need not have happened. They were not what God had planned for the nation, but results from the nation standing under God's wrath by choosing to disobey the Law and the prophets God sent.

The second parable depicts the nation as God's vine. The best grape vines grew stretched along a framework supported by wooden staves holding it off the ground. In this case, the rods were the kings who should have kept the kingdom strong, kept her in a condition to be fruitful. Zedekiah, so long as he was obedient to his Lord and his emperor, was in good shape, as was the nation. By his unfaithfulness, Zedekiah brought down the wrath of Babylon -- the east wind -- on his nation. As the last rod, his own punishment destroyed the nation. Now the only surviving root was planted in the spiritually barren land of Babylon. That is, only those who survived in Exile would keep the national identity alive.

This is indeed a tragedy worthy of a dirge.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Doctrine of Personal Presentation

It is not possible to communicate the gospel without your personal involvement in their lives.

The ultimate Truth is a Person. He cannot be contained in propositions, words or ideas. Those only serve to indicate ways to approach Him. Actually "getting it" is entirely a matter of you and God in personal communion, a one-on-one direct encounter. His chosen means to make that happen is you and I.

Evangelism is not a sales pitch. We do not convince people to follow Christ. If He does not breathe life into their dead spirits, they cannot choose Him. Evangelism is the totality of our presentation of the gospel by how we interact with others. It must of necessity include seeing us in real life over a passage of time, with our failures as well as our successes, along with all the moments do not necessarily qualify as either one. They have to see us, hear us, touch us, smell us.

It was not simply because they didn't have the Internet or other modern technology the early Christians insisted on going to the Lost world in person. There could have been no other way to bring the truth. Just as surely as some hired crier could not tell the gospel truth without living it, so a simple written message would be insufficient. The Bible is printed characters on paper; it means nothing until it is lived by someone who receives it as the love letter of God. It is not God Himself. Sending Bibles is a noble endeavor, but by itself will not save lost souls.

The same goes with discipleship, which is only artificially separated from evangelism. Life is learning, teaching and reaching, and the gospel is the full continuum of existence in the Spirit.

An audio or video recording is also insufficient. No one can be themselves when the recorder is running. That's human nature. No one can be themselves during the first few moments of social encounter, either. The gospel message is not in those first few moments, but in the personal experience which comes over a period of time. Paul spent a bare three weeks in Thessalonica, and worried mightily it wasn't enough. That should indicate something to us today about the gospel, and how cheaply we sell it when we aren't willing to invest more resources in sending persons who are the gospel message.

It is a doctrine of this ministry we will not produce audio or video recordings. The means are available, but they are not suitable. Simple written messages serve only as a reminder of things known, or to provoke an interest in things needed. To truly understand what we teach is not possible without a face to face encounter, extended over time so we can both see each other at our best and worst, and every moment in between.

The gospel message is people.

Friday, May 6, 2011

1 Timothy 5

The gospel had been in Ephesus at least ten years earlier. There would be several congregations and a thriving community of faith. The New Testament model was drawn from that of the first church in Jerusalem, with one exception. Since very few of the Gentile members would have had their extended families involved in the church, virtually every congregation would have been organized as spiritual families, emulating the same care and nurture of the Hebrew extended family. That there were fewer blood ties should hardly hinder the normal familial operations. Whatever else it might be, each congregation was first and foremost a family.

In such a setting, we would naturally expect the gentle treatment between individuals. Timothy would be new to this apostleship business, and Paul reminds him serving as the ranking representative of spiritual authority was not like the military nor a business. It's a household. Everyone is treated with the same respect as your own blood kin. Elder men who ruled in a household were expected to entertain appeals to their decisions, and younger men were future leaders. Elder women were respected as if they had once changed your diapers, and younger women were treasures.

In such a setting the issue of widowhood could easily get confused. In ancient times, it was common for women to outlive their husbands, as it was rare she didn't marry someone one or two decades older. The Hebrew community had a long history of dealing with this as a mark of their justice, insuring widows were not turned out on the streets. Her extended family was commanded by God to take care of her, and we see this same ethic brought forward into the church.

It's bad enough a great many people would join the church, initially at least, without their spouses. Some would lose their spouses, and in other letters Paul spoke of letting your unbelieving spouse go, as one who was spiritually dead. Some women would then be separated from their husbands as widows-in-effect. Given the Old Testament community would have naturally provided for such women, we see the first church in Jerusalem did the same. A woman without local blood kin relations would naturally turn to the church as her new family. We would expect such women to then be free to devote themselves to the business of the church, as they would the needs of their own household. Women still raising children didn't have time for that, and it was hard to find a place for them. Besides, younger women were still likely to be lonely for male companionship. Only those who had reached the age of sixty were likely free of such things. Paul urges Timothy to resist too quickly adding a woman to the list of widows for church welfare programs.

The first church in Jerusalem had an issue with widows requiring the appointment of elders. The churches in Ephesus had almost no organic elders; virtually all of them would be appointed. Paul notes ruling elders carried a heavy burden, and doing it well was worthy of special notice. A critical task for Hebrew elders was teaching the Law; elders in Gentile churches would do something similar. Pastors lead in spiritual matters, observing the Heavenly concerns, whereas elders governed by the Laws of God and taught practical matters. Paul said they should be paid, for the same reason the Law of Moses forbade muzzling an ox while it threshed the grain. The elders should not have to earn an outside living any more than a clan elder was expected to do physical labor. He retired from such things so he could be free to manage and lead. And it would shatter their leadership if they had to worry about every petty challenge to their decisions, so Paul's answer was to require a measure of formality to reduce the silly carping. With their limited immunity came a higher burden of responsibility, so when they were found to be in the wrong, it should be dealt with in front of everyone.

Timothy was reminded to be as unbiased as possible in these matters. Paul also advised him to drink wine, because water alone was not only regarded as extreme asceticism with most people, but wine would offset the affects of questionable water quality in that part of the world. Timothy need not be embarrassed how it would look. In the real world, we all know a sinner may not be obvious at first, but sooner or later his evil will slip out. The same with a good man, whose actions may at first seem a little odd. Once they saw Timothy acting truly magisterial, silly questions become obviously silly.

Ezekiel 18

Without the cultural context, the Hebrew Scriptures are often incomprehensible. Without the historical context, those Scriptures also seem self-contradictory.

It was well established under the Covenant of Moses that the sins of previous generations could handicap the blessings of their descendants. This was not absolute, but noticeable as a general statement of how things went on the fallen plane. It was specifically stated as the prophetic warning regarding the sins of Manasseh as the reason God had delivered Judah into the hands of Babylon. The generation under Zedekiah knew they were not quite so profligate as those under Manasseh, but that was not the point. They whined that those previous sins had put them in a bad fix, and there was no point trying to make up for it. They overstated the case.

In so doing, they offered a popular proverb about how sour grapes would cause your teeth to have a high friction. In this case, they complained their forefathers had eaten the sour grapes of idolatry, but it was they who had to deal with sticky teeth of God's wrath. Ezekiel declared they were missing the point. In so doing, he brings things down to the simplest level. What he describes are the most basic matters of individual morality, covered in Moses, but also universally applicable under Noah.

He mentions first the injustice of idolatry as the primary sin of Judah, notwithstanding it was not so extravagant as under Manasseh. Any straying at all is unjustified, since He was their only national God. Feasting at the pagan mountain shrines could not be harmless, nor was checking into the filthy idols Samaria promoted before their exile some centuries before. Then he notes lack of sexual restraint as no better, nor the petty greed which seeks every excuse to take things from others, as if it were no better than outright robbery. Instead, we should look for ways to help the less fortunate, and be prepared to forgive debts by making them love gifts. Indeed, in every situation we seek deescalation of tension and the broader peace and harmony of human communities. By such things God is pleased, and will seek ways to bring life, never mind what everyone else is doing or has done.

Obviously, the expectation is more than simply rote obedience to the Law, but embracing the higher demands of wishing others well whenever possible. Lacking such a desire brings men to destruction, particularly those directly guilty. So an unjust son cannot inherit much life from his father's justice, and a later generation of justice will purchase their own blessings. More, one who turns from such idiocy can have his previous sins forgotten. Repentance means something to God, just as turning from justice to evil means death creeps in where life once breathed.

God tips the balance in favor of justice through repentance. Does it seem unfair to your nit-picking absolutism? You have no comprehension of God, who is the definition of justice. If those in Exile with Ezekiel would turn to the simplest level of Noahic justice, they would forestall much wrath, just as those back home in Judah could do. But this whining about Babylon must stop. There was plenty of room for Judah to repent, walk justly, and reap a harvest of God's favor, but they have to accept the limits He has placed upon them. That was the real problem.