This blog contains the most recent articles from this web site.
It is basically a collection of opinionated but hopefully helpful and challenging articles to build you up.
The idea of a generational curse, a curse which is on you because of something one of your ancestors did or said, comes mainly from this passage in the “Ten Commandments”.
“You shall not make for yourselves an idol, nor any image of anything that is in the heavens above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: you shall not bow yourself down to them, nor serve them, for I, Yahweh your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and on the fourth generation of those who hate me, and showing loving kindness to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
The context here is very clear. This is the giving of the Ten Commandments.
Yahweh is giving Moshe some explicit rules for his people to live by. He is explaining his standard for expected behaviour for the recently liberated Hebrew people.
In particular the context of this sentence is idolatry. If you make idols I’ll be very jealous and I’ll punish you, your children, your children’s children, and even your great grandchildren.
But if you don’t. If you love me. I’ll show love and kindness to a thousand generations of your descendants.
So this isn’t a general claim that Yahweh will curse your children if you sin.
And it isn’t a general claim that your children will be disposed to the same sins you are.
Other sins have nothing to do with God’s jealousy. This is particularly about idolatry.
There is another really important thing about the context here. This is the very central chapter of the giving of the Old Testament, (the old covenant), The Law. It is for Jews. ONLY. Period.
See this article No Rules for a more detailed explanation if you need it. But the Bible is very clear. Christians are not under the Law. Yeshua fulfilled the Law and nailed it up with himself when he was executed.
This often misunderstood fact is the focus of much of the New Testament, (the new covenant). Read Ephesians, Galatians, or many others. Acts 15 is the historical account of how the early apostles had to confront that realisation and how they stopped insisting that new Christians keep the old Jewish Law.
So if we’re not accountable to the Law, then we’re not accountable for the consequences of breaking it. That’s done. That’s paid for.
There is no penalty for us, let alone for our children or their children.
So where does that leave generational curses?
Pretty much a non event for Christians.
I also hear those who push this idea quoting things like, Abraham lied, Isaac lied, and Jacob was a deceiver. Those things are true. But perhaps they just picked up those things by living with their parents. There is no proof that they behaved that way because their parents did something, or that it was because of some curse from God on their family.
And, not sure if you’re aware, but everyone lies. So no surprise that you can find a parent and a child who both lied. There is nothing in the Bible that implies that Abraham was a liar. Or that Isaac was a regular liar either. But only that they both told a particular lie to protect themselves. Honestly, that means nothing to me. And to build a theology of generational curses based on that is just absurd.
Citing case studies where one client has a particular behavioural issue, like addiction or crime, or a similar sin, and then blaming a generational curse because their parent has the same issue is not even logical, let alone Biblical.
Years ago I worked in a small church school. About 25 students. And I knew all their parents pretty well. One day I was watching one girl, and was wondering about her behaviour. I realised her mother was the same. So then I started watching all the kids and then comparing what I knew about their parents. Pretty much all their behaviour, I could see in their parents. I learned a lot about my friends from their kids.
Children copy parents.
Nothing to do with curses.
There are some curses on children in the Bible.
But they are there because they were spoken by the parents.
Noah cursed his grandson Canaan.
Israel (Jacob) cursed two of his sons on his deathbed.
But they were very clear and explicit. The parent knew they were cursing the child, and the child, (an adult), knew that their parent was cursing them.
And finally, let me add this about “genealogies”.
When you become a Christian you are born again. But not into the same family as before. You are now Yahweh’s child. Yeshua’s sibling. Your genealogy has been changed. Dramatically.
You are now in the genealogy of Yahweh. No curses in that family.
You have nothing to worry about.
Why Do You Bother
If you have no god in your life and you’re just living for yourself. Then why bother going to work? What do you get out of it?
Sure, you get money, and you can buy food and rent somewhere to live. But is that it? When you get to the end of your life will that be satisfaction enough? “I didn’t starve and I still have somewhere to sleep”.
Consider totally non-religious Irene, (apologies to all Irenes out there), who works in retail. She was never very good at school work, and her mother says she was lucky to get this job at all. It’s really low pay, and she has to deal with some pretty rude and obnoxious customers from time to time. The hours are long, and she has quite a commute to and from work every day, but she can’t afford a place nearer work. And she can’t afford to quit.
Can you imagine doing that every day for 40 years?
How would you feel towards the end of that. Accomplished? Satisfied? A life well spent?
I imagine Irene is desperate for a way to escape her dull life. But there isn’t one. She has no choice but to endure it until it’s over.
Consider another woman, a fully committed Christian, Isabel. She also works in retail.
But for her, it’s a mission from God. She has a human boss, but she sees herself as working directly for God. She works every day as if God was going to call by at lunchtime and see how well she was doing.
She understands what Yeshua was talking about when he said how he had been poor, and sad, and lonely, and sick… but nobody had helped him. Because when anybody is poor, or sad, or lonely, or sick… and nobody helps them, he takes it personally, as if it was him who was suffering there.
She sees every customer as if they were Yeshua, visiting her store. She treats them the way she would treat him, with respect. And particularly when they’re rude, or they do seem lonely or sick, she reaches out to them with love and caring. When they leave the store, whether they bought anything or not, they go home changed. They go home feeling better about themselves, and knowing that someone cares. She sees Yeshua in them, but they see Yeshua in her too. Reaching out to them, not in judgement and condemnation, but in love and acceptance.
After 40 years, Isabel will feel satisfied. She will know that she has faithfully carried out her mission. She has a purpose that keeps her going day after day, even when it’s tough. Especially when it’s tough.
When she gets to the end of her life, she will know that she did well.
So two women, both doing the same job, but one has a purpose and one doesn’t. One has satisfaction and one doesn’t. One has a reason to jump out of bed every day, and one doesn’t. One sees her job as a mission, the other one sees her job as something she has to endure. One has pride in her job, one doesn’t.
One knows that this job is part of the reason she exists. To do this job as Yeshua would do it. Yahweh God has made her uniquely gifted to do this very job for him. To represent him to the people who come to her store. People who might not otherwise have any encounter with Yeshua.
One knows that she makes a difference.
One doesn’t. (But she could).
One knows that God loves and values her.
One doesn’t. (But she should, because he does).
One knows that she has a purpose.
And that purpose changes everything.
Giving the Devil a Foothold
The NIV translates Ephesians 4:26-7 as “’In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”
On the surface, that sounds like it’s saying that if you go to bed angry, then you have given the devil a foothold. And “deliverance ministries” take this verse to mean that you have given the devil authority to enter your life.
More literal translations, like the NASB, or the LWT, translate the word “foothold” as “opportunity”. The LWT says
“Be provoked to anger, but don’t sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger, neither give an opportunity to Diabolos.”
That is saying that it’s ok to get angry, but when you do, don’t let that result in you sinning. It’s also saying, don’t go to bed angry, resolve it today. And it’s also saying, don’t give the devil an opportunity.
Opportunity and foothold are quite different things.
The Greek word τοπον (topon) means a piece of land. Clearly nobody is giving the devil a block of land, of any size. This word is being used figuratively here.
Foothold has the connotation of something to stand on, somewhere to put your foot as you make an assault on a wall or cliff face. And that connotation is not in the original Greek.
Opportunity is just an opportunity, and it is a better translation of the figurative use in the context of this passage.
But either way, neither of these words have anything to do with authority. Neither of these translations, nor the original Greek are saying anything about giving the devil any authority over you or over the church.
This section of Ephesians has a context.
“Regarding the former way of life, take off the old person, the one which is being corrupted by the desires of deceit, and be renewed by the spirit of your mind, and put on the new person, which is being created, just like God – in righteousness and in the piety of the truth.”
Paulus is comparing our former way of living with what we should be in Yeshua. He is telling us to choose to remove the old way, and to actively take on the new way. And he is giving us some examples. In modern jargon, he is “unpacking” that for us so we can understand how to apply it to our lives.
For example, he says, worldly people lie to each other. Don’t do that. Speak the truth with your neighbours, especially other Christians.
He says, we all get angry, that’s OK. But worldly people sin when they’re angry, (they take revenge, or hurt the other person, or turn to drugs, sex, power, … anything to take away their own hurt).
Paulus says, don’t do that. It’s OK to get angry, but don’t sin when you do. And in particular, don’t let your anger simmer, deal with it today.
If you don’t, you give the devil an opportunity - (to damage the church, to damage your relationships, and to damage you). Opportunity, not authority.
It’s dangerous for a soldier to raise their head to look around. Doing so gives the enemy an opportunity to shoot them. But it doesn’t give them permission!
He says, if you used to steal things, stop doing it. And be willing to work hard to earn what you have so you can share with those who are in need.
And when you speak, speak good things, that build others up, not rubbish that tears them down. Show that you care about one another. Stop thinking about just yourself.
There is no implication that failing in these ways gives Satan any authority whatsoever. Only that when we do them it grieves the holy spirit who knows how we should be living and is desperately trying to change our thinking so we can.
The cure to all these, is to have your mind renewed by the spirit of Yahweh. The same message as Romans 12. Your mind will be renewed and that will change your behaviour. As your mind is transformed by the holy spirit, your way of living will become more and more like Yeshua, and less and less like those around you who are still sold out to the ideas and values of this world.
This passage of Ephesians is nothing to do with demon possession.
It is nothing to do with giving Satan authority over your life.
It is about one thing: Taking off your old life, and putting on the new one.
Reading more into it than that is just giving the devil an opportunity.
I’m the Foremost Sinner
In 1 Timothy 1, Paulus said that this is a good saying, “Yeshua came into the world to save sinners, of whom I’m the foremost.”
I’m sure I’ve said this before. Paulus is not saying that he is the worst sinner ever. He’s saying that you are.
Well he’s not really saying that either, but he is saying that we should all think this way. It’s a “saying” and we should all accept it. We should have the attitude that “I am the foremost of sinners.”
For the Western mind we always want to be “in” the cool crowd. We usually prove our claim to be “in” by showing that we’re not “out”. We do it by comparing ourselves to others.
To show that we’re a good person we could make the claim, “I’m not as bad as Hitler”. But that doesn’t prove anything.
It does seems likely that there is a line somewhere between Yeshua and Hitler. Those on the right side of the line are “in” and those on the wrong side are “out”. But even though you might not be as bad as Hitler, you still might be on the wrong side of the line.
The question we should be asking ourselves is not, “Am I as bad as Hitler?”, it’s, “Am I as good as Yeshua?”
Clearly the answer is “no”. I’m out.
One of my early Bible teachers, John Woodward, taught me this. Imagine you’re in a totally pitch black room, when suddenly, across the room, someone light’s a small candle. Even in the light of that one candle you suddenly realise that the clothes you are wearing are filthy! So you clean them up as best you can, and feel a bit better about yourself.
After some time you move a bit closer to the candle. It’s light hasn’t changed, but you’re closer, so it’s brighter for you. You realise you missed a few spots. You clean up some more.
Each time you move closer you realise your clothes are STILL dirty. But each time you also think you got it all this time.
This is how the spirit of God reveals sin in your life. Little by little, bit by bit. Enough for you to deal with at a time. As we move closer to God we realise we still have a lot of sin issues to clean up.
When you move closer and see some previously undetected stain on your clothes - it’s very easy for you to look back at the people far away and judge the filthiness of theirs. It’s easy to say, “At least I’m not as bad as them”, as you point your finger back.
What you don’t realise, is that it is not a candle. It is the bright shining light of Yeshua in his totally spotless, shining white garments. It looks like a candle to you because you are still so, very, very far away.
Accept the saying.
Accept that YOU are the foremost of sinners.
You need to look at the mess on your own shirt, and keep your eyes focused forwards in repentance, not backwards in judgment.
You Can’t Defeat Sin
I know it sounds disheartening, especially if you feel like you’re just giving in to a particular sin way too much, or worse, you feel under it’s control.
But honestly, it’s impossible for you to have the victory so you may as well give up trying.
No amount of making rules for yourself, or of making yourself accountable, or of joining groups, or of confessing your sins to anyone, (to each other or to some priest), no amount of harsh treatment of your body, no amount of will power, or even of rewarding yourself for obedience - none of these will ever help you.
At the end of Colossians 2, Paulus wrote that some of these sound like they’re good ideas, but they have no power at all against the gratification of the flesh.
You have to face the truth that you don’t want to hear. You are powerless to overcome sin. It is your master.
Adam and Eve caved. All their sons caved. One of their sons even killed his brother just because he was jealous that Yahweh liked his brother’s sacrifice more.
For a little over 1,500 years, generation after generation gave in to their sin.
Until one day Yahweh had had enough and he wiped everyone except one family from the planet.
Even though we usually know the difference between good and evil, we all keep choosing evil.
About a thousand years after the flood “restart” we read how Yahweh gave the Israelites more detail on how to do good - a list of laws, (613 of them), which they had to obey on punishment of death. Quite a detailed list, with quite a penalty as extra motivation.
But even then… they broke them all. So would we.
Yahweh knew that they would… when he gave them the law he said, “And when you break them… do this.”.. And he gave them rules for animal sacrifice - so an animal would die instead of them, and their sin would be covered up for a while. Not removed. Not disempowered. Just covered up.
They lived like that for 1,500 years.
Then Yeshua, son of Yahweh, came to the Earth as a human. He alone lived a life with no sin. He alone chose good over evil, every time. He alone had victory over sin.
His death instead of ours was a sacrifice that did more than cover up our sin. It removed it completely. As if it had never even happened.
That’s pretty awesome.
But that still doesn’t give US victory over sin.
Paulus, super apostle, possibly the greatest example of a man who lived for God. Still couldn’t control his sin. In Romans 7 even he laments, that in spite of all that Yeshua has done for us. In spite of Paulus being an expert on the law of Moshe, in spite of previously being a fanatical adherent to that law. In spite of having been saved by the direct personal intervention of Yeshua in a truly miraculous and amazing way. STILL, Paulus kept doing what he hated doing. In his mind he wanted to do good, but he kept doing bad.
So what hope have you got?
Are you thinking, “None”?
You’re almost right… things are pretty bad. But fortunately this IS hope.
It is 100 ue that you cannot defeat sin.
But… you don’t have to.
That same Paulus, in that same letter, went on to talk about how to live by the spirit of God instead of by our own flesh. How to live in a way that does not conform to the ways of the world, and which chooses good over evil.
Hand your mind over to God. Let him renew your mind, your fundamental thinking. Let him change your priorities, your values, your motivations. And your mind will be renewed. You will quite honestly lose your desire to sin.
It might return. If it does, hand you mind over to Yeshua again. Let him renew you again.
Yeshua will change your behaviour by changing your mind. Yeshua will have the victory over sin in your life, just like he did in his own life almost 2,000 years ago.
Bit by bit, little by little, just like when he drove out the previous occupants of the promised land, Yeshua will drive out the sin in your life. Your selfishness, your lust, your pride, your greed,… one by one, little by little.
Let him choose which one, in which order. Let him choose when. Let him choose how.
You cannot have victory over sin, but Yeshua already does, already did, and wants to do it again - in you.
Why Yeshua and not Jesus?
When I was in school the capital city of China was Peking. Now it’s Beijing.
The city didn’t move, it’s the same city, we just started calling it a different name.
In China the name didn’t change. When I was in school the Chinese called it 北京 and they still do. In Mandarin Chinese it’s pronounced běijīng, and it means “northern capital”. So you can see where we get our modern name for it by transliterating the Chinese name.
So where did Peking come from?
In the 17th century, French missionaries to China called the city “Pechinum”. That translated into English as “Pequin”, which became “Peking”.
But now the Chinese government prefers the more correct transliteration of Beijing. Fair enough. So we’re all changing.
We still eat Peking Duck, and we still use the old name in some other contexts, but we recognise that it is both more accurate, and more respectful to the Chinese, to call it Beijing.
Some older people still refer to it as Peking, having grown up calling it that, it’s hard for some people to change. But within a generation we have come to accept the more accurate name, and most younger people are unaware that it was ever anything else.
What has that got to do with Jesus?
In his native Aramaic, Jesus’ name was ישוע, Yeshua. It is the Aramaic equivalent of Yehoshua, (which we Latinised as Joshua), and which means “Yahweh Saves”.
The New Testament was written in Greek, and they transliterated Yeshua to Ιησους, Iesous. Which early Christians transliterated into Latin as IESUS. And finally around the 12th century when English introduced the pattern of a using a leading J for words beginning with I but which had a Y sound, IESUS was changed to become JESUS, (but still pronounced more like Yesus).
This article has more about the history and meaning of the name Yeshua.
So the name Jesus is a bit like Beijing’s journey to becoming Peking. A modification of the transliteration of another transliteration in a third language, of the real thing.
So, now we know that originally he was called Yeshua, and that even our modern “Jesus” should be pronounced “Yesus”. What should we do? As we did with the Chinese capital, should we be more accurate, and more respectful?
I think we should.
So on this site we refer to the son fo God as Yeshua. The transliteration of his actual Aramaic name.
It is hard at first, but you do get used to it.
Perhaps within a generation …
Let Go of Your Stuff
Once you have stuff, (possessions, money, income, houses, cars…), it is really difficult to go back.
Once you are comfortable with a certain standard of living it becomes very hard to give it up.
One day a rich young man came to Yeshua to ask what he needed to do to inherit eternal life.
Yeshua told him to keep the commandments.
The man said that he had kept all those since he was young.
Yeshua said, “In that case, now all you need to do is sell everything you have and give the money to the poor and you will be done.”
The young man went away very sad. (He was rich).
We don’t read about whether he actually did sell everything. But the impression I get is that he thought that was too much for him to handle, and he couldn’t bring himself to do it.
But so what... that was him. How does that affect us?
Yeshua told him to keep the commandments. But he was a Jew. Jews have to do that.
We’re Christians. We don’t. Yeshua already did all that for us. The Law is complete for us. It no longer applies to us. We are free from it.
So do we need to do the rest of it either?
By the way, I think it’s interesting that in the Bible he is called a young man. Yet to justify himself he says he has kept the commandments since his youth. I would be more impressed if an old man said that. But its more than I can claim for myself, so I probably should just let that slide...
So whether Yeshua was impressed or not... he said he needed more. Keeping the commandments wasn’t enough. “Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor.”... Interesting! Not, to the church. But to the poor...
And then... “come and follow me”... Sell your possessions and follow me.
Yeshua didn’t tell everyone he met to sell their possessions. But it seems that he knew that for this guy his heart was on his possessions. Not on God. Even his original question,.. “How can I inherit eternal life.”... What’s in it for me? What can I get? How can I get what I want?
Shouldn’t our question be “How can I please God?” (Regardless of what we get out of it).
This guy’s heart was on himself, and more importantly on his possessions. And that was stopping him from following Yeshua. That was stopping him from serving God. It was keeping him from eternal life.
Now, there are several people in the Bible with whom God was very happy, and yet who were very wealthy. Solomon and Abraham just for starters. Both very wealthy people. Both loved by God. And I’m pretty confident, both with eternal life.
So having wealth isn’t the issue. It’s your attitude to it.
A few years ago my wife and I were discussing how we had too much stuff. As we talked about it and prayed about it, the idea came to us to give some away. So we decided that every day for a year we would give away something that we owned. For free, to someone we knew who needed it. It was so much fun.
People would come over for dinner and of course, over dinner they would talk about what was happening in their lives, and we would be looking for hints on what we could give them as a gift when they were leaving...
We had a big box in one room and we would regularly add things to the box that we either didn’t use much, or we felt we should really give away, and then we would start listening out for who we could give the new things to.
We loosened our grip on “stuff”.
But the more we did that, the more we realised that it was the stuff that had a grip on us, not us that had a grip on the stuff.
Our stuff, our possessions, our money, our lifestyle, had us in it’s grip and it didn’t want to let us go.
But the more we gave away, the looser that grip became.
A couple of years later we had to move interstate, so we gave away almost everything we owned and then bought replacements only as they were needed in our new home.
But about a year after we moved to our new home in the country, there was a huge bush fire which tore through the area we lived in, devastating property and destroying houses. When we saw the fire coming over the hills, we left our home behind us and drove off with a laptop computer and some paint brushes. (Our tools of trade, in case we couldn’t get back for a few days). Somehow it just didn’t occur to us that we might lose everything. We just thought God was going to keep it safe.
A few hours later one of our friends rang to say that she had just heard that our house was completely destroyed.
Oddly, my wife and I both had the same reaction to this news that all our “stuff” was gone... “Cool, now we can move anywhere!”.
The next day we were finally able to return to what was left after the fire. It was quite a surprise to see the house still standing. Completely untouched by the fire. The fire had destroyed almost 25 of the 30 acre property, but it had gone around the house and joined back together on the other side. Leaving the house and garden looking as good as ever. (And all our things untouched - which in the case of family photos, and things with sentimental value, was a great comfort).
So it was definitely a good feeling that everything was OK, but we were both surprised by how totally fine we were when we thought it was all gone. We really didn’t care. It was a good feeling to know that our stuff no longer had a hold on us.
Pray about how tightly your stuff has hold of you.
Law vs Grace
A few days ago I saw a live performance of “Les Miserables”. It is a great story. After being imprisoned for 19 years for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s starving child, Jean Valjean is released on parole. Javert is the policeman he must report to.
But society does not welcome him back and at his lowest point he meets Bishop Myriel. The bishop who is not well off himself gives him food and shelter. But he repays him by stealing the silverware. Of course he is caught and returned to the bishop by the police. But with Jean Valjean’s life in his hands the bishop explains to the police that this man is his friend, and in his rush to leave he forgot the candlesticks which he then gives to him. The police release him, and Jean Valjean is forever changed.
He becomes a good man and even becomes mayor of the town.
Fontine is a single mother, a widow, and works in Jean Valjean’s factory from which she is unfairly dismissed by his foreman. In her desperation she turns to prostitution to provide for her child, Cosette.
When he hears what happened to her Jean Valjean rescues her from prostitution and on her deathbed promises to take care of Cosette. And he does, raising her as his own daughter.
The second half revolves around the revolution. Jean Valjean supports the masses in their uprising. And when Javert is captured as a spy Jean Valjean is permitted to execute him. But he allows Javert to go free. To the great distress of Javert who cannot understand this response and suicides because he cannot face the revelation that he has spent his whole life pursuing a man who is actually a good person.
Later Jean Valjean also risks his own life to save the life of Marius, (Cosette’s fiance).
That is not the whole the story, and there are other “sub plots” within the play. But it’s enough to make a challenging point about grace and law.
Javert represents “Law” and despite his constant effort over many years he is unable to change Jean Valjean. In fact the efforts of the Law actually make him a worse person. Initially he very reluctantly stole a loaf of bread. But after 19 years under the Law he willingly stole the silverware from the one person who had shown him any compassion at all.
Javert continued to pursue Jean Valjean for his entire life. Desperately trying to prove what a bad person he was and to condemn him for whatever he could prove that he had done wrong. All the Law wants is to convict people of their mistakes and punish them for them. It has no positive effect on them at all. If there is any change it only makes them worse.
On the other hand, Bishop Myriel represents “Grace”. He interacted with Jean Valjean for only one night. But in that one brief interaction Jean Valjean was permanently changed for the good. He instantly wanted to become a better person. And he did. Becoming mayor, rescuing Fontine, raising Cosette as his own daughter, saving her fiance after the revolution, and giving Javert back his life. Grace wants to overlook the wrong which has been done and to do something to bless the wrongdoer.
The Law is relentless, it never gives up. But Grace needs only one opportunity.
So what? What does that mean for us?
We see the same thing in the Bible. The Law, (the Old Testament), convicts us of sin. It doesn’t help us to change. (At first it looks like it will, but it is powerless to do so). The Law just makes us feel worse. The Law makes us guilty. But even more, Paulus says that the law actually makes us want to break it. And we do.
But the free gift of grace, (the New Testament), which comes from God through Yeshua - changes us. You cannot become a Christian and remain unchanged.
Look at Paulus for example. As for following the Law he was “perfect”, but it made him ruthless, unloving, cold, legalistic. It made him a murderer! But after he was touched by grace he became loving, forgiving, self sacrificing.
A life of following the Law almost destroyed him, but grace changed him from the inside out after one brief encounter.
But Paulus is just typical of all of us. God could rightfully encounter all of us with law. But because of Yeshua, he is able to encounter us with grace. None of us could possibly stand if he used law. We are all guilty. We are all condemned.
But God is not the god of law, he is the god of grace. And in his grace he has accepted us. And it makes us want to change. It makes us want to be better people. It makes us want to live lives which please him.
So how about us? What do people encounter when they encounter us? Especially if they sin against us. Grace or Law?
Do we legalistically point out their flaws and their failings and reject them? Or do we overlook their failings. Do we forgive them? Do we assume the worst or do we struggle to find one possible positive interpretation of their behaviour? Do we presume innocence or do we presume guilt?
Most of us hope the guy speeding past us on the road meets a cop just around the corner. Most of us don’t want people to get away with doing the wrong thing. (Unless of course the person doing the wrong thing is us!). Most of us are upset when some young guy who blatantly broke a serious law doesn’t go to jail.
That is law. But what if we were people of grace instead of people of law.
How incredible would it be if every time someone sinned against us we responded with grace and they were permanently changed for the better. What if the story of your life was a trail of grace? What if everyone who encountered you could trace their new life back to that moment? What if thousands of people celebrating their new lives gave credit to you for that moment of grace. For that instant where you could have chosen law or grace, and you chose grace. When you could have justifiably responded with law and condemned them for their wrong doing, (and would have destroyed their life by doing so), but instead you chose grace.
Just like God did when he encountered you.
No, not a typo. Warning, not warming.
Throughout the Bible we see stories of famine and plague. But without exception they are the judgement of God against a nation. Usually to get their attention. To make them realise they have turned away from God and they need to turn back. Now.
So, all over the world now we are seeing growing concern about global warming. Fear that temperatures and oceans are rising. The ice is melting and life as we know it will come to an end if we don’t do something to reverse it.
Leaving aside the arguments about whether this is caused by mankind’s gaseous emissions or it is part of the cycle of the planet...
Regardless of the physical cause. We should be giving real thought as to whether this is a Global Warning.
Globally nations are turning away from God. We are increasingly driven by our greed for more and more money at the expense of others. We are increasingly self focused. Demanding our “rights”, especially our right to be happy.
We are even demanding our right to be happy regardless of how far we have strayed from the moral code handed down to us by God himself.
Who are we kidding?
History is an important thing. By studying history we improve our chances of not making the same mistakes over and over.
Biblical history teaches us that these kinds of climate events are usually the result of God trying to get our attention.
The Bible teaches us that it is time to urgently turn back to God with a sense of deep repentance and remorse.
Perhaps it is already too late? Perhaps this is already our last warning.
But the solution is not to reduce our emissions.
Just as the solution to poverty is not money, it is to turn back to God. So too, the solution to global warming is to turn back to God.
Not just individually. But as nations. Listen to the Global Warning and take heed.
Before it’s too late.
Imagine growing up knowing that you had been abandoned by your father as a toddler. Imagine knowing that your own father doesn’t love you.
Imagine having a man come up to you when you were in your 20’s who said, “Thank God, I have finally found you. I’m your father. You were kidnapped when you were 2 and I have been searching for you every day for 20 years.”
Imagine realising that you were lied to for 20 years. You weren’t abandoned, you were taken! By the person who has raised you. By the one you have treated as your father. You have been deceived for 20 years. Your father does love you. He always loved you.
Your real father never gave up hope, never stopped searching, never stopped loving, never stopped hoping that one day, you would be together again.
Isn’t this us?
Didn’t Satan kidnap us as children? Didn’t we grow up thinking, “God doesn’t love us.” Being told by the world that God doesn’t care. That we are all alone. That we are abandoned.
Isn’t God searching for us, calling us, weeping for us…
Let him find you.
He loves you.
I have always thought that being holy and being righteous were the same thing. I’m not sure how I got such a wrong idea, but recently, while translating Romans, I realised that they are quite different.
Righteousness is about right behaviour. It’s about doing good. It’s about not sinning.
Righteousness is about our actions.
(And for Christians, God gives us righteousness as a gift because we couldn’t possibly earn it for ourselves.)
But being holy is about our use. Things are holy if they have been dedicated to God for his use. In the old testament this basically meant that something, or someone, had been dedicated for exclusive use in the temple of God.
Holiness is about our use. About who we are supposed to serve with our actions.
Technically we can be holy without being righteous. We can be reserved for use by God but not always acting in ways that serve him well.
The opposite of holy is profane. Not a word we really use these days. Sometimes we say “common”. Things for every day use, not things that are for holy use.
So what? What does this mean for us?
We are supposed to be holy. You know that right... there are many references to that in the Bible. We are supposed to be dedicated for exclusive use by God. We are supposed to be set aside for him.
In fact, we are... God makes us holy by his Spirit. But our problem is that even though we have been set apart for God’s exclusive use, we still spend so much of our time being used for common purposes. Profane purposes.
How different would it be if we could see ourselves as holy. Being conscious all the time that we are reserved for God’s use. How would it be if we really were able to grab hold of that and only do things where we are serving God.
Think about the reaction there would have been if someone had used the holy bowls from the tabernacle for their morning porridge. They would have been stoned for desecrating God’s holy things.
Think about how you use yourself.
John The Baptist was No Angel
One of the things which really stood out to me when I translated the New Testament for myself, was how inconsistently we translate a lot of well known verses.
Definitely when you are translating one language to another you cannot just literally translate one word to one equivalent word in the other language. But Mark 1:2 quotes Malachi 3:1. “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me”. And in both those verses, the word translated “messenger” is translated as “angel” in almost every other place in the Bible. Why?
In Greek άγγελος (angelos) is just the word for “a messenger”.
In Hebrew מַלְאָך (malak) is also the word for “a messenger”.
Why don’t we just translate it as “messenger” everywhere. Why did we choose to transliterate the sound, “angel” instead of the meaning, “messenger”?
I can see that in Mark, we know that this is now talking about John the Baptist, (“baptism” by the way, is another Greek word, βάπτισμα (baptisma) which is transliterated as “baptism”, instead of being translated as “immersion”), so we can’t translate άγγελος as angel in Mark 1 because we know he’s not an angel, he’s a man.
But this is a quote from Malachi. And when Malachi was writing, wouldn’t he have thought it was an angel? Wouldn’t he have been thinking that Yahweh was going to send an angel ahead of himself to announce that he was coming?
And further down in Mark 1, when Yeshua was in the wilderness being tempted. We transliterate again and say, “he was attended by angels”.
This seems pretty inconsistent, kind of like we’re deciding what we want it to say based on what we believe, then shoe-horning it to say that. We should be consistent with our translation, not translating in one place, then transliterating in another.
My point is not about whether John was an angel or not, it’s that we should be translating the meaning of words, not their sounds. When we transliterate we lose meaning, and this can also confuse and mislead us about what the Bible is really saying.
I already mentioned baptisma, so now every denomination of the church has it’s own idea of what “baptism” is. Because we only transliterated the sound. But the meaning is immersion. Like putting your arms in water to wash them. Or having a bath. If it was translated as immersion I think there would be less disagreement on what “baptism” is.
The Greek Χριστός (christos) is transliterated as “Christ”, instead of being translated as “anointed one”, just as מָשִׁיחַ (mashiach) is transliterated “Messiah”, but it too means “anointed one”. In most modern English translations it reads a bit like a name, like Yeshua’s surname was Christ. But it’s a title. Yeshua the Christ. But if it was translated it would be much clearer. Yeshua anointed one, or Yeshua the Anointed. (Why Jesus’ real name is Yeshua)
The Greek απόστολος (apostles) is transliterated as “apostle” but it means “one who is sent”, kind of like “emissary” or “ambassador”. So when it’s a verb it is usually translated as “send”, (like it is in Mark 1:2), but when it is a noun we transliterate as “apostle”. That’s inconsistent. I would think most Christians would think, that apostle means one of the 12 disciples that Yeshua chose. But that’s just how we’ve restricted it based on our tradition and our transliteration. In the original language it meant anyone who was sent.
So. John, (actually Yohannes, but somehow we use Latin names when we translate the Bible? Why is that?), was no angel. But he was a messenger. And so are the beings we call angels.
But this is only one of many words which have lost their meaning by being transliterated instead of being translated.
Over the years this story has been attributed to various “famous gentlemen” and a “famous actress”. It seems that none of those gentlemen ever actually said it, but it’s a great quote to get us thinking… so here it is with no names at all.
A “well known gentleman” was overheard talking with a “famous actress”. “Would you sleep with me for a million dollars?”. To which the actress replied, after a little thought, “Sure.”
Then he asked, “How about for twenty bucks?”. To which she indignantly replied, “What kind of woman do you think I am!” The gentleman replied, “We’ve already established that. Now we’re just haggling over the price.”
I’m not sure who you think the worst person of all time was? I guess Hitler would be up there on most people’s list. But if you rank someone higher, then think of them in this next story instead.
What punishment are you expecting Hitler to have in the afterlife? What punishment would you be handing out to him if it was up to you?
Now. Imagine your time comes, and you’re being given the “orientation tour” of where you’ll be spending eternity, and you spot Hitler! Sitting on a sun-lounge, drinking a cocktail and relaxing in the sun.
How would you feel?
Be honest, how do you really feel about that?
What would you do?
Imagine you asked the messenger who was giving you the tour for an explanation, and he says, “God decided to forgive him.”
Now how do you feel?
Is that right? Is it fair?
Is this the kind of God you thought you believed in?
What do you think is a fair outcome for Hitler?
In the TV series, “Heroes”, one of the heroes imprisons a serial killer in an eternity alone. With no other contact with anyone. Ever.
Is that a fair way to deal with a serial killer? What if they had killed millions of people?
What would you say if the judge asked your opinion on Hitler? For your judgement?
Would you build a case against him?
Would you argue that anyone who was that evil cannot be forgiven?
That they must pay for the horrendous crimes they committed?
I can imagine you passionately pleading with the judge. Thrilled to see him agree with you, and the satisfaction you feel as Hitler is taken off to his rightful destination.
And then the shock you feel as the judge points at you, and says, “Them too. Take them too.”
I imagine you screaming for mercy to the judge, “I’m not like him. I’m nowhere near as bad as him. What kind of a person do you think I am?”
To which the judge would calmly reply, “We’ve already established that. We’re just arguing about the price.”
Paulus recommended a great saying. “Yeshua came into the world to save sinners. Of whom I am the worst.”
Talking about people like Hitler makes us feel better about our own evil - our own sins.
It’s true that we’re not as bad as him. But we are sinners just the same.
We deserve an eternity of punishment just the same.
And yet we are undeservedly forgiven because of what Yeshua did 2,000 years ago, and not justly condemned for what we did ourselves these last 50 years or so.
About a hundred years ago the Austrian poet Rilke penned these words:
“They wanted to bloom, but we want to ripen.”
He was comparing the wealthy lords and ladies who stood around admiring art, to the poor artists who create it. The lords and ladies were all about image, all about pretentious appreciation of the art. But the artists were sacrificing themselves, giving up worldly pleasure, giving up wealth, to make their artistic statement. It was something they believed in, something which was of primary importance to them.
Christians can be a bit like that too.
Some of us prance around, being seen, pretending we know what Christianity is all about. Saying all the right things. Looking good.
But others live it. Sacrificing themselves to make Christianity a reality in their lives. To make Christianity a reality in the lives of others.
It seems that Yeshua often talked about bearing fruit. He said that we can know whether they are a good tree or a bad tree by their fruit. He didn’t say you will know them by their flowers. Or by how great they look. Or by how prosperous they are.
There have been some amazing Christians who have laid down their lives to bear fruit. Men and women who would rather die than to bear no fruit. Who would rather die than be a beautiful but barren flower.
These are some who have had a big influence on me and who I have become…
Hudson Taylor, Jackie Pullinger, Francis Schaeffer, Helen Roseveare, Geoffrey Bull, Jeanne Guyon, George Mueller, … They produced fruit in their lives which went on to be seeds planted in mine.
It wasn’t their goal, but they earned their place up there with the heroes of faith listed in Hebrews 11.
They took risks. They opened themselves up to attack, from the enemy, and in some cases also from within their own church! They entered bravely into the darkness of the world, bringing light into the gloom. They worked tirelessly. They lived frugally. They were totally focused on their own individual mission for the kingdom of God.
Vince Antonucci wrote a great little book called, “I Became a Christian and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt”. It’s all about how people go on holidays and just do the ordinary touristy stuff, and all they bring back is the t-shirt. But some people go on vacation and have adventures. Things might not always go smoothly, but they bring back incredible, powerful stories.
So many Christians seem content with the t-shirt when there is so much adventure to be had.
So many Christians settle for mediocrity when God wants us to be warriors, people of valour, fighting spiritual battles, making a difference.
“They wanted to bloom
and to bloom is to be beautiful.
But we want to ripen,
and for that we open ourselves to darkness and travail.”
Change Or Start Again?
One of the books I’m reading at the moment, (Who Stole My Church, by MacDonald), made an interesting statement. “I’m beginning understand why the younger guys prefer to start churches. I sometimes think that changing one is impossible.”
I’ve been trying to change the church for 35 years. I don’t think it’s impossible but it sure seems to be a slow process. I’m doing it one person at a time, (someone I think is a future leader), and assuming that the change will come in the next generation. Starting a new church is tough work. But sometimes I also think it would be way easier to just start again.
The (Western) church just seems so stuck in it’s ways.
If we were sending missionaries to another culture we would certainly expect them to “do church” in culturally relevant ways. And if someone sent new missionaries to the West, then I would be very surprised if their solution ended up looking much like how we “do church” here now.
The fundamentals of the church being a body, and working together as each part does it’s role would be the same. I would expect a strong sense of community. I would definitely expect them to be devoted to teaching/learning/discipleship, and to prayer. And to be showing everyone around them that they love one another.
But how that works out would almost certainly be different. And I think most other Christians would agree.
But the reality is that the 21st century church is trying to reach out to a totally different culture from the one that was surrounding the Western church even 40 or 50 years ago. But the church hasn’t changed. So many churches are still trying to do things like they did 40 years ago. We are missionaries to a different culture but we are still trying to do things like we did back in the culture we came from.
That won’t work.
One of the cultural changes has come through music and technology. Young people love their music. And their movies and TV. In fact, they often give the impression that they live to be entertained. The technical quality of music and video available to even the poorest people in the West is way beyond what most churches can produce. But still many churches have tried to take this head on by trying to entertain people with professional presentations that feel, (to me), like you’re at a concert.
Let me say this bluntly. Entertainment might well be what they want. But it is not what they need.
What they need, is to hear from God. To receive his spirit and to build a strong relationship with him as his born again children. Then, whether they are entertained or not, their eternal future will be secure. And I suspect that they will also be much more content with the here and now, entertained or not.
By all means our music should be in a style relevant to our audience. But that is a very different focus to “entertaining”.
But changing a church which doesn’t think like this is not easy.
I’ve tried, but they don’t want to listen. Instead I’ve been discipling people, usually one or two at a time, and helping them see what God says about how church should be.
Now they’re doing the same. Some of them are even leading churches.
How are you going to do it?
Are you just going to start again?
However you do it… do something.
It’s too important to just give up.
Making a vow to God seems to be a very much old covenant thing to do.
And in the old covenant, breaking a vow which had been made to God, (or an oath which had been sworn), had incredibly serious consequences.
In 2 Samuel 21 we read of a famine in Israel during the reign of David. The famine had gone on for three years, so David asked God why. The answer... Saul broke an oath.
Wow, Saul was already dead. He was the previous king.
The oath was sworn many years before Saul even started to be king. In fact, it was possibly sworn before Saul was even born.
You can read about the oath in Joshua 9. But basically when the Israelites were invading and conquering Canaan, some of the inhabitants, the Gibeonites, tricked them into making a peace treaty with them. The Israelites swore an oath not to kill the Gibeonites.
Decades later, Saul killed them. Well, many of them.
The consequence was that God punished the nation of Israel for their sins.
The way out was to ask the Gibeonites what compensation they would accept. And when that compensation was paid, Israel was released.
The compensation they demanded was the life of seven of Saul’s descendants.
It’s interesting that the famine didn’t occur during Saul’s reign, but not until David’s. And it was not Saul who was punished for breaking the oath, but it was his descendants who gave their lives. But that’s another story.
They key thing for now is that the breaking of the oath had consequences.
Ecclesiastes 5 says, “It is better not to make a vow, than to make a vow and not fulfil it”.
Samson also made a vow. Well, actually his parents made it for him. He was a Nazirite - set apart to God, not to drink wine or to eat anything to do with grapes. Not to cut his hair or shave his head. And not to go near a dead body.
This is why Samson lost his strength. Because he broke his vow by cutting his hair.
Breaking that vow cost him his eyesight, and his freedom.
So... we see in the old covenant that if anyone broke a vow they had made to God then there were massive consequences, sometimes including death for thousands of people, sometimes affecting their descendants.
But that was thousands of years ago... before the cross... these days...
nothing has changed.
There are still major consequences for breaking a vow made to God.
There is nothing about being a Christian that means you can get away with breaking a vow to God.
You are still better to not make one, than to make one and break it.
Of course, these days we rarely make vows to God. Except when we get married.
In Matthew 5, Yeshua said “don’t even swear an oath”…
But we promise to be faithful until one of us dies. I’m sure at the time most of us have that as our intention. But can we be sure we will be? Do we understand what the consequence is if we break it?
Where did this kind of wedding vow come from? It’s certainly not in the Bible. In the Bible getting married was just a matter of declaring that you were getting married and usually having some kind of celebration.
Perhaps we shouldn’t even have wedding vows?
There is a consequence if we break them. For us individually and possibly for us as a nation.
The other place we make vows these days is when our church asks us to pledge in advance what our giving will be for the year. We make a vow so they can make a budget. I think both sides of that equation are wrong, but that’s another article all together.
So. Let’s not make vows to God that we might break. Let’s remember that if we do there could be very serious consequences for us and for others.
And finally, if you have broken a vow to God then you need to talk with him about it. If it involved another person then you need to ask them what compensation they will accept to release you. Otherwise, there will continue to be consequences - if not for you, then for your children.
The TV comedy “3rd Rock from the Sun” tells the story of a group of aliens who come from some far off planet to visit Earth. Each episode is about funny situations they get themselves into because of their misunderstanding of our Western culture.
Until you see an alternative to your culture you rarely question it. You usually just go along with “that’s how we do it”. Watching 3rd Rock gives you an opportunity to think, “Do we really do that?”. And if you’re willing… “Why?” And if you’re really serious about your life… “Should I do that?”
I lived in the USA for a few years. The culture was different there, but it was still very similar to where I grew up. I didn’t have to change much to fit in. I lived in Japan for a few years too. Culture there is totally different. I had to change a lot to fit in. And some of that I kept when I returned to my own country. Their way was better.
Like when they see that you look a bit lost. Instead of ignoring you like most Westerners would, and instead of pointing and telling you how to find it like nice Westerners would, they take you there. Even if it’s a few blocks back the way they came. I like that.
So, let’s look at some of our cultural “issues”.
In the West, (and increasingly in Asia), we celebrate Yeshua’s birthday.
Why do we have a tree? Why do we give gifts? Why is it in December?
Why do we do it at all?
When it comes to culture, we have to question everything. If we end up deciding it’s a good thing, then OK, but let’s be real about our Christianity and ask the questions.
It certainly wasn’t in December. There definitely was no pine tree there, with or without decorations and candles. If the gifts are based on the gifts the magicians gave Yeshua, then why do we give them to each other and not give gifts to Yeshua every year, especially if it’s his birthday? Would you come to my birthday party and bring a gift for yourself and not one for me?
The Bible certainly doesn’t tell us to celebrate it. In fact, if anything in Romans 14 Paulus is saying we shouldn’t have any special days.
There is more information in this article Traditions about where Christmas came from and why it was a week before the end of the year. But in reality it is a man made tradition which reinforces the stereotype of Yeshua as a baby and fuels consumerism.
If there wasn’t already a Christmas, would you be pushing to start it as a tradition? Why?
And once we question celebrating Yeshua’s birthday, let’s keep asking questions of our culture and ask, “Why do we celebrate your birthday?”
I can completely understand parents celebrating the birth of their child. Once, when they’re born. But why do we keep doing that every year? Where did this come from? Have people always done this?
Turns out they haven’t. Turns out it was mostly something kings and rich people did. Basically to say, “I’m special.”
So once a year we tell our children that it’s OK to be self centred and to be more special than everyone else. Once a year we spend more and more as consumers, reinforcing our materialistic culture and propping up our retail businesses buying more stuff we don’t need.
There is a whole other side to this argument about how birthdays are used in astrology and the occult. But let’s leave that for another time. Just from a cultural point of view. Why do we want to celebrate our birthday? What are we saying when we do?
And if our culture didn’t have birthday parties, would we be pushing to get everyone doing it as a tradition? Why?
We need to be ruthless with this. We need to question everything.
Why do we do church the way we do? Why do we sing? Why do we have sermons? Why do we pray the way we do? Why do we arrange the seats the way we do? Why do we eat the food we eat at church? Why do we build churches the way we do?
Not all the answers will be bad. Not everything has to change. But like King Josiah in 2 Kings 22 did when they found the book of the Law in the temple which had become filled with things which shouldn’t have been there - we have to go back to the book and ask the questions. And we have to make the changes so we align once again with the book, with the way God said it should be, and ruthlessly throw out our traditions if they are wrong.
Examine everything. Be willing to let go of anything.
God, not culture.
I have to be up front and say right from the beginning, that when it comes to the church, tradition for the sake of tradition annoys me like nothing else. I like some traditions. I really like Thanksgiving for example. And when my kids were growing up I really liked the annual “Baba’s Challenge” where I would set my kids 10 tasks to achieve within the year. Tasks which would stretch them a bit and develop their character. But in church we need to make sure that any tradition that we adopt is still consistent with the truth.
Take the whole Christmas/nativity thing for example.
The tradition is that three wise men, (aka kings), came to visit baby Jesus and his parents in a manger. Sadly that’s not what the Bible says.
Nowhere does it mention three of them. But it is plural, so at least two. The word it uses to describe them “magos” is usually used to refer to priests of Zoroaster, and elsewhere in the New Testament it is translated as sorcerer. (Elymas and Simon were both sorcerers in the book of Acts). But we want to make it nicer, so we call them “wise men”. We don’t want to say that three magicians or sorcerers came to visit Jesus.
When they saw Jesus they bowed down to him. The Greek word used to describe him was “paidion” which means a little child. It was not “theladzo”, (meaning newborn baby), or “nepios”, (infant). Jesus was no longer a baby when they came to visit.
After their visit Herod killed all the children 2 years and under, (based on when they told him they had first seen the star). It seems pretty likely that by the time they visited - Jesus was about 2 years old. And if that is correct then it also seems pretty unlikely that they were still living in the manger. (But I guess they could have been).
So two or more magicians from the east came to visit Jesus when he was about two years old.
And the whole Christmas thing anyway. It’s incredibly unlikely that Jesus was born in December. There is no instruction to celebrate Christmas in the Bible. In fact, as far as we can tell it was started hundreds of years later by the catholics because everyone was running off to have fun at Saturnalia, (the end of year celebration to the god Saturn), and the church adopted Christmas as a way of bringing them back.
Why, for example do we give gifts to each other?
In the Bible story the gifts were all given to Jesus. Why don’t we all give a gift to Jesus every Christmas?
Would it surprise you to hear that part of Saturnalia was giving gifts to each other?
Quite often I hear the argument that if we didn’t have Christmas and Easter then non-Christians would never come to church. So what? Are they supposed to? I thought the church was supposed to be going to them?
You might think that this is all no big deal. But I think it is. From what I see, we have accepted the tradition instead of the truth and it damages our perceptions. And it damages the world’s perceptions about Yeshua.
In fact there was never even anyone called “Jesus” in the Bible! Seriously. Jesus is a made up Latin name, created by the catholic church to differentiate him from Joshua.
The person we call Jesus was really called Joshua. Yeshua if you want to really transliterate it from Aramaic. Yeshua means “God saves”. In Greek they transliterated that name as Iesous. And in Acts 7 and Hebrews 4 you can find this name, but it is talking about the Old Testament Yeshua who led the Israelites into the promised land. (Which interestingly is kind of what the New Testament Yeshua did for us! hmmm.)
So, to avoid confusion the catholics renamed Yeshua, (the one who saved us), to Iesus. And then later on English changed to start words starting with I to be spelled with J, but pronounced Y. So the name became Jesus.
Again, it’s now a tradition and again you might think it’s no big deal. But I still think it is. God didn’t call him Jesus. God called him Yeshua. Why? Was he trying to tell us something?
And again we have accepted the tradition instead of the truth.
Now in the Bible there were some people who really valued tradition. The Pharisees.
In Matthew 15 you can read how Yeshua told them off because they broke the commands of God for the sake of their traditions! God had commanded them to honour their parents. But their tradition said that if you have given money to the temple then you don’t need to give any to your parents.
They were also obsessed with washing their hands, and their bowls in a special ceremony before they eat. But these were just empty ceremonies and they weren’t really washing anything at all. Yeshua said it straight... “how come you wash the outside of the bowl and not the inside?” Seriously, when you think about it that is completely the wrong way around. If the inside of the bowl is clean you don’t even really need to wash the outside. In Mark’s account of this story we hear that they had many things like this.
Paulus says that these traditions which are handed down take you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy. And that most of them actually come from the world.
The Pharisees held the traditions of men above the commands of God. They were slaves to their traditions. And in many ways this is what blocked them from recognising Yeshua as the true son of God.
Do we put tradition above God? Are we slaves to tradition? What truth is it blocking us from seeing?
(Actually if you want to find out if you’re a slave to a tradition, try not doing it and see how you go.
I find that most Christians can’t eat a meal without praying first. Try it. See if you’re a slave.
And if you’re really worried, then give thanks afterwards. Even in the tradition there is no reason it has to be first.)
In Galatians Paulus is lamenting that people are observing special days, and months, and years. He worries that he has wasted his time on them, and that they will be enslaved again to those things. Now he is mostly concerned there about Jewish festivals, but the same arguments apply.
At best traditions are just shadows of the truth, but in most cases they are not even that.
Christianity should go beyond traditions. We have the truth. We have the spirit of God.
We really don’t need to be continuing any traditions which are working against that.
Why do we need to celebrate Christmas? or Easter? Why do we need to have some little token of prayer before we eat?
What other traditions do we have? What are they blocking?
What about you, and your church? What traditions are you following?
Please, at least examine your traditions and see if they are based on truth.
Take Me To Your Leader
When you think of leaders in the Bible who do you think of?
What was it about them that made them leaders?
How did they get to be leaders? Did someone appointed them?
What are the qualifications for leaders? Says who?
How about you… can you be a leader?
When I think of Biblical leaders I usually think of people like Moses, David, Petros, Paulus… But they are more the super-leaders of the Bible. A bit out of my league. Maybe even out of yours. There’s not much point for most of us asking how we can become a Moses, or a Paulus.
But there might be some useful principles there for us to learn from, and to be guided by.
Pretty much every leader in the Bible was chosen by God.
Not elected by the people. (Even in the cases where they were the popular choice).
Almost always they didn’t fit what the people being led thought it took to be a leader. Moses was a stuttering loser who used to be someone, but who was a nobody shepherd. David was a small teenage boy. Petros was just a simple fisherman. Paulus was a murderous persecutor of Christians, one of the church’s greatest enemies.
So basically if everyone votes on who the perfect leader is… it’s probably not them.
So what does God look for in a leader?
There are some obvious and fairly well known passages.
1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 for example give us a checklist of qualifications.
The husband of one woman
With faithful submissive children, (grown children)
Not accused of being wasteful or subordinate
Not easily angered, or contentious, or a brawler
Not drinking too much
Sensible, righteous, self controlled
A good teacher who is able to expose false teachers
So how did you score?
The problem with this kind of list is the same as the problem with “The Law”, or the Ten Commandments.
We tend to interpret them in a way that makes us “in” and people we don’t like “out”.
The purpose of the Law was to show that everyone was out. That God’s standards are so high they are unattainable for all of us. To show that we need a saviour.
The purpose of these lists is to show that God’s standards for leaders is very high. These kind of restrictions aren’t put on “ordinary” Christians. Just on leaders.
But we need to be careful not to use them to judge others.
“Husband of one woman” doesn’t necessarily mean they never divorced, or their first wife never passed away. It means what it says. They do not have two wives. I guess it also means they are not single.
Having obedient, submissive children. Means their children need to be grown up. Otherwise they haven’t had the opportunity to be tested yet. (Although for some people it becomes obvious that they fail this test very early on).
Not drinking too much does not mean they don’t drink at all. It means they don’t get drunk.
A good teacher must know what they’re talking about, (by definition), and must be able to argue against people who don’t.
Here’s something to consider… If this is a literal, black and while, in vs out list… Yeshua wouldn’t qualify. He had no children. He isn’t married, (although he is engaged). Neither would Paulus. He was also not married, and also childless.
But he wrote the lists, and it was him who sent Timothy and Titus to appoint leaders. So clearly he never intended this list to be a literal list of qualifications which disqualified him. They’re like the pirate’s code. They’re more like guidelines really :).
These lists are saying that teachers need to have excellent character, to have a demonstrated history of leading their own families well, to have good reputations in the community, and to be outstanding and confident teachers.
There are a few less obvious passages about leadership, which kind of say the same things. Remember the parable of the talents? At the end Yeshua said, “Well done good and faithful servant. You were faithful with a few things. I will install you over many things.”
They had shown that they could be trusted with material things. So God entrusted them with people.
So if someone wants to lead a church… what evidence is there that they have already been a good leader in smaller things? Like their family, or with a small group?
David was a shepherd. A good one. God entrusted him with his people.
Moses appeared to be the perfect leader. A prince of Egypt. Very educated. But useless to God. Until he went off into the wilderness to be a shepherd for 40 years. Then he was ready to be a leader for God.
The good leaders of the Bible were also humble, servant hearted people who had huge trust in God. They knew that God was the real leader and that they were just servants of the people. Not achieving greatness but merely doing their duty.
Yeshua said this too when James and John wanted to be elevated to sit next to him in his kingdom. “Whoever wants to be the leader among you will become servant of all.”
Leadership is also part of God’s plan for mankind. We need leaders. It’s part of how we’re designed.
Early on, the global church had apostles, and local churches had elders.
Ephesians 5 says that the father is the head of the family, in the same way as Yeshua is the head of the church. It’s a sacrificial position of responsibility.
If you want to be a leader make sure your motivation is right. For some people, wanting to be leaders is based on the false teaching that leaders are more important. They’re not. They are the servants. They are at the bottom of the pile, not the top. Any leader who thinks they are more important than the people they lead is worldly and of no value in the kingdom of God.
God described Eve as Adam’s Helper. The common idea that “being the helper means you’re less important” fits how the world views things. But it doesn’t fit God’s view. John 14 describes the Holy Spirit as our helper. Does that make us more important than him? Hardly.
Leaders need to have the right character. They need to have the right attitude. And they need to be willing to sacrifice themselves for God’s people.
But perhaps the most important aspect of leadership is that we don’t choose them, God does.
Romans 13 tells us that even our worldly leaders are all appointed by God. We think we vote for them. The Chinese think their leaders choose themselves. But Romans teaches us differently. God chooses leaders. Always.
Our role is to recognise those leaders when God chooses them. The Israelites recognised that God had chosen David over Saul. The early church recognised that God had chosen Paulus, even though he had been their enemy. The Jews recognised that God had sent Moses to deliver them. Paulus recognised the potential in Timothy and Titus, and in turn they were sent by Paulus to recognise who God was appointing to be elders in the new churches of Asia Minor.
Who is leading you? Have you recognised who they are?
Are you aware who appointed them? And who you are criticising when you criticise them?
Do you think you should be a leader?
Do you meet the guidelines?
Have you proven your ability?
Can you teach?
Are you willing to sacrifice yourself?
Interestingly, these are the name of God, and the name of his son, yet neither of these words appears in most modern English Bibles.
Let’s look at them one at a time. But before we do, let’s look at the letter “J”.
J came into English around a thousand years ago, and it replaced the letter I at the beginning of some words. But unlike the way we say it today, at that time it had a Y sound. So Joshua was pronounced more like Yoshua. Keep that in mind. It might help later.
Now, in the Old Testament God has a name. His name is יהוה which we usually write in English as Yahweh.
Written Hebrew doesn’t have vowels. The reader is supposed to work them out as they read. Which if you practise is not usually difficult. Wht ds ths sy? (What does this say?).
So more literally, the Hebrew name for God in English is YHWH. But we don’t usually interpret vowels as we read in English, so it is easier to communicate if we put them in. So we write Yahweh.
In some older English Bibles they wrote this as Jehovah. Remember the J thing? So that would have read more like Yehovah. Now I’m sure you can see where that came from. And now you know why it has a J.
So, God’s name is Yahweh. But you don’t see that in many translations.
We’re not sure exactly when, or who did it, but we think that a bit before 100BC a group of seventy scholars translated the Jewish scriptures, (pretty much what we have as our Old Testament), into Greek. This translation is called the Septuagint, and its abbreviated name is LXX, which is 70 in Roman numerals.
Wherever the name Yahweh appeared in the Hebrew scriptures, the LXX translators used the Greek word κυριος (kurios), which means lord or master.
So, when the translators wrote the King James Version in the 1600’s they continued this practice, and wherever the Old Testament used the name Yahweh, they translated is as Lord. Then, to distinguish it from places where the Hebrew actually did say Lord, they capitalised it. And most modern English translations copied that and they usually write it like this - LORD.
God has a name. In English his name is Yahweh. But in most English Bibles it has been replaced with LORD.
So whenever you read LORD in your Bible, think Yahweh.
Why? Well... I have a theory.
I presume you know the 10 commandments right? (BTW: I presume you also know that they are for Jews, not for Christians right? If not, you had better read these articles sometime Rules For Christians and New Covenant Replaces The Old One).
The third commandment says, “You will not misuse the name of Yahweh your god.”
Now, as time went on from there, the Jews became more and more legalistic about all their rules. To the point that they even concluded that Jesus was not God’s son because he healed someone on a Sabbath. And they had decided that nobody was allowed to do anything on a Sabbath. And they had made up more rules about having to wash bowls in certain ways before you could eat from them.
So I believe that in their legalism they were so afraid of misusing the name of God that they stopped using it altogether. So they never say God’s name. And if they have to write it they would write Lord instead. Many modern Jews will write G*d to avoid using his name.
Yahweh didn’t say not to use his name. He said not to misuse his name. This is clearly a legalistic overreaction.
Now, we’re Christians, so the ten commandments doesn’t even apply to us. And even though we can still use them as guidelines to understand what right behaviour is, we don’t have to be so legalistic. (In my view it almost verges on superstition). So let’s go back to using God’s name. Let’s be proud to be known as Yahweh’s people.
Jesus has a name too. And it’s not Jesus!
The New Testament documents are pretty much all written in Greek. In those documents Jesus is called Ιησους (Iesous). Later on the church decided to do everything in Latin. So it became IESUS in Latin. And then later, it became Iesus in English.
Remember the J thing? So about a thousand years ago the I was replaced with a J and it became Jesus, (but it was still pronounced Yesus). And now in modern English we usually call him Jesus. Even though that is a long way from his real name. (But you can see how we got there).
So what was his name?
Ιησους was the Greek way of writing the Hebrew name יְהוֹשֻׁעַ (Yeshua), which we usually write as Joshua in modern English. (Remember the J thing?). Jesus’ name was Yeshua. It still is.
Now, if you read Acts 7:45 and Hebrews 4:8 in an English Bible you will almost certainly see the name Joshua. These are all referring to the Old Testament Joshua, who was Moses’ assistant until Moses died, and who led the Israelites into the promised land.
But his Greek name is the same, Ιησους (Iesous). So to differentiate him from the son of God the translators chose to translate his name as Joshua and the son of God’s name as the Latin derived name Jesus.
Personally I don’t think that is helpful. I can see how it came about, but it is an inconsistent translation, and it hides something wonderful.
Both their names were Yeshua. God chose that name. And he had a reason for doing that.
Yeshua means “Yahweh Saves”. That’s a pretty powerful name. And there are a lot of parallels between the Old Testament Yeshua leading his people into the promised land, and the New Testament Yeshua leading his people into eternal life.
Perhaps God did that deliberately?
I don’t think this is just an intellectual exercise. It is interesting to know how these things came about, but what does that mean for us on a practical level?
I think it’s time to repair the damage. It’s going to be a hard habit to break, but I think we should stop using the name Jesus and call him Yeshua. And we should start calling God by his name, Yahweh.
When Hilkiah the priest found the Book of the Law in the temple, (2 Kings 22), king Josiah realised that they had not been living according to the words in the book. So they changed their ways. These would have been dramatic, major, lifestyle changes, but they made them anyway - simply because they realised they were not doing things the way Yahweh had commanded.
Changing our habits to use the names Yahweh and Yeshua might not be easy, or convenient, or comfortable. But if it is the right thing to do then it is the right thing to do.
Accountability, And Why It Doesn’t Work
Muslims are accountable to pray in public five times a day. If they don’t do it then people will notice and questions will be asked.
This kind of public peer pressure is the same thing that drove the Pharisees to be who they were. Being seen to be righteous was way more important to them than actually being righteous.
It’s a form of legalism. It leads to judgement and pride. It is grounded in the Old Covenant way of Law. It has no value in the New Covenant way of Grace.
Read Galatians 3 and see if you can summarise it in a sentence or two.
I’m pretty sure that if you’re honest you would have to end up with something like “We are not under Law but under Grace”.
Galatians 3 makes it very clear that the Law was for Jews. And even more, that it is not for Christians.
“Oh foolish Galatians. Who has bewitched you to have no confidence in the truth?”
“Are you so foolish? Having begun by the spirit you’re now being completed by the flesh?”
The spirit is power for Christians. The flesh is death.
Accountability derives its power from the flesh.
So. How can you live a more righteous life?
You can’t. You don’t have the power to do that. (Kind of the point of the gospel isn’t it really).
But Yeshua can. He did it once. He wants to do it again in you.
You need to give him authority to do that. You need to get out of his way so he can do that.
And you need to let him choose the timetable and the game plan.
We always seem to want to set the agenda for how Yahweh should be cleaning our life up.
He knows our sins. He knows us. He knows our strengths and weaknesses. He knows our circumstances.
Seriously. Can you think of anyone who is better placed to decide the best way for doing this?
Yahweh wants to conform your character into that of his son. But you have to let him choose how to do that.
I read an amazing prayer from John Wesley recently.
“I put myself wholly into your hands: put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; put me to doing, put me to suffering, let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you, exalted for you, or trodden under foot for you; let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing, I freely and heartily resign all to your pleasure and disposal.”
Are you willing to just hand over control of your life to Yeshua and trust him to deal with the manifestation of your sins in his time?
Then do that.
Don’t try to manipulate it. Don’t start making laws and rules for yourself. Just relax and hand yourself over.
Husbands - Are You Sacrificing Yourself?
Ephesians 5 and 1 Peter 3 spell out the roles of husband and wife pretty clearly for us.
The man is the head and the woman is the body. Just like Yeshua and the church. The two become one, each fulfilling different roles but working together as a unit.
Now, over the years I’ve heard quite a bit of teaching about how wives should submit to their husbands. And I think that’s correct, they should submit. The husband has the responsibility to make the final decision, after considering his wife’s needs and desires. And the wife should make sure she has communicated those clearly to him. But in the end, the husband has the responsibility to make the decision, and the wife has the responsibility to submit whether she likes it or not. (it’s not really submitting if you only submit when he’s “right”).
Ephesians 5 also makes it very clear that the husband should be sacrificing himself for his wife in the same way that Yeshua sacrificed himself for the church. Not necessarily by dying on a cross, but in essence, dying to his own desires for the benefit of his wife.
Husbands should be putting their wives first. Always. In everything.
There is no point at which Yeshua would put himself before the church. There is no point at which a husband should put himself before his wife.
Every decision has to be for her benefit.
Even the little ones. In fact, especially the little ones. What movie to watch? The romantic comedy or the war movie? It depends on the wife of course, and if she would prefer the war movie then that’s fine. But most women I know would prefer the romantic comedy. It’s a no brainer. There is no decision to make. She must come first.
There is no compromise, “this time we’ll watch the girlie movie, but next time we’ll watch the war movie”... There should be sacrifice, not compromise. “this time we’ll watch the girlie movie, but next time we’ll watch two of them!”
If there are two sweets to choose from what do you do? Let her choose first? You know she likes strawberry right... but she knows you do too, so she chooses the caramel... Such a lovely wife. You’re a lucky man. But give her the strawberry.
It’s actually a trick question. What do you do? You tell her she can have them both.
This is not rocket science.
Sacrifice is painful. You know when you’re sacrificing. And you know when you’re not.
If you are a husband you need to be sacrificing all the time.
Always making decisions which are the best for her, which put her needs and desires first. And doing it quietly, whether she is aware of it or not.
This is a huge challenge for any husband. It’s not easy. But it is God’s way for husbands.
Do you want to be the best husband you can possibly be?
Sacrifice yourself for her.
Unity or Uniformity
Before you read any further, stop and look at these two images. And tell me what you see.
I’m guessing that you said something like, “The boy’s hat is gone. The girl is looking the other way. The bucket and spade are the other way around.”
Oh, that’s right... and the umbrella has rotated around too.
Let me tell you what I see.
It’s two pictures of the same boy and the same girl building the same sandcastle on the same beach near the same umbrella.
Do you get my point?
It is very easy to see differences. It comes naturally to us.
It’s not so easy to see similarities, to see the things which unify us. It’s not easy to see the 99 e have in common with each other, but it’s incredibly easy to see the 1 e have that’s different. And when it comes to church... we not only see the 1 0ifference, we divide ourselves because of it.
Sadly this is nothing new. It has always been a problem.
Paulus said in 1 Corinthians:
“Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly - mere infants in the Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, “I follow Paulus,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere men?
What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paulus? Only servants, through whom you came to believe - as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.”
We are so quick to divide.
I think it’s because we’re obsessed with being right. With being right and being seen to be right.
But who cares who’s right! I seriously challenge you to find a Bible passage where God teaches that we must be right.
But I can find some where he says, regardless of who is right and wrong... love one another.
For example... “The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?”
The question God would ask, is not “Who is right?” He would ask, “Who is loving?”
1 Corinthians 12 is all about how we are different but part of one body. In fact, we are designed to all be slightly different. You are a hand, I’m a foot, someone else is an eye. But we are all needed. We are all part of the same body. We are not a cloud, and a hammer, and a tree, things with nothing in common. We are all parts of a body.
And how ridiculous it would be if the eyes said that the other parts were no longer parts of the body because they were not eyes! We are all the same, with little differences to make us more useful.
1 Peter 2 tells us that we are a building of living stones. Stones. Not bricks. We are not all identical. But we are all the same. Get it?
Rocks are all rocks. Each one looks a little different, but they are still all rocks. They are all part of the same building. Bricks are all exactly the same. If we were a building of bricks, that would be uniformity. But we’re meant to be different, (and yet the same), a building of stones is unity, not uniformity.
We need to focus on the bits that are the same, not on the bits that are different. We are all living stones.
That’s incredible! Have you ever seen a living stone before?
And yet, instead of greeting other Christians with, “Wow. Another living stone. How awesome to meet you.” We greet them with, ... “You’re different. You’re not welcome.”
So, how about you?
Are you focused on similarities or differences?
Are you looking for unity? or uniformity?
Are you loving? Or are you just “right”?
Begging for God
It disturbs me that when churches need money they so quickly turn to non-Christians to get it.
Stereotypically, the roof needs fixing, so we have a church fair, or something like that where we flog off all our unwanted second hand goods, and bake cakes, and sell sausages, or whatever our particular ethnic equivalent is.
And we ask everyone who passes by to give us a few dollars so we can fix our roof.
Of course sometimes the cause is more noble than fixing a roof. But the principle is the same.
We say that we worship the one and only God. Creator of the universe. Saviour of people’s souls. The God of all power.
But our actions show that we do not believe that this all powerful God is able to get us the money we need to fix our roof - so we are coming to you non-Christians to try to get it instead.
Can you imagine Yeshua doing that?
Or the apostle Paulus? Petros? Anyone from the Bible?
In Acts we read that there was a famine in Jerusalem. And the Corinthians collected money to send to the Christians there who were suffering.
Do you think they had a church fair? Do you think they sold souvlaki or second hand urns?
Do you think they asked the non-Christians in Corinth for donations?
That’s not how it reads in the Bible is it. They had a collection. In the church. From Christians.
If you wanted to give, you put money in the box. Then they collected the money and delivered it to the Christians in Jerusalem.
And on a practical level these kind of church fairs don’t usually raise much money anyway. They take a LOT of work. Usually for a few hundred dollars. I feel certain that some of the wealthier Christians in the church could have donated that much themselves without any problem at all.
Of course it’s good that everyone wants to pitch in and help, and to do their bit. But if you really want to do something like that, then do it in the church. Don’t go begging from non-Christians.
We represent God. Are we saying that God is a bit short this week, so could you please give us a few bucks?
You should read the biographies of people like George Mueller, Hudson Taylor, Francis Schaeffer... These guys lived their lives with the principle that if God wants something done, then he will fund it. If he doesn’t fund it, then he doesn’t want it done.
These three in particular never asked non-Christians for money, and I even seem to remember one case where they specifically refused money from a non-Christian.
In fact, if they believed that they needed money for something, then they didn’t even ask other Christians for it, they just prayed for it.
And it always came.
$3 Worth of God Please
I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.
Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep,
But just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine.
I don’t want enough of him to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant.
I want ecstasy, not transformation.
I want the warmth of the womb not a new birth.
I want about a pound of the eternal in a paper sack.
I’d like to buy $3 worth of God, please.
In Revelation 3 we read Yeshua’s letter to the church in Laodicea:
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!
So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’
But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”
This is pretty intense. Yeshua would rather we were cold than lukewarm!
That’s really in your face. How committed to Yeshua are you? How committed am I?
Where would we be if Yeshua was only as committed to us as we are to him. Where would we be if only 250f our sin was paid for? Or even 90 0.000000or that matter.
(Although that’s kind of the point of the gospel isn’t it.)
But for sure, Yeshua wants us to be at the hot end of the scale, not lukewarm.
In 1 Corinthians 3 we read how at the judgement our work will be tested by fire.
If it is just wood, hay, stubble it will be burned.
If it is gold, silver, precious stones, it will survive and we will receive our reward.
Btw: this is not about salvation, your salvation is secure. It’s about your reward based on your actions.
I remember reading a book once about a man who had a dream after reading this passage.
He stood as his life works were carried out and piled up in front of him. Then, after the fire he looked at the pile to see what was remaining, but there was nothing there but ash.
Close your eyes and imagine your pile of works, and the fire...
Imagine looking down and seeing nothing but ash.
D.L. Moody is famous for saying “The world is yet to see what God can do through one man fully committed to him”.
Of course he wasn’t including Yeshua. He was challenging us, and himself.
You know whether you could be more devoted to God. You know if you’re only lukewarm.
Some years ago Watchman Nee wrote a whole book about this called “The Normal Christian Life”.
It’s about a life lived 100 0.000000or Yeshua. A life filled with joy and power. A life like that of the apostle Paulus, or Petros.
Yet he concluded that this is “normal”.
This is the kind of life that every Christian is supposed to lead.
It’s not for the elite few. It’s God’s plan for all of us. If we would only commit ourselves to him 100.br>
Of course that’s not going to be the easy life.
Yeshua said that before you start building a tower you should count the cost.
Before you go to war you should check out your enemy.
There will be a cost.
But there is also a massive cost to NOT being committed to Yeshua.
Nobody wants to end up with just a pile of ash.
We can so easily get caught up striving for money, for food, for houses, worried about “stuff” and how we will provide for our families.
And we do need some of these things. But even so, Yeshua told us “first, seek the kingdom of God, and then all these things will be added to you”.
$3 worth of God is not enough.
Spend all you have.
However hot you are for Yeshua, crank it up a notch.
Don’t settle for lukewarm.
Don’t settle for mediocrity.
Live a full-on Christian life,
100 0evoted to Yeshua.
Live a normal Christian life.
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