FABACEAE

fabaceaeI appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose. [1 Corinthians 1:10 (NLT)]

Controversy within the Church didn’t stop with the creeds and we continue to get bogged down with disagreements over things like purgatory, open or closed communion, the observance of Lent or saints’ days, the way communion should be received, and women in the clergy. Whether we sprinkle or do full immersion, worship on Saturday or Sunday, kneel or stand to pray, stand or sit to sing, or use wine, grape juice, thin wafers, matzo, or Wonder bread for Communion probably are of no real significance to God. Rather than division, He just wants our praise and thanksgiving, our love and obedience, our faith, our prayers, and our witness.

The Christian church, with its three distinct branches of Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox that are separated into more subgroups reminds me of the Fabaceae plant family. Like the Church, it has three distinct branches: Faboideae, Caesalpinioideae, and Mimosoideae and each branch is divided into more subgroups. Typically having pea-like flowers, the largest branch, Faboideae, include plants like soybeans, peanuts, peas, and lentils. Usually having 5 distinct petals, the Caesalpinioideae branch has plants like the showy Royal Poinciana and Hong Kong orchid trees. With flowers that look like powder puffs, the Mimosoideae are the smallest branch and includes the acacia, mimosa, and sensitive plant.

While there are around 18,000 different species in the three branches of Fabaceae, it’s estimated that there are over 45,000 different Christian denominations within the three branches of the Church! Within the Protestant branch, for example, we find subgroups like Pentecostals, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Lutherans (who are divided into more subgroups like the ELCA, Wisconsin Evangelical, and Missouri Synod)!

While their distinct flower types are what distinguish the three branches of Fabaceae from one another, it is slight differences in doctrine, dogma, emphasis, or style of worship that distinguish the three branches and their various subgroups of Christianity. What unites the Fabaceae into one family is their pods and what unites all of these Christian denominations into one family is their agreement regarding the essentials of Christianity. They all are part of the Body of Christ.

Even though they don’t look much alike, all of the plants pictured in today’s message are Fabaceae and descendants of the same first pea seed God planted millions of years ago. Like the Fabaceae, Christians also trace their beginnings to the same seed: Jesus. While the Fabaceae take root in the soil, Christians are rooted in the Word of God. Instead of the sun’s light and photosynthesis, it’s the Son’s light and the power of the Holy Spirit that makes us grow. In spite of their differences, all Fabaceae bear similar fruit in their pods. In spite of Christianity’s diversity, like Fabaceae, Christians are to bear similar fruit, as well. Rather than peas or beans, however, it’s the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Rather than focusing on our differences, let us focus on our unity in Christ. May we always remember Paul’s words to the Romans that, “We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.” [12:15]

We need not all agree, but if we disagree, let us not be disagreeable in our disagreements. [M.R. DeHaan]

Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, in all, and living through all. [Ephesians 4:3-6 (NLT)]
fabaceae pods

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FROM THE BEGINNING (Part 3)

I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him. [1 Corinthians 15:3-8 (NLT)]

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.  [Philippians 2:6-7 (NLT)]

oxeye daisyStarting with the Judaizers who believed that Gentiles first had to be circumcised and conform to Mosaic Law in order to be saved, the early church faced controversy within its ranks. Without a creed, they were challenged with distinguishing between true and false doctrines. Although not written by the Apostles, an early version of what we know as the Apostles’ Creed was probably in use by the last half of the second century. Created to instruct converts and prepare them for baptism, because it didn’t clearly state the nature of Jesus’ divinity or define the relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, doctrinal controversy continued. Along with Gnosticism’s rejection of the incarnation and Marcion’s redefinition of God, there were the Ebionites’ denial of Christ’s divinity, the Arians’ belief that Jesus was neither divine nor eternal, and the Modalists who collapsed the persons of the Trinity into a single person with three types of activity. Rather than destroy the early church, however, these various isms actually did it a favor by forcing it to solidify Christianity’s doctrines.

In an attempt to unify the Christian church with one doctrine, Roman Emperor Constantine convened the Council of Nicea in 325. Over 900 leaders from throughout the Roman Empire gathered to discuss Arianism and its belief that while Jesus was similar to God, rather than being divine, He was a created being. Although the Creed of Nicea resulted, controversy still reigned and it took a second ecumenical council in 381 before the Church clearly defined the Trinity—that God is three distinct persons in one perfectly unified being. The Nicene Creed, the standard of belief for most Christian churches, was the result of the meeting.

That creed, however, did not come out of thin air. The bishops and delegates spent weeks poring over Scripture. Paul’s epistles, written between 50 and 60 AD, contain several hymns and creeds. Although he wrote in Greek, these hymns and creeds use features of Hebrew poetry and thought and their syntax is decidedly Aramaic which leads scholars to believe they date from as early as 33 to 48 AD. Paul specifically wrote that he was passing along what was passed on to him—most likely from the original Apostles and Jesus Himself. A common theme of these early writings is the death, resurrection, and the deity of Jesus. Contrary to the claim often made by skeptics that the story of Jesus was a legend that arose decades after the man’s death, the belief in a miracle-working, fully divine and fully human Jesus, who died and rose from the dead, was present from the time of His disciples—the very ones who touched, walked, talked, and ate with Him, both before His crucifixion and after His resurrection.

Jesus asked the disciples “Who do you say I am?” [Matthew 16:15] With its summary of the Gospel in a few sentences, the Nicene Creed enables us to answer that question both succinctly and accurately.

Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see—such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him. He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together. Christ is also the head of the church, which is his body. He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead. So he is first in everything. [Colossians 1:15-18 (NLT)]

Without question, this is the great mystery of our faith: Christ was revealed in a human body and vindicated by the Spirit. He was seen by angels and announced to the nations. He was believed in throughout the world and taken to heaven in glory. [1 Timothy 3:16 (NLT)]

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IPUWER’S VERSION

And all the water in the Nile turned into blood. And the fish in the Nile died, and the Nile stank, so that the Egyptians could not drink water from the Nile. There was blood throughout all the land of Egypt. … And all the Egyptians dug along the Nile for water to drink, for they could not drink the water of the Nile. [Exodus 7:20b-21,24 (ESV)]

The Lord sent thunder and hail, and fire ran down to the earth. …There was hail and fire flashing continually… And the hail struck down every plant of the field and broke every tree of the field. [Exodus 9:23a,24a,25b (ESV)]

great egretNo story is repeated more in the Old Testament than that of the Exodus. Although it is the defining moment in Israel’s history and faith, there are many who choose to disbelieve it ever happened. Yet, if it didn’t, Jews and Christians alike are basing their faith on an elaborately constructed lie. In the early 1800s, a papyrus was found in Egypt that tells the story of the Exodus from an Egyptian’s point of view. Although the papyrus itself dates from around 1550-1069 BC, it is believed to be a copy of an earlier document written between 2040 and 1782 BC. Housed in the Dutch National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden, Netherlands, and first translated in 1909, it’s commonly known as the Admonitions of Ipuwer or the Ipuwer Papyrus.

Appearing to be an eyewitness account, the papyrus describes mayhem, drought, starvation, the escape of slaves (along with Egyptian wealth), and death throughout Egypt. Compare today’s verse from Exodus 7 with these from the Ipuwer Papyrus: “Plague is throughout the land. Blood is everywhere. … The river is blood. Men shrink from tasting… and thirst after water… That is our water!… All is ruin.” [2:5-6,10,13] Compare the words from Exodus 9 to Ipuwer’s: “Forsooth, gates, columns and walls are consumed by fire. Lower Egypt weeps… Forsooth, grain has perished on every side… The entire palace is without its revenues. [2:10,6:3,10:6] Even the mention of “lower Egypt” weeping is notable since Scripture says that only in the land of Goshen (in the upper or northern part of the country) was there no hail.

Ipuwer reports the deadly plague that struck cattle with these words, “All animals, their hearts weep. Cattle moan… [5:5] The plague of darkness is reported with, “The land is without light.” [9:11] In reporting the final plague, Exodus 12:30 says, “And there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead.” Ipuwer reports that, “He who places his brother in the ground is everywhere.… It is groaning throughout the land, mingled with lamentations.” [2:13,3:14] The Bible tells us the Israelites carried away the Egyptians’ wealth and Ipuwer tells of the “gold and lapis lazuli, silver and malachite, carnelian and bronze” that were “fastened on the neck of female slaves.” [3:2]

The plagues are but a part of the papyrus and a large portion of it concerns what happened in Egypt after the plagues. While Scripture doesn’t address the after effects of Egypt’s loss of livestock, grain, wealth, first-born sons, or Pharaoh’s troops, chariots, and charioteers, Ipuwer does. He writes of the resulting chaos and ruin in the land—bankruptcy, crime, famine, rebellion, and invasion. If, like me, you ever wondered why Egypt never bothered the Israelites as they wandered the Sinai Peninsula for the next 40 years, Ipuwer’s papyrus offers a logical explanation. They were a broken nation!

Ipuwer seems to have been a real historical figure and his name (along with the title “Overseer of Singers”) was found on an ancient stone listing a group of royal scribes for the 19th dynasty. Nevertheless, the papyrus is not without controversy and scholars differ on whether it is an historical account of the events surrounding the Exodus or fiction (something called “national distress” literature.) Let us remember that once a skeptic accepts the historicity of the Exodus—the supernatural plagues and parting of both the Red Sea and the Jordan—then he is faced with the existence of a supreme being who rules over the world and directs its affairs. For those who do believe, while we don’t need extra Biblical evidence, it makes for interesting reading and even more interesting discussions with non-believers. Let us also remember that even if there were no extra-biblical evidence, lack of evidence does not mean something didn’t happen. The only way to disprove something is with evidence that it didn’t occur and that we most definitely do not have!

The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained. But the people of Israel walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. [Exodus 14:28-29 (ESV)]

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INCLUSIVE IN AN EXCLUSIVE WAY

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you. [Galatians 3:26-29 (NLT)]

Since no man is excluded from calling upon God the gate of salvation is open to all. There is nothing else to hinder us from entering, but our own unbelief. [John Calvin]

hibiscusGod’s plan for salvation was all inclusive; He made that clear in Genesis when He said that all the nations would be blessed through Abraham’s descendants. In announcing Jesus’ birth, the angels said it was good news for all nations. Throughout Jesus’ ministry, it became clear that He came not just for the Jews but for all people. Jesus invited all who were weary and heavy-laden, not just a select few. He healed the Roman centurion’s servant and the Canaanite woman’s daughter and ministered in Samaria and the Gentile city of Gerasenes. In what is called the “great commission,” Jesus instructed his disciples to spread the good news to all the nations. The Gospel’s message of salvation is offered to both Gentile and Jew, women and men, slave and slave holder, the destitute and rich, the merchant and beggar, the tradesperson and day laborer, the able and infirm, the demon-possessed and rational, and both the upright and those with sullied pasts. No one is turned away when they repent and come to Jesus and accept Him as Lord and Savior. Indeed, the Christian church is all-inclusive in its love for mankind and its invitation to all the people of the world.

We are, indeed, an eclectic group of people of different backgrounds, races, traditions, languages, and politics but, as inclusive as we are in our love and message, the followers of Christ have a shared creed that unites us into an exclusive group. Christians are diverse and inclusive but Christianity is not.

While we may find wisdom and inspiration in Hinduism’s Bhagavad Gita, the Buddha’s words in the Dhammapada, the Chinese philosophy of the Tao Te-Ching, and even in the rabbis’ discourse in the Talmud, we know those texts are not sacred and the words in them are man’s, not God’s. Christianity doesn’t allow for a mingling of faith in other philosophies or gods.

We don’t get to pick and choose from a variety of beliefs as if we were at a smorgasbord. We can’t start with Jesus and add a bit of reincarnation, dollop on some karma, sprinkle on one’s own spiritual authority, ladle on a bit of astrology, add a side of Zen, and then top it off with some channeling. If it’s not in the Bible, it doesn’t get put on our plates! Our God is a jealous God and he won’t share His position or Word with anything or anyone. Jesus made it clear that he was not one of the ways but, rather, the only way to salvation.

It’s been said that all roads lead to Rome, meaning that there are many different ways to accomplish the same goal. While that may be true when it comes to such things as cooking, painting, gardening, and possibly even getting to Rome, it’s not true with salvation. Let’s never make the mistake of thinking that all roads lead to heaven!

Jesus is not one of many ways to approach God, nor is he the best of several ways; he is the only way. [A.W. Tozer]

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. [John 14:6 (NLT)]

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. [John 3:16-18 (NLT)]

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IN 21 WORDS

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. [Proverbs 3:5-6 (NLT)]

Grand TetonLast month, I received an email from my college alumni association asking alums to share 21 words of encouragement or advice with the class of 2021. The request gave me pause as I pondered what wise and pithy advice for this year’s grads I would put into a mere 21 words. Since my eldest grand is starting her senior year at NYU, I wondered what words of wisdom I would share with her next year.

Turning first to Scripture, I thought of the to-the-point advice in Proverbs but discovered that one verse was too short and two were too long. Thinking of my favorite Bible verses, I turned to 1 Corinthians 16:13-14: “Be watchful, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” Finding it one word too short, I checked other translations and eventually found the perfect length in the ESV. But, instead of “be courageous,” it said “act like men,” a somewhat imperfect translation of the Greek word Paul used meaning to act in a courageous and virtuous manner. Since today’s youth probably would be offended by what seems sexist language, I eliminated that from my possibilities.

I then turned to Matthew 22 and Jesus’ answer when the Pharisee asked Him the most important commandment. With some editing and the use of an ellipsis, I met the 21-word requirement with the Message translation of His answer: “Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence. … Love others as well as you love yourself.” [22:37,39]

As all-encompassing and wise as those words are, they aren’t mine and they didn’t cover everything I’d want to say to my own grands in just 21 words. If required to summarize my philosophy that succinctly, what would I say? The limit of 21 words made this exercise as challenging as writing a three-line 17-syllable haiku.

Eventually, I came up with the following: “Love God. Love others. Follow Jesus. Pray. Read Scripture. Work hard. Forgive. Be kind, generous, honest, and patient. Laugh. Be yourself.” If allowed more words, I probably would add, “Listen more, speak less,” along with “Believe in yourself.” These are some of the things I wish it hadn’t taken me several decades to learn! I do suspect that most of that advice actually was given to me as a youth; it’s just that I had to learn those lessons for myself.

Several years ago, I was given the assignment of writing my salvation story in 100 words or less. Selecting 21 words of inspiring advice turned out to be much harder than that! Nevertheless, just as we should be prepared to give a clear and concise answer when someone asks how we came to be followers of Jesus, we should be able to summarize our values and way of life in a few words.

What is important to you? What few words do you wish you’d heard when you were stepping into adulthood? What 21 words would you choose for today’s graduates?

But the wisdom that comes from above is first holy, then peaceful, gentle, compliant, filled with mercy and good fruits, unbiased, sincere. [James 3:17 (NTE)]

What’s more, don’t let yourselves be squeezed into the shape dictated by the present age. Instead, be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you can work out what God’s will is, what is good, acceptable and complete. [Romans 12:2 (NTE)]

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EXTRA BIBLICAL EVIDENCE

We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life. This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that he is the one who is eternal life. He was with the Father, and then he was revealed to us. We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy [1 John 1:1-4 (NLT)]

hibiscus“The luckiest traitor ever,” are the words historian Mary Beard used to describe Flavius Josephus, a first-century Jewish general who ended up allying himself with the Romans—the very people who destroyed his homeland and demolished the Temple during the Great Revolt (66-70 AD). Born in 37 AD, Josephus grew up in Jerusalem and studied with the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes before serving as a general during the Jewish rebellion against Rome. According to Josephus, when fleeing the Roman army, he led his troop of 40 men into a cave. Rather than surrender, they agreed to commit suicide and drew lots to determine the order in which they would die. Either Josephus was incredibly lucky or he’d fixed the lottery but, when only he and another man remained, he convinced him to join in surrender to the Romans. In support of his story, excavations at Jotapata in the 1990s revealed the remains of 30 to 40 men assumed to have been Josephus’ men.

As an enemy general, Josephus was taken to the Roman general Vespasian. Presenting himself as a prophet, he used Balaam’s Messianic prophecy [Numbers 24:17] to predict that Vespasian would become emperor (which he did two years later). Shrewdly, Josephus then allied himself with the Romans by advising and translating for Vespasian and his son Titus.

Following the Judean war, Josephus returned to Rome with the victorious Titus where he was provided with an apartment in Vespasian’s house, given an annual pension, and made a Roman citizen. Josephus volunteered to write a history of the war for the Romans, The Jewish War, that provides an eye-witness account of the Great Revolt and the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. His second work was a twenty-volume Jewish history called Jewish Antiquities.

In his Antiquities, Josephus wrote of Herod’s fear of, “John, that was called the Baptist: for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism.” [18:5] Josephus also made the earliest existing non-Christian referral to Christ. Since many scholars believe Christian copyists later may have added to Josephus’ words by calling Jesus the Messiah and mentioning his resurrection, I am only including what is believed by most to have been the ancient historian’s original account, “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, for he was a doer of wonders. He drew many after him. When Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.” [18:63-64]

Josephus also reported the trial and death in 62 AD of James: “But this younger Ananus, who, as we have told you already, took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent … assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.” [20:9.1]

The Bible doesn’t require outside sources to prove its truth and, as followers of Christ, we don’t need an ancient Jewish historian to tell us that Jesus actually existed. Nevertheless, it’s good to know that it isn’t just believers like Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James, and Peter who attest to His existence. We have Josephus’s account along with the Greek historian Thallus who wrote of the darkness during Jesus’ crucifixion, Pliny the Younger who wrote of dealing with Christians who sang hymns “to Christ as if to a god,” Tacitus who wrote of the “pernicious superstition” (Christ’s resurrection) that broke out in Judea following Jesus’ crucifixion, and the Greek historian Mara bar Serapion, who referred to Jesus as the “wise king” of the Jews.

For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We saw his majestic splendor with our own eyes when he received honor and glory from God the Father. The voice from the majestic glory of God said to him, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” We ourselves heard that voice from heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain. [2 Peter 1:16 (NLT)]

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