Friday, January 30, 2009

II Peter 1:12 The Heart of a Pastor

Peter is, without a doubt, one of my favorite people in the Bible. I mean, the man reminds me of me so much it’s scary. Like me, he had a “foot shaped” mouth. It got shaped that way from always sticking his foot in it. Oh, he had moments of brilliance. For instance, in John 6:68-69, we read that “Simon Peter answered Him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God." However, later in that gospel, we read Peter saying that Jesus is not going to give him a foot washing unless He gives him a bath. He was too scared to admit to a servant girl that he was a disciple of Christ but then stands in the crowd at Pentecost and preaches boldly the truth that Jesus was not only the Messiah but also was God. As Peter lived and ministered to believers, he developed a tender heart for sheep. Jesus had called him to be a shepherd (John 21:15-17) and here, in verses 12-15 Peter displays his shepherd’s heart on his sleeve for all to see.
First of all, we should notice that Peter’s state of mind regarding these dear Christians as he writes to them. We read in verse 12 “Therefore, I will always be ready”. Peter admonished them to press on toward holiness in their lives in verse 11, and here is saying that he is ready to help them in that endeavor. This readiness is a perpetual state for Peter just as it would be for any shepherd. You see, a pastor develops a love for those in his care and is always on the lookout for danger just as a shepherd is constantly alert when tending his sheep. I firmly believe these almost paternal feelings are part of the spiritual gifting of a man who is called to be a pastor. Peter therefore declares that he stands ready as an ever vigilant watchman for those under his care. The word translated “ready” is the Greek word “mello” (3195) and it means to be sure or certain to do something. Peter is saying instead of laying down on the job and neglecting his duties to these believers he will be sure to always take his responsibility to them seriously. I should note that the King James and New King James Versions use a Greek text which says “I will not be negligent” (Greek amello-272). This is not the reading in the oldest manuscripts. Frankly, I wouldn’t freak out about this particular variant—it ends up meaning the same thing. If anyone wanted to argue this reading, they have more time on their hands than I do.

Second of all, observe his perception of these believers. He says that they “already know them”. By “them” Peter is probably referring to the treasure trove of spiritual truth that he has already expounded upon in the previous verses. He knew these Christians had been taught and that they had been taught true, sure doctrine. In fact, he uses a word for “know” (eido-1492) which, according to the author at Precepts-Austin, suggests fullness of knowledge rather than progress of knowledge or knowledge gained through experience. In other words, while these believers still needed to grow in the knowledge of Jesus to become more like Him, they had knowledge that had led them to saving faith and sound doctrine.

Further, he says they have been “established” (sterizo-4741) in that truth. The Greek word used here is the same one that Jesus used in Luke 22:32 when He told Peter that after Peter had been restored to “strengthen your brethren”. Therefore, the word seems to carry the idea of steadying something or setting it right-settling it. Peter is saying not only does his audience possess a head knowledge of the truth but that knowledge is also heart knowledge and they have a firm foundation because this truth, he says, “is present with you”. They have the knowledge and it has given them a bedrock of truth upon which to build their life.

Why then, would Peter feel the need to be sure to remind them? Because, as we will see in chapter 2, false teachers were on the move. While they can’t deceive a true believer, they can hamper the ministry of the church and lead weaker believers into sin that harms their testimony. Peter knew the danger they posed and because of his love for these sheep he wrote to encourage them and remind them of the truth they had been taught. Let us remind ourselves with careful study of God’s word of those same truths. By doing so, we will be more effective ministers for our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Help People Who Need Bibles

Tom, over at Tom-in-the-Box, is a missionary serving in Russia. The people he is ministering to do not speak Russian as their native language. They are Tuvan's, which sounds to me like something off of Star Trek. Come to think of it, wasn't Worf's adopted father Russian? Anyway, in all seriousness, they don't have a bible in their own language. One is being translated but they need money to produce the Bible. Can you help? Can you afford not to help? You can read Tom's blog post about it here. After that, I would suggest several things you could do to help.

1) Pass this along to everyone you know. If you have a blog, promote it. If you pass along goofy mass emails, you can pass this serious request for aid along so that people know about it.
2) Pray for these people, for Tom, and for those translating the Word.
3) Give financially. I know times are tight but if you are able to give to this I exhort you in the name of our Lord to do so. You can go to this website and find out how to donate.


Thursday, January 29, 2009

Gay "christians" Frequently Asked Questions

Blogger Fred over at Hip and Thigh has written a post called Gay "Christian" FAQS [1]. I know I've posted links to his stuff recently but this article is just too good. Among the questions he answers are:

Why do you put the word "Christian" in quotes when you describe gay "Christian" apologetics?

What about a gay person's desires? How can you deny the homosexual attraction and feelings many of them claim has been a part of their life since childhood?
(In my opinion, this is the best of all the ones he answers).

Isn't the reaction by the evangelical Church of condemning homosexual feelings and forbidding loving, consensual marriage both anti-Christian and cruel?

As Christians, having an answer to questions like this is no longer optional. It is paramount for us to be able to not only answer these questions but to answer them biblically--particularly now in this country.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

John Calvin-His Preaching

I’ve been reading John Piper’s book The Legacy of Sovereign Joy. I highly recommend it as an excellent read particularly for those interested in expository preaching. I found the following passage about John Calvin to be particularly edifying. I hope you will be likewise encouraged.

Calvin’s preaching was of one kind from beginning to end: He preached steadily through book after book of the Bible. He never wavered from this approach to preaching for almost twentyfive years of ministry in St. Peter’s church of Geneva—with the exception of a few high festivals and special occasions. “On Sunday he took always the New Testament, except for a few Psalms on Sunday afternoons. During the week . . . it was always the Old Testament.” The records show fewer than half a dozen exceptions for the sake of the Christian year. He almost entirely ignored Christmas and Easter in the selection of his text.

To give you some idea of the scope of Calvin’s pulpit, he began his series on the book of Acts on August 25, 1549, and ended it in March 1554. After Acts he went on to the epistles to the Thessalonians (forty-six sermons), Corinthians (186 sermons), the pastoral epistles (eighty-six sermons), Galatians (forty-three sermons), Ephesians (forty-eight sermons)—until May 1558. Then there is a gap when he was ill. In the spring of 1559, he began the Harmony of the Gospels and was not finished when he died in May 1564. On the weekdays during that season he preached 159 sermons on Job, 200 on Deuteronomy, 353 on Isaiah, 123 on Genesis, and so on.

One of the clearest illustrations that this was a self-conscious choice on Calvin’s part was the fact that on Easter Day, 1538, after preaching, he left the pulpit of St. Peter’s, banished by the City Council. He returned in September 1541—over three years later— and picked up the exposition in the next verse.

Why this remarkable commitment to the centrality of sequential expository preaching? Three reasons are just as valid today as they were in the sixteenth century. First, Calvin believed that the Word of God was a lamp that had been taken away from the churches. He said in his own personal testimony, “Thy word, which ought to have shone on all thy people like a lamp, was taken away, or at least suppressed as to us. . . . And now, O Lord, what remains to a wretch like me, but . . . earnestly to supplicate thee not to judge according to [my] deserts that fearful abandonment of thy word from which, in thy wondrous goodness thou hast at last delivered me.”
Calvin reckoned that the continuous exposition of books of the Bible was the best way to overcome the “fearful abandonment of [God’s] Word.”

Second, Parker says that Calvin had a horror of those who preached their own ideas in the pulpit. He said, “When we enter the pulpit, it is not so that we may bring our own dreams and fancies with us.” He believed that by expounding the Scriptures as a whole, he would be forced to deal with all that God wanted to say, not just what he might want to say.

Third—and this brings us full circle to the beginning, where Calvin saw the majesty of God in his Word—he believed with all his heart that the Word of God was indeed the Word of God, and that all of it was inspired and profitable and radiant with the light of the glory of God.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Matthew 5:38-42 Revenge is a dish best…NOT served

I really wish that I didn’t believe in verse by verse exposition sometimes. When I was preaching through some of Paul’s epistle’s and I’d get to the last few verses, I’d usually think to myself “What am I going to do with this?” Or the time I preached through the book of Genesis and had to preach about Lot and his daughters after they left Sodom—man I wanted to take a shower with a Brillo pad and lye soap after that sermon. Now, I get to this verse and I’d really love to not have to deal with this. You see, I have a problem wanting to let go of stuff. When somebody wrongs me, my first instinct is to get them back. I see my sin revealed in these verses and it’s painful to look at. How’s about this—let’s just skip these verses and jump to something else. Whatcha think? That be ok?

Yeah, I didn’t think you’d let me get away with it.

Here, Jesus quotes Exodus 21:24 saying the crowd had heard that teaching of “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”. Now, if you study where this is taught in the Old Testament, you will find that it is related to judgment in matters of law. Basically, it called for a penalty equal to the crime committed. A person who lost an eye could not demand that the guilty party pay with their life. Now this is right and makes perfect sense in context of judgment in a court of law. However, as per usual, the Pharisee’s took God’s perfect, holy word and perverted it.

They took the holy commandment of God and used it to justify personal revenge. Instead of a judge deciding the penalty of the guilty party, people took matters into their own hands. Instead of “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord” it became “Vengeance is mine, says [insert name here]." Since we’re all sinners in need of a Savior, we don’t have the perspective or wisdom to judge in that manner.

Jesus, therefore, clarifies this false teaching as comprehensively as possible. First of all, He says we are not to seek revenge in personal matters. He says if an evil person “slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also”. Now someone will say, perhaps jokingly, “Well what do I do after he slaps the other cheek? Can I deck ‘im?” We must remember that in the culture Jesus lived a slap on the face was not intended to physically hurt someone but rather was intended to pay the highest form of insult possible to the individual. Now, the natural reaction of some people in a case of being highly insulted is to retaliate. At least, that is my first reaction. However, what Jesus calls for is the exact opposite reaction. By turning the other cheek, Jesus means we are to be willing not only to not take revenge when insulted but to be willing to take further insult. In short, when someone does us wrong, our Lord forbids us to take revenge.

From personal matters, our Lord moves into the realm of the courts of law. If a person was too poor to pay for a judgment made against them in money, their clothing could be taken from them. Now, imagine a situation where a judge has said that a person must surrender his clothing in a judgment. The plaintiff is given legal right to the defendant’s shirt (an undergarment) and coat (an outergarment). According to Exodus 22:26-27, the defendant could say “You can’t take my coat” and therefore use the letter of the law of God to thwart the judgment of the court. Jesus says that is not an option but rather we are to be willing to submit ourselves to the judgment and surrender our shirt and our coat instead of using the law of God as a shield.

In addition, we need to be willing to bear with unreasonable demands from even the government as long as they don’t conflict with the law of God. Jesus says that if someone “forces you to go one mile, go with him two.” Government officials in that day could require a traveler to take a letter between posts on the road. The point Jesus makes is that we should be willing to bear under an unreasonable burden for the sake of peace without making a fuss or seeking redress. Again, we see a willingness to suffer an indignity and inconvenience as our Lord would later set the perfect example at Calvary.

Finally, someone might have the occasion to withhold good For instance, in Star Trek II, Kahn, the bad guy, had trapped Kirk in a cave on a barren moon. Now, Kahn could have beamed Kirk and his people out of there but he said he wanted to pay Kirk back so he left them there to suffer. He felt that, at long last, he had his revenge. Many of us dream of that day when our foe stands before us in need—desperate need. Finally, we will be able to look at their sad, tired, hungry face and refuse to help them. To see them broken in that moment will be such a sweet reward, right? Jesus says we should banish such a thought from our minds. Instead, we should be willing to be generous and “give to him who asks” something from us. Now this isn’t talking about shiftless, lazy people who don’t want to work to take care of themselves, nor does it mean that we give beyond our ability to give and put a burden on our family. We should not use the need of a person as an opportunity to exact revenge on them. Instead, we should exhibit a Christlike spirit of giving and do good when we have the opportunity.

Clearly, living in a world so filled with sin we are going to be hurt and wronged. I’ve had people say things to me and do things to me that I thought I could never forgive them for. With the help of Christ, however, I am able to make the choice to forgive and not seek to take revenge. I have to give glory to God for that. In my flesh, I cannot and would not want to do that. With God’s help, I can and you can too.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Book Review: The Word of Promise-The Gift of Psalms

I’ve never much cared for devotionals. I would rather read a solid, theologically sound exegesis of a bible passage and have to spend half an hour of my time reading it than to read a quick little devotional thought loosely based on a bible verse. Even the classic My Utmost for His Highest doesn’t hold my interest all that much. I recently read a devotional based on the book of Psalms with audio recordings of selected Psalms called The Word of Promise-The Gift of Psalms. While there are things about this book that are positive, I’m not sure that all Christians would find it worth the money.

As to the positive things about this book, I would say first of all that the book is very attractively bound. The cover has a leather like feel and seems fairly sturdy. Further, the text print is very easy on the eyes. Also, the audio recording of the selected psalms is very well done with unobtrusive yet beautiful background music. The readers are some of the best actors from television (Gary Sinese) and screen (Sean Astin) among others. You have to love being able to hear Samwise Gamgees read through selected Psalms. By far these recordings are the highlight of the book.

However, the devotionals based on the Psalms range from pretty good to questionable. For instance, the devotional for Psalm 1 rightly extols the spiritual nourishment of the word of God in the life of a believer. However, in Psalm 18:36, the psalmist writes “You enlarged my path under me so my feet did not slip” (NKJV). The writer says in the devotional that this phrase means that David is saying that “God has been building David’s character through his trials”. Now, it is beyond the scope of this book review to expound upon this particular psalm but I feel pretty confident in saying that what the author offers for an interpretation has nothing to do with anything that David intended to communicate when he wrote that psalm. The devotionals have just this kind of odd interpretation throughout the book in various places.

The book might make a pretty good gift for someone if they were looking for some light reading material or if someone wanted to listen to the Psalms read. However, I’d probably just buy a copy of the Word of Promise audio Bible. If you’re looking for a devotional, there are better ones out there.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Martin Luther on the Word of God

I’ve been reading John Piper’s book The Legacy of Sovereign Joy. I highly recommend it as an excellent read particularly for those interested in expository preaching. I found the following passage about Martin Luther to be particularly edifying. I hope you will be likewise encouraged.

One of the great rediscoveries of the Reformation—especially of Martin Luther—was that the Word of God comes to us in the form of a book. In other words, Luther grasped this powerful fact: God preserves the experience of salvation and holiness from generation to generation by means of a book of revelation, not a bishop in Rome, and not the ecstasies of Thomas Muenzer and the Zwickau prophets. The Word of God comes to us in a book. This rediscovery shaped Luther and the Reformation.

One of Luther’s arch-opponents in the Roman Church, Sylvester Prierias, wrote in response to Luther’s 95 theses (posted in 1517): “He who does not accept the doctrine of the Church of Rome and pontiff of Rome as an infallible rule of faith, from which the Holy Scriptures, too, draw their strength and authority, is a heretic.” In other words, the Church and the pope are the authoritative deposit of salvation and the Word of God; and the book—the Bible—is derivative and secondary. “What is new in Luther,” Heiko Oberman says, “is the notion of absolute obedience to the Scriptures against any authorities; be they popes or councils.” In other words, the saving, sanctifying, authoritative Word of God comes to us in a book. The implications of this simple observation are tremendous.

In 1539, commenting on Psalm 119, Luther wrote, “In this psalm David always says that he will speak, think, talk, hear, read, day and night and constantly—but about nothing else than God’s Word and Commandments. For God wants to give you His Spirit only through the external Word.” This phrase is extremely important. The “external Word” is the book. And the saving, sanctifying, illuminating Spirit of God, he says, comes to us through this “external Word.” Luther calls it the “external Word” to emphasize that it is objective, fixed, outside ourselves, and therefore unchanging. It is a book. Neither ecclesiastical hierarchy nor fanatical ecstasy can replace it or shape it. It is “external,” like God. You can take or leave it. But you can’t make it other than what it is. It is a book with fixed letters and words and sentences.
Luther said with resounding forcefulness in 1545, the year before he died, “Let the man who would hear God speak, read Holy Scripture.” (Note: I wish I could say that I was clever enough to have come up with my blog title myself. joe)

Earlier he had said in his lectures on Genesis, “The Holy Spirit himself and God, the Creator of all things, is the Author of this book.” One of the implications of the fact that the Word of God comes to us in a book is that the theme of this chapter is “The Pastor and His Study,” not “The Pastor and His Seance” or “The Pastor and His Intuition” or “The Pastor and His Religious Multi-perspectivalism.” The Word of God that saves and sanctifies, from generation to generation, is preserved in a book. And therefore at the heart of every pastor’s work is bookwork. Call it reading, meditation, reflection, cogitation, study, exegesis, or whatever you will—a large and central part of our work is to wrestle God’s meaning from a book, and then to proclaim it in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

So much for Prosperity Theology.

I found this article from Christianity Today to be pretty interesting. It seems some of the hottest names in the Prosperity Gospel crowd have fallen on hard times in this economy. Perhaps God just can't overcome the economic turmoil our country finds itself in?

"Most clergy who preach a prosperity gospel would interpret for their congregation any conflict, scrutiny, or questioning as an attack of the Devil and proof that they are not following God," said Scott Thumma, a Hartford Seminary sociologist.

Ain't it the truth? Ain't it the truth?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Matthew 5:33-37 Tell the truth and shame the devil

In my position as an auditor, I am required to get 80 hours of continuing professional education every two years. One of my favorite types of classes or workshops to attend are ones related to interviewing. I am always on the lookout for fraud and get positively giddy at the prospect of catching someone lying in an interview. Honestly, anyone can pick up on clues that people are lying if they know what to look for. Some people instinctively know the signs of someone who’s trying to pull the proverbial wool over their eyes. One big clue is something that I call a modifier. For instance, if someone prefaces their statement with “Honestly…” or “To tell you the truth…” there is a pretty good possibility that they may be lying. Of course, we know that lying is a sin and is a sin not only against those we tell an untruth to but ultimately against God. Just like we see today, people who lived while Jesus walked this earth also tried to perpetrate falsehoods for whatever reason. The sad part is they tried to use God’s word to their advantage while they sinned.

Jesus said, I Matthew 5:33, Jesus quoted what people had been taught about oaths-“You shall not make false vows but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord”. This doesn’t come from just one verse or passage in the Old Testament but probably had its root in Lev. 19:12 and Deu. 23:23. Since the law of God as revealed through Moses is a revelation of God’s character, God called His followers to be honest and act with integrity. God doesn’t lie so it makes perfect sense for Him to call us to live and speak in a truthful manner.

However, in the day in which Jesus lived, the religious leaders wanted to find ways to lie and get away with it. They would literally look for any loophole they could if it served their purposes and tell half truths in an attempt to deceive other people or make themselves look better than they were. Therefore, they would be careful to avoid swearing by the name of God. However, to try to prop up their statements and make them seem more truthful than they were they would swear by heaven, earth, Jerusalem, or even their own head which was basically the same thing as swearing by their own life. These oaths were supposed to lend a measure of credulity to their statements and encourage people to believe them.

Jesus soundly rebukes the practice here in 34-36. Heaven, He says, is “the throne of God”. Earth is the “footstool for His feet”. He tells the crowd that Jerusalem is “the city of the Great King”. In all three instances, God is sovereign over the thing being sworn by in the oath. Jesus’ point is that instead of serving the purpose of avoiding an oath to God the oathmaker was still swearing by God since everything he swore by was God’s anyway.

Further, He says we should not swear by our head because we “cannot make one hair white or black”. Now, I would love to have hair to make white or black (God only made a few perfect heads, though—don’t hate me because I’m beautiful). However, while we can’t literally change our hair color naturally, I believe Jesus may have metaphorically meant that we have no control over our life. Jesus could lay his life down (John 10:17-18). No other person that ever walked this earth could do that. When Jesus died on the cross it was because He willed it. We cannot will ourselves to die. In other words, again, the person swearing an oath was swearing by something that was God’s in order to make themselves look more honest.

Jesus gives the ultimate motivation for a person to lie. Of course, the simple answer would be to conceal a truth but Jesus says the motivation is really deeper than that. He says we should let our “statement be ‘Yes, yes’ or “No, no’, anything beyond that is of evil”. John 8:44 tells us that Satan was a liar and murderer from the beginning and that he is the father of lies. Know this for certain—if someone is motivated to lie that motivation was given by Satan. Ultimately, the root cause of the sin of lying is giving in to the temptation to try to get out of trouble by concealing the truth and that temptation is given to us by the devil.

Rather than trying to prop up our statements with some sort of profane oath where we’re trying to tell enough of the truth that our conscience won’t bother us, we should just tell the truth. It’s easier to remember and God is honored when His children live consistent with the truths revealed in the Bible.

Monday, January 19, 2009

II Peter 1:11 Home at Last

To get into buildings where I am working I have to have an ID badge. That badge confirms my identity and demonstrates that I have the authority to be in the building to do my job. As Christians, our home is not in this world but is in heaven. We will be able to enter heaven but our right to enter there will come not because of what we’ve done or who we are but rather because of what Christ has done through us and who we are in Christ.

Observe with me that Peter says our entrance into our heavenly home comes “in this way”. Peter is referring to true believers who live authentic lives of faith. Some people might do a passable job of fooling other people but God sees, hears, and knows everything. You will not “pull the wool” over His eyes, my friend. People who claim to be Christians but do not progress in sanctification and do not become more Christlike may, in fact, not be saved at all. However, we can have assurance of our salvation as we grow in godliness and because of the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives we will “in this way” finally arrive at our heavenly destination. There will be those who want to enter but are not authorized and do not have permission. However, we will be able to enter into the joy of the Lord when we reach this destination.

Next, notice what a wonderful destination it is that God has prepared for us. This world will pass away. It is temporary and tainted with sin. However, we will live with Christ in an “eternal kingdom”. We will never grow old. There will be no death, sickness, sadness, or pain. If the thought of that kind of bliss lasting forever and ever doesn’t get you excited I just don’t what else to do. We should rejoice and take encouragement when we meditate on the wonderful home in heaven our God has prepared. Further, and most exciting to me, is the fact that it will be sinless. Satan is referred to as “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31 and 14:30) and therefore in many ways this is his kingdom in a limited sense. However, the kingdom we will enter is that of “our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”. Because of His perfection and character, everything about this kingdom will reflect His nature. In fact, Revelation chapter 21 gives a soul-stirring description of our heavenly abode:

“1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea.2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them ,4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away."

Can I get an amen? Can somebody give God glory for what He has done? But wait, as the old Ginsu commercial used to say, there’s more. Our spiritual growth demonstrates that we are truly children of God and therefore have the right to enter this kingdom but lest we think that we have to work to earn our home in heaven Peter reminds us that this entrance “will be abundantly supplied to you”. First of all, the verb supplied is in the passive tense which means that we are the objects of the action being described not the initiators. In other words, this entrance is given to us not something that we have to work for or work at. The word “epichoregeo” (2023) is the word translated “supplied”. This word used to refer to someone supplying for the needs of a chorus like one used in Greek theatre. It carries with it the idea of being supplied well beyond the point of need—lavishly. In other words, we will not enter heaven by the skin of our chinny-chin-chin but we will have everything we need supplied for our entrance into our Savior’s eternal kingdom.

The people to whom Peter wrote probably found this to be very comforting and encouraging. They faced persecution and possibly death because of their faith. While you and I may not be that kind of danger we too can be encouraged to live faithful lives to the glory of God knowing that our faithfulness is a proof of the fact that we will enter heaven. We can give glory to God in our words and look forward to the time when we will be able to praise Him forever in heaven.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Book Review: The Holman QuickSource Guide to Understanding Jesus

The question “Who is Jesus” is of paramount importance. While certainly the Bible is the first and best source of information about the Lord, many Christians find that they need additional resources to understand biblical truths particularly when they are beginning to study the Bible. In addition, there are those who do not know Christ as Savior who find the Bible to be intimidating. I have read a book titled “The Holman QuickSource Guide to Understanding Jesus” that I believe would be a fantastic resource for anyone who wishes to have a more solid grasp of who Jesus is and what impact His life, death, and resurrection has had and is having in the world we live in. The book was written by Dr. Jeremy Royal Howard who obtained a doctorate in Christian Apologetics and Worldview Studies from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Jeremy lives with his family near Nashville, Tennessee and works as a editor of Bibles and Reference books for Broadman and Holman Publishing.

First of all, the book is attractively formatted. The text is interspersed with pictures, diagrams, and charts which highlight key concepts from the book. They tend to reinforce what the author has to say rather than detracting or distracting from it. As noted on, the Holman QuickSource Guide series is intended to be “visually-driven, yet content rich”. I would certainly agree with that assessment.

Furthermore, the author is a skilled writer who communicates biblical concepts clearly. The book is easy to read but is anything but “light”. Jeremy gives a solid overview of the person, nature, and work of Christ covering His Old Testament background, His life on earth, the cross, His teaching, and His followers. The book does not follow the current trend of some Christian publications in writing to the lowest common denominator but rather communicates the truth of who Jesus is effectively in a manner most people will be able to understand. This becomes particularly evident as the author tackles such tough topics as the reliability of the New Testament manuscripts and the social/religious/political climate of the period between the Old and New Testaments.

However, these are not the only tough topics the author tackles. His discusses issues such as the writing of the Pentateuch by Moses. Now, if you freak out easily (cue disco music---“Ahhh, freak out”) you could possibly get a little spooked reading the section dealing with this topic. However, because of the easy to understand manner in which the writer explains the issues, most readers will find that they are given information they can use to evaluate the validity of the argument he proposes and come to their own conclusions while being challenged to think through issues they may have never considered. Further, the reader is encouraged with information they can use to defend their faith or for that matter place their faith in Christ if they are not yet a Christian. In fact, I would recommend this book not only as a resource for Christians beginning in their faith or a mature Christian wanting to get a solid overview of biblical truth related to Jesus (perhaps as a resource to teach a bible study), but also for folks who don’t know Christ as their Savior who are looking for answers as to who Jesus is. In fact, I can see this being something a Christian might buy for someone they know to introduce that person to Jesus.

Finally, the book doesn’t just give a great overview about Jesus’ life and ministry, but in fact provides information a Christian could use in defending their faith by answering key questions such as possible discrepancies in biblical accounts to the transmission and translation of the New Testament text, the primary source of information we have about Jesus. Further, the author concludes with a modern day parable placing a person at a crossroads of having to choose how to respond to the truth of what the Bible reveals about Jesus. In the end, that is the most important decision a person will ever make.

In summary, I wholeheartedly recommend this book to Christians of all levels of maturity as well as non-Christians seeking information about Christ. I believe the reader will be encouraged and challenged with this fabulous book.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Must Read for Gay "christians"

Fellow blogger Fred over at Hip and Thigh has written another in a series of articles called Debunking Gay Christian Apologetics [pt. 5]. You can read the entire series of articles here. I wish the entire "Gay is OK" crowd would read this. Fred does a great job of taking their unbiblical position and giving it a good old fashioned thrashing. His approach to this issue with gay "christians" is much better than the one I'd use--challenging them to a few rounds of Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots.

I call the red one.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Matthew 5:31-32 Marriage-Sacred and Binding

Traditionally, we have been told that about 50% of marriages end in divorce. This statistic may not be entirely accurate but according to research by George Barna, Christians divorce at about the same rate as non-Christians. In other words, there is a good chance that about half of you that read this post are going to be mad at me. That’s why I’m glad this is a blog and not a church—I can’t be voted out. The very worst that’ll happen is that I’ll get a bunch of snarky comments. I think I can take that.

First of all, we should observe that the regulations related to divorce had been taught incorrectly to the people. As Matthew notes, Jesus said in verse 31 “It was said, 'Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce '” This was the common perception regarding divorce among some Jewish teachers. All you had to do was put your John Hancock on a piece of paper and voila, instant freedom. While Deuteronomy 24:1 does mention a document it also mentions something else that the Pharisees conveniently left out.

The concept of a no-fault divorce is alien to the Bible. In fact, according to scripture there are only two situations where God gives His divine blessing for a divorce. I Corinthians 7:15 mentions a Christian being married to an unbeliever who no longer wants to be married to the Christian. In such a case, the believer is free if the unbeliever divorces him or her. Jesus mentions the second reason in verse 32 when He says “everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity” not only sins but causes their former spouse to sin. This is consistent with the teaching found in Deuteronomy 24:1-2 where divorce was permitted in the case where a husband discovered his wife was guilty of some sexual sin. The word used here for “unchastity” is the Greek word “porneia” (4202). Originally, this word referred to having relations with a prostitute but it came to mean any sort of sexual immorality. In other words, the divorce if it occurred on these grounds would happen for pretty serious reasons. Such was not the case in the culture Jesus lived in while on earth. In fact, there was a school of thought that a man could divorce his wife for trivial, subjective reasons as overcooking his supper or being difficult to get along with. In other words, once again, the religious leaders had taken something that the Bible taught and watered it down so that it was more palatable to them with none of that wangy aftertaste.

Marriage is serious business and should not be entered into lightly or without an intense reflection as to the commitment you’re making. That commitment is supposed to be for a lifetime and Jesus says here that to break that commitment brings serious consequences. Matthew records that Jesus said a man who divorced his wife for something other than sexual immorality “makes her commit adultery”. The sin of an unbiblical divorce leads to other sin. Since the marriage is dissolved according to the law but not according to God any marriage resulting afterwards is considered by God to be adultery. In God’s eyes, the two people are still married and cannot take another spouse.

Now, the question we are left with is “What now?” I have a good friend from college who was like an older brother to me who told me he was going to divorce his wife a few years ago. His reasons were not in line with reasons the Bible gives for divorce. Basically, he didn’t feel like his wife was pulling her weight to help him out around the house. He did divorce his wife and has since remarried. His grandmother is very unkind to his new wife and the child that they have since had because in her mind they are living in sin. Since marrying his new wife, my friend and his family have started going to church and he says that he is saved. He is very frustrated by how his grandmother acts regarding his new marriage. When I talked to him about it, I told him the questions of whether he should have left his first wife and should have married this woman now were pretty academic—it’s done. He can’t get a divorce and go back to his first wife. If a person repents of the sin of an unbiblical divorce and commits to remain faithful in their current marriage, in the end that is all they can do.

Further, while the Bible does not say physical abuse is grounds for divorce as far as I can tell from my study, it seems quite obvious that God has given human beings an instinct for self preservation. If a man or woman is in a situation where they or their children are in danger and they feel like they have to leave they should by all mean “get out of Dodge”. I was home by myself one afternoon and I heard a panicked knock on my door. A frightened woman begged me to help her get her car loaded so she could run from her abusive husband. He was on his way home and she needed my help to run. I didn’t spend time discussing the theology of her position. I went to her apartment, helped her gather her things, and loaded the car so that she and her child could run. I have read that a fairly prominent denominational bigwig advised a woman who told him she was being abused to go home and pray for her husband. She got beat up that night. Only a moron would suggest such a foolish course of action. If you are being beaten, get yourself some help and get to safety. While I would never advocate divorce in those situations because I can’t find anything that suggests that the Bible considers that acceptable I would certainly understand why someone would get a divorce and perhaps remarry. In the end, we must recognize that God can and does work in situations that are less than ideal and that nothing catches Him by surprise.

Staying committed to a marriage for a lifetime takes supernatural stamina. You cannot do it on your own. It is only through the indwelling power of God’s Holy Spirit that you can love as He loves, forgive as He forgives, and remain faithful as He is faithful. Marriage is serious to God and therefore should be serious to us as well.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

II Peter 1:10b Blessed Assurance

I have never enjoyed revivals. I felt this way even before I realized I was a Calvinist. When I pastored Matthew’s Memorial Baptist Church, we didn’t have a revival the entire time I was there. I read a statement on another blog that totally crystallized why I feel about revivals the way I do. The author said some churches have a “pray this prayer and you’re saved” mentality and that they encourage people to always remember that day and never doubt. This has nothing to do with anything that we find in this verse in II Peter. I know there are people who went down in VBS and prayed a prayer when they were 8 years old or so who now live in open defiance of God’s word with hate, bitterness, lust, and greed in their heart. They have a false assurance of their salvation. Peter, in this verse, writes to these Christians about true assurance of salvation.

First of all, we should remember that our salvation is not something that we brought about by our choice or because we were smart enough to realize that we need a Savior to redeem us from out sins. Our salvation, as we observed in our last study of this verse, begins with God’s “calling and choosing” of us. Salvation started with God. His Holy Spirit empowers us to live out the Christian life but it is in our living of that life that we find our assurance of salvation. Peter writes in the second half of verse 10 that our assurance comes “as long as you practice these things”. The word “practice” is in the present tense. In other words, the development and exercise of “these things” (the virtues in verses 5-7) is a lifelong endeavor. This activity is quite frankly the toughest job you’ll ever love and you will never retire from it. The Lord was pleased to save me when I was 12 years old and I have grown in Christ since then, albeit not so steadily in my college years. I’m celebrating the 12th anniversary of my 25th birthday (or 36 according to my wife.) the 22nd of February this year and I feel like I have more to learn today than I did when I started my journey. I feel like the more I learn and know the more I realize how much I need to learn and know. As Christians, we are called to live in a manner consistent with the truths of the gospel. Of course we’re going to sin. We’re still living in a fallen world with fallen flesh that loves to sin better than anything. It is only through the strength given to us by God through the Holy Spirit and Bible that we are able to do this. In fact, it is a bigger surprise to me sometimes that I am able to live for the Lord than it is that I fail and sin. The questions we should ask as we read these inspired words given to us through the pen of Peter are “Am I living what I believe? Is the pattern of my life generally consistent with the truths taught in scripture? When I recognize sin in my life, do I confess and repent of that sin?” If you can answer yes to those questions I would say you’re probably practicing the truths Peter has taught. As you see these qualities and character traits grow, you can feel assurance that your profession of faith is genuine. You will have tangible evidence that you can rely on rather than some prayer mumbled when you were a child.

Peter further assures believers that their life of godliness provides a reason to feel secure in their salvation. He says that if you “practice these things you will never stumble”. Now, Peter uses some strong language in the Greek language that doesn’t really translate to English. In saying “never” Peter uses three Greek words: “ou” (3756) which is used for absolute negation of something, “”me” (3361) which is a less intense negation and “pote” (4218) which means never, not once, ever. In fact, following the word order of the Greek a person could translate the phrase “no not stumble never, not once, ever”. I think that’s a triple negative. Regardless of how you want to count the number of negatives in that phrase, it seems pretty clear that Peter is emphatically saying that a true believer, one who is living out his or her faith, will never fail away so as to lose their salvation. “Stumble” (ptaio-4417, to trip up) is in the aorist tense which points to a stumbling that is final and from which one cannot recover, as noted by Edmund Hiebert in his commentary on II Peter. This does not mean that a believer will never sin. What it does mean is that a person who has genuine saving faith will remain faithful in spite of all their minor slip ups and falls to the very end.

As we will see in the next verse, the end of the Christian journey is arrival at home in heaven. We can have assurance of our future home in heaven by the godly lives we live here and now. As Peter has noted, we do not live godly lives to earn our salvation but rather they are the proof of God’s work in our lives.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Melissa Etherridge and Rick Warren: Buddies??

I totally understand that there is a time, place, and manner to share the gospel with folks and talk to them about sin. I knew a guy that was a manager at a fast food restaurant that chased one of his employees around with a bible in his hand during a Friday night supper rush trying to witness to her. That is just a wee bit over the top, methinks.

However, in an article written by Melissa Etherridge, she describes meeting Rick Warren. There is no mention anywhere in that article of him calling her to repentance in a loving manner. In fact, she said he told her he was a fan and had several of her albums. How does that work? She lives an openly perverted lifestyle and you would find anything she has to sing entertaining? Why don't you just go ahead and have Ray Boltz come perform at your "church". Now, I'm not saying he should have went all Fred Phelps on her and pronounce that "God hates you" or call her names. Telling her something like "Melissa, the bible is clear that homosexuality is a sin. I'm going to pray that God will convict you of that sin and that you will repent. If you ever want to talk to someone about this I want you to feel free to contact me, anytime." would have been appropriate. However, to have the opportunity to speak to her because she made overtures to contact you "in a spirit of unity" and not care enough about her to share what the bible says is outlandish.

Of course, dude has homosexual members in his church according to him so why would he confront sin when he encounters it.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

WMU-Leading By Example

It was reported a few weeks ago that the Women's Missionary Union of the SBC laid some of its employees off. Apparently, offerings did not meet budget expectations. I read an article in the Tennessean and saw a quote that really hits the nail on the head of the kind of mentality servants of Christ should have.

Julie Walters, communications specialist at the union's headquarters in Birmingham, Ala., said the organization's priority is raising money for missions, not funding its own existence.

Steve, you've got some good folks down there buddy.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Matthew 5: 27-30 Watch What You Watch

We live in a culture that could be best described in one word-perverse. Sexual immorality is rampant in our culture and hardly anyone bats an eye anymore. I have been watching a program that would really be considered a kids program before and had a commercial come on that was, shall we say, less than appropriate for kids. Shows aimed at teenagers regularly feature homosexuality as acceptable and mock the idea of sexual purity as if losing your virginity is some sort of rite of passage. Today more than ever it seems we need to hear what the bible says about sexual sin.

In these verses, Jesus warns us against involving ourselves in immoral sexual relationships.
First of all, He reminds His audience what they have heard taught by the rabbis, that "You shall not commit adultery". Now, in the same manner as we examined murder most of us could say that we have not committed adultery. That is a pretty easy test to pass. The religious leaders of the day taught the letter of the law but not the spirit of it. They taught that murder was a sin but the simmering anger that could lead to murder was not because it was something you could keep hidden from people. In other words, you were only accountable for what you had done and not what you had thought. Personally, I think that kind of moral law would be easy to keep because by that standard I would not have committed nearly as many sins.

However, Jesus doesn't let us off so easily. He says "but". That one single word tells us that these people had a less than full understanding of this commandment and that they had only been taught the surface level of this truth. Jesus came to fulfill the law (v.17) and here proceeds to do just that. Jesus says that "everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart." There are a few observations I would like to make regarding this statement. First of all, while Jesus does direct this to men I believe the principal applies to all people. Men are wired so that they are stimulated primarily by what they see but I've heard women make similar comments about someone they've taken notice of. In fact, reading the Song of Solomon will give some examples of a woman checking out her buff beau to whom she is engaged. However, let's face it the problem of lustful looking is primarily a guy problem. Second of all, the word "looking" (blepo-991) is in the present tense in the Greek so it carries the idea of a continuous action. This is not a passing glace but rather a long, intense look. Now, as Warren Weirsbe notes in his commentary on Matthew it is possible for a man to look at a woman, know that she is beautiful, and not lust after her. However, I personally do not recommend trying to convince your wife or girlfriend of that. However, when a passing glance becomes an attempt to "undress her with your eyes" you have a problem. That leads to my third point, while Jesus says this is sin and it is adultery in your heart it is not the same thing as adultery. This is not a case of "Well, I've already committed the sin in my heart--might as well go ahead and go through with it". Even though the consequences in this world are different, physical adultery and adultery in your heart are both sinful in God's all-knowing, all-seeing eyes.

In verses 29 and 30, Jesus prescribes the kind of mindset that you have to approach sin with. You must take drastic measures to deal with it and you must do it without delay. In both verses, we are commanded to dispose of our eyes or our hands and throw them away. In those verses, the commands to tear out or cut off are written in the aortist imperative in the Greek. This means that they are commands and that Jesus is saying we need to carry them out without delay. In fact, when Jesus says if our eye or hand causes us to "stumble" He is using a word that means to fall into a trap or snare. If you are confronted with sexual temptation and you do not deal with it swiftly you greatly increase your chances of losing that battle. Jesus is not being literal here, however. I could pluck out my eye and still sin with my other eye. I could do the same with my hand. The point is that we must take radical measures to deal with sin particularly sexual sin. This stuff is dangerous, kids. You have to do whatever it takes no matter what to deal with this. Just like Barney used to say on the Andy Griffith Show "Nip it". As Paul warns in Romans 13:14, "But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts."

The truth that Jesus reveals here is that God's definition of purity goes far beyond a surface, superficial level like what the religious leaders of the day taught. The true purity God calls for is purity of the heart. Most men could pass the test of not having committed adultery. However, no man, except Jesus, could claim that they have never committed adultery in their heart. To control your thought life and keep it pure requires more strength than anyone has in and of themselves. It is only through the supernatural power of God's Holy Spirit that we can live a kind of life pleasing to God--pure and holy.