Leviticus and Holiness, Grace and Worship

January 31, 2012 at 9:29 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Grace and Faith, Worship | 1 Comment

To our modern and post-modern ears, Leviticus is a rather boring book.  It is full of seemingly irrelevant rules and regulations about sacrifices and priests – things we don’t need or use today.  However, to the careful reader, there are many gems to be found.  Here are two exercises to help find some of those: First, when you read this book, notice how often God mentions holiness, cleanliness, and related thoughts; the theme verse is “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.” (found in 19:2 and other places)  God desires his people to be holy.  That would have two lessons for today, both a reminder of how we should act and a reminder of our ultimate holiness, which is found in Jesus.  Second, as you are reading the Law books of the Old Testament, take time to read Hebrews 8:1 through 10:18 numerous times.  Your eyes will be opened to the incredible work that God did through Jesus; you’ll see in part what it means that the Law is fulfilled in Jesus.

I found one of those hidden gems while reading Leviticus today.  I was amazed that God ordained Aaron to be the high priest in Leviticus 8 and 9, considering that it had been only a short time since Aaron made the golden calf idol for the Israelites to worship, and how, when confronted about it, he told Moses an outright lie to pass the blame.  Yet, here in Leviticus, God is still making him the priest.  What a picture of grace and forgiveness!  Before Aaron and his sons could do anything, they had to offer a sacrifice for themselves, for their own sin, but when they had done that, they were able to offer sacrifices for the people too.  I’m sure the Israelites saw the grace pictured in this, so after Aaron had made the sacrifices, and after he had blessed them, and after the glory of the LORD appeared, “they shouted for joy and fell face down!” (9:24 NIV)  We should emulate their response.  How often do we take God’s grace and forgiveness as routine, when we should shout for joy and fall down to worship?

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Selah! (ESV vs NIV Volume 3)

January 27, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts, English Bible Translations | 3 Comments

When I studied Psalms in graduate school, my professor was Robert Alden, who had been on the original NIV translation team.  He told us that we don’t know for sure the meaning of that funny word in Psalms, “selah.”  (Not funny in a comical way, but funny in the sense that it is not a recognizable English word; translators use the actual Hebrew instead.)  He said the most popular idea among scholars is that this marks a musical interlude, and that a musical interlude is a time to reflect on what was said before it.  He always used the word as a pause, and exclamation point – a reminder to go back and think about what was just read.  I have tried to use that word as such a reminder ever since.  Even if that was not the original meaning of “selah,” it is a good exercise for readers today.

Psalm 39 is a great example.  Twice the text says “Each man’s life is but a breath. Selah” (5, 11)  This is a point that should be pondered, for it will bring forth prayers like the ones in this poem.  “Show me, O LORD, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life.” (4)  And it will force us to the same commitment David makes in the midst of this pondering, “Now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.” (7)  Another great example is found in Psalm 49 – one of my all-time favorites.  Here we are reminded again that people are temporal; despite their wealth or fame they perish. Selah! (See verse 12-13)  But the good news is “God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself.”  Think about that! (15)  Both places where our word appears in this chapter are great points to ponder.  All of us are temporal, and our only hope is God’s redemption.

But I wonder if Dr. Alden isn’t rolling over in his grave, for the NIV2011 has left that word out of its translation. (Selah!)  The translation committee, who claim the very words of scripture are inspired by God, totally ignored this word, seventy-one times!  I’m not one to say that every word has to correspond to something in English; that would be naïve.  When the original meaning can be conveyed in fewer English words than Hebrew or Greek, then the translators have the option of using fewer words.  In such a case the words are not ignored; they are taken seriously and their meaning is considered.  However, this matter of “selah” is something entirely different.  This word is simply ignored in the text – a point that, in my mind, goes against their own stated translation theory.  Since I have tried to use “selah” as a reminder to slow down and ponder, I have already missed it terribly in my reading of various psalms this year.  I’ve started going through and writing it in by hand a few pages ahead of where I’m reading, so I will be reminded to meditate on the Word.  If my readers can’t tell from my tone, this point is a huge negative on the NIV2011, and will weigh heavily in my decision of which translation to preach out of in the future.

For my conclusions on NIV vs ESV check out my post called Grieving the NIV

Saved During the Tribulation?

January 17, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Posted in Eschatology, Questions for Pastor Glenn | 3 Comments

Dear Pastor Glenn,

The past few weeks I have been attending a new church – a Baptist church – that is much closer to me.  Because I am new, I’ve been paying attention to doctrine … and something finally hit me last night in our Sunday night get together.  In his sermon, the pastor mentioned that he did not believe there would be any salvation after the Rapture.  That “Even if you want to believe, you will not be able to.”  That God would not permit it.

Something about that rubbed me the wrong way.  So I decided to look through Revelation.  Right away, I found in Revelation 7 the image John writes about the Multitude from every nation and every tongue, washed clean and clothed in white robes … washed clean by the Blood of the Lamb and by the Great Tribulation.  This seems to me to describe that people will find Christ in the end times … in fact, a multitude beyond count will!

Glenn, could you offer any opinion or insight you have on this?

Thank you!

 

Dear _______,  It’s good to hear from you.

This whole area of what will happen during the Tribulation is a complicated one.  I grew up being taught one perspective, and have, over the years, migrated to another.  You can read many reasons for that transition in my blog by clicking on the Eschatology category link.  Not all those posts are about that matter in particular, mostly just the older ones.  Basically, I have become convinced that what we call the Rapture will take place after the Great Tribulation, not before it.  Again, it’s complicated, and related to some other major theological matters, but in it’s simplest form, I find Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 24:29-31, and the parallel in Mark 13, to be the clearest teaching about the time of the Rapture.  It will take place after what Jesus calls “a great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now – and never to be equaled again.”  I am assuming from your question that your pastor teaches that the Rapture will happen before the Great Tribulation.  If that is untrue, then much of what follows doesn’t apply.

Within my framework of understanding, your interpretation of Revelation 7 makes perfectly good sense (though some of that multitude will have been saved before the Tribulation).  I’m sure your pastor would have some other explanation for it.  The trouble with Revelation is that one’s end-time theology (that what “Eschatology” means) impacts the way it is interpreted more than the other way around.  When it comes to interpreting Revelation, I would be leery of anyone who can’t admit that.  Everyone admits that the book is full of symbolism, but just where the literal ends and the symbolism begins is not real clear.  And this is just one point where so many interpretations of Revelation are possible!

My perspective is that these matters are minor in comparison to some other issues.  However, these matters impact how we understand other theological issues, and visa-versa.  I don’t know that I’m familiar with the perspective your pastor is teaching, but it would make me question some other areas carefully.  Someone could come to that conclusion because they have what I might call a “hyper-dispensational” theology or because their understanding of the Gospel is different that what I believe the Bible teaches.  I grew up under dispensational teaching, but am no longer a dispensationalist; however, most who are dispensational are committed to the true Gospel, that is salvation is always a matter of grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, and that is true in every era of history.  Some who call themselves dispensational, believe that God saves people in different ways throughout different eras of history.  Various views of this nature could lead to an understanding that no one can be saved during the Tribulation.

If this is where your pastor is coming from, I would be careful about what he believes is salvation.  Please note, I’m not saying he must have an errant view of salvation, I’m just saying, if it were me, I would pay close attention.  Even some whom I might call “hyper-dispensational” teach the true message of salvation in this era, but might believe it to be something else in other eras.  Personally I find that inconsistent, but I’m sure there are those who believe that way.

Finally, your comment “Even if you want to believe, you will not be able to.  God would not permit it” opens another big theological “can of worms” and demonstrates how different areas of theology impact our understanding of this matter.  This quote seems to confess that God is sovereign over salvation, but indicates that some who want God to save them cannot be saved.  Those two matters are totally inconsistent in my understanding.  I believe God is sovereign over matters of salvation, and that God draws to Jesus those who will be saved.  Jesus’ words in John 6:37, 44 are sufficient to prove this.  In other words, if someone wants to be saved, God is drawing him.  This last matter could take up shelves of theology books, and, in the past it has!

In conclusion, this is probably a minor issue (unless, of course, the pastor there makes it a major one), and if everything else lines with scripture, then this would not be a deal breaker.  If he makes it a major one, then I would carefully check out these other matters as well.  By the way, what he is telling you is not a Baptist distinctive, so don’t connect those in your mind.

Blessings, Pastor Glenn

Abraham and Isaac; Assurance and Prosperity

January 10, 2012 at 10:38 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, False teaching, Security and Assurance | 1 Comment

January 10, 2012  Here is a thought from my devotions that should encourage us in our self doubts and reveal the fallacy of the popular prosperity gospel.  Those who say God blesses our faithfulness with material prosperity imply that those who are not wealthy don’t have enough faith.  That teaching leads to many self doubts among the non-wealthy; it makes them think they are not wealthy because of their sin or lack of faith.  As I read Genesis yesterday, it occurred to me that each time Abraham or Isaac sinned, the story of the sin was followed by a mention of God’s prospering them, yet Genesis never says they were repentant or even that they changed their ways so God would honor them with wealth.  It simply tells us God blessed them with wealth (you should read here “in spite of their sin!”).  In other words, God’s material blessing of Abraham and Isaac was a matter of sovereign grace and not a matter of faithfulness.

Notice the pattern:  In chapter 12 verses 11-13, Abraham calls Sarai his sister and not his wife.  In verse 16 Abraham was treated well for her sake and Pharaoh gave him livestock and servants; in other words, Abraham was blessed financially because he lied about his wife.  In verses 19-20 Pharaoh discovers the lie and sends Abraham away, but the very next paragraph (13:1-2) tells us that Abraham became even more wealthy.  When Abraham lied about his wife the second time, he was again blessed with livestock, slaves and silver (ch20).  Finally, when Isaac follows his father’s sin and calls Rebekah his sister, the discovery of the lie is once again followed by a statement of the man’s wealth (26:1-13).  In later years we could add Jacob to this list.  Though he and his father-in-law were constantly trying to out deceive each other, Jacob was made a rich man.  God blessed these men because he chose to do so and promised that he would.  He fulfilled that promise, not because of their faithfulness, but in because of his faithfulness in the midst of their unfaithfulness.

That should encourage those of us who doubt God’s promise because of our sin and unfaithfulness.  God keeps his word, in spite of us.  When the Bible says those who trust in Jesus have eternal life, it is true, even when we sin.

Enoch Walked Faithfully with God

January 4, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts, English Bible Translations | Leave a comment

My reading in Genesis yesterday struck me as interesting.  Chapter 5 is a Bible-trivia nut’s haven, with its list of men who achieved some outlandish ages.  However, the note that reverberates over the entire chapter, in spite of these men’s ages, is death.  Eight times we are reminded, as I titled a sermon once, “He Lived a Gazillion Years, and then He Died.”  However the shocker and, I believe, emphasis of the chapter is Enoch, who, instead of dying, walked with God.  Here I love what the NIV2011 did with that statement; they added the word faithfully.  “When Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah.  And after he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked faithfully with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters.  Altogether, Enoch lived 365 years.  Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.”  (21-24 NIV2011 – Identical to the NIV1984 except for that addition)  The added word gives a good and necessary emphasis.  It reminds me of the theologian who said the Christian life must be “a long obedience in the same direction.”  Christianity is not a flash in the pan emotional experience or a short lived belief, nor is it a “that happened to me once” religion.  It is a faithful walk over many years.  As we go through 2012 may we practice that long obedience in the same direction – that faithful walk with God whatever the year may bring.

On a translation note, this is where a looser thought-for-thought translation has an advantage over a strict word-for-word.  It can bring out a richer meaning, which, in some cases may be closer to the original idea.  Or, in the very least, can spark a deeper thought in the reader.  I’ll give my vote to the NIV in this case.

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