Your Life Proves Your Faith

Meet Rick: Rick grew up attending church with his family and still considers himself a Christian even though he doesn’t go to church anymore. He tries to do his work well, is kind to others, and he’s a ton of fun to be around. And while he says he believes the Bible is the “Word of God” he says there are other paths to God and has jumped on the “open and affirming” movement regarding sexuality. If you looked at Rick’s life, you’d see someone who is a good guy, but not much different from anyone you’d meet who does not identify as a Christian. When asked if that’s a problem, Rick sees his similarity to others as a good thing because it shows that Christians are just normal people.

How do we make sense of things when what someone says they believe doesn’t line up with their life? More specifically, what happens when someone claims to be a Christian but the Bible doesn’t seem to have much of a say over their life?

People will always believe your life over your words because your life proves your faith.

Kid Reading Bible Continue reading

How Should Christians View the Old Testament?

I hate the word “old.” It makes it automatically seem like the thing that’s old isn’t any good anymore. If something’s old, maybe it’s still around for a reason – it’s worth keeping around!

Now look at your Bible and you’ll notice one binding. One book… all Scripture. 1 Timothy 3:16-17 famously declares, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” While this may be familiar, it’s important to remember the “Scripture” being referred to is what we call “the Old Testament.”

As Christians, we need to remember that the Old Testament is just as much authoritative Scripture as the New. The problem is, we don’t always know how to interpret the Old in light of the New. Here are some reminders that will serve you well.

Man in Church Continue reading

Worth Your Time 3/20/15

Each Friday I try to provide a few articles that are worth the time of parents and youth workers. These articles span a number of issues, and not all are written by Christians, but they are all “worth your time.” Here’s the latest edition:

Things I Would Do Differently if I Were Raising My Children Again, by Mark Altrogge (The Blazing Center)
“My children are adults now and several have children of their own. We had lots of fun as a family, and I have lots of great memories of raising our kids. But in retrospect, I think I would have done a number of things differently. So I share them in hopes that younger parents might benefit and not make some of the mistakes I did. Some things I would do differently…”

How to Read Your Bible for Yourself, by John Piper (Desiring God)
Look at the Book is John Piper’s latest effort to help teach people to read the Bible for themselves. It’s an ongoing series of 8–12 minute videos in which the camera is on the text, not the teacher.”

Why Our Children Don’t Think There are Moral Facts, by Justin McBrayer (New York Times)
“…if students are already showing up to college with this view of morality, it’s very unlikely that it’s the result of what professional philosophers are teaching. So where is the view coming from?

A few weeks ago, I learned that students are exposed to this sort of thinking well before crossing the threshold of higher education. When I went to visit my son’s second grade open house, I found a troubling pair of signs hanging over the bulletin board.”

What Not to Ask Someone Suffering, by Nancy Guthrie (Desiring God)
“People ask me all the time what to say and what to do for people who are grieving the death of someone they love. And I’m glad they ask. I’m glad they want to know what is really helpful and meaningful, and what is completely unhelpful and actually hurtful. And I wish I could tell you that I always know myself what to say. But sometimes words fail me. And I wish I could tell you that I never say the wrong thing. But I do. In fact, a few days ago, I made the mistake I often tell other people not to make.”

It’s the Little Things, by Nicholas Batzig (Ligonier)
“God loves to bless the little things His people do. Sometimes they are small acts, and sometimes they only appear to be so. Jesus cares deeply about the little things that His people do to bless others in His church. He takes note of them as precious acts of service. He uses the little things that His people do to carry on His work in the world through His church. May God give all of us grace to cultivate faithfulness in the little things that we do.”

3 Wrong Things That Some Christians Think About Heaven, by Justin Taylor (The Gospel Coalition)
“Davis shows that the following ideas, even though they are common, are unbiblical:

  1. Heaven is only future.
  2. Heaven is only spiritual.
  3. Heaven is inaccessible.”

Worth Your Time 12/6/15

Each Friday I try to provide a few articles that are worth the time of parents and youth workers. These articles span a number of issues, and not all are written by Christians, but they are all “worth your time.” Here’s the latest edition:

The Rules Graham Stanton (Social Media rules, Facebook, Parenting)
“I’ve insisted that she remain friends with us, her parents, but have done so for supervision reasons, not so we can barge in on her social life. Much as I may dream of being ‘the cool dad’ that my teenage children and their friends love to have around, I am self aware enough to realise that this is a fantasy! We know how to be around as supervisors without intruding when our children have friends over to play – the Facebook equivalent is being friends but never posting on her wall, not tagging her in photos and not having our posts show up in her feed (if she doesn’t want them to). This is our rule for now.”

Hit Me Now… Hurt Me Later… What We’re Learning About Kids and Blows to the Head Walt Mueller (Concussions, Sports)
“As a Christian, there’s quite a bit that should drive our concerns here. I believe it’s time for us rethink how we parent, how we play, and how we spectate as this body of knowledge grows. Our rapidly growing understanding of the brain and how it develops should feed our concern and care. We are stewards of our God-given bodies. And, as parents, we are stewards of the bodies of our children. We need to protect them from harm, from poor decisions, and even from themselves and their misguided desires (‘I’m ok. Let me go back in the game.’). I’m going to be processing this more in coming days.”

Adolescent Research: Sleep is Key for Surviving Adolescence Jim Liebelt (Parenting, Adolescence, Sleep)
“A review of recent research involving teens and the sleep they get (or don’t get!) shows a fascinating connection between inadequate sleep and a broad range of issues many adolescents struggle with.”

Tablets and Smartphones May Affect Social and Emotional Development, Scientists Speculate Joanna Walters (Parenting, Technology, Child Development)
“Use of interactive screen time below three years of age could also impair a child’s development of the skills needed for maths and science, they found, although they also said some studies suggested benefits to toddlers’ use of mobile devices including in early literacy skills, or better academic engagement in students with autism.”

How I Almost Lost the Bible Gregory Alan Thornbury (Faith, Christian Colleges, Liberalism
“After high school, I attended a Christian liberal arts college. In the first semester of my freshman year, I signed up for a course with a brilliant, articulate, recently minted DPhil graduate of Oxford University. The textbook for our introduction to the Bible course was Jesus: A New Vision, by Marcus J. Borg, a prominent fellow of the Jesus Seminar. The scholarly project intended to discover “the historical Jesus” apart from creedal commitments or church teaching.

“In that volume, Borg coolly explained that Jesus had never claimed to be the Son of God and had never thought of himself as Savior. We learned that the Bible was a pastiche of traditions and sources, cobbled together mainly in the second century. Our task as biblical interpreters was to unravel what was “authentically Jesus” from mythology and church tradition.”

The Girl in the Tuxedo Jean Lloyd (Homosexuality, LGBTQ)
“I was that fifteen-year-old girl in the tuxedo, but my experience was very different from the one promoted by the social values of 2015. What ensued thereafter was a long and sometimes arduous and painful journey of becoming, working out my sexual identity from the cauldron of confusion that surrounded my development.”

365 Fear Not’s in the Bible?

Yesterday my wife was reading a book that mentioned the Bible saying “Do not fear” 365 times… once for every day of the week.  As kindly as I could, I responded, “That’s not true. I read a blog post about that and it said it’s not true.”  She kindly did not smack me for being a know-it-all.  But she did respond by saying, “So you think this writer didn’t research it at all before writing it in her book?”

This morning I was curious and re-read the blog post (A “Do Not Be Afraid” For Every Day of the Year?) I remembered debunking this “myth” and then did some homework myself (even though I should’ve been finishing my sermon for Sunday).  I pulled up Accordance Bible Software (which I very highly recommend, and is available for both Mac and PC) and did a basic search in English with “not <and> fear” and got 327 hits, then did another with “no <and> fear” and got another 65 hits. Not all of these quite fit the criteria to support the “365 fear nots” since some are like Lev. 25:36 (“Take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you.”) have a different root word and meaning for “fear.”

To be honest, I was looking to debunk this “one fear not for each day” statement but after doing some research and changing up the different ways the “fear not” statements could be said, I think it could actually be mostly true.  I doubt the Bible says  “Do not be afraid” exactly 365 times, but the number of times the Bible makes some variation of that statement does seem to be in the 300’s.  Thankfully, we don’t need one “Fear not” for each day in order to live with confidence and courage.

Jesus has received all authority in heaven and on earth, and he has promised to be with us always, even to the very end of time (Matthew 28:18-20).  That is reason enough for us to live without fear.

The Bible is _________

Finish this sentence: The Bible is _________

As I see it, most answers fall somewhere along this spectrum:

  • “Full of lies.”  The Bible is deceptive and harmful and just plain stupid.  You should not read the Bible.
  • “Made up fairy tales.”  There are some good stories in the Bible, and we can even learn some general truths from them, but they definitely aren’t true.  The Bible is like Aesop’s Fables or Greek Mythology – interesting, and maybe even insightful, but not true.
  • “A book of wisdom.”  Sure, not everything in the Bible is true, but there’s a lot of good insight and advice in there!  Just don’t have to believe everything you read.
  • “An instruction manual for life.”  The Bible is God’s rule-book.  He made us and knows how we should work, and the Bible is where God teaches us what we should do.
  • “God’s Word and Truth.”  The Bible is so much more than advice and rules, it’s God’s way of showing Himself to us so that we would know Him, know ourselves, and understand our role in this crazy world.

How do you view the Bible?  Is it just a rule book or instruction manual to you?  If it is, what happens when you break the rules?  Is the Bible simply a collection of stories and myths that silly people believe?

2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  Here are a few questions to help you work through how you think about the Bible through the grid of this passage:

  1. All Scripture is God-breathed.  Just like God breathing life into Adam (Gen. 2:7).  Not just some of it or the parts of the Bible you like.  The boring parts are important too… they might not be the most quotable or memorable, but they’re important and there for a reason.  You can’t just get rid of verses because you don’t like them.  When you read something and disagree with Scripture, how do you react – do you doubt yourself or the Bible (“The times have changed, it can’t really mean that anymore!”)?
  2. And is useful for teaching.   Do you ever talk about the Bible with others?  Do you think that it’s your responsibility to “figure out” how to talk about Jesus to people, as if the Bible itself wouldn’t be helpful to you?  Do you actually look for opportunities to teach God’s Word (and take them when they come) – this can be something casual like a conversation with a friend or something more intentional like helping with VBS or speaking up in Sunday School.  Who are you teaching? And remember… you can’t teach what you don’t know, so read your Bible!
  3. And is useful for… rebuking.  To rebuke means you’re correcting someone’s behavior because they’re doing something stupid or harmful.  When Christians see other Christians living in sin, it’s faithful and right for us to rebuke our brother/sister (with tons of humility, because they might need to rebuke us next week!).  When you see other Christians doing something that is clearly and obviously sinful, how do you respond to that person?
  4. And is useful for… correcting.  To correct means you’re helping someone to recognize something they have said or thought was wrong.  While rebuking is over behavior (something they did), correcting is more connected to words and thoughts.  When you hear someone say something that clearly doesn’t line up with what the Bible teaches, do you say something or do you keep quiet?
  5. And is useful for… training in righteousness.  Do you want to grow in godliness?  Do you want to be wise?  Do you want to be the person God made you to be?  Then read your Bible, study it, memorize portions of it, and obey it.  If you look at your heart and what you set your mind on throughout the day, what would you be in training for?
  6. So that the man of God might be thoroughly equipped for every good work.  God wants to equip you for the life of faith.  No one would send someone into war with a squirt gun, God doesn’t want to see you walking around unequipped for what He’s called you to do.  Do you see the Bible as God’s Word and Truth, where you draw your life and strength from in order that you could grow more like Jesus every day?

So what about you?  If you were to look at your heart and look at your life, how would you really answer the question, “The Bible is ________.”

Sermon Summary: Wielding the sWord of God

In Ephesians 6:10-18 Paul exhorts the Ephesian believers to put on the full armor of God, keeping in mind that their enemy is not one made of flesh and blood and therefore their armor is not mere iron and steel.  Instead, our power comes through the God who created, saves, and judges.  Paul writes that the Christian’s sword is the Word of God, the Holy Scriptures.

Everything we do in the Church is grounded in the Bible because we believe it is the inspired and authoritative Word of God.  2 Timothy 3:16-17 explains that “all Scripture is God-breathed.”  It is not merely a book written by wise and insightful men, the very words (not just the big ideas or general concepts) in the original documents were simultaneously the words of men and the very words of God.  Because of that, they hold authority over us, because God has chosen to make known to us that which would otherwise remain hidden and unknown.  We must not stand on Scripture, but under it!

There are many today who try to discredit the Bible you hold in your hand.  Some claim it has been changed so much it would be nearly unrecognizable to its authors, while others assert that portions of the Bible weren’t even written until hundreds of years after the time of Jesus and the Apostles.  However, the field of Archaeology has time and time again unearthed ancient manuscripts that support and verify the Bible we have today.  Much more can be said here (here’s a great article, and more can easily be found through a quick Google search for “Christian apologetics, biblical archaeology”), but I want to encourage you: you CAN trust your Bible.

So the Bible is Inspired, Authoritative, and Reliable… but what’s it all about?  We miss the point if we reduce Scripture to a “rule book” or “instruction manual.”  Indeed, those are helpful metaphors in some ways, but they miss the big story of Scripture.  The Bible tells the story of Creation (where we came from, why God made us), the Fall into sin (what went wrong, what were the effects of sin), our Redemption through Christ (what did Christ accomplish through the cross, how do we receive salvation), and that one day all things will be fully Restored to how they ought to be (sin will be destroyed, death will be no more, and all the effects of sin will be erased so our relationship with God is perfectly intimate again).  The entire Old Testament is pointing forward Jesus, our coming Savior and Rescuer; everything in the New Testament is pointing back to Jesus to show what he accomplished and what that means for humanity.

So how can you wield the sWord of God?

  1. Read it – If you’re a Christian who doesn’t read your Bible, really ask yourself “Whynot?!”  It’s a spiritual discipline, and it can be difficult to do consistently, but do not let the enemy distract you into defeat so you lose your sword.
  2. Study it – You’re not the first person to ever read that verse, so don’t act like it!   Learn from each other.  Join a Small Group, attend Christian Education classes, read good Christian books (not just novels!).
  3. Memorize it – If Jesus memorized Scripture to overcome temptation, how much more should we!   We must not memorize Scripture primarily for evangelism and winning debates, but in order that we might endure the enemy’s many attacks.
  4. Obey it – As James 1:27 warns, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”  We do not want our lives to discredit the Gospel.
  5. Teach it – Are you so moved by God that you cannot help speak on his behalf?  The Gospel is a message to be proclaimed.  Dig into God’s Word in order that you are so stirred by the Holy Spirit that you cannot help speaking what God has revealed in Scripture to others when you’re given opportunity.

I believe we all want to hear from God.  God is still speaking, and He is speaking through Scripture.  Are you Listening?  Are you Obeying?  Are you Speaking to others what He has spoken to you?

Posts You Should Read

Maybe this will become a semi-regular feature on this blog, maybe it won’t… but here’s a list of blog posts and articles I’ve read (some carefully, some quickly) and found helpful, insightful, convicting, etc.

The Message of the Bible in 221 Words – Here’s an excellent and brief explanation of what the Bible is all about by DA Carson.  If we could all learn how to explain the Story of the Bible in an understandable way that connects the OT & NT I think we’d all be better off… this article will help you begin to do that.

A Call to Remember –  I love Church History, here’s Kevin DeYoung’s explanation why we need to remember our history as Christians.

4 Reasons to Keep Bikini Pictures off FaceBook – This one’s for teen girls and their parents.  The Summer is coming… that means a whole bunch of teen girls will be posting pictures of themselves and their friends in their bathingsuits online for the world to see.  Here are four reasons why that’s not such a good idea.  This one’s worth sharing (probably via private message, posting it on someone’s profile page might come off as a bit judgmental).

Middle School: A Crucial Parenting Moment – This one’s from the Boston Globe, and I’m really thankful for the post.  I often refer to Middle School as the time to fire-proof teenagers, and High School as the time when you need to put fires out.  If teens are fireproofed well in Middle School there will be way fewer fires.  This article says something similar and relates it to sexual behavior and other risky behaviors.  Gone are the days when we can assume Middle Schoolers are too young and innocent to be discussing sex, drugs, etc. with… if we avoid those conversations we all lose.

Parents’ Guide to Kids and Cell Phones – The tagline here is “Everything you need to know before you buy your kid a cell phone.”  This article addresses some really good questions/issues to consider before getting your son/daughter their first cell phone.

The Digital Divide: How the Online Behavior of Teens is Getting Past Parents – This is a PDF produced by McAffee (the internet security program) to help inform parents about their teens’ online behavior.  Wow, there’s a TON of information in here that could be overwhelming, but if we want to know what teenagers are really doing online then we should pay attention!

The Drama of Redemption: Introduction

The Bible is truly a remarkable book, unfortunately it’s often misunderstood.  The Bible is not a book about me and you, it’s a book about God.  We only find our place in God’s story as we understand the bigger story in which we live.  Too often, the Bible is merely a guide-book or instruction-manual filled with commands to “do this” and “don’t do that.”  If we miss out on the story being told through the Bible, then it makes sense to treat Scripture as a book filled with advice on how to live.

Instead, I want to encourage you to see Scripture as a secret.  Read it as a story that God has revealed to you, giving you special insight into the world and where you fit in this world.  It’s a secret… except it’s one we’re instructed to make known to everyone who will listen!

Who doesn’t love a good story?  Every good story (whether told in a book, a movie, or in person) follows a fairly consistent outline: Introduction, Conflict, Resolution, Conclusion.  The Bible follows a similar outline that helps us make sense of what we’re reading.

The Bible’s “Introduction” is the story of Creation (Gen. 1-2), where we are told where the Earth came from along with everything on it.  We discover that we were created in order to glorify and worship God in the context of a deeply intimate relationship.

However, this didn’t last for long, and we wouldn’t have done any better than Adam and Eve!  The entire Old Testament from Genesis 3 onward is a story about what theologians call “The Fall” of mankind.  In our fallen condition we are sinful, under God’s curse, and at war against God, each other, and nature.  Although the “event’ of The Fall occurs in Genesis 3, the entire rest of the Old Testament is spent painting a picture of the ongoing results of what happened because of Adam & Eve’s sin.

Throughout the Old Testament story, God reveals that Redemption is coming.  The conflict between God and his creation is going to be resolved, peace will be restored, intimacy between Creator and Created will be renewed.   The Redemption foreshadowed through Israel and the covenants is ultimately fulfilled through Christ.  Through Jesus’ sinless life, death, resurrection, and ascension our sin has been paid for and cancelled.

The Redeemed have been forgiven and adopted as children of God, given the promise of a glorious inheritance.  In God’s timing, Jesus will return again as Savior and Judge and will bring about the Restoration of creation.  Sin will be eternally judged, faith in Christ will be rewarded with the promised New Heavens & New Earth.

You see, you are a part of this story – you have a role as Storyteller.  As Storytellers, we need to understand the Drama of Redemption and faithfully tell it to people who are still under the curse of the Fall.  The story is easy enough to learn, but will take an eternity to master, so keep studying, keep learning, keep finding your place in God’s Story and keep sharing it with others.

Over the next few weeks we will be looking at this Drama of Redemption, scene by scene – Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration.

Why Easter Matters: Christ Put Sin to Death

This is a summary of what I shared in the sunrise service for Easter this morning:

Sin & Death are always interconnected throughout Scripture.  Whenever we read of one, the other’s footsteps are never far behind.  God’s conquest against Sin & Death is one of the key threads that holds all of Scripture together.  Through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, God put sin to death. I’d like to trace this important thread by looking at a some key texts and make a few brief comments about each.

 Creation & Fall: Sin brings Death

“And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.”  (Genesis 3:22–24)

Before Adam and Eve sinned they ate from the Tree of Life and death had no place in their lives, but by disobeying God they brought sin into the world… and death came with it.  While they did not immediately drop dead, they became susceptible to death and pain and suffering because of sin. God judged their sin and banished them from the Garden of Eden, but He did not abandon them as a failed ‘project.’

Fall & Sacrificial System: Death brings the need for Atonement from Sin (repeated by the individual)

Eventually God called Israel out and made them a nation, providing them with the sacrificial system as a way to provide forgiveness of sin when they break God’s law.  Leviticus 4-5 is filled with many different ways to make atonement for your sins depending on who you are and what type of sin you’re atoning for.

“In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (Hebrews 9:22)

The sacrificial system provided a foreshadowing of what we celebrate on Easter.  But while the sacrificial system was continuous (each new sin required a new sacrifice/death) and individual (each person had to make atonement for his own sins), Christ died once for all (1 Peter 3:18).

Redemption & Christ: Christ’s Death brings Full Atonement (once for all)

“But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:20–21) 

Just as sin reigns in the Kingdom of death, grace reigns through the righteousness of Jesus Christ our Lord.  At the moment Christ claimed victory over death and sin all of your sin was cancelled and atoned for.  All your past, present, and future sins have been paid for!  This doesn’t give us a license to sin and it doesn’t downplay the extent to which we must always resist temptation, but it points to the perfection of Christ’s victory over sin and death and calls us to live in the kingdom of righteousness.

Christ’s resurrection demonstrated his victory and authority over death and sin. They have no place in His eternal Kingdom.

Restoration & New Heavens/Earth: No Sin, No Death

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:1–5)

In Revelation 20 we see Satan’s judgment and the death of death. Immediately following the death of death, we read about the New Heavens, New Earth and the New Jerusalem.  In them there will be absolutely no sin and no death.  Truly, God is making everything new!  What we believe will become tangible… our faith will become sight.

As we celebrate Christ’s resurrection, may we remember the bigger picture of what God did through Christ’s victory over sin and death.  May we live in Christ’s kingdom by faith today, even as we wait for His victory to be fully established here among us when He returns again.