Devotion in Motion: Understanding the Old Testament, part 3

 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

John 1:17 (NKJV)

Note from the mamas: We asked Brother John to do a series on how to better understand parts of the Old Testament. Click HERE if you missed Part 1 of the series, titled “What’s Up with the Old Testament?” Click HERE if you missed the second part, titled “Deciphering the Old Testament, Part 2″. Read below for Part 3.

By Bro. John L. Cash

Well, I’m trudging along in my series of explanations of why the Old Testament (in places) is so gory and brutal. The main reason for this is that the Old Testament and the New Testament are two drastically different books. The New Testament is a book of Gospel—which means “good news.”  The Old Testament is a book of Law—which always works out in the lives of people to be very “bad news.”

moses-573811_1280 (2)The Law of God reveals to us the mind of God. All of the things that are revealed in the Ten Commandments are pleasing to God. In order to save ourselves by the Law, we would have to keep it perfectly our whole lives. Nobody can do that. The children of Israel weren’t even able to keep the Law until Moses made it down from the mountain carrying the tablets of stone; they were already worshiping a golden calf.

Now there are probably thousands of laws in Old Testament. But we are not even able to keep the first ten.

The Bible says that if we break the Law in one part, we break the whole Law (because we become lawbreakers.) And once you break a law, there is no way to “unbreak” it. You just have to stand there and live in your guiltiness. I’ve been there. It’s horrible.

Now, let’s add another tragic element to the nature of the Law. There’s a penalty for breaking God’s Law. And that penalty is DEATH. Our God has declared, “Behold, all souls are Mine; The soul of the father As well as the soul of the son is Mine; The soul who sins shall die.”

That’s why you’re always seeing people being punished for their sins (or struck-down-dead for their wickedness) in the Old Testament. “The wages of sin is death.”

rp_bucket.png[I have to inject a side-note here. A lot of folks in the 21st century come to me with complaints against God. They say things like, “Why doesn’t God just lighten up? Why can’t God just tolerate sin?” The thing I say to them is, “Why can’t your newborn baby just lighten up? Why can’t you just stick his head in a bucket and tell him to breathe under water?” The answer to the second dilemma is, “Infants are humans; it is not in their nature to be able to breathe under water.” And the answer to the first query is, “God is holy and just; it is not in His nature to tolerate disobedience. The Creator of all things is not able to behave contrary to His nature.”]

Now, here’s where the good news of the Gospel, the New Testament, comes into view. The nature of God has not changed. It is eternal and unchangeable. God is just and must punish sin. But, in the New Testament, the object of God’s punishment has changed. In the New Testament, Christ Jesus is born. He is perfect God, and perfect Man. He is able to perfectly keep God’s Law, without sin. And on Calvary’s tree, He received punishment for every sin that has ever been (or will be) committed. And He died for every lawbreaker, so that they don’t have to die.

So…in a nutshell, that’s part of the explanation of the brutality of Old Testament. In the Old Days, a man died for his own sins. In the New Days, Jesus takes your place (if you will accept Him.)

And that’s why I love living under the New Testament instead of the Old.

(More tips on how to understand the Old Testament next week….stay tuned)

rp_john-l-cash-212x300.jpgDr. John L. Cash is the “Country Preacher Dad.” He was raised in Stuttgart, Arkansas, and has spent the last 29 years being a country preacher in the piney woods five miles south of the little town of Hickory, Mississippi. (On week days has a desk-job at a public school, where he used to teach Latin on closed-circuit-television.) He and his lovely wife, Susan, live in the parsonage next door to the Antioch Christian Church (where the Preacher finished writing this devotion in the midst of drinking a half-gallon of Miralax for his wellness-colonoscopy tomorrow.) Their kids include Spencer (age 24), his wife Madeline (age 24), and Seth (age 20).

Devotion in Motion: Deciphering the Old Testament, part 2

34 ¶ Then Peter opened his mouth and said: “In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality.

35 “But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.   ~ Acts 10:34-25(NKJV)

 By Bro. John L. Cash

Well, I was called away by duties from writing my devotion last week, but this week I’m back to my series about the purpose (and dark stories ) of the Old Testament. (Click here if you missed Part 1 of this series.) I have to tell you, I’m feeling a little overwhelmed today at the prospect of it all. I feel like I could write a book about this matter (or maybe some sort of encyclopedia.)

But I don’t have time to write all that, and you don’t have time to read it. So I’m going to write a few small “pieces of the puzzle” during the next few weeks, and hopefully we can fit them together into part of the big picture as we go along.

First of all, let me begin by saying I believe that the Bible is God’s Holy Word and that it is perfect, authoritative, and without error in the original manuscripts. That’s kind of an old-fashioned idea. But I wholeheartedly believe in the complete truth and trustworthiness of the Bible.

Now, having made clear that I believe the Scriptures are true, here is an interesting thing. There are many times that the Bible accurately records the words that a person said, but the words that the person was saying were wrong. The Bible tells the truth of what the person said. But the words of the person are not true.

Perhaps the best way to explain this is with an illustration. In John 9:31 we read “We know that God does not hear the prayers of sinners….” Now to me, that’s a pretty sobering thought. Before I was saved, I prayed that God would give the gift of salvation. But if that verse is true, God did not hear me. And the truth is, I sin each and every day. If that verse is true, God is still not hearing my prayers because I am most certainly a sinner. And that verse is a part of the Bible.

who said itHowever, there’s something important to notice here. WHO is speaking (in John 9) about God not hearing the prayers of sinners? Well, it’s NOT God who is saying it.  It’s NOT Jesus who is saying it. It’s NOT any of the holy Apostles speaking this dreadful sentiment.

Those words were said by “the man born blind” who Jesus had just healed. He’s just a regular guy. He is NOT speaking under the direction of the Holy Spirit. And what that regular guy has said is utterly and completely wrong.

So, when you’re reading the Old Testament this week, ask this question: “In this passage, WHO is speaking; the Holy Spirit or man?” And as ever, man’s opinions don’t count for much. But we must always listen to and completely obey our Saviour and Lord.

Dr. John L. Cash is the “Country Preacher Dad.” He was raised in Stuttgart, Arkansas, and has spent the last 29 years being a country preacher in the piney woods five miles south of the little town of Hickory, Mississippi. (On week days has a desk-job at a public school, where he used to teach Latin on closed-circuit-television.) He and his lovely wife, Susan, live in the parsonage next door to the Antioch Christian Church (where this past week has been very pleasant and not nearly as hectic as the one before it.)  Their kids include Spencer (age 24), his wife Madeline (age 24), and Seth (age 20).

Devotion in Motion: Faith between the bells

18 Also day by day, from the first day until the last day, he read from the Book of the Law of God. Nehemiah 8:18 (NKJV)

By Bro. John L. Cash

Note from the mamas: Brother John is on a break this week but his series on the Old Testament will resume next Sunday so stay tuned. In the meantime, here’s an encore appearance of one of his previously published devotions.

This is my 25th year to work in the field of public education. When I’m at school, I don’t go around preaching all the time, but if somebody asks me a religious question, I try to be courteous enough to answer it. The only problem is that people often ask me very complicated questions “between the bells” that mark the ending of a school period.

school bellSo, over the years, I’ve developed a set of very short, concise answers to complex theological questions. It’s as good an answer as I can pack into three-and-a-half minutes. Clearly, I’d do a lot better if I had more time, but, hey, you do the best you can when you’re “in a pinch.”

One of the most common questions I’m asked is, “How can I know if my life is right with God?” The outline of my very short answer is (number 1) “Have you done the things the Bible tells you to do?” and (number 2) “Are you bearing the Fruit of the Spirit?”

Another popular question I’m asked between the bells is, “You are a Christian Church preacher. How is your view of faith different than mine?” For this question I reference the subject of mathematics. I say something like, “I’m sure you’ve studied geometry. In geometry, there are ‘points’ and there are ‘rays.” Many people view their faith as a ‘point.” They believed on the Lord Jesus one time and raised their hand in a church. For some folks, that’s the extent of their faith journey.

But for me, I understand my faith as a “ray.” My faith in the Lord began at a ‘point” when I first believed on Him, but (like a ray) it continues on in a straight line forever. You see, true faith is something we nurture every day — and it lasts for this whole lifetime and for all eternity.” Most people I talk to like my answer.

However, because it’s a such a short answer, it’s not entirely correct. If I have more time, I explain myself more fully. I believe that faith is like a ray. But in geometry, a ray begins at one point and continues on in a straight line forever. Our faith isn’t quite like the ray in the geometry book, though. Faith begins at a point. It continues on in one direction (towards God) forever.

However, the faith that we have doesn’t always move in a straight line. The line of our faith is fraught with twists and turns and scribbles and detours. So, because of that fact, don’t become discouraged with your progress or with the spiritual growth you see in your children. Something I’ve learned in almost 3 decades of ministry is this: Jesus is leading to Heaven all those who put their trust in Him. But nobody goes to Heaven in a straight line.

That’s all I’ve got time to tell you this morning. Gotta run. It’s time for the bell….

john l cashDr. John L. Cash is the “Country Preacher Dad.” He was raised in Stuttgart, Arkansas, and has spent the last 28 years being a country preacher in the piney woods five miles south of the little town of Hickory, Mississippi. (On week days has a desk-job at a public school, and until recently taught Latin on closed-circuit-television.) He and his lovely wife, Susan, live in the parsonage next door to the Antioch Christian Church (where the Preacher and his wife and kids have had a good week.) Their kids include Spencer (age 22), his wife Madeline (age 22), and Seth (age 19).

Devotion in Motion: What’s up with the Old Testament?

2 Blessed are those who keep His testimonies, Who seek Him with the whole heart!  ~ Psalm 119:2  (NKJV)

 By Bro. John L. Cash

It’s fun to be a country preacher, for a lot of reasons. One of the things I enjoy most is that people are always asking me interesting questions about the Bible.  People ask great questions—and I find myself thinking about ideas and situations and things I’ve never thought about before. Because I’ve been studying a long time, sometimes I can answer a question off the top of my head. But most of the time I have to say, “Let me read a little bit, and I’ll get back with you later.”

old testamentOne of the most common questions is this: “Why is the Old Testament so different than the New Testament?” And I immediately understand where the “asker” is coming from. The New Testament reveals to us the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the knowledge that God is Love, and God is Light, and God is Life. But the Old Testament often relates stories full of darkness and anger and pain; some stories could even be called gruesome. Why is there such a contrast?

I think I can say that I understand this much better than I used to. And I’ll be writing about this for the next several weeks because it’s a big subject. You see, my whole view of what the Bible is changed because I read one little devotion written by the late Michael Spencer. (He wrote a wonderful blog called “Internet Monk” and passed away when he was only 54 years old. But that’s another story for a different day.) Bro. Michael said his understanding of the Old Testament became clear to him when a little old lady described the book to him: “Michael, the whole Bible is a story about Jesus. And the Old Testament is made up of the stories God tells around His kitchen table.”

Every family has stories that they tell (over and over again) whenever they get together. We have hundreds of them in our family. There are heartwarming stories like, “The Record Player that Daddy Brought Home When He Saw Santa at the Hardware Store.” There are funny stories like, “Gravy on the Ceiling:  When Mama’s Pressure Cooker Exploded.” There are gory tales like, “When Bobby Mann poked John in the Head with a Pencil in Second Grade.” There are sad stories, and stories of tragedies, and stories of regular days when things happened that are only important to us. I’m only scratching the surface here, but our family has stories. We can sit around the kitchen table and go on and on for days.

Some of our family stories teach some sort of moral lesson. But most of them don’t. They aren’t supposed to teach any lesson. They are just a recounting of all the things that happened—good, bad, and indifferent.

word swagAnd from my point of view, these stories are MY story. They’re the story of the little boy who was the youngest of seven first-cousins and the adventures of how he grew up and lived and loved and eventually became a pastor, a husband and a dad. Even the things that happened before I was born are part of the story of ME because that’s where I came from.

So let’s think about the Bible as a book about Jesus. And the Old Testament is the book of the stories that God tells around His kitchen table. There are heart-warming stories, like “How Jesus’ (Many ‘Greats’) Grandmother Ruth Dearly Loved Her Mother-in-law Naomi.”

There are funny stories like, “The Time the Jackass Spoke to Balaam.” There are gruesome-stories-that-really-happened-but-teach-no-moral-lesson-and-belong-on-“The Forensic Files”  like, “Judges Chapter 9: Angry Man Slices the Body of His Murdered Maidservant into 12 Parts (and Mails the Pieces).”

A lot of years passed between the stories of “The Garden of Eden” and “The Babe in the Manger,” and all those forefathers of Jesus were busy doing all sorts of things over the centuries. That’s where the Old Testament came from.

Clearly, our Heavenly Father is a God who loves to tell stories. The Bible says we’re made in His image; that’s probably why we love to tell (and hear) stories, too. There are so many amazing and interesting stories in the Holy Scriptures. But without a doubt, one we love the most is the Story of Jesus.

(Check back next week for more of Brother John’s perspective on the Old Testament.)

john l cashDr. John L. Cash is the “Country Preacher Dad.” He was raised in Stuttgart, Arkansas, and has spent the last 29 years being a country preacher in the piney woods five miles south of the little town of Hickory, Mississippi. (On week days has a desk-job at a public school, where he used to teach Latin on closed-circuit-television.) He and his lovely wife, Susan, live in the parsonage next door to the Antioch Christian Church (where the Preacher will be writing more about the Old Testament next week.) Their kids include Spencer (age 24), his wife Madeline (age 23), and Seth (age 20).

Devotion in Motion: Don’t be a two-timer

2 Blessed are those who keep His testimonies, Who seek Him with the whole heart!.    

Psalm 119:2  (NKJV)

 By Bro. John L. Cash

I work with a lot of preachers at the school where I teach, and we are always comparing notes. All of us had big crowds at our churches on Easter Sunday. We agreed that attendance is better on Easter because you always have an influx of “two-timers.” Now, before you get the wrong idea, in preacher-talk church pew2“two-timers” aren’t people who are unfaithful to their spouses. A “two-timer” is a person who comes to church two times a year — on Christmas and Easter.

“You know,” I said to my friends, “if a person considers himself to be a part of Christianity and doesn’t come to church even on Easter, he’s really fallen off the radar screen. A Christian who doesn’t go to church even on Easter really isn’t much at all.”

One of my preacher friends gave a reply that I found particularly insightful. “Brother John,” he said, “I look at it a little differently than that. The Lord has made me, and given me life and everything that I need, and sent His Son to die in my place so that I can have eternal life. If I don’t go to His house to see Him every Sunday, I’m really not much at all.”

Ouch! I think he hit the nail on the head.

In view of what God has done for you, don’t be a two-timer.

Give your whole heart to God.

john l cashDr. John L. Cash is the “Country Preacher Dad.” He was raised in Stuttgart, Arkansas, and has spent the last 29 years being a country preacher in the piney woods five miles south of the little town of Hickory, Mississippi. (On week days has a desk-job at a public school, where he used to teach Latin on closed-circuit-television.)  He and his lovely wife, Susan, live in the parsonage next door to the Antioch Christian Church (where the Preacher has been swamped with standardized-tests at school this week.)  Their kids include Spencer (age 23), his wife Madeline (age 23), and Seth (age 20).