“Did God really create the universe?”
“Did Jesus really come to earth and do all those miracles?”
“Is it really possible that God loves me as much as the Bible says He does?”
Have you ever had any of those thoughts and asked those questions? If you have, then good - you’re human! Each of those questions are just a small example of doubts we may have about the Christian faith. Every Christian has doubts at some point - even the ones who appear to have the strongest faith.
But what exactly is doubt? Is it ok? Doubt, in the context of Christian faith, is being uncertain of religious truths. Because we are human, we have a hard time believing everything all the time, and it is our natural tendency to question what is true, particularly for things we haven’t actually experienced personally.
While doubt is being uncertain, it is not a denial of religious truths. It would be another blog post entirely to discuss denial (it isn’t just a river in Egypt, you know). This distinction is why we know it’s ok for us to have doubts. We can question our faith without denying it, and we can ask questions to God without denying Him. We learn by questioning, and God wants us to learn. If we take everything people tell us at face value and believe it without a shred of doubt or questioning, we could very easily be led down the wrong path. If we have some doubt, we question; and if we question, we need to seek God for the answer; and if we seek God for the answer, we will learn His truth and draw closer to Him.
God has placed each of us on this earth with many other people around us. Hopefully you have some mature Christians around you who have been living their faith for many years. If you do, discuss your doubts with them. They can help point you toward God’s truth and begin to erase some of your doubts. It’s ok to have doubts, but if you live in them and don’t seek God and His truth then your doubt will eventually turn into denial of God - which is the last thing a Christian wants to do.
Admit and address your doubts, and seek God through prayer and through fellow Christians so you may embrace His truth.
I have to admit that when I first heard the topic for this week, my gut reaction was to want a different topic because I knew that I was completely ignorant of any information regarding the Dead Sea Scrolls. I had only heard about them in passing and did not actually know why they were so important. Surprisingly, I can’t even remember talking about them in seminary! Probably like many of you, I learned more about the Dead Sea Scrolls this past Monday when I read Katie’s blog than I ever had before in all the combined times I had been around people who were discussing them. Sometimes we face topics like this in school, life, and even Scripture, that really intimidate us because we put so much emphasis on knowledge and understanding. The important thing when we don’t have immediate answers is to resist the temptation to walk away from the topic, and to instead be willing to read, ask questions, listen, and learn. If you take this approach to any topic on which you feel uninformed, you might be surprised what God reveals to you.
That would be an accurate description of what happened with me as I sought to learn about the Dead Sea Scrolls rather than ignore it because I didn’t ALREADY have answers. As Katie mentioned in Monday’s blog, it is traditionally believed that a group of Jews called the Essenes were responsible for the scrolls. What Katie did not mention is that the Essenes were believed to have hidden the scrolls in the caves between 66 and 70 A.D. This would have been right around the time of the Jewish Revolt against Roman authority. According to eyewitnesstohistory.com, the revolt was highly unsuccessful as Emperor Nero launched a ferocious attack on the rebel Jews, killing or enslaving many thousands of men, women, and children in some very inhumane ways. It culminated with the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, which was known as the center of Judaism and Jewish culture. Yet, despite all the bloodshed and loss of their beloved temple, this group of Essenes consciously went and hid the scrolls the same way people bury their treasures to keep them safe.
The decision by the Essenes to hide the scrolls reveals their belief that the words written on them carried more significance than their temple, their possessions, or even their very lives! They knew that while the enemy could destroy physical buildings, material things, and anything else that human beings selfishly hold near and dear, it could not overcome the living Word of God. It’s a wonderful testimony to the fact that victory belongs to the Lord and those who follow him even when circumstances look the bleakest. The Romans likely believed in 70 A.D. after the destruction of the temple and thousands of worshippers that they had put an end to the “nonsense” of Judaism and Christianity. But history tells us that the Roman Empire eventually fell, while Christianity still exists today as the world’s most popular religion. The Essenes may have lost everything including their lives, but they hid their true “treasure” in caves near the Dead Sea around 70 A.D. and they were not discovered until roughly 1950. That means the portions of God’s Word on the scrolls survived the elements, darkness, and erosion for approximately 1,880 years until He decided it was time to reveal them to the world.
Two Biblical passages come to mind as challenges for us spurred on by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). While many Jews and Christians today make treasures out of temporary things and suffer the consequences of having our hearts tied to things that we easily lose, we are fortunate that the Essenes’ hearts were tied to the eternal Word of God, making it a treasure that brought international attention when found almost 1,900 years later. Not only did it bring international attention, it made the Bible we have that much more reliable. And not only did it make the Bible we have more reliable, it reminded us that victory always has been and always will be the Lord’s. That leads me to the 2nd passage that came to mind. “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:7-9). Maybe you needed to hear those words today as you read this blog. I often need that reminder. If our treasure is our circumstances, we will lose hope when things go wrong. If our treasure is our knowledge of this truth written by Paul, we will never lose hope, believing by faith that the victory has already been won and NOTHING can take it away!
So this week it sounds like we're talking about something that's dead. Sounds so exciting - not! But this is one of those times you can't judge a book by its cover - or a blog post by its title. The Dead Sea Scrolls are actually a vital part of our Bible today, and a reason we know the text we have is reliable.
The Dead Sea scrolls are named as such because they were found in a total of eleven caves near the Dead Sea, which is on the border between Israel and Jordan in the Middle East. The scrolls were written in the 2nd century B.C. Traditionally, it is believed that a Jewish sect called the Essenes was responsible for the scrolls, but recently scholars are forming theories about the scrolls originating from other groups, as there is no concrete proof of their origin.
The scrolls were discovered in our modern world between 1947 and 1956 by a Bedouin shepherd named Muhammed edh-Dhib. They contain portions from nearly every book in our Old Testament as well as many other ancient texts. Most of what was found was small fragments of manuscripts, but a few nearly complete manuscripts were found as well. Included in these manuscripts are 19 copies of the book of Isaiah, 25 copies of Deuteronomy, and 30 copies of the Psalms.
But wait - didn't we already have our Bible intact by the late 1940s? Why are these documents so important? What is so significant is that the scrolls confirmed the text we already had, and made it even more valid. Before the discovery of the scrolls, the oldest Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament that we had were from the 10th century - about 1200 years newer than the Dead Sea scrolls! In the world of ancient texts, older is always better because it means that document is closer to the original source. There are some differences between these scrolls and the commonly accepted Hebrew text that was around when they were discovered, but amazingly those differences are relatively minor.
The scrolls have greatly enhanced our knowledge of both Judaism and Christianity, because they have helped scholars immensely in the field of textual criticism. What does that mean for regular people like us? It means that their work gives us a Bible that gets ever closer to the actual, original text, which means we can have even more certainty that what we are reading is truly God's Word.
“Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head’” (Luke 9:58 [NIV]).
I don’t know about you, but my reaction the first few times I read this verse was, “What in the world is Jesus talking about?” It’s one of those verses where you just want to say, “C’mon Jesus, just say whatever it is you really mean already!” But when we study the context of the verse, we find out more about what Jesus is saying. He and others were walking along a road when a man suddenly declared that he would follow Jesus “wherever he would go” (v. 57). Many of us would love to receive that kind of support from others. Then again, we don’t know the hearts of people like Jesus did. Instead of allowing himself to become overjoyed simply by a person’s verbal declaration, Jesus challenged the man because he knew that was what was best for the man. Within the same passage, Jesus gave similar challenges to two more men who wanted to follow Jesus but only with certain conditions. Jesus knew that in order for these people to be true disciples, they had to be completely aware of the cost.
Recently, I read one of the best letters to the editor I have ever seen in the local newspaper. It was in regards to the recent massive media effort known as “Kony 2012”. The purpose of the effort, which has included YouTube videos and many other media outlets, is to bring awareness to the evil actions of Joseph Kony, the head of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. With more awareness, the end goal is to kill or capture Mr. Kony. The letter to the editor I referenced was by a man who identified himself as the friend of a Marine. The writer stated that his friend had made the statement that people need to “count the cost” before jumping on board and supporting the effort to bring down Mr. Kony. He wrote that getting Mr. Kony can and will be done, but it won’t come without great cost. Good, young men and women will likely have to give their lives in the effort because Mr. Kony will resist. And the Marine’s point was that those who are calling for Mr. Kony’s head do not then have the right to complain about the cost, be it financially or physically in terms of the suffering and sacrifice of the lives of those who engage the enemy. The Marine and the writer simply wanted to urge the readers to think about the sacrifice that will be required before declaring their support based on emotion alone.
This is what Jesus is doing in the passage referenced above. His point was that he was essentially homeless. While others saw him as a great teacher who had the power to do miracles and assumed that would bring him and anyone else with him glory, Jesus knew that the true reward was not in this lifetime, but the next. He knew that being his disciple requires “denying oneself, taking up one’s cross daily, and following him” (Luke 9:23). Now, not everyone is asked to be crucified in obedience to the Father, but not everyone is not asked it either. Double negatives aside, hopefully you get my point. Whether we are asked to sacrifice a little bit of the abundance God has blessed us with or whether we are asked to suffer and give our very lives, the cost of discipleship that we must assess ahead of time is the same for all. Since we don’t know ahead of time what will be required of us, we must understand the cost to be a willingness to give up anything and everything out of obedience to the Father if or when He asks it of us. In this way, we are true “learners” of Jesus Christ, who gave up everything when his Father asked. Because of his obedience, he “overcame and sat down with his Father on his throne” so that we might also be able to overcome and earn the “right to sit with Christ on his throne” (Revelation 3:21).
So have you count the cost? Are you ready to follow Christ no matter what? Friends, Jesus count the cost and was willing to do what God was calling Him to do. Are you? Are you using the gifts and talents God has given to you for His glory or for your own?
Obey God's leading or disobey. The choice is up to you.
(David Hayward, www.nakedpastor.com)
The above cartoon demonstrates most Christians’ opinion about this week’s Word of the Week - disciple. If we’re truly honest, we have the desire to be a disciple but we only want the good parts of it, not when it’s difficult.
But before we talk about that more, let’s back up a bit. What is a disciple, anyway? The Greek word is mathete, which most simply means a learner. It is a person who follows their teacher and desires to be exactly like him or her. Jesus had 12 disciples we read about most often, but in actuality He had hundreds. There were hundreds of people who desired to learn from Him and learn to be like Him. A true disciple of Christ wants to be exactly like Jesus. As it says in 2 Peter 3:18, we must “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
In order to learn about Jesus and be his disciple, we must desire to be like Him; and not just on Sunday mornings at church! Dallas Willard writes in his book The Great Omission, “Disciples of Jesus are people who do not just profess certain views as their own but apply their growing understanding of life in Kingdom of the Heavens to every aspect of their life on earth.” That’s a tough calling to live up to - not just have the belief in Jesus, but actually live it! Not just in the “churchy” part of your life, but in every aspect of life, 24/7. We need to live with the consequences, both good and bad. Ouch.
But fortunately, Jesus understands that we won’t (and can’t) be perfect disciples overnight. Becoming a disciple is a process. Once we have the desire to truly follow Jesus as His disciple, we need to intentionally and consistently learn more about Him and adjust our lives accordingly. Once we become a disciple, even a “young” one, we must help others become disciples as well. A true disciple loves our Teacher so much that we want to share it with others. Being a disciple isn’t an easy task and will likely have negative consequences here on earth, but our reward in heaven will be wonderful beyond our wildest dreams!
The actual posted date of this blog entry is April 12, 2012. You might remember from history class (or the recent movie previews that air about every 5 seconds on TV) that this date is exactly 100 years since the sinking of the Titanic. According to legend (and the Titanic movie that came out in 1997), one of the workers on the ship proclaimed as it was being boarded: "She is unsinkable. God himself couldn't sink this ship!" Talk about the ultimate open-mouth-and-insert-foot comment! This particular worker had assigned "godlikeness" (see Katie's blog post from Monday) to a man-made machine. I'm sure that most people admired this masterpiece of a ship as they looked upon it, whether they were boarding or just standing at a distance. After all, it was 1912. There probably wasn't much else to compare it to in terms of man-made accomplishments at that point.
Now, I am not saying that we cannot or should not admire the gift of creativity that comes from our Creator when it is shown through human beings. Just the opposite is true. I believe that every gift we have was given to us by God for the sole purpose of using it to let Him be seen by others. When you go to church and hear an amazing music team, solo singer, or preacher, it is completely appropriate to compliment the individuals on making the most of their God-given talents, so long as we remember that said talents are indeed "God-given". While we may know this mentally, it's not often how we act. We associate the talent with the one who has it instead of the One who gave it. If that worker on the Titanic would have amended his statement to be something like, "Wow, praise God for giving mere men the creativity and ability to build such a massive ship", then it wouldn't have been blasphemous. The reason that this is so important is because we don't ever actually admire inanimate objects. We admire two things: either God or man. When we admire something that is man-made, it is not the thing we are admiring, but man. As human beings, we love to steal credit that belongs to God and God alone.
As I read Katie's blog post from Monday, which included thoughts about what it means to allow other "deities" to block our view of God's face, I couldn't help but think of the chorus to one of my favorite hymns. "Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace". It's a simple, yet powerful message. We get caught up admiring men and men's accomplishments not because of an unhealthy view of man, but because of a wrong perspective of God. When we truly look FULLY into His face and realize how big and amazing He is, everything else that once seemed so glorious "grows strangely dim". We realize that the only true Deity is God.
The interesting thing about those hymn lyrics that some of you may have already picked up on is that it equates Jesus with God. For those of us who are Christians, that's a no-brainer. But this is the major sticking point for Jews and others who cannot submit to Jesus for fear of blasphemy. They take the command to "have no other gods beside the one true God" seriously. Jews quote the Hebrew prayer known as the "shema" several times a day. It begins with the words in Deuteronomy 6:4: "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one". When Jesus came to the earth and claimed that he was one with the Father, it instantly offended many of his fellow Jews. Blasphemy was punishable by death, and was the legal reason why he was eventually crucified. How can a mere man claim that he is God? How is it possible that a man who was physically seen by others can be one with the Father who cannot be physically seen? These are the questions that kept the Jews from following Jesus as the Christ.
When it comes to the deity you choose to follow, you will also have to answer those questions. For Christians, we believe that Jesus was indeed "one with the Father". We believe this because only God could save sinful man. We believe this because he fulfilled the prophecies of the Christ from the Old Testament, and the odds that every prophecy could have been fulfilled as it was written by someone who was actually not the Messiah are astronomical. And we believe this because the Christ was with God in the beginning and WAS God (John 1:1). There is also reference to this at the beginning of the Bible. "Then God said, 'Let US make man in our image, in our likeness'" (Genesis 1:26a [CAPS mine]). We believe that there is only ONE Deity, but that the Christ and the Holy Spirit are ONE with God. We believe that the Christ came to the earth in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, which is why we celebrate his life, ministry, and death. The great thing about the one Deity is that He offers you a choice. Choose whom you will serve. But know that you cannot go half-way. "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money" (Matthew 6:24).
Most of the time when I write these blogs, I give you the Greek (or Hebrew) source of the word. This time, however, I’ll do something different - this week’s word is from the Latin! I do not know Latin, but my research indicates that the Latin word for “god” is deus, which is where we get our English word deity. The dictionary definition for deity is “a term for God or a god; also the quality of godlikeness or divinity.” That’s all fine and good, but what does that mean for you and me when we’re living our daily lives?
For me, that definition needs a clarification. I believe that there is only one God, the Triune God of the Bible. But, there are many other things in this world that we humans put before God, and these can be considered our deities because we give them “godlikeness” as the definition says. I’ve never been one to worship famous people, but there are many things that become my gods and distract me from the one true God. My deities could be little things like spending too much time on Facebook or Twitter rather than spending time with God, or big things like following my own ideas for life instead of God’s. I’m sure you can name at least a few things that can become your deity; if you can’t, please let me know your secret!
I currently teach Biblical Hebrew to one teenager, and he and I recently discussed this concept of putting other deities ahead of the Deity, the God of the Bible. He is currently translating and writing a paper on Exodus 20:1-7 (where we find some of the 10 commandments), and we discussed. the language and meaning of each verse. A literal translation of the Hebrew of verse 3 says, “It will not be for you another god upon my face.” As my student pointed out to me, the phrase “upon my face” reflects some neat imagery. When we have no other deities before the One Deity, we can clearly see His face. However, when another deity comes between us, it blocks our view of God’s face and we no longer see Him clearly. This is why God made this a commandment to us, because He loves us and wants us to be in full view of His beautiful face. My student compared this to seeing a gorgeous mural painted on a wall (that’s God), and then we come and hang an ugly old picture over top of it (whatever earthly deity we’re worshiping.) We no longer see the beauty of the mural, but our attention is drawn to the ugly picture instead. This is why our focus needs to be on the one, true, beautiful Deity - God Himself.
Take notice in your life of what deities you have been worshiping and admiring instead of God, the one true Deity. Ask God for forgiveness and the ability to see only His face, and to not lose focus on the things of this earth that we make into deities.
A hard thing to do but a MUST.
The act of observing Holy Communion is also known as “The Lord’s Supper”. The title comes from the Apostle Paul’s writing in his first letter to the Corinthian church. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul quotes Jesus from “the night he was betrayed”, an event recorded in Luke 22 that has become known as “The Last Supper” and inspired the famous painting by Leonardo da Vinci. It was the last time that Jesus would eat and drink with his closest friends and followers, where for the final time before his crucifixion he would explain to them his purpose on the earth and would use elements they could see, smell, touch, and taste to show them.
The same words that Jesus spoke as recorded in Luke 22 and quoted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11 are the ones that have been repeated many times over the years by pastors and priests while leading their congregations in observance of the Lord’s Supper. But unfortunately, we often pay no attention to Paul’s crucial instructions that follow. He declares that “a man ought to examine himself” before taking the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:28). Personally, I grew up in a church tradition that only observes Communion a few times each year. I have many friends, however, that come from traditions where it is observed at least once per month if not more. Like Katie wrote in Monday’s blog, the details of when and how and how often we do it are not what really matters. Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19b). Paul then quoted Jesus’ words and inserted the phrase “as often as you do this” (1 Corinthians 11:25b). The one thing that stands out to me about my church’s tradition of the Lord’s Supper growing up is that no matter how seldom or often we celebrated it, the pastor always allowed time for the congregants to “examine” themselves first. And it is each individual’s responsibility to do this lest he face God’s judgment, as Paul goes on to say in the rest of 1 Corinthians 11.
The point of this examination is not to make sure we are without sin, as that is impossible. Rather, observing the Lord’s Supper requires that the individual have no non-confessed sin and that he is not stubbornly unrepentant. We must not pretend to be without sin, for our realization of our sins and need for a Savior is the whole point of remembering the Lord’s Supper. But the problem of unrepentant sin is that it destroys the very thing we celebrate at the Lord ’s Table: the unity that can only come through Christ’s physical death. That’s why we call it Communion, meaning “with union”. Unrepentant sin and a failure to examine oneself causes dissension within the body, and Paul is clear that we cannot approach the Lord’s Supper in this manner.
Earlier in 1 Corinthians 11, it is clear that Paul is admonishing the Corinthian church because of the “divisions among them” (v. 18). There was no unity in their observance of the Lord’s Supper. Each one simply did as he pleased, often did not wait for others, and allowed divisions to continue. This selfish attitude turned it into more of a ritual than a unifying act of remembrance that reminded all of their sin and need for a Savior, both collectively and individually. You see, consciously choosing to remember what Christ did for us in unity with others can truly have no other effect than to humble us and cause us to show grace to one another as we are reminded of the grace that was poured out on us. That’s why we must be aware of the sin in our lives before we take Communion, and that’s why we must take it with others, including those in the body with whom we’ve had divisions. Quarrels may arise and last for a short time, but as Christians, our recognition of what Christ did for us should put an end to division and cultivate love and unity within the body.
So, while it is true that many of the details surrounding the act of taking Communion are simply matters of preference, Paul is clear about the ones that are crucial in 1 Corinthians 11. We must be willing to examine ourselves so that we become aware of any sin to which we are still actively giving power in our lives. We must humbly remember the grace given to us so that we might show grace to those in the body that have offended us. And last but not least, I believe, we MUST take it together with others, because the whole point is to unite under Christ’s sacrifice that which is divided by our own sins. As we prepare for all of the traditions, festivities, and worship services of Holy Week leading up to and including Easter, let us truly examine ourselves so that we can experience the unity that only comes through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior!
There are lots of different ways we could look at this week’s word - communion. We could look at it in the context of the Lord’s Supper, which is commonly called Holy Communion. Or we could look at it as a form of unity in community, and the communion we have with one another. Or, we could look at both.
Communion, as in the Lord’s Supper, is a tradition the church adopted based on Jesus’ actions before His death as described in the gospels, for example Matthew 26:17-30. Because of Jesus’ actions in this meal, many churches consider it a holy act - a sacrament or an ordinance. Churches today celebrate this Holy Communion in a myriad of ways. Some have closed communion, which means that only people belonging to that faith can participate in this remembrance. Others practice open communion, which means that anyone ready and willing to receive Christ’s love for them is welcome to partake. Some churches use bread, while others use crackers or unleavened bread. Some churches serve wine, others grape juice, and still others offer both. Some churches offer the meal via intinction (dipping the bread into the wine), while others serve them separately. Most offer individual cups of the wine (or juice), but some still offer a common cup that all drink out of. Some churches offer Holy Communion every Sunday, while others offer it less often.
The point is, it’s not the details of how we celebrate Holy Communion that make it special; it’s the meaning behind the meal. We are to eat the bread and drink the wine to remember Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for us. The bread represents His body, which was killed for our sake. The wine represents his blood that was shed for our sake. It is through this meal that we have an opportunity to not only mentally remember Jesus’ sacrifice, but physically as well. As you eat the bread and drink the wine, your body becomes in communion with Christ Himself and we experience His grace and forgiveness through this remembrance act.
The other way of looking at the word communion is in the context of our unity with others, particularly in the church. If a church is experiencing true community, then we are really in unity with those around us and we experience true communion. There is a phrase in the Apostles’ Creed that reads, “the communion of saints.” This refers to the fellowship of all believers throughout history, including the early church, those alive today, those yet to come, and everyone in between. We all experience unity through Christ’s body. As it says in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13, “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”
These two meanings for the word communion sound like separate ideas, right? Well, not exactly. By experiencing Jesus’ saving grace through the act of Holy Communion, we experience communion with the entire body of believers. We are made part of the body of Christ through receiving His grace. By taking Holy Communion, we enter into communion with the entire church throughout the world.