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Ministry

Diagram of Herod's Temple
Herod’s Temple, patterned after the Tabernacle

In today’s Bible reading from Hebrews 9, the writer says that the ministry under the new covenant ministry is better than the ministry under the old covenant.

Under the old covenant in the Tabernacle — and later in the Temple — the ordinary priests could enter the Holy Place to do their ministry, but ordinary men couldn’t go there. The High Priest could enter the Most Holy Place (the “Holy of Holies”), but ordinary priests couldn’t go there. And the High Priest could only enter the Most Holy Place once a year, on the Day of atonement. He had to do this every year. The writer says that Jesus’ blood was so much more effective than the blood of goats and bulls in cleansing the conscience of God’s people. (Hebrews 9:13–14). (More on this tomorrow)

Application

Imagine feeling the guilt of committing a sin, knowing that it couldn’t be covered by a sacrifice for 364 days. Imagine carrying the conviction for that sin and every other sin you commit multiple times each day for an entire year. That’s a lot of guilt.

Next, imagine the feeling on the Day of Atonement when the High Priest emerges from the Most Holy Place. All that guilt from all those sins you committed for the past 365 days was covered… in an instant!

Ministry under the new covenant is so much better! No longer do God’s people have to look forward to a day when their sins could be dealt with. Now, we can look back, knowing that our sins have been covered — all of our sins, once for all time — by Jesus’ blood. What a relief!

If you are a believer, you don’t even have to worry if a sin you committed a moment ago is covered. It was already covered almost 2000 years ago, long before the Holy Spirit even convicted you of that sin and you asked for forgiveness!

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Many of my family members are United Methodists. Many of my friends are United Methodists. Some of my “Facebook Friends” (whom I have never really met) are United Methodists. I was saved during revival services at a small country United Methodist Church. My number one reason for leaving the Denomination and not pursuing vocational ministry in the UMC – aside for obvious theological differences – was I knew that I could not with a good conscience hold to my theological differences with the UMC while drawing a paycheck from the Denomination. Those theological differences are unrelated to this post.

Last week, the United Methodists from around the world met in St. Louis, Missouri to try to make sense of its differences and chart a way forward. At the forefront was the issue of ordination of openly gay clergy and gay marriage. There were several paths they could have chosen, including a “One Church” Plan that would have allowed churches and their clergy, regardless of their position on these issues, to affirm or forbid gay clergy and/or gay marriage.

However, the “Traditional” Plan prevailed. The “Traditional” Plan, backed by a large number of delegates from Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe, affirms The Book of the Discipline, UMC’s statement of doctrine and practice. The Book of the Discipline states that homosexuality is incompatible with Christianity. Therefore, by default, gay ordination and gay marriage would also be incompatible.

In several Facebook posts, several of my United Methodist Pastor friends have expressed their deep concerns for the future of the second largest denomination in the United States. They are concerned about those on both sides of the issue being hurt by the vote. This morning, one posted a link to an article posted yesterday by another Methodist pastor. In the article, Jason Micheli’s parishioner (the article’s actual content writer) says, “The United Methodist Church’s unfixable rot has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with polity.” The writer lays out his argument that the root of the problem in the UMC is its polity, and as such, the denomination was destined to reach the impasse they currently find themselves in.

While all of these things may be true, I think the article writer – and perhaps most United Methodists – miss is an even deeper issue, which I encountered a few days ago with a “Facebook Friend”. This person shared someone else’s post. Here’s the thread:

Original Post:
“Please don’t say the struggle for LGBTQ rights is dividing the church. No one is being divisive by simply claiming their rights as a human being. What is tearing the church apart is the hypocrisy of those who claim grace for themselves but inflict judgment on everyone else.”

My response:
“No one’s being divisive by pointing out a denomination’s written statement of doctrine and practice and calling those paid by that denomination to adhere to it. No one’s being divisive to say the Bible is still authoritative. John Wesley held a high view of the Bible and based his own ethics and behavior on all of it.”

My Facebook friend’s response:
“Scripture does not condemn Homosexuality.
Policies are not scripture or the Church.”

My responses:
“Which Bible are you reading? I know which one you aren’t reading.
It shouldn’t be too much to expect organizational employees to faithfully represent the organization, regardless of the organization – McDonald’s, Starbucks, UMC, IBM, etc. – if they wish to keep a paycheck. The Book of the Discipline is what the UMC has codified. Those drawing a paycheck should faithfully represent the UMC, or find another organization they can faithfully represent.
This is reason #1 I did not pursue ministry in the UMC.”

– End of Thread –

The problem with the UMC which has brought division is not the “hypocrisy of those who claim grace for themselves but inflict judgment on everyone else.” The problem with the UMC is that they can’t agree on the place of the Bible in the Denomination’s theology and practice. Therefore, they can’t define sin in an objective way, because they don’t have an objective source. From the reaction I have seen in the press and on social media, it would appear that “sin” would be to act in an “unchristlike” way: judgmental, intolerant, and unaffirming of others.

And therein lies the problem.

Those on both sides of the gay ordination/gay marriage issue claim the other side is being “unchristlike“. But how can someone actually define “unchristlike” apart from a Biblical standpoint? After all, everything we know about Jesus Christ and what He was like is in the Bible. Jesus had some very divisive things to say to a lot of people as He called out their sin. And those He reached out to in mercy and grace, He told to repent of their behaviorand sin no longer.

There can be no objective definition of “Christlike“/”unchristlike“, “sin“, “repentance“, and “reaching the world with the gospel” apart from the Bible.

And until the United Methodist Church decides the place and authority of the Bible, there can be no definition of “unity” or any of these crucial and highly relevant words.

Until good people are more concerned with fidelity to the Bible and historic, Christian teachings on homosexuality – consistent for nearly two centuries – than with their concern for “friends on both sides of the issue who are hurt by the vote”, the future of the United Methodist Church is bleak.

Methodist friends, you have passed a historic vote to stand firm on your position stated clearly in The Book of the Discipline. The only two choices you have is to remain true to Biblical truth (as you voted last week) or bend to the modern morays of the Sexual Revolution. I’m not saying that homosexuals and those ordaining them and/or performing homosexual marriages are evil. But the Bible unequivocally denounces homosexual behavior.

With today’s Bible reading, we conclude our reading through the book of Acts. The book ends rather abruptly, almost as if Chapter 29 has been lost. But of course, that didn’t happen. Some have suggested that Dr. Luke didn’t finish the book and that we are living today in Acts 29.

One very important thing I want to point out from today’s reading is easily missed by reading many of our Bible translations. Now, before I go any further on this, please hear me say this loud and clear: I believe that God’s Word is inspired by God, it is infallible, and it does not err in any way. Having said that, let me add that modern translations of the Bible accurately convey God’s Word very clearly. I encourage you to read from several recent Bible translations in your native language, comparing words and phrases used by the translators. Doing so can bring out nuances that don’t always translate as clearly as they should..* No, I don’t believe that you have to be a Greek or Hebrew scholar to hear God speak as you read your Bible. But knowing the languages can help to bring out a better clarity in your study.

Most of us in the US have at least one TV in our home. A few of the older TVs display shades of black and white, while the newer ones display in color. Some of the newer TVs are digital. And some of the newest (and most expensive) ones have 4K High Definition displays. It’s possible to watch your favorite football game on a 13″ black and white TV and not miss a single play. However, watching the same game on a 60″ high-definition 4K color TV allows you to see more detail as you watch. Reading and studying with most of our modern translations is like watching the game on most people’s TVs. Studying the Bible in its original languages is like watching the game on a high-definition TV.

Unfortunately, several modern English translations miss a very important point in Acts 28:8-9. This is one of those cases where comparing translations, and perhaps using some language tools can help to bring God’s Word into clearer focus.

Ok, I’ve spent a LOT more time prefacing this than I intended, but here’s the point. Let’s compare a few translations of Acts 28:8-9.

Christian Standard Bible
8Publius’s father was in bed suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went to him, and praying and laying his hands on him, he healed him. 9After this, the rest of those on the island who had diseases also came and were healed.

English Standard Version
8It happened that the father of Publius lay sick with fever and dysentery. And Paul visited him and prayed, and putting his hands on him, healed him. 9And when this had taken place, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured.

Did you catch the difference? The CSB uses the word healed twice, but the ESV uses two different words: healed and cured. Dr. Luke was very precise in how he described what Paul did with Publius’ father and what he did with the other islanders.

When Paul visited Publius’ father, God gave a miraculous, instantaneous healing. However, the rest of the people were given therapy which led to their restored health over a period of time. The end result was the same. Publius’ father and the rest of the islanders were restored to a healthy state. And Dr. Luke points out that God just restored them differently.

Application

So what difference does it make? It makes a huge difference!

Someone may tell you that you don’t need to see a doctor; all you have to do is believe and pray. Another person may tell you that there are no miraculous healings; the way God heals today is with doctors and medicine. Each person prays differently. One prays that God will miraculously, instantaneously heal you. The other prays that God will use the medicine and guide the surgeon’s hands during surgery to restore you to health.

I pray both ways because both ways are Biblical! And you can’t (or you shouldn’t!) do either one without the other. Know that regardless of how He does it, God always heals!

God may choose to heal you miraculously. God may choose to cure you through medicine, surgery, or some other therapy. Either way, praise God for restoring you to health! But don’t neglect praying for healing, and don’t neglect going to your doctor and taking your meds.

What about people who aren’t restored to health miraculously or cured over time? Great question!

A couple of paragraphs back, I said that regardless of how He does it, God always heals! But God doesn’t always restore people’s health the way we want Him to and He doesn’t always restore people’s health when we want Him to. Sometimes God brings healing when the person crosses over to the other side of eternity, where there is no sickness, no pain, no suffering, and no tears.

The bottom line is: God is God. Let Him accomplish His work His way in His time. Yes, pray for healing! Yes, pray and seek medical help.

Do both … and trust God to be God.

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* I don’t want to get distracted too much by this, so please refer to my other posts on Bible translations for more information.

Today’s Bible reading from Acts 19 begins with an encounter with the disciples of John the Baptizer (Acts 19:1-7).

Paul asked if they had received the Holy Spirit when they believed. They said they had not; they only knew about John’s baptism and hadn’t heard of the Holy Spirit. So like Apollos in yesterday’s reading, they were given the rest of the story. Then John’s disciples received the Holy Spirit, Who manifested with tongues and prophecy just like He had with the Jews (Acts 2), the Samaritans (Acts 8), and the Gentiles (Acts 10).

And this is the last time Dr. Luke records the presence of tongues.

pentecost

Tongues and prophecy were very important ways the Holy Spirit manifested Himself in the early days of the church. There were only four instances: When the Jews believed, when the Samaritans believed, when the Gentiles believed, and when John’s disciples believed. That’s it.

So why would Dr. Luke only record only these four occurrences of “receiving the Holy Spirit”? Think about it: Each of these groups was a major milestone in the growth of the church. They were all “firsts”.

Okay, the Jews, the Samaritans, and the Gentiles were “firsts”. Why would I say that when John’s disciples received the Spirit that it was a “first”?

John was the last of the Old Testament prophets. He preached a baptism of repentance to prepare for Jesus’ arrival. John’s disciples hadn’t heard the rest of the story. They needed to know that there was more to the story than just a behavior change of turning from your sin. They needed to know that the Holy Spirit would come to indwell believers, giving them power for behavior change that was never available under the Law.

I see John’s disciples’ reception of the Spirit similar to someone who grows up in church today; all they know is the need for behavior change. Perhaps all they’ve heard is that your sins will condemn you to an everlasting separation from a Holy God. But if that’s all you know, your behavior changes are only to avoid hell. And fire insurance isn’t enough to ensure an eternal reward in God’s presence!

But Jesus’ death sealed the deal on behavior change. No more would anyone need to worry about living up to God’s standards. Jesus did it for us! And by coming to Him, exchanging our sin for His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21), we receive the Holy Spirit, Who gives us life (which the Law could never do) and power to live a life that honors God (the Law couldn’t do that either!).

When John’s disciples’ received the Holy Spirit, it was a “first” of those of us who hoped our standing before God could be based on our own behavior, though we knew all along that we never could measure up.

I see each of these “firsts” as Authentic, New Covenant Salvation. Each of these “firsts” describe a new people group being saved. When the Holy Spirit manifested in tongues and prophecy, He confirmed that the individuals in each group were authenticly saved, just like the individuals in the other “first” groups before it, going back to Acts 2 which fulfilled Joel’s prophecy that the Holy Spirit would be poured out on all kinds of people.

Application

Remember that Dr. Luke records descriptions of what happened in the early church. He does not record prescriptions of how things should happen regularly on a typical day-to-day basis. The New Testament History books (The Gospels and Acts) describe. The New Testament Letters prescribe. We run the risk of misunderstanding and misapplying Scripture when we force a descriptive Bible passage to function like a prescriptive Bible passage.

So am I saying that tongues and prophecy aren’t needed any longer? No. I’m not saying that at all! But for the most part, the reason the Holy Spirit manifested in those ways at that time isn’t needed anymore, especially in Judeo-Christian culture. Tongues, prophecy, and other Spiritual gifts serve an equipping function today, not a validating function as they did back then.

So where does that leave us today?

God has given each of His kids at least one unique spiritual gift and He intends to use those gifts through His kids to build up His church. He also wired each of us differently in personality and life experience. That means that we have an infinite combination of gift/personality/experience mix in every church, regardless of its size.

Spend some time today thanking God for your gift(s) and individual wiring. Ask Him to show you how to develop your gift(s) to help your local church to grow to be more like Jesus.

In today’s Bible reading, from Acts 18, we read about an eloquent man named Apollos; he was very familiar with the Scriptures and was very passionate. (Acts 18:24-25)

The problem was, Apollos didn’t know the whole story. What he knew, he knew very well. But he didn’t know what he didn’t know. So Priscilla and Aquilla took Apollos aside and taught him the rest of the story.

Application

There are a couple of takeaways from today’s reading that I want to highlight.

Regardless of how well you know your Bible, you can always know more. A growing faith requires humility and “teachableness” so we can learn with both our heads and our hearts.

Secondly, Paul said some controversial things about the roles of women and men in the church. I won’t go into it here, but I will point out that both Priscilla and Aquilla were involved in teaching Apollos “the way of God more accurately”. And note that Dr. Luke lists Priscilla’s name before her husband’s.

Spend a few minutes thanking God for the people who have had an important role in your faith walk.

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