- 2016 (9)
- 2015 (2)
January 26, 2016
If you have spent any time reading the gospels, you are probably familiar with the groups known as the Sadducees and Pharisees. You are probably less aware of a third group called the Essenes since they were marked by separating themselves from the culture and therefore didn't warrant any air time in the Bible. You probably are not, however, all that familiar with what makes these groups distinctive.
The Sadducees developed during the 2nd temple era following the return from exile. Their main concern was temple service. They were committed to the Torah (the first 5 books of the Bible) and set aside the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures. It is for this reason that they didn't adhere to belief in a resurrection. They were not concerned with what the prophets had to say about what was to come. It was the past and how it informed the immediate present that occupied their attention. They were dedicated in their efforts to uphold all things related to the temple. As a result, they were satisfied with a picture of God rather than God Himself.
The Pharisees, on the other hand, were committed to the entirety of the Hebrew Scriptures and its concern with the restoration of God and His rule. That rule would guarantee that holiness would reign once again. They were dedicated to the idea that holiness must extend beyond the temple into everyday life. It is for this reason that they developed numerous rules to guide even the most mundane aspects of life. They were consumed with the personal benefits from the outcome of holiness rather than with the One from whom holiness is derived and defined.
The Essenes, as I mentioned before, withdrew from the culture. They too were committed to serving God as well as holiness but believed that true dedication to God and holiness would only come about by a complete separation from the world at large.
In modern Christianity, we look back on these groups of people and see the error of their ways. After all, even Jesus had some pretty harsh words for both the Sadducees and the Pharisees. And it's obvious that complete disengagement from society leads to extinction like the Essenes or else we would find them present along side the others. The more we consider these groups, the more we will come to realize that in our quick denunciation of them, we find that history has replicated these groups in many ways in almost every era, even today.
There are those today who are dedicated to all things "church." Often, to the point that one's spiritual temperature can be measured by the number of hours spent at the church house. The church (building) is sacred after all. You don't run in it, wear a hat, etc. . . You get the picture. These types of Christians place a great amount of value on numbers (both people and money) and church sponsored events, among other things, so long as it puts the church on display.
Then, there are those who have responded adversely to the "church-centered" group. To them the church is not a building but a people. Those who are spiritual do not get caught up in events and numbers but instead seek to live out the gospel in their neighborhoods, workplace, and schools. The relational life is ultimate, not a geographical building. It is difficult to measure but it is what matters.
Then there are those who may or may not share similar traits with either of the previous groups but have taken one or the other or both to a completely different extreme. They are either so "church" centered that they create an extreme separation from the culture around them and build up walls to keep the outside from getting in. Others,though they are so relational focused, surround their lives with only those who think like themselves and cease having any real contact with anyone else. In essence they withdraw from the culture around them in the direction of one extreme or the other. All in the name of their version of what is more godly.
Here's the point. While we may sit back and point out all the awful characteristics of those groups of old, They provide us with some important issues to wrestle with. They chose to ignore some things and exalt others while "meaning" well in the process. In some sense what they chose to sacrifice wasn't theirs to sacrifice and what they chose to exalt became distorted because it became an end in itself rather than a means to THE end. Today, we must continue to cherish the church! Not the building (it did not replace the temple, Jesus did), but the people of God. The corporate body of believers is significant in God's scheme of bringing about the consummation of His Kingdom. We must not seek to reduce its central place in the plan of God. We must, however, remember that the church has little to do with the place that we gather. So far as the building provides a suitable location for believers to gather, it is important, but that is the extent of it. The church (God's people) are not to be inward but outward, seeking to take the gospel to those outside. Therefore, believers are to seek to engage relationships wherever they find themselves. Those relationships, however, need to be targeting those who need to see and hear the gospel with the goal that they cease being outsiders and become part of the church. It has been and will continue to be true that we will gravitate toward safety and security amongst those who are like ourselves, but we must intentionally strive against this trend. If not, we will find ourselves safely withdrawn from the very task we were left here to accomplish. The Sadducees, Pharisees, and Essenes all had significant positive points to be embraced, but not to the exclusion of truth. We can't major on one truth and ignore another simply because we've experienced those who distort that truth. We must seek the whole truth and strive to be the church who demonstrates the gospel to one another and to the world by engaging the world with the very gospel that compels us in the first place. What kind of Christian are you? Are you consumed with "dedication," "law & morality," "separation," or the glory of God revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ?
January 18, 2016
As many of you are aware, Sunday, January 17th was Sanctity of Life Sunday. This day has been set aside largely to affirm the importance of life even in the womb. On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court made it legal to kill unborn babies and as a consequence called into question what it meant to be a human being.
Since that time many have taken up the mantle to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. Over the years, this had become known as the pro-life movement. I raise this issue not because I want to start a debate over when life begins or even to denounce those who do not agree with me. I know where I stand and am convinced that God’s Word is clear about all those whom He has created. The real question I want to raise it to what extent are we truly pro-life? As many of you are aware, my wife and I just found out that the baby, whose heartbeat we had just seen beating two weeks ago, was no longer alive. This is the fifth time that we have walked this road in 20 years. The last time was over 12 years ago and we have grown in numerous ways since that time. We now have five wonderful children and if this pregnancy would have continued, we would have six. We value life!
It is this present experience that has once again caused me to reflect on this subject in a deeply personal way. Being pro-life is about much more than merely standing against abortion. It is valuing all life from conception to the grave. It is recognizing God’s sovereign purpose of imaging forth His majesty in every single human life. Sure, sin has marred and distorted the image of God in us, but it yet remains! God still opens and closes the womb. God still stands by the original cultural commission to be fruitful and multiply. God still upholds His Word to Moses that it is He who makes the “mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind” (Ex. 4:11). God continues to magnify Himself in every life. Yet, how many of us are guilty of condemning those who are “pro-choice” in one breathe and in the next finding ourselves disgusted with those who keep having kids without the means to pay for them or feel inconvenienced that our parents require a little more time than we’d like. I’ve found myself standing in need of repentance. I don’t mean for this to be understood from a political point of view. I know we have issues about society’s ability to cope with everything that’s being thrown at us. We have a difficult task before us to figure out how to respond on a national level. In end, however, I fear that the disintegration of the value of human life goes far beyond this issue of abortion. In fact, the abortion factor might even be the very thing to distract us long enough to unravel the very fabric of the thing we are trying to uphold.
Every life is valuable! The baby in the womb. The mentally or physically challenged child or adult who makes us feel awkward. The children of the parents who “probably shouldn’t have had kids in the first place,” and the “irresponsible” parents themselves. The aged man or women who can no longer control their own bodily functions and require around the clock care. All of them! It seems as though that notorious quote from Charles Dickens classic “A Christmas Carol” has become more than merely a few lines in a story:
"At this festive season of the year, Mr Scrooge, ... it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir."
"Are there no prisons?"
"Plenty of prisons..."
"And the Union workhouses." demanded Scrooge. "Are they still in operation?"
"Both very busy, sir..."
"Those who are badly off must go there."
"Many can't go there; and many would rather die."
"If they would rather die," said Scrooge, "they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”
The next time we find ourselves confronted with the issue of an unwanted pregnancy (even the ones who “should have known better”), poverty, incompetence, or the inconvenience of the elderly; we might want to stop and think about that phrase, “PRO-LIFE.”
God is imaging forth His glory and grace all around us and we don’t even recognize it, even worse, we’re disgusted by it.
In the words of the apostle Paul, “think on these things . . .”
December 30, 2015
Proverbs 29:18 is a familiar verse to those who have spent any amount of time in the church, "Where there is no vision, the people perish" (KJV).
This verse of Scripture is often offered as a motivation for churches and ministries to formulate a vision for the future. Often this means, for example, a plan or program that involves financial and/or numerical growth to the church. While plans like these can be helpful to turn our focus towards growth, this isn't exactly what this text says. In fact, the meaning of the text is much more fondational and significant than a mere inspirational slogan.
There are two key words in this simple phrase which comprise the first half of Proverbs 29:18, vision and perish (as they are translated in the KJV). To fully appreciate the intent of this text, it is best to first consider the term translated "perish." If you consult another translation of the Bible, you will find this term translated another way. In the ESV, NASB, NIV, NKJV, or HCSB you will find it translated, "go unrestrained, cast off restraint, or run wild." Literally the term means "to loosen, let loose." Therefore, "where there is no vision, the people let loose or cast off restraint." With this slightly adjusted translation, it seems that the idea conveyed is, that without a plan things will operate in chaos without focus. While that is generally true, it still isn't exactly what this inspirational text means.
The term translated "vision" means exactly what it says. The context of this term, however, constrains us to a particular meaning of the term. The context does not allow us to understand the word vision to mean "a formulated and structured plan of where we are headed." It is here that the second half of this verse is helpful. The parallel to "vision" is "law." It is for this reason that the ESV renders this term as "prophetic vision" in order to narrow our understanding and point us in the right direction. In the Old Testament, vision typically meant a communication from God. A loose and practical translation of this verse could be, "Where the Word of God is not communicated, the people will go their own way." I assure you the "people's way" is not the way of God.
While it may seem that I am seeking to undo a traditional understanding of a great inspirational and motivational verse that helps us to lobby for clearly communicated direction for the future, I am actually trying to provide a more fundamental and faithful understanding of the text that will more surely prepare us for the days ahead. Our vision for the future must rest upon the "vision" intended in this text, that is, in our more contemporary terms, upon God's disclosure of Himself to humankind which is the Word of God. Faithfulness to God's Word must be our goal above anything else! It is what we are called to and it is the means that God has ordained to accomplish His Plan. It is by the means of faithfulness to His Word that our plans will serve His Plan.
So, no matter what visionary plans we may seek to cast, if they are not firmly rooted in the Word of God and faithfully seek to proclaim the Word of God, they are nothing more than another distraction from God's glorious plan. If we are to serve His Plan, we must know the Word, love the Word, and live the Word. May God grant us an insatiable thirst for that "vision," which is the Word of God!
December 14, 2015
As we enter the Advent season once again, I want to encourage all of us to be intentional about what this season is really about. It is easy for us to grow accustomed to and complacent about the advent of Christ when it becomes commonplace in our lives. We know all the clichés and the traditional Christmas hymns so that we can quote them without even much thought to the message they proclaim.
We now live in a culture that is quickly setting itself apart from out traditional roots and Christian heritage. Many of us are grieved at the direction we see society turning as though we are surprised. While we should never settle for the changing tide, there is some encouragement to be found. If we turn back a few pages in our Bibles from the birth of Christ, we will find a society that had determined once again that God was not all that necessary in their lives. Despite the continual warnings and consequences of the rebellion of God’s people, they always seemed to follow their sinful hearts away from God till finally God ceased to address them at all. Sadly, life went on. No one seemed to notice much difference, except for a few of the faithful. It is a dark day when God chooses to silence His voice. Yet, after 400 years of dark silence God’s voice pierced the darkness and with a resounding word broke the silence. It was the extreme darkness that made this world from God both mundane on one hand and amazingly glorious on the other. GOD’S WORD BECAME FLESH AND DWELT AMOUNG US! Jesus was the Word that broke the silence and was the loudest Word that God had ever spoken. The advent of Christ changed everything! It is no different today.
While things may sometimes seem dark in the times in which we live and while society around us may be turning a deaf ear toward God, it may be that the message of the gospel will look and sound more prevalent as a result. It is in the darkest night that the stars shine the brightest. For some, the traditions of Christmas may be mundane, but for those of us who love and serve the gospel of Jesus Christ it is amazingly glorious. This advent season may be your opportunity to shine forth the gospel to a friend, family member, or maybe even a stranger who desperately needs to see and hear the hope of the gospel. May God be glorified in us throughout this season!
For His Glory Alone,