The One Who Hears, The One Who Rejects

March 9, 2018

Jesus is very up front with the possibility of rejection as we share the gospel (as well as the possibility of gaining a hearing). Notice Luke 10:16: “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (ESV). See also Matthew 10:40, Mark 9:37, Luke 9:47-48, and John 13:20.

The truth is none of us like to be rejected. It is a deep seated human fear. Maybe that is the reason Jesus addresses the issue so directly. How are we to muster the courage to say a good word for Jesus if we face rejection when we do?

First, these sayings take the focus off us. It is important to ponder this, because it can help us be courageous. If we are rejected in our efforts to the share the faith, we must remember that the rejection is not just of us, it is a rejection of Jesus, and it is a rejection of the Father who sent Jesus. Rejecting me is trivial. I’m one person in 7.6 billion. Rejecting Jesus and the Father is not trivial at all. Yet, the purpose of this life is making a decision about God, the creator. Being confronted with this decision is the most important matter in life whether we like it or not. We can’t control another’s decision, but we can provide the opportunity to choose.

Second, the fear of rejection coincides with not feeling accepted. The Christian, of all people in the world, should feel love and acceptance. “God is love” (1 John 4:8). God has demonstrated his love for us by sending his only Son into the world to be the propitiation for our sins. Because of God’s love for us, Christians are commanded to love one another. Christian community (i.e., the church) should provide for us love and acceptance. The church is the family of God. Fellow Christians are my brothers and sisters in Christ. If my identity is formed around this, I don’t go out into the world wondering whether I belong or am accepted. I should know something of community as God intends it to be. And this acceptance should help me conquer my fear of rejection, because I know a community that everyone should have the opportunity to experience.

Third, we don’t know a person’s response until the message is shared. I’ve met atheists, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus who have become Christians. When you hear their life stories, it is amazing. We might even be tempted to think: I never would have suspected that they would respond to the gospel. And that is exactly the point: we don’t know a person’s response until the message is shared. The decision is for them to make not me.

Further, an initial rejection by someone may not be the last word in this person’s life. Experience teaches that it may take many encounters before a person begins to give serious thought to the gospel. Maybe your encounter with this person is encounter number one. You’ve planted a seed. Others may encourage this person, and maybe on the seventh encounter the person becomes open to study and conversion. Someone planted, another reaped, but every Christian who touched this person’s life had a role in sharing the gospel. Remember that an initial rejection may not be the last word. Maybe it is the first encounter that will lead to a changed life in time.


A Cautionary Tale

March 2, 2018

The Book of Judges is a cautionary tale. It recounts a dark period in Israel’s history. It begins with Israel’s failure to conquer the Promised Land completely. Because of this failure, the idolatry of the original inhabitants becomes a snare for Israel. The cycle in Judges is Israel commits idolatry, they become oppressed by their enemies and cry out to God, God raises a judge to deliver them, and eventually the cycle begins again.

The judges were military leaders who brought deliverance to Israel. That is probably not our first definition of a judge, although Deborah did in fact hear cases and dispense justice (Judges 4:4-5). Yet, the judges often demonstrate deep flaws which show them to be men of their times. Gideon makes an ephod that becomes a snare to the people and a temptation to idolatry. Jephthah makes a rash vow, but he also slaughters some in Israel who refused to help him. Sampson seems to make military victories only because of bad choices with Philistine women.

But the book ends with even darker stories. Jonathan, the grandson of Moses, helps steal an idol with the help of armed men and sets up an idolatrous worship site in Dan, which lasts “until the day of the captivity of the land” (Judges 18:30). This is followed by an account of the rape and murder of a priest’s concubine. (Should a priest have a concubine in the first place?) This incident nearly leads to the wholesale slaughter of the tribe of Benjamin.

But these dark stories are not without a point. A refrain that occurs within the books states: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25, ESV). The Book of Judges answers the question of what happens when a people wander away from God. The moral decline illustrated in Judges is a cautionary tale.

It is a lesson that it difficult for modern society to hear. Society doesn’t always want God in the public square. Society often likes its morality to be relative. “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” could be our own nation’s slogan.

But then we wring our hands when violence and crime occur. Evil, violence, and crime will always be with us as long as this age lasts. But when a society goes through a moral decline such evil will increase. This is a morality problem that statutes won’t cure. It is not that statutes are unimportant. They represent a social contract which should be based on shared values and common morality. When values and morality differ, statutes become difficult to enforce. Witness the drug problem in our country. In other words, morality and values are the deeper issue.

The safety of my person and property are dependent on the morality of the people in my community. When the moral decline becomes so great, even the authorities cannot stop what happens next. Societies can descend into anarchy. And periods of anarchy are what we see in the Book of Judges. For those willing to hear, Judges provides a cautionary tale.

Suggestions for Public Scripture Reading

February 23, 2018

The basis for the public reading of scripture in our assemblies can be found in the New Testament. Timothy, an evangelist in Ephesus, is instructed by Paul: “Until I come, continue to devote yourself to reading, to exhortation, and to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). Most modern translations render reading as public reading. Although the word can mean either private or public reading, the public nature of the other two items in the series, exhortation and teaching, would cause us to think of the assembly. Other passages also indicate a public reading of the word (Colossians 4:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:27, and Revelation 1:3).

The public reading of God’s word underscores its authority. It also gives opportunity for us to hear the message of scripture. Yet it must be done well. If we do it poorly, the hidden message may be that this is unimportant–the exact opposite of what we want to convey. Let me make some suggestions for public reading to help us achieve excellence.

  • Select a unit of thought to be read. Remember chapter and verse numbers are the later addition of editors. They may not always help in selecting a unit of thought. The reader may need to give some context to help the listeners. The goal is that the scripture selected will convey the same message to the listeners as if they had read it in context for themselves. (Most of the time for us, the passage is selected to go with the preaching text. If you want to know the passage prior to Sunday, let me know.)
  • Check for pronunciation and words you may not understand. A Bible dictionary can aid you in the pronunciation of Bible names, so can the book, That’s Easy for You to Say: Your Quick Guide to Pronouncing Bible Names. The web sites, and, provide audio pronunciations of some Bible names. An app called Biblical Pronunciation is also available for Android and iOS. Some Bible names have multiple acceptable pronunciations. But nothing hurts a public reading like stumbling over the pronunciation of unfamiliar words and names.
  • Watch for problems that may arise in public reading that might confuse the sense. Failing to pause at the right place or pausing in the wrong place may confuse the listener. Consider the example Luke 2:16: “So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger” (NRSV). If the reader fails to pause at the comma, it will end up sounding as if all three — Mary, Joseph, and the child — are in the manger.
  • Find the author’s meaning, place the stress and emphasis on the main point.
  • Read more slowly than you might speak but be willing to vary the speed and pitch to fit the tone of the reading. I once heard a comparison of audio books made by with amateur produced audio books. The speed and pitch of the Audible books were well modulated. The amateur books sounded flat in comparison. And this difference effects the listener’s ability to pay attention and comprehend. No, I’m not expecting us to become professional readers, but it is something at which most of us can do better.
  • Communicate the emotion and tone of the passage with your voice if possible. Is there joy? Is there anger? Is there sarcasm? Is there humor?
  • Practice reading the passage aloud.

The Right Response to God’s Instructions: Psalm 119

February 16, 2018

When I arrived at my sister’s house, it was night. Rounding a curve in the street, I could see her house all lit up since it sits on a hill. The house had lights all the way around, so it was like a beacon. For me, the lights were welcoming. They were even helpful as I unloaded my luggage from the car. But I knew all those lights hadn’t been there on my previous visit, so I enquired about them. She said that there had been break-ins in her neighborhood, so she had the lights installed for security.

The same light can be welcoming or something that a person wants to avoid and hide from. It is the same light, but different responses to this light. Which brings us again to Psalm 119:105: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (ESV). Even though the psalm presents this picture of God’s instructions as light for guidance, he also reflects the reality that it is not true for everyone. The author of Psalm 119 confesses he had gone astray (119:67, 119:176). He had returned and was now keeping God’s law, but there had been a time in his life when he was wandering in the wrong direction.

Besides the personal confession in Psalm 119, the psalmist also speaks of the wicked. “Hot indignation seizes me because of the wicked, who forsake your law” (Psalms 119:53, ESV). “Though the cords of the wicked ensnare me, I do not forget your law” (Psalms 119:61, ESV). God’s instructions have all the wonderful qualities that we looked at in the last article, but they require the right response from us. It is instructive to go through the psalm and ask: what kind of response is the psalmist making to God’s precepts? Here’s my list, and I’m going ahead and personalizing the list as ways I am responding even if it is a work in process.

  1. I feel reverence and awe for them because of who God is. 119:120, 119:161
  2. I diligently keep them. 119:4
  3. I remember them (119:11, 119:15) and meditate on them. 119:153, 119:176
  4. I delight in them (119:14) because they are more valuable than riches (119:35, 119:47, 119:72), better than money (119:103), and sweeter than honey (119:143, 119:174).</;i?
  5. I seek them as my counselors. 119:24
  6. I hope in them. 119:43
  7. I am comforted by them. 119:52
  8. I am blessed by them. 119:56
  9. I love them. 119:97, 119:119, 119:163, 119:165, 119:167
  10. I count them as my forever heritage/inheritance. 119:111
  11. I rejoice in them like someone finding a treasure (i.e., plunder). 119:162
  12. I am helped by them. 119:175

I’ve looked at Psalm 119 in four articles to tell my journey of moving beyond a few favorite verses to a deeper appreciation for this psalm.* I used some inductive questions to reflect on the psalm: What do I learn about the author and circumstances? What are his petitions? What does he say about God’s instructions? How does he respond to God’s instructions? Answering those questions and meditating on the psalm brings a deeper appreciation. God’s word can indeed be a light for my path, but for it to bring guidance, I must have the right response to God’s instructions.

*The articles in order are:


Characteristics of God’s Instructions in Psalm 119

February 9, 2018

When I think of Psalm 119, verse 105 certainly comes to mind: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalms 119:105, ESV). The psalm emphasizes the importance of God’s instructions by the use of Torah (law) along with seven synonyms. One of those eight words will be in every verse except for four verses, but the psalmist compensates for these omissions by using two of these words in five verses. The emphasis is clear.

But how do I get beyond just underlining Psalm 119:105 or couple of other favorites? I never really appreciated the psalm as I should until I did an inductive study of it. I took a few simple questions and recorded my findings. I’ve already written about learning what I could about the author and his circumstances and noting his petitions to God. He has clearly telegraphed in the psalm by his use of law and its synonyms that a major theme is God’s instructions. So it is helpful to go through the psalm and record all that he says about God’s instructions. Here’s my list, but it is a project worth doing for yourself.

  1. God’s instructions are righteous. 119:7, 119:62, 119:75, 119:106, 119:137, 119:144, 119:160, 119:164, 119:172
  2. God’s instructions give life. 119:25, 119:37, 119:50
  3. God’s instructions are good. 119:39, 119:68
  4. God’s instructions are saving. 119:41
  5. God’s instructions are true. 119:43, 119:142, 119:151, 119:160
  6. God’s instructions teach good judgment, knowledge, and wisdom. 119:66, 119:98
  7. God’s instructions are sure, trustworthy. 119:86
  8. God’s instructions endure. 119:89, 119:152
  9. God’s instructions are broad. 119:96 How do we understand the word broad or wide in this verse? One approach is found in the NET: “I realize that everything has its limits, but your commands are beyond full comprehension.” Obviously, we get a clue from the contrast. Another approach is to compare limits to something that is boundless.
  10. God’s instructions are a light for your path. 119:105
  11. God’s instructions are wonderful. 119:129
  12. God’s instructions (in this case, promises) are tested. 119:140

These are the conclusions of a reader who has spent time in God’s word. I agree with his conclusions as someone who has also spent time in God’s word. The Bible is an amazing library that has a unified message despite the fact that it spans 3600 years, 40 some authors, three languages, and three continents. It contains predictive prophecy. In the places where it can be tested by history and archaeology it has been found reliable. We have sufficient manuscript evidence to believe we have reliable manuscripts. It has a message that makes profound sense of the human predicament, and its practice seems to produce the best in its followers.

If you are not convinced, I invite you to read and see. Investigate! Maybe you too will become convinced of the characteristics of God’s instructions in Psalm 119.


The Petitions in Psalm 119

February 2, 2018

Getting beyond a few favorite verses from Psalm 119 is a matter of spending some time with the poem and asking some inductive questions. We learned something about the author in the last article. The author was a seeker, who meditated on God’s instructions, and stored it up in his heart. He had strayed from God but returned. He was younger and probably not in the elder class of society. And most importantly, we learn that the psalm comes out of a situation of distress.* These difficulties are the circumstances of the psalm, and we learn something about the author and about praying from examining his petitions to God.

The psalmist asks for understanding.

  • Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. (Psalm 119:18, ESV)
  • Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments. (Psalm 119:66, ESV)
  • Your hands have made and fashioned me; give me understanding that I may learn your commandments. (Psalm 119:73, ESV)

We can’t grow in our understanding without searching God’s word, but God may answer this prayer by means of providence: teachers, books, articles, and conversations that help us. I’ve had people come out of a lesson and say I needed that. God may answer this with our sanctification so that we are more sensitive to God’s instructions as we mature.

The psalmist asks for help in living God’s instructions.

  • Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes! (Psalm 119:5, ESV)
  • Keep steady my steps according to your promise, and let no iniquity get dominion over me. (Psalm 119:133, ESV)
  • Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways. (Psalm 119:37, ESV)

The psalmist asks to be a good example.

  • Let those who fear you turn to me, that they may know your testimonies. May my heart be blameless in your statutes, that I may not be put to shame! (Psalm 119:79-80, ESV)

We are an example to someone, whether we like it or not. We’ve had professional athletes protest that they are not role models, and many of them shouldn’t be. However, the psalmist wants to be a good example, so that looking at his life would lead someone to know God’s instructions and the character of God.

The psalmist asks to be delivered out of his troubles.
We looked at the psalmist’s sufferings and trials last week. It is difficult to be detailed about them given space, but they are a major theme within Psalm 119.

  • Give your servant a pledge of good; let not the insolent oppress me. My eyes long for your salvation and for the fulfillment of your righteous promise. (Psalm 119:122-123, ESV)
  • According to your justice give me life… 119:149
  • Look on my affliction and deliver me… 119:153
    Deliver me 119:153

I’ve learned to pray by praying, but I’ve also learned to pray by listening to and reading the prayers of others. I’ve learned something about what to pray for as I listen to the petitions of Psalm 119.



Meeting the Author of Psalm 119

January 25, 2018

Psalm 119 is the longest poem in the Book of Psalms. It has 22 stanzas of 8 lines each giving a total of 176 verses. The psalm is an acrostic. It has 22 stanzas because there are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet. Many English versions will put the name of the Hebrew letter above each stanza (e.g., Aleph, Beth, Gimel). That means each of the eight lines of a stanza begins with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet as the author works through the entire alphabet.

That is not the only challenge in the composition of this poem. The author also uses the word law (the Hebrew word is Torah, which also means instruction) and seven other synonyms of law. These eight words for God’s instructions in the ESV are law, testimonies, ways, precepts, statutes, commandments, rules, and word. The poem uses one of these words in every line of the poem except for four, and it appears the author compensates for these four lines because in five lines of the poem a word for God’s instructions occurs twice. Clearly, the psalmist has signaled that this poem is about God’s instructions, and by using the entire alphabet, he is attempting to express himself as we would say from A to Z.

But I must confess that my early readings of this psalm found only a few nuggets, verses that I thought were worth underlining. I also read over a lot of things in the psalm missing what was going on. What helped my reading of the psalm was an inductive approach. I read the psalm asking a set of questions: What do I learn about the author? What are his petitions? What does he say about God’s instructions? Let me finish this first article with some observations about the author.

The author seems to be a younger man, because he says he has more understanding that all his teachers (119:99) and the aged (119:100), since he meditates on God’s testimonies and keeps God’s precepts. Maybe that is why he asks the question: “How can a young man keep his way pure” (119:9a)? Although he now memorizes God’s instructions so that he might not sin (119:11), he confesses “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word” (119:67). The circumstances of the psalmist are persecution (119:84-87) and desire for salvation and comfort (119:81-82). He complains, “I have become like a wineskin in the smoke” (119:83). The image is of a wineskin becoming so dried out and brittle that it is in danger of perishing. In the midst of his difficulties, he hangs on to God’s faithfulness and steadfast love (119:88, 90), and he is sustained in his trials by God’s word.

Through this inductive study I have more than a few verses worth underlining. I now see a real person in the ups and downs of life, who hangs on to God by reliance on God’s word. I find a valuable life lesson through this inductive study by meeting the author of Psalm 119.