Should Christians Read the Old Testament?

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What am I Seeking when I Study the Old Testament?

The short answer to this question is “God.”

I was first moved to study the Old Testament by a scholar who exhibited a communion with God through the text. He was a poet and convicted me of the inexhaustible wealth of the Hebrew Scriptures. He showed me that it was more than just a series of books that talked about God, but it was a meeting place to come face to face with the Creator of the universe.

The purpose of Bible study is experiencing God and growing into his mission. This goes for scholarly and devotional reading alike. No matter our exegetical abilities, when we read the Bible we ought to concern ourselves with knowing God. Ideally, close readings, attention to detail, and scholarly inquiry only deepens our understanding. Certainly, God is beyond our comprehension, but we are not left without a clue. The more we study Scripture, the more opportunity we have for knowing the fullness of God.

I seek to know Scripture like I know an old hymn. I want to know the lyrics, the historical references, the metaphors, the poetic rhythms. But it is not just for study sake; I want to sing the song. As the great Zion song says, “I heard their song and strove to join.

Admittedly, I sometimes find myself devoting vast amounts of time to the study of the minutia of Scripture that does not seem to have much to do with knowing God. I sometimes miss the forest (God) for the trees (particular texts), but the right corrective to this is not to ignore the trees. Even the minutia, properly framed, filters up to knowing God more fully. I will attempt to illustrate with a few examples.

Wrestling with God through text criticism

wrestle God comicText criticism gives us a window into ancient interpretation. [There’s a good explanation of text criticism HERE.] Sometimes variants in the manuscripts are just scribal errors, but often variants reveal disagreements or shifts among interpreters. For example, Job 13:15a, is translated by the NRSV as “See, he will kill me; I have no hope,” but the ESV has “Though he slay me, I will hope in him.” The reason for the difference is a textual variant: the Hebrew word here is lō’ meaning “not,” but another ancient tradition reads meaning “to him.” The two Hebrew words sound identical. So does Job say that he does not have hope or does Job say that he will still hope in him? I think that it is fairly clear that the NRSV is more in tune with the book of Job and the variant “in him” is a later effort to make Job seem less despairing. But back to our question, what does this variant have to do with knowing God? Simply put, we cannot make the big points without observing the details. In this case, we get an insight into how our ancestors in faith heard and wrestled with the character of Job. Job is a book about the human experience of suffering and how one relates to God in the midst of suffering. This small little word matters to the portrayal of despair. In my experience, it contributes to my own wrestling with God as I observe injustices and resolve to speak to God without restraint. So the text critical question filters up to wrestling with God when the realities of injustice hit home. One can certainly wrestle with God without knowing Hebrew or this text critical issue, but the closer we look the more we bring to the table.

The awe and wonder of wordplay

I love wordplay and a good poetic turn of phrase. For example, in Isaiah 5:7, a parabolic song about a failed vineyard concludes with God expecting mishpat (justice), but getting mishpaḥ (violence), expecting ṣedaqah (righteousness) but getting ṣe‘aqah (an outcry). This pair of wordplay is obvious in the Hebrew and contributes to the richness of the poem. What I love about close study of the Old Testament is that it slows me down and draws my attention to the creative detail of Scripture. God is a poet. The better we understand His poems, the fuller our communion with Him.

I do not study the Old Testament to prove or disprove its history or to contradict science. In my experience, these are unfruitful and misguided pursuits for the most part. Additionally, my primary reason for studying the OT is not to establish doctrine. Doctrine is important, no doubt, and the Old Testament certainly espouses doctrines, but these are typically secondary gleanings from the primary story of God among His people.

I study the Old Testament to learn from Israel’s witness to the character and actions of God, so that I might more fully understand the wonders of God’s work in the present. I want to sing the song of the Old Testament, which not only requires me to learn the lyrics and the tune, but also to join the chorus. The text hymns its King in strains divine. I hear the song and strive to join.


 Lance Hawley - picLance Hawley is an Assistant Professor of Old Testament and biblical Hebrew at Harding School of Theology in Memphis. His research focuses on the book of Job and Hebrew poetry. He also has a major interest in biblical law and biblical canon as essential topics of study for followers of Jesus. Before joining the HST faculty, Lance served as a church planter in Madison, WI for ten years. He has a passion for the spiritual formation of missional communities.

Lance and his wife, Laura, have three children.

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Seeking People to Love

Tabitha seeking

“Evangelism” can be a dirty word.

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Consider this critique of Mother Teresa, “It’s good to work for a cause with selfless intentions. But Mother Teresa’s work had ulterior motive, which was to convert the person who was being served to Christianity.”  Yes, you read that correctly. The idea that a Christian might want to share their faith with others can completely undermine a lifetime devoted to improving the lot of some of the world’s most desperate people.

Despite critics who view evangelism, or proselytizing, as they call it, as a negative behaviour, it remains core to following Jesus. Whether we consider the imperative of the Great Commission, or the Lost Parables of Luke 15, we see God’s desire that people who don’t know Him come to know Him. He desires the lost to be saved. He longs for the sinner to be cleansed. He hopes for the distant to draw near to Him. And he uses Christians to accomplish His purposes.

When many people think of evangelism, we think of Mormon missionaries, or Jehovah’s Witnesses, constantly doorknocking neighborhoods and trying to have life changing conversations with us at the most inconvenient moments. Many Christians grew up in churches that regularly doorknocked and many still do.

But not all evangelism requires cold-calling on people and hoping we catch them at a time when we’re not a nuisance and they’re wanting to talk with someone.

If we’re not careful, sharing our faith can seem a lot like a sales job. It’s as though I need to convince you that out of all the life insurance products available on the market, my life insurance is the best one for you… and your family… and your friends. If I do it right, my sales will grow. The company will grow. My commissions will grow. And it really doesn’t matter whether or not I’m telling you the truth, as long as I can get you to believe my life insurance product is the best.

Success electronic commerce concept

In contrast to this skepticism, Christians share our faith with others because we believe that the message of Jesus is one of life-changing goodness. Having experience God’s goodness, we want others to experience it also. Having seen light in a sea of darkness, we want to point others to that light also. We do this, not to increase our own equity, or to kingdom build, or spiritually colonise other cultures, but because we love others. Because we love other people we want them to experience the best life possible: to experience Jesus.

This week’s sermon looked briefly at two different approaches to making a God difference in people’s lives.

The Apostle Peter
Based on Acts 9:32 it seems that Peter had taken on the task of visiting groups of believers, churches, scattered around Judea and possibly Samaria. No doubt his goal was to encourage these charter members of the Jesus community. In this way Peter contributed to the growth of the church. He participated in implementing Jesus design from Acts 1:8, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

Peter had moved from Step 1: Jerusalem, and was now implementing Step 2: Judea and Samaria. In our text Peter finds himself on the coastal plain, and area not given a lot of attention throughout the Gospels. In Acts 10 Peter initiates the final step in Jesus outline: the ends of the earth, as he breaks through the Jew-Gentile barrier by baptizing a Roman.

Peter fits the mold of a typical evangelist. He’s a traveling preacher and as an apostle is able to perform healing miracles that attract a crowd. When he visits a town he preaches about Jesus and we’re told in Acts 9:35 “All those who lived [there] saw [the lame man walking] and turned to the Lord.

As a preacher who can’t perform healing miracles, I believe there’s still a role for Peters in the work of the church. There’s a need for people to travel to unfamiliar places and tell others about the Good News of Jesus. These may be international missionaries, or domestic church planters, but they’re needed. The lost need to be saved, and the saved need to be taught and encouraged. Peters can do this.

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Tabitha (Dorcas)
The text next introduces us to Tabitha. She is apparently a woman of means who uses her wealth to “do good and help the poor“, particularly widows. Tabitha didn’t travel. She wasn’t prominent on the speaker circuit. Tabitha achieved influence in her community through her compassion and generosity.

Tabitha was loved so much that when she died, the church sent for the apostle Peter in the hope that he could restore her to life, which he did. After she sat up, “Peter called for the believers, especially the widows…” It’s impossible to know for certain, but I like to think that Tabitha was indiscriminate in selecting the widows and other poor citizens whom she cared for. Then, as she loved her neighbours, the neighbours saw Jesus, came to love him, and became disciples of Jesus. These women may have started out as widows, but because of Tabitha’s generosity they became believers.

Today
Sometimes people dismiss the idea of entering full-time ministry by saying “that’s not for everyone”. And they’re right. But it is for some people. The church still needs Peters. And the 12 year old Peters sitting in churches around the world need others to encourage them. They need spiritual mentors to recognise their faith and gifts and inspire them to use those gifts in God’s service, full-time.

Sometimes when people dismiss the idea of full-time ministry, they say “everyone’s a minister”. And they’re right. The church needs more Tabithas. Sadly, many of those who say this, do very little. Perhaps its because while they recognise that we’re all called to serve we don’t always have clear models of what ministry from the pew looks like. The preachers have taken too much of the limelight. Tabitha provides a model we can all follow. Do good and help the poor. Who knows, you may even bring them to Jesus.

Enough Seeking Already!

This week’s guest post on the 2018 Blog Tour comes from Dr Mark Adams. His blog is really well done, so do yourself a favour and check it out HERE.

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“It was in the last place I looked.”

One of my least favorite expressions follows an anxious search for keys, wallets, and phones. Having scoured the house, the office, or the last place someone visited, when they find what they’ve been seeking, they might exclaim, “Wouldn’t you know it? I found it in the last place I looked for it!”

My inner response is always, “If you’ve already found it, why would you continue looking?” Nobody ever says, “Hey, now that I have my car keys in hand, I’m going to check a few more places to see if they’re there, also.” While there are aspects of our Christian journey that involve a continual seeking and searching, such as a deeper understanding of God’s inexhaustible love and mercy, there are some things that we should stop seeking the way that we had before we were Christians. Here are three things that Christians can stop seeking.

  1. You can stop seeking people’s applause and approval.

The great goal for which all Christians are striving is to stand in the presence of God, and to hear God say, “Well done!” We earnestly seek God’s applause. In Christ, we are confident that there is “now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” This frees us to live out of our joy and appreciation for the love God has poured on us with lavishness.

Likewise, it matters to us that people can see the good things that we do because of our faith, and even if they don’t join us, they can still glorify God because of what God has done through us. We care that people will assume things about God because of what they see in us.

approved 01Even so, as Christians, we need not seek people’s applause and approval the way that the world does. If your sense of self-worth and happiness derives only from what people think and say about you, you’re going to be drinking from a water source that will generally leave you thirsty. People are fickle. They can love someone one minute and turn on them the next minute for a variety of reasons these days, and the function of the always-present smartphone combined with social media only exacerbates and hastens the problem. If you subject your well-being to the hands of people who are chasing after popularity of their own, no matter how much you’ve been liked or admired, you’re still going to have to keep seeking their approval.

Do you understand that God loves you as his own, irrespective of any other factor you could think up or present? Even if your walk involves the occasional stumble or tumble, you rest safe in the Grace of God whose love for you existed even before you did. You can stop seeking people’s applause and approval because God has the final word, and God loves you dearly. As he demonstrated in Christ, he would rather die than try to imagine Eternity without you there.

  1. You can stop seeking to establish your value through your own competence.

I struggle with anxiety if I feel underprepared for a situation. I work on my sermons and classes far in advance. I try to study every angle of something about which I believe people might ask me. I’ve always worked hard to be a resourceful person, to whom people feel they can turn if they need knowledge and insight. Sometimes, this can become an idol.

Your idol may not be an idol of knowledge, but there are probably other ways you try to establish your worth through what you can do. Are you the person who can get things done? Are you the person who always directs or volunteers in a certain way? Are you the person on whom everyone has to depend when they need a certain thing?

It is one thing to be a valuable asset because of your love for the greater community. It is another thing to share your gifts and talents, but to have strings attached for what you expect in return. It is a blessing to be able to share, to give, and to inspire. But when we must be seen a certain way because of what we can do, we have stopped relying on God for our sense of worth and have settled for an idol, who will leave us unsatisfied. Your gifts are yours for the building up of the body of Christ. Use them for the good of others, and stop seeking to establish your worth through what you can do, rather than through the way God has valued you.

  1. You can stop seeking to prove your worth through your possessions.

StockSnap clothing 02Christians in the West have a hard time letting go of our cultural tendency to buy things for their status rather than for their usefulness. Name brands, vehicle sizes and features, and a variety of clothing and personal ornamentation do and will continue to grab the world’s attention. It is this tendency, I believe, that Paul is addressing when he warns about the importance of dressing with modesty. Even though he would probably be in agreement with our general aversion to dressing overly “sexy,” Paul is concerned that when a person shows off their value through what they use to clothe themselves, they necessarily exclude and demean the poor among us who have no ability to succeed in a contest of possession acquisition.

Let us not forget that those of us who have been baptized into Christ have clothed ourselves with Christ. Jesus is our brand. Jesus is our identity. Jesus is our greatest treasure and our highest hope.

Before you make your next purchase, you might ask yourself:

  • Is this valuable for how it is useful, or for how it will make people see me?
  • Does my displaying of this item potentially alienate someone who can’t afford one of the same?
  • Do I get uneasy at the thought of people not seeing me as successful for wearing a lesser brand?

Until we stand before God, may we always seek God with a holy hunger. May we never exhaust our desire to learn and embody God’s love. But for now, let’s remember that we’ve already found what matters most. We can stop worrying so much about what other people think about us. We can quit trying to prove how strong we are on our own. If we were really so strong, we wouldn’t have needed a Savior. We can stop distracting people from a treasure of ultimate worth by obsessing over things we know we’ll be donating to Goodwill next year. One of the many ways Jesus lightens our burdens is by helping us to release what we no longer need to seek. 


Version 3Dr. Mark Adams is the preaching minister for the Kings Crossing Church of Christ in Corpus Christi, Texas. He is married to his wife Carolina, whom he met when the two of them were students together at Harding University. He is also a graduate of Lipscomb University. You can learn more about Mark at his website: https://kingdomupgrowth.com

 

Seeking a Purpose

This blog post is based on a sermon that you can listen to HERE.

James John SeekingThe Gospels tell two stories of private interactions between Jesus and his disciples that provide a glimpse into the ambitions of Jesus’ closest disciples.

  1. The Twelve argue among themselves over who is the greatest. (Mark 9:34)
  2. James and John request the seats either side of Jesus’ throne in his kingdom. (Mark 10:35-37)

In most discussions of these texts that I’ve heard, people generally criticise the disciples for using Jesus to obtain personal gain. This seems valid criticism. The disciples’ motives seem selfish and unholy.

When we arrive at this conclusion, it appears that we now understand the text as a warning against pride and selfishness and we can move on to the next passage. However, I believe that we can glean more from this text before moving on.

We could easily observe the disciples’ behaviour and conclude that the desire to succeed or achieve as a Jesus follower is an improper desire. Instead, we should endeavour to make our goals and ambitions consistent with God’s will.

Greatness is a worthy goal. How we define greatness is vital. Jesus provides a definition in Mark 9:35 “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last,and servant of all.” Importantly, Jesus doesn’t say, “Don’t aspire to greatness.” Rather he describes a holy path to greatness.

James and John made the mistake of seeking something that wasn’t theirs to seek, or even Jesus’ to give. I wonder, if they had asked Jesus to give them the ministry of primary apostolic healers if Jesus wouldn’t have honoured that request.

greatness 01

So how about us?

The idea of spiritual ambitions seems dangerous to most Christians I know. Yes, Paul tells Timothy to identify men that desire the role of shepherd in the church. But if someone starts wanting that role too much, we get nervous. This creates the problem of discerning the difference between ‘ambition’ and ‘excessive ambition’. So more often than not we frown upon ambition as pride and therefore an ungodly attitude.

Fear of ambitious Christians results in churches filled with people who have few goals and dreams for where their faith could take them. Without goals how can a person determine the next step in their faith walk?

This is a long introduction to what I hope will prove to be a helpful list of concrete ambitions Christians can choose. While I recognise the danger of trying to put the Holy Spirit in a box or define his job, I also realise that I don’t function well in the abstract. Simply telling me to, “walk by faith” doesn’t help me very much, I need more definite instructions. So, here are some ideas, and I’d love for you to add some of yours in the comments section below!

Possible Goals for Spiritual Growth

  1. Read the Bible all the way through.
  2. Lead a ministry at church.
  3. Start an NPO to make a difference in the lives of your community.
  4. Become a small group leader.
  5. Go on a 24hr silent retreat.
  6. Baptize someone.
  7. Go on a mission trip.
  8. Teach a children’s Bible class
  9. Increase your giving. (Aim at a specific percentage.)
  10. Memorize Scripture.
  11. Read the Bible daily.  (Find all sorts of reading plans HERE.)
  12. Attend a Bible or ministry conference/workshop.
  13. Raise a godly family.
  14. Host a small group in your home.
  15. Take Bible courses from a college. (So many are offered online now.)
  16. Intentionally encourage someone every day. (Be able to name that person at the end of the day.)
  17. Make a friend of someone from a different faith background.
  18. Strive to live in such a way that others will describe you as generous.
  19. Reach a point where you can honestly say that you love your enemies. In the meantime, pray good things for them and their families.
  20. Spiritually mentor someone.
  21. Tell a nonbeliever why you’re a Christian.
  22. Regularly practice fasting.
  23. Visit the Holy Land.
  24. Create a work of art (painting, sculpting, song, poem, whatever) that explores an aspect of your faith.
  25. Share a meal with all your neighbors (one at a time).
  26. Identify an organization you can volunteer at regularly.
  27. Lead a ministry at your church.
  28. Become a foreign missionary.
  29. Regularly read the Bible and have spiritual conversations with your grand/children.
  30. Cook a meal for someone else each month/week. Maybe they eat it with you. Maybe you just deliver it.
  31. Pray with another person (not always the same person) each week.
  32. Give money to a mission work, or new church plant in the U.S..
  33. Make a new friend with someone from a different ethnic background.
  34. Adopt a college student.
  35. Read a religious book other than the Bible each year/6 months.
  36. Become a full-time minister.
  37. Commit to being an ethical voice in your workplace.
  38. Raise money for worthy causes.
  39. Attend every church work day.
  40. Prioritise Sunday worship with the body of Christ.
  41. Intentionally express gratitude to someone every day.
  42. Love your spouse, so that they know it.

Most of these goals take more than a moment to fulfill. They’re something to work towards, to aspire to complete. Because spiritual growth is a process.

I dream of the day when I might ask each member of my congregation, “Which aspect of your walk with God are you working on at the moment?” and they’d have a response that was ambitious rather than guilt-ridden.

This list results from random brainstorming rather than profound meditation. I hope it provides a spark for you set some spiritual goals that you might pursue spiritual greatness by becoming the servant of all.

Your Eyes Reveal It All!

This is the 4th post on the 2018 Blog Tour. I first ran into Jonathan many moons ago when we were both involved in campus ministry. Now we both preach for churches in neighboring states. I hope you find his thoughts encouraging, and take a few moments to visit his blog.

2018 Blog Tour cAs soon as I heard the theme for this year’s blog tour, my mind immediately went to a short passage in Matthew 6.  I love this passage.  First, I like it because the ancient conceptualization of the human eye as a “lamp” is intriguing to me.  Second, the passage is really about the notion of focus and the idea that what you seek is ultimately what you find.  So, let me share the passage with you, taking into consideration the overview provided by Matt in his post pertaining to the Sermon on the Mount.

6:22 The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

So, let’s have some fun!  It only seems right to share some pictures with you and ask what it is that you see in the picture?

Here is the first one…

And the second…

And one more…

Now, to the passage.  The eye was seen as the body’s lamp because just like lighting a lamp allowed you to see the room in the dark, so to opening the eye allowed you to see the world.  So, if you had a healthy eye, you could see pretty well.  However, if you have a “bad” eye, that is an eye that is unhealthy, then you can’t see very well.  Blindness was a condition in which the eye couldn’t be “switched on” and so the body could not move about in the light…but stumbled around in the darkness.

In context, sandwiched between the warning not to store up materialistic treasures where moth and rust destroy, and thieves steal; and the reality check that a servant cannot serve two masters at the same time—our eye as the lamp passage serves to tell us that the ability to see and to focus on what is right in the sight of God is extremely important.

In the pictures above, there isn’t a right answer!  Congrats!  You saw a duck or a rabbit in the first picture based upon the aspects of the picture you focused on.  In the second picture, you either saw a young woman or an elderly woman again based upon the aspects of the picture you focused on.  In the third picture, you either saw a vase or two side profiles looking at each other depending on your eyes’ focus.  It is a fun experiment to do, and perhaps you saw both options in each picture. (Or you can go back and try to see the other option)

When it comes to the eyes of faith that Jesus asks us to develop in his Sermon on the Mount, the aspects of life you focus on really do matter.  Jesus asks us to focus on people and relationships instead of stuff and possessions…heavenly treasure that makes us rich in the ways of God.  Jesus continues that we cannot serve money and God.  Our eyes must be healthy, they must be focused, and they are a gateway to our, “shining before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

So, what are you seeking?

  • If you were to evaluate what your eyes tend to watch, what would it be? Another way to say it, what catches your eye?
  • Would you say that you have “blind-spots?” What are persons and things that you might fail to see?
  • When people use you as a “lamp” to light up the darkness…what do they see from your good works?
  • How healthy are our eyes of faith?

Your eyes may just reveal it all!


Jonathan Woodall - picJonathan Woodall is the minister for the GracePointe church of Christ in Elizabethtown, PA and blogs on the church website www.gracepointechurchofchrist.org and on his personal page at www.jonathanfwoodall.com.  He is the spouse of Hayley and they have two children–Brynn and Aidric.  Jonathan has also served as a worship minister, campus minister, and adjunct instructor of communication.

Seeking the Good of Others

You can listen to the sermon this blog post derives from, HERE.

My attention was captured by a phrase in the last verse of the book of Esther. How does the book end? With Esther living happily ever after as the hero in the story?

No. It concludes with the summary that “Mordecai the Jew was second in rank to King Xerxes, preeminent among the Jews, and held in high esteem by his many fellow Jews, because he worked for the good of his people and spoke up for the welfare of all the Jews.

mordecai haman 01

“The Triumph of Mordecai” by Pieter Lastman (1583-1633)

Mordecai may have worked for the good of his people, the Jews, but he wasn’t the Jewish Ambassador to Persia. Mordecai was the second in rank over the entire Persian population. He may have advocated for the Jews, but he would have only kept his position by being a responsible ruler for all people.

In accepting his promotion to second in rank to King Xerxes, Mordecai was choosing to work for an ungodly king. Persia may have treated the Jews and Jerusalem better than the Babylonians (who destroyed the city), but it didn’t make them godly. Paganism would still infiltrate all areas of palace life.

Mordecai was choosing to work with an empire that expanded rapidly and destroyed nations in their path in a manner similar to the treatment Judah received.

Mordecai chose to work for and with the enemy.

Yes, his niece, Esther, was married to Xerxes, but she didn’t have a choice in the matter. That’s pretty much the point of the whole book!

Mordecai provides an example of living out the counsel the prophet Jeremiah had given years earlier,

Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”  ~ Jeremiah 29:5-7

That last verse is a tough one. Seek the peace and prosperity of the city you land in. Pray for the city, the pagans, the people who burnt your city, the soldiers who carried you in chains to Babylon. Pray for your enemies. Your prosperity is tied to theirs. Jeremiah’s thought is a precursor to the saying that “a rising tide lifts all boats”.

Most of my readers haven’t been exiled to your current city, but this verse should challenge us. It sounds nice and fuzzy to seek the peace and prosperity of the place I live. Perhaps I’ll get to experience some of that prosperity. Then I realize that I’m to pray for the peace and prosperity of the WHOLE city.

I naturally want to limit that prayer. I want to pray that the government makes wise decisions for the good of the citizens. I want to pray that my church will expand. I want to pray that the good people will be recognized and rewarded. I want to pray that crime will decrease. I want to pray for people I like: people like me.

But when Jeremiah says to pray for the city, he’s referring to the Jew’s enemies. He wants the Jews to pray for the people who’ve captured and brought them to this place. He wants the Jews to pray that the pagans may experience peace and prosperity. He wants the Jews to pray that the cruel king may live in peace and prosper.

SW city 02

What does that look like for us?  Maybe, we also need to pray…

  • that followers of other religions in our city will experience peace and safety.
  • that the homeless and destitute in our city will find security and prosperity.
  • that supporters on the other side of the political divide will live in peace and that they will prosper.
  • that those intent of crime and violence will find peace and a constructive object for their energies.
  • that those in leadership will prioritise the peace and prosperity of their citizens while pursuing it in their personal lives also.
  • that those in captivity may return to their families and experience peace and well-being.

As Christians, we believe that ultimate peace and fulfillment in life comes from Jesus. We should certainly pray for the expansion of his kingdom in our city. We also need to recognise that Christians have a responsibility to contribute to our communities in a way that “sinners” will benefit from our presence. God doesn’t give us the discretion of choosing who receives our kindness. This illustrates why Jesus’ command to “love your enemies” is still so radical and fundamental to our faith. God’s children are to seek the good of the whole city.

The Search for The Search

2018 Blog Tour c

God created mankind upright, but they have gone in search of many schemes. – Ecclesiastes 7:29

In one respect I think we can say that people are always searching for something. There’s some unmet need, some empty place that needs to be filled, some missing component that has left our hearts lacking. Epic poems and long novels have been written about the search for that unidentifiable something. So I do stipulate that this is a realistic expectation for many. Most? I don’t know.

Overstimulated and Overwhelmed” is how one article describes the condition so many are facing today.

This overstimulation can come from a variety of sources including excessive noise, multitasking, and cluttered surroundings.  Overuse of electronic media is a modern phenomena particularly linked to issues of anxiety, depression, and isolation.  This is unfortunately wide-reaching, as the average American spends most of their waking hours (about 11) on electronic media and internet.

Can we make the case that we are so intent on searching for meaning and connection with God that we’ve exhausted ourselves? Or could we make the case that we’ve exhausted ourselves and the search is no longer interesting to us. We’ve given up.

…There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. – Romans 3:11

Maybe it’s just me, but American Christians (some? most?) are suffering a slump of sorts. Any search we can identify seems to be on hold while we explore some of those ‘many schemes’ the wise man wrote about in Ecclesiastes. Sometimes I feel that the spiritual search has fallen off of our radar while we seek fulfillment and excitement elsewhere.  If that’s true, why is this?

Could it be that we have taken our eye off of the Savior? Instead of intentionally being committed disciples of Jesus, we sought to have bigger, better, brighter experiences in life, in relationships, in worship. Something to make us feel something.  Have we chased after the experience but forgotten to love and serve the people around us in the name of Jesus?

I began to wonder if what we were doing in evangelical circles had more to do with redeeming ourselves to culture than it did with showing Jesus to a hurting world, a world literally filled with outcasts.

― Donald Miller, Searching for God Knows What

God has promised that if we search for HIM, He will be found. Jesus said that if we seek the Kingdom first, our other needs would be met.

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.- Jeremiah 29:13

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. – Matthew 6:33

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. –Hebrews 11:6

For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. – Luke 11:10

If you are feeling empty these days, look in the mirror and ask that person if they have been searching for God with their whole heart. I can’t prove it, but I think there are many people suffering from a spiritual emptiness they cannot identify. It’s not that they do not desire God. It’s more than that. It is that somehow the noise and distraction of life has kept them from desiring to desire God. The search for the Search has been put on hold. Indefinitely?

boy telescope searching - teddy-kelley

How do we break out of spiritual disenchantment and renew the search for the Search? How do I learn once again to be captivated by the beauty of the Savior and in awe of the power of the Father and feel the fire of the Holy Spirit? I hope you’re not looking for something to dazzle you here. I can’t offer you more of the stuff that has us numbed to the Spirit’s call. I can only think we must go back to basics.

Have I been spending time in the Word? I’m going to suggest paper, not screen. Too many distractions and temptations when we’re staring at the glow. Break free.

Have I asked God to reignite the passion for Kingdom living in my heart? Am I talking to Abba about the distance between us?

What have I done for someone else lately? Not for pay, not for recognition, not for anything except the opportunity to serve.

Have I been quiet? No TV, no small screens, just me and God and… no words. (It’s ok if you fall asleep… fall asleep in His presence… He loves you. You can grow in this area of listening prayer.)

Am I walking alone or do I have fellow disciples to serve, study, pray and love alongside?

Contemporary Christian music group, Building 429, sang a song about The Space In Between Us. That’s what we’re trying to bridge. Regaining the search for the Search is my desire for us.

God, for the days when I’m so distracted by the world around me and in front of me, give me the energy and strength to turn it off, turn away, and turn toward you. Grow within me the burning desire to know you more completely and serve you more faithfully. I not only desire to seek you, I desire to desire to seek you. Thank you for knowing what that means. Amen.


10 - John Dobbs pic

John Dobbs is the preaching minister for the Forsythe Church of Christ (http://facoc.org) in Monroe, Louisiana. He can be found on Facebook, followed on Twitter (@johndobbs) and read on his blog (http://johndobbs.com). He’s been married for 31 years to the lovely Maggy. He has two children and two grandchildren.

Seeking Justice

Habakkuk might be the most 21st century compatible ancient prophet in the Bible.
He’s brash.
He’s devout.
He’s determined.
He cares about his community.

Habakkuk demands justice.
Justice for the victims of violence.
Justice for his city.
Justice on the international stage.
Justice against corrupt leaders.

Habakkuk has a very clear concept of right and wrong.

The quest for justice should inspire us. We all want to live in a world of justice. We want to believe that our highly evolved justice system gets it right 98.5% of the time. We want to believe that we go through life on an even playing field and that our individual talent and attitude will lead us to a deserving place in life.

Sadly, thousands of years after Habakkuk, we still live in an unjust world.

Rich and poor still exist. Their economic status reflects nothing of their moral status. Some good people still live in poverty. Some corrupt people live in opulence. Those who are rich often use their wealth, power and opportunity to create greater wealth for themselves at the expense of the less powerful.

The justice system still gets things wrong. It exists to apply laws without asking if the laws themselves are just or unjust.

There is no level playing field. People with traditional European names get more callbacks to their job applications than those with traditional African-American names. The NFL controversy about kneeling during the national anthem intends to draw the nations attention to an injustice in the number of people of color shot by law enforcement. Incarceration rates in the United States also reflect a stark racial disparity.

Living in a western nation, we all face the quandary that we benefit to some extent from injustice. In many cases it’s impossible to quantify the benefit we receive. We consume diverse products in ways that conceal their source and methods of production from us. Consider your own consumption…

  • Do you know where your clothes were made? Do you know the wage paid to those workers in Bangladesh? Do you know their age, or their living conditions? Do you know where your fabric was produced?
  • Do you know where your coffee originates? How do you decide if the farmers were paid a fair price? Is it even just that their life is dedicated to providing you a morning pick me up?
  • Can you state confidently that the produce flown around the world to your grocery store was harvested and packed by people treated justly?
  • Do you know where the electronic device you’re reading this on was produced? Can you name the minerals and metals in your device? Is there any way of telling where those materials were mined and the working conditions of those mines, or whether traditional landowners were justly compensated for those mining rights?

When we march and protest against injustice I believe we represent a cause close to God’s heart. When we join Habakkuk on the watchtower appealing to God for justice, I believe he hears us.

But we live in an unjust world . While we work for justice we must also recognise our limitations. We cannot make the world a 100% just place. However, we must not allow our limitations to discourage our participation in the quest for justice.

When we see an opportunity to speak up for the oppressed, speak up.

When we encounter a choice to spend a little more to buy a fair trade product, spend it.

When we encounter injustice, shine light upon it.

When we despair, talk to God about it.

Lord, I have heard of your fame;
    I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord.
Repeat them in our day,
    in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.
     Habakkuk 3:2

 

 

 

The Seeker’s Heart

I’m glad to share the first guest post on our 2018 Blog Tour. Matthew challenges us to examine our hearts, our motives and our priorities. While the Sermon on the Mount is not a checklist, it does encourage us to examine our hearts. HERE is one guide to an introspective self-examination based upon Jesus’s words in Matthew 5-7. ~ Peter

“You are what you love.” That’s the title of a book by James K. A. Smith that has challenged my life, particularly my heart. I’ve learned that my heart isn’t always focused on what it should be, regardless of what my actions show. This realization led me to the Sermon on the Mount, one of Jesus’ longest teaching passages in Matthew 5-7. Some view this passage as a checklist we need to keep to please Jesus. But viewing the Sermon on the Mount as a checklist shows you’ve missed the point.

Take a look at this summary of the teachings in this passage:
– Attitudes (5:1-12)
– Actions/Witness (v13-16)
– Righteousness (v.17-20)
– Conflict (v. 21-26)
– Marriage and Adultery (v. 27-30)
– Divorce (v.31-32)
– Honesty (v.33-37)
– Revenge (v.38-48)
– Giving (6:1-4)
– Prayer & Forgiveness (v.5-15)
– Fasting (v.19-24)
– Worry/Self Dependence (v.25-34).

That’s a lot of topics! It seems Jesus has something to say about nearly every part of our lives. But Jesus isn’t addressing a bunch of topics here. In reality, he addresses one topic and applies it to many different areas. What’s the one topic? The heart.

Let’s look at one two more statements. In Matthew 5:16 Jesus says “…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Yet chapter 6 starts with “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them.

ID 59657877 © Alexandr Sidorov | Dreamstime.com

How are we supposed to keep both of these? There’s no way to check these off a list. Logic says you cannot do both, but it all boils down to what our heart is seeking. Are we honoring God and glorifying Him, or showing off and honoring ourselves? If the heart is in the right place, we are doing exactly what Jesus wants. It all boils down to 6:21- “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Smith puts it this way: “…if the heart is like a compass…then we need to regularly calibrate our hearts, turning them to be directed to the Creator, our magnetic north.” In other words, what we do shapes us into who we become. The life of a Christian should be drastically different than a non-Christian. So how are we doing? Do we have a heart seeking God, or are we chasing after the world? What you love shapes your life. So, what are you seeking?

It’s time for a heart check. If we orient our heart toward seeking God, our attitudes will be God-focused when we’re mistreated (5:1-12). If our hearts are right, we will be salt and light (both of which are elements that change every situation they enter) for God’s glory (v. 13-16). If our hearts are seeking Christ and his righteousness, we will want to be righteous in our actions (v.17-20). If our hearts are seeking the Father, we won’t mistreat our brothers and sisters (v.21-26). If our hearts are centered on the covenental Creator, we will honor our spouses by remaining pure and committed to each other (v.27-32). If our hearts are on the God of justice, we will show love and honesty, and not seek revenge when we are wronged (v.33-48). If our hearts are pure we will give generously, not for our own glory, but to honor God (6:1-4). If our hearts are right we will pray heartfelt prayers that lift up others and don’t glorify ourselves…we’ll forgive others as we’ve been forgiven (v.5-15). If our hearts are right we’ll focus on God because of our want of relationship with him, not to impress others (v.19-24). If our hearts are right we’ll rely on Him for our needs without worry (v.25-34).

“You are what you love.”

What does your heart seek? Do you seek after the things of God, or chase after whatever the world calls important? Jesus reminds us to “…seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Keep your heart focused on God. Keep honoring Him in everything you do. Seek him first and foremost. Only then will you have the true heart of a seeker.


Matt Stidham is the Preaching Minister for the East Side congregation in Snyder, TX. He and his wife Jennifer have three beautiful children. You can connect with Matt on Facebook (@matthew.d.stidham), on Twitter (@MatthewStidham), or at his blog – http://www.crosseyedchristianity.wordpress.com.

What Are You Seeking… Really?

Over the last few years I’ve participated in what I call a “Blog Tour”. I invite several other bloggers and guest writers to write articles on a common theme. This year, the theme is “What Are You Seeking?” I always enjoy discovering the different directions the various writers take this topic. I find the process enriching as they raise issues and thoughts that would never occur to me within the bubble that I live. I pray that you find these posts in the coming weeks encouraging to you also.

This week I kick off the Tour with my contribution. As each writer contributes their thoughts in coming weeks I hope you will take a moment to visit their blog and encourage them. You may even find a new habit that you enjoy reading regularly.

2018 Blog Tour c

Several weeks ago I was having a conversation with someone about worship. Suddenly, it dawned on me how much my thought process differed from other worshipers.

  1. There are some people who come to church each week asking “Will they sing the songs I like?” “Will the sermon meet my needs?” “Will my friends by there?” “Will my prayers be answered?” “Will my life be improved?”
  2. Then there’s another group of people who come wondering who God will bring this week. They’re praying for opportunities to speak encouragement into someone’s life. They’re looking around for people they can meet and serve, and hoping that some first time guests will attend this week.

At first glance I hope that #2 seems more spiritual, more godly, more mature. Generally speaking, I agree. But generalisations have exceptions. We should bear in mind that we all have times in our lives where we need to receive rather than give. We need to be served rather than serve. Additionally, at some point almost all of us walked through the doors of a church as guests with a list of questions asking whether this was the right church for us.

We were seekers seeking.

Some of us knew what we seeking. Others found the object of our search only when we stumbled upon it. We were all seeking.

Jesus asked a crowd of people a similar question in Matthew 11:2-15. Jesus’ cousin John has been imprisoned by Herod and sends messengers to Jesus. It seems that John wants confirmation that his ministry and now suffering were for the right reason, that they were worthwhile and that they mattered.

Jesus responds by giving a list of examples from his ministry, such as “the blind can see” that can be connected to messianic prophecies in the book of Isaiah such as Is 61:1-3. But then he turns to the crowd and asks this important question:

“Who did you go out into the wilderness to see?”  Who were you seeking?

Matthew 3:5 records that, “People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan river.” That’s a lot of people going to see and hear John the Baptizer. Now, some years later Jesus asks, “Who did you go out into the wilderness to see?

He gives some choices: “Was it a reed, blown in the wind, waving this way and that?” “Was it someone in fine linens who’d make your life more comfortable and prosperous?” “Or did you go to see a prophet.”

Jesus knew well that people came to see him for a variety of reasons: Entertainment, financial gain, truth seeking, overthrowing the Romans, or protecting the status quo.

This blog series challenges us to reconsider our motives as we follow Jesus.

  • Do we participate in his kingdom out of obligation or passion?
  • Does our status as adopted children of God seem real to us, or a theoretical concept?
  • Do we worship to please others, or because we love God?
  • Do we desire to participate in expanding the borders of God’s kingdom, or do we like our church the way it is?
  • Do we long to grow our relationship with God, or are we comfortable with our current level of knowledge and commitment?

What are you seeking? Really?StockSnap meeting 01

Imagine you had the opportunity to interview Jesus like you might interview the leader of a church you’re considering attending. What would you ask him?

  • Jesus, will my relationship with God be restored if I follow you?
  • Jesus, will my relationship with my husband be restored if I follow you?
  • Jesus, will my family finally accept me if I follow you?
  • Jesus, how much (or little) money do I need to give you to make you happy?
  • Jesus, will I still get to do the things I really enjoy doing?
  • Jesus, can I keep my friends?
  • Jesus, can you tell me about eternity before I commit?
  • Jesus, how much time will I need to give you each week?

Without putting on your holy hat, what would you ask Jesus? What are you seeking… really? Will you take 10 minutes and make your list? When you’ve done that, pray over it. Read it to Jesus and see how the Holy Spirit moves your mind.