Archive for July, 2017

Contradictions – Saul’s Conversion

July 13, 2017

A contradiction is alleged because there are slightly variant reports of Paul’s conversion experience on the road to Damascus.  Acts 9:7 indicates that Paul’s associates – likely soldiers and perhaps religious officials accompanying to Damascus to arrest Christians – saw the light which blinded Paul and heard a voice but did not see the person speaking.  Yet Paul claims in 22:9 that his companions saw the light but did not hear a voice.  Additionally, in Acts 26 Paul claims (or at least implies) that his companions saw the light but he does not state whether or not they heard the voice or not.

We should first define our context.  Luke writes the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, which is in fact the second of two writings of Luke that were originally one text and later separated into his Gospel account of Jesus’ life and the book of Acts which details early Church history and apostolic activity.  Luke states at the beginning of his Gospel that he is drawing on multiple sources for his material.

If so, then Luke may be relying on a different account for his account in Chapter 9, an account that doesn’t come directly from Saul/Paul – or at least solely from him.  In Chapters 22 and 26 Luke is quoting Paul as he describes his own experience.  Could it be that Luke in his collection of accounts spoke with one of the other travelers with Paul, who indicates that they could hear the voice?  Is it possible that Paul was not aware of this fact, since the person may not have mentioned it to him initially out of fear – prior to Paul’s conversion – that he might be prosecuted as a Christian sympathizer?  Perhaps.

And perhaps Paul, becoming aware at a later point that his compatriots could indeed hear the voice, omits this from his description of the events in chapter 26.  IF this is the case, Paul became aware of this new information in a relatively short window of time – a matter of a few weeks at most between his testimony in Chapter 22 and his recounting in Chapter 26.

Grammatically the same Greek verb is used both in Chapters 9 and 22.  From what I can tell, this verb has both the connotation of to hear, but also the possible connotation of to understand.   Is it possible that Paul knows that the men heard a voice but couldn’t understand what it was saying, and that Luke highlights the first aspect of the verb in Chapter 9, while Paul more explicitly intends the secondary connotation in Chapter 22?  This seems a bit more likely to me than the idea that Paul is operating with insufficient knowledge but then suddenly is enlightened (although this certainly could be possible).

In any event, it clearly doesn’t have to be a contradiction, but could be a matter of interpretative definition.  Indeed, some translations (such as the ESV) render the verb in Chapter 9 in terms of hearing, and in Chapter 22 in terms of understanding.  To call this an example of Biblical contradiction or error seems far heavier-handed than the details warrant.

Contradictions – Marriage

July 12, 2017

I’m nearly through the list of alleged Biblical contradictions that was gifted me some time ago.  It’s been a fascinating process, and one that has strengthened my appreciation of God’s Word rather than weakened it.

The next contradiction alleges that the Bible is contradictory because sometimes it states an affirmation of something and then in another place denounces it.  In this case, the issue is marriage, with Solomon set up as the proponent for marriage in Proverbs 18:22, while St. Paul is arguing against marriage in 1 Corinthians 7.  Is this a contradiction?  Is God giving contradictory advice to his people?

Hardly.  Is marriage a good thing?  Is it a blessing to have a good spouse?  Of course!  And clearly, from Genesis onwards, marriage is intended as a blessing for God’s creation through intimate relationship and the creation of family.  I think we can say pretty authoritatively that the Bible as a whole is pro-marriage (with the Biblical definition of one husband and one wife for life).

So what do we make of Paul’s advice in 1 Corinthians 7?  First, we need to understand context.  Paul is responding to something to questions or concerns about something he previously wrote to the Corinthian church (but which we don’t have a copy of – at least yet!) – that it is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.  No, this is not a tacit endorsement of homosexuality – Paul understands the Biblical idea that the only appropriate sexual conduct is between a husband and a wife, so he is being asked to clarify his position on marriage.

As he is writing this, Paul likely presumes that Jesus is due back at any time.  It seems from the apostolic writings that this was their assumption – Jesus’ promised return in glory would happen soon.  Within their lifetimes.  While Jesus never gave a timeframe, and in fact asserted that they wouldn’t know when it would happen, this idea of an imminent return permeates Paul’s responses to issues like should I get married or not.  From Paul’s perspective, for a couple to be worried about getting married was pretty irrelevant in light of the imminent return of Jesus and the need to be about the work of the Church.  With those assumptions, Paul could advise not to get married unless you just can’t remain chaste.  If that impulse is so strong, then by all means get married!  Not just reluctantly but enthusiastically.

Later in the chapter he revisits the basic question of how the imminent return of Jesus should affect marriage decisions.  Are you married?  Stay married!  Are you single?  Stay single (again, unless you can’t do so without sinning sexually).  Marriage refocuses our attention (and rightly so) on our spouse, and this might be an unnecessary distraction if Jesus is returning any day.  He clarifies this in verses 29ff.  Time is short.  We should view not just marriage in this light, but our approach to all of life.  Our sorrows are not as deep and our joys less giddy and our economics less all consuming in light of the unparalleled joy that we anticipate when our Lord returns.  Paul is not against marriage per se, but marriage in light of the imminent return of Jesus.

So the Bible is not contradictory about marriage.  Paul’s advice does not contradict God’s created order.  For those who don’t feel compelled to get married, his advice remains sound.  And for those who can’t conceive of not getting married, his advice remains sound.

Book Review – When Skeptics Ask

July 11, 2017

When Skeptics Ask by Norman L. Geisler & Ronald M. Brooks

I have the original edition of this book, which was published in 1990.

This is a great book – a handy compendium of philosophical, literary, historical, moral and scientific arguments helpful when engaging someone under the impression that any or all of these fields have somehow disproved the existence or necessity of a divine being.  The purpose of these arguments and any apologetic exercise is to help clear away misunderstanding or bad logic in order that the Gospel might be proclaimed and heard.

The book is wide ranging, and for that reason it lacks depth and a fuller treatment of complex topics.  At times the argumentation is too brief and will require multiple read-throughs for clarity.  Because I read the older edition I can’t vouch for how some of the scientific sections stand up against current scholarship.  The reader will hopefully be inspired to do further research in areas of particular concern or helpfulness.  A suggested reading list is provided at the back of the book, along with a topical index for quick reference.

This is a great resource for the intelligent Christian interested in how to respond to the objections or doubts of those around them.  Hopefully, these arguments will be utilized with love and prayer not for personal pride or the sake of argument, but so that the Gospel of Jesus can truly be heard and considered fully.

Perspective

July 10, 2017

I struggle for proper perspective.  What is the best use of the limited time, resources, and talents which God has entrusted to me?  How do I balance personal enjoyments with the larger picture of what really matters in life and eternity?

Preach the Gospel.  Die.  Be forgotten.

This quote by 17th century Christian Nicolaus Zinzendorf really caught my eye when I first encountered it through Facebook a week or so ago.  It summarizes what my job as a Christian and a pastor is.  But it flies in the face of the culture that affects me daily, a culture of narcissism, where 15 minutes of fame is no longer adequate and insatiable social media technology holds the promise of enduring fame/notoriety.  Along with the accolades and likes and followers and money that we associate with such popularity.

None of this lasts.  We all know it.  Or perhaps what we hope is the fame lasts even after we’re gone.  That we’ll still be the talk of the town, a relevant meme, an inspiring memory even after our death.  Fame becomes a form of immortality.  Unable to conquer death on our own, we seek to at cheat it the only way we can – by hoping our memory lives on after us.

Zinzendorf spoke to missionaries – men and women committing their entire selves to the perpetual sharing of the Gospel.  It wasn’t glorious work.  It never has been and never will be, although we certainly have found ways to make segments of American Christianity more resemble a popularity contest or an American Idol show or a TED presentation.  But what matters isn’t temporary glory.  The stakes are far higher than that, and God’s people need to bear this in mind daily.

I’m not called to pursue fame.  I wasn’t ordained in order to boast about the number of friends I have on Facebook or how many people follow this blog.  I sought – and was granted – the title of minister of religion so that people’s lives might be changed.  And getting a late official start in this vocation, I don’t have the luxury of time to indulge in things that might make me feel better about myself.  Pursuing a doctoral degree.  Writing a book.  Perfecting my 8-ball game.

I hope that it’s not laziness, though.  This gut-feeling that what matters aren’t the letters after or before my name.  The continual struggle of feeling inadequate.  I could spend more time and money to try and work through those issues, but in the meantime I lose precious space and time to actually share the Gospel with people who need to hear it.  Perhaps this is the thorn in my flesh (or at least one of them!) as St. Paul understood (2 Corinthians 12:1-10), whereby our sinful ambitions and the attitudes of the world are set on their head so that we end up only boasting in Christ.

And in doing so, we receive that which we sought on so many other terms and through so many other means and institutions.  We receive eternal life, and the promise that we will never be forgotten.  That we will be known throughout all eternity through the grace and forgiveness of God in which we placed our faith and trust.

Reading Ramblings – July 16, 2017

July 9, 2017

Reading Ramblings

 

Date: Sixth Sunday after Pentecost – July 16, 2017

Texts: Isaiah 55:10-13; Psalm 65:1-13; Romans 8:1-17; Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

 

Context: I’ve opted to include the first 11 verses of Romans 8 with this week’s reading.  I think they provide good context to the moral exhortation of vs. 12-17, which are the officially assigned verses.  I think all of the verses this week emphasize the reliability of God in terms of his Word.  It isn’t difficult to say something, and all of us have had experiences where expectations that were set through others’ words were not met.  You and I fail to keep our word, regardless of how hard we try.  Being finite, there are limitations to what we can do and accomplish and sometimes those limitations are much closer and realer than we expected.  But for God who is eternal and all-powerful, his Word is trustworthy.  There is no set of external conditions that can foil God’s intentions.  And God does not contradict, lie, or change his mind.  Therefore, we can and should trust what He tells us!

 

Isaiah 55:10-13 – In the preceding verses God has painted a beautiful picture for his people.  Now He assures them that what He intends, He accomplishes.  We needn’t doubt.  These promises are for us.  Not simply here and now (and perhaps not here and now), but certainly in the larger, eternal sense.  We strut and fret for our limited spans upon this mortal stage, convinced all-too easily that what we do or don’t experience here and now is what is most important.  But God’s promises are not restricted to the here and now.  We will know peace and joy, and therefore we wait anxiously for God to bring this about.  First as hope in our heart that sustains us when present circumstances are unpleasant, and then finally and completely when our Lord returns.

 

Psalm 65:1-13 – This psalm praises God for what He does for his people.  We come to him and prayer and He responds!  He brings us forgiveness for our sins – our greatest and most primal need (vs.1-4).  He demonstrates his righteousness and power through creation itself which demonstrates these attributes daily (vs.5-8).  God provides for his creation so that we are blessed.  He gives us everything we need to survive (vs.9-13).  If there is want and need, it is not because God’s provision is inadequate but because our distribution and use of these gifts is sinful and broken, necessitating repentance and receiving the forgiveness that the psalm began with.  There is never lack of a reason to praise God so long as we have breath and hold fast to his promises.

 

Romans 8:1-17 – Having just dealt with the reality of ongoing sin in the Christian life, Paul returns to first of all assure us that despite our sin, we are indeed in Christ and therefore forgiven.  It isn’t our behavior that has necessarily changed (certainly not completely!).  Rather, it is our identity.  We are no longer selling ourselves into the slavery of sin.  At the very least/beginning, there is now a conflict, a disquiet and unease that we did not know before as sin prowls our hearts and minds and bodies.  We know what right is.  And we want to do it!  All this is possible only through God the Holy Spirit dwelling within us.  If our identity has not changed to people who are now in Christ, then no amount of good works will ever make any difference.  Paul answers a common assertion today – it is not what we do that makes us good.  It is who we are, and whose we are, that makes us good.  As such, we begin or continue the fight against sin.  It is not who we are any more, so how can we not find it abhorrent and seek to weaken its hold on our lives?  How can we, who have been bought from slavery to Satan by the Son of God’s blood, desire anything more than to live lives of gratitude and joy as defined by our obedience?  We are no longer enemies of God, no longer rebels, but beloved children who can come to our heavenly Father knowing that we are loved above all creation, and therefore can expect our Father’s love now and for all eternity, to our benefit and his glory.

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 – The Word of God is the active power of God.  He who spoke creation into existence declares us his children by his Word.  His Word creates our new identity in his Son, Jesus.  Without God’s Word, no life is possible, let alone growth.  His Word carries life within it, is itself life and power and vibrancy.

 

How is it then that if God desires  all should be saved (Ezekiel 33:11) that apparently all will not be saved?  It is not a matter of God’s Word, but rather of our receptivity to it.  We continue the careful balancing of divine power and authority with the ability to reject the Word of God.

 

Matthew positions this discourse following several disparate reactions to Jesus’ preaching and teaching in Chapter 12.  Jesus is followed by crowds (12:15) that include both admirers and detractors.  Some think that Jesus is diabolically motivated and empowered.  Others demand further proofs and evidences that they might be convinced about what He says.  And presuming that 12:46-49 is referring to the same event as Mark 3 (likely given the demonic accusations in both passages as well as reference to a familial delegation), then his own family thinks that He’s crazy.  Why such varied responses to the Word?

 

Different soil conditions.  But note that while the soil conditions vary, the sower does not adjust himself to take this into account.  Seed is scattered.  It is scattered widely and generously.  Promising soil might turn out to be problematic.  Soil that looks inadequate might result in growth.  The sower sows – he or she is not a soil analyst.  That is God’s job alone!

 

But with the right conditions, the Word of God does what the Word of God has always done – it creates life.  Not just temporarily and not just barely, but eternally and abundantly!

 

 

This week I dealt with several questions about both the origins of the Old and New Testament as well as the necessity of accepting the Old Testament entirely – including difficult things such as a world-wide flood or people living to amazingly old ages.  It struck me (in retrospect), that to the seeker or the skeptic, the claims of Scripture seem fantastical, and no more verifiable than any other allegedly sacred scripture.  Why should someone take seriously the Bible rather than the Qu’ran or the Vedas or the Book of Mormon?

 

It’s all wrapped up in Jesus.  It isn’t necessary (and perhaps it is impossible!) to convince someone of the historicity of Adam and Eve or the Flood or Methuselah.  But it is much easier to bring them to the Gospels and introduce them to Jesus.  It is much easier to walk them through the Gospels and ask them whether they read more like the mythologies of the Greeks or like eye-witness testimony and description.  It is much simpler to confront them with the Resurrection.  This is the first decision that needs to be reached – who is Jesus?  Is Jesus who He said He was, or was He a charlatan or a lunatic? That decision hinges on whether the Resurrection is a reality attested to by historically reliable witnesses and documentation.  If you come to the conclusion that – as unlikely as it sounds – Jesus did indeed rise from the grave after three days, then you need to take seriously everything He said.  And Jesus repeatedly and consistently quoted the Old Testament as truth and treated it as such.

 

You have no such test for the Qu’ran or the Book of Mormon or the Vedas or any other sacred text.  No such obviously historical and considerable event as the Resurrection.  Every other Scripture says trust me.  The Bible says trust Jesus, based on the fact that He predicted his death and resurrection and both things happened.

Contradictions – Jehoiachin’s Age

July 6, 2017

Here’s a bonus contradiction – not just Jehoiachin’s age but also Ahaziah have variant ages at which they are said to have become king.  2 Kings 24:8 claims Jehoiachin was 18 years old, but 2 Chronicles 36:9 says he was eight (depending on the translation you’re using).  2 Kings 8:26 claims that Ahaziah was 22 years old when he took the throne, but 2 Chronicles 22:2 claims that he was 42.

Once again, the likely culprit is a copyist error in both cases.  The Bible itself provides enough information in other places to make it clear what the correct answer is – 18 for Jehoiachin and 22 for Ahaziah.  The fact that a copyist made a mistake in these two cases is not an actual contradiction.  Many modern translations have realized this and adjusted their translation to use the correct information.  This is in part based on a variety of sources for the Old Testament including Syriac, Aramaic, some Septuagint (Greek) copies, and at least one Hebrew copy – each of which avoids the variant confusion (eight for Jehoiachin and 42 for Ahaziah).

Within the Bible (2 Kings 8:17-18), we are told that Ahaziah’s father, Jereboam, was 32 when he became king and reigned for eight years.  It is highly unlikely that Jereboam’s son was older than Jereboam himself, so clearly the age of 42 given in some versions of 2 Chronicles 22:2 is incorrect.  Assuming that Ezekiel 19:5-9 is referring to Jehoiachin, the description of him as a man of war and conquest make little sense in reference to a boy of eight, but are quite reasonably ascribed to a man of 18.

The key takeaway is that this is not a true contradiction in any real sense of the word, and can easily be resolved both from within other Scripture passages as well as through the attestation of ancient copies of the Old Testament with the correct ages in all places.

Wet Bar Wednesday – Experimenting

July 5, 2017

Sunday night happy hour, and the request was for something different.  Light, refreshing.  A bit sweet.  Oh, yeah.  And bourbon.

The result – the ratios below are approximate – was delicious.  I need to try it again!

  • 2 parts bourbon (I used Bulleit Rye)
  • 1 part amaretto (I prefer Disaronno)
  • splash Gran Marnier
  • splash limoncello
  • club soda to top

Mix the first four ingredients and pour over ice.  Top with club soda and stir.  Sweet, but not cloying-ly so.  Bourbony, but the amaretto comes through in a delightful way.  Gonna try this again tonight to see if the ratio is right.  Let me know if you experiment with it, and enjoy!

 

Contradictions – Michal’s Children?

July 4, 2017

Next up – did Michal have children or not?  2 Samuel 6:23 says she did not, while 2 Samuel 21:8 seems to give the impression that she did.  Which is right?  How can we trust the Bible when it contradicts itself like this (that’s one implication that might raise this question)?

Michal was King Saul’s youngest daughter (of two) – 1 Samuel 14:49.  As King Saul’s relationship with David deteriorated, he sought to marry David to his oldest daughter, Merab, perhaps to eliminate a potential rival or to co-opt some of David’s popularity for himself.  But David humbly declines.  When Saul finds out that his younger daughter Michal is in love with David, he decides to marry her to David instead.  He sets a bride-price for her that will tempt David to try and win her hand, but which could get him killed in the process.  Either would appear to Saul as a good outcome, but David is able to pay the bride price and is married to Michal (all of this is in 1 Samuel 18).

Eventually Saul and David’s relationship is so toxic that Saul wants to kill him and David has to flee for his life, leaving his wife Michal behind.  Michal actually helps David escape, but tells her father that David would have killed her if she hadn’t helped him (1 Samuel 19:17).  In David’s absence, Saul marries Michal off to a man by the name of Palti (1 Samuel 25:44).  During the war that erupts between David and Saul, David’s strength and popularity reach a point where he is able to demand that Michal be returned to him (2 Samuel 3).  Nothing more is said at this point about Michal’s opinion about this, and she likely had no choice in the matter.  It is clear that her husband, Palti, loved her deeply though, and mourned her departure bitterly.  It might be that their marriage was a very good one, and that she did not return to David happily.

This might explain her disgust with David in 2 Samuel 6.  She mocks and taunts David for making a fool of himself before the people, dancing and worshiping God as the Ark of the Covenant was returned to Jerusalem.  It is implied in 2 Samuel 6 that Michal’s contemptuous treatment of her husband is divinely judged by her not being given the honor of bearing children.

All of which would be fine if it didn’t say in 2 Samuel 21:8 that David atones for Sauls’ slaughter of the Gibeonites by putting to death Michal’s five sons.  There is further confusion in that this verse says that Michal bore these sons not to David or to Palti, but rather to a man named Adriel.  Adriel is the name of the man that Merab (Michal’s older sister) was married to after David declined to wed her.  (If your translation of 2 Samuel 21:8 says Merab rather than Michal, don’t worry – I’ll explain that in a moment!).

Proof that the Bible is not inerrant after all?  Probably not.  There are a couple of different ways that we can approach an explanation for this apparent contradiction.

Perhaps the most common approach is to say that rather than the original manuscripts being wrong (which we don’t have), what likely happened was that someone copying the text a very long time ago accidentally wrote Michal instead of Merab in 2 Samuel 21:8.  Many very reliable modern translations therefore simply render 2 Samuel 21:8 as Merab rather than Michal, since that is most likely the correct reading.   Nowhere are we told that Michal is married off to anybody else, let alone her sister’s husband!

The second explanation is that the Hebrew word translated as “bore” can have several different meanings.  It can mean give birth to, but it can also mean act as a midwife for, or even to rear/bring up.  It is possible that because of Michal’s status, she brought up her sister’s children when her sister was unable to.

It might be argued that deferring to an original text that we don’t have is cheating, that we could make the original text say anything we wanted, any way we wanted in order to solve problems.  However I don’t think that’s a reasonable objection in this case.  I tend to prefer the second explanation – the related but different uses of the Hebrew verb, but I don’t think that the first explanation of a copyist error is outrageous either.

Contradictions – 1 John 5:7

July 3, 2017

Next contradiction – the argument over 1 John 5:7.

This passage is well known among Biblical scholars as somewhat controversial.  Humorously, the author of this list of contradictions emphasizes that this is an “important” verse, implying that the omission of the verse in some (actually many) translations is suspicious.  The reality is a bit less exciting.

For there are three that bear witness in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.  (KJV)

Actually quite a few modern translations omit this verse at least in part.  The reason is not partisan, theological manipulation, but rather the evidence (or lack thereof) that this verse is actually original in John’s letter.  Some critics mock the many variants of the Greek New Testament as evidence that we have no idea what it actually said originally.  However tracing literary transmission actually works the exact opposite – the more versions you have, the more likely you can discern the original text.  Variations (which in the case of the Biblical New Testament are overwhelmingly minor spelling issues or the reversal of words – nothing that actually alters the meaning of the text!) can be traced and by comparison with other copies, it can be determined which is the older and more reliable text.

In the case of 1 John 5:7, the Greek evidence for the verse is wholly absent.  There are no ancient Greek manuscripts that include this verse.  It doesn’t begin showing up in translations until the Middle Ages.  Only four Greek translations contain the verse, and these translations date from the 16th century, 14-15th century, 12th century, and the 11th century.  Additionally, no other ancient copies of the text in any other language contain the verse.

In terms of ancient references to or quotes from 1 John that might reference this verse, nothing appears until the fourth century, and scholars suspect that it was based on a marginal note.

The evidence appears to argue heavily against this verse being original, which is why it is often excluded.  Some hypothesize that Erasmus, the man who produced the translation of the Greek New Testament utilized to produce the King James English translation was influenced by theological politics rather than strictly academic interests.  This is speculation, but is certainly possible.

The verse is not “important” in the sense of communicating something that is lacking elsewhere in Scripture.  Verses and passages with Trinitarian references are hardly lacking and are found in passages that are not questionable in terms of authenticity.  At the end of the day, 1 John 5:7 falls into the category of a very small number of passages (such as Mark 16:9ff) that do not have good historical attestation as being original, and are either omitted or marked as suspicious in good translations.  The the appearance of contradiction could be avoided altogether of this information were just included in marginal notes or footnotes.

Reading Ramblings – July 9, 2017

July 2, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – July 9, 2017

Text: Zechariah 9:9-12; Psalm 145:1-14; Romans 7:14-25a; Matthew 11:25-30

Context: The readings for today all convey a message of hope and promise through the deliverance of God. What we strive for each day in our personal and communal lives, yet achieve only tenuously if at all is fleeting compared to the gift of God who created us, redeemed us and promises to make us holy.

Zechariah 9:9-12 – Zechariah prophecies towards the end of the 6th century, as some of the Jews exiled to Babylon return to Jerusalem. In chapter nine, after prophesying dire things for the enemies of God’s people, God exhorts his people to rejoice at what He has done and will do for them. He will come to them humbly as their king (foreshadowing Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday). In that day, war will come to an end and peace will be established. God’s people are to return home confident that the Lord will restore them now that He has chastised them in exile. He will establish his people to his purpose among the nations. As with much prophetic writing, Zechariah’s words can be seen to be fulfilled in part over time, pointing ultimately towards God’s promised rest for his people on the day when Jesus returns in glory.

Psalm 145:1-14 – The introduction to this psalm classifies it as a psalm of praise. And while many of the psalms praise God, this is the only psalm to be specifically designated as such. The Hebrew form of this psalm is an acrostic, with 21 lines each beginning with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Hebrew acrostics aim towards completeness of thought, and this thought is the starting and ending point in the psalm (vs. 1 & 21 – bless your name forever and ever), and the psalm alternates back and forth between statements of praise and enumerations of God’s attributes which are worthy of praise. This psalm is the introduction to the final five psalms, each of which begin with a word of praise to God (Hallelujah!)

Romans 7:14-25a – This is one of the most powerful passages in Scripture to me. It summarizes perfectly the angst and anguish that we live in as people redeemed in Christ but still plagued by sin. Paul is dispelling an improper conclusion to his argument thus far. As he’s described the Law’s role, someone might get the impression that the Law is somehow bad, that the Law is what we need to get rid of because it condemns us to death. This is not the case – the Law is good because it comes from God who is good. The Law is God’s Word – spiritual and not susceptible to the corruption of sin – quite contrary to ourselves who are physical and spiritual and therefore subject to sin.

This is our condition – we have been given the Law, understand it, acknowledge that it is good and desire to fulfill it. Yet the sin within us works against us! How confusing is this – that we end up doing what we don’t want rather than what we want – we find ourselves sinning instead of living according to God’s perfect Word! The fact that we regret our sin, are repulsed by it – is proof that we are in agreement with the Law, acknowledging that it is good. Our will does not desire the sin that still lives within us. Our will desires to follow the Law. We intend to be obedient but are unable to, imprisoned, as it were, within our sinful human nature. Although there are times where we will to sin, a Christian’s overall will seeks Christ and obedience to God. And in that larger sense, the Christian’s will is not what is sinning (at least from God’s perspective, perhaps), but rather their sinful human nature at war within them.

What hope can we have, to be alive inside but dead on the outside? Are we not destined to death? No! Paul ends with a mighty statement of thanksgiving and praise to God the Father who has saved us through his Son, Jesus Christ. The one who has given us the Law has also saved us from our inability to live by it.

Matthew 11:25-30 – Where do we find our peace? We don’t find it in the news of the day or the trends and fashions of the day. We are led by the nose and the wallet from one purchase to another, from one upgrade to the next. Happiness eludes us and we often find ourselves more troubled than before as we seek to pay for all of the things that are supposed to give us peace. Today’s culture esteems a packed schedule and a breathless pace as evidence of success.

Yet peace is right in front of our eyes. Peace not as dictated by the world or promised on commercials, but peace from the only source of true peace. The God who created us and knows us best. Who sacrificed his Son to give us peace, and promises to build it within us by his Holy Spirit. Who is this peace extended to? Anyone who will receive it like a little child – without attempting to earn it or buy it or merit it in any way. Simply by acknowledging that you don’t have the capacity to create that kind of peace on your own, and that you must have it given it to you by a larger entity than yourself.

This is the mystery of Christianity. Where every other religion or philosophy demands our greatest effort in order to achieve the desired end, Christianity insists that this is impossible, and that we must be given – free of charge – our desired end. Only then are we free to apply ourselves in joy and thanksgiving to being who God created us to be. Only then are we capable of having and keeping peace despite whatever rages around us. Only then do we realize the lightness of being in right relationship with the God who created us. Only then does life begin to take on a semblance of meaning and also purpose. Only then do we find ourselves able to truly love others.