Tuesday, October 26, 2010

moving to wordpress

I have made the move to wordpress. Please check out the blog at ephesians411.wordpress.com
thanks - Jeremy

Monday, September 13, 2010

Having Faith Is Hard

Having faith is hard. Not necessarily the having faith part (though that can be challenging at times). No, I'm talking about after you have your faith, when you know God and you know who He is. When you know His mercy and His justice, His love and His grace. Because when you know God, you know that there's a reason for scriptures like Psalm 27:14, "Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD." When you have faith, then you know that He will . . . all that's left is to wait for Him to . . .

That's hard. Real hard. Because see, I'm not a patient person. I get scared easily. Sometimes I get hurt by the world. Sometimes the people I love most in this life experience struggles and pain. You see, I have this horrible desire to be in complete control. And when I'm scared, it's because I've just been reminded that I control nothing. And when I hurt, I want to be able to make it stop right then. And above all else, I hate not being able to ensure that the people in my life are always safe, happy and healthy.

You know, I don't know why God tells me to wait for Him. Maybe it's for a different reason each time? But I do know that if I am going to live my life with authenticity, then I have to yield to Him. I can't call Him my King, but refuse to give up my sceptor. I can't tell Him to pierce my ear and not live as His servant.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


I saw this on Trey Morgan's blog. Funny and a little scary because it's so true. We may fool each other. But our kids see right through us.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Five Things a Dad Should Do Everyday

1. HUG your child. Show them with hugs just how much you love them.

2. Tell your child that you LOVE them unconditionally. Explain to them what unconditional love means to you.

3. PRAY with your child. Take time to show them that your relationship with God is the only thing that is more important to you than them or their Mom.

4. PLAY with your child. Spend time with them doing something that they enjoy.

5. Let your child see you LOVE on your wife. Show them what a healthy marriage looks like.

Moms, encourage and support your husband to do these things and be the spiritual example and leader that God calls him to be.

Love, Trust & Obey

I believe in my heart that most people want to do good. I'll be more specific. I believe with all my heart that most Christians want to love and honor God with their lives. I think I fit in that boat. I know I try. Although I must admit that I often lack the execution part.

Two of the foremost driving motivators in ministry is winning souls to Christ and making a difference in the lives of the Christians that you serve. The first is measurable. The second, hardly at all. Not knowing if you're making a difference can quickly lead to frustration, burn out, callousness and in some cases giving up. Thankfully, God reminded me of this recently. I'm not saying that I am going to stop worrying about whether or not I'm making an impact. But I'm glad that I was reminded that I shouldn't put that at the top of my worry list.

Instead, I'm going to put my energy into LOVING God, TRUSTING God and OBEYING God.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Kingdom of God

Ben Witherington is a great evangelical Bible scholar. He offers a good explanation of the Kingdom of God.


Should we define our faithfulness to God in terms of our attendance to worship? That's often how we speak in terms of our faith and especially other peoples' faith - "do they go to church?" Is that the point? When we stand before God, is He going to ask us about our batting average on worship attendance? We see from the scriptures that there is so much more to it than that. Notice these two scriptures.

Matthew 7:21-22
 21"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?'

Matthew 25:34-36
34"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' 

When we place our focus on attending worship service we redefine faith and send a bad message, or the wrong the message. Is that what is truly most important to you? There's other possible criteria. What about how often you pray? What about the depth of your prayers? What about how often you read your Bible? Those questions can also be used as matrices to gauge faithfulness.What if you we gauged ourselves on how often we read the Bible? Where would you be? Because it is blatant, obvious and not-intrusive we have, over the course of time, slanted or moved ourselves towards the understanding that our corporate worship is the center piece of our faith. It's extremely important - vital even. But it's not the center piece. Some groups have placed other things at the center, like discipleship. 

But the only true center piece is Jesus Christ. He's both the cause and affect. He's the reason for our faith and what we get because of our faith. Because of His choice, we have a choice. And because of our choice we get to have Him stand up for us in front of God, because we can't possibly stand alone. Perhaps we need to change the question we ask from "Is he faithfully attending worship," to "Is he faithful living for Jesus?" The answer to that question will include worship and Bible study and prayer and discipleship and giving and  . . .

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Wake-Up Call?

We've sent men to the moon. We have people living in space. We've got nuclear bombs. But we can't stop an oil spill? All politics aside, there's a huge lesson for us there.

Our society promotes a narsissistic and cavalier attitude that essentially mitigates any need for God in our lives. Simply put, we think we have all the answers, can do all things and completely control our world. That is simply not true. And the fact that we're now on DAY 80 of the worst ecological disaster ever, clearly demonstrates that we're at the mercy of something that is infinite where we are finite.

I wonder if God is trying to get our attention? Perhaps not. But, just maybe some of us will start to understand that even though we are created with the ability to produce greatness, we weren't created to live without a need for our Creator.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Pecking Order of Baptism

I've been thinking lately about the place of baptism in our salvation. In Romans chapter 6, Paul illustrates why it is essential for salvation; and not just an after-the-fact demonstration of our obedience. The theology in that chapter is thick, and it's not really my point. I've never once had a second thought about the necessity of baptism, nor do I know. Instead, I think at some point some may have mistakenly placed baptism as the goal, intead of a part of the process of reaching the goal.

This was really highlighted for me during my time at Bible camp a few weeks ago. It seems like there is an artificial pressure that we put on ourselves to get as many kids converted as possible during that week. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Actually, I think there would be a lot more Christians walking around if we lived our lives with that self-afflicted pressure all year. But partly because of that pressure I think we have mistakenly placed baptism as the end goal. Baptism isn't the end goal. Faithful followers of Christ is the end goal. Baptism is part of the process that gets to the end goal.

Sometimes I think we get in such a rush to get someone wet, that in the end, all we do is get someone wet. There is no true repentence, there is no true understanding of following Christ, there is no conversion. Think about all the conversion stories in Acts. Luke never once talks about the preaching or teaching being about baptism. It's always about sin, responsibility, Jesus' death and other similar topics. But in the end of the narrative, the person always ends up being baptized. Not because that was preached to them, but because that's the answer to the question, "what do I do now," or something like it.

This problem is especially prevalent with our kids. We push for them to get baptized. Maybe we'd be better off to push for them to be followers of Christ?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Valleys that are too Deep and too Wide

You've most likely had some tough struggles in your faith. If you have kids, they have most likely have had some tough struggles in their faith. If they haven't, it's because they are still young - they will. Challenges and struggles are an inevitable part of living a Christian life. James said to be joyful when (not if) you face trials (Jas 1:2). So, we shouldn't be terribly alarmed when tough times show up. We just have to be ready for them and help each other through them.

But lately, I have seen a lot of extended and deepened tough times. In other words, the valleys were deeper and wider than normal. They don't seem to be the ones that James was talking about. Why is that? It seems to be most common with teens and young(er) adults. But older folks are definitely not immune. I wonder why that is? I see people of all ages that are going through the motions of being a Christian; with their hearts hardened and flames long since extinguished. It saddens me to see people stop worshipping their Creator and fellowshipping with their Christian family. It concerns me to see Christians come to worship out of a false sense of obligation and duty; instead of desiring to come into the presence of the God that words can't describe. It frustrates me to see disrespectful attitudes and behaviors during our times together.

But let's stop there for a moment. I have got to be honest with myself. We have got to be honest with ourselves. And we must hold ourselves accountable for whatever circumstances and situation exists. See, it's easy to throw rocks at people who seem to be less holy than we are. But we have got to start asking honest tough questions - even though the answers that may come out are scary and hurtful. So let's be honest when we answer the question: WHY? Why are the valley's deeper and wider than they ought to be. For what it's worth, here's my answer: the people in the valley were never up on the mountain in the first place.

If we're all going to have our own personal valleys, isn't it possible that those people whose valley is deeper didn't actually fall further than anyone else, they just started off lower up the mountain (if they were ever on the mountain at all)? I'll get straight to my point. If the top of the mountain is a powerful, engaging Relationship with God through Jesus Christ, then many people were never up there. Here's why. For far too long (probably three generations) we have not been teaching people to passionately love God and desparately fight to follow Jesus Christ. Instead, in my estimation we have spent our time teaching the following three things:

1. Faithful religion means you come to every scheduled worship 'service' and bible study. If the Elders say that we're going to meet then you should be there.

2. Follow Church doctrine. Because if you don't then you'll be called names. Let's be honest with ourselves. Has the Church doctrine always been Bible doctrine? Before you say yes, can you name a scripture for everything you have been held accountable for or condmened others on?

3. Live a good, moral life.

When I think back to my childhood and teenage years, and when I look at titles of old sermons, I see that everything fits into one of these three categories. So when I look around now and see folks who have deserted their faith or are not living out Christ-like faith, I have to point a few fingers back at myself. Because here's the bottom line, people are doing what they have been taught to do. And they are doing it for as long as they can. But here's the problem with that bottom line: if those three teachings define your faith, then your faith is built on a weak foundation that will eventually crumble.

The only foundation that will never crumble is Jesus Christ. If we preach and teach Jesus Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2), then we'll give our kids, our community and ourselves a foundation that will stand up to the trials that James said will come.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Using the Old Testment to Prove New Testament Doctrine

What authority does the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible hold over Christians? That question has been asked and answered before, right. I mean Jesus dealt with that. He fulfilled the Old Law. He said so himself in Matthew 5:17. That's why we don't sacrifice animals anymore; or rely on priests to be a go-between. Jesus made serves us in both those capacities. He was the perfect sacrifice for our sins. No more sacrifices are required. And no more trips to the Temple.

There's a reason I ask and answer this question. I'm wondering if Christians should use the Old Testament to prove or to serve as evidence for doctrinal positions. I've done this many times. But I am really beginning to rethink my thinking on this one. If the Old Law is not binding any longer - then the Old Testament shouldn't be binding any longer either. But we really have a double standard on that. Well, I've had a double standard on that.

Here's an example. When it comes to worship I have traditionally been, well, traditional. I don't really like that word so I'll say that I tend to err on the side of caution. So many times when I have felt uncomfortable about an issue and wasn't really able to address it in the New Testament text, I would turn over to Leviticus 10 and throw Nadab and Abihu at it. "See, when it comes to worship we should only do exactly what God says to do." I am going to guess that I'm not the only person to do that.

So, is that right? Is that okay? Does that fall in line with the way God wants us to use the Old Testament text? Is that why God was sure to include that story? What do you think? I'll try to answer some of those questions in the next post. 

Bible Camp

It's been a while since my last post. I've been away from my computer the past week. I took my Bible, my Greek Grammar and enough clothes to get through the week and spent an absolutely wonderful five days at Bible Camp. I love going to camp! It's a great time to leave every distraction at home and just go focus on God and my relationship with Him.

I didn't watch or keep up with the Braves. I didn't watch any movies. I didn't check Fox News. I didn't blog or read any blogs. And I survived just fine. In fact, I never really missed it. It was just my Bible and my Christian family. I wonder if Bible Camp isn't close to what the first century Christians experienced. If you've been to a Bible Camp, then you know what i'm talking about. If you haven't, chances are, your congregation is connected to one. Give it a try. You'll be a blessing and will be blessed. I promise.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Who's My Brother?

Fellowship is a tough subject. The best treatment I have ever come across on the issue was F. Legard Smith's Who Is My Brother? If you have never read it, I highly recommend you pick it up.

It seems that we have come to a crossroads, or maybe a fork in the road. Many folks are widening their door of fellowship and including anyone and everyone who calls themselves a Christian - whether or not they are in fact a New Testament Christian. While others are so judgmental and condemning that they refuse to recognize their brothers and sisters in Christ simply because they disagree with them on one or two issues. Both are wrong, because neither demonstrate the LOVE or ACCOUNTABILITY that Jesus taught us.

This brings up the question, what does it mean to fellowship? Is it simply about worship? Or does it extend past worship? What would people in my community think if they saw me eating lunch with the preacher at the Baptist church that is less than a mile from our building? The fact is, we are all over the spectrum when it comes to fellowship. I'm going to spend a little time studying Jesus' attitudes and responses to this issue and I hope to share some of what I find. But in the mean time, I'll leave it with this thought.

We have to avoid the extremes. We are never going to agree with everyone on every issue of doctrine - because we don't have a perfect understanding of doctrine. But we can understand issues of salvation. And to accept another person as Christian when they are not is wrong. That puts their soul in jeopardy. And that's my responsibility to reach out to that person and teach them - not reach out to them and embrace them as a brother in Christ. Likewise, shame on the person who unscripturally withholds fellowship from another Christian. That is not a Christ-like behavior.

Brothers and Sisters in Christ are Brothers and Sisters in Christ. Jesus' blood has created a family bond that I have no right to break. Let's not forget whose we are.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

When You Don't Like How Things are Going

Terry Rush posted this on his blog yesterday. I'm really appreciate his thoughts.
While all can use this article, I specifically write to the very young leaders. Many things will take place in the church that you won't like. What shall you do? Move? Fight? Quit? I think not. I don't know how I knew to do it, but I saw at an early age the need to keep my mouth shut and learn. I studied what wasn't working for I knew the day would come when things changed. I lived in pain on several occasions; even then realizing I was in an important class studying church leadership from the trenches. Anybody can work with a church when things are going great guns. What God seems to look for are men and women who will take the icon of the cross seriously...things won't go our way. Don't be discouraged when the seas are rough. Rather learn to walk on them. Choose to capitalize on their educational value. You are designed for effective leadership. Sometimes your best days will feel like your worst. Fret not. He still oversees His work.
There are times when the waves feel like they are too big to swim in. And sometimes the headaches and stress just doesn't seem worth it. When those feelings come along, the easiest thing to do is give up and quit. I have to admit, there are times when those feelings are right. But having the wisdom to recognize the right thing to do does not come from within - even if we have great experiences or a wealth of knowledge. It comes from the leading of the Holy Spirit. It comes from the source above.

One thing I often need to be reminded of is that God alone knows everything and that it's His plan and purpose that ultimately counts. God has big plans for us, for each of us. The question then is, will I have the humility and courage to submit to His will for my life and faithfully seek His purpose and His plans?

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Inspired Proof-Texter

I had intended to follow up a previous post (The Bible Is Not a Jigsaw Puzzle) with a few more thoughts on proof-texting. Here's those thoughts.

Today, people generally have three different responses to proof-texting. First, many have no idea what it is, nor do they particularly care to know. Second, others seem to think that since all of God's Word is inspired and infallible, any statement therein can be used as a statement of fact regardless of the context. The third group seems to be disagree with the practice on two principles. Well, I'll say I disagree with it for two reasons (I think some folks may agree with me). Here's the first reason, when proof-texting is done to make a point, it is usually done out of ignorance or lack of understanding of the scripture. Second, it is done for the purpose of condemning. Neither of those are good ideas to me.

That having been said, there's some biblical evidence that maybe proof-texting isn't bad or wrong. It's tough being intellectually honest with the Bible. Because sometimes, that forces you to admit that you don't have nearly the insight that you thought you may have had. This might be one of those spots. Take a break from your reading and grab your Bible and read Matthew's birth narrative (1:18-2:2).

Matthew refers to five prophecies in the text to help make his case for Jesus' divine birth. Here they are listed individually with the corresponding Old Testament scripture that Matthew is citing.

Matt 1:22-23
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel"
Isa 7:14-16
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted.

Matt 2:5-6
They told him (Herod), "In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet: And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.
Micah 5:1-4
Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops; siege is laid against us; with a rod they strike the judge of Israel on the cheek. But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God.

Matt 2:14-15
And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, "Out of Egypt I called my son.
Hosea 11:1
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols.

Matt 2:17-18
Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: "A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more."
Jer 31:15
Thus says the LORD: "A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more."

Matt 2:23
And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled: "He shall be called a Nazarene."
Isa 11:1
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.

Notice how in four out of the five citations Matthew uses the word "fulfill." Here's what's interesting about all of this - those four citations are not literally accruate. That means that Matthew took the verses out of context and used them to make his point about Jesus. Here's what I mean. Isaiah 7 is not talking about Jesus. The context is that Israel (in particular Jerusalem) is under seige by Syria and Judah. What Isaiah is prophesying is that there is a young woman who will have a child and that child will be eating curds and honey by the time he is old enough to choose between right and wrong. What does that mean? Well, since the city was under seige, there were no supplies coming in - so there was no curds and honey being brought in to be eaten. But by the time he's a few years old the seige will be over. The translation of the word "virgin" is actually not original to the Hebrew. It was added by the LXX translators. The original word literally means "young woman." So it seems that Matthew had a copy of the LXX in front of him and was cutting and pasting a verse to make his point.

With the exception of Matthew 2:5-6, the others have similar issues. They are completely taken out of context. And like I mentioned before, the four that are taken out of context are the ones that Matthew uses the word fulfilled. It seems like he may have known what he was doing so added the word fulfilled to give it more authority.

What exactly was Matthew doing here? Is this right? Did he do it on purpose? If it's okay for Matthew to do this, is it okay for me or us? These are just a few of the questions that I have. Here's my thoughts on it. I think Matthew was using typology. I don't think he was writing ignorantly or carelessly. I think he purposefully used a method of applying and interpreting the scriptures. Is it valuable for today? That is, is that method of interpreting valuable for today? Well, many of the early Church fathers were really into typology because they felt the need to have an explanation for everything in the Bible. They took 2 Timothy 3:16 way too literally and used to make interpretations that were never intended to be made.

Think about it this way: what practical significance or relevance can the Christian today gain from the old Law listed in Leviticus and Numbers? There are scriptures that tell the Israelites what to do if someone's cow comes onto your land and gets hurt. What's the application for today? Well, there's really not a specific literal application. We can derive some themes about how to live in community with one another and treat other people. But there's not much else there. But with typology we can put stuff there to make it seem more practical and relevant. That's pretty much what Matthew did.

Is it right for us? No, I don't think it is. The Bible was not written to us, it was written for us. The Bible is not an encyclopedia or dictionary meant just to be used for reference. It was never written with verses or chapters. That tells me that we were meant to read the whole thing. We should just take one verse out of hundreds from a letter that Paul wrote and use it to make our point. We have to ask the questions: is this was Paul was talking about? What issues was he addressing? Etc.

So why did Matthew do it? Well, I think it comes back to inspiration. He was being guided by the Holy Spirit to create the document in just the way that God wanted.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Having Fun in "Church"?

I came across this video on Tim Spivy's blog. I wonder if this applies to religion/church/faith, etc. I know many people would consider it heretical to purposefully include fun in religion (and by religion I mean "church"). But assuming this phenomenon presented in the picture is accurate, why would we not use it in the most important mission ever? If we're going fishing for people (Mark 1:17), wouldn't we want use the best "bait" we can find? Does God prefer what type of "bait" we use?

Is it wrong to enjoy "church," definitely not. Is it right to make entertainment the sole purpose of "church," definitely not. What does God say about including fun and entertainment in "church" to provide greater initial attraction, greater stimulation and a more impactful experience? That's something to study and think about.

Tim Spivy has some worthwhile comments. "Personally, I find the presence of laughter to be a sign of congregational health and its absence stunning and sad. While I don't think church should be a stand-up routine, I have to think that enjoying God's people and God's presence is a good thing. While they shouldn't be cornerstones of the church, laughter and fun certainly shouldn't be out of place in the church. In fact, they should be symptomatic of the joy we have living out the abundant life together."

An Recent Interview with Stephen Hawking

What a despondent commentary on the attitudes of the Created. Hawking said that he wants to know why the universe exists, why there is something instead of nothing. It's terribly disappointing that he chooses not to believe in the source that can supply the answer to his question.

By the way, Diane Sawyer is annoying at best and really needs to go away.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Let all things be done decently and in order - ahhhhh!

Recently I've been considering our worship time together. It "seems" like too many of us are just going through the motions. Well actually, that's probably painting the picture to look a little nicer than it probably is. What I should say, while most of us are going through the motions, some are not motioning at all. A couple of Sunday's ago while the congregation was standing and singing together, I noticed a man was sitting down and reading the bulletin. On a bench behind him, a parent was sitting down singing while her two teenage kids sent text-messages. When did we get to the point where we come together to worship our Creator to now where it seems like we come to the building to check off our religious requirements sheet for the week? I think a lot of this is because hearts are hard and no longer living a life of love as a follower of Jesus. Where instead, those hearts that once flamed brightly are relegated to the life of a religious drone.

All that aside, I think the Church leaders bear some responsibility for this. Take for instance our worship service. It is completely scripted, planned and even timed. We do the exact same thing every week in the exact same order. We sing the same number of songs in the same order and we take the Communion at the same point - every week, week after week. All with the effort of getting through it all so that we can get to the sermon, so the preacher can get done quicker, so we can be done right at one hour. And we do it all in the name of "letting all things be done decently and in order" (1 Cor. 14:40). It kind of makes we want to go into a closed room and yell - "that's not what Paul was talking about!!!"

I came across this blog from Timothy Archer. Take a look at it.

"C.S. Lewis was no fan of change within worship services. He wrote, “Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best—if you like it, it ‘works’ best—when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it.…But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself…” He goes on to quote an unnamed source that said, “I wish they’d remember that the charge to Peter was Feed my sheep; not Try experiments on my rats, or even Teach my performing dogs new tricks.” (The Joyful Christian, pp. 80-81)

Personally, though I highly esteem Lewis as a thinker and a writer, I don’t agree with his views on familiarity in worship. I find that familiarity often breeds unthinking repetition. It becomes too easy to “go through the motions,” without being aware of what we’re doing or why. We say things without even thinking what they mean. We sing without being aware of who we’re singing to (is it a song of encouragement to my brothers or a song of worship to God?). We instinctively reach for our checkbook while sipping the homogenized grape juice from the plastic cup.

I think that we need change at times if only to make us aware of what we’re doing. My high school choir director used to say, “A rut is just a grave with both ends knocked out.” We need to be conscious of the forms of what we’re doing and the meanings behind those forms. What do you find to be true? Is change a distraction or a call to awareness? Is routine an aid to worship or a hindrance to our worshiping with our minds as well as our actions?"

Kind of makes you think.

The Bible is not a Jigsaw Puzzle

This is a great read from Frank Viola. It's a little long, but well worth a few minutes of your time. You're brain will thank you for it ;-)

"Why is it that we Christians can divide up into thousands of different sects and all claim that we are following the Word of God? How is it that many of us can blithely embrace church practices and theological beliefs that are not rooted in Scriptural principle, yet read them back into the New Testament? I submit that the problem is with our approach to the New Testament. The approach most commonly used among modern Christians when studying the Bible is called "proof texting." The origin of proof texting goes back to the late 1590s. A group of men called Protestant Scholastics took the teachings of the Reformers and systematized them according to the rules of Aristotelian logic.

The Protestant Scholastics held that not only is the Scripture the Word of God, but every part of it is the Word of God in and of itself—irrespective of context. This set the stage for the idea that if we lift a verse out of the Bible, it is true in its own right and can be used to prove a doctrine or a practice. When John Nelson Darby emerged in the mid 1800s, he built a theology based on this approach. Darby raised proof texting to an art form. In fact, it was Darby who gave fundamentalist and evangelical Christians a good deal of their presently accepted teachings. All of them are built on the proof texting method. Proof texting, then, became the way that we modern Christians approach the Bible. It is taught in every Protestant Bible school and seminary on earth.

As a result, we Christians rarely, if ever, get to see the NT as a whole. Rather, we are served up a dish of fragmented thoughts that are drawn together by means of fallen human logic. The fruit of this approach is that we have strayed far afield from the practice of the NT church. Yet we still believe we are being Biblical. Allow me to illustrate the problem with a fictitious story.

Meet Marvin Snurdly
Marvin Snurdly is a world renowned marital counselor. In his 20-year career as a marriage therapist, Marvin has counseled thousands of troubled marriages. He has an Internet presence. Each day hundreds of couples write letters to Marvin about their marital sob stories. The letters come from all over the globe. And Marvin answers them all. A hundred years pass, and Marvin Snurdly is resting peacefully in his grave. He has a great, great grandson named Fielding Melish. Fielding decides to recover the lost letters of his great, great grandfather, Marvin Snurdly. But Fielding can only find 13 of Marvin’s letters. Out of the thousands of letters that Marvin wrote in his lifetime, only 13 have survived! Nine of them were written to couples in marital crisis. Four of them were written to individual spouses.

These letters were all written within a 20-year time frame: From 1980 to 2000. Fielding Melish plans to compile these letters into a volume. But there is something interesting about the way Marvin wrote his letters that makes Fielding’s task somewhat difficult. First, Marvin had an annoying habit of never dating his letters. No days, months, or years appear on any of the 13 letters. Second, the letters only portray half the conversation. The initial letters written to Marvin that provoked his responses no longer exist. Consequently, the only way to understand the backdrop of one of Marvin’s letters is by reconstructing the marital situation from Marvin’s response. Each letter was written at a different time, to people in a different culture, dealing with a different problem. For example, in 1985, Marvin wrote a letter to Paul and Sally from Virginia, USA who were experiencing sexual problems early in their marriage. In 1990, Marvin wrote a letter to Jethro and Matilda from Australia who were having problems with their children. In 1995, Marvin wrote a letter to a wife from Mexico who was experiencing a mid-life crisis.

Take note: 20 years—13 letters—all written to different people at different times in different cultures—all experiencing different problems. It is Fielding Melish’s desire to put these 13 letters in chronological order. But without the dates, he cannot do this. So Fielding puts them in the order of descending length. That is, he takes the longest letter that Marvin wrote and puts it first. He puts Marvin’s second longest letter after that. He takes the third longest and puts it third. The compilation ends with the shortest letter that Marvin penned. 13 letters are arranged, not chronologically, but by their length. The volume hits the presses and becomes an overnight best seller. People are buying it by the truck loads. 100 years pass and The Collected Works of Marvin Snurdly compiled by Fielding Melish stands the test of time. The work is still very popular. Another 100 years pass, and this volume is being used copiously throughout the Western World. (Marvin has been resting in his grave for 300 years now.) The book is translated into dozens of languages. Marriage counselors are quoting it left and right. Universities are employing it in their sociology classes. It is so widely used that someone gets a bright idea on how to make the volume easier to quote and handle. What is that bright idea? It is to divide Marvin’s letters into chapters and numbered sentences (we call them verses). So chapters and verses are born in the Collected Works of Marvin Snurdly. But by adding chapter-and-verse to these once living letters, something changes that goes unnoticed. The letters lose their personal touch. Instead, they take on the texture of a manual. Different sociologists begin writing books about marriage and the family. Their main source? The Collected Works of Marvin Snurdly. Pick up any book in the 24th century on the subject of marriage, and you will find the author quoting chapters and verses from Marvin’s letters.

It usually looks like this: In making a particular point, an author will quote a verse from Marvin’s letter written to Paul and Sally. The author will then lift another verse from the letter written to Jethro and Matilda. He will extract another verse from another letter. Then he will sew these three verses together upon which he will build his particular marital philosophy. Virtually every sociologist and marital therapist that authors a book on marriage does the same thing. Yet the irony is here. Each of these authors constantly contradicts the others, even though they are all using the same source!

But that is not all. Not only have Marvin’s letters been turned into cold prose when they were originally living, breathing epistles to real people in real places. But they have devolved into a weapon in the hands of agenda-driven men. Not a few authors on marriage begin employing isolated proof texts from Marvin’s work to hammer away at those who disagree with their marital philosophy. How can they do this? How is this being done? How are all of these sociologists contradicting each other when they are using the exact same source!? It is because the letters have been lifted out of their historical context. Each letter has been plucked from its chronological sequence and taken out of its real life setting. Put another way, the letters of Marvin Snurdly have been transformed into a series of isolated, disjointed, fragmented sentences—free for anyone to lift one sentence from one letter, another sentence from another letter, paste them together to create the marital philosophy of their choice.

An amazing story is it not? Well here is the punch line. Whether you realize it or not, I have just described your NT! Your NT is made up mostly of Paul's letters. Paul of Tarsus wrote two thirds of it. He penned 13 letters in a 20-year time span. Nine letters were written to churches in different cultures, at different times, experiencing different problems. Four letters were written to individual Christians. The individuals who received those letters were also dealing with different issues at different times.

Take note: 20 years—13 letters—all written to different churches at different times in different cultures—all experiencing different problems. In the early second century, someone took the letters of Paul and compiled them into a volume. The technical term for this volume is "canon." Scholars refer to this compiled volume as "the Pauline canon." It is essentially your NT with a few letters added afterwards, the four Gospels and Acts placed at the front, and Revelation tacked on the end. At the time, no one knew when Paul's letters were written. Even if they did, it would not have mattered. There was no precedent for alphabetical or chronological ordering. The first-century Greco-Roman world ordered its literature according to decreasing length.

Look at how your NT is arranged. What do you find? Paul's longest letter appears first. It is Romans. 1 Corinthians is the second longest letter, hence the reason why it follows Romans. 2 Corinthians is the third longest letter. Your NT follows this pattern until you come to that tiny little book called Philemon. Here is the present order as it appears in your NT. The books are arranged according to descending length:

1 Corinthians
2 Corinthians
1 Thessalonians
2 Thessalonians
1 Timothy
2 Timothy

What, then, is the proper chronological order of these letters? According to the best available scholarship, here is the order in which they were written:

1 Thessalonians
2 Thessalonians
1 Corinthians
2 Corinthians
1 Timothy
2 Timothy

The Addition of Chapters and Verses
In the year 1227, a professor at the University of Paris named Stephen Langton added chapters to all the books of the NT. Then in 1551, a printer named Robert Stephanus numbered the sentences in all of the books of the NT.

According to Stephanus' son, the verse divisions that his father created do not do service to the sense of the text. Stephanus did not use any consistent method. While riding on horseback from Paris to Lyons, he versified the entire NT within Langton's chapter divisions. So verses were born in the pages of holy writ in the year 1551. And since that time God's people have approached the NT with scissors and glue, cutting-and-pasting isolated, disjointed sentences from different letters, lifting them out of their real-life setting and lashing them together to build floatable doctrines. Then calling it "the Word of God."

This half-baked approach still lives in our seminaries, Bible colleges, churches, Bible studies, and (tragically) our house churches today. Most Christians are completely out of touch with the social and historical events that lay behind each of the NT letters. Instead, they have turned the NT into a manual that can be wielded to prove any point. Chopping the Bible up into fragments makes this relatively easy to pull off.

How We Approach the Bible
We Christians have been taught to approach the Bible in one of seven ways. See how many you can tick off with a pencil that apply to you:
  1. You look for verses that inspire you. Upon finding such verses, you either highlight, memorize, meditate upon, or put them on your refrigerator door. 
  2. You look for verses that tell you what God has promised so that you can confess it in faith and thereby obligate the Lord to do what you want. (If you are part of the "name-it-claim-it," "blab-it-grab-it" movement, you are masterful at doing this.)
  3. You look for verses that tell you what God commands you to do.
  4. You look for verses that you can quote to scare the devil out of his wits or resist him in the hour of temptation.
  5. You look for verses that will prove your particular doctrine so that you can slice-and-dice your theological sparring partner into Biblical ribbons. (Because of the proof-texting method, a vast wasteland of Christianity behaves as if the mere citation of some random, de-contextualized verse of Scripture ends all discussion on virtually all subjects.)
  6. You look for verses in the Bible to control and/or correct others.
  7. If you are a preacher, you look for verses that "preach" well for next Sunday morning's sermon. (This is an on-going addiction for preachers. It is so ingrained that many of them are incapable of reading their Bibles in any way other than to hunt for sermon material.) 
Now look at this list again. Did you find yourself there? Notice how each of these approaches is highly individualistic. All of them put you, the individual Christian, at the center. Each approach ignores the fact that most of the NT was written to corporate bodies of people (churches), not to individuals. But that is not all. Each of these approaches is built on isolated proof-texting. They treat the NT like a manual and blind us to its real message. It is no wonder that we can approvingly nod our heads at paid pastors, the Sunday morning order of worship, sermons, church buildings, religious costumes, choirs, worship teams, seminaries, and a passive priesthood—all without wincing.

We have been taught to approach the Bible like a jigsaw puzzle. For most of us, we have never been told the entire story that lies behind the letters that Paul, Peter, James, John, and Jude wrote. We have been taught chapters and verses, not the historical context.

Needed: A New Approach to the New Testament
What is needed is a brand new approach to the New Testament. An approach not based in the New Testament letters as they are arranged in our Bible. But an approach that is based in "the story" . . . which blends together Acts and the Epistles in chronological order. If every Christian, pastors and Bible teachers included, would obtain a panoramic view of the first-century church in its chronological and socio-historical setting, it would revolutionize the Christian landscape today. The following are four specific ways in which this revolution could take place in your own life.

First, understanding the story of the NT church will give you a whole new understanding of each NT letter—an understanding that is rich, accurate, and exciting. You will be ushered into the living, breathing atmosphere of the first century. You will taste what went on in the writers’ hearts when they penned their letters. The circumstances they addressed will be made plain. The people to whom they wrote will come to life. No longer will you see the Epistles as sterile, complicated reads. Instead, they will turn into living, breathing voices that are part of a living, breathing story. The result? You will grasp the NT like never before! NT scholar F.F. Bruce once made the statement that reading the letters of Paul is like hearing one side of a telephone conversation. This book reconstructs “the other side.”

Second, understanding the story will help you see “the big picture” that undergirds the events that followed the birth of the church and its subsequent growth. This “big picture” has at its center an unbroken pattern of God’s working. And this pattern reflects God’s ultimate goal—which is to have a community on this earth that expresses His nature in a visible way. This theme of a God-ordained community constitutes a unifying thread that runs throughout the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Therefore, reading this book will not only help you to better understand your NT, it will also give you a fresh look at God’s eternal purpose…that which is closest to His heart.

Third, understanding the story of the NT church will supply you with the proper historical context which will enable you to accurately apply Scripture to your own life. Christians routinely take verses out of context and misapply them to their daily living. Seeing the Scripture in its proper historical context will safeguard you from making this all-too common mistake.

Fourth, understanding the story will forever deliver you from the “cut-and-paste” approach to Bible study that dominates evangelical thinking today. What is the “cut-and-paste” approach to Bible study? It is the common practice of coming to the NT with scissors and glue, clipping and then pasting disjointed sentences (verses) together from Books that were written decades apart.

This “cut-and-paste” approach has spawned all sorts of spiritual hazards. One of them being the popular practice of lashing verses together to build floatable doctrines. Another is that of “proof-texting” to win theological arguments. (A vast majority of Western Christianity behaves as if the mere citation of some random and de-contexualized verse ends all discussion on virtually all subjects.) The Medievals called this “cut-and-paste” method “a string-of-pearls.” You take one text, find some remote metaphorical connection with another text, and voilá, an ironclad doctrine is born! But this is a pathetic approach to understanding the Bible. While it is great for reading one’s own biases into the text, it is horrible for understanding the intent of the biblical authors. It has been rightly said that a person can prove anything by taking Bible verses out of context. Let me demonstrate how one can “biblically” prove that it is God’s will for believers to commit suicide. All you have to do is lift two verses out of their historical setting and paste them together:

“And he [Judas]…went and hanged himself” (Matthew 27:5). “Then said Jesus…‘Go, and do thou likewise’ ” (Luke 10:37b).

While this is an outrageous example of the “cut-and-paste” approach, it makes a profound point. Without understanding the historical context of the NT, Christians have managed to build doctrines and invent practices that have fragmented the Body of Christ into thousands of denominations. Understanding the sequence of each NT Book and the socio-historical setting that undergirds them is one remedy for this problem.

I have stated four reasons why rediscovering the NT story is a worthwhile endeavor. But there is one more reason. There is a very good chance that it will revolutionize your Christian life and your relationship with your Lord!
This article has been excerpted from Frank Viola's book Pagan Christianity: The Origins of Our Modern Church Practices (www.ptmin.org/pagan.htm) and The Untold Story of the New Testament Church (www.ptmin.org/untold.htm)

Friday, May 28, 2010

One More Thought on 2 Peter

There is one more idea that I wanted to share in the last post, but didn't because I thought it might be a little too long. Here's what I was trying to think through. So let's say that, based on the evidence, I come to a conclusion for myself that the Apostle Peter didn't write 2 Peter. But for reasons listed in the last post, I'm okay with that and my faith is not impacted at all. There is still one more question that I have had trouble dealing with.

On multiple occassions in the text, the author explicity passes himself off as Peter; either directly in the first verse or through inference by talking about being up on the mountain with Jesus, James and John for the tranfiguration. This is a problem for me, if for no other reason than the blatant dishonesty. This would be akin to a student plagairizing material. It just not consistent for God to allow any form of dishonesty to be presented in His Bible.

We're really fishing in the weeds now. I mean, all the evidence points in one direction. While on the other hand, that direction is entirely inconsistent with the nature of God. Well, here's my thought. (Keep in my this is still in the thought phase and I haven't done any research on it at all). I wonder if this book hasn't been created from multiple sources? For example, if someone got their hands on fragments of something Peter wrote, that would explain the direct references like the one to the transfiguration. Likewise, some of the other material may be sourced in much the same way as the Gospels - second or third hand rememberances of things Peter taught and said. I know, this is thin. But, for now, that's the best I've got.

What about you? Am I a heretic for even considering that Peter didn't write the letter? Has this raised questions for you that are uncomfortable? Do you completely agree and think I must be the smartest guy in the world? I'd be interested in hearing opinions.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Back to the Issues of Authorship and Inspiration of 2 Peter

If you’re like me, you would rather try to ignore any evidence that might possibly damage any of the traditions about the Bible – authorship being one of those. The book has 2 Peter has the title for a reason, because Peter wrote it. Honestly, that’s how I’d like to keep it. But there’s another side to the story. I decided a long time ago to place my faith in God and trust Him with my life – with my soul. For me, part of that faith includes placing my trust in the Bible as His inspired Word, the message that He has chosen to leave to me and my family about how to make it through our journey to see Him. If I choose to ignore this “negative” evidence, then I am really demonstrating a lack of faith in God’s Word to stand up against a few skeptical thoughts. His Word is much more powerful than that. If it has the power of God for salvation (Rom 1:16) and if it can save my soul once it’s been implanted in my heart (Jas 1:21), then certainly it can handle my questions.

So, let’s just say for the sake of discussion that there is validity to these arguments; and that 2 Peter was probably not written by the Apostle Peter and that it was written at the end of the first century or beginning of the second. Does that influence your feelings about the text? Should it influence your feelings? Does it mean that the text isn’t inspired? Was there a mistake somewhere along the way and someone circumvented God’s will and inserted this letter in when it shouldn’t have been? These are all legitimate questions.

Like I said, I would rather it have been written by Peter. But if it wasn’t, I’m not going to lose any sleep. Somehow the book still made it into the Bible. What we have to remember about the formation of the Bible is that there was never a council or meeting or any group that formally decided what books were in and what books were out. Over the course of hundreds of years this book could have been taken out by people. But for some reason it was left in. It wasn’t because they were ignorant to the issues that we are now aware of. We have records of the Church theologian Origen expressing his doubts that Peter was the author in the 3rd century, and yet the book remained in the canon.

Let’s take a moment to clear up a common misconception. Many people wrongly think that the only inspired people in the first century were the ones who ended up with a letter/book in the New Testament. I don’t think that’s correct. There are clear Biblical statements that there were prophets in the Church in the first century. In fact, it’s my opinion that each Church had at least one. That’s how the Christians received the will of God until it was available in written form. I find it terribly difficult to believe that none of these men who were inspired wrote down some of the oracles they had received from God; or that no one went home after being at the assembly and hearing their prophet speak went home and took some notes on what he was told that day.

There is also real good evidence that suggests that inspiration carried on after the last Apostle had died. If the gift of prophecy was to communicate the Word of God then why would God take that away before everyone had an opportunity to know what His will was? In other words, wouldn’t it make sense that God would keep prophets around until there were was a supply of all the books of the Bible? That probably didn’t happen until later in the 2nd century.

Having said all this, just because 2 Peter may not have been written by Peter, doesn’t mean that it wasn’t written by an inspired author. I believe that it was written by an inspired author and that’s why God has ensured that worthwhile copies of it remained. There are other letters that I would refer to have copies of (like Paul’s other letters to the Corinthians). But God see to it that those be preserved.

In the end this all comes down to each person’s faith or belief. We’re dealing with texts and evidence that is sourced about 2000 years ago. There is little, if any, information we can prove with certainty. So which ever conclusions you accept, it will be based on faith. Personally, I think the evidence strongly points to the conclusion that Peter did not write this letter. I could take that conclusion and allow it to wreck my faith in God’s Word. That would be an act of faith or belief. Because there is no substantial evidence that the letter wasn’t written by an inspired author. Or, I can choose to remain in my belief that the entire Bible is the inspired Word of God; and that since God is ultimately the author of it all, it really makes little difference to me which man’s hand He used to write it.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

This Is Too Funny!

Authorship, Inspiration and other Challenges with 2 Peter

I want to start by saying that I would be extremely cautious about sharing this information in a Bible class setting. We have to be on guard for each other spiritually. And sometimes there are issues in the Bible that we don't have clear answers for and really don’t have to address. This information fits into that category. Anytime we challenge long-held traditions about the Bible we have to be careful; because, even if it is accurate, it could be damaging to peoples’ faith. Some of this information might fit into that category.

There is some strong internal evidence that suggests that the Apostle Peter did not write 2nd Peter and that it was written well after Peter had been martyred. The evidence points to the conclusion that it is pseudepigrapha – which is just a fancy name for a category of ancient books that have another persons’ name attached to it to give it more authority. You may have heard of the Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Mary, etc.

We'll take a moment to point out some of that evidence. But the main idea to consider is whether or not this impacts how we treat the Bible. For example, let’s assume that Peter didn’t write this text, does it mean that 2nd Peter is not inspired? Does it mean that it shouldn’t be in the Bible? These are questions that I want to consider.

Let’s look at some of the evidence:

2 Peter 3:15-16
And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.
This text speaks of “all his letters,” referring to Paul’s letters. This does not have to be a reference to each of the letters that we have of Paul today. But it does indicate a familiarity with at least a few of Paul’s letters. It is possible that because of his status, Peter could have had copies of Paul’s letters. However, the writer here speaks of them as if the audience was quite familiar with these letters. This is not chronologically feasible. If this letter was written by Peter prior to his death around AD 64-67, it seems doubtful that enough time could not have elapsed for sufficient copies of Paul’s letters to have been made and circulated to this extent.

There is another question raised from this text. What does “the other scriptures” refer to? Is this a reference to the Old Testament? Probably not, because it seems that the letter was written to an audience made up primarily of Gentiles. They wouldn’t really care much about the OT. If it wasn’t the OT, then it must be referring to other NT letters or Gospels. This comment makes it sound as if there was a collection of books that were accepted as authoritative to the point that they were called scripture. This means that they had to have been circulated long enough to have developed this acceptance. This brings up the same issue mentioned before. If Peter did write this in the early to mid 60s, there would not have been enough time for any of the writings to have developed authoritative to that extent.

2 Peter 1:14
Since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me.
This verse is commonly regarded as an allusion to John 21:18 when Jesus tells Peter that he will die by crucifixion. I think that is probably correct. The problem is that the Gospel of John was probably not written prior to the early 80s. That would mean that 2 Peter would have had to have been written after John was written. It is clear that Peter was martyred by Nero in the mid 60s. That creates a problem with naming Peter as the author.

However, there is a good explanation for this. If Peter is the author then he would not have gotten this information from the Gospel of John but from Jesus himself. So that would not be a problem. This evidence is probably best seen as corroborative.

There are other issues with the Petrine authorship. For example, the writing style between 1st and 2nd Peter is completely different. Also, 2 Peter and Jude have many similarities. So much so that it is probable that one used the other as a reference when writing. If this were the case, there would have to be some time gap between the two. Otherwise, one of the authors would not have had occasion to become familiar with the other letter to the extent that he would use it as a reference. The most common dating for Jude is late 60s to early 70s. If 2 Peter is written in the mid 60s there is not enough of a time gap. We’ve got to remember that the world then was completely different. There was no mail service. Letters had to be hand carried, which usually meant travel by boat or donkey or foot. It took time. Also, we can’t forget that getting a copy of a letter assumed literacy or money. Neither of which was common then. Assuming all this to be the case, either Jude or 2 Peter is dated much later. The evidence points to 2 Peter.

There are many different ways to respond to reading some of this information. You may have been able to reason away each of these evidences. And you may be correct. Or you may accept each of these evidences. Let’s say for the sake of discussion that there is validity to these arguments; and that 2 Peter was probably not written by the Apostle Peter. Does that influence your feelings about the text? Should it influence your feelings? Does it mean that the text isn’t inspired? Was there a mistake somewhere along the way and someone circumvented God’s will and inserted this letter in when it shouldn’t have been? These are all legitimate questions that we’ll address in the next post.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Something's Missing?

We have recently had a "surge" of visitors at our Church lately. (I'm really not sure what a surge is - but it sounded good). Some have come once and not returned. Others have been coming back. And there are a couple who have been coming off and on for a while. I wonder what they are looking for? I've only "shopped" for a Church twice. I didn't like it. I wasn't very good at it.

I wonder, what do people look for when they go shopping for a new Church? I've heard a few things: doctrinally sound, progressive, no musical instruments, a "good" preacher, great singing, good classes for my children, and the list goes on. You may have your own list.

I started thinking more about this and looked through some preacher want-ads. What do Churches look for in a Preacher? A lot of it had to do with education and experience. That's to be expected. But a lot of the other requirements were things like "doctrinally sound," conservative, progress, grace-oriented, dynamic, strong leadership skills, etc. (By the way, do you actually think anyone considers themselves to not be doctrinally sound? People write stuff like that as if a potential preacher would read it and then think, "well, I don't follow God's Word so I may as well not apply?" I have always thought that was such a dumb thing to list.)

You know what I have never heard a Church shopper or a Church that was shopping say, that they were looking for a Church or Preacher that loves Jesus and His Church. In fact, I have never seen a Preacher Want-Ad that says anything about loving Jesus. Nor do I recall ever having heard anyone say they liked a Church because it was clear that they loved Jesus Christ.

Ever wonder why Churches are dying? Wonder no more. At some point, we started to care more about our opinions and preferences than Jesus.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Check Out this Old School Acappella video

This is a video of the original Acappella group singing on the Gaither show. They were amazing. There is a lot of their music on YouTube. It brings back great memories!

A Quick Vent on Politics

I have never used this blog to talk about politics but I am going to break that streak here. I need to vent.


What in the world is wrong with our Congressional leaders?! How can they stand up and applaud another head-of-state that is speaking out against one of our states in our own House?! That is absurd! I can understand differences of opinion and even a little stupidity - but that is unacceptable! No one should be allowed to come into our home and be disrespectful. What one of our states chooses to do is none of his business.

I am usually even keel when it comes to politics - everything runs in cycles and always self-corrects. But this is scary. When I saw our VP and Speak of the House stand behind and applaud the Mexican president, I wanted to throw up  (and punch both of them). No matter where your beliefs are politically we still must all be united. November can't come soon enough!

By the way - it's not migration - it's illegal immigration!!!

Thursday, May 20, 2010


Χριστιανὸν is the greek work that we translate as "Christian." The actual meaning of this Greek word in follower of Christ.

Do you ever feel like you have become desensitized to certain words or actions, or maybe even to watching or hearing certain things? I do, to often. It's easy to do because it's one of the ways that Satan tries to slowly get into our life. But did you ever think that Satan would ever try to desensitize you to the word Christian? Every time we list you're religious preference on a survey or talk about your faith at work or with friends, most of us probably talk in terms of being a Christian. That really doesn't mean as much as it might have at one time. I recently read that as many as 85% of Americans consider themselves to be a "Christian."

Think about it . . . do you think that 85% of Americans actually live as Christians? I doubt it. Do you think that 85% of the people you worship with really live as Christians? Maybe, barely.

Now what if we quit using the term Christian? What if, instead of saying Christian we said, "follower of Christ?" There's been times where it would be a lot harder for me to tell people that I am a follower of Christ - because it there has been times when I obviously wasn't following Him very closely, if at all. What about you?

If we all agreed to quit using the word "Christian" to describe our faith or religious affiliation one of two things would probably happen. (1) People would be much more considerate of whether they actually considered themself a follower of Christ and as a result not classify themselves as such so quickly or (2) people would start to realign their life so that it would look like they were actually following after Jesus more than they are now.

Honestly, old habits are hard to break. So I'll probably continue to refer to myself as a Christian. But I know that I'm going to try a lot harder to live as a follower of Christ.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

When Did We Stop?

When did we stop being the Church of the first century? When did we stop trying to be the Church of the first century? Those questions are actually a bit misleading, so let me try again. The Church in the first century included congregations with issues - some with fairly significant issues. So, probably a better question is to ask is, when did we stop trying to restore New Testament Christianity? Was there a point in time when, collectively, we agreed that we had arrived at our goal and then set up camp and stayed put? I don't know about you, but sometimes it feels like that is what we have done.

We worship at different congregations. We worship at different types of congregations - some with very little in common. But the one consistently correspondent trait is that we all think we are being the Church that Jesus established and the Apostles gave their lives to grow. Is that possible, that we can "do Church" so differently yet all be "doing Church" correctly? Some Christians passionately say yes. We can have our differences and no one has the right to judge my preferences. Others passionately say no; and insist that there is only one way and if it's not done that one way then all is lost, and there can be no fellowship.

It seems that we are at an impass. We can continue to throw rocks at each other. What I mean is, we can continue to call each other names like, liberal or legalist; and we can continue to refuse fellowship with one another. Or, we can commit to one other to seek the Truth of God's Word and only God's Word; and thereby find a common ground where we can live in harmony. Because, make no mistake, we are at an impass and something has got to give. We are losing souls because we can't agree on whose opinion we are going to honor.

So what did the First Century Church look like? Well, that's a question that I am hardly qualified to answer and couldn't attempt in a short amount of time. But there's some things that we can't know because the Bible just doesn't tell us. But there are many things that we can know. For example, we can know that the Apostles thought it was wrong for women to take a leading role in public worship. We can also know that the New Testament Christians didn't use instruments in worship. It's not because there were no instruments available. For some reason they purposefully excluded them. Probably because the teaching they were receiving from the Apostles and their local prophets was telling them only to sing. That's all the New Testament gives us. So that's what we have to go on.

There's other things we can know for sure. The Apostles and prophets never mentioned how God desires the singing to be led. Nor did they mention when, where and how often they must meet on the first day of the week. Nor did they talk about translations of the scrolls (i.e. scriptures, doesn't that sound silly. I can't believe we argue about that one). They also didn't give any direction on how we are supposed to dress when we assemble together for worship and Bible study. The list could go on. Throughout the course of the past few generations we have developed customs and preferences based primarily on practical necessity and culture. And now we stand here today insisting that our customs and preferences be honored or else.

Like I said before, when did we stop trying to restore New Testament Christianity? When did my opinion become more important than God's Word? When did I stop deeply searching for the Truth of God's revelation and begin accepting man's interpretation of it? Family, I could very well be completely mistaken. If I am please correct me. I love God too much to disappoint Him, especially when I could easily be corrected. And I don't want to stand before Him having taught people incorrectly. It is past time for us to kick Satan out of the Church, bring Jesus back in and get about the business of being followers of Christ and growers of the Kingdom. What do you think? Is it time for another Restoration Movement?

Friday, May 14, 2010

What's YOUR Hermeneutic? Read this to find out!

I was recently asked this question: what's your hermenuetic? I know why I was asked - to find out if I thought like they thought. But I wasn't real sure how to answer that; and i'm really still not sure. Hermeneutic, now that's a fancy college word. Hang on a sec, I'm going to look it up on webster.com . . . Okay here's the definition: a method or principle of interpretation. Let me ask myself that same question a different way: how do you interpret the Bible? That's easier to understand. Let me ask you the question: how do you interpret the Bible? As a kid, I heard my Grandfather teach Command, Example and Necessary Inference (CENI). If you're affliated with the Restoration Movement then I'm sure you know more about this then I do.

I want to try something a little different. Let's play Jeopardy with this. Hermeneutics for $300 Alec. The answer is . . . CENI. Ding. What is,"Why do I do what I do in 'Church'?" Did I get the $300 bucks? Isn't that essentially what the question is? Not all, but most everyone I know seem to accept this method of interpretation. The Necessary Inference part seems a little shaky and I think the three of them together discount the historical context of the text. But let's not digress. So, we seek to answer questions like why do I worship on Sunday? Why do we sing praises to God when we assemble? Why do share in the Lord's Supper when we do, and other questions like that by using the CENI methodology. I don't know about you, but like I said, that seems to work pretty well.

But there is a PROBLEM with this method and here it is - what do you do with questions that can't be answered by CENI? What about questions like, do we have to meet together twice on Sunday? Do we have to meet together for announcements and an invitation on Wednesday nights (instead of only having Bible class)? Do we have to meet at the building for formal Bible study on Wednesday nights? Can we meet in homes on Tuesday nights? What translation of the Bible should I/we use? How should we organize and conduct our worship assembly? These are questions that people have decided fellowship on. Let me be more clear, some Christians refuse to acknoweldge other Churches and Christians because they don't answer these questions the same way as they do. That's awful and not scriptural - but again - I'll try not to digress. So how do we answer questions that our method for answering questions can't answer? For example, they were living out the contents of the NT. So Jesus, Paul, Peter or any other inspired person never said a word about which translation to use. In fact, there wasn't even consensus on which version of the Old Testamen to use - the Hebrew or the LXX (Greek translation of the Hebrew). In fact, Paul actually used both depending on which one helped him to make his particular point better. So how in the world can we be dogmatic about which translation to use today??? The inspired authors used more than one translation of their Bible and they never said anything about it because it wasn't important to them. Because of that, we shouldn't be making an issue of it today.

Here's another one. None of the apostles ever mentioned how we should conduct our singing? A song leader, a praise team, spontaneous singing or something else? Maybe Paul was a baritone and liked to lead singing when he preached? Maybe there was only one scroll of the Psalms in Berea, so one guy had to sing by himself until all the other new, non-Jewish Christians learned the words, or had some translated into Latin or Greek? Ever consider that? So why do some people call other Christians sinners for having a praise team? Well, because it becomes a performance. I know I've heard that too. In fact, I used to think that until I started seeing song leaders who liked to put on a show by themselves - that kind of wiped out that argument.

There are so many questions that can't be answered with our traditional method of interpretation. That's why the Restoration Movement accepted the phrase "Speak where to Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent." So why did we quit following that saying? Here's the question one more time for you to answer. Why do we do what we do - if the Bible doesn't say anything about it? Well, there are two primary methods of interpretation that are usually applied. First, let's just do what we've always done. That's easy and upsets the fewest amount of people. Second, this is what I think and what I like, so we're going to do this because I'm in charge (i.e. i've got the money, been here the longest or am the most power or obnoxious Elder). Does that sound Christ-like?

Okay, I promise this will be the last time I ask the question: why do YOU do what YOU do when it comes to living out the written revelation of God? It's time to start restoring New Testament Christianity - AGAIN.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Unforgivable - Matthew 12:31-32

In this text Jesus makes the statement that anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. This passage is scary, tough and brings up so many questions. It seems like Jesus is saying that there is a sin that I can commit for which I can’t receive forgiveness. Is it possible that as a Christian that I can commit a sin that Jesus’ blood does not cover? What is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? How can I be sure that I have never done that, even accidentally? These are legitimate questions that many Christians have struggled with. Let’s try to answer them together.

As we study God’s Word we have to be careful not just to take a text that we read and try to apply it without considering why it was said, why it was written, whom it was said or written to and what was going on in the verses surrounding it. If we don’t answer these questions then we are being irresponsible with the text and risk misunderstanding the message that God wishes for us to have. Having said that, here’s what was going on in this passage. Jesus had just healed a blind and mute demoniac (v22). This caused many people in the crowd to question if this was indeed the “Son of David” (v23). In other words, they were asking if this could possibly be the Messiah that was referred to in the Old Testament (2 Sam 7:16; Isa 9:6-7).

This upset the Pharisees. No way could the Messiah be some poor guy from Nazareth. To them, the Messiah was going to come from Bethlehem and be a great king who would lead them out from under the Roman rule. To them, there was no way this was Jesus; and to even consider that it might be was unacceptable. Knowing this, we can understand their response to the crowd (v24). But before we look at their response, understand that it was common for some people to have the ability to perform exorcisms like Jesus had (v27). They were not attacking Jesus for performing the miracle. Back to their response; when they heard what the crowd was thinking, they became enraged and said, “This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons” (v24). In other words, they accused Jesus of using the power of Satan to perform His miracle.

This is the context of Jesus’ response to them. He first argued against them from a logical point of view (v25-26). In these verses Jesus made the point that Satan wouldn’t allow his power to be used to cast his own demons out of people – that would be self-defeating and just doesn’t make sense. It’s like an army fighting against itself. Then after a couple of other comments He concludes His argument by saying, “Therefore, I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit shall not be forgiven” (v31).

Understanding what was going on makes this verse fairly easy to understand. It’s obvious that the sin Jesus was referring to was blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. In order for Jesus to have said it in this manner, someone must have just committed this sin. That would have to be the comments made by the Pharisees; because that’s what Jesus was responding to. So whatever they said must have been blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Look back at what they said; “This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons” (v24). By saying this, they were trying to attack Jesus but He took it as an attack against the Holy Spirit. Why? Because the Holy Spirit is what gave Him is ability to perform the miracles. In other words, according to Jesus, they attributed the work of the Holy Spirit to Satan. That was the specific sin that Jesus was upset about and that is what he was referring to as blasphemy against the Spirit.

Is that a sin that you or I can commit today? Some argue that since Jesus or the Holy Spirit are not working in that manner today that we are not able to say that the work coming from them is from Satan. While others contend that because the Holy Spirit is still active in other ways that we can still attribute that work to the power of Satan. I’ll let you this final question for yourself.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Happy Mother's Day

Proverbs 31:10 says "An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels."

Yesterday we all had the opportunity to thank our wives for being such great Moms. Our family did what many families do. We went to worship together and then go out and celebrate by letting Mom choose the restaurant; and because they are such wonderful Moms they were thankful and grateful. We had a great time together and then today was pretty much back to normal.

Of course, every day can't be a celebration - at least not for my family because we'd go broke :-) But I have been beating myself up a little lately because too often it takes a special day to remind to honor my Godly wife and mother of my children. Like the virtuous woman, her worth is far above any jewel on earth. Sometimes though, I don't tell her enough.

We can always say thank you and I love you more often; and it can be even more meaningful if we sometimes say it without words. May God bless your family.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Being a Leader is HARD

Being a leader is tough. Let me say that again. Being a good leader is tough. Anyone can stand up in the front of the line and say "follow me." But truly leading people is so hard to do well.

I was thinking this afternoon about accountability. Actually, about accountability in terms of making tough decisions. A leader who is not accountable to himself, his responsibilities or his organization will pass over the tough decisions. Either by passing the buck so that someone else has to do it and then can be blamed for it. Or by simply ignoring the issue that needs to be decided on and hoping it goes away. Neither of these is a good choice. Both errode trust and increase the ineffectiveness of the organization. Neither are a sign of a good leader.

Within the setting of our congregations, our leaders are called on to make tough decisions all the time. And we need to be held accountable by ourselves and the people we are leading to not only make those decisions, but to make effective decisions. That's the other part of what makes this so tough.

For some leaders, decision-making is easy. They enjoy the responsibility and are comfortable with being at the front of the line. However, to often, some leaders make decisions based off of their comfort-zones, their opinions and their interests. When they should be setting aside all subjectivity and objectively gathering information, weeding through it and then coming to the decision that best moves the congregation towards achieving its' goals.

Here's an example of where we might be either avoiding addressing or have made decisions based on our opinions or preferences. To have a Gospel Meeting/Homecoming or not? This is a tradition that has been great for the Church! Thousands of Christians have come to Christ through a Gospel Meeting. And countless more have been restored while attending one. The catch is that all these Christians are now in their 50s or older. Meetings haven't been an effective evangelism tool in at least one, probably two generations. So the question needs to be asked, "what is the goal of a Gospel Meeting?" If it is to evangelize, then it's not meeting its goal and hasn't for some time. And as a result a tough decision needs to be made. If we have changed the goal of a Meeting, then what has it been changed to? Has that been identified and communicated to the congregation? Is it possible that this is a tool that was great at one time, but is no longer effective because of changes in society? Is it possible that we need to put our resources and efforts in another tool to reach lost souls?

Being accountable is one of the biggest keys to being an effective leader. And it is difficult to do well and do consistently. Gospel Meetings are just an easy example to pick on to make this point. Good leadership requires being accountable to everyone - especially the organization. Which means making difficult decisions by objectively considering factual information and not just opinions, preferences and traditions. As leaders we've always got to do what's best for the Church.