Aristarchus

The mob was out of control. It flooded the hillside theater and spilled over onto the center stage. Gaius and Aristarchus were the focus of their wrath. Their clothes were torn. They were bruised and bleeding from having been dragged through the streets of Ephesus. Even if they had been great orators, it would have been futile to try and address the rioters.

Helpless, the Apostle Paul was nearby. He feared for the lives of his friends who had been captured by the mob as they searched for him. He felt responsible but he was powerless. One part of him desired to enter the theater and face down the crowd but his disciples and even the “Asiarchs” (the leading citizens of Ephesus) begged him not to go. There was nothing he could do but pray.

Meanwhile the pair endured the angry chants of the crowd. “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” they taunted. Gaius and Aristarchus recognized the irony as well as the futility of the mob’s refrain. Artemis was anything but great. She was simply a grotesque, multi-breasted idol carved from a single meteorite. Only the Ephesians’ credulous superstition had made her “great.” If the truth was really known, the only greatness was the profit the city merchants were making from the sale of religious souvenirs. They were the ones who had started this riot as a desperate measure to stem the tide of Christian converts.

Two hours passed. For two hours the crowd shouted in unison. For two hours the disciples watched. For two hours they listened to 20,000 people chant. For two hours the Christians prayed. Finally the mob had grown hoarse enough that the voice of reason prevailed. The city clerk dismissed the crowd and order was restored. Gaius and Aristarchus were freed.

Many years later, Aristarchus smiled as he recounted the most chilling episode of his life. That event had instilled a quiet confidence in the young Macedonian. Never again would he know fear in the same way as he had on that day. Even during the two weeks of storm at sea or the shipwreck that followed, he did not fear. He simply trusted in the God who had rescued him. Aristarchus had learned that God stands by people that stand by him.

IA2R — The Best Formula!

It’s a well-known secret that every year I try to learn something new. It started when I became a Christian at age fourteen and the kids at my school teased me about how “boring” Christians are. Even then, I instinctively knew the Christian life was supposed to be an “abundant life,” (John 10:10). I’ve learned soaring, sailing and scuba; skiing, spelunking and sewing; and that’s just those that start with the letter “s.” Some years are great and I continue to play and practice my newfound hobbies. (Jan calls them “obsessions.”) Other years are disastrous and I am happy to sell my golf clubs and fishing poles after 365 days.

This year Jan and I are learning about Ham Radio so I am deep in memorizing electronic formulas: P = IE, E=IR, P=E2/R and other fancy collages of letters. It is much easier to remember P=IE (and not just because I like “PIE”) than it is to remember, “Power in watts is equal to E (voltage) times I (current in amps).” I like “memory hooks.” They really help me remember a lot of information concisely.

After studying before bed, I went to sleep thinking about these things and woke up in the middle of the night with a new formula: IA2R. It may be the most important formula ever – even greater than E=MC2! It describes the four points of the Christian message: the Gospel. They are: Incarnation (I), Atonement (A), Reign (R), and Return (R).

I – Incarnation

God became a human being, just like us, to show us He understood our situation, to teach us how to be His children and to show us how to live.

A – Atonement

Jesus didn’t come to earth to bring “enlightenment” or “knowledge” or end world suffering. Jesus came to earth to die. His sacrifice took away our sins. Think about the cross as a bridge between heaven and earth for us.

R – Reign

Jesus the King, reigns in heaven today but that doesn’t mean he is far away. Jesus is near each one of us, cheering us on and providing us with power to live lives that please God. He sent his Holy Spirit to live in each of us and transform our bodies into the Temple of God.

R – Return

One day Jesus is coming back to take all of God’s children home. That is an event that we long for and it provides us with a sense of urgency to share the Good News with everyone.

 

Not a bad formula that IA2R!

Yes!

“18 As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. 19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. 20 For all the promises of God find their Yes in him.” (2 Corinthians 1:18-20)

So why do people think Christians are so negative? Perhaps it’s because we are always telling people what they can’t do. The “Thou-shalt-nots” loom large in our life. Christians come by it naturally though. Our Jewish forefathers studied the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) carefully gleaning out the commandments. When they were done, they counted 613 commandments – 365 negative commands and 248 positive ones. The rabbis explained there is one negative commandment for every day of the lunar year and one positive commandment for every bone in the human body. Of course that still works out to about three “Thou-shalt-nots” for every two “Thou-shalts.”

I once heard a preacher justify his fiery, negative preaching by quoting Paul’s words to Timothy: “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort,” (2 Timothy 4:2). Then he explained, “That means in two out of three sermons you ought to be angry about something.”

Yikes! But just because there are negative commandments in the Bible, does that mean we should be negative people? I don’t think so! The “thou-shalt-nots” are there to free us to live. After all, Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly,” (John 10:10). The negatives are there to keep us from making dead end choices. Look at Paul’s list again. When has a “fit of anger” ever made you happy? Are “jealous” people content? Do drunks get the most out of life or do these sins represent paths to unhappiness? No wonder a loving God warns us not to make such foolish choices!

“But there is so much evil in the world!” someone might warn and they would be right. Judith Smith pointed out in Ladies’ Bible Class, “The way to overcome evil is to turn it around. ‘Evil’ spelled backwards is ‘Live.’”

Let’s take a closer look at the word “evil.” Two words for “evil” used in the New Testament are phalos and kakos. The first, phalos can also be translated “base, ordinary.” That sheds an interesting light on Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians:

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil [phalos],” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

What if we translated Paul’s words as “so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in this life, whether good or ordinary”? If you really want to experience life don’t settle for evil, that’s just ordinary. Be extraordinary!

The second word is kakos. The second century Christian, Ignatius, wrote: “These people, while pretending to be trustworthy, mix Jesus Christ with poison [kakos]—like those who administer a deadly drug with honeyed wine, which the unsuspecting victim accepts without fear, and so with fatal pleasure drinks down death,” (Letter to the Traillians, 6:2). Evil is a deadly poison. I want no part of that!

So God is warning us not drink the poison the world is offering; instead live an extraordinary life! This thing we call “sin” has consequences, now and later, so choose life!

Where Are You Going?

One of my favorite authors, Tony Campolo, tells this story:

The great Albert Einstein was on a train leaving Princeton Junction in New Jersey, heading north. When the conductor came to his seat, Einstein was unable to find his ticket. He searched through all of his pockets and looked in his briefcase, becoming extremely disturbed. The conductor tried to comfort him, saying, “Dr. Einstein, don’t worry about the ticket. I know who you are and you don’t have to present your ticket to me. I trust that you purchased a ticket.”

About twenty minutes later, the conductor came down the aisle of the train once again and saw Einstein, still searching wildly for the misplaced ticket. The conductor again said to him, “Dr. Einstein, please don’t worry about the ticket. I know who you are!”

Einstein stood and said in a gruff voice, “Young man, I know who I am, but I am trying to find my ticket because I want to know where I am going!”1

1Tony Campolo, Stories That Feed Your Soul, Regal Books, 2010.

I can identify with the poor professor! Sometimes I find myself passing Tracey’s desk in the church office and I can’t remember if I walking back to my desk or out to the library. Have you ever found yourself wondering if you are going up the stairs or coming back down?

So where are you going? I’m not talking about stairs or trains. I’m talking about something far more important. I’m talking about the ultimate destination. Some people may think that’s a silly question. “There is no ultimate destination. This is it. You’ve got to live in the now,” but I think that can be a little like the man who fell off a twenty-story building and was heard to say as he passed the tenth floor, “So far so good!”

Other people live in the past. A friend of mine is a famous Hollywood make-up artist. While she worked on films, later she discovered she could make a better living keeping famous celebrities looking like they never aged!

So Christian, I’d like you to pat your pockets, check in your wallet, look in your briefcase – do whatever you need to do to find that ticket that reminds you of your final destination.

“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life,” 1 John 5:13

Writing God Out of the Script

 

In the February 28, 2005 edition, The National Review reported on a polling organization that asked a thousand citizens to update the list of “Seven Deadly Sins” (pride, envy, wrath, sloth, lust, avarice, and gluttony). Apparently the list seemed out of date so it was replaced with the sins of cruelty, adultery, bigotry, dishonesty, hypocrisy, greed, and selfishness. Personally, I’m glad gluttony is off the list but it makes you think: “What is the difference between the two lists?” and what does it say about modern times?

The old list was the product of a monk by the name of Evagrius Ponticus as revised (and simplified) by a later pope. The Bible is overflowing with catalogs of sin (see Galatians 5:19-21 for one example) and he was trying to narrow it down to root sins – sins that lead into other sins, but that leads us into defining what sin is.

While sin harms us and other people, the biblical focus is on how it damages our relationship with God. So David confesses “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:4) after he committed adultery with Bathsheba and had his friend Uriah murdered. David understood that the root cause of his sins was disobeying God. The beginning of his tragic actions was lust (He saw Bathsheba and allowed himself to fantasize) and pride (“I’m the king.”).

In contrast the modern seven sins are “equated with causing pain or mental distress to people” with its logical corollary “Is it wrong if no one gets hurt?” which begs the question “Are there victimless crimes?” Obviously, God doesn’t count.

It’s not that the modern list isn’t horrible – it is – it’s just not all that helpful. For example, adultery is a terrible sin but its roots are found in pride, lust, envy and perhaps gluttony (properly defined). Likewise, hypocrisy stinks but it is the result of earlier sins like pride and anger.

By chopping at the roots of sin rather than the leaves of sin, we have a far better chance of making actual progress in the tricky business called “Life.”

No Two Ways About It

 A Bible Word Study

“Either you are or you aren’t.” Have you ever known someone who makes a decision and then changes his mind — often over and over again? Perhaps they’ve changed it so many times no one knows what they really stand for anymore. Can you imagine the inner turmoil that poor soul must be experiencing!

James, the brother of Jesus, was quite a wordsmith. He had that wonderful ability to coin new words that exactly and picturesquely capture ideas. For example, when James wants to describe a very wealthy man who visits a church service, he says the man is wearing so many rings he literally has “golden fingers” (2:2).

We’ve all heard the derogatory term “two-faced” to describe a person who says one thing and then does something else. We might say he speaks “out of both sides of his mouth” but if he sincerely means both things the problem is much deeper than that. He doesn’t know what he believes! James coined a new word for the Greek language to describe just such a person. He has “two-souls” (dipsuchos).

The word only appears twice in the New Testament and both of them are in James’ epistle (1:8; 4:8). Most of our English Bibles translate James’ new word as “double-minded” but the New Living Translation gets at the heart of the meaning by explaining this kind of person “is divided between God and the world” (James 1:8). “That man” — the person who doubts the love of God — “should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does,” (1:7 – 8). In chapter four James gives the cure for double-mindedness, “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded,” (4:8). Come to a decision and stand by it!

Other early Christian writers began using James’ new word. The Shepherd of Hermas, writing in the Second Century observed, “But those who are perfect in faith make all their requests trusting in the Lord, and they receive them, because they ask unhesitatingly, without any double-mindedness. For every double-minded man, unless he repents, will scarcely be saved,” (Man. IX, 6).

Clement of Rome, writing about the same time that John wrote Revelation, says Lot’s wife was a good example of a double-minded person. She wanted to be saved but she also wanted to be with her friends in Sodom “and as a result she became a pillar of salt to this day, that it might be known to all that those who are double-minded … fall under judgment,” (1 Clement 11.2).

So what’s it going to be for you — the clear sight of single-mindedness or the appalling confusion of double-minded indecision?

First Things First

 

Howard Rutledge, a United States Air Force pilot, was shot down over North Vietnam during the early stages of the war. In his book In the Presence of Mine Enemies Rutledge describes what he learned about life:

“During those longer periods of enforced reflection it became so much easier to separate the important from the trivial, the worthwhile from the waste. For example, in the past, I usually worked or played hard on Sundays and had no time for church. For years Phyllis [his wife] had encouraged me to join the family at church. She never nagged or scolded – she just kept hoping. But I was too busy, too preoccupied, to spend one or two short hours a week thinking about the really important things.

“Now the sights and sounds and smells of death were all around me. My hunger for spiritual food soon outdid my hunger for a steak. Now I wanted to know about that part of me that will never die. Now I wanted to talk about God and Christ and the church. But in Heartbreak [the name POWS gave their prison camp] solitary confinement, there was no pastor, no Sunday-School teacher, no Bible, no hymnbook, no community of believers to guide and sustain me. I had completely neglected the spiritual dimension of my life. It took prison to show me how empty life is without God.”

Life is about the choices we make and putting God first should be our highest priority. With that foundation, life becomes LIFE – now and forever.

Back to School

 

After loading the shopping cart with all the supplies on the list – pencils, erasers, paper, notebooks, ruler, compass, rubber cement – and trying on new clothes for fall, there came the time to make the most difficult decision of all. The choice was irrevocable and you only had one shot at it. Which lunchbox would you take with you every day of the school year: cowboy, super-hero, novelty or something else? Your choice would brand you with the other kids. Were you cool or just another playground hack?

Some kids tried to avoid the decision by bringing their lunches in plain brown paper sacks. That allowed them to delay choice of a permanent pail until they could see what everyone else was carrying. It was an interesting gambit but labeled you as rather slow unless you could decorate the bag with cool sketches as you rode the bus like a wolf man or the re-creation of the entire D-day invasion.

Others opted for a practical approach and carried plain black lunchboxes – often hand-me-downs from their dads. They did contain cool thermoses with silver cups tucked inside the lids. It was all the better if the kid could grow a mustache and filled the thermos with coffee but that only happened when I was living in Louisiana. If I remember correctly, he also had a pack of Luckies rolled up in his t-shirt sleeve.

Then there was the unfortunate kid who had a Gumby and Pokey lunchbox. He tried decorating it with Snap-On Tool stickers but he wasn’t fooling anyone. School can be cruel.

Of course the most important thing was what came out of the lunch box. A sandwich and fruit was typical. Cookies never made it to lunch. They were generally devoured as soon as mom was out of sight. Pizza was good but fried chicken was better. If you had fried chicken, you always made a show of pulling it out, holding it over your head and announcing, “Hey! I’ve got fried chicken.” There followed a spate of open bidding that became a model for Wall Street traders in later life. “I’ll trade you my fruit-rollups for that drumstick!”

Some kids bought their lunch but that tended to only complicate matters. First there was the question of getting through the line without losing your lunch money. Then there was the issue of getting your tray to the table while negotiating the various chairs, legs, book bags and bullies trying to trip you up. Finally there was the issue of actually consuming USDA issued mac and cheese. No, bringing your lunch was the best option but that still left you with the difficult decision of choosing a lunch pail. What would it be?

I chose a black “James Bond” lunchbox because I was convinced it must have some secret gizmos that would pop out and protect me from that kid who looked like “Odd Job.” I never did find the right button to make that happen but it was the envy of the lunchroom and I was safe for another year.

Much later, reflecting on my old, dented lunch pail, I realized an important lesson. If we make our choices based on what we think other people think, we can never really be happy. True happiness comes from who we are, not from what we have. The only opinion that really matters belongs to God and He doesn’t care which lunch pail you have. He only cares that you share what’s in it!

Buying a Bible

With a broad smile he walked into the Bible bookstore and announced, “I’d like to buy a Bible!”

The clerk looked at him and smugly asked, “ESV, NIV, NASB, RSV, NRS, TLV, KJV, American, Contemporary, Philip’s, Living, Williams, NEB…?”

Bewildered he asked, “Excuse me?”

“What version? What translation?” she replied slowly as if he was hard of hearing.

“Well what do you recommend?”

“It depends. Do you want a translation based on a critical text or the majority text? Do you want a literal translation or one that translates the sense? How about a committee version or one that has been translated by a single person?” she continued with her nose in the air as she dusted some fish license plate frames.

He stared for a moment and then picked up a black leather Bible. “This is nice.”

“Yeagh. Do you want it in imitation leather, calfskin, paper or cowhide? Pocket sized, display, study, large print, or giant print? Notes or not? Single column, double column, study margins, words of Jesus in red, maps, dictionary, self-pronouncing…” She straightened a set of Apostolic Bobble-head dolls.

“I give up. Just give me something for a 24” by 48” coffee table!”

The choices can be bewildering! So what would I recommend? First, ask yourself what you are going to do with your new Bible. If you are looking for something to read through quickly to get the overall sense of a passage, I like a simple translation like one by J.B. Phillips or Williams. For in-depth study the new English Standard Version or the New American Standard version are good choices. Because they are translated by committees, they tend not to be biased towards any particular denomination or viewpoint. If I only had one choice, I would probably use the New International Version (which is the Bible we use in our public assemblies at Canyon View).

Once you have decided on a version, you have many choices of format from electronic versions (including apps for your cell phones!) to traditional leather and paper editions. Just be sure to choose one that is easy on the eyes (I recently had to move up to a “giant” print version) and one you won’t be afraid to mark up. Yes, I believe you should mark all over your Bible. It is a tool to be used. Circle words, highlight passages, and take notes in the margin. Wear it out!

The only Bible that will help you grow in Christ is the one you will read!

 

Walk, Run, Fly

 

A powerful motivational preacher was addressing a congregation. This was a church notoriously frugal. It was packed with penny pinchers and tight wads. They weren’t going anywhere and he was doing his best to get them motivated. He looked around the crowd and exclaimed, “The church is like the lame man Jesus healed. It’s got to get up and walk!”

The congregation agreed shouting, “That’s right! Let it walk!”

The preacher pulled out his handkerchief, mopped his brow and shouted, “This church, like Elijah on Mt. Carmel has got to run!”

The people were with him and shouted in unison, “That’s right! Let it run preacher!”

Spurred by their enthusiasm he lifted both hands high over head and cried, “This church has got to mount up on eagle’s wings and FLY!”

Amens were mixed with chants of “Let it fly! Let it fly!” But when the preacher exclaimed, “If it flies, it takes money!” the congregation settled down and mumbled, “Let it walk!”