Thinking Through Scripture

"but the word of the Lord remains forever"

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.

Failures of a Works-Based Righteousness

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The more I pour over the book of Romans the more amazed I am at the grace and mercy of God.  The more thankful I am for the gospel of Jesus Christ.  And the more challenged I am to grow in faith and obedience.

Romans discusses God’s offer of righteousness to mankind.  God is righteous and He wants to give His righteousness to us.  This righteousness is obtained in one of two possible ways: through our works of law or through our faith in Christ.  “Works of Law” describes a system of meriting God’s righteousness by our flawless check-list obedience of all of God’s demands.  “Faith” describes a system of receiving God’s righteousness as a gift based on trust in the gospel.  (We will be sticking with Paul’s definition for now. Leave James in James as you study Romans.  Otherwise things get confusing.  Just ask Martin Luther).

Paul’s conclusion is that “apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested…through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Romans 3:21-22).  Paul chooses “faith,” because he sees some major problems with “works.”  So, what is the problem with a works-based system of obtaining righteous?

Works Render Faith Meaningless: Faith is the idea of total commitment, love, and submission to God.  We obey God because we love Him, not because it earns us salvation.  If “works” were our method of obtaining salvation, then our faith and love would be obsolete. As long as I did everything commanded, I could earn salvation, regardless of my trust or faith in God.  Going through the motions is all that would be necessary.  I would need to place my faith in myself and my own abilities.

Works Put Us in God’s Place: If I am only putting my faith in myself and my abilities, then I am taking God’s proper role.  I am relegating God to the sidelines to be the audience in my salvation, rather than the source of my salvation.  “Works” says I can do this on my own, and I don’t need God’s gift.  I just need my goodness, integrity, hard work, strength, and might.

Works Make us Boast: If my goodness, integrity, hard work, strength, and might, earn me salvation, then I have reason to feel pretty good about myself. When we think that the “good news” is about our power to save ourselves, rather than “God’s power to save” (Romans 1:16), then we can boast.  Instead of thanking God, we thank ourselves.  “I am strong and righteous enough to save myself! I am a great Christian!”

Works Make us Divisive: When we boast in our righteousness we look down on those who are not as “righteous” as us.  Isn’t it odd how we think that people should “grow” in their faith, but we look down on those who are not on our level? I like to think I am more faithful now than I was 10 years ago, but does that mean I was lost 10 years ago?  Would I judge another Christian for being where I was?  Grace levels the playing field.  “All have sinned…being justified as a gift by His grace” (Romans 3:23-24).  The amount of times I have read the Bible, attended a worship service, or gone on mission trips does not earn me an ounce more of salvation than the person who has not done as much as me.  This is a HUGE point in Romans.

Works Can’t Bring Justification:  While works based righteousness brings division, it certainly does not bring justification.  “Justification” and “righteousness” in Greek are the exact same word.  So, really, everything I’ve written so far becomes moot when we realize that we actually cannot make ourselves righteous by our works.  Works aren’t even a real option in obtaining righteousness.  Only God is righteous.  Our righteousness would require a sinless life.  Can you live as morally pure as God? If not, then you need His righteousness to be given to you.  You need to be justified by Him.  Paul is crystal clear, “by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.”

Works Can’t Bring Forgiveness:  Since you cannot justify yourself because of sin, you need some way to take care of the sin problem.  Sorry, works cannot help you here either.  Works cannot take away sins.  Say I rob a bank on Friday, and then do hundreds of good works on Saturday.  On Sunday, when the police track me down and arrest me, my good works will have done nothing for me.  I still have to pay for the crime.  In the same way, if you sin, but do thousands of good works, your sin still remains.  You don’t get to forgive yourself on God’s behalf.  He needs to be the one who forgives you.  He does this based on your faith in Jesus Christ.

Our obedience to God is the greatest way we can show our love for Him.  If we want to honor our baptism and live for the Lord, then we should never turn our back on obedience.  Paul’s goal in preaching was to bring people to “obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5; 16:26).  We put our faith into action by obedience.  “Works” on the other hand, is our way to telling God, “No thanks, I got this thing.”  “Obedience” and “works” might look similar in some ways, but the motivation is completely different.  Works are the opposite of faith, while obedience is the result of faith.  Righteousness is the result of faith and unmeritorious obedience (Romans 1:17; 3:22; 6:16), and can never come by works (Romans 3:20).

If You Want To Be Taken Seriously About Homosexuality…

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Christians talk a lot about same sex marriage.  As such an important discussion in our culture and in the church; Christians should be engaged in it.  Especially today and for the next few weeks, there is going to be a lot of heated debate.  There is a lot of anger and heartbreak surfacing right now.  There are a lot of important things that Christians need to be saying, and will be saying. But there is a difference between saying true things, and being taken seriously while you do it.  Before writing all over Facebook about this issue, make sure you provide some incentive for others to take you seriously.

Get the log out of your own eye.  Now, I believe that Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged” is one of the most over quoted and misused passages in Scripture.  But I think there is some pretty good application when it comes to the way many conservatives address homosexuality.

If you are not willing to follow the Lord’s teaching on divorce and remarriage, you don’t really have a leg to stand on when it comes to addressing homosexuality.  If you are having sex outside of marriage, even heterosexually, you better focus on your own purity before anyone else’s.  It makes me cringe when I read about the “sanctity of marriage” or the “Biblical definition of marriage” from someone who is, through divorce and remarriage, fornication, or adultery, rejecting the Biblical definition of marriage.  Hypocrisy kills your credibility and influence.

Don’t make this your only sermon.  This seems to be the primary hobby-horse of many.  If we cannot get through a sermon, blog, conversation, or tweet, without harping on this one sin, we eventually begin to lose some credibility.  Our motives look artificial.  It looks like you sincerely care about degrading one group of people rather than sincerely care about souls.

So ask yourself the question, who are you attempting to help by this?  Is it a soul, person, or community you care about?  Or is it some political ideology?  Or are you just angry and want to be heard?  That’s understandable, but not always helpful.  There are plenty of sins in the world to rebuke and plenty of groups to chastise.  There is also much encouragement to be given in a world as lost as ours.  The Bible covers a whole host of topics, not just modern political issues.

Have some compassion.  Please try not to demonize people with whom you disagree; especially not people that we are supposed to love and try to save.  I know of no conversation where this is helpful.  Think about what you are asking another human being to do.  You are asking them to deny their feelings.  You are asking them to deny a critical part of who they are.  You are asking them to deny any foreseeable future happiness in marriage or family.  You are asking for radical self-denial.  This is not wrong; Jesus demands radical self-denial.  He requires us to pick up our crosses and follow Him.  But let us never lose compassion or respect for those who sacrifice much for the cause of Christ.

I have had heart wrenching Bible studies with heterosexuals who have come to realize that because of their divorce, they have no right to be married again (Matthew 5:32; 19:9; 1 Corinthians 7:10-11).  I hate these discussions.  They hurt me and they hurt others.  But sometimes Jesus asks us to do extremely difficult things for the kingdom (Matthew 19:10-12).  So teach the truth, but teach with compassion and remember you are talking to a fellow human being, not the incarnation of evil.

Make a better stand.  This is not an argument that will be won with anecdotes, insults, or slurs.  To those who make their stand against homosexuals by withholding tips, refusing to hire, bullying, insulting, or persecuting; shame on you.  Not allowing them in church buildings, making rules that we will allow funerals for anyone except homosexuals, and general cruelty, will not only hurt us, but will give ammunition to everyone else.  Even if they are your enemies, “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27-28).

Persecuting them does not help anyone or anything.  It makes them the victims, and us the aggressors.  It makes us look prejudiced and ignorant.  And it certainly doesn’t make us look like Jesus.  While He never approved of sin, you will be hard pressed to find Him advocate cruelty or mistreatment of the sinner.  Let persecution be our burden and no one else’s.

Be honest about your worldview.  If we are honest, our primary stand against homosexuality derives from Scripture.  Sure, we have some social studies and historical arguments that we put forward.  Plus there are some blindingly obvious inconsistencies in the arguments of those in favor of same-sex marriage.  But really, if the Bible was in favor of same-sex marriage, we probably wouldn’t stand so firm against it.

The difficulty is that Biblical arguments are not going to work well at changing American laws.  A politician who argues all his positions Sola Scriptura will not be taken seriously.  But remember, our primary concern is not modern American law.  God’s kingdom is infinitely more important than the temporal American kingdom.

Same-sex marriage is now legal in this country.  Well, that is wrong and unscriptural.  Just as wrong as any homosexual practice.  Whether it is legal or not, whether “married” or not, the Bible condemns the sin.  The world will do what the world will do.  American law is not our priority; the gospel of Jesus Christ is our priority.  Regardless of what laws our country passes, we can still practice Christianity and Biblical morality (even if under persecution).

Christianity did not originate as a world power, but as a persecuted religion.  Yet it managed to change the world.  The divine mandates of Christianity were not given to govern countries but to govern lives.  Rome did not follow Christian morality and neither does America.  But our responsibility does not change.  If every law is against you, do not fear as long as God is with you.  We change lives, countries, and the world by living and teaching Jesus.  It’s not hopeless, and we don’t need government approval of our message.  We need conviction, zeal, perspective, sincerity, patience, faith, hope, and love.

What to Expect as a Christian

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Being a Christian is not all daisies and cupcakes.  It’s not always easy.  It’s not always friendly.  What should you expect as a Christian in this world?

Persecution from the World:

“Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).

Persecution is a fundamental part of Christianity.  There are Christians in various parts of the world who are suffering intense persecution now, even to the point of losing possessions, freedom, and life.  This history of persecution can be traced back to the beginning of the church.  Early Christians were both persecuted by the Jewish religious leaders and the Roman Empire.  Many of the great Christians you read about in Scripture were executed for Christ.

While many modern Christians face very light persecution, and sadly many try to overplay or invent persecution stories, actual persecution really does exist here and now.  It is nearly impossible to have a discussion about any relevant moral issue once somebody finds out you are a Christian.  Your motives are attacked, you are insulted, and productive communication ceases.  Christians are often judged as being judgmental, called ignorant by the ignorant, and hated for being hateful. The hypocrisy of those who call us hypocritical is blindingly obvious.  Yet, this is one of the many ways we carry our cross while following Jesus.

Animosity from Family:

“For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.  He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me…” (Matthew 10:35-37).

Now, there are some, myself included, who have been greatly blessed as to have the majority of their physical family also be in their spiritual family.  What this means is that their family rejoices with them in their conversion to Christ. This is not always the case, however.

If you turn your life to Christ, be prepared for your family to resent you for it.  To see you as “holier than thou,” “pious,” or “judgmental.”  They might think you are throwing your life away.  They might see you as drifting farther from the family, joining a cult, or losing your mind.  This is often the initial reaction, sometimes it remains, sometimes it does not.  But this can be an extremely heavy cross to bear.

Frustration from Brethren:

“So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?” (Galatians 4:16).

One of the saddest truths about Christianity is that many of our biggest critics are other Christians.  Brethren divide over the most pointless and derivative minutiae one can possibly imagine. Hateful words are spoken about those who preach “grace” and about those who preach “obedience.”  Lines of fellowship are drawn over semantics, schools, political parties, evangelistic methods, and church budgets.  Commands for unity, patience, and tolerance are neglected in favor of “that time Paul rebuked someone by name,” while some brethren will condemn anyone who rebukes anyone for any reason.  And as a result, brethren drift farther and farther from each other, and the teachings of Jesus.  Even Christians will not always act like Christians.  This cross will break your heart when if you try to carry it.

It to be Completely Worth it:

“the time of my departure has come.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6-8).

There is no better life in this whole world than that of a faithful Christian.  If you really let the teachings of Christ radically change your life, you will become a better spouse, parent, friend, employee, and person.  It’s impossible not to.

The best people I have ever met are faithful, loving Christians.  They don’t get a lot of publicity. The headliner is when Christians fail, the pastor has an affair, or the church sign says something hateful.  But behind the terrible news stories, inflammatory rhetoric, and bitter vitriol are people.  Godly, real, imperfect, generous, loving, forgiving people.

I love my brothers and sisters in Christ.  I love our fellowship.  The relationships formed by the blood of Jesus far supersede any persecution from the world, criticisms from family, or immaturity from brothers in Christ. There is no comparison.

The spiritual bond of the church makes everything else worth it, but fellowship with the Lord Himself is my greatest joy.  In this relationship I have grace, forgiveness, and acceptance.  I have a mighty Friend who no enemy can overcome.  I am granted freedom from my past, unfathomable joy in the present, and access to God for eternity.  That is what you can expect as a Christian.

“For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.”

2 Corinthians 4:17

A Name that Remains: Jerome

(c) Nottingham City Museums and Galleries; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

This will serve as the first of a series of posts that will sporadically appear on this blog entitled “A Name that Remains.”  When Hector asks Achilles why he is in Troy, he answers, “they’ll be talking about this war for 1000 years.” Hector responds, “In a thousand years the dust from our bones will be gone.” “Yes, prince.  But our names will remain.”

There are some names that reverberate throughout history.  They are remembered for their great impact over time.  Some good, some bad, but usually a mixture.  And it is these names, these men, and their impact that largely shapes who we are today.

Jerome’s Life:

One of those names that remain is Eusebius Hieronymus Sophronius, or more commonly known as Jerome.  He has been honored as a “Saint” in many religious traditions, and as one of the four most eminent “Doctors of the Church” in the Middle Ages.  A “Doctor of the Church” is one who has greatly advanced the Church through their teaching and understanding of doctrine.

Jerome was born around AD 347, in Dalmatia, to wealthy Christian parents and given a great education.  He was baptized as a teenager, and mastered Greek and Hebrew, learning Hebrew under a Jewish convert.  Even the renowned St. Augustine desired Jerome’s grasp of Greek and Hebrew.

Jerome spent several years of his life with an ascetic group living in Aquileia, probably in his 20’s to early 30’s.  He then became an ordained priest in Antioch, before furthering his studies in Constantinople.  Eventually he made his way to Rome and for 3 years held the prestigious position as secretary of Pope Damasus.  Jerome was commissioned by Damasus to use his language expertise to translate portions of the Bible into Latin.

While in Rome, Jerome made some enemies.  He was quick tempered and did not mind letting people know exactly what he thought of them.  After several years of living an ascetic lifestyle he repudiated the luxury and grandeur of many of his fellow clergy.  He claimed they cared only about their clothes and their beards.  “If there is any holiness in a beard, nobody is holier than a goat!”  Needless to say, he did not endear himself to their hearts.  When Pope Damasus died in 384, Jerome was passed over to replace him.

In response, he left Rome and made his way to Bethlehem with a wealthy female supporter named Paula.  He lived in a monastery and resumed his life of study and asceticism.  He was difficult to get along with, and had very few friends or supporters.  In artwork he is nearly always depicted with a lion and a skull.  The skull depicts his focus on his own mortality; he writes that he would make trips to crypts and catacombs as a reminder of his mortality.  The lion is seen as his only friend in the world.  Tradition has it that while he lived in the monastery he pulled a thorn from a lions paw, and the two formed a unique friendship.

In this monastery He completed his translation of the Hebrew Bible and Greek New Testament into Latin (the Latin Vulgate).  He also completed most of his commentaries and writings on theology and history.  Primarily he wrote to oppose heresies and to promote monasticism as the superior Christian lifestyle.  He died in Bethlehem the September of AD 420.

Internal Conflict:

While in Antioch, shortly after his time with an ascetic group in Aquileia, he had a dream where he was dragged to judgment before God and condemned for loving Cicero more than Christ.  Jerome loved Christian literature but he also loved reading classical pagan and Greek literature.  He vowed after this dream to never again own or read pagan literature.  This vow did not last.

Jerome was a man who was torn between worldliness and asceticism.  Living as a monk did not come easily or naturally for him.  While devoting himself to monasticism, he struggled to remove worldly desires from his heart.  He writes of being in a monastery, seeking purity, but still dreaming of the dancing girls of Rome.

Great Works:

Jerome wrote a massive amount.  He wrote, translated, edited, and copied countless documents.  For this reason, Jerome has been honored as the Patron Saint of Librarians.

The Latin Vulgate is Jerome’s greatest contribution to church history.  Completed in AD 406, this translation reigned supreme for over 1000 years.  John Wycliffe’s English translation (AD 1382) was based on the Latin Vulgate.

It is called the Latin Vulgate because it was written in the common or “vulgar” (Vulgate) form of every day Latin.  It was Latin for the commoners.  I always find it ironic that church leaders, who condemned men like John Wycliffe and William Tyndale for translating the Bible into the “vulgar” English tongue, were using the “Vulgar Latin.”

Jerome wrote 14 homilies each on Jeremiah and Ezekiel, 39 on Luke, and numerous others.  His commentaries included: Jonah, Obadiah, Isaiah, Zechariah, Malachi, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Daniel, Ezekiel, Jeremiah (unfinished), Philemon, Galatians, Ephesians, Titus, Matthew, Mark, and portions of Luke, Revelation, and John.

He wrote myriads of letters against fellow teachers of his day.  Many of these letters were arguments in favor of monasticism against those who denied its superiority.  He also wrote theological books which argued against heresies like Arianism, Originism, and Pelagianism. He wrote many histories of earlier Christians like Lives of Illustrious Men.  He was a strong supporter of Trinitarian theology.  Jerome wrote countless letters and most of his ideas have held sway in Catholicism and many religious traditions since his time.

View of Scripture:

Jerome was both a Hebrew and Greek scholar.  A deep grasp of Hebrew was rare for Christians during that time.  Most Latin translations of the Old Testament were from the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible), but Jerome was familiar with Jews from his time learning Hebrew, and he translated and commentated directly from the original Hebrew.  That being the case, he argued against the inclusion of the Deuterocanonical (or Apocryphal) books in the Christian canon.  He favored of the Jewish canon over the Catholic canon.

He believed in the inspiration and infallibility of all Scripture, and that it should be translated for the church to understand.  He felt it necessary to make Scripture understandable in Latin, while at the same time honoring the original meaning of the Greek and Hebrew.

A Name that Remains: Jerome

In short, Jerome was a Trinitarian theologian who believed that the best way to honor God was by self-denial and asceticism.  He sought to convince others of this view through his writings.  He was viewed as difficult and contrary and did not conform to the expectations of his day.  He was extremely well read in both Christian and pagan literature and used both in his innumerable theological and historical writings.

He is commonly honored in the artwork of Renaissance painters, revered as a “Saint” and “Doctor of the Church,” and is still read and studied diligently nearly 1600 years after his death.  His “Latin Vulgate” was his largest contribution to church history.  And his internal battle between worldliness and self-denial is something with which every Christian can sympathize.

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