Monday, December 27, 2010

Careful with that Proof-Texting

I'm accustomed to hearing a phrase similar to this: "We have to go by what the Bible says, not what man says."

And I agree that this is completely correct. But many in the Scripture-honoring crowd have adopted a mentality that they know what the Bible says, and they often have their favorite pet verses to "prove" their understanding. The problem with this is that sometimes an equally valid proof-text can be found for the other side.

For example, in a workbook for a Bible class is this question: "Did Paul desire the Corinthians' help to preach the gospel beyond them?"

And an answer given was "yes", and the proof-text for this answer was 2 Cor 10:15-16:
But we have the hope that as your faith increases, our area [of ministry] will be greatly enlarged, so that we may preach the gospel to the regions beyond you....
This indicates that Paul wanted the faith of the Corinthians to mature to the point where they could help spread the gospel beyond them.

But on the other hand, there is this proof-text in 2 Cor 11:6-9:
Was it a sin for me to lower myself in order to elevate you by preaching the gospel of God to you free of charge? I robbed other churches by receiving support from them so as to serve you. And when I was with you and needed something, I was not a burden to anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied what I needed. I have kept myself from being a burden to you in any way, and will continue to do so.
Here is a clear indication that Paul served them free of charge, without being a burden to them, and will continue to not be a burden to them.

So here the answer to the original question would be "no".

So which is it? Both sides have a proof-text. Both sides can claim that their side is going by what the Bible says and not what man says.

What's my point?

Just because you have a proof-text that "proves" your point, it may not actually prove your point. So perhaps we should be a little more cautious in claiming that we have the Truth because we go by the Bible.

Monday, December 13, 2010


Okay folks, this is really in the Bible:
[T]here were two women, daughters of the same mother, who acted like prostitutes in Egypt, behaving promiscuously in their youth. Their breasts were fondled there, and their virgin nipples caressed. The older one was named Oholah, and her sister was Oholibah. They became Mine and gave birth to sons and daughters. As for their names, Oholah represents Samaria and Oholibah represents Jerusalem.

"Oholah acted like a prostitute even though she was Mine. She lusted after her lovers, the Assyrians: warriors dressed in blue, governors and prefects, all of them desirable young men, horsemen riding on steeds. She offered her sexual favors to them; all of them were the elite of Assyria. She defiled herself with all those she lusted after and with all their idols. She didn't give up her promiscuity that began in Egypt, when men slept with her in her youth, caressed her virgin nipples, and poured out their lust on her. Therefore, I handed her over to her lovers, the Assyrians she lusted for. They exposed her nakedness, seized her sons and daughters, and killed her with the sword. Since they executed judgment against her, she became notorious among women.

"Now her sister Oholibah saw [this], but she was [even] more depraved in her lust than Oholah, and made her promiscuous acts worse than those of her sister. She lusted after the Assyrians: governors and prefects, warriors splendidly dressed, horsemen riding on steeds, all of them desirable young men. And I saw that she had defiled herself; both of them [had taken] the same path. But she increased her promiscuity when she saw male figures carved on the wall, images of the Chaldeans, engraved in vermilion, wearing belts on their waists and flowing turbans on their heads; all of them looked like officers, a depiction of the Babylonians in Chaldea, the land of their birth. At the sight of them she lusted after them and sent messengers to them in Chaldea. Then the Babylonians came to her, to the bed of love, and defiled her with their lust. But after she was defiled by them, she turned away from them in disgust. When she flaunted her promiscuity and exposed her nakedness, I turned away from her in disgust just as I turned away from her sister. Yet she multiplied her acts of promiscuity, remembering the days of her youth when she acted like a prostitute in the land of Egypt and lusted after their lovers, whose sexual members were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of stallions. So you revisited the indecency of your youth, when the Egyptians caressed your nipples to enjoy your youthful breasts.
This is from Ezekiel 23 (in the HCSB version). I'm especially ... intrigued? ... by the reference to pornography carvings in the wall, men "pouring out their lust" on the woman, and donkey-sized penises with stallion-sized ejaculations.


Who knew the Bible was so ... gritty?

Thursday, December 09, 2010

YHWH in Early USA

What I've read/heard is that on the day of George Washington's Presidential Inauguration, a Bible could not be found, so he and both houses of Congress up-and-went across the street to St. Paul's Chapel, and that Washington worshiped at this assembly for two years. You can google for more info, but as an example of what you'll find, here's a blurb from
A special Thanksgiving service was certainly held on April 30, 1789 in honor of Washington’s inauguration. Following the ceremony at Federal Hall, in which nobody remembered to bring a Bible, the new President and both houses of Congress walked to St. Paul’s. President George Washington, in the two years in which New York was the national capital, regularly attended St. Paul’s and his pew in the north aisle is preserved as a tourist attraction.
What's more fascinating to me is that the Tetragrammaton, the Four Letters, the Hashem, the Name, "YHWH", is part of the decor of this place. Here are two links to two different pictures (I'm not posting them as I don't have the rights to them, thus I'm merely linking to them).

In this first link, note the two tablets containing the Ten Commandments near the center of the picture, at the bottom of the center pane of the window; straight up from that, at the top of the window's outer arch, is the decoration containing the Tetragrammaton. If you let your browser show the image at full-size, you can actually see a blurry image of the Tetragrammaton.

And here is a black-and-white close-up of that decoration:


Monday, October 18, 2010

Sunday-Go-To-Meetin' Clothing

On one of my email lists, someone asked a question about what type of clothing we should wear when we attend church. Should it be our best, as some argue, or whatever we are comfortable in, as others would argue? The response below, by Glenn, is much heavier on scripture quotations than most responses, and I found it interesting enough to reprint here (with Glenn's permission).

What does the scripture say?

Ps 35:13 - But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth; I humbled my soul with fasting, And my prayer kept returning to my bosom.

Sackcloth, which most of us have probably never worn, is clothing appropriate to mourning. Sackcloth is like canvas. Most Americans wear silk or fine linen suits and dresses to funerals. We seem to have this one backwards, if God's word means anything to us.

Ps 45:13 - The King's daughter is all glorious within; Her clothing is interwoven with gold.

Fine clothing, what we would call dress-up clothing like suits and flowing dresses, are for royalty who are in the halls of the King. We are a royal priesthood, but priests wore simple linen, nothing fancy. And it was everyday clothing for them.

Ps 69:11 - When I made sackcloth my clothing, I became a byword to them.

Read this Psalm. It was haughtiness that made the psalmist a byword when he wore sackcloth. It was not because his clothing was simple or rough or un-dressy.

Pr 27:26 - The lambs will be for your clothing, And the goats will bring the price of a field,

Clothing is a gift from God to be appreciated. Making it a status symbol is accepting the world's view. We are to accept God's view instead. God does not see clothing as a status symbol...and neither should we.

Pr 31:22 - She makes coverings for herself; Her clothing is fine linen and purple.

If you can afford fine clothing, there is nothing wrong with wearing it. But there is no special standing before God because of the clothing. Even in these verses the emphasis is on the ability of the woman, not some kind of obligation to dress up.

Pr 31:25 - Strength and dignity are her clothing, And she smiles at the future.

Strength and dignity do not require a tie and suit, nor do they come as accessories. Simple clothing worn with strength and dignity makes whatever you are wearing fit for a King.

Mt 6:25 - "For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

Jesus seemed to think that it is how you live and NOT what you wear that is important. If we begin to think differently, then we are NOT following Jesus.

Mt 6:28 - "And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin,

Jesus put clothing in its rightful place - as a blessing from the same Creator who adorns the flowers of the field. Clothing is not something to get hung up on or worry about. Remember this - the beauty of a flower is in what the flower is. If a person IS a Christian, that is where their true beauty can be seen. If they are NOT a Christian, no finery of clothing is going to change that.

Mt 6:31 - "Do not worry then, saying, `What will we eat?' or `What will we drink?' or `What will we wear for clothing?'

If anyone needs a word direct from the mouth of Jesus on what to wear, this is it. Wear what you have on. Don't sweat what you wear. It is what is within you that makes you presentable or not. Clothing is meant as a covering for nakedness, no more and no less.

Mt 7:15 - "Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.

People who sweat the details of clothing miss seeing who others really are. Jesus tells us that anybody can wear any clothing, but it is who they are inside that counts. Don't be fooled by clothing that fits your idea of what looks good.

Mt 11:8 - "But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Those who wear soft clothing are in kings' palaces!

Fine clothing is all well and good, but if that is how you discern the value of a person, you are not seeing things the way Jesus teaches His disciples to see things. Why is this so hard?

Lu 7:25 - "But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Those who are splendidly clothed and live in luxury are found in royal palaces!

Fine clothes are for wearing to palaces. Maybe that is why folks spend so much on big assembly halls - so they can feel like they are in a palace. I would rather be near a lake, sitting on a beach with Jesus and eating the breakfast He just prepared for us (a la John 21) than sitting in a palace hoping He'll show up. If they had been in fine clothes, they could not have gone fishing and would have missed the opportunity for that intimate breakfast. And yet what they wore was totally appropriate to gather together with Jesus. Looks like fishing gear is appropriate for assemblies, eh? The important thing is they were together and they were with Jesus. The clothing is not even mentioned.

Lu 9:29 - And while He was praying, the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming.

Looks like praying makes whatever you wear look amazing. Seems to me that it matters more what we are doing than what we are wearing.

Lu 12:23 - "For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.

Does it get any more plain than this?

Joh 19:24 - So they said to one another, "Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, to decide whose it shall be"; this was to fulfill the Scripture: "THEY DIVIDED MY OUTER GARMENTS AMONG THEM, AND FOR MY CLOTHING THEY CAST LOTS."

Looks like the only necessary consideration, even to these unbelieving Gentiles, was taking care of the clothing and not tearing it up. Reminds me of my Mom telling me not to get dirty before going to Grandma's house. We wore clothes for running and jumping and hugging Grandma, just so long as they were clean and not torn up. And I never wore a suit and tie to Grandma's house.

1Ti 2:9 - Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments,

Amazing, isn't it, how we seem to have forgotten all about Paul's admonition AGAINST fine clothing? In Paul's view, if it was proper, it was modest and discreet clothing, NOT finery, NOT showy, NOT exceptional, and NOT adorned with gold or pearls or costly materials.

Jas 2:15 - If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food,

The only thing to care about is NOT am I wearing my best clothing. The thing to care about is whether all the brothers and sisters have something to wear to cover their nakedness - and don't tempt them with the finery Paul admonishes us to avoid! Clothing is meant to cover nakedness modestly and discreetly.

Forget the traditions of men that have made us forget all of these words of instruction from God. Forget the world's approach to showing respect with expensive clothes. Show respect for God by making sure others have something modest and discreet to wear. Then you, too, will be clothed with strength and dignity like the worthy woman of Proverbs 31.

As the worship leader at our gathering of Christians, I often begin the call to worship with a song that you can listen to in less than five minutes at We play it sometimes and we sing it together sometimes, but mostly we mean every word of it all the time.

"Come...just as you are...come...give your heart to God...come."

The world gets hung up on clothing and all kinds of other distractions. Our gathering is about Jesus - and NOT about whether your clothes are 'good enough'. He wants your heart, He who wore a simple linen garment to cover Himself modestly and discreetly. He who wore those dusty, dirty, everyday sandals that He had just come in off a long road trip wearing through dust and mud and up hillsides and into homes to heal the sick and leave a blessing. He wants your heart, not your Guccis. Come as you are and know the peace of a shared burden and the rest of knowing you never have to walk alone again.


Glenn, who is wearing a fine purple Tshirt and fuzzy black stretch pants and tennis shoes as he shares what the Spirit is saying to all who will listen ...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

(Don't) Follow the Leader

The nation of Israel was in its glory days about 1000 B.C. under the kingship of David and Solomon, but one king later, the nation divided into two, a Northern set of 10 tribes (aka "Israel") and a Southern set of two (aka "Judah").

Over the next couple of centuries, the leadership of the Northern Israel was particularly neglectful of living as YHWH would have them live, which eventually resulted in God using the nation of Assyria to conquer and punish Israel.

We see in the Biblical book of the Kings how the leadership of the nation leads up to this:
2 Kings 15:17ff Menahem son of Gadi became king over Israel. ... Sin for sin, he repeated the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, who led Israel into a life of sin.
2 Kings 15:23ff Pekahiah son of Menahem became king of Israel. ... In YHWH's eyes he lived an evil life. He stuck to the old sin tracks of Jeroboam son of Nebat, who led Israel into a life of sin.
2 Kings 15:27ff Pekah son of Remaliah became king of Israel in Samaria. ... In YHWH's view he lived an evil life; he didn't deviate so much as a hair's breadth from the path laid down by Jeroboam son of Nebat, who led Israel into a life of sin.
We see that King Jeroboam led Israel into a life of sin, and these three kings followed in his footsteps.

After Israel is taken into captivity, this is what God says:
The exile came about because of sin: The children of Israel sinned against YHWH, their God, who had delivered them from Egypt and the brutal oppression of Pharaoh king of Egypt. They took up with other gods, fell in with the ways of life of the pagan nations YHWH had chased off, and went along with whatever their kings did.
What I find significant here is the suggestion that if the people had not gone along with their leadership, they would not have been sent into exile from their homeland.

What does this say about following our governmental leadership?

I'm just askin'....

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Gates of Hell Shall Not Win

In Judges 16:1-3, we read of how the enemies of Samson thought they had him trapped in a city, planning to kill him at daylight, but Samson just tore out the gates of the city during the night and made his escape, carrying the gates with him to the top of a local mountain.

Hold that thought.

Several hundred years later, Yahshua is at the city of Caesarea Philippi with his young disciples, who were probably embarrassed to be at such an ungodly center of smut, wondering what in the world their rabbi was thinking to bring them here. This city was to Pan-worship as the Vatican is to Roman Catholicism. It was the capital city, the center, of cult worship to the goat-god Pan.

Just outside the city, and perhaps where Yahshua was standing, was a stone slab at the entrance to a cave. From this cave flowed the headwaters of the Jordan River. (In the 19th century, an earthquake shifted the river so it no longer flows from the cave).

Pan (from who's name we get the word "pandemonium") was a fertility god who every Autumn went into this cave which served as the gateway to the underworld, where he would spend the Winter. When Springtime arrived, Pan emerged from this gateway of hell to consort with his wife, Ashtarte ("Easter"), and in copulating with her, his sperm fell to the earth as rain, making the land fertile. His followers worshiped this goat-god on this stone slab in an annual fertility orgy involving all sorts of deviations, including human-goat sex.

Hold that thought.

The word "church" seems to have its origins in one of two sources. One is the Greek word "kuriokon" ("house of the lord" - never used in the N.T., although the root, "kuriokos" - "of the lord" - is used twice: the Supper of the Lord in 1 Cor 11:20, and the Day of the Lord in Rev 1:10). The other source is the even-older Celtic dialects that eventually gave us "kirk" ("church") and "circle". In many ancient pagan religions, particularly in Europe, the gathering places were in a circular form (think Stonehenge).

In either case, both words refer to a place, not to people, but the word used in the New Testament, "ekklesia" ("called out", "assembly", "congregation"), refers to people, not a place.

When the Bible was translated into English in the 13-16th centuries, the European idea of a pagan church/circle meeting place became confused with the Biblical idea of an assembly, and our English Bibles inherited the non-Biblical term "church".

That means that when we read Matthew 16:18 in most of our English Bibles, we get a concept of a place or thing which Yahshua intended to build, rather than a congregation.

Hold that thought.

Or better yet, put all three of these thoughts together.

Yahshua is standing with his disciples near, perhaps even on, the stone slab of a pagan, hellish religion, just outside the "gate" to the realm of evil in which humanity is destined to be trapped without a savior. He's speaking to a group of kids who were well-familiar with the story of Samson, who had broken through the gates of the city, in which he would be destined to death if he had not escaped.

In this context, Yahshua stands on or near this stone slab and makes an announcement to Peter that these gates of hell will not prevent his people from being called out of their death-trap, nor prevent his people from going into the depths of hell and defeating the evil therein.

Here's what he says:
On this stone slab, I will edify the people I call out; and the gates of hell will not be strong enough to withstand their attack.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Mmm, Watermelon Juice in the Lord's Supper....

All my life, my religious culture has insisted that we rely on the Bible as our only infallible source for how to live Godly lives. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is an example of the textual support for this idea:
16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Whereas this sounds good in theory, I've recently been made more and more aware that we don't do a very good job of living up to this ideal.

For example, from where do we get the idea that we're supposed to use grape juice as the drink in the Lord's Supper?

Looking throughout the Bible for hints concerning the drink used at the Passover (which is the context for the establishment of the Lord's Supper), there's no clue offered until the Gospel accounts, at which time the only clue found is that it is "the fruit of the vine".

With only this information (and that it represents the blood of Christ, given in sacrifice), doesn't it make sense that tomato juice (blood-like, from the vine) would be the best option for the drink at the Lord's Supper?

Or if you just want a fruit of the vine, and don't care about the color, we could use cantaloupe juice, or watermelon juice, or blueberry juice, or passionfruit juice, or any number of other vine fruit juices.

But we don't; we use grape juice (either fermented or not).

The point is: We use grape juice, not because it's taught in the Bible, but because it's a tradition we have inherited from some source outside of the Bible. I think extraBiblical history makes a strong case for using grape juice. But I'm just pointing out that going to extraBiblical history is not relying solely on the the Bible.

"So what," you ask?

If someone wants to use watermelon juice in the Lord's Supper, we can make no objection if we really use the Bible as our sole source of authority in such matters. To make a law that the juice must be grape juice is to teach as doctrine the commandment of men.

We do this a lot. We need to be careful.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Taking Text out of Context

It's easy to do. We get an idea in our head, search the Bible concordance to find references that might apply, and voila! There's the magic verse that proves our case!

Except, a lot of the time, we've taken the verse out of context, making it say something that it does not say, putting meaning into the text that God did not put there, instead of getting meaning out of the text.

For example, many of my brethren are convinced that drinking any alcohol is a sin (no matter that alcohol consumption is never directly condemned in the Bible, Yahshua declared all foods clean, and Paul stated that "everything is permissible" but not necessarily "good"). (The Bible does, however, condemn drunkeness, and it makes clear that alcohol is dangerous and the wise person will leave it alone.)

As support of their position, they will sometimes point to Habakkuk 2:15:
15 “ Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbor,
Pressing him to your bottle,
Even to make him drunk,
That's pretty slam-dunk, I'd say. Based on this one verse alone, it's clear that Yahshua would not turn water into alcoholic wine at the marriage feast of his neighbors.

Except, the verse is taken out of context. Let's finish the verse with its last line:
That you may look on his nakedness!
Wow! Okay, that changes the entire tone of the passage. It's not about giving alcohol to your neighbor; it's about trying to get your neighbor drunk so that you can take advantage of him.

And when we look at the rest of the chapter, we see this latter interpretation meshes well with the surrounding context.

Starting at verse 4, the condemnation is against he who is proud, whose soul is not upright in him.

Then in verse 5 he gets bravery from a bottle, gets proud and cocky, and goes and attacks those around him, trying to become world dictator.

In verse 6, those he attacks complain that he's taking what is not his.

Verse 8 speaks of his violence and plundering.

Verses 9-10 mention how he cheats to get ahead.

Verse 12 condemns him who uses evil and bloodshed to build an empire.

In verse 15 is our passage under consideration: woe to him who gets his neighbor drunk so that he can take advantage of that neighbor.

In verses 16 and 17 God warns that He will turn the tables on the perpetrator in verse 15, making the perp drunk so that he will then be exposed, making the violence that he has done come back on him.

I'm in agreement that alcohol consumption should be avoided; I believe it's stupid. (I also believe soft-drink consumption (and Twinkie-consumption, etc) should be avoided; I believe it's stupid also; just not so car-crashing immediately stupid). But Habakkuk 2:15 is not a condemnation of social drinking; it's a condemnation of using and abusing others.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


In the last chapter of 1 Samuel, we find King Saul surrounded by his enemies, and rather than risk being captured and tortured, he asks his assistant to run him through with a sword. The assistant refuses, so King Saul falls on his own sword.

In the next chapter, the first chapter of 2 Samuel, we find that a third party, an Amalekite, claims to the future King David to have come upon King Saul, who was not yet dead but beyond recovery. He further claimed that at Saul's request, he finished the dying king off.

David soon thereafter had this Amalekite executed. Staying in context, the reason for the execution is that the Amalekite lifted his hand against one who had been anointed by God. But if we take a little bit of liberty with the text, it's not hard to apply this to the idea of euthanasia, mercy-killing, in general.

It may be "merciful" to put a terminal patient out of his misery; after all, he's going to die anyway; why make him suffer any longer than necessary? But in Saul's case, the "mercy-killing" of an almost dead man was considered worse than letting that almost-dead man die on God's time-frame.

Don't think I'm offering any answers, or even any wisdom, here. I'm just reporting the story, and wondering how, if at all, it might apply to our modern tendency to pull the plug on hopeless cases.

Monday, June 28, 2010

If You Love Me, You Will Keep My Commands

In my previous post, I spoke of rules and regulations in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. As I wrote it, it struck me that in the Old Testament, there are many specific commands given for God's people to follow. In the New Testament, there really aren't that many. Yes, there are a few, but not nearly as many as most of us think there is.

Instead, we've used our logic and common sense and have taken this verse and jigsaw-puzzled it together with that verse to come to a conclusion that we then label as a "command of Jesus". But if we're to be absolutely honest, those are not commands given by Jesus, but rather commandments of men that we make into doctrines.

Don't believe me? Give it a try. Give me the book/chapter/verse containing a command (not a logic-derived conclusion) for each of the doctrines below:

- no hand-raising in worship

- must attend church every time the elders have established for regular meetings

- there must be a multiplicity of elders in each local congregation

- singing in worship must be a cappella

- the main purpose of assembling is to worship God

- you must not drink alcohol or you sin

- you must give money to the church every Sunday

- you must take the Lord's Supper every Sunday

- you must attend church on Sunday

- you must add "in Jesus' name" to every prayer (preferably at the end)

- you must dress up for Sunday church

- you must have a sermon during church

- you must not applaud/clap during church

- you must bow your head and close your eyes during prayers

- you must use Elizabethan English in your songs and prayers

- you must limit "worship" to the specified times of worship

- you must not do anything beyond the "five acts of worship" during worship

- the fruit of the vine in the Lord's Supper can only be grape juice

Please don't think I'm trying to change any of these things (okay, a few of them I'd do away with - the Elizabethan English I think does harm). I'm just pointing out that much of what passes as "commands" in our thinking are not commands. They may be correct conclusions (since the Fall, our logic is not to be trusted completely), but logic-derived conclusions are not commands.

Careful; it might shake up your paradigm if you think about this too much. Keep the commands of Jesus, yes, but don't make the mistake of believing a non-command is a command.

Rules & Regulations

Most Christians recognize the two main dispensations (time periods) recorded in the Bible: the Mosaic dispensation when the Law of Moses reigned over God's people (most of the "Old Testament"), and the Christian dispensation when the Law of Christ reigns over God's people (the "New Testament").

There were specific commands that were required in the Law Of Moses, such as:

- males must be circumcised
- Sabbath days were to be kept
- certain holy days were to be observed
- sacrifices (often animal) were to be made

But Christians recognize that Paul claimed that the rules and regulations of the Law of Moses no longer apply, because what God truly wants is righteousness coming from a good heart, not from ticking the boxes on a checklist:
HCSB Gal 5:14 For the entire law is fulfilled in one statement: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
What many Christians fail to recognize is that Paul feels the same way about the rules and regulations of the "Law of Christ". Many Christians believe the "Law of Christ" to be essentially equivalent to the rules and regulations found in the New Testament, pointing to specific commands such as:

- we must be immersed
- we must not get drunk
- we must remember the Lord's death in the Lord's Supper
- we must make offerings

But the same thing Paul said about the rules and regulations of the Old Law he also says about the New Law, just a few verses later:
HCSB Gal 6:2 Carry one another's burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
If we really believe that specific commands in the Old Law, even the "supreme, absolutely must be done without fail" command of circumcision, are "nothing":
6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision accomplishes anything; what matters is faith working through love.
then to be consistent we must also recognize that "supreme, absolutely must be done without fail" commands in the New Law are also "nothing" in comparison with "faith working through love", i.e., "carrying one another's burdens".

Yes, yes, I know: the black-and-white of the New Law text says "you must do X". But the black-and-white of the Old Law text also said "you must do X". But Paul says the Old Law command is fulfilled in loving your neighbor; he also says that the New Law command is fulfilled in loving your neighbor (by bearing his load).

If it's true for the Old because Paul said it; it's also true for the New because Paul said it.

The same arguments we use to support our pet doctrine were also used by the Pharisees in the early years of the church, who insisted that "the Book" required circumcision. And they were right: the Book did require circumcision (even before the temporary Law of Moses, so that even if the Law of Moses itself is gone, the command to be circumcised is not). But Paul said what mattered was faith working in love, not keeping the technical details of the written code.

We today are focused on keeping the technical details of the written code. The written code is good (as Paul says of the Old written code), but that's not what matters. He writes:
HCSB Col 2:20 If you died with Christ to the elemental forces of this world, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations: 21 "Don't handle, don't taste, don't touch"? 22 All these [regulations] refer to what is destroyed by being used up; they are human commands and doctrines. 23 Although these have a reputation of wisdom by promoting ascetic practices, humility, and severe treatment of the body, they are not of any value against fleshly indulgence.
We moderns try to interpret this passage as a condemnation of Old Testament regulations, but that's because we're reading meaning into the passage rather than taking meaning out of the passage. What does the passage say? It says that submitting to regulations (not to "Mosaic Law regulations") is living as if you belong to the world.

He expands on this idea a few verses before:
16 Therefore don't let anyone judge you in regard to food and drink or in the matter of a festival or a new moon or a sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of what was to come; the substance is the Messiah. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on ascetic practices and the worship of angels, claiming access to a visionary realm and inflated without cause by his fleshly mind.
He addresses it elsewhere as well, again saying that what matters is how it affects other people:
HCSB 1 Cor 10:23 "Everything is permissible," but not everything is helpful. "Everything is permissible," but not everything builds up. 24 No one should seek his own [good], but [the good] of the other person.
So whereas rules such as "You must never drink alcohol" or "You must go to church three times a week", etc, sound good, that's not what Christianity is about.

Christianity is about others. According to the scriptures, the Law of Christ is fulfilled in this one command: Bear one another's burdens.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Secular Society

In the early days of the German advance into Eastern Europe, before the possibility of Soviet retribution even entered their untroubled imagination, Nazi extermination squads would sweep into villages, and after forcing the villagers to dig their own graves, murder their victims with machine guns. On one such occasion somewhere in eastern Europe , an SS officer watched languidly, his machine gun cradled, as an elderly and bearded Hasidic Jew laboriously dug what he knew to be his grave.

Standing up straight, he addressed his executioner. “God is watching what you are doing,” he said.

And then he was shot dead.

What Hitler did not believe and what Stalin did not believe and what Mao did not believe and what the SS did not believe and what the Gestapo did not believe and what the NKVD did not believe and what the commissars, functionaries, swaggering executioners, Nazi doctors, Communist Party theoreticians, intellectuals,Brown shirts, Black shirts,gauleiters, and a thousand party hacks did not believe was that God was watching what they were doing.

And as far as we can tell, very few of those carrying out the horrors of the twentieth century worried overmuch that God was watching what they were doing either.

That is, after all, the meaning of a secular society.
(taken from David Berlinski’s book ‘The Devils delusion Atheism and its scientific pretensions’) as quoted at

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Temple Police

Barbara Brown Taylor writes an interesting article in which she points out:
One of the many things [the Good Friday crucifixion of Jesus] story tells us is that Jesus was not brought down by atheism and anarchy. He was brought down by law and order allied with religion, which is always a deadly mix. Beware of those who claim to know the mind of God and who are prepared to use force, if necessary, to make others conform. Beware of those who cannot tell God’s will from their own. Temple police are always a bad sign.
Then, after pointing out that Judas had been Jesus' friend, she tells this story:
I remember being at a retreat once where the leader asked us to think of someone who represented Christ in our lives. When it came time to share our answers, one woman stood up and said, "I had to think hard about that one. I kept thinking, ‘Who is it who told me the truth about myself so clearly that I wanted to kill him for it?"’
I find these two thoughts worth pondering.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Who Are You Tuning Out?

In the Biblical book of Exodus we read the story of how the young Israelite nation has been enslaved by the Egyptian Pharaoh, in whose land they were temporarily living. YHWH God raises up a man, Moses, whose job it is to lead them out of Egyptian slavery back into their promised homeland. Because Moses had a speech problem, YHWH appointed his older brother, Aaron, as his mouthpiece.

YHWH tells Moses:
HCSB Exodus 7:1 See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and Aaron your brother will be your prophet. 2 You must say whatever I command you; then Aaron your brother must declare it to Pharaoh so that he will let the Israelites go from his land. 3 But ... Pharaoh will not listen to you....
This parallel strikes me:

God --> prophet --> hearers
Moses --> prophet --> hearers

What struck me about this is God's use of a human to communicate; God did not speak directly to Pharaoh; nor did He use his prophet to speak to Pharaoh; rather, He used his prophet's prophet to speak to Pharaoh.

As far as Pharaoh was concerned, he was hearing a human's mind, and Pharaoh's response was to reject what he heard.

This raises a question in my mind: When I reject another human's words to me, am I rejecting a message God intended for me?

I'm not saying that God is going around telling Bob to tell Mary X & Y. I'm just asking if perhaps Mary is tuning out God's message when she tunes out Bob.

Who are you tuning out? Or perhaps the only question I can really ask is, Who am I tuning out?

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

What The Gospel Is

In my last post, I discussed what the Gospel is not, specifically, that it is not equivalent to the New Testament. Here I want to explore what the Gospel is.

There are at least two definitions of "the Gospel" in the New Testament. The first is given in 1 Corinthians 15:
HCSB 1 Cor 15:1 Now brothers, I want to clarify for you the gospel I proclaimed to you; you received it and have taken your stand on it. 2 You are also saved by it, if you hold to the message I proclaimed to you—unless you believed to no purpose. 3 For I passed on to you as most important what I also received:
that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
4 that He was buried,
that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,
5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.
6 Then He appeared to over 500 brothers at one time,
most of whom remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep.
7 Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles.
8 Last of all, as to one abnormally born, He also appeared to me.
So, according to this first definition, the Gospel is the death, burial, resurrection, and appearance of Christ.

However, according to at least three other sources, the Gospel is that all nations will be blessed.

Highlights of Romans 10:14 - 12:1

Not all have obeyed the gospel; didn't they hear? Yes. Didn't Israel understand when Moses announced that they would be made jealous by the salvation of non-Jews, and when Isaiah said that God would be found by those not looking for Him, while the Jews, to whom God was spreading out His hands, remained disobedient and defiant? Yet God's mercy extends to both Jew and Gentile, to the Gentile who has been grafted into God's olive tree by faith, and to the Jew who can be re-grafted back into the tree if he'll stop abiding in unbelief. Regarding the gospel, the falling away of the Jews results in the salvation of Gentiles. Both groups have disobeyed, and God has imprisoned all in disobedience, so that He may have mercy on all. Therefore, worship God by presenting your bodies as a living sacrifice.

So we see in this summary that the gospel is that not just the Jews, who were chosen, but also the Gentiles, will be blessed with God's mercy.

Highlights of Galatians 2:11-16

Paul had to correct Peter publicly, because he was deviating from the truth of the gospel. Peter should have remembered that just as the Jews had been justified by faith, so too the Gentiles, so he should quit acting like the Gentiles were not part of the family.

So we see in this summary that deviating from the gospel is to forget that not just the Jews, who were chosen, but also the Gentiles, were blessed with God's mercy.

Highlights of Galatians 3:8
The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith and foretold this gospel to Abraham, saying, "All the nations will be blessed in you."

So we see in this summary that the gospel is that not just the Jews, who were chosen, but also the Gentiles, will be blessed.

So, in summation, there are at least two Biblical definitions in the New Testament for the term "Gospel" (or "Good News"):

1) the death, burial, resurrection, and appearance of Christ


2) that not only the chosen Jews, but also the Gentiles, would be blessed with salvation by faith in Christ.

What the Gospel Is Not

Norman R. writes the following:

What is the gospel?
2 Thess 1:7-9 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power.
What I taught and what is still taught by many congregations is that the word gospel in this verse includes everything in the NT.

All the Christians on the day of Pentecost obeyed the gospel before any of the New Testament was written and all the Christians who died at the orders of Saul died before any of the New Testament was written.

In about 58 a.d. Paul wrote Galatians, the second book of the New Testament to be written. All the Galatians had obeyed the gospel and some wanted to leave it, before they read Galatians, and probably before they read any book of the New Testament. Galatians may be part of the gospel to some Christians, but it certainly was not part of the gospel to the Galatians.

The NT Christians did not need Galatians, Romans, Acts, Matthew or other letters to be in fellowship with God. Faith in the death, burial, resurrection, ascension and the promises through that sacrifice placed them in fellowship with God.

Why were the epistles of Paul, Galatians, Romans, Corinthians, etc. written? It appears that some of the churches wrote to Paul with questions. They wanted answers to some of the things they didn't understand. Paul heard that some churches were having problems and Paul wrote these churches to correct some problems. Have you ever noticed that we would have a very small New Testament if the church had been perfect? Most of the New Testament was written to correct some problem in the church. Some do apply to us and some don't apply, but we have a multitude of principles that we can use.

In other words, "the Gospel" does not equate to "the New Testament".

Some might respond that the early Christians had all the information provided by the New Testament via supernatural revelation, even if it had not yet been written down. But in at least the question of whether Gentile Christians had to submit to the Jewish Law (Acts 15), there were Gentile Christians who had obeyed "the Gospel" prior to this matter being settled. Thus, in this issue at least, the New Testament contains information which those Gentile (or Jewish) Christians could not have known even though they had obeyed "the Gospel".

Simply put, once again, "the Gospel" is not the same as "the New Testament".

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Quick Question

If a group of men at church ask a woman to lead a prayer publicly, is she "usurping authority" if she does or if she doesn't?

(This is just a thought exercise, folks; I'm not trying to be a "change-agent".)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Monkeys in a Cage

The following comes from an unknown source, but seems applicable to how we sometimes do things in the church.


Start with a cage containing five monkeys.

Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it. Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana. As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the other monkeys with cold water.

After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result - all the other monkeys are sprayed with cold water. Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.

Now, put away the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs. To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack him.

After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm! Likewise, replace a third original monkey with a new one, then a fourth, then the fifth. Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs, he is attacked.

Most of the monkeys that are beating him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

After replacing all the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys have ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs to try for the banana. Why not? Because as far as they know that's the way it's always been done round here.

And that, my friends, is how company policies are made.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Meeting in the Synagogue

Most Christians know that the early Christians met in the Temple complex and in their own homes (house churches), and by river sides, and later in catacombs, etc. I suspect most even think (without having given it any thought) that the early Christians actually built their own little brick assembly buildings with a sign out front announcing that "the Church of Christ meets here, Sunday AM 9:00, Sun PM 6:00, Wed PM 7:00".

But few, I think realize that they also met in synagogues. For the first fourteen years of the church, the church was exclusively Jewish. And these Jews had been meeting in the synagogue all their lives. Once converted, they did not cease this habit; in fact, Yahshua expected them to continue that habit, Saul expected that's where he'd find these "heretics", and James refers to their synagogue meeting.
HCSB John 16:2 They will ban you from the synagogues. In fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering service to God.
HCSB Acts 9:1 Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and requested letters from him to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, either men or women, he might bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem.
HCSB Acts 26:11 In all the synagogues I often tried to make them blaspheme by punishing them. Being greatly enraged at them, I even pursued them to foreign cities.
YLT James 2:1My brethren, hold not, in respect of persons, the faith of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, 2for if there may come into your synagogue a man with gold ring, in gay raiment, and there may come in also a poor man in vile raiment,3and ye may look upon him bearing the gay raiment, and may say to him, `Thou -- sit thou here well,' and to the poor man may say, `Thou -- stand thou there, or, Sit thou here under my footstool,' -- 4ye did not judge fully in yourselves, and did become ill-reasoning judges

S'mikeh Authority

HCSB Matt 18:20 For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there among them.
I would like to caution against taking passages out of context. All my life I've heard this Matthew 18:20 reference cited to prove that "church" could be any grouping of Christians, down to the smallest number which might constitute a group.

But that's not what the passage is about; the passage is about the church's authority to make/apply rules in individual situations. In the Jewish Rabbinic culture in which Yahshua and his disciples were raised, the various religious authorities (this rabbi vs that rabbi; this school of thought vs that school of thought) would "bind" or "loose" various aspects of the Law of Moses depending on the situation.

For example, one rabbi would teach that if a donkey needed help on the Sabbath (doctoring, pulling out of a pit, etc) the needs of the donkey took precedence over the rules regarding doing no work on the Sabbath, whereas a different rabbi would insist that the donkey's needs must wait until the Sabbath had passed. Yahshua used this very issue to show that human needs take precedence over legal strictures, when he healed the man with the crippled hand on the Sabbath, which put him on the Pharisees' hit-list (Mark 3:1-6).

These various doctrinal "packages" from the various schools of thought / rabbis were called "yokes". Yahshua said his yoke was easy.

Most rabbis were average, run-of-the-mill rabbis, who could teach what had been determined by rabbis having authority, but they could not glean/apply "new" meaning from the text and teach it. They were limited to teaching what the community considered to be orthodox.

But a rare few rabbis were "s'mikeh rabbis", rabbis who had authority. (s'mikeh is pronounced something like "smee-hah!".) Within the previous generation, both Hillel and Gamaliel had been s'mikeh rabbis. When Yahshua came teaching as one having authority rather than like the scribes (Mark 1:22), it astonished his listeners. The officials then challenged him, asking how he had become a s'mikeh rabbi, and he answered them in typical Jewish fashion with his own question, asking them whether John the Immerser had s'mikeh. His implication was that he had gotten his authoritative position at least partially from John. (A s'mikeh rabbi had to be so endowed by two authorities: John was one; God (in the form of a dove descending on him post-immersion) was the other.) The officials refused to answer Yahshua's question, so he refused to answer theirs, again, in typical Jewish fashion.

In the context of Matthew 18:20, Yahshua is teaching his disciples that he is giving them s'mikeh, the authority to bind and loose. If two of these new s'mikeh rabbis agreed on anything, then that would be the "law" in the church. We later see an example of this in Acts 15, when the church elders and apostles gather together to decide the issue of what would be required of the new Gentile converts: do they have to convert to Judaism and be good Jews in order to be Christians, or not? (The decision was no, the Gentiles did not have to convert to Judaism in order to be Christians.)

For convenience, here's the context of the passage:

HCSB Matt 18:15 "If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he won't listen, take one or two more with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. 17 If he pays no attention to them, tell the church. But if he doesn't pay attention even to the church, let him be like an unbeliever and a tax collector to you. 18 I assure you: Whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven. 19 Again, I assure you: If two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there among them.

Go Ye Therefore Into all the World...

You grew up hearing Matthew 28:19 rendered thusly:
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: ....
Problem is, as I understand it, that's not what the Greek says. Instead, it says:
So wherever you go, make disciples of all nations: Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
(GOD'S WORD Translation)
Therefore, as you go, disciple people in all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit....
(International Standard Version)
And as long as I'm beating up on the King James Version, Acts 2:47 does not say:
Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.
Instead, the word translated "church" is the Greek "auto", meaning "self" or "same". Thus the verse should be rendered something more like:
Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the same people daily such as should be saved. (my rendering)
praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to them day by day those that were being saved. (ERV)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Three Gospels?

I've recently been exposed to a teaching that there are three gospels mentioned in the Bible ( - I've not yet finished reading this, so there may be more comment/retraction to come):

1) the gospel preached to Abraham

2) the gospel of the kingdom of God

3) the gospel of Jesus Christ

The idea is that there have been different gospels at different times and with different peoples.

At first that piqued my interest, but as I consider it further, I see that all three of these gospels are really one and the same.

The good news ("gospel") preached to Abraham (Gal 3:8-9) is that God would justify all nations, including non-Jews, by faith.
8 Now the Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith and foretold the good news to Abraham, saying, All the nations will be blessed in you. 9 So those who have faith are blessed with Abraham, who had faith.
The good news ("gospel") as summarized by Paul elsewhere (1 Cor 15:1-8) is that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, was buried, raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and appeared to several hundred people, including the apostles.
1 Now brothers, I want to clarify for you the gospel I proclaimed to you; you received it and have taken your stand on it. 2 You are also saved by it, if you hold to the message I proclaimed to you—unless you believed to no purpose. 3 For I passed on to you as most important what I also received:

that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,

4 that He was buried,

that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,

5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.

6 Then He appeared to over 500 brothers at one time,

most of whom remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep.

7 Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles.

8 Last of all, as to one abnormally born, He also appeared to me.

The "first" gospel is not a different gospel than the "second": it's merely emphasizing the what instead of the how. All nations are justified by faith in and because of the death, burial, resurrection, and appearance of Jesus.

This one gospel is contrasted with the false gospel of Galatians 1 and 2: The true good news is that all nations will be justified by faith (Gal 3:8-9) via the death, burial, resurrection, and appearance of Jesus (1 Cor 15:1-8); the false good news of Gal 1:6-9 was that we are justified by works of the law (Gal 2:15).

The good news ("gospel") which Jesus preached during his three years of ministry was that the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near (Mark 1:14-15).
14 After John was arrested, Jesus went to Galilee, preaching the good news of God: 15 "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near.
Again, this is not a different, third gospel; it's the same, simply worded differently: Justification is in the kingdom of God, established at the cross.

The good news is that the kingship of Jesus has come, established by his death, burial, resurrection, and appearance, and that this process enables God to justify all nations by faith. To separate this one package of good news into three separate packages is to miss that they are all essentially the same thing, just worded differently.


True Good News - the kingdom of God has arrived, established by the death, burial, resurrection, and appearance of Jesus, which provides justification to all nations by faith.

False Good News - we are justified by works of the law

(All references from the Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Thursday, April 08, 2010

A Reason for Suffering

From Deuteronomy 8 (The Message, modified):
Remember every road that YHWH led you on for those forty years in the wilderness, pushing you to your limits, testing you so that he would know what you were made of, whether you would keep his commandments or not. He put you through hard times. He made you go hungry. Then he fed you with manna, something neither you nor your parents knew anything about, so you would learn that men and women don't live by bread only; we live by every word that comes from YHWH's mouth. Your clothes didn't wear out and your feet didn't blister those forty years. You learned deep in your heart that YHWH disciplines you in the same ways a father disciplines his child.

So it's paramount that you keep the commandments of YHWH, your God, walk down the roads he shows you and reverently respect him. YHWH is about to bring you into a good land, a land with brooks and rivers, springs and lakes, streams out of the hills and through the valleys. It's a land of wheat and barley, of vines and figs and pomegranates, of olives, oil, and honey. It's land where you'll never go hungry—always food on the table and a roof over your head. It's a land where you'll get iron out of rocks and mine copper from the hills.

After a meal, satisfied, bless YHWH, your God, for the good land he has given you.

Make sure you don't forget YHWH, your God, by not keeping his commandments, his rules and regulations that I command you today. Make sure that when you eat and are satisfied, build pleasant houses and settle in, see your herds and flocks flourish and more and more money come in, watch your standard of living going up and up—make sure you don't become so full of yourself and your things that you forget YHWH, your God,

the God who delivered you from Egyptian slavery;
the God who led you through that huge and fearsome wilderness, those desolate, arid badlands crawling with fiery snakes and scorpions;
the God who gave you water gushing from hard rock;
the God who gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never heard of, in order to give you a taste of the hard life, to test you so that you would be prepared to live well in the days ahead of you.

If you start thinking to yourselves, "I did all this. And all by myself. I'm rich. It's all mine!"—well, think again. Remember that YHWH, your God, gave you the strength to produce all this wealth ....

I'm Righteous! I'm Righteous! Therefore I'm Saved!

A bit earlier today I was reading in the book of Job. As you know, Job was blessed in many ways by God, then Satan challenged God that Job was only a righteous man because God blessed him, and that he would turn from God if God took away his blessings, and God allowed Satan to take away God's blessings from Job as a test of Job.

During the resulting suffering that Job underwent, four friends came along, and three of them tried to convince Job that he had done something wrong. Job kept claiming that he hadn't done anything wrong, but that God was doing wrong by him.

Eventually the fourth friend, Elihu, spoke up, and said that the first three, although older and presumably wiser, were not wise, and he spoke his peace.

Finally, God Himself spoke, and castigated Job for thinking he was oh-so-righteous and knew better than God did, but that Job was right, he hadn't done anything wrong to deserve the suffering. God also forced the first three friends to apologize (via sacrifice), saying He was angry with the three friends. But He spoke nothing of the fourth friend who spoke last, which is interesting, because of what was said about the fourth friend just before he began his speech:
HCSB Job 32:2 Then Elihu son of Barachel the Buzite from the family of Ram became angry. He was angry at Job because he had justified himself rather than God.
Job did everything right, but what got him into trouble with God (or at least Elihu) is that Job justified himself by his right-doing, rather than giving the credit to God.

Genesis 6:22 says that "Noah did everything exactly as God had commanded him", but that's not what saved him and his family. Instead, "By his faith Noah ... received the righteousness that comes by faith" (Heb 11:7 NLT).

Don't trust in your own right-ness. Instead, have faith that the right-ness of Yahshua is given to you by God's grace, and then do the right thing.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Dream with a Message

I had a dream the other night. Although it was more detailed, this is the basic jist.

I was going on a job interview unexpectedly and wasn't attired appropriately. I was on a road trip (maybe as a 20-something, with "the guys"?), and was dressed accordingly: ratty jeans, stained t-shirt, river-wading sneakers, hadn't bathed in two days, scraggly beard, etc.

The woman with whom I would be interviewing was known to be demanding, and it was clear that she would not approve of my appearance, and I had nearly zero chance of getting a job.

Yet I knew something that astounded me, and it is this message that I believe God sent via my dream. I knew that when she challenged me on my unkempt appearance at a job interview, I was going to answer with the following, which I believed entirely:
It's not your choice whether or not I get a job. That's God's choice. You just think it's your choice.
When I woke up, I realized that is true. We think we have control over this or that, because we have the position/power/ability/whatever. But like Pharoah who thought he was making decisions about the Israelites, it's all God.

Where God wants us, is where we'll be. It's in our best mental health interest to accept/acknowledge His control over our lives, and quit thinking we're in control.

At least, that's the message that so strongly rang out to me in my dream.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Third Heaven

The apostle Paul, in 2 Corinthians 12:2ff, writes:
2 I know a man in Christ who was caught up into the third heaven 14 years ago. Whether he was in the body or out of the body, I don't know; God knows. 3 I know that this man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— 4 was caught up into paradise. He heard inexpressible words, which a man is not allowed to speak....
Much mental effort has been expended trying to figure out how many levels of heaven there are, and what those levels are.

But the more I think about it, the more I suspect that we make a mistake to approach this issue from a Western mindset. I don't believe Paul is telling us that he's been to Level 3 of 7 levels, or 3 of 28, or whatever.

If you search Biblegateway for the term "heaven", and try to figure out what the terms mean as you look at each reference found, you'll find there's a lot of crossover between usages. Sometimes the heavens are eternal; sometimes they're temporary. Sometimes God dwells in the highest heaven; sometimes He dwells above the highest heaven. Sometimes the stars are in heaven, sometimes rain comes from heaven. In other words, there's no Western-thought-type consistency in what/where heaven is, and we damage the text to try and force-fit an Eastern text into a Western mindset.

Instead, ask yourself what the number three meant to an Eastern mind of the time.

The number 1 usually referred to God ("God is One"), and the number 2 usually referred to humanity (Adam and Eve), so the number 3 referred to the union of God and Humanity (1 + 2 = 3).

From another angle, animals had a body of flesh (1 - Gen 6:17), and the breath of life (2 - Gen 6:17), just as humans did. But humans also had the image of God (3 - Gen 1:26), so again, 3 refers to the union of the worldly image with God's image.

When Paul writes of the third heaven, it seems to me that he's saying he went to a place beyond the two heavens where the birds fly and the stars dwell; he went to the place where God receives human visitors. He went to God's guest parlor, so to speak.

I'm no expert in Eastern thinking, by any stretch. But I seriously doubt that Paul's reference is correctly approached from a Western way of thinking.

I may be wrong.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Format of Church

Many of us have grown up with the idea that church consists of most of the members sitting quietly in the pews, only opening their mouths for singing or an occasional "Amen", while the leaders, particularly the preacher, speak from a raised platform, lecturing the quiet members.

But I contend this is more a format we've retained from 2000 years of tradition rather than gleaning from New Testament principles.

Even in the very first Gospel sermon, in Acts 2, there was give-and-take dialog rather than a strict lecture format.

The apostles spoke as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:4). The people around asked what was happening, and some accused the apostles of being drunk (2:5-12). Peter addressed the crowd with his answer (14-36). The people again began to chatter and discuss (2:37). Peter again responded with his answer (2:38ff).

Then for the next few chapters there's a lot of brief history that doesn't really focus on church assemblies as such, but in chapter 20 we do find a church assembly, and in this assembly, Paul "dialogs" and "discourses" with the church. Note that he does not lecture, but that he "discusses", "reasons", "converses", "communes", "talks with" them (see Strong's Greek Dictionary, #1256 dialegomai, and #3656, homileo).

In the previous chapter, "Acts 19:8 [Paul] entered the synagogue and spoke boldly over a period of three months, engaging in discussion and trying to persuade them about the things related to the kingdom of God." Again, it's not a lecture; it's a discussion.

Looking closely at other hints in the New Testament, it appears that most of the assembling was about dialoging with each other rather than passively sitting and listening to a lecturer. 1 Tim 1:5 refers to those whose discussions have become unfruitful.

Turning to the church in Corinth, Paul does not instruct the members to sit quietly and listen to a lecture; instead, he says:
The Message 1 Cor 14:26-33So here's what I want you to do. When you gather for worship, each one of you be prepared with something that will be useful for all: Sing a hymn, teach a lesson, tell a story, lead a prayer, provide an insight. If prayers are offered in tongues, two or three's the limit, and then only if someone is present who can interpret what you're saying. Otherwise, keep it between God and yourself. And no more than two or three speakers at a meeting, with the rest of you listening and taking it to heart. Take your turn, no one person taking over. Then each speaker gets a chance to say something special from God, and you all learn from each other. If you choose to speak, you're also responsible for how and when you speak. When we worship the right way, God doesn't stir us up into confusion; he brings us into harmony. This goes for all the churches—no exceptions.
Notice, it's not chaos, but neither is it everyone sitting being passive. He wants the members to be involved in some way to build up the others, with the speaking roles not taking over.

We also tend to think that church and eating are two different things. But to the same church in Corinth, Paul writes just three chapters earlier that when they come together to eat their meal combined with their observance of the Lord's Supper, they need to not be selfish about eating, but to rather wait on one another and eat as a family (1 Cor 11:17ff).

And we see the same church assembly/eating activity in Acts 20:7ff.

And we have the example which Jesus set for us in the very beginning, where the first Lord's Supper was incorporated into a meal (Mk 14:12ff).

Please do not get me wrong: I am not saying that the format to which we're accustomed is wrong. I am not saying that we should not have sermons/lectures.

I am saying two things:

Our traditional way of doing things has turned the bulk of the church body into do-nothing, passive listeners, and that we need to rethink how we do things. Should we have pews, or chairs/couches facing each other? Should we remove the podium altogether, or move it to the center of the group, or lower it, or replace the lectern with a chair? (Jesus sat when he taught; Matt 5:1-2; Luke 4:20-21). Should we encourage discussion, or continue with the lecture format?


Our traditional way of doing things may be marginalizing those people who don't fit into our traditional way of doing things. I'm thinking of those people who need a little chaos in order to learn. As a teen, I needed music blaring in my ear in order to study my school stuff. But that would not be allowed in our traditional way of doing things. Someone else may need to busy one part of their brain with a game on their cell phone in order to pay attention with another part of their brain to the sermon. Someone else may need lots of colors and artwork and sculptures in the building to feel comfortable enough to learn, and can't learn in our traditional blah color-scheme decorated by ... nothing.

I'm just asking you to rethink whether the format you know as "Church" is really Biblical, or just traditional. If it is just traditional, is there a format that is more Biblical, or that might would appeal to different learning styles?

Or is that what different congregations are for? The Northside Congregation is designed for fuddy-duddies; the Southside Congregation is designed for artsy-touchy-feely types? I think that might be a workable solution, provided that the Northside church does not condemn the Southside for their "unBiblical" format, and vice-versa.

God made us all different. Let's not condemn each other because they don't fit in with the way we learn. That person may need to play with his cellphone while sitting passively during a sermon; but he may need to move to the back to not distract those around him. Or he may need to stand and sway back and forth rather than sit for 20 minutes at a time. Move him to a place where he does not distract you; don't condemn him for not being you.

Let all things be done for edification (1 Cor 14:26); don't mistake your style of learning as being the Biblical style, and don't make the mistake of thinking that your style of learning works for everyone.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Dying, You Shall Die

Notice the structure of this verse:
HCSB 1 Kings 2:37 On the day you do leave and cross the Kidron Valley, know for sure that you will certainly die.
It's the same structure we find in Genesis, when God warns Adam and Eve against eating the forbidden fruit:
HCSB Gen2:17 ...on the day you eat from [the tree of the knowledge of good and evil], you will certainly die."
On the day you do something, you will certainly die, or know you'll certainly die.

In the Hebrew, this "certainly die" is muwth-muwth - or "die-die". The meaning behind this repetition is that "dying, you will die".

So, in Genesis, on the day that Adam ate of the forbidden fruit, he was as good as dead, and on the day that Shimei violated his house-arrest by crossing the Kidron Valley on the way out of town, he should realize that he was as good as dead.

In both cases, the death is not immediate, but it is sealed. In Adam's case, it was immediately apparent because of physical changes that started taking place, including his realization that he was naked and needed covering. In Shimei's case, he probably thought no one would notice.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Night Grannie Died

As I remember the story (and I'm sure I'm misremembering how it was told to me), one late night out in the country in the first half of the 1900's my family was gathered at the old home-place, where Great-Grannie was in bed, sick. After dark, the folks noticed a ball of fire fly by overhead, and the men-folk gave chase to investigate. The ball of fire ran along the ground ahead of them, and disappeared under the house in which Great-Grannie was lying, and was seen no more.

That night, Great-Grannie died.

As a young man hearing this story, I was fascinated by this tale of what I later came to believe was just a coincidence involving the rare phenomenon of ball-lightning. Too bad I don't have any of the really old-timers around anymore to ask how close my story is to their recollections of it.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Jesus = Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

I had never noticed this before.
HCSB Matt 28:19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit....
It says "name", not "title". The terms "Father", "Son", and "Holy Spirit" are all titles, not names.

It also says "name" (singular), not "names" (plural).

Many of us have been "baptized in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit", as Matthew indicates we should be, but it's interesting to note that in the book of Acts, at least some of the conversions are done in an actual name, and not in three titles:
HCSB Acts 2:38 "Repent," Peter said to them, "and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus the Messiah for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
HCSB Acts:8:16 For He had not yet come down on any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
HCSB Acts 10:48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
HCSB Acts:195 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
So it becomes pretty clear that the one name of "Jesus" is equivalent to the three titles of "Father", "Son", and "Holy Ghost", and to be immersed in the name of Jesus is to be immersed in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Monday, March 08, 2010

I Come to Give Praise ....

Spoiler Alert: If you haven't seen the movie, "The Sixth Sense", and don't want to ruin the plot, do not read the next paragraph.

You recall in the movie how the Bruce Willis character had all sorts of evidences presented to him that he was dead, but he never saw them until a final piece triggered the flashbacks of all the evidences. This happened to me yesterday.

I was raised on "Star Trek"'s Mister Spock: cold, logical, emotionless. And whereas I'm not emotionless (even less so as I get older), I do tend to drop into a Mr. Spock mode, especially in a debate situation. I approach the debate as logically as I can, leaving the emotion at home.

The problem is that this worldview, so to speak, has caused me to miss the evidences before my eyes that I can be hypercritical; I see something wrong, I point it out. It's nothing personal. It's just logical that if it's wrong, it should be made right.

Yesterday, a friend called me on this, and I realized that I often criticize him without giving him praise. I think highly of him, but he doesn't hear that; all he ever hears is the criticism. And when that clicked in my brain, I had a bunch of flashbacks about the same treatment I give to other people, especially those I love.

So to you who get my criticisms, I'm sorry. I can't promise I'll remember tomorrow, or next week, that I've decided to offer more praise than criticism, but as of right now, this moment, that's my decision.

You have my permission to help hold me to it.

And you especially have my request to help me learn to do it, to make it a habit.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Being of One Mind

I recently heard a whispered comment in relation to some of the New Testament passages to "be of the same mind". The comment was:
Being of the same mind, we have to think the same things.
That's the way I was raised, and what I believed most of my life. But here I'd like to see if I can present a different perspective.

Philippians 2

One of the passages for supporting this position is Philippians 2:2,5:

NKJV Philippians 2:2 fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. ... 5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus....

This quote sounds like we are to "think the same things". But I believe that is going beyond what the passage actually says.

Looking at the broader context, particularly verses 6 and following, Paul is talking about an attitude, not a doctrinal stance. He's saying, "Humble yourselves; be a servant, like Christ was". He's saying, "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit" (v3), but to have an humble attitude that accepts the other guy.

He is not saying, in either verse, to "think the same things"; he's saying, in context, "get along with each other".

This follows the example which Jesus himself set in picking his apostles. He picked common laborer fishermen, and he picked an "I'm holier than thou" Pharisee, and he picked a couple of guerrilla-fighter zealots, and he picked a despised, hated, not-to-be-associated-with-at-any-cost-don't-even-touch-him "filthy scum" tax collector. As this disparate group spent time with and learned from Jesus, their ways of thinking began to get similar, but thinking the same thing was not the mark of discipleship; instead, the mark of discipleship was love for each other. He did not say, "You can't be my disciples until you all think alike." He told them:

NKJV John 13:35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.

We also see this from the first few decades of church history. In the beginning, only Law-keeping Jews were Christians. When non-Law-keeping Gentiles were invited into the church by God, the Jews who kept the Mosaic Law at first thought the Gentiles had to become converted Jews in the process of becoming Christians. Although several passages in Acts indicate this, it's plainly spelled out in chapter 15:

NKJV Acts 15:1 And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”

For several decades there were essentially two groups of believers within the church: the "Jews who have believed" which stressed the keeping of the law (Acts 21:21), and the "Gentiles who believe" (Acts 21:25), who did not need to keep the law, except for four specifics (Acts 21:25), to keep peace between the two groups.

These two groups were "like-minded" in that they got along with each other, but they were not "like-minded" in that they did not "think the same things".

We, in the 21st century, forget that God approved of two very different ways of thinking, divided into two very different groups, in His first-century church. By forgetting that scriptural lesson, we make the mistake of thinking that modern-day Christians can not have vastly different ways of thinking and doing things but must instead "think the same things". I daresay that if we had a Jewish church of Christ across the street from the church of Christ I attend, which stressed the keeping of the Mosaic Law (not for justification purposes but for cultural purposes), most of us at my congregation would dismiss them as non-Christians, and would have nothing to do with them except perhaps to try and "convert" them. God did not dismiss them; who are we to cause a division where God has not? Instead, we should be marked for being divisive in such a case (Rom 16:17).

I believe it's true that if we use the Bible as our standard, our thinking will more and more focus into thinking the same things, but I don't believe the Philippians 2 passage as quoted above can be used (in context) as a proof-text for that concept.

Romans 15

Neither can Romans 15:5-6 be used, in context, to support the idea that Christians must "think the same things". The passage says:

NKJV Rom 15:5 Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, 6 that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Putting the passage back into its context, we find the next verse says that we are to "receive one another", not that we are to think like one another. The previous chapter makes this even more clear, in which we are taught that some Christians have no problem eating meat, whereas some do; some Christians observe special days as holy; some do not. But it's no matter that they don't "think the same things"; what matters is that each person has his own beliefs which are between himself and God (Rom 14:4,9,12), and that we are not to dispute over questionable matters (14:1 (even if one party feels the matter is not questionable)), and that we are to receive each other (14:1), pursue peace with one another (14:19), and to keep your own beliefs to yourself before God (14:22) rather than forcing them on the weaker brother.

(Some brothers might claim that people who celebrate Christmas as a "holy day", as Jesus' birthday, or Easter as a holy day, or, horrors! Passover, are not really Christians. But Paul makes it clear that observing holy days is not an issue (even if Christmas did start out as a pagan holiday, is not Biblical, and has nothing to do with the birth of Jesus); therefore we should not make it an issue.)

The point is that Rom 15:5 does not teach us to "think the same thoughts"; it teaches us to get along with and accept each other, even when we don't think the same thoughts on various issues.

Please do not get me wrong; I am not saying that anything goes; I am saying that these particular passages do not teach us to "think the same thoughts", and they should not be used as proof-texts for teaching that. To do so is to make them say what God has not said. I am also saying that God approved of much greater group differences in the first century church than many of us today will allow, and that the concept that we must "think the same things" is a man-made doctrine, not a Biblical one.