Absence of Pain, Presence of God

Rebecca Van Noord

Ezekiel 17:1–18:32; Revelation 7:9–8:13; Job 34:16–30

When life is difficult, we often take refuge in knowing there’s a life to come—one in which we’ll be free from pain and the worries of this world. The thought brings us comfort. During the difficult times, the life to come might even be more appealing than the present.

Revelation shows us a picture of what new life for those redeemed by Christ will look like: “These are the ones who have come out of the great tribulation, and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Because of this, they are before the throne of God, and they serve him day and night in his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will not be hungry any longer or be thirsty any longer, nor will the sun ever beat down on them, nor any heat” (Rev 7:14–16).

In Revelation the life to come appears as a shelter from all the traumatic and stressful things afflicting the first-century church—hunger, thirst, and heat. Yet we shouldn’t simply define this new life as a time when we’ll be free from the stress and pain of this world.

This new life is defined by God’s presence. The sacrifice of the Lamb has made life with God possible again. If we are clothed in His righteousness, we can stand before the throne of God. Revelation illustrates what our relationship with God is and is destined to be. We will serve Him day and night—as we were created to do—and He will shelter us. The Lamb will shelter and shepherd us, leading us to “springs of living waters” (Rev 7:17).

When we long for relief, we might be yearning for a renewed sense of God’s presence among us. We long for His presence because it is free from difficulty and filled with His incredible love.

What are you truly longing for?

This article was originally posted in Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan.

Shelf Life Book Review: The “Other” in Second Temple Judaism

Matthew Whitehead

The “Other” in Second Temple Judaism
Eerdmans, 2011

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This book is a collection of 28 essays unified around the theme of the “Other” in Second Temple Judaism. This accessible book provides a background for the period of time in which Jesus was born. Each essay examines how Jews forged their sense of identity by contrasting their way of life and worship with other peoples and religions from 515 BC–73 AD.

This collection honors biblical scholar John J. Collins. His former students and colleagues interact with his research, which focuses on five areas: the Hebrew Bible and its reception, Wisdom literature, apocalypticism, the Dead Sea Scrolls and Hellenistic Judaism.

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 4 No. 3

The Love Myth

Matthew Elliot

“Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” (Matt 22:36)

An “expert in religious law,” backed up by the Pharisees, poses this seemingly innocent question to Jesus in an attempt to trap Him. Will He agree that some laws are greater than others? Jesus’ answer thwarts their expectations and overturns their religiosity:

“ ‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ ” (Matt 22:37–39).

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The Greek term used for love in this passage, agape (ἀγαπή), has often been interpreted as a special type of love—one that embodies rational commitment, our actions and our will, but not necessarily our emotions. Is this the way we should love God and our neighbor?

Agape: Pure and Simple

agape has come to be understood as a love irrespective of emotion. As such, we’ve applied an interpretive lens to New Testament passages employing this form of love.

However, the usage of agape in the New Testament does not provide enough evidence to support this claim. Matthew even uses agape as generic love in reference to money when Jesus says: “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love (agape) the other” (Matt 6:24). In this context, Jesus is saying you can agape money.

The Septuagint—the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures that New Testament writers drew on—goes so far as to use agape for immorality and other godless loves.

Emotional Taboo

How did this love myth come about? The idea that love involves our will and actions, but not our emotions, is based on the teachings of Plato and Darwin, who thought of emotion as a primitive impulse. They considered reason to come from our higher, more developed faculties.

In contrast to this, the Bible teaches us that we were made in the image of God. Our emotions and our reason were built to function in a relationship—as they do in God Himself. Since the fall, both our reason and our emotions are equally broken.

We find instructions for emotions in the Bible. Scripture teaches us not to live in fear, hate, anger or sorrow. “Fear not” is probably the most repeated phrase of comfort in the Bible. But we’re also commanded to embrace feelings of love, joy and hope: “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!” (Phil 4:4).

Draining Transformation

We often mistakenly believe that God does not care about how we feel. Stripping the emotion out of loving God and others inhibits our desire to live out the gospel.

When we approach Jesus’ greatest commandments without emotion, we drain them of their power to transform. Love that is driven by duty and action only demands so much of us. In contrast, genuine love requires more; we can’t simply check it off our spiritual to-do list. It’s not easy to obey Jesus’ command: “But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you” (Luke 6:27–28). Feeling a real love toward those who are difficult to love requires God’s power to move in us.

The Greatest of Commandments

The Pharisees attempted to live out a works-based religion. Jesus overturned their sense of law-keeping by identifying love as the greatest command—the heart of the Scriptures: “The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (22:40).

When you read “rejoice in the Lord always,” or “love your enemies,” realize that it includes God transforming all of you—not simply your reason, your actions or your will.

Read more about faith and emotions with Feelings and Faith by Brian S. Borgman. Go to Vyros.com/BorgmanFeelings

Biblical references are from the New Living Translation (NLT).

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 4 No. 2

The Harmonic Life with Dan Moen

Karen Jones

“Music has a way of disarming the nonbeliever because it is enjoyable and fun,” says Don Moen. “Most cultures, generations and churches can agree that God is worthy of praise. But in the practical sense, we need to put worship into action and help those who need it.”

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From an early age, Moen had two great passions: music and God’s Word. He merged both talents into a mobile ministry that has taken him on a 40-year journey through every continent except Antarctica. Though he has many demanding projects, Moen is a musician with a gift for melody and a desire to share it.

A LIFESTYLE OF WORSHIP

To Moen, worship is about more than just singing—it’s a lifestyle. “There is something wonderful about coming together and singing songs. Music is the universal language and worship brings unity.”

Moen has written over 100 songs and produced 11 volumes of the Hosanna! Music series. He received the Dove Award for his work on the musical God With Us and has performed with musicians like Chris Tomlin, Twila Paris, Sara Groves and Paul Baloche.

Moen gave up his 20-year tenure as a music executive at Integrity Media to form The Don Moen Company. He also launched a nonprofit organization, Don Moen and Friends, with a mission to bring hope and comfort to impoverished people across the globe. “Because of the touring I have done, I have friends all over the world who are ready to help.” His nonprofit has recently partnered with Food for the Poor to raise funds to build houses in Haiti.

LIVING SOUND

Moen grew up in Two Harbors, Minnesota, where his mother—the church piano player—instilled in him a love for God and music. By age 12, he had accepted Christ as his savior and was becoming a gifted violinist. Moen developed his musical abilities and was eventually awarded with a music scholarship.

During his junior year at Oral Roberts University, Moen met Terry Law, founder of Living Sound—a contemporary Christian music group. Law invited Moen to audition for an upcoming overseas tour. “I told my Dad the tour would only be for a short while, and 10 years later I finally got off the bus,” Moen says. During that time, he was responsible for most of the group’s musical arrangements and productions.

Moen traveled with Living Sound to Europe, Asia and South America. “We went all over the world doing missionary evangelism. I did three concerts a day and almost 1,000 concerts a year.”

He also traveled extensively in what was then the Soviet bloc, using music as a cover to help underground churches spread the good news. While in Soviet Russia, Moen saw firsthand what the personal cost of discipleship can be. “Those years were scary at times—but I was impacted by the commitment of young people in countries where taking a stand could mean going to prison. We take our freedom of religion here in America so lightly.”

REACHING THE UNDERGROUND

Moen traveled to Vietnam—a country that does not look kindly on evangelizing: “The Party shut down our crusades in Hanoi and sent busloads of people back to their villages.” However, the underground churches there have a passion and determination to serve God, which Moen finds inspiring. “I think we forget how hungry people are. So many people are just waiting for someone to say, ‘I have some good news for you.’ ”

Get your copy of Don Moen’s daily devotional, My Heart for His Glory: Celebrating His Presence, at Vyrso.com/MoenHeart

People are so hungry and ready to accept Christ. I see it all the time.

HONEST QUESTIONS

While Moen appreciates disciplined habits, his life is too hectic for a strict routine. “I have read through the Bible several times, but usually I’ll meditate for hours on a passage and ask God to bring a revelation to me,” he says.

“Jesus is the living Word; the Bible is the written Word. Somehow we put a little less power in the written Word when we shouldn’t. These words contain the power to accomplish what they are talking about. The Bible says God’s Word will not return void but will accomplish the purpose for which it was said.”

Moen encourages believers to study the Bible with others and ask questions. “God is not afraid of our honest questions. If you walk out of your Bible study one week without the answer, that’s okay. Next week you may figure it out. We are never going to understand God completely. You can read the same Scripture 1,000 times and say, ‘I never saw that before.’ That is how awesome and mysterious God is.”

FILLING THE VACUUM

Moen often sees people trying to augment the Bible’s message by making it “cool” or “acceptable.” However, he believes there is real power in telling someone, “Do you know that God sent His only Son to die on the cross for us?” He trusts that when we present that message, all of heaven supports it. “I think the Holy Spirit helps us and convicts [the] person [who hears these words]. People are so hungry and ready to accept Christ. I see it all the time.”

Throughout his travels, Moen continually witnesses the thirst for God’s grace. He paraphrases C.S. Lewis: “Inside everyone is a God-shaped vacuum that only God Himself can fill. People try to fill this vacuum with everything but the gospel. As Christians, we need to give people the opportunity to know God’s Word.”

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation . Originally published in print, Vol. 4 No. 2

We Want Out

Rebecca Van Noord

Ezekiel 14:1–15:8; Revelation 5:1–14; Job 33:29–33

We’ve all had those moments when we just want out, when the chaos of life seems overwhelming. We want an end to the struggle with sin. We want relief from the things that are part of living in a broken world. We know Christ reigns, but we want what is “after these things” (Rev 4:1) right now.

Living in the midst of persecution, the early believers must have experienced these emotions daily. In his revelation, John himself expresses the need for hope in chaos. When he sees a scroll in the hand of “the one who is seated on the throne” (Rev 5:1)—the Father—the apostle weeps because no one has been found worthy to open it. The scroll contains the things that will happen—the judgments that will remove evil and sin and set things right. Without someone worthy enough to open the scrolls, the chaos in the world will continue forever.

But then the Lamb appears. In John’s revelation the 24 elders worship the Lamb for His work of redemption: “And they were singing a new song, saying, ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slaughtered, and bought people for God by your blood from every tribe and language and people and nation, and made them a kingdom and priests to our God’ ” (Rev 5:9–10).

It is Christ’s work that gives Him the authority to open the seals. As the Lamb who was slaughtered, He reversed death and the fate of those who believe in Him. He is responsible for setting all things right.

This knowledge is incredibly comforting for us. God is the great chaos-fighter. Jesus has drawn us out of our own chaos with His sacrifice. He will help us live in the now—in a world that is often chaotic but will, in time, be set right. In the meantime, we can respond to His work of ordering our lives and the lives of those around us. And when we feel helpless and out of control, we can rely on the great chaos-fighter.

Are you frustrated with your life circumstances? How can you approach difficult areas of your life knowing God will set all things right? How can you rest knowing Christ is at work, right now, in your life?

This article was originally posted in Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan.