Sunday, August 12, 2012

Jeremiah 29: The comfort of the Lord's discipline

This is a wonderful chapter. God's people have abandoned Him and served other gods, over and over again, and as a result they are about to be taken into exile to Babylon. There is no doubt in the text that this is punishment for their unfaithfulness, and a fulfillment of the Curse which Moses warned them of, should they abandon their Lord and Saviour.

Yet, love and gentleness are evident here. In Jeremiah 27, God has told His people that if they submit to this inevitable exile graciously and humbly, and do not resist the Babylonians, that they will be spared the murderous destruction that was typical of conquest at that time, and their lives will be spared. But the false prophets argue and subvert Jeremiah's admonition by telling the people that Babylon will fall in two years (it does not.) The people do resist, and we know that their city fell in fire, rape, pillage, and the dashing of infants' heads against the rocks. This was not what God wanted.

In this chapter, Jeremiah addresses the exiles who were taken in the first wave, before the total destruction. Daniel was among these. They are told to embrace life there in exile, not to pine and despair, but to live, to marry, to have babies, to grow food, and to increase in number (very similar to the command to Adam and Eve to "be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.") Most surprisingly, rather than try to undermine or sabotage the Babylonian culture, they are to pray for it, to seek its good, to seek the good of any Babylonian city to which they are taken, for "in its prosperity shall be your prosperity." Why? "Because I know my plans for you, plans not for calamity but for a future and a hope." (My wife's favorite verse.) This whole terrible experience is part of God's plan for their good, for their cleansing, even as a loving father sadly chastises his son or daughter so that they will grow up straight and good and have a good life.

We know that God did ultimately judge Babylon for its great pride and brutality, but that was not to be the goal of his people. They were to seek the real good of these pagan cities, and in so doing, could still have a good life even in the midst of their punishment. Many, even most of the exiles would never see Jerusalem again...seventy years was longer than the normal life span. Yet their children would, and these exiles were to make sure that there would be children to return, and that those children understood why they had been exiled, that they would never fall into idolatry again.

As we find ourselves disciplined by the Lord, we should remember Babylon. Though He chastise us, it is because He loves us and seeks our real prosperity. Furthermore, as we live in these pagan cities of the West, knowing that they are not our homes, we should nevertheless live fully in them, seek their prosperity, for in their prosperity will be our prosperity.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Acts 19: Magic and the name of Jesus

In Ephesus, Paul finds a small group of disciples who apparently heard the gospel in a very indirect and incomplete way, yet believed what they had heard. Paul finds that they have only heard and entered into John the Baptist's baptism of repentance. After explaining the full gospel, they are baptized "in the name of Jesus", and immediately begin speaking in tongues as a manifestation of their receipt of the Holy Spirit. This, I think everyone will agree, is rather miraculous.

Later we see Paul teaching for an extended period in Ephesus, and teaching carefully and accurately about Jesus, as we noted yesterday. In this context of careful teaching and preaching of Jesus, Paul also performs many miracles. This catches the attention of "spiritual practitioners' (exorcists) who try to cast out demons in Jesus' name, but cannot. In another place, a magician named Simon is impressed with Paul's apparent ability to "cause" the Holy Spirit to fall upon his hearers, and offers to buy this power, earning a strong rebuke from Paul.

These incidents seem to offer some insight into the meaning of doing anything "in the name of Jesus." Jesus taught that if we ask anything "in his name", the Father will grant it. This sounds almost like magic. However the episodes in Acts show that it is not merely a matter of saying, "In Jesus' name", but rather of being in a real, actual and personal relationship with Jesus. The miracles performed by Paul were incidental, not central, to his ministry of serving others by bringing them into a relationship with Jesus. The miracles occurred because he had a relationship with Jesus, knew Jesus, and shared His heart and desires. Simon and the exorcists had no such relationship, and their attempt to use Jesus' name in a formulaic way, like an incantation, was abortive.

We are asking "in the name of Jesus" only when we have a relationship with him and are in a position in which we represent His desires when we pray. If we are simply stating our own desires, without reference to that relationship, and add the words, "In Jesus name", we are using His name in a magical way, and can expect no particular answer, except possibly discipline.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Acts 18: Reasonable faith.

Twice in this chapter, it is stated that Paul "reasoned" with his hearers, trying to persuade the Jews of the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Late in the chapter, Priscilla and Aquila take aside another preacher of the gospel and instruct him more carefully, so that what he states will be more accurate. All the persuading and refutation going on here is based upon reason and an accurate understanding of scripture and historical facts.
There is no touchy-feely, loosey-goosey gospel here, but sober, careful, prolonged reasoning in which accuracy is paramount. Paul does not rely on tricks, or emotional appeals, but seems to rely upon careful discourse with educated men and women. Earlier in the book of Acts, a possessed slave girl known for divination follows Paul around and proclaims that he is telling the truth. One might think that Paul would welcome this testimony, but he does not. He is annoyed with it, and eventually casts out the demon, even though the demon was "supporting his message." He is content with the gospel message, carefully and reasonably preached and discussed, and needs and wants no dramatic sideshows, even if they support his message.

Today, the gospel, taken seriously, learned carefully, and discussed faithfully and accurately, is equally persuasive. The reason of man may not be sufficient to discover the gospel or attain salvation, but it is nevertheless a gift to man from God which is to be used in all our discourse about the gospel.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Thoughts on Readings

Not much...almost nothing...has been going on here. I am convicted that despite all the reading and thinking that I do, I don't very often share what I have learned. Each time I pray the Daily Office, I pray the line, "Lord, Open our lips". Perhaps, if I simply write down some of the thoughts I have when doing my devotional reading, someone out there might find it useful. So here goes....