Sabbatical 2017

Sabbatical 2017
Railroad tracks near our place in Bannalec

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Canonical Reading Plan for Oct 23, Luk 1

Today's reading is Luk 1.

Luke is written to Theophilus, a Gentile, most likely a believer. Luke is careful to explain Jewish customs and beliefs throughout his gospel to his friend. Luke, a close friend and sometimes traveling companion to Paul, makes it clear that the salvation is for the Gentiles as well as the Jews. He wants to show Theophilus that his eternal destiny is assured even though he is a Gentile. Another theme Luke has is the elevation of women in the body of Christ. For the Jewish culture of his day, Luke’s message challenges many of their customs and traditions.

We hear in Luk 1:1-17 that, after 400 years of silence, God is sending the prophet promised in Malachi 3:1a. Not only will Israel have a prophet after a four-century-long dry spell, but the messenger will be a herald preceding the Son of the Most-High, the long-awaited Messiah.

We get a lesson in believing by faith from the messenger's father, Zechariah, a priest, who wants proof of what he hears (Luk 1:18). Notice, Zechariah is not having a dream, he is fully conscious. Also, the angel is particular in the details of his message leaving little room for misinterpretation. Make no mistake, Zechariah is a good man enduring a most unusual situation. Yet, he is unable to reconcile what he hears with what he knows about his and Elizabeth’s circumstances. So, ironically, as Zechariah stands in the holy of holies talking to an angelic messenger who has supernaturally appeared before him, he asks for a sign. Gabriel graciously gives him one, nine months of silence (Luk 1:18-25). We should be careful what we ask for, God’s ways are not ours.

Another supernatural announcement heralds the arrival of the second messenger of Malachi 3:1b, the Lord Himself (Luk 1:26-38). We see a contrast between Zechariah and Mary, the virgin girl. Mary has questions as well but believes unconditionally. Zechariah does not. This is a dark portent of what is to come with some of the people believing and many of the priests and members of the Sanhedrin refusing.

Upon visiting Elizabeth, Mary sings an intimate, beautiful song of praise (Luk 1:46-56). This is not the first time we've seen a woman who makes a significant contribution to the Scriptures. Keep your eyes open as we read Luke. He does much to cause perceptions of women in the first century to be challenged with each word Luke writes inspired by the Holy Spirit. 

Luke establishes the order of arrival of the Lord and His herald. The herald, John the Baptist, goes before the Lord, Mary's baby, just as he will when they begin to minister. An Old Testament pattern is repeated here, God sends a prophet (John the Baptist) before the arrival of judgment (Jesus the Messiah).

One of the popular misconceptions about the Bible is that the Old Testament (OT) is about the Law and the New Testament (NT) is about grace. Having just finished reading the OT, we saw that it is full of the grace of the Lord as He is patient with His disobedient children. With the arrival of His only Son, the dividing line will be set. Those who reject Him will be judged eternally. 

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Canonical Reading Plan for Oct 22, Mar 15-16

Today's readings are Mar 15-16.

Mar 15:2 relates Pilate's pronunciation of Jesus' kingship. Ironically, Jesus is proclaimed King by a pagan Gentile governor. In Mar 15:12-15 Pilate succinctly declares Jesus to be innocent. The Roman governor has examined Jesus and His activities and finds Jesus doing nothing illegal. This is an independent, outside confirmation that Jesus is being tried and judged inappropriately.

During the crucifixion, we hear Jesus cry out, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Mar 15:34). We should not miss what happens here. First, we see Jesus has not lost His faith and trust in the Father. He continues to confess Him and "My God." Second, we see the extent of Jesus' suffering as a man. Somehow, without surrendering His nature as God (He was fully man and fully God simultaneously and at all times), He feels the separation that sin causes between man and God. Yet, Jesus remains a full-fledged member of the Trinity as the Son. We know the Trinity is unchanging forever because God never changes. So, the Trinity remains intact and fully functional with Jesus maintaining His role as the Son. Yet, as a man, Jesus feels the anguish and heartbreak of being alone. This is difficult for us to comprehend. As such, it must be accepted in faith.

For those of us who have experienced heartbreak and isolation, this should be an encouragement that we never suffer anything that our Lord has not suffered. He was "...a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief" (Is 53:3), particularly at this moment on the cross. Jesus as a man not only identifies with our struggles and pain but as God, He comforts us and wipes every tear away.

Mar 16:9-20, are notated in most Bibles as "not included in the earliest manuscripts." If the passage following verse 8 is read carefully, there is a significant change in language and expression beginning with verse 9. Many scholars believe these verses were added sometime between the 4th and 9th centuries to soften the end of Mark's gospel, which otherwise ends abruptly with the women afraid and trembling.

Some folks get agitated over this issue, claiming it brings into doubt the veracity of the Bible. However, we should approach this carefully and thoughtfully. Rather than calling into question the authenticity of the Bible, finding out these verses don't belong here should reinforce the Bible's authenticity.

The book of Deuteronomy tells us the word of God cannot be added to or subtracted from (Dt 4:2) as does Revelation (Rev 22:18). We are blessed with scholars and linguists that have devoted their lives to the study of the Bible and where it came from. They have, through painstakingly faithful efforts, been able to determine that someone, nearly fifteen hundred years ago, tried to add to the original text of the Gospel of Mark. Praise God for the work of these people. Through their efforts, we see that the mistake of adding to the Bible was made long ago and is now rectified by the addition of those double brackets.

Sometimes it is easy to forget that we are reading translations whenever we read in any language other than Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic. Our modern translations are reliable and faithful to the original text. Yet, they remain translations. While faithfully reproduced, no single translation is more divinely inspired than any of the others. Furthermore, subtle changes can occur in a translation as our knowledge of the original languages improves, at other times, even as our own language changes.

As an example of how a translation can change over time, if you read John 3:16-17 in the Old English of the original 1611 King James Version of the Bible, which some believe to be divinely inspired, it looks like this photo of an actual page in that Bible:

Here’s how John 3:16 reads in the original version:
16 ¶ For God so loued ├że world, that he gaue his only begotten Sonne: that whosoeuer beleeueth in him, should not perish, but haue euerlasting life.17For God sent not his Sonne into the world to condemne the world: but that the world through him might be saued.”

The KJV, which itself was translated utilizing other translations, has been updated at least twice since 1611. The same passage now reads “16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

Does the more recent version of the King James qualify as changing the word of God? Did someone add to it or subtract from it? No. The result of the changes is a more readable word and a more useful tool in learning about the character and nature of God and His plan to bring His children home. We should be thankful so many man and women have labored so hard to bring us the wide variety of reliable translations available today. God can and will use each one. 

Friday, October 20, 2017

Canonical Reading Plan for Oct 21, Mar 14

Today's readings are Mar 14.

Mar 14:1-2 mentions the developing plot to kill Jesus. Verse 2 indicates the leaders were hesitant to move forward during the feast for fear of creating an uproar. With the massive number of travelers in Jerusalem for the Passover and overcrowded conditions throughout the city, the potential for riots was always lingering just under the service. Watch as this body of supposedly wise spiritual leaders allows their resentment and animosity at Jesus to overcome their common sense.

Jesus is anointed for burial in Mar 14:3-9. During the incident, we read in verse 7, that there is a time to minister to the poor and a time to focus on Christ. What Jesus is teaching the disciples here is that their relationship with Him comes first. The church exists to worship and exalt God. Feeding the poor, caring for the elderly and any other good work the church may do is secondary to how it relates to and exalts the Creator. A church that emphasizes social action, interpersonal relationships, self-improvement or any other activity more than it does Christ is missing the point. Jesus establishes that time with Him, and knowledge of Him are to be the highest priorities in the lives of His followers. He is to be given priority over all our possessions (the alabaster jar) and everything we do (feed the poor), even the "good" things we do.

This level of commitment to Christ can be difficult and is only achieved with the help and presence of the Holy Spirit who has yet to be poured out. Peter, still in his infancy as a believer, believes he can do it on his own as do the rest of the disciples. Jesus warns them about what is to come (Mar 14:26-31).

The first indications that the disciples are not yet empowered to do the things they are called to do occurs in the Garden of Gethsemane when they are unable to stay awake (Mar 14:32-42). Meanwhile, in the dark hours of a very dark night, we witness a model of perfect prayer and submission to the Father (Mar 14:36).

The disciples want to help Jesus as He is being betrayed and arrested (Mar 14:43-50). One of them wants to defend Him as if He could not defend Himself. Jesus needs neither their assistance nor their efforts at protecting Him. He had just told them He was going to be arrested and crucified. Now, their instincts lead them to try and prevent this from happening.

There’s a profound lesson in this vignette, one concerning the church and those who feel they need to protect and defend it. The Scriptures tell us the church will be persecuted and hated. As we see this becoming a reality, day by day, some think they should draw their swords and cut off the ear of the evil oppressors (Mar 14:47). Jesus would say to those who take it upon themselves to preserve the church, “Put away your sword (Mat 26:52)!" God is perfectly capable of preserving His church and tells us He will. We, as believers, would do well to remember that our mission field is--everyone, even those who oppose the church, perhaps them even more so (Mat 9:12).

Jesus is given a hearing during which, despite their best efforts, the council is unable to come up with any tangible evidence of wrongdoing (Mar 14:53-59). Ironically, they pass judgment on Him for speaking the truth (Mar 14:60-65).

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Canonical Reading Plan for Oct 20, Mar 12-13

Today's readings are Mar 12-13.

In Mar 12:1-12, Jesus relates the parable of the Tenants to the Pharisees.  It is a blatant slap in the face to them. They know they are the evil tenants. They oppressed and rejected the prophets and are about to do the same to the Son of God. Even as the words of Jesus sound harsh, they are an act of mercy. They are true and accurate in every detail giving those who hear them an opportunity to repent before it’s too late. The chief priests, scribes and elders can never say they were not warned.

This is how Scripture should work in the life of a believer. Just as Jesus’s parables were a mirror for the leaders, Scripture is for us. We can read it and believe it’s not about us, as the priests, scribes and elders did. Or we can objectively use it to measure the state of our heart. The leaders failed at being objective and, as a result, they were condemned.

Jesus continues teaching on taxes, the resurrection, the great commandment and who He is (all in Mat 22). With each teaching, He humiliates the religious rulers and exposes them for the shallow, false teachers they are. We read much the same lesson in His warning about the scribes in Mar 12:38-40.

Finally, Jesus tells them in the incident with the widow and her mites (Mar 12:41-44) that it's not how much they give, it's the attitude of the heart that gives.  Compare the widow’s devotion and surrender to those who avoid the responsibility of caring for their aged parents by selfishly claiming Corban (Mar 7:11). Those who used the principle of Corban as a way of keeping their assets did not have hearts that surrendered all to the Lord. The widow gave all she had, placing herself in a position where she had to trust the Lord to sustain her.
We can easily fall victim to the same sentiment as those who hid behind Corban. If we tithe after we pay our bills and meet our obligations, in other words, give to God out of what is left over—if any at all—we are no less guilty than the religious leaders. The Old Testament practice of giving the first fruits and of sacrificing a blemish-free offering are lessons in how we should give. God should always be first and should receive our best, not our leftovers.

Mar 13 relates prophecies indicating trials for the church. The verses in Mar 13:14-20 are a graphic description of what will happen in Jerusalem in 70 AD. By most estimates, nearly a million Jews were brutally slaughtered, and the temple was destroyed. The Roman general Titus stood on the spot where the Holy of Holies was and sacrificed a pig. To the Jews who survived to witness this act, it was the "abomination of desolation." The abomination was the sacrifice of an unclean animal by a Gentile on the spot once dedicated to the ark of the covenant and the presence of God. The desolation was the ruined temple, the remains of which were pushed off the temple mount and were left lying in heaps of rubble surrounding the mount.

Large amounts of rubble from 70 AD remain at the base of the temple mount today.
The roadway at the base of the temple mount still shows the crushing impact of the stones of the temple as they were pushed off the mount above.
Mar 13:21 begins with "And then" indicating a prophecy of events that will follow the destruction of the temple. At some point after Jerusalem is raised, false Christs will arise, and people will begin flocking to them. We know they are false because Christ is in us, not in the next town or country. There will be false prophets as well. They will perform signs and wonders. This should make us cautious about how we view miracles.  While it is apparent that God can and does perform miracles at times, there are those who believe the Holy Spirit is present only when signs and wonders are, or that the absence of signs and wonders indicates the absence of the Holy Spirit. This passage tells us that the presence of miracles can also be a sign of false prophets and false Christs. Our familiarity with our God and our in-depth knowledge of His word will help us discern which is which.

Mar 13:32-37 brings it all into focus. Instead of being preoccupied with all the end time events, Christians are to be awake, alert and " charge, each with his work." We are to do what we are called to do -- be witnesses for the gospel. The prophecies concerning the end times are given to us to let us know that there is indeed an end and it will come quickly, "like a thief in the night." This should inspire us with some urgency to be bearers of the gospel. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Canonical Reading Plan for Oct 19, Mar 10-11

Today’s readings are Mar 10-11.

Mar 10:1-12 addresses several contemporary issues regarding marriage. Jesus makes it clear that divorce was allowed by Moses and the Law because of the “hard hearts” of those involved. Divorce is not part of God’s design for marriage as the “but” in Mar 10:6 indicates. Rather than allowing these intricacies to become a stumbling block, it would be better to just live our lives and conduct our marriages in a manner that honors God at every turn.

Perhaps more pertinent to our current cultural milieu, though, is Jesus’s statement in Mar 10:5-7 concerning the nature of marriage being between a man and a woman. For those who believe Jesus never taught on this aspect of the marriage relationship, His remarks can be challenging.
The story about the rich young man is revealing (Mar 10:17-22). When the young man asks how to inherit eternal life, he calls Jesus “good teacher,” not Lord or Savior. Jesus responds that no one is good but God, a veiled reference to His oneness with the Father. The young man misses the point altogether. He called Jesus “good.” Jesus said, “Only God is good.” Christ is laying before this young man the fact the He is God. Furthermore, when Jesus recites the commandments, He leaves out those that pertain to worshiping only God and coveting material things. The young man has done fine in most areas of his life but not all. When Jesus tells him to sell everything, he can’t. His reluctance shows that he wants eternal life without making God his highest priority.

Jesus' comment about the camel passing through the eye of a needle (Mar 10:23-27) has garnered much attention. Many teach that there was some small gate called the “Eye of the Needle” in Jerusalem. There is no archeological or historical evidence of this being true despite its wide and ready acceptance. Supposedly, to get a camel through that gate, the owner had to remove everything the camel was carrying. It was supposed to be a metaphor for divesting yourself of all material possessions before getting into heaven. In other words, you can be saved if you give up everything you own. This teaching ignores Mar 10:27 where Jesus says that it is impossible for man to be saved apart from the work of God. See? It’s possible for the camel to get through that small gate. It just has to get rid of its load. Then it can go through. That’s not what Jesus is teaching here. He’s trying to show that the young man was not moved by the Spirit of God, but by his own desire to live eternally. The man asked what he had to do and when Jesus told him he had to obey all the commandments, the young man declined. The Jesus turned to His disciples told them it’s not possible to enter heaven by “doing” anything, it is the work of God in whom all things are possible.

After this, we see a revealing series of events. Jesus says those who want to be first shall be last (Mar 10:29-31). Next He tells the disciples He must go to Jerusalem and die (Mat 10:32-34). Amazingly, as if to show they weren’t really listening, James and John ask to sit in prominent positions of authority in glory (Mar 10:35-37). Jesus responds by telling them they should be careful what they ask for. They will indeed be with Him in glory, but the process will not be what they think it will be (Mar 10:37-45). Immediately afterward, Jesus heals another blind man (Mar 10:46-52). The Lord’s message is clear, many do not yet see, even among His disciples. He will heal those who follow Him, but the journey may not be pleasant.

Mar 11 gives us a few details on the Triumphal Entry that is not in the other gospels. The disciples are sent to get a donkey for Jesus to ride on (Mar 11:1-6). There is the curious exchange between the disciples and the people standing near the donkey. Is something supernatural happening or was the borrowing of the donkey prearranged? Do the people standing near the donkey know of Jesus and approve? Has Jesus made these arrangements beforehand? The text doesn't say. We should be careful not to make assumptions about how and why some things occur they way they are depicted.  However, we should be thankful that God provides in any way He chooses whether it be by miraculous knowledge or by wise and prudent preparations for the future. In this case, we see that God provides a symbolic ride on which His Son will enter Jerusalem. Jesus arriving on a donkey would denote that He comes in peace.

In Mar 11:12-14, Jesus curses a fig tree. Throughout the Scriptures, Israel is repeatedly compared to a fig tree. This particular tree is described as "in leaf." In other words, it is very close to producing fruit but not yet ready. It looks good but remains unproductive. What is intended here is a condemnation of Israel, who looks good and is close to producing spiritual fruit but will soon reject Jesus Christ. Their rejection will make it impossible to bring forth the fruit for which they are designed, the truth of God and His plan for redemption.

Immediately after cursing the fig tree, Jesus cleanses the temple (Mar 11:15-18). Note the progression between the fig tree and the temple cleansing. Israel has two primary spiritual problems. She is producing no fruit of any eternal value, and she is spiritually unclean. In the parable of the fig tree and in the temple cleansing we see judgment falling on Israel. She is not producing the fruit she was designed to produce, and the temple is not being used the way it was designed to be used.

The next day, the fig tree is withered and incapable of producing fruit (Mar 11:20-25). The fig tree is now a metaphor for Israel who will not bear the fruit it could have. The prophetic judgment is sealed based on Israel's decision to turn away from Jesus.

Jesus does not appear to address Peter's acknowledgment of the withered tree but instead begins to teach (Mar 11:22-25). His teaching is about faith and prayer, perhaps addressing the withered fig tree, after all, and what can be learned from it.

The core of the teaching is that the difficulties of life (mountains) can be removed through prayer and faith. This is not a secret formula for success or a way to get our prayers answered regardless of what they may be. Neither is it a method similar to, "If I can just work up enough faith, I'll get what I pray for!" The teaching in this passage is an encouragement to pray more frequently and intimately, striving for a deeper relationship with God by spending more focused time with Him.

However, this teaching does not stand alone. It must harmonize with the overall narrative of the Bible. One of the things Scripture has shown us is that God reveals Himself in and through His word. So, we see a relationship between three spiritual disciplines - prayer, studying the word and knowing God. The deeper we go into the first two, the better we are at the last. As we are diligent to do this, our prayers become more than telling our wants and needs to God. They begin to line up with His character and nature. When they do, we find that those God-centered prayers are answered and blessed more frequently than praying apart from the word or reading the word apart from praying.

This fits in with Mark's narrative in that Israel was failing to be God-centered in its prayer and practice of godly living. Her prayers and practice had become increasingly self-centered. God will not bless them. Indeed, Jesus curses both their prayers and their practices. The path to answered prayers and rewarded practice is in knowing God, His Son and His word so intimately that they form and inhabit our prayers to such an extent that we pray His will and His word more than we pray our will and our desires.

Hearing all this, a challenge rises from the three most influential sectors of Jewish culture (Mar 11:27-33): the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders. These groups comprise the Sanhedrin. Their naive challenge only affirms that everything Jesus has said about them is true.