Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Dangerous Humility

As we approach the bible, we must do so with a correct dose of humility. The scriptures present some topics that are difficult to understand. It is wise to remind ourselves that when we ponder these issues we should be careful about the conclusions we draw. In particular, let's avoid thinking that we have everything figured out. Too much confidence in our own interpretations is prideful and frequently leads to division within the body of Christ. The prudent believer will consult other Christians prior to making firm judgments about the meanings of particular texts.

What I've described above is an appropriate humility.

When it comes to interpreting scripture, a different type of humility also exists - a dangerous humility.

This dangerous humility takes humility to the extreme. It basically says that we cannot really know what the bible means. Therefore, we shouldn't be dogmatic about anything. This false form of humility is dangerous because it takes direct aim at the gospel itself. The glorious gospel of Jesus Christ is made up of some wonderful truths that we know about from the bible. If we do not hold to these things, then we do not know Jesus Christ. For example, we must believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that Jesus came to earth, that he was crucified and resurrected, and that he is the only means of salvation. Apart from these truths and others there is no gospel.

I will hold to these truths no matter what until the day I die. I will be dogmatic about them. This is not arrogance. Rather, it is simply understanding that the bible presents some truths in such a clear manner that to reject them is to reject God. It is an insult to God to suggest that basic facts discussed in the scriptures are beyond our comprehension.

The place to be humble is when looking at issues that are important, but are not core to the gospel. These are the issues where Christians have disagreed, sometimes for centuries. A few of these include the meaning and mode of baptism, predestination vs. free will, specifics of creation, women's roles in the church, and the proper form of church gatherings. Many more exist.

Please let me be clear: we should always discuss any issue in a charitable and loving manner. However, this does not mean that we ought to be wishy-washy or unconvinced. When it comes to gospel issues, we must stand firm. It is not arrogant to claim that the bible is crystal clear on the gospel. Nowhere do the writers of scripture ever call any aspects of the gospel into question. They write about the life and teachings of Christ in a straightforward way. These writers meant to be understood.

Let's not fall into the trap of this false form of humility. It is a danger to the church because it calls the gospel itself into question.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Define "Church" in Ten Words or Less. Go.

One positive and negative of the internet is that we now have the ability to communicate nearly constantly. Millions (if you include Facebook and Twitter) write online daily. As you no doubt notice, many of those people have absolutely no idea what they are talking about.

One reason many folks are clueless writers is that they don't think about definitions (frankly, many do not appear to think at all). If we cannot define what we are talking about, then what are we really saying?

Keeping this in mind, let's have a small group exercise. Let's define "church." It's helpful to do this in ten words or less. The word limit forces us to be precise in our thinking. So, can you do it? I think you can. Define "church" in ten words or less. Please leave your definition in the comments.

Here's my definition:

"A supernatural community on mission with Father, Son, and Spirit."

Monday, January 27, 2014

Brilliant Article Applauding Stay-at-Home Moms

I don't link too often to other blog posts mainly because I don't have the time (I worked 70 hours this week). However, yesterday I ran across a post that is too good not to laud. Matt Walsh has written a brilliant piece entitled Stay-at-home moms: you don’t owe the world an explanation. Please read it. Enough said on my part.

Friday, January 24, 2014

I've Tried, But I Still Can't Stand "The Message"

I've tried. I've really tried to like The Message. I've given it multiple chances. In the end I've come to a clear conclusion: I can't stand The Message.

The Message may or may not actually be a bible depending on who you talk to. If it is simply a commentary, then fine. However, at least the publisher considers it to be a bible. The cover shown here says, "The Bible in Contemporary Language." Additionally, I've met many Christians who carry this translation to church meetings and use it in bible study.

I'm not some sort of KJV-only type. I enjoy the KJV, NKJV, NIV, ESV, NLT, NASB, HCSB, ISV, and others. They are all good English translations that basically say the same the same thing. If I only had one bible, I'd be happy to have any of these translations (I generally use the ESV or NKJV, but it doesn't really matter to me).

However, I'd rather have no bible than have The Message. I'd prefer to recall what I have memorized than let The Message infect what I know.

The following are the three primary reasons I can't stand The Message:

First, in numerous places it is not accurate. I've been in bible studies where someone with The Message read aloud. Others of us would look at each other and then say, "Huh?" Eugene Peterson has tried so hard to use contemporary language that he has frequently lost the meaning of the original language. Single translators, even with good intentions, are dangerous; committees are much better.

Second, Peterson has effectively "dumbed down" the bible. He has simplified the language to the point that it is almost insulting. I'm not suggesting that the bible should be difficult to understand. However, it's also not play time. This leads me to number three...

Third, The Message is simply too cutesy. Many deep theological concepts are translated in such a way that they seem trivial. Peterson swings the pendulum so far in his quest for reader understanding that he paints a picture of a simplistic God with a simplistic gospel.

I realize it's not considered socially acceptable within Christian circles to criticize bible translations. In this particular case I'll just have to violate that unwritten rule. Not only can I not stand The Message, I also cannot understand why any other Christian would use it as their bible. If you want a bible that is easy to understand, get yourself an New Living Translation.

Scripture is not something trivial. We should desire to know what God has said. We have an embarrassment of riches in the English language as far as bible translations are concerned. What we don't need is a poor translation that actually harms the church. This is what The Message is doing. It sickens me what a high selling "translation" The Message is.

If you want to treat The Message as a commentary, go ahead. However, as far as bibles are concerned, The Message is a mess.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

This Makes Me Laugh

This comic makes me laugh every time I read it. So, in light of the approaching Super Bowl, please enjoy this summary of every pre-game interview you will hear (this applies to many other professional sports as well):

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Sufficiency of the Holy Spirit and Scripture

In living a life for Christ, we must know what to do and why to do it. That sounds obvious, and it is. However, many believers appear to be off track when it comes to why they live as they do.

I hear some Christians talk about the sufficiency of scripture. The idea is that the bible is sufficient for telling us all we need to know about faith and practice. I understand this idea and am somewhat sympathetic towards it. Scripture certainly ought to drive our lives much more than, for example, tradition. However, scripture is not enough.

I hear other Christians talk almost exclusively about the Holy Spirit. I can sympathize with this as well. We obviously need the leading of the Holy Spirit to have any clue how to live our lives. It is the Spirit who empowers us as we go through the day. Since the Holy Spirit is fully God he is worthy of our worship. However, the Spirit is not enough.

I hold to neither the sufficiency of scripture alone nor the sufficiency of the Holy Spirit alone. What I do believe in is the sufficiency of the Holy Spirit and scripture. We need them both to adequately and accurately direct our lives.

I'm in no way equating the Holy Spirit and the bible. One is God and one is not. We should certainly treat them differently. However, we can and should look to both for direction and guidance. They work differently in our lives, but we need both. They complement each other very well.

I once heard a believer say that God will never tell us to do anything that violates what we see in scripture. I've found this to be true in my life. The Holy Spirit may instruct us to do things we don't see in the bible; however, we almost always end up following scriptural principles.

Let's look to both sources to live as we should. If we overemphasize the bible, we may lose out on the vitality and power of the Spirit. If we overemphasize the Spirit, we may end up attributing some things to him that are simply incorrect (because we've ignored scripture).

When we follow the bible and the Holy Spirit, and believe in the combined sufficiency of these two things, then we can live as God desires.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

I Love This Hymn!

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty is one of my favorite hymns. It takes a little while to get going, but it is wonderful. My wife Alice and I like it so much that we had everyone sing it at our wedding. What a powerful piece of music this is!

Monday, January 13, 2014


Based on the above report, it looks like even atheists desire gathering, fellowship, and community. It makes sense. People generally enjoy each other's company. This ought to inform the way we think about gatherings. People want to be together, talk, encourage, and eat (not necessarily in that order). If atheists (defined by what they don't believe) have a reason to gather, how much more do we? We are defined quite specifically by what we do believe. Even more, by who we believe in and follow. Interestingly, atheists see no reason to gather for worship, but they still want to gather. I suppose I have that in common with them; I don't want to get together for worship either. Just give me some fellow believers, the Holy Spirit, some food, and a bible and I'll be all set.

We Jesus-followers have a real reason to get together.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Big News: "What We're For"

My big news is that Jeremy Myers and I are putting together a book entitled What We're For.

The book idea was originally Jeremy's and is based on a blog post I wrote a while back. Our purpose is to compose a decidedly positive book about simple church life. We hope What We're For generates discussion and understanding among the broader body of Christ. I will serve as the editor while Jeremy is the publisher.

We're using the structure of the original blog post as a basis for the table of contents (the book will have 25-30 chapters). Jeremy and I are excited about the list of contributors. Most contributors will be writing one chapter each; a few will write two. This is our list so far (in alphabetical order by last name):

Edwin Aldrich
Bobby Auner
Stephanie Bennett
Alice Carpenter
Eric Carpenter
Bonar Crump
Christopher Dryden
Kathy Escobar
Keith Giles
Chris Jefferies
J. Michael Jones
Travis Klassen
Alan Knox
Miguel Labrador
Chuck McKnight
Guy Muse
Jeremy Myers
Sam Riviera
Will Rochow
Steve Scott
Steve Sensenig
Arthur Sido
Brian Swan
Kathleen Ward

This is quite an eclectic group of writers. Most are bloggers, but not all. We don't all agree with one another on everything (who does?). However, we all love Jesus and his church.

The book is still in the early stages. It should be published sometime this autumn. I'll have much more to say about it as we near that time. Thanks to all those contributing to this project!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Big Announcement Tomorrow!

I have some big news that I'll be sharing with you tomorrow. This is something that I'm very excited about. I usually try to avoid shameless promotion, but in this case I'll make an exception. See you tomorrow.

Monday, January 6, 2014

The 7 Early Church Councils

I admit to having a love-hate relationship with church history. We see a great deal of good and quite a bit of bad. Regardless, we can learn much from looking back over the past 2000 years. It's fascinating to see how the church came to some of its conclusions. One way the church did this was through councils. Seven significant councils took place between AD 325 and 787. Many Christians, myself included, know little about these councils or the issues they grappled with. We may or may not agree with either the process or the specific outcomes of these councils, but we do well to be aware of the decisions they made.

Tim Challies is currently blogging through the seven early councils. I encourage you to take a look at this helpful resource. Tim has covered the first three councils so far:

The First Council of Nicaea (AD 325)

The First Council of Constantinople (AD 381)

The Council of Ephesus (AD 431)

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Jesus is Our Sabbath. His Yoke is Easy and Light.

"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Matthew 11:28-30

The above verses are some of the most comforting in all of scripture. We all feel heavy laden from time to time. One beautiful aspect of life with Jesus is that his rest is not confined to a specific time or place. His yoke is easy and light all the time. He is, in fact, our Sabbath rest.

Much of life is full of busyness, stress, and toil. It's not all bad, but it does require a great deal of time and attention. We all need regular rest physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Life with Jesus provides all of these, but especially spiritual rest.

Rest in Christ, our Sabbath, is not designed to add more to our already busy plate. Rather, this rest is one that adds joy to our lives. Only true peace and rest come through Christ.

All man-made religions require work, work, and more work from their followers. Jesus Christ, on the other hand, desires that we simply rest in him. When this happens, we will also find that living according to his standards is pure joy.

Friday, January 3, 2014

They Will Know Us By Our Love

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." John 13:34-35

Earlier this week I discussed both why I could no longer consider serving in the military and why I cannot understand why other Christians do serve in the military. My primary reason for this is that Jesus has told us to live as peacemakers and to love our enemies.

Love is the greatest characteristic that sets Christians apart from the world. This is love as defined in scripture. Although a noun, this love shows its reality as a verb. Self-sacrificial service is what biblical love is. While our culture thinks of love as gooey sentiment and mushy feelings, the writers of scripture repeatedly describe love in terms of one person helping meet the needs of another.

In John 13:34-35, during Christ's Farewell Discourse, we read one of Jesus' most profound statements. Three times he instructs his disciples to love one another. When God says something three times we can be certain that it is extremely significant.

This command to love one another is narrowly defined. Jesus expects his followers to love each other as he has loved them. In just a matter of hours the disciples will see that this may even mean dying for each other. Then Jesus says something else amazing: other people will know they are his disciples based on their love for one another.

Love, then, as God expects it may mean that we lay down our lives for each other. Additionally, non-believers will take notice that we are Christ-followers based on our treatment of each other. Apparently our love in action will mean much more than words we can say. This has obvious impact on what we think about evangelism.

God gets to determine what his followers should look like. He's made it clear. After Christ transforms us, we should be people of love. Since the Holy Spirit resides in us, this love ought to be a natural outflowing. When this is happening, the world will truly know us by our love.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Why Would Any Follower of Christ Serve in the Military?

I've recently come to the conclusion that I could no longer consider serving in the military. Not that I'm being asked to sign up, but if I was asked I would not do so. I can no longer reconcile loving my enemy with possibly being asked to shoot him.

This conclusion has led me fairly quickly to a related question: Why would any follower of Christ serve in the military?

Uh-oh. Them's fightin' words.

I realize that thousands of Christians are currently part of the U.S. military. Many thousands more support them in this. However, numbers do not equal correctness. Look at the following verses from the book of Matthew:

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." Matthew 5:9

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust." Matthew 5:43-45

In 5:9 and 5:43-45 Jesus says that "sons of God" and "sons of your Father" are those who are peacemakers and love their enemies. Christ himself makes a connection between how we treat others and whether or not we know God. Remember that both love and peace are aspects of the fruit of the Spirit. Evidence of our being in Christ is loving and peaceful attitudes toward even those who hate us.

I've heard some Christians speak of a difference between how we are to act individually toward others and how we are to act as part of the military. The idea is that while it's not acceptable to harm someone as we go about our daily lives, it is all right to harm them as part of the Army, Navy, etc. I find this argument convenient but not biblically defensible.

Jesus made it clear what he thought of the use of violence. During his arrest we see the following:

"While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, 'The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.' And he came up to Jesus at once and said, 'Greetings, Rabbi!' And he kissed him. Jesus said to him, 'Friend, do what you came to do.' Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, 'Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.'" Matthew 26:47-52

Jesus says, "All who take the sword will perish by the sword." This is a strong warning to those who would act out in violence toward other people.

God's Kingdom is not of this world. Its values are upside-down compared to the world's standards. What might make sense to us is often not what Jesus wants.

Jesus commands to love enemies. The military commands (sometimes) killing enemies. These aren't just different; they are opposite.

In light of Jesus' counter-cultural statements and demands, how can any Christian serve in the military?