Wednesday, April 19, 2017

What did Jesus say about Syrians?

The Syrian people are caught in a hopeless mess of warring nations, travel bans, chemical weapons, Tomahawk missiles, and a lot of people just wanting to be safe and have hope for a better life for their children.  I was recently confronted with the realities of what is going on in this part of the world and then was confronted with a passage of scripture that I was preaching on that week. The text at hand was Luke 4:16-30.  Jesus is teaching in the passage and he quotes from Isaiah 61:1-2:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor. 
Then Jesus goes on to tell them that, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." The crowd is thrilled.  Jesus is saying that He is the promised Messiah come to save them! How exciting!  Who isn't excited about good news to the poor, liberty to the captives, sight to the blind, liberty to the oppressed and the proclamation of the Lord's favor? Because if we are honest when it comes to our standing before a holy and righteous God we all are poor in spirit; we all are captives to sin; we all are blind in our iniquity; we all are oppressed; so, we can all rejoice at the proclamation of the Lord's favor!

But then things get weird.  We have to assume these people knew the passage from Isaiah very well, and they would be wondering why Jesus stopped quoting where he did.  The next part of Isaiah 61:2 says, "and the day of vengeance of our God."  This was the part the Jews were the most excited about.  They were ready for their messiah to come and exact vengeance on all their enemies.  They  had been persecuted and marginalized by so many nations and they were looking for retribution.  They did not understand that Isaiah's prophecy is referring to two different moments in time.  The part Jesus quoted refers to when He came the first time and his current ministry in the world, the second part refers to when He will come again.

The account in Luke goes on and the people become outraged because instead of going on to lay out a plan for vengeance against the enemies of Israel, Jesus offers examples of the kinds of people he came for.  People like Naaman the Syrian.

Naaman is a popular Old Testament story today.  We like to teach our children the importance of Naaman being obedient to God by humbling himself and washing in the Jordan.  We can glance over the fact that Naaman was a terrorist from Syria.  He led attacks against the Jews that devastated their country and even stole their children.  Naaman was the epitome of who the Jews wanted God's vengeance to burn against, and Jesus said that He came for the Naaman's of the world.

The crowd is outraged at what Jesus is saying and they aspire to kill him for it!  But Jesus being Jesus just walks through their angry mob and goes about the work he was on earth to do.

So, while there are many geopolitical aspects going on in the world today relating to Syria, there is one fact that the Christian must not miss:  Jesus came to love and to save Syrians, especially the poor, the captives, the blind, the oppressed, and even the terrorists.  And the question we are confronted with is this: Is my approach to the Syrian situation in line with Jesus or the crowd that wanted to stone him?

Click here to hear my full message on this topic.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Where was Joseph's Family?

So typically on this blog I answer questions posed to me by others, but for this post I want to flip the roles and ask you a question.  Last night during our family devotion time I was reading the account of the birth of Jesus for our four month old son.  Something struck me that I had not thought of before.  Where was Joseph's family?

Consider the facts:
  • Mary was most likely in her upper teenage years based on when women of that day got married. 
  • Joseph as likely young as well though might have been a little older.  It seems that he has died by the time of Jesus' earthly ministry whether that was due to age we do not know. 
  • Joseph and Mary had to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the census because he was of the line of David.  
  • Joseph's extended family would have been from the same lineage and should have had to be there as well for the census. 
So, I have always pictured Mary and Joseph alone laying the baby in the manger.  Until the shepherds come along a little later.  But are we missing some people?  I can think of three possibilities: 
  • Joseph was an only child who's parents had passed away. (Unlikely but possible.) 
  • Joseph's family was also in town but had disowned them due to Mary being pregnant out of wed lock. Would they really take the last places in the inn and reject a pregnant woman from their homes?  Maybe.
  • Joseph's family was right there with them and helped with the delivery.  
Having just witnessed the birth of my son and what transpires, having women around who have gone through it would have been a great help to Mary and Joseph.  So I am thinking that our nativity scenes might have another problem besides the wise men being there.  (They showed up about two years later).  I think we might need to add in some extended family.  What do you think?  Any scriptures on the subject that I am missing?  

Monday, February 9, 2015

What about Newsweek, Inerrancy, and the Bible?

Last night I preached a message in which I was laying out the doctrine of inerrancy.  In doing so, I wrestled with Kurt Eichenwald's recent Newsweek article "The Bible: So Misunderstood It's a Sin."  The article is written as an intellectual journalistic piece but is really little more than a liberal rant against the Bible and conservative Christianity.  There is so much thrown into that article that there was no way for me to adequately respond to each and every point in my message last night, nor do I plan to do so here.  While I do appreciate the responses of Michael Brown, Darrel Bock, and Al Mohler, the best response I found to this article was actually written way before it was.  I want to offer here the explanation John Calvin made of critics of the Bible in the 1500s.  I found it to still be very true today and relevant for Newsweek's article and the different responses to it. 

“But although we may maintain the sacred word of God against gainsayers, it does not follow that we shall forthwith implant the certainty which faith requires in their hearts.  Profane men think that religion rest only on opinion, and therefore that they may not believe foolishly, or on slight grounds, desire and insist to have it proved by reason that Moses and the prophets were divinely inspired.  But I answer, that the testimony of the Spirit is superior to reason.  For as God alone can properly bear witness to his own words, so these words will not obtain full credit in the hearts of men, until they are sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit.  The same Spirit, therefore, who spoke by the mouth of the prophets, must penetrate our hearts, in order to convince us that they faithfully delivered the message with which they were divinely entrusted.  This connection is most aptly expressed by Isaiah in these words, ‘My Spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and for ever’ (Isa 59:21).  Some worthy persons feel disconcerted, because, while the wicked murmur with impunity at the Word of God, they have not a clear proof at hand to silence them, forgetting that the Spirit is called an earnest and seal to confirm the faith of the godly, for this very reason, that, until he enlightens their minds, they are tossed to and fro in a sea of doubts.”[1]

So I see the real issue at stake here is not whether or not we can intellectually prove the infallibility or veracity of the Bible, but the issue is an issue of faith.  Faith that comes from God.  Faith that informs about His Scriptures.  Faith that the Holy Spirit uses when making the scriptures alive and active in our lives.  So, my response to Kurt Eichenwald is not one of anger but is one of compassion.  I hope the Lord reveals to him the truth of His Scriptures and for this I pray.  I pray that the Lord will send his Holy Spirit upon this man, and that he will see the truth.  I know God's word to be fully true and holding the truth of the gospel.  I pray that God will make that truth clear to those who doubt Him and His Scriptures.

If you are looking for a point by point analysis of the facts of Eichenwald's piece, look to Bock or Brown, but if you have faith in God and in his Holy Scriptures, please join me in praying for those who do not.

[1] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 1 Chapter 7 Section 4. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

What about Foot Washing?

In response to my recent post on the ordinances as a reason why Christians need the local church, several people asked me why I did not include foot washing in with Baptism and the Lord's Supper as ordinances of the church.  Let's examine this.

I have been a part of foot washing ceremonies in the past, and I found them to be very humbling and edifying to one another.  More importantly, Jesus said, "If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.  For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you." (John 13:14-15) So, if Jesus commanded it, why don't more churches have foot washing ceremonies today?

Let's compare foot washing to Baptism and the Lord's Supper:

  1. Baptism and Communion symbolically point to Christ's atoning work on the cross.  These ordinances that we practice point to the most significant act in human history and pronounce the gospel to those who see it.  Unless extra meaning is added to the story of foot washing, it does not.  
  2. There is record throughout the New Testament of the role of baptism and communion in the early church, there is no other mention of foot washing.  
  3. Through church history we do not see foot washing elevated to the role of an ordinance until the Anabaptists did so during the protestant reformation.  Even then they did not really hold it on equal standing with Baptism and the Lord's Supper, but instead treated it as an additive to the Lord's Supper.  
  4. Instead of instituting another ordinance in this passage, what Jesus is really doing is teaching his disciples to humbly care for one another and meet even the most menial but practical needs of one another.  It would be easy to have a foot washing ceremony, which has really no practical need in our culture, and miss the point of caring for one another and meeting each other's needs.  
A recent example from my life of seeing Jesus's command to "do just as I have done to you," happened on a Sunday night after church in our church parking lot around my truck.  I had several bags of maternity clothes in my truck that I was returning to a lady in the church who had loaned them to my wife while she was pregnant, and then at the same time another guy came up to me to return an air compressor that I had loaned him so that he could work on his home improvement project.  I think in a small way, these are examples of meeting the needs of one another in the same way that Jesus did. Now these are imperfect examples as they don't truly show the humility that Jesus showed in washing the disciples' feet, but I think you get the idea.

So, is it wrong to have a foot washing ceremony?  No, in fact I would encourage anyone who has never humbled themselves to the level of washing someone else's feet to do so.  But do not elevate it to the ranks of Baptism and the Lord's Supper which symbolize the gospel.  Do, however, learn the all important message that Jesus was conveying and is repeated throughout the scriptures: 

"All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.'" (1 Peter 5:14) 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Bread, Blood, and Water

"The responsibilities and duties of members of a Christian church are simply the responsibilities and duties of Christians.  Church members, like Christians, are to be baptized and regularly attend the Lord's Table." -Mark Dever
In continuing to answer the question about "Why Christians need the local church."  We should consider what are called the ordinances.  The Catholic Church at the time of the Protestant Reformation had seven of these ordinances which they called sacraments and claimed them all to be necessary for salvation.  Coming out of the protestant reformation, we can rightly understand there to be two sacraments or ordinances that Christ commanded Christians to follow together.   While they do not provide salvation, they do point to the good news of Jesus Christ saving sinners.

The two ordinances that we see Christ commanding the church to follow and the Apostles practicing are the Lord's Supper and Believers Baptism.  They are expected of those who are saved and are necessary in the process of becoming more like Christ. (1 Cor 11:24-25)


The first act of obedience for a follower of Christ is baptism.  In Matthew 28, part of Jesus' last instructions to his disciples was to baptize new believers.  Through out the rest of the New Testament, we see this practice continued.  Through church history a connection has been made between the act of baptism of the individual and the corporate worship of a body of believers.  Any new believer who is wanting to follow Christ, should follow Christ's command and example in baptism.  This is properly done in connection with the local church, so that fellow believers can rejoice with the new believer over what Christ has done in their life.

Reasons to be baptized:
  • Follow Jesus' example. (Matt 3:13-17)
  • Follow Jesus' command. (Matt 28:18-20) 
  • Identify with Christ. (Col 2:12, Rom 6:4, Gal 3:26-27)
  • Show outwardly what has happened inwardly. (Acts 2:41)

There are however examples from Scripture where baptism is practiced and it does not seem to be in connection with the local church.  For example, Philip baptizes the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8 solely in the presence of the Eunuch's entourage.  So, does this mean this is the proper method of baptism?  No it means there was not a church (group of believers) in the area, and thus the church consisted of Philip and the new believer.  In places where there is a church (body of believers) new believers should be baptized in their presence.

The Lord's Supper (Communion)

There are no examples in scripture of the Lord's Supper being taken as an individual practice void of the local church.   Communion is to be taken in community with other believers. 

The Lord's Supper serves to:
  • Unite believers together on the common ground we share.  (1 Cor 10:17)
  • Be an impetus for resolution of conflict between members. (Matt 5:23-24, 1 Cor 10-11)
  • Remind the believer of the price that Christ paid on the cross. (1 Cor 11:24-25)
  • Draw the believer to repentance over sins prior to taking part in the Lord's supper. (1 Cor 11:27-30)
  • Point the believer's attention forward to when Christ will return.  (Matt 26:28-30, Mark 14:25, Luke 22:18)
  • Proclaim the gospel. (1 Cor 11:26)
Scriptures points us to the fact that the Lord's Supper is to be practiced with fellow believers, never alone.  The option to not take part in the Lord's Supper is also not offered to Christians.  Thus the ordinances are another reason why Christians need the local church.  

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Are Tattoos Ok? Why?

To tat or not to tat that is the question.  

Some say, "Of Course," while others say, "No Way!"  Several people very close to me have tattoos. Others question whether it is ok or not.  So instead of leaving this all up to popular opinion let us ask:

What does the Bible say?  

While some try to twist some passages into applying to this issue, such as the mark of the beast in Revelation, there is really only one verse that specifically speaks on the subject at hand.
"You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourself: I am the Lord." (Lev. 19:28) 
So, on face value it appears that the Bible forbids getting tattoos.  However, when you read the context of the surrounding verses it also seems to forbid:
  • Eating flesh with blood in it. (No rare steaks!)
  • Trimming your beard. (Duck Dynasty here we come!) 
  • Leaving part of your field unharvested. (Wait... I don't have a field.) 
So do we just ignore these passages that seem very weird to us?  I hope not, because Paul told his protege Timothy, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work." (2 Tim 3:16-17)  So, since these verses in Leviticus are a part of Scripture, we need to see what we can learn from them.

Jesus and the Old Testament

Before we dig further into Leviticus, we need to understand Jesus' role in understanding the Old Testament (including Leviticus) in light of the New Testament covenant (how Christians are saved today.)  Near the beginning of his earthly ministry, Jesus said, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." (Matt. 5:17) So we need to understand that we should not think of anything in the Old Testament as abolished, but rather we should think about certain aspects of the old law as having been fulfilled by Christ.

One of the easiest examples of this is seen in the sacrificial system.  The old covenant pointed to the fact that sin required death for atonement. The new covenant shows that Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice.  Therefore, we no longer need to follow all of the old sacrificial practices because we have the ultimate sacrifice in Christ's atoning death on the cross.  So, those passages are not abolished, but instead fulfilled.  So, when we read about all the different kinds of sacrifices that God required of the Israelites, we can appreciate what Christ did even more.  So does this mean that everything in the Old Testament has been fulfilled and is no longer binding for us to follow anymore?  No.

Kinds of Law

Theologians have categorized the law in the Old Testament into three different kinds of law:
  • Moral Law: the laws that teach right and wrong and how to live in relation to one another. 
  • Ceremonial Law: the laws concerning the Israelites worship, sacrifices, diet, and priestly duties. 
  • Civil Law: the laws relating to how the Israelites should govern themselves as a theocracy (state run by God). 
Now, we can see many of the Moral laws repeated in the New Testament and thus we know that we need to still follow them as we follow Christ.  However, the ceremonial and civil laws fall under the category of things that Jesus has fulfilled, and we no longer practice them.  We see examples of this in the fact that Jesus is now our high priest fulfilling the old system of priests (Heb 4:14-16).  So that is an example of the change in how we view the ceremonial law.

It is pretty obvious why we do not continue to follow the civil law:  we no longer live in a theocratic state here on earth.  Jesus and Paul both showed and taught submission to earthly kings.  They were not trying to set up a new earthly state that ruled based on the civil law. (examples: Mark 12:17, Rom. 13:1-7)

I am not saying that these parts of scripture are irrelevant, but that they are fulfilled in Christ.  The tricky part lies in figuring out where specific laws fall in these three categories, because they are not easily delineated in Leviticus and some have overlap.

How to understand and apply the Old Testament Law

I give you four questions to ask to help decipher such passages, and then we will return to the question at hand about tattoos.
  1. What was the purpose of this passage for those who first received it? (Do your homework and find out what was going on in that culture and that day, that would relate to the passage.)
  2. What is the theological principle behind the passage? 
  3. What does the New Testament Say about this principle? 
  4. How can I apply this principle to my life? 
So let's ask these questions of Leviticus 19:28.
  1. It appears that the cutting of the body and tattooing for the dead was a practice of the surrounding pagan culture.  This was a symbol of the agony that they had in losing loved ones and their lack of hope for those who had passed.  It was also likely a part of the worship of their gods.  It appears that this is a ceremonial law relating to the old way of worship.
  2. From knowing the context, it appears that this passage is supporting these theological principles:
    • Do not worship false gods. 
    • God's people are called to be set apart and different. 
    • God's people have their identity in Him alone.  
    • God's people have hope for life after death. 
  3.  While the New Testament does not directly speak on the issue of tattooing, it does speak a lot on these four principles that apply to the Leviticus passage.  The New Testament also teaches us a lot about the freedom we have in Christ (Gal 5:1, 2 Cor 3:17), while giving us ample warnings about abusing that freedom or using that freedom at the expense of others (Rom 14:13-21, 1 Cor 8:13). 
  4.  So, are tattoos ok?  Yes, just like trimming your beard.  Is it wise to be cautious about what kind of tat we get and where we get them? Yes.  There are those among the Christian faith who struggle on this topic. Let us not abuse our freedom at their expense.  In dealing with a similar issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols, Paul said, "Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God.  Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats." (Rom 14:20) So, let me say, "Do not, for the sake of a tattoo, destroy the work of God." 


Practical Advice for considering tattoos

A couple of things to consider if you decide to get a tattoo:
  1. Can you afford it? Is this a wise use of your money?  
  2. What does your tattoo mean?  
  3. What does it convey to others without you explaining it? 
  4.  If you live at home with your parents, are your parents supportive of this decision? 
  5. Where are you going to put the tattoo?  Why? 
  6. Is your tattoo in a place where it can be covered so as to not offend others?  (This may affect some job opportunities down the road.) 
  7. How does this tattoo reflect on Christ? 
  8. Armpits and wrists hurt the most. (So I'm told.)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Salty Bride

Imagine this: a guy tells you,"Hey man, I really like you and I want to be friends, but here is the deal: I can't stand your wife.  Your bride is annoying.  There is always conflict surrounding her.  I am bored whenever she is around.  She is really hypocritical, and honestly, I just don't want to have anything to do with her.  But, remember I like you and I think we should hang out."  Now if you are like me, you are not going to have a lot more to do with this guy after this conversation.  Sadly, this is exactly how some people treat Jesus.

The Church is the bride of Christ.  As I  have already covered: the Church universal is represented by the church local.  So for someone to say that they love Jesus but not his church, is to say that they love him but hate his bride.  Jesus builds an analogy of his bride being salt and light (Matt. 5:13-17).  She is supposed to stand out and be different.  In Jesus' day salt was very useful not only for adding flavor to food but also for preserving food.  It was a daily essential.  The church is made up of people who are just as essential.

Scripture offers several more metaphors for the Church.  Those who make up the church are described as branches on a vine (John 15:5), a field of crops (1 Cor. 3:6-9), an olive tree (Rom. 11:17-24), a building (1 Cor. 3:9), a harvest (Matt. 13:1-30; John 4:35), a holy priesthood (1 Peter 2:5), a pillar of truth (1 Tim3:15), and a new temple (1 Cor 3:16-17).  All of these metaphors can be used to explain why being a part of the local church is essential for a believer, but let's look at one final analogy that is used in several different places in scripture. In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul explains that the church is the body of Christ which is composed of different parts.  We have different roles to play in that body.  So for someone to claim to be under the headship of Christ (Eph 1:22-23), but to not be an active part of his body is nonsensical.  If Christ shed his blood for you and has redeemed you from your sins, he has a purpose and plan for you as a part of his body.  To follow Christ means to submit to him as the head, and the head wants the body together.  A hand that is doing its own thing apart from the rest of the body is useless.

"For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them." (Eph 2:10)

Read more about: Why do Christians Need a Local Church?