Thursday, December 27, 2012

Resolving to be Holy

It's New Year's resolution season. This year instead of resolving to lose weight or quit clipping your toenails in the living room (not that those aren't good resolutions), let's try for something more substantive.

We all say, I want to be more like Jesus. But how do we do that? It's easy to get overwhelmed and do nothing. We need to get specific.

Identify the problem
Everyone commits the "little" sins — things like lying or selfishness — and we should fight against those, but we also all have one or two sins that are a particular problem for us. Some might call it your favorite sin, but more likely it's the one you feel is kicking your butt. It's time to do something about that. The sin that so easily entangles has to go.

We say that we struggle against the world, the flesh, and the devil. The flesh is usually our biggest problem, but the world definitely teams up with it, feeding and encouraging our worst impulses.

You may have heard the analogy that the flesh warring with the spirit is like two dogs fighting, and the one you feed will win. We need to cut off the flesh's food supply.

Identify the source
Here's an example: Covetousness. At it's core, coveting is about being dissatisfied with what you have. But you can't be dissatisfied with your lot unless you're aware of the options. You feed your covetousness every time you take in all the things you don't have — whether it's window shopping at the mall or driving by the new car lots or simply browsing the sale ads in the newspaper.

You're fine with your coffee maker until you see the one that will get up off the counter and gently shake your arm to wake you while percolating coffee to a jazzy tune. You're fine with your car until you start contemplating the unending comforts of "rich Corinthian leather."

You can cut off the food to your covetous heart by cutting off the flow of information about things you don't need. Don't look at sales ads to see what's out there. Check out the new coffee pots only after yours dies. Stay away from car lots until it's actually time to replace your car. By removing the things you don't have from your mind, you give yourself fewer things to be unsatisfied about.

Oh, covetousness isn't your problem? How about lust? Cut off the supply. No, I'm not talking about pornography. That's an effect, not the cause. Our society loves to feed our lust — on billboards, on tv, and, of course, as we walk down the street. Guys, if that's your problem, you might need to change gyms. Ladies, perhaps you need to change reading material.

Maybe it's cursing. How do the people you spend your time with talk? What about your entertainment choices?

Make a specific plan
Whatever it is, figure out the sources of the food and cut them off.

Make a plan. A specific plan. "I will covet less" will get you nowhere. "I will stop driving by the car lot" is specific, and it's easy to tell how you're doing.

Figure out how you can stop feeding the flesh: "I will stop loitering outside the aerobics class." "I will stop watching movies with bad language." Whatever it is, do something concrete.

Keep it going
Then do something else concrete. Whatever change you make is just a drop in the bucket. You stopped driving by the car lot; now excuse yourself when your friend starts talking about his new car. You stopped hanging out watching women in spandex; now stop watching the LFL games.

Then continue. This is a process. Keep looking for things you can change, ways to cut off the food. As you progress, hopefully the beast will get weaker. 

I suggest making a list. I'll bet you can think of five things you do that feed your problem. Surely you can name three. In Dave Ramsey style, start with the easiest one to cut out. Then move down the list. By the time you've finished the list you should be able to name other habits that contribute to your problem. Make a new list and start down it.

Watch out
Back to the world, the flesh, and the devil: Most of the time I think the devil is the least of our problems — until you try to make some real changes. This is spiritual warfare. Expect to be attacked. Look for it. Plan on it. Be on your guard.

A lot of times we should resist the devil. We need to fight and we can win. But not in this. If you were any good at fighting on this issue, it wouldn't be an issue. Run. When temptation springs up, head for the hills.

It's going to be a long road. But by this time next year you will hopefully be a lot more like Jesus than you are today. And hopefully I'll be there with you.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Happy Mayan Doomsday

"No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." And the Mayans. Really?

I'm not terribly worried that the world will end today. (I am worried the slightest little thing might set off the nuts, so be watchful out there.)

But honestly, looking at the world around us, it's hard to think it would be a bad thing. Not Quetzalcoatl's end of the world but Jesus'. We look forward to a day with no more sorrow, no more pain, when every tear will be wiped away, and we are saved from even the presence of sin.

No, that doesn't sound bad at all.

"Come, Lord Jesus."

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Most Important Question

Following the Newton school shooting, people are asking all kinds of questions, and they are important. What can we do to prevent these shootings? How did this man's family and friends not see this coming? How can we prepare our kids in case this happens in their schools? Should gun laws be changed?

The hardest question is also the most important one: What is wrong with us that we're creating these people?

Even though some gun laws have been relaxed over the last decade, guns are still much harder to get than they were 40 years ago. But this kind of thing didn't happen then. Certainly not in the numbers that it is happening now.

So what has changed in our society that we are producing these monsters? 

That's the question we've got to answer. The guy with the knife in China, the guys with the box cutters on September 11, and Timothy McVeigh didn't need guns to kill lots of people. Evil will find a way. We have to find a way to stop the evil.

What are we doing wrong? That's the question that has to be answered.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Review: Oxygen

The first manned mission to Mars. An explosion en route leaves the four astronauts with only enough oxygen for one. NASA's solution: Put three of them in a coma and let the fourth take care of them all the way to Mars. But one of them is probably the saboteur....  

Oxygen, first published in 2001, wraps a thriller around some powerful theological reflection on the nature of faith and its relationship to doubt and uncertainty. It also deals with the science-versus-faith dance and attitudes toward "fundamentalists" (a term as ill-defined in the book as in our society).

It's also a fun, nerve-racking ride.

I highly recommend it to any and all believers, particularly those dealing with doubt and skepticism. I would also love to get it into the hands of non-believers, especially scientists leery of being pigeon-holed if they're open to Christianity.

Unfortunately, Oxygen was put out by a Christian publisher and is unlikely to end up on any shelf not in the "Christian fiction" section of a bookstore. It's the problem of the Christian Ghetto (or Country Club if you prefer). There's nothing wrong with in-focused works to help fellow believers, but those things will have little to no impact on the rest of the world. I'd give anything for this book to have been put out by Bantam instead of Bethany.

But that has no bearing on the book itself. Oxygen is a great story and would be a great gift for just about anyone.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Perspective links

* A different perspective on the culture war:
"I want to suggest that hospitality is a radical alternative to both the language and practice of culture wars."
Read why and how it would work in The Culture of Hospitality.

* A different perspective on the poor:
"[T]he historical evidence is in, and it is quite clear: over the last 200 years, free markets, not government programs, have created wealth that has brought general worldwide benefit to the poor, lifting multitudes out of grinding poverty."
Paul Copan explains in The Poor and Free Markets.

* A different perspective on assisted suicide. A very different perspective:
"As a good pro-choice liberal, I ought to support [assisted suicide]. But as a lifelong disabled person, I cannot."
Read his story and concerns in Suicide by Choice? Not So Fast.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Giving Thanks

We are thankful for the blessings we've received. We know we have been given much. We also have been forgiven much and promised even more.

Can we live our lives every day in light of that thankfulness? Can every decision be an expression of our thanks for all God has given us? Today, every today, is a good day to find out.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Don't Rock the Vote

I've been trying to figure out the results of this election. Nothing really changed.

If one party or another had seen a real shift in power, you could argue that the American people accepted their approach and rejected the other's. But that didn't happen.

Instead President Obama was re-elected by a comfortable margin and the House remained comfortably Republican. How do we process this?

There are a certain number of people in this country who will vote for whatever Democrat/Republican is on the ballot. The parties spend a good amount of energy trying to get these people to actually go vote, but their choice is pretty predictable.

Then there's that last 20% or so who go back and forth. They make up their minds based on how they feel about their situation and the candidates in question. If they feel secure, they tend to vote for the status quo. If they don't feel secure, they vote for the candidate who scares them the least.

I think these "moderates" voted for the status quo:
The economy has sloooowly gotten a little better. Unemployment is down a little. The price of gas is down from recent highs. Did Mr. Obama's economic policy cause this? Maybe, maybe not. But it didn't screw things up too badly. Would Romney's policies do better? Maybe, maybe not. But if what's going on right now isn't that bad, why take a chance?

The same applies to the GOP in the House. Whatever you may think about them, they haven't burned the place down, so why stir up trouble?
  If that's the case, what does that say about the future? I don't think anyone was voting for gridlock, per se. But since one side ran on tax increases and the other on tax cuts, neither side can really claim a mandate for their policy. They're going to be expected to meet in the middle. 

So what happens in four years? If people feel they're doing ok, they may vote the status quo again. President Biden? Yikes!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day Subliminal Messages

Well, it's game time. The debating and demagoguery culminates in decision day. I hope everyone will make sure to vote. (I hope the conservatives will vote and the liberals will wash their cars.)

Tomorrow we will know the results of the game. (Tomorrow we'll know who's suing whom.) And no matter who wins, the next day the sun will rise. (Unless the Lord punishes us for inventing turducken by having the sun eat us.)

Whoever wins will only have four years of influence (Have you heard of the Supreme Court?) and then we'll be able to undo anything we don't like. (Have you heard of Daylight Saving Time?)

The most important thing to remember is that no matter what happens, Joe Biden won't be the president. (Pray for Obama's health!)

And God is still on His throne.

Play ball!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

What is Pro-Life?

Thomas Friedman argued in a recent column that liberals should take the term "pro-life" back from conservatives as a way to win the abortion debate. He says being pro-life requires "respect for the sanctity of life. But I will not let that label apply to people for whom sanctity for life begins at conception and ends at birth."

Friedman is fine with you killing your children as long as it's not where he can see it, but he is pro-life, he says, because he supports gun control, the EPA, and Head Start.


Yes, that old canard again. You're not "pro-life" if you don't believe in top-down state control of every aspect of your life — except over your reproductive choices, of course. He praises NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg as "the most 'pro-life' politician in America" because of his bans on smoking and large sugary drinks and his support for gun control, "climate change" regulation, and early childhood education.

It doesn't matter that the ban on sugary drinks is largely illusory, that most "climate change" regulation would punish the poor more than anyone, or that neither early childhood education nor gun control works. He cares about everyone — except unborn children.

As I have argued before, most of our political debates are over how to help people. Everyone's heart is in the right place; we just disagree about what will actually work or what is necessary.

But the abortion debate is over whether it is OK to kill unborn human beings. There is no logical argument than can make anyone who says "yes" to that question "pro-life."

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Do We Really Value the Unborn?

Do miscarriages invalidate the prolife philosophy? I've heard this objection to the prolife view a few times. Our friend Vinny has used it a couple of times here. Let's break it up into two parts.

1. Prolifers claim every unborn child is valuable, but there are miscarriages all the time. It's natural. What's the problem with embyo/fetus being aborted?

Yes, babies die before birth all the time. They die after birth, too. People die every day of all kinds of things, natural and otherwise. That's no reason to make murder legal, and it's no reason abortion should be legal.

2. There are countless miscarriages every year. If the unborn are so valuable, why is no one trying to do anything about it? (Implied: Obviously it's just your little group that thinks it's a big deal.)

The response to this is more complicated. First, miscarriages don't devalue the unborn. Ask any woman who's had one.

Second, it is a little "out of sight, out of mind." Especially before the first ultrasound (and in the past, before "quickening"), the whole idea that there's a baby in there is a bit surreal. Losing a child you've never touched is a lot like waking up from a dream. If as many babies died right after birth as die in the first trimester, the response would be greater, not because they are more valuable, but because we could see it happening.

Third, as sad as they are, I think the common attitude is that there was probably something wrong with the child, and that's why it didn't thrive. That may be wishful thinking, but I think that is a part of why there isn't more concern.

Fourth, but people are doing something about it. That's why sonograms abound. It's why we try to fix problems in babies in utero. It's why women who are trying to get pregnant now take folic acid supplements. It's why we have drugs to help thicken uterine linings. That this research doesn't get as much press as breast cancer research doesn't mean it's not there and that it's not important.

The question for the pro-choice crowd is, what happens, and when, to make this valueless blob of tissue suddenly a valuable human baby?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Christian and Conservative?

During the last presidential election , I wrote a series addressing the question of whether you can be a Christian and a conservative. (I say yes.)

I have revised and updated that material and turned it into a pdf that can be downloaded for free here. It's a little over 50 pages long.

I encourage you to pass it along to anyone you like. It's really not intended for liberals as much as those middle of the road folks who might be cowed into supporting liberals out of a misplaced sense of guilt. But liberals might get something out of it too.

Now that I'm finished with that, hopefully I can spend more time writing original material for the blog.

Friday, October 19, 2012

If you don't know ...

Peter Kreeft makes the case that the default position for most people should be prolife. It's short but sweet.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Free Audiobook

Christian is giving away the audiobook of Tony Evans' How Should Christians Vote? (Amazon listing here) for the month of October. I haven't read or listened to it yet, but I've found him to be biblical and level-headed in the past, so I plan to listen to this soon.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Why I'm Still a Christian

The skeptics are right about one thing.

I was raised in a Christian home. We went to church every week — frequently, twice on Sunday and again on Wednesday. My parents are Christians, as were their parents, so it's no surprise, the skeptics point out, that I became one. And they're right.

But it didn't have to stay that way.

Many people find themselves having to re-examine those decisions as they grow up — especially in college. I went off and got a degree in physics, so you would expect me to face that (though it wasn't my physics classes that created the problem, and, frankly, I found more unbelievers in the humanities than the sciences). But the day came when I had to decide whether I could still believe in stories about men rising from the dead and things like that.

Fortunately, I had already been prepared and not the way you think. By the time my crisis of faith occurred, I had four years of physics classes under my belt. Out of the almost one thousand hours of classroom instruction, three lectures really stood out.

The first one was when we learned that the behavior of the gravitational force could have been anything at all, but if it weren't exactly what it is, we would never have been able to understand it — it would have simply been too complex to figure out by observation. I still remember one particularly profane classmate saying aloud, "Gee, I feel like I need to go to church."

The second was when we were told how all the matter in the universe formed when the energy of the big bang converted into matter and antimatter — and how they should have formed in equal amounts, but for some reason they didn't, leaving just a bit more matter to make everything we see.

The third was a special guest lecture by a famous visitor, Professor Stephen Hawking. He described how precisely balanced the energy of the big bang had to be — saying that if the expansion of the universe had been either greater or smaller by less than one part in a trillion trillion there would be no universe right now.

At the time of my crisis of faith I had never heard of intelligent design. I had not heard of Dembski or Behe. But Chen, White, and Hawking had taught me much of what they would later write.

I knew everything had to have come from somewhere — something had to be eternal, and the universe (by various laws of physics) couldn't be it. And I knew, thanks to those three lectures, the universe was a finely crafted machine, designed just so, enabling life to exist.

So there was one verse in the Bible I knew I couldn't doubt: the first one. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." And if that was true, every other miracle was possible.

That's important because if miracles aren't possible, Jesus didn't rise from the dead. No matter how bizarre the explanations for the evidence may be, they are less bizarre than a resurrection. 

But if miracles are possible, Jesus actually rising from the dead is on the table. Evidence has to be considered and arguments evaluated, but it's not an automatic no. 

And once the evidence is considered and the arguments are evaluated, the best explanation is that Jesus did rise from the dead. It's story that no one would make up. Christianity is true.

Someone may have questions, concerns, even doubts, but "Jesus really rose from the dead" is a solid place to begin the journey. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Rape and Abortion

In the wake of Congressman Akin's infamous statement about rape and pregnancy, the left had a field day attacking conservatives on their anti-abortion stance. Many on the right ran for cover, trying to distance themselves from his statements or even his position.

Let me go on the record as saying Mr. Akin's statement about pregnancy from rape is ignorant and demonstrably false.

Let me also go on the record as believing abortion should only be legal to save the life of the mother.

No rape and incest exception? No.

Even as they ridicule, pro-choicers are aware that a rape exception is inconsistent with the pro-life philosophy and use that against us. We may as well stand for what we believe in and be able to explain why.

The fundamental question about aborting an unborn child is this: What is it?

If the unborn is a blob of tissue, little more than a cancerous growth inside the mother or a parasite inside a host, then we shouldn't even be having this conversation. Aborting this little blob has no more moral significance than removing a mole.

If the unborn is a human being at a slightly earlier stage of development than an infant, then we must treat that life with all the care due any other human being.

The circumstances of his conception does not change that.

Rape is a horrible thing. Besides the physical violence, there is emotional trauma that will need a long time to heal, if it ever does.

And aborting the child produced by that attack will not change any of it. Allowing the child to be born, however, brings a little good out of that horrible thing.

After all, our society doesn't put rapists to death. Why would we kill their children? The child is not responsible for the act that brought him into the world.

You may be thinking, "Isn't it cruel to make a woman carry a child conceived in rape to term?" I don't think so. But even if it were, it's not all about her any more. There's another life involved. That innocent little life deserves to be protected. And many women, after carrying such children for nine months, realize they love and cherish that child as much as any other.

And if the mother doesn't want to raise the child, the line to adopt healthy infants is wrapped around the block ... many, many times.

All that said, though, I wouldn't make outlawing abortion after rape part of any party's platform. It's not something many people will be receptive to at this point in time. Tactically, it's something we should ease into.

Life is full of partial victories. If abortion was only legal in cases of rape or incest or to save the life of the mother, the vast majority — by some estimates, 99+% — of abortions would cease. If, in time, we were able to convince people that rape isn't a good reason to abort a baby, that would be ideal, but we shouldn't set ourselves up for a much more difficult fight when we still have the larger one to win.

Thursday, August 16, 2012


The Revelation says the Lamb of God will become the Lion of Zion. Astride a great white horse, he will lead the armies of heaven and tread "the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty" (19:15).

Jesus? Our Jesus? The meek and mild Jesus? The one about whom the scriptures say
"A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out..." (Matt 12:20).
Sometimes it's hard to see Jesus as a warrior. But that passage is the key. The sentence continues:
"A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out
till he leads justice to victory."
That "till" is important. Jesus came with a purpose, a mission, and he carried it out. He was here to be a sacrifice, to be killed simply for claiming to be exactly who he was. Next time, the mission will be different.

The other day as I was reading this, when that "till" jumped out at me, I was reminded of a song from some years ago:

First time around he came as a man
clothed in humility
He was the Father's sacrifice
sent to set us free ...

This time around
there'll be no speculation
the king will wear his crown.
This time around
the world will see his glory
watch is kingdom come down ...

As hard as it is to imagine sometimes, the day will come when Christ will return in glory and power to establish his kingdom on earth. And we will be able to say goodbye to sin and pain and grief and all the ills of this world.

Come, Lord Jesus.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

He Made Himself Nothing

Reflections on Reflexive Verbs

Skeptics call Christianity child-abuse. They deride a God that would force his son to take the punishment for someone else's sin.

But no one forced Jesus to do anything.

Reading the "Kenosis" passage (aka Phil 2:5-11), I was struck by the many reflexive verbs — that is, verbs with the same subject and object.
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death —
even death on a cross!
Jesus was not unceremoniously stripped of his glory and crammed into a human body. He wasn't forcibly sent off as a sacrifice.

He made himself nothing. He took on the nature of a servant. He humbled himself. He became obedient unto death.

We do not believe that the fall was a sudden shock that God had to recover from. Nor do we believe the cross was a scheme forced on the Son by an unloving Father. It was all part of the blueprint. God created us knowing the fall was coming. The Word spoke, seeing the cross on the horizon. And for the same reason, he made himself nothing — because he loved us.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

More than Alive

Survival is getting to be big business. Whether terrorism, 2012, or the economy is prompting it, people are putting a lot of money and energy into making sure they and theirs survive whatever happens.

I read a (fictional) story where a man desperate for his family to survive accidentally caused them to become cannibals. An extreme example, I know, but it highlights an important truth:

There are more important things than not dying. I want my kids to live to a ripe old age, to enjoy their children and their children. But I'm far more concerned with how they live the days they are given and, when the time comes, how they die.

After all, everyone dies. Not everyone makes a difference while they're here.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

How to Have a Lasting Marriage

Don't get divorced.

We recently celebrated our twelfth anniversary. It's sad that it's almost a big deal these days.

Why is that getting so rare when forty-year marriages were the norm not even a hundred years ago? What changed? It wasn't men. It wasn't women. We don't get along any worse than we did then. We haven't invented new problems for marriages, even if we have put our particular spin on them.

I think our attitude toward marriage changed. People get divorced more because divorce became an option.

Oh, we've always had divorce, but in the past it was a shameful thing. Everyone assumed (or knew) at least one of the broken couple had been sleeping around.

But now it's ok. You "don't have anything in common" anymore? Get a divorce. "Irreconcilable differences?" Get a divorce. Unhappy? Bored? Leave.

Our ancestors' marriages lasted because of a commitment to one particular philosophy: 'Til death do us part.

If divorce is off the table, you have to fix things. 'Til death do us part means when you have money problems, you soldier on through, together. It means when you seem to be growing apart, you do something about it. It means if your husband snores too loud, you get a new bedroom — in the same house.

These days we have so many more options than we have ever had before. We have second honeymoons, marriage counseling, and Dave Ramsey. If divorce is not an option, we'll be committed to making our marriages work and do whatever it takes.

This isn't a magic pill. It won't make all our problems go away. But it will make us face our problems and work on them together — or else the next thirty years are going to be mighty uncomfortable.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Truth on Sale

Why do we believe the Bible? Is it because it's tradition? Because "it works?" Or is it because it's a reliable collection of historical documents written by eye-witnesses to supernatural events that occurred in accordance with specific prophecies demonstrating that it's divine, rather than human, in origin?

The latter is from Voddie Baucham's The Ever-Loving Truth, a book I recommended on this site a few years ago.

Amazon is offering the Kindle version (good on Kindles or their free Kindle app for most smartphones and tablets) for $2.99. It is well worth that, and I suggest you take advantage of this if you don't already have the book.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Blast from the Past on God

"All existence originates from the Father. In Christ and through Christ, God is the source of everything. In contrast to everything else, He is completely self-existent. ... He is infinite, for nothing can contain Him. ... He is eternally prior to time, for time is His creation. Imagine what you think might be God's farthest limit, and you will find Him present there. ... Words will fail you, but His being will not be restrained. ... Exercise your intellect to comprehend Him as a whole, but He will eluse you. ... Therefore, since no one knows the Father but the Son, let our thoughts of the Father be one with the thoughts of the Son. He is the only faithful Witness who reveals God to us."

— Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Bible Links

420 Tips on How to Use Bible Commentaries

"It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others. ... A respectable acquaintance with the opinions of the giants of the past, might have saved many an erratic thinker from wild interpretations and outrageous inferences" (CH Spurgeon).

4The Sweep of the Bible in Two Weeks

"If a freshman in college or stay-at-home mom or aspiring deacon or friend from work or anyone else asked me how they might get a rough grasp of the macro-storyline of the Bible in a few weeks, I'd send them not to any secondary resource but to the Bible itself for a reading plan that might look something like this."

4Seven Common Fallacies of Biblical Interpretation

Seven ways we all too easily go astray.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

I Believe

Can you sum up what you believe succinctly?

I was asked for a "statement of faith," and that gave me some pause; I've never really thought about it in those terms. What should I say? What should I put in or leave out.

Then I realized the answer was very simple:
I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
and born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried.
He descended into hell.
On the third day He rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven
and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
From thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
The Church has had to answer the question "what do we believe" many times throughout its history. There are lots of things Christians debate among themselves. We've split every hair, sometimes two or three times, but there are some basics — things that you have to believe to be "Christian." You can be a disciple of Jesus and disagree with these things, but the word Christian means something.

Specifically, all Christians believe what is contained in the Apostles' Creed (above) or the Nicene Creed, which fleshes it out a bit more — especially the deity of Christ, which becomes:

And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only-begotten Son of God,
begotten of His Father before all worlds,
God of God, Light of Light,
very God of very God,
begotten, not made,
being of one substance with the Father,
by whom all things were made;

If you don't agree with everything there, you want to go into it with your eyes open. What do you disagree with? Why? They certainly knew why they put it in.

(I have a problem with that "descended into hell" bit. I know where it comes from, and I know why I disagree. I can live with hanging an asterisk on it, noting that "descended into hell" doesn't necessarily mean that Christ suffered in hell, but I wish it wasn't there.)

Christianity is a personal relationship. It's also a community. And even though I appreciate, and occasionally use, the freedom to disagree with anyone and everyone, I take comfort in knowing that I don't have to invent the wheel on this thing. As the saying goes, we stand on the shoulders of giants, our fathers in the faith who struggled with the big questions long before we were born.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Tightening the Bible Belt

A new guy just started at work, and we were chatting while I showed him some things. Conversation flowed well until he got to something he didn't want to say and stopped. Being me, I dragged his deep, dark secret out of him: He's a Christian.

Folks at the last place he lived and worked were free with snide remarks and funny looks at any hint of a religious life, so he learned to keep all of that to himself. Where did he come from? Georgia.

I know I'm deeply blessed to live in the Bible belt. As I told him, in Texas even people who don't go to church assume you do.

But I would have thought the same about Georgia. I'm sure it used to be the case, but things change. Alas.

This weekend we're remembering those who paid the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedom. We must not forget that this protection is not just past tense. It has been necessary, and it will be again. The world keeps changing, and freedoms can quickly go from safe and secure to endangered.

So today give thanks to God for the freedom we have and those who defended them. And commit yourself now to that defense whenever it may be necessary.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

1% Charity

Election season always supplies lots of noise about taxes. This year expect debate over whether the rich should "pay their fair share" or whether taxing the rich more would amount to "job destroying tax increases."

Conservatives, Christian or not, tend toward the latter, and that's ok as long as we don't forget something important.

First, though, we must ask: What share is "fair?" That question is hard, but critical, to answer. People only talk about the rich (whether it's the 1%, 5%, or 50%) paying more in taxes because tax receipts are not covering everything the government does. Is the fair share whatever it takes to cover the government's expenses?

Asking for "whatever it takes" presents a big danger. If you could tax the rich enough to cover everything the government wants to do (you can't, they don't have enough money, but if you could), government would simply increase what it wants to do. Eventually (like, Tuesday) the rich would not be able to supply enough tax money, so the definition of "rich" would creep downward while "enough" would creep upward. Just like the alternative minimum tax, this would slowly encompass more and more people.

To prevent that creep, we need to decide how much is the most the government can ask of someone. Tax raisers need to commit to a number. That provides a ceiling not only for the tax rate but, ideally, spending.

Not only is "enough" dangerous, it's simply wrong. People who work hard and earn their pay have a right to it. It doesn't matter how they earn it as long as it's honestly earned.

However, as conservatives — again, Christian or not — defend the basic right of people to keep what they earn, they must not forget another important truth: People have a responsibility for their neighbors.

Loving your neighbor as yourself frequently has dollar signs attached to it. From one end of the Bible to the other, God commands us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and tend to the sick. That's not free.

That doesn't mean it has to be done through government — especially the federal government. I've written before that federal "charity" is neither constitutional nor healthy (for anyone involved).

But however it's done, it has to be done.

So defend the right of the 1% to reap the reward of their labor, but don't let them forget their obligation to their neighbor.

Helping the Poor Biblically
Why Keep Taxes Low?
Conservatives and the Least of These

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Not Just No

The Bible shows us a few cases of people not getting what they want from God. They want good things. They ask nicely. They ask passionately. They ask in faith.

And God says no. But he doesn't just say no.

To Habakkuk, God said:
"Look at the nations and watch—
and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days
that you would not believe,
even if you were told."
To Paul, God said:
"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."
To Jesus, God didn't say anything. He simply raised him from the dead.

God's "no" is not simply no. It's "I have a better idea."

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Not Death

My family has suffered a great loss. My cousin has died at the ripe old age of 52.

He is survived by his parents, wife, children, and a grandchild, as well as an extended family who are very fond of him.

Correction: Christians do not die. He has fallen asleep.

Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words (1 Thess 4:13-18).
As always, we cling to the hope of a world to come. Because He lives, we will live. We will be with Jesus, and we will be like Jesus. Those who precede us are only partaking a little early.

But the separation is still painful, especially when it is so unexpected. Please pray for his wife, parents, and children.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Links: Apologetics

Interesting news from Dan Wallace:
First-Century Fragment of Mark’s Gospel Found!?

Is God a Moral Monster?
Looking at the issue in historical, textual, and biblical contexts.

Undesigned Scriptural Coincidences: The Ring Of Truth
The little things give credibility to the big things.

Were Ancient People Gullible Enough To Sustain Modern Skeptical Theories?
"... there is mounting evidence that this alleged dichotomy between the worldview of ancient people and the worldview of modern Western people is itself a piece of modern mythology."

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


Eternal life isn't all about the afterlife.

There are voices in Christianity that want to remind us that salvation isn't all about life after death. Unfortunately they overstate things at times, but they are helpful, trying to keep us from forgetting that through the saving work of Jesus we are reconciled to God, adopted into his one family, and given the work of peace, justice, and hope, bringing his kingdom, as much as possible, to the here and now.

It's also about life after death.

He is risen! The words of the angel became the traditional Easter greeting because it's so key to the whole story. Jesus did not just reconcile us to God. He conquered death!
If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. ...

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
(1 Cor 15:19-22, 54-55)
The cross of Christ was about more than life after death, but we must not forget that Christ's victory over sin was also victory over death.

Sunday, April 1, 2012


The world is broken.

Natural disasters, disease, man's inhumanity — all signs that something is wrong with this world. We all know intuitively that this isn't how things should be.

The world knows it, too.
The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves ... groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies (Rom 8:18-27).
Jesus came to save us from our sins. His death to pay for our sins was a part of that, but it is not the whole mission. All of creation waits to be saved, to be what it was supposed to be.

That is why, when Jesus entered Jerusalem on "Palm Sunday," critics were told if the disciples didn't worship Jesus "the stones will cry out" (Lk 19:40). The earth itself saw that as the beginning of the end of its bondage.

That work has still not been completed, but we are closer than we have ever been to the day when death and pain will be a memory.

Christ has already triumphed. Now we only wait for the victory lap.

Why Did Christ Die at Passover?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Christians and Violent Media

Should Christians watch violent movies?

The question has been raised before, but it gets my attention now because it's directed toward a movie I really want to see: The Hunger Games.

The premise of the story is that each year twelve subjugated "districts" are required to send one boy and one girl (12-18 years old) to fight to the death for the amusement of their rulers. Twenty-four enter; one leaves. The battles in the arena, as well as many other things that befall these children, are quite brutal. Given the movie's PG-13 rating, I expect a lot of the violence to be off-screen or at least toned-down, but it's impossible to take all of the edge off of children killing children.

Should we let ourselves (much less our kids) see things like this?

I find myself wanting to ask a few follow up questions:

1. What in the Bible specifically forbids our watching violent movies? I think you can make an indirect case from passages such as Phil 4:8, but without someone more direct, I don't think we can make an absolute rule.

2. How much and what kind of violence is OK? Why is football acceptable (if it is)?

3. Why is the violence in the Bible OK? It is the most violent book you'll probably ever read. Judges alone is probably the most violent thing you'll ever read.

4. Does is matter how the violence is handled? In some works violence is fun or funny and made to look attractive. In others, such as The Hunger Games, the reader/viewer is supposed to be horrified. You're supposed to look at the people in the story who enjoy the games and wonder what is wrong with them. And you're supposed to ask if you make any questionable entertainment choices yourself (Saw anyone?). Does that matter? I think it does.

For myself, I'm going to choose to see this movie. I am not going to allow my kids to see it until they are much older. When they do read and/or see The Hunger Games, we will talk about man's inhumanity to man, the importance of protecting those you love, kindness to enemies, desensitization, and the corrupting nature of power. It will be a wonderful family time, and I don't think there will be anything wrong with that.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Blind Men and the Elephant 2.0

You've heard some version of this before:

Some blind men came up to an elephant and tried to figure out what it was. One grabbed the tail and said, "It's like a rope." One felt the ear and said, "It's like a fan." Another found a leg and said, "It's like a tree."

Someone who can see corrects them all: "You're only touching part of it. What you say is true, but you must put it all together to understand the elephant."
This is the Far Eastern version of the story, which is much loved by religious pluralists today. It's a story about how we all know only a little about God. Everyone has different information, and everyone can be correct and incorrect because no one has the whole picture.

But this is the Christian version of the story:
Some blind men came up to an elephant and tried to figure out what it was. One grabbed the tail and said, "It's like a rope." One felt the ear and said, "It's like a fan." Another found a leg and said, "It's like a tree."

Then the elephant began to speak ...
Special revelation makes all the difference.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

What is Easter?

It's been asked many ways: What is the reason for Easter? Why is Good Friday good? It's an important question, so here's my best answer.

The Problem
To understand Easter, you have to start at the beginning.

Humans were made for fellowship with God. They were originally morally pure, innocent. But they learned to sin. The first humans rebelled against God, and that rebellion changed them. They were no longer pure. From that point on, they violated God's standard in every way imaginable. Most of all, they lived as if they were center of the universe. They were in a constant state of rebellion.

When they reproduced, that rebellious nature passed on to every descendant — including you and me. It ruined the world. People invented murder almost immediately. They spent the next few generations sinking into worse and worse depravity.

God said he would fix things, but before He fixed it, He needed to show us how bad the problem really was. God chose a people and gave them a special purpose, a special mission. The people didn't change. So He gave them special rules, but they couldn't keep them. Then God gave them a special place; they defiled it. He gave them better leadership, but the leaders turned out to be worse than the regular people. So He punished them severely, but they didn't learn the lesson — they still wouldn't, or rather couldn't, keep the rules or live any kind of truly moral life.

Why is that such a big deal? Because when humans learned to sin, they joined a rebellion — a rebellion against God's moral order. Treason has to be punished. If history has shown nothing else, it's clear that corruption will spread. It has to be destroyed, or it will destroy everything.

God had created Hell for the angels who rebelled. When humans joined the rebellion, it became our punishment too. To remove the cancer of this moral corruption, God would have to remove the corrupt. And God had proven that humans could not stop being corrupt.

Good Friday
If God didn't want to destroy all of humanity, He was going to have to take drastic measures. And that's what He did.

God became flesh. This is Christmas: God became a human being, Jesus. Because He was human, He could stand in our place. Because He was God, He could succeed where we failed.

Jesus lived a morally perfect life. He conformed to God's moral standard in everything.

And we killed Him for it.

But that was what God intended. His death was not a random act of violence. Jesus' death was to pay the price for our rebellion. He took the punishment for our crimes; He paid our debt to God. That's what makes Good Friday good.

He remained dead for three days. On the third day, on Easter, Jesus returned to life. It may sound impossible at first, but it really is a story no one would make up.

His body wasn't just turned back on, though. It was made new. From that point on, He became a glimpse of what God intended us to be. Though He has a physical body, it will never die. It is completely removed from the corruption we brought into this world.

So what?
Using modern medicine as a metaphor, what Jesus did was make a medicine for us. We still have to choose to take the pill.

If we take the pill, our sin — our lifetime of rebellion against God — is forgiven. Past, present, and future. But we're also changed; not completely, not yet, but we're changed. Something is put inside us that is capable of what we never were before: wanting to live at peace with God and actually doing it.

It starts as a seed, but it's a seed that will grow until we become like Jesus. We start to love properly. We can forgive the way we should forgive. Truly selfless generosity becomes possible. The thoughts and feelings at the core of everything we do starts to change.

And because of that change, when the day comes to finally end the rebellion, to destroy all the corruption, the bad part of us will be removed and the good part will remain in the presence of joy incarnate — forever. At least, that's true for everyone who took the cure.

How do you take the pill?
The medicine is what Jesus did through His death and resurrection. You take the medicine by consciously deciding to trust in His death and resurrection to 1) pay the price for your sin and 2) do the task of pleasing God — of living up to His standard — and 3) by deciding to make Jesus, rather than yourself, king of your life.

It's easy to explain, but harder to do. But it is oh so important.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Free Ham

The left wants to make the HHS contraception rule about contraception, even sex. Some unfortunate choices on the right have helped them. But it's not about contraception; it's about big government and free exercise of religion.

Let's recast the argument in other terms so everyone remembers what's really going on.
Today the Obama administration announced new rules requiring all restaurants to provide a free ham sandwich to anyone who asks for one. The rule only requires bread and ham; cheese, vegetables, and condiments would still be paid for by the customer.

Restaurant groups quickly complained about the cost of complying with such a mandate, but supporters insisted that food is a fundamental right to which all citizens are entitled.

Religious groups cried foul, claiming many business owners — e.g., Jewish, Muslim, and vegetarian — cannot in good conscience serve a ham sandwich to customers, but government officials (who asked to remain anonymous because they had not been authorized to speak on the issue) responded that they were only asked to serve, not eat, the ham.
Hopefully this will raise a number of questions in your mind. By what authority does the government require someone to provide an item, any item, to a third party? Is there really such a right? Does the existence of this right mean that someone else is obliged to provide it to them?

And, most of all, what possessed the government to handle this in a way that would require millions of Americans to violate their religious beliefs?

The contraception flap is not about sex or birth control. It's about what limits we are going to place on our government.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

After-Birth Abortions

Yes, "after-birth" abortions. It's catchy with none of the emotional baggage of "infanticide." Wait, no, it still has the baggage.

Pro-lifers have argued for years that there is no substantial difference in a child the day before and the day after his birth. The idea is to argue that if infanticide is abhorrent to you, abortion should be also.

Then here comes another batch of "ethicists" arguing "what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled."

Why is our society — one that permits the killing of unborn humans — so scandalized when some young woman drops her newborn infant into a dumpster? Why are people upset when she could have killed the child the day before he was born with no consequence? It's because there is something inside us that recognizes that behavior as sick and wrong. It's a moral intuition that has managed to hang on despite years of preaching that the needs of the woman trump every other concern. And we should be equally scandalized by this.

What about adoption? Unfortunately "adoption is not always in the best interest of actual people." Yes, "actual people" is actually a quote.

Pro-choicers have to acknowledge that this is the natural evolution of their beliefs. If a human being is not a "person" at 8 months and 29 days gestation in the womb, 24 hours and 8 inches does not change anything substantive.

If they are horrified by this, then perhaps they need to reverse the equation: If a human being is a person the moment after birth, then it was a person 24 hours and 8 inches earlier and well before that.

Photo by Jon Ovington

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Freedom of Worship

Is "freedom of worship" a synonym for freedom of religion or a booby trap?

The term first got attention when the Obama administration started using it, seemingly in lieu of "freedom of religion," after the Fort Hood shooting in late 2009. People complained, there was a bit of noise, and then the furor died down.

But it leapt back to the minds of many conservatives during the "Catholic contraception" flap.

"Freedom of worship" is different from the traditional term because of the popular definition of "worship." In general usage, worship is what you do at "church" (whether the religion is Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or something else entirely). Freedom of worship, then, would seem to mean your right to do "church" your way — be it liturgical or casual, with incense or without pianos.

Reading about the contraception rule, I saw many articles or comments with this idea: "What's the problem? We're not telling them they have to hand pills out in church?" That is the essence of the freedom of worship.

Freedom of religion, on the other hand, extends beyond what happens on Sunday. It's tithing and evangelism and caring for orphans. It's also pacifism, infant baptism, and opposing abortion (for, respectively, Quakers; Roman Catholics and some protestants; and a great many Christians, Jews, and Muslims).

If we only have a right to "freedom of worship," there is nothing to stop the government from conscripting Quakers or forcing evangelical churches to perform same-sex marriages. (I'm not saying either of those things is on the horizon, but there's nothing to stop it.)

But there is something. Read the entire text of the First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The first freedom enumerated was the freedom of religion, and "free exercise" is explicitly stated. This nation was settled by people who were fleeing pressed military service or laws about baptism just as much as those who wanted the right to wear certain robes (or not) in church.

It's natural that non- and cultural-Christians should be opposed to our ideals. The world opposes us reflexively because of Christ. And our attempts to live up to a higher standard makes people feel bad about their lower standards. And the wisdom of this age is that personal liberty and a right to "privacy" (that is, doing whatever you want in private) trumps all other rights.

However, this being expected doesn't mean we should just sit back and watch it happen. We can and should watch our politicians like hawks and push back where we can.

Remember the words of the Master: "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves."

Monday, February 13, 2012

Obama's Contraception Victory

I'd like to congratulate President Obama on a well-played maneuver in the Catholic contraceptive broo-ha-ha.

For those who've been off-planet for the past week, the Obama administration issued a rule that all employers must provide free birth control and morning-after pills. The only exception they allowed was to actual houses of worship — thus excluding religious charities and hospitals, among others.

The administration responded to loud protests and threats of civil disobedience with an adjustment to the previous rule: Insurers must provide these things at no cost to the employee or employer in these cases.

This is a win for the Obama administration. No one is dumb enough to believe insurers will provide these things at no cost to the employer; they will obviously roll this cost into their insurance premiums. It's nothing but an accounting trick.

But it hamstrings the religious community's response.

Obama was facing the prospect of hundreds of religious leaders taking a perp walk, willing to go to jail to protest this infringement of their freedom of religion. Alternatively, some of these religious non-profits might have closed their doors to give the public a picture of what their lives would be like if religious charities, schools, and hospitals were shut down by the ruinous fines threatened by the administration.

None of this is possible now. Faithful Roman Catholics — and others with similar beliefs — will be forced to provide something they believe is sinful, something their employees have always known was not an option while they worked there. These people's exercise of their religion has been quashed by the power of the state.

Well-played, Mr. Obama. May God have mercy on your soul.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Links on Doubt

Many — maybe most — Christians go through periods of doubting the faith. Whether they're wondering about the historical facts of the resurrection, the existence or goodness of God, or something else, people go through times of being unsure. Often this is a lonely time when they're afraid to say anything to anyone, and it can be a scary time when they don't know how to deal with the situation.

Here are three links I think will help anyone in that situation:

= Eight Points of Encouragement for Those Who Are Doubting Their Faith

"8. Realize that doubt is not a bad thing.
Often, doubt is the first sign of true or deep faith. It is only through doubt and an acknowledgement that we could be wrong that we come to true convictions about what we believe. God is not scared or angry about people’s doubts when they are truly searching for the truth. He challenges us over and over again in the Scriptures to be wise and stop being naive. If our faith is true, it can handle doubts and skepticism. I have been through many periods of doubt and every time my belief came out stronger. I believe that yours can to."
Click through for seven more important thoughts.

= Saved by an Atheist
A story of God using a most unlikely source to bring a wandering child home.

= Dealing With Doubt
The complete text of Gary Habermas' book online and free.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

First Person

I love the opening paragraph of Ephesians. It's great, deep, powerful stuff. And everything it says about "us" is totally true about you and me individually. You can legitimately read Ephesians 1:3-10 in the first person. And you should:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed me in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose me in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.

In love he predestined me to be adopted as his son through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will — to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given me in the One he loves. In him I have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on me with all wisdom and understanding.

And he made known to me the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment — to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
Now let that sink in for a bit.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

It's the Little Things

I decided to make a change in my behavior.

It's a good thing to read the Bible wherever you are, wherever you can. You can read it at work, in the bathroom, and in line at the grocery store. You can get it on your smart phone or ereader and have it with you literally everywhere you go.

But part of parenting is modeling the behavior we want to see in our kids. If I read the Bible where they can't see it, they won't know I do it. If I read it on my phone, they don't know what I'm reading. It doesn't matter how much I talk about it. It doesn't matter how much I know about it.

How will they know Daddy makes time every day to read the Bible if they don't see him taking time every day to read the Bible?

So I'm committing to reading a physical Bible in a chair in full view of my family. It's a little thing, but it's one I hope will make a difference when they start to set their own habits.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Long Haul

It took me a while to learn the key to weight loss. Your weight is the balance of how many calories you eat and how many you burn. Lose a few pounds due to an illness or crash diet, and they'll be back in a few weeks. No amount of dieting can keep you thin until you make a permanent change in how much you eat or how much exercise you get. long road, photo by Moyan Brenn

Sanctification is a lot like that. The equation's more complicated, but this is an important factor: How much do you feed the "new man," and how much do you feed the old one?

Like dieting, you can make short-term gains. You can have fits of conscience or spirituality and make some temporary improvements in your life. But they'll all slowly slip away if you don't take care of the new man.

Here's the problem — the old man gets fed quite a bit. The world throws tasty morsels his way all day long. If you want the new man to beat up the old man, you've got to make sure he's well fed, too.

What does the new man eat? I don't think there are any surprises here: the word of God, prayer and meditation, fellowship with godly people, and service to God and neighbor. These things are not only food for the new man but poison to the old one. These are the things we have to fill our lives with if we want the new man to be with us for the long haul. These things are the key to being more like Jesus on Dec. 31 than we were on Jan. 1.

Photo by Moyan Brenn

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Why was Jesus Rejected?

People didn’t know what to do with Jesus. Some people accepted Him for a while, then turned against Him. Some rejected Him from the beginning. Even those that followed Him to the end didn’t respond well to His execution and didn’t expect His resurrection – despite the fact that they’d been warned.

This is because Jesus came into a world with hundreds of years’ worth of preconceived notions about what He would be. Incorrect preconceived notions.

Jewish ideas about the messiah were drawn from the Hebrew Scriptures (i.e., the Old Testament) and the post-canonical literature including the apocrypha and pseudepigrapha, and they are revealed in the Targums and Talmud.

The messianic idea in the OT.
The picture painted of the messiah in the Old Testament varies from author to author. Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel show a Davidic king who is righteous but not necessarily divine. The messiah appears in certain Psalms as a Davidic king who is probably divine – especially Psalm 45.

The messiah appears in a priestly sense along side the Davidic kingship in Psalm 110. And in Deut 18:15, Moses makes reference to a prophet to come that has been taken as a reference to the messiah since ancient times.

Taken as a whole, the Old Testament paints a picture of the messiah as superhuman, with sufficient power to overcome all his enemies, and as one who will bring peace to God’s people. He would be the savior of the poor and would rule with righteousness and justice forever.

The greatest contrast between the Biblical pictures of the messiah is seen in regard to his mission. In the Psalms (e.g., Psm 2) and in Jeremiah and Ezekiel, he is a mighty king and a conqueror. Isaiah, however, describes him as suffering and despised (e.g., Is 53:3-6), and Zechariah describes him as “lowly and riding on … the foal of a donkey” (Zech 9:9).

Another contrast appears in the messiah’s origin. The Davidic king would undoubtedly be born like any man, have a childhood, and after growing to manhood begin to rule. The Son of Man, however, appears out of the clouds full grown and with divine authority. These contrasts created enough uncertainty in the minds of Jewish writers to allow them to develop the idea of the messiah in different directions.

Besides describing the messiah, the Old Testament also describes his kingdom. The terms “kingdom of heaven” and “kingdom of God” do not appear in the Hebrew Scriptures, but the idea is present. The kingdom is often referred to without any mention of the messiah. The messiah is tied to the kingdom in the Scriptures, but the kingdom is not necessarily tied to the messiah – a trait that would reappear in the pseudepigrapha. This kingdom is seen variously in the Old Testament as a potentially earthly golden age and as what could be described as an everlasting heavenly kingdom.

The messianic idea in the apocrypha.
The messiah plays little role in the Jewish apocryphal writings, though they would play an important role in defining “messiah” to the Jews of Jesus’ day in that the apocrypha presented the Jews as “the righteous” and the gentiles as “the heathens.” This distinction became important as other works defined the future kingdom that the messiah would rule as belonging to “the righteous.”

The messianic idea in the pseudepigrapha.
There is great variety in the messianic descriptions, and in the descriptions of his kingdom, in the pseudepigrapha. To quote Scott, “Most Second Commonwealth [i.e., after the Babylonian exile] Jewish eschatology is nationalistic and Torah-centered in its emphasis. But some is primarily concerned with cultic, social, spiritual-moral or cosmic renewal.” As Ladd points out, it is difficult to say to what extent the ideas of the pseudepigrapha were held by the Jewish people, particularly the eschatological ideas, but it is safe to assume that the ideas were at least fairly widely known.

1 Enoch shows differing ideas about the messiah and the messianic kingdom. Early in 1 Enoch, a messiah is not mentioned at all – God will visit the earth to save the righteous and punish the wicked. Here the gentiles will be converted, and all men will be righteous. In the second section, the Son of Man is a heavenly being, both pre-existent and superhuman, who was chosen by God from before the creation of the earth to bring about the Kingdom of God. He is both righteous and a cause of righteousness in God’s people. A universal kingdom is set up on the earth after the wicked are driven off of it. In the third section, God destroys the gentiles who are attacking Israel, sets up His throne in a new Jerusalem and judges evil men and angels. The messiah then appears, the righteous are conformed to his likeness, and the gentiles serve him. In the forth section there is an earthly messianic kingdom followed by the resurrection. Then an endless heavenly kingdom is established. In 1 Enoch taken as a whole, we see the Son of Man equated with the term messiah and called the Son of God.

In Jubilees, no messiah is mentioned, but the Kingdom of God is described: Evil times will precede the kingdom, and then God will return to the sanctuary to dwell forever among Israel – to save the righteous and punish the wicked. The earth will be purified from uncleanness, and all creation will be renewed. After a temporary earthly kingdom, an endless heavenly kingdom will be established.

The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs describes both the Davidic kingly and Levitic priestly messiahs. In this collection of works a general picture is painted of a messiah that will attack both the enemies of Israel and Beliar. Beliar is bound and cast into fire, and then there is a resurrection of the patriarchs and then all men. This is followed by a judgment and an earthly kingdom centered in the new Jerusalem.

The Psalms of Solomon describe the Son of David as a human with an earthly kingdom; God will give him what he needs (e.g., wisdom) to rule in righteousness over the people. He is also described as a military leader who will crush the gentiles and free Israel.

In the apocalyptic literature, the term “Messiah” tends to represent the national/political eschatological figure and “Son of Man” the transcendent, eternal, and universal figure.

The messianic idea in the Targums and Talmud.
The Targums, Aramaic paraphrases of the Old Testament, reveal to us how the teachers of the Law interpreted the Scriptures during the time of Christ. In the “Servant” passages in Isaiah, we see that they applied the sufferings of the Servant to Israel; the messiah was held to be a victorious warrior – they could not accept that the messiah might suffer or die.

The Talmud – Jewish commentaries on the Scriptures and their oral traditions – was written after the time of Christ, and yet it reveals to us some of the varied thought regarding the messiah in the minds of the Jewish leaders. As to his origin, some thought he would first appear in Rome, others said Babylon, and others said Zion. But there was unity in regard to his nature – the Servant of YHWH and the Shepherd of the Old Testament was replaced by a military leader.

The messianic expectations of the Jewish people.
Throughout the history of Israel, there was a sense that everything was part of a divine plan – that history was marching toward the Day of YHWH, the day of His vindication and triumph. Part of that belief was a vision of a Man who would bring about the Kingdom of God. Sometimes this was simply a golden age; during times of foreign rule, it was a hope for earthly independence, but it was also an age when the Law, the temple, and worship of God would return to dominance. Intertestamental eschatology was occasionally personal, but usually it was nationalistic: All Israel would be in the Kingdom – even the Jews of the Diaspora would return – which would extend to all that was promised to Abraham, and the gentiles would witness their triumph.

In Jesus’ day, the signs seemed to indicate that the messiah might appear at any moment to restore Israel. He would end the gentile rule of Israel and bring about the creation of the righteous people that had been envisioned since Ezra’s time.

The variety of ideas about the messiah was assimilated by various groups in different ways. While it would certainly be an overstatement to say that every member of a group held the same view, we can speak in general about certain parties in 1st Century Judaism.

The common people seemed to be looking for a leader of a rebellion and a miracle worker. The poor and oppressed looked for a rescuer to end their subjection and suffering. The terms “Son of Man” and “Messiah” – used for separate messianic concepts in intertestamental literature – were apparently not connected in popular thought – as demonstrated by the fact that Jesus freely used the former but avoided the latter.

The Pharisees were cold and distant toward messianic movements – possibly because they were expecting the Messiah to be like the “Son of Man” of the literature and to come at the head of a divine cataclysm or heavenly army to install the Kingdom. As such, they were not friendly to popular messianic uprisings that could cause Rome to take away what little power they possessed. They expected the messiah to destroy or at least subjugate the gentiles. Their attitude was, according to Edersheim, “abhorrence, not unmingled with contempt, of all Gentile ways, thoughts, and associations.” The Rabbinic view of the Kingdom was the glory of Israel, not salvation for the world.

The Sadducees interpreted the Scriptures very literally, and they focused their attentions on the Torah (i.e., the books of Moses). As a result, they did not believe in a messiah at all – nor did they believe in any other supernatural creature except God. So their reaction to messianic movements would be expected to be even colder than that of the Pharisees as the Sadducees held most of the political power in Israel and therefore had the most to lose if Rome was angered.

Whatever their expectation, everyone thought that the coming of the messiah would bring about a radical transformation in the way things were. Even to the last, the apostles expected that Jesus would restore Israel (Acts 1:6).

Jesus vs the messianic expectations of the Jewish people.
Given the above, it should come as no surprise that Jesus was rejected, misunderstood, and even attacked. The masses were willing to embrace Him, but they were expecting Him to start a revolt at any moment to bring Israel to the glory she was due. They were expecting a deliverer, but not a redeemer, and they had no concept of a suffering messiah (c.f., Matt 16:21-22), so when He was arrested and killed, even His disciples thought it showed He was a fraud (c.f., Luke 24:19-21).

The Pharisees were not expecting a peasant to lead a rebellion; they were doubtless looking for mighty warrior to appear as if out of nowhere to deliver Israel. And so to them Jesus was simply a troublemaker – all the more because He insisted on questioning their teaching and even character at every turn. They would have had no patience with a teaching that there would be gentiles in the Kingdom (e.g., Matt 8:11), nor would they have appreciated His claims to deity.

The Sadducees did not believe in a messiah and would not have cared what Jesus did so long as He did not start anything that could harm them. But the reaction of the masses to a miracle worker claiming to be bringing in the Kingdom of God was too likely to attract unwanted attention from Rome, and so He needed to be stopped (John 11:45-50).

When Jesus arrived on Earth to fulfill God’s plan, He stepped into a world that was primed to reject Him simply because of who He was. He did not come to overturn nations but lives (and occasionally tables). He did not come to tear down Israel’s enemies but the wall between Man and God. And for that He was rejected.

Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, new updated edition, n.p.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1993.
Alfred Edersheim, Sketches of Jewish Social Life, updated edition, Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994.
George M. Gibson, A History of New Testament Times, Nashville: Cokesbury Press, 1926.
George E. Ladd, “The Kingdom of God in the Jewish Apocryphal Literature, Part 1,” Bibliotheca Sacra 109 (Jan 1952): 55-62.
- “The Kingdom of God in the Jewish Apocryphal Literature, Part 2,” Bibliotheca Sacra 109 (Apr 1952): 164-174.
- “The Kingdom of God in the Jewish Apocryphal Literature, Part 3,” Bibliotheca Sacra 109 (Oct 1952): 318-331.
-, “Part 4, The Kingdom of God in 1 Enoch,” Bibliotheca Sacra 110 (Jan 1953): 32-49.
Richard L. Niswonger, New Testament History, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988.
Max I. Reich, The Messianic Hope of Israel, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1940.
D.S. Russell, The Method and Message of Jewish Apocalyptic, Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1964.
J. Julius Scott, Jr, “On the Value of Intertestamental Jewish Literature For New Testament Theology,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 23 (Dec 1980): 315-323.