Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The String of the Hyssop Plant by Mike DeCamp

The Hyssop Plant
Courtesy of Wikipedia

The String of the Hyssop Plant

Have you ever seen a little string hanging off of the front of your shirt and when you tugged on it, you felt a pull under your arm or on your back?  When that happens, you know that the one little string you see is connected in your shirt in ways you can’t easily fathom, and you better not pull too hard or you’ll end up ruining the thing.  I liken that phenomenon to certain strings of cool connections that I sometimes find in the Bible.  I love it when I come across something like that!  It just does wonders for my faith.

That happened to me again when I was thinking about what to write for this article.  Maybe you’ve seen this before, but I came across another little string that is strung across the web of time, connecting one of the most ancient of Bible stories with a cherished New Testament event, and it is connected in the middle by a classic Psalm.  I hope you find it as inspiring as I did.

We’ll start tugging on the string in Psalm 51.  For background, this is the Psalm where King David pours out his heart in repentance and remorse for the sins he committed in connection with Bathsheba.  He started out by being idle.  That led to lustfulness…which led to adultery…which led to lies and deceit…which led to murder.  This stands as one of the vilest periods in the life of one of the pillars of Old Testament faith, but as we read the following passage he has been confronted the prophet Nathan and his heart is broken:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.  Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.  For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.  Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.  Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.  Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.  Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.  Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.  Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.  Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.  Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.  Psalm 51:1-12

I am struck by how low his heart has fallen.  “…my sin is always before me.”  The temptation toward hopelessness.  “Surely I was sinful at birth,…”  He knew he had no argument.  “…you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.”  He had lost all joy and desperately wanted it back.  “Restore to me the joy of your salvation…”

One line has perplexed me over the years.  I just didn’t understand it, but I never took the time to dig into it until now.  It just was one of those odd little things in scripture that didn’t seem to have that much significance.  Boy was I wrong.  It is incredibly significant!

“Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.”

“Cleanse me with hyssop.”

What in the world is hyssop?  That is the question I asked myself as I started to trace this crazy little string.  I thought maybe it was a plant that the ancient world used as a cleaning agent.  Seemed reasonable.  Then I did a quick internet search and found that it was just an aromatic plant common to the Mediterranean area.  It was sometimes used as an herb, but can have some toxic qualities.  Apparently it does have some detergent qualities also, but that doesn’t seem to be all that significant of a feature.

What could David have meant when he said he wanted to be cleaned with hyssop?

To find that meaning, let’s go back in time to Exodus, to the plague of the firstborn, to the very first Passover:

Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb.  Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe.  None of you shall go out of the door of your house until morning.  When the LORD goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.  Exodus 12:21-23

Hyssop was used to spread the blood of the sacrificial lamb on the doorframes to keep the destroyer from killing the Israelites, a key moment in history for the Jewish faith and particularly for King David.  Just as the Israelites were saved from the wrath of God by the use of hyssop as a tool, perhaps David is calling on that imagery to ask for God to keep the wrath from overwhelming him.  Could that be it?  Could that be all?

Still though, there is no mention of a cleansing with hyssop.  It still doesn’t fully fit.

We’ve looked back.  Now, let’s look forward from David’s time:

Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”  A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.  When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.”  With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.  John 19:28-30

“…so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”

How does Jesus saying that fulfill scripture?  Perhaps Psalm 22:15.  But…however… maybe it isn’t just what he said that fulfills the scripture.  Maybe it is what was done as a result of what he said that fulfills it also. 

“…so they…put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.”

Just as hyssop was used as the tool to spread the blood on the doorframes….so was it used as a tool when Jesus blood was spread on our spiritual doorframes, cleansing us from the stain of our sinfulness.

“Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.”

David is the bridge and hyssop is the string.  It ties the sacrificial lamb of Exodus to the sacrifice of the Lamb of God in John, crossing the bridge of David’s sin, guilt, and repentance.  David could feel the depth of his sin, he could recognize the potential wrath of God, and he could prophetically look forward to the cleansing of the blood of the Lamb.

Isn’t God simply amazing?  The layers of meaning in the scripture are astounding.  Across centuries…through varied authors…He ties key points of history together with a simple plant!  Our salvation is made clear in ordinary foliage.

One of my all-time favorite passages of scripture is Psalm 51:10-12.

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.  Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.

I am a sinful man.  I feel it every day.  I think the older a person gets, the more aware he is of how short he falls from God’s standard.  It can weigh on you.  It can strip you of your joy.  It can cause you to lose your willingness to go on.  Sometimes, I am tempted to allow the discouragement from falling short to get me to throw in the towel…hang up my spiritual cleats….quit.

But, then there is the hyssop plant.  And, it reminds me of the way that Jesus has cleansed me…he has washed that blood all over the doorframe of my spirit, and I am now whiter than snow.  Then, that snowy salvation blows up into a blizzard of joy that wells up in my heart and bursts forth on the lips of praise.
By all means, cleanse me with hyssop!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

What is a Bible Class Worth? by Craig Hill

What is a Bible Class Worth?
In 1984, I started going to the Alvin Church of Christ in Alvin, Texas.  My wife Regina invited me.  I went to Sunday morning assembly and Bible class, evening assembly, and Wednesday night Bible class.  At first, I was a little taken aback at “going to church” that much.  (I don’t really like that phrase, because we are the church. We don’t go to it.)  But I was going to the church building and I was being taught by very smart, often highly educated people.  Sermons and classes were about the Bible, about relationships, about how to live a good and faithful life.  Classes were about how to act, how to be more self-controlled, how to be more pure in my thinking, etc.

This continued when we moved to the Indianapolis area and placed our membership at Southeastern church of Christ.  And I learned practical skills like how to manage money, how to raise children, and how to be better husband.  I learned about the Bible, how to deal with difficult people, and so many topics that there is no way I can remember them all.

This year I’ve spent a lot of time trying to convince certain people to attend certain classes that I thought would help them in their daily lives, such as how to manage your money.  And I was very unsuccessful in persuading these people to come to these classes.  I kept thinking about how valuable these classes are to people.  And yet I watch them struggle through their week and make mistakes that are really very avoidable if they were to take the class and do half of what was taught there.

And I thought: How does this compare to the hours that go into a college education?  Not the “credit hours”, but the actual classroom hours in a 4 year bachelor’s degree.   So follow me on this:

Most colleges offer a class that is about 3 hours of classroom time per week.  Most people carry a load of about 5 classes per semester.  So the hours are something like this:

3 hours per class  x  5 classes per week = 15 hours per week

15 hours per week  x  4 weeks per month  x  4 months per semester = 240 hours per semester

240 hours per semester  x  2 semesters per year = 480 hours per year

480 hours per year  x  4 years  = 1920 hours

So there is about 1920 hours in a 4 year college degree.

Then I calculated how many hours I’ve probably spent in classes or in sermons since 1984.  Now I must admit that traveling out of town and living in Carmel, we don’t make it to Wednesday night class all the time.  I will spare you all the math on this one, but since 1984 I’ve received about 4386 hours of sermons and classroom time.  And if I was teaching a class, I was still learning by teaching.

We pay about $5000 per semester for Rachel’s tuition at Purdue.   That’s $40,000 for 4 years at Purdue, not counting books, room, and board.

So I’ve received about 2 college degrees worth of education, or about $80,000 of education, encouragement and downright Godly edification since 1984.

My point?  Go to Bible class on Sunday mornings, go to the assembly on Sunday morning, go to Small Group Bible Study, and go to Wednesday night Bible classes.  Learn what is being taught.  It adds up over the years.

Proverbs 2: 1 to 6

My son, if you accept my words
and store up my commands within you,

turning your ear to wisdom
and applying your heart to understanding—

indeed, if you call out for insight
and cry aloud for understanding,

and if you look for it as for silver
and search for it as for hidden treasure,

then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God.

For the Lord gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

Hmmm.  Maybe that Wednesday night traffic to get from Carmel to Bible class isn’t so bad after all.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Do We have Heart Disease? by Jim Brantly

Do We have Heart Disease?

For almost 50 years I have attempted to diagnose physical illness and disease by examination and asking lots of questions.  Answers to my probing questions helped me to evaluate the problems that caused people to come to the hospital emergency department.  Heart disease, diabetes, and cancer are rampant in America and are leading causes of death and disability.  Each of us has been touched by disease or injury as we have suffered personally or with friends and loved ones, sometimes being left disabled or even dying.  As I get older and a long medical career is mostly behind me, I think more about the reality that ultimately the only disability or death that truly matters is spiritual, not physical, and that sin is the only disease that eternally separates us from God.

The diseases of the body are in some ways like sin in our lives. Physical weakness, which can lead to illness, can often be prevented by proper diet, regular exercise, healthy lifestyle habits, and maintaining a healthy body weight. When I relate this to my spiritual health, I realize that regardless of my effort, Jesus is the only cure for spiritual illness.  However, what we feed our minds and the activities in which we participate can either help prevent spiritual weakness and disability or increase our frailties.  A diet of Bible study and listening to God, meditation on His word, prayer, and worship can help protect us from succumbing to the lies and deceit of Satan.  On the other hand, a diet filled with empty calories such as unwholesome music, radio, movies, television, books, or magazines can lead one into sin.  Choosing as our closest friends those who are seeking to honor God with their lives or choosing those whose interests are purely worldly also impacts us for the better or the worse.  There are activities that I would compare to exercise that can strengthen or weaken our relationship with God and our Savior Jesus.  Some strengthening activities might include: regular attendance at Southeastern for Bible classes and worship on Sundays and Wednesdays; involvement with men’s and women’s ministries; being committed to a small group for study, fellowship and service; attending Christian conferences and college lectures; various Bible studies and video series, Christian radio and television; serving in various ways at Southeastern such as teaching, serving at Pit Stop, in the pantry and benevolence, in the nursery, meals and kitchens, building and grounds maintenance, sports ministry, Divorce Care, Grief Share, Arms Wide Open, sight and sound, preschool, youth ministry, mission trips, visitation, Kids Praise, Christian Legal Clinic, and numerous other ministries. These and many other things can help us learn to live a healthy and disciplined lifestyle, allowing God's Holy Spirit living in us to transform us day by day into the person we were created to be.     

Even as we try to do the right things to maintain or improve our health, things happen to sabotage our plans and activities.  Life happens.  Accidents happen.  Like the traveler in the parable of the Good Samaritan, we can "fall into the hands of robbers" through no fault of my own.  I must realize the urgency and importance of my relationship with God.  Perhaps there is a silent killer lurking within our spirit. That is how heart disease, diabetes and cancer work.  No one sees it or knows it is there.  It is hidden, just waiting to disable or kill us.  In our spiritual walk, we can be sabotaged by any hidden sin if we fail to be honest with ourselves, our friends, and God and to be on guard against the schemes of the Evil One.  As I read Romans 7 this week, I was comforted as Paul reminded me once again that although I may often lose some battles, the victory over sin is already guaranteed when we submit to the lordship of Christ.  

Heart disease is often fatal.  Diabetes and cancer can take away our health and lives. We know this life will end.  But the issue that demands our constant and uninterrupted attention is spiritual disease.  Now that's a battle I'm glad I don't have to fight alone!!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Fixing Our Eyes on What is Ahead, Without Forgetting How We Got Here by John Wright

Fixing our eyes on what is ahead, without forgetting how we got here

                                                                                                                                                                                               By John Wright

I have lived in Shelbyville for 22 years, and I knew that my Grandfather was buried somewhere in Forest Hill Cemetery. I heard the story when I was young about how he died of TB when my Dad was 2 years old, but for some reason I was not curious enough to ever look for the place where he was buried. A few weeks ago I was suddenly curious enough to go look for the burial site of William Wright. I went to the cemetery with a rough map of Forest Hill that I got from a genealogy that was prepared by my cousin Kenny. I had no trouble at all finding his marker; I stopped my car right in front of the place and walked straight to it. There it was, William Wright 1876-1922 only a stones throw from where my Children, Leah, Amanda, and Jacob attended elementary school. This experience illustrates the way I have lived so much of my life, too busy to notice all the others whom I should know about and appreciate.

            I am reminded of Rom. 14:7 “For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone.” It is so true that we are connected by God to each other in amazing and unknowable ways. As Christians we know that our eyes are to be fixed on Jesus, but doesn’t God give us peripheral vision and hindsight? I have been absent in too many family reunions, weddings, births, and funerals. May God help me grow into a neighbor who finds time for others in the way that Jesus patterned in His life.

            The Hebrew writer refers to the “great cloud of witnesses” meaning our lives are being observed from the heavens with great interest. No matter how small we see ourselves in the scheme of things, Heaven rejoices when God’s children serve him. There are so many in this Church who had influence on my family by being good and kind to us when we were in need. There were many acts of benevolence provided when I was young, and I am truly thankful. Because we are all so connected, every small act of Christian love are seeds that may sprout in any of the most unlikely places. It’s with one another are we going to get to where the great cloud of witnesses are urging us to go.