Sunday, August 23, 2015

Divorce and remarriage

Divorce and Remarriage
Dr. Paul Manuel—2015

The prevalence of divorce and remarriage in our society has not left the church untouched. Most congregations include members or constituents whose families have undergone restructuring. Nevertheless, some Christians condemn all divorce and remarriage, appealing to Jesus’ statements, such as the one in Mark’s gospel:1
Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. (Mark 10:11)
However attractive it may be to have a clear delineation of right and wrong, few issues lend themselves to either-or categories, and any treatment of marital relationships must include other passages in the biblical text that argue for a more nuanced position or that offer more information.2 The parallel account in Matthew, for example, has a more complete transcript of Jesus’ words:3
Anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery. (Matt 19:9)
In light of the limited information these few passages offer, therefore, it is necessary to conduct a broader survey to understand God’s perspective on the issues of divorce and remarriage.

I. Divorce
A. According to Moses
When God instituted marriage, His intention was that it be permanent. Some Pharisees question Jesus on this matter, and he refers them to Genesis:4
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ [Gen 1:27] and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’ [Gen 2:24]? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” (Matt 19:4-6)
They press him further, and Jesus indicates that God allowed divorce as a concession to man’s sinful nature:5
“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.” (Matt 19:7-8)
Jesus acknowledges that sin has altered the edenic model of marriage and that the original permanence of the union is subject to revision. The contrast here is between God’s perfect will and His permissive will, between what He approves and what He allows (so also Davies 1997:14).6 On the one hand, God states, “I hate divorce” (Mal 2:16), but, on the other hand, He speaks about divorcing Israel for the nation’s unfaithfulness.7 God recognizes that a marriage might fail because one or both parties undermine it.8 So as not to make a bad situation worse, He provides for the formal dissolution of a marriage contract through the issuing of a “certificate of divorce,” called a get:9

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Woodstock, 1969

Dr. Paul Manuel—2015

In the summer of 1969, a friend and I went to a three-day concert held on a farm in upstate NY near a place called Woodstock. Some of the biggest names in rock music would be playing there. The advertising campaign was very successful, selling 186,000 tickets in advance. Organizers expected that 50,000 might actually show up. When the weekend of the concert arrived, not 50,000 but 400,000 (est.) converged on Woodstock, completely overwhelming the fences and the facilities. The vast majority who came assumed they would be able to get tickets at the gate. They were wrong. The gates were (torn) down when we arrived, but it did not matter—everyone who came got in.

Many people have a similar assumption about entry to heaven, that they will get tickets at the gate or will get in if they just show up. They, too, will be wrong, but in that case, it will matter, because that event will last much longer than three days. As the apostle Paul says, “we will be with the Lord forever” (2 Thess 4:17). Moreover, only those who have made advance arrangements will get in, who have been washed “by the blood of the lamb” (Rev 12:11), because “many are invited but few are chosen” (Matt 22:14).

We drove as close as we could to the site but had to park the car on the side of the road behind the many who had arrived before us. We walked with others for several miles, passing countless numbers who were giving up and going home, until we finally reached the place. Because the promoters were not prepared for that many people, there were not enough food stands, first aid stations, and, more importantly, not enough Port-o-potties. To make matters worse, it rained, a lot, turning the entire area to ankle-deep mud.

The concert was already in progress when we arrived, and the sound system was quite good, so we had no trouble finding the stage. It was in a valley, a third to a half mile below the ridge on which we eventually stood. I thought we had encountered a lot of people on our way in, but I was not prepared for what I saw from that ridge. The entire hillside was covered, from one end to the other and from top to bottom, with a seemingly endless mass of humanity. Apparently, the poor accommodations deterred only a relatively few of those who came. The vast majority chose to remain and were seated on the ground—in the mud!—with barely enough space to squeeze between. I had never seen so many people in one place at one time, certainly more than I could count.

When the apostle John sees in his vision of heaven “a great multitude that no one could count” (Rev 7:9), his description may not be an exaggeration. (The advertising for that event will also be quite good.) It will certainly be bigger than Woodstock, and it will have much better accommodations.

We worked our way down the hill looking for a place to sit, but the bodies were packed together so closely that there was barely enough room to walk without stepping on someone. By the time we got to the bottom of the hill, we were at the base of the stage, facing a tall wall and looking straight up. We could hear everything just fine but could see nothing, only the wall. At that point, we decided to give up and go home, which meant another trek up the hill and a long walk back to the car. Sitting in the mud was unappealing no matter how good the music.

The next year, Linda and I went to see the documentary film entitled Woodstock. It showed much of what my friend and I did not get to see. The movie theatre experience was quite different, of course, having shelter from the rain, a dry and carpeted floor, food options, comfortable seating, and (perhaps most importantly) bathrooms.

Heaven will have even better accommodations (no mud), including better food options, like “the wedding supper of the lamb” (Rev 19:9), enabling us to sit “at the feast with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (Matt 8:11).

At the time, I did not realize how important Woodstock would become in American culture. There is even a US postage stamp commemorating the event (02/18/99 Scott #3188b). Some of the performers were very good (if you like rock music), and the entire gathering was amazingly peaceful, perhaps due in part to he prevalence of illegal drugs. Still, there were some not-so-good things as well (e.g., an overdose death). Heaven, though, will be far, far better, with great reason to celebrate and without any not-so-good things. “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order…has passed away” (Rev 21:4). Best of all, we will see the greatest headliner of all: God (Rev 22:4).

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Fathers (John 5:19-20a)

A Father's Responsibilities (John 5:19-20a)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2006

It is interesting the kinds of things that make an impression on children. Last Sunday afternoon, several of us heard about the bear that Nathaniel saw, complete with sound effects. In fact, most of us heard about it several times. Nathaniel did not actually hear the bear roar, but his siblings told him the sound a bear makes, and that impressed him and became part of his recounting the event. What makes an impression may not always be accurate, but it can make a story more vivid.
Three young boys are bragging about their respective fathers. The first boy says, "My dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper, calls it a poem, and gets $50 for it." The second boy says, "That's nothing. My dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper, calls it a song, and gets $100 for it." The third boy says, "I got you both beat. My dad scribbles a few words on a piece of paper, calls it a sermon...and it takes four people to collect all the money!"
What a child tells, including what he tells about his father, may not always be accurate, but it will reflect what impresses him. When Jesus tells about his heavenly father, it is also what impresses him, but it is entirely accurate.

In John 5, Jesus is engaged in some controversial activity, at least, controversial for some. He is healing on the Sabbath, and that is causing quite a stir among certain religious authorities.1 Their negative reaction prompts a comment from him about God. It is a description of our heavenly father that earthly fathers can and should emulate. When these Jewish leaders ask Jesus to explain his actions, why he heals on the Sabbath...
John 5:19 Jesus gave them this answer: "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 20a For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does."
When Jesus says, "the son can do nothing by himself,"2 he means he is not entirely free to do as he pleases. There are boundaries he is not able to cross. We tend to picture Jesus as having the same capabilities as God the Father, which is probably true now but was not true when Jesus was on earth. To come here, Jesus gave up many of the advantages of deity.3 As Paul writes...
Phil 2:6 [Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be [retained], 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient....

Friday, April 3, 2015

Easter (Phil 3:20-21)

The Ultimate Extreme-Makeover (Phil 3:20-21)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2005

Coming from the suburbs of New York City, the only wildlife that I saw as a child were cats, dogs, pigeons, and squirrels. When, on rare occasions, I saw another animal, what immediately came to mind was a fictional character: Yogi Bear, Tony the Tiger, Bulwinkle the Moose. Some times the associations we make as children stay with us as adults.
A man from the city was driving down a country road. Suddenly, a rabbit skipped in front of the car. The man tried to stop but hit the rabbit. He jumped out of his car to check the scene. Seeing the lifeless form, he cried out, "I've killed the Easter bunny!" Another car stopped, and a woman got out to see if she could help. "What's the problem?" she asked. Still sobbing, the man answered, "I've run over the Easter bunny. Now there will be no one to deliver eggs to the children." The woman went back to her car, returned with an aerosol can, and sprayed the motionless rabbit. Immediately, it sprang up, ran into the woods, stopped, and waved back at the man and woman. Then it ran another ten feet, stopped, and waved. It then ran another ten feet, stopped, and waved again. It did this over and over until it was out of sight. Astonished, the man exclaimed, "What is in that can?" Walking back to her car, the woman replied, "It's hare spray.... It revitalizes your hare and adds permanent wave."
While the Easter Bunny has nothing to do with the true meaning of the holiday, the fragile nature of life in this world should make you contemplate the durable nature of life in the next world.

That was the apostle Paul's situation as he sat in a Roman prison, writing a letter to the church he established at Philippi, a city in northern Greece. Three times in the first chapter he mentions his plight, saying, "I am in chains" (vv. 7, 13, 17).1 What has he done to warrant such treatment? Has he been arrested for theft or murder? No, he says, "I am in chains for Christ" (v. 13b) and "for the defense of the gospel" (v. 16b). To make matters worse, there are those back in Asia Minor who oppose Paul and would cause him further grief by taking credit for his missionary efforts.2 He writes,
Phil 1:17 [They] preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.
Despite this unfortunate turn of events, Paul does not despair,3 but his experiences bring his mortality into sharp relief and turn his attention to the prospect of something else.
Phil 1:21 die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body...I do not know! 23b [Yet] I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far;
Apart from bringing an end to his current troubles, what advantage is there to being "with Christ?" Paul does not give a detailed answer that question, but what he does say provides us with a glimpse of what lies ahead and offers us encouragement when troubles bring our own mortality into sharp relief. Turn, please, to Phil 3, where Paul explains in v. 20 that by his sacrifice,...

I. Jesus enables our relocation to heaven (Phil 3:20).
Phil 3:20 [O]ur citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,

Saturday, March 28, 2015

How should I keep the Sabbath?

Dr. Paul Manuel—Youth SS Class—2000

Although you have not lived very long, your responsibility as well as the freedom you have to choose the direction of your life has changed over the years.
  • When you were little, your parents decided most of what you would do and where you would go.
  • As you get older, you decide more of what you will do and where you will go.
Right now, you may think your folks should let you decide a lot more than they do but, I assure you, that will change. In fact, you are going to be making some important decisions over the next few years.
  • Will you date and, if so, whom?
  • Will you have sex before you get married?
  • Will you get married and, if so, to whom?
  • Will you use drugs or alcohol?
  • Will you go to college and, if so, where will you go and how will you pay for it?
  • What job will you take?
  • Where will you live—someplace near or far away?
Your friends will be glad to help you make some of those decisions, but their advice may not always be the best, depending on the kind of friends you have. Your parents also may help you with some of those decisions, and their advice usually has your best interest at heart. Still, the choices will ultimately be yours, because that is part of growing up. One of the decisions you will face is whether or not you will serve God.
  • You may say, "I've already made that decision. I've been baptized. I come to church every week."
  • That is true. You have all been baptized, and you all come to church regularly.
  • Would you continue to come, though, if your parents did not bring you? Is worshiping God and being with other Christians on Saturday more important to you than staying in bed or watching TV or hanging out with your friends?
  • In other words, if someone did not make you come or drive you here, would you come? One day, you will have to make that decision.
It is important for you to know what God has said about this matter, especially as you encounter conflicts with other activities on the Sabbath. School activities, for example, things you enjoy doing, often happen on Friday night. Right now, your parents may be "discouraging" you from participating in those activities. Suppose they left the decision up to you? How would you decide the right thing to do? Is that even be a question you would ask?

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Coming of the Lord

Dr. Paul Manuel—2015

We assume certain things are common knowledge, and we often take such things for granted.
Jeff and his five-year-old son were discussing differences between their respective childhoods. Jeff pointed out that when he was young, there were no such things as Nintendo, cellphones, computers or digital cameras. He realized just how big the generation gap was when his son asked…“Did you have fruit?”
We can chalk up some ignorance to youth. In this case, the boy did not realize how quickly technology has advanced. Then there are experiences for which youth is not a factor.
Diminutive Aunt Flora, just four feet, nine inches tall, accepted an offer to visit a health club for a free session. After a hearty greeting, the receptionist showed her where to change and said an instructor would be with her soon. After changing her clothes, Aunt Flora went to the exercise area. Along one wall she noticed a silver bar that was not in use, and decided to try her hand at chin-ups while she waited. She jumped up, barely reaching the bar, and managed to strain through two chin-ups before an instructor came to her side. Smiling politely, the instructor said, “If you follow me, I’ll be glad to help you get started…. Just let go of the coat rack.”
We assume certain things are common knowledge, but some things require special knowledge, the kind that comes through revelation, as in Paul’s explanation of what the future holds with The Coming of the Lord.

The church at Thessalonica was one of Paul’s early missionary endeavors, and his letters to the congregation were among his first epistles. The church was strong and demonstrated a good grasp of the gospel.1 There was some confusion, though, about the return of Jesus, not whether he would come back2 but who would participate in that great event. Paul writes this first letter, in part, to set the record straight. Please turn to 1 Thess 4:13 where he begins with what they and…

I. You Should Know…
1 Thess 4:13 Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.
Apparently, a rumor was circulating that to take part in Jesus’ kingdom you had to be present at his return, and that if you had the misfortune of dying before it happened, you would miss out. Were that the case, Paul says, we would be “like the rest of men,” and he describes…
A. What the future will be like for others (4:13).
For them, the prospect of death is bleak for several reasons. First…
1. What happens at death is unknown.
Does the individual continue to exist or cease to exist? People are ignorant of what, if anything, happens after death. They would like to know, but apart from God’s revelation, they cannot. Second…
2. What happens at death is unhappy.
If not for the individual, it certainly is for those he leaves behind. Moreover, people’s grief over the loss of a loved one is without comfort when that person’s destiny is in doubt. Third…
3. What happens at death is unpromising.
There is no expectation that the situation will change for the better. Most people “have no hope” that death is anything but the end, the final punctuation of a brief existence. Paul says that is how the future appears to “the rest of men.”3

Let me recap. For them…
  • What happens at death is unknown;
  • What happens at death is unhappy;
  • What happens at death is unpromising;
That about sums it up…but not for us.

Friday, March 20, 2015


Prophetic Previews
Coming Attractions and Un-attractions in Eschatology
Dr. Paul Manuel—2001

Because of the length of "Back to the Future" (91 pages) only the Contents and Preface are below. The entire paper is available as a pdf here.


Preface 1
I. Getting Our Bearings (Matt 24) 2
II. Conflict of History (Dan 7; 9) 8
III. Restoration of Israel (Ezek 36-48) 15
IV. Jews and Gentiles (Zech 12-14) 20
V. Resurrection of the Dead (1 Cor 15)   24
VI. Day of the Lord (1 Thess 5; 2 Thess 2)    28

The parousia of Jesus and the period of judgment              29
VII. A Spiritual Struggle (Rev 12-14) 32

Outline: The Structure of Revelation 33

Rapture Review: Events That Occur Together 37
VIII. Coming of the Messiah (Rev 19-20) 41
IX. Eternity with God (Rev 21-22) 45

Conclusion 47

Live in the Light of What You Have Learned 47

Appendix A: God’s Wrath and God’s People 49

Appendix B: The Battle of Armageddon 50

Bibliography 56

Endnotes 57


One of the many limitations we have as human beings is time. We can recall the past, if we experienced it or if someone else related it to us, but we cannot see in the other direction, into the future. Nevertheless, we have an innate curiosity about what lies ahead. Solomon said,

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Praying through the Bible

A Reporter's Investigation
Dr. Paul Manuel—2008
The true spirit of prayer does not consist in asking for blessings,
but in receiving Him who is the giver of all blessings,
and in living a life of fellowship with Him.
Sundar Singh (1889-1929)

Because of the length of "Praying through the Bible" (205 pages) only the Introduction is below. The entire paper is available as a pdf here. The study consists of  ten sessions, examining the practice of prayer from the Pentateuch to the Epistles.


Are your prayers getting through to God? Is He paying attention? The Bible offers guidelines for making your prayers work, eliminating the problems that hinder communication, assuring you that God will hear and will answer. In this study, we will look in scripture at some of the many examples of prayer as well as at various instructions about prayer to determine what God expects from us—as well as what He does not want to hear from us—and what we can expect from Him. We will examine what the Bible says about this discipline to determine what makes it effective or ineffective, and how knowing the difference should influence how we pray.

Among the most important disciplines a child of God can develop, next to worship, is his ability to communicate with God in prayer.
  • Corporate prayer as part of the believer’s service when he gathers with others each week.
  • Family prayer as part of his home life, at least before meals.
  • Private prayer as part of his personal expression of devotion each day.
With the prevalence of prayer in our lives, giving ourselves to its study is certainly appropriate, especially if one result of that study is to improve our ability in this area.

The Bible contains much about prayer, both directly, through instruction, and indirectly, through illustration. An exhaustive study of this subject would easily take more than a year.2 To keep things at a manageable level without sacrificing thoroughness, we will narrow the scope of our investigation in three ways:
  • First, we will concentrate on the primary words for prayer in Hebrew and in Greek.3
These are the terms that occur with the greatest frequency and which most English translations render “to pray” or “prayer.” They represent a particular kind of communication with God (the “what” of our study), most often petition—asking for divine favor—or intercession—defending against divine judgment (that God would remit His punishment).4

Even looking only at these (Hebrew and Greek) words, a comprehensive investigation would require several months, at least, but we can derive considerable benefit from a selective overview. Hence…
  • Second, we will concentrate on primary passages about prayer.
Most uses of these terms just make the observation that this or that person prayed. Other sections provide additional information about the context or content of prayer,5 and it is those we will investigate. (Additional examples will appear in the endnotes.).6

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The prayer of Jabez

An excursus from Judges: The Struggle for Autonomy
Dr. Paul Manuel—2010

In 2000, Bruce Wilkinson (founder of Walk Thru the Bible Ministries) wrote The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life, an inspirational and international bestseller.1 Wilkinson says (p. 86),
I challenge you to make the Jabez prayer for blessing part of the daily fabric of your life. To do that, I encourage you to follow unwaveringly the plan outlined here for the next thirty days. By the end of that time, you'll be noticing significant changes in your life, and the prayer will be on its way to becoming a treasured, lifelong habit.
Should believers make this petition a regular practice with the expectation that God will respond to them as He responded to Jabez? ...This notion is similar to another popular trend, known variously as the "Health and Wealth (or Prosperity) Gospel" and the "Name It and Claim It" approach to prayer, both of which assert that God wants you to be financially successful (even affluent) and that by faith you can realize God's abundant material blessing.

Along with the theological problems that attend such a notion,2 this practice violates two principles of biblical interpretation. The first principle is...
  • Do not base doctrine on a narrative passage.
Narrative or historical passages provide an accurate account of the events they record, but they do not necessarily offer reliable or applicable instruction about doctrine. For faith and practice we must rely on didactic texts, those the biblical authors intended for teaching, lest we misinterpret and misapply what is written.
  • For example, failing to recognize this distinction could make Jesus' admonition to one discipleship candidate a prerequisite for all disciples.3
Matt 19:21 ...sell your possessions and give to the poor.... Then come, follow me.
Jesus' instruction (total divestiture) in this story was for this individual only. There is no evidence that Jesus intended it for other disciples, let alone all disciples.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Drama of Redemption

Tracing the program of God in the progress of history
Dr. Paul Manuel—2012

Paul Manuel writes about the genesis of this study:
When Linda and I where at CBC, the most popular course was The Progress of Redemption, which traced God's plan through scripture. The reason I found it helpful was that it filled in a lot of gaps in my understanding of the Bible and of what He is doing throughout history. Years later, while at the University of Wisconsin, Steve Lancaster and I created a similar course called, The Drama of Redemption, that we expanded and taught in our respective congregations and in a Trinity extension. We modeled the course on a Greek play (with acts and scenes). Several years after that, I developed it a bit further to teach in the German Seventh Day Baptist church here (adding several philatelic illustrations from Linda's and my Bible stamp collection).
Because of length, only the "Program Guide" is provided below. Each link will take you to a pdf of that section of the study.

Program Guide 
Program Guide and Bibliography


Preview (coming attractions)


  • God's goal
  • God's glory
Act I:  Introduction—God Promises the Kingdom.

Scene 1: Primeval Conflict

  • The creation
  • The fall
  • The flood
  • The tower

Scene 2: Patriarchal Expectation

  • Abraham
  • Isaac
  • Jacob

Act II: Rising action—God Models the Kingdom.

Scene 1: Wilderness Experience

  • The exodus
  • The covenant
  • The wandering
  • The renewal

Scene 2: Canaan Conquest

    • The invasion
    • The settlement

    Scene 3: Israelite Consolidation

    • Deborah
    • Gideon
    • Samuel

    Scene 4: United Monarchy

      • Saul
      • David
      • Solomon

      Excursus: David's Devotion

      • David's fitness for office
      • David's failure in office

      Sunday, March 15, 2015

      Arguing with God

      Eight Biblical Models for Arguing with God
      Dr. Paul Manuel—2005

      Because of the length of "Arguing With God" (50 pages, not including the Bibliography and Endnotes) only the Contents and Introduction are below. The entire paper is available as a pdf here.


      Introduction 2
      I. Abraham and God's Righteousness (Gen 18:16-33)        3
      II. Job and God's Sovereignty (Job 26-31; 38-41) 8

         Excursus: On mediate and immediate causation
      III. Moses and God's Forbearance (Exod 32:1-14) 18

          Excursus: On the immutability of God
      IV. Elijah and God’s Providence (1 Kgs 19:9b-18) 25
      V. Jonah and God’s Compassion (Jonah 4) 31
      VI. Habakkuk and God’s Equity (Hab 1-3) 37

         Excursus: On the fairness of God
      VII. Jesus and God’s Purpose (Matt 26:36-46) 43
      VIII. Paul and God’s Provision (2 Cor 12:1-10) 47

      Conclusion 50

      Bibliography 51

      Endnotes 53


      Why do we pray? ...Most prayers fall in two general categories: We pray either to praise God (e.g., to thank Him for some favor) or to petition God (i.e., to ask Him for some favor). What do we expect prayer to accomplish, especially the second kind—petitionary prayer? ... We hope to influence the course of events, to move God to take some action either on our behalf or for someone else. While this is all true, there is another benefit, perhaps even the primary purpose of prayer: Prayer is a window that enables us to view life from God's perspective. It offers an objective vantage point from which we can evaluate what is happening around us or to us. As such, prayer shapes our thinking by correcting and broadening our understanding about what filters through our physical senses and our emotions.

      Sometimes what we see or hear makes us question God, especially when it is bad and affects us or someone close to us: "How could God be actively involved in this incident or passively silent in that one?"1 At such times we may be reluctant to voice our doubts or complaints, either because we think it would be improper to question God or because we fear that it might anger God and make matters worse. Quite the contrary, He wants us to pray through difficult issues—to discuss them until we reach some understanding. To help us, He has preserved Eight Biblical Models for Arguing with God.2 As we examine them, we will consider what they can teach us about Praying through Tough Problems.

      By the way, when I use the word "argue" in this study, it is not in the pejorative sense we often associate with the term. I simply mean discussion or interaction, not necessarily heated debate. Fervency is a potential and frequent correlate to arguing, but not a necessary one. You can be passionate without being impertinent.

      For the entire paper including the Bibliography and Endnotes, see the pdf here.

      Saturday, January 10, 2015

      Blessed be God (Eph 1:3-14)

      BLESSED BE GOD (Eph 1:3-14)
      Dr. Paul Manuel—2004

      When a young girl lost her dog, she decided to distribute flyers around town, hoping that someone would spot the wayward pooch and return him. The notice she prepared read...
      Lost Dog: He has brown hair with several bald spots. His right front leg was once broken in an auto accident. He limps because he hurt his left hip. His right eye is missing, and he had his left ear bitten off in a dog fight. Please help me find him. He answers to the name...Lucky. (Adapted from Hodgin 1994:216)
      However lucky or unlucky we may be, we are glad for whatever help people can give us as we travel life's path. When the one who helps us is God, the benefits we derive are without equal, and we should respond as Paul does in our message this morning, by exclaiming: Blessed Be God.

      A few years ago, another pastor was studying what the Bible says about the will of God, and he asked me to look at Eph 1, where Paul mentions God's will. When I turned to the passage, which I had not read in quite some time, I could hardly make sense of it. Eph 1:3-14 is one long sentence in Greek, as if once Paul got started he did not know where to stop.1 The English translations help us by breaking it into smaller units, but my first reading made me agree with Peter, that Paul's "letters contain some things that are hard to understand" (2 Pet 3:16b).

      As I reread the text, I began to notice the phrases Paul repeats.
      • Three times he refers to the "will" of God (vv. 5, 9, 11), indicating that history—our history—is not without purpose. God intends some particular things for us.
      • Three times he uses the phrase "to the praise of his glory" (vv. 6, 12, 14), because understanding what God has done and will do for us should make us break forth in worship.
      • Ten times he says "in Christ" or "in him" (vv. 3, 4, 6, 7, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 132) to emphasize that everything God does for us—our very relationship with God—comes as a result of what Jesus did and because of our relationship with him.
      These repetitions tie together Paul's thoughts and help us to see what he considers most important. Keep them in mind as we read the passage. Please turn to Eph 1....

      After opening the book in vv. 1-2 with his usual salutation...

      I. Paul blesses God for the scope of His blessing to us.
      Eph 1:3a [Blessed] be...the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ....
      One congregant mentioned to me that she had never made a distinction between praising God and thanking Him, that she had simply assumed they were synonyms for the way we express our devotion. When she realized the terms were different, she asked me to define them. Because others may have the same question, here is the distinction.

      The biblical writers use three main words to describe the ways you should declare your devotion.
      • Praise God to express your admiration for His wonderful character and great deeds. Think of praise as bragging about God.
      • Thank God to express your appreciation for who He is to you and what He does for you.
      • Bless God to express your affirmation that He is the source of all (power for) success, prosperity, longevity, etc.—everything that is good.2

      Thursday, January 8, 2015


      Dr. Paul Manuel—2015

      From the January, 2015, Sabbath Recorder:

      Much of life involves a series of changes, some of which are large, others of which are small. Many of those changes test our ability to respond with wise choices, consistent with our commitment to God. Dealing with changes, whether large or small, and making the choices they require, is often a matter of perspective, of viewing life (as much as possible) from God’s perspective and realizing the wonder of His grace along the way.

      In some cases, it means recognizing a particular change is permanent, and there is no going back: That was then; this is now.

      When first diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, I was a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and knew nothing about the disease. A doctor at the hospital there recommended a series of steroid infusions he said might force it into remission. I followed his advice and thought no more about the matter, going on to finish my degree and continuing my involvement in the martial arts, an activity I had begun sometime earlier.

      Eighteen years later, having been in pastoral ministry for quite a while, the MS returned—there is no (further) treatment for the kind I have—and I steadily lost the ability to move about without assistance. (After forty years, I taught my final martial arts class last year, from a walker.) Noting the obvious physical difficulty I was having, the deacons and elders at the church wisely recommended that I seek early retirement. The physical change is permanent, and there is no going back: That was then; this is now.

      To be sure, “now” is certainly different from what I experienced before, but God has not changed. He still enables me to choose how I will respond to this change. While I miss being physically active and being more fully engaged in ministry, I also realize that the more I can align my perspective with His perspective, the more my response to this change will accord with His will and the more I realize the wonder of His grace along the way.

      The change has not affected everything. While no longer teaching martial arts, there are still opportunities to minister. I do not get out much, but people come to see me, which I enjoy (although why they do so is often a mystery to me). I am also able to post studies and sermons to my blog that would otherwise remain in notebooks. (My wife says that I now have time to read for pleasure, which I have not done since college and grad school.) While the future is unknown, it need not be unproductive, and I trust that my continuing walk with God will yet yield fruit, because that was then; this is now.

      Tuesday, January 6, 2015

      Witnessing for Jesus (Mark 16:1-20)

      The Witness for Jesus (Mark 16:1-20)
      Dr. Paul Manuel—2014

      Some people have difficulty adjusting to new things, be it the controls on a new appliance, or the demands of a new diet, or the addition of a new family member.
      When Sarah came home from the hospital with her second baby, she hired Myrna, a live-in-nurse, to help for the first few weeks. Having read about sibling rivalry, Sarah watched her eighteen-month-old daughter Chelsey for signs of jealousy or insecurity with the new addition, but Chelsey adored her little brother. She loved to help Myrna feed and bathe him. He was so cute. She even offered to share her toys. Several weeks passed and Sarah, convinced that Chelsey was suffering no ill effects, decided she could manage without a nurse. As she watched Myrna walk to her car that last day, she heard an unmistakable cry of distress. "Myrna!" yelled Chelsey, running after her... "You forgot your baby!"
      Some people have difficulty adjusting to new things, especially if they are uncertain about them. People were uncertain about the ending of Mark's gospel. At least one copyist thought it was too abrupt, that it was missing vital information and needed to be revised accordingly.

      The four gospels each tell the story of Jesus, from the start of his ministry (sometimes a little earlier) to his death and resurrection (sometimes a little later). Mark's account, however, has a different ending. Look at chapter 16, where you may have a note at the end of verse 8 indicating that the earliest and most reliable Greek manuscripts stop here, with the report that Jesus' body is missing from the tomb. Mark leaves his readers to ponder the meaning of that disappearance.

      A later Christian editor, evidently thinking the story needed a fuller and more satisfying conclusion, appended additional details other gospel writers include, as well as some original material that only appears here. While I do not advocate preaching from dubious passages, it is instructive to note what is part of holy writ and what is not.1 Chapter 16 opens with a discovery of the empty tomb, and...

      I. The Prospect Is Exciting (Mark 16:1-8).2
      Mark 16:1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus' body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb, 3 and they asked each other, "Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?" 4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. 6 "Don't be alarmed," he said. "You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There You will see him, just as he told you." 8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

      Monday, January 5, 2015

      Walking with Jesus (Mark 13:9-13)

      The Walk with Jesus (Mark 13:9-13)
      Dr. Paul Manuel—2014

      There are consequences for certain actions. There are legal consequences if you exceed the speed limit (and get caught). There are medical consequences if you abuse drugs or alcohol. There are employment consequences if you fail to meet your boss's expectations.
      Jeff was a meticulous but mild-mannered engineer. He and his wife Amy were looking forward to being in their new house in the new year. As it was being built, Jeff left notes for the workmen, politely calling their attention to mistakes or oversights. Two weeks before Jeff and Amy were to move in, the floors still were not finished, the bathrooms not tiled, nor were necessary fixtures installed. Amy was sure the work would never be completed in time. On moving day, though, the house was ready to receive them. Curious as to how this feat had been accomplished, Amy went and checked where Jeff always left his notes for the workmen. Posted prominently on the living room wall was his last note: "After January 15...all work will be supervised by our five children."
      There are consequences for certain actions, some more terrifying than others. In one of the Measures of the Messiah in Mark, Jesus tried to impress upon the disciples the consequences of their commitment to him, what their association with this rabbi might cost them.

      When Jesus enters Jerusalem for the last time before his crucifixion, the disciples are 'pumped,' ready to accomplish great things. They have not yet grasped the seriousness, the inevitability of Jesus' impending death. For them, this visit holds the prospect of advancing both the kingdom and their own place in it. They are ready to do great things for God. What they are about to get, however, is a reality check, an explanation of what "The Walk with Jesus" will entail for them. Please turn to Mark 13.

      When they come to the Mount of Olives, Jesus answers some of the disciples' questions about the future kingdom of heaven. He explains that the end of this world order will not come about for quite some time and that they must be prepared for some difficult experiences. As his disciples, they can and should expect to be persecuted. Their faith will undergo severe testing, so he warns them in v. 9: "You must be on your guard." Jesus explains that people will not always respond positively upon discovering they are his followers. He issues two warnings—neither of which offers any incentive for them to identify with him. If anything, they are a disincentive to discipleship. In vv. 9-11...

      I. Jesus warns about legal consequences for disciples (Mark 13:9-11).
      Mark 13:9 You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. 11 Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.
      As I said, Jesus' words are a disincentive to discipleship. Who would knowingly and willingly—even eagerly—join a movement that raises the ire of religious and government officials alike? Describing the fate of his followers, Jesus says...1
      A. They will forfeit their liberty.
      Adding insult to injury, he explains that...
      • Their own countrymen will betray them!2
      The very ones who should be supportive will, in fact, be subversive. That is precisely what happens to many of those who follow this itinerant rabbi.3 Looking for examples in the book of Acts, I was surprised at how many people suffer for their faith.
      • Peter and John are arrested and imprisoned, Peter more than once.
      • Other apostles are arrested, imprisoned, and flogged.
      • Other disciples are arrested and imprisoned.
      • Paul and Barnabas are thrown out of Pisidian Antioch.
      • Paul and Silas are stripped, beaten, flogged, and imprisoned.
      "Sign me up for that group."

      Despite the unpleasantness of what Jesus says his followers may face, it does not mean that God has abandoned them. Quite the contrary, in their greatest hour of need...
      B. They will receive immediate help—the Spirit's inspiration.4
      Therefore, Jesus says...
      • They should not grow worried.
      Again, the book of Acts offers several examples of disciples who were uncharacteristically outspoken under pressure,5 evincing the power of God at work through them.

      Most Christians in the U.S. have an idyllic view of discipleship, because being a follower of Jesus costs them very little.6 They suffer no persecution. Their faith does not prevent them from getting a loan or applying to college or going on vacation. In fact, around this area, people generally view a commitment to God quite favorably. Does that mean you will never face what Jesus warns about here?

      While many Christians do, indeed, go through life without ever encountering the kind of opposition Jesus describes, the prediction he includes in v. 10 indicates that his admonition applies to more than those in the first century. Matthew preserves a fuller transcription of Jesus' prediction.
      Matt 24:14 ...this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.7
      Jesus' warning is something disciples in every age will have to take seriously.

      However unlikely you are to be on trial for your faith, you still have a responsibility to be a testimony for your faith. Even in rural Pennsylvania, that may not be easy. This area is heavily churched, but it is not entirely Christian. Moreover, some of you venture beyond this area, where fewer of those you meet have a commitment to God. No matter where you are, though, you can still count on the help of the Holy Spirit when you testify about your faith.

      It is bad enough that Jesus' followers will be persecuted for their faith, but some will also be executed for their faith. In addition to legal consequences...

      II. Jesus warns about lethal consequences for disciples (Mark 13:12-13).
      Mark 13:12 Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 13 All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.
      This is where most people would probably draw the line. It is bad enough when others ridicule an individual's beliefs; it is beyond the pale when they kill him because he holds those beliefs, yet that is precisely what Jesus says will happen. Here, too, the book of Acts illustrates his point.8
      • Stephen was stoned to death.
      • Other disciples were executed.
      • Paul was stoned almost to death.
      • James was beheaded.
      All this accords with Jesus' warning to his disciples that...
      A. They will forfeit their lives.
      To make matters worse, if they can be any worse...
      • Their own families will slay them.
      The very people who should be compassionate will, in fact, be complicit in their death. (For those of you who have loving families, it is probably beyond belief that people could possibly behave this way.) Despite the vehemence Jesus says his followers will experience, it does not mean that God has abandoned them. Quite the contrary, in what appears to be their greatest defeat...
      B. They will receive ultimate help—their soul's salvation.9
      Therefore, Jesus says...
      • They should not grow weary.
      Persecution against Christians is foreign to us but not to those living in some other countries, especially where Islam dominates. You may recall the case of Meriam Ibrahim, a pregnant, 27-year old Sudanese doctor, who was imprisoned earlier this year and sentenced to hanging for apostasy, after she received 100 lashes for adultery. The authorities claimed she was a Muslim who converted to Christianity,10 an offense she compounded when she married a Christian (a Sudanese who is a US citizen). Meriam denied the charges, saying that Christianity was the only faith she ever knew, having been raised by an Orthodox Christian mother, but that did not matter to the Sudanese government. Her absentee Ethiopian father was a Muslim, making her, by default, a Muslim.

      The conditions of Meriam's incarceration were harsh, forcing her to give birth to her child while chained. She could have spared herself, as others had before, by renouncing her faith,11 but she refused, even knowing that her two young children could be taken from her and raised as Muslims. In response to pressure from various Christian groups in the West and, belatedly, from the US State Department, Meriam was released and reunited with her husband. The family has since relocated to New Hampshire, where there is a Sudanese community.12

      You will probably never have to endure this kind of persecution for your faith, but there will be other challenges, and how you meet them is a testimony to the seriousness of your discipleship as well as a necessary step in your spiritual growth. As James writes, perhaps echoing some of what Jesus says here...
      James 1:2b ...whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 ...know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
      It is not how much you endure but how well you endure that counts.

      While the disciples are excited about the coming Kingdom of God, Jesus tempers their enthusiasm with a reality check of the legal and lethal consequences their identification with him will have. To accomplish great things, they will have to endure great things. Are they up to the task? Is devotion to Jesus worth persecution for Jesus? ...On another occasion he said, "whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven" (Matt 10:33).

      When life is not going well, you may wonder if persevering in your faith is worth your effort. Are you up to the task? ...The answer lies in the promise of empowerment now, as God's Spirit speaks through you, and in the prospect of fulfillment later, when God's salvation finally arrives for you. This is what "The Walk with Jesus" entails. Does it describe your walk?

      For the Bibliography and Endnotes, see the pdf here.