Saul, also known as Paul, was filled with the Holy Spirit, and he looked the sorcerer in the eye. … Paul and his companions then left Paphos by ship for Pamphylia, landing at the port town of Perga. [Acts 13:9,13 (NLT)]

great blue heronIt’s a common misconception that Saul became known as Paul when Jesus transformed the Christian hater into a Christ follower on the road to Damascus. Saul, however, was always named Paul. As a Roman citizen, he would have had a three part Roman name. While we don’t know the first two parts, the third (the cognomen) and commonly used name was Paullus (which becomes Paul in English). As devout Jews, however, his parents also would have given him a Hebrew name. They named him Saul, a good name for a boy from the tribe of Benjamin (King Saul’s tribe). Understandably, when among Jews, Saul would have used his Hebrew name and Luke, the writer of Acts, refers to him as Saul until Acts 13, about fifteen years after his conversion. Saul (and Luke) started using his Roman/Gentile name of Paul around the time he moved further into the Roman Empire on his first missionary journey. As he moved into Gentile territory, Paul’s Roman name was more appropriate. The Apostle was not alone in having both a Roman and Hebrew name. One of the candidates to replace Judas had two Jewish names, Joseph and Barsabbas, along with the Roman one of Justus.

Although Paul’s name was given to him by his parents, sometimes a new name was forced upon someone. When Pharaoh put Joseph in charge of the land, he gave his new second-in-command an Egyptian wife and the Egyptian name of Zaphenath-paneah. In honor of Babylonian gods, King Nebuchadnezzar gave Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah the names of Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Sometimes, it was circumstances that changed a person’s name. When the widowed Naomi returned to Bethlehem, the grief-stricken woman called herself called Mara, meaning “bitter.” After destroying the altar of Baal and cutting down the Asherah pole next to it, Gideon became known as Jerub-baal, which meant “Let Baal defend himself.”

In some cases, it was God who did the name changing. These name changes often described someone’s character or calling. In Genesis, Abram (“exalted father”) became Abraham (“father of a multitude”) and Jacob, the “heel-catcher” or “deceiver,” became Israel, “God’s fighter.”  Jesus changed Simon’s name (meaning “he has heard”) to Cephas, the Aramaic word for “rock.” Since the New Testament was written in Greek, we know Cephas by the name of Peter, also meaning “rock.” Although Peter wasn’t rock solid during Jesus’s life, following the resurrection, he fulfilled the promise of his name by becoming the rock upon which the new church was built.

In actuality, most of us go by more than one name. My personal favorite is the one my grands use for me: “Nonnie.” Some people say they don’t care what they’re called, as long as they’re called for dinner. As for me, I don’t care what you call me as long as God has my name written in His Book of Life!

All who are victorious will be clothed in white. I will never erase their names from the Book of Life, but I will announce before my Father and his angels that they are mine. … And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire. [Revelation 3:5,20:15 (NLT)]

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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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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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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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There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. [Proverbs 14:12 (ESV)]

hempvineThe book of Genesis is filled with thoughtless decisions that led to trouble. Although Eve knew the forbidden fruit would give her the knowledge of good and evil, I doubt she asked herself why she wanted it, what she’d do with it, or how God would react to her disobedience when she ate it. Look at Sarah with her bright idea to give Hagar to Abraham to make a baby. Did she pause and consider how she’d feel about sharing her husband with her maid or that Hagar and the child would be a constant reminder of her own infertility? Did Lot’s wife think to ask herself why she’d been told neither to stop nor look back at Sodom before she took that fatal last look?

What about Rebekah? When she helped Jacob steal Esau’s blessing, did she give thought to the ramifications of such deception? Did she think Esau wouldn’t be angry? She ended up losing both of her boys that day—one to safety in Haran and the other to anger and his desire for revenge. After Isaac discovered her part in the ruse, their marriage probably suffered as well.

Did Reuben pause to consider the consequences of sleeping with his father’s concubine? It was at his father’s deathbed that he learned his recklessness cost him his birthright blessing. His brother Simeon and Levi paid even more heavily for their deceit and violence against the people of Shechem when Jacob cursed rather than blessed them. Because of the brothers’ rash behavior, their people would be scattered throughout the land and without inheritance rights. And that’s just in Genesis! It goes downhill from there.

Every time I read through the Bible and see the consequences of people’s impulsive behavior, I ask, “What were they thinking?” What if David had taken five minutes to ask God about moving the Ark or summoning Bathsheba? What was Solomon thinking when he directly violated God’s law by accumulating 700 wives and 300 concubines and then worshipping idols? And he was supposed to be the wise one! What if Rehoboam had consulted God instead of his cronies when deciding whether or not to lighten the burden on his people? It’s bad enough that none of these people bothered to think through the effects of their rash decisions but, worse, they never bothered to consult with God about them. Unlike the people in Genesis, they even had the Torah to guide them!

Some people make their decisions by weighing alternatives and looking beyond the immediate results to the long-term effects, possible precedents, and potential complications. Other people are more gut-feeling emotion-driven choice makers. Most of us probably fall somewhere in-between. No matter how we approach a decision, however, we always want to stay in God’s will. While prayer is a good place to start, God is often silent as to our exact plan of action. Perhaps that’s because He’s already revealed His will in Scripture. It is in God’s Word that we find the wisdom and principles that should guide us in making our decisions: repent, believe, obey, forgive, love, be truthful, work hard, share, serve, trust in Him, and glorify Him in all we do. If we always do that, it’s unlikely someone will ask in disbelief, “What were they thinking?”

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. [Romans 12:2 (ESV)]

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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)]

kildeerTwo days ago, when writing about the prodigal son, I used a scripture verse from Sirach found in the Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSVCE). Also known as Ecclesiasticus, this book of wisdom was written by Jesus, son of Eleazar, son of Sirach, between 200–175 BC and is part of the Apocrypha. Primarily written in the 400 years between Malachi and the announcement of the birth of John the Baptist, the books of the Apocrypha include Sirach, 1 and 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Baruch, the Letter of Jeremiah, Prayer of Manasseh, 1 and 2 Maccabees, and additions to the books of Esther and Daniel. While the nation of Israel was familiar with these writings and treated them with respect (which is why I used the verse), they never considered any of them as true books of the Hebrew Bible.

Evidence that the Jews never considered these books to be “divine doctrine” is found in the writings of the Jewish priest and scholar Flavius Josephus (37-100 AD). Explaining that the contents of the Hebrew Bible were written between the time of Moses and the days of Persian’s King Artaxerxes I (465 to 424 BC), he listed the books considered to be divinely inspired by God and none of the apocryphal books were named. Since a typical Hebrew Bible combines books like the Minor Prophets, Ezra with Nehemiah, Jeremiah with Lamentations, and the two books each of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles into single books, Josephus listed only 22 books. Nevertheless, his twenty-two are the same as the 39 Old Testament books found in the Protestant Bible.

Because neither Jesus nor the Apostles made any reference to any of the apocryphal books, most Christians believe them to be far less significant than the 39 books of the Old Testament. Some, however, do contain valuable historical information. For example, the books of Maccabees give a detailed account of the battles of Judah Maccabee and his brothers to free Judah from foreign rule (167 to 134 BC). It is in Maccabees, with the cleaning and dedication of the Temple and relighting of the menorah, that we learn why Jews celebrate Hanukkah every year. Unfortunately, there also is much in these books that is inaccurate (such as Judith naming Babylonian Nebuchadnezzar as the king of the Assyrians) and some false teachings (such as the forgiveness of sins through almsgiving and a command to use magic in Tobit).

The list of Biblical books accepted as authoritative for faith because they were divinely inspired by God is known as the canon. Since a wide assortment of writings circulated in the early church, many of which were counterfeit, inauthentic, and even heretical, it became necessary to determine which works were genuine and which mixed truth with fiction or were completely false. While there is no definitive date when church canon was determined, the effort to determine it began as early as 170 AD with the Muratorian Canon. By 250, there was nearly universal agreement on the canon of the Old Testament. In 363, the Council of Laodicea affirmed all but the book of Revelation in the New Testament. It was in 367 that Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, provided a list (including Revelation) of the universally accepted 66 books that we still think of as the Protestant Bible. Although the Bishop listed several Apocryphal books as worthwhile reading, he noted that none should be combined with the rest of Scripture.

While none of the Apocrypha is part of the Protestant canon, twelve of its books are considered canonical Scripture by the Roman Catholic Church. It was at the Council of Trent (1546-1563) that the Roman Catholic Church ratified them as part of their canon. While some Bibles, such as the RSV, may include the Apocrypha in a separate section, the Catholic edition of the RSV has those same books mixed in with the Old Testament.

Since it is not the inspired Word of God, the book of Sirach, like the rest of the Apocrypha, is not part of the recognized canon of Scripture. Although the apocryphal books have some historical/cultural significance, they do not possess the qualities of divinely inspired Scripture. While it’s easy to think that the canon was determined by man, we must remember that no man determined what books belong in the Christian canon any more than any man determined what was written in those books. It was God who inspired their writing and it was God who gave men the ability to discern what words were God-breathed. It is those 66 God-breathed books of the Bible that equip us for a life of service and faith.

These are the wells of salvation, so that he who thirsts may be satisfied with the sayings in these. Let no one add to these. Let nothing be taken away. [Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, regarding the 66 books of the canon]

Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ. [Colossians 2:8 (NLT)]

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