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

Monday, September 14, 2009

Allowing Music to Inform Theology

I think this topic will be about as useful for many people as asking which came first, the chicken or the egg. The issue that has been on my mind is largely rooted in something I have very little exposure to, almost no knowledge of, and something I have very little influence over. The topic is music, in particular that which we sing in worship. The question at hand is "Which influences which, does our music influence our theology or does our theology influence our music?"

Here is why this is so important. I was thinking about this one day, and I began to ask where more people learn truth and the avenue through which it is retained. As a tone-deaf preacher, I want people to get the majority of their truth exposure from sermons. I put hours into exegeting the text and laboring to come up with an outline that conveys the message of the passage in a way that is both informative and real to life. That said, in my own personal experience and through conversation, I have come to the conclusion that song is a much easier medium for retention than narrative.

So then I ask, which is the influencer and which is influenced? Are we allowing the material we sing to come from Scripture and be grounded in the historic orthodoxy, or are we allowing our understand of truth to come from what we sing as our desire? The danger is that if we are not careful about protecting ourselves and what we convey through worship/singing, we run the risk of abandoning historic orthodoxy for fad Christianity.

We find ourselves increasingly surrounded by many different kinds of music from an infinite number of sources and artists. But not all of it, even that which labels itself as "Christian" is good, beneficial, or even true. I have found myself many times singing songs in church and at some point I have given Carrie that look of "Wait a second..." And then I have to ask myself whether or not to cut the power to the speakers or just sit and bear it. And then I lose focus because I wonder if others in the room are just as concerned as I am.

I am a fan of singing songs that are theologically rich, easy to sing as a congregation, and that teach both the head and the heart. To that end, I love ministries like Sovereign Grace, Indelible Grace, and contemporary musicians like Chris Tomlin, Townend/Getty, and others. I think pastors need to be actively involved in the selections of worship songs, to protect the theological integrity of the worship service and to guard the congregation's spiritual walk. We have great resources and we must take full advantage of them.

Worship leaders, read through the lyrics of the songs you lead congregations to sing. Make sure what they sing is true and biblical. You are preaching as you lead in worship, and the sermon is found in the pages of the hymnal (or on the screen if you're of that inclination). If you discover that a song does not teach truth, stop singing it and explain to the congregation why it is that you have made such a decision. The lyrics to the songs you teach and that people sing will resonate in their minds throughout the week in their devotions and in the quiet moments of the day. Personally, I find myself recalling song more often than I do the preaching I listen to. It is simply how God wired us. So why not fill their minds with songs that proclaim the truth of the Gospel?

Sermons through song are how we are able to teach truth in a way that moves the heart and stimulates the mind. Take full advantage of how God has necessarily and properly wired us as recipients of grace. Stir in them a passion for the Word, not a passion for a worship experience. What should raise our hands is not the tune but rather the statements of truth being expressed in the lyrics.

Seeking Him,
Scott Douglas