All posts by Bill Bryan

James – the Man, the Book

There are three, possibly four, men named James in the New Testament. One was the brother of the Lord, along with Joseph (Joses), Judas (Jude), and Simon (Matthew 13.55; Mark 6.3). Two were apostles: James, the brother of John (Matthew 4.21-22, 10.2, Mark 3.17, Luke 5.1-10) who was killed by Herod (Acts 12.2) and James, the son of Alphaeus, also called James the Less (Matthew 10.3, Mark 3.18, Luke 6.15).

Interestingly, “James” was not the actual name of these men; some say it was Iames but most scholars agree that in Aramaic it was something closer to Ya’akov, a fairly common name which usually becomes Jacob. It has undergone metamorphosis, becoming James in English, Santiago in Spanish, and Jacques in French. Because the translators of the King James version of the Bible wanted to get the king’s approval for the translation, they translated at least three of the men named Ya’akov into James.

James was a leader of the church in Jerusalem. In Acts 1.13-14, it is simply noted that the apostles gathered with some women and Jesus’ mother and brothers. However, after several of Paul’s journeys, he mentions James in a leadership context, especially in Acts 15.13 where James states the position of the church regarding Gentiles.

James wrote his letter to early Jewish Christians living in Gentile communities outside of Palestine in about AD 49, prior to the Jerusalem Council held in 50. His purpose was to expose hypocrisy among believers and teach proper Christian behavior. It also expresses his concern for persecuted Christians who were once part of the Jerusalem church.

Notice the three themes of the letter: hardship, perseverance, and wisdom (James 1.2-3). He doesn’t say, if you face trials, but when you face them. He assumes that we will all have trials and can profit from them. The point is not to be happy when you face pain, but to have a positive and confident outlook. Consider it all joy because of what trials produce in our lives. James tells us to turn our hardships into times of learning. Trials teach us endurance and endurance perfects us, makes us complete.

Bill  

 

Mark – Jesus, the Suffering Servant

 And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again (Mark 8.31).

The center of Mark’s Gospel is the cross of Christ. Once the Twelve had grasped who Jesus was and had confessed Him as the Messiah, He began to teach them about the cross. It was a turning point in Jesus’ ministry and so also in Mark’s gospel.

The essence of Jesus’ teaching is found in His statement the Son of Man must suffer. Why must He suffer? What is the origin of His sense of compulsion? It is because the Scriptures must be fulfilled. Why, then, the Son of Man? By using this Hebraism for a human being, Jesus was referring to Daniel 7. In that vision “one like a son of man” (that is, a human being) comes on the clouds and approaches the Ancient of Days (God). He was then given authority and sovereign power so that all people will serve Him, and His kingdom will never be destroyed (Daniel 7.13-14).

Jesus adopted the title Son of Man but changed his role. According to Daniel, all nations would serve him. According to Jesus, He had come to serve, not to be served. In fact, Jesus did what nobody else had done: He fused the two Old Testament images, Isaiah’s servant who suffers and Daniel’s Son of Man who reigns. For first Jesus must bear our sins and only then rise and enter His glory.

– John Stott, Through the Bible, Through the Year

 

The Apostle Peter: How to Bear Fruit

Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your

  • faith with virtue,
  • and virtue with knowledge,
  • and knowledge with self-control,
  • and self-control with steadfastness,
  • and steadfastness with godliness,
  • and godliness with brotherly affection,
  • and brotherly affection with love.

For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

– 2 Peter 1.1-8

 

Spiritual Pictures

For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God  (1 Corinthians 2.11).

There’s a problem understanding spiritual things with a mind orientated to thinking in physical terms. After all, we live in a world of matter, time, and decay. How do we describe the beauty of heaven, the horror of hell, or the wonder of salvation in physical terms? It seems almost impossible. Yet God, who fully understands our limitations, draws on human experiences and physical reality to describe spiritual things.

The Bible is filled with “spiritual pictures” drawn in language and terms we can understand. By looking at these pictures our spiritual awareness is quickened and our spiritual nature is aroused.

Think of the prodigal son, the pearl of great price, or the tree of life. Each one reveals a facet of great spiritual truth. No single picture reveals it all, but each contributes to the whole revelation until we eventually stand awed by the complete painting.

Some words in the New Testament are pictures themselves – atonement, forgiveness, justification, redemption, reconciliation. Each word draws on examples from the Bible or human experience to shed more light on the wonder of salvation.

Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God: No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him (John 1.18).

To reveal Himself to us God entered the physical realm through Jesus Christ. He did so visibly, powerfully, and dramatically. In Jesus, God says, “I’ll draw a picture for you so you can see what I’m like” – Immanuel, God with us!

 

“…my soul thirsts for Thee…” (Psalm 63.1)

Absalom was the third son of King David. Here is how the Bible describes him: “Now in all Israel was no one as handsome as Absalom, so highly praised; from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was no defect in him” (2 Samuel 14.25).

He not only was handsome, he was the darling of his father. But he repaid his father’s favoritism by leading a rebellion against him. Absalom “stole” the hearts of the men of Israel, and David had to flee Jerusalem for his life into the wilderness of Judea beyond the Jordan.

It was during those agonizing days, at war with his own son, that he wrote of his longing for God. Psalm 63 opens with these words, “O God, Thou art my God, early will I seek Thee, my soul thirsts for Thee; my flesh faints for Thee, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”

Regardless of how desperate his circumstances appeared to be, David took refuge in God’s abiding presence. “For Thou hast been my help, and in the shadow of Thy wings I sing for joy” (Psalm 63.7).

The psalm reminds us as well of God’s presence, of His promise to “be with us always” and of the risen Christ’s presence amid His saints. And so, as pilgrims in a parched land we seek and thirst and faint for Him to provide for us the refreshing relief of living water.

Grace to you all, and peace – Bill

 

“I thank my God…”

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you…”
(Philippians 1.3).

Paul had a special relationship with the church in Philippi. It was the first church ever planted on “European” soil. Paul had been beaten there and thrown in jail. Guess what? He converted his jailor. That’s how the church in Philippi began.

Throughout the rest of his life and mission travels, the Christians in Philippi supported him financially and attended to his needs as best they could. Imprisoned again for the cause of Christ, it was from imprisonment in Rome that Paul wrote,

“I thank my God… Thankfulness is an essential Christian trait. Hearts filled with gratitude have no room for bitterness. A cheerful face and kind word will brighten anyone’s day; that’s what thankful people do.

“in all my remembrance… God did us a great favor when He created us with a memory. I picture Paul under arrest, chained to his guards – hours and days on end. Without memory, that would be unbearable. It would be like (though entirely different) being in the hospital with IVs running in both arms and electronic monitoring devices all over your body making it hard to move. How do you pass the time? One way is by thinking of your family and friends. Memory is good company.

“of you…” Relationships lay at the core of life. We need each other. Friendship blossoms in adversity. When “we” are helpless, it’s “you” who step up. “You” are a great blessing to another’s life.

Indeed, like Paul, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you.”

Grace to you and peace, Bill

 

Beer & Brats after Church – Everyone’s Invited

The local Lutheran Church is hosting a “Traditional Oktoberfest” today following their morning worship services. Complete with an outdoor tent, there’ll be “German music, Brats & Beer!” Hot dogs and wine will also be available. Everyone is invited to wear a costume. Admission and food is free – but they’ll charge you for the booze.

The word worldly means “relating or devoted to the temporal world.” Worldliness is the condition of being concerned with worldly things, especially to the neglect of spiritual things. Scripture has much to say about “worldliness,” none of it good.

In fact, there is to be a clear distinction between worldly people and Christians. Read Paul’s instruction to the Ephesian brethren: This I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles walk…(Ephesians 4.17).

He wrote to the Christians in Corinth to go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you (2 Corinthians 6.17) and James encouraged his readers to keep oneself unstained by the world (James 1:27).

Perhaps the clearest language on this matter is Romans 12.1-2, Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

Peter reminds Christians that we should refrain from worldly behavior: But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2.9).

Without meaning to be harsh or judgmental, I see a great inconsistency in professing to worship God in holiness one hour and then conducting a “traditional Oktoberfest” complete with beer and wine the next. How is that different from the world? How does that proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light?

grace and peace to you all
Bill

 

Biblical Prophecy and the Eclipse

Behold, the day of the Lord is coming,
Cruel, with fury and burning anger,
To make the land a desolation;
And He will exterminate its sinners from it.
For the stars of heaven and their constellations
Will not flash forth their light;
The sun will be dark when it rises
And the moon will not shed its light.
Thus I will punish the world for its evil
And the wicked for their iniquity.

Isaiah 13.9-11

And when I extinguish you,
I will cover the heavens and darken their stars;
I will cover the sun with a cloud
And the moon will not give its light.
All the shining lights in the heavens
I will darken over you
And will set darkness on your land,
Declares the Lord God.

Ezekiel 32.7-8

SAN ANTONIO, TX— Prophecy and end-times expert Pastor John Hagee, founder of Cornerstone Church in San Antonia, Texas, was seen in his study furiously typing up a book to be rushed out ahead of the historic solar eclipse.

 “This puppy won’t sell like my classic blood moon book,” Hagee told reporters as he typed at 150 words per minute. “I mean four blood moons? That was a once in a lifetime deal – every prophecy guru’s dream. But I can still sell a few hundred thousand copies as long as I can find some kind of tenuous connection to Daniel, Zechariah, or Revelation.” (babylonbee.com/news)

Prophecy-obsessed Christians have latched onto the impending eclipse. Anne Graham Lotz, for example, speculates the solar eclipse is a sign of impending judgment on America. She starts her brief comments by citing Joel 2.31. In that text the sun is darkened before the great day of the Lord. Along with the blood-moon delusions of a few years ago, this obsession with regular astronomical phenomenon is the result of a combination of poor biblical exegesis and a lack of understanding of science.

First, a solar eclipse is a normal and predictable event. There is nothing about this event which is unusual or supernatural. Simply put, the moon blocks light from the sun. This is a very predictable event. There was a solar eclipse March 8/9, 2016 visible in Indonesia (no apocalyptic judgment happened), and there will be another solar eclipse July 2, 2019 visible in South America. TimeandDate.com lists dates for lunar or solar eclipses around the world.

Second, any biblical text which mentions the “sun darkened” is not talking about a regular, normal eclipse. Here are two examples. In the Joel 2.31 passage Lotz cites, the sun is darkened as a part of apocalyptic events associated with the Day of the Lord. In the immediate context Joel refers to the Holy Spirit as “poured out” on all people. This is a standard way of referring to the New Covenant (for example, Isaiah 35; Jeremiah 33.31-33). The “darkening of the sun” could refer (literally) to the sun darkened during God’s wrath on Jerusalem in 586 B.C., or (more figuratively) to the abasement of the sun and moon as spiritual forces, gods, etc. Either way, it is not a natural, predictable phenomenon.

A second example of unnatural darkness is the three hours of darkness during the crucifixion (Mark 15.33). This cannot be an eclipse since it lasts far too long and is localized to “the land,” probably just Jerusalem or Judea. Although the darkness can be explained theologically in several different ways, it is not a natural, predictable phenomenon.

Third, the Bible must be read in its cultural context. The ancient world did not fully understand what an eclipse was and often thought they were signs from the gods. For example, according to Herodotus an eclipse occurred during a war between the Medes and the Lydians; both sides were so terrified by the sign they immediately signed a peace treaty (Hist.1.73-74). The eclipse was allegedly predicted by Thales of Miletus.

Similarly, in 1503 Columbus accurately predicted a lunar eclipse and the red moon and used this prediction to pacify the local Jamaican islanders. Thucydides 1.23.3 listed eclipses along with earthquakes, droughts, famines, and pestilence that affected the Athenians during the Peloponnesian War.

This means a writer living in 500 B.C. or A.D. 90 who wanted to describe strange apocalyptic signs would naturally include eclipses in their list of cosmic signs. But the word in this context has to mean an unpredicted, unnatural darkness rather than a natural and predictable solar eclipse.

Conclusion. If you live in America, enjoy your eclipse. But do not worry about it as a sign from God ushering in his judgment. Honestly, God has plenty of good reasons to smite America and he does not need to warn us with an eclipse.

From readingacts.com/2017/08/11/bible-prophecy-and-the-great-american-eclipse

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the firmament displays His handiwork.
Psalm 19.1

 

 

The Way of Love

You’re familiar with this quote from 1 Corinthians 13:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

Here are some other characteristics of love from 1005 Grant Street in Imperial, Nebraska:

Love pulls into town in four 5th wheel travel trailers; love is four retired couples traveling the country helping small rural churches; love works together sharing the load. It begins the day in prayer and song and devotional thought; it covers nails, strips, floats, and sands drywall; cuts in around doors, ceilings, and floors; paints walls and trim. Love prepares lunch for everyone; cleans the kitchen, wipes down pews and songbooks, and vacuums the floors. Love seeks to serve others.

We cannot say enough in thanking the Sojourners for the work they’ve done here this week. The outdated dark paneling is gone. The walls have been repaired and painted. The interior of our building has a fresh “new” look. Thank you for your experience, expertise, and hard work.

Jesus once said, “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13.35). Thanks, Glenn and Anita, Joe and Linda, Meredith and Pat, Robert and Larue, for loving us.

“So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three;
but the greatest of these is love.”

1 Corinthians 13.13

– Bill

About the Sojourners:

Sojourners are a group of mostly retired Christians who own RVs. Their goal is national evangelism. Upon request, the Sojourners travel to smaller congregations of the churches of Christ to help them grow spiritually and physically. The National Evangelism with Sojourners of the Church of Christ is established for the purpose of working with congregations to strengthen the church, to encourage, instruct, teach, edify, and evangelize.              –from Sojourning.org

 

 

Memorial Day 2017

Tomorrow the nation pauses to observe Memorial Day in remembrance of the men and women who have lost their lives in the service of this country and specifically in memory of those who perished in war.

Freedom. That’s the watchword of our republic, and while taken for granted so much of the time, we must remember it has been secured and maintained at a precious cost. Those who laid down their lives to protect the freedom of others deserve to be remembered.

Sunday, and each Lord’s Day, is also a Memorial Day. We gather to worship, and to give thanks, and to remember the One who laid down His life for us.

Freedom. That’s the watchword of our faith, and while taken for granted so much of the time, we must remember it was secured at a precious cost.

And the soldiers took Him away into the place (that is, the Praetorium), and there they called together the whole Roman cohort. And they dressed Him up in purple, and after weaving a crown of thorns, they put it on Him; and they began to acclaim Him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they kept beating His head with a reed, and spitting at Him, and kneeling and bowing before Him. And after they had mocked Him, they took the purple off Him, and put His garments on Him. And they led Him out to crucify Him. (Mark 15.16-20)

And so we assemble on Sunday, each first day of the week, our Memorial Day, to remember Jesus, our Lord and our Savior and our Sacrifice. We gather to remember the One who freed us from the bondage and condemnation of sin. We gather to proclaim His death as God’s gracious gift to all mankind. And we gather in sure expectation of His return to call His church to her eternal home.

– Bill