Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Family Friendly Gospel

Something I have noticed for some time is the emphasis on family in our culture, whether it be a redefinition of what constitutes a family, advertising for products/experiences, or to discuss the active role of the family in society. In Christian circles, family is used to describe ministry models, the ideal for the home, and a system of values to protect and defend. I also have noticed some Christian radio stations talk about being "safe for the whole family," and for certain types of entertainment to be "family friendly and wholesome." For the record, I am all for protecting young eyes (and older) from seeing filth that is passed off as "free expression." The power of media to create and reinforce value systems is greatly underestimated by many people, and that is to our detriment.

So to the task at hand, in a Christian sub-culture that seeks to be family friendly and good and wholesome, how are we to see the Gospel? Is the Gospel safe, family friendly, and wholesome? Are we to expect the same values in our theology that we desire to see in our homes? I would contend that if we seek to make the Gospel family friendly and wholesome, we in fact rob it of its great power and great offense, both of which are necessary.

How can Jesus not be wholesome or family friendly you ask? It all comes back to the core issue of the need for a Gospel. That need is sin, sin that comes from a rebellious and wicked heart that seeks to displace God and put Self on the throne. That expression of sin comes in idolatry, lust, greed, pride, rivalry, contention, bitterness, jealousy, war, sabotage, etc. We see a great calamity at work, but in so many circles we take on an unbiblical approach to humanity. We look at people, especially ourselves, and do not see the inherent wickedness in our hearts. We see children as sweet innocents who are in fact as Augustine described them "little bundles of original sin." We neglect the fact that all who are born in Adam are guilty of sin and deserving of hell. It is not family friendly to look at someone and tell them they have an idolatrous heart and are at war with God. It's much easier to gloss over the issue and explain it away using psycho-babble or the dreaded "well, boys will be boys."

The crucifixion has to be the least family friendly part of the message of the Gospel (more than a 'Plan of Salvation' but God's purposes of redeeming His elect). We see Jesus, the sinless one who bears no guilt of His own, tortured and murdered in the most brutal way ever imagined by man. On the cross we see the full wrath of God against sin, all of God's hatred of evil and righteous judgment against rebellious man. It is a gruesome picture, one that could not be shown on network TV. In the very ugliness and horror of the cross, there is a great beauty. The beauty is this: It was for us that Christ died. There was a joy in going to the cross, knowing that once it had been accomplished the work of redemption was complete. It pleased the Father to send the Son to the cross, which has been portrayed as cosmic child abuse, but is instead one of the greatest pictures of love ever painted. But it is far from "safe for the whole family," because it should be every single one of us who has our flesh torn off and our blood spilled with railroad spikes in our arms. At the expense of God's holiness we emphasize His love, and His goodness requires that He punish the wicked and condemn those without Christ to hell. If He did not, then the death of His Son is child abuse because there was no purpose to it.

We preach a message of scandal and foolishness, that God would come to earth and assume humanity, die a wrongful death on our account, rise from the grave, and indwell the hearts of believers to conform them to His image. It is a message that is held in jars of clay, so that we do not focus on the wrapping paper but instead the gift. The Gospel message is not family friendly because it cuts like a sword and demands all to give account. Jesus' great question to His disciples is "Who do you say I am?" and He asks us that as well. How we respond to that has eternal ramifications. The Gospel can split friends, and divide siblings. The very offense of it that those with it are assured eternal life and those without are assured of eternal death goes counter to the pluralism and individualism of our day.

The Gospel message is not safe, and to remove its scandal, its offense, its need and its horror is to rob the Gospel of its great power. In churches that paint Jesus as a pithy Zen master or God as a passive observer, you notice a lack of power in both the preaching ministry and in the lives of the congregation. Watering down the horror of the cross glosses over the nature and effect of sin and the demand for a worthy sacrifice to overcome it. Ignoring the question of sin and morality muddies the water as to what is true and what is right. Again, the church must not tolerate things that are impure and sinful in the name of tolerance and diversity. If it means offending man and pleasing God, that is a much better alternative than offending God and pleasing man.

This post isn't meant to stir up trouble or controversy, just to get us thinking about what it is we're preaching and what life we're living. Thoughts for the day!

To quote Derek Webb from his House Show CD "Jesus is not safe. Preaching the Gospel is not safe. But He is good, and He is the King."

Monday, November 23, 2009

Do Less, Give More

If you're wondering what the point of that title is, it comes from a phrase I kept on hearing in my head over and over again last night. I was sitting at a Todd Agnew concert and during the mandatory presentation of a WorldVision promotion, I was broken over the child that Carrie and I sponsor through Compassion, Martin. I began to pray for him and weep over the fact that compared to our children when we have them, he has so little hope or future outside of our giving. Praying hard through it and asking the Lord to continue to bless us financially so that his line item in our family spending never has to be cut, I started being more and more convicted about how selfish and wicked my heart is when it comes to spending. I want more for me, and I put it under the guise of "investing wisely" or "building up savings in case something happens" or "well we might want to do some renovations/redecorating later." The $32 that we write in our check ledger every month seems like nothing to us, but God has given the dollar such strength that it has great power in Third World countries. How arrogant and selfish of us to keep so much to ourselves when what is so little for us can do such great things around the world.

That's only part of the story though. Another thing I have been broken over is the spending and structuring of church budgets and church efforts. Many of you are well aware that I am not a fan at all of how the SBC is spending its Cooperative Program dollars, that we keep far too much in the US and do not do enough to spread the Gospel so that the nations may be glad. There is nothing I can do to change those practices on my own, only through my vote at the Convention next year for the Great Commission Resurgence can I have a say in it. I hope and pray that restructuring happens, that less money is kept in the US for redundant programming and efforts that conflict with one another, and less money is spent on building grandiose buildings that serve to the glory of man rather than the glory of God. Conversely, I hope and pray that more money is spent in planting churches, developing living communities that are missional in nature and less concerned with programming and buildings and more concerned with living incarnationally in their communities, that we invest more in developing the next generation of pastors through intentional discipleship in the local church and innovations at the seminaries, that more money is sent overseas to help end hunger and bring clean water in Jesus' name, that more missionaries are sent to the ends of the earth, and that more time and effort is spent to translate the Bible into native tongues so that the tribesman in the bush of Africa can hear in his language the words of Christ.

So how can I, as a 27 year old youth pastor in rural Kentucky, do anything to bring about this vision that the Lord has given so many in my generation? Simple, I need to shut up and get to work living this out. I have never been a fan of the model of youth ministry I call the "Three Ring Circus" where the goal is to have more and bigger, throw in some elephants, maybe a lion tamer or two, and keep students entertained for a few years. I cannot accept that, and I would go so far as to say those who do that kind of ministry are making children of hell of their students. My primary aim as a youth pastor is to instill a Christian worldview in our students and prepare them over their 5 years in youth ministry to be mature adults (both in the church and outside), able to feed themselves spiritually and be active members in the local church.

To that end, I have decided to begin teaching the concept of "do less, give more" in some very practical ways. This does not mean I intend to abandon programming and never do anything fun. Secretly, going to Six Flags and Whitewater Rafting and such is the second best part of youth ministry (behind seeing a teenager have a 'get it' moment). What I do mean by this is no longer doing things simply for the sake of doing things. So much ministry is done just for the sake of doing ministry, making ministry the end goal. The end goal isn't to do, it's the glorify God. Our efforts and activities and such will be done for God's glory, not just to do things. So when we serve a soup kitchen, the end goal isn't to get students serving or keep them from getting pregnant, it's to work and strive for the glory of God to make Him known. When we lead worship in a couple weeks, it isn't for a photo op, it's for our students to glorify God in song and reading Scripture.

As far as giving goes, I have been convicted that churches are just as guilty of being selfish with their money as Scrooge was towards Bob Cratchit. We keep so much in house and give so little comparative to our receipts. Instead of spending money on light systems or the latest media platform, why not invest our money and time and energy in things that will last? We can still have things and do cool stuff, but let's make the priority of our spending being missional and out-focused instead of in-focused. I hope to be able to be more intentional in 2010 about encouraging our students to give towards missions endeavors, to spend their money not on candy or concessions but to help send resources, food, and volunteers to the mission field. I want to encourage and motivate our students to see the big picture of God's mission in the world, not just what we can do to have a more cool and hip youth ministry.

Our Christmas Card Mailboxes will be up by this Sunday, and the money raised is going to be used to do youth missions. We'll be giving 25% to Lottie Moon to help keep missionaries on the field and do our part to make up the shortfall. Another 25% will be earmarked for local projects, for donations and resources for volunteer work. The remaining 50% will be set aside for financial assistance for our students to do mission trips, individually and as a church. With a 2011 International Trip on my heart, we must begin the work now to provide ample ways for as many students as possible to go. This is a small way, but I feel led to do this. I would encourage any of you who read this to prayerfully consider what you can do as a ministry leader and individual to Do Less and Give More.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Timeless Truths in an Shifting Time

For years I have felt a slight bit of tension in ministry. I'm fairly young, work with teenagers, and feel like I'm fairly up on trends and technology. But I am also disheartened with most of the writing that's done, even in Christian circles, and so many of my books and literary heroes have been dead for over 100 years. I find much of what's out now to be shallow, mindless, and devoid of any real power besides just being "relevant." So, I have a lecture series on my iPod on the Puritans I listen to while I mow. I have a Spurgeon bobblehead doll on my desk. I find more satisfaction in reading A Pastor's Sketches or Lectures to my Students than I do "7 Purposes for having a hip cool missional youth ministry experience. Why is this? Deep down, I really think it's because there are certain things that remain timeless. The attraction to Spurgeon and the Puritans is largely found in the fact that though society was very different, they were still involved in the messy areas of life. Sin was an ever-present reality, people lost jobs and struggled in their marriages and families, and they used Scripture as their guide.

So that brings us to the title of this post, where we must look at the tension between dealing with an ever-changing world around us and what the church must do to respond to that with the timeless message of Christ. Some churches have responded by adjusting, editing, or simply doing away with what has always been done in church. Others seek to modify and re-interpret truths. Still others avoid adjusting to culture and remain stuck in a rut (sorry SBC, that's you for the most part). Finally, there are those who look to take timeless truths and bring them into a changing time for the sake of the Gospel being made known.

The issue is, what is timeless and what is timely? Methodology is flexible, we must recognize this. In the digital age, a record player and duplicator machine (complete with the purple ink) is never going to be efficient. Methodology is adaptable to the times, and for the sake of not losing relevance to the culture the church must be up to date. This means using media, being accessible online, developing an internet presence through website/podcast/email, using a modern English translation (I use the ESV, which I feel is a great balance between the rich theological language of the KJV with the user-friendly readability of the NIV; would also recommend the NLT and the NIV. Message I'm not so big on because it's not peer-edited by a committee), and for the worship arts to reflect the contemporary culture. I'm not saying abandon all tradition, but we're starting to see a shift in worship theology and practice. To say you are "contemporary" when you have a CD player or a song that contains some clapping is like saying an 88 Oldsmobile is a great new car. I believe all churches need to incorporate some contemporary worship into their worship practice. But all worship, regardless of music style, must be doctrinally sound, biblically accurate, and theologically educational. My biggest gripe with contemporary music is that in a lot of cases it doesn't say anything. My biggest gripe with traditional music is in a lot of cases it doesn't say anything. We have a wealth of hymns, choruses, and other styles of music, responsive reading, etc. Why settle for crap because it's hip and cool or old-fashioned when we could do more with music?

Perhaps the most prevalent place of adaptation in ministry is in the realm of youth ministry. Sadly, there is no shortage of "Christian alternatives" to whatever the world has to offer. If you like MTV, we have a giant Christian music industry complete with metal, rap, and boy bands. I'm all for promoting a Christian worldview, but when the church does stuff just because the world does, I get mildly annoyed. Youth ministry for years has been based on this question "How big can the circus get?" We have developed a ministry model based on doing more, bigger, and the "wow" factor. Church down the road have a worship leader, you try to get a band. You have a lock-in, another church will have inflatables and a laser-tag night. We've bought into this ministry approach that students need to be entertained and kept occupied. I hate to say this, but they get that everywhere else. Could it be that they come to church with a desire for more? Could it be that they are leaving the church in droves when they graduate because the three-ring circus stops at 18? Here's a little clip of what the circus ministry model looks like. What we need with students is reality. The reality of God, the reality of Christ, the reality of the Church. We fail in ministry when we do not faithfully teach and live Scripture, and our primary motivation for student ministry has to be for students to be changed not by XBox or Rock Climbing, but by the power of the Holy Spirit. Timeless truth in a shifting culture is seen by the fact that teenagers across the country are demanding more. They want more depth, more doctrine, more Bible, more for their life than frisbees and pizza. They want to serve the homeless, care for the sick, share their faith, and do great things for God.

Fads will come and go, and trends will change as soon as the next Christian celebrity writes the next bestselling book. But the one constant is the Word of God, that will stand even when the grass withers and the flowers fade. Basing a ministry on anything short of this will leave you empty, drained, and wanting more. Basing it on the Word leaves satisfaction, contentment, and accomplishes something.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Theology for Everyone

What comes to mind when you hear the word "theology?" Is your mind picturing stuffy headed people sitting over piles of books? Do you see a cigar smoke-filled room of men debating? Do you see yuppy hipsters in a Starbucks pouring over the latest book by Piper? Sadly, those are the images many of us conjure when we think of theology.

But the fact is, everyone does theology. Everyone has a belief system that informs, directs, and moves their life. Everyone has a worldview, a lens through which life and circumstances are interpreted and acted upon. Everyone has a religion, even a religion of unbelief and skepticism. In short, all of us who are sentient are theologians. We all make statements of faith, and each of us has some understand of the Divine. All that comes from the imago Dei in each person.

What is theology? Simply it is the study of God. What is "doing theology?" It is the doing of the study of God, which is something you don't have to go to seminary to do. Why is there a misconception? Because somewhere along the way the Academy was where theology was done and the Church was for regular folks. But theology is important not just for the Academy, but for the Church, because it is through theology done well and done faithfully that a believer comes to a fuller and more complete understanding of God, Christ, Holy Spirit, the Scripture, the Church, salvation, sin, mankind, etc.

Here are some reasons I have used before for why I believe every Christian should desire theology:

1) It is a non-exhaustive subject - You will never fully understand everything about it, so the quest is as fresh for the 50 year veteran as it is for the spiritual infant. The limits are infinite, so the depth and range of study is immense. My roommate in Seminary once shared the illustration that the Bible is a huge river that a child can drink from and play in the shallows and also where the most experienced diver can go as deep and as far and never reach the bottom.

2) Theology informs - Truth is gathered not through subjective experience, but through objective statements. You cannot "feel" Truth, you can only "know" it. Therefore, study leads to a deeper understanding of the truths of Scripture. If your belief cannot be backed with Scripture, then it needs to disappear. If Scripture challenges a previously held belief, then you need to pour and labor to determine if your view needs editing or deleting. Our doctrine should not be based on feeling, bias, or predisposition, but should instead be rooted in Scripture.

3) Theology loves - Anyone who spends any amount of time digging into Truth and doesn't come away with a deeper level of the double-love of God and Neighbor is a fool who wasted his time. I can't be any more blunt than that. Truly understand doctrine should not lead one to a dead intellectual understanding, but should drive the student of Scripture to a deeper relationship with God through Christ, and a more burning desire to love and minister to other people. Good theology is what makes a person memorize whole books of the Bible, travel to a soup kitchen down the road and a village in West Africa to share the message of hope, teach his/her children to love God and the Bible from an early age, drop notes of encouragement to a co-worker going through family and financial hardship, and the list goes on. Theology loves, theology bleeds, theology dies.

4) Theology shapes - Many times we see in Scripture the words conform and transform, referring to us as believers as we are progressively sanctified to be more like Christ. What do I mean by theology shapes? Simply, that as we grow in our knowledge of God we ought to become more and more like Christ. A deeper understand of the holiness of God and the triumphal power of the Spirit should aid a believer in the war against sin. Shaping implies that we have a proper understanding of our fallen condition and that we cannot do the shaping on our own, it is dependent on the power of God.

5) Theology prevents - Good theology prevents bad theology from taking over one's life and drawing someone away from the fold. Many cult-like sects of pseudo-Christianity are thriving because they find a population base that doesn't know enough about the Bible to know when they're being deceived (i.e. Mormonism and Jehovah's Witnesses). Good theology stops someone from traveling down a road of peril because they are more apt to see the signs on the road and where they will eventually lead. Good theology also prevents things like pragmatism, relativism, and entertainment from creeping into the church (IMO three of the biggest problems in the American church today). Good theology enables a believer to work to prevent someone else from falling to destruction or to believe in sin without consequence.

6) Theology is accessible - You don't have to spend a fortune anymore to get good resources. Many times all you need is a Google search and you can look up any issue you desire. Through the Internet and the digitalization of media, books are readily accessible. Very few in the Church can have the excuse that they don't pursue because they can't. You also cannot use the time issue. Typically, the people I find who don't have the time to pursue something are the ones who spend all their time updating their Facebook or playing video games. If something is a true desire, you will make time for it.

7) Theology is good - There are very few things in the world that can surpass the study of the God of the Universe. I may be biased there, but very limit can match up to the overwhelming joy and satisfaction that comes from hours of study about who God is. Theology is not something to fear, nor is it something to leave to the Seminary or to the Academy. Leaving it to the Seminary is what got Southern in so much trouble with liberalism and utter insanity from the 40's to 1993. Theology is first and foremost for the Church, because that is who Jesus died for and the Church is the people of God who are this radically different community. Theology is for them, to be applied to daily life, not something to be held at a distance as a scary object.

I am not saying everyone needs to go to Seminary. Trust me, not everyone does. Not everyone has been called, and not everyone is cut out for it. But that should not preclude anyone from thinking they can't or shouldn't be a student of theology. Sit under the discipleship and mentoring of a pastor or elder saint, read good authors and good books (there's enough mindless garbage out there, why not strengthen brain cells instead of killing them), but more importantly than anything else wear out your knees reading Scripture in prayer. Pour over the whole counsel of God's Word, and seek out good commentaries and sources to aid you.

Here are some books that may be of some help to get you started:

J.I. Packer Concise Theology, Knowing God
ESV Study Bible
Wayne Grudem Christian Beliefs
Paul Little Know What You Believe
Grahame Goldsworthy According to Plan

A couple good references
Wayne Grudem Systematic Theology
Danny Akin Theology for the Church
John Frame The Doctrine of God

Solid Commentaries
Holman Series - From LifeWay
John MacArthur's New Testament
New American Commentary
Kistemaker and Hendriksen's New Testament Commentary
Matthew Henry - All the Bible in one volume, nice desk reference

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Lessons Learned in Surgery

For those unaware, last week I underwent a minor surgical procedure to correct a small hernia. It was a blast, let me tell you... Sometime I'll tell the whole story of what all happened, but suffice it to say I was very glad I got the Valium before they stuck me 4 times to find a good vein.

In the aftermath, and maybe this is the pain medicine talking, I started thinking about what lessons to learn from surgery and recovery. So here goes:

1) On my own, I am entirely too stubborn, selfish, and self-absorbed
What do I mean? Simply, I do not like not being in control and in charge of what I'm doing. I hate it when I can't do simple things, and when I can't be the one dictating what's going on. Now, don't get me wrong, I loved being babied and waited on but after a day or so I was getting restless. I also learned I'm not the best patient, in the sense that I often think I can push myself further than I can.

2) I married WAY over my head
I have a wife that is far too good for me than what I deserve. Never at any point of my whining and needs did she ever complain or have something better to do. The simplest things like helping me put on a shirt to the harder work like hauling the trash bags out she did with a smile on her face. It is really humbling to have someone around who breathes and lives for serving you, and you're annoyed because you can't walk more than 50 yards without hurting.

3) Doctors are God's gift to us
I cannot imagine what life was like before complicated surgical practices like this that enabled me to return to normal life in less than a week. To think that someone cut me open and fixed things and stitched me back up and give me back my life is truly amazing. The healing arts and the skill of a physician is very intriguing. Scripture refers to wisdom in the sense of having ability given by God, and I truly believe a good doctor is worth his weight in gold.

4) God's people are great
From the prayers before surgery to the countless encouragements on Facebook and the soft but loving hugs I got on Sunday night, God's people demonstrated a loving spirit towards us.

5) I say really crazy things under anesthesia
Apparently I was furious that I couldn't remember the moment the good stuff kicked in and I went to sleep. I also apparently made comments about how much I liked the pain meds. Clearly not my most eloquent time as a communicator. Thankful for gracious nurses who swear patient confidentiality :)

6) Freak accidents happen, and God provides
I don't have a good story for how this happened, I think I was picking up a big box of books and twisted funny. That said, God provided all we needed in order to make this whole experience for our good. Nothing is outside of His control and His authority, and I am grateful for that.

7) Dealing with insurance companies will give me a stroke
Need I say more?

Thanks for allowing me to make some rambling musings about things!


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Fishbowl Question #5

This is out of order but I have decided to stop at 4 to do on Wednesday nights and move on to another series with our youth. I try to keep them 4-6 weeks in length, anything more than that leads to disconnect. This question was posed by one of my youth parents, and I will repost her exact words to show how much of a big deal this question is:
"Please explain the 'evil spirit from God' in 1 Samuel 18:10, 19:9. The very idea troubles my heart."

June, you're not the only one who has been deeply troubled by this. I came across several people who read this and other verses and concluded that either 1) God is not all good because He would do evil, 2) God is a liar, 3) God is the architect of evil, 4) God isn't all that powerful, and 5) God is vindictive and petty.

I'll start by looking at the example of Saul and try to trace why he had this 'spirit' descend upon him, and explain some of the different explanations to it and then give my interpretation of it. In the Old Testament, anointing with oil was symbolic of receiving the Spirit of the Lord. So, when Saul was crowned king it came with the anointing from Samuel the prophet. In our context it's receiving some symbol of authority (like when a judge receives the black gown or something along those lines).

So what went wrong? In 1 Samuel 13, Saul is waiting for Samuel to come and offer the sacrifice to the Lord before they go into battle. Saul, being both a good military man but a bad theologian, decides he will offer the sacrifice on his own. Not being a Levite, this was a violation of God's Law. Saul had the best of intentions, but in his desire to please man he disobeyed God. Samuel informs him that God has decided to find a man after His heart who will follow him completely. Then, he makes a rash oath that no one is to eat anything until they win a battle and his son Jonathan eats some honey he finds. This isn't reflective of his rejection by God, just that his mouth operated faster than his head. Then comes the last straw in 1 Samuel 15. Saul is instructed to wipe out everyone and everything when he fights the Amalekites. This practice is called "placing under the ban" which was a common military tactic in the Ancient Near East. Its purpose was to destroy any chance of retaliation, and it also served as an act of worship in the sense that all plunder was to be given to God. Saul decides to keep the best of the livestock for himself, and intends on offering them as sacrifices to God later. Again, good intentions, bad listener. It is then that Samuel announces that Saul is rejected, and in a symbolic act of Saul tearing Samuel's clothing it is said that Saul's kingdom will be torn from him.

It is in 16:14 that this 'evil spirit' makes its appearance. It immediately follows the anointing of David as the true king of Israel. The ESV translates it as "harmful" but the overwhelming propensity of translations uses the word "evil." The issue at stake is the word ra' which can be translated as 'bad, evil, calamity, affliction, distress, etc.' We must first make two assumptions: 1) God is Good, and in Him is no evil, sin, wrong nor can He do evil, sin, or wrong; and 2) We do not see the big picture (the "God's-Eye View"). This spirit is clearly sent to punish Saul for his disobedience and is directly related to the Spirit of the Lord that was present at his coronation.

A couple explanations on this that are presented:

God Allows - This view stresses that God is not the active agent in this evil spirit's working, but is merely the result of God lifting His hand of protection and blessing from Saul. This view has much support, but finds itself lacking a fully sovereign presentation of God. It seems to dismiss actions that we perceive as 'evil' coming from God, though we see in Isaiah 40-48 a big picture of a God who is in control of all things and nothing happens apart from His decree (even the rise and fall of Babylon for the purpose of discipling the Jews). In particular is 45:7 where God declares that He has created light and darkness, and that He makes peace and 'evil' (again, this word ra' which in this context implies judgment against His enemies). We cannot look at this as God creating evil (see Architect view) but instead God saying that all things are under His control and nothing happens without His knowledge and consent.

God is Architect - This view holds that we cannot trust God because He is the architect and designer of evil. It leaves us in a quandary, that either God is truly not all good or He is not all powerful. The conclusion that God is the architect and origin of evil goes against how He is known in Scripture, and so to accept this position would mean to redefine the very understanding of who God is.

God is Helpless - This is the corollary to the Architect position, meaning that God lifts His hand but is powerless or unable to stop what inevitably will happen to Saul. Some would hold this is the view in Job, where all these terrible things happen and strangely God is silent. Again, this view does not present a fair approach to God's sovereignty in all things. This view plays itself out fully in the Open Theist perspective, which is rising in popularity among evangelicals.

I believe that this 'evil' spirit from the Lord is not how we would see as 'evil,' but is instead a spirit of punishment and torment from God for Saul's disobedience. This spirit torments him, but we see God sending both sunshine and storms and both being for His glory. What we may see as evil is likely divine judgment in this context. What we may see as terrible in our eyes, from God's perspective, is good and is part of working towards the ultimate return of Christ and the Kingdom established here on earth.

The context of the word ra' includes evil, but isn't limited to that. It includes calamity, distress, and simply "not good" stuff happening. Clearly this is a spirit that is not doing good thing to Saul, but the evil implied isn't from God it is perspective of those around. God is all powerful and in His all-goodness He is able to take things that are seen as terrible and in fact use them for great good, namely His glory. God uses the terrible actions against the Egyptians in Exodus both as a judgment against them for idolatry and as an act of deliverance for His people. God raises up the Babylonians to discipline and exile Judah. God uses the bloodlust of the Romans as the agent by which His Son is crucified, thus allowing for us to be saved. And God uses the most pagan empire (until America) and its roads and infrastructure to be the avenue by which the Gospel gets spread through the whole world.

In fact, the rest of the story of Saul and David portrays two entirely different stories. It shows the removal of the Spirit from Saul and the consequential results of that. And the great irony is the man who can give him comfort and who is part of Saul's court is the very person whom Samuel had anointed as the successor to the throne. It is a story of tragedy that happens when someone falls away from the Lord and tries to please the people and loses sight of their calling. Saul was a great king early on, but wandered away from the Lord. It isn't a story to gloat over, but rather a warning sign for those of us who are young and upwardly moving... Never forsake that relationship with God through Christ for anything else.

Thanks for the question June. You struggled with this and so have millions through the years. I hope this is of some help, and may God show you His goodness, glory, and the majesty of Christ in all things!


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sin Without Consequences

I shared in a previous posting about the new verse for America being Matthew 7:1. And like it usually is, that verse is misapplied and misinterpreted. Instead of reading it in context as a warning against hypocrisy in making judgment calls or a call to use the standard for judgment being the Bible, we have taken that verse and applied to all areas to remove any standard from dealing with sin. Instead of shining light in the darkness and exposing it for what it is, we step back and say we cannot because that would be "judging."

In the church, it plays itself out by what we allow and tolerate within the body. The New Testament is clear that the church is to be unified, but more so it is to be pure. Pure implies a removal of stains and of cleanliness. But, I would contend that many churches allow impurities into the camp willingly and thereby are dirtying the wedding dress we collectively wear as the Bride.

Now, to the subject under which this article is titled. There are many who feel we cannot make judgment calls within the church because we too are sinners and we cannot make judgment calls against other sinners because that would be hypocritical. To you, I say, read your Bible a little closer. 1 John tells us to test the spirits, and for there to be clear discernment within the church when it comes to issues of sin, leadership, and what the church will allow.

To clarify, there is forgiveness found in Jesus, and all of us who have been found in Him truly know how sweet and wonderful that forgiveness tastes. We who have been forgiven know how wonderful it is, and how grateful we are for receiving something we had no claim to.

However, I must be very clear that forgiveness does not mean restoration. There are times when sin is committed and the issue of restoration is either delayed or forfeited. Sin, while being forgiven judicially by Christ in heaven, still carries consequences. A man who drives drunk and crashes into a tree and kills his passenger and loses his arm can be forgiven, but does that bring back his arm or his passenger? No, because that which we do in the body has consequences. Anyone who got a spanking as a child knows that there is forgiveness but a penalty must still be paid.

Let us look to some commonly applied biblical characters that people would look to and say "well, look at what they did. How can we judge so-and-so when Bible-character did this-and-that?"

Saul/Paul - Saul murders Christians and persecutes the church. Saul is the most aggressive attacker of Christianity. Saul does all these things BEFORE his conversion. Paul, the apostle, recognizes his sinful history and truly understands his forgiveness. When comparing someone to Paul, you must remember that Saul (pre conversion) is the one in question. You cannot compare apples to oranges, nor can you compare what Paul/Saul did with what someone did post-conversion. The issue there is the regeneration that takes place when Christ makes someone new. That which is in the flesh cannot be held to the same standard as that which is in the Spirit. Therefore, the rules of the game change when someone professes Christ and is "born again."

David - David is regarded as the man after God's heart. But David has one big black cloud hanging over his legacy. His sin snowballs from neglecting his duty as king to go to battle to lusting after another woman to rape (who can say no to a king) to adultery to conspiracy to murder. David is confronted by Nathan and he admits his sin and pleads for forgiveness. God forgives his anointed, but still pronounces a judgment. The son of David and Bathsheba will die, and later David's son tries to overthrow and kill him and his reign as King is never the same. David, while forgiven, still has to endure punishment for his sin. He is still the man after God's heart, but he is not the same king as he was before. His legacy is forever tarnished by his grievous error.

King Saul - Saul was the first king of Israel, and his reign is that of tragedy. He falls short of the ideals set before him and ends up losing his kingdom and his life due to his disobedience. His sin causes him to disobey the direct commands of God and to cross the line of his influence to offer a sacrifice. This sounds like a small issue, but he loses the hand of God over his life and kingdom.

This approach of sin without consequence is dangerous in the church, the family, and society. In society, a concept of sin without consequence destroys social order and promotes a society like the book of Judges (the people did what was right in their sight), where anything can happen and the people do as they wish. In the family, it means that the standards found in the Scripture are overlooked in the name of tolerance, acceptance, and love. This means it is easier to walk away from a marriage because "God wants me to be happy" or "It just wasn't what was right." It means you can find another lover that satisfies where only Christ and your spouse can without there being consequences for it. In the church it opens the door for allowing anything and everything in the door. It leads to churches accepting anything and everything in the name of political correctness and tolerance. Instead of holding to a standard, we refuse to make statements of conviction because we would be "judgmental."

Conversion of Saul to Paul

Acts 7:58 introduces us to a man named Saul who was present and gave permission for the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. We see in Acts 8 that Saul was the crusader for persecuting the early Christian church. We see that he went house to house and any who were Christians were dragged and imprisoned (and likely killed). Saul, raised as a devout Jew and educated in both Hebrew and Jewish culture and with the status of Roman citizen was a very mobile and fluid mover through the society in which he lived. He apparently was working with the blessing and support of Jerusalem, as he is never indicted or implicated as doing anything illegal in his murder and persecution of the church.

Acts 9 the story totally changes. In Acts 9, Saul is confronted by Christ and is stricken blind by the very person he has been persecuting. In the greatest sense of irony, the most aggressive persecutor of the church is God's chosen man to be the missionary to the world. Saul is taken to Damascus where he regains his sight and is baptized into the very faith he had sought to destroy. Over the rest of his life Paul (he changed his name, common in the Bible to show an identity shift, Jacob to Israel, Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah), travels throughout the Empire and to the Eternal City itself to preach Christ and to be a witness to Him in the marketplace, the church, the synagogue, and the center of the known world. Paul's family heritage, his education, and his standing as a Roman citizen are all used by God for the purpose of spreading the Gospel to the world.

Paul is no longer Saul, this man who breathed murderous threats to the church and executed (indirectly, he would be unclean to touch a corpse), is dead. The one who lives is Paul, and this takes on a whole new meaning when you look at 2 Corinthians 5:17 where Paul says that those in Christ are a new creation, the old is gone and the new has come! How much he must have understood the true meaning of this, and how little do we. Being set free in Jesus means we are a different person, our identity has changed, and our eternal fate is reversed.

Paul still lived with the memories of his past and I'm sure could hear the screams of those who he had executed, but His grace is sufficient and the chief of all sinners found confidence in his salvation. We carry the sins from our past life in our memories, but praise God that person before is not who the person is now.

Tim Tebow is Human After All

This Saturday Florida football traveled to the Bluegrass to take on Kentucky. Kentucky being the only major university in the state with a legitimate football team. Until Louisville is released from the Steve Kragthorpe captivity, we will continue to see poorly coached teams underperform and disappoint. Sorry, personal digression there... Back to the issue at hand

During the game, Tim Tebow dropped back to pass and a defensive end got his lifelong wish: unblocked to a Heisman Trophy winner. Superman took a helmet to the chest and as he fell he took a knee to the back of the head from one of his linemen. Here is the video:

For many Christians, Tebow has served as the voice of reason and symbol of hope. Growing up a missionary kid in the Philippines, he gives up his summers and breaks to serve the Lord in missions and is active in preaching to prisoners, visiting hospitals, and all around do-goodery. The best part is, he's the real deal. We see celebrities and athletes throw the name of Jesus around like it's their own name. They have this dynamic relationship with God when they score touchdowns or win games, but conveniently Jesus is absent when they get their girlfriend pregnant (while they're married to someone else) or get arrested for possession with intent to sell. But with Tebow, we have the real deal. His faith isn't an accessory or commodity to win fans, it's the very breath of his life. His reason for existence isn't football, the NFL, or the Heisman... It's Jesus, and making Him known everywhere he goes.

This catches some flack from those who think he's proselytizing (which he is), or for those who simply can't handle a "too good to be true" story. There are those waiting and hoping the headline comes out "Tim Tebow gets stripper pregnant" or for a YouTube video to come out with Tebow doing the stuff Michael Phelps got busted for. For the record, I highly doubt anything like that will happen. This guy is for real, and I am so grateful for a Christian in the place Tebow is.

That said, we live in a culture of "Christian Celebrity" where we find the strength of our faith in those who appear larger than life. It can take the form of 'pastor worship' where a church has such a dynamic figure as a pastor that the celebrity of the pastor overshadows the message he preaches. It also takes form in the entertainment and athletic world, where we find one who believes like us and we start looking to them functionally as a demigod. We would never admit to it, but our actions betray us.

What we learned Saturday is that Superman is human after all. He took a hit and couldn't get up. It happens in football, injuries are a common feature. But for many of us, the shock that Tebow, the larger than life 'thrive on contact' quarterback could be hurt was overwhelming. We learned that he is made of the same fragile flesh and bone that we are (albeit his muscles are way bigger than I or most of us will ever have). That fragility comes from the Fall, and a day will come where all of us will be freed from the limitations of our bodies that cause our bones to break, ankles to sprain, and concussions to cripple us.

My prayer is that Tim recovers quickly and is able to be the fearless leader and disciple he has shown himself to be. My prayer also is that we as Christians would recognize that he (and our other Christian celebrities) are human too.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Fishbowl #2 Notes

Last night's question was "What music is it OK for a Christian to listen to?" Here is that skeleton outline with some commentary included.

1) Not a matter of salvation - Key text Ephesians 2:8-9
The issue here isn't so much if what you have on your iPod or CD player will get you in or keep you out of heaven. We are not judged on our salvation by these kinds of things, only based on our standing with or against Christ as Savior & Lord. You can't earn your way to heaven by having all the latest and best Contemporary Christian music. I used the illustration of White Castle (or Krystal for the southerners) that you can live off of that but what you are putting into your system is going to have output that will keep people away from you.

2) Matter of Liberty of Conscience
Two extremes to avoid:
Legalism - That which dictates what to do/not do, expectations huge and unreasonable, rigid regulations that are fixed and unwavering. This view leans to saying "you MUST do this or you are not a good Christian."
License - This is the view that says do whatever you want because Jesus died for your sins. The more you do that may or may not be good, the more Jesus' blood covers you. This view says that you can listen to whatever without any consequence.
The tension point in the middle is Liberty. This is the view that holds that you have the freedom and ability to do things, but along with that freedom comes a great responsibility and accountability. For example, you can drive a car 120 down the road, but if you kill someone or get pulled over there are consequences. Your car can go that fast, but that doesn't mean you can do whatever you want.
There is a very good chance though, if you have to ask if it's ok, it probably isn't. Not always the case, but a general rule of thumb.

3) Vegetarians for Christ 1 Corinthians 8, Romans 14
In the early church, there was a mix of both Jewish and Greco-Roman believers. The GR believers came from a very pagan background, replete with sacrifices to idols in temples and the cultic worship of the Emperor. So, when these people get saved and come to Christ, they still have to live in an environment that caters to the pagan worship of their past. In particular, meat that had been offered to Jupiter (and the other gods) would be sold in the marketplace. They struggled if it was OK to eat this meat that had pagan stains on it. The Jewish side didn't have this struggle, because they had no regard for pagan gods.
The concept at issue here is the "weaker brother," which is where someone willingly gives up their freedoms for the sake of those who have a more incomplete/immature/growing relationship with Christ. The idea is that you won't do anything that would cause a brother/sister to stumble.
What you watch and listen to has an impact, and what will that impact be?
Personally have had to give up watching Family Guy, endorsing and supporting movies and TV shows that I cannot as a youth pastor, and not go places that would cause my testimony to be compromised. It isn't because I struggle with those things inherently, but it is something I have done in love for the sake of you.

4) Christian Distinctive 1 John 2:15-17
World and Christian are distinct, not in the Amish sense, but they are different from one another. There should be a marked difference. It isn't to be weird or outcast, but simply because we are told as Christians to not love the world or pursue the world's pleasures.
If someone saw your web history, iPod, movie shelf, or TV habits.... would they know you're a Christian?
Doesn't mean you burn all your secular everything and only listen to Praise & Worship music, but it does mean you have to ask yourself the question "Am I really living a life that is set apart?"

Think on these...
1) What are you filling yourself with?
2) Ephesians 4:1 - Are you living a life worthy of being called a Christian?
3) Read Philippians 4:8, Does what you are putting in your eyes/ears fall in line with that?

Thanks for the great questions afterwards guys, God will honor you in your search for His truth in your lives!


Monday, September 21, 2009


I made a post earlier today on Twitter that got some feedback and really prompted me to think about what I'd written a little more. Usually, when something goes up there it's often "stream of consciousness" where I just state exactly what is on my mind. When I put that up today, it was while I was working on 4 other things and it just came to mind. In the hours since, I've gone back and forth through it and would like to expound on it a little more.

For those wondering what I'm talking about, here is the quote: "When man applauds man, he places man on Throne; When man seeks man's glory & agenda, God is disgusted. When God is central, He is honored"

Simply, this finds its basis in the first question of the Westminster Catechism. What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy Him forever. When man seeks anything but God's glory in their life, they are replacing Him with themselves. That may sound like an extreme statement, but God deserves our utmost focus and ambition. We all have a theology, and we all have an object of worship by judging that which we ascribe worth and give our time/talent/energy to. Those who do so for themselves for their own gain, or for the praise and admiration of others have an object of worship, but it is not God.

When I said "God is disgusted" I have a feeling that probably rubbed some of you the wrong way. To those that it did, I apologize for the offense. But God is a jealous God, and in that He does not share His glory with others nor is He one to give up His place in our hearts and lives. It isn't to be petty, it's because He is the only thing or person worthy of all that. His jealousy is that of a husband angry over someone moving in on his wife.

Lastly, the final sentence is a call for a response. Honor God as the center of everything you say and do. In that He is glorified in us because we are most satisfied with Him. He is the center of our existence. We do not ascribe to Him a position, we merely acknowledge His sovereign reign in our lives. To illustrate this, think to the scene in Monty Python where Arthur tries to explain monarchy to the little socialist peasant. You don't vote for a king, he says. Same for us spiritually, we don't vote for God. It is merely our obligation as His subjects to yield to Him as our King and acknowledge His rule.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Fishbowl #1 Notes

So, for the few of you who care... Here are my notes (edited and expanded at times) from last night's discussion of "What Happened Before Jesus?" for the Fishbowl Questions.

People were saved before Jesus – Hebrews 11

  • Not based on ethnicity – Abel wasn’t a Jew, neither was Rahab, Noah, Abraham, Sarah
    • Salvation, even in OT was not limited to the Jews
    • They were to be the messengers of God’s salvation to the world
    • Same way today you’re not saved because you’re white, American, middle-class, Southern, Christian parents, etc.
  • Not based on works – Run through what some of them were known for
    • Noah – Drunk, Moses – Murderer, Rahab – Need we say more, Samson – Womanizer, David – Adulterer and Murderer, etc.
    • They were all lawbreakers – If salvation was found through keeping the law and working your way to heaven, they missed the ball too
  • Key then is the same key now – Faith
    • That is the recurring theme through this entire chapter, the faith that these people had in Yahweh God
    • Their faith was that God would deliver on His promises, our faith is that He did deliver
    • Their faith may have been stronger than ours because they hadn’t lived to see Jesus yet and we have; They had faith in something that for some wouldn’t happen for thousands of years
    • Ephesians 2:8-9 applied to them same as it does us – That it is by grace we are saved, not works, through faith
  • Their faith foreshadows Jesus
    • Noah – Jesus is ark, Abraham – Church is blessing to all nations, Isaac – Son sacrifice, Moses – Lawgiver (Jesus is Word), Passover – Jesus’ blood covers our sin, etc.

Jesus died for their sins too – Romans 3:25

  • Forbearance – Postponement of debt payment, Illus Student Loan repayment
  • From this, many people (including me) conclude that God didn’t give everyone before Jesus a “free pass” but those who had faith in God were saved because sometime in the future God would pay the sin debt through Jesus
    • Doesn’t work like “Before Jesus there was another way of salvation” or that the rules changed when Jesus died
    • When Jesus showed up, the object of faith was totally revealed
  • So, in an odd sort of way…. Moses had faith in Jesus and Jesus died for Moses
  • When Jesus died, He died for all your future sins; He also died for the sins of those who had come before who had faith in Yahweh

People dying without faith in Yahweh still were punished

  • The OT doesn’t talk about hell in the sense that we understand it, it rather talks about Sheol
  • Just because it wasn’t fully revealed doesn’t mean it’s not real, true, or there – Jesus wasn’t fully revealed until Matthew 1, but we don’t discount that He was around in the OT
  • How is it fair? God doesn’t ever have to play fair, Exodus 33:19 – God had mercy on the OT saints because He wanted to
    • Responsibility to spread Yahweh was given to Israel, because all people would be guilty of sin
    • Same thing applies to the Church today
    • People don’t go to hell because they don’t hear about Jesus, they go to hell because that is what they deserve in sin/rebellion against God
  • Romans 1, Psalm 8, etc. – Passages that show us that Creation shows a Creator, we see the world and we are supposed to say “Someone made this” when we don’t we do what Romans 1 says “exchange the truth of God for a lie”
On when I said "God doesn't play fair" let me explain some more. Some people think that it's not fair for God to save only some people, and let others suffer eternal separation from Him. The Bible does talk about God having a desire that none should perish, but that all should repent. But that doesn't mean that His justice and wrath towards sin can go unpunished and unmet. The very fact that any of us get saved is an act of mercy. Romans 3:10 declares that there is none righteous, not even one. All of us deserve His wrath and condemnation. The fact that God has mercy on any is an amazing gift. The Lord has the right and prerogative as a Sovereign King to act as He wishes. So when He extends mercy to the "some" and not to the "others" He does so in His goodness, love, and mercy.

Keep up the great work ya'll!

Misinterpreted Verses #3 - Fumble and you're off the team!

Today's verse in question was submitted by John Whittaker, my former youth pastor, mentor, and the guy who did our premarital counseling and part of our wedding. Really great guy, awesome testimony, and another guy like me who married way out of his league.

The verse in question is 1 John 5:18. I will put in a couple different translations to show how tricky this particular verse is.
NIV - We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him.
NASB - We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him.
KJV - We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.
ESV - We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.

So, for all of us who truly believe we are saved, is this verse true for you? Anyone who can honestly say they haven't sinned since they got saved is naive and deceiving themselves (1 John 1:8). But doesn't this verse say that if we do sin after conversion we weren't really saved? Ask anyone who has been in habitual sin after conversion and they'll tell you they wrestled with their own salvation. I know I have when I've been in that position.

So let's examine this verse and see if we have to redefine what it means to be saved. I once heard a street preacher say that he hadn't sinned since he'd gotten saved and that if any of us who call ourselves Christian commits any sin, we're not truly saved. When asked what grace is, his response was "grace means not sinning anymore." Not quite sure about all that, and if Brother Jed/Jim/Bob/etc ever comes to your campus, just ignore him. Was the fact that I struggled with sin (and still do) evidence that I was not truly saved?

I would reference us back to chapter 3, in particular verses 6-7 and 9-10. The continuing theme here is abiding. Abiding in Christ means living through Him and being in fellowship with Him. It's best described by us now as our "Walk" with Jesus. The concept of abiding in Christ is contrasted with "abiding in sin." Abiding is where you live, who your master is, etc. Those who abide in Christ will sin, but sin is not their master. They will come to a point of repentance and guilt over their sin. Those who abide in sin won't have that necessarily, because Christ is not their master and He does not dwell in them.

The heart of this verse in question is not "If you sin you're off the team" but rather a call for an examination of the heart. In the preceding verses John lays out the mandate for Christians to call each other to account in terms of sin. For the good of the body of Christ and the soul of the individual it is necessary for us to lovingly and humbly confront our brothers and sisters regarding their sin. It is with that action taking place first that John puts in verse 18. The one who truly abides in Christ will not continue in habitual sin (either when confronted or on their own dealings with God in repentance).

Brothers and sisters, the beauty in this verse is that as a Christian, your chains have been released and you've been set free. You have life that is free from guilt, shame, and pain in Jesus. It is a call to higher living, holy living, not a scorecard to see how good or bad you are. Trust Him to set you free, and call to Him for forgiveness, mercy and grace.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Misinterpreted Verses #2 - Theme Verse for the American Church

Yesterday I brought out the discussion on Jesus being a traveling salesman. Today, I would like to discuss what I believe has become the theme verse for the American church. A theme verse is a verse that people use as being a central focal point for life/ministry/passion/etc. I believe that the American church has come to a point in its desire for acceptance and relevance that it has adopted Matthew 7:1 as its theme verse Judge not, that you be not judged(ESV).

This verse has been used by countless believers to not take a stand for truth for the sake of not causing offense and for the two dreaded dangers for the church: Acceptance and Relevance. The great irony is that at many times we use this verse to justify behaviors that God in His Word finds abominable, namely abortion(murder), homosexuality, and divorce. For the sake of tolerance, acceptance, and relevance the motto of the American church can be summed up in this statement: "I can't say anything about this, because the Bible says not to judge. So who am I to say that what you're doing is wrong? Shouldn't we just love and accept everyone?"

To that I will say that yes the Bible presents a very open view of the Gospel, that the cross is available to all who would cling to it. But more than love, the Bible describes God as holy. Holiness sets a standard that must be met, and holiness has a full and complete hatred of sin (and evildoers for that matter; Ghandi said 'love the sinner hate the sin' not a Christian). For us as believers to change God's standards of acceptance of conduct, behavior, and ethic is to supplant God from His throne and instead install as King the almighty I.

Let's examine the context of this verse. Jesus delivers this verse in the context of the Sermon on the Mount, the central teaching passage in Matthew's Gospel. It is a new sense of law, not given through the lawgiver Moses but from the very mouth of God Himself. It is a higher law, a law that demands more than action but attitude of the heart. This verse is delivered within the greater discourse of Jesus addressing the "speck and log" in the eye. Jesus at no point says that it is wrong to judge, not in the least. Jesus here is instead saying that with whatever standard we judge with, it will be measured back to us. This doesn't excuse us from making judgment calls on things or calling sins sin, but instead calls us to ask ourselves how we are judging others. Are we judging based on a standard we set based on legalism or self-righteousness, or are we making judgment calls based on the Word of God that we ourselves will face one day?

We must talk about the speck and log that immediately follows this verse. In this, Jesus mocks the self-righteous person who points out other people's faults while not noticing their own sins. He points out the foolishness of their standard and practice of judgment. Jesus however, does not say that judgment is wrong. He simply points out that self-righteous legalism is wrong, not judgment based on the Word of God and God's standards of righteousness.

The American church pursues a life of non-judgment because we, in my opinion, have lost our collective sense of shame and moral standard. We pursue acceptance, tolerance, and don't wish to admit even our own sinfulness and this plays itself out in the arena where we tolerate and condone even the worst of sins because we can't be honest with ourselves.

Church, don't be scared to take a stand for truth, even when it is not popular or politically correct. You will be mocked, insulted, and possibly blackballed for taking a biblical stand for what is true. But, it is worth it. The American church has settled too long for comfort, ease, and tolerance. That is not the Gospel, which shines light into darkness and exposes sin for sin and wickedness for what it is. The Gospel is divisive, because it cannot be anything but offensive to say that "you" are a sinner who stands guilty and condemned by the standards of a holy and righteous God. We don't like to say that, it might hurt our self esteem, and besides we're not really that bad.

Think about it, comment away. To God be the glory,

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Misinterpreted Verses #1 - Jesus, the Traveling Salesman

I'm going to spend the next few days looking at some commonly misinterpreted Bible passages. Some of these are verses that many of us have been exposed to all our lives, and you may find what I say about them to be offensive or wrong. Hear me out, examine the context, and let the text interpret itself and not what we isegete (read into) it.

The verse for today is one I have heard an untold number of times during altar calls and revivals. It is found in Revelation 3:20 (ESV) Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

Why do I find this verse so problematic? For several reasons: 1) It makes it seem like we are the ones who are the primary doers of salvation, reducing Jesus in effect to a telemarketer, 2) The context of this verse is Jesus addressing a church, not a personal invitation, 3) This verse is more about restoration of fellowship of a church that has forsaken its first love.

When doing any good Bible study, the first thing to do is to examine the context. We find this verse in Jesus' letters to the Seven Churches, this one going to the church in Laodicea. This church is lukewarm, and as said before has forsaken its first love, Jesus. We do not find here an altar call or evangelistic plea. Instead, we find the Master of the house coming home and being expected to be let in. This is a church that has locked Jesus out and He has come to knock on the door and be welcomed in. The picture of close fellowship conveyed in the eating is meant more to signify the communal relationship Jesus has with His Bride, the Church. It is a restoration of fellowship, not the beginning of.

Immediately before this particular verse is a discussion of repentance and reconciliation to the Lord. The image of knocking is the Master alerting the household that He has come and that they must repent of forsaking their first love. They had abandoned Him in their life and practice, and Jesus is seeking for them to make Him Lord once more.

That said, I must concede some things. Jesus does pursue us to save us. But He does not do so as a transient seeking to find a friend (Forrest Gump Jesus), as many have taken this passage (and some poorly written hymns over the years too) to signify. Jesus, the rightful owner and master, arrives to expect His people to repent and welcome Him back to His church. I am also not saying that we do not have a part in the process of salvation. But not in the sense that we "choose" to follow Jesus as Lord and Savior. He has to change our hearts, to make us new in Himself before we can possibly ever expect to submit to Him. Only after our hearts being born again can we ever choose to follow Jesus. We do that which our heart most desires, and until Christ makes us new our desire is rebellion and sin. I must also concede that this verse "works" in presenting the Gospel. And while it is true that the offer of salvation is wide and free, that does not mean we must interject and use verses out of context. Pragmatics should not dictate our practice. Good theology should determine our methods, not results.

Jesus is more than a traveling salesman going door to door hoping someone will let Him in. Jesus comes as the Master and will not be turned away. Instead of asking this of the lost, we must present this verse in its full context and speak it to the church that has forsaken its first love and its members who have professed Christ but are out of fellowship with Him (actively or through apathy/laziness/indifference).

Tomorrow is Matthew 7:1