Saturday, December 14, 2013

Worthy are You, Our Creator

While working on our next study guide, “Worship in the Bible,” I came across this description of worship in heaven:
And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”
(Revelation 4:9–11)

Revelation 4 describes many elements of this heavenly worship that you would expect.  There are thrones, living creatures, and elders.  There is an unending time of worship around the throne of God.  There is praise and adoration as the elders proclaim that God is worthy to receive “glory and honor and power.”

What you might not expect is the basis for God to be worthy of this praise.  You might expect the basis for “glory and honor and power” to be God’s love or mercy or holiness or wisdom.  Instead, CREATION is the foundation upon which God is worthy.  Read that proclamation again:

“Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”

No wonder there is such an aggressive attack against creation.  By the act of creation God is distinguished from every other entity that has ever existed.  There is one CREATOR and many, many creations.

This essential truth, that God created all things, that He alone is the Creator, is woven throughout the Bible.  The foundational truth of creation is proclaimed, not only by the elders in heaven, but also by Prophets, Kings, Apostles, and our Lord Jesus Christ.  Here are a few examples:

Moses – Genesis 5:1–2
This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day when God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female, and He blessed them and named them Man in the day when they were created.

King David – Psalm 33:6–9
By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, And by the breath of His mouth all their host. He gathers the waters of the sea together as a heap; He lays up the deeps in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the LORD; Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him. For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.

Isaiah – Isaiah 40:25–28
“To whom then will you liken Me That I would be his equal?” says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high And see who has created these stars, The One who leads forth their host by number, He calls them all by name; Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of is power, Not one of them is missing. Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD, And the justice due me escapes the notice of my God”? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth Does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable.

Jesus – Matthew 19:3–5
Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?” And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE, and said, ‘FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH’?”

Paul – Colossians 1:16
For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.

Peter – 1 Peter 4:19
Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.

Notice Peter’s encouragement to his readers.  Even in difficult times we are able to trust God completely because He is a “faithful Creator.” 

The example above from Isaiah 40:25–28 also talked about being strong based on our dependence upon “The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth.”  Isaiah 40:29–31 continues with a promise that even in our weakness we can gain strength through faith in the eternal Creator:

He gives strength to the weary, And to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, And vigorous young men stumble badly, Yet those who wait for the LORD Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary.
(Isaiah 40:29–31)

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Letter Jackets in the Bible

As you begin to pay close attention to coats, tunics, mantles, and robes in the Bible you will begin to see that they have more significance than just keeping someone dry and warm.  Many times in the Bible a tunic or robe will represent someone’s identity or status.  A modern day equivalent might be a High School Letter Jacket. 

More than likely you’ve seen someone wear a Letter Jacket at school or in the mall.  There are some common features of this type of jacket.  The colors of the jacket are the same as the school colors.  Typically, there is some type of symbol showing the sport or activity in which the wearer is involved.  You might see a football shaped patch, or a musical note.  The year the student graduates is also shown.  Many times there is a favorite verse or quote.  Perhaps there are also ribbons or other indications of special achievements.

In the same way, coats and outer garments in the Bible often give some clues about the person wearing that piece of clothing.  As you read the Bible always pay attention to the description of clothes and see what they might tell you about the wearer.  Below are some examples beginning with the first mention of garments in the Bible:

The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.
[Genesis 3:21, NASB

After Adam and Eve sinned in the garden they made coverings for themselves.  When God found them hiding in the garden, He made them more suitable clothes.  These “garments of skin” provide us with some clues about who they had become (aware of their nakedness) and what they had done (sin and death have now entered the world).

Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a varicolored tunic. His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers; and so they hated him and could not speak to him on friendly terms.
[Genesis 37:3–4, NASB]

Joseph’s father, Israel, made a special tunic for Joseph.  We commonly refer to this tunic as being multicolored, although exact meaning of the Hebrew word is uncertain.  What is certain is that this special tunic reflected Israel’s love for Joseph, and this message was clear to his brothers.

So it came about, when Joseph reached his brothers, that they stripped Joseph of his tunic, the varicolored tunic that was on him; and they took him and threw him into the pit. Now the pit was empty, without any water in it.
[Genesis 37:23–24, NASB

Interestingly, or perhaps as expected, one of the first things the brothers did was to strip Joseph of his special tunic.  Their action reveals their contempt.  They literally stripped Joseph’s identity from him and put him in a very lowly position.

Aaron and his sons wore several special pieces of clothing that clearly identified them as priests and servants of the LORD.  Anyone who saw their apparel knew exactly who they were and who they served.

“You shall take the garments, and put on Aaron the tunic and the robe of the ephod and the ephod and the breastpiece, and gird him with the skillfully woven band of the ephod; and you shall set the turban on his head and put the holy crown on the turban. Then you shall take the anointing oil and pour it on his head and anoint him. You shall bring his sons and put tunics on them. You shall gird them with sashes, Aaron and his sons, and bind caps on them, and they shall have the priesthood by a perpetual statute. So you shall ordain Aaron and his sons.” 
[Exodus 29:5–9, NASB

Tamar, the daughter of King David, also wore a special garment that indicated something about her purity.  The Hebrew word translated in this passage as “long-sleeved” is the same word translated “varicolored” when describing Joseph’s tunic.  Although the exact meaning of this word is not known, it clearly indicated something special about the coat and the person who wore that particular garment.

Now she had on a long-sleeved garment; for in this manner the virgin daughters of the king dressed themselves in robes. Then his attendant took her out and locked the door behind her. Tamar put ashes on her head and tore her long-sleeved garment which was on her; and she put her hand on her head and went away, crying aloud as she went.
[2 Samuel 13:18–19, NASB

Notice that after Tamar was attacked by her half-brother, Amnon, she indicated a change in her identity by tearing the garment.  We see similar stories throughout the Old Testament where people are identified by the characteristics of their coat, tunic, robe, or mantle.  Many times people change their clothing to indicate a change in their identity or status.  Both Joseph and Daniel exchanged prison clothes for royal clothes.  Several kings laid aside their robes for sackcloth.  When he was taken to heaven, Elijah’s mantle was picked up and worn by his successor, Elisha.

From the Old Testament examples we see a pattern of clothing indicating someone’s identity or their status.  When we get to the New Testament we find a very interesting event that is interpreted in many different ways.

The disciples went and did just as Jesus had instructed them, and brought the donkey and the colt, and laid their coats on them; and He sat on the coats. Most of the crowd spread their coats in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them in the road.
[Matthew 21:6–8, NASB

As Jesus was entering Jerusalem some of the disciples took off their coats and placed them on the colt.  Many people in the crowd took off their coats and placed them on the ground.  Some people suggest they laid down their coats to smooth the road or to reduce flying dust.  Based on the examples of the Old Testament, I suggest that they took off their coats as a sign of laying aside their identity and showing that they were associating themselves with Jesus.

Using the example of a Letter Jacket, the people laid aside their school colors, their achievements, and their individual markings.  They simply showed that whatever they held dear was now replaced by their loyalty to the Kingdom of God.

With this example in mind, look at this description of a multitude in heaven.  Notice how they, too, are holding branches.  However, instead of laying down their coats, they have been given new coats which clearly indicate their new identity.

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
[Revelation 7:9–10, NASB

Whenever you read about someone wearing a coat, tunic, mantle, or robe in the Bible stop to think about the message being sent by this garment.  If this was a Letter Jacket what would it tell me about this person's identity?

Friday, October 18, 2013

Hagar, Ishmael, and Nonverbal Communication

This week in our noontime Bible study we came across this passage about Hagar and Ishmael, and their trip into the wilderness.  I love this short passage because it is filled with nonverbal communication.  Posture, Actions, and Appearance are all found in these few verses.

Early in the morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He put them on her shoulders, gave her the child, and sent her away. So she went wandering aimlessly through the wilderness of Beer Sheba. When the water in the skin was gone, she shoved the child under one of the shrubs. Then she went and sat down by herself across from him at quite a distance, about a bowshot away; for she thought, “I refuse to watch the child die.” So she sat across from him and wept uncontrollably. But God heard the boy's voice. The angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and asked her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Don't be afraid, for God has heard the boy's voice right where he is crying. Get up! Help the boy up and hold him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” Then God enabled Hagar to see a well of water. She went over and filled the skin with water, and then gave the boy a drink.
(Genesis 21:14–19, Net Bible)

Abraham’s actions while he was forcing Hagar to leave show his divided heart.  His wife insisted that Hagar was to be driven out, but you can see Abraham’s compassion for Hagar, and Ishmael, his son.

Hagar’s pain and anguish are demonstrated by her action placing the child under a bush, and then going some distance away so that she would not have to watch him die.  Her posture, “sat down by herself,” reveals a sense of defeat and surrender.  Her appearance, weeping uncontrollably while she sat on the ground shows her inner pain and sorrow.  No longer was she going to wander, there was no more hope.  I’ve talked before about the importance of sitting in the Bible.  It reflects that someone has settled, found a place to rest, or established their position.  In Hagar’s case, it shows that she is resigned to her impending fate.

In an earlier post (June 2, 2013) I discussed the significance of the phrase “arise” or “get up” in the Bible.  This phrase is used to indicate that a time of transition is near.  In this story we see that Hagar has given up all hope.  She is sitting on the ground waiting for her son to die, and her own certain death.  The angel called to her and told her to “get up.”  As soon as you read those words you know something is about to change.  In this case, her life and her son’s life are completely changed.  From being on the verge of death, they find water and they receive a promise that his descendants would become a “great nation.”

Passages like this show how powerful nonverbal communication is throughout the Bible.  It’s not hidden in obscure passages.  Nor does it take an advanced theological degree to benefit from watching for these nonverbal clues.  The key to taking advantage of body language in the Bible is training yourself to pay attention to the signals, and then use them to increase your understanding and appreciation of God’s word.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Power of One Word

Nonverbal communication is the message we send through actions, appearance, tone, and posture.  The Bible uses descriptions of nonverbal communication to help us relate to people in ancient times and understand instructions in God’s word.

To show how powerful nonverbal communication can be, let’s change one word in a very well-known verse. Walking in the Bible is related to steadfast faith, obedience, and consistent progress.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
Psalm 23:4 (NASB)

How does the meaning of this verse change if you just replace the word “walk”?

Even though I run through the valley of the shadow of death…

Even though I crawl through the valley of the shadow of death…

Even though I skip through the valley of the shadow of death…

Or, maybe just two words?

Even though I sit in the valley of the shadow of death…

Even though I sleep in the valley of the shadow of death…

These descriptions give a completely different picture.

Even though I weep and wail in the valley of the shadow of death…

Even though I sing praises in the valley of the shadow of death…

The use of nonverbal communication in the Bible allows us to intuitively understand the situation.  We can picture someone confidently walking through the trials of this earth.  The picture is drastically changed if the person is described as running, sitting, or crying.

Learning to watch for, and make note of nonverbal clues in the Bible will greatly impact your understanding of, and appreciation for God’s word.

 Body Language in the Bible - Now available on

Monday, September 16, 2013

Things I Don't Want to Hear When I Get to Heaven

For many years I've heard people repeat the words they want to hear Jesus say when they get to heaven.  The words they long to hear come from Matthew 25.

“Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. The one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have gained five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’”     
Matthew 25:19-21 (NASB)

"Well done, good and faithful slave," would indeed be a great greeting to hear when you cross the Jordan River and enter the eternal kingdom.

Realistically, I know my life hasn't always been all that faithful or all that obedient.  Reflecting on my own shortcomings, here are 10 things I do NOT want to hear when I reach the pearly gates:

1.  Sorry, we looked and your name isn't on the reservation list.
2.  What are you doing here?  You aren't scheduled to arrive to another 10 years!
3.  We're not having a two-for-one sale.  Your wife can come in, but not you.
4.  Let me check the spelling on that last name.  You don't seem to be in our system.
5.  Well, that certainly could have gone better.
6.  Good try, but that wasn't exactly what we intended when we put you on the earth.
7.  Yes, we were expecting you to bring your friends.
8.  No, we do not accept American Express, or gold for that matter.
9.  You should have thought about that before you got here.
10.  Yes, we did leave you an instruction manual.  Maybe you should have read it.