Monday, March 25, 2013

I’ve Never Read Leviticus...It’s Too Boring

If you’ve said these words or thought them, let’s talk. 

There’s no point in feeling guilted into bible reading. God doesn’t desire mere outward acts of devotion to try to make Him happy. He is already pleased with you because you are clothed in Christ. End of story. 

Now you have some freedom, a bit of wiggle room. The bible is different if approached, not as a chore, but as a hang out sesh with a friend or a family member. 

Here’s the deal, when you love someone, you try to get to know them and understand them. But the hard part of building that relationship is that their background is really different from yours, so you have to learn a bit about their background in order to really appreciate who they are and get to know them. And if you love them, it’s worth the effort. 

The Old Testament was written to a group of folks thousands of years ago. Their context was a lot different than yours. The ‘boring’ books of the bible are actually really interesting if you understand a bit more about what is going on. 

As you make your way through Leviticus or Numbers or 1 Chronicles, just remember three words: context, context, context! 

A helpful resource to make it through these books, especially if you never have, is the ESV Study Bible. It is a handy tool to help bring context to all those genealogies and laws. 

These books were first delivered to a culture orally, instead of in written form. And the whole community gathered together to hear the word read. This changes the entire mode of communication. When you’re writing a speech, it will be different than when you’re writing a paper for your college class. 

Remember school camps, when they called out all the schools present, all the kids would cheer when their school was called and you would wait until your school was called and then you’d cheer. 

What if that was all written down and you read it from page? It wouldn’t translate as well, would it. 

As you read through the genealogies, remember that. People were waiting to hear about how their ancestors played a roll in the story of God, they’d get really excited when they heard their grandpa’s name or their great-great-great-great-grandpa’s name. 

As for all the repetition in those books, remember that the scribes didn’t have italics or bold fonts to illustrate their point, the only way they could draw out an idea is by repeating it. 

These are just a couple of tips if you have tried, without success, to read through the bible, but have been discouraged by some of the literature. 

At the end of the day, the whole bible points to Jesus and teaches us about who He is and about who we are. The details about the animal sacrifices remind us that God is truly holy and that we really do need atonement. The instructions for the temple remind us of how magnificent God is and that now, we are the temples of the living God!

Like Paul told Timothy, “all Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). Paul wasn’t referring the the New Testament books, he was writing those at the time, he was referring to the Jewish Scriptures, our Old Testament.

At the end of the day, sometimes reading those hard-to-read books is an exercise in faith. Sometimes, we just need to trust God that He wrote these for us to know Him better, even if we don’t feel like we’re getting to know Him better while reading them. 

You might just be surprised when and where you see God as you make your way through the Bible!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Worldly Grief

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. - 2 Cor. 7:10

What is your immediate reaction after you have sinned? Do you beat yourself up? Tell yourself that you’re better than that? Are you disappointed in yourself? Are you distraught because you never thought you would do such a thing? Are you afraid because others may find out? 

The problem with all of these reactions is that they stem from worldly grief, rather than godly grief. Read over that list again, it describes a person who thinks very highly of their own ability to walk in holiness. One might even say that the attitudes above are what Paul is talking when he asks the Galatians, “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh” (Gal. 3:3)?

We are a people saved solely by grace. We needed God to save us because we couldn’t save ourselves. If this was the beginning of our faith, why do we abandon this mindset as we continue in our faith. The truth is, we need Christ to save us every second of every day. We are in constant need of His grace and His sanctifying power provided by the Spirit. 

If we are honest with ourselves, we are really far worse than we could ever believe, not far better. When we sin, we get an insight into how much in need of a Savior we are rather than into how poor of a savior we ended up being. 

If worldly grief is the wrong way to respond to sin, how are we supposed to respond to sin? What is godly grief? Paul provides some insight when he examines the fruit of godly grief in the lives of the Corinthians: “For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter” (2 Cor. 7:11).

Godly grief yields godly fruit. When we sin, we are not letting ourselves down, as worldly grief makes you think, we are disobeying a God whose love we cannot even comprehend. Godly grief should be marked by grieving, rather than disappointment! By our sin, we have hurt and turned away from the One who has loved us the most and done the most for us! 

Thus, godly grief leads to repentance. We are motivated, not by disappointment in ourselves, which can never lead to lasting repentance, but by love. When we dwell on the love of God Who has given all for us, our new hearts and our new nature desires to fall in line with His will, to agree with Him that our actions were wrong and to covenant with Him to change by His grace, by the power of His Holy Spirit Who is working within us! 

Godly grief is earnest, not wishy washy or emotionally unstable. It sees it’s goal and it’s prize and strives toward that. Godly grief longs for the heart of God, to walk in obedience to Him, to cherish Him and do what He has said is good, not to please Him, but because He is already pleased with us and loves us enough to tell us what is right and what is wrong. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Redeemed, Reconciled, and Rejected!

Redeemed, Reconciled, 
and Rejected!
The story of transformation in Paul’s concluding remarks in Colossians 4: 9-10, 14. 

Let’s be honest, how many of us actually read Paul’s concluding remarks at the end of the epistles? That’s what I thought. Paul is taking care of some family business two thousand years ago with people we don’t know, and we think it doesn’t matter to us. 

Coupled with this, I think we are used to viewing New Testament characters as fairly static, for the most part. There isn’t as much story-telling or  character development. But I want to suggest that, in Paul’s closing remarks, we get a picture of God working in the early church and we see that Jesus was transforming them as He is transforming us now!

...and with him Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you of everything that has taken place here. (Col. 4:9)

Okay, so Paul tells the Colossians to greet Onesimus. Big deal right, he’s just another name. That is, until you read Philemon and realize that Onesimus’ name crops up there too. In fact, he is one of the primary characters in Philemon. 

Onesimus was a lazy slave, pretty much good for nothing, “serving” his master, Philemon. Well, one day, he runs away to Rome. While he is there he runs into Paul and becomes a Christian! Paul writes to Philemon and tells him to accept Onesimus back.

Fast forward to the writing of Colossians and who appears but Onesimus himself. But this time, Paul isn’t making any apologies for him, he calls him a faithful and beloved brother! So Onesimus has been transformed from a lazy, good -for-nothing employee to a young man whom Paul finds helpful in his work of preaching and spreading the Gospel! We see a story of someone who was redeemed from death to life!

Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him)... (Col. 4:10)

Now we are introduced to two new characters, the one that should stand out is Mark. If you have read the book of Acts, you will have seen his name come up there too, specifically in 15:37ff. Barnabas, Paul’s close companion who had travelled with him everywhere, wanted to bring Mark along with them on their missionary journey. Paul was against it because Mark had flaked out earlier and left them when times got hard. Barnabas and Paul disagreed about this so much, that they split and Barnabas took Mark with him and Paul took Silas with him. 

In Colossians Paul seems to be suggesting that things between him and Mark are now on good terms and Mark, far from flaking out when things get tough, is actually in prison with Paul!

Now, fast forward to Paul’s second letter to Timothy and his praise for Mark grows, “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry” (2 Tim. 4:11). Mark has been reconciled to Paul and was transformed to be an integral part of Paul’s team. 

Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas. (Col. 4:14)

Along with encouragement, there is also warning. Demas was a part of Paul’s crew, he was hanging with him in jail and seemed, from every appearance, to be committed to the cause. Paul apparently thought so. But we read later on, “...Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica” (2 Tim. 4:10). 
Demas started out well, but he didn’t finish. He was even pretty involved with ministry, but he didn’t guard his heart and was lured away from Christ by the things of this world and succumbed to godliness.

So there actually is a lot to learn from those concluding remarks of Paul’s. We aren’t just presented with meaningless names of faceless people, but Jesus shows us through the New Testament that He is working on people and transforming them into His image by the Holy Spirit. These lists should not bore us, they should encourage us and, like all of Scripture, help us to see King Jesus more clearly. 

Friday, July 29, 2011

A Relationship, Not an Explanation

Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
-Hebrew 2:8-9

As we go through life, whether we, or someone we know, will go through a very painful season. It is during these seasons that Christians and non-Christians alike will ask something similar to this question: “If God is good or if there is a God, why is He letting me go through this pain?”

The pain could be a disease or illness, the loss of a loved one, unemployment, or a myriad of other possibilities. No matter what the cause, the pain is there and we try to make sense of it or understand it, especially if we have faith in a God who is working all things to our good.

During these times, it is easy to doubt that God is working all things to our good. We wonder if He cares or if He has the power we thought He did. Surely, if God is who He says He is and if He loves me like He claims to, He wouldn’t let me go through this pain!

This seems to be the exact scenario that the author of Hebrews describes in the text quoted above. The problem is, Scripture teaches us that all things are in subjection to Christ. Yet when we encounter difficulty and pain, we do not see all things in subjection to Christ because certain events seem to be counter to His will.

Death, sickness, tears, poverty, loneliness, etc. are all the result of a fallen world, a world that has rebelled against its ruler. These things that are in rebellion do run counter to the decreed will of God, those things which He has commanded. 

Our minds cannot fathom that a situation can be in subjection to a being as great as God and yet run counter to His decreed will. There is an element of mystery to this that we simply will not be able to understand while we are here on earth. It is as simple as that. We don’t know why God permits all the evil that exists in the world, especially as it affects His children, His church.

It is into this mindset that the author of Hebrews, and ultimately the Holy Spirit, offers a resounding and comforting truth. Though we do not see or understand that everything is in subjection to Christ, we are able to see Christ. We see a Savior, by the eyes of faith, who has suffered and tasted death for all of us and has risen to rule in heaven.

Christ does not give us an explanation, He gives us a relationship! He gives Himself to us to trust in Him, that He truly is working all things for our good, and at times, that does involve pain and hardship (cf. Heb. 12:7-11).

Say a person gets brain cancer, like Matt Chandler, a pastor I greatly respect, recently did. He has the option of asking lots of questions, being frustrated by no answer, and building up bitterness towards his God. Or, he can respond in faith, learn that God does have a loving reason for this and will be with him throughout the entire process and teach Pastor Matt who He is and allow him to grow to be more and more like Christ through the process. This is, truly, how Matt Chandler did respond, and it sets an example for the rest of us to follow. Here is the video, I highly recommend watching it!  

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

John Stott: A Pillar of Strength in Our Age

Today marks the death of one of the most influential leaders in Christianity. He had not only influenced Christianity at large, but he has also played a great role in my life. His theological precision and care, coupled with a pastoral heart which sought to winsomely win over souls for Christ have been a testament to what a Christian minister should be. I have benefited greatly from his various commentaries and other works both directly and indirectly, as almost every preacher I have sat under over the years has been influenced by John Stott.

Great men set us an example to follow. They forge ahead of the mass of humanity and courageously go where others dare not. John Stott has done this in many ways as he defends and advances the cause of the Gospel in the world. He has left a great legacy for those of us who follow him. At this point, words fail me, I simply cannot describe the impact that he has had on my life.

In closing, one of the greatest marks of John Stott was his humility. In his day, he stirred quite a large controversy in an article he published. Though a committed evangelical his whole life, he did wrestle with the idea of hell. In his article, he confessed that he was not closed to the possibility of annihilationism, the view that there is no hell, that those who do not go to heaven simply cease to exist at the end. What was so remarkable about this article was the humility with which he approached the topic. He knew he was running against tradition, but he was honest with his the struggle that he was undergoing on this particular topic.

He was a great man, and I am encouraged by the fact that he has now received his reward. He is now in the presence of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, a journey which he was started in his youth and continued on the rest of his life. John Stott truly has fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Why is God Consumed with Himself?

I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols. -Is 42:8

There is a confession of the Christian faith that I have struggled with over the years. It has always been a nagging dissatisfaction in the back of my mind, a thought that I have never given much expression to, but which has nevertheless remained a firm fixture over the years. I do believe that I am not the only Christian that has had this question; indeed, I believe that many Christians either flat out reject the idea or, like myself, are quietly provoked by it.

The confession is this: God, Creator of the heavens and the earth, is consumed with His own glorification.

The sound of this statement is disturbing, but why? I believe that our disturbance lies in error on our behalf, rather than on God’s. In the Scriptures, God condescends to use anthropomorphizing terms to describe Himself. That is, to enable our getting to know Him better, He has used language to describe Himself in human terms though He is not a human. There are a plethora of examples in Scripture of this; the Psalms are ripe with them, as are the Prophets. Indeed, God does not only use anthropomorphic terms to describe Himself, He has taken on human nature to save us. But He is still not a human being.

As a caveat, I am not denying the divinity of Christ, what I am denying is that God shares the same status as human beings. He alone exists uncreated, in a class separate from every other thing in existence. Unlike any human, His power is limitless, His knowledge knows no end, and His existence has no origin or termination.

That said, our balking at the original statement comes, I believe, when we forget who God is. For any man or woman to have their personal glorification as the vision for their existence would be narcissism at its purest and a value which humanity would universally reject as taboo and loathsome.

Yet God, the Creator of heaven and earth, is different. Consider this, who does a man or woman have to thank for their accomplishments? If they succeed in their job, if they raise their children well, if they reach any other goal in life, the thanks will lie somewhere outside themselves, if they are honest.

Take a persons career, for instance. To succeed in a career, one has to be trained to some degree by another. Circumstances must also be favorable and the right opportunities need to open up at the right times. In other words, success in a career is dependent on many variables external to the individual. There may be some measure of talent inherent in an individual that will make success in a career more likely, but that talent is not something they have bestowed on themselves. If we believe what the Bible does say, we must admit that God gives individuals the talents they have to succeed. Not only that, He also gives the training and the opportunities for success, through various mediums to be sure, but all these blessings originate from Him. So, a person has little to thank him or herself for when they succeed.

On the other hand, no one has trained God, no one has given Him opportunities, and no one has made Him with certain talents that will help Him succeed at being God. There is no one higher than God for God to thank. We delight in Him because He is the originator of the good in us. Logically, He can delight in Himself because He is the originator of the good that He is. He is consumed with the best thing that exists: Himself!      

Friday, February 18, 2011

Love as the Greatest Motivator

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
-1 Cor. 13:13

The other day I was reading 2 Samuel 23:15-16, “And David said longingly, “Oh, that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem that is by the gate!” Then the three mighty men broke through the camp of the Philistines and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate and carried and brought it to David.” As I finished this section, I asked myself: what would cause these three men to rick their lives to get David a cup of water? The only answer I could find was love.

Love is the ultimate and final motivator. Fear can only motivate to an extent, and a superficial extent at that. Fear does not inspire someone to go above and beyond to serve. Duty only motivates someone to do what is required; it does not provide motivation for the extraordinary.

Love motivated God to send Christ into the world, the defining supererogatory action of history. God had no duty to send Christ. Indeed, duty would have been fulfilled by the just judgment of all humanity, not the offer of salvation. Nor was God motivated by fear to accomplish the salvation of the world. Love accomplished this greatest act of history.

Likewise, love is the singular motivation in our relationship with God. A response to God purely out of duty neglects the accomplished work of Christ by producing the false notion that we can repay God the debt we owe Him by our dutiful works. Duty is also a poor motivator in times of trial and temptation when other options, sinful options, seem to provide far more. Yet love will triumph in these times to compel us to turn to Christ in love to live life like Him.

Naturally, all humans love something or someone other than God, the Bible uses the term idolatry to describe this; something else takes the place that God should have in our lives. Yet, as we surrender our lives to God, He does an amazing thing in our hearts. He turns our heart away from the idols that we love and changes us so that we love Him instead. As we grow in love for God, our love for idols decreases.

Finally, the Apostle Paul reminds us that love is the greatest part of our relationship with God. Faith will last until we reach heaven when we will see the object of our faith. Hope will last until that hope has been realized. But love will last for the rest of eternity as we rest in the love of God forever.