Thursday, June 30, 2016

A wedding charge:

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"

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

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 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

Monday, June 27, 2016

A charge to keep...

ANSWERING THE CALL (2 Tim 2:15; Eph 4:11-13)
Dr. Paul Manuel—An Ordination Charge—2010

A minister should stand out as being especially spiritual. In fact, his piety should set an example for those in his congregation.
A SS teacher needed some supplies from a cupboard that was seldom used and was secured with a lock. He didn't know the combination, so the minister offered to give it a try. He placed his fingers on the lock's dial and raised his eyes heavenward for a moment. Then he confidently spun the dial and opened the lock. Seeing how impressed the SS teacher was with this demonstration of faith, he smiled and confided... "The numbers are written on the ceiling."
As a new minister, you will probably have opportunities to impress the members of your congregation. That will not happen often, so take advantage of those occasions whenever they arise.

As you have probably already discovered, a minister has many opportunities to serve his congregation, and people will call upon you for help with needs that are not part of your regular job description, from snow shoveling to grocery shopping to dog sitting. Most of your time, however, or at least the most time the majority of people will see you, is when you are preaching or teaching, and if you want to make the most of that time, you would do well to heed the Apostle Paul's instructions to a young pastor named Timothy, as he issues...

I. The Call to Competence (2 Tim 2:15)

It is a familiar admonition from Paul's second letter to his protégé, but it is one that bears review as you commit yourself to a particular kind of service in God's kingdom.
2 Tim 2:15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.
Paul's counsel here about Bible study should be foundational for everyone in pastoral ministry.1

Paul makes three points that every minister should heed but that few, too few, actually regard. Paul does not try to soft-peddle the challenges a minister's task poses but states clearly the place a dedication to understanding God's word must have. He begins by stating that...
A. Bible study is exerting.
It is work and, as such, it requires constant effort in order to understand what God has revealed. So Paul says, "Be diligent." There are ways you can streamline the process, but the task is still not easy.... Then why bother? There are prepackaged sermons and lessons that require little effort to use. The pastorate is demanding enough. Why make more work for yourself? ...The answer is in Paul's second point...
B. Bible study is exciting.
It is worthwhile and rewarding.2 Best of all, as Paul states here, it enables us who proclaim God's word to fulfill our highest aspiration—to please God. Of course, not everything is exciting in the same way. So it is with Bible study.
  • It is exciting in a positive way, because it pleases Him, when we give diligent attention to what He has said.
  • Otherwise, it may be exciting in a negative way, because it displeases Him, when we do not give His word proper attention.
This is an aspect of Paul's admonition we tend to ignore. He presents the choice to this young minister in stark terms: God does not assign a letter grade or a numerical value to your performance, and there is no curve. It is pass or fail.

As a teacher, I never gave pass-fail courses, because I thought they promoted mediocrity by encouraging students to do the bare minimum, just what they needed to get by and no more. Evidently, as far as Bible study is concerned, Paul thinks the alternative is incentive enough to bring out the best in Timothy.

Listen again to the contrast here.
2 Tim 2:15 ...present yourself approved...a workman who does not need to be ashamed....
As in a pass-fail course, there are two options, but these options have more serious consequences: Be approved by God or be ashamed before God.... There is no alternative, no middle ground, no incomplete you can make up later.3 ...What a cheerful prospect—are you sure you want to do this?

Suppose you have a regular, private time of reading and meditating. Is that not enough to satisfy God? ...While having personal devotions is an important and valuable discipline, Paul has something else in mind, something more rigorous than finding a thought for the day, because he also says...
C. Bible study is exacting.
It demands that we seek as clear and precise an understanding as possible—"accurately handling"—because we are dealing with the truth, more importantly, the truth about God, which we must understand ourselves before we can communicate it to others. Most personal devotional time fosters a general idea about what God has said, but that is not enough for ministers of His word. Our grasp of scripture must be ever-growing, ever-improving, ever-refining, and that requires ever-exacting study.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Sermon: Is Faith All You Need? (James 2:14-26)

IS FAITH ALL YOU NEED? (James 2:14-26)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2015

Some problems require unusual, even extreme solutions. For example, fathers with teenage girls may need to discourage the inappropriate attention of teenage boys.
Two men, both with young daughters, are talking about how they will treat prospective suitors when their girls get a bit older. One man says to the other, "I know you're crazy about your daughter. What are you going to do when she starts to date?" The other man says, "I figure I'll take the first young man aside, put my arm around his shoulder, and pull him close so that only he can hear. Then I'll say, 'Do you see that sweet, young lady? She's my only daughter, and I love her very much. If you were thinking about being physically affectionate toward her in any way, just remember... I don't mind going back to prison."
Some problems require unusual, even extreme solutions. It was so with the problem of man's sin. Several potential solutions were in circulation during the first century, with one solution coming to the forefront, but this particular solution left a question in many peoples' minds: Is Faith All You Need?

In the early 1500s, the Roman Church was engaging in some dubious activities, including the selling of indulgences, whereby people purchased a reduced sentence in Purgatory. This and other such abuses led to the Reformation and to an extensive revision in theology that ultimately spawned many of the denominations in existence today. The Reformers' re-examination of scripture brought them to a fresh appreciation for Paul's assertion that salvation is by God's grace—a gift we accept by faith—and not something we purchase with money or earn with good deeds. In reaction to Catholicism's improper emphasis on works—although not works in the biblical sense—Protestantism swung in the opposite direction and stressed the importance of faith almost to the exclusion of good deeds. Since then, Protestants have tended to tiptoe cautiously around the issue, fearful of straying into error. As a result, many Christians wonder if faith and works are mutually exclusive terms. Part of the reason people have difficulty putting these concepts together is that the New Testament writers themselves seem to disagree. Paul, for example, tells the Ephesians,
Eph 2:8 is by grace you have been saved, through faith...9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
James, on the other hand, asserts that faith without works is useless (James 2:17, 20, 26). So, who is right, Paul or James?
  • How many think Paul is right?
  • How many think James is right?
We have two problems here:
  • The first problem is that some of you did not vote. That is certainly your right in a democratic society, but then you cannot complain about the outcome. So, if it turns out that salvation is by works, and you have been counting on it to be by faith, you cannot say anything because you had your chance to voice your opinion.
  • The second problem is that some of you voted for both, which constitutes fraud in most elections.
So, Is Faith All You Need?

Friday, June 10, 2016

Oral Torah

Dr. Paul Manuel—2016

When Christians think about Old Testament law, they often consider only the Decalogue, but the people of Israel had one of the most detailed legal codes in the Ancient Near East (613 precepts in the Pentateuch alone by rabbinic count). These regulations covered many aspects of life—religious and secular—for many classes of people—priests, merchants, farmers, kings. Because even such an extensive list cannot encompass every contingency, including new situations, there arose a need to supplement the list with additional laws. Hence, two legal corpuses developed, one written and another oral. Written law, the main legal body, was copied and recopied. Oral law, a lessor legal body (with varying degrees of authority), was memorized and transmitted by word of mouth. Consequently, what was written was more enduring, whereas what was oral was less enduring (until some of it was codified, first in the Mishnah). Still, remnants of oral law remain even today, as do later additions to meet new situations.

I. Early evidence of Oral Torah (in the Old Testament)
A. Some unwritten laws existed alongside the written law.
There are hints in Written Torah of an Oral Torah that was transmitted with it. Two passages in particular suggest that God revealed more details to His people about what He expected than what Moses recorded:
If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman's husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. (Exod 21:22-27)
Oral Torah explains that the second group of infractions has a greater monetary fine.
Throughout the generations to come you are to make tassels on the corners of your garments, with a blue cord on each tassel (Num 15:38).
Oral Torah explains that the blue dye come from a particular mollusk.
Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads (Deut 11:18).
Oral Torah explains the construction of tefillin.
If the place where the LORD your God chooses to put his Name is too far away from you, you may slaughter animals from the herds and flocks the LORD has given you, as I have commanded you... (Deut 12:21).
Oral Torah details the various requirements for ritual slaughter.
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 (Deut 24:1).
Oral Torah details the various requirements for certifying divorce.

These laws came originally to Moses with additional information that explained how God's people should implement them.

Monday, June 6, 2016

"Like the stars for ever and ever" (Daniel 12:1-4)

(Daniel 12:1-4)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2016

Most of us consider ourselves broadminded enough to admit that there are two sides to every argument. First and foremost, there is our side, and then there is the side that no reasonably intelligent, informed, sane, and self-respecting person could possibly hold. The message this morning does not so much have two sides as two options, in fact Only Two Options, one of which no reasonably intelligent, informed, sane, and self-respecting person should choose, but many do, to the consternation of those who choose the other option.

To many Christians the book of Daniel is a mystery, not so much the story parts but the prophecy parts. The stories in the first half of the book are straight forward enough: “Daniel in the Lion’s Den” and “Three Men in the Fiery Furnace” both tell about the trouble devout Jews had during the Babylonian exile and how God protected them. Such stories demonstrated to those in captivity that the Lord had not abandoned His people and would yet restore them if they would only remain loyal to Him. Those stories are familiar and easy to understand, even for children. The prophecies in the second half of the book, however, are not easy to understand. Visions of fantastical creatures, like the “Four Great Beasts,” and numbered time periods, like the “Seventy Weeks,” both tell about future events but with imagery and calculations that are confusing and stand in sharp contrast with the simple narrative of the stories. It is something of a relief, therefore, when the book closes with a straightforward, albeit disturbing, assertion of what people will face in the end, that there are Only Two Options for how they will spend eternity. It is a message that is troubling for some and comforting for others.
Dan 12:1 “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. 2 Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever. 4 But you, Daniel, close up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end. Many will go here and there to increase knowledge.”
As the chapter opens…
I. God speaks to Israel (v. 1).
Dan 12:1 “At that time Michael,1 the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be “delivered.
Daniel describes a time of unprecedented turmoil for God’s people.2 Others mention the same period: