Rest in Jesus

I’ve been contemplating Sabbath rest, 7th Day imagery, Year of Jubilee, and related topics. The Bible Project Podcast had an excellent series on 7th Day Rest, Sabbath, and related topics last fall that I have finished up, and it gave a lot of insight into how this topic permeates the entirety of scriptures. I highly recommend taking some time to reflect on it if you have not done so.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, while conferences are cancelled, travel is discouraged and even restricted, and we are being told to practice “social distancing,” I think there’s a lot we can gain from this topic. Churches may be forced to discontinue some form of weekly gatherings, and I think that’s okay, as our highest priority is love.

The sabbath idea was not just weekly, God also instituted a 7th year rest, where the land was not supposed to be cultivated, but it would produce enough, not just for the owner and his family, but for slaves, workers, sojourners, cattle and even wild animals (Lev 25:6-7). Wow! What a thought that there’s no slaving over the land to get what is needed to survive, but by trusting in God, there is more than enough. The year of Jubilee was also a big topic. Land was returned to the original owner, slaves were freed, and debts were forgiven (Lev 25:8ff).

Unfortunately, the Israelites failed to do as they were commanded. God had given strict warning about failure to keep these practices.

“But if in spite of this you will not listen to me, but walk contrary to me, … I myself will devastate the land, so that your enemies who settle in it shall be appalled at it. And I will scatter you among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword after you, and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste. Then the land shall enjoy its Sabbaths as long as it lies desolate, while you are in your enemies’ land; then the land shall rest, and enjoy its Sabbaths. As long as it lies desolate it shall have rest, the rest that it did not have on your Sabbaths when you were dwelling in it.”

Lev 26:27,32-34

Just as promised, the prophecy was fulfilled.

He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.

2 Chr 36:20-21

Perhaps in our hustle and bustle, as we have overdone our own schedules, take this time of quarantine as a time to rest. Enjoy the presence of God.

In Christ, we find our rest. Find comfort in these words of Christ.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Mat 11:28-30

A Hedge Around the Law

hedgeRecently, I’ve been reading a book called Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus. I’d recommend this book to every Christian who wants to dig deeper.

Now, many years before Jesus, they had begun to pass down oral tradition, later recorded in the Talmud, which was a commentary or interpretation on the Tanakh, what we call the Old Testament. It was instructions on how to follow the commands in daily life. It set up a hedge around the law, so that people would not even get close to breaking God’s instruction in the Torah. A hedge in this sense is like a wall around a wall. For example, instead of not doing work for 24 hours on the Sabbath, they made it 25 hours to guard against breaking God’s law.

There were two different classes of Pharisees. Those that leaned toward a strict following of the Talmud, following Rabbi Shammai, and others who were lenient, following Rabbi Hillel.

Even though Jesus condemned the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, Jesus was most likely himself a Pharisee, or at least in line with their thinking. He came from inside the group, so he wasn’t standing outside calling them snakes and white-washed tombs, he was telling his own group to straighten their ways. In reality, Jesus was a Jew, as I am a Christian, but in practice, as I am Church of Christ, so Jesus was a Pharisee. As the Jews set up a hedge around the law to keep people from breaking the law, so we in the church of Christ have set up a hedge around our New Testament laws to keep from breaking the law.

The sermon on the mount was meant to tell us how we are to live beyond the law in our lives. When Jesus says “You may have heard…, but I say…”, he is going beyond the law in our own lives, and telling us to have hedges to keep us from sinning. Instead of swearing to let people know you will fulfill your promises, tell the truth always. Instead of letting your anger drive you to murder, don’t be angry with your brother in the first place. Don’t love those who love you, love everyone, for we can all receive salvation if we choose it. He gets to the heart of God, as only God himself can, and tells us how we can implement true Godliness in our lives. Going beyond what the law says is personal, it is our decision to make. If we want a life that is lived to it’s fullest, we have to leave those things behind, but others cannot make those decisions for us.

Some of you may disagree, but I believe that a Capella music is a hedge around our singing in our beliefs. It is not directly forbidden, but we do it to follow the traditions of the first century, and to follow the commandment, “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,” (Eph 5:19), we make sure that all can sing without being distracted by playing an instrument. We want people to sing and not just listen. In the same way, we don’t bring a praise team to the front, because if people always listen and never sing, we are not following the command to sing to the Lord. I do not plan to worship with instrumental music, but as it is never condemned by Jesus or the apostles, neither will I condemn it. I am not for the addition of instruments, just against teaching it as God’s law when it is not. We can teach it based on example, and historical context, just not as law, but let our primary focus be on biblical understanding and the heart of living a Christian life. This is just one of the many hedges we have.

Jesus condemned the Pharisees that enforced their own traditions above the law. We read in Matthew 15:1-9, about a tradition that allowed people devote their things to God, and not give to their parents because they gave to God instead. He condemns them for upholding a man-made law above the law of God to “Honor your father and mother”. He quotes from Isaiah 29:13:

“‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”

It is not wrong to have hedges around the instructions in God’s word, but when we focus on the hedges that we have, the man-made laws, and we forget about the instructions in God’s Word, and the life we are to live in Christ, our religion is in vain, and we have become blind guides who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel (Matthew 23:24). When we stumble on the greater things of God’s word, but fulfill the hedges that we have set up, do you think it will mean anything on judgment day? Will we receive mercy based on the fact that we follow our own rules? I only hope you can live up to your own Judgment of others, because God will be as strict to you in the final judgment as you are to others (Luke 6:37-38).

Further Reading: Matthew 23, Luke 18:9-14


Wait For Me

waiting by
Ramon Mariano

In our culture, we rush around, and we want immediate results. When we want an answer we immediately go to the Internet and do a search for our topic. We want that $300,000 home, and that $50,000 SUV right now, even though we can’t pay for it. Having things immediate is not always wrong, unless we have more debt than we can manage, but our sense of immediacy will not do us any good.

God wants us to wait for His timing. He wants us to seek him and to find him, but not to expect overnight results. When we receive Christ in baptism, we don’t have full understanding of all things Christians. We have to ask, seek, and knock (Matthew 7:7). And then we have to be patient.

When Abraham was seventy-five years old when God told him to go to Canaan (Genesis 12). He left his home on Faith, but he was childless. A few years later, we see that God promises Abraham a child of his own (Genesis 15). But Abraham and Sarah choose to intervene on God’s behalf, instead of waiting for him. Abraham has a child with Sarah’s servant, Hagar (Genesis 16). Because he did not wait for The LORD, Abraham had years of strife between Hagar and Sarah, and even had to send Hagar into the dessert with her son. God fulfills his promise through Isaac when Abraham was 100 years old. God told Abraham to “wait for me,” and God fulfilled his promise.

“The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him” (Lam 3:25). “But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31). “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him” (Psalm 37:7a).

For those who are unmarried, wait for God. I did not meet my wife until I was 26, which seemed like an eternity at the time, and waiting was not my choice, but he has blessed me so much in finding the perfect spouse. For those who are trying to have children, be patient with God. That’s not to say that adoption isn’t a good choice, but it just takes time.

Wherever you are in life, seek God, Be in the Word, Pray. Wait for God.


Dragging Others to Hell May Cause Burns

3_in_the_fire.83182856_stdNebuchadnezzar was a very powerful, and very bad man. He captured many nations, and was responsible for the death of many as he conquered the people of the middle east. I would compare his acts to those of Hitler or Stalin to the people of his day.

However, Nebuchadnezzar was an instrument used by God, and God even call him, “my servant” (Jeremiah 27:6).

In Daniel 3, Nebuchadnezzar had a golden image set up, and all of the nations were commanded to bow down and worship the idol. This idea was against what the Jews were commanded, and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down to this image. Nebuchadnezzar became so angry that he ordered the furnace to be heated to seven times it’s normal temperature, and he had them thrown in. The fire was so hot, that those that threw them in were killed due to the extreme heat. God saved Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

Today, we have those in the brotherhood who would choose to drag down and point out others, instead of focusing on our own shortcomings, improving our own walk, and on building up the body. When we are so caught up in dragging others to hell, whether it be individuals or as a group, we are only right outside the gates. Just like the Babylonian guards, we too will be burned up if we are not careful. It is not our place in the body of Christ to study about how others are doing it wrong. We can study the truth in God’s word, without pointing fingers that degrades others.

Jesus tells us, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3). We all have sin (Romans 3:23), so what gives us the right to put others down when we are imperfect ourselves?

Paul, Peter, and Christ all call out those who do wrong, but in all circumstances that I have researched, it is directly affecting that specific group that is being addressed. Sitting in our building and pointing out the theological problems of the Christians down the street neither builds up nor calls those people to repentance.

Paul states that God gave our leaders to “equip the saints for the work of ministry,” and “for building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:11-12). Did he give us leaders to cut others down, or so that the community knows that we are the only ones going to Heaven? (This is how many view the church of Christ). God is the one true judge. Go and study the Bible with those people, but we should be just as willing to discover the Truth as we expect them to be.

Our attitude also should be in humility and love. Telling others bluntly that they are wrong will not bring others to the knowledge of the truth. Only with prayer (1 Tim 2:1-4), gentleness, patience (2 Tim 2:25), and love (Eph 4:15) can we reach the lost.

Our aim and goal in life is to strive to be like Christ (1 John 2:6, 1 Pet 2:21, Eph 5:1-2,
John 13:13-17). Let us strive to build up, and not cut down. Let us teach the truth from the Word of God.


Entertainment or Worship

So we had LCU’s Best Friends come and sing for our college group tonight. They all had good voices, and did a good job performing, but one thing I have a huge problem with is getting “worship” confused with “entertainment.”

First of all, I’m going to define worship. From what I’ve seen in the bible, worship can mean one of two things. One can live a life of worship. Also, a group of people can worship together in song, or in the old testament worship was through sacrifice. Worship can be displeasing as in the case of Cain, Nadab and Abihu, Saul, and the many other times. It’s easy for worship to become unacceptable to God as we see in these cases.

I used to sing a group, and at times I struggled with whether it was acceptable to God to do so. We were not a praise team, and we never said we were up there in order to “worship.”

I have come to the conclusion that any performances, by singing groups or choirs, are to be considered as entertainment. Entertainment is not worship, because worship is for God, not for man.


Son Burn

Just recently, I went on a camping trip, and I was in the sun so much that I came home with a sunburn. I’ve been thinking a lot about Christ’s humanity, and how as a full human being He was able to be so close to God, and to know God so well. It seems to me that He was completely human, and was only empowered by the Holy Spirit to teach, prophesy, and perform miracles. This seems to be in line with the gospels and Phil 2:6-7.

When Moses came from Mount Sinai, his face was radiant because he had been in the presence of God (Exodus 34:29-35). We should strive for a relationship so close to God, so close to Christ, that we get a “Son Burn.” People should see Jesus shine from us (Matt 5:16).

Christ said for us to be perfect as God is perfect (Matt 5:48), but we use excuses, such as “I’m only human.” Imperfection should be accepted, but perfection should be continually striven for.

Enoch isn’t spoken of much in the Bible, but it says he walked with God (Genesis 5:21-24).

Jacob wrestled with God, and overcame according to Genesis 32:22-31. We need to struggle with (notice I didn’t say against) God in our life.

A mature Christian needs to walk with God, wrestle with God, and strive for perfection.


A Heart for God

In the old testament, one of the things that I think God was trying to stress the most is that he wants our hearts. He wishes for us to have a need to serve him; not because we’re scared of hell, or because our parents said so, but because we have a need for God, and because we’re nothing without Him.

Isaiah makes it clear when he speaks the words of the Lord, “‘These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men” (Isaiah 29:13). They enforced the details of the law, and only followed them out of tradition. Their worship and praise was meaningless.

Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, basically makes a point that the law isn’t the important part of following God. If you read through it, you’ll find multiple, “You have heard… but I tell you” phrases. “You have heard… ‘Do not murder’… But I tell you… anyone who is angry… will be subject to judgement” (Matthew 5:21-22). “You have heard… ‘do not commit adultery’… but I tell you… anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).

I’m not saying that the law isn’t important, because it is given to us for a reason. Jesus states to the woman at the well that people would worship in “Spirit and in truth” (John 4:23). Without spirit, our life in Christ will not last, but without truth, our life in Christ will be in vain. We have to follow God, both with our hearts, and by the Word of God.


Choosing God or Self

In early Israelite days, God chose for the people to have judges. These judges would direct the people in the ways of God. But the people were unhappy with this system of rule. They looked around at the other nations and saw how all the nations around them had a king. They said to Samuel, “‘Behold, you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations'” (I Samuel 8:5). They rejected the will of God. “The LORD said to Samuel, ‘Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them'” (I Samuel 8:7). They went by their gut-feeling rather than trusting in God.

In many, many churches today, we see a lot of gut-feeling decisions. They’re not based on the Word of God, but rather, what they feel should be done. God does have a will, and even though people may believe that the Bible is a guide for us to pick and choose what to follow, there is no foundation in that belief. “…Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). The will of God, as stated here is “good”, “acceptable”, and “perfect.” Divisions in the Church were created by people who pick and choose what they want to follow. A verse here, a verse there, and they’ve created a new Church.

Sin in our personal lives occurs because of our own selfish desires. We look around, and are jealous of others living in sin. It’s appealing on the outside. But in Romans 12:23, it tells us that “the wages of sin is death.” But we have hope in Jesus Christ, because “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We cannot live in sin and be in Christ Jesus.

God is a forgiving God, and if it were not for that, we would have no hope. After the Israelites had chosen a king, Samuel confronted the people, and they repented.“Then all the people said to Samuel, ‘Pray for your servants to the LORD your God, so that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil by asking for ourselves a king.’ Samuel said to the people, ‘Do not fear. You have committed all this evil, yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart. You must not turn aside, for then you would go after futile things which can not profit or deliver, because they are futile'” (I Samuel 12:19-21).


Wisdom From Above

In a recent class I was in, we discussed Godly wisdom. In everything wordly, we see “bitter jealousy” and “selfish ambition” (James 3:14). These lead to destruction. But with Godly wisdom, when a person is no longer seeking glory for themselves, the world becomes a better place.

So how do we get wisdom from above? David tells Solomon to “seek her as silver And search for her as for hidden treasures” (Proverbs 2:4). We are told to pray for it in James: “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).

In James 3:17, this wisdom is summed up: “…The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.” With wisdom from above, life is more fulfilling.


Vain Belief

We can learn many lessons from the life of Paul. We originally see him at the stoning of Stephen, watching over the coats of the witnesses (Acts 7:58). A friend of mine recently pointed out the fact that Paul’s vain beliefs, when he was Saul, can be compared to many people today.

Paul, originally known as Saul, was zealous for what he believed. He followed his heart in everything, and took action for what he believed. He knew that Christianity was only a cult following a maniac. He was one of the most enthusiastic to see that it was stopped. But what he knew to be right, what he believed, was wrong. He was rebuked by Jesus Himself in a vision (Acts 9:1-18). Saul’s life would have been in vain had he not known the truth. He became a Christian, and wrote over half of the New Testament books.

I would guess that over nine of ten of Christians take everything the preacher says as truth. They accept traditions and habits as Biblical. People chase after what “feels good.” They accept anything for truth as long as it sounds good. But, as Solomon writes over and over in Ecclesiastes, “Everything is Meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 12:8). But, “the conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).

If you look for what feels good, even if you’re doing it to serve God, you will come up unsatisfied. The way of true worship can only be found in the Bible.