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.

Going Along To Get Along


I’m reposting this article from October 2013 because I needed to be reminded of these points.

bird ruffling feathersDon’t make waves. Don’t ruffle anyone’s feathers. Don’t rock the boat. Those were phrases I grew up hearing that basically said, don’t say what you want to say because you’ll upset someone.

Underneath the admonition is the kind intention to spare someone’s feelings. You don’t want someone to get upset or feel uncomfortable or confused or irate or off kilter. You want to keep people happy.

Sure, it’s a good sentiment if it isn’t taken too far. But the problem is, our western culture is, in fact, taking the concept too far. The result is, we no longer speak the truth.

Christians have fallen into this same pit. We sometimes don’t speak the truth because we don’t want to make others uncomfortable, and sometimes we hold our tongues because we don’t want to suffer the outrage from others if we say what we believe.

I understand this latter position. I had an encounter last week on another blog that put me under verbal attack. I was accused of being of questionable intelligence, falsely pious, cruel, dishonest, abusive, creating intentional harm, being snide, having an attitude that was “as Christ-like as a festering pile of donkey scat,” and more. Above all, some said people like me were the reason they didn’t want to be known as Christians.

So do I relish tangling with people who I know might well unleash such a diatribe again? Not so much. It’s easier to keep quiet, to say, I’ve been in the verbal battles in the past and I don’t need more.

I used to think such rancorous exchanges could be avoided by treating others with respect. Except, some people think you don’t respect them unless you agree with them. Some people read evil intent behind every word.

At other times I’ve had people assume they know my position on a matter simply because I’ve stated a view that’s similar to someone else on their blacklist. In this last foray, I was accused regarding my opening comment of trying to prevent others from speaking.

I did say there are voices intent to drown out the message of God’s hope and help with accusations against the true Church. This statement, I was told, constituted me telling those against abuse within the church to stop talking.

What we never got to was this: the true Church doesn’t condone abuse. Does abuse exist within the ranks of those involved in Bible-believing churches? Sadly, I’m certain it does. However, writing off all evangelical churches and all evangelicals as refusing to ask questions, to look at the truth, and to accept those who are digging behind the scenes is . . . myopic. Or filled with hubris.

How can someone extrapolate from their own experience and draw conclusions about all other evangelicals and evangelical churches of whatever denomination? As I see it, someone who reaches such a conclusion might have an unhealthy idea about himself.

So ought Christians to stand by and let people slandering the true Church and maligning God’s name do so in order to avoid confrontation?

I don’t think so.

I know people have said–I think quoting C. S. Lewis–you don’t have to defend the Bible. That’s like defending a caged lion. In reality, all you have to do is let him out and he’ll defend himself.

But when it comes to the Church–well, believers are the Church, so it seems we ought to defend Christ’s bride.

In the end, the best defense is a good offense (not a quote from Scripture, but I’m sure the principle is in there somewhere 😉 ). Peter says it’s our good deeds that will win over unbelievers, though some will only get it “in the day of visitation,” which I think means Christ’s return, or the day of judgment–in other words, not necessarily in the immediate future.

I have no doubt that good deeds speak volumes. I also know Paul said we are to speak the truth in love. It’s not loving to let someone live believing a lie. It’s also not loving to call people vile names.

So Christians, I believe, need to have a determination to speak the truth and not go along to get along, and yet to do so in a way that is different from the way non-believers engage those with whom they disagree.

Speaking the truth articulately without name calling, insinuations, snark, dismissive or condescending comments ought to mark Christians. And in the internet age, speaking clearly without rancor might be the greatest witness we can offer.

Good Friday Or Good Wednesday?


The_Burial006When I was younger, I was troubled by the fact that Jesus said He would be in the tomb for three days and three nights and yet apparently spent something closer to a day and two nights in the grave.

When I was older, I learned that the way the Jews reckoned time, He would have been considered to be dead and buried for three days. They began reckoning for each day at sunset, not sunrise, so the day He died and was buried would be day one, the Sabbath would be day two, and the end of the Sabbath, at sunset the first day of the week would begin and that would be day three.

I’ll admit, ever since I heard that explanation, I thought it was cheating. Besides, it didn’t answer what Jesus said specifically:

for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Matt. 12:40 – all caps indicates a quote of the Old Testament, boldface emphasis is mine)

Years and years ago, Pastor Charles Swindoll, who used to pastor my church, preached about Christ’s death and burial, postulating that perhaps we’ve figured His day of death incorrectly. Using the information from the gospels, it’s clear that Jesus was crucified the day before the Sabbath and that He was resurrected on the first day of the week, at or before sunrise after the Sabbath.

But there’s a very good possibility that He may have been crucified, not the day before the Sabbath, but before a Sabbath.

First, the crucifixion took place during Passover–not a one-day event, but an eight-day celebration. How the commemoration was to take place is explained in both Leviticus and Numbers. Here’s the description from the latter:

Then on the fourteenth day of the first month shall be the LORD’S Passover. On the fifteenth day of this month shall be a feast, unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days. On the first day shall be a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work . . . On the seventh day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work. (Numbers 28:16-17, 25 – emphasis mine)

These days of “holy convocation,” which could fall on any day of the week, apparently were understood to be a type of Sabbath. Leviticus 23 lists the holy convocations, starting first with the weekly Sabbath, then Passover and finally the Day of Atonement. In describing the latter, the term Sabbath appears:

You shall do no work at all. It is to be a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwelling places. It is to be a sabbath of complete rest to you, and you shall humble your souls; on the ninth of the month at evening, from evening until evening you shall keep your sabbath. (Lev 23:31-32 – emphasis mine)

Now add in the information from the gospels. Mark and Luke say Jesus died on the day of preparation, the next day being the Sabbath (Matthew simply refers to it as the preparation), but John adds some information, clarifying the day of preparation:

Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, “Behold, your King!” (John 19:14)

Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. (John 19:31 – emphasis mine)

A High Day, one of those Holy Convocations, perhaps–treated as a Sabbath. And in this instance, perhaps falling in the middle of the week, a Wednesday, meaning that Jesus would have been buried on Wednesday night, and remained in the tomb all day Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, just as He said.

How important is our celebration of Good Friday rather than Good Wednesday? Should we start a campaign to get it changed? Hold boycotts of Good Friday services? It’s not an issue that should divide churches and no one’s salvation hangs in the balance because of the day we choose to commemorate Christ’s crucifixion. And no one should do any of the above to try and sway others into believing something different from the traditional understanding..

For one thing, identifying the day of Christ’s death requires some speculation, one way or the other (on Friday, the speculation is how the time Jesus spent in the tomb adds up to three days, and on Wednesday, determining the relation to the Sabbaths mentioned). If we knew that the apostles instituted Good Friday services, we could resort to tradition, but I’m not sure when Good Friday first became the day of remembrance.

I have a hard time imagining the first century Church doing so. Since they had actually witnessed His death, they would likely center their celebration on His resurrection. Then, too, Jesus Himself instituted Communion with the specific instruction to do it in remembrance of His broken body and shed blood. Why add in a separate day of commemoration if the Church already regularly held such a remembrance?

Nevertheless, remembering Christ’s death on our behalf, whenever it takes place, is not a bad thing. It’s actually quite a good thing as long as we understand He is alive today, seated at the right hand of the Father.

But here’s the reason I like the idea of Good Wednesday. It counters the idea that the Bible erred or that Christians have to do fancy footwork to make the facts fit. Simply by interpreting Scripture with Scripture, and believing that Jesus meant what He said, we can discover that yes, it is possible, dare I say probable, that Jesus died earlier than is commonly thought.

This post first appeared here in March 2013.

Published in: on March 23, 2016 at 6:15 pm  Comments Off on Good Friday Or Good Wednesday?  
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God’s View Or Ours


Fossil_Trees_-_geograph.org.uk_-_750298Some years ago I read a discussion between Christians about evolution. It dawned on me that those advocating this theory based on scientific observation are opting for Mankind’s view over God’s.

Science “knows” now, the reasoning goes, that life has evolved from lesser forms. We’ve “seen” this in geological findings. We have the fossil “records.” These records, therefore, are to be believed over the record handed down to us from God—His Holy Word.

The problem with choosing scientific observation over the Bible is manifold. First, science continues to change.

In addition, science presupposes that The Way Things Are is exactly The Way Things Were. In other words, science has no room for things like a perfect world without death. What would that look like? How would that effect what we observe now? Science has no room for a world with one big land mass and no rain. What would that have done to geology? What would the world have been like if the atmosphere had a layer made up primarily of water? What would that have done to the way the world formed? What if the world in a bygone era allowed for humans to live nearly a thousand years? What would that do to dating fossils?

And even more radically, what if God formed a perfectly complete world, and universe, that looked old even though it was new. After all, what would a “new” mountain look like? Or a new star, a new sun, a new Man? What would a new tree look like when you cut it down? Would there just be one giant ring?

We have no reason to believe Adam came into being as an infant. Just the opposite. Scripture would lead us to believe he was a full grown man, on the first day he lived and breathed and had his being.

Science has no room to ask these “what if” questions because their answers have no “hard evidence” that such things were possible. Consequently, science closes the book on what the Bible suggests or even states.

Some Christians who opt for this science-over-Scripture approach reason that God wouldn’t “fool” us into thinking something was one way when in fact it was something quite different.

I hardly think God tried to fool us, seeing as how He wrote down His creative process. But on another level, this argument is too weak to stand up. Humans for centuries have been “fooled.” They believed, for example, that they lived on flat land. How deceptive of God to pull a fast one and actually put us on a round(ish) planet.

Of course, He wasn’t deceptive at all since the sun is round, the moon is round, and apart from the twinkles, stars are round. It is actually more a wonder that people didn’t figure out sooner that the earth is round. But there it is. Man, believing his own eyes, when in fact the truth was something quite different.

The same could be said about men who believed the sun was the center of the universe and many more “scientific” observations that have changed when new information came along.

My question is, when will we learn to believe Omniscience instead of our own fallible, imperfect, inexact observations when we are trying to figure out The True Way Things Are?

This post first appeared here in February 2011.

Published in: on March 17, 2016 at 6:24 pm  Comments Off on God’s View Or Ours  
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Offerings, Leprosy, And Issues Of Blood


On one Christian radio program I listen to, the pastor did a “fly by” of the entire Bible so that listeners could get the panoramic view of Scripture. Not only do we need to see the particulars of an individual passage or its immediate context, his reasoning is, we also need to see how it fits in with the big picture.

No disagreement. But far better than listening to someone else sketch out the whole, in my view, is to read Scripture in its entirety and see the big picture for myself.

Hence I find myself reading in the book of Leviticus, that portion of Scripture I used to skip lest it defeat my entire journey through the Bible. The fact is, as I’ve put in various other pieces to the grand view of God’s revelation, without realizing it, I was laying the necessary framework to understand, at least in part, this book of Israelite laws for living in community as God’s chosen people.

From the kinds of sacrifices and how they should be performed, on through to the treatment of “leprosy” (which may have included the disease we know as leprosy today, but was not limited to it) and the religious cleansing from handling anything unclean like a dead body or human waste to the same cleansing after sex or childbirth, Leviticus is regulatory.

In reading the book, it doesn’t take long to realize that no one was ever going to be exempt from the need to perform cleansing sacrifices. In other words, Leviticus shows how inescapable sin is.

No, having an infection wasn’t sin, and neither was childbirth. But these human conditions required cleansing–not just physical but religious. They stood as reminders that God is pure and Man is not.

Eventually we come to the passage about bodily discharges and the process of cleansing for each. Then this verse: “Now if a woman has a discharge of her blood many days, not at the period of her menstrual impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond that period, all the days of her impure discharge she shall continue as though in her menstrual impurity; she is unclean” (15:25). Unclean people were forbidden to be a part of worship activities. Anything they sat on or lay on would become unclean, anyone who touched them would become unclean.

Flash forward hundreds of years to a dusty Judean street where crowds pressed in around Jesus as He made His way toward Jarius’s house and the little girl who lay dying. From among all those people, a woman with a hemorrhage, who had sought help from the physicians for twelve years, reached out and touched the fringe of Jesus’s cloak.

Twelve years! This woman didn’t just have a medical condition. According to Levitical law, she was cut off from worship and isolated from normal community activities. Anyone touching her would become unclean.

But what happens when that human contact has a reverse effect and instead of the other person becoming unclean, she becomes healed, whole, and clean? Is the other person still unclean? This, I suspect, was one of the dilemmas the Pharisees grappled with when it came to Jesus, because He was constantly touching people that by Levitical law should have made Him unclean, and yet the diseased became well.

What a vivid picture of Jesus imparting His righteousness to those who stand before Him helpless and hopeless and forever cut off from worship because of our uncleanness. What we cannot accomplish, He does with a touch.

At the cross, however, He bore our sins.

Back in Leviticus, a chapter after the law about discharges, God instituted an atonement ritual that involved two goats–one to be sacrificed and one to be released bearing the sins of the nation:

Then Aaron shall lay both of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the sons of Israel and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins; and he shall lay them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who stands in readiness. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities (Lev 16:21-22a)

Christ imparting righteousness, Christ bearing our sins in his body on the cross (see 1 Peter 2:24)–it’s all pictured in Scripture. Leviticus sets it up, the gospels take it home, and the epistles explain it all.

Sixty-six books, but one grand story of God redeeming a people for Himself.

This post first appeared here in September 2012.

Published in: on February 18, 2016 at 6:00 pm  Comments (4)  
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It Came Upon A Midnight Clear And Other Christmas Carol “Facts”


The_Shepherds011I’m a big believer in hymnody. I learned a lot of doctrine in church without realizing it because we sang hymns with substance. Not every hymn is theologically sound, however, and not every Christmas carol adheres to the facts Scripture reveals about that first Christmas. More than one relies on imagination or “poetic license.”

“It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” is an interesting example. Scripture doesn’t say that the night was clear, though it’s a fair assumption since the shepherds seemed to have an unimpeded view of the angels. But why midnight? Why not 6:35 or 8:20? That time is speculation, which is fine as long as we all understand that it is.

Then there are the angels. I don’t recall any human encounter with angels that includes a description of wings. Granted, the ark of the covenant and the Holy of Holies in the temple included angels with wings, but when humans saw angels, they didn’t mention the wings. In fact some angels looked just like humans and were mistaken for men. One passage of Scripture says we might actually from time to time entertain angels, not realizing that the people we’re extending kindness and the love of Christ to, are actually heavenly beings. I doubt if that would happen if angels all had wings! Or had wings all the time.

All that to say, the description in “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” of the first angel and then the accompanying host includes a bit of speculation. Then there is the erroneous idea that the angels sang their praise to God. Scripture, as jarring as it is to our Evangelical culture, never says the angels sang.

The good thing about this particular carol is that in the final stanza it ties Christ’s first coming with His impending return:

For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophets seen of old,
When with the ever-circling years
Shall come the time foretold,
When the new heaven and earth shall own
The Prince of Peace, their King,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Minus the singing part, those lines are pretty awesome. The angels announced the coming of Messiah and praised God for it; one day He’ll come again and the whole world will praise Him for it.

One of my favorites, “We Three Kings,” suffers from the same imagination/speculation issue when it comes to the particulars of the visitation by the wisemen. First off, nowhere in Scripture are the visitors identified as kings. The word we translate as wisemen is magi. The footnote in the New American Standard Bible defines the term as “a caste of wise men specializing in astronomy, astrology, and natural science.”

In addition, the idea that there were three comes from the fact that they brought three gifts, but in reality, five could have given gold, two, myrrh, and four frankincense. It’s unlikely that the three came alone, too, especially bearing such expensive gifts and traveling so far. They likely had a caravan of servants and perhaps other travelers, but that’s my speculation. 😉 Scripture simply doesn’t say how many were in their company.

The other thing that’s problematic is the idea that they followed the star. They did for a short distance, but not all the way from their home. I mean, did you ever wonder, if they were following the star, why did they end up in Jerusalem instead of Bethlehem? Scripture says they saw in the east the star belonging to the King of the Jews, and went to worship Him. When they didn’t find Him in the capital city, Jerusalem, the place you’d expect to find a newborn who would be king, then the star “went before them” and stopped over the place where the Child was.

One more thing about the star. Nowhere does Scripture tell us it was particularly bright. I used to wonder what was wrong with everyone else for not following the star too. Well, the truth is, it didn’t have to be bright for these men who studied the stars to recognize it. Their field of knowledge surpassed ours. They knew something supernatural from examining the physical. I mean, they came to worship the King. Not the king of their own country (which may have deified their kings), and not to give tribute to a young prince. They wanted to worship, the rightful response to God alone.

With the faults of “We Three Kings,” it still delivers a powerful message, tying the types of gifts the magi gave to the Christ Child with the various truths about Him: that He was King (gold), and God (frankincense), and Suffering Savior (myrrh).

Many of the Christmas songs are like this—there may be some factual errors or pure speculation, but at the heart of the carol is the truth about Jesus. “Silent Night,” for instance, is much more than a sweet Christmas lullaby. The heart of the song includes these lines:

Alleluia.
Christ the Saviour is born,
Christ the Saviour is born.

Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love’s pure light,
Radiant beams from
Thy holy face, with the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.

Yes, the “radiant beams” are imagination at work, but the redeeming grace dawning with Jesus at His birth is not. Nor is the pronouncement that Christ the Savior was born.

The carols are great, and some of the newer Christmas music is too. “Mary, Did You Know?” is Scriptural and reveals who Jesus is. Keith and Kristyn Getty have a Christmas album which includes some great songs. One of note is “For To Us A Child Is Born” and another “Joy Has Dawned.” The Biblical lyrics faithfully point to why Jesus came.

I guess the real point of all this comes down to something I’ve been reminding myself: to keep my mind engaged even when I’m singing or listening to familiar Christmas songs. What we humans write, needs to be filtered through God’s Holy Word.

Then, too, the “old, old story” should never be taken for granted. God’s great love is new every morning. I should never stop giving praise and thanks to my Savior for rescuing me from the kingdom of darkness. As the lyrics of another Getty song, “Holy Child,” says,

May the gift of God amaze us still
The triumph of all time

How great to have such an array of Christmas music to further our worship.

Published in: on December 15, 2015 at 5:00 pm  Comments (12)  
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We’re Number One


_World_Series_pregame_eventsFrom Little League to professional teams, those involved in sports—and their fans—are playing so they can be number one. In fact, throughout the season and on into the play-offs crowds have been known to break into a chant: “We’re number one! We’re number one! We’re number one!”

Except, the team they’re supporting is number one of what?

The league my middle school team belonged to when I was coaching, consisted of eight teams from private Christian schools scattered around western LA County. So yes, some seasons, we finished as number one, but one of eight! In a relatively small area of SoCal. Among Christian schools. With students aged 11 to 14.

How easy it is to lose sight of the big picture in our rush to declare our number one status. Nobody is thinking about all those high school teams that could wipe the floor with us. Or the college teams that would undoubtedly be tempted to pat us on the head and tell us how cute it was that we were trying to play.

When we’re talking about young people and sports, it’s not a big deal that we set aside the comparisons and allow winning teams to celebrate. Unfortunately this we’re-number-one mentality seems to be more and more pervasive in all of life, including our spiritual lives. Some set their hearts on being number one, to the point that they push the Only True Number One aside and claim the position for themselves.

The truth is, there can only be one Number One. That’s true in sports and in life. When all is said and done, one team will surface that is better on a given day than all other amateur and professional teams in that sport. If we add a qualifier—the number one college team, for instance—we are immediately acknowledging that the ranking is not universal. Not even for that one season.

So too spiritually. We as individuals or humankind as “a team” cannot be number one if God is number one. And yet time and again, we shove God aside and go our own way, do what we think is best, believe what seems right to us regardless of what God has said. I’ve read more times than I like words people have written stating that “if God is like that [whatever “that” is in the particular discussion], I want no part of him.”

Whenever a person reserves the right to believe in God only if He fits into his mold of “what God ought to be like,” then that person might as well break into the I’m-number-one chant.

Sadly, and almost unfathomably, there are people who name the name of Christ and hold this kind of position: If God’s going to condemn homosexuals who truly love each other, then I want no part of him. If God expects a woman to give up control of her body, I want no part of him. If God doesn’t want women to be leaders in his church, I want no part of him.

Some even reach the point of believing they want no part of God because he didn’t heal them or give them a better job or a bigger house. They don’t want any part of God because his people are hypocrites or greedy or mean spirited or abusive. In other words, God didn’t step in and create an environment that makes them safe and happy and fulfilled from the day they were born until the day they die.

I ran across (on the internet) still another group that claim to be Christians (I think), but who misuse Scripture so they can loudly proclaim, We’re number one!

There have been any number of others—false teachers, peddling a different gospel, such as the “agnostic Christians” or trinitarians or universalists or progressives or emergents. Some of these have said outlandish things—are we nicer than God? for instance—and their errors are not that hard to spot.

This latest false teaching simply twists what God’s word has to say about men and women. I don’t know if this group is large or small, organized or haphazard, but some are vocal, pushing their ideas in the “manosphere” (yes, they really use that term). And what are these ideas? They are essentially pushing back against feminism. They claim that God put men in charge, to exert “power and control.” You see, they say they believe in headship.

God did, in fact, make a husband the head of his wife, but He specifically used Jesus Christ as the example of what that headship looked like. Think about Jesus for a moment: He washed His disciples’ feet, the night of His arrest and trial. He came to earth as a sacrifice, that by His death we who believe in Him might be healed. Add in what we learn in Philippians—that Christ humbled Himself, emptied Himself, learned obedience to the point of death on the cross.

So where, I ask, does the idea of power and control come from in regard to headship? It certainly isn’t from Jesus.

Certainly God is sovereign, so He is in control, and He does have power—all power, in fact. But in His treatment of us, He exercises His love, mercy, compassion, kindness, gentleness, patience in order to bring us to Himself.

Furthermore, He tells us that if we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us. In other words, He doesn’t force us to go against our will. If we choose to reject Him, He lets us go—though He’s made it clear there will be eternal consequences for rejecting Him.

The point is, God doesn’t use His power and control to bully us into submission. He loves us and asks us to love Him back by yielding to Him—not the same thing as making us bow the knee.

So here are these men claiming to be Christians who ignore the example Jesus Christ set for husbands and their responsibility to be the head of their homes. Love and service and sacrifice? Certainly not, they say. Headship means power and control!

Well, no. Only in their manosphere where they’re gathered to chant, “We’re number one!” God’s definition of headship doesn’t look anything like the bullying and even abuse these men dispense. They apparently are so fixated on their own need for power and control that they can’t see how they are pushing Jesus aside and telling Him He didn’t do headship the right way.