The Greatest Tragedy

They called him the greatest.

I met him once. He was very involved where I went to Elementary school, and that is where I had the opportunity to challenge “The Greatest” to a fist fight. Continue reading

Advertisements

This post is meaningless! Daily Discipleship Weekend Podcast

This weekend, I thought I would shake things up. Here is a brief message (audio only) of what I learned as I walked through Ecclesiastes the last three days.

Enjoy.


This post is part of a series called “Daily Discipleship: One year (or less) through the Bible.” For the previous post, click here, and for the whole project in one place, click here.

 

Daily Discipleship, Day 4: Acts 24-28

Who doesn’t love book ends?

Bookends are great, and make awesome decorative accents.

Whether they are bookends designed to look like books, or like the “B” bookends my wife and I had for years because that’s our last initial, bookends always come in pairs.

Literary bookends are the same way. They frame what lies between as a clue to the reader what takeaways are important. Continue reading

Daily Discipleship, Day 3: Acts 20-23

I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
Matthew 10:14

Today is day 3 of a year (or less) through the Bible. For the previous day, click here, and for all previous posts, click here.

Today, I read Acts 20-23. The prevailing thought I had throughout this passage was about how incredibly wise Paul was, and this could really serve us as an example of how to go about our lives.  Continue reading

Go Fish!

Have you ever watched one of those fishing shows on TV? Not the super boring ones with a guy, alone on a lake with his cameraman, pulling in one little fish at a time. I’m talking about the real fishing shows. The ones with the career fishermen, who are gone for weeks at a time on a boat. The shows where they face terrible storms and risk life and limb to bring in the biggest haul they can manage. Have you seen those shows?

Every episode has a scene where the fishermen hit the motherload. As they bring their nets on board, hundreds—if not thousands— of fish pour out onto the deck of the boat. 

That is real man’s fishing. 

And I think it’s what Jesus had in mind when he called Peter, Andrew, James and John to be “fishers of men.” Here’s the passage from Matthew 4: Continue reading

Seminary Smatterings #1: Sausage, Silver, and Sovereign

There is a local butcher in town who has THE BEST breakfast sausage I have ever had.

The. Best.

We get a pound of it pretty much every week, and I pound out my own patties (a process that makes it that much more satisfying), and we enjoy taste-bud bliss for a couple of mornings.

And so I’m telling people about it all the time! My wife and I are telling people about the best-kept secret in Louisville, Kingsley’s Breakfast Sausage (if you’re in Louisville, go support this local family business; you won’t regret it).

But we tell people about it because we feel like they are missing out on something great.

Well, never does a week go by where I sit and class and don’t think, “People need to hear this!” Reading, studying, discussing, these things lead to deep connections being made in the Scripture and I come across things all the time that people need to know. I wish I had time for all the conversations I wish I could have.

So this is the first post in a series I will call, “Seminary Smatterings.” There won’t necessarily be consistency from week to week, but I just want to share some thoughts or lessons that have seemed profound.

From my Isaiah class:

We’re only in chapter one, but already there are a TON of things jumping off the page. I won’t go into all of them, but Isaiah 1 says some interesting things about Silver. In fact, God compares the Isrealites to Silver that has become “dross.” When a silversmith is working with silver, there is a refining process. Over and over, the smith heats the silver up to a liquid, and all the impurities—the dross—float to the top, where the Smith scrapes them off and repeats the process. And repeats.

Until he can see his reflection in the silver.

In Isaiah 1, God is stating his case against Israel: they have turned away from him and forgotten to properly honor him for all he has blessed them with. Worst of all, they have turned the means by which God graciously gave them a way to reconcile with him despite sin—the very essence of their worship practices—into mere lip service. Their hearts were not repentant of their sin, nor did they have any intention of turning to him.

Thus, their “silver has become dross” (Isa 1:22).

But wait, the end of chapter one (and remember, this sets the tone for all the book), God makes clear that he will redeem the faithful. And what image does he use?

25 “I will turn my hand against you
and will smelt away your dross as with lye
and remove all your alloy.
26 And I will restore your judges as at the first,
and your counselors as at the beginning.
Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness,
the faithful city.”

God tells Israel he’s going to turn up the fire. Let persecution come. Let hard times knock us down. Allow struggle. Ordain strife. And he allows that to bring out the impurities. He does it so that the faithful will remain.

And they will reflect his own face.

Be faithful, the fires are not meant for you, but for the impure, to reveal the faithful people of God.

From “Life and Teachings of Jesus”

Just a thought that was posed on day one that I found provocative (but possibly accurate—still thinking through this). What if Jesus’ whole ministry really could be summed up by his first pastoral sentence: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). What if that is simply his message.

What if “the Kingdom of God is at hand,” is not primarily about the end times, or about Heaven, per se, but a statement of fact? Said another way, what if the statement was, “God is King. Therefore, in light of this fact, repent (for it is the only proper way to come before a king). And believe in the Gospel for your salvation, for your membership in this Kingdom.” 

What if the “Kingdom of God” is the kingdom where people actually live as if God were their king? Bowing to his authority, submitting where his decrees bristle against our will? Giving him glory and honor? Trusting him to provide based on the fundamentals of his economy, his social order, his reign and his ability to fight his own battles?

What if we came before him with our hat in our hands, pleading for mercy because we don’t deserve communion with him, because that is how you come before a king, rather than “waltzing in, handing him the resume we’ve built up and telling him how glad he should be to have us on his team. That’s not how you act in the presence of a King!” (this was a paraphrase from my professor, regarding the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18). What if repentance has much more to do with giving up the notion that our lives are our own, and less to do with apologizing for each individual mistake we make? 

The point is, what if we are being called to give far more to be a Christian than we’d previously considered? What if God really is King, and we treat him like he is our “co-pilot” or “homeboy?”

What if we really do need to Repent? What if the Kingdom of God really IS at hand?

Just some thoughts. I’m sure I’ll have more next week!

Top Seven[ish] Things People Think Are In The Bible (And They Totally Aren’t) [Except some totally are]

A friend shared an article on facebook the other day, and asked for feedback. These are my thoughts; they are probably not complete, but they get the job done. You may want to read the original article before diving into my response. I think two overarching things need to be clear about my response, so keep these in mind as you read:

  1. The author addresses an URGENT problem in our churches. There are so many platitudes floating around in our churches that we rarely stop to examine, many of which we have either spoken ourselves, or heard others speak. Maybe we’ve thought them to ourselves or watched/heard something and thought, “that makes sense.” MANY SUCH STATEMENTS AND CONCEPTS ARE BLATANTLY UNBIBLICAL. We need to be “wise as serpents” and “examine every teaching” to make sure that we are not being led astray by the evil one.
  2. I see this as pretty indicative of where faith in much of America stands. To be clear, I would not call the author a non-Christian, but several of the ideas put forward here are not biblical, as I hope you will see. KEEP YOUR EYES OPEN FOR FALSE TEACHING.

Without further ado, we press onward.

First, the premise:

The opening paragraph and the link in it reveal that this person is probably coming from a relatively liberal position toward Scripture. By that I mean, they probably don’t believe it to be the inerrant word of God, but rather “stories” (a word he uses), with morals, kind of like Aesop’s fables. To correct thisopening paragraph, the Bible IS the only written word of God. To challenge that would be to suggest that other “holy books” should be held with equal weight. No time for that in this discussion. Let’s just say that’s a cliff I’m not willing to dive off.

Onward…

Number 7: The Rapture. Not Biblical!

The Rapture, especially as portrayed by Jenkins and LaHaye in the “Left Behind” series, is not biblical. The article is right that it is a relatively recent view (dispensational pre-millennialism–look it up) of the end times. This view takes a couple of verses and elevates them over the larger body of apocalyptic biblical passages, but even more so, I feel like this view adds so many judgment events that it muddies the waters and fuels the “no one can understand it” fire. Regardless, on this point, many scholars disagree—even professors at the seminary I attend—and it is healthy not to break fellowship over something like this. A more healthy view of the end times is: “be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (Matthew 24:44, 25:1-13, 1 Thessalonians 5:2). Christians have been given passages about the judgment not so we can “crack the code” and have some special knowledge, but so that we will prepare ourselves today for the day Jesus comes again.

Number 6: God hates _________. Biblical!

I don’t know if the author is looking for a specific reference to homosexuality (i.e. Westboro Baptist Church) to fill in this blank. If so, that is a much longer discussion for a different day. Allow me to simply address the unpopular notion that God hates things. The Bible is clear that God hates certain things. He hates pagan worship rituals (Deut. 12:31), altars set up to other gods (Deut 16:22), and divorce (in some translations of Malachi 2:16). He hates sin and all who do wrong (psalm 5:5; Psalm 11:5; Lev 20:23), in Proverbs 6:16-19 there is a list of six things “God Hates.”

What’s more bothersome is that the article’s author tries to write off Scripture pretty flippantly by excusing anything that is “judgment, damnation” or Levitical codes…you know, the parts where you might expect to find the things God hates. It is dangerous to pick and choose portions from the Bible we like, because it leads to worshiping our preferences rather than God Himself.

The point here is that God is a holy God, perfect and blameless in every way and cannot be in the presence of sin. Therefore, we are all deserving of punishment, but out of his love for us, he gave us a way to restore relationship with him, namely, letting Jesus become our sin (2 Corinthians 5:17-21) so that there would be no more penalty for us.

NUMBER 5: Everything happens for a reason. Not Biblical!

I actually agree with this one. This can be a sensitive topic because this very line may have provided you comfort in a very rough time. But this is simply not in the Bible. Some things happen for a reason. When that is the case in the Bible, it says so. Also, when that does happen, there isn’t any “I think” language going on. When God speaks, he speaks clearly. God Speaks (Gen 3), Burns a Bush that doesn’t burn up (Ex 3) and then ten plagues (Ex 7-12), Wets a fleece, then wets the ground around the fleece (Judges 6), Sends unquenchable fire (1 Kings 18), Speaks through prophets (“This is what the Lord, The God of Israel Says”), sent his son, and then his spirit, struck men blind (Acts 9), healed the sick and maimed, etc. You get my drift. When God does something “for a reason,” he doesn’t “whisper.”

A better understanding is that there is an evil one. He wants to deceive and discourage those who live in the Truth, and he is “the prince of this world.” Since sin entered the world, it is broken and “subjected to futility” (Romans 8:20). That is why there are natural disasters, broken relationships and pain all around us. However, God works all things (even the bad things that he didn’t cause), for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. . . to be conformed to the likeness of his son.” (Romans 8:28-29). Stuff happens, even things God allows to happen, but they are opportunities for us to trust in him for our peace, which brings me to…

NUMBER 4: God Is In Control. Biblical!

I can kind of get on board with this one not “being in the Bible,” except not really. God is never out of control. HOWEVER, he is not a puppet master, pulling strings. God has two major ways of expressing his will: prescriptive and permissive. Prescriptive will are the things he causes to happen (miracles, creation, the incarnation of Jesus, etc). But other things he Permits to happen. He allows us free will to live our lives because without the freedom to choose, a relationship with him would be meaningless. Anyone who has ever loved someone understands this. Love cannot be compulsory. As a result, God lets things happen and has given us as much evidence as he saw appropriate to point every human back to him (Romans 1-3).

The problem I have with this one is the idea that God was “bested” at the cross. Jesus’ prayers in the garden (for starters) and his many predictions to his disciples of what was to come are are evidence that this was the plan. Not to mention Psalm 22, Isaiah 9, Isaiah 53 just to name a few significant places where Jesus’ life, teaching, death by crucifixion and resurrection is prophesied several centuries before any of it happened.

Yes God’s “will” can be changed, if he wills. He did not set us in action and then sit back to watch the pins fall, but he is active in our lives. The author really tips his hand here to call the Bible a “Story,” because the word implies fiction, which the Bible is not. But that’s probably something we could discuss more in a separate post.

NUMBER 3: “Jesus is my personal savior.” Not Biblical [but let me explain].

I have trouble with this one. To be fair to the author, there is no “magic prayer,” as many, many, many pastors and churches have led Christians to believe. I think that is at the heart of the author’s point. “Accept the Lord into your heart” and “Accept him as your personal savior” are not in Scripture. But Jesus doesn’t just say, “follow the leader,” either. The gospel call is to give our undying allegiance to Jesus as not just our savior but Lord and King. That means he gets priority over everything—literally everything (Luke 14:26)—else. That allegiance is not a decision parents can make for their children. Everyone has to personally choose to die to themselves and follow Jesus. The point he makes here is a good one, though. “Come forward, say a prayer, and be saved forever, whether you ever think about this night again or not” is a seriously anemic message that probably causes more problems than it solves.

On a more theological level, I have become increasingly aware of the corporate nature of the Gospel. Not that individuals are not saved, but the fact that Christ died for the Church (his bride), and many of the verses quoted and claimed for personal peace of mind are not, in fact aimed at a person but a population (Jeremiah 29:11, “I know the plans I have for you” is a plural you. Better to read it, “I know the plans I have for y’all.” Or John 3:16, “God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that those who believe…” Not to take away personal salvation, but the individualism that the author hits on here is a legitimate concern. Worship is not “Just me and God,” but Jesus and his Church, of which we are all members. God didn’t send Jesus to die for ME and MY sins, he sent him to die for the CHURCH and the sins of the WHOLE WORLD.

But I digress.

NUMBER 2: Jesus died for my sins. BIBLICAL!

No, No, No. This is heresy, and I don’t throw that term around lightly. If there is one item on this list that is “a hill I will die on,” this is it. To say this questions the very bedrock upon which Christianity is founded, and it will lead those who believe it away from Christ.  If he wanted to emphasize “MY,” see the discussion on number 3 about the corporate nature of Jesus’ redemption. But it doesn’t seem this is his point. His argument seems to be that the very idea of Jesus dying to take the penalty for sins is not in the Bible.

Here he goes again, taking the verses that say specifically what he says IS NOT in the Bible, and says we can’t use them to say that it IS in the Bible. This is absurd. Jesus is our atonement (Romans 3:25; 1 Cor 15:1-4), but I don’t need those verses to say that. Look at Hebrews 2:17, 1 John 2:2, or 1 John 4:10. What’s really fascinating is to read the account of the passover (Exodus 12, Leviticus 16) and then consider the ways that Christ is called the “Passover Lamb” (1 Corinthians 5:7), the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29), and is portrayed as a lamb through much of Revelation. Also reading Hebrews will help to understand why Christ is the only sacrifice that could cancel the debt in our sins.

Questioning the atonement, which he puts off to another post but makes clear he disagrees with it, is in vogue right now. One author called it “Cosmic Child Abuse.” The more I study the more convinced I am that the Penal (punitive in nature), substitutionary (he died in our place) atonement is the only view that makes sense of the cross. Arguments that Jesus died to set an example are weak, and fail to recognize that he could have more effectively accomplished that purpose without dying and living on instead. This is a complex issue that deserves more space than I can give it in this post, but the crucifixion (specifically) makes no sense without the context of penalty for sin. The cross had to happen so that the wrath of God, his perfect holiness, could be satisfied, while providing a way for his perfect love for his creation to be satisfied as well.

And finally:

NUMBER 1: God only helps those who help themselves. Not Biblical!

This one is spot on. He hits the nail on the head. The gospel is about coming to God in humility and brokenness. Not—as one of the elders at one church where I have served proposed—about us living our lives without “bothering” God and turning to him when we get stuck. That would make God some kind of Genie, or lucky rabbit’s foot or something.

In summary, he’s a little better than 50% right, with four of his 7 (1, 3, 5 and 7) are not in the Bible, at least not explicitly, and the author should be credited on this account.

But 2, 4 and 6 are in the Bible—explicitly—and at least 2 and 4 are central to the Gospel. Take those away and your idea of Christianity become paper-thin, relativistic moralism.

I hope this helps. My point in posting this is to challenge you: when you hear Christian teaching, do you accept it as spoken, if it “hits you right,” or “seems to make sense?” OR do you saturate your life in the Word of God so that you are able to refute those who oppose true teaching (Titus 1:9). To close, I will leave the following thought from Paul to Timothy:

“If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to Godly Teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing

My prayer is that we won’t be seduced.

God Bless.

Hey, Mr. Theologian, Listen Up!

That’s right, I’m talking to you!

Yes, you!

I understand the confusion. Perhaps you didn’t know that you were a theologian. Perhaps you just thought of yourself as a “normal” Christian who doesn’t pay attention to theology and stuff. Maybe you’re not even a Christian, and so you think you are exempt. 

But let me be very clear: You ARE a theologian!

We all are – every one of us!

“Theology” simply means “God Knowledge,” and the field of theology is really just the study of what we know or believe about God. 

Sure there are all sorts of theories out there and complex arguments. There have been volumes and volumes written about the nature of the atonement, about predestination and free-will, and about eschatology (the study of the end times). 

But I’m not talking about any of that right now. 

We are all theologians on a MUCH more foundational level. Whether you’ve given much thought to it at all or not, you have a basic set of beliefs about God. You believe him to be a certain way, or to want certain things from you. And here’s the thing:

We shout our theological stances from the mountaintops by the way we live our lives. 

It’s one thing to go to church and verbally affirm the things that we hear. Living them out is another challenge altogether. Here are some examples of what I’m talking about:

It’s one thing to say you believe God is a God of forgiveness and grace, that the gospel is all about mercy. But if we are unmerciful and unforgiving of others or ourselves, we reveal that we don’t believe that. What we really believe is that the cross of Christ was insufficient and so we must further punish ourselves or others for their shortcomings.

It’s easy to say that you believe the Bible is the Word of God, but if we never pick it up, never read it, never learn it, then the theological statement we are really making is that we believe it is a suggestion book that we will get around to “if we have time.”

It’s easy to say that Jesus is the only way to salvation. But if we withhold that message from our neighbors who are bound for eternal separation from God, we act most unlovingly. In that moment, we reveal that we hate our neighbor, or at least love our emotional and social comfort too much to jeopardize it. 

It’s one thing to affirm that you trust God, but when we hoard our things and kill ourselves working 90-hour work weeks, all for the sake of “providing for our family” or “good stewardship,” we reveal that we don’t believe God is capable of providing for us.

You can agree that God has a heart for the poor, but your reaction toward everyone from the down-and-out man on the street corner to the down-and-out orphans in the slums of developing nations reveals your real beliefs. 

Our lives reveal our theology. 

We are all inconsistent. We all have areas that we struggle to surrender to God. We are all in the process of being sanctified. 

But what the New Testament makes abundantly clear is that true faith leads to action. True belief leads to changed behavior. 

You know the type of plant by the fruit it produces.

We are all theologians. We tip our hand and reveal our beliefs with every word we speak and every action we do (or don’t) take. 

So the question is, what do you believe about God, REALLY?