Tuesday, September 20, 2016

God is immutable

OUR UNCHANGING GOD 
(Num 23:19; I Sam 15:29)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2016

Some people are always after the latest gadget. Others are quite satisfied with what they have and would rather keep things as they are. They find innovation, especially new technology, too confusing.
A young officer was working late at the Pentagon one evening. As he came out of his office, he saw a General standing by the classified document shredder in the hallway, a piece of paper in his hand. "Do you know how to work this thing?" the General asked. "My secretary has gone home and I don't know how to run it." "Yes, sir," said the young officer, who turned on the machine, took the paper from the General, and fed it in. "Now," said the General... "I just need one copy."
Change can be confusing. While God is not at all troubled by change, it is good for us that He Himself does not change, that no matter how circumstances (even technology) may shift around us (or completely pass us by), the Lord remains the same. He is Our Unchanging God.

God has many qualities we admire, such as His righteousness, goodness, and love. One quality we depend on especially is His immutability, His consistency, that He does not change in His essence, attributes, or will.1 It is the truth about Israel's God that Samuel reveals to Saul and that Balaam affirms to Balak. These two incidents illustrate God's immutability.2

The first incident we will consider that illustrates God's unchanging nature is Israel's encounter with the Amalekites along with the interaction between Samuel and Saul. When God's people left Egypt, the people group Israel initially contacted was the descendants of Esau. Whereas the Israelites would have preferred to proceed uninterrupted to Canaan, the Amalekites' unprovoked attack against God's people led Him to declare: "I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven" (Exod 17:14b). God helped the Israelites to fend off the attack and continue on their way. But later, when Israel was about to cross the Jordan River into Canaan, God repeated His intention to destroy Amalek:
When the LORD your God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land he is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget! (Deut 25:19)
Years after Israel was settled in the Promised Land, God told King Saul to "attack the Amalekites and totally destroy...them.... Put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys" (1 Sam 15:3). King Saul did defeat the Amalekites3 but thought their total destruction was wasteful, so he made two revisions to God's plan.
  • Saul spared the Amalekite king, perhaps as a bargaining chip for some future negotiations, and....
  • Saul spared the best of the livestock as spoils of war, for sacrifice to the Lord and for payment to his troops.
The rest of God's instructions Saul followed, killing all the men, women, and children.

**********
Such carnage may seem exceedingly cruel, uncharacteristic of a loving God, until we realize that the highest value in God's economy is not love (or life) but holiness, which is God's preeminent attribute, the one that best describes Him and the one His people must appreciate if they would know Him:
  • In Isaiah's vision of the heavenly court, the angels in attendance are not extolling God's love (although that is certainly important). They are calling to one another: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty" (Isa 6:3).
  • In John's vision of the heavenly court, the angels in attendance are not extolling God's love (or His righteous and goodness): "Day and night they never stop saying: 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty" (Rev 4:8).
The highest value in God's economy is His preeminent attribute, the one He uses most often to describe Himself and the one that accounts for everything He does. It is also an attribute He expects His people to emulate: "Be holy, because I am holy" (Lev 11:44, 45; 19:2; 20:7; 1 Pet 1:16; cf. 20:26; 21:6; 1 Cor 1:2; Eph 1:4; 1 Pet 1:15; Rev 22:11). In order for that attribute to characterize His people, they must separate themselves from what is unholy, a process that requires drastic measures as well as different thinking.4
***********
The prophet Samuel confronted Saul on his return from battle with the Amalekites and wanted to know why he disobeyed God's order to destroy them all, including their livestock. Saul either thought God had not really meant what He said or thought that He would be amenable to a less wasteful course of action. Israelite soldiers captured the Amalekite king (a valuable prisoner) and spared the animals (as spoils of war). After all, why disregard a useful bargaining chip and destroy a good food source? Surely God would see the wisdom of this change in His original orders.

The problem was that God had given specific instructions that did not allow for such variance. What King Saul did not realize (or chose to ignore) was that God is immutable. When He says something He sticks with it. Had He been of the opinion that killing all the Amalekites and their livestock was wasteful, He would have given different orders, but He was not, so He did not.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Nations will come to your light...

GENTILE ATTRACTION TO JUDAISM: GRACE WITH A GOAL
Dr. Paul Manuel—2016


When God chose the descendants of Abraham as His people, it was an act of grace, but it was grace with a goal. He had a plan for them to tell others about the great God they served.1 It will be an especially prominent feature of the Messianic Age:2
In the last days the mountain of the LORD's temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths." The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. (Isa 2:2-3) Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. (Isa 60:3)
This mission (which actually began long ago) attracted two types of gentiles: those who lived inside the borders of Israel and those who lived outside those borders.
  • A sojourner or resident alien was a gentile who followed God and lived inside the borders of Israel:
  • An alien living among you who wants to celebrate the LORD's Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat of it. The same law applies to the native-born and to the alien living among you. (Exod 12:48-49)
  • Any Israelite or any alien living among you who hunts any animal or bird that may be eaten must drain out the blood and cover it with earth.... Anyone, whether native-born or alien, who eats anything found dead or torn by wild animals must wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he will be ceremonially unclean till evening; then he will be clean. (Lev 17:13, 15)
  • Whoever kills an animal must make restitution, but whoever kills a man must be put to death. You are to have the same law for the alien and the native-born. I am the LORD your God. (Lev 24:21-22)
  • You must have the same regulations for the alien and the native-born.... 15 The community is to have the same rules for you and for the alien living among you; this is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. You and the alien shall be the same before the LORD: The same laws and regulations will apply both to you and to the alien living among you.... One and the same law applies to everyone who sins unintentionally, whether he is a native-born Israelite or an alien. (Num 9:14b-16, 29)
  • Assemble the people—men, women and children, and the aliens living in your towns—so they can...follow carefully all the words of this law. (Deut 31:12)
  • A foreigner was a gentile who followed God and lived outside the borders of Israel:
  • These are the regulations for the Passover: "No foreigner is to eat of it.... (Exod 12:43)
  • You must not accept such animals from the hand of a foreigner and offer them as the food of your God. They will not be accepted on your behalf, because they are deformed and have defects. (Lev 22:25)
  • Do not eat anything you find already dead. You may give it to an alien living in any of your towns, and he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner. But you are a people holy to the LORD your God. (Deut 14:21 a-b)

Monday, September 5, 2016

Holiness unto the LORD

HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD: A STUDY OF LEVITICUS
Dr. Paul Manuel—2016


An Outline of Leviticus

I. Regulations about Required Sacrifices (1: 1-7-39)
A. God teaches the people (1:1-6:7) -
1. The Israelite presents a dedication (burnt) offering to signify his commitment to the LORD (1:1-17).
a. A dedication offering maybe an ox (or cow).
b. A dedication offering maybe a sheep (or goat).
c. A dedication offering may be a bird.
2. The Israelite presents a contribution (grain) offering to signify his support for the sanctuary (2:1-16).
a. A contribution offering maybe unbaked flour.
b. A contribution offering maybe. baked flour.
c. A contribution offering must be without yeast.
d. A contribution offering may be roasted grain.
3. The Israelite presents a reconciliation (peace or fellowship) offering to signify his review of the relationship (3:1-17).
a. A reconciliation offering may be an ox (or cow).
b. A reconciliation offering may be a sheep (or goat).
c. A reconciliation offering may be a bird.
4. The Israelite presents a purification (sin) offering to signify his cleansing from ceremonial defilement (4:1-5:13).
a. The priest may sin unintentionally.
b. the community may sin unintentionally.
c. A leader may sin unintentionally.
d. A person may sin by (unintentional) commission.
  • He must offer a lamb.
c. A person may sin by (unintentional) omission.
  • He must offer two birds
  • He may offer some flour.
5. The Israelite presents a reparation (guilt) offering to signify his payment of the fine (5:14-6:7).
a. A person may sin unintentionally.
b. A person may sin unwittingly,
c. A person may sin underhandedty,
Application: You must seek forgiveness, keeping short accounts with God and man (Matt 5:23-25a.)
B. God teaches the priests (6:8-7:36).
1. The Israelites dedication (burnt) offering is not eaten (at the time) but may accompany a fellowship offering, which is eaten (6:8-13)
2. The Israelite's contribution (grain) offering is given to the priests (6:14-23).
3. The Israelite's purification (sin) offering is eaten by the priest who presents it (6:24-30).
4. The Israelite's reparation (guilt) offering is eaten by the family of the priest who presents it (7:1-10)

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Is God a pacifist?

A MATTER OF SELF DEFENSE
Dr. Paul Manuel—2016
Some people think the God of the Old Testament was different from the God of the New Testament, that the former was vengeful whereas the latter is merciful, that the God of Jews was characterized by wrath but the God of Christians is characterized by love. Some Christians think that the Father of Jesus (even Jesus himself) is actually a pacifist and that Christians should be pacifists as well. Even if one bifurcates the Old Testament and the New Testament, their respective pictures of God's character are not different. The Bible as a whole, Old Testament and New Testament together, presents a unified description of God. He has always condemned wickedness and commended righteousness. His disposition toward mankind have never changed. His essential character is immutable:
He who is the Glory of Israel does not...change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind. (1 Sam 15:29)
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17)
It is to our eternal advantage that God and His dealings with man do not change so that we, like Israel, "are not destroyed" (Mal 3:6).1

The supposition that He has changed, that He has perhaps mellowed with age, fails to recognize that the Bible as a whole presents a consistent picture of God, that the character He displays in the Old Testament is no different from the character He displays in the New Testament. God responds to man appropriately whatever his situation. While the reader will find a constant view of God throughout the Bible, he must always be cognizant of context, recognizing that God's revelation may pertain to a specific setting and not be universal, applicable to all circumstances.2

The Bible does not say much about self-defense,3 but there are a few passages that suggest some general principles. While it is preferable "as far as it depends on you, [to] live at peace with everyone" (Rom 12:18), that is not always possible, and you may need to act in response to an attack.
  • Principle: The child of God must preserve his own life.
Case #1: A possible thief versus a vulnerable homeowner
If a thief is caught breaking in and is struck so that he dies, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed; but if it happens after sunrise, he is guilty of bloodshed (Exod 22:2-3a).
When an intruder's intention is unknown or unknowable (i.e., whether to rob or to assault), in this case because of darkness, deadly force is warranted. In daylight an intruder's motive is ostensibly clear.4 Presumably a homeowner may still resist a thief and protect his property5 but may not kill him, because the threat is not to the homeowner personally.6

Friday, July 8, 2016

Language

TOWARD MEANING: LANGUAGE—LINGUISTIC CONSTRAINTS
Dr. Paul Manuel—2011

To have a better appreciation for what God has revealed in His word, it is helpful to understand how that revelation came about, not only the process of revelation but also the mechanics of recording it (writing, grammar, discourse).

1. Writing (Semiotics)
  • Paleography
  • Archaeologists have unearthed many inscriptions that date to biblical times, and they testify to a fairly high degree of literacy in Israel.1 These inscriptions also help explain how our present system of writing developed. To see where they fit in the evolution of writing, we must survey five stages in the development of writing systems.
 1. Stage #1—Pictographic symbols (one symbol = one thing; before 5,000 BCE)
  • During prehistoric times, people used a picture to represent a particular object (e.g., an ox head = "my ox").
2. Stage #2—Logographic symbols (one symbol = one word; c. 3100 BCE)
a. Later, a picture came to represent the name of that thing, a single word (e.g., an ox head = "an(y) ox").
b. This system was extremely cumbersome because if the basic vocabulary of a language contained 1000 words, writing in that language required as many symbols (most English dictionaries define 50,000+ words). Sumerian and Egyptian (two non-Semitic languages) both used logographs (pictorial symbols). For example, the simple sketch of an ox (or just its head) stood for the word "ox" (e.g., Summarian GUD).
c. As these languages developed, their symbols became more stylized, evolving into the cuneiform (wedge-shaped) and hieroglyphics (Greek for "sacred inscriptions") respectively (Carter 1984:11-12; Naveh 1982:12).
 3. Stage #3- Ideographic symbols (one symbol = one concrete or abstract concept; c. 2900 BCE)
  • Eventually, logographs also came to mean abstract ideas associated with the things they represented (e.g., ox head = strength).2

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Poetic justice

POETIC JUSTICE IN THE BIBLE
Dr. Paul Manuel—2016

Of the various literary tropes biblical writers use, poetic justice (a kind of irony) highlights a particular reversal of fortune. In poetic justice, recompense, be it retribution or reward, is 'opposite' as well as greater than what one expects and is most evident (most 'poetic') when the opposite form of the original condition, the retribution or the reward, is comparable in kind (versus degree) to the original.

Most examples of poetic justice in the Bible are negative, with people receiving retribution after committing sin.
  • Esau demonstrated disdain for his birthright by selling it to Jacob, which encouraged Jacob to steal, and Esau to lose, his blessing as well, leaving Esau with nothing.
Gen 25:33b lEsaul swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.
Gen 27:36b [Jacob] has deceived me these two times: He took my birthright, and now he's taken my blessing!"
  • Egyptian magicians duplicated Aaron's miracle of turning his staff into a snake but with dire results.
Exod 7:10b Aaron threw his staff down in front of Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a snake. 11 Pharaoh then summoned wise men and sorcerers, and the Egyptian magicians also did the same things by their secret arts: 12 Each one threw down his staff and it became a snake. But Aaron's staff swallowed up their staffs.
  • Aaron's sons died by fire "before the Lord" after burning incense "before the Lord," contrary to His command. (This may be the most explicitly parallel case of poetic justice in scripture.)
Lev 10:1 Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, contrary to his command. 2 So fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.
Cf. Num 3:4a Nadab and Abihu...fell dead before the LORD when they made an offering with unauthorized fire before him in the Desert of Sinai.
Num 26:61 Nadab and Abihu died when they made an offering before the LORD with unauthorized fire.
  • The Philistine champion, a large, experienced soldier, was defeated by a small, untested shepherd.
1 Sam 17:4 A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. He was over nine feet tall.... 33 Saul replied, "You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a boy, and he has been a fighting man from his youth." ...42 He looked David over and saw that he was only a boy...and he despised him.... 50 So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.
  • David suffered for his murder of Uriah and his sinful affair with Bathsheba by losing his other wives as well as the son of the adulterous union.
2 Sam 12:10 The sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own....' 11 b Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel." ... 14 But because by doing this you have made the enemies of the LORD show utter contempt, the son born to you will die.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Christian Science

THE CHURCH OF CHRIST SCIENTIST
Dr. Paul Manuel—1995

I. History
A. Founder—Mary Baker Eddy (Martin 1977:111-120)
 1 Early years
a. Mary Baker Eddy was born on July 16, 1821 in Bow, New Hampshire (Robertson 1966:31) to Mark and Abigal Baker, the youngest of five children (three brothers and two sisters; Judah 1967:259; Smith 1941:17).
b. She grew up in a strict Congregationalist home, and her childhood was marked by frequent illness.
2. Three marriages
a. She married George W. Glover in December 1843, but he died seven months later of yellow fever, leaving Mary pregnant.
b. She next married Daniel M. Patterson, a dentist, in June 1853, but later divorced him on the grounds of abandonment.
c. She then married Asa G. Eddy, who died of a coronary thrombosis. Mary challenged the autopsy report, insisting the cause to be "arsenic poisoning mentally administered."
3. Major influences
a. Phineas P. Quimby, an osteopathic mesmerist, supposedly cured Mary of an acute spinal ailment in 1862. She later plagiarized his work to write Science and Health.
b. Francis Lieber, a German American publisher, wrote The Metaphysical Religion of Hegel, which Mrs. Eddy also plagiarized in Science and Health.
4. Christian Science
a. On February 1, 1866, Mrs. Eddy was mortally injured in a sidewalk fall but rose "completely cured" on the third day after reading Matt 9:2, having "discovered" Christian Science.
Matt 9:2 ...they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, be of good cheer; thy sins are forgiven.
b. She later claimed that the attending physician, Dr. Alvin M. Cushing, had pronounced her "incurable," although he denied this in a sworn thousand-word statement.
5. Its dissemination
a. Science and Health
  • Mrs. Eddy published the first edition in 1875.
b. The Mother Church, Boston (CM: 17-18)
  • The church organized on April 12, 1879 (incorporated on August 23, 1879; Robertson 1966:32) with Mary Baker Eddy as pastor (ordained in 1881).
c. The Massachusetts Metaphysical College, Boston
  • The college operated from 1881-1889.
6. Her death
Mrs. Eddy died in Boston on December 3, 1910 (Smith 1941:131).

Monday, July 4, 2016

Sermon: A fence of abstinence (Jer 35:1-19)

A FENCE OF ABSTINENCE (Jer 35)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2016

Children depend on their parents for many things, from basic necessities (e.g., food, clothing, shelter) to basic guidance in understanding the world.
A father and son went fishing one day. After a couple hours out in the boat, the boy suddenly became curious about the world around him. He asked his father, "How does this boat float?" The father thought for a moment, then replied, "I don't rightly know, son." The boy returned to his contemplation, then turned back to his father, "How do fish breath underwater?" Once again the father replied, "Don't rightly know, son." A little later the boy asked his father, "Why is the sky blue?" Again, the father replied. "Don't rightly know, son." Worried he was going to annoy his father, he says, "Dad, do you mind my asking you all of these questions?" "Of course not, son. If you don't ask questions...you'll never learn anything!"
Children depend on their parents for many things. Even adult children can benefit from their parents' guidance, as the children of Recab do in erecting A Fence of Abstinence.

The prophet Jeremiah ministered at the end of Judah's existence as a nation. He started his service in the royal court at a high point in the country's history, during the reign of King Josiah, Judah's greatest reformer. Jeremiah remained in the royal court through the next four monarchs, all of whom did "evil in the eyes of the Lord" (2 Kgs 23:32, 37; 24:9, 19), until Babylonian forces invaded for the last time, destroying the temple and the capital city. During the reign of the second of Judah's last four kings, the prophet encourages the people's faithfulness to their heavenly father with an example of one family's faithfulness to its earthly father. Jeremiah begins by examining...

I. A Family Tradition (Jer 35:1-11)
A. The prophet tests the Recabites' loyalty to their father (Jer 35:1-5).
Jer 35:1 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD during the reign of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah: 2 "Go to the Recabite family and invite them to come to one of the side rooms of the house of the LORD and give them wine to drink." 3 So I went to get Jaazaniah son of Jeremiah, the son of Habazziniah, and his brothers and all his sons—the whole family of the Recabites.1 4 I brought them into the house of the LORD, into the room of the sons of Hanan son of Igdaliah the man of God.2 It was next to the room of the officials, which was over that of Maaseiah son of Shallum the doorkeeper. 5 Then I set bowls full of wine and some cups before the men of the Recabite family and said to them, "Drink some wine."
The Lord's instructions to Jeremiah were quite simple: Invite the Racabite family to dinner and serve them wine. However unusual it may have been to receive a dinner invitation from the prophet, there was nothing unusual about the menu. God left the food choice to Jeremiah—presumably, he would serve nothing unclean. The only item God specified was the beverage, a common one at middle eastern meals.3

Sunday, July 3, 2016

A wedding charge:

"SUBMISSION AND SACRIFICE" (Eph 5:22-33)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2004

(Where "The Groom" and "The Bride" appear below insert the name of the person.)

The apostle Paul writing to the church at Ephesus gives instructions to married couples. His admonition is not always easy to follow, but those who do will find success in a union that is lasting and strong.
Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church...of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy.... In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.... For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.... Each of you...must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. (Eph 5:22-26a, 28, 31, 33)
As I read this passage, I wondered why Paul instructed the husband to love his wife but not the wife to love her husband. The wife's primary responsibility here is to submit. This emboldens some men, especially those who take literally the saying that "a man's home is his castle," and who think their word should be law. This also rankles some women, especially those who have a sense of independence and who resent anyone telling them what to do, much less a man.

The cultural context may play a part in shaping Paul's remarks. In a time and place when arranged marriages were common, and when an older man may have sought permission from the parents of a much younger woman, he may have been more enamored of her than she was of him. Perhaps that is the situation at Ephesus, and that is why the apostle gives different instructions to the husband than he does to the wife. For whatever reason, though, these admonitions are still relevant.

Paul likens the union of a man and woman in marriage to the union of Christ and the church. He says there are two qualities that should characterize both unions, qualities that should be evident on the physical plane even as they are evident on the spiritual plane. They are submission and sacrifice.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

A wedding charge:

"MY BELOVED" (Cant 6:3a)
Dr. Paul Manuel—1998

(Where "The Groom" and "The Bride" appear below insert the name of the person.)

As I was considering which biblical passage would be appropriate to use in this charge to the couple, I wanted something different from what is often part of such occasions—perhaps something from the Book of Deuteronomy, in which Moses charges the Israelites about to enter the Promised Land. They were venturing into unknown territory much as The Bride and The Groom are. What sage counsel might the venerated leader of God's people give these two? After a careful search,
I found in chapter 25 a helpful tip for the bride on their future relationship:
Do not muzzle an ox... (Deut 25:4a).
For the groom, Moses final words might be appropriate for this day:
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified... (Deut 31:6a)
In the end, though, I decided one text applicable to both would be better, so I chose a passage from Canticles, the Song of Solomon, which is, appropriately, a wedding poem.

For centuries, people have wondered why a book of love poetry would be included in the biblical canon. Some suggested that it is an allegory of God's love for Israel or of Christ's love for the Church. More likely, though, is that it serves as a model of human love in a godly relationship. The poem is a series of lyrics in which the bride and groom express their affection for each other. With that in mind, I recommend to you both but a single line, perhaps the most familiar, from this great composition. The bride speaks these words, yet they could easily have come from the groom's lips as well, for they embody the attributes necessary for success and happiness in marriage:
I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine (Cant 6:3a).
There is no secret to what we find here, nothing lost for centuries and rediscovered in modern times. Like other books in the Hebrew wisdom tradition, such as Proverbs, what these words espouse is common sense, and I recommend them to you as you begin your life together. A successful and happy marriage requires two attributes this verse contains: devotion and appreciation.
  • Devotion: "I am my beloved's."
When the bride in the poem says this, she is not pledging bondage or subservience to her mate (as is clear from the next phrase). Rather, she is expressing her devotion; her desire and her decision to give all that she is and has to him. As I mentioned before, these words could come just as easily from the groom as from the bride, for marriage is the commitment of two people to each other. The traditional vows declare this devotion in phrases such as "forsaking all others for you alone" and "I pledge thee my troth (my fidelity/loyalty)."

Friday, July 1, 2016

Sermon: Thanksgiving (Psalm 100)

THANKSGIVING: THE WAY OF WORSHIP (Ps 100)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2016

Mothers have high aspirations for what their children will become when they grow up, perhaps none more than Jewish mothers.
The first Jewish President of the United States phones his mother in Queens and invites her to come down for Thanksgiving. She says, "I'd love to, but it's too much trouble. I mean, I have to get a cab to the airport, and I really hate waiting on Queens Blvd...." He replies, "Mom! I'm the President! You won't have any need for a cab. I'll send a limo for you!"
His mother says, "I know, but then I'll have to get my ticket at the airport and try to get a seat on the plane, and I hate to sit in the middle.... It's just too much trouble." He replies, "Mom! I'm the President of the United States! I'll send Air Force One for you. It's my private jet!"
Then she says, "Oh, well, but then when we land, I'll have to carry all my luggage through the airport and try to get a cab.... It's really too much trouble." He replies, "Mom!! I'm the President! I'll send a helicopter for you! You won't have to lift a finger."
She says, "Yes, that's nice.. .but, you know, I still need a hotel room, the rooms are so expensive, and I really don't like the rooms..." A little irritated, he replies, "Mom! I'm the President! You'll stay at the White House." At last she agrees, "Well...all right...I guess I'll come."
The next day, she's on the phone with her friend Sandra. "So, Gilda, tell me...what's new?" "I'm visiting my son for Thanksgiving!" Gilda replies. "The doctor?" asks Sandra. "No," Gilda replies, "the other one."
All mothers have high aspirations for what their children will become when they grow up. Teachers also have high aspirations for their students.

Once, when teaching a class of teenagers, I wanted them to memorize some scripture. I assured them that they would have plenty of time to work on it and that we would help the process by reviewing their passage each week. Not wanting to make the task too difficult, I selected two short psalms, only one of which they had to learn—either Psalm 100, which has five verses, or Psalm 121, which has eight verses. How do you think they made their decision? Did they consider the beauty of the imagery or the relevance of the psalm's message? ...No. They picked the shorter of the two, thinking that would be easier to memorize, because—from a student's perspective—easier is always better. If brevity were my primary reason for selecting a particular psalm, I would have suggested Psalm 117, which has only two verses. I was hoping to foster a more spiritual experience.

Whatever their reason for choosing Psalm 100, I hope the exercise of memorizing it helped the students to think about what it says, because this poem, short as it is, addresses The Way of Worship in general and mentions thanksgiving in particular.

Unlike many of the other psalms, this one does not name the author. We do not know if David, Asaph, Korah, or another poet composed it. The superscription does, however, identify its purpose. Psalm 100 is "A psalm of thanksgiving."1 It may have served as a call to worship in the temple, reminding the congregation that communal devotion to God must display four characteristics. The first characteristic is that...

I. Worship should be joyful (Psalm 100:1-2).

Shout joyfully to the LORD all the earth.
Serve the LORD with gladness; come before Him with joyful singing.

No matter what the stresses of the previous week, no matter what difficulties the worshiper may have encountered, he should leave them all behind when coming before God. How is that possible, especially when some or all of those stresses will still be there when normal life resumes? Can a person be joyful under such circumstances? ...Yes, he can, with the right perspective.

A wedding charge:

"TWO ARE BETTER THAN ONE" (Eccl 4:9a)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2013

(Where "The Groom" and "The Bride" appear below insert the name of the person.)

As a minister, I have had the privilege of officiating at several wedding ceremonies, most of which involved couples first starting a journey with another person. Despite the fact that in premarital counseling sessions I attempt to prepare couples for some of the challenges they might encounter, especially as they get to know each other better, I am aware that there will be many things only experience will enable them to face successfully. Consequently, I sometimes wonder if they will make it together.

The Bride and The Groom enter this union with the experience that eases my mind considerably. Moreover, having seen them together, I have little doubt that they will do well, although I cannot be absolutely sure, because they are usually on their best behavior in church when I see them. Nevertheless, I am more confident of their success and happiness, especially as I have noted their commitment to God as well as to each other.

They asked me to choose a biblical passage that I thought appropriate for the occasion. I considered Gen 2:18 where, after creating Adam...
The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone."
...but my wife's modified translation of that verse, which she is fond of reciting, always comes to mind. According to her version, and with a certain inflection, after creating Adam...
The LORD God said, "This is not good; I cannot leave this man alone.
...which implies something else.

However true that may have been in my case, there are some men who are able to function without supervision. Knowing that The Groom is quite capable, I decided to select a different passage, three verses from Ecclesiastes:
Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if [an adversary] can overpower [one] who is alone, two can resist him. (Eccl 4:9-12a)
Here Solomon mentions some of the practical benefits of life with another person, life that marriage exemplifies, beginning with the general assertion that a couple can work together to accomplish a common goal, a mutually beneficial goal, one that yields "a good return for their labor."

Thursday, June 30, 2016

A wedding charge:

"GOOD TO BE TOGETHER" (Gen 2:18)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2001

(Where "The Groom" and "The Bride" appear below insert the name of the person.)

As I was preparing my remarks, my wife Linda suggested I use that well-known admonition from the Apostle Paul: "Husbands, obey your wives" (Col 3:19a). Because the subject of obedience in marriage, however, is such a delicate matter these days, it seemed best to use a more neutral text. I decided, instead, on Gen 2:18, the passage where God first establishes this institution. It is a familiar story and, as with the verse from Paul's letter, one my wife quotes with some frequency.

Although I know the passage well, having heard her use it often, I thought it best to check my recollection with the original. To my astonishment, I discovered that Linda had developed her own midrash, her own enhanced version. The difference is not great, but her rendition casts God's reason for marriage in a revealing light. Having made man from the dust of the earth, God looks at the epitome of His creation, shakes His head and, in her paraphrase, says, "Oy, this is not good. I cannot leave this man alone" ( Gen 2:18). Apparently, Linda's own experience has given her some insight into this ancient event.

While not quite what the King James says, Linda's version may be essentially correct, despite the slight embellishment. Put yourself in God's shoes (metaphorically speaking). For several days, you have been creating some impressive stuff—light, seas, plants, stars, birds. At the end of each day, you look at what you have done and, with understandable satisfaction, say, "This is good." On the sixth day, for your final and greatest act, you make man, but when you examine the finished product, you realize, "Oy, this is not good. There is obviously something missing. This guy is not going to be able to make it in the real world without help." Only after you make woman, can you look with pride on the sixth day's labor and say, "Now this is good!" (Gen 1:31a)

Linda has perceived God's primeval dilemma as well as His wise solution. Through the revelation of personal experience, she has comprehended the tragic truth—one that enables her to read between the lines of scripture—that most men do not fare well when left to their own devices.

When God says, "It is not good... [to] be alone," we can assume the opposite must be true, that "It is good to be together." The Bride and The Groom, as you begin this new stage of life, let me offer three observations and three recommendations. You may already have realized their value, but permit me to repeat them—ways to realize that it is Good to Be Together.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

"Be prepared"

THE COMMANDER AND THE CAPTIVE:
A LITTLE REMARK WITH A BIG RESULT (2 Kings 5:1-5)
Girl Scout Appreciation Day—Dr. Paul Manuel—2004

Children sometimes amaze adults by what they have learned, often from the example others have set for them.
A family invited several people to dinner. At the table, the mother of the family turned to her six-year-old daughter and said, "Would you like to say the blessing?" "I wouldn't know what to say," the little girl replied. "Just say what you hear Mommy say......The daughter bowed her head and said, "Lord, why on earth did I invite all these people to dinner?" ...Children seldom misquote you. In fact, they usually repeat word for word what you should not have said.
Children watch adults, so it is important for adults to watch themselves, to be careful about what they say and do lest they present the wrong example to those who look to them as examples. Yet children can do more than just imitate adults, they can also help adults, as one young girl does in a tale about The Commander and the Captive, and about A Little Remark with a Big Result.

The Bible contains many stories about famous men and women, people who have a leading role in God's program. There are...
  • Great military figures, like Gideon and Deborah,
  • Great religious figures, like the Elijah and Huldah,
  • Great political figures, like David and Esther.
These people all have a prominent part in fulfilling God's purpose.

There are also stories about not-so-famous individuals, people who appear only briefly on the pages of scripture, whose names we may not even know, but who are still important, because something they do changes someone else's life for the better. Please turn to 2 Kgs 5:1-5, where we will consider one such example, that of a little girl.
2 Kgs 5:1 Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram IBen-Hadad III son of Hazaell. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the LORD had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy. 2 Now bands from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman's wife. 3 She said to her mistress, "If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy." 4 Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. 5 "By all means, go," the king of Aram replied. "I will send a letter to the king of Israel IJ(eh)oram?1." So Naaman left....

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Before the Sanhedrin

THE TRANSFER OF JESUS TO A SECULAR COURT
Dr. Paul Manuel—2016

The Sanhedrin considered Jesus' popularity a threat to its power, so the majority members of that body (Sadducees) ordered his arrest, put him on trial, and hoped a conviction by that body would be sufficiently convincing for the Roman authorities to order Jesus' execution.
The [Jewish authorities] led Jesus...to the palace of the Roman governor.... So Pilate came out to them and asked, "What charges are you bringing against this man?" "If he were not a criminal," they replied, "we would not have handed him over to you." Pilate said, "Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law." "But we have no right to execute anyone," the [Jewish authorities] objected. This happened so that the words Jesus had spoken indicating the kind of death he was going to die would be fulfilled. (John 18:28-32)
The trial was a sham, with many elements that were not just irregular but illegal, elements that should have invalidated the court's decision, elements that never came up at Jesus' sentencing, which was by a secular authority. That shift in venue was perhaps the greatest travesty of justice because it put Jesus' life in gentile versus Jewish hands.1 Nevertheless, it was an outcome that Jesus himself had anticipated:2
Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, "We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified." (Matt 20:17-19a)
For Jews to turn over willingly a fellow Jew to gentile authority was rare.3 More than that, it was contrary to Jewish law, which God ordained that His people might govern themselves. Moses established a court system to handle their legal affairs:4