Wednesday, August 8, 2018

That which was lost is found (Luke 15)

LOST AND FOUND (Luke 15)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2018
 
Sometimes what people find has not been lost but merely misplaced or relocated.
While on vacation, a family went to dine at a fancy restaurant. Their two young girls were playing quietly under the table while the parents ate. A nearby couple kept staring at the girls, which annoyed their parents because the kids were not being disruptive. Finally the woman leaned over and said, "You should know that your girls are picking gum off the bottom of the table...and eating it."
Sometimes what people find has not been lost but merely misplaced or relocated. On such occasions the challenge may be distinguishing between "Lost and Found," and moving those from the 'lost' column to the 'found' column. Jesus tells a trio of parables to illustrate God's relentless pursuit of people who become estranged from Him and need to be reassigned.
 
Jesus does not always get along with religious leaders of the day. There are some of course who agree with him. A group of those positively disposed toward his message, for example, sends a representative to inquire about his ministry:
There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council [the Sanhedrin]. He came to Jesus.. .and said, "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him." (John 3:1-2)
Nicodemus and his colleagues are open to what Jesus has to say, largely because they cannot ignore the evidence of his power in support of his preaching.
 
There are others, however, who do not agree with him and who oppose him. While a few may differ with Jesus in matters of doctrine, most who oppose him do so out of envy, because his popularity is exceeding theirs. In response, they attempt to marginalize him, silence him, and finally eliminate him. Their animosity grows gradually, though, fueled by encounters like the one in Luke 15:
Now the tax collectors and "sinners" were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them." Then Jesus told them [these three] parable[s]. (Luke 15:1-3)
  • The lost sheep
  • The lost silver
  • The lost son
I. A shepherd finds his lost sheep (Luke 15:4-7).
Luke 15:4 "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.' 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
A. He searches for it diligently.
This shepherd is so concerned for the single lost lamb that he leaves the rest of his flock (probably in the care of other shepherds) to search for it. There may also be some urgency if the area is habitat for wild beasts to which the sheep are prey. In any case, when he finds the one that wandered off, he does not attempt to coax it back to the others but wastes no more time away from the herd and carries it back himself.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

"Though He slay me..." (Job 13:13-16)

A DELICATE BALANCE: NOT SILENCE BUT CONFIDENCE  (Job 13:13-16)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2018
 
Different environments pose different challenges to maintaining order and cleanliness.
Keeping Jill's old farmhouse clean was a constant challenge. Muddy boots, socks embedded with straw, dirt blowing through the windows, grandchildren, cats and dogs, even the occasional newborn calf warming up on the porch all contributed to her daily routine of sweeping, shaking, vacuuming, and washing. She thought she was pretty neat and tidy until a friend from the city with no kids and no pets complained about how dirty her house would get. "How bad can it be?" Jill asked. "There are just the two of you living in a new house." "Well," her friend explained, "have you ever noticed how much dust flies into the air...when you pull a tissue out of the box?"
Different environments pose different challenges to maintaining order and cleanliness. Similarly, different arguments, like the one Job advances, require different responses in order to maintain "A Delicate Balance: Not Silence But Confidence."
 
Job is in a difficult position. He has a reputation of being a righteous man, but he is suffering a debilitating malady that many people attribute to divine judgment for being unrighteous. Despite appearances, however, Job has chosen to maintain his faith. In fact, he makes the bold assertion, "Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him (Job 13:15a). Indeed, the repeated testimony of God affirms Job's impeccable character:
The LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil." (Job 1:8)
[Again,] the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason." (Job 2:3)
Even Satan admits it:
"Does Job fear God for nothing?" Satan replied. "Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face." (Job 1:9-11)
[Again,] "stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face." (Job 2:5)
In all this, Job's faith remains unshaken:
[Job] fell to the ground in worship and said: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised." In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing. (Job 1:20b-22)
[Again,] he replied...."Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" In all this, Job did not sin in what he said. (Job 2: 10b-c)
Nevertheless, through all his trouble, even to the end, Job remains unaware of Satan's involvement in his suffering or of God's instigation.
 
Although God gives him no incentive to believe one way or another, Job must have had an earlier encounter with God that shaped his faith and prepared him to deal with the challenge he would face later, as the book that bears his name records. In it, the narrator explains the rationale behind Job's faith, the thought process that compels him to adopt his particular viewpoint of trust and that enables him to cope with the problem of theodicy (a vindication of divine goodness despite the existence of evil):
Job 13:13 Keep silent and let me speak; then let come to me what may. 14 Why do I put myself in jeopardy and take my life in my hands? 15 Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him; I will surely defend my ways to his face. 16 Indeed, this will turn out for my deliverance, for no godless man would dare come before him!
Job does not simply accept his plight and suffer in silence. He knows he is innocent of any great sin that would warrant the punishment he is experiencing, and he argues with God over the injustice of it all.

Monday, August 6, 2018

My life verse

MY LIFE VERSE (Ps 119:173)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2018

May your hand be ready to help me, for I have chosen your precepts.
 
I do not recall precisely what compelled me to choose this particular passage as the verse on which I would base my life. I had recently come from a session with the minister of our church, having told him that I felt God wanted me to do more than just teach Sunday School. He asked me what I thought I should be doing. Since I was enjoying very much my most recent endeavor, I said "teaching." Then he expressed the news I dreaded most: "I think you'll have to go back to school."

I had already dropped out after one failed semester of college. Higher education was for smart people, not for me. Besides, I had a good job, was recently married, and just bought a house within a mile from my parents' home, the church, and both our places of work. The prospect of leaving all that did not thrill me. Moreover, a Bible college seemed to offer the only degree that would enable me to do what I thought I should: prepare for a career teaching Bible in secondary education, and there was no Bible college in our area.

I devoted three days to fasting, prayer, and study, the fruit of which was God's direction, leaving the decision up to me whether to stay or go—"You choose," He seemed to say—and pointed me to this verse.
May your hand be ready to help me, for I have chosen your precepts (Ps 119:173).
So, we packed the house, rented a truck, and moved from Long Island to South Carolina, where I would attend Columbia Bible College, still uncertain about how we would pay for this new adventure or even if I would be successful academically. After all, my previous attempt at college did not go well.

Linda got a job, though not as good as the one she had in New York. Still, she only worked for a year before starting school herself after we calculated that between the generous school policy that allowed the spouse of a full-time student to attend classes free, and our two federal grants, it was more economical for her to be a student than to work.

By my second year I was confident that I could succeed scholastically and already had my sights set on grad school. Eighteen years and five degrees later (a B.A., three M.A.s, and a Ph.D.), it was time to use all that training. Yet I did not enter academia as I thought I would. God had other plans for me. The interim pastorate I took after graduation was only supposed to be for three months, but it lasted three years. After that, I remained in the pulpit and did not enter the classroom.

Did my life verse fit my life? Indeed it did, even though my life did not turn out quite as I planned. It did turn out (and is still turning out) as God planned. While I enjoy teaching, the pastorate has allowed me to do some of that as well as providing the freedom to write about a variety of subjects that interest me rather than only subjects that are necessary for a job. Thanks to a good friend in Wisconsin who created a blog for me, my studies and sermons also have a wider audience than I might have garnered had I published as a teacher alone.

Looking back, I realize that God has always upheld His part of the equation: His hand has always been "ready to help me." Perhaps the most obvious expression of His aid is His placing beside me a wonderfully supportive helpmeet who has made possible whatever success I have achieved, both academically and professionally. My life would be infinitely poorer without Linda. As I look back, I also realize that God's word has always served to guide me in upholding my part of the equation: "for I have chosen Your precepts." The decision to heed His instruction pertains to many matters, from observing the Sabbath to maintaining our marriage, from adopting biblical dietary laws to our serving a particular congregation. In all these ways and more God has provided guidance in the optimum way to go, a way that is both eminently satisfying and eternally rewarding.