CIVILITY IN THE CONVERSATION

GETTING A GRIP ON OUR WORDS

Being from olden days, Modernity often seems strange if not disconcerting. An example would be how we speak. Once upon a time, there were silently agreed upon boundaries that preserved a certain sense of public civility. Times have changed. Today, insensitive remarks, crude words or phrases, and irreverent expressions have invaded the space once held by a less inflammatory conversation.

Presently, the idea of, “because I can” seems to be understood as an insistence to opt for, “therefore I will.” Many seem to think their entitlement to free speech gives license to use words without proper forethought. This seems very immature. Surely, the stream of “bleeps” commonly inserted into the media is not a sign of intelligent, mature discourse! Or for that matter, is the increasingly “non-bleeped,” coarse language often heard and seen actually a sign of enlightened liberation taking hold of a better way?
It appears to me that autonomous freedom, paradoxically, leads to an enslavement to selfishness. Additionally, me-centered positions certainly seem to bring about endless clashes between those determined to be tolerated and others equally determined not to tolerate.

Our choices in speech are indeed ours to make. We can say whatever we jolly well please. Nevertheless, we should not think our choices carry no consequences. We can easily incite and inflame, but we can also choose a course of peace and common courtesy. We can also opt to dismantle all vestiges of difference between words of carefully considered respect and words of thoughtless utterance. The proper choices seem obvious. Is it then possible to agree to disagree in such a way as to preserve our personal convictions and integrity without becoming disagreeable, coarse, and rude?

Maybe such concerns have become mere archaic remnants of foolish attempts to rise above the lowest human common denominator? If so, I believe, we are the poorer for the “progress” such a conclusion would create. However, with regard to civility and courtesy being anachronistic, I think not. Our minds allow us to create social constructs capable of giving a greater quality to everyday exchanges. Though I view such possibilities from a Christ-centered perspetive, choosing a higher ground is open to all. We can do better!

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The Torah of Moses

The Torah of Moses

A Closer Look at the Law of Moses

Deuteronomy 1:5; 4:5-8

            Most tend to view the Bible more as a book of independent truths or facts – a rulebook consulted for the appropriate answer. While the Bible certainly does have rules, its message is designed to be understood as a complete, connected, holistic revelation concerning God, His will, and His plan. With this in mind, we will have a look at some “connect-the-dots” understandings relative to the Torah of Moses.

It is the “Torah,” not the “Pentateuch”

  •        “Torah” is the proper Hebrew word for this section of Hebrew                 Scripture.
  •        The Torah of Moses refers to the first five books of the Old Covenant.
  •         The word “torah” should be defined as “instruction” or “teaching” rather than“law.”

The Torah of Moses served as the law library for Israel.

  •           Priests taught and made decisions based on its teachings (Lev. 10:8-11; Deut.  17:8-10; 31:24-36)
  •          Kings, likewise, were to know Torah and rule under its authority (Deut.

           17:19-20; II Kgs. 22:8-13; 23:1-3).

  •       Prophets were Torah-centered covenant lawyers (Jer. 6:16).
  •       The people of Israel were to affirm and live by Torah (Deut. 30:15-16; cf. I I Kgs. 23:1-3; Neh. 8:1-8).
  •       Wisdom Literature is based on its principles.
  •       Biblical narratives in the Old Covenant illustrate Torah as it is lived out

                   among the people.

  •          The Writing Prophets present God’s Torah cases and speak of His fidelity to covenant and ultimate Torah promises.

Torah Breakdown

  •           Genesis 1-11, Universal Beginnings.
  •           Genesis 12-50, Israel’s Beginnings.
  •           Exodus 1-14, Release from Egyptian Slavery.
  •           Exodus 15- Leviticus, Laws for the Nation
  •           Numbers, The Wilderness Wandering.
  •           Deuteronomy, Making Things Clear.

Levels of Torah Instruction

  •           Management of the nation by civil law (note Gal. 3:24; 4:1-2).
  •           Religious “types” for Israel and pointing to Jesus (Heb. 8:4-6; 10:1-            2).
  •           Principles grounded in God’s nature (Lev. 19:18; Deut. 6:4-8).

                  o     Faith was always the key (Deut. 30:11-14).

                  o     Law alone led to death (Rom. 5:20-21; Jas. 2:10).

                  o     Paul put the pieces together (Rom. 10:5-8; Rom. 2:28-29).

Torah and Atonement

  •           There were limitations.

                   o     An altar 7 1/2 by 7 ½ in surface area (Ex. 27:1).

                   o     The blood of the altar could not remove sin (Heb. 10:4).

                   o     There was only one acceptable place for the Bronze Altar (Deut.               12:5, 11; I Kgs. 8:27-30).

  •           Nevertheless, there were additional factors to consider.

                   o     The Day of Atonement for the nation (Lev. 16).

                   o     Praying toward Jerusalem (I Kgs.8:27-30; cf. Dan. 6:10).

                   o     A Covenant People (Gen. 17:17; II Sam. 12:13; Ps. 51; remember the thief on the cross, Lk. 23:39-43).

                   o     Forgiveness was promised by God in the Old Covenant (Lev. 4:20, 26, 31, 35;5:10, 13, 16, 18).

                   o     Paul, again, explains (Rom. 3:21-31).

  •           Interesting Considerations

                   o     Aliens had a place at the Bronze Altar (Lev. 17:8-9).

                   o     Women could also approach the Bronze Altar (Lev. 12:1-8; 15:25-30; Lk.  2:21-38).

                   o     Jesus’ cleansing the temple reacted to the Jews creation of a Court of the Gentiles, not found in the Old

                             Covenant, to keep them distant from the temple and then corrupting that area with merchandising (Mk. 1  1:17-18; Isa. 56:6-8; Jer. 7:11; Eph. 2:11-22).

Deuteronomy

  •          A Special role (29;1).
  •           Less than 50% of previous legislation.
  •           A “key” to understanding the focus and implementation of the law (1:5).
  •           A greater emphasis on love, faith, and the heart.
  •           Emphasis and Function.

                   o     Israel’s Potential (4:5-8; cf. Rom. 2:24).

                   o     Israel’s Loyalty (6:4-9, 20-25)

                   o     Israel’s Holiness (7:6; 14:2; I Pet. 2:9; Matt. 5:48).

            The Torah of Moses is an amazing testimony to God’s holiness, wisdom, and love. The Torah managed rebellious Israel as a civil state, constructed their religion to point forward to the fullness of Christ, and gave a holy model of spiritual conduct as high and unchangeable as God Himself!

The Power of Love

The Power of Love in Speaking a Good Word for Jesus

As we consider how to approach friends and neighbors with the gospel of Christ, let us continually be mindful that we are not trying to win arguments, but rather secure hearts. Of course, we do need to prepare ourselves to present intelligent and compelling answers to their questions. The thing to remember, however, is that we will be distinguished by our love for others, our love for each other, and our love for Jesus (I Cor. 13:1-3; Jn. 13:34-35; 17:21-23).  Isn’t it amazing God saw fit to design a plan of salvation that would be most effectively communicated by the one thing each of us is capable of doing well?  Our ability to love is not limited by our intellect, our wealth, or our social standing; it is limited by our lack of concern for the needs of others.

Paul well understood this reality. He taught this truth arrestingly to the Corinthians who were obsessed with the idea of obtaining status by gaining miraculous gifts.  Today, in different ways, we may also be consumed with secondary pursuits. Such things may seem to be keys to improving our influence for Christ, but as at Corinth, absent our genuine love for people, we are just wasting our time.

While the dynamics governing the human heart may be elusive, they are nonetheless knowable.  Our hearts are not captured by people who are smarter, more athletic, or generally more successful than we are, our hearts are touched by small, sometimes insignificant, acts of kindness. Such things go unnoticed by many, but are treasured by the individuals who receive them.  As we improve our ability to communicate our Lord’s gospel, let’s not forget to continue to work on our ability to love.

“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing” (I Cor. 13:1-3).

THE EXASPERATING JESUS

Jesus, Enough Already!

Have you ever considered that Jesus was the most exasperating man who ever lived? Yes, you read me correctly; He was the most exasperating man who ever lived. He never let up. He totally, uncompromisingly, relentlessly expected excellence. He was untiringly committed to the Father’s will (Jn. 4:34).

Who would want a Savior like that? I mean, really, isn’t that all just a bit much, especially knowing we are all a bunch of sinful mortals? Indeed, who would want a Jesus like that?

I would, that’s who! I don’t want Jesus to compromise truth. An enabler wouldn’t be useful to me. A “lets-all-just-get-along” Jesus is of no use as a model of true holiness (Rom. 8:29). Yes, I need a Savior who will lovingly, caringly, nurture me in nothing but righteousness.

We all need patience, not a pass, but patience. Games and spins that indulge us may appear to be godly, but they are not—we all know that! I want a compassionate Savior (Matt. 9:36-38), but He needs to look me in the eye and tell me the truth (Mk. 12:14; Jn.14:2).

 Please don’t get me wrong; I desperately need all the grace I can get (Lk. 17:10). The compelling character of Jesus is heavily dependent on grace; but grace without holiness is not attractive, it is ungodly (Rom. 11:22).

My challenge for us all is to read about Jesus every day. The exasperating, merciful, righteous, and loving Jesus we discover is just what we need to inspire us to eagerly reach for Christ-likeness. Yes, though we need all the love we can get, we desperately need an exasperating Savior!

LOVING JESUS, THE KEY TO SERVICE

If You Love Me, You Will Keep My Commandments

            In John 14:15 Jesus make a very direct, easily understood statement. The KJV and NKJV capture the thought in John 14:23. “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”

            Jesus built His church (Matt. 16:18; Heb. 12:22-23). He is the One the church is to obey (Matt. 28:20). Why then do we so commonly ignore Him in this most fundamental aspect of Christian response?

            Jesus is smart, hardly a revelation, yet a truth we can all too easily ignore. If the church is to address successfully the business of the Christ, it must love the Christ. If we love Him well, we will follow Him faithfully and zealously; if we do not love Him sufficiently, we will not. Simple, isn’t it.

            This love of Christ is to control us; it is the key to victorious service (II Cor. 5:14-15; cf. Gal. 2:20). Whatever the particular item of service might be, it is the heartfelt love of Jesus that will insure its pursuit. All the well-defined lists of doctrine and all the acknowledged biblical patterns will not, in themselves, bring us to obedience; love is the key.

            How do we come to have this love? What is the practical plan for developing this all-important key to service? We need no rocket scientist or brain surgeon; the answer is within clear sight of us all.

            We will come to love Jesus in the acceptable, substantive biblical way as we get to know Him. To know Him is to love Him. Where do we find our most direct encounter with the Christ? It is in the Gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, almost 48% of the New Testament, is the place where we see Jesus “in the flesh” (Jn. 1:14; 14:7-9).

            Yes, we must also come to know the mind of Christ as it is expressed to the church in the Epistles. The love of Christ would allow no other choice. Nevertheless, it is in the Gospels where we see Him in the form of His most personal appearance. The key is to loving Jesus is obvious. The Gospels must be read. Their picture of Jesus must be the source of our ongoing meditation and application (II Cor. 3:18). If we never tire of hearing the “old, old story,” we will never be far from the four books of “good news.”

            We have, at times, given our first look to bare doctrine, or to programs   and methods devised by men. Some have even said that Acts chapter two is the “hub of the Bible,” as thought the beginning of the church is more significant than its Builder (Heb. 3:3). We need to look first to the Christ (Col. 3:1-3). It is to Him we must go before our focus can be clear elsewhere (Matt. 11:28-30; cf. I Cor. 11:1).

            I purpose a prescription for increasing our love to Jesus. Read a Gospel a week, taken in daily doses. Read, marvel, meditate, and be captivated by Jesus. As we grow in love for Him, we will grow in our keeping of His commandments. As Philip told Nathanael, “Come and see” (Jn. 1:46).