God’s Great Story In Esther


pagankingA few years ago there was great consternation over the story of Esther. A pastor who has since fallen into disrepute preached a series of sermons from the book of Esther, and apparently pointed a finger at Esther and accused her of . . . wait for it . . . (gasp) sin! And feminists had a field day! Oh, how they stood up to defend Esther and how they accused this pastor of condoning rape and abuse and sex trafficking.

I have to say, ever since I heard the story of Esther, I’ve had problems with it. Yes, Esther was one of the exiles from Judah, and therefore, not free. But was she forced into a relationship with the king? Not really.

But my intention isn’t to rehash the debate over Esther’s choices—or whether she had any. Rather, I was struck by something about the opening scene, before Esther has been introduced.

The book is ostensibly about the salvation of the Jewish people from annihilation because of God’s intervention through Esther and her role as queen in King Ahasuerus’s (Xerxes) reign in Medo-Persia. But as a number of Bible teachers will tell us, every book of the Bible is about Jesus Christ.

The pastor I mentioned above certainly preached his series from that perspective. His sermons had titles such as “Jesus Is A Better King,” “Jesus Has A Better Kingdom,” “Jesus Is A Better Savior,” and “Jesus Is A Better Mediator.”

But of course Jesus isn’t mentioned in the book of Esther. Neither is God, though His fingerprints are all over the place. The writer alluded to God most clearly in 4:13-14 when he wrote,

Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not imagine that you in the king’s palace can escape any more than all the Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?”

So what about the opening struck me as so significant?

We’re introduced to King Ahasuerus who inherited his position as ruler of the greatest empire then known to man. It stretched from India to Ethiopia. He was the greatest sovereign of that time.

With his position came power and wealth—so much so that in year three of his reign, he declared a six-month-long party for all the nobles, leaders, soldiers of his empire. Anyone who was anyone was invited to this bash. He capped the lengthy celebration off with a seven-day feast for those who served him in his palace.

Seven days his men drank and feasted. And elsewhere in the palace, his queen also held a banquet. King Ahasuerus used the occasion to brag about all his power and wealth. At some point, when he was drunk, he also started bragging about how beautiful his wife was. He decided to show her off, so he summoned her to leave her feast and her guests and to parade in front of his men.

Some commentators suggest this had sexual ramifications—making his party to be like a stag party or using her as live porn. Scripture doesn’t say that, but it’s not too hard to imagine that he wasn’t telling her to model the latest evening gown and then return to her own feast.

It’s all very unsavory.

His queen, for whatever reason, refused to come to him. He was furious. As punishment, he removed her from her place as his queen. On the advice of one of his princes, he determined to replace her with someone more worthy.

So here’s the opening of the story:

  • an all powerful king summons his chosen wife to his banquet
  • she refuses to come
  • he removes her and gives her favored position to someone else

Here’s the key verse:

If it pleases the king, let a royal edict be issued by him and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media so that it cannot be repealed, that Vashti may no longer come into the presence of King Ahasuerus, and let the king give her royal position to another who is more worthy than she. (Esther 1:19)

This opening, I suggest, is a metaphor for God’s dealing with humankind.

I know some people will object because King Ahasuerus is an unsavory character who did selfish, godless, unwise things. Some will call him a misogynist.

But throughout Scripture metaphors gave a picture of God’s work in the world and His plan of salvation, and they used sinful people to do so. Jesus even used a godless King in one of His parables to illustrate a point about God. The nature of this king should not blind us to the similarities.

  • God, the all powerful sovereign, calls His people to Himself.
  • His chosen nation refused Him, and finally rejected His Messiah.
  • In response, God chose a people from those who had not been a people—the Church—which has become His bride.

In other words, God’s plan of redemption is right there in the opening chapters of Esther.

Yes, the book is full of other great truths. Esther did have to make a life or death kind of decision, which she did on the strength of the prayers of the Jews she would intercede for. God did orchestrate a set of circumstances that we can only think of as providential because the chances of them all happening when they happened is just too coincidental to be believed . . . unless Someone was in charge.

How sad that in the cultural context of our day we can’t seem to see past the issues we’ve put on our human-centric pedestal.

Ahasuerus was an ungodly king, no doubt about it. He had a harem of untold number of wives and concubines. He made bad decisions and trusted the wrong advisors. He gave away his authority to a man who was prideful and wicked. What’s more, the king was unaware of the effect of his rule on the people in his empire. He wasn’t a good king, he wasn’t a good man, he wasn’t a good husband.

Scripture does not condone any of his behavior. It records it. And by doing so, a picture of God comes out of it all, like the phoenix rising from the ashes: God who is sovereign, calls His people to Himself. When they rejected Him, He created a new people for His own.

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Published in: on January 5, 2017 at 6:55 pm  Comments (4)  
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The Way False Teaching Works


satans-lies-flag2False teaching seems to be on the rise. Mormons are clamoring to be recognized as Christian, universalists trumpet the inclusion of all people through all religions or none at all, progressives dismiss the historicity of the Bible, and Word of Faith’ers turn Jesus’s plan of salvation into a scheme to provide monetarily for those with the faith to believe. Other Christians are darting off in tangents that take them away from The Main Thing, if not directly into Bible-contradicting error. How does this happen?

No false teaching comes waving the flag of the enemy, or we’d all say, “Look, another one of Satan’s lies,” and run the other way. Instead, false teaching comes dressed in the guise of truth, in the same way that Satan masquerades as an angel of light.

The secret to understanding false teaching, how it takes root, and what allows it to flourish is in one basic fact: False teaching most often begins from a position of truth.

This is why Peter, Jude, Paul all talked about false teaching coming from within the ranks of Christians.

2 Peter 2:1
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. (emphasis here and in the following verses is mine)

1 Tim. 4:1
But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons

Gal. 2:4
But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage.

Jude 1:4
For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Generally, then, false teachers, whether believers who fall away or insidious rebels who creep in among the faithful with the intent to lead some astray, will show themselves within the church.

They will base their false teaching on truth. Notice, for example, how Jude pinpointed a group in his day who turned the grace of God into an excuse to live a self-indulgent lifestyle.

From a point of truth, false teachers next take a leap in logic or speculate based on that truth

That step leads to a point of error. Often this error becomes the cornerstone of their false teaching.

Those promoting a “health-and-wealth” gospel do this sort of thing:

  • God loves you [true],
  • and wants to bless His children [true].
  • He has promised to answer prayer [true].
  • Therefore, as God cares for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, a child of God can expect Him to provide lavishly [not quite true—the point of speculation]
  • and can hold God to His word [inaccurate at best]

It is the “therefore” clause that is the insidious viper that works all manner of evil. In this case, the blessings God promises could as well be spiritual instead of physical, and the means by which we obtain them might come through suffering.

Further, the Bible takes a strong stand against putting God to the test. Jesus Himself rebuked Satan, using Scripture, for this very thing (see Matt. 4:7).

Finally, God’s promise of blessing and provision was never meant to crowd out other clear teachings. The gospel message is about the reconciliation Jesus made available with the Father through His sacrifice. The Word of Faith ideas water down this powerful life-changing message by insinuating physical blessings as the main gift Jesus provided.

Here’s another example of how false teaching works. Trinitarian Theology is the resurrection of an old heresy (which sounds very much like the position Rob Bell took in Love Wins). The following points are excerpted from “The God Revealed in Jesus Christ: A Brief Introduction to Trinitarian Theology” and the verses in parentheses are from Romans 5.

  • “Just as sin entered the world through one man [Adam]…[and] all sinned…” (v. 12). [true]
  • “How much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ [the second Adam], overflow to the many?” (v. 15). [true]
  • And, “just as the result of one trespass [that of the first Adam] was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness [that of Jesus, the second or final Adam] was justification that brings life for all men” (v. 18). [true]
  • Jesus has not simply done something for us, he has done something with us by including us in his life, death, resurrection and ascension. [not quite true—the point of speculation: other scriptures qualify “all men.” See for instance Colossians 2:19a, “if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast and not moved away from the hope of the gospel …” (emphasis mine)]
  • Therefore, we understand from Scripture that when Jesus died, all humanity died with him. [false—only believers died to sin, guilt, the law. Again see Colossians or Romans 6]
  • When Jesus rose, all humanity rose to new life with him. [false—see Colossians 3:1 and the “If” clause]
  • When Jesus ascended, all humanity ascended and became seated with him at the Father’s side (Ephesians 2:4-6). [false—unbelievers will face judgment and eternal punishment. Multiple passages verify this]

In short, understanding how false teaching works should make us more aware of the necessity for discernment within the church. We should be thinking with our Bibles open about what our pastors are preaching. We must keep our minds engaged and our hearts in prayer whenever we read Christian literature (including this blog!) False teachers can introduce false ideas through novels, biographies, commentaries, or devotionals. There is no “safe” author or book and we ought not rely on any Christian leader as infallible in his proclamation of truth (the statistics on Christian leaders are as solid as those on death: one out of one is a sinner).

God gave us a brain, and more importantly He gave us His Word and His Spirit. We are responsible for letting the word of Christ richly dwell within us and to be filled with the Spirit rather than quenching Him. He and the Word of God will lead us into all truth. If we close our Bibles or quench the Spirit, then we’re opening ourselves to all manner of false teaching. And plenty of it abounds these days.

This post is a revised and updated version of one that first appeared here in November 2011.

Published in: on January 4, 2017 at 7:03 pm  Comments (1)  
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Name It And Claim It Theology, Or The Prosperity Gospel


profile_photo_of_benny_hinnI read an article today that the Washington Post ran, written by Dr. Michael Horton, a professor of Apologetics and Theology at Westminster Seminary, a Presbyterian and Reformed Christian graduate educational institution. Not something I’d expect to see in the Washington Post, I admit. But it’s a criticism of Donald Trump—or at least of the people he’s surrounding himself with—so I suspect that explains how the article made it into print, digitally or physically.

The title of the article is “Evangelicals should be deeply troubled by Donald Trump’s attempt to mainstream heresy.” It takes a look at the “Word of Faith movement,” exploring it’s background, development, and theology. In the end Dr. Horton exposes how televangelists like Benny Hinn, Paula White, and Darrell Scott do not preach the good news of Jesus Christ, but a different gospel.

Some years ago, I wrote about this same topic. Hesitantly. I’ve written about other forms of false teaching, but this prosperity gospel, this health-and-wealth teaching, this Word of Faith movement, has influenced, if not infected, a lot of churches in America. People get defensive. So I’ve not said a lot about this particular gospel. Which is what it is—a different gospel.

This article should have been a beginning, but it wasn’t. Maybe I had hopes the false claims would themselves extinguish the movement. But now, with people prominent in the movement also becoming prominent in government, I fear we haven’t seen the real power of this false teaching. Consequently, I’ll re-post the article, with a few minor updates, as a way to jump start more thoughts about the topic.

– – – – –

One of the things that makes the “health and wealth” heresy so wrong is the way it distorts Scripture. If someone actually takes the ideas espoused by the “name it and claim it” preachers to their logical conclusion, you’d have to say that the first century apostle, Stephen was a terrible Christian. I mean, if he really believed . . .

And what was Peter going on about in his first letter when he is telling the Christians of his day that their suffering meant they were blessed?

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 1Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name . . . Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right. (1 Peter 4:12-16, 19)

A “fiery ordeal” was not to be considered a strange thing. The degree of suffering was to dictate the degree of rejoicing. Being reviled for the name of Christ meant you were blessed. Suffering as a Christian meant an opportunity to glorify God. And some suffered according to the will of God.

These things don’t sound anything like the belief system of these “word of faith” preachers who say, in essence, the promises from God have to first be “claimed” to become effective. So those first century Christians didn’t know this because . . . why? Jesus forgot to tell them? Or did they know, but their faith was too weak?

When Paul said he knew how to get along in humble circumstances, to live in want, was he too weak in faith to claim the promises the health and wealthers say are there for the asking?

I think too of the prophets, who James said we should look to as examples of patience (James 5:10). Those men and I suppose women, though we don’t have their record, suffered like no other group. They were, by and large, at odds with their culture, sometimes hunted down and killed, as they were during Ahab’s reign, and often asked by God to do things that were hard.

Take Ezekiel, for example. As part of his service as a prophet, he was rendered mute—except when he was prophesying. He also had to carry out some difficult assignments, one being the mock siege of Jerusalem. For thirteen months he had to lie on his side facing a brick. He ate only small portions of bread and had a limited supply of water. When the time was up, he flipped over and did the same on the other side for another forty days.

Where was his wealth? Or health?

Then there was Jeremiah who was thrown in prison and narrowly escaped an attempt on his life. Or how about Hosea who, by God’s instruction, married a prostitute who was unfaithful to him. Repeatedly. In what way was his life prosperous?

I said at the beginning that this word of faith system distorts Scripture, but it is wrong on so many levels. For example it elevates Man and makes God little more than a servant.

It also claims that this life now is when we are to experience the joys of our inheritance. As one writer says

Perhaps the root error of the gospel of health and wealth is that it seeks to apply a theology of future glory to the believer in the here and now. But the Lord Jesus taught a theology for here and now that both sustains believers in hard times and holds out hope for tomorrow.

The false claims of the word of faith proponents distort God’s true promises and raise doubts in the hearts of anyone who has prayed believing and NOT been healed.

Clearly, God, not the words some person speaks, holds power. No amount of “positive confession” is acceptable as an excuse to order God to do whatever a person wants.

This belief system is not all that different from the lottery. Lots of poor people are putting in their money with the hope of getting rich. Well, someone is getting rich all right, but it isn’t the needy.

The bulk of this post is an updated version of one that first appeared here in April 2013.

The Argument Culture And God’s Word


wonderful-words-of-life-119318-mToday Phil Vischer and his podcast cronies hosted Dr. Ed Stetzer to discuss “What The Election Says About The Church.”

At one point the conclusion seemed to be that the Evangelical leadership understands the importance of diversity, pastors have a fifty-fifty understanding, and the people in the pew lag far behind.

Their conclusion? Either the leadership has to do a better job of leading or the people in the pew have to stop listening to the counter voices that give a message in contradiction to Jesus and His life and ministry.

Nowhere did they say, the people in the pew need to be reading their Bible everyday.

When I was a kid, we sang a couple songs that made an impact. One was, “Read Your Bible.”

I don’t remember the shrink verse, but the point is, from a very young age, I heard the need to read my Bible every day. It took years to build the habit, but the grow part of that song is very true.

As in any other relationship, when we spend time with someone else, we get to know them. Spending time with God in His word, where He reveals His person, plan, and will, makes a difference in the life of someone who wants to know God and be like Him.

The man who is preaching at my church right now (while our search for a pastor continues), Dr. Tim Muehlhoff, is doing a mini-series entitled “After The Election.” In his sermon from Romans 12 Sunday, he made a great application—well several. The one that stuck with me most was about believing what God said. In this passage at the end of the chapter, He says we are not to take revenge against someone who behaves as our enemy. Rather, God says He will act on our behalf to bring justice.

It’s up to us to believe what God says, or not.

But before we get to that point, we have to actually know what God says!

We ought not rely on what the preacher tells us during a thirty minute sermon once a week. That’s not sufficient. For one thing, unless the pastor is preaching faithfully through a text of Scripture, he’s picking and choosing topics he thinks we need to hear. There might be a lot of topics that he never addresses that we desperately need God’s instruction for.

Second, a half hour a week? What if we said we could eat for only a half hour a week? Our bodies would become steadily weaker. We need daily nourishment for our bodies, How can that not also be true for our spirit?

I am so thankful for God’s word. I’m so thankful for those who encouraged me, as a child, a young person, and as an adult, to spend time reading God’s word everyday.

Scripture, above all else, will instruct us in the way we should go, even in the argument culture. Maybe I should rephrase that: especially in the argument culture. When everything is going peachy-keen, we are less aware of our need to do things better. That’s why some athletes and coaches realize that losing a game can actually be a good thing. It sharpens your resolve and shows you where you need to be better.

genie_lamps_007The argument culture can do that for us Christians. We can see that if we are to be a light to this darkness, we have to be above the fray. We have to share the light that brightens our path. But we can’t share what we don’t have.

We need to be in the Bible everyday if it is to be a lamp to our footsteps and a light to our paths.

Published in: on November 22, 2016 at 6:05 pm  Comments Off on The Argument Culture And God’s Word  
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The Christian, the Church, and Love for the “Brethren”


Elmhurst_CRC_1964_(3)When I was growing up, we used to reference love for “the brethren and the sisteren,” and I always thought that was such a fundamental Scriptural principle it didn’t need special attention.

That was before I started seeing the way some Christians treat others online. Eventually I ran into a group that defended unkind words directed at other Christians with whom they disagreed. I was floored.

Their central point was that false teachers need to be treated harshly, and to make their case they used several places in Scripture that talk about apostates and those spreading heresy. From there they looked to the way Jesus talked to the Pharisees, calling them snakes and white-washed tombs. Then there’s Paul telling the Galatians they are foolish and confronting Peter for his hypocrisy.

So are they right?

I don’t think so—not the way they use these verses as permission to mock or malign others. The handful of examples they give must be balanced by the preponderance of instruction telling Christians to treat each other, our enemies, all men, with love and/or consideration.

Some years ago, as I worked my way through the New Testament, I noticed over and over this theme of treating one another with love. In the gospels, the emphasis is on loving our neighbors and loving our enemies until we get to John. Jesus then makes His strong statements about Christians loving Christians so that the world will know we follow Christ.

John then drew the conclusion that love for the brethren (and sisteren 😉 ) is one sign that a person does in fact truly follow Christ:

  • By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another
    – 1 John 3:10-11 (emphases mine)
  • We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death.
    – 1 John 3:14
  • Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
    – 1 John 4:7-8
  • Starting in Romans Paul fleshes out what it means to have love for the brethren, and for all men:

  • Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.
    – Rom 12:11-18 (emphases mine)
  • Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
    – Rom 13:10
  • He gives a more lengthy explanation to the Corinthians (1 Cor 13), then includes instruction to love other Christians in a number of his other letters:

    • to the Galatians – “but through love serve one another”
    • to the Ephesians – “and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”
    • to the Philippians – “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment”
    • to the church in Colossae – “Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.”
    • to the church in Thessalonica – “and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you”
    • to Timothy – “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion”

    The writer to the Hebrews continues the theme:

      “Let love of the brethren continue.”

    As does James

      “If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF,’ you are doing well.”

    And Peter

      “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart”

    Believe it or not, these passages are nothing more than a representative sample. How can a Christian miss the fact that love for one another is central to true discipleship? As Paul said in 1 Thessalonians “Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another.”

    Does Scripture tell us to stand against false teachers? From my study, I believe it does, but not to the exclusion of the clear command to love believers and all men, to be kind, to restore others with gentleness, to pursue peace with all men, to refrain from speaking against one another and many, many more similar indisputable relational instructions.

    So how did Christians bashing Christians or Christians bashing the Church or Christians bashing sinners—on the Internet or by letter or face to face—become something we believers seem to think is just fine?

    This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in August 2010.

    The Church Is Not Perfect


    Wolds_Way_Stile_-_geograph.org.uk_-_285429I’m sensitive about church bashing which seemed to be in vogue not so long ago. When someone started talking about the Church it was almost always to tell readers or listeners what the traditional church had done wrong. Sometimes the tone was quite snarky. It’s those old people, the grannies in their denim dresses and the old codgers with their belts up around their chests. They keep the church from growing, from being alive and vibrant.

    Ugh!

    The Church is not perfect, and never has been. Even in the first century, Paul and Peter and Titus were writing about false teachers and false doctrines and how believers were to go about sorting truth from error.

    From what I understand, our first line of defense against false teaching is the Bible. Surprise, surprise. Truth is the best weapon against error. Paul even calls the word of God, the Sword of the Spirit in Ephesians when he lists off the armor the Christian is to put on in our fight against spiritual forces.

    Part of using Scripture against error is our discernment—our ability to check to see if “these things are so” as the Bereans did.

    Now these [Berean believers] were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. (Acts 17:11)

    The other part is to hold each other accountable as Paul did Peter when the latter started treating Gentile believers differently once the Jewish Christians showed up. Suddenly it wasn’t OK for Peter to eat with the uncircumcised as he had been. Paul called him on his hypocrisy.

    But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all . . . (Galatians 2:11-14a)

    The rest of the chapter records Paul’s argument against what Peter was doing.

    Paul also stood up against the Corinthian church, confronting them on various issues in his first letter. In Phil. 4 he openly urged two women who weren’t getting along to solve their dispute, and he asked another member of the church to help them.

    Not only are we to troubleshoot for each other, we have responsibilities, older women to teach the younger and older men to teach younger men.

    Then there is the leadership. Peter says clearly, elders are to “shepherd the flock of God among you” (1 Peter 5:2). But even they have requirements.

    No one in the church is above God’s standard. He’s given us means by which we can continue to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects. Not following the way of the world, not believing “a different gospel,” not following the lure of deceivers who John warns us about (2 John 1:7), not getting caught up in visions or beliefs someone with an inflated ego invents and foists on the church (Col. 2:18).

    Holding people in the church accountable is not Church bashing, and it isn’t an attack on our unity.

    If it were, Paul would have torn the Church apart instead of building it up.

    In fact, he did what a good overseer is supposed to do—he taught the people what Scripture meant. And he challenged them to live what they knew. His reprimands, as he made clear in 2 Corinthians were because he cared for the people he regarded as his children in the faith.

    Perhaps that’s the point of greatest difference between the first century Church and today’s western church. We are distracted by what worship style we like, how many people we have signing up as members, how much money we’re getting in, how many people have the church app on their phones, and on and on. But who cares enough to step up and say, Stop sinning! It’s wrong for you to sleep with someone you aren’t married to. Or to get drunk (even at college). Or to cheat on your income taxes.

    We aren’t perfect, so I guess we think we have no ground to stand on when it comes to confronting someone else about sin. I understand that. The key is to deal with our own logs before we do anything else, but Scripture doesn’t imply that we should all ignore the splinters and logs everyone else is walking around with because we once upon a time had our own log. If we still have a log of our own, then that’s the first thing we need to take before the throne of grace.

    But how can we stand silently by and watch wolves come climbing over the walls of the sheepfold? We ought not!

    Published in: on July 21, 2016 at 5:37 pm  Comments (1)  
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    Mark 3 – Sneak Preview


    rubber_bandMy church is reading a chapter a day from the New Testament this year, then different members of the congregation write a meditation on the passage. It’s very cool. We have read chapters together as a church before, but the accompanying devotionals are new.

    Because I’m a writer, I’ve been included on the slate, so I thought I’d post my very short article here today. It’s scheduled for August 7, but the deadline to turn it in is tomorrow.

    First, it really is important to read the chapter. There’s lots happening. In Mark’s rather abbreviated style, he doesn’t linger much on any one event. Rather, he packs a lot into a few verses. One online source where you can read the passage is the Blue Letter Bible.

    Secondly, I have to explain something a recent guest preacher, Pastor Caleb Kaltenbach of the Discovery Church in Simi Valley, CA, shared as part of his sermon. He began with a little of his background Pastor Caleb.

    When he was young, his parents divorced, both going into the homosexual lifestyle. Caleb was raised by his mom and her partner. They were very involved in the LGBT community, and he marched along side them in gay pride parades. In fact, when people screamed nasty things at them or threw urine or waved offensive signs, he’d ask his mom why those people did those things. Because they hate us, she’d say. But why? he asked. She’d answer, Because they’re Christians.

    Caleb was determined to stay away from Christians, but God had other plans. In yet another testimony of someone out to disprove God’s truth, during his study of Scripture Caleb found faith in Jesus. He was clear that he believes what the Bible teaches, including what it teaches about marriage—that it is a union between one man and one woman.

    What’s more, long story short, both his mom and his dad have found faith in Christ.

    After giving us his personal background, he preached from John 8 about the adulterous woman thrust before Jesus. His take away was that Jesus offered the woman grace and truth.

    We Christians too often offer only grace or only truth. Grace, he said can be seen in the constant admonition to love, love, love, love; everything is love, without any accountability. Truth can be seen in the litany of things we stand against and the priority we give to those things.

    Jesus offered both, grace and truth.

    Caleb illustrated the point with a large rubber band. If you handle it on one side, let’s say, the grace side, it hangs limply with no purpose. If you handle it on the opposite side, the truth side, it hangs limply with no purpose. If you handle it on both sides simultaneous, you now have a powerful tool that can be used to its appointed purpose. But the power comes from the tension between the two sides. So too with grace and truth!

    That’s important for you to know as you read the following sneak peek of my article. It’s short. We can write no more than 250 words. (You can imagine how that taxes me, long winded as I am!)

    – – – – –

    Jesus declared that those who do His will are His family.

    The Pharisees didn’t qualify. They only paid attention to Jesus in order to catch Him in some kind of compromising action or errant teaching. They didn’t care that the will of God included care for the lowly, such as the man with the maimed hand. Their concern was that people followed the traditions regarding the Sabbath. Traditions, not Scripture.

    Likewise when the unbelieving Jewish leaders accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of the chief rebel, Satan himself, they didn’t care that a fellow human had been delivered from demonic power. They only cared that Jesus was getting attention they wanted.

    Even Jesus’s own family didn’t qualify as people doing the will of God. They portrayed great concern for Jesus when they saw that He didn’t even have time to eat because so many people were crowding in on Him, seeking healing. They made an attempt to “save Him from Himself” instead of letting Him do the work of the Father.

    stretchedrubberbandIn contrast, Jesus did His Father’s will. He healed and cast out demons and hand-picked His inner circle of followers and told stories to warn His listeners about Satan. He confronted those who lied about Him.

    His “Father’s business” as Christ once called God’s will, was to serve others and to stand against the evil one; He lived his life with that tension between grace and truth. As should we who desire to do His will.

    Published in: on June 30, 2016 at 7:10 pm  Comments (2)  
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    Two Issues That Keep People From Truth


    Jesus_the_Teacher031I don’t know why I didn’t see it before. Jesus plainly told a group of unbelievers why they were chasing falsehoods, but somehow I’d missed it. I hadn’t extrapolated what Jesus said to those He was addressing to all others who also held firmly to error.

    Toward the end of Jesus’s life, the power brokers of His day—the Jewish leaders who controlled who was considered “clean” and therefore had access to the temple or, in places outside Jerusalem, to the synagogue—grilled Him about all kinds of things. Their motive was to trap Him so they could accuse Him of breaking the Law.

    They asked Him what was the most important Law, whether it was right for Jews to pay taxes to Rome, how an adulterous woman should be punished, where His authority came from, and more.

    Finally the Sadducees, the sect which didn’t believe in supernatural events like miracles and life after death or supernatural beings like angels, came up with what they thought was a fool-proof trap.

    They told Jesus a story about a married woman whose husband, one of seven brothers, died. She had no children, so according to Jewish law, the brother was to marry her and produce an heir. First one brother married her, then he died. The next brother stepped up and married her, then he died, and so on until all seven brothers had married her. At last, she died as well.

    The Jewish legalists trying to trip Jesus up had the stage set. So, they asked, in the after life [which they didn’t believe in], whose wife will she be since all seven men had her.

    First, I’m a little shocked they told this story. It seems to me that any sensible man, after watching two, three, four of his brothers die after marrying that woman would realize she was a black widow and run the other way!

    But apart from that, what hypocrites! Did they ever ask their polygamist men what wife would they have in the after life since they’d had all of those women? Of course not. It was fine for David to have hundreds of wives, for Solomon to have hundreds and hundreds of wives, but horrors if a wife had more then one husband, even if she only had one at a time.

    Those unbelieving priests could just as easily have asked Jesus which wife would David have in the after life, but apparently in their cultural framework, multiple wives didn’t need to be explained. Only multiple husbands!

    Jesus went straight to the heart of the problem, which wasn’t their inerrant cultural view of women. Their problem was that they didn’t believe in the supernatural.

    I have to wonder what they thought about the blind men who could see after an encounter with Jesus. Or the lame man who got up and picked up his pallet when Jesus told him to. How about the lepers who were instantaneously clean? Or the dead boy raised to life? How did they account for these miracles if there was no supernatural power to intervene and change the course of nature?

    They couldn’t explain any of it, so they teamed up with the leaders of the other Jewish sects to try and do away with Jesus. That’s all they had.

    Jesus handled their question with aplomb. He didn’t beat around the bush, but gave them a straightforward answer that revealed their two problems—the same two problems all unbelieving people have:

      1. You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures
      2. You are mistaken, not understanding the power of God

    Jesus then gave them a little Bible lesson:

    “But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God: ‘I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” (Matthew 22:32)

    In one short answer, He gave them understanding of Scripture and of God.

    First, He illustrated God’s power by reminding them that the words they knew from Scripture came to them from God. The line He quoted was what God told Moses at the burning bush—that would be the bush that burned but was not consumed. The miraculous bush from which God spoke. The bush on holy ground.

    Jesus not only reminded them of God’s supernatural power but also of the truth of Scripture—every single word. After all, His argument hinged on the tense of the verb AM. God said, I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Not, I was their God. The only conclusion to draw is that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are living beings.

    But the sect that didn’t believe in miracles or the after life or angels couldn’t get it. They read past the truth clearly stated in Scripture, and they didn’t believe God had the power to do these supernatural things.

    They wanted a nice, neat, manageable God that they could manipulate for their own purposes. In fact, they didn’t even want a Messiah, though they professed to be waiting for Him to come. They tipped their hand when the joined the mob railing against Pilate for his “not guilty” ruling at Jesus’s final trial. You’re no friend of Caesar, the crowd cried. They topped that by answering Pilate’s question, What shall I do with the King of the Jews, by shouting back, We have no king but Caesar.

    Ah, they really didn’t understand Scripture. And they really didn’t understand the power of God.

    Published in: on June 14, 2016 at 6:54 pm  Comments (5)  
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    If I Could Only Take One Book With Me


    Bible2

    Usually, when I get questions like, What are your ten favorite books or what books have influenced you most, in a meme circulating on Facebook, I don’t include the Bible. I simply don’t think of it like I do other books. But . . . if I were stranded on a desert island or put into prison and was allowed only one book, it would be the Bible.

    First, it’s so varied, I’d never get bored. There are love stories, biographies that read like adventure stories. There are stories about war and sacrifice and shipwrecks and the beginning of the most amazing organization ever. There is history and poetry and prophecy. There are all those different authors, so the tone of the individual books is diverse. There are different heroes and different villains. There’s surprise and the miraculous. Definitely the Bible is not boring.

    The biggest thing, though, is that God reveals Himself in the pages of the Bible. If I were stranded by myself, I’d want, more than at any other time, to know the things God says about Himself. In black and white I’d have His assurance that He would not leave me or forsake me, that nothing could separate me from His love, that He won’t fail me, that He is faithful and true, that He keeps His word, that He is the friend of sinners. I’d be so happy to have a book that reminded me of who it was that sat by my side.

    The Bible would also be the perfect book to give me hope. I mean it lays out the future in God’s presence for those who believe in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, the Savior and Lord. It spells out the inheritance His children will receive, the commendation of “Well done, good and faithful servant” those who follow Him will receive; the crown of life, the unfading crown of glory, the crown of righteousness that He’ll give one day; the joy in His presence; the banquet we’ll be a part of; the meaningful work He’ll give us; and on and on. The future without the problems which sin dumps on us, is indeed hopeful.

    The Bible also would be great to have with me because it’s mentally stimulating. Nothing interprets the Bible so much or so well as the Bible. So Paul says in Ephesians, “By grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not as a result of works so that no one may boast.” And James turns around and explains what faith actually is:

    What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. (2:14-17, emphasis mine)

    So there would be lots to think about, lots to compare and study.

    The Bible also serves as a mirror, so by reading it, I get to know myself better than ever. It reveals my heart, my desire, my waywardness, my need for a Savior. It’s not a feel good book, in the sense that it’s going to tell me I’m OK, when I clearly know that’s not the case. On the contrary, it tells me I’m a sinner, but it gives me the remedy.

    Above all, the Bible is Good News. The Best News, really, because it’s about eternal solutions, not some kind of quick fix that will need to be reworked in a day or two.

    Most definitely, if I could only take one book to some place of isolation, I’d have no problem claiming the Bible as my one Book!

    Published in: on May 11, 2016 at 5:57 pm  Comments (5)  
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    Ambiguity, Thy Cousin Is Relativism


    A_starry_sky_above_Death_Valley

    I haven’t heard a lot about the emerging church lately. According to one source the eulogy has been given and only one hold-out pastor remains. I suspect the disaffected who identified with the emerging church have been swallowed up by Progressive Christians.

    Nevertheless, the emerging church movement had an impact on traditional churches. The tell of their influence is in the buzz words that crop up in radio programs, print articles, Internet sites, and sermons—words such as truth claims, missio or missional, conversations, contextualize, and mystery. There’s a concept, also, which I’ve heard, though not necessarily stated so bluntly—ambiguity.

    The thinking is, God is a mystery, life is a mystery, and there really aren’t any definitive answers.

    I admit—I get a little cranky when I hear people espousing these views.

    First, God is NOT a mystery. He is transcendent. The two are quite different, a topic I explored in the post “Transcendence vs. Mystery.” That God is not a mystery becomes clear when we read passages in Scripture such as Jeremiah 9:24:

    “But let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD. (emphasis, here and throughout this post, is added)

    The New Testament also affirms God’s “knowability.” For example, Paul says in Colossians 2:2b-3

    attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

    Yes, the mystery has been revealed. Paul stated this clearly in the first chapter of the same book:

    that is, the mystery which had been hidden from past ages and generations, but has now been revealed to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

    On the other hand, that God is transcendent is also clear. Isaiah 40:12-14 sets the stage for a beautiful declaration of God’s transcendence by asking a series of questions:

    Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand,
    And marked off the heavens by the span,
    And calculated the dust of the earth by the measure,
    And weighed the mountains in a balance
    And the hills in a pair of scales?
    Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD,
    Or as His counselor has informed Him?
    With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding?
    And who taught Him in the path of justice and taught Him knowledge
    And informed Him of the way of understanding?

    The conclusion is powerful. In part it reads

    Do you not know? Have you not heard?
    Has it not been declared to you from the beginning?
    Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
    It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,
    And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,
    Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain
    And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.
    He it is who reduces rulers to nothing,
    Who makes the judges of the earth meaningless.
    Scarcely have they been planted,
    Scarcely have they been sown,
    Scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth,
    But He merely blows on them, and they wither,
    And the storm carries them away like stubble.
    “To whom then will you liken Me
    That I would be his equal?” says the Holy One
    .
    Lift up your eyes on high
    And see who has created these stars,
    The One who leads forth their host by number,
    He calls them all by name;
    Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power,
    Not one of them is missing.

    The Apostle Paul brings together God’s transcendence and his “knowability” in 1 Cor. 2:12-16:

    Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ.

    In that last verse, Paul quotes from Isaiah, showing that God’s transcendence is unchanged, and yet, because of Christ’s work on the cross and God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to believers, we have the mind of Christ.

    In other words, Christians can know, we do have answers, we don’t need to walk around in a cloud of doubt.

    Granted, the answers may not be what people want to hear. More often than not, our “why” will be answered by God’s “I’m working out my will in the world.” For some, that’s not good enough.

    For others that’s too spot on. That sin and suffering, pain and heartache, have a purpose seems too unambiguous. That God is sovereignly in charge over things we wish He would eradicate makes us uncomfortable. How can we trust a God whose answer to our questions is, Trust Me?

    We want more, or we want to say, more isn’t attainable. For some reason, a segment of the religious find satisfaction in a declaration that things are ambiguous. Some readily belittle faith that claims to be the assurance of things hoped for. Faith, in these critics’ way of looking at things, is actually doubt.

    What I find interesting is that this embracement of doubt, of uncertainty, of ambiguity, seems to mirror the rise of postmodernism’s version of relativism. Essentially, the idea that we cannot know—because history changes facts and redefines terms, because we are constrained by our culture and our experiences to understand only within our own narrow framework, not that of the broader context—shatters the idea that there is an inerrant, infallible Word of God upon which we can rely for Truth.

    The problem in all this is that those who say we cannot know, rule out the possibility that God did in fact give us a written record of what He wants us to know, that He preserved what He told us down through the ages, and that He gave us His Spirit to understand it apart from and beyond our own cultural constraints.

    And why do they rule God’s transcendent work out?

    They would rather believe in mystery, I guess, rather than transcendence. But in so doing, they are, themselves, drawing the conclusion that they KNOW God could not work in such a transcendent way. It’s another way of putting Man in God’s place.

    This post first appeared here in June 2014.