Mar 10

IS STUDYING THE OLD TESTAMENT WORTH THE TIME AND EFFORT? (Part Three)

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Scripture

(This is the second blog of a three part blog on the Old Testament and Christian Spiritual Formation by Dr. Stan Harstine, Professor of Religion at Friends University – read his first blog here and second blog here) The previous two posts have given us a reason to look

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Scripture

(This is the second blog of a three part blog on the Old Testament and Christian Spiritual Formation by Dr. Stan Harstine, Professor of Religion at Friends University – read his first blog here and second blog here)

The previous two posts have given us a reason to look to the Old Testament as a place that shaped Jesus’ own perspective and one that could help us ground our own narratives on the character of God. Now we look at how the Old Testament can help us to identify–and join Jesus in living according to–God’s plan and purpose, thus bringing glory to “God, the Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds)

God’s Purpose

One of the crucial elements of Jesus’ teaching is His proclamation of the Kingdom of God/Heaven. In the Kingdom of God the purpose of God is fully expressed and fully achieved. Jesus begins and ends the Beatitudes in Matthew mentioned with statements regarding the Kingdom of Heaven.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3, 10, NAS95)

Jesus’ reshaping narratives in this initial element of the Sermon on the Mount serve as a focal point for the many kingdom of heaven parables found within this Gospel. The words, repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand, are familiar to many as the announcement of Jesus in Matthew 4:17. Many don’t realize they are also the words of John the Baptist and Jesus’ command for his disciples’ proclamation (3:2, 10:7). Where does Jesus’ idea of the kingdom of heaven originate if not in His Scripture? The Old Testament is replete with descriptions of what God’s kingdom is to be like and how those within it are to live.

Many individuals who read through the Old Testament are often attracted to the stories of terror and horror inflicted by the Israelites on their surrounding nations. Other readers focus narrowly on the David and Bathsheba story or that of Jephthah and his daughter in Judges 11. But such a focus misses the point of the Old Testament, to recount the activity of Yahweh, God of creation among humanity. The more important passages often seem to be less frequently proclaimed than the scandalous many, but remain more important nonetheless.

There are several key passages of the Old Testament that encapsulate the timeless purpose of God.

God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. (Genesis 1:31, NAS95)

Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. (Genesis 2:15)

And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed. (Genesis 12:3)

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. (Genesis 50:20)

Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. (Exodus 19:5-6)

“[T]hey will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34)

It would appear that the purpose of God is for humanity rather than against it. It would also appear that the purpose of God encompasses blessing for others through the very ones who are in relationship with God.

Two narratives intertwine throughout the Old Testament regarding God’s purpose. The first informs us of God’s relationship with humanity and the creation. Despite attempts to narrowly limit the use of Genesis 1 to scientific debate, it serves a larger purpose, especially when cast against other stories of creation. One element of the creation is that the world; the land, the seas, the birds of the sky and the animals of land and even male and female, are viewed through God’s perspective as “very good.” The later scandalous stories of disobedience and discontent accounted in the Old Testament are unable to mask the reality that God looks upon all that he has done with great delight and pleasure. This attitude of God is not solely toward humanity. When we attempt to live like Jesus in our relationship to creation we must take God’s perspective into complete consideration.

The second narrative relates to God’s intended consequences for humanity. From Adam through Noah and vocalized clearly with Abram, God seeks to bless the nations of this created world, who one may recall are separated by discord at Babel. God is not looking for reasons to destroy but to preserve, not to keep in poverty but to distribute bountiful blessings. The sin that separates humanity from God is being addressed by God so as to tear down the walls of separation. Selfishness rears its ugly head in our lives as often as the dandelions of spring, summer, and fall appear. The Old Testament consistently reminds the people of God that they do not own or possess God, but that God possesses them. He is not for their use, but they for His.

In 539 B.C. the covenant people of God were permitted to return to their land from exile. Not all returned, but those who did reflected many false narratives. When 17 years had passed in the land, God spoke another message of reminder through the prophet Haggai.

Thus says the LORD of hosts, “ Consider your ways! Go up to the mountains, bring wood and rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified,” says the LORD. “ You look for much, but behold, it comes to little; when you bring it home, I blow it away. Why?” declares the LORD of hosts, “Because of My house which lies desolate, while each of you runs to his own house. Therefore, because of you the sky has withheld its dew and the earth has withheld its produce. I called for a drought on the land, on the mountains, on the grain, on the new wine, on the oil, on what the ground produces, on men, on cattle, and on all the labor of your hands.” (Haggai 1:7-11, NAS95)

These people of God looked for God’s blessings in life while ignoring God’s purpose. The Old Testament continues to communicate clearly that God is to be glorified among his creation. When we remember and our lives reflect that narrative as a driving purpose, then God works through creation to multiply our efforts and provide bountifully for our needs. When we forget and seek to glorify the work of our hands, then those same provisions can wither and disappear.

No one reflects the purpose of living to bring glory to God the Father better than Jesus the Son. His life activities are reflected best in the prayer recorded before his arrest.

“Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. (John 17:1-4, NAS95)

Jesus understood His purpose because his narratives were formed and shaped by study of His Scripture, our Old Testament. He understood God’s character and taught God’s character to those following Him. He kept God’s purpose central in His own life, understanding the folly and failures of past generations who departed from this path. If we are to be apprentices of Jesus, we would do well to reshape our narratives concerning God’s character and purpose until they rested on solid foundations and could not be shaken, despite the storms of life.

For the apprentice of Jesus the Old Testament is a rich depository of narrative changing accounts. Many of these narratives teach positive lessons while others teach using negative example. An apprentice of Jesus ignores these teachings to his or her own peril. The normal result of minimizing the writings shared by Jew and Christian is to somehow perceive God in this world through a warped lens. If I truly wish to live like Jesus I must think like Jesus, who “emptied Himself” and “humbled Himself” so that “God highly exalted Him” above all those “in heaven and on earth and under the earth” and in so doing all Jesus does is “to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:7-11).

 

Feature Image Photo Credit: Rachel Titriga


 

harstine

An educator since 1984, Stan Harstine is convinced that his career consists of “teaching students to think.” He has engaged in this career since 2002 at Friends University using biblical studies as his medium. His greatest accomplishment for 2014 was having 3 sons graduated from college, gainfully employed and not living at home.

 

 

Posted in Apprenticeship, Blog, Kingdom of God, Narrative | Tags: / / / / / /

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Feb 27

A WORLD OF BOTH/AND

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railroad tracks

Most of us want a world of either/or. But in the real world we live with brokenness and healing, grief and hope, fear and faith.  We cannot live in the world of either/or.  It doesn’t exist. Sometimes I find texts in Scripture that just stick with

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railroad tracks

Most of us want a world of either/or.

But in the real world we live with brokenness and healing, grief and hope, fear and faith.  We cannot live in the world of either/or.  It doesn’t exist.

Sometimes I find texts in Scripture that just stick with me. They usually aren’t the well-traveled passages, and they are seldom used as tattoos or on people’s vanity plates.  One such passage comes from the less-travelled book of Ezra.  It is a book that has a bewitching (can I say that about Scripture?) effect on me.

In Ezra, a foreign king (Cyrus of Persia) has commissioned and funded the Southern Kingdom – called Judah most often – to return from Babylon to Jerusalem and rebuild what was taken from them. The city. The temple. The covenant dream.

The two tribes of the tiny Kingdom come back to the city, and they lay the foundation for the Temple. This is a big step – the temple is where God lives with His people. In exile, to a first temple Jew, God became homeless.

And then…my favorite weird passage:

And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away. (3:11-13, NIV)

Grieving and joy, melded together into one great cry. The grieving of what was and has now passed, the celebrating of what is new and yet to come.

Not either/or. It’s both/and.

The older priests and Levites saw Solomon’s original temple. Beauty. Tradition. Goodness. They smelled the smells and walked the stones of the original article. Then it was lost. Grief.

The others hadn’t seen it. They didn’t know it. Maybe they were a generation removed, maybe they weren’t as close as the priests or Levites. All they knew was that the foundation had been laid and it was full speed ahead. Joy.

This is our life in the grit of our incarnation, our “already but not yet” situation where we are seeing God in simple ways and grieving the places where we are blinded by reality and grieving for losses and pains beyond comprehension.

This is how it must be. It can’t be either/or. It must be both/and.

To have the future, sometimes we grieve the past. The joy of a new marriage bears the grief of the failures and foibles of the first. The joy of a new job bears the grief of the “farewell conversations” to those we have worked alongside and have grown to love.

To even have prayers answered, often we must grieve something and leave it behind to have the joy of what we’re designed for and desire to move towards.

The place of greatest spiritual health, the place where we are formed into Christlikeness is where we stand in the middle of the grief and the joy. To die, to weep, to cry out but also to celebrate, imbibe, and share hope of the future. We grow in that tension. We grow through that tension. This is the tension of Jesus. This is our tension. Both/and.

Today, think on these two questions:

  1. What is God calling you to grieve today? Something good you must leave behind? Something long strapped to your shoulders that needs to be released?
  2. What is God calling you to rejoice in today? A promise, a possibility, a simple treasure of the everyday that shows you that God is not far but instead is near?

When you find yourself living in a place where you are holding these two opposing strands at the same time, do not be surprised if you get an unfiltered and unedited view of the great goodness of the God who brings exiles back home, who rebuilds temples, and who is audience to BOTH our grieving AND our joy.

God is a God of both/and. Not either/or. That is His Kingdom.

 


 

Casey TygrettCasey Tygrett is a the spiritual formation pastor at Parkview Christian Church (Illinois) as well as a professor, spiritual director, and blogger at caseytygrett.com

Posted in Blog, Narrative | Tags: / / /

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Feb 20

IS STUDYING THE OLD TESTAMENT WORTH THE TIME AND EFFORT? (Part Two)

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Scripture

(This is the second blog of a three part blog on the Old Testament and Christian Spiritual Formation by Dr. Stan Harstine, Professor of Religion at Friends University – read his first blog here) Learning to think like Jesus thought is a difficult task. It is made more

...
Scripture

(This is the second blog of a three part blog on the Old Testament and Christian Spiritual Formation by Dr. Stan Harstine, Professor of Religion at Friends University – read his first blog here)

Learning to think like Jesus thought is a difficult task. It is made more difficult if we are unfamiliar with the Scripture of Jesus!! The Old Testament has much to share with us in the challenges to following God, both the positive outcomes and the negative consequences. Jesus’ thinking was shaped by these writings about his ancestors’ covenant relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

How does the Old Testament help us live as Jesus lived?

For all the attention given in various Christian circles to returning to the “New Testament period” or to following the teachings of Jesus, too often little attention is paid to the source of those teachings. Remaining in the Gospel of Luke for examples, we find in the Temptation account three quotations by Jesus of Old Testament passages, and two more by the tempter: from Deuteronomy by Jesus and Psalms by the tempter. Later in the same chapter, the Gospel records the passage in Isaiah 61:1-2 read by Jesus, which he then describes as being fulfilled in their hearing. (Luke 4:4-12 and 18-21) Yet despite these clues many followers of Jesus profess ignorance of, or else devalue, the Old Testament while seeking in their own life to “have the mind of Christ.” As the song Old Time Religion” goes, “it was good for [Jesus] and it’s good enough for me.”

So, how does the Old Testament help us live as Jesus lived? I would propose two main thoughts for consideration: It helps transform and shape our narrative about God’s character and God’s purpose.

God’s character

There is probably no greater narrative that can negatively affect our apprenticeship with Jesus than our narrative concerning God’s character. The first of the Apprentice series, The Good and Beautiful God, wrestles with many of those. Our modern world often has a schizophrenic perspective on the God of the Bible, viewing the Old Testament and New Testament as portraying two distinct deities. Yet it is the God of the Old Testament whom Jesus calls Father and urges his audience to follow and love! The word schizophrenia comes from the same Greek word Paul uses in encouraging his audience to have, not a mind divided from Christ but rather, a mind united with Christ. So what does the Old Testament teach us about the character of God?

One of the key attributes of God in the OT is that of hesed, frequently translated as “lovingkindness” or “steadfast love.” It appears over 200 times in the text. The first appears within the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in the words of Lot.

Now behold, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have magnified your lovingkindness, which you have shown me by saving my life; but I cannot escape to the mountains, for the disaster will overtake me and I will die; (Gen 19:19, NAS95)

Over half the total appearances of this word are in the Book of Psalms. This “hymnbook” of the people of God returns time and again to the theme of God’s character.

For the king trusts in the LORD, And through the lovingkindness of the Most High he will not be shaken. (Psalm 21:8, NAS95)

How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings. (Psalm 36:7, NAS95)

Yet, the word is also translated as “righteousness” as in Psalm 5:8. O LORD, lead me in Your righteousness because of my foes; Make Your way straight before me. (NAS95) Interestingly, the next verse of the psalm is referenced by Paul in Romans 3 as he demonstrates that there is none righteous, no not one! There is nothing reliable in what they say; Their inward part is destruction itself. Their throat is an open grave; They flatter with their tongue. (Psalm 5:9, NAS95)

Who is the God Jesus proclaims if not the God described in the “Writings?” One of the favorite texts to utilize in reshaping narratives–indeed that is what Jesus was doing at the time!–is the beatitude section of Matthew 5. If we think Jesus found his teaching within the Old Testament, we would be right. The central portion of the Beatitudes, 5:4-8, consists of Jesus rephrasing teachings from His Scriptures.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

To proclaim the favorable year of the LORD, And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, (Isaiah 61:2)

“Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.

But the humble will inherit the land, And will delight themselves in abundant prosperity. (Psalm 37:11)

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; And you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk, Without money and without cost. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And delight yourself in abundance. Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live; And I will make an everlasting covenant with you, According to the faithful mercies shown to David. (Isaiah 55:1-3)

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

The merciful man does himself good, But the cruel man does himself harm. (Proverb 11:17)

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? And who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood, And has not sworn deceitfully. (Psalm 24:3-4)

One trap followers of Jesus are prone to stumble into is the trap of substitution. We consciously or subconsciously replace Yahweh, God the Father with Jesus, God the Son, and remove God the Father from our world of thinking. This is easy to do based on some statements of Jesus.

Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner. (John 5:19)

Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (John 14:9)

Yet John’s Prologue ends with No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. (John 1:18) This, and every other reference to “God” in the New Testament writing references the God presented in the Old Testament. Jesus is portrayed throughout John’s Gospel as explaining this God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Greek word used for “explain” is the word lying behind the preaching word, hermeneutics. Jesus is presenting the God of the Old Testament in a way that those around him might see the truth of God’s character and experience the steadfast love of this very same God. The stories found within the Old Testament testify to the hesed of God, the lovingkindness, the steadfast love dependent not on the actions and attitudes of the humans but on the character of God! One example will suffice.

Due to a famine throughout the regions of Egypt and Canaan, the descendants of Abraham leave the land they were given and go to Egypt for nourishment. They become comfortable in that new place and remain several generations, prospering on their personal connections to a previously important individual, now deceased. Their political fortunes change, as do their financial affairs. Soon, their physical freedoms are removed and they are situated at the bottom rung of the social ladder. After many decades of seeming forgetfulness, the Old Testament records that they “cried out” and their cry “rose up to God” and “God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” (Exodus 2:23-24, NAS95) It does not say that they cried out to God, only that they cried out because of their bondage and God heard their groaning.

Many are familiar with the stories of Moses, that God called him out of the wilderness and sent him to confront the ruler of the land and to rescue His people. God’s hesed does not permit leaving his people in suffering. The book of Judges repeats this cycle, but makes clear that when the generation that knew the deliverance of God died, their progeny forgot and turned away from God. Yet, when they cry out in their suffering, God delivers them through one he sends. What a different narrative than one that reads, “unless I am really good and do everything I am supposed to do, God will not help me at all.”

In the next post I will explain a second element of Jesus’ thinking we can learn in the Old Testament, that of God’s purpose.

 

Feature Image Photo Credit: Rachel Titriga


 

harstine

An educator since 1984, Stan Harstine is convinced that his career consists of “teaching students to think.” He has engaged in this career since 2002 at Friends University using biblical studies as his medium. His greatest accomplishment for 2014 was having 3 sons graduated from college, gainfully employed and not living at home.

Posted in Apprenticeship, Blog, Kingdom of God, Narrative | Tags: / / / / /

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Feb 13

Is Studying the Old Testament Worth the Time and Effort?

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(Part one of a three part series on the Old Testament and Christian Spiritual Formation) I had a conversation recently with an individual reading a 20th century foreign author. In essence he said, this guy’s writing is really dense. The voice inflections were those of

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(Part one of a three part series on the Old Testament and Christian Spiritual Formation)

I had a conversation recently with an individual reading a 20th century foreign author. In essence he said, this guy’s writing is really dense. The voice inflections were those of one exasperated by the inability to easily master the thoughts of this writer placed on the printed page. Yet, behind the exasperation was steely determination to keep at it until those thoughts had been mastered. Both the exasperation and determination are common for those who attempt to understand the Old Testament. Is it really worth the time and effort?

Some writings tell us stories; some of those stories cause us to think differently. Other writings seek to instruct us and improve us in some particular area; cookbooks immediately come to mind. From these writings we tend to pick and choose, we grab what we can immediately and then place it on the shelf. Are instructional writings worth the time and effort?

The answer to this question is found in our motivation for picking them up and reading them. If I just want to add trivia to a collection kept in my brain, then they are probably not. If I want to become better at something, then definitely!

The question for this blog, “Is studying the Old Testament worth the time and effort?,” likewise depends on our motivation. As followers of Jesus, hopefully the answer would be a strong and solid, “YES!” One of the first attributes for any apprentice is to study what the skilled craftsman does. The relationship between doing and thinking is much like that of the chicken and the egg.

In his letter to the believers in Rome Paul provides many instructions on what his listeners should do.

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. (Romans 12:9-13, NAS95)

Yet, before telling them to do anything, he encourages them to submit to God and have their mind changed.

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. (Romans 12:1-2, NAS95)

The word translated as “prove” is identified in classical Greek as meaning “to think fit to do.” Paul thus links the transformation of our thinking as a step toward understanding God’s will directs us to actions that are actually good for us to do. In other words, as our thinking changes so too do our actions. Paul uses this same word for thinking/understanding in 26 different verses throughout his letters. Although this word appears five times in Romans 12, perhaps Paul’s most famous use of the concept is developed in Philippians 2 where he introduces his grand statement about Jesus’ humanity with “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,” (NAS95) or more literally, “You (all) are to think just like Jesus thought.” (Philippians 2:5)

For those who wish to follow Jesus as an apprentice these words provide excellent guidance. At the Apprentice Institute we refer to the way we think in life about the various situations in our lives as our narratives. Our goal as apprentices of Jesus is to replace a False Narrative with a True Narrative based on the truth of God. Where then do we get these true narratives? How do we come to understand the false narratives in our life?

Fortunately, these answers need not go unanswered. Paul provides us the answer; we are to take on the narratives of Jesus himself! It is such a simple answer, but the question remains for many who would wish to be apprentices of Jesus, how is that even possible since Jesus is God?

Fortunately, reading the New Testament with “ears to hear” opens the door for these narratives of Jesus. Matthew 21 reports Jesus visit to the Temple during the week before his crucifixion. It is a relative short account. And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. (21:12 NAS95) This action of Jesus seems out of character with the teacher of parables. What could have motivated Jesus to do what he did? Perhaps it was his understanding of the Old Testament!!! Matthew continues And He said to them, “It is written,‘ MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER’; but you are making it a ROBBERS’ DEN.” (21:13)

Direct quotations in the New Testament are intended to call to mind a larger passage from the Old that provide context for understanding their usage. In the case of the first here, Isaiah 56 is the context.

      “Also the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD,

      To minister to Him, and to love the name of the LORD,

      To be His servants, every one who keeps from profaning the sabbath

      And holds fast My covenant;

      Even those I will bring to My holy mountain

      And make them joyful in My house of prayer.

      Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar;

      For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.”

      The Lord GOD, who gathers the dispersed of Israel, declares,

      “Yet others I will gather to them, to those already gathered.” (56:6-8, NAS95)

This context tells us that behind Jesus’ action of clearing the Temple lies an understanding of the purpose of God: to bring others to his House. His action is against a practice that is preventing “others” from coming to the House of the Lord. Jesus’ action is motivated by His thinking, which is based on His understanding of the Old Testament.

The second passage from Jeremiah 7 is even more descriptive. The basis of Jeremiah 7 is a call to repentance, a call to change their behavior patterns. Jeremiah proclaims that those who come to the House of the Lord do so with unclean deeds in their past and future, yet think that this Holy location will somehow prevent them from facing punishment. This action of Jesus, which precipitates his arrest and death, is based firmly on the Old Testament teaching. A follower of Jesus should take Jesus’ Bible seriously!

 In the next two posts I will discuss two topics where the Old Testament can help us build True Narratives about God the Father.

 


harstineAn educator since 1984, Stan Harstine is convinced that his career consists of “teaching students to think.” He has engaged in this career since 2002 at Friends University using biblical studies as his medium. His greatest accomplishment for 2014 was having 3 sons graduated from college, gainfully employed and not living at home.

Posted in Apprenticeship, Blog, Narrative, Spiritural Growth, Uncategorized | Tags: / / / / / /

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Oct 22

What’s a Prophet for, Anyway?

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What do Samuel the Ephraimite, Ahijah the Shilonite, Elijah the Tishbite, and Jeremiah son of Hilkiah have in common? In addition to really cool names, they were all prophets of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The more relevant question is, “what can we

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What do Samuel the Ephraimite, Ahijah the Shilonite, Elijah the Tishbite, and Jeremiah son of Hilkiah have in common?

In addition to really cool names, they were all prophets of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The more relevant question is, “what can we learn today from the prophets of old?”

Since my role for now as a guest blogger is to accent the relationship between the Old Testament and Christian Spiritual Formation, the reader can already anticipate that the answer has something to do with Formation. But more importantly, it deals with Formation for Mission!

Recently our university hosted Palmer Chinchen, author of The Barefoot Tribe, on campus. During a very pleasant conversation over a Vietnamese dinner, he began to mention his focus on Justice. The word itself echoes powerfully in the ear of the reader who has spent time in the prophetic books of the canon. Justice is a critical theme for the prophets; it has to do with setting the world aright under God’s plan.

Therefore, return to your God,
Observe kindness and justice,
And wait for your God continually. (Hosea 12:6, NAS95)

The justice Palmer mentioned was surprising to me since he used no modifier in front of it as so many proponents use: Social Justice, Economic Justice, Legal Justice, etc. Later in a hallway conversation with James Bryan Smith, the two recognized that they are using different words to propose the same concept: Christ-imitating behavior.

Take away from Me the noise of your songs;
I will not even listen to the sound of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters
And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:23-24. NAS95)

**"The Prophets Hosea and Jonah" by Raphael

**”The Prophets Hosea and Jonah” by Raphael

But, let me return to the Prophets for a moment. The role of the prophet in the Old Testament was, using Apprentice language, to help others confront false narratives. The basic narrative needing correction was that Israel’s powerful, important people (kings) were not gods, as many nations around them held their kings to be. Instead, they were to be God’s representatives on earth to insure that powerful, wealthy and influential individuals did not allow selfishness and personal ambition to overrun the status and personhood of their weak, poor, and common countryman. In other words, the King was to insure Justice. The prophet’s role was to remind the ruler of his duty to enforce justice.

Another role of the prophets was to remind the rulers (that’s normally who they talk to!) that there was one and only one God in Israel. Idolatry was not going to go unpunished since it eroded the people’s participation in their covenantal obligations. Idolatry by the leaders was mirrored among the common people. The prophet served as the moral compass and conscience for the nation when they forgot their spiritual center.

What, then, can we learn today from the prophets of old, if anything, about spiritual formation?

First and foremost, God indicates through the prophets that the activity of his people is to protect the rights of the poor and helpless. Those who are engaged in spiritual formation to be shaped into the likeness of God and his son Jesus must consider their treatment of the less fortunate as a primary responsibility.

‘Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.’ (Zechariah 7:9-10, NAS95)

Second, the role of the followers of Jesus is to remind their sojourners of the danger of beginning to lose sight of the holiness of God. The culture in which we live offers a multitude of attractions a follower of Jesus can pursue if he/she becomes stagnate in his/her life or relies on the activity of God at an earlier time of life to substitute for a living encounter with God’s presence in the now time. Followers of Jesus must serve a prophetic role within their community of co-followers and gently encourage one another to return to a trusting, enlivening relationship with Jesus. More importantly followers of Jesus must be willing to build transparency within their community that allows them to listen and respond to brothers and sisters who bring a word of correction through the Spirit of God’s leaning. We do not walk alone!

 And just as He called and they would not listen, so they called and I would not listen,” says the LORD of hosts. (Zechariah 7:13, NAS95)


harstineAn educator since 1984, Stan Harstine is convinced that his career consists of “teaching students to think.” He has engaged in this career since 2002 at Friends University using biblical studies as his medium. His greatest accomplishment for 2014 is to have 3 sons graduated from college, gainfully employed and not living at home.

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