Zap! The Best Action Figures for Christmas

Dear fellow travelers,

A hot Christmas gift when I was a kid were G.I. Joe toys.  These “Real American Heroes” were a line of action figures, vehicles and other accessories that fought against the evil Cobra organization which was trying to take over the world (of course).  In 1982, they were even hotter, after Hasbro added “Swivel Arm Battle Grip” to the design to differentiate G.I. Joe from the also-popular Star Wars figures.

Zap looks much better in action than in the box.

The swivel in the middle of the figure’s bicep allowed 360-degree rotation.  The swivel isn’t a shoulder, elbow, or hand, but without it, bazooka soldier (Code Name: Zap) can’t pose as modeled on the package pictured here.  I had “Zap” and tried it for myself.  It took some experimentation, but eventually the way the shoulder, swivel, and elbow were made worked together and Zap looked like Zap should look.

Why so much detail about action figures in a Christian blog?  Because the Christian church is described in the Bible as the body of Christ, and in 1 Corinthians 12:14-16, the apostle Paul assures us that, without every single member of the church participating, the body of Christ is incomplete:

For the body does not consist of one member but of many.  If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body.  And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body.

Like Zap without “Swivel Arm Battle Grip,” the church will not perform as God intended unless all parts of the body participate, but sometimes it’s not clear to each of us what part of the body of Christ we are.  To some of us, others may clearly look like a shoulder, elbow, or hand, but we don’t know our part.  To some of us, others may look like the “hands and feet of Jesus” (to use a common phrase), but people don’t say the same about us.  Remember that Paul says “that would not make it any less a part of the body.”

Today, let’s return to one of this blog’s key verses, Hebrews 10:24, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.”  When we don’t clearly know the specifics of our part, maybe we are the “Swivel Arm Battle Grip” – the innovative, new part with a weird name that helps the other parts fit together and work as God intended.  But also, when we do know our part, is the objective any different?

The Apostle Peter, Son of Gomer?

Peter is one of the most fascinating characters in the New Testament.  His struggles and flaws are written for all to see, but so is the patience and love Jesus had for him.  In Peter’s two letters, we get to see examples of his growth and maturity.  One of Peter’s struggles was how Jews who had become Christian should treat Gentiles.  In Galatians 2:11-21 is a story of Paul rebuking Peter for his hypocrisy toward Gentiles, and in Acts 10 and 11 is a story of Peter receiving a vision from heaven telling him not to treat Gentiles as unclean, because God can make anyone clean.

Peter ponders whether the key is for letting people in or keeping them out.

In 1 Peter 2:9-10, he shares this lesson with his readers:

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (emphasis mine)

The bolded words clearly call back to the story of the Old Testament prophet Hosea, who God told to marry a prostitute named Gomer to teach a lesson about idolatry.  Hosea’s children by Gomer are named in Hosea 1:6-9 –

She conceived again and bore a daughter. And the LORD said to him, ‘Call her name No Mercy, for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all.  But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the LORD their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen.’ When she had weaned No Mercy, she conceived and bore a son.  And the LORD said, ‘Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God.’” (emphasis mine)

As Peter grew in Christ, he learned the same lesson Hosea learned: that all of God’s people are like Gomer and her children: once estranged from God in spiritual prostitution and adultery, but now a beloved people, betrothed to one faithful God.  Jesus, our Holy High Priest, made the necessary sacrifice for the salvation of anyone and everyone who will come to Him.  Those He saves join His “royal priesthood”, proclaiming His excellent work to all people who have not received mercy, but who His blood covers.

Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” – Matthew 7:1-2

Becoming a People – Sunday Share from C. Christopher Smith

Dear fellow travelers,

Today’s “Sunday Share” comes from C. Christopher Smith, who writes that “Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount were not meant primarily for us as individuals. Rather, they offer a vision of what maturity in Christ looks like for our church communities.”  He suggests that churches that practice “stability, conversation, and rhythms of work and Sabbath” equip their members to “follow in the patient way of Jesus.”

What practices help your church community develop disciples?

Full article linked below.
(Estimated reading time 8 minutes)

https://www.plough.com/en/topics/community/communal-living/becoming-a-people

Be a Cloud of Witness – Psalms of Ascent #8

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

The last post on the Psalms of Ascent ended with God’s people dealing with “the scorn of those who are at ease” and “the contempt of the proud” at the end of Psalm 123.  That Psalm emphasized the Lordship of the Lord, who is “enthroned in the heavens.”  Those who follow the kingdoms of the world often have contempt and scorn for those who follow another way, who declare another Lord.  However, Psalm 124 explains that our Lord has not left us alone:

“A Song of Ascents. Of David.

If it had not been the LORD who was on our side—
            let Israel now say—
if it had not been the LORD who was on our side
            when people rose up against us,
then they would have swallowed us up alive,
            when their anger was kindled against us;
then the flood would have swept us away,
            the torrent would have gone over us;
then over us would have gone
            the raging waters.

Blessed be the LORD,
            who has not given us
            as prey to their teeth!
We have escaped like a bird
            from the snare of the fowlers;
the snare is broken,
            and we have escaped!

Our help is in the name of the LORD,
            who made heaven and earth.” (emphasis mine)

This Psalm speaks of times when we know only the Lord could have saved us, and we’ve learned that, “When all you have is God, He is enough.”  Sometimes life is hard because of circumstances that force us to depend on Him, and we learn to trust Him and Him alone.  The best way to know for ourselves that He is good is to act on our trust in Him, even when it’s hard or doesn’t make sense.  When God works wonders for us, we should keep a record of God’s power and faithfulness in your life, like the memorial stones Israel placed after crossing the Jordan.[1]

The other thing to notice about Psalm 124 is that it is entirely written with plural pronouns.  David, the author, is telling us that the works of God in our lives, especially when there seemed no other way forward, are to be shared with the community of believers.  “Let Israel now say” is something we do together.  The church must be a community of people who share God’s work in their lives, as a contrast to “the proud” and “those who are at ease.”  The One we serve – and the One they ridicule – wants us to testify to His salvation, and not any other hoped-for salvation.

John Calvin notes on the last verse (8): “The contrast between the help of God, and other resources in which the world vainly confides, as we have seen in Psalm 20:7, ‘Some trust in chariots, and some in horses, but we will remember the name of the Lord our God,’ is to be noticed, that the faithful, purged from all false confidence, may betake themselves exclusively to his succor, and depending upon it, may fearlessly despise whatever Satan and the world may plot against them.”

We know what God has done for us, but as a community we amplify the common witness of God being faithful.  Hebrews 11 chronicles the faith of God toward His people in the Bible, in order that we may have a “cloud of witnesses” encouraging us not to “grow weary or fainthearted” as we endure hostility from sinners for serving our Lord.[2]  Psalm 124 is part of a liturgy for ancient Israelites traveling to corporate worship in Jerusalem and can be applied to corporate worship today.  God calls all of His people to join the cloud of witnesses.

Therefore, when you attend worship this week, find a way to join someone else’s cloud of witness.  Tell them what God has done for you, that only He could do.  Then tell someone else.  If you need encouragement yourself, pray that God would meet your need.

Dear fellow travelers: Be a cloud of witness.  Show others your memorial stone.


If you’ve missed the earlier posts in the Psalms of Ascent series, the first post is here, and each post links to the next at the bottom.


Note on the series: This occasional Saturday series will cover Psalms 120 to 134.  These “Psalms of Ascent” form a type of hymnal or liturgy that pilgrims could sing or recite on their way to the three annual feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Booths.  In a modern context, these Psalms are a call to prepare for worship, to rejoice in the Sabbath, and to answer a call to serve God’s church on earth.


[1] See Joshua 4
[2] See Hebrews 12:1-4

A Called-Out People – Psalms of Ascent #7

After another long pause, we return today to the Psalms of Ascent (120-134), used as a liturgy for ancient Israelites traveling to Jerusalem for annual worship festivals.  The last post covered Psalm 122, where David wrote of the joy found in the house of the LORD in Jerusalem.  Next comes Psalm 123, which discusses the attitude of the journeying pilgrims to that LORD, and the attitude of the world to them as a result.  Here are the first 2 verses:

A Song of Ascents.

To you I lift up my eyes,
            O you who are enthroned in the heavens!
Behold, as the eyes of servants
            look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maidservant
            to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the LORD our God,
            till he has mercy upon us.”

Earlier in Psalm 121, the pilgrims lifted up their eyes to the hills, away from their circumstances, to seek the Lord and His help.  Here, the Psalmist emphasizes the Lordship of the Lord, who is “enthroned in the heavens.”  His people look to him as “servants” to “their master”, or as a “maidservant” to “her mistress.”

While the idea of treating the Lord as an actual lord to be served should be obvious, it often isn’t, even for our Biblical “heroes.”  In Acts chapter 9, when Jesus confronts Paul (who was still a self-righteous Pharisee called Saul) about persecuting Christians, Paul responded by saying “Who are you, Lord?[1]  Apparently stricken by the miraculous light and voice, Saul somewhat ironically calls Jesus Lord before he even knows it is Jesus, and while he was on the way to threaten and arrest Christians.  In Acts 10, Peter answers a command from Jesus by saying “By no means, Lord,”[2] as if basing his disobedience on the very lordship of the one currently telling him to do something!

Right up to modern times, the Lordship of Jesus remains hard to accept.  We would rather accept Jesus as Savior than as Lord, but the God who is one is also the other.  The two cannot be separated any more than I can ask my boss to keep giving me raises and time off, while I insist on ignoring my job.  If I wish for God to save me, but have no interest in what He wants to save me to, I might as well say “By no means, Lord,” or “Who are you, Lord?”  If I wish to live for eternity in a world without sin, I need to agree that the Lord can define sin and that sin, especially my own sin, is bad.

While making the pilgrimages to Jerusalem and reciting the Psalms of Ascent, the Israelites would testify to the other nations that 1) God, as Lord, does not take disobedience lightly, but also that 2) He has provided a solution to their inability to serve Him, as symbolized in the temple and its sacrifices.  Similarly, believers today gathering on a regular basis are a sign to the world that salvation is only to be found in another place, through sacrifice, and that it’s worth the effort to go there.  Since the time of Christ, God’s people have been called the “ekklesia,” a Greek word translated as “church” in the English New Testament.  “Ekklesia” literally means a “calling out” – a call into the kingdom of God under the Lord of that kingdom, and out of the kingdoms of the world.  This new kingdom brings hope for a future world with no sin, bought by the sacrifice of One Eternal, Perfect High Priest on a dirty cross.  In that world there will be no liars, no deceit, and no war.  No evil of any kind, or in any degree.

Therefore, church – even if only a few are gathered together – should be a place dedicated to reminding us of the sacrifice required, and provided, to give us this hope.  It should be committed to “preach Christ crucified[3] because “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.[4].

The ancient Israelites could seek help in many hills, but there is only one LORD.  All hills are part of our world’s circumstances and can only provide us with more of what we already have, except for one hill.  Our help comes from this hill in particular – the one called Calvary on which Christ was crucified.  But the Bible also says: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God,[5] and Psalm 123 ends with:

“Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us,
            for we have had more than enough of contempt.
Our soul has had more than enough
            of the scorn of those who are at ease,
            of the contempt of the proud.

The kingdoms of the world, and those who have faith in them, have contempt and scorn for those who follow another way.  When we return to this series, Psalm 124 explains that our Lord has not left us alone.  In His mercy, He provides us help and comfort as we await the coming of His kingdom in its fullness.

Amen.

If you’ve missed the earlier posts in the Psalms of Ascent series, the first post is here, and each post links to the next at the bottom.


[1] Acts 5:5
[2] Acts 10:14
[3] 1 Corinthians 1:23
[4] Acts 4:12
[5] 1 Corinthians 1:18