Saturday, December 31, 2016

The apple of His eye

SHOULD WE SUPPORT THE NATION OF ISRAEL?
Dr. Paul Manuel—2009

As the descendants of Abraham, Israel is God's covenant people ("the apple of his eye" Deut 32:10). God promises blessing for those who help His people and judgment against those who harm them.
Gen 12:3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.
Those peoples who have sought Israel's harm—and there have been many—have not fared well. Specific offenders have included...
  • Ammonites
Jer 49:1 Concerning the Ammonites: This is what the LORD says: "Has Israel no sons? Has she no heirs? Why then has Molech taken possession of Gad? Why do his people live in its towns? 2 But the days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will sound the battle cry against Rabbah of the Ammonites; it will become a mound of ruins, and its surrounding villages will be set on fire. Then Israel will drive out those who drove her out," says the LORD.
Ezek 25:6 For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: Because you have clapped your hands and stamped your feet, rejoicing with all the malice of your heart against the land of Israel, 7 therefore I will stretch out my hand against you and give you as plunder to the nations. I will cut you off from the nations and exterminate you from the countries. I will destroy you, and you will know that I am the LORD."
  • Babylonians
Jer 50:17 "Israel is a scattered flock that lions have chased away. The first to devour him was the king of Assyria; the last to crush his bones was Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon." 18 Therefore this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: "I will punish the king of Babylon and his land as I punished the king of Assyria.
Jer 51:24 "Before your eyes I will repay Babylon and all who live in Babylonia for all the wrong they have done in Zion," declares the LORD. ...49 "Babylon must fall because of Israel's slain, just as the slain in all the earth have fallen because of Babylon.
  • Edomites
Ezek 25:12 "This is what the Sovereign LORD says: 'Because Edom took revenge on the house of Judah and became very guilty by doing so, 13 therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will stretch out my hand against Edom and kill its men and their animals. I will lay it waste, and from Teman to Dedan they will fall by the sword.
Obad 10 Because of the violence against your brother Jacob, you will be covered with shame; you will be destroyed forever. 11 On the day you stood aloof while strangers carried off his wealth and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them. 12 You should not look down on your brother in the day of his misfortune, nor rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their destruction, nor boast so much in the day of their trouble. 13 You should not march through the gates of my people in the day of their disaster, nor look down on them in their calamity in the day of their disaster, nor seize their wealth in the day of their disaster. 14 You should not wait at the crossroads to cut down their fugitives, nor hand over their survivors in the day of their trouble.
  • Philistines
Ezek 25:15 "This is what the Sovereign LORD says: 'Because the Philistines acted in vengeance and took revenge with malice in their hearts, and with ancient hostility sought to destroy Judah, 16 therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am about to stretch out my hand against the Philistines, and I will cut off the Kerethites and destroy those remaining along the coast.
  • Phoenicians
Ezek 26:2 "Son of man, because Tyre has said of Jerusalem, 'Aha! The gate to the nations is broken, and its doors have swung open to me; now that she lies in ruins I will prosper,' 3 therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against you, O Tyre, and I will bring many nations against you, like the sea casting up its waves.
  • Egyptians
Ezek 29:6 Then all who live in Egypt will know that I am the LORD. "You have been a staff of reed for the house of Israel. 7 When they grasped you with their hands, you splintered and you tore open their shoulders; when they leaned on you, you broke and their backs were wrenched. 8 "Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will bring a sword against you and kill your men and their animals.
  • Idumeans
Ezek 35:5 "Because you harbored an ancient hostility and delivered the Israelites over to the sword at the time of their calamity, the time their punishment reached its climax, 6 therefore as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I will give you over to bloodshed and it will pursue you. Since you did not hate bloodshed, bloodshed will pursue you.
  • Moabites
Zeph 2:8 "I have heard the insults of Moab and the taunts of the Ammonites, who insulted my people and made threats against their land. 9 Therefore, as surely as I live," declares the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, "surely Moab will become like Sodom, the Ammonites like Gomorrah—a place of weeds and salt pits, a wasteland forever. The remnant of my people will plunder them; the survivors of my nation will inherit their land." 10 This is what they will get in return for their pride, for insulting and mocking the people of the LORD Almighty.
The present-day nation of Israel is still the primary body of God's covenant people, the entity He will rescue and restore in the Messianic Age.
Joel 3:2 I will gather all nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. There I will enter into judgment against them concerning my inheritance, my people Israel, for they scattered my people among the nations and divided up my land.... 5 For you took my silver and my gold and carried off my finest treasures to your temples. 6 You sold the people of Judah and Jerusalem to the Greeks, that you might send them far from their homeland.
Zech 2:8 For this is what the LORD Almighty says: "After he has honored me and has sent me against the nations that have plundered you—for whoever touches you touches the apple of his eye.
Zech 14:12 This is the plague with which the LORD will strike all the nations that fought against Jerusalem: Their flesh will rot while they are still standing on their feet, their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their mouths.
Therefore, while some may not agree with everything the modern nation does, even as some would not have agreed with everything the ancient nation did, it is in their (our) best interest to support Israel.

For a pdf see here.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Persecution

SHOULD CHRISTIANS SEEK PERSECUTION?
Dr. Paul Manuel—2012

Some people think that, absent external pressures, the Church grows soft and lethargic, that it needs such forces to remain focused and committed, and, therefore, that believers should welcome persecution, even seek it. Should we seek persecution?

No. Quite the contrary, we should avoid it if possible, and Jesus counsels as much.
Matt 10:17 Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you....
Matt 24:20 Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath. 21 For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now...
Yet, he and Paul also recognize that avoiding persecution may not be possible.
Matt 24:9 Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.
2 Tim 3:12 ...everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Holy Days

THE GENTILE BELIEVER AND THE HOLY DAYS OF ISRAEL
Dr. Paul Manuel—2004

What is the gentile believer's relationship to the holy days of Israel? That is, what should he observe today? The answer lies with identifying which of God's commands apply in the absence of the temple and in view of the varying relationships gentiles have to God's people.

I. The enduring (permanent) responsibilities of God's people

Several phrases in Torah indicate the abiding relevance of divine ordinances in the divine economy.
A. Phrases that mark permanent responsibilities
  1. An "eternal covenant" is a contract with no termination in view.1
  2. An "eternal ordinance" is legislation that also
  3. bears no expiration date.2
  4. The phrase "throughout your/their generations" indicates continuation as long as the nation exists.3
To stress the ongoing importance of certain commands, two or three phrases will appear in combination,4 although most of those instructions pertain to the sanctuary and are not possible to observe apart from it. The phrase "before the Lord" (146x after construction of the tabernacle) also marks activity in the sanctuary and applies to most holiday observances.5 In contrast, the phrase "in all your dwellings" (9x) marks a practice that obtains beyond the sanctuary into the local community and may, thus, designate what is pertinent today (in the absence of a temple),6 especially when this phrase7 appears with those marking permanent responsibilities.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Law and Christians

THE SINAITIC LAW AND THE GENTILE BELIEVER:
How Many of the 613 Commandments Apply to Christians?
Dr. Paul Manuel—2007


Contents

I. Looking Broadly at the Principles
A. God makes obedience to His law the standard for...
B. God does not make obedience to His law a requirement for...
C. God does make obedience to His law the requirement for...
D. God invites gentiles to keep the revealed law because...
E. God gave the Ten Commandments as...
F. God does not alter or abrogate His law as...
Diagram: The Christian Continuum of Commandment Compliance
II. Looking Closely at the Precepts
A. The commands God gave to Israel are more than....
B. The commands Christians could keep are fewer than....
Worksheet: Commands Christians Could Keep
III. Looking Briefly at the Problems
A. Some commands Christians can keep are ones they...
B. Other commands Christians can keep are ones they...
Diagram: The Christian Continuum of Commandment Compliance
Appendix: The 613 Commandments
Bibliography
Endnotes

***********************

Should you, as a believing gentile, keep the law God gave to Israel? Which of those many commandments apply to Christians? The short answer might be what one person gave when the Young Adult class began this study. She said, "all of them." I could leave it at that, except you would probably prefer a more substantial response, so we will approach this topic in three ways.
  • First, we will deal with the issue broadly, by looking at some basic principles from scripture, which is our primary source of authority on such matters.
  • Second, we will deal with the issue closely, by looking at specific precepts from scripture, a sampling of the many God gave through Moses at Sinai.1
  • Third, we will consider the issue again, by looking at where we are.
When we finish, you should be in a more informed position to answer the question and to decide what you should be doing. Let us begin by...

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Justified by faith

GALATIANS: JUSTIFIED BY FAITH
Dr. Paul Manuel—2016

A man is not justified by observing the law,
but by faith in Jesus Christ. (Gal 2:16)

An Outline of Galatians

I. Paul opens the letter (Gal 1:1-24).
A. He extends his greeting (Gal 1:1-5).
B. He explains his writing (Gal 1:6-9).
C. He extols his gospel (Gal 1:10-24).
1. It came not from man (Gal 1:10-12).
2. It required a lifestyle change (Gal 1:13-17).
3. It led to a discrete meeting (Gal 1:1-24).
Application: You must understand what God has revealed and recorded in His word in order to distinguish the real gospel from pretenders (John 8:31-32).

II. Paul confronts an apostle (Gal 2:1-21).
A. He goes to Jerusalem (Gal 2:1-10).
B. He opposes Peter's hypocrisy (Gal 2:11-14).
C. He lives by faith (Gal 2:15-21).
Application: You must be aware of how your actions have a direct link to your testimony, of how others view you and view the God you represent (Matt 23:3).

III. Paul defends their justification (Gal 3:1-29).
A. Receiving the Spirit is a matter of faith (Gal 3:1-5).
B. Receiving justification is a matter of faith (Gal 3:6-9).
C. The law does not lead to justification (Gal 3:10-14).
D. The law does not supersede God's promise (Gal 3:15-18),
E. The law serves as a signpost to Christ (Gal 3:19-25).
F. The promise encompasses both Jews and gentiles (Gal 3:26-29). 
Application: You must have as the leading characteristic in your relationship with God what is common to all His people—faith (John 10:16).

IV. Paul recounts his ministry (Gal 4:1-31).
A. They should conduct themselves as heirs (Gal 4:1-7).
B. They should not return to their former lifestyle (Gal 4:8-11).
C. They should recall Paul's first visit (Gal 4:12-16).
D. They should recognize the motive of false teachers (Gal 4:17-20).
E. They should understand the two sons allegory (Gal 4:21-31).
Application: You must realize that what you relinquish for God in no way compares to what you will receive from God (Matt 19:29).

V. Paul applies the gospel (Gal 5:1-26).
A. You are confused about the purpose of circumcision (Gal 5:1-6).
B. You are confused about the value of circumcision (Gal 5:7-12).
C. You should be experiencing the freedom of the Spirit (Gal 5:13-15).
D. You should be experiencing the life of the Spirit (Gal 5:16-18).
E. You should be expressing the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:19-26.
Application: You must be willing to give up anything that might stand between you and Jesus, not that he will require you to do so, but you must be ready to do so should he ask (Matt 19:27-29).

VI. Paul closes the letter (Gal 6:1-18).
A. He issues some final advice (Gal 6:1-10).
B. He offers some concluding thoughts (Gal 6:11-18).
Application: You must fulfill your particular obligation toward fellow believers, in part because of the witness it provides (John 13:35).

**********************

The apostle Paul, author of this epistle, is probably on his third missionary journey1 visiting churches he had established earlier.2 These groups consist of gentiles as well as Jews because Paul's initial outreach in a new area was generally to synagogues with some God-fearers in attendance.3 This is after the Jerusalem Council, when the status of gentile believers is officially settled: They do not need to become Jews to be saved.4 Paul is bringing news of the Council's ruling to congregations in Asia Minor and may be writing this letter from Antioch5 or Ephesus.6

Paul begins this epistle as he does many of his other letters, with an address that includes some standard elements.

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Word became flesh

A TASTE OF ETERNITY (John 1:14, 18)
Dr. Paul Manuel—Christmas 1996

One of the most conspicuous elements of the holiday season is food, often an abundance of it and in great variety. This poses something of a threat to those who try to regulate what they eat. The temptation to consume that which is too sweet, too high in fat or salt, and invariably too much is often overwhelming. So much so that—for you Star Trek fans—many people take a "Borg" approach to all this food—"Resistance is futile!"—and they just set their diets aside for a few days.

There is another aspect of Christmas that is neither high in calories nor cholesterol, one to which the apostle John alludes in the first chapter of his gospel, because Christmas is a taste of eternity.
John 1:14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.... 18 No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known.
Moses once asked God to reveal Himself, but God replied, "you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live" (Exod 33:20). Paul calls God the one "who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see" (1 Tim 6:16). In his Revelation, though, John says that those who have a part in the new heaven and new earth God will create for His people will do what no one else has ever done: "They will see his face" (Rev 22:4a; cf. Matt 5:8).

The significance of Christmas is that it gives us a taste of that future reality. John says, "No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known." Jesus has revealed what we would not, what we could not see this side of eternity—the embodiment of the attributes of God, those qualities that describe who and what God is. So what do we see in Jesus?
  • Faithfulness to the promise of a Savior
  • Compassion to heal the sick
  • Wisdom in teaching
  • Glory at the transfiguration
  • Power to raise the dead
  • Love at Calvary
All these and more help us to visualize God. They offer us a partial glimpse now of what no one has ever seen or could see, a flash of what we may see fully later.

"May see" sounds pretty tentative. How can we be sure of securing a place in eternity with God? John tells us that too, as he describes another reason for Christmas.
John 3:16 God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.... 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in... God's one and only Son.
Our sin has separated us from God, and Jesus came to repair that breach by suffering the penalty in our place.
1 John 4:9b [God] sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.
The benefit of his sacrifice, though, only comes to those who believe, who appropriate what he has done for them. It is in this way that we ensure what was once impossible will become a reality, forever.

As you contemplate all the extra food this season, remember what else Christmas offers: a taste of eternity—of what it will be like to see God and of what it takes to live with God.

For a pdf see here.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Why did He come?

WHY DID JESUS COME?
Reasons for the Incarnation in the Savior's Own Words
pdf (84 pages)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2014

I. Jesus came to reaffirm the scriptures (Matt 5:17-20). 5

Matt 5:17 Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
II. Jesus came to reach the lost (Matt 9:9-13). 10

Matt 9:13b For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.
III. Jesus came to reject the status quo (Matt 10:34-39). 15

Matt 10:34 Do not [think] that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn "a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law
IV. Jesus came to rebuke the selfish (Matt 11:16-19). 21

Matt 11: 19a The Son of Man came eating and drinking....
V. Jesus came to rescue the perishing (Matt 20:20-28) 26

Matt 20:28 ...the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
VI. Jesus came to represent the Father (John 8:37-42) 31

John 8:42b I have not come on my own; but he sent me.
VII. Jesus came to refresh the weak (John 10:7-10). 36

John 10:10b I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
VIII. Jesus came to reveal the truth (John 18:33-38). 43

John 18:37c for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth.

Bibliography 48

Endnotes 49


Why Did Jesus Come? If you ask that question today, you will get various answers.
  • He came to show people the right way to live.
  • He came to start a new religious movement.
  • He came to restore Israel's independence.
Is any of these answers correct? If you had asked that question in Jesus' day, you also would have gotten various answers.
  • He came to set aside the law.
  • He came to rally the righteous.
  • He came to usher in a new age of peace.
Again, are any of these answers correct? Christians, of course, know the right answer: Jesus came to make atonement for sin. But is that the only answer?

To dispel some faulty notions circulating in the first century, Jesus offers his own explanation, using very assertive language ("I came to..."—or—"I did not come to..."). In this eight-week study, we will consider eight of these statements and their implications for us: Reasons for the Incarnation—in the Savior's Own Words.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Predictions of Messiah

EXAMINING OLD TESTAMENT PREDICTIONS ABOUT THE MESSIAH1
Dr. Paul Manuel—1995

Contents

Introduction 2
The Opposition of His Coming (Ps 2) 4
The Offices of His Coming (Ps 110) 6
The Joy of His Coming (Isa 9:1-7) 8
The Justice of His Coming (Isa 11:1-10) 10
The Ministry of His Corning (Isa 52:13-53:12) 12
The Mourning of His Coming (Zech 12:10-13:1) 15
The Place of His Coming (Mic 5:1-6) 16
The Prominence of His Coming (Dan 7:9-14) 18
Conclusion 20
A Summary of How God's People Understood Messianic Prophecy    21
Bibliography 22
Endnotes 23

Introduction

...[W]e have looked at all the Old Testament quotes in Matthew to determine how many are actually predictions of the messiah and discovered that there are relatively few. More common are simple quotes or analogous quotes. When we expand the scope of our search to include the entire Bible, we discover a similar phenomenon—relatively few Messianic passages.

The texts that do fall in this category are not all equally informative. Some passages are short and vague in that they may or may not actually refer to the messiah (e.g., Gen 3:15; 9:26-27; 49:10; Num 24:17; Deut 18:15-18). Other passages are long but general in that they refer more to the Messianic Age than to the messiah himself (e.g., Jer 31:31-40; 33:14-26; Ezek 34:22-31; 37:22-28). A few passages, however, are both clear and specific, concentrating fully on the individual whom Jewish tradition identifies as the messiah and whom the New Testament identifies as Jesus (e.g. Ps 2; 110; Isa 9:1-7; 11:1-9; 52:13-53:12; Dan 7:9-14; Mic 5:1-6). It is those passages we will study together. In each case, I want us to consider how people understood these passages at various stages in history and consider how you can use the prophecies (as well as their interpretation) in communicating your faith.

1. Old Testament Understanding: How would those who lived in Old Testament times have understood the passage? To answer that question, we will consult background information for the Old Testament text.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

"That was then..."

"THAT WAS THEN; THIS IS NOW"
Dr. Paul Manuel—2014

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, and 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.

For a pdf see here.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Contradictions?

CONFLICTING COUNSEL: SUPPOSED CONTRADICTIONS IN SCRIPTURE
Dr. Paul Manuel—2016

A common objection people raise to the authority of scripture is that the Bible contains many contradictions undermining any claim to divine authorship. After all, how could a perfect God produce an imperfect work? Some critics settle inconsistencies by appealing to different strata in the Bible, to books or portions thereof composed at different times or written by different authors (i.e., source criticism). This brief study assumes that one author (God) supervised the entire composition process and that any solution to apparent inconsistency lies in a better understanding of the text itself.

Perceived inconsistencies often represent different circumstances or perspectives which become clear as one understands the context. To assume an inconsistency is an error may offer an easy resolution but not necessarily the correct resolution. Consequently, most Supposed Contradictions in Scripture fall into one of two categories, depending on the clarity of the context.
  • Simple opposites: Apparent contradictions with insufficient context for resolution.
These are mainly passages that appear in isolation, such as doublets in the biblical book of Proverbs. The author probably intends each aphorism for a different set of circumstances and leaves to the reader the proper selection of those circumstances.
  • Complex opposites: Apparent contradictions with sufficient context for resolution.
These are mainly passages that are part of a larger discussion. The biblical author regards the context of these to be clear enough for the reader to grasp the correct meaning.

Simple Opposites

Two proverbs warn against the dangers of responding to a fool, implying that it is best not to engage with him at all lest one's efforts prove unproductive or even detrimental:

Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself. (Prov 26:4)

One danger of responding to a fool is that a person's counsel will not only confirm the fool's conduct but will draw the counselor into the same bad behavior.

Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes. (Prov 26:5)

Another danger of responding to a fool is that counsel will actually have the opposite effect, confirming the fool in his bad behavior.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Bride of the Lamb

WHO IS THE BRIDE OF THE LAMB?
or
IS GOD A BIGAMIST?
(Rev 19:7-9; 21:2, 9:11)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2016

Marriage is supposed to be a lifetime commitment to one person and, barring the intervention of death for a spouse, it may be.
A man goes to visit the grave of his mother, puts a beautiful bouquet at the headstone, and gets up to leave when he notices another man crying his heart out, lying on one of the graves. The sobbing goes on and on, then he hears the other man say, "Why did you have to die? Why did you go so soon?"
Intrigued, the other man goes to him and says: I'm sorry for your loss. Who is this person you are crying over so distraught? "It's my wife's third husband," the man replies. ..."I'm number four."
Marriage is supposed to be a lifetime commitment and, with God as one of the parties, it is. In fact, with God it is an eternal commitment, as we see in answering the question: Who is the Bride of the Lamb?

God established the institution of marriage at creation as the union of one man and one woman: "A man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh" (Gen 2:24). God's purpose for this relationship was two-fold:
  • The first purpose for creating human beings male and female was procreation, which was the same purpose for all the creatures He made. God had an entire planet to populate, and He placed few restrictions on how His creations were to accomplish that goal. He simply said "Be fruitful and multiply" (Gen 1:22, 28), which they did "after their kind" (Gen 1:24-25), some more prolifically than others. Because the Fall of man introduced death into the world,1 procreation needed to be a repeatable event, one God programmed into the drive of every species.
  • The second purpose for creating human beings male and female was companionship, which was unique to man; it was the "one flesh" part of God's arrangement. Although some animals do mate for life (e.g., swans, wolves), God makes no such stipulation for any other species. "The LORD God said, 'It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him" (Gen 2:18). Only man had that provision in God's ordering of creation. Since then, some people have attempted to alter the arrangement (e.g., gay marriage), but the results have not been what God intended.
The only marital arrangement for mankind that meets both criteria, procreation and companionship, is the union of a male and a female.2 This literal arrangement gave rise to a figurative arrangement whereby the biblical authors used some aspect of a husband's relationship with his wife to depict God's relationship with His people.3

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Merry Christmas! 2016


Dr. and Mrs. Paul Manuel 
Christmas 2016

Dear Family and Friends,

I was a good driver. In over forty years on the road I had very few accidents. What mishaps I did have were minor and limited to my earliest experiences behind the wheel. There is a learning curve in operating a motor vehicle. Despite the instruction I received and the literature I read, nothing was as useful as time on the road. Thankfully, moving to the countryside of Pennsylvania did not require major adjustments because driving is a transferable skill. Operating a car in the suburbs and city of New York is similar to operating a car in the countryside of Pennsylvania. To be sure, there are different challenges. Deer replaced pedestrians as a most prominent hazard because on foot neither of them may follow on-the-road etiquette. Still, just as I had managed to avoid hitting pedestrians so I avoided the local fauna (although the latter are often faster and more unpredictable). I was a good driver. That changed when I got my new motorized wheelchair. While I have not taken it outside, the marks on the walls and doorways of the house attest to there being a learning curve in operating that device as well. This is true for many aspects of life, and it was true for those who heard about the birth of Jesus.

Jesus' advent that first Christmas was largely unexpected and challenged the faith of many in the first century. People did not immediately embrace the news of the messiah's birth or grasp the significance of his redemptive mission, yet some had faith in what God would do. Two parties stand out as the extremes of people's initial responses.
  • Wise men traveled some distance to see Jesus with only a star to guide them:
Magi from the east came to Jerusalem.... "We saw his star ... and have come to worship him." (Matt 2:1b, 2b)
The learning curve of their faith was probably quite steep at the beginning of their journey, especially as they had so little indication that they would actually find the one they sought. Their quest succeeded, however, for Jesus awaited them in Bethlehem.
Coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. (Matt 2:11)
  • Herod the Great reacted violently to the news of Jesus' birth:
He gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under.... (Matt 2:16)
The learning curve of Herod's faith was nonexistent, for he demonstrated only hostility toward the infant king. Herod's plan failed, however, as Jesus escaped to Egypt.
After Herod died.... Joseph took the child and his mother and returned to the land of Israel. (Matt 2:19, 21)
The Magi and Herod were only some of the first respondents to Jesus, but others later were equally varied. Whether common folk or religious leaders, they all had their own learning curve in understanding him.

As the annual commemoration of the savior's birth arrives again, it is appropriate to consider our own learning curve. Is it as steep as it was last year, or has our journey become more level as we draw closer to him? May the joy of this season bring a greater appreciation for what God did in sending Jesus.
Merry Christmas! Pastor and Linda

For a pdf see here.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Jesus' proverbs in Matthew

PROVERBS OF JESUS IN THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
Dr. Paul Manuel—2016

Within the Jewish milieu of the first century, Jesus uses common literary trope in his teaching, figures like the parable, an extended simile or metaphor. He also uses the proverb, a short pithy saying that embodies a kernel of practical wisdom. Some of these aphorisms probably originated with Jesus, while others were in general use at the time (and may parallel similar sayings elsewhere in Jewish literature). Of the four gospel writers, Matthew most represents typically Jewish thought of the day, and his account includes the greatest number of proverbs.1 All of these sayings offer some perspective for life in the kingdom of God.
  • General observations for life in the kingdom
  • Special prohibitions for life in the kingdom
  • Essential admonitions for life in the kingdom
The first category has the most entries and was probably the most common proverb type in the first century.
  • General observations for life in the kingdom
If salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? (Matt 5:13b = Mark 9:50a; Luke 14:34)2
They asked [R Joshua (early 2nd c.)]: 'When salt became unsavory wherewith is it salted?' ...He replied: ...'And can salt become unsavory?' (b Bek 8b)
A city on a hill cannot be hidden. (Matt 5:14b)3
People [do not] light a lamp and put it under a bowl. (Matt 5:15a)4
Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt 6:21 = Luke 12:34)5
No one can serve two masters. (Matt 6:24a = Luke 16:13a)6
Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matt 6:34b)7
[Moses said:] "Lord of the universe, sufficient is the evil in the time thereof." (b Bet 9b)
In the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (Matt 7:2 = Mark 4:24b; Luke 6:38c)8
By the same measure which a man metes out [to others], they mete out to him. (m Sota 1:7a)
R Meir [mid2d c.] said: In the measure which one measures, so will there be [measured] to him. (b Sanh 100a)
R Simeon [early 4th c.] said in the name of R Simeon b Abba [early 4th c.]: "All measures have ceased [presumably the four modes of execution], yet the rule of measure for measure has not ceased." (Gen R 9:11)
By their fruit you will recognize them. (Matt 7:16a = 7:20; Luke 6:44a 12:33c)9
It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. (Matt 9:12b)10

Saturday, November 12, 2016

"Pick up your mat and walk"

A TAXONOMY OF JESUS' HEALINGS
Dr. Paul Manuel—2016

The first century was not a period of great strides in medical science. In fact, the first century was not a period of great strides in any scientific endeavor. So when Jesus came along demonstrating abilities not seen among God's people since the time of the prophets,1 it was noteworthy,2 especially his curative powers,3 which covered a wide range of taxonomies.4

Dermatology (leprosy)
Matt 8:2 A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean."5 3 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.6 "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" Immediately he was cured of his leprosy. (Also Mark 1:40-45; Luke 5:12-16)
Luke 17:12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!" 14 When he saw them, he said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were cleansed.
Neurology (paralysis)
Matt 9:2 Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven."7 ...6 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...." Then he said to the paralytic, "Get up, take your mat and go home." 7 And the man got up and went home. (Also Mark 2:1-12; Luke 5:17-26)
Matt 12: 10a ...a man with a shriveled hand was there.... 13 Then he said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. (Also Mark 3:1-5; Luke 6:6-11)
John 5:5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years8... 8 Then Jesus said to him, "Get up! Pick up your mat and walk."9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
Hematology (bleeding)
Matt 9:20 ...a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years10 came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak.... 22 Jesus turned and saw her. "Take heart, daughter," he said, "your faith has healed you." And the woman was healed from that moment. (Also Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-4)

Friday, November 11, 2016

Ceremonial purity

THE ISSUE OF PURITY IN MARK'S ACCOUNT OF JESUS' MINISTRY
Dr. Paul Manuel—2015

As with any ancient literature, the New Testament books confront the modern reader with a host of concerns relevant to their day. The gospels especially offer a glimpse at Second Temple Judaism and at issues that affected people's lives. Some of those issues the modern reader recognizes immediately, either because they remain relevant in his own religious tradition or because he has engaged in a special study of them. Other issues remain largely unexplored or unrecognized, and only the discovery of other period literature (or of some other artifact) brings them to the fore. Such is the case with the issue of purification. When the New Testament was the primary representative of its time, modern readers noticed occasional references to ritual cleansing but generally dismissed them as peripheral to the main thrust of the documents which, for the gospels, was asserting and explaining the ministry of Jesus. Consequently, those passages bearing directly on that concern received the most attention while other more arcane references— such as these six dealing with purification—warranted only cursory treatment.

The discovery and study of the Dead Sea Scrolls, roughly contemporary with the New Testament, greatly enlarged current understanding of the period and demonstrated how some of the topics hitherto ignored affected other parts of that culture. More recently, scholars have begun to suggest that the Qumran material may not be the library of a Jewish sect that withdrew from the mainstream of society but may be a library from Jerusalem, perhaps from the temple itself, hastily removed during the first revolt. If that is the case, then the documents are more representative of First Century Judaism than previously thought. Furthermore, the scrolls themselves seem to present the views of more than one religious tradition and suggest the existence of considerable diversity at that time. If the Dead Sea Scrolls do represent the beliefs and practices of more than one separatist group, perhaps even of Jewish society in general, then the New Testament would probably evince similar concerns, at least to the extent that it portrays Second Temple Judaism.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Parables

KINGDOM PARABLES IN MARK 4:
Seeking God with All Your Heart
Dr. Paul Manuel—Seventh Day Baptist General Conference—2004

The gospels are the account of Jesus’ life and ministry, including a significant sampling of his instruction. One of his favorite teaching methods was the parable. The synoptic gospels record 41 parables by Jesus. Many of them comprise a special group called Kingdom Parables, because they often begin with the phrase, “The kingdom of heaven (or “God’) is (or “will be”) like…”1 (Matthew collected most of them in chapter 13 of his book.) As the title suggests, they concern the future Messianic Age, when God will establish His rule through His regent. Several of them, however, have implications for the present, indicating how you, as part of God’s people should prepare for your future role and how you should conduct yourself even now as a citizen of that realm, by Seeking God with All Your Heart.

The best-known kingdom parable—indeed, the best-known parable—is Jesus’ story about “The Different Soils,”2 which he uses to instruct the disciples about how they can interpret other parables. Our study this morning will examine Mark’s version of that story and of two other kingdom parables—“The Developing Seed” and “The Mustard Seed”—looking at what God has in store for the future and, equally important, what God expects from us in the present.3 As we begin, it is necessary that we be able to identify a parable and interpret it correctly.

I. Identification
A. What is a parable?
1. Fictional story
  • Not history
2. True-to-life (common)
  • Not a fable (where the non-human assumes human features)
3. Single point
  • Not an allegory (which may have several points)
Please turn to Mark 4, which records the first of the kingdom parables and where Jesus explains something of their use.
Mark 4:10 When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. 11 He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables 12 so that, “‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’”[Isa 6:10]
B. Why does Jesus use parables? (Mark 4:10-12)
  1. To reveal truth to the responsive (v. 11a)
  2. To conceal truth from the unresponsive (vv. 11b-12
Jesus is probably addressing those whose who are predisposed against what he has to teach, who have no intention of accepting his message, regardless of how important or beneficial it might be. For them, the enigma of his parables—that they are difficult to understand—simply confuses them and confirms their unbelief.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Jesus on divorce (Matthew 5)

JESUS ON DIVORCE IN MATT 5
Adapted from "Matthew: The Rabbinic Gospel."
Dr. Paul Manuel—1998

In Matt 5, Jesus contrasts a popular but superficial understanding of the Mosaic law on divorce ("It has been said") with the divine intention that stands behind the law ("But I tell you").
Matt 5:31 "It has been said, 'Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.' 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.
The precept states that divorce requires a certificate, which some took to be the only requirement.
Deut 24:1 If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house...
In conjunction with a liberal interpretation of the term "indecent," certain men thought they could issue such a document on any grounds, but Jesus states that the certificate is valid only if the wife has been unfaithful.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Remembering

DOES GOD FORGET?OR—WHAT DOES GOD REMEMBER?
Dr. Paul Manuel—2003

We generally associate aging with physical maladies, illnesses and conditions that accumulate as we get older. Alas, sometimes they come sooner.
Their second child's birth, a daughter, came after a long and difficult labor, but for Mary, it was worth it when their beautiful little girl emerged. Later, in the hospital room, John, her husband looked at the newborn tenderly, with tears in his eyes. Then, as he glanced up at Mary lovingly, she expected him to utter something truly poetic. Instead he asked... "What's her name again?"
Age does not always manifest itself physically and does not always wait until we get older. We may experience its affects mentally and sooner than expected.

Are we humans the only ones who have this problem? Does God, who is a lot older than we are, have lapses in memory? The Bible seems to suggest that He does. Describing Israel's condition in Egypt, Moses writes...
Exod 2:23b The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out...to God. 24 God heard their groaning, and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob.
Why does the writer say that God remembered? Did God forget? Was He so busy with other matters that He lost track of Israel's situation? ...The author of Ps 77, wondering why God has not answered his prayer for help, asks...
Ps 77:9a Has God forgotten to be merciful?
What does it mean for God to remember, and Does God Forget?1

I have a very poor memory. Linda can recall all sorts of events from our past, even things that happened recently, of which I have no recollection. It is as if my mind erases all but the most immediately relevant information. In computer terms, it is as if I have no hard disk, only RAM (random access memory), which empties whenever I shut down at night. This deficiency becomes most embarrassing with peoples' names and, on more than one occasion, I have simply drawn a blank.

To compensate for a poor memory, I write, because I know that whatever fails to reach paper or drive is gone...trashed...history. I have come to appreciate a line in Sir Francis Bacon's (1561-1626) essay entitled, "Of Studies." He describes the importance of three disciplines for any cultured individual— reading, serious discussion (which he calls "conference"), and writing. Should a person be lacking in any of these, he will only be able to conceal the matter in public if he possesses a superior intellect, which the author calls "cunning."
Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man; therefore if a man write little, he had need have a great memory; if he confer little, he had need have a present wit; and if he read little, he had need have much cunning, to seem to know that [which] he doth not.
I do not possess "a great memory," therefore, I must write a lot.2 Does God have the same problem with His memory? For example, did He write the Torah so that He would not forget it?

Monday, November 7, 2016

"To him who overcomes..." (Revelation 19-20)

SALVATION AT LAST (Rev 19-20)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2015

There is a fascinating book entitled, The Way Things Work, by David Macaulay (1988) that demystifies science and technology for children and adults, explaining many things, from the World Wide Web to windmills. Here is a submission for some future edition of the book.
Jack, a Naval Officer, came home from a three-month submarine deployment and told his parents that one of the ways sailors kept up morale was to assemble wooden car kits and run derby races. "What do you do for a ramp?" his father asked. "We don't need one," Jack replied. "We just put the cars on the floor...and tilt the sub."
Some problems require creative solutions. Here, tilting the sub is an unorthodox, albeit effective, way to solve the problem. Likewise, God's sending His son Jesus was an unorthodox way to solve the problem of man's sin, but it too was effective and, in the end, will achieve for man, Salvation at Last.

When John records his revelation, sixty years have passed since Jesus' death and resurrection. Most of the original disciples have died. They have done their work well, however, for the church has spread throughout much of the Roman Empire. Nevertheless, all is not well with these congregations, especially several prominent ones in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). In addition to persecution from Rome, they face other pressures, both internal and external, which John describes in chapters 2-3:
  • Conflicting claims of false apostles (Rev 2:2),
  • Lingering connections to paganism (Rev 2:14),
  • Disturbing tolerance for immorality (Rev 2:20).
The most endemic of these problems, though, is spiritual complacency (Rev 2:4; 3:1, 15). Many people have simply lost their enthusiasm for God. They are wondering what difference it makes. Jesus has not returned to rescue them from their difficulties, so it does not matter what they do.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

"Once for all entrusted to the saints" (Jude)

CONTEND FOR THE FAITH (Jude)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2015

When you engage in a new activity, there are often aspects you did not expect to encounter, elements you may not have thought through.
When Timmy turned eight, he was old enough to go fishing on his own for the first time. While he loved fishing, he knew little about how fish got from the pole to the plate. His mother arrived home to find a note he'd left for her on the counter: "I caught three fish.... Can you peel them for me?"
When you engage in a new activity, there are often aspects you did not expect to encounter. That can happen if someone questions what or why you believe. At that point you may have to follow Jude's admonition and Contend for the Faith.

The author of this brief epistle calls himself "a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James" (v. 1), indicating that he is probably one of Jesus' four brothers.1 He does not identify the recipients of the letter, but it is apparently a particular congregation. Jude originally intended to write on a positive note but changes his mind upon discovering that the church is having trouble with certain "godless men."2 Jude expresses his concern in v. 3 with an exhortation—

I. You must defend the faith (Jude 3).
Jude 3 Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.
Jude was going to write about what they share together: salvation.3 Instead, he finds it necessary to write about what they believe together: the faith. He says to them, "You must defend the faith." By "faith" he does not mean a vague notion about God. They should...
A. Know that it is propositional.
In other words, it is a body of knowledge or doctrine they can state and, therefore, communicate to others. Paul gives an example of this in...
1 Cor 15:3 [W]hat I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins... 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day... 5 and that he appeared to Peter...to the Twelve.... 6 [and] to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living....
They (and we) can also hold this faith with confidence that it will not shift over time. Consequently, they should also...
B. Know that it is permanent.
It is not subject to revision; it is "once for all" (also v. 5a). The reason for this stability lies in its source. What they believe comes from and is about a God, who does not change, either in His person nor in His plan. Moreover, God has "entrusted to the saints" this truth, making it their responsibility "to contend [or "struggle"] for the faith."4 It is also the standard by which they can evaluate other claims to authority. This implies, of course, that they know what they believe.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

False teachers (2 Peter 2)

BEWARE OF FALSE TEACHERS (2 Peter 2)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2015

It is important to know the facts before making an assertion that may prove not be true and that may leave you embarrassed...or worse. The following may be a true story.
Two British traffic patrol officers were checking for speeding motorists. One of the officers used a hand-held radar device to test the speed of a vehicle approaching over the crest of a hill, and was surprised when the speed was recorded at over 300 mph. Their radar suddenly stopped working, and the officers were not able to reset it. Just then a deafening roar over the treetops revealed that the radar had in fact latched on to a Tornado fighter jet, which was engaged in a low-flying exercise, approaching from the North Sea. Back at police headquarters, the chief constable fired off a stiff complaint to the RAF Liaison office. A quick reply came in true laconic RAF style: "Thank you for your message, which allows us to complete the file on this incident. You may be interested to know that the tactical computer in the Tornado had detected the presence of, and subsequently locked onto, your hostile radar equipment and automatically sent a jamming signal back to it. Furthermore, an air-to-ground missile aboard the fully-armed aircraft had also automatically locked onto your equipment. Fortunately, the pilot recognized the situation and overrode the automated defense system before the missile was launched and your hostile radar installation was destroyed.... Have a good day."
It is important to know the facts before making an assertion that may prove not be true and that may leave you embarrassed...or worse. This is so when relating what you believe. If not, you may promote erroneous doctrine, such as those whom Peter warns against in his second epistle, where he says, Beware of False Teachers.

Several of our primary beliefs are connected to the doctrine of Christ's second coming. Among these are the physical resurrection of the saints, the establishment of a physical kingdom on earth, and, of course, the expectation of the messiah's physical return. Well, I have run across new light on these issues from some ancient manuscripts that may change the way you view the future.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Make every effort (2 Peter 1:10-11)

WELCOME! (2 Pet 1:10-11)
Dr. Paul Manuel—Homecoming—2002

Whether you are in a strange motel room or spending the night at some else's house, waking up in unfamiliar surroundings can be a disorienting experience.
A church deacon underwent surgery in a local hospital. When he came out of the anesthesia, a nurse's smiling face greeted him. Looking around, he noticed that the shades on the windows were down and asked the nurse why. "Well," she replied, "the house across the street is on fire, and we didn't want you to wake up thinking the operation was a failure." (Adapted from Streiker 1998:84 = Hodgin 1998:159)
You, of course, hope that awakening to the next life will also not be in that other place and that you will encounter a friendly face to welcome your arrival. At church this morning, I trust you will find friendly faces to welcome your arrival. As you await that awakening to the next life, is there anything you should do? ...In his first epistle, the apostle Peter speaks about how you can and should prepare now for that great event. Please turn in your Bibles to 2 Peter 1.

After Jesus' resurrection, as the early church begins to grow, the movement encounters opposition. There are political forces that would destroy the church, viewing it as a threat to the status quo. There are heretical forces that would distort the church, turning it away from the truth. The pressure is on Christians to give up their commitment to God or, at the very least, to make it a less prominent part of their lives.
There are more urgent concerns—needs in the family and demands of the job—matters that require immediate attention. Surely, those things should take priority because they are what matter now. Religion is fine in moderation, but let it run your life and it will ruin your life. Lighten up, kick back, enjoy the ride.
To such advice, Peter offers this response in...1
2 Pet 1:10a ...all the more, make every effort to confirm His calling [you] and [His] choosing you.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

"The guardian of Israel never sleeps" (Psalm 121)

THE LORD IS THE GUARDIAN OF HIS PEOPLE (Ps 121)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2015

Most people want to be helpful, but sometimes they go beyond what is really necessary.
Jim walked into the lobby of his apartment building and was greeted by this notice: "To whoever is watering these plants, please stop. They are the property of the building, and our maintenance staff will take care of them. They may already have been watered, in which case you will be over watering them. Besides...these plants are fake."
Most people want to be helpful, but sometimes they go beyond what is really necessary. God wants to be helpful, and he never goes beyond what is necessary. In fact, He provides much-needed help, because The LORD Is the Guardian of His People.

Whenever we read the psalms, it is good to bear in mind that they were written for various occasions. This morning I would like to examine one psalm from a collection that was used to help prepare people for worship. God said to Moses,
Deut 16:16a Three times a year all your men must appear before the LORD your God at the place he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread [Passover], the Feast of Weeks [Pentecost] and the Feast of Tabernacles [Booths].
As these pilgrims made the journey up to Jerusalem, they probably sang about the God they were going to worship. The Bible preserves a collection of 15 ascent songs in Pss 120-134. This morning, I would like to examine my favorite Ascent Psalm. Please turn to Ps 121.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

He will not stumble forever (Psalm 15)

WHO MAY ENTER GOD'S PRESENCE? (Ps 15)
Dr. Paul Manuel—1999

A Song of David
1. LORD: Who may sojourn in Your tent?
               Who may dwell on Your holy mountain?

2. He who walks blamelessly
          and does righteously
          and speaks truth from his heart.
3. He has not slandered with his tongue,
          has not done evil to his neighbor,
          and has not cast blame on his neighbor.

4. A contemptible man is despised in his eyes,
          but he will honor those who fear the LORD.
    He has sworn to his own evil,
          but will not change.
5. He has not given his money with interest,
       and has not taken a bribe against the innocent.

    He who does these things
        will not stumble forever.
When we have guests in our home, we do not want to give the impression that they are interrupting something or have come at an inconvenient time. We straighten up the papers in the study, vacuum the carpets, make the bed, and set the table with our good dishes. We prepare for their arrival so that they will feel welcome.
A woman was preparing for some very special guests and had spent the whole day getting things in order. Not wanting either her husband or their teenage children to undo what she had labored to complete, she gave them careful instructions not to make a mess of anything. Knowing from past experience that she would probably have to remind them of certain things, she left a rather graphic note for them pinned to the guest towels in the bathroom: "Use these, and you're dead meat!" To her surprise, the place remained tidy until the guests arrived. The evening passed pleasantly, and she eventually bade the guests farewell. Exhausted, she went into the bathroom to get ready for bed and discovered the guest towels in perfect order...with the note still attached. (Adapted from Phillips 1998:106)
If her guests had ventured into the bathroom that evening, one wonders how welcome that note made them feel. Most of us would not visit someone who would not be glad to see us. When you go to church, though, have you ever wondered if God is glad to see you? That is the question the author of Ps 15 answers: Who May Enter God's Presence?

Many of the psalms were composed for use in worship, but Ps 15 is also about worship in that it considers the qualifications of those who have the distinct privilege as well as divine permission to come before God and to express their devotion to Him.1 Scholars call it a liturgical psalm,2 and it treats what God expects from His people. What is particularly interesting, is that in the three liturgical psalms we have (Pss 15, 24, and 134), most of the qualifications are practical not theological; and in Ps 15, these requirements concern our relationships with each other (horizontal) rather than our relationship with God (vertical),3 suggesting that how we behave is at least as important to the One we worship as what we believe.4

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

"How long, O Lord?" (Psalm 13)

"HOW LONG?" (Ps 13)i
Dr. Paul Manuel—1999

People react in various ways when they face a difficult situation. Some hide, hoping the storm will pass by them. Others ignore the problem, hoping it will go away. Still others cry out for help, hoping someone will lend them a hand.
A public-safety communications operator on the graveyard shift received a call from a very frightened and intoxicated citizen. He and some friends had been out celebrating all night. As they left the party for their respective homes, he wandered off in the wrong direction. All he could get across to the operator was that he was alone and lost somewhere near a large body of water. "Are there any houses nearby?" she asked. "Yes," he replied. "Good," she answered. "Go and stand in front of the nearest one and sing very loudly.... A police officer will be along shortly." He did, and there was. (Adapted from A.D. Lawson's contribution to "All In a Day's Work")
Our natural inclination in difficult situations is not to break forth in song, yet that may be just the thing to do, as David suggests in Ps 13.

This psalm falls neatly into three sections.ii Following the superscription, which English versions generally print in small type, the poet opens with a series of complaints in Ps 13:1-2, each of which he begins with the same formulaic question: "How long?" Next, in Ps 13:3-4, the psalmist presents his petition, including the consequences he faces if God does not intervene. He closes, though, in Ps 13:5-6 by expressing confidence in God's unblemished record of deliverance, asserting that he will yet testify of that divine goodness in his own situation, as we see in...

I. The Psalmist's Complaint (Ps 13:1-2)

At some point in our pilgrimage, we will encounter difficulty that will tax our spiritual resources to the limit.
  • It may be the frustration of years of planning as we see the results of careful preparation and hard work crumble before us,
  • It may be a prolonged illness with no foreseeable end in view.
  • It may be an unresolved dispute with a friend, a coworker, or a family member that has begun to hinder our ability to cope in other areas.
The worst part, though, is when our turning to God elicits little or no relief, as if heaven has shut itself to our petition. At such times, we cry out like this psalmist:
A. How long will You neglect my situation? (Ps 13:1)
The psalmist's primary concern, and the one he voices first, is spiritual because it pertains to his relationship with God.
Ps 13:1 How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?

Monday, October 31, 2016

If you love me... (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

LOVING GOD:
The First Order of Priority—A Holistic Command (Deut 6:4-9)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2008

Have you ever had the feeling, as you were getting ready for one thing, that you were overlooking something else? You wrack your brain, but nothing comes to mind. Finally, you say to yourself, "If it's really important, I'll eventually remember it." The truth is: You probably will. The only question is: Will you remember in time?
A husband and wife were on their way to a much-needed vacation. As is the case with most people, they had more to do before they left home than time would allow. Knowing the plane would depart with or without them, they decided to leave the bed unmade and the house in some disarray so as not to miss their flight. They rushed to the airport, made it through security, and boarded just in time. Finally, the jet reached its cruising altitude, and they could breathe a sigh of relief.... Then they both remembered something. "Oh my," the wife said. "I think I left the iron on. What if it starts a fire, and the house burns down!" That prospect, which so troubled her, did not have the same disturbing affect on her husband, who actually took the news quite well. "Don't worry, dear," he replied confidently. "The house will not burn down." "How can you be so sure of that?" she asked. "Because," he answered... "I forgot to turn off the water in the bathtub!"
What is important to you, and will you remember it in time to do something about it?1

It is helpful, and usually easier for me to remember, when something is regular not occasional:
  • The garbage goes out on Monday;
  • Choir rehearsal is on Tuesday;
  • Tai Chi class meets on Wednesday.
(Eighteen years in school probably hardwired my brain to a weekly [class] schedule.) That is probably true for most people. We like consistency, and it is when things are inconsistent, when they are only occasional, that we tend to forget—like turning off the iron or the faucet. Consistency also enables us to establish priority. When we know something is regular, we can fit it into our schedule with confidence. God may even have designed us to work best with consistency because He is consistent or, as theologians term it: He is immutable, unchanging.

Please turn to Deut 6, which contains in v. 4 one of the most important theological statements in scripture, the Shema, so-called because that is the first word in this Hebrew phrase.2


Moses is addressing a new generation of Israelites about to enter the Promised Land, and many commentators have assumed that in this verse he is contrasting the monotheism of the Israelites with the polytheism of the Canaanites:3 Israel, unlike its neighbors, has one God not many gods. The context, however, suggests that Moses may be declaring something more fundamental and relevant for this new generation.4 Moses is not talking about the quantity of God—how much of Him there is, one or many5—Moses is talking about the quality of God—that His character is always one and the same. No matter what else may change for the Israelites, God's nature is stable and reliable. Moses is stating here that the God of this generation about to enter Canaan is the same God their fathers knew in the wilderness, the same God who brought their ancestors out of Egypt, because "the LORD is one."6 Furthermore, because there is one God, there is also one law, which is why much of Deuteronomy ("second law") is a restatement of what Moses received at Sinai.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

My ways are not your ways

EXPECTATION AND REALITY IN MATTHEW'S GOSPEL:
The Difference between Man's Way and God's Way
Dr. Paul Manuel—2016

In the course of Jesus' instruction he often highlights differences between man's way and God's way, whether in solving problems or in setting goals. To recognize these differences a person must understand that everyone who resides on the earthly plane has a limited and potentially false perspective, whereas God, who resides on the heavenly plane, has an unlimited and ultimately true perspective.1 As He declares through Isaiah, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, [for] as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8-9). Matthew records how Jesus repeatedly illustrates differences between man's expectation and God's reality.2

When Satan attempted three times to derail Jesus' mission by suggesting an easier course, Jesus responded by contrasting God's more demanding yet ultimately rewarding course. Moreover, each of Jesus' responses to the devil's recommendations (temptations) evinces an awareness of the supernatural realm and presents a clear contrast.
  • Satan wants Jesus to exercise his ability (his power)—"You can solve this problem right now"—but Jesus knows that God expects him to recognize longevity:3
After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, "If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread."4 Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God' [Deut 8:3b]."5 (Matt 4:2-4)
  • Satan wants Jesus to exercise his authority (his position)—"You can pull rank and handle this yourself'—but Jesus knows that God expects him to resist immodesty:6
Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written: 'He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone' [Ps 91:121." Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" (Matt 4:5-7)
  • Satan wants Jesus to exercise his individuality (his preference)—"You can decide whom to serve"—but Jesus knows that God expects him to respect authority:7
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. "All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me." Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan!"8 For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only [Deut 6:13]." (Matt 4:8-10)
In all three cases Satan recommends a course of immediate gratification (man's way) to reach the kingdom goal another way,9 but Jesus prefers delayed gratification, to reach the kingdom goal the right way (God's way), knowing that ultimately it will prove more satisfying.10

In Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7) he offers several series of similar contrasts. Jesus stacks popular notions ("it was said") against God's perspective ("I tell you").