Sunday Morning Greek Blog

July 26, 2012

The Mystery of Immersion (Baptism)

Filed under: Ecclesiology,Immersion/Baptism,New Testament,Soteriology — Scott Stocking @ 5:59 am

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading through the Greek NT again this year. I am constantly blown away by the truths God is revealing to me on at least a weekly basis, if not daily at times. On the one hand, my faith has been strengthened immensely by the journey, but on the other hand, after I think I’ve got some topic all figured out, God throws me a curve ball by raising new questions in my mind about what I believe and understand. None of these questions have ever raised any doubt in my mind about the lordship of Christ or the existence of God, but they do compel me to dig deeper to discover more profound truths. Lest I be misunderstood, don’t think that I’m onto some new teaching the church has never seen before: I think Paul and the other apostles knew much more about God and Jesus than any one man could ever uncover in a lifetime of study, although some have come close.

Some Questions about Immersion

One area that I have striven to understand is that of “immersion,” my translation of the Greek word βάπτισμα, which translators usually render “baptism.” The word itself comes from the Greek verb βάπτω plus an intensifying verbal suffix –ιζω. The intensifying suffix in my mind is something that should not be overlooked in understanding the word. Βάπτω means “I dip”, but the intensifier adds an important nuance: βαπτίζω = “I dip all the way” or “I immerse.” I was christened as an infant in the Presbyterian church, and I find value in that practice inasmuch as it serves as a dedication to the parents and the rest of the Christian community to help raise a child in the way of the Lord. But the infant still has to grow and make his or her own choices, so I don’t see it in any way as a guarantee of salvation or inclusion in the eternal kingdom of God.

That is precisely the concept about immersion that I have wrestled with over the years: Is it an absolute guarantee of salvation just because you willingly submit to it as an adult who understands the sacrament? Is there no other means by which we can enter the kingdom of heaven other than immersion? I’ve worked through many of these questions in other posts, and I’m convinced of the efficacy of immersion as an act of obedience at the minimum, but as I continue to reflect on the subject, new questions come to mind:

  • If, as some of my colleagues would say, immersion is absolutely essential, a sine qua non experience to be considered part of the body of Christ, then have we not limited God’s ability to save whom he wants to save?
  • If immersion is absolutely essential for the forgiveness of sins and entry into the kingdom, then is there some mystical transubstantiation of the water into the blood of Christ, since “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins”?

Putting God in Box

Whenever we make one act binding on a person who wants to become a Christ follower, we run the risk of becoming overly legalistic about it in the first place. Second, we also by default deemphasize other aspects of Christian faith which are equally important. Someone might say, “I’m a Christian because I got immersed at camp when I was a kid,” yet he cusses like a sailor, cheats on his wife, and drinks to excess every night. On the other hand, a man might study Scripture, come to Christ according to his own understanding, and lead others to Christ as well, but has only ever known a tradition of infant christening. If I were to say “Immersion is absolutely essential for salvation,” I would feel like I was putting God in a box and denying his power to “show mercy on whom [he] will show mercy.” If God can reverse the physical laws of nature by causing the earth to change its rotation, if God can suspend the law of Moses to allow David and his men to eat the grain dedicated to the priests, then God can welcome unimmersed believers into his eternal heavenly kingdom.

Requiring immersion as an absolute essential presents another problem in my mind: It implies that we have a perfect knowledge of the Scriptural teachings on salvation at least, and by default implies that perfect knowledge and praxis of a doctrine is required for salvation. Paul is clear in 1 Corinthians 13 that we know in part and prophesy in part. We don’t have perfect knowledge. Some things about God and how he operates in the world just cannot be known, and this leads into my second question: Just what is the mystery that is immersion?

Objective Truth or Subjective Mystery?

(Let me preface this section with this caveat: by “mystery,” I mean something something that cannot be known or explained by merely human reason, not necessarily a conundrum to solve. I’m using the term more like the modern day Orthodox church uses it, and as Paul used it in Ephesians.)

Here are some things I know for sure about immersion. Translations will be somewhat literal to stay close to the Greek.

Acts 2:38: Repent, and let each one of you be immersed in the name of the Lord Jesus Messiah into the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Forgiveness is a huge part of the experience of immersion. But there are other ways to experience forgiveness that are not directly linked to immersion, so immersion cannot be the only way to receive forgiveness (e.g., Matthew 6:12–15; Hebrews 9:11–28, esp. v. 22; 1 John 1:9).

Romans 6:3–4: Or don’t you know that we who have been immersed into Messiah Jesus have been been immersed into his death? We were therefore buried together with him through this immersion into death, in order that just as Messiah was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, likewise we also will walk in newness of life.

So the experience of immersion in Paul’s view in Romans is that it is linked to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. But Paul never mentions “forgiveness” in that chapter. The emphasis is on cleansing and purity.

Colossians 2:9–15: There are two allusions to blood in this passage that form an inclusio: circumcision and the cross. Immersion and forgiveness are tied together in the middle of the passage, along with the “cancelling” of the charge against us.

1 Peter 3:18–22: This is the trickiest of all passages. On the surface, it sounds like it is not the act itself that is important (“not the removal of dirt from the body”). But you still have to get immersed to make the “pledge.” Just as marriage vows have no weight without the wedding and marriage themselves, so the pledge is empty unless you demonstrate the faith to go through the water.

Here are the horns of the dilemma I find myself up against as I think about these things: On the one hand, if we are to ascribe to immersion an absolute salvific power, what is it about the act that gives it that power? If there is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood, and Paul says we are immersed into Christ’s death, then is there a transubstantiation of the waters of immersion into the blood of Christ, much like the Catholics believe about the eucharistic elements? Is the mystery of becoming one with Christ that our bodies are somehow in the waters of immersion transubtantiated into Christ’s body so that we have truly experienced both his death and resurrection? If immersion is more than just a symbol of our unity with Christ, but an actual salvific event, then there is truly a mystery and a greater power at work that our human minds may never be able to comprehend fully or explain adequately.

On the other hand, if the mystery of a salvific immersion lies in the transubstantiation of the water into blood or some other mysterious power, then I cannot in good conscience deny a similar power to the eucharistic elements, the bread and the cup of the Lord’s Table. After all, Jesus said, “This is my body…. This is my blood.” Jesus never said they were “symbols” as many in the Restoration Movement (my own affiliation) have purported. We have said they were symbols because we didn’t want to be too Catholic about it. I prefer to take Jesus’s words at face value. If he and the early church instituted weekly communion as Acts seems to suggest, then like salvific immersion, there is something more powerful to the act and the elements than just symbolism, wheat, and grapes.

As I grapple these “horns,” I am coming to the conclusion that to ascribe salvific power to immersion, which is the death and resurrection of Christ, while denying salvific power (by calling it a symbol) to the Lord’s Table, which is the body and blood of Christ, is a gross theological inconsistency. Either immersion and the Lord’s Table both have a mysterious salvific power, or they are both symbols that represent spiritual truths but do not effect them (and yes, I am using “effect” correctly as a verb there).

To Transubstantiate or Not to Transubstantiate

Now I do not believe that Christ is recrucified every time I partake of the of the bread and the cup. Yet I cannot escape the very direct statements of Jesus about the bread and the cup being his body and blood, respectively. I understand that the statements could be metaphorical at least, but the reality behind that seems too profound and has too much ultimate significance to abandon to the realm of metaphor. So while I do not think the bread or the cup transubstantiate into the body and blood of Christ, I do prefer to consider there is some suprametaphorical mystery in the act of taking the bread and cup that transcends the physical elements. At the very least, the presence of the risen Lord at the Table whenever you remember the Lord’s sacrifice should put to rest that the elements are merely symbols. And if the Lord is present at the Table, those who partake may call on him for whatever needs are burdening their hearts. Even those who have been on the fence about being a Christ follower, if they recognize this deeper signification in the Lord’s Table, may partake and call upon the Lord for their own salvation.

Nor do I believe the waters of immersion transubstantiate into the blood of Christ. However, given the importance of immersion in the Scriptures, I do think it’s possible that another kind of transubstantiation takes place that I alluded to earlier. In identifying with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ in immersion, we experience the mystery of becoming one with Christ. I think I could fully embrace the concept that we are transubstantiated into the physical body of Christ on the one hand, experiencing his death, burial, and resurrection “in the heavenly realms” as it were. But when we are immersed, we also make the public signification that we are in fact Christ followers and part of the body of Christ universal, the fellowship of all the saints. If you’re not convinced of the latter, I’m not implying any judgment here. If you’re a Christ follower who has not been immersed, I for one am in no position to say that your salvation is in question. God knows your heart; he knows the journey you’ve taken with him; and I trust that he will lead you and me into all truth as we continue to follow Christ’s leading in our lives and study his Word diligently.

Conclusion

Salvation is not merely a point in time when we say we want to be a Christ follower, whether that is in the waters of immersion, at the mourner’s bench, or raising your hand with your head bowed in the pew. Salvation is a process that happens in our lives. If it were not a process, why would Paul say “With fear and trembling fulfill (κατεργάζομαι) your own salvation, for God, who is working in you, also wills and accomplishes good things” (Philippians 2:12b–13)? Our obedience allows God to accomplish his good will in our lives. That is another great mystery that I will perhaps explore at another time. For now…

Peace,

Scott

June 24, 2012

Scandalous Living

This past weekend, I finished leading our men’s group in a nine-week study through John Eldredge‘s Beautiful Outlaw. The subtitle of the book is “Experiencing the Playful, Disruptive, Extravagant Personality of Jesus,” which should clue you in as to the subject of the book. The basic premise of the book is this: because Jesus is the incarnation of God, every aspect of his personality has the divine imprint. If God the Father could be human, Jesus is the ultimate and unique example of how God the Father would live on this earth. Every aspect of Jesus’s personality is perfect in human form: his sense of humor, generosity, conversation, passions, playfulness, love, relationships, and so forth all emanate from his Father, God the Father (John 5:19).

Breaking Barriers

Jesus went places where good Jews of his day avoided. Jesus spoke to men and women of ethnic backgrounds the Jews despised. Jesus broke the barriers of cultural taboos by reaching out to and even touching the “untouchables.” Jesus challenged the religiosity of the status quo to shed a fresh new light on what it meant to be a God-follower. Unfortunately, too many Christians, both individually and collectively in various expressions of the church, have exalted Jesus to so heavenly a status that they have forgotten he had his human side. Lest I be misunderstood, Jesus’s human side was kept in check by his divine nature, something you and I don’t have. He had no sin. We can get away with saying, “I’m only human.” But Jesus can’t. Jesus was humanity at its best because he was divinely empowered to live the human life. So the church needs to take a closer look at not just the words he said, but the things he did and the way he lived here on terra firma.

The Samaritan Taboo

The story of Jesus’s encounter with the woman at the well in John 4 is a perfect example. In vs. 4, John says of Jesus, “It was necessary for him to travel through Samaria” (my translation). Similar constructions elsewhere in the New Testament are often translated “He must.” If Jews wanted to go north and south from Galilee to Jerusalem, the direct route was through Samaria. But since Jews hated Samaritans with such a passion, they would often cross over to the east side of the Jordan River and travel the longer route rather than set foot in Samaritan territory. Why was it necessary for him to go through Samaria? Because that’s what his Father wanted him to do!

Now when Jesus and the disciples arrive, Jesus breaks two taboos (at least). First, he talks to a Samaritan, the most despised class of people to the Jews. That’s bad enough in the eyes of the religious elite of the day. But this Samaritan is also a woman, and it was certainly not the norm for a Jewish male to talk to any woman alone in public (the disciples had gone off to buy food). I think it is important to note that in talking with this woman who in on her sixth “husband,” who has come out to the well at an unusual time of day, that Jesus never actually condemns the woman in any way or outright says that she’s living a sinful life, although the latter could be implied from his statement that her current “man” is not her husband. Historical and modern scholars have mostly inferred that the woman has a questionable character from the circumstantial evidence in the text. But just as he would later refuse to condemn the woman caught in adultery (variant reading in John 8), he does not speak words of condemnation here, only words of life.

A third taboo may be implied as well, although I find some mixed evidence in the Mishnah (the written interpretation of Jewish oral law generally accepted or debated at the time of Jesus). Drinking or eating from a Samaritan vessel may have been frowned upon as well. In some passages in the Mishnah, Samaritan offerings are acceptable, whereas some gentile offerings are specifically forbidden or given a lower status. However, Shebiith 8:10 says that Rabbi Eliezer considered eating Samaritan bread equivalent to eating the flesh of swine. If the disciples went off to a Samaritan town to get food, it’s most likely that R. Eliezer’s opinion was in the minority and not widely accepted.

The Sinful Anointer

This wasn’t Jesus’s only “scandalous” contact with a woman. In Matthew 26 and Mark 14, we have parallel accounts of a woman anointing Jesus’s head with an alabaster jar of expensive perfume, which Jesus says is part of his preparation for burial. In Luke 7, we have a similar story, except in Luke’s account, the woman pours the perfume on Jesus’s feet after washing them with her tears and her hair. Not only that, this woman kisses Jesus’s feet as well. Luke mentions that Simon considers the woman a sinner. In the Matthew and Mark accounts, the disciples and other dinner guests are indignant with the woman and treat her rudely. But Jesus hardly bats an eye at the event. He considers it a beautiful thing and even says that the woman’s actions would be immortalized in the Gospels.

Standing with the Leper

Jesus’s “scandals” were not limited to women, though. Many are familiar with the story of Jesus healing lepers. That’s something we would expect a compassionate healer like Jesus to do. But not only does he heal some of them merely by his words, he also reaches out and touches a leper. In the normal course of Jewish life, lepers had to walk around with their faces covered and shout “Unclean!” so that Jews would not be ceremonially defiled by them. But Jesus chooses to skirt the custom rather than the leper. When he touches the leper, the leper is healed. So is Jesus unclean or not? Or does Jesus even care if he’s unclean? Jesus chooses compassion over custom so that the world can know the deep, deep love that he and his Father have for creation.

Jesus, Lord of Life

I’ve blogged before about Jesus’s “I am” statements in the Gospel of John. Three of them are relevant here: “I am the Bread of Life,”
“I am the Resurrection and the Life,” and “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Jesus came to bring life to a world that was looking for it in the wrong places. The religious leaders of the Jews thought it was found in absolute strict adherence to the law, so much so that they built a “hedge” around the law so that people might know when they were close to crossing the boundary (the word “Mishnah” means “hedge,” and the book is just as thick as a Bible with tinier print!). But Jesus blows that all to smithereens by simplifying it all for us: “Love God and love your neighbor.” If you do those two things, you don’t have to worry about the hedge.

Scandalous Living in the 21st Century Church

For many years, I pastored in small, rural congregations in Illinois. As you might expect in a small town, everyone knows your business whether you want them to or not. In some ways that’s good, but in other ways, that can be a great hindrance to ministry. Why? Because you can’t go to the places where those not religiously inclined hang out to share what’s important. I decided early in my Christian walk that it would be okay for me to hang out in bar with friends and acquaintances. I really don’t have a problem with Christians (or people of any other faith or nonfaith for that matter) drinking alcohol in moderation. Jesus, the true vine, did change water into premium alcoholic wine at the wedding in Cana. In my journey to be like Jesus, I want to be where the people are.

My half-siblings play in a trivia league in Omaha. Most of the trivia contests take place in bars. I love trivia, and I’m a pretty smart cookie, so I think I’d do pretty well in that setting. So last week, I joined the trivia league that meets at Maloney’s Irish Pub. It’s fun, and it’s great interaction with family and new friends and acquaintances. And it certainly beats staying home alone playing Words with Friends and Hidden Chronicles. I enjoy the company and the challenge. If Jesus can supply a couple hundred gallons of premium wine for a celebration, certainly I can enjoy a Sprite with friends!

Conclusion

Although I enjoyed my time as a pastor, I’m not sure I was really cut out for the rural scene. I am glad I’m not a pastor now, because I feel freer than ever to share the life of Jesus in places where my previous congregations would have surely fired me for going. I feel like I can truly have a ministry of the mundane (as Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it) among friends, family, and coworkers while I live the scandalous life of Jesus.

Peace!

Scott Stocking

May 27, 2012

Some Thoughts on the Trial of Jesus (Luke 22:67–70 and parallels)

Something interesting struck me as I read Jesus’s response to the illegal council called to accuse him of blasphemy and condemn him to be crucified. Jesus tends to be a little tight lipped in the Gospel accounts of his Passion, so the words the Gospel writers attribute to Jesus are important for understanding why he responded the way he did when he did. Let me cite the relevant passages in a vertical parallel, all from the NIV (with the exception of the plural “you” modified in Luke):

Parallel Accounts of the Trial Statement

Matthew 26:62–64

62Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” 63But Jesus remained silent. The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” 64“You [singular] have said so” (Σὺ εἶπας), Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Mark 14:60–62

60Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” 61But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” 62“I am” (Ἐγώ εἰμι), said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Luke 22:67–70

67“If you are the Messiah,” they said, “tell us.” Jesus answered, “If I tell you, you will not believe me, 68and if I asked you, you would not answer. 69But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.” 70They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?” He replied, “Y’all say that I am” (Ὑμεῖς λέγετε ὅτι ἐγώ εἰμι).

John’s account of this meeting (John 18:19–24) is so different that it won’t be a factor in my comparison here, but I will return to it in a later post. Let me illustrate the key differences in the three Synoptic passages in Table 1:

Table 1: Parallel accounts of the “Son of Man” statements in the Gospel trials

Matthew 16:63–64

“Tell us if you are the Messiah…”

[follows]

“You (sg) have said”

[omits]

“Son of Man sitting…”

“coming in the clouds of heaven”

Mark 14:61–62

“Are you the Messiah…?”

[follows]

[omits]

“I am”

“Son of Man sitting…”

“coming in the clouds of heaven”

Luke 22:69–70

“Are you the Son of God?”

“Son of man will be seated…”

“You (pl) say that…

… I am”

[precedes]

[omits]

Explanation

Luke only has Jesus quoting Psalm 110:1 (109:1 LXX) about sitting at God’s right hand before saying “You say that I am.” Matthew and Mark both add Daniel 7:13, “coming in the clouds of heaven” (a clear reference to the Messianic portion of Daniel) after the Psalm 110:1 quotation, but they put those quotations after the “You say” (Matthew) or “I am” (Mark). The little bit about sitting at God’s right hand may seem perfectly innocuous to us, unless we, like the Jewish scribes, understand the full context of Psalm 110:1. The very next phrase after “Sit at my right hand” in that verse is “until I make your enemies your footstool.” Wow! Here we have the Pharisees accusing Jesus, and Jesus responding with a statement that essential signals his accusers are enemies of God! Not exactly a soft-spoken answer when you come to think about it. Add to that the quotation from Daniel, and Jesus is really putting the Sanhedrin in its place: By saying the Son of Man will come on the clouds, he is equating himself with the “Ancient of Days” in Daniel, leaving no doubt about his divine mandate and divine nature.

Add to that Mark and Luke’s account of Jesus using the phrase Ἐγώ εἰμι, which some in Jesus’s day (or even in the modern day) see as an intentional reference to God’s divine name in Exodus 3:14 (see discussion below), and we’ve got Jesus essentially giving the Sanhedrin the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Jesus proved it over and over again (in John’s account, Jesus chides the Sanhedrin for doing this in secret when he taught publicly everywhere he went), but the Pharisees have to say it as well, especially the high priest (see, for example, John 11:51).

One thing to keep in mind when examining the modern eclectic Greek New Testament: punctuation was added at a much later date. It didn’t exist in the autographs. Have you ever thought about why, after the Sanhedrin “asks” Jesus a question (in the NIV, anyway), Jesus treats the “question” like a regular statement? There is no “question” word that one might expect to find if the one asking the question expected a certain answer. Granted, not all questions need one of these special words to be understood as a question, but in the case of the Gospel writers, I would suggest that the phrase Σὺ εἶ ὁ Χριστὸς ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ εὐλογητοῦ be taken as a statement, not a question. This accomplishes two things in my mind if it is true:

  1. If John 11:51 has a broader application, then the high priest not only must prophesy about Jesus’s death, but he must also prophesy about his nature: The high priest prophesies that Jesus is the Son of Man; that means there is now another witness to Jesus’s true nature, but
  2. Without Jesus ever directly stating it in trial (with the possible exception of Mark, who may have a shortened version of Luke’s account), Jesus stealthily gets the Sanhedrin (or at least the high priest) to commit “blasphemy” by declaring Jesus to be the Son of Man. When Jesus says “You have said it,” he is in fact turning the tables on them and accusing them of very “blasphemy” they’re trying to pin on him! (I recognize there’s no real blasphemy here, because Jesus really is the Son of Man, but the Sanhedrin doesn’t want to see things that way.)

I think this latter point especially is fully in keeping with the nature of how Jesus responded to the religious rulers of his day. He always turned the tables on them to show them their erroneous thinking and oppressive religious “leadership,” if one can call it that. If Jesus had said outright the full phrase in their hearing, it would have been over and done, and the Sanhedrin would have been fully justified in their own minds in sentencing Jesus to death. Jesus was not wont to leave them with that kind of self-satisfaction. The reason the Sanhedrin gets so angry is precisely because Jesus has tricked them into committing the very “blasphemy” of which they are accusing him. Jesus had said that the demons believe he is the Son of Man, and they tremble. Here, the Sanhedrin apparently believes it as well, but instead of trembling in fear, they steel themselves against the possibility and (mis)use their authority to have Jesus arrested and eventually crucified.

Is Ἐγώ εἰμι a Direct Reference to Exodus 3:14?

As tempting as it is to always assume that when Jesus says Ἐγώ εἰμι, he is always referring to the divine name in Exodus 3:14, I have to reject that notion to be universally true in the Gospels. There are clearly times when Jesus uses the phrase simply to indicate his presence or his existence without the theological weight. Given the full statement in Luke that includes those words (and since I think Luke is on most things more thorough than Mark), I don’t think Jesus saying Ἐγώ εἰμι here has much theological weight. What seems to upset the Sanhedrin is Jesus’s quotation of Psalm 110:1 and Daniel 7:13 more than anything else. Of course, Jesus could have said it in isolation (as Mark has it recorded) to get the Sanhedrin’s dander up, to make them think that’s what he meant even though he didn’t. It’s a word play that’s not intended to deceive, but to drive home the point.

Conclusion

These parallel accounts in the Synoptic Gospels raise some interesting issues in my mind. I think Jesus remains consistent with his approach to the religious elite of his day by not giving them the satisfaction of thinking they are right. A more detailed treatment of John’s version of these events goes beyond the scope of this blog post, but as I’m reading through John again now, I’m already finding things in the earlier part of his Gospel that tie into that account, so you can be sure I will have another post on these events from John’s perspective.

Peace!

Scott Stocking

May 14, 2012

“Other Duties as Assigned” (Luke 17:7–10)

Filed under: Biblical Studies,Luke Gospel of,Work — Scott Stocking @ 6:14 am

Last month, I blogged briefly on what the Scriptures say about work. So I’ve been a little sensitive to that topic when it comes up in my daily reading. I was struck recently by Luke 17:7–10, where Jesus says, in so many words, “Don’t expect a huge fanfare of appreciation when all you’ve done is what is normally expected of you.” It didn’t take me too long to jump from that to my own job description as an Education and Curriculum Writer for my company. My main job is to take materials prepared by subject matter experts (SMEs) and develop Web-based training and other materials for our eventual approval as an organization that can offer continuing education credits. I have some advanced training in adult educational theory, so I’d like to think I’m ideally suited to the task.

Having spent several years working from home or working more-or-less independently as an adjunct professor, no one really had a claim on the rest of my time other than family. I was given a job to do, and I did it to the best of my ability. But now, after having been working for a company for the past 16 months, I think I have finally gotten adjusted to having a boss and understanding how I fit into the whole scheme of things as an employee. Lately, because we lost our data analyst at Christmas time and because I have a pretty strong math and Excel background, I got handed the task dealing with the data and putting it into the necessary templates in Word for our purposes. I was able to develop a couple VBA macros for Word and Excel that made the task almost embarrassingly easy, creating, on average, twenty-five six-page, personalized documents from the data in about ten minutes. And if something needed to be tweaked in all documents after they were created? Forget about it! I had learned how to do macros for that as well.

Now there’s a part of me that thinks I deserve a little extra commendation (read “pay raise”) for taking on this task that really was not in my field of expertise. But I was reminded of that humbling little phrase in my job description (and my coworkers’ job description and most likely your job description): “Other duties as assigned.” I had not written much of any computer code since my college days 30 years ago, long before Bill Gates became a household name. I had toyed with macros in some of my editing work, but not nearly to the extent that I have achieved in the past year. One of my coworkers loaned me her book on VBA for Microsoft applications, and that has been a life saver many times. But more than once, when I attempted to execute some piece of code, it just wouldn’t work like I thought it should. I think through this experience, more than any other, I have really come to appreciate the power of prayer.

Whenever I would get stuck on trying to get a piece of code to work, I would always lift it up to God. I would pray for understanding or to find the answer online or in the VBA reference book. Without fail, within an hour of reaching out to God for help, he directed me to answer or revealed to me the nature of the problem. Code is nothing but pure logic (in spite of the occasional Schroedinbugs), so to whom could I turn when I got stuck but the creator of logic himself?

This experience is just another in a long string of divine confirmations that God has me where he wants me. I just have to keep telling myself that that is a far greater benefit or reward than the praise of my bosses or coworkers or any pay raises or bonuses (I won’t turn any of that down, though!). Becoming the go-to guy for the data was nothing more than “other duties as assigned,” so “I am an unworthy servant; I have done what I ought to do.”

Peace,

Scott Stocking

April 22, 2012

Sing a New Song (Psalm 98; Ephesians 5:18–21)

Filed under: Biblical Studies,Ecclesiology,Ephesians,New Testament,Old Testament,Psalms — Scott Stocking @ 7:34 am

NOTE: The following is revised and expanded from an article I wrote that appeared in the February 4, 2001, edition of The Christian Standard.

Sports fans are passionate people. They love their favorite teams and cheer them on with great enthusiasm. But sometimes their passion gets out of control, and violence erupts. We have seen this on a number of occasions, especially when a favorite team wins a big game or a national championship. Revelry and carousing take place in the streets, some even firing guns into the air, while others are hurt or injured from brawls that break out.

Don’t Get Drunk on Wine. . .

The country witnessed this behavior in 2000 when Los Angeles residents rioted after the Lakers won the NBA title. No doubt in many of these incidents of individuals or crowds getting out of hand, alcohol was a major contributing factor. Alcohol breaks down our inhibitions and our sense of self-control, and leads to all kinds of misbehavior. Although Midwesterners are a little more subdued in their celebrations, I have no doubt that St. Louisans lined Busch Brewery’s pockets after Games 6 and 7 of the 2011 World Series.

Expressing passion for a sports team can be turned into a positive model of worship. After all, the word “fan” comes from the word “fanatic.” Do we love God and express our praise for him as much as we do our favorite teams? Hasn’t God done much more than win a World Series or an NBA title? Now granted, I don’t want us going out and getting drunk for Jesus. Eph 5:18 provides a good balance for us when celebrating what God has done in our lives: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” Paul warns that controlled substances and uncontrolled behaviors are not the proper way to celebrate or to let off steam at the extremes of life. These only lead to trouble, hardship, and sin.

Instead, Be Filled with the Spirit

Instead, Paul exhorts his readers to “be filled with the Spirit.” The similarity here with the negative command against alcohol may escape some: with alcohol, we give up control of our faculties to a mindless substance, and our corrupt flesh nature rises to the surface. If you’ve ever had too much to drink, you know what I mean. You say things when you’re tipsy that you wouldn’t say when you’re sober. Your ability to drive and walk is impaired. Being filled with the Spirit, however, implies that we are giving up control to “the mind of Christ” and to the God who created us for his purposes—our “new man” shines forth.

Understanding this truth is one key to getting a handle on the “worship wars” that many congregations have experienced in the past twenty years. Many in the older generations (“the builders” and to a certain extent, the “boomers”) fuss at the younger generation because of the latter’s desire to have more contemporary choruses and the additional accompaniment of guitars, drums, and so on. At the same time the younger generations (“busters,” “X,” and “2K”) complain about the slow tempo of some traditional hymns and the unpopularity (from their perspective) of the piano or church organ, or both. (One is hard pressed to find a successful radio station today that plays only piano and organ music!) When I moved back to Nebraska in 2010, I got reconnected with the congregation that sent me off to seminary. The sermon series that first Sunday I was back was “I Love the 80s.” Each week, the worship team performed a different (secular) hit song from the 80s, and the pastor used Scripture to highlight the significant themes of the song.

The one who is critical of the worship style a congregation uses is equally as guilty as the one who condemns another for not jumping on board a congregation’s preferred worship style, or a congregation’s desire to establish a more culturally relevant style. Neither group is filled with the Spirit. Neither group is more holy or righteous than the other is simply because of what its preferred style of music is. If we are filled with the Spirit when we come to worship, we allow the Holy Spirit to break down our inhibitions about style, while he directs our attention to the substance of the hymn or chorus.

Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs

When we get beyond our personal preferences about style, only then can we truly appreciate the command to “sing a new song” to our Lord. Paul goes on in Eph 5:19–20 to explain what he means by being filled with the Spirit. The first aspect is “speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music in your hearts to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything.” Paul here seems to bring the old (psalms, hymns) and the new (spiritual songs) together for the mutual edification of the body, and for the purpose of expressing thanks to our God. In fact, the five verbs that come after “be filled with the Spirit” are all subordinate to that command in some way, because they are all participles. Here is my outline for the organization of those verses:

Be filled (πληρόω) with the Spirit

    Speaking (λαλέω) to one another with psalms (ψαλμός), hymns (ὕμνος), and spiritual songs (ᾠδή)

        Singing (ᾄδω) and

        Making music (ψάλλω) in your hearts to the Lord,

        Always giving thanks (εὐχαριστέω) to God the Father…

    Submitting (ὑποτάσσω) to one another out of reverence for Christ.

The passion in that exhortation is self-evident. The musical expression of God’s Word was a vital part of the fellowship experience of first century Christians. This has been true throughout the centuries in the Christian faith, and still holds true today. Passionate worship is one of the signs of a living, growing, fruit-bearing congregation. Passionate worship shows the world that we really do love our Lord with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind.

The second aspect of being filled with the Spirit is that we “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5:21). Like the Fifth Commandment (Ex 20:12), this command serves as general statement of transition between our spiritual relationships (worship of God within the body) and our earthly relationships (family and work). In the context of the former (worship), submitting to one another implies that we show mutual respect for each other’s preferred styles. If the Spirit is present, style is at best a secondary concern. What matters is keeping the unity of the Spirit with the bond of peace (Eph 4:3).

The New Song

The most common hymnbook in the pews of the churches I served in the past twenty years was Favorite Hymns of Praise (Tabernacle Publishing, Wheaton, IL) copyrighted in 1967. One day while preparing a sermon on the topic of the “new song,” I thumbed through the hymns and browsed an Internet site with hymn histories. I discovered that most of the hymns were in the public domain or the copyright had expired. In other words, they were written before copyright laws went into effect in the early 1920s. Although many of these hymns contain important, timeless truths about God and our faith, they are nonetheless “old.” The fact that they are old does not detract from their value, but it may detract from their appeal to younger generations.

The command to “sing to the Lord a new song” (Psalm 98:1) is not one which was negated by the New Covenant. All nine occurrences of the phrase “new song” in the NIV are connected with the victory, salvation, and justice of God.

God is still winning victories today, every time someone professes faith in him and receives baptism by immersion. In Luke 15, we see that the angels throw a heavenly party over each sinner who repents. Each soul has a unique story of how he or she came to know Christ, and each story is worthy of a “new song.”

Psalm 98

Psalm 98 is by far the most vivid statement of the “new song” in Scripture. The psalm consists of three stanzas of three verses each. In each of the first three verses, God’s salvation is mentioned. Verses 2–3 are particularly prophetic: the word for “salvation” (יְשׁוּעָה) is related to the word translated elsewhere as “Joshua,” or to the Greeks, “Jesus.”

Verses 4–6 make it clear that enthusiasm and passion are important, if not necessary, elements of worship. This second stanza begins and ends with the command to “shout for joy” (רוע). Verse 4 in the NIV is rendered “burst into jubilant song with music,” but the KJV reveals that the phrase is actually made up of only three verbs. “Burst” (KJV has “make a loud noise”; פצח) has the image of flood waters built up behind a dam or levee that suddenly break through clearing out everything in its path. “Jubilant song” (KJV has “rejoice”; רנן) is used of the mountains in vs. 8. “Music” (KJV has “sing praise”; זמר) is actually the root word for “psalm” (see the Ephesians passage above), which is a song sung to musical accompaniment.

God as Audience

Verse 6 is the crux of the entire psalm. The word “before” can also be translated “in the presence of.” When we “shout for joy in the presence of the Lord, the King,” the obvious conclusion here is that God is the audience. Those of us who worship, then, are the performers. The condition in Psalm 33:3 makes a great deal of sense, then: “play skillfully.” God wants us to give our best. Our best may not win us any recording contracts, but he does want us to worship with all that we are.

God wants us to praise him even when we do not feel like praising him, or even when we do not think our talents are good enough to contribute to the body. Jehoshaphat placed the choir out in front of the troops, and ultimately they did not have to lift a finger in violence against their enemies. God won the victory. Praise has a power that goes far beyond our ability and our comprehension. The point is: “SING!”

The final three stanzas reveal that worship is for all of God’s creation, not just his chosen people. In part, it is evangelistic. 1 Corinthians 14 indicates that orderly, comprehensible worship is a powerful tool for reaching the unsaved. If our forms of worship are foreign to the culture around us, we will not have a significant impact on our culture.

A Bold Example

One congregation I served in had a “talent” night. Two high school freshmen boys “rapped” Will Smith’s song “Just the Two of Us.” The “rap” is about Will Smith’s desire to be a good father to his son, in spite of his divorce from the boy’s mother. Nothing in the song is offensive to the Christian values of parenthood. I know some of our elderly members were squirming, if not fuming, from allowing that song to be performed in the sanctuary. But neither of these two young men has significant contact with their biological fathers. I interpreted that song as a heartfelt prayer of those two young men for a relationship like the one Will Smith sang about.

Conclusion

In worship, we long to draw near to our heavenly Father, just as those two teenagers longed to have a close relationship with their earthly fathers. Singing a new song to the Lord is one way to praise God for his victories in our lives, both past and future. If we are not singing new songs to the Lord, the rocks themselves will cry out declaring the righteous rule of our Savior and Lord.

Peace!

Scott Stocking

April 19, 2012

Work: The “Rest” of the Story (Ecclesiastes 3)

Filed under: Biblical Studies,Ecclesiastes,Genesis,Old Testament,Work — Scott Stocking @ 6:04 am

I was catching up on my Men’s Fraternity videos the other day when Robert Lewis said something that kind of shocked me: Most people never hear a sermon on the theology of work. He went back through his church’s tape catalog for 27 years worth of sermons and found only one sermon devoted to the topic of work. I had wrestled with that subject several times and have come to my own conclusions, but I’ve never really devoted a blog post to it. Our Dave Ramsey FPU session a couple weeks ago was about work as well, so the topic is fresh on my mind. Since I’ve been in a bit of a dry spell lately, I thought this topic would be just the thing to break my writer’s block.

The Genesis of Work

God himself originated the idea of work when he decided to create all that exists. “The earth was tohu webohu,” says Genesis 1:2, “formless and empty,” “nothing but chaos.” The creation account is one of bringing order to that chaos. The account itself reflects a definite order to it, as I show in Table 1.

Day 0: “In the beginning”—Chaos

Day 1: Light

Day 4: The lighted bodies

Day 2: Sky and water

Day 5: Air and water creatures

Day 3: Dry ground

Day 6: Land-dwelling creatures; Man

Day 7: “God rested from his work.”—Order

 

This reveals, then, one of God’s purposes for work, even though it is not expressly stated in the Genesis account: Work brings order out of chaos. You don’t have to think about that too long to realize it’s true. Look at a mechanic’s garage when he’s rebuilding an engine. All of the parts—pistons, heads, crankshaft, gaskets, bolts, etc.—are (to the untrained eye) scattered, and the unlearned don’t have a clue how it all goes together. But the mechanic has the ability to bring order to that apparent chaos. The mechanic, however, does not have the ability to “speak” order to those parts as God did, but through hard work, he can reassemble the engine into a functional device. This is not to say that God’s speech isn’t “work”, either. When God spoke the universe into existence, he also, by default, spoke into existence all the laws of physics, chemistry, geology, plate tectonics, etc. You and I just can’t create, alter, or suspend natural laws. We have to work within those foundational laws.

The Work of Freedom

When God finished the work of creation, he rested on the seventh day. Here’s the irony in my mind. Not only does God create work, he also creates rest. Work and rest are both good aspects of God’s creation. That concept of rest became so important that God included it in the Ten Commandments. Not only couldn’t the Israelites work, but they couldn’t make their servants work either. It was a day of rest initially, but Jesus turned the conventional view of the Sabbath on it’s head. In Luke 13, he healed a crippled woman on the Sabbath. The synagogue ruler complained that Jesus healed on the Sabbath, but Jesus put him and his opponents in their place. Jesus brought “rest” to this woman on the Sabbath, freeing her from her bondage.

So here, I think, is another principle of work, and a seemingly paradoxical one at that: work brings freedom. Jesus ignored a long-held myth about the Sabbath in order to bring physical freedom to this woman. I think that’s also behind Dave Ramsey’s oft-repeated maxim: “If you will live like no one else, later you can live like no one else.”™ I know the pain of being “slave to the lender,” and it is not pleasant. Some days I was burning the candle at both ends, and I still have trouble shaking that exhaustion. But God has been faithful to see me through it.

The Old Testament Concept

The Old Testament has what seems to be a radically different concept of “work” than what we are used to in the modern day. But a closer look reveals that perhaps the differences aren’t so stark. In the OT, you had your land, and you worked it to grow your food, raise your animals, and provide for your family. The male often had a trade and could barter his services for things his family needed that he couldn’t produce himself. However, if someone got to a point where he couldn’t provide for himself or his family, he had to sell himself (and possibly his family) to the lender. Back then, they called that slavery. Today, we call it “employment.” Think about it: Unless you’re an entrepreneur and can create or contract for your own work, you have to go to someone who can pay you to help with their work. You have to follow their rules, their procedures, their codes of conduct. You’re a “slave” to the “man” (or in my case, the “woman” J).

Sadly, I think we’ve come to rely too much on companies to hire us or even worse, for the government to send us a monthly check (unless we’re otherwise disabled or retired), and we’ve lost much of the entrepreneurial spirit that made America the great land of opportunity. I spent years piecing together a meager income at odd jobs (mostly teaching in various venues and editing, my strengths) so I could be at home with the kids when they were younger. But now that life has forced me, or rather, God has led me, to a regular 8–5 (or now 7–4) job, I have seen work from a different perspective. Sure, I still have an independent spirit that wants to break free and branch out on my own, but I’m kind of sold on the benefits that go along with working for someone who can actually provide benefits!

I think the hardest lesson for me so far is that of teamwork. Setting aside my independence was a difficult thing to do, but I’ve reaped great rewards. I have the added benefit of an employer who has allowed me to work in my strengths and try new things that have both expanded my skill set and produced success I’ve never experienced before. I think this is where the “rest” of work is most evident: Satisfaction in a job well done. Solomon sums it up nicely in Ecclesiastes 3:9–13 (NIV):

What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.

Whatever you do, I pray that you do it for the glory of God. I wish you wild success in the things you put your hands and minds to.

Peace!

Scott Stocking

March 31, 2012

When Iron Sharpens Iron, Sparks Fly (Proverbs 27:17)

Filed under: Biblical Studies,Old Testament,Proverbs,Spiritual Warfare — Scott Stocking @ 6:55 am

One of my favorite sections of Proverbs is 27:14–21. Here it is from the newest version of the NIV:

14 If anyone loudly blesses their neighbor early in the morning,

it will be taken as a curse.

15 A quarrelsome wife is like the dripping

of a leaky roof in a rainstorm;

16 restraining her is like restraining the wind

or grasping oil with the hand.

17 As iron sharpens iron,

so one person sharpens another.

18 The one who guards a fig tree will eat its fruit,

and whoever protects their master will be honored.

19 As water reflects the face,

so one’s life reflects the heart.

20 Death and Destruction are never satisfied,

and neither are human eyes.

21 The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold,

but people are tested by their praise.

Good Morning?

I’ve always been a morning person. I get up daily by 5:30 to get my Bible study in and get ready for work. But many years ago, when I came across Proverbs 27:14, I was in utter disbelief that such a verse would be in the Bible. Morning people are a curse to their neighbors! Now admittedly, I’m dealing with this a little tongue-in-cheek. I think most of know what this verse is really talking about. You know the type, the one who sees you dragging into work before the coffee or other caffeinated beverage kicks in and decides to have a little fun at your expense. “Hi, Scott! Beautiful morning, isn’t it? Just breathe in that fresh morning air!” You want to turn around and smack the guy silly, right? Now of course, I’m not advocating that.

Keep in mind that Proverbs is not a book of commands, but a book of pithy generalities about life. They are statements that ring true to us about the way things are, but they were never intended to be transformed into commands. If you’re obnoxious early in the morning, some people just aren’t going to like that. In fact, the next two verses seem to have a similar theme: being obnoxious doesn’t win you any friends.

Good Wife?

The imagery Solomon applies to quarrelsome wives is even more striking. If you’ve ever had a leaky roof, you know exactly what he’s talking about. About a year ago, the same week I was moving out of my mom’s basement and into my own place, their upstairs toilet started leaking pretty bad into what had been my bedroom. It was a mess, to say the least, and a pain to keep up with. And trying to reason with a quarrelsome wife? Forget about it! Not only is it difficult to hold oil in your hand, but it’s also hard to get off unless you use some hot water and soap. Your hands feel slimy until you can get the oil off of them.

Good Men?

This brings me to Proverbs 27:17, a verse that is at the heart of nearly every men’s ministry message and program that’s ever been published. But as I’m prone to do, I’m about to shatter that long-held belief that the verse refers to positive male camaraderie. A look at the Hebrew of the verse and a little common sense about metallurgy will help make the point.

Have you ever watched someone forge a sword? First of all, you have to get the metal hot enough to melt into the basic shape of the sword. Then once the sword has its basic shape, it’s repeatedly subjected to the hot fire and hammered on an anvil to refine its shape and give it its edge. Once it has the length and temper it needs to be a good sword, the smith gives it its sharp edge by grinding and polishing. It is at that step of the process that we see the true nature of Proverbs 27:17.

When iron strikes iron, or even when iron sharpens iron, sparks fly. The Hebrew word for “sharpen” (חָדַד, ḥā∙ḏǎḏ) here is only used six times in the Old Testament: twice in Proverbs 27:17, three times in Ezekiel 21:9–11, and once in Habakkuk 1:8. Solomon’s use of the word in Proverbs 27:17 seems rather innocuous if we fail to look past the popular modern interpretation, but it is the second half of the verse that really got me thinking that this might not be the comfortable camaraderie often portrayed: “one man sharpens the face of a friend.” Now I ask you, does that sound like mutual encouragement? Does that sound like a slap on the back? NO! The passages in Ezekiel speak of the sword being sharpened for the slayer going out to slaughter. Habakkuk uses it to describe the fierceness of horsemen going out to battle. It sounds more like two guys battling each other just to stay ahead. It sounds like they might be getting on each other’s nerves. Granted, that could be for the better, but I think the context may suggest otherwise.

You still don’t believe me? An obnoxious morning person? A quarrelsome wife? She’s compared to oil, wind, a dripping faucet. But two men going at it? Iron on iron. Sparks are flying, baby. No holds barred. Hear the clank of hammer and steel on the anvil. Feel the crushing pain of missing the anvil and striking your thumb, times ten! And what about the verses that come after? Guarding, protecting: sounds like dangerous guy stuff. Death and Destruction never being satisfied: ’nuff said. Crucibles: subjected to the heat of purifying fire.

I think verse 19 is the crux verse here: “As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart.” I’ve been reading John Eldredge lately (Wild at Heart; Beautiful Outlaw), so I’m kind of pumped on guy stuff right now. I’m rediscovering what he calls the deep heart of a man: “a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue.” I’ve been asking myself what my life shows about my heart. Has it shown that I’m a warrior or a wimp? I’ve certainly picked my fights like William Wallace. They didn’t involve guns or swords, however. But they did often attack issues of the heart, especially greed and corruption. Those can be just as ugly as any battle scene from Braveheart. The trouble was, my “beauty” at the time didn’t want anything to do with my battle. That struck at the core of my manhood, and I’ve been climbing back ever since.

Guys, what does your life reflect about your heart? Are you the man’s man that Eldredge talks about in Wild at Heart? Or have you become a restrained Mr. Incredible, forced to keep your super powers in check behind an office desk because society is afraid of the inherent threat you pose to their comfort? If you haven’t read anything by John Eldredge, I would encourage you to get hold of a copy of Wild at Heart. The principles in there have taken me to a new level of manhood in my life, but I can still see that I have a long way to go. And if you’re in Omaha, beginning April 21, 2012, at StoneBridge Christian Church, 8:00 a.m., our men’s group will begin a nine-week series on Beautiful Outlaw.

Peace!

Scott Stocking

StoneBridge Christian Church is located at 15801 Butler Street, between Fort and Maple.

March 27, 2012

The Domino Effect

Filed under: Biblical Studies,Genesis,Old Testament — Scott Stocking @ 7:37 am

“We weren’t set up to be messed up,

But we messed up what God set up.”

 

The Domino Effect, p. 1.

 

Please come to the six-week look at “falling forward into the story of Good and Evil” at

 

StoneBridge Christian Church, 15801 Butler, Omaha, NE

 

Wednesdays @ 7 p.m. beginning March 28, 2012.

 

March 23, 2012

Helmet of Salvation (Isaiah 59:17, Ephesians 6:17)

Filed under: Biblical Studies,Ephesians,Isaiah,Old Testament,Spiritual Warfare — Scott Stocking @ 7:37 am

NOTE: I beefed this up from a Word of the Week e-mail originally sent in May 2001.

When my kids were learning how to ride their bicycles, I was a bit obsessive about them using a helmet. Now when I was a kid (many moons ago, now), neither my parents nor I ever gave a second thought to riding my bike without a helmet. Helmets were for football, not bike riding. Granted, the helmet cannot save you from any and all injuries, which is one of the common arguments used by motorcycle riders opposed to mandatory helmet laws. But it is a measure of protection that gave me an added sense of security as a parent as my kids were learning how to be more independent. Now that my son has his driver’s license and my daughter is only weeks away from getting her learner’s permit, I’m obsessing about safety all over again. I’m not making everyone wear helmets when he drives, obviously. But Solomon was right. “There is nothing new under the sun.”

In three passages of Scripture, God uses the “helmet” (Heb. כֹּובַע) image to describe the salvation he freely offers (Isaiah 59:17; Ephesians 6:17; and 1 Thessalonians 5:8). In Isaiah 59:17, the prophet says that God “put[s] on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on His head.” In the context of Isaiah 59, God is “displeased that there [is] no justice” (vs. 15b). God’s salvation and righteousness are necessary to turn the tide of injustice in Israel. This word for helmet is only used six times in the Old Testament, but the Isaiah passage is the only time where God is said to wear this piece of armor. If God is all powerful, he doesn’t need armor, so obviously this is figurative language here. But this also betrays another myth we have about spiritual armor. We think it is defensive. But in this passage, God is not on the defense. He is moving forward in an offensive against injustice. He’s getting ready to execute his vengeance!

As I have mentioned before in other contexts, God’s salvation here goes far beyond our own personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Yes, each of us individually can personally receive God’s salvation, but not solely for our own benefit. God’s salvation here has national (and international) implications. God wants the nation of Israel to be saved, as well as the individuals within the nation.

The apostle Paul has this multifaceted view of salvation-justice as well. In 1 Tim 2:1–4, Paul urges everyone to pray for “kings and authorities” so we may lead “peaceful lives,” because God “wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” Isaiah’s image of the helmet fits well here. God wants you and I to serve as ambassadors who will proclaim his salvation not only to individuals, but his justice to our leaders as well (see also Eph 3:8–11, Romans 13:1–7). We do this by our behavior as well as by the words we speak. As Christians, we are not primarily on defense. We should be advancing in the power of the gospel, taking every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:3–6) and storming the gates of hell (Matthew 16:18).

For too long the more conservative, non-mainline denominations have put justice on the back burner, usually treating symptoms (soup kitchens, used clothing stores, etc.) while not addressing the causes (economic oppression, government policies, waste, etc.). Fortunately, more and more Christians are beginning to recognize that a witness of social justice is an important part of declaring God’s salvation to the lost, hopeless, and oppressed. And interestingly enough, the more it seems we concern ourselves with social justice, the more intense the persecution becomes against Christians. I’d say that means we must be doing something right to concern ourselves with God’s salvation-justice.

The bicycle helmet cannot protect us from skinned knees and elbows. We need kneepads, elbow pads and wrist braces if we are really serious about protecting ourselves as we ride the highways and byways of this nation. God’s helmet of salvation is only part of the “whole armor of God” that defends us against the onslaught of Satan and his forces. Not only is it defensive, but His armor terrifies our foes and causes them to retreat as they see us advancing against them in God’s might.

Peace!

Scott Stocking

March 11, 2012

The Passion Week of Christ

I have been swamped this past week or so with an albatross of an edit. I haven’t had time to put anything new together, but I thought with Resurrection Sunday coming up, I’d index the links to my blog posts on the final week of Christ’s earthly ministry. I’m guessing there might be a minister or two out there struggling for some sermon ideas.

“Why Have You Forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34, par. Psalm 22:1)

Thieves, Robbers, or Rebels?

“I Am the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25)

Judas’s Kiss (Matthew 26:48–49; Mark 14:45)

“If I’ve Told You Once, I’ve Told You a Thousand Times…”

εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν (eis aphesin hamartiōn, ‘for the forgiveness of sins’)

Let the Sleeping Saints Arise!

“Father, Forgive Them…” (Luke 23:34)

A Truly Open Communion?

Peace to all!

Scott Stocking

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