Grocery store–Place where we buy food to sustain our physical bodies
Restaurant–Place where we pay someone else to provide food for our physical bodies
School–Place where our children receive an education to prepare them to live on earth as adults
Hospitals and Doctor’s office–Place where we go to address issues with our physical health
Workplace–Place where we go to earn money to take care of our physical needs
There are other places that have remained open or reopened whether to provide what we’d deem essential or places that are more diversionary but which various experts call essential to economic or social survival (malls, bookstores, ballfields and arenas, etc.). In fact, “essential” can be put into a lot of categories–academic, economic, social, emotional, medical, physical, and spiritual.
Pandemic restrictions have impacted and altered public behavior for almost a year. It’s more than mask mandates, hand sanitizer, social distancing, and the severe reduction of handshakes and hugs. It has been the reduction of personal interaction at the assemblies. Many congregations have devised virtual means of meeting for Bible class and worship. Just like virtual doctor visits, online instruction, and telecommuting lack the desired qualities of the in-person alternative, so it is with the virtual gathering.
The first-century church labored under restrictions, too. The threat was not a virus, but often a virulent government hostile to their faith. Christians in various places faced severe persecution and even the death penalty if this identity was known (Mat. 24:9; Rev. 2:10; 1 Pet. 4:12-16). The assemblies were an easy way for Rome to know a Christian’s identity. Despite the potential cost of discipleship, what do we find the early Christians doing and being commanded to do? As a good preacher friend, Terrence Brownlow-Dindy, recently said, Acts 20:7 not only told the saints when to take the Lord’s Supper (the first day of the week) but also how (come together). Despite governmental interference and opposition to them, Christians were still commanded to assemble (Heb. 10:25). It was essential to be present to stimulate each other to love and good deeds (10:24). It was essential to be present to encourage one another (10:25). It was essential to be present to prepare for Christ’s second coming (10:25).
What’s the difference between the risks incurred in Cracker Barrel, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, and Hobby Lobby walking aisles, touching items, and standing in line with strangers and coming together and running any risks we might incur by assembling together for worship and Bible class? The commodities and services provided at places like those at the beginning of this article serve us only in this life. The wisdom of God, who designed the church including the importance of coming together, commands assembling to address our most essential need. It is absolutely true that Christianity is not confined to the church building, a great lesson we discovered or remembered at the start of this crisis. Perhaps, though, we inferred from this that actually coming together was less essential than shopping, going to school, and going to work.
I have seen brothers and sisters in Christ at stores, restaurants, weddings, and funerals who have not come into the church building to give and receive the fellowship and encouragement God made essential both for our own spiritual health and that of our spiritual family. Scripture repeatedly tells us the earth and all its works will be burned up some day (2 Pet. 3:10). Our souls will never die. As we prioritize the essentials, what is more essential than that? The dictionary defines essential as “absolutely necessary; extremely important.” If anything qualifies, our assemblies do.
There were Viking swords 800 years ahead of their time, made of crucible steel. These blades bear a Frankish name, “Ulfbehrt.” It is unknown if this was the sword maker’s name or used in connection with crosses by the Vikings to invoke magic or like a coveted logo, such as Gucci or Apple is today. So prized were these swords that someone went to the trouble of making counterfeits. The difference? Well, the steel quality, primarily, but also the brand. Genuine Ulfbehrt swords are marked as follows: “+Ulfbehr+t.” The fake version has this mark, instead: “+Ulfbehrt+.” Modern metallurgists are puzzled by the existence of these weapons. A medieval swordsmith should not have been able to make such swords before the Industrial Revolution.
To put that notion to the test, a blacksmith in Wisconsin set out to recreate the blade using medieval technology. It took a lot of work, but he replicated the Ulfbehrt sword. Even so, he wondered where the ancient swordsmith could get the steel he used to make these superior blades. The leading hypothesis was that the steel originated in the Middle East and traveled into Europe via the Volga trade route. Viking traders could trade Nordic goods for steel. Whatever the origin, Ulfbehrt swords remain a remarkable testimony of workmanship, whether medieval or modern.
I should not be surprised that people esteem our ancestors as inferior to modern man. The prevailing thought is that ancient peoples were comparatively ignorant. Plus, they lacked our “superior technology.” Hence, as an example of ludicrously held beliefs, some say the ancient Egyptians must have needed extraterrestrials to help build the pyramids. No, the truth is the Egyptians were intelligent and figured it out on their own. If you go back to our recorded beginning, you will note men working with brass and iron just a few generations after Adam and Eve (Genesis 4.22). Some religious people, still unable to accept our brilliant ancestors, likewise make excuses that other heavenly visitors, the fallen angels, gave man such technologies as metallurgy. So, rather than Tubal-Cain, the apocryphal book of Enoch says that Azazel taught men how to make swords.
Yet, God created a being intelligent enough that at a few minutes old, not only could he ascertain his situation, that he lacked a helpmeet suitable to him, but could also provide names to all the animals (Genesis 2.18-20). Let us not forget, as the adage states, “With age comes wisdom.” Our primordial ancestors lived hundreds of years. That is hundreds of years of trial and error teachable to subsequent generations. And given that these early men and women were close to being “very good,” the status assigned to the initial creation by God (Genesis 1.31), why wouldn’t their IQ be likewise? If anything, if entropy applies to intelligence, as some suggest, perhaps WE are the ones running out of it?
So, the next time you are watching a documentary in which someone expresses surprise at the skill or intelligence demonstrated by the ancients, remember Tubal-Cain. Long before what archaeologists dubbed the “iron age,” he worked with iron. Why? Because God created us with the requisite intelligence.
When it comes to sports, there are certain ways of playing. There are rules to follow, specific plays to make, and mistakes to avoid if a team wants to succeed. This same idea applies to our Christianity. In Joshua 1:5-9, we read of certain aspects needed in order to live life God’s way. By following these things we will reap the benefits that are found inside of Christ.
Joshua says that God’s way is conditional. In Joshua 1:7, we read, “Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.” God gave Israel conditions to His being their God: be strong and courageous, do all according to the law of Moses, and do not turn from the right or to the left.
Thinking about our personal relationship with God we can still apply these same commands to our spiritual lives today. For example, the blessings we are promised are received by being strong and courageous in the work place, doing all according to the law we are under (the new covenant), and not wavering in our faith. If we want to live our lives according to God’s will we must understand that our relationship to Him is conditional. Our relationship is based on our willingness to listen to His word.
We must also understand that God’s way is a command, not a suggestion (1:7-8). He is the creator. He has the authority to create the way, He has the authority to make what He says a command. If we want the blessings of following His way, we must practice the commands He has given each one of us.
Just as the Israelites were given certain commands, we also are commanded to follow certain laws. Love the Lord our God with ALL of our heart, soul, mind and strength. We are commanded to love God with every aspect of our lives (Matt. 22:36-40). When we think about our lives, every decision should be based on the will of God. We must recognize that God’s way of living is a command.
If we want to live our lives God’s way we must recognize that the blessings we are promised are conditional, and the things we read in scripture are a command. But we should find joy in knowing that God’s way is comforting. Joshua 1:9 reads, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
There is absolutely no reason for us to tremble when the Creator is on our side. There is never a reason to be dismayed when the defeater of sin is with us. We have a loving God with us wherever we go in life. God’s way of living is best, and if we will let Him control our everyday lives we can find comfort, hope, and joy in Him.
In this volatile political climate, many Christians face some uncomfortable dilemmas. Is party line a salvation issue? How do we handle seemingly irreconcilable differences? What do we do going forward?
Rather than delving into those questions, I’d like to focus on the attitude of the early church, which faced internal division–Jew/Gentile controversies like in Acts 15, opinions over cultural matters as seen in I Corinthians 8 and Romans 14, and external pressures.
In keeping with the spirit of the early church, let’s focus on the following list.
We must focus on and grow our own spiritual culture, independent of our earthly nationality (while observing Romans 13).
We must be faithful Christians who value being righteous, no matter the cost.
We must manage our concerns and worries by spending MORE time with each other and developing our faith.
We may need to see ourselves less as Americans and more as Christians. If we remember that our kingdom is the church first, we will be far more united.
Be awesome citizens. When outsiders hear about us, it should be that we never cause trouble, we are loyal to each other, we are selfless, we help people, we have strong families, we rely on each other, we are pleasant to be around, we are dedicated to our faith, and we love people who treat us poorly.
We must remember that priority number one is heaven. Everything else is second.
We must avoid talking or posting on social media about non-salvation issues that can and do create division or offense, out of courtesy and respect for each other (Romans 14.1-4; 13ff).
If these are the things we worry about and focus on, no political division or any other heartburn-inducing unpleasantness can affect us. Besides being happier, we’ll be a stronger church!
The Bible is not a mysterious book of codes that can’t be cracked, though some might try and lead you to believe that.
We know that the water can be metaphorically muddied rather quickly when there are countless faulty interpretations of books like Revelation, Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and other prophetic or apocalyptic literature. Typology is another misunderstood, and often misapplied, method of Bible study. I’m convinced that if we can spend some time studying the different “types” found in scripture, we can see God’s message for mankind more clearly and have a more profound grasp of His Word. This also happens to be a great way to grow our knowledge of scripture more quickly!
So first, let’s try to clarify exactly what Typology is.
Summed up in one sentence it’s referring to Old Testament things which are prefigured or symbolized by events and characters of the New Testament.
This may sound a little confusing, but let’s look at a few examples.
John 3:14 says that just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of man must be lifted up (Num. 21:9). The Christ “type” is the bronze serpent. We know because of a specific New Testament reference.
1 Peter 3:20: “…God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built, only a few people, 8 in all were saved through water,” This illustrates how in the same way baptismal water saves those who submit to Christ today.
Typology is not some mystic Bible code where we are free to translate events and characters in scripture as we please because God tells us exactly what He intended to say.
1 Cor. 14:33 says that God is NOT the “author of confusion.” He has a message for us all— and it’s a message of hope.
Are you interested in learning more about typology? The perfect book for you to study would be the book of Hebrews as it makes more Old Testament references than any other New Testament book. By diving into Hebrews you will appreciate and understand both the Old Testament, and the Bible as a whole.
In the wake of James Polk’s vision for “manifest destiny,” the United States purchased and/or fought for the territory that gave us the current boundaries of our nation. To maintain and protect this newfound territory, one of the military strategies included the building of forts throughout the west to protect settlers from especially the Native American tribes who were reacting to the invasion of their ancestral home. Kit Carson, former fur trapper, explorer, and extraordinary tracker, was a civilian ultimately urged into serving out west in a military stretched thin back east by the Civil War. He was appointed by General James Carleton to round up 9000 Navajo and 500 Mescalero Apache and place them in a reservation Carleton dreamed up. From the time he visited there, he was enamored with the terrain, trees, and beauty of the place. So the nearly 10,000 Native Americans were detained and displaced and forced to settle at Bosque Redondo.
While it was a disaster on paper, it was even worse in real life. Neither the Navajo nor Apache were agrarian people, but both were forced to farm. They were enemies of one another, but they were forced to live together at Bosque Redondo. The crops were destroyed by cut worms and hail storms, and the army rations inadequate. The water was alkaline, making them sick. Smallpox decimated their numbers. Winters were bitterly cold and the inhabitants were ill-prepared and ill-equipped. They were forced laborers, slaves ironically settled at this reservation by the U.S. Government and President Lincoln the very year of the Emancipation Proclamation. It was as much a failure for the government. It was an exorbitantly expensive venture, costly to start and even more to maintain. Beyond the inhumanity and immorality of the venture, it was inept and inane. Carlton envisioned paradise, but delivered purgatory (information a summary of content in Hampton Side’s book, Blood And Thunder).
Bosque Redondo is but one example of the disaster which follow’s man’s attempt to create what he vainly sees as either utopian or idyllic. Contrast that with some of God’s plans. First, He put man and woman in a perfect paradise wherein He supplied their every need (Gen. 2:8-14). Later, after they sinned and were expelled from there, God promised a land which flowed with milk and honey. It was a good and spacious land (Exo. 3:8). While sin tainted their existence there and ultimately cost them ownership, the provision was not the problem.
Along the way, God promised the creation of a domain unlike any other. It would be for all nations (Gen. 22:18; Isa. 2:2). It would never be destroyed, nor left to other peoples (Dan. 2:44). It was the result of the eternal planning and purpose of God (Eph. 3:9-11). God left a perfect blueprint for its creation and for the citizens’ conduct (Isa. 2:3; Mic. 4:2). We know it as the church (Eph. 1:22-23; 4:4). It is described in that epistle: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit” (2:19-22).
In this divine institution, God has brought together people diverse and unlike each other and united them through His Son. He has taken spiritual slaves and gave them freedom. He has taken those poor and emaciated by sin and made them rich (Eph. 2:7; Phil. 4:19). He has given them boundless blessings by His Son (Eph. 1:3). His church is right in design, discharge, and destiny. Far from a blunder, His body is a bountiful blessing! Only God could take a people besieged by sin and dysfunction and give us something infinitely better. Just imagine what our eternal home is going to be (Rev. 21-22)!
Judges 12 details a civil war between Ephraim and the Gileadites of Manasseh. God used Jephthah and the Gileadites to humble Ephraim. The haughty Ephraimites felt they could bully Jephthah and the Gileadites as they had previously bullied Gideon (Judges 8). Jephthah and his men ended up slaying 42,000 Ephraimites. One of the keys to the Gileadites’ lopsided victory was seizing the fords over the Jordan River. And when fleeing Ephraimites tried to cross, they were asked for a “password.” The password was “shibboleth.” Various commentators have offered different definitions for the word, but its meaning is not necessary to understand the text. Here is what we need to know: The Ephraimites could not pronounce the word “shibboleth,” as the Gileadites. Thus, they replied, “sibboleth.” Having been betrayed by their dialect, the Gileadites then slew the Ephraimites.
Wordsmiths know that, beyond its Biblical source, shibboleth has come to mean any word or practice separating one group from another. Christians should have shibboleths, correct? They are called upon to transform themselves from the world rather than conform to it (Romans 12.1-2). However, while perusing several online dictionaries, I noted that they also tended to look upon a shibboleth unfavorably, calling it an “old-fashioned” or “outdated” idea still clung to by some. In the example sentences provided by those aforementioned dictionaries, shibboleths seem connected with “conservative-thinking” people. So, evidently, “progressives” must not be hampered by them. Frankly, it is hard to keep up with the self-righteousness of progressives. Their mores change so swiftly that sometimes they snare even themselves when a past tweet or video surfaces. It reminds me of the foolish man building his house upon the sand (Matthew 7.26-27).
God is aware of the mindset that mocks established standards. Jeremiah records God’s words: “Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; and you will find rest for your souls.” (6.16) Not unlike those living today, Jeremiah’s contemporaries replied, “We will not walk in it.” (ibid.) To borrow modern parlance, those in ancient Judah found the old paths “shibboleth.” But who gives such persons the right to esteem something as antiquated? Honestly, it seems like it is the “right” of the squeakiest wheel, those with the largest echo chamber. Those of us with our shibboleths abandoned the arena of popular culture, education, and media. Hence, we can only blame ourselves for allowing the castigation of truth as incompatible with temporary society.
But lest we forget, the victors from the source material had their shibboleth while the defeated had their sibboleth. As someone has said in summation of the book of Revelation, the message is that in the end, God wins. That is applicable here as well. God brings victory to those with the shibboleth, not sibboleth. No, it is not a superior concept because it is older. We can find new ways to do something that is “old.” (e.g., We may use new mediums to teach the “old Jerusalem Gospel.”) The shibboleth is what was given by God in His inspired word. Sibboleths reflect the precepts of men (cf. Matthew 15.8-9). We must not drop even one consonant sound (cf. Deuteronomy 4.2; 12.32; Proverbs 30.6; Revelation 22.18).
When I eventually cross the Jordan River ford, I want to find life, not death. Don’t you agree? To safely cross, an obedient life is our “password.”
Our family used to hike a lot when we lived in Colorado. There were many hikes that I went on that were straight up miserable. Ive always been the chunky kid, but the worst part about this was that Iwas surrounded by a healthy and very active family.. This meant that on every hike I was the one in the back feeling like I was about to pass away. Hiking was never really something I was the best at. There are several times I remember thinking, “I’m not going to make it.”
We used to hike a trail called “Moffit Tunnel” It was an 11 mile hike that ended with a summit path that gained 3000 feet of elevation in under half a mile. As you can imagine the path was practically vertical, and filled with rocks, mud, snow, and sadness.
When I think of “a hard path” this is what comes to my mind. In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus describes the way to salvation as a path that isn’t for the faint hearted; it’s for the dedicated Christian that is determined to reach eternal life. There’s no denying that the Christian life can be tough. It is filled with persecution, especially for those who aren’t as fortunate to have the freedoms we enjoy in America. The Christian life is tough because we will face persecution, but we are more likely to face rejection in our society today for standing up for some very unpopular teachings. If we are devoted to teaching and standing with God’s Word this means we must defend God’s view on homosexuality, marriage, divorce, and remarriage, baptism, sin, hell, and many more divisive topics. If we are devoted to walking the difficult path we must remain faithful in the rejection, hatred and persecution we will face.
But the rejection and hate from the world isn’t the only thing hard about this path.
As Christians we are commanded to put ourselves to death. Matt. 10:37-39 say, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Walking the difficult path means we have put ourselves to death. In doing so we are saying we love Christ more than our parents, our children and ourselves. In order to walk the difficult path we must be willing to take up our cross and follow Jesus. The cross is an instrument of death. The cross we pick up is the instrument of death that we have used to crucify ourselves on. Once we have taken up our cross we have made the decision to love Christ over anyone and everyone. We no longer serve ourselves because we have died to Christ.
When we choose to walk the difficult path we are no longer living without purpose. We have a goal, a meaning for our lives. God uses us to spread His saving word to others. We have purpose in everything we do. We are here to encourage each other, to save souls, and to glorify God. One of humanity’s most asked question, “Why am I here?,”is answered by God. How we serve God will ultimately change someone else’s eternal destiny. We are given the true words of life that are able to save our most valuable possession, our souls. We also experience the blessing of having confidence in death. Death is scary. Why are so many scared of death? It’s the unknown, the end of our existence as we have known it. As Christians, when we choose to walk the difficult path, we are given the promise that when we face death we can be confident in knowing our soul is in the hands of almighty God. We know what is coming, and we can find hope in this.
We tend to protect our valuable stuff. When my wife leaves her purse in the car, she locks the car. Most people keep their money in a bank. Those with influence or fame are often guarded closely while in public. If it has value or potential risk, it is locked up or otherwise guarded. We understand this concept.
The New Testament talks about guarded stuff quite a bit. What follows is an abridged list of ways τηρεω (tereo) is translated, in a very informal word study format. Specific definitions come from BDAG (a fantastic lexicon).
Prisoner/Person in Custody – It is used of Jesus (Matt. 27.36ff), Paul and Silas (Acts 16.23), Angels Who Sinned (II Peter 2.4), and Peter (Acts 12.5).
To Preserve or Hold Someone or Something – It is used of the “good wine that was kept until after the bad wine was consumed” (John 2). It is used to describe our inheritance, which is being held and is waiting for those who die in Christ (I Peter 2.4). It is used to describe the universe and the earth, which is being preserved because its destruction will be caused by God at the end of time (II Peter 3.7; Cf. Romans 8.22-24). For the Christian, this seems to resolve the climate change issue since God is keeping the earth intact until the last day.
To Not Give Up Something – Paul uses it urging Christians to persist in being united (Eph. 4.3). He also used it to tell Timothy that he had held onto his faith, even up to his imminent death (II Timothy 4.7). John uses it to describe our spiritual protection from being lost if we’re trying to live faithfully (I John 5.8).
For the sake of brevity, we’ll stop there. How cool is that our eternal home is being held by God, or that our record is kept clean by Jesus if we’re trying to be faithful? The two most important assets a Christian has is their eternal home and spiritual state. The first can never be taken away, and the second can only be lost if we give it up willingly and intentionally. God is good.