Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Don't Worry, Be Thankful

consider the lilies of the field
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? ... Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life” (Matt 6:25-27).

Worry is a choice. We don’t think of it that way, of course. To us, worry is just what happens when you’ve got a lot on your mind, but the scriptures insist that worry is a choice that we’re making.

When Jesus talks about food and clothes, he’s not talking about modern, prosperous Americans who wonder if they can afford to eat out or want a new pair of designer jeans. He’s talking to people who wonder where their next meal will come from and only have one threadbare garment. He says to them, trust God to meet your material needs. If he expects that of them, he certainly does of us.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Easter Eggs in the Old Testament

Room with Easter egg
The scriptures testify about Jesus. That’s what he said (John 5:39, 46; cf Luke 24:27), and his followers took him at his word. They poured over the Old Testament looking for Jesus, and they found him all over the place. Some of those places puzzle us.

When Isaiah describes a servant who is pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities (53:5), we’re within our rights to see Jesus. When David describes someone whose hands and feet are pierced, whose clothes are divided by casting lots (Ps 22:16-18), we’d have to be blind not to see Jesus. But when Hosea says, “Out Egypt I called my son” (11:1), aren’t we taking it completely out of context to say it’s about Jesus like Matthew does (2:14)? The problem is we have a fairly limited sense of the word “prophecy” compared to the apostles.

Theologians and Bible teachers speak of types, patterns, and figures in the OT, but literature gives us a simpler concept: foreshadowing — a literary device where an author gives the reader a hint of what is to come. In modern media, we have developed another useful concept: the Easter egg. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Store Up Treasures

10 million German marks, 1923
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:19-21).

It’s OK to want to be rich, but there’s more than one kind of riches.

According to Jesus, there is wealth that will pass away and wealth that will last. He advises us to store up wealth that will last. But what kind of wealth lasts?

In the past, wealth might just be stored food. If you could store up enough grain to last a lifetime, you were set — unless something got into your grain and ruined it. Or you could have gold or silver — as long as no one broke in and stole it. Today people are less likely to keep massive granaries, preferring to invest so that your money makes more money. Until the stock market crashes or that company you sunk your savings into turns out to be nothing but a shell game. So some people just hide their cash in their backyard, which seems like a safe bet until runaway inflation hits and a loaf of bread costs a million dollars (or Deutsch marks).

Stored goods can be ruined, gold can be stolen, markets can crash, and money can be devalued. What kind of treasure lasts forever?

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

My Authentic Self

car planter
Our culture says I can be anything I want to be, but God says I was made with a specific purpose in mind. If I am not being what I was made to be, what am I? You can use a car as a planter, but cars were not made to be planters. A car being used like that is not living up to its full potential, and no one would do that to a car unless it was broken, unless it could no longer be what it was made to be.

Even the shiniest toaster makes a pretty bad mirror. You could use it as a door stop, but that’s not what it’s for. Maybe you could use it to store bread, but doesn’t it just cry out for you to press down that lever and fill the house with the glorious smell of toast?

Our society is obsessed with becoming “my authentic self”, and everyone gets to determine for himself what that is. And the first thing they do is throw out their maker’s actual intentions.

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Forgive the Unforgivable

pile of 100 dollar bills
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matt 6:12).

I no longer remember what we were talking about, but more than 15 years later, I still remember my response: “Some things you just can’t forgive.”

As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I knew they were wrong and wished I could unsay them. Not only were those words not true, they encouraged someone else’s worst impulses.

Here’s the unvarnished truth: Those things you think you can’t forgive? Jesus wants you to forgive them. He demands it. “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matt 6:14-15).

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

There’s a Reason We Call Them “The Lost”

lost boy
We look around our world today and see perversion and rebellion. We find people who not only disbelieve but even mock God. Now there are people who want to force Christians to the margins of society and academia for the egregious sin of believing what everyone believed 10 minutes ago. We see this, and we feel the need to strap on our swords and do battle. Culture warriors and apologists and even average believers find it easy to get angry over the state of this world that seems determined to harm children and corrupt everything that is good. These people are sinners and scoffers. These people are wicked.

The Lord called them something even more powerful: Lost

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Do(n’t) Do Your Good Deeds Before Others

Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matt 6:1).

Some call this a contradiction. Matt 5:16 says to “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds.” This verse says not to. What’s going on?

Things are clearer when you read the whole passage. They always cut 5:16 off early. Jesus said to let them see your good deeds “and glorify your Father in heaven.” In chapter 6, Jesus is talking about doing things “to be honored by others” (6:2). It’s a matter of the heart.

It also helps to look at what is described in these two sections of the Sermon.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Trusting the Gospels Because of What is(n’t) Excluded

redacted text
In court we swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Leaving out inconvenient bits is just like making up convenient bits. The truth is simply what really happened, no more, no less.

When writing on yet another passage I wish wasn’t in the Bible I realized I had yet to discuss how those passages add strength to the case that the scriptures are trustworthy.

The popular/skeptical view of the gospels is that they may have had some core historical facts, but they grew over time as more and more stories were invented. The people who collected these stories were not there with Jesus, and people who were there weren’t involved or even around when these stories were written down. They made up the stories they needed to spin the tale they wanted because the message was more important than fidelity to history.

That view is false.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Turn the Other Cheek, and Other Painful Instructions

salt and pepper
You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matt 5:38-39).

I don’t know if I can adequately communicate just how much I wish this passage wasn’t in the Bible.

The Law of Moses contained instructions for how to run Israel’s legal system. One of those rules was to take “eye for eye and tooth for tooth” when someone was injured (as opposed to head for eye and arm for tooth). People had apparently taken that as an individual instruction, using this command as justification for personal revenge. Jesus’ people are not to take personal revenge. More than that, they are to cooperate when people try to abuse them.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Links - Bible Study

This week I offer you a collection of articles on reading or studying the Bible well. I hope you find them useful.

Why I Stopped Calling Parts of the Bible ‘Boring’
When I announced that we were spending the next six months in Jeremiah, I said something I’d heard many Bible teachers say before me: “I know this book is boring. But we’re going to learn something.” I think I was trying to lower the stakes for them—or maybe for me. I was setting the bar low so that if Jeremiah held their interest even a little, that was a success.

But looking back, I regret saying it. It’s not true. Jeremiah isn’t boring. The Bible isn’t boring. Even the parts that people always say are boring are weird, gripping, and awe-inspiring. If we let them, they will absolutely command our attention.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Nothing but the Truth

pinky promise
Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear at all ... Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matt 5:33, 37).

Truth is a precious commodity. In a world filled with “my truth”, alternative facts, and things that are “true from a certain point of view”, Jesus wants us to be people of Truth.

At first glance, Jesus’ command about oaths is a little puzzling. What’s wrong with making an oath and not breaking it? Jesus’ objection to oaths becomes clearer in another passage:

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Marriage is a Three-Legged Race

Three-legged race
Lately I’ve been pondering what one piece of advice I’d give my young relatives about marriage.

Boiling it down to one thing is hard. It assumes they know there is no more “your money” and “my money”, only “our money”. You hope they know marriage means you stop dating. Surely they can figure out the answer to “Does this make my butt look big?” is an emphatic “No!”

Now, everyone who’s married could give a dozen tips to the newly married, but no one wants to listen to all that. Is there just one thing that trumps all the rest? Looking back over 22 years of love and laughter and hurt feelings and I’m sorry’s, a common theme does seem to emerge:

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

The Problem of Tares

How do you know if someone’s a vegan?*

What do you call a vegan who eats steak? Happy, yes, but what’s the name for them? Confused? I know a website called “vegan when sober,” so I guess that offers another option.

We don’t have a word for that because vegans don’t eat meat. A person who calls himself a vegan but eats steak isn’t really a vegan any more than a person who calls himself a Democrat but votes for candidates promising a minimalist government is really a Democrat.

So what do you call a Christian who doesn’t love his neighbor, seeks revenge, and prioritizes money over everything? That’s not a Christian. What do you call a follower of Christ who doesn’t follow Christ? That’s right up there with a square circle.

But people can call themselves Christians no matter what they believe or how they behave.

Jesus warned us about these people:

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Lust is Poison

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt 5:27-28).

God takes sexual immorality very seriously, and it often starts with lust.

People do not just wake up and decide to sin. They respond to a temptation, which is then met with another temptation. And another. Where sexual immorality is concerned, that first temptation is often lust.

The problem is not seeing an attractive person and appreciating their good looks. It’s the second look. Looking back to take it in some more. You’re saying, “I’d like me some of that.” And that’s the seed of sexual immorality. From there it’s just one more compromise, then another compromise, and you’ve done something you can’t undo.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Is Atheism Dead?: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Is Atheism Dead?
Atheists have always been among us, but after 9/11 they became especially vocal. These “new atheists” insisted that religion was not just wrong but stupid and dangerous. The new book by Eric Metaxas, Is Atheism Dead?, answers this accusation by showing that the more we learn about science the less naturalistic explanations for the universe’s origins seem plausible. Then he tells how archaeology has supported the biblical record time and again. In the third section, he addresses the new atheists’ “dangerous” claim specifically by showing how many people atheism killed in the 20th century and then takes on the “stupid” claim by discussing the philosophical problems with atheism, famous atheists who became theists, and famous scientists who were Christians.

In principle, it’s a worthy endeavor. In the actual execution, it’s a bit of a mixed bag.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

The Danger of Anger

Fire extenguisher
You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment” (Matt 5:21-22a).

Your anger is a fire, and you are the first person you burn.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches us about real righteousness. He doesn’t want us to be superficially good yet dirty inside. He called those people “whitewashed tombs” (Matt 23:27). No, our righteousness should go all the way down to the core.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Insulin and Ice Cream: A Parable

Religious claims are not statements of opinion. They are truth claims. A religion says, “The world is like this, not that.” If we step away from the arena of religion, we can see more clearly how this works.

We believe everyone in the world has a disease, let’s say it’s diabetes. We further believe the only way to treat diabetes is insulin. Some people think you should treat it with penicillin. Others think you should treat it with ice cream. Some ice cream people don’t even believe anyone has diabetes.

Since everyone is sick, we believe we have an obligation to tell people about insulin. Most of them don’t want to hear it.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

An Apologetic for the Ascension of Christ

Forty days after his resurrection, Jesus rose up into the sky and disappeared (Acts 1:1-11). Some regard this as one of the most unbelievable stories in scripture. Yet most Christians just accept it and move on, so it doesn’t receive a lot of attention from apologists. Why should we believe such an amazing claim? Does that require us to accept their cosmology? And why did Jesus leave in the first place?

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Love and Truth

Christ and the Rich Young Ruler
“Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me’” (Mark 10:21).

What if we truly loved everyone we meet? How would that change how we interact with people?

Let’s review the story we call “The Rich Young Ruler”. A young man asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus reminds of the more man-focused commandments: “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother” (Mark 10:19).

He replies, “All these I have kept since I was a boy” (v20).

Mark’s account includes this interesting comment: “Jesus looked at him and loved him” (v21).

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

The Law of Love: Love Your Enemy

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28).

This may be the Lord’s hardest command. “Do not commit adultery” comes naturally to a lot of people, but loving your enemy? That is completely unnatural.

Who’s my enemy? Whoever I don’t want to do good to. Whoever I don’t like. Whoever I feel is trying to harm me, ruin me, or mistreat me. Your enemy is the one trying to damage your reputation. Your enemy is the person who’s always asking for a very reasonable inch so they can take a mile.

What do I do with these people? “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well” (Matt 5:39).

That’s not how the world treats their enemies. Our world says, "If you disagree with me, you must be ruined." That is not the way of the cross. Christ’s followers do not slander their enemies, vandalize their homes or businesses, or try to destroy their livelihood. Rather than acting out of anger, we’re supposed to treat them as if they were friends:

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

The Law of Love: Love Your Brother

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).

Christ’s people are to show each other a special kind of love. You’re supposed to do for other people whatever you’d want someone to do for you. You’re also expected to do for your brothers and sisters in Christ what you’d never dream of asking anyone to do for you.

Our model is the kind of sacrificial and humble love demonstrated by 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!” (Phil 2:6-8)

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

The Story of the Expressive Individual Self

Strange New World cover
How did we come to a place where the sentence “I am a woman trapped in a man’s body” is considered to be sensible by a large part of the population?

Carl Trueman answers that question in his latest book Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution (of which I received a free review copy). We all know about the sexual revolution, and we all know what’s going on now is related to it. What Trueman reveals, however, is that the pattern of thought that became the sexual revolution began 400 years ago. “I am a woman trapped in a man’s body” is a direct descendent of “I think; therefore, I am.”

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

The Law of Love: Love Your Neighbor

Mill stone
The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Mark 12:31).

Second only to the responsibility to love God with all you are is the command to love your neighbor. However, again, “love” is a weasel word in our society. So what does it mean to love someone? Jesus helped us out with some statements that will make it clearer.

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 7:12).

We’ve labeled this the Golden Rule. It’s simple: Knowing nothing about that person, if you were the one in that situation, what would you want people to do for you? Many societies have a version of this, but it’s typically the negative, eg, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to another.” The negative is easy: If you don’t want to be set on fire, don’t set people on fire.

The positive requires you to do for burning people what you would want someone to do for you — namely, extinguish the flames. The positive is less easy. When you see someone who is hurting, someone who is hungry, someone who is cold, you are to give what you would like to receive were you in their place.

The apostles take this command seriously.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

The Foundation of Christianity

Empty Tomb
Christianity stands or falls on whether Christ was really raised bodily from the dead. This isn’t an optional doctrine. Those who would demote Christ’s resurrection to being merely “spiritual” give up the whole thing. Christ himself pointed to his resurrection as the proof of his authority to teach and do what he did (John 2:19), and Paul made an extended discussion of the importance of the resurrection in 1Corinthians 15:

“If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. ... And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (v14-19).

If Christ has not been raised, preaching is useless, faith is futile, we have lied about God, we’re still guilty of our sins, and the dead are truly gone. “We are of all people most to be pitied.“ If Christ has not been raised, Christianity is a joke, a silly game we play every week. We’re more than ridiculous; we’re pitiful. We should pack this thing up and go home.

“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1Cor 15:20). This turns everything on its head.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

The Horror of the Cross

I’m sure once you’ve committed to a course of action you stand strong and never waver. I, however, must admit I may have chickened out once or twice.

Since Nicaea, the deity of Christ has more or less been settled doctrine. We believe the Son is “God from God, light from light, very God from very God.” We have a harder time with the humanity of Christ. Though we say he is “God made man”, we struggle with what that really means.

When the scriptures say that Christ ”took the form of a servant” and was “found in human form” (Phil 2:7-8 ESV, NRSV), it means he added a real human nature to his divine nature. That means he added all the weaknesses of our finite nature to his own. He could get tired. He could get hungry. He could get scared.

Which brings us to something often labeled a contradiction in the scriptures. In John 12, Jesus again teaches the disciples that he must die. Then he says, “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” (v27-28). He is ready to face his fate bravely.

Why then do the synoptic gospels record him in the garden pleading, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me” (Matt 26:39)?

There’s no contradiction. Quite simply, his fear got to him. On Sunday, he’s ready to face the cross. On Thursday night, he dreads what the morning will bring. It was a very human response.

What was he so afraid of? Crucifixion is a horrible way to die, but was that really what he was scared of? It was only going to be a few hours. Then he would be in paradise. The length of time he was going to be dead could be measured in hours. Then he would, as he had predicted, rise from the dead.

Did Jesus really, as some skeptics have mockingly said, just give up his weekend for our sins?

Why was he so afraid of his death when countless martyrs — Christian and not — have faced their fates stoically?

It wasn’t the death. It was the wrath.

“God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us ...” (2Cor 5:21) “so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Rom 3:26). God requires justice for our sins. A rebellious sinner who dies in his sin will spend forever experiencing the wrath he is due. A few hours of pain, even a few days of death do not satisfy the wrath our rebellion warrants. In the few hours he was on the cross, Christ somehow experienced all the wrath we all deserve. The LORD laid on him the iniquity of us all (Is 53:6).

What would it be like if you could suffer all the pain from all the burns anyone has ever received at once? Can you imagine that kind of suffering? And if you could feel every lash of a wip or blow with a fist anyone has ever lived through? Every time someone has been stabbed or shot or suffocated or crushed, you got to experience that, too. We don’t know exactly what Christ suffered through in those hours when the sun went dark and his Father forsook him, but know “it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:31), and Christ Jesus did just that times billions.

It was this wrath that filled Christ with dread such that “his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). But still he prayed “not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). He did not call down those legions of angels. He did not, as they taunted, come down off that cross. Instead he bore the wrath of God for me and for you.

And can it be that I should gain
an interest in the Saviour's blood?
Died he for me, who caused his pain?
For me, who him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be
that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?1

1 "And Can It Be?" by Charles Wesley

Image via Pixabay

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

10 Commandments for Loving God

10 commandments
I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:2-3).

Loving God is more than feelings; it’s what you do. It’s obeying him, choosing to honor him in how you live. The Decalogue, though often divided into “vertical” and “horizontal” rules (meaning, those pertaining to sins against God and those against other humans), can be viewed from the perspective of how each is a sin against God.

The first few are pretty obvious. You shall have no other gods because that suggests that the Living God is on par with the idols (or possibly demons, cf, 1Cor 10:20) which is an insult. God doesn’t share what’s his. If we love him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, we’ll have nothing left for another god — be it Ba’al or a modern god like money, success, or social acceptability.

You shall not make an image doesn’t just repeat “no other gods” but mainly forbids trying to “tame” God by misrepresenting him as less than he is. YHWH is not a calf. He is also not a grandfatherly figure who simply wants everyone to be happy. Thou shalt not replace God with a more manageable caricature of himself.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

The Law of Love: Love God

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).

“Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” That’s a good question. Is there one commandment we must obey above all else? Jesus said yes and gave the answer above.

What does it mean to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength? Some will try to break it down into what each part signifies, but it boils down to this: Love God with everything you are and do. Love him with your thoughts, your emotions, your actions, and your intentions. Give him all of you; hold nothing back.

All you have to do is make every waking moment about him. Love him with your feelings and with your choices. As you go through the day, do what you do with a desire to honor him. Always choose to obey. Always choose what represents him well.

It’s incredibly simple. And incredibly difficult. None of us can do this consistently.

Martin Luther, the great reformer, realized that if this is the greatest commandment, then the greatest sin is to fail to love God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength. So we all commit the greatest sin countless times every single day we’re alive.

A holy and just God cannot wink at our sin. To do so would be to compromise his own holiness. This knowledge nearly led Luther to despair. Fortunately for us, it ultimately led him to the scriptures which led him to the cross.

We cannot love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. But Jesus did. And then he paid for our failure in his own blood. Now “righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Rom 3:22). God’s grace covers our sins.

“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid” (Rom 6:1-2)! We cannot look at this as permission to fail in our duty to love God. It should be impetus to work harder. The God who created the universe created you knowing that he would have to rescue you from your failure to obey him, and he created you anyway. How should we respond to that kind of love?

In Christ, God not only forgives our failures, but he empowers our obedience. His indwelling Spirit will work with and through us to make us more like Jesus. “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed ... continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Phil 2:12-13).

Part of Christianity 102

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Of Nazis and Golden Calves

If I’d been there, I would have been strong. I would have stood for what was right.

When we look at horrible moments in history, we wonder how people could have gone along with the wicked men who led them. Where was their character? Why didn’t they stand for the truth? More people should have been against slavery. More people should have opposed Jim Crow. And if I had been there, I would have. The Inquisition? The witch trials? I would have been the lone voice of reason if necessary.

No, I probably wouldn’t. And neither would you.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

A Rule of Thumb

law books
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).

Too many rules are hard to follow. We like our rules kept simple. It’s easier to remember them which makes it easier to follow them — we hope. Stay 3 seconds behind the car in front of you. A serving of meat is the size of a deck of cards. Put some Windex on it.

We like our moral rules the same way. We always have. Jesus was asked what the most important rule was, and we know what he said — we call it the Great Commandment. People like to simplify that down to “love God, love people.” That sounds great. Except “love” is a weasel word in our society, and people don’t understand what “love God” really means.

Another popular summary for moral behavior is “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). I love that one. The only problem is “justice” doesn’t mean what a lot of people think it means.

So I offer this as a rule of thumb for this era: “Look after orphans and widows in their distress and keep yourself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).

When in doubt, look out for the weakest among us. That’s a pretty safe rule. It doesn’t imply that we have to approve of their lifestyle choices. It can be done personally and corporately. If you see someone who is weak, who is in need, who is oppressed, help them.

And along the way, keep yourself from being polluted by the world. God doesn’t just want us to be charitable. He doesn’t just want us to take care of our neighbor. He wants us to love him by living holy lives. This is the element our society loses in “love God, love people”.

This shouldn’t surprise us. We love people who give lots of money to charity. But not when it’s money they embezzled. There is no amount of good you can do that will undo the bad you do. You love God and walk humbly with him in large part by keeping yourself unstained by the world.

Of course, the scriptures have a lot to say about what it means to do right by people and what pollutants we should be keeping ourselves from. We’ll be fleshing out the details. But in a sense, everything is going to be commentary on this one rule of thumb:

Look after orphans and widows in their distress and keep yourself from being polluted by the world.

Image via Pixabay

Part of Christianity 102

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Show No Mercy

If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” (Matt 5:29).

Christians are supposed to be kind, compassionate, and forgiving. To other people. Not to ourselves. We should show ourselves no mercy.

Radical surgery is required to remove the sin from our lives. Jesus, with a bit of hyperbole, tells us that if our eye or hand or foot makes us sin, we should get rid of it because “It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” Paul, in similar manner, talks about beating his body to discipline it and make it his slave “so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1Cor 9:27).

It’s been called the mortification (that is, killing) of the flesh, from Romans 8:13. That is exactly what we want to do to our sinful flesh — kill it. Choke it, bludgeon it, starve it to death. Just kill it. By any means necessary.

How do we do that? By taking Jesus’ metaphor of plucking out an eye and cutting off a hand seriously. Not literally — seriously.

The easiest example is porn. These days it comes to people via the internet. So you limit your access, as radically as necessary, even if it means switching to a “dumb phone”.

Adultery requires stopping. Cold turkey. And sometimes that means changing jobs or even cities to get away from that person. (I’ve seen it done.)

Other sins are harder. How do you kill your tendency to gossip? You might have to cut your favorite gossip partner out of your life. How do you kill greed? Some have gone as far as taking a vow of poverty. What about covetousness? Well, how do you feed it? If it’s car magazines or HGTV, then stop putting those things before your eyes. If it’s going to the mall, stop. Whatever your sin, be as brutal as necessary to cut it out of your life.

This is hard. This is painful. That’s why it’s called killing the flesh. But Jesus expects and deserves that we will leave behind the sins he saved us from.

Remember that we do not do this under our own power. It is “by the Spirit” that we put to death the sinful flesh (Rom 8:13). We have to decide to do it, but we have to lean on him for the power and the grace to actually accomplish it.

And never think you’re alone in this. Every believer has to do this. They may not be killing the same sin as you, but they’re killing something. This has been part of the walk of faith for 2,000 years. When you struggle with this, you’re in good company.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Heb 12:1-3).

Recommended reading: The Process

Image via Pixabay 

Part of Christianity 102

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Lord of All?

rough neighborhood
Dad says he knows a shortcut. As he twists and turns down the city streets, the buildings get steadily more dilapidated. Bars appear on the windows of homes. You see more cars on blocks, and every business seems to be tagged. This is not a nice area. This is not where you’re supposed to be. His shortcut has gotten you lost.

You don’t want to say it, but he can see you’re getting nervous. I know what I’m doing, he says. Trust me.

But you're obviously lost.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Still Saved by Grace

homeless man
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph 2:8-10).

Whenever we start talking about the need to obey, people start wondering whether we’re exchanging grace for works. God forbid! We are saved by grace, and no one will be able to boast that they did anything to merit salvation. But we were saved for good works. We were called to a godly life.

Some people don’t let that concern them. That should concern them. Faith that saves produces good works. The apostles took this quite seriously.

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:14-17).

“We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did” (1John 2:3-6).

“Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live” (Rom 8:12-13).

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. ... So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do...” (Eph 4:1, 17).

Faith produces works. Grace transforms. A life given to Jesus is a life lived like Jesus for Jesus. We do it not to earn God’s favor but to show our gratitude for God’s grace. And we do it because the Jesus who died for us expects us to live for him.

Image via Pixabay

Part of Christianity 102

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

10 Steps for Dealing with Doubts

Man staring out window
It’s normal, even healthy, to ask hard questions about your faith. We live in a world that constantly tries to make you do just that, but the world wants you to despair over the questions and walk away from your faith because your faith makes them feel bad. It’s not about you, it’s about them. You’re not supposed to come out the other side with a stronger, more vibrant faith. You’re supposed to walk away from your faith entirely — or at least turn it into something that’s more acceptable to them. So you’ll find lots of encouragement to surrender to doubt and give up.

I want to share some encouragement to address your doubts and stand strong in your faith. These ten steps come from Natasha Crain’s Faithfully Different, which I just reviewed.

1. “Be honest with yourself about the nature of truth.”

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Why We Obey

May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones” (1Thes 3:13).

Why is it important to live a godly life? Here are a few reasons.

God said so: “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy’” (1Pet 1:15-16) and “without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14). He commands that we be imitators of his holiness. He has set us apart for himself; he expects that we will come out and be separate, to cease to live like the people around us.

To make the gospel attractive: “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:16). So many people have closed their ears to the gospel because of the behavior of alleged Christians. May that never be said of us. Instead, let us live in a way that will “make the teaching about God our Savior attractive” (Titus 2:10).

Out of love for Jesus: “If you love me, keep my commands. .... Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me” (John 14:15, 21). It’s been said that obedience is God’s love language, and that’s probably true, but Jesus says more than that. Obedience isn’t just how you love him; it is the sign that you love Jesus. Don’t tell him that you love him; show him.

As a response to God’s mercy: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship” (Rom 12:1). The only sensible response to what God has done for us is to give ourselves to him, body and soul. And he wants the whole person. A sacrifice was the dedication of an entire animal to God. He wants us to be living sacrifices; he wants all of us, but he wants our life, not our death. This is real worship. If we do not do this, God isn’t interested in anything else. “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams” (1Sam 15:22).

We associate worship with music. And God calls for and deserves that:

I will sing of your love and justice;
to you, LORD, I will sing praise.
I will be careful to lead a blameless life ... (Psalm 101:1-2)

But the worship God most desires is obedience given in response to who he is and what he has done. Telling the truth when it would be easier to lie, helping someone when it would be easier to pretend you didn't see — this is the worship God desires.

Image via Pixabay

Part of Christianity 102

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Biblical Clarity in a Secular Culture

There’s a storm a-brewin’. OK, maybe it’s more like a bubble’s about to pop. Or it’s already popped. Yeah, that’s really it. Western Christians have had the privilege of living in a culture that accepted many of our beliefs and made many of the same assumptions about the world we do. It made it easy to get comfortable. It made it easy to pretend all our neighbors were Christians.

That’s over now. The bubble has popped, and the real world is rushing in on us. How are we going to respond? We will only maintain a biblical view of truth and morality if we’re very intentional about it.
Faithfully Different

That’s the purpose behind Natasha Crain’s new Faithfully Different: Regaining Biblical Clarity in a Secular Culture. You may recognize her name from her three books about discipling your kids. This one is primarily focused on you, but your kids need this too.

Her message is that it’s no longer normal to be a traditional Christian in our culture. Secularism is the way everyone thinks now. Secularism isn’t just not-religion; it is very specific assumptions about the world and the way things ought to be. And these ideas are very seductive, even for Christians. However, if we’re careful and intentional, we can maintain (or, if necessary, regain) the biblical worldview, which includes the supernatural, meaning determined by our creator, and objective moral truth. She lays out the biblical view on things we ought to believe, how we should think, and the way we ought to live. Each chapter ends with some recommended reading for those wanting to explore the topic further and questions for discussion or reflection (good for private meditation or group discussion).

There is a lot of good stuff here, but the thing that makes this book unique is where Natasha applies her marketing background to the way secularism slowly wins people over to its way of thinking. It’s insidious. And perfectly organic. It appeals to what fallen humans want and pressures those who resist. Being aware of it will help you defend yourself against it and reaffirm biblical morality. This chapter is worth the purchase price for the book.

This is one for parents and non-parents, for college kids and pastors. The church needs to figure out how to resist the secularizing forces in our culture. The world is starting to push on us in a way it hasn’t before in the West. We will be conformed to the pattern of this world if we do not take steps to push back. And if we fall, will our kids be able to resist? Take up and read!

Bubble image via Pixabay

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Introduction to Christianity 102: Christian Behavior

crossing a street
We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1Thes 1:3).

Christianity 101 was about what we believe, why, and what difference it should make. In this series I want to double down on that last part. God forbid that anyone should think it only matters what we believe and not how we live! If we really believe what we say we believe, it should spur us on to a godly life.

All of this flows out of the doctrine of creation. We are created in the image of God to reflect him to the world around us. That is why we’re here, and we are most fully human when we live out that purpose.

That doctrine also tells us God knows how he made us and what makes us truly thrive. God’s rules are not “loud music annoys me” but “look both ways before crossing the street.” They are not meant to be meddlesome but protective, so we should embrace them as a gift from a loving God.

This is not going to be a treatment of Christian ethics. There are lots of good books on that subject already. If you want to learn about just war, reproductive technologies, or capital punishment, read one of those. I will be focusing on the life the world needs to see us live day in and day out.

This is also not going to cover every biblical command. You know not to lie, steal or commit murder. I want to remind us of the commands we like to forget or look at where the commands go farther than we sometimes realize.

Because God does care how we live. And because the people around us need to see that the gospel we proclaim really does make a difference in our lives.

Image via Pixabay

Part of Christianity 102

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

What Did Jesus Have Against the Pharisees?

I’m sure you’ve seen some version of this:
"The only people Jesus criticized were the religious people."

They mean the Pharisees. They were religious people, and Jesus was awfully hard on them. But was it because they were religious? What did Jesus have against the Pharisees?

Jesus said, “They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them” (Matt 23:4). The problem wasn’t that they wanted people to be holy; it was that they made up their own rules. They believed the 613 commands in the Hebrew scriptures weren’t enough to make a person holy, so they made more.

With respect to God’s actual Law, they were very concerned about the minutia, but they didn’t care about people: “You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former” (Matt 23:23). Notice, Jesus wasn’t saying they shouldn’t have tithed of their garden herbs, but that these little things don’t take the place of justice and mercy.

No, frequently they didn’t care about God’s actual Law. As Jesus said to them, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions” (Mark 7:9). They set up rules to allow people to avoid taking care of their parents (Mark 7:10-13) or lie (Matt 23:16-23).

They focused on the externals. They loved being thought highly of: “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others” (Matt 23:5-7). But they didn’t worry about the internals: “You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matt 23:27-28).

Can modern Christian be like Pharisees? Absolutely. We can elevate religious trappings over doing good. We can certainly add rules to the scriptures (eg, Thou shalt not dance), and we can pick the rules we like to follow and ignore the rest. Some desire to be respected without bothering to be respectable. Don’t be like that.

Defending the unborn is not being a Pharisee. Opposing same-sex marriage is not pharisaical. Calling out sin as sin is not being a Pharisee. We have to avoid judging hypocritically (Matt 7:1-5). We have to follow the example of Jesus and be full of grace and truth (John 1:14). But our Lord expects us to stand for the truth.


Image via Pixabay

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

What is CRT?

Critical Race Theory by Delgado and Stefancic
What is critical race theory? What do proponents want? Is it just a legal theory or something more?

Where better to turn for answers to these questions than one of the founders of the movement? Critical Race Theory (Third Edition) by Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic (his wife, so hereafter, the Delgados) is a popular level introduction to the movement among legal scholars and civil rights activists. This is not going to be a book review: Rather than waste time telling you what a poorly written book this is, I’m just going to distill its contents as a series of questions it should have clearly answered.

The authors frequently emphasize the variety of thought among CRT proponents (called “crits”), and this book — first written in 2001 and revised in 2017 — cannot tell us how it has evolved in recent years, but I think it is fair to say that CRT is at minimum what the Delgados describe.

Because this is going to be longish, here is an outline for those who want to skip to a specific question.

What is CRT?
 What do crits believe about race and racism?
   What is racism?
   Why do white people do this?
   What responsibility does an individual white person bear for this system?
 How can our society learn about race?
The Goals of CRT
 What do they want?
 How would we achieve their goals?
Is CRT “just a legal theory?”
Is CRT anti-Christian?

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Communion: Past, Present, and Future

bread and wine
When we partake of the Lord’s supper, we peer through time.

“The Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you’” (1Cor 11:23-24 NKJV).

When we eat the bread, we revisit the night he was betrayed with a kiss. Remember the cost of your salvation. Look upon the body which was broken for you. “His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness” (Is 52:14). Gaze upon the Son forsaken by his Father because of your sin. And then renew your commitment, “in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God” (Rom 12:1).

“In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood...’” (1Cor 11:25).

We live every day in that new covenant. The blood that was shed that day continues to be poured over your sins. Today you have peace with God. Today you are a child of God. Today God has cast your sins as far away as the east is from the west. God continues to give you grace for today because of that blood that was poured out. Remind yourself that, in Christ Jesus, you are clean. “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb 4:16).

“I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matt 26:29).

The new covenant came with a promise that one day we will see Jesus face to face. He is coming back for his bride. “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:3 NASB). He has gone to prepare a place for you. You will be conformed to the image of Christ. Every tear will be wiped from your eyes. “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1Cor 15:58).

And so we wait. He has promised, and we know his word is good. Until that day, we look back, and we look forward. We partake of the bread and the cup in remembrance of him. “For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1Cor 11:26).

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

Image via Pixabay

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Aliens and Strangers

Change is hard. Changing your mindset is the hardest kind of change. Mindset changes don't usually occur automatically, and they often happen rather slowly.

When COVID-19 arrived and white collar America started working from home, I continued following twenty-year habits built around work. I continued to eat a processed convenience breakfast. I still planned all meals around being out of the house for 11 hours. Over the course of months, I slowly noticed things I was doing that didn't make sense anymore and made changes, one at a time, to take advantage of working from home. Turns out I can prepare a healthier breakfast when I don't have to commute. I can also put something in the crockpot at noon or in the oven at 4 and go back to work. I can step away from my computer for a lunch break and exercise or put in a load of laundry. I can sleep later. Or I can get up and read all those books I always wanted to read. It was all about learning to see things differently.

And that was an easy one. When I was a teenager, I lost a lot of weight — about 45 pounds. But I had years of practice thinking of myself as fat. Even as I bought smaller clothes, I still thought I was overweight, and that colored how I interacted with other people (read, girls) for many more years.

Another example: When I first got married, I continued to think of "my money" and "my time" even though someone else had a claim on both. It took a conscious decision to think differently — though I, ahem, had help remembering.

Have you realized you're not what you were? You're not a sinner anymore; don't see yourself as a slave to sin but a saint (Rom 6:18). You're not your own anymore; you've been bought with a price (1Cor 6:20).

And you don't belong here anymore; Christians are citizens of heaven (Phil 3:20). That makes us "aliens and strangers" (1Pet 2:11 NASB) in and to this world. We can be citizens of heaven and still act like citizens of earth, but we should learn to think and live like we really do belong to another Kingdom — to make a mindset change.

Think about how you would live if you moved temporarily to another country. How would your life look compared to the average native's? You would participate in that culture, but only to the extent you felt comfortable as a sojourner. You might engage in some of their holiday celebrations, but you wouldn't let them interfere with yours. You might have an interest in local politics, but it would be as someone who will be there only for a short time.

Now what if you were part of your country's embassy to that nation? You're still a foreigner, still a sojourner, but you have a job to do representing your home to these people. We are Christ's ambassadors (2Cor 5:20) living in exile for a time in this world as we wait for his kingdom to come.

Let's remember who and what we are:

You are a child of the King, here for a little while to represent your Father to a world with ways that are diametrically opposed to the ways of his kingdom. One day you will go to his court, and you will want to be fit for life in his kingdom. And you will want him to approve of the way you represented him during your stay.

So you won't want to let this world taint you with its ways. You'd want to keep your Father's mission in mind when you interact with the natives. And word from home would be more important than the goings on of the locals.

So look at your life and ask yourself if an "alien and stranger", a heavenly ambassador to this land would do things that way. Find one thing and change it. Then find something else. Repeat until you're home in glory.

Image via Pixabay