Posted in theology

Suppressing the truth and searing the conscience

By Elizabeth Prata

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. (Romans 1:18-19).

What did they suppress, exactly? And where? Or how?

They, meaning unbelievers, deny in their minds that there is a God. They suppress that He made everything in creation. They hate thinking of the fact that He made them, which would mean they are accountable to Him at judgment for their words, their deeds, their lives. They squash their conscience when they do evil.

Continue reading “Suppressing the truth and searing the conscience”
Posted in theology

God made two genders and only two genders. Gender is not ‘fluid,’ nor should we misidentify our gender

By Elizabeth Prata

In Genesis 1:26, God made man in His image. We don’t look like God nor do we possess His incommunicable attributes, but ‘in His image’ means as Phil Johnson preached:

“Humanity bears the stamp of God’s likeness. No other creature, not even the highest archangel, was made in God’s image. We can see the image of God imprinted on the human soul in humanity’s unique moral and spiritual attributes, those things that set us apart from the animals.”

For example, the human intellect is uniquely capable of self-reflection. We’re creative. We are moved by beauty. We speak a variety of complex languages. Our moral instinct (that innate sense of right and wrong) is unparalleled in the animal kingdom. We have a conscience that declares our guilt when we do wrong. And no other creature manifests anything like the human craving for communion with God. Animals don’t practice religion of any kind.” end Phil Johnson excerpt from sermon “What Creation Reveals

Continue reading “God made two genders and only two genders. Gender is not ‘fluid,’ nor should we misidentify our gender”
Posted in theology

The dramatic cleansing of the leper

By Elizabeth Prata

Jesus Cleanses a Leper; The Centurion’s Faith

When Jesus came down from the mountain, large crowds followed Him. And a leper came to Him and bowed down before Him, and said, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, “See that you tell no one; but go, show yourself to the priest and present the offering that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” (Matthew 8:1-4).

Notice that in the Bible it’s almost always (with two exceptions) a cleansing of a leper, not a healing of a leper. This essay examines why that distinction exists, and looks at the life of a person in New Testament times who has the disease of leprosy.

Continue reading “The dramatic cleansing of the leper”
Posted in theology

What is the ‘gateway drug’ to heresy?

By Elizabeth Prata

On July 8, 2012, Pastor Jim Murphy of First Baptist Church of Johnson City, NY
delivered a sermon titled “The Subtlety of Satan“. I can’t believe it’s been almost ten years! I remember the impact of that sermon like it was yesterday. The church synopsized Pr. Murphy’s sermon this way:

"Pastor Jim looked back over the last fifty years of church ministry to suggest the slow, incremental, and subtle changes that have created a theological crisis resulting in a move away from the foundational authority of the Word of God and into an experiential, emotional, and radically individualized form of Christianity. Not only will this review trace the consequences of the "little" erroneous theological conclusions that have defined the current struggle within evangelicalism, it will also define the way back to biblical Christianity."

I wrote about that sermon here. One of the things that caught my attention was the fact that the Pastor repented for not paying attention to some of the other gateway points of encroachment satan uses to enter into the church in order to corrupt it. We all know that elders are charged with guarding the pulpit from satan’s wiles against polluting the word of God. But satan enters in through other points in the church too. He enters in via the church library. Via the women’s ministry. Via the music.

Most pastors guard the pulpit well, this gate is usually tended to and secure
EPrata photo
Meanwhile, other fences in the church are left unguarded or are neglected. Satan enters in the gaps.
EPrata photo

Pastor Joel Webbon of Right Response Ministries interviewed Justin Peters about that very point of entry. Peters called music the “Gateway Drug” to heresy.

Music contains doctrine. It can present good doctrine or poor doctrine or heresy. As the congregation sings good or bad or heretical words, it changes the mind and heart. It’s meant to. Good music points to God and changes one’s affections toward Him and extols His attributes. Bad and heretical music points to ourselves and nudges us away from heavenly affections.

Music is one infiltration point. The music you sing in your church matters. The clip below is 6 minutes. Under the video are some resources about the importance of singing good music in church, and why.

Hymns are wonderful didactic tools, filled with Scripture and sound doctrine, a medium for teaching and admonishing one another, as we are commanded to do in Colossians 3:16… ~John MacArthur

The Master’s Seminary Press
Link to Youtube HERE

Michelle Lesley: In My Humble Opinion…The One with the Modernized Hymns

Michelle Lesley: God’s Not Like “Whatever, Dude,” About The Way He’s Approached in Worship

Grace Community Church, Generations of Grace-Hymnody: Here, the ministry of John MacArthur’s church through opera singer Phillip Webb presents a short backstory to a hymn, and then he sings the hymn with instrumental backup. You might need to plug in your email to access the 93 hymns.

Here is a handy outline speaking to The Role of Music in Worship with scriptures.

Ligonier discusses worship music.

Truth for Life ministry by Alistair Begg discusses Music and Worship, with Keith Getty, saying,

Music has been a fundamental element of Christian worship from the earliest days of the church. As Keith Getty points out, though, its power is not guaranteed. Singing lyrics with shallow theology or leaving the actual singing to the “professionals” will not help form the body of Christ. Music’s transformative power in worship is only present when the full Gospel is proclaimed and when the congregation sings God’s truth as one body.

Tend your fences...because satan is subtle.
Posted in theology

Prata Potpourri: Art, Music, Books, Food, Movies, More

By Elizabeth Prata

For a lot of people in the US, summer is only just getting started. For me, I go back to school on August 2, so my summer break is winding down, fast! It always flies by quickly, but this year more than ever. I moved from one town to another on June 1, and it took a good 3 weeks to get settled. That, plus some other issues happening, made this year’s summer break seem like a blink.

The SBC Annual Meeting didn’t go well, and that took energy from me, and then the plagiarism scandal pushed me over the edge. I hate sermon plagiarism because it is deception, lying, laziness, and offends God severely. Pastors are given a high position in God’s economy. They are to share the word of God with the people divide it rightly. When pastors deliberately fail at this repeatedly, in my mind it’s a sin of the highest order. So that wearied me too.

Let’s take a break. Here are some nice, wholesome, pleasant links for you that have nothing to do with any scandal.

BOOKS: Carrie Graham Koens and her husband adopted 5 children from Latin America a few years ago. The children didn’t know English, or much of anything outside their home country. The oldest was sullen and resentful. Carrie relates a beautiful story of striving to find common ground with her newly adopted kids, through reading aloud. Here she reviews The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in an Age of Distraction, and offers a beautifully written personal experience story, here.

Shaker Village. EPrata photo

SHAKERS: I lived in southern Maine for almost 30 years, near the last remaining active Shaker Village at Sabbathday Lake. The Shakers were an offshoot movement of the Quakers in the 1780s. Here is a story from the Portland Press Herald about that peculiar place of the past with only a toehold in the now. A 21st Century Shaker Story: The Three People Living in the World’s Only Active Shaker Community Plan for the Future. Beautiful photos.

FOOD: Here at Good, Cheap Eats, Jessica reviews her experience with the subscription of Imperfect Produce (changed to Imperfect Foods). In my area there’s Misfit Market, and there are many other subscription boxes you can try. While it was available in my area, I belonged to a produce co-op where you went to a location and picked up your ordered box. You ordered a box, but accepted whatever came in it. It was a frugal alternative to full price produce at the supermarket, and I was introduced to produce I had not heard of before. I now have too many food allergies and a much more limited range of produce (and foods in general) I can eat, so subscription boxes wont’ work for me any more, but I thought Jessica’s review of this particular subscription was fair and honest. Check out her other essays for great information on a range of food-related and kitchen topics.

MANSION: Want to buy an 11-acre mansion set on the cliffs of Dover, (In England) complete with its own lighthouse? Only 4.25 million UK pounds. Can’t quite pull that out of your pocket? Then take a virtual tour and enjoy the beauty, and dream a little.

MOVIES: Need a pleasing, feel-good family movie to rest your eyes and not blight your soul? I enjoyed Blue Miracle with Dennis Quaid. Here, The World reviews it positively, if you want to find more about it. On Netflix.

ART: The bustling NY City Tribeca art scene is as far away from here, a rural county with cows and pastures and farmers trundling up the road on tractors, but that’s why I’m fascinated with it. People in America live vastly different lives from each other in vastly diverse settings. Here is an art essay on the Tribeca gallery scene and the realtor who helped bustle it.

CATS: I’ve been missing having a cat lately. Not enough to get another one, and my lease forbids animals anyway, so I’ve satisfied my need to see kitties with watching Youtube videos. Of those, thousands abound! I watched a short series from wife and husband Rachel & Jun, who had pity on a starving, injured cat, caught it, and brought home to foster in their small apartment in Japan.

WRITING: We’ve had art, books, and now writing. Next will be music, thus completing my surf today of the arts I enjoy. I agreed with Doug Eaton who says that writing can be and often is a spiritual discipline. It is for me. I found this on Challies’ roundup links so a hat tip to him. Writing as a Spiritual Discipline

MUSIC: At Grace Community Church, there’s a media section of Hymnology. Opera singer Phillip Webb introduces a hymn by giving the backstory of the author, then he sings it. It’s a relaxing, educational, sweet 4 minutes. You can watch for free but need to sign up with email to get in. GCC doesn’t spam you. Hymnology from Hymns of Grace

Posted in theology

Would you stand next to a lightning rod?

By Elizabeth Prata

New York City. The Empire State Building as seen from the East River. Note its lightning rod. EPrata photo

Our teaching pastor is going through Acts. We got to a part where the scriptures introduced Barnabas. My teaching pastor spent some time relating to us the scriptures that demonstrated Barnabas’ character. Anyone who has spent any amount of time in the New Testament is familiar with Barnabas.

Barnabas was nicknamed “Son of Encouragement.” It’s a great nickname. Son of Encouragement is way better than the nickname given to James and John- “Sons of Thunder” AKA Boanerges. Barnabas and Paul were together for many years, a pair that encouraged each other, supported each other, and went about on mission teaching and preaching having each other’s backs. Barnabas even affirmed Saul before he was widely known as a convert and still seen as a persecutor. (Acts 15:2, Acts 9:27). Look for how many times in the New Testament we read, “Paul and Barnabas.” As Kevin DeYoung said in his sermon Christians in Conflict, these two were like Batman and Robin.

So the other day I watched a clip of a storm hovering over a driving range. The range had been cleared, but one teenager wanted to get in one last swing. He drove his golf ball off the driving tee, and hurtling 88 miles per hour, in mid-air a lighting bolt came out of nowhere and incinerated it. The youth was amazed and scurried further into the safety of the covered roof. The video made the news.

The National Weather Service has a few things to say about lightning and thunder. “Lightning is an underrated killer, responsible for an average of 26 deaths per year across the country (10 year average).” The NWS motto is, “When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!” because “if you can hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck by lightning, … No place outside is safe during a thunderstorm.”

Paul was a lightning rod. We know that the Lord told Ananias in Acts 9:16 that Paul must suffer for His name. In 2 Corinthians 11:23b-27 Paul recounted some of these sufferings-

I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent adrift at sea. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, dangers among false brothers; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.

Barnabas suffered also. Barnabas was with Paul at Lystra when the Jews stoned Paul. Acts 14:19-20

But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.

Even if the people with Paul didn’t directly experience the stoning, they experienced trauma. Even if one stone had not landed on Barnabas, Barnabas had the agony of witnessing his friend being injured, watched him dragged bloody and unconscious out of the city, and thought his friend was dead! It must have been emotionally wrenching for Barnabas.

What if you’re a bit shy, and friends with someone who stands firmly on biblical doctrine? What if you’re friends with a podcaster who receives push-back for their stances? What if you are friends with someone who preaches or teaches or proclaims in the streets the ordinances of God? Will you stand with him or her? Or will you back away?

Counting the cost not only has application for the ones proclaiming, but for the friends within that person’s sphere, too. Will you stand with your friend and ignore your crumbling reputation because of his or her strong stances? Will you support by your friend, defending him even when others back away? Will you keep holding the lightning rod?

In 1752, when Ben Franklin was mulling over the issue of lightning and electricity, even before he did his kite experiment, Franklin proposed a lighting rod would be a safe way to attract the lightning and deliver it safely to the ground before it could harm anything or anyone. He called it the lightning attractor. These days, anyone who stands on biblical doctrine is a lightning attractor. We never know when or from what direction the strike will come from, but it will come.

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 2 Timothy 3:12

The days are evil and getting more evil by the day. Here in the United States, there is an overt and aggressive push against anything Christian. It’s worse elsewhere in the world. Just saying a Bible verse out loud in public is often enough to draw the lightning! Counting the cost will come to mean counting whether or not to be a Robin to your Batman.

Well, when he arrived at the synagogue, he was invited to preach; and Barnabas and he sitting in the congregation were noticed by the leaders. Paul was invited to preach, and he did. His sermon blew the city wide open. It was the most devastating, shattering thing that perhaps had ever happened in the city of Antioch. The city had, like most cities, endeavored under its leadership to maintain some kind of a placid equilibrium and some kind of a balance, and that was absolutely shattered by the preaching of Paul. But before we would be too surprised, we would call to mind the fact that the gospel, whenever it is purely proclaimed in the midst of sin and wherever there are unsaved people, is bound to have results that are going to be shattering. (Source: The Troubling Gospel)

Bearing the above in mind, here’s an imaginary conversation between Paul and Barnabas.

Barn, let’s sail to Cyprus.
Hey, haven’t you been shipwrecked three times?
Yup.
OK, let’s go!
And Barnabas gets on the ship.

Would you get on a ship with Paul? Will you hold the lightning rod? It’s one thing to hang onto it when skies are clear. Now that it’s stormy, will you not only stand next to it, but hold it? These are decisions you will no doubt need to make as time goes on. We bless Barnabas for being a faithful friend to Paul even though Paul’s sufferings often included his friend either witnessing dire events, or participating in them. Silas was jailed WITH Paul-

The crowd joined in an attack against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods. When they had struck them with many blows, they threw them into prison, (Acts 16:22-23a).

If you’re a Robin because you like to be in the background, you might sorrowfully find yourself stepping away from your friend. If you’re a Robin because you’re a Son or Daughter of Encouragement and enjoy being a support to someone else for the name of Christ, then you might find yourself on a wild ride like that golf ball hurled into the skies only to be struck by a bolt out of the blue. Will you get on the ship with Paul or wave goodbye from the shore?

Time will tell. But think on these things, and prepare ahead for the inevitable time of deciding.

Further Reading

Who was Barnabas in the Bible?

The Troubling Gospel

Lockyer’s All the Men of the Bible – Barnabas

Posted in encouragement, theology

Passing the baton

By Elizabeth Prata

Paul tenderly gives a spiritual charge to his spiritual son, Timothy,

You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (2 Timothy 2:1-2).

Paul can be seen as the spiritual patient zero, who took Timothy under his wing, the next generation, who is now charging Timothy to relate the truth to those who heard him, 3rd generation, who will turn around and give it to the upcoming generation. Four spiritual generations passing the baton of truth on down.

Continue reading “Passing the baton”
Posted in theology

Jailed for the Lord – Paul in the ‘House of Darkness’

By Elizabeth Prata

Thank goodness for historians. In ancient Rome during the last days of the Apostle Paul, Sallust and Livy, for example, wrote of the notorious jail in Rome known as the Mamertine, dubbed so in the medieval period. It’s originally known in history as the Carcer, or the Tullianum, or at least, the lower half of the underground dungeon was. History does not record for a definite fact that Peter and Paul were at different times held there, but tradition and Roman practice indicate it was a strong possibility.

This essay is constructed in three sections:

Section 1: The prison itself. What was it like?
Section 2: Paul in Prison
Section 3: Facing Death

Roman Forum. Mamertine Prison was up behind the building with the dentil cornice. EPrata photo

What was the Mamertine Prison like?

The Mamertine prison was a prison in the Roman Forum where high-profile prisoners were kept, usually so they could be marched through the Roman streets during a triumph parade. High ranking commanders captured during war and other famous prisoners’ names are recorded on a plaque at the entrance. Since Paul was a significantly known public figure, it’s likely when he was imprisoned in Rome, this was the place he was kept.

The prison was deliberately constructed in the middle of the city and placed in the middle of that, into the Roman Forum, as a symbol of Rome’s power, authority, and as a warning. Crime had begun to rise as the city grew, and the Emperors wanted its citizenry to heed the consequence of crime. Hence the jail was visible and constructed so as to be fearsome.

Interestingly, Roman law did not consider the imprisonment itself as a punishment. Jails were simply a place to hold the captured or the criminals until execution, which was the punishment. Mamertine was a place of detention until execution. Barbarian Commanders captured in war were paraded and then strangled publicly, for example. Roman citizens, if unfortunate enough to have been detained for a crime, were taken outside the city on the Ostian Way and beheaded there, usually in private. Privacy in execution was a way to give a Roman Citizen his last dignity. Non-Romans were killed by any method; for example, sent to the beasts, used to the death in gladitorial games, or crucified as Peter was (tradition says, upside down). These executions were public for the spectacle of Roman power and for the amusement of its citizens.

Roman Forum. EPrata photo

The Mamertine, or Tullianum prison was a two-story underground prison. The upper chambers had light and air and was drier. The lower, which prisoners were let down through a hole for their fate, was dank. Historians say the word tullius meant a jet of water and since the prison was originally built as a cistern, this signifies the origin of the name. When the 6th emperor of Rome Servius Tullius arose, the origin story shifted to claim his name as the name of the jail. Below the well or cistern ran the sewer known as the Cloaca Maxima. Seepage from the sewer into the cells just above was common. In fact, they used to flush out the corpses of the incarcerated dead to the Tiber River in this way.

Once the door was shut there was little air, no light, and the cell was steaming hot. Just the name of the Mamertine drew shudders, as in this account from historian Sallust-

 “There is a part of the prison which is called the Tullianum, where you ascend a short way on the left. The Tullianum is sunk into the earth about 12 feet and is constructed of stone walls on all sides; above this is a room with a ceiling of vaulted stone. Foul from neglect, darkness, and stench, it is an altogether terrifying sight. … Sallust described “Its appearance is disgusting and vile by reason of the filth, the darkness and the stench.” Sallust, War against Catiline 55. “Execution of Prisoners.”

Prisoners who were held for trial were called in carcer from which we get the word incarcerated. If you were in the Mamertine prison, you were considered as dead. Sometimes, in fact, they threw you down to the lower cell and starved you to death. What a way to go, in the dark, forgotten, hungry, alone, and then you die the painful slow death of starvation, knowing your ignoble corpse will be flushed into the sewer as waste.

Paul in prison- what do the scriptures say?

Paul was jailed numerous times and in a variety of conditions. His first was at Philippi, where he’d delivered a slave girl of her demon of divination and the owner was upset his method of income was gone. This was around 51AD. Paul (and Silas’) release was a supernatural event accompanied by an earthquake and an instant loosening of all the bonds and chains. The jailer was converted, and the next day the magistrates came and let Paul and Silas go (but asked them to leave the city). Paul went to Lydia’s house. (Acts 16:22-40).

Paul’s second jailing that we know of occurred in Jerusalem. It was prophesied beforehand that he would be jailed, (Acts 21:11) but Paul pressed on, knowing at the outset that Jesus had said Paul was to suffer mightily for the Name. (Acts 9:16). Jews, jealous of Paul, claimed (wrongly) that Paul was allowing Gentiles into the Jews-only part of the Temple, and stirred up a riot. (Acts 21:28). This was AD 57. Paul was removed to Caesarea for his safety, kept another two years, sent to Rome under house arrest around AD60. He was released in 62AD.

Paul’s last jailing was likely at the infamous Mamertine prison. He had been deserted. He knew this was the end. He had written before that he had learned to be content in whatever circumstances he found himself in by God’s providence. He had learned he could do all things through Christ. (Philippians 4:11-13). Whether enjoying a comfortable house imprisonment attended to by family, whether free and dining at Lydia’s in fellowship with the saints, or hunkered down in the sewage at Mamertine, hungry and alone. We do not know if the Lord visited Paul at the end, but we do know the Lord visited Paul at other times in his jailings, like in Acts 23:11. Bible Knowledge Commentary says,

23:11. The importance of this vision was not only in its comfort and encouragement (cf. 18:9–10) but also in the confirmation it gave of Paul’s plans to go to Rome. The gospel of Christ would literally go from Jerusalem to Rome by means of the Apostle Paul. This was the fourth vision the Lord gave Paul (cf. 9:4–6; 16:9; 18:9–10).Toussaint, S. D. (1985). Acts. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 420). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

Facing Death

But in reality, I think it must have been hard to maintain a positive attitude in that place. Only Luke was with him, which must have been a comfort. (2 Timothy 4:11). Paul hopes to see Timothy and also Mark. Paul was a super-Christian, but still a man. He had been buoyed personally by Jesus many times, supported by family at times, and enjoyed within his circle of beloved friends. But what thoughts go through a man’s mind when sitting in a jail cell knowing the end has come? He longed to be with Jesus, that is certain. But he just have wondered if his actual death would be prolonged or painful. He must have wondered how long he would languish in that dank place. He had been blessed with glimpses of ‘the other side,’ but must have wondered what would it really be like to be with Jesus eternally. Here is A.T. Robertson’s The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia entry of the end.

"When Paul writes again to Timothy he has had a winter in prison, and has suffered greatly from the cold and does not wish to spend another winter in the Mamertine (probably) prison (2 Tim 4:13, 21). We do not know what the charges now are. They may have been connected with the burning of Rome. There were plenty of informers eager to win favor with Nero. Proof was not now necessary. Christianity is no longer a religio licita under the shelter of Judaism. It is now a crime to be a Christian. It is dangerous to be seen with Paul now, and he feels the desertion keenly (2 Tim 1:15 ff; 4:10). Only Luke, the beloved physician, is with Paul (4:11), and such faithful ones as live in Rome still in hiding (4:21)." [Robertson's The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia entry continues->]
"Paul hopes that Timothy may come and bring Mark also (4:11). Apparently Timothy did come and was put into prison (He 13:23). Paul is not afraid. He knows that he will die. He has escaped the mouth of the lion (2 Tim 4:17), but he will die (4:18). The Lord Jesus stood by him, perhaps in visible presence (4:17). The tradition is, for now Paul fails us, that Paul, as a Rom citizen, was beheaded on the Ostian Road just outside of Rome. Nero died June, 68 AD, so that Paul was executed before that date, perhaps in the late spring of that year (or 67). Perhaps Luke and Timothy were with him. It is fitting, as Findlay suggests, to let Paul’s words in 2 Tim 4:6–8 serve for his own epitaph. He was ready to go to be with Jesus, as he had long wished to be (Phil 1:23)."

Source-  Robertson, A. T. (1915). Paul, the Apostle. In J. Orr, J. L. Nuelsen, E. Y. Mullins, & M. O. Evans (Eds.), The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia (Vol. 1–5, p. 2287). Chicago: The Howard-Severance Company.

And so, Jesus gathered Paul to Himself to enjoy eternal peace and rest after so much suffering for the cause. Of all people, we can say of Paul, "Rest in Peace, brother".

Sources and further reading:

Visit Rome: The Mamertine Prison

Historical Background of Paul’s Final Imprisonment

A Dispatch from Rome: The Mamertine Prison

Posted in theology

How do the rod and staff comfort us?

By Elizabeth Prata

EPrata photo

The LORD, the Psalmist’s Shepherd. A Psalm of David.

The LORD is my shepherd,
I will not be in need.
He lets me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For the sake of His name.
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.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows.
Certainly goodness and faithfulness will follow me all the days of my life,
And my dwelling will be in the house of the LORD forever.

(Psalm 23:1-6).

As my elder read the Psalm during our time of congregational prayer, I wondered, how could a rod comfort a person? Isn’t a rod a metaphor for God’s justice, or his discipline? I made a mental note to look this up, and went back to listening.

I didn’t forget my mental note, and once home I looked up about a Shepherd’s rod and staff, also known as a “crook.” We’re all familiar, I think, with the crook. It’s the shepherd’s tool, the hooked rod usually associated with that profession. It is the symbol of the Shepherd’s Conference-

The staff usually had a curved end that was large enough to hook around a sheep or lamb’s neck so as to prevent it from falling into a ditch, or to reroute away from something dangerous, like poisonous plants or a snake’s nest. It was long enough to do this before the shepherd entered its fear sphere and then bolt.

The staff and the rod were almost an extension of the shepherd’s arm. It represented power, control, and authority of the flock. The rod was authoritative. You remember that it was the staff that God used to demonstrate His power through Moses to Pharaoh. (Exodus 4:17).

The Shepherd relied on the rod to beat back predators, protecting the flock. He would use it to poke a bush and look for snakes. He used the rod to scan the sheep. Their fluffy wool could hide parasites, skin diseases etc, so the shepherd used the rod to part the wool in order to examine its skin and wool for anything untoward. The shepherd’s hands would then run all over the sheep to make sure he was healthy and not beginning with some disease.

Each night as the sheep were brought into the shed or the fold, they would pass under the rod, which was used as a counting stick. Each sheep was touched by the rod in counting so that the shepherd ensured all of them were present, and none were lost. This was called ‘passing under the rod”.

I will make you pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant; (Ezekiel 20:37). cf Jeremiah 33:13, Leviticus 27:32.

The rod was also used for disciplining the sheep. Shepherds in Africa had a rod with a knob at the end called a knob-kerrie they would hurl at a sheep to startle it from, say, not running down a cliff or into a ditch if they couldn’t get there in time.

That David, the shepherd, said ‘the rod and the staff comfort me’ now becomes easier to understand. Jesus is THE Shepherd. His staff guides us, keeps us away from the ditch or falling down a cliff. His rod unearths the snakes and the poisonous weeds. His staff guides us to fresh clover and green pastures, still waters of living water. He counts each and every one of us so that none are lost, knowing where each of us is at any given moment. As we pass under his rod he checks us for disease or injury.

Even the rod of discipline, if it becomes necessary, is for our good. Don’t eat that poisonous weed! Don’t get near that wolf! Don’t run down that ditch! It is a comfort that the Shepherd can see from the heights of His vantage point the things we cannot. Our low vantage point and limited view often leads us to trouble, but He leads us to still waters and green pastures. He uses his rod and his staff to do it, and this is such a comfort.

Posted in theology

Don’t “help” the Gospel

By Elizabeth Prata

The Gospel is simple. Repent and believe in Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and rose again, ascended to heaven and will return in judgment. That’s it. Repent and believe. It’s simple, but profound. It’s eternally life saving. It’s countercultural. It’s offensive. It’s foolish to those who are perishing (1 Corinthians 1:18)

Because it is too simple for some people, or too offensive for others to hear, well-intentioned Christians, even pastors, sometimes tweak the Gospel, change the Gospel, soften the Gospel, in order to “help.”

The Gospel comes out looking like this:

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