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In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths. – Proverbs 3:6

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Revitalizing the Dead Sea

The Dead Sea in Israel is the lowest point on earth, with its surface being 427 metres below sea level. There are several streams that feed the Dead Sea, the Jordan River being one of them, but because the elevation is so low, no water flows out of the Dead Sea. Rather, the sun evaporates any water that enters the sea, leaving behind any minerals that might be present in the water. Over the millennia, the salinity of the Dead Sea has increased so that it is 10 times saltier than the ocean so that if you would boil a liter of Dead Sea water dry, you would be left with 250 grams of salt. The high salinity of the Dead Sea enables even the poorest swimmer to stay afloat, making it virtually impossible to drown in that body of water. But, because of the high salt and mineral content, the Dead Sea has absolutely no life in it. Not a single fish or plant can tolerate the water of the dead sea.

While the surface of the Dead Sea is well below sea level, the city of Jerusalem is well above it, standing at an average elevation of more than 700 metres above sea level. (Nobleford is 985 m above sea level.) Jerusalem is only 35 km from the Dead Sea, and in that short distance, the road drops almost 1.5 kilometres. That being said, in spite of the elevation drop, no water flows from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea, for there are no rivers in Jerusalem, and the small streams that furnish the city with water flow in other directions.

So, we have two things that are true: the Dead Sea does not support life, and no water flows from the city of Jerusalem. In Ezekiel 47, however, we see something quite different. Ezekiel lived at a time when the city of Jerusalem was being destroyed by the armies of a nation which sought to make itself a world empire. God had removed his presence from the temple, Ezekiel tells us, leaving the temple and city of Jerusalem vulnerable to attack. In 586 BC, the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, the city was ransacked, and the people were hooked together in long lines and forced to walk 100s of kilometres to be resettled in other places. All this was because of the continued and constant sin of God’s people. The first part of Ezekiel’s prophecy focuses on destruction, but the second part focuses on the restoration that God promised.

Ezekiel 47 comes at the end of a fairly lengthy description of restoration: a design for a new temple is giving, there is a description of God returning to the temple, the priesthood is restored, the altar is restored, and the nation of Israel is restored as well. It is then that Ezekiel gives a description of a river flowing from the temple in a southeast direction, growing as it flows the 35 km to the Dead Sea. When it reaches the Dead Sea, it is so plentiful that the Dead Sea’s salinity is so reduced that it becomes a freshwater lake, and it begins to support aquatic life; the sea, for the first time in recorded history, is seen to be teeming with fish. Ezekiel shows us two impossibilities: water flowing from Jerusalem and life flourishing in the waters of the Dead Sea.

The revitalization of the Dead Sea must be considered a kind of creation event. We recall from the Genesis 1 account that God filled the seas with all sorts of aquatic life. Fullness is the result of God’s creative work. We also know from a careful reading of Scripture that human sin can reverse the God’s work of creation. The Bible (especially the prophetic books) gives multiple examples of fertile areas becoming deserts when the people fall into sin (reversal of the third day of creation). Similarly, the flood, a result of human sin, shows us the reversal of the second and third days of creation as the waters flood into areas where they do not belong. Conversely, when flood waters recede or when deserts become fertile, this is a sign of God’s restorative work. Usually, this restorative work occurs at the same time that God is restoring his people as he forgives them of their sin and renews his covenant with them. Thus, when Ezekiel sees God creating a river which flows from the temple, God’s dwelling place on this earth, and the water flows from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea, replenishing it so that it become fertile, we must understand that this is God overcoming the destructive power of sin so completely that even the Dead Sea, which never has had any life in it, now becomes an incredibly beautiful ecological system teeming with life.

Ezekiel’s vision is picked up by John in the book of Revelation. There in Revelation 22 we see the New Jerusalem, and in that city is the throne of God. Flowing from beneath his throne is a river that flows down the street, and on each side of that river are fruit trees, yielding fruit every month, and its leaves, we are told, are for the healing of the nations. This is a nearly exact duplication of the picture we see in Ezekiel 47, for in that chapter the river also enables trees to grow, and they too produce fruit which God’s people may enjoy, and the leaves of that tree are useful for healing. The main difference between Ezekiel and Revelation is that while in Ezekiel the river flows from the temple, in Revelation there is no temple, and the river flows from the throne of God. This is not a contradiction, for, as we well know, the temple of the Old Testament, contained the throne of God, and the walls of the temple kept God apart from the people because the people were sinful and God was holy. In the New Jerusalem, God will reign, but he will not need to protect his holiness from the sin of the people for there will be no more sin and thus no need for a temple. Still the throne of God remains.

We cannot read Revelation 22 without Ezekiel 47, and when we read both chapters, we will see God’s restorative, recreative work, and we see that only God can bring this level of restoration/recreation to this world. Two impossible things are pictured: Jerusalem produces a river (no human engineering can make this happen) and the Dead Sea sustains abundant life (also an impossibility, humanly speaking). The Dead Sea can only be made alive by huge quantities of water diluting the salinity of the water, and only a river will suffice to make that happen. God does not use the existing rivers to bring the Dead Sea to life but, rather, he creates a new one, one that has never been seen before, and the source of that river is himself. Simply put, salvation comes from God, it is complete, and it is beyond restorative, for it brings fullness of life where there has never been life. Between Ezekiel’s vision and John’s vision in Revelation, stands Jesus Christ who made real God’s work of restoration and recreation, something that no human being can do.

~ Pastor Gary ~

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Diachronicity

The Greek word, chronos, gives rise to a number of English words. We use the word, chronic, to speak of an illness that lasts a long time. A chronicler is someone who writes history as it occurs over a period of time. And there are three English words which take a prefix, and when they do, they take very different meanings.

Synchronic (from which we get the word synchronize) is used when things happen at the same time. For example, a number of years ago, my wife and I experienced a synchronic failure of vehicles’ braking systems. On the same day we both had to get hundreds of dollars of work done to repair very similar problems. Although the brake failures were synchronic, the two had absolutely no relationship to each other; the vehicles happened to break down at the same time. We have to be careful with synchronic events, for we might well suspect that they had a similar cause or source, but just because several things happen synchronically does not mean that they are related to each other.

Diachronic is entirely different. When we explain something diachronically, we tell why things have become as they are. A diachronic study of an event will take into account the factors that led up to the event itself. Returning to the example of the automobile, a mechanic might explain to the owner that his brakes failed because he had his foot on the brake pedal all the time, even when he is accelerating. In fact, this same owner might have two cars whose brakes failed at the same time, and the mechanic might attribute that the owner is mistreating his vehicles. A diachronic explanation asks, “How did we get here?”

A third word, used less frequently, is anachronic. Anachronic literally means “against time.” It often refers to something that is very out of place. For example, someone might be driving a car out of the 1950s, one that has an old-fashioned carburetor and massive fins on its back fenders. This anachronic car doesn’t fit in because it is from a different era. Anachronic things don’t fit into the time period in which they are found. Pioneer museums would be considered anachronic places.

Churches can fit into one of these three categories. Some churches tend to be more synchronic in that they try to synchronize themselves to the world around them. As one example, churches often adopt music styles that are similar to the music produced by the world. They argue that being synchronic makes the relevant. We could argue that being synchronic in the area of music style is not terribly critical, for music styles have changed over the centuries with very little impact on the believers. But being synchronic in other areas might be a lot more troublesome. A church might avoid talking about hell because no one in our culture wants to believe that it exists. A church might compromise on its view of human sexuality because the world around it has done so. Synchronizing churches are in danger of following the way of the world. Not all synchronic decisions are bad, of course, for sometimes the church should adapt to the culture. Although switching worship services to English from the Dutch was a big deal for many, in reality this kind of synchronicity was a blessing.

Opposite of the synchronic churches are the anachronic churches. They tend to keep old practices just because that is the way things used to be. Anachronic churches rarely spend much time considering what they are doing, but they keep doing them because “that is the way it was done.” Anachronic churches argue that this is the way things should be because that is the way things were. For some reason, they have come to the conclusion that the way things were is the best way although they do not have any strong grounds to support their view. Anachronic churches tend to appeal only to those who are already part of them, for their practices are strange to the outsider and since no explanation is given, the outsider cannot understand why things are done as they are. Anachronic churches tend to look at other churches who are not anachronic and accuse them of being synchronic.

The third kind of church is the diachronic church. Again, a diachronic explanation is one that studies the past to understand why things have become as they are. For example, a church may avoid the rather common order of worship found in many evangelical churches (songs, announcements, prayer, message, song) for the one that we are more familiar with (call to worship, greeting, confession, God’s Word, response, benediction, all interspersed with songs) because they understand where this order of worship came from and why it is important. In other words, a diachronic church can explain why they do things as they do. They may hold onto older practices, and they may adopt newer ones, but they always can say why they did what they did. A diachronic church is one that knows why they are doing what they are doing.

A few days ago I had a discussion with a young man who was struggling with a change in his church. The change involved communion, and his church had just changed from having all participants gathering in groups around a table at the front of the church to having small cups distributed in the pews (as we are accustomed to). He was bothered by the change, and he explained why. The elders of the church said that it took too long to have communion when the people had to go to the front to participate. Serving people in the pews was more efficient. This young man was troubled by this, for he felt that his elders were becoming too synchronic, making the worship service more palatable by doing things for non-spiritual reasons. But, as I continued my conversation with him, I discovered that he was not anachronic. He didn’t want to go back to the common cup at the front of the church because that was the way it was always done. He believed firmly that Scripture gave us the pattern of participating in communion by gathering around a table, and that is what we should do. He knew that I disagreed with him on this point, but he impressed me, for he showed a deep desire to follow God’s Word, and the elders of his church, in his opinion, didn’t seem to care.

He illustrates what a diachronic church (and that does seem to be the best of the three) should be. We can explain all of our traditions and practices in some way or another, but what we need to do is always return to Scripture. A diachronic explanation must go back all the way to the Bible, or it is a fallacious argument. In fact, everything that the church does should be rooted in Scripture, and, if it is not, it can be abandoned without a second thought. If a biblical basis cannot be given, the church may be in danger of becoming anachronic (we do things because that is the way they were done) or synchronic (we want to make ourselves relevant to the world). A diachronic explanation must always return us to Scripture, for if the explanation for what we do does not, the explanation is not good enough.

It is always beneficial for us to ask ourselves what kind of church we are. Are we a anachronic church, doing things because that is the way they have been done, with no explanation as to why we do things in this way? Are we a synchronic church, adopting principles and practices of those around us without asking if they conform to Scripture? Or are we a diachronic church, seeking explanation for what we do, rooting our principles and practices firmly in Scripture?

~ Pastor Gary ~

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The Waters of Lake Victoria

Nile River Map

In the map to the right, we see the Nile River. The Nile flows from the south (the bottom of the map) to the north and empties into the Mediterranean Sea. Most of the water that flows into the Nile comes from Lake Victoria (more than 60%), and nearly all of that water flows during the summer months, which is the rainy season around Lake Victoria. Lake Victoria is the second largest freshwater lake in the world, but the area that feeds the lake is relatively small. What this means is that if the countries surrounding Lake Victoria happen to experience a dry year, the size of the Nile River diminishes significantly and the water level in the Nile drops.

What makes this significant is that it almost never rains in Egypt or Sudan. In Luxor, most probably the place where Moses was raised, a rain event is remembered for years. In Cairo, where the pyramids are located, we would consider their definition of a rainfall to be no more than a light misting, by our standards. Consequently, Egypt’s existence as a habitable country is entirely dependent on the flow of water in the Nile. Again, if the rainy season does not happen in the region around Lake Victoria, Egypt will dry up, and its people will have to move or die.

In the book of Genesis, we can read the story of Joseph. Joseph, as we remember, was sold as a slave into Egypt, but God blessed him, for he gave Joseph the ability to interpret dreams. When Pharaoh had two dreams involving fat cows and thin cows and plentiful sheaves of wheat compared to blighted ones, Joseph, receiving understanding from God, informed Pharoah that God was going to give Egypt seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. The weather did not change in Egypt (it’s always hot and dry), but it did have to change in the region around Lake Victoria for this to happen. Much of the moisture needed for farming in Egypt came from the flooding of the Nile following the rainy season around Lake Victoria, and for seven years, the moisture was plentiful. However, during the seven dry years, the rainfall around Lake Victoria would have been so low that the Nile did not flood and in the regular season, the river would have been so low as to make irrigation nearly impossible. While the people would have had enough to drink, they would have found it impossible to irrigate their fields. The food supply was in jeopardy, as we read in the book of Exodus.

As we know from the Genesis account, God guided Joseph to advise Pharaoh to collect food during the seven good years so that the people could eat during the seven lean years. Instead of doling that extra food out for free, however, Joseph sold it to the people, and eventually the people were forced to sell their land at fire-sale prices and later themselves to become slaves to Pharaoh just so they could eat. As a result of this good business move, Pharaoh acquired for himself all of the Egyptian farmland, with the exception of the land that belonged to the Egyptian priests, and he became more powerful than ever before.

In these two seven-year periods, God showed his immense power over creation as he changed the weather patterns in the Mideastern part of Africa so that he could save the Israelites from sure starvation, for that is ultimately why God allowed Joseph to be sold into Egypt. God showed his concern for one of Abraham’s descendants, Joseph, elevating him to a position of great power in Egypt. But in all of this God set himself up to face an even more powerful enemy, the Pharaoh of Egypt.

In changing the weather patterns around Lake Victoria and by giving Joseph the interpretation of the dreams, God created circumstances for Pharaoh to become a king of immense power. God inadvertently built up Pharaoh’s power through these events, a rather unwise military move, for most heads of armies try to weaken their foe before they attack. But even though he as strengthened, Pharaoh did not stand a chance, for when God went head-to-head against Pharaoh in battle, he roundly defeated him through a series of ten plagues. Though Joseph’s God-led actions gave Pharaoh power and prosperity, God impoverished Pharaoh and Egypt with him by sending plagues that would have ruined the agricultural economy of the nation. Egypt nearly died when God went to work, but Israel was saved. In saving Israel, God also cleared the way for a Saviour of the world to be born years later.

Reflecting on this story, we might wonder how the people around Lake Victoria felt as they experienced these very odd weather patterns. Years of heavy rain followed by years of near drought would have destabilized their lives, and, we can be sure, would have made them wonder why their gods (for they didn’t know the Lord) were not controlling things as expected. Then, as now, changing weather patterns cause all sorts of alarm, but in their case, the changing weather patterns had an explanation (which they could not have known): God was at work bringing about salvation not only for his people but for the world. The strangeness of their weather was a result of God doing something in another area of a world, an area that many would never have dreamed existed.

We might wonder why things happen as they do. There are events which seem to have no purpose and no meaning. We might even ask the question: why would God allow this or that to happen? We will probably never have the answer, but we can always trust that our God is at work somewhere doing something for the purposes of moving redemptive history forward. Just as the people living in sub-Saharan Africa could not know the full picture and thus not see how God was working, so we do not always see it. But that does not mean he is not at work. It is because God changed the weather patterns in the region around Lake Victoria that his plan of redemption could go forward and, eventually, the good people of Lake Victoria could be saved. After all, because Joseph saved Israel from starvation and because God released his people from slavery, Jesus was born. And today Jesus is known by many of the people around Lake Victoria.

~ Pastor Gary ~

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Energy and Supporting Indefensible Positions

Some years ago, I copied a quote from a book I was reading and hung it on my wall. I have since lost that piece of paper, and I don’t remember where the quote was from, but I do remember the gist of it. The author said something like this: when we hold a position or belief, even when confronted with information that contradicts what we believe, we will spend far more energy defending our belief than it would take to change our minds. For example, there are people who believe that the mission to the moon was faked, and they spend a lot of energy proving that pictures and videos of that event are false. Instead of allowing their opinion to be changed by the evidence, they spend hours developing theories that they say prove that the whole story of landing on the moon is a lie. More energy is expended in holding an indefensible position that would be expended in changing one’s mind based on the evidence.

As Christians we say that the Bible is the infallible Word of God, and it is the one book that has the final say on what we believe and how we live. We say that, but far too often we find those who believe in Jesus defending positions that are decidedly unbiblical. Take slavery as an example. Many of the slave owners in the United States went to church every Sunday, and they said that they shaped their lives according to God’s Word, but, at the same time, they claimed that they had the right to own other human beings and could use them as they desired. They spent a great deal of energy and time defending their rights to be slave owners, even twisting passages of Scripture for their own purposes. We wonder how they could be so blind to the clear teaching of Scripture, namely that all human beings are created in God’s image and are to be treated with respect and honour.

Why does this happen? Why do people who call themselves Christians work so hard at making the Bible say something that it does not say? There may be a variety of reason, but the most obvious one is that we are affected by our environment more than we want to admit. In other words, as we grow up, our worldviews are shaped by what our parents teach us, what our culture shows us, what we learn at school and what our friends believe. Thus, a young man who grows up on a farm outside of Nobleford might think that the only vehicle suitable for himself is a pickup truck, had he grown up in the city, might believe that the electric vehicle is the most desirable mode of transportation. In either case, it would be difficult for anyone to change his mind. This is a trivial example, of course, but it is true that more often than not we are products of our environment and therefore we come to Scripture with preconceived ideas of how things should be. Thus, someone who grows up in an environment where she is taught that she has to behave or she will lose her salvation cannot understand how anyone can believe that we can have assurance that we are saved for all eternity. She will point to passages of Scripture that she thinks will prove her point, and she will spend a lot of energy figuring out how to discount Scripture passages which prove her wrong.

It is easy, of course, for us to look at others and wonder how they could be so blind to the clear teachings of Scripture. Over the past few months, especially with the ongoing debate about biblical human sexuality, many have wondered how anyone who reads their Bible can say anything but that sexual activity of any kind is to be reserved solely for a married man and woman. Anything else is a deviation from the truth and must be considered sin. How can anyone say anything else? And yet there are many Christians who hold a high view of Scripture and who seek to live by it who would disagree. We would say that those who hold a different view from the one we hold are too influenced by the world and they have allowed something other than the teachings of Scripture to influence their beliefs and perspectives. (I would agree that they have allowed the teachings of the world to be the foundation for their worldview.) It is easy to criticize others for their beliefs and say that they have blinded themselves to the truth. We also see how hard they work at making passages of Scripture conform to their belief system rather than conforming their belief system to the teachings of Scripture.

Interestingly, though, some of the very same people who are quick to condemn others for maintaining a belief that is not biblical, in the very next sentence do the very same thing themselves. In fact, in one conversation someone had harsh criticism for those described above but, within thirty seconds, was using racial slurs and saying that “those people should stay where they belong.” The extreme of this racism is what is known as Kinism, the belief that people of different ethnicities and skin colours should not mix, a heresy that was also strongly condemned by the CRC synod a few years ago. Racism is a mild but equally harmful form of the heresy of Kinism.

I could go on and list a few other examples of how I have observed that people who say they believe that Bible and shape themselves by it fail to live biblically in their own lives. I would also have to admit that I am one of those who says I live by God’s Word, but I am sure that you can find places in my life where I do not. And, if you challenge me using Scripture, I may even find ways to get around what appears to be a clear teaching of God’s Word. I may expend a great deal of energy proving myself right even when the evidence is clearly against me. Be assured that we all do that, and we must be slow to condemn others for what we do ourselves.

So, how do we solve the problem? It would seem that humility is the first solution, humility that allows us to admit that we are wrong and humility that enables us to listen closely to others. Further, we must admit that we do expend a lot of energy proving that our belief system is right (even when it is indefensible), and we must work at using that same energy to be directed toward changing our view or belief. Admitting that just because we say we live by God’s Word doesn’t mean that we do is a good step forward to being more faithful in life and belief. And through all this, we should be slow to condemn others because they are defending an unbiblical position, and we should be slow to force them to “toe the line.” Rather, the proper way forward, it would seem, would be to love them as brothers and sisters, encourage them to examine their views, and, even more importantly, allow them to challenge us so that together we can grow in Christ. Yes, there are times when we do need to speak strongly to others when they fail to follow the clear teachings of Scripture, but we must never do so with the intent to destroy them but, rather, to bring them back to God’s Word. And we must be willing to let others do the same for us.

~ Pastor Gary ~

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