Thursday, March 23, 2017

How to Keep a Clean Conscience, a devotional based on Psalm 139 from imagesgoogle.

Guest blog by hospice chaplain Paul Bricker
 “O Lord, You have searched me and known me.

You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

You understand my thought from afar.

You scrutinize my path and my lying down,

And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.

Even before there is a word on my tongue,

Behold, O Lord, You know it all.

You have enclosed me behind and before,

And laid Your hand upon me.” (139:1-5 NAS).

There are many passages in the Bible that deal with the subject:  “How to Keep a Clean Conscience”.  One of those passages deals with keeping a clean conscience in the midst of conflict.  Many believers when they enter into conflict tend to assume:  “I am in conflict….  That means I must have sinned….”   I have met abused women who have this sort of mindset.  Psalm 139 shows that just because one is in conflict does not necessarily mean that one has sinned.

Psalm 139 is one of the favorite psalms for the church throughout the millenniums.  It may be divided into six sections:   1. The Psalmist David marvels at God’s omniscience regarding himself (vv.1-6).  2. He marvels at God’s omnipresence with himself (vv. 7-12).  3.  The Psalmist marvels at how God created him (vv. 13-16).  4. The Psalmist marvels at the summary of God’s thorough knowledge of himself (vv. 17-18).  5.  On the basis of parts 1-4, the Psalmist prays and reveals the occasion of this Psalm (vv. 19-22). 6. On the basis of parts 1-5, David prays (vv. 23-24).

1.      The Psalmist marvels at God’s Omniscience regarding the Psalmist (vv. 1-6).

Here the Psalmist marvels in the tenderest manner at how God knows the Psalmist.  God knows when the Psalmist sits and rises.  God knows the Psalmist’s thoughts.  God knows the Psalmist’s path and lying down.  For me, as a person who has had speech problems throughout my life, the following insight especially touches me: God knows the word on the Psalmist’s tongue even before the Psalmist speaks.  Sometimes, I do not know the word that will come off my mouth.  I take comfort that God does know the next word that will come from my mouth.  The psalmist concludes this section:  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is too high, I cannot attain it” (v. 6).

2.The Psalmist marvels at God’s Omnipresence with the Psalmist (vv. 7-12).

Where can I go from Your Spirit?

Or where can I flee from Your presence?

If I ascend to heaven, You are there;

If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.

If I take the wings of the dawn,

If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,

Even there Your hand will lead me,

And Your right hand will lay hold of me.

If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,

And the light around me will be night” (vv. 7-11).

Here the Psalmist marvels in the most tender manner at how God is present to the Psalmist.  Where can we flee from the Holy Spirit?  Where can we flee from God’s presence?  When I was a child, I was afraid of the dark.  I took great comfort in v. 12:  Even the darkness is not dark to You, and the night is as bright as the day.  Darkness and light are alike to You.  Such a verse of God’s presence would calm my fears at night as a child.

3.The Psalmist marvels at how God created the Psalmist (vv. 13-16).

For You formed my inward parts;

You wove me in my mother’s womb (v. 13)….

My frame was not hidden from You,

When I was made in secret,

And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;

Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;

And in Your book were all written

The days that were ordained for me,

When as yet there was not one of them (vv. 15-16).

Here the Psalmist marvels in the tenderest manner at how God created the Psalmist.  God wondrously formed the Psalmist’s inward parts.  God wondrously weaved the Psalmist in the womb.  One can understand why the Psalmist would exclaim:  “I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well” (v. 14).

4.The Psalmist marvels at the summary of God’s thorough knowledge of the Psalmist (vv.17-18).

Listen to how the Psalmist marvels about God’s knowledge of the Psalmist:  “How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!  How vast is the sum of them!  If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand.  When I awake, I am still with You.

5. On the basis of parts 1-4, the Psalmist prays and reveals the occasion of this Psalm (vv. 19-22).

In a way one would think that this Psalm would have been completed at verse 18.  But it is not finished.  The Psalmist has expressed earlier in this Psalm some of the most tender thoughts found within the Bible.  In contrast, now, the Psalmist prays one of the most non-tender prayers in the Bible.  The Psalmist prays a violent prayer:  O that You would slay the wicked, O God; Depart from me, therefore, men of bloodshed.  For they speak against You wickedly, And Your enemies take Your name in vain.  Do I not hate those who hate You, O Lord?  And do I not loathe those who rise up against You? I hate them with the utmost hatred; They have become my enemies” (vv. 19-22).

Here we find the occasion of this Psalm.  The Psalmist David is in trouble.  He is in conflict.  He is being hunted down.  He prays specifically:  Depart from me, therefore, men of bloodshed” (v. 19).  The Psalmist is being hunted down by murderous people.

In light of this lethal hunt, David does some spiritual inventory.  He wants to know if the trouble he is in is because of something wrong in himself.  Is there a sin that David has done that has caused this murderous hunt of the Psalmist to proceed?  That is why the Psalmist David has called upon our Omniscient God, Our Omnipresent God, and Our Creator God to search the Psalmist out (parts 1-4).

After calling upon our Omniscient God, Our Omnipresent God, and Our Creator God to search the Psalmist out, David has come to a singular conclusion.  The problem is not in the Psalmist.  The Psalmist is not being hunted down because of the Psalmist’s sin.  The problem is 100% with the murderous thugs chasing him.  The Psalmist takes singular aim at the problem.  He prays a violent prayer against his enemies.

How should we understand such a passage?  Should we pray violent prayers against our human enemies?   We should bless our human enemies (Matt. 5:44).  However, we as Christians should know who our enemy is.  The Apostle Paul writes who our enemy is:  “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood [humans], but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).

The war between the devil and Christians is true and real.  We can pray violent prayers against the devil.  We can pray:  “Depart from me, demons of bloodshed.”  We can pray:  “O that thou would slay the wicked demons, O God.”  We can pray:  “Do I not hate those demons who hate Thee, O Lord?  And do I not loathe those demons who rise up against Thee?  I hate those demons with the utmost hatred; these demons have become my enemies.”

In the past I have been asked:  “How can you tell the difference between the devil’s accusation and the Holy Spirit’s conviction”?  The answer is easy.  If one follows what the Psalmist does in this passage by calling on our Omniscient God, our Omnipresent God, and our Creator God and asks God to point out one’s sin, God will point it out.  If God points it out, then ask God to forgive you.  We have a great promise:  How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”  (Heb. 9:14).

If one has a vague sense of dread….  If one has a sense of “Oh me, oh my, how sad am I,” then one knows that it is the devil’s accusation.  Here one can pray violent prayers against the devil.

6.On the basis of parts 1-5 the Psalmist concludes in prayer.

Here the Psalmist David prays a prayer to God.  The Psalmist prays a prayer of spiritual inventory and hope.  He does this with a clear conscience:  Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious [the psalmist is anxious] thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way” (vv. 23-24).   There is no reason whatsoever to have a polluted conscience.


Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Does God Have Feelings?

(Psalm 104:1-6 c. 2011 Micah Eglinton-Woods)

All through the Bible we see God depicted as full of feelings. For example, God groans as a sufferer in Genesis 6:6 over human evil.[1] Conversely, in Proverbs 12:22, we see God delights in honest people.[2] It's the same all through the Bible: God is presented as full of emotions, although these don't change God's consistent character. So is God infinite? Of course! eternal? Yes! Immutable? Exactly! We see that God's character doesn't change throughout the Bible.[3] But are all these biblical instances simply anthropomorphisms[4], making God look more personal than God really is?

That's certainly what the great non-Christian philosopher and interpreter of Plato, Plotinus, seemed to think. Plotinus, who was born in A.D. 205, pictured God as a divine creating principle who "does not think, because there is no otherness; and it does not move; for it is before movement and before thought. For what will he be able to think? Himself?"[5] Plotinus' god does not delight in honest people as the Bible's God does in Proverbs 12:22. In fact, this god "does not desire us, so as to be around us, but we desire it, so that we are around it,"[6] god not being intensely involved in human history, as we see in the Bible, but, instead, being the still point around which the universe moves, where "when we do look to him, then we are at our goal and at rest and do not sing out of tune as we truly dance our god-inspired dance around him."[7] Sounds more like the unmoved mover of the old movie 2001, doesn't it?

It's an interesting question and it's been a controversial one throughout Christian history. The first great theologian after the time of the New Testament, Irenaeus, who died about three years before Plotinus was born (c. A.D. 202), and who, in A.D. 177-78, became the overseer of the early Christian gathering in the ancient city of Lyons, in what is France today, wrote to his people, "It was not an impassible Christ who descended on Jesus, but, since He was Jesus Christ, He Himself suffered for us; He who lay in the tomb also rose again; He who descended also ascended, the Son of God having been made man, as the very name indicates."[8] If we look up "impassible" in Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, we read: "incapable of suffering pain...harm. Incapable of emotion, impassive,"[9] making us wonder: Does God have feelings?[10]

What was this early teacher, Irenaeus, who had personally known disciples of the Apostle John himself, so concerned about? He wanted to make sure his people didn't become confused and think that God's Spirit had come down from heaven at Jesus' baptism, suddenly taken over a human named Jesus (zap!), hung around empowering him to do all his wonderful miracles and say all his marvelous insights, and then, during the crucifixion when things got tough, left the poor sap to die on the cross as God cleared out, which some were telling Irenaeus’ people that Jesus' dying words "My God, why have you forsaken me?" meant. The Spirit of God, they contended, had left the man Jesus to get mugged on the cross for human sins, rather than the Father God, in whose presence sin cannot exist, having to turn away from God the Son when Jesus took on all the sins of humanity, becoming sin for all of us in his substitutionary sacrifice on our behalf (2 Cor 5:21). Irenaeus was assuring his people that Jesus was fully God and human from his birth, right on through his death and resurrection. The great scandal of the cross is that God died for us, as the Apostle Paul in his letter assured Titus, the man whose skull is still on display today in Herakleion, Crete. So we Christians are awaiting "the blessed hope and appearance of the glory of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself on behalf of us, in order to redeem us from all sin and cleanse us" (Titus 2:13-14). It doesn't get more clearly stated than that. There was no trickery going on here.

On the other hand, some 1500 years later, the Christian creed called The Second Helvetic [meaning Swiss] Confession, while explaining, "We worship not two but one Christ the Lord. We repeat: one true God and man," added these words: "THE DIVINE NATURE OF CHRIST IS NOT PASSIBLE, AND THE HUMAN NATURE IS NOT EVERYWHERE.[11] So what does that mean? (And who cares and why did they care?) What the Swiss reformers who wrote this great document were concerned about was the exact problem that Irenaeus was addressing, that no one be confused that Jesus Christ was somehow the uncomfortable partnership of a man and a Spirit of God, who could come and go at will. Jesus was no freak of nature. He was a fully human and fully divine person with a real human mother in whom the Holy Spirit of God placed the divine seed, which was the means, or the conduit, for one Person of the Great Triune Godhead, the Trinity, to enter our world and be born just as we are. Jesus was truly the child of God and the child of humanity, completely adequate to represent humanity as the substitutionary sacrifice for human sin to put us back in good standing with God, as well as overcome evil and begin the rescue of this off-the-track world of ours.

So, which is it? Is God passible or impassible? Is Irenaeus or the Swiss Reformers right? They’re both right. How is that possible? God has real emotions. The Father loves us deeply (John 3:16). The Son cared for us to the extent of entering our world and dying for us (Eph 5:2). The Spirit can be grieved by what we do (Eph 4:30). But the eternal God cannot be damaged, wounded, or killed. To die for us God had to be born human, taking on human flesh and frailty and become like us while remaining God (John 1:14).

So, should we conclude that God is indeed both impassible and passible? I think so. God is impassible in that God is invulnerable – in other words, what Superman would like to be without the Kryptonite (not to mention without ever being born, aging, or dying; being located in one spot; not knowing everything; not being all powerful; not being able to create the universe out of nothing, etc., etc., etc.). It's what The Second Helvetic Confession means, when it assures us there is nothing that can hurt God. But, at the same time, God has genuine feelings for us, what Irenaeus means when he assures us God is passible, that God loves us, feels compassion for us, and enters into our sufferings when God takes on human flesh and becomes Jesus Christ, the one who suffered and died for our sins to put us back right with God. In many cases, this controversy is over which meaning of the word "impassible" is being emphasized. God is indeed invulnerable (impassible), but God's feelings for us are real (passible).

I found several important lessons in exploring this question. First, words are flexible. The same word can mean different things to different people, so it's always important to check things out. Second, when there is a disagreement, there is often a deeper meaning going on that will illuminate us if we take the time to explore it. And, third, I am once again impressed with how much the God who created us loves us. God didn't have to make us in the first place and certainly didn't have to salvage us when humanity rebelled against God. But so great is God's love for us, that God came and lived among us and suffered what we suffer and even died to put us back right with this moral universe and with God's self. It's a wonderful thought to consider as we move toward Easter.

Those who are interested in my further thoughts about the Trinity may punch up “An Evangelical Statement on the Trinity” (, which I composed in consultation with a number of other evangelical scholars from a variety of denominations and the fields of theology, biblical studies, church history, classical studies, and other areas.


[1] Nhm, Francis Brown, S.R. Driver, C.A. Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon, 1968), 625, col. 1, meaning #2. All translations of the Hebrew and Greek Bible texts are by the present author.
[2] Rtson, Karl Feyerabend, Langenscheidt Pocket Hebrew Dictionary to the Old Testament (Berlin, Germany: McGraw-Hill, 1969), 325, col. 2.
[3] For example, Ps 102:26-27 [cited in Heb 1:12]; 1 Sam 15:29; Mal 3:16; James 1:17; Heb 13:8, etc.
[4] Anthropomorphism is ascribing human form or attributes to a being not human, especially to a deity (Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary (New York: Random House, 2001), p.88.
[5] Plotinus, "Ennead VI," in Plotinus, vol. 7, Loeb Classical Library, trans. A. H. Armstrong (Cambridge, MA: Harvard U., 1988), VI.9.6:43-44 (p. 327).
[6] Ibid., VI.9.8:36-37 (p. 333).
[7] Ibid., VI.9.8:43-45 (p. 335).
[8] Irenaeus, Against the Heresies (Book 3), trans. Dominic J. Unger, OFM Cap (New York: Newman, 2012), 18:3 (p. 89).
[9] "Impassible," Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, p. 959.
[10] While Webster's empirical meanings ("to perceive or examine by touch," "to be emotionally affected by") would apply to the incarnate Jesus Christ, God-Among-Us in human form, some of “feeling's” other meanings, "to feel sympathy for or compassion toward," "to be...conscious of," "to have a general or thorough conviction," would more accurately describe all Persons of the Trinity (Ibid., p. 706).
[11] "The Second Helvetic Confession," in The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.): Part I: Book of Confessions (Louisville: The Office of the General Assembly), 11:5.067, 5.069 (pp. 69-70).

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Does the Bible Guide Us about Marijuana Use?[1]

Today one hardly hears anything from the church or larger Christian community against the dangers of marijuana. This was not the case during the Jesus revival in the 1970s when marijuana first became popular.  We found constant statements against marijuana in the Jesus people newspapers. For example, “Veteran of over 200 Trips says: “I had to do something always because I didn’t want to be bored…,” a Baptist youth whose drug use left him “almost dead, physically and mentally.”[2]  The same issue included “An Open Letter to Timothy Leary,” from an “ex-follower,” responding to the ex-college professor drug pundit who became a poster child for the ‘60s drug movement, asking: “Oh, Dr. Tim, where have you gone? You and all your false prophets. You started a psychedelic revolution—a religious renaissance, or so you called it. You set yourself up as our great high priest….Where are all your prophets now? Now, when I need help?...I just wanted to tell you that your new religion of Tuning-in, Turning-on, and Dropping-out isn’t doing it for me….I’m losing a lot of my friends. They say I don’t communicate—in fact, they tell me I don’t do much of anything anymore. Do you still have any friends, Dr. Tim? Don’t bother writing me, Dr. Tim. A lot of my friends are turning-on to Jesus and I’ve been watching them carefully. They’ve got something that you or I don’t have, Dr. Tim. They’re full on the inside and they say that Jesus is with them all the time making them feel like that….They say they are resting in God thru Jesus Christ.”

Where is the church’s voice now?


The apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians challenges them to walk wisely and use their time well. Being filled with the Holy Spirit helps a believer understand God’s will. But becoming intoxicated with alcohol or marijuana is not the way to listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

For this reason, we encourage you not to support the use nor legalization of marijuana.

The reason drunkenness and use of any mind-altering substance is wrong is because the ability to be filled with the Holy Spirit in users decreases, the ability to understand God’s will decreases, the ability to do God’s will decreases, with the result that ‘wild living” or “lawlessness” increases (Eph 5:16-18). “Wild living” (asotia, also translated “debauchery”) also occurs in 1 Peter 4:4. There Peter exhorts his Christian readers not to act as they did as unconverted Gentiles who live in “licentiousness, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, and lawless idolatry” (1 Pet 4:3). He called these actions “excesses of dissipation” which cause blasphemy. Paul also warns elders they should strive to have “a faithful child,” not one “wild” or outside of their control (Titus 1:6). Drs. Janice Phelps and Alan Nourse explain in The Hidden Addiction and How to Get Free that within 15-30 minutes the person stoned on pot loosens inhibitions and loses awareness of time. There is definite loss of memory of the immediate past so that a person who starts expressing an idea gets halfway through a sentence and then can’t remember what he or she started to say.[3]

In effect, marijuana and alcohol reverse the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:19-25). The addicting substance overpowers the human will and excludes the Holy Spirit who genuinely frees the human will. Drs. Phelps and Nourse describe a dinner gathering where marijuana is produced. They observe that within 30 minutes the previous interesting conversations all disintegrated. People began talking with no one listening. Eventually, everyone gave up on conversation.[4] How can you love anyone if you cannot even listen? Joy and self-control decrease.

Finally, marijuana can become an idol. I remember one young man who had been a phenomenal evangelist but who never fully stopped smoking marijuana (“he could stop anytime,” he said) becoming so addicted that he revolved his whole life on its obtaining and consumption. He told us: “I love everything about it—the way it looks, the way it smells, the way it feels.” As Drs. Phelps and Nourse observe, he had arranged his whole life to fulfill his addictive needs, and “absolutely nothing—pride, economics, health, or relative values—was allowed to get in their way, ever”.[5] Marijuana slowly results in less and less desire to please God. The person appears more and more self-centered, but in reality increasingly focuses on centering his or her whole life on using marijuana like “communion.” Marijuana users become a new “church.” Instead of the body of Christ bearing more and more fruits of the Spirit---love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control -- the body of Cannabis bears more and more works of the flesh: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, use of drugs, hatred, strife, anger, quarrels, drunkenness, carousing (Gal 5:19-22). For example, Gil Kerlikowske, the White House director of national drug control policy, said a study by his office showed a strong link between drug use and crime. Marijuana was the most commonly detected drug found in 54% of those arrested. Marijuana was the most popular drug used by men who’d been arrested in New York, Denver, Atlanta, and Chicago.[6] The Apostle Peter describes such people as “those who indulge their flesh in polluting desires, and scorn authority” (2 Pet 2:10). They are “waterless springs and mists being driven by hurricanes” (2 Pet 2:17). The drug precipitates a “hurricane,” a powerfully controlling wild force making the human will in contrast a “mist”—a weak and insubstantial breeze. Peter observes “those who scarcely have escaped living in error, being slaves themselves of corruption, are promising so-called freedom. However, the freedom is actually slavery because one is enslaved to what one succumbs (2 Pet 2:18-19). Therefore, use of such a harmful drug is specifically included as a work of the flesh along with idolatry and hatred and other actions which, if kept up and never changed, according to Galatians, can keep us from inheriting God’s kingdom (Gal 5:21). Behind this and other drugs enters an unwanted guest, the Evil One.

The Apostle Paul specifically tells the Galatians not to use drugs. Pharmakeia in 5:20 is often translated “witchcraft” or “sorcery,” but Liddell and Scott’s Greek Lexicon defines it first as “use of drugs” then as “poisoning or witchcraft.” Pharmakeia is not Wicca per se, rather it is ancient witchcraft, especially Satanism, that would use drugs to poison or induce altered mental states.

What can you do to erode away the magnificent calling we have from God? Take marijuana or become drunk. Then the Holy Spirit can no longer fill you up with good fruits, you will lose the ability to use your time well or to understand and do God’s will, slowly poisoning your body so the Evil One can slip in and become a controlling hurricane, your free will becoming merely a mist, your life wild, directed by forces other than God. 

Is this what we want to promote in others? Is this what we want America to become? As Christians, we should be a positive influence in our society. We can at least use our vote responsibly. Our ultimate goal should be to restore transgressors in a spirit of gentleness, as Paul explains in Galatians: “brothers and sisters, if even someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you, the spiritual ones, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, looking to yourself lest you also be tempted. Carry one another’s burdens and thus fulfill Christ’s law” (6:1-2).  To “restore” is to repair such a person back into the fabric of Christianity. “Restore” is also used in ancient times for mending fish nets (Matt 4:21). People addicted to alcohol or marijuana do not have a fully free will or a real sense of reality. Reasons may not work with them. Rev. Joseph Kellermann says: “It is not true that an alcoholic cannot be helped until he wants help.[7] To save a life, restoration may include mandating addicts into an in-house program until their will is free. (Massachusetts has a chapter 35 law that helps family members do this.) Do not simply criticize someone wallowing in their weakness. Help them out— consistently -- trying to respect their wills, but gently. At the same time, be careful that you yourself do not become tempted. The Miracle Grow treatment is God’s power, which is ours through prayer and a loving Christian community. For example, over 75% of Adult and Teen Challenge graduates remain drug-free permanently, versus 4% of non-Christian program graduates. Christian programs are effective because they create environments where people are encouraged to be filled with the Spirit and be guided by the Spirit. We have a great resource in our God, but let us do what we can that is preventative so that many people do not get trapped. That is what our ability to vote against legalizing marijuana will help ensure.

Aida & Bill

[1] Image is taken from images google: accessed 5 October 2016.
[2] Mark Lindley, “Veteran Of Over 200 Trips says: ‘I had to do something always because I didn’t want to be bored,” Hollywood Free Paper (vol 3: Issue 7, 1971), p.3. “An Open Letter to Timothy Leary,” p. 4.
[3] Janice Keller Phelps and Alan E. Nourse, The Hidden Addiction and How to Get Free (Boston: Little, Brown, 1986), 151-54.
[4] Phelps and Nourse, Hidden Addiction, 147.
[5] Phelps and Nourse, Hidden Addiction, 23.
[7] Alcoholism: A Merry Go-Round Named Denial, brochure. See also letter to the editor in the Hamilton-Wenham Chronicle, 12 October 11, 2016.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Queen of Katwe Wins

It is not often we stop at a theater service desk and thank them for a movie. But we loved the movie Queen of Katwe that much! It deserves an Oscar! We recommend you go see this movie while it is still around.

Jesus’s brother James told his listeners that “religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (1:27 NRSV). Queen of Katwe is about Phiona Mutesi, the daughter of a poor widow, who is coached by Robert Katende, an orphan who himself has worked hard to become an engineer in Uganda. However, not having familial connections, he is working for a Christian ministry as he waits for a position. In this ministry, he serves children they call “The Pioneers.” We are pleasantly delighted to see the group and individuals regularly praying. The widow Harriet is a strong woman who remains poor because she chooses to be moral. A poor woman, she is urged to seek a man who becomes (temporarily) her “Sugar Daddy” or else she will have to continue to persevere in a life of great difficulties. Although her oldest daughter succumbs, the widow steadfastly maintains her ethical standards in her worst of times, and eventually forgives her daughter who has fallen. In contrast to her sister, Phiona is able to rise past her circumstances by excelling in chess. Chess strategy becomes an archetype for life strategies: teaching one to plan ahead, not give up too soon, learn how a small person can become significant, and not be intimidated by opponents. God has gifted Phiona. As a result, the Pioneers’ ministry supports her determination and hard work, thus, in the end, enabling Phiona’s success. The message the ministry and her chess prowess underscores is she belonged not in poverty, but where her capabilities could take her. This is a woman’s empowerment movie that will also be enjoyed by men. Queen of Katwe is a magnificent and truly encouraging movie and is based on a true story.

For Aida, it was also a memory journey back to her early years in the Dominican Republic. Although she has never been to Uganda, she recognized many of the practices in the movie from 60 years ago in the Dominican Republic, apparently having come from the African context: poor houses with tin roofs and dirt floors, deep gullies by the sidewalk to allow passage of sudden heavy rains, women carrying food to sell on their heads, outside markets with sellers of fruits and vegetables, vendors coming to car doors. For a few hours, the viewer enters into a different but intriguing world (without having to pay thousands of dollars for airfare and hotel and then merely seeing tourist sites in the guide’s places adapted for tourists). We are reminded that visiting orphans and widows may be a costly cross-cultural enterprise, as it was for the coach. The poor orphan and widow may be living in another environment than their wealthier Christian sister or brother. But, without entering this other world we cannot practice a worship that is pure and undefiled. This movie helps us see that truth.

Aida and Bill

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Devotion on the Great Commission Matthew 28:16-20

The following is a guest blog written by hospice chaplain Paul Bricker
One of the most famous passages in the Bible is the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:16-20.  I want to share a few thoughts about it, passage by passage.
It begins with verses 16-17:“But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated.  And when they saw Him, they worshiped Him, but some were doubtful.”[1]
This passage shows the two types of Christians that should do the Great Commission.   The first are Christians who worship Jesus.  This is what one would expect.  Christians who worship Jesus should share the Gospel with others.  However, there is another type of Christian who should obey the Great Commission.  The second type of Christians who should obey the Great Commission are those Christians who doubt.  The Scripture clearly shows that the apostles who are given the Great Commission consist of those who worship the Lord Jesus and those who doubt.  The eleven were like this even though they had spent three years with Jesus and seen Him do mighty acts.  They saw Him crucified and they now see Him raised from the dead. Still some doubted.  They were acting like “Gomer Pyle” Christians:  “G-o-l-l-y, we are at this mountain that Jesus told us to come to. G-o-l-l-y, I wonder if this is really Jesus in front of us…”
What this means is that every Christian should share the Gospel.  All of us are either worshippers of Jesus or doubters of Jesus or some kind of combination of the two. The Lord Jesus commands us to “pray at all times and faint not” (Luke 18:1).  This is the same teaching.  We are either praying or fainting or some combination of the two.  The Lord Jesus is like a mother bird.  The baby birds might not enjoy leaving the nest.  The mother bird “encourages” them to fly.  The Lord Jesus is “encouraging” his disciples to share the gospel.
What this means is, no matter how tranquil one’s heart is, or how pressing life’s concerns are, or how sorrowful one is, or how sick one is, one needs to share the Gospel.  At one point I was house-bound with Lyme disease.  I could not get out to share the Gospel.  What I did was pray that God would have the right telemarketer to call.  When they called, I answered the phone by saying:  “I have been waiting for your phone call because I want to share with you what Jesus has done for me.”  I spoke with people all over the United States.  I had prayer with people who would share their burdens with me.  I did not feel like doing it, but I did it.
Verse18 explains:  “And after Jesus came up, he spoke to them saying: ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth’….”
This is the Great Assurance.  We battle personal powers, economic powers, political powers, spiritual powers.  In spite of these powers against us, we have a Savior who has all power.  When we are facing powers that look like they are going to do us in, we have a Savior who has all power.  This is a great assurance.
Verse 19a commands:  “Therefore, as you go, make disciples of all nations…”
Here we find the Great Commission.  The commandment is to make disciples of all nations.  The commandment is not simply “Go.”  This is not to say that missionaries are not to go.  What this passage is stating is that “As you go in life, you are to be making disciples….”  When you go to the dentist (try that with four hands in your mouth—I do), when you go grocery shopping (it is okay to buy groceries for the single mother who is ahead of you in line), when ….
When I went for my first mortgage, the broker asked me:  “Do you have any judgments against you?”  I looked him straight in the eye and quoted Romans 8:1:  “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  When I have talked to financial planners, they have asked me:  “Have you planned for your future?”  I have answered him by quoting John 3:16:  “For God in this manner loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”  Then I looked the financial planner in the eye and I asked:  “Have you planned your future?”
Verses 19b-20a say:  “baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
Here we find two participial phrases which describe how to make a disciple of the Lord Jesus.  The first is “baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”  I do not have extended classes before the baptism.  Teaching classes are included under the second participial phrase:  “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” However, I do explain the basics. I explain Romans 10:9-10 with a person who wants to become a Christian. I ask: “Can you confess with your lips: ‘Jesus is Lord’? Do you believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead?” I also share that baptism is a sacrament which does not save you, but is a sign of being cleansed from sin: “You are being baptized because you have been cleansed from your sins.” Moreover, I share that they are being baptized not in the names (plural) of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but in the name (singular) of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is who God is. God is Father and Son and Holy Spirit, three Persons in one being. I share:  “You have become a Christian.  You need to show to the whole world that you belong to Christ.  Come Sunday and share with the whole world that you belong to Christ and invite your friends and be baptized.”  Baptize them as soon as possible.  Do not teach them that Christianity is a “sit down” religion.  It is an action religion.  It is a use-your-spiritual-gift religion.
The second participial phrase is:  “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”  This is very specific.  Teach a new believer what Jesus has commanded the apostles. Many Protestants have a canon within a canon.  They think that the real teaching is in the letters of the New Testament.  Often times Protestants hurry up and read the Gospels and Acts so that one can start reading the real teaching--the letters.  In this passage we find that we should teach new believers the commandments that Jesus gave to the disciples.  Make a list of Jesus’ commandments and study them.
Verse 20b concludes:  “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the ages.”
This is the Great Assurance #2.  The Lord Jesus is with us and meets with us when we share the gospel. Earlier I shared how the Great Commission is given to those Christians who worship the Lord and for those Christians who doubt the Lord.  Often I am full of doubt.  I have a troubled heart.  I am fainting and not praying.  I am often that “Gomer Pyle Christian.” I have little internal consolation.  I do not worry one bit about such a condition.  I go and share the Gospel anyway.  When I share the Gospel under such lack of internal consolation, something happens.  I fellowship with Jesus.  I go to share the Gospel and this part of the passage comes alive to me.  I experience His presence.  I experience “I am with you always, even to the end of the ages.”
Now go share the Gospel.

[1] My translation of Matt. 28:16-20.