Why Study the Old Testament?

Does the Old Testament have any authority for the Christian believer today? Why should we even try to study the Old Testament?

This is actually something I have dealt with in a couple of my contexts. Some of the people say they only want to talk about that God is love and this is all you need to know. Others say they are “Red Letter Christians” meaning they only hold to and pay attention to the words of Jesus (red words) and this is what shapes their faith. We do have to pay attention to the “red letters” but we also have to understand the context they are written in.

One of the helpful things I have come to learn is the Old Testament is actually our story. When we read through the Old Testament, even the difficult passages, we can see how God related to the people, which is the same way God would relate to us today. God, especially through Jesus, is the same yesterday, today, and forever. So, as Christians we have to understand what it looks like to live out our lives in faithfulness.

Jesus says many times, “You have heard it said…but I say…” What does this mean unless we go back to see what he was talking about? Eye for an eye, as an example, is not just a saying in our culture; but it is a phrase that was used, for a specific reason, in the Old Testament. In essence, Jesus is giving more meaning to the words the people have heard and lived by all their lives, and therefore making them go deeper in their meaning to help the people see the seriousness of sin. In other words, Jesus is trying to show we do not have to be legalistic about our faith, just live it out of the heart—this, after all, is where our true motivations come from anyway.

Jesus gave the teachings and writings of the Old Testament authority, because he is God incarnate and therefore said the words. This is the first thing we have to pay attention to. Because of this, we see the apostles and early church give authority back to the Old Testament. Paul said that all scripture is God-breathed, God-inspired and he was talking about the Old Testament. But, without the Old Testament, we miss out on seeing the bigger picture God has in mind for being sent out to all the nations.

Through the Old Testament, we understand that Yahweh is the God who created the universe, and therefore is completely “other” from the universe, yet is also constantly active and personal in all of creation, especially through the lives of the people. We see how Yahweh has been set above the other “gods” of the world Because God is active in the world, we can better understand the mission Jesus sent his followers on by looking back at the calling of Abraham, even look back further to see how the world was set in order and how people were supposed to live with each other from the very beginning.

Back to the Old Testament is our story. Many people say that “our lives are the only Bible people will read.” This is true. I can also see how our lives tell the story the Bible tells. We are created out of love (whether or not this is true from a human perspective, we are created from the love of God). Because we are created out of love, we have been set to live this life in this particular time, this particular culture, with this particular personality, and gifts/talents/motivations, etc. We have been placed here to tend to and cultivate what God has given us, and go into the world. We have been created for a purpose.

We also see how we have been given teacher, preachers, books, other people to guide us and teach us the “rules of life” so we can learn what it means to be a “good/decent person”. The Lord did this with Israel with the Sinai Covenant. God gave the people the law to show what it means to live a holy/set apart people. But, we learn we still have this desire to do what we want and disregard what God said (blessing and curse of free will). This helps us understand there is something in us we cannot take out or get rid of on our own—something that seems to be ingrained in us to do things we know we shouldn’t do. We see this through the continual living faithfully and calling of Israel to repent by the Prophets.

There comes a time when God says the people have done their own thing for so long before stepping in to take over. God has always been present in our lives and there comes a point when we realize we need God to be the One leading us and changing us. We need God to step in to the world/our world, and show us how we are being transformed and make us into something even more than we could have ever imagined. This is where Jesus comes in.

Jesus comes, and we finally realize we need only him, he is the only One who can do what we need. Now, because of the Old Testament, we can better see how God has been working in the world to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven. The Savior we have been hoping for has come, is changing our lives, and taking us to a place where we can work with him to change the world and see the world redeemed because of his grace. Because of Jesus (Yahweh in flesh), we can go from the chaos of our world (the world) and move into a life of order, peace, and true faithfulness.

Why study the Old Testament? A scholarly answer would be so we can understand the entire message of the Bible and to understand what is really going on. A theological answer would be so we can understand what the New Testament is actually saying and how it is applied to our lives. A personal answer, at least to me, would be so we can better understand our purpose and how we are supposed to live. More importantly, so we can better understand our lives and see how we sin and fall short of God, we constantly go back and forth from doing what we are supposed to do/not do, we see God (through Jesus Christ) coming to change our lives, and we see us moving toward a future with a hope because God has it already in the palm of his hands and has an ultimate plan for the future.

We study the Old Testament because it is our story. It is the story God tells so we can understand our mission to be in a holy community, and to be lights to the world to take the message of salvation to all the nations. If we can take this time to study and understand the importance of the Old Testament, we can better see how God through Jesus Christ is reshaping the world back the original intent.

Because people, by fallen nature, are self-absorbed, bringing us to a place to see we are also in the story of ancient Israel could make it seem like reading about your own family history and given better understanding to why we live like we live. This could also give people the motivation to learn more, on their own and in groups, to study the complexity, yet simplicity, of the message of the Old Testament and see more clearly how Jesus is really fulfilling (not obliterating) the law and words in the Old Testament which should give greater clarity and purpose to our lives and reason for living as a mission community to the rest of the world so God’s plan is completed.

NEW BOOK: “Jesus Is…”

Kindle & Paperback Editions

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=Ryan+Stratton+jesus+is&ref=nb_sb_noss

“Who do you say Jesus is? Some say he was just a good person. Some say he was a prophet. Others say he didn’t exist. CS Lewis says, “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said wouldn’t be a great moral teacher. He’d be either a lunatic on a level with a man who says he’s a poached egg or else he’d be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.” It is important for us to know who Jesus is because this is who we are being formed into. We are not forming Jesus into ourselves, but rather he is recreating us to make us into his image.

This 8 chapter book goes over the big moments of Jesus’ life to help us see how the life of Jesus is still impacting our life today. The next time you’re asked “Who is Jesus?” you can have some answers to help people understand the power of the Risen Christ that is with us always and who is giving us our identity.”

Leaders Are Learners

We are well into the new year. How’s it going for you? Are you feeling productive, or do you feel as if you are in the same routine, the same way of thinking, feeling like nothing as changed except the numbers on the calendar?

I would like to offer this question, “If, for you, everything seems the same, what are you learning?”

What’s interesting to me is how many times I ask this question and get a similar response, “I don’t have time,” or my favorite, “I’m too old”/“I have a hard time learning new things.”

Many people have god intentions to follow through with new year resolutions. I know I have, in the past. But then something seems to happen. There seems to be a new stressor, a new amount of pressure, that is causing us to change or to follow through with what we said we wanted to do. Change is hard. After all, it is said the only people who like change are babies with a dirty diaper.

So if it is change we really desire, what can we do to make it happen? The underlying truth we all have to realize is, if we are going to have a better life (a deeper life in Christ for those who are Christian), we have to seek and live into ways that help produce change.

How many of you have said you want to lead other people? I typically hear it like this, “I’m a good leader.” My question, then, is how many people do you have following you? Then we have to look at what makes a good leader. The truth is, real leaders are constantly learning something new, and improving what they already know and do.

I have heard that CEO’s of businesses read an average of 60+ books a year. Do you think this is something you can do? Why/Why not?

If the goal is to improve ourselves so we can do more, for our family, for the world, for our lives, then where can we begin?

I would recommend starting with something you already love. If you like to play golf, take a few lessons to help improve your swing. If you like to play other sports, play them more and ask people for pointers. If you speak for a living, ask people to constructively critique the messages. If you like to garden, seek someone who can give you some advice. If you have a desire to read, or say you don’t like reading, begin with a short audio book or podcast. This list can go on and on.

Part of the reason we do not follow through on our new year resolutions, I believe, is becasue we try to do more than we can manageably accomplish, then get frustrated when we do not get the desired results (if we have thought about results) within a week or two.

Leaders are learners. If we want to see our lives really change, and do great things, then we have to find ways to learn something, even if it is something we see as small. It is amazing how many things, business and world leaders can learn from attempting to master a golf swing.

Now, I am a pastor and I firmly believe that real change does not happen on our own. I believe we do not possess the power and ability to change within ourselves. We do have access to channel the Source of all Power and Grace in our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit, given by Jesus Christ, and directed by God. So, if you are a believer, have you sought out how God is asking you to be different? Have you followed his voice to undergo the process of transformation?

If you are not a believer in Christ as Savior and Lord of your life, his mercy is available and ready to aid you in achieving so much more than you can ever imagine.

The point of all of this is, what are you learning? Start small. It is never too early nor too late to expand our minds and watch the power of God flow in and through us to make lasting change in the world.

Oh, and it never fails to have some people with you as you learn something new: people to share ideas with, and to help hold each other accountable. God works well in those relationships.

Ascended & Reigns Forever

Jesus is…

God in flesh, free from temptation, healer and restorer, seeking and saving the lost, betrayed/denied/tried/crucified, and he is Risen and lives forever!

This is what we have been thinking about for the last seven weeks. Jesus has done, is doing, and will continue to do incredible things in our midst and in our world. Are we paying attention?

Now we go to the event Jesus was preparing his followers for – his departure.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus says something interesting to his disciples. He says, “But very truly I tell you, it is for your own good that I am going away.”[1]Why would he say this? Think about it. If Jesus was still here in the physical body form, as we are, then he would only be able to be in one particular place at one particular time. We would have to go to him to hear him and so we could be in his presence. We might say we want Jesus in the physical flesh now, but then we would have to be the ones who go to him.

But, because Jesus ascended into heaven, we do not have to go to him because he is already with us. It really is better for us that he ascended into heaven, otherwise he would not have sent the promised Holy Spirit (see John 16:7).

So now, let’s take time to read the passage, from Luke 24:

50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God

The ascension event is found in all four Gospel accounts and in the book of Acts. All of them differ to some degree.

Matthew’s gospel concludes with Jesus telling the disciples he has all authority in heaven and on earth and then gives them, what we call, the Great Commission, “go and make disciples of all nations…”

Mark’s (longer ending) gospel says something similar, but then adds, “After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat down at the right hand of God.”[2]

Luke’s gospel is above.

John’s gospel shows Jesus alluding to his ascension when he speaks with Mary Magdelene after he rose from the grave. Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”[3]

The book of Acts says, “After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.”[4]

I used to picture the ascension like most people, Jesus floating off in the clouds and disappearing into the sky as he was on his way to heaven – a far-off location. But, as I have paid closer attention to the scripture, I now realize this was written in a similar form as when Moses went up the mountain to receive the law from God. Moses “ascended” the mountain and went into the clouds. This means Moses walked up the mountain to where the clouds were, and he was not seen for 40 days.

This is what I now picture. Jesus goes up the mountain and the clouds come down upon him and he disappears. Why clouds? What do they mean?

Clouds throughout scripture represented the fullness, the glory of God. When Moses was in the clouds, he was in the full glory of God. Jesus, when the clouds surrounded him, entered into the realm of heaven to be where he could reign forever.

All of the written accounts of Jesus’ departure (his ascension) point to his authority over all. This event also shows us he is King now. Jesus will not be crowned King when he returns. He is King now. He has full authority over all humanity and creation. The New Testament writers believed this too.

Do you know what the most quoted Old Testament scripture is? It may surprise you to know it is actually in the book of Psalms. Can you guess it? This scripture is quoted 23 times in the New Testament. Ready to find out what it is?

It is Psalm 110:1. That may seem like a strange scripture. But, it shows the authority and Kingship of Jesus here and now. The New Testament authors wanted to show Jesus’s authority to the believers so they could have the assurance Jesus is not in a far away place, but ruling now.

Psalm 110:1 says, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” (NIV)

HUMANITY EXAULTED

Jesus sits down at the right hand of God. Why? The right side has always been referenced to as the strong side, the highest honor, the position of authority. Jesus sits down meaning his work has been done.

Hebrews 1:3 points again to the placement of Jesus’ position in heaven. “[H]e sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”(NIV)

What all of this is showing is that because Jesus has ascended into heaven, humanity now has a position and place in heaven! Why? Remember it was not the Spirit of Jesus that went into heaven. Jesus did not shed himself of his physical body to enter heaven. His body was made perfect before ascending. It was Jesus, in human bodily form, that entered into the realm of Heaven.

This means there is a human (Jesus) ruling in Heaven. Now, this is not diminishing Jesus in any way. Remember, in Heaven, humans are higher than the angels. Jesus is still fully God. He is also fully human. As Steve Seamands writes, “Because Jesus ascended, humanity has been exalted and brought into the life of God.”[5]

See, it is not the resurrection that gives us life everlasting with God in Heaven. It is the ascension. Because Jesus is there, humanity has the place in Heaven now.

The ascension is so much more important for our life with God than we realize. The importance of this event has slipped from our minds, but this doesn’t change the reality of what Jesus did.

Jesus’ ascension is so important that, in the Roman Catholic Church, there are only six mandatory days to attend Mass. The Feast of the Ascension (Ascension Day) is one of them.[6]Is this event as important to you? I hope the importance of this event is more real now and we can come to celebrate Jesus’ ascension more prominently.

WHERE IS HEAVEN?

As I have said, I do not picture Jesus going off into the sky on his way to heaven. Too often, we tend to think of heaven as some far off place that we go to after we die. Remember Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God is at hand. He was proclaiming God’s Kingdom here on earth. He was not proclaiming a place far away from earth. Neither was he saying we “go to heaven.” Jesus was proclaiming heaven on earth.

Steve Seamands reminds us of how NT Wright teaches about the realm of Heaven. This is what Jesus seems to be proclaiming while on the physical earth. “As NT Wright points out, in biblical cosmology, heaven and earth are not two locations within the same special continuum; rather they are dimensions of God’s creations. And since heaven relates to earth tangentially, the one who is in heaven can be present everywhere at once on earth. ‘The Ascension, therefore, means that Jesus is available, accessible, without people having to travel to a particular spot on earth to find him.”[7]

Heaven is not some place we go after we die. Heaven is the reality of the full presence of God here and now AND in the life to come. Heaven, therefore, is already here. We just do not have the eyes to see it fully nor live into it because Jesus has not come back.

Heaven is here among us. We see glimpses of heaven each and every day. One day, the fullness and glory of heaven will take over the earth once again. Heaven and earth will become one, just as in the Garden of Eden. This earth will not be destroyed, but it will be transformed and redeemed. This is why we pray, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This is our prayer. That earth will be just like heaven.

JESUS IS STILL HERE

Since heaven is here on earth, as another dimension of the reality we live in, Jesus is still here. And, we are with Jesus in heaven.

The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 2:6 that we are in Christ. We are really with him in heaven at the same time we are here on earth. Heaven can be, and is, experienced here on earth because, as Paul says, we have one foot in heaven and one foot on earth. Because we are in Christ, we also get to be with him in heaven too! The reality of Jesus is here. We are also with him.

Seamands reminds us “Jesus is always with us in actual presence. Because we are with him in heaven and he’s with us on earth, that means we can live every moment in the holy of holies presence of God.”[8]

Remember in the Old Testament, the Tabernacle , nd the Temple? There was a room, separated by a thick curtain called the “Holy of Holies.” This was the space that only the High Priest could enter. This was the most sacred space on earth, the place where God resides.

When Jesus was crucified on the cross, the curtain in the Temple was torn in two, symbolizing there was nothing separating God from the people anymore. God has broke the barriers created by Sin and has allowed humanity to enter into his presence anytime we want. We get to live in the presence of God here and now and we do not have to go through a mediator.

We can live, knowing the reality of Jesus is with us always. Look at Psalm 16:

I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest secure,

You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
[9]

STAY HEAVENLY MINDED AND EARTHLY FOCUSED

I’m sure you may have heard the phrase, “don’t be so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good.” Well, we really need to scratch that phrase so we do not use it again. We really do need to remain heavenly minded, because we, who are in Christ, are with Christ in heaven here and now. This is the reality we know will come to fruition at the right time.

We need to remember that we are called to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven wherever we are and wherever we go in whatever we do. Our focus should always remain on Jesus Christ because it is his image we are being molded and transformed to.

Jesus is on the throne and this has an incredible impact for how we live our life. Because Jesus is on the throne, we can approach with confidence the Throne of Grace. (Hebrews 4:16)

We exalt Jesus as the rightful King of the world (really universe) because if we do not, something or someone else will be exalted in our own lives and we will miss out on living in and experiencing heaven on earth here and now.

Jesus gives himself for the mission he called us to and he does not leave us on our own. Nor, do we go into the mission field in our own strength and power. Jesus guides and gives us all power and everything else we need. He does this through the Holy Spirit.

Whenever we love God by loving people and we love people by loving God, we are doing what we were created for. This is what we are called to do.

So, who is Jesus? Jesus is….

God in flesh, free from the power of temptations, healing and restoring, seeking and saving the lost, betrayed/denied/tried/crucified, risen and lives forever, ascended and reigns forever.

That’s who Jesus is. Now the question becomes, “What would Jesus say about you?”

Works Cited:

[1]John 16:7a NIV

[2]Mark 16:19 NIV

[3]John 20:17 NIV

[4]Acts 1:9 NIV

[5]Seamands, Stephen. “Unseen Real”

[6]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”

[7]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”

[8]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”

[9]Psalm 16:8-9,11 NIV

Loving to Life Pt 4

VISIONING

This is one of my favorite things to do – visioning for the possibilities of the future.

I have said before that I do much better in bigger picture planning and thinking than I do when it comes to the minor details. The details are important. Visioning is not just about long term planning or thinking how an organization/person/church can be in the next generations. Visioning is about taking the plans and putting them into action.

A vision without action is really just a day dream. In this aspect of helping people/organizations/churches live for the future, we are doing a few different things: 1) we are looking where they have been, 2) where they are now, and 3) what is possible with the current resources (and also resources that will become available)?

Visioning has to be covered in prayer from the beginning, during, and execution. I have also learned that listening to the hopes and dreams of the people is another place God is speaking about the future. As we have been listening and learning from the people in our small groups, we have an incredible chance to hear the passions of the people. This is where I think we should continue with the visioning process.

As we have been praying, and seeking God’s direction and focus for our new endeavor, we are also searching for the places God is at work. If we pay attention, we can hear God speaking through the passions of the people.

Visioning is a big picture activity and requires looking at the big picture. Right now, I would ask you to pause and write down what you consider as part of the big picture.

In my experience, we tend to sell short the “big picture” for only what we can see. The challenge here is to look beyond what is seen. Look at the organization, the people involved, the culture in and around, what has been done, what is going on, the resources in the past, the resources in the present, targets and goals for the future.

This is really just a small list, but it does give us some greater things to think about and consider; but it should help us expand our horizons to think about more than just the amount of people and bottom line. Visioning requires us to dream and act toward a goal of how the organization/person could be in the time frame you decide. This helps us with acting upon the vision.

As far as time, we tend to focus more on the next year, five years, or ten years down the road. How would it impact and affect your vision to think about how things could be in the next 50-100 years? Does that seem like too far into the future?

Think about this. Everything we do is either going to last for a short period of time or it will last for a long period of time. When we think more about the next 50-100 years, it helps us focus more on the next generations to help make sure there is something for them. This means we work toward something that may or may not be comfortable to us here and now.

As you spend time in prayer, listening to the people’s passions, and learning about the past to see future potential, praise God for the opportunity to be in the place you are in the time you are.

God has given and will give vision. Pay close attention and continually talk with other people so it is more of a community effort of prayer and work. Watch to see all God will do.

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:

  • How have you typically planned for the future in the past? Is there anything written here you haven’t considered before?
  • What are you excited about in the new area/position?
  • What do you think about the idea of planning for the next 50-100 years instead of just a year, 5-10 years, down the road? What is challenging about this? How can you work through the challenges?

Knowing the Road Ahead

Click here to read Acts 21.

Would you want to know everything that will happen to you before it occurs? If you knew, good or bad, would you still want to go down that path? I’m not sure I would.

Paul has just left the Ephesians and is on his way to Jerusalem to meet with the church leaders. He has several people warn him about the danger that is ahead. Paul hears; but chooses to go anyway. He is set on going to Jerusalem. His gaze is still focused on the mission God has laid out for him.

I think we all like to be in control of every aspect of our lives. This is one reason I am grateful we do not know what tomorrow will bring us. Everything can change in a single day and if we knew the outcome before it occurred, we would try to change it. Living each day by faith is more important. This means we are trusting in God to provide what we need and trusting in His grace instead of trying to do everything ourselves as if there was no God.

Paul knows there is danger around every corner and every town he enters. He also knows the presence of God is already there and working. He has learned how to trust in the Living Jesus Christ for his everything and is determined not to allow anyone to take that joy away from him.

I am sure, because it is human nature, Paul did not forget about the warnings he was given; but he did keep turning them around so he could see how Jesus Christ would be glorified. 2 Corinthians 10:5 says, “capture every thought and make it obedient to Christ.” Paul is choosing not to live in fear. He is choosing to live in faith because he knows that the promises of God’s grace are more important and powerful than anything.

Paul does believe the people about what will happen to him when he gets to Jerusalem; but he is not outwardly concerned. This is how he is able to demonstrate living in faith and the victory of Jesus.

When you step out each day, just trust in the power and presence of God to give you the grace and strength for what’s ahead. Instead of worrying about what will happen at a future date, we can be thankful the Jesus is already there.

The road ahead of us has many different situations we will go through. Every one of them gives us an opportunity to worship and glorify Jesus Christ in everything we do. How will you look at what you have to do today? Will you take the opportunity to trust in Jesus Christ to lead and guide you along the way?

Along the Journey

Click here to read Acts 16:1-15.

Whenever we go on a journey, many of us have everything planned out and mapped out. This is so we can stay on schedule and know what it is we’re getting into and will do. It is more comforting to know what exactly it is we will be doing and where we will go. But, how do you think you would do if plans changed each and every day?

I am one of those people, most of the time, who likes to know what is going on; but I am also very flexible with my plans. After all, isn’t it more of an adventure if you just wait to see what happens or where you will go? Some people become anxious over not having concrete plans. Others don’t really care. People will respond how they respond.

The point of all of this is not to say we all need to be more spontaneous. The point is to open our lives up even more to the working of the Holy Spirit. Keep in mind Proverbs 19:21 and Hebrews 3:15:

“Many plans are in a person’s mind, but the Lord’s purpose will succeed.” ~ Proverbs 19:21 CEB

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” ~ Hebrews 3:15

What I get from scripture, especially these verses, is we should not try to be so rigid in our lives. The reality is we can miss the calling and purpose of God for us if we try to schedule everything and be unwilling to change plans. There is great comfort knowing the presence of God is with you wherever you go.

Look at the life of Paul, especially here in Acts 16. His life was turned completely upside down after his conversion with the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus. He now only has two agenda items: 1) to know Christ and him crucified and 2) to spread the gospel message wherever he is. This is a guy that does not know where he is going to sleep at night or where he will be traveling the next day.

If we are open to the leading of the Spirit, it will be interesting, each step, to see what God has in store. Maybe you’ll get a new friend (or traveling buddy). Maybe you’ll want to go to a certain place and you sense you need to be somewhere else. Maybe you’ll come across a person who leads you home and the entire household accepts the message of Christ.

Life, in many ways, is an adventure. How the Spirit speaks to you, you’ll have to pay attention to. (Through scripture, wise counsel, something you read, something you hear, a nudging of the heart, audible voice.) The point is to be open to the leading of the Spirit all along the journey of life.