TWO IN ONE

For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. [Colossians 2:9 (NLT)]

So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. [John 1:14 (NLT)]

white ibisThe early church encountered difficulty in trying to reconcile the humanity and divinity of Jesus. In the 5th century, one group, from Alexandria, referred to the Virgin Mary as Theotokos, the one who gave birth to God, while the group from Antioch insisted that she was merely Anthropotokos, the one who gave birth to the human nature. Trying to bring about a compromise but pleasing no one, the bishop Nestorius suggested that the term Christotokos, the one who gave birth to Christ. The controversy, however, wasn’t about Mary; it was about the nature of Jesus. Did Mary give birth to a man who also was God or did Mary give birth to a man who later became God? The debate continued until 451 when the Chalcedonian Creed was adopted which confirmed the two natures of Christ (human and divine) in one person.

Creed or not, two natures in one being is a difficult concept to grasp. Infinite, God always has been and always will be, but the man Jesus had a beginning in Bethlehem and an end in Jerusalem. God is omnipresent but, when the boy Jesus was at the Temple, He couldn’t also be with his family on the way back to Nazareth, let alone everywhere at once. God is omnipotent but Jesus wasn’t all-powerful. He grew tired, thirsty and hungry, had to walk from village to village, and was cruelly crucified. God is immutable, meaning He never changes, but Jesus started as an embryo and matured into a grown man. He went from babbling to talking and from crawling to walking. His features changed as He lost his baby teeth and got molars and His voice deepened during adolescence. Self-sufficient, God has no needs but we know that baby Jesus needed to be fed, bathed, rocked and dressed. God never sleeps but we know Jesus did. God is omniscient; He sees and knows all but Jesus didn’t know the date of the End Times and, when the woman with the blood disorder touched his robe, He had to ask who touched him. Surely, as a little boy He asked Mary, “Why?”

Nevertheless, Jesus wasn’t two people; from the moment of His conception, He had two distinct natures perfectly united into one being. Inseparable, neither nature was diluted by the other. Jesus was fully man and, at the same time, fully God. Because our thinking is limited by the rules of this world as we know them, we can’t truly comprehend how He could be neither one nor the other but fully both in one body. How can finite man ever understand an infinite God? Nevertheless, we’re called to believe what we can neither imagine nor comprehend.

Can you conceive of anything more awesome than a God who chose to become man, who combined His divinity with our humanity, who connected with man by becoming one of us and yet remained God, who loved us so much that He took on our nature and died for our salvation? Thank you, Jesus!

Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. [Philippians 2:6-8 (NLT)]

We all with one accord teach men to acknowledge one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood;… [Chalcedonian Creed]

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NO SCISSORS ALLOWED

And I solemnly declare to everyone who hears the words of prophecy written in this book: If anyone adds anything to what is written here, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book. And if anyone removes any of the words from this book of prophecy, God will remove that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city that are described in this book. [Revelation 22:18-19 (NLT)]

lilyThere is much in Scripture, such as the subjugation of women, that I find troubling and would just as soon skip reading . For example, there’s no mention of their handmaid slaves’ consent when Sarah, Rachel or Leah offer them as surrogates to their husbands! Scripture may call them righteous because of their faith but Lot readily offered up his virgin daughters to a crowd of lustful men and Abraham twice gave Sarah to another man to save his own skin and benefitted financially both times he did it! There’s a word for a man who does that and it isn’t usually righteous. Then there was the Levite who pushed his concubine out the door to be raped by a gang of men. Many would consider David’s tryst with Bathsheba to be rape and even he tolerated the rape of his own daughter!

The amount of blood shed throughout the Old Testament is disturbing as well; picture the Levites killing 3,000 of their fellow Israelites at God’s command or Simeon and Levi killing all the men in Shechem because of one man’s crime and then plundering the city and taking the women and children captives. It’s difficult to read about Israelites killing everyone in Jabesh-gilead (except for 400 virgins) just to provide wives for the tribe of Benjamin or of the wholesale slaughter of people in places like Jericho and Amalek. Nevertheless, as much as I’d like to skip over these and other troubling passages, they are part of Jewish history and our faith’s roots.

Apparently, one of our nation’s founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, found parts of the New Testament equally disconcerting. Instead of struggling to understand and praying to believe, he simply eliminated anything he found “contrary to reason.” Believing the gospels’ authors to be untrustworthy reporters, Jefferson wrote his own gospel by taking a penknife to his Bible, cutting up passages, and then pasting them together with other ones on a blank piece of paper. Leaving behind the parts he didn’t believe or like in mutilated Bibles, Jefferson created his own version of Christ’s life and philosophy. By including Christ’s death and burial but omitting His resurrection, rather than the Son of God, Jesus became little more than an altruistic philosopher. Titling it The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, Jefferson believed his version of the New Testament collected “the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.” Boston University professor Stephen Prothero has a more accurate description of Jefferson’s Bible: “scripture by subtraction.”

Unlike Jefferson, we must never make the mistake of subtracting those parts of Scripture we don’t like and yet nearly all of us do. We tend to read only those parts we find comforting, believable, or easy to understand. I certainly prefer reading Psalms or John to the carnage of Judges or deciphering the cryptic visions in books like Revelation, Ezekiel, and Daniel. While we don’t take a scissors and glue to our Bibles, we do read selectively which, in actuality, is not much different than what Thomas Jefferson did with his penknife and paste.

Echoing the warning found in Deuteronomy, the book of Revelation has some pretty stern words about adding to or subtracting from Scripture’s words. Every word in the Bible is there for a purpose: to explain, convict, correct, and train. Let’s treat them all with the respect they deserve and never use either literal or figurative scissors on God’s holy word.

We must not select a few favorite Bible passages to the exclusion of others. Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian. [A. W. Tozer]

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. [2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NLT)]

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MINISTERS ALL

And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…. [Ephesians 4:11-12 (RSV)]

alstromeriaWe tend to think of our pastors as the ones who do the ministering and we, the congregation, as the ones to whom he or she ministers. Indeed, our pastors do care for, comfort, aid and support us but their main job is to equip us: to train, outfit and prepare us to go out and be Christ’s ministers to the world! Rather than them being the players in the game with us being the fans who show up on game day, our pastors are more like the coaches and athletic trainers who prepare their team to go out on the field and play with skill and enthusiasm! Too often, however, we act like onlookers rather than members of the team.

Paul’s 1st century words continue to apply to the 21st century church. Those saints who are to become ministers are normal everyday Christ followers like you and me. Ministry is what being a Christian is all about and it has little to do with a pulpit, church, seminary, or ordination! When we became Christians, we were ordained as Christ’s ministers. Rather than preach with words from a pulpit, we preach with our lives: our words, demeanor, lifestyle, finances, and even our appearance.

The work we do every day is a gift from God and a way to reach out and touch people with the voice and hands of Jesus. We minister from behind the counter when we’re patient with the difficult customer, when we hold a nervous patient’s hand before surgery, or take the time to chat with the lonely widow whose room we’re cleaning. We minister when we volunteer at the charity resale shop, open the door for the woman with the stroller, or bring flowers to a new neighbor. We minister when we set good examples, listen, help, invite, welcome, encourage, offer assistance or smile. We minister when we use social media to God’s advantage. We minister when we quietly say grace regardless of where we are. We minister when we send an encouraging Bible verse to a friend. We minister when Bibles are present in our workspace and homes (and we know what’s in them).

There should be no division between clergy and laity—we all are ministers of the Gospel! I remember the words of a visiting pastor who, following the closing hymn, exclaimed, “Our worship has ended, let our service begin!” It’s time to get out of the bleachers and into the game!

We are all missionaries. Wherever we go we either bring people nearer to Christ or we repel them from Christ. [Eric Liddell]

He has enabled us to be ministers of his new covenant. This is a covenant not of written laws, but of the Spirit. The old written covenant ends in death; but under the new covenant, the Spirit gives life. [2 Corinthians 3:6 (NLT)]

In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. [2 Corinthians 6:4a (NLT)]

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THE ARK of the COVENANT

I will meet with you there and talk to you from above the atonement cover between the gold cherubim that hover over the Ark of the Covenant. From there I will give you my commands for the people of Israel. [Exodus 25:22 (NLT)]

Mt. Rigi crossYesterday’s devotion about Indiana Jones and the Ark of the Covenant raises the questions of what was in it and what became of it. Constructed by the Israelites during the exodus, the Ark held the unbroken tablets of the Ten Commandments (representing God’s law), a golden pot of manna (representing God’s love and provision), and Aaron’s rod that miraculously budded (representing God’s power and leadership). Built in Mt. Sinai and carried all the way to Canaan, nearly 500 years passed before it finally found its home in Solomon’s temple. By the time the temple was built and Solomon brought it into the innermost chamber, only the stone tablets remained.

A thing of beauty, the Ark’s design was revealed to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Constructed of acacia wood, it was 3.9 feet long by 2.3 feet both high and wide. It was plated, inside and out, with pure gold. On the bottom of the box, there were four gold rings through which two long poles could be inserted. Also made of acacia and coated in gold, it was by these poles that the priests carried the Ark. Covering the box was the atonement cover or Mercy Seat. Made of one piece of solid gold, it was hammered into the shape of two cherubim on each end. Facing one another, their wings were extended and touched. If we wonder how a people who had been enslaved for over 400 years had gold enough for a golden calf let alone this golden box, we should remember that Israel “stripped the Egyptians of their wealth” [Exodus 12:36] and took their clothing, silver and gold. In a bit of holy irony, the same gold and precious stones that adorned their captors and embellished Egyptian idols was used to make the Ark and outfit the Tabernacle.

As far as we know, the Ark remained in the Temple until Jerusalem’s destruction at the hands of the Babylonians in 586 BC. Whether it was destroyed, captured, or hidden then, nobody knows; its whereabouts have been debated for centuries. The Babylonians made detailed lists of their plunder and the Ark is not listed. The Ark simply disappeared and there is no mention of it when Zerubabbel rebuilt the Temple upon the Jews’ return from captivity. When Pompey conquered Jerusalem and entered the Temple in 63 BC, he reported that its inner sanctuary was just an empty room.

One Midrash in the Talmud states that King Josiah anticipated Jerusalem’s invasion and buried the Ark in a vault under the wood storehouse on the Temple Mount. Since that site is now home to the Dome of the Rock, a sacred Islamic shrine, archeologists have not been able to search there. According to Maimonides, King Solomon foresaw the eventual destruction of the Temple and set aside a cave near the Dead Sea for its protection and that is where Josiah hid the Ark. The Apocryphal book of 2 Maccabees claims that Jeremiah hid the Ark in a cave on Mt. Nebo and its location “shall remain unknown until God gathers his people together again and shows his mercy,” leading some Jews to believe it won’t be found until the Messiah comes. Some Ethiopian Christians assert that the Ark was taken to Ethiopia before the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem. They claim it is in the Church of Saint Mary of Zion and guarded by a monk known as the “Keeper of the Ark.” No one has been allowed to see it and it’s never been studied for authenticity. In 1982, an amateur archeologist, Ron Wyatt, claimed to have found the Ark beneath Golgotha and that Jesus’s blood dripped through a fissure in the rock onto it. No one, however, ever saw it and Wyatt’s many dubious claims have been thoroughly discredited by both professional archaeologists and respected Biblical scholars. Contrary to the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, I’m pretty sure this divine relic is not shut up in a box and stored in the recesses of a government warehouse.

Under the Old Covenant, the Ark was a sign of God’s presence among His people. Under the New Covenant, God’s law, love, provision, leadership and power are no longer contained in a box; they are found in Jesus. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God doesn’t reside in the inner room of the Temple; He is in the hearts of all believers!

Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? [1 Corinthians 6:19 (NLT)]

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ICONS AND IDOLS

Then they said, “Let’s bring the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord from Shiloh. If we carry it into battle with us, it will save us from our enemies.” [1 Samuel 4:3b (NLT)]

Madonna and child - NetherlandsSorting through cabinets, I came across a video of Raiders of the Lost Ark. As I recall, archaeologist/adventurer Indiana Jones was authorized by the government to find the Ark of the Covenant before Hitler’s Nazis could obtain its supernatural powers and dominate the world. Indiana was told that the Bible speaks of the Ark’s power to level mountains, lay waste to entire regions, and that any army carrying the Ark is invincible.

The only other Indiana Jones movie I remember is Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Like its predecessor, it had equally poor Biblical history and theology. Indiana again found himself up against the Nazis when his father disappeared while pursuing the Holy Grail (the cup from the Last Supper). Since drinking water from the chalice would grant immortality, the Nazis wanted to possess it.

Of course, we should never get our religious education from popular movies. As for an army being invincible when carrying the Ark, the opposite actually happened. Thinking God’s power was in the Ark, the Israelites carried it into battle and were defeated by the Philistines; 30,000 of their soldiers died and the Ark was captured. As for drinking from the Holy Grail, the disciples all drank from it and they all died. Belief in Jesus is the only way to gain eternal life.

While it seems silly to think that merely possessing the real Ark would bring world domination or that drinking water from a cup used by Jesus would bring immortality, the Israelites made the same mistake of venerating some of God’s things rather than God. Instead of reminding them who to worship, objects like the bronze serpent became what was worshipped. When approaching Canaan for the second time, the impatient Israelites spoke against God and Moses. In judgment, God sent poisonous serpents into their camp. As people began to die, the people confessed their sin, and begged for mercy. God then commanded Moses to make a bronze serpent, telling him that all who looked at it would be healed. The Bible makes no more mention of Moses’ bronze serpent until some 700 years later when King Hezekiah began to rule Judah. When he eradicated idolatry throughout the country, Hezekiah destroyed the bronze serpent because people had started to worship it rather than God. Instead of being a symbol of God’s mercy, forgiveness, and healing, the bronze serpent became an idol.

Power comes from God, not from things. Central to the Israelites’ faith, the Ark was a sign of God’s covenant with them. Even though it symbolized a holy pledge, the Ark was no more worthy of worship than a rainbow, the symbol of God’s covenant with Noah. Although it contained precious relics, it had no more power than does my jewelry box. The Holy Grail had no more power than my coffee cup and the bronze serpent possessed no more power than the bandage on my knee.

None of those items were graven images nor were they made to be idols and yet people turned them into objects of worship. While we have no ancient artifacts tempting us, let us never make the error of turning respect for a religious symbol into the worship of it. While worthy of reverence, the cross in the sanctuary or on the chain around one’s neck, the Communion chalice, a statue of Mary or picture of Jesus, dried palms from Palm Sunday, or a mezuzah at the doorway have no more power than a rabbit’s foot or a lucky penny. While they may aid in prayer or worship, salvation comes from God—not from any of His things!

You must not have any other god but me. [Exodus 20:3 (NLT)]

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A WORKER’S PRAYER

For we don’t live for ourselves or die for ourselves. [Romans 14:7 (NLT)]

Lord, speak to us, that we may speak in living echoes of your tone; … Oh, lead us, Lord, that we may lead… Oh, feed us, Lord, that we may feed… Oh, teach us, Lord, that we may teach The precious truths which you impart;… [Frances Havergal]

campionAt last Sunday’s worship, we sang Frances Havergal’s beautiful hymn “Lord, Speak to Us, That We May Speak.” First published in 1872, the hymn originally had the heading “A Worker’s Prayer,” and made reference to Romans 14:7: “none of us lives to himself alone.” It is a simple prayer that God will speak to, lead, feed, teach and fill us so that He can use us in the service of His kingdom. Busyness had taken over my days and, having fallen behind in my writing, my supply of devotions was running dangerously low. Indeed, I needed Him to speak to me so that I could speak!

As we sang Ms. Havergal’s straight-forward and expectant prayer, I felt the Spirit’s convicting voice. Rather than prayers asking God to speak, lead, feed, teach, or fill me, I’d simply been pleading for more time to get everything done that needed to be done. I realized my problem wasn’t lack of time, but how I was spending that time. We certainly can’t hear the news without turning on the TV, learn French without attending class, get to a new destination without consulting the GPS, be nourished without sitting down to eat, or recharge our phones without plugging them in! How can we expect God to speak to us, let alone lead, feed, teach or fill us without spending quality time in prayer or taking the time to read more than a few Bible verses? Yet, that is exactly what I’d been doing. I recalled the words of Martin Luther who, when asked what his plans for the day were, is supposed to have replied, “Work, work, from morning until late at night. I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” I came to understand that, by putting God at the top of my day’s “to-do” list, I’d be more productive rather than less.

Last Sunday’s sermon was about fulfilling our God-given purpose of communicating the hope and love we have in Jesus and, while all Christians share that purpose, the way we fulfill it differs from person to person. Nevertheless, none of us can accomplish God’s purpose without His speaking to, leading, feeding, teaching and filling us! He’s more than willing to do His part; the problem comes on the receiving end—we must be available to listen, follow, eat, learn and receive. Often, we’re not! So distracted by the business and busyness of life, God ceases to be our priority.

Havergal’s hymn is, indeed, a worker’s prayer. As we submit our lives in worship and service to God, let our morning prayers echo her beautiful words: “Oh, fill us with your fullness, Lord, Until our very hearts o’erflow In kindling thought and glowing word, Your love to tell, your praise to show.”

It’s not enough to splash a little prayer on in the morning or to run through a sprinkler of God’s mercy now and then. It’s not enough to double our spirits in an hour of worship on Sunday or to dash into a drizzle of teaching every month or so. Our souls need to soak in God’s presence. It’s no luxury, this time we spend in the healing waters of God’s grace. It’s neither excess nor indulgence to immerse ourselves in communion with our creator. It’s a spiritual necessity if we want to become the people God has created us to be. [Penelope J. Stokes]

Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength? Why pay for food that does you no good? Listen to me, and you will eat what is good. You will enjoy the finest food. Come to me with your ears wide open. Listen, and you will find life. [Isaiah 55:2-3a (NLT)]

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