- Old Testament and New Testament parallels
- The Apostles find their way
- Training the mind
- The Apostle Paul's journey of faith
Old Testament and New Testament parallels
There are many parallels between the development of faith and religion in the Old Testament (Jewish official canon of books) and New Testaments (Christian official canon of books), about how people communicated with God:
Face to face with God: In the beginning of the Old Testament, God confronted people face to face in the form of a person and told them directly what he wanted them to do. In the New Testament, God walked with the people as Jesus the Christ, and told people directly how they should live.
Casting lots: Throwing the dice was still a custom in ancient lands at the time of Christ. The priests used lots to determine who would burn incense in the Temple. Zechariah was chosen this way, and while he was in the Temple an angel appeared to him, and told him that his wife would have the baby, John the Baptist.
The remaining eleven apostles cast lots to see who would replace Judas, the traitor (Acts 1:24-26). They chose Matthi'as. How true was casting lots? Paul was chosen by God to become an Apostle, and he did more work and more writing than any of them that we're aware of - at least we know more from recorded history about Paul. So did Paul become Apostle thirteen, or was he actually God's choice to be one of the twelve, and the lot was invalid? We'll never know, but God honors our mistakes, as he did when Joshua mistakenly made an agreement with the Gibeonites (Joshua 9). We don't see lots being used for communication with God after this time, so perhaps the Apostles realized they were not using the right method.
Angels: Angels were messengers throughout the Bible.
Visions and prophetic visions: In the OT, God did not continue coming to instruct people face to face. Instead He gave them visions. Neither did Christ stay with us. The Apostles began to see visions, which we'll cover later.
Spirit of God: In the OT, the Spirit of God came on men like Elijah and moved them to do mighty things. In the NT, the Spirit came to all. Christ promised the Apostles that he would not leave them alone, but would send the Holy Spirit to be with them. On the day of Pentecost (Acts chapter 2), tongues of fire appeared on each one of the apostles (and disciples?). They became filled with the Holy Spirit and could do miraculous things. Peter quoted the Prophet Joel: " 'In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. This was to happen before the Day of the Lord comes."
Prophecy, predicated by visions, definitely returned at the time of Christ. When Jesus left them, the Apostles and disciples were confused about what to do. Should they continue Jesus' work, as Jesus had requested? After his crucifixion, Jesus appeared to them repeatedly with assurance, but as a person, not as a vision. The appearances faded away, and then visions helped the Apostles find their way after Christ left. For example, the Jews had various laws about food, which others did not even know about, let alone follow.
Not eating certain foods would have been a major impediment to others. As a loyal Jew, Peter would have insisted that others follow these rules. But in Acts 10, Peter fell into a trance and had a vision. In the vision, God (a voice) told him that food was cleansed and he should eat. Because of this, Peter realized not just that they were free to eat things previously restricted, his ministry was also to others, not just Jews. So, just as God appeared in visions to the prophets, now God appeared in visions to the Apostles.
The Apostle Paul had a vision in Acts 16:9-10. In the vision, a man was calling him to come to Macedonia. Paul felt from the vision that he was to go to Macedonia to preach. Paul's work in Macedonia wasn't without opposition from the Jews and in high places. Paul had another vision from God in which he was told that God would protect him. Paul stayed a year and a half teaching among the Macedonians.
We don't see visions occurring after the book of Acts, except in the Apocalyptic book of Revelations.
The Apostles find their way
How is it then that the Apostles and disciples managed to find their way without God tapping them on the shoulder through personal appearances, angels, casting lots, and visions? We can understand how, through analogies. When a child first goes to school, does he know how to get to school or how to find locations within the school building? No. Someone tells him where to go, and usually takes him by the hand and takes him there.
When a child takes a trip with his parents, does he know how to get where they are going? No. But if the child becomes an experienced interstate trucker, he uses a road map, knows the highway system, knows the standard system of markers, and generally takes cues from the context of the area he is in. He usually doesn't look for delivery points of car parts in residential areas.
In a library, does a child know how to find books that are appropriate for him? I invited a friend to have a look at some books at the IU library, which is around 10 stories tall, and at that time was divided into the Undergraduate section (commonly used books), and the Graduate section which was more appropriate for research. A large hall ran through the middle of the building. The hall was as big as many community libraries. My friend entered the hall, looked around at the bare walls, stepped to the information desk asked, "Where's the books?" Obviously the immensity of the library was incomprehensible to him, just as it must have been to many new students.
The Internet is incomprehensible to people who know little about computers and haven't explored the Internet. To those of us who use it all the time, it isn't very difficult to find your way around and find what you are looking for.
Spirituality and finding your way are incomprehensible to people who are not familiar with it. They have to be shown. But spirituality becomes a familiar landscape through experience. The Apostles matured in their faith through experience. They learned how to find their way. But how did they do that? I like Jackie Chan's line in The Karate Kid:
"Kung Fu lives in how we put on the jacket, how we take off the jacket, how we treat people. Everything is Kung Fu." - Mr. Han, The Karate Kid, (2010). Columbia Pictures.
It's the same for spirituality and religion, which Kung Fu derives from (Taoism). Everything in life is related to the spiritual - it is the core of our lives, our relationship with others, and our relationship with God. It is about how we do business. It's about how we treat other people. It's about self-discipline. People don't learn Kung Fu so they can dominate others. They learn it to help live peaceably with others. People don't learn spirituality and religion so they can be better than others or somehow "win" the game or dominate others. They learn it so they can live better with others.
Training the mind
Years ago I asked God to help me understand how to know His guidance in our lives. I found the beginning of the trail in the book of Philippians. It begins with getting our attitude set properly. (Philippians 4:6-9, RSV) "There is no need to worry; but if there is anything you need, pray for it, asking God for it with prayer and thanksgiving, ...and that peace of God, which is so much greater than we can understand, will guard your hearts and your thoughts, in Christ Jesus. ...Finally, brothers, fill your minds with everything that is true, everything that is noble, everything that is good and pure, everything that we love and honor, and everything that can be thought virtuous and worthy of praise. ...Keep doing all the things that you learned from me and have been taught by me and have heard or seen that I do. Then the God of peace will be with you. (2:13,14) It is God, for His own loving purpose, who puts both the will and the action into you. Do all that has to be done without complaining or arguing."
To me this is one of the most revealing and most powerful passages of Scripture. It begins with the simple thought that we need to know God's will, so pray for it. Sounds too easy, but it is the first step.
God's will is not exactly something mysterious, or something to be afraid of from a loving God, and definitely not something capricious. It simply means to put God's leadership first in your life, and love others as yourself. His leadership generally means being moral and loving (concern and care for others) in conduct. It means following the example that Christ set for us. It means seeking direction from God, in spiritual ways, in leading your life, to find the "right" thing to do, or the thing to which God leads you.
Second, this passage tells us to keep our minds on God. If we keep our mind on God, He will guard our hearts and thoughts. What for? A lot. To keep us from being misguided by others, or by our own selfishness, or from the things that drive us to do things that don't satisfy us. We like to believe we are in control of our own minds. After all, we think what we want, don't we? (That's one major illusion.) We get trapped by feelings of frustration, despair, loneliness, and the un-acceptance of others, and by illusions of things and power that don't really satisfy us. These things keep our minds fixed on things that make us dissatisfied.
Does it help to keep our minds on God? Yes. When I was a pastor of a church there were constant conflicts. Every person had different advice for me. Some wanted to keep certain people out of the church. I said no. Some people put protection of the building above helping others. For example, I let people inside one night who were stranded on the highway during a storm. Some people were upset that people we didn't know were allowed in. The conflicts were endless. Some people didn't like the organist because she was foreign and made them work hard, so they wanted me to get rid of her. I encouraged her and them. And it was always a temptation to do everything fun myself rather than letting others do the fun things. If I had listened to them and my own selfish wants, I could have easily become un-accepting of others and selfish and a tyrant and mistreated the church. But I tried to keep my mind on God.
Next this passage tells us to be selective about what we put in our minds. What do we fill our minds with? The cliché that comes from the modern computer world is "garbage in, garbage out." Paul, the writer of Philippians, says, "fill your minds with everything that is true, everything that is noble, everything that is good and pure, everything that we love and honor, and everything that can be thought virtuous and worthy of praise."
Following Paul's words doesn't leave room for much else. If we put our minds on how miserable we feel, and everything we are annoyed with, and getting back at those who have done some injustice to us, and anger and disappointment about things in our life that have made us angry and disappointed - if this is what we fill our minds with, is it any surprise what comes out? But if we keep our focus on the good things, our attitude stays good. God is the major influence when we try to keep our hearts and minds pure.
I still have trouble with that. There are a lot of things that happen to me that I don't like, and there are a lot of people who create trouble that I don't appreciate. I get angry and I'm very tempted to spend my time figuring out a way to make their life miserable. But then I cool off and just try to do what is right. I could spend my entire life trying to pay them back, but it isn't worth it.
It helps our attitude to do good things. Paul says to follow in his footsteps, doing the things he does, and do them without complaining or arguing. Most people know it's difficult to feel bad if you're doing good things for others, unless we've already decided to be angry and miserable about it.
Paul then tells us to mimic what he does. This is very important. Amazingly when people "feel" they don't want to do something, once they actually do it, it often changes their thinking about not wanting to do it, and changes their attitude to one of acceptance. And doing things teaches us how to do it, develops compassion in us, and it all becomes a good habit. You could say that doing the good things that leaders do is good for our spiritual health.
Lastly, this passage tells us what happens then when we keep our minds focused on God and filled with things that are true and honorable, and trying to do good things. God will bring us peace, and He puts the will and action into us. Will? It is God who helps set our purpose in life; actually influences our desire to do things. Action? Follow through. We don't just want to do things, we actually do them.
One portion of Scripture can be easily misinterpreted. Are there other passages that support these ideas? (Romans 12:12) "... Do not model yourselves on the behavior of the world around you, but let your behavior change, modeled by your new mind. This is the only way to discover the will of God and know what is good, what it is that God wants, what is the perfect thing to do."
The Apostle Paul's journey of faith
Did the Apostle Paul know exactly what God wanted him to do and where to go? How did he plan and conduct his life? Did he have some kind of road-map and a calendar of coming events and a schedule of appointments to keep and visions of speeches he was to give? Following is an example of what he did, but notice how many words are uncertain and indefinite: (1Corinthians 16:3-17, RSV) "When I am with you, I will send your offering to Jerusalem by the hand of whatever men you give letters of reference to; if it seems worthwhile for me to go too, they can travel with me.
"I shall be coming to you after I have passed through Macedonia - and I am doing no more than pass through Macedonia, ...and I may be staying with you, perhaps even passing the winter, to make sure that it is you who send me on my way wherever my travels take me. ...As you see, I do not want to make it only a passing visit to you and I hope to spend some time with you, the Lord permitting. ...In any case I shall be staying at Ephesus until Pentecost because a big and important door has opened for my work and there is a great deal of opposition."
Paul uses many indefinite words to describe his future travels: "when I am with you; whatever men; if it seems worthwhile; I may be staying; perhaps; wherever my travels take me; hope to be spending time; a door has opened." Paul obviously made plans but didn't put all his time and energy into making them happen. His time and energy went into his daily work and he let God prepare the way for him, carrying out his plans as things worked out.
If Paul had laid out a five year plan of visits and building the churches, he probably would have gotten caught up in reaching specific goals he set and probably missed what God had wanted him to do. He also might have failed in his plans and become so discouraged that he could not continue his ministry. Yet by following his heart and watching for opportunities he was able to establish churches throughout the Roman empire despite fierce opposition.
What can we learn from Paul about knowing God's will and our place in life? What have we seen him do and what has he taught us? Did Paul decide that he was going to become a Doctor and would do that overnight? Did he set a course for his life and say that in three years he would be a spiritual magnate, then in another five years a Potentate? Did he set a course to bring himself fame and fortune and make plans to get back at those who opposed him or caused him trouble? No, he did none of these things.
Instead Paul said, focus our minds on God and fill them with worthwhile things. We have to have a good attitude about our future and be going in the direction of right or we're going to go nowhere. Paul didn't know where his life ultimately would go. He planned for the foreseeable future and put it in God's hands while turning his energy to the daily tasks at hand. Paul was happy doing his work. Every day he was what he was supposed to be; he knew his purpose in life. When God opened doors and gave him a new purpose, then he became that.
Next: (see index in next heading below.)
- Communicating with God
- Getting sidetracked
- The example of the Apostle John
- The maturing walk of faith
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