Thinking Through Scripture

"but the word of the Lord remains forever"

Talk to your Elders

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The church is designed by God to have spiritual resources for people wanting to grow in their faith. Every church I know uses some of those resources. They gather for worship, most teach Bible classes, some encourage friendships and provide opportunities for service.  Those are great opportunities for fellowship, learning, encouragement, and putting your faith into practice. But there are also so many other resources that the church can provide.  One that is often overlooked has been a tremendous benefit to my life and ministry: talking to your elders.

Who are elders?  One thing I find interesting about the lists given in 1 Timothy and Titus about the type of men elders ought to be is that every godly Christian person that I know is trying to be those things.  With the exception of the responsibilities as fathers and husbands (because some great Christian men are unmarried, and some great Christians are not men), everything on those lists is something every Christian should strive for.  What Christian doesn’t desire to be respectable and above reproach?  What Christian wants to be a quarrelsome lover of money or a violent drunk? These are things all Christians should aim for because they are part of the Christian life.

Elders are simply men who have been doing these things well for a long time.  They have proven to be trustworthy in their Christian walk.  They do the things Christians are to do in their homes, personal and public lives, and in the church. That’s why they are so great to talk to.

They have faithfully done what we are striving to do.  They take God and His Word seriously. They love the church. They are committed to the Lordship of Jesus.  The church has trusted them to gently lead God’s people as shepherds.  They are trying to emulate the Good Shepherd. What a tragedy for a sheep not to know its shepherd. Imagine a sheep trying to feed itself, defend itself, and lead itself without the guidance of a shepherd.  It probably won’t make it very long.

When you are having struggles in your walk with God, talk to your elders.  When you have questions about the Bible, talk to your elders.  When you have important life decisions, talk to your elders. When you are having battles in your home, talk to your elders. When personal sin is ravaging your soul, talk to your elders. They are there as a resource for you. Every eldership I have ever worshipped with has been a blessing in my life. It’s because I have gotten to know them. I’ve talked to them about important issues. I’ve seen the struggles they face when trying to do what is best for the church.  I’ve seen how much they care.

I hope you don’t respond by thinking, “psh, not my elders.” I know not all elders are what God wants them to be.  I know not all churches have elders. And that is truly tragic. But in my experience, most elders in the church, while imperfect, love God, have faithfully served him for many years, and have valuable experience and spiritual insight. They deserve the benefit of the doubt.  Don’t be afraid of them. Don’t expect the worst. They may surprise you with how shepherd-like they can be. They may become a great spiritual resource throughout your life.

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But Seriously, Who is my Neighbor?

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Jesus was asked a lot of questions. One of the questions He was apparently asked on multiple occasions was, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25; 18:18). In Luke 10, the ensuing conversation led to a remarkable parable and a radical redefinition of the word “neighbor.” A definition that we still grapple with and struggle to accept today.

After a lawyer and Jesus have a conversation about how to inherit eternal life, they agree that the answer can be found in two Old Testament texts: Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18.  Basically, the answer is to love God with everything you have and to love your neighbor as yourself. The first commandment is simple enough. That second one though, the one about the neighbor, is a little harder to accept.

Like most things, loving your neighbor is easier said than done. That’s why Jesus tells the lawyer that he actually has to do it (Luke 10:28). Not liking the implication that needs to do it, perhaps he thinks that he already is, he tries to justify himself by asking another question: “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29).

If he gets the answer, “your fellow Israelite” then he’ll probably still feel justified. After all, that seems to be what Leviticus 19:17-18 has in mind. But Jesus is going to complicate matters by redefining the word “neighbor.” He’s going to make things a lot less comfortable.

Jesus answers with a story about a man who is beaten by robbers and left in a ditch to die. Two of his countrymen, fellow Israelites, religious Israelites, see him, and intentionally pass by on the other side of the road.  But one man, a Samaritan, not a fellow countryman, in fact someone hated by Jews (John 4:9) having different religious beliefs (John 4:20) and different ethnicity, sees him, feels compassion, and shows mercy. He cares for him, takes him to an inn, pays for his housing, and shows kindness that no one else did.

Then Jesus asks, “Which of the three do you think proved to be the neighbor to the man who fell into the robber’s hands?” (Luke 10:36). Rather than even mentioning the hated “Samaritan,” the lawyer simply responds, I imagine with a hanging head, “The one who showed mercy toward him” (Luke 10:37).

Isn’t that interesting? According to Jesus, in order to receive eternal life, you must love your neighbor.  And the “neighbor” is the one who “shows mercy.” To Jesus, your neighbor is not the guy next door, your fellow citizens, your political cohorts, those who share your race, or even people you agree with spiritually.  It’s the one who shows mercy. The one who is merciful in spite of all those other things being different.

What is most interesting about this conversation, however, is that Jesus concludes it by telling the lawyer again to go and do it! (Luke 10:37). Do what? Love the guy who is nice to me? That would be really easy. The lawyer initially wanted to restrict the “love command” to only his fellow Israelites. Jesus is not, here, restricting it even further to only those who show you mercy.

The final statement of “Go and do likewise,” is a command to go and be like the Samaritan.  Go and show mercy.  Don’t wait for a kind neighbor to help you, then love him in return. Rather, go be the neighbor! Initiate the love!

In Matthew 5:43-44 Jesus redefines Leviticus 19:18 to include even your enemies.  The Samaritans were enemies to the Jews in Jesus’ day.  That’s why this parable is so striking.  Who is your enemy? Who sees you as an enemy? Who would you rather walk past? Who is the hardest to love?  Perhaps that is who you most need to show mercy towards.  To be their Samaritan and neighbor. To love them as yourself.

Some Late Night Thoughts About Being a Father

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I preach every Sunday.  There are so many times that, after I’ve finished, some young mother apologizes to me about her toddler shouting/crying during the sermon. I always try to comfort her by saying that it didn’t bother me at all. And that really is the truth, because well, I just never hear it. Maybe I’m going deaf at a young age. Or, more likely, while those mothers are struggling to make sure their kids don’t ruin the service, I’m up in front struggling to make sure that I don’t ruin the service. I suppose I’m just focused on other things and a baby’s cry never even registers in my mind.

Except for one. There is one child that it seems no matter what I’m doing, I immediately recognize his voice.  Tonight, while I was preaching, I heard this little voice in the back of the auditorium shouting, “Da! Da! Da!”  I immediately recognized it. I hear it all day long. It was the voice of my 1 year old son, Oliver (the little guy pictured above). I had to struggle not to break into a smile and forget my train of thought.  I had to struggle not to say, “What’s up, buddy?” (my normal response when he calls for me).

In the middle of a sermon my mind is usually pretty focused.  But that one little voice can steal my attention in a moment. I like hearing it. I love when my son calls for me.  When I get home from the office, he crawls to the door shouting, “Da! Da!”  When he wakes up in the morning, I walk into his room to get him and he shouts, “Da!” Now that he’s started walking a few days ago, he’ll walk to me, fall in my arms, calling “Da!” It makes me feel special. Loved.

From what people are always quick to tell me, this doesn’t last long. Kids grow up quickly.  They find other hobbies and other interests. They make friends, move out, go to college, get married, all in the blink of an eye. But my nightly prayer with Oliver always contains the line, “Please help Oliver to always know that we love him very much and for us to always have a close relationship.”

I pray every night for our relationship to be strong and loving and last a lifetime. I never want him to drift away or get bored of me. (By the way, right now, I hear him giggling in the other room with his mama while he’s supposed to be going to sleep, it’s cracking me up). Simply, I love that kid.  I will always make time for him and I hope he grows up making time for me.

That said, as children of God, we have a Father also. There’s a heart breaking passage in Hosea 11 about God’s child, Israel, drifting from Him as he grew older. “When Israel was a youth I loved him, And out of Egypt I called My son…They kept sacrificing to the Baals And burning incense to idols. Yet it is I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them in My arms; But they did not know that I healed them” (Hosea 11:1-3).

I never want to put God through that. I don’t even want to imagine the child I love so much, that I taught to walk, that I took in my arms, growing to neglect me and trade me away for other things.

God longs to hear from us.  He longs to hear our voices. He recognizes the cries of His children.  He wants us to make time for Him.  What a tragedy it would be for us to grow and drift away from Him. To focus more on our hobbies, careers, and retirements, than we do our Father.

Today, make time for God. Call out to Him as your Father. Tell Him how much you appreciate Him.  Spend sincere time in prayer. Communicate openly with Him. Build your relationship.  I want mine and Oliver’s relationship to grow stronger with the passing of time, not drift farther apart. God desires the same thing with us. Make time for your Father.

A Fig Tree, a Temple, and God’s Purpose

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Remember when Jesus cursed the fig tree in Mark 11?  That was weird, wasn’t it? You know what was particularly weird about it? Jesus cursed it because “He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs” (Mark 11:13).  Why in the world is Jesus cursing the tree for not having figs, when it wasn’t even the season for figs? Well, I think if we pay really close attention to what is happening in the surrounding context, we may get ourselves an answer.  And it might not be so weird after all.

Jesus had just entered Jerusalem and He immediately entered the temple and looked around.  Since it was late and He wasn’t staying in Jerusalem (but a small suburb called Bethany) He left the temple to retire for the night.  It’s on the next day while He is making His way back to the temple that He sees the fig tree with no figs.  He curses the fig tree for being out of season by saying, “‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again!’ And His disciples were listening” (Mark 11:14).

Whenever you read a seemingly insignificant little detail like “and His disciples were listening” it probably isn’t insignificant, and it probably means you should be listening too.  You should probably begin searching for a deeper meaning in the story than what appears on the surface.

After this incident with the fig tree, Jesus returns to the temple.  This time, He doesn’t just look around, but He creates a huge disturbance. “He entered the temple and began to drive out those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves; and He would not permit anyone to carry merchandise through the temple” (Mark 11:15-16).

Jesus makes it impossible to conduct business at the temple. He stops the things that were essential for the temple to fulfill its purpose. People need to purchase animals in order to sacrifice animals. Many traveled from afar and rather than risk losing their animals along the journey, they would arrive at the temple to purchase an acceptable animal, then the priests would offer it. That way they are still offering up their best to God, but if they didn’t own a proper animal or couldn’t travel with one, they could purchase one.

The sin is not that people purchased animals at the temple, but that God’s “‘House shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’ But you have made it a robber’s den” (Mark 11:17).  Notice two things.  First, it is supposed to be a house of prayer “for all the nations” (Mark 11:17; Isaiah 56:7).  The temple was not opened to all the nations.  It was for Jews only.  Secondly, it was made into a “robber’s den.” This might imply that there was cheating and dishonesty taking place in the selling of animals.  Or it might imply that the House of God which was for “all the nations,” became a place for people who hated all the other nations. The word “robber” could also be translated as “insurrectionist.”

The temple should be a place of worship for all the nations, but instead it is full of dishonest people who hate the other nations and, like insurrectionists, want to overthrow them. This is one of the very reasons that Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah was repudiated.  Rather than overthrowing the Romans, He was crucified by them!

The major point is that the temple is not fulfilling its intended purpose.  When Jesus looked around the temple, He didn’t see a place of prayer for all the nations. He saw a den of robbers. Because of that, the temple was producing no fruit.  There was once a time when God’s temple was fruitful, but that season had passed.

Are you starting to see the connection between the temple and the fig tree? The fig tree produced no fruit, its season had passed, and it was cursed by Jesus. The temple produced no fruit, its season had passed, and it was condemned by Jesus.

The evening after the disturbance in the temple, Jesus and His disciples were leaving again for Bethany.  As they walked they passed that same fig tree. Peter looked at it and said, “Rabbi, look, the fig tree which You cursed has withered” (Mark 11:21).

After Jesus cursed the fig tree it withered and never produced again.  Years after Jesus cleansed the temple, it was destroyed and never produced again.  The temple scene is sandwiched between these two discussions about the fig tree.  They represent one another.

The fig tree is an illustration. It illustrates what happens when one fails to produce. Those listening must ask, what am I producing? Unlike the fig tree and the temple, our season has not passed.  We are in it right now.  It is our responsibility to be the temple of God, a place for all the nations.  We are challenged with producing fruit for the kingdom. We have a purpose as Christians, to live as the body of Christ, taking His message and ministry to the world. Are you fulfilling your purpose in Christ?

God Loves You

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It might sound relatively simple. You might (hopefully) hear it often in churches. It might (hopefully not) even begin to sound cliché. But when you sit down and reflect upon it, it is life changing. God loves you. The God. The majestic God, creator and sustainer of all, looks down and actually cares about us.  Weak, fragile, sinful, us.

This thought needs to be at the forefront of our minds.  Daily, we need to reflect upon it and glory in it.  It is a dangerous thing to forget.  The book of Malachi is about people who forgot this divine truth.

These people had experienced a rather turbulent recent history.  Their fathers had been in exile, their city and temple destroyed, and God allowed it all to happen.  In fact, God takes full responsibility for it happening (Jeremiah 25:11).  As punishment, God destroyed their land and homes through Nebuchadnezzar, and they were captives in Babylon for 70 years.

But when Malachi writes, captivity has ended and they are home again. Their temple has been rebuilt and sacrifice has been reinstituted; however, things are not all well.  God is not pleased with them. Again.

Malachi sounds a lot like a QnA session. God makes an accusation against the people, they challenge the accusation with a question, and God answers their question by spelling out all their sins. For example, God says, “O priests who despise My name. But you say, ‘How have we despised You name?’” (Malachi 1:6), and, “You are presenting defiled food upon my altar. But you say, ‘How have we defiled You?’” (Malachi 1:7), and, “You have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet you say, ‘How have we wearied Him?’” (Malachi 2:17), and again, “You are robbing Me! But you say, ‘How have we robbed You?” (Malachi 3:8). This cycle is repeated throughout the book.

Reading this it becomes painfully clear that their hearts aren’t in it.  Like a bad case of senioritis, they are just turning it in hoping for a passing grade. They sacrifice to Him, perhaps to avoid another punishment, but they’re not about to give the best they can. They give sick, blind, dying, stolen sacrifices (Malachi 1:7-14).  The priests corrupted the covenant and lead people astray (Malachi 2:8).  They abused their fellow people; even their own wives whom they should love and honor and cherish, trading them for foreign women (Malachi 2:10-16).  They love their money more than God, robbing Him by withholding tithes (Malachi 3:8-12).

They don’t trust God.  They don’t even consider Him good anymore. They say things like, “‘Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and He delights in them,’ or ‘Where is the God of justice?’” (Malachi 2:17). They obviously aren’t going to give God their all, because they see no point in serving Him. They say, “It is vain to serve God.” (Malachi 3:14-15).

Obviously this is a problem.  They don’t serve God fully because they don’t trust that God is good.  They don’t trust that He is good, because they forgot that God loved them.  In fact, the very first cycle in the book of Malachi, where the people challenge God with a question, isn’t in response to an accusation. It’s actually in response to God’s love.  “‘I have loved you,’ says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have you loved us?’” (Malachi 1:2). In the same way that they repeatedly deny their sin, they also deny God’s love for them.

This is the real problem. Their pitiful sacrifices, unloving marriages, stingy giving, and lack of trust are merely symptoms. The major crisis is that they forgot that God loves them.

It’s hard to trust and serve God when you forget He loves you. It is hard to rejoice in the goodness of God when you forget He loves you.  If you view God as a righteous guillotine, our necks protected from His wrathful blade only by the rope of our good deeds, then obedience becomes self preservation rather than a response of love.

But when we remember that God is a personal, loving Father, who truly cares and longs for us, then we can respond in sincerity. When we remember the love demonstrated on the cross (Romans 5:8) then we can serve with thanksgiving.  When we remember that “God is love” (1 John 4:8), then we can love, “because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

Rejoice and serve faithfully, because God loves you.

God and the Unexpected

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God has a way of keeping us guessing.  He’s not very predictable. Throughout the Bible and throughout our lives, God works in ways that transcend social customs and human rationality, thus earning the epithet: “He moves in mysterious ways.”

Beginning in Genesis this notion is already evident.  Who does God choose to be the parents of a great nation? Not the young, fertile, newlyweds; but the old man and his barren wife.  Abram and Sarai strive to bring (or even manipulate) God’s plan into reality by introducing Hagar into the situation. This only complicates matters.

Consider also God’s choice of Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Ephraim.  What do these men all have in common?  They are all younger siblings.  While ancient society would select the firstborn to be the true heir, God often chooses the unexpected.

This idea is central to our understanding of Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God as a whole.  Who is the greatest in the kingdom? The child. The servant of all (Mark 9:35-37). Who is the blessed? The poor, the hungry, the mourning, and the hated (Luke 6:20-23). Who is the true King and Messiah of the whole world? The man crucified by the Romans between two criminals.  To many, this idea is foolishness or a stumbling block, but to those who trust and follow God, it is the very demonstration of His power and wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:23-24).

So here is a helpful tip that we can all stand to benefit from: spend less time trying to figure God out and spend more time simply following Him. Don’t try to predict His path or run ahead of Him, just follow and see where you end up.

3 Myths about Bold Preaching

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The church began with bold preaching and desperately needs bold preaching today.  Bold preaching is not easy, but it is necessary.  Peter and John were bold preachers (Acts 4:13).  Paul was a bold preacher (Acts 28:31).  Early Christians often prayed to be bold preachers (Acts 4:29; Ephesians 6:18-19).  We need more boldness in our pulpits throughout the world.

That being said, it seems that there is a lot of confusion today about what it means to preach boldly.  Here are three myths commonly believed about bold preaching:

Myth #1: Bold Preaching is Opinionated Preaching:

I have strong opinions on what constitutes modest dress.  I have opinions on political issues and candidates.  I have opinions on which words are appropriate and inappropriate.  I have opinions on which movies Christians should avoid. But other honest, thinking, Bible believing Christians have opinions on these things too.  And these opinions do not always match perfectly.

When a preacher preaches an exact, absolute standard of what clothes Christians ought to wear to worship, or which presidential candidate is the “Christian” choice, or which MPAA ratings all Christians must avoid, they have entered the realm of opinionated preaching.  I have actually heard a sermon which listed “unknown euphemisms” and condemned every utterance of those words.  Yet precisely none of these specifics can be found in Scripture!

Opinionated preaching is a great fear I have.  I am absolutely convinced with every ounce of existing internal certitude that if everyone obeyed my opinions, the world would be a much better place.  But I try very hard not to preach simply what I wish everyone would do.  That’s not my job.

It might sound bold for a preacher to thunderously proclaim condemnation to the immodest, movie-going, euphemism speakers of the godless political party, but bold preaching comes from Scripture.  Certainly wisdom, experience, and practical common sense can be shared.  Sometimes, there is even a place for opinions in the pulpit; provided they are good opinions and they are taught as opinions.

But true boldness needs to come from Scripture, and keep the opinions in the realm of, well, opinions.

Myth #2: Bold Preaching is Rude Preaching:

I have sometimes heard “bold preaching” used synonymously with what was rather obviously “rude preaching.”

I remember listening to a sermon one time on Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”  This sermon quickly derailed into an angry, venomous, diatribe about all the other churches in the area.  Literally, the words “stupid” and “idiotic” were used to describe the other churches.

Volume, fist pounding, insults, and a heaping dose of condescension might be enough to persuade some people to follow your version of Christ.  Some people are very attracted to that kind of bravado. But that has nothing to do with “bold” preaching.

If you are a shouter and a pulpit pounder, great! Have fun.  But that doesn’t necessarily imply boldness.  It implies some good pipes and a sturdy pulpit. Volume is a poor substitute for content.  If you like to insult and dehumanize those who disagree with you, that also doesn’t mean you are bold.  It probably just means you’re a jerk.

Bold preaching can be done quietly or loudly.  It can be done with a scowl, a smile, or a tear.  Bold preaching can be kind.  It can be polite, respectful, and loving.  In fact, that’s generally the best way to do it in our culture.

Knowing the sensibilities of your listeners is important; trying to communicate truth in the most effective way possible is your responsibility.  There is a difference between preaching the truth, and preaching the truth well.  Boldness has nothing to do with rudeness.

Myth #3: Bold Preaching is Negative Preaching:

Finally, there seems to be some confusion that bold preaching is always negative preaching.

Interestingly, the New Testament speaks about boldly preaching good news.  No matter how you spin it, good news should not be a negative thing.  Even the hard topics are not necessarily “negative” topics.  All preaching is positive preaching as long as the goal is to bring people closer to God.

However, clearly there are some topics that are harsher than others and people generally associate them with negativity.  Hell, sin, divorce, homosexuality, division, greed, hatred, and many other topics are often called “negative preaching.”  And those who solely focus on them are often called “bold preachers.”  That, however, is not necessarily the case.

Going back to the Philippians 4:13 tirade about other churches, a comment made after the sermon was that it “really stepped on all of our toes.”  I didn’t feel that way.  Instead, my toes felt awesome.  They never had any pressure at all, because I was not in those other churches.  And the other churches’ toes didn’t hurt either because they were not in our building.

It’s extremely easy to preach negative topics about the “outsiders.”  I can rail on outsiders all day long, but very rarely does it help anybody.  And it requires no boldness.

It’s extremely easy to preach negative topics to those who already agree and love hearing negative topics.  That kind of preaching is often just tickling ears.  Yes, harsh and negative preaching can tickle ears too.

Bold preaching focuses not on what people want to hear, but on what people need to hear.  Sometimes that may be negative.  Sometimes the good brethren may need to be told to repent and straighten up.  They may need a 2×4 to the back of the head.  But bold preaching can also be about salvation, security, love, grace, and forgiveness.  Bold preaching can be about faith and hope and kindness.

A church that neglects the poor needs some bold preaching on love and generosity.  A church that has suffered a tragedy needs some bold preaching on hope.  A church that is brimming with guilt needs some bold preaching on grace.

What is Bold Preaching?

Bold preaching is preaching God’s word with confidence: to confidently proclaim the Gospel of Jesus in the best way you possibly can, attempting to inspire change in the hearts of people and bring glory to God.  Bold preaching is not defined by opinions, volume, slurs, or negativity.

Bold preaching is about presenting what people need to hear.  This can have consequences.  You might be called “hateful” by some and “liberal” by others.  You might never be invited back to speak.  You might lose your job.  Some have even been killed.  But bold preaching will go on, that’s what makes it bold preaching.

The Truth about LUST

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The word “Lust” is used numerous times in the New Testament.  It is basically a word that means a strong desire or craving.  It is similar to the word “covetousness” in the 10 commandments.  And it is extremely dangerous.  Lust created Gollum.  Sure, you can lust for good things (Luke 22:15; Phil. 1:23; 1 Thess. 2:17), but in Scripture, overwhelmingly the word for “lust” is used in a negative way.  It is either a sin (Matthew 5:28), or it leads to sin (James 1:15).  Whether it is lust for money, possessions, another person’s life, or another person’s wife, lust has the potential to kill you.  So, before giving in, remember the truth about LUST.

Lie:  Lust lies to you.  Lust promises far more than it can deliver.  Lust told Adam and Eve that they will “not” surely die when they ate the fruit.  Lust told them that it will make them wise like God.  It told them that the beautiful garden and provision from God was not enough.  And it tells us the same things.  Lust tells us we don’t have enough to be content, we need more.  It tells us our house is not big enough, our spouse is not good enough, and our car is not fast enough.  It tells us the lie that satisfaction and “the good life” is always just out of arms reach.  We always need a little bit more money, sex, entertainment, and stuff to reach it.

Unsatisfying:  Lust is unsatisfying.  You might enjoy the momentary pleasure of that video on the internet, that evening with a woman that you’re not married to, or that recent impulse purchase at Sam’s Club.  But soon enough, buyer’s remorse begins to arise.  Guilt and regret spread throughout your soul.  You do not see yourself as the person you want to be.  You return to the empty, shallowness that you tried to fill with some forbidden fruit.  And your lust returns stronger than ever.  You begin chasing the high that you so desperately long for, only to be disappointed every time.  It steals your satisfaction (and gratitude) with what you already have, and replaces it with an unsatisfied craving for more.

Selfish:  Lust is not about satisfying or helping others.  People usually don’t sit at home and crave mowing a widow’s lawn, or helping their spouse clean the bedroom.  Lust is all about us.  Jesus said that lusting after a woman is the same as committing adultery with her in the heart (Matthew 5:28).  This is the ultimate way to devalue a person.  A Princeton psychologist conducted an interesting study that showed men view scantily clad women as objects rather than humans.  When you are in lust mode, you are not seeing a human being with goals, purpose, and intrinsic worth.  You are seeing a means to satisfy your craving.  You are seeing a tool that you can use to accomplish a task.  A selfish, demeaning task.

Terrible:  Lust does terrible things to you and others.  How many people have been raped, killed, dehumanized, insulted, cheated, abandoned, impoverished, evicted, fired, and used because of lust?  Lust devalues others and leaves you feeling empty, regretful, and dissatisfied.  It harms your heart (Matthew 5:28), and it leads to your death (James 1:14-15).  Over time it robs you of your humanity and decency.  It is a terrible plague that is destroying the entire world (1 John 2:15-17).

The next time you begin to feel strong sinful cravings arising in your body and mind, change your environment.  Fill that craving with something else.  Give a friend a phone call, go for a run, stand outside, build a chair, read your Bible, do gymnastics, go to the store, put an ax through your computer, pray, give thanks for the blessings you already have, do something!  Find hobbies, find help, and strive for satisfaction and contentment.  Leave lust behind, because the truth is, lust is a terrible, selfish, unsatisfying, lie.

Names that Remain: Marcion

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Marcion’s Life Story:

Marcion was born in the first century, around AD 85.  He was born in Sinope, Pontus (modern day Sinop, Turkey).  This city is on an isthmus in the Black Sea.  With this location and his organizational prowess, Marcion was able to become a wealthy ship owner.  He was intelligent, successful, wealthy, and very benevolent.  He also was reared in the church.  His father was an elder of the church of Pontus, referred to by Hippolytus as the Bishop of Sinope.

In about AD 138 he moved to Rome and was instantly influential.  He contributed a large sum of money to the church in Rome.  His wealth, generosity, and prominence in the church gave him a platform among Christians.  However, his warm reception did not last long.  His teaching angered the leaders of the church in Rome resulting in his excommunication in AD 144.  His money was returned to him and he traveled back to Asia Minor.  He started his own religious movement and his followers were called Marcionites.  They were viewed by orthodox Christianity as heretics.  Marcion is remembered today as one of the most influential heretics in the early church.

Marcion’s Heretical Teaching:                         

The reason that Marcion fell out of favor with the Roman church was because of his teaching.  He grew despondent with what he perceived to be a cold, law-focused gospel.  In his efforts to revitalize and restore a proper understanding to the church, he fought against “Law” in favor of “gospel” and “spirit.”  He also developed a strong anti-Semitic disposition.   He became so extreme in his separation of “Law” from “Gospel” that he rejected the entire Hebrew Scriptures, eventually claiming that the “God” of the Hebrew Bible was completely separate from the Father of Jesus.

He saw the Jews and Christians to be serving two separate gods.  There was the jealous, petty, violent, tribal, creator, war-God of the Hebrews (the Demiurge), and the loving, compassionate, forgiving God; the universal Heavenly Father of Jesus.  He understood Jesus to be the appearance (not the incarnation) of this Heavenly Father, a belief known as docetism.  Basically, he believed that it only “seemed” like Jesus was in the flesh, but was not actually flesh.

He also advocated a strong asceticism.  He rejected earthly pleasures and comforts.  He replaced the wine of the Lord’s Supper with water.  He refused baptism for the married (sexually active), except for when they were very advanced in years.  This created two classes of his followers: the perfect (celibate and baptized) and the imperfect.

Marcion’s Canon:

To support his teachings, Marcion needed Scriptural support.  In his day the set 27 book New Testament had not been collected yet.  Marcion, in fact, provides the earliest list of New Testament books ever discovered: the first “Christian canon.”  He believed that all of the 12 apostles had been influenced by false Jewish teaching.  Only Paul truly understood the gospel.  So in his canon he accepted only the books written by Paul.  He included 10 of Paul’s letters (not 1 or 2 Timothy, Titus).  He also included the Gospel of Luke (the only book of the Bible probably not written by a Jew).

Marcion obviously rejected the entire Hebrew Scriptures.  He believed instead of the 66 books that we have in our Protestant Bibles, Christians should only have 11 books.  The Gospel of Luke, and ten letters of Paul.  He also perpetuated the idea that these books had been tainted, so he sought to “restore” them to their original condition.  He removed portions that interfered with his teachings.  For example, he was a Docetic.  He did not believe that Jesus had a fleshly body.  Therefore, the virgin birth is a difficult doctrine.  So Marcion rejected the virgin birth, and his Gospel of Luke started in chapter 3.

Result of Marcion’s Work:

There were several long lasting results of what Marcion did and taught.  One of those results was a new schism in Christianity.  The Marcionite church was zealous, evangelistic, and growing.  It drew away many believers, and remained active for hundreds of years (until the 5th century).

Marcion’s teaching also resulted in many writings against him and his followers.  Tertullian wrote five books entitled Against Marcion.  Irenaeus addressed Marcion in his Against Heresies.  Justin Martyr, Hippolytus, Epiphanius, and others condemned the teachings and followers of Marcion.  It is mostly through these writings that we can reconstruct what Marcion taught.

Marcion’s separation of the Creator God from Jesus no doubt played a role in the church seeking to nail down a more precise definition of a Triune God.  He drove the church to attempt a better understanding of the continuity between the revelation of God in the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament.

Perhaps what Marcion is most recognized for is his canon.  The church relied heavily on oral teaching, and where apostolic Scripture was available it was used.  However, Marcion brought about a great need for the church to collect and define its Scripture.  Marcion rejected many of the books that Christians were using.   In response the church was forced to begin listing what books were to be used in worship and the formulation of Christian doctrine.  Marcion was a catalyst for the church to more precisely define its canon; books that were inspired by God and appropriate as Christian authority.

Baptism and the Lord’s Supper Speak Louder than Words

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Christians are called to be vocal.  Confession, evangelism, preaching, and teaching are all examples of vocal Christianity.  But the Bible also speaks of silent actions.  These silent actions can say an awful lot.  Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are two examples of loud, public proclamations that we make as Christians, without even opening our mouths.

Proclaiming the Lord’s Death:

Communion, the Eucharist, the Master’s Dinner, or whatever term you use to describe it, this is a proclamation made by Christians.  When Christians gather on the Lord’s Day to share in the Lord’s Meal, we are really saying something.  We are saying that we are all united through the death of the Messiah.  We are saying thank you for our forgiveness through the death of our Savior.  We are saying that Jesus is Lord.  Every time that we gather and take the Lord’s Supper, we “proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).

Appealing to God:

In baptism, without even opening our mouths, we are speaking to God.  We are making “an appeal to God for a good conscience” (1 Peter 3:21).  We all have a need for forgiveness, cleansing, healing, and the ability to move forward.  When we are baptized, we are asking God to forgive us and cleanse our conscience.

Sometimes we need a healthy reminder that God has cleansed our conscience.  We have no reason to continue feeling the strain of guilt from sins previously committed.  At baptism, they are washed away and God gives you a good and clear conscience.

Calling on the Name of the Lord:

The splash caused by immersion into water is not that loud.  However, the message proclaimed is deafening.  In baptism we are not only requesting a good conscience, but we are “calling on the name of the Lord.”  Peter preached, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:21).  In that same sermon he preached, “God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36).

When the crowds heard Peter say they must call on the name of the Lord, and that Jesus is the Lord, they asked, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).  You might be thinking, “He already told you.  Call on His name.”  But clearly something deeper is meant.

We don’t call on Him simply by saying “Lord” or the name “Jesus” (Matthew 7:21; Mark 1:24).  Peter described how to call on the name of the Lord when he said, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).

Later on when Paul was instructed to be baptized, he was told, “Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16).

When you are baptized in His name, you are calling on His name.  That is not something you do with words, or a prayer, but by actions.  By your actions you are declaring that Jesus is Lord, and the Lord of your life.  At baptism Jesus becomes your Lord and Master, the Ruler of your life.

In the Lord’s Supper and baptism, your silence says more than words ever could.  By your actions you are proclaiming, appealing, and calling.  And God is listening.

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