The Doubly Offensive Jesus

Trevin Wax has written an article titled Give Me the Doubly Offensive Jesus, Please.

The article appears at The Gospel Coalition’s website. You should take the time to read it. While you are at it, you may find Trevin’s other articles useful as well. I find him to be very thoughtful and clear in his posts.

In the article linked above, Wax explains that Jesus was offensive to both the religious folks and the non-religious folks. He rubbed everyone the wrong way in his claims. But we tend to think of him one way or the other. He is either the one who looked down on the religious and embraced the worldly, or he was the one who called the sinful world to repentance and warned of judgment for sins.

Have we lost the doubly offensive Jesus? What do you think?

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Prosperity: It’s Another Gospel

In a recent sermon series on 1 Peter, I commented that I believe prosperity theology (a.k.a. “health and wealth”, “name it and claim it”, “word of faith”, etc.) is one of the greatest opponents of true Christianity in the world today. It is another gospel. It calls itself “Christianity”, but is not.

Unfortunately, it is spreading like a wildfire here in the U.S. and overseas. Here is an article from World Magazine that gives a little taste of how this false teaching is having an impact in Africa:

I wish we could say that what is happening in Africa is the exception, but I see it even here in the U.S. It seems that TBN has had a far greater impact on how Christians think than we want to admit. I know of multiple churches teaching prosperity theology within a short drive from me. I know of people who have left sound, biblical churches to attend these churches. And very few seem to think anything of it.

Just look at how many people are buying everything Joel Osteen creates. You see my point.

I am saddened. I am concerned. The gospel is at stake.

Watch this video from John Piper who speaks about the prosperity gospel:

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Hungering and Thirsting

I have been studying the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12) with a group on Wednesday nights. Tonight, we will be looking at Matthew 5:6 where Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

As I have been reading, I came across a wonderful quote from Martin Luther on this passage. Luther states:

“The command to you in the beatitude is not to crawl into a corner or into the desert, but to run out … and to offer your hands and your feet and your whole body, and to wager everything you have and can do. What is required of you is a hunger and thirst for right relationships that can never be curbed, stopped or sated. If you cannot make the world completely pious, then do what you can” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 21).

I love this quote because it stresses the outward focus of the gospel so well. We have a tendency to internalize and privatize everything. Christianity becomes about me and God.

Luther helps us to see that Jesus’ words are not just about our private selves, but about making all of creation one that is “pious”. We are to hunger and thirst for a day when all of creation will function in such a way that brings glory and honor to the Creator. And we are to work to that end as we await the return of the one who wears righteousness as a belt (Isaiah 11:1-9).

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It’s Not as Difficult as We Make It

Go to any Christian bookstore (or browse one online) and you will find many titles concerning the issue of finding God’s will. It can be overwhelming, especially since there are some crazy ideas out there about how this should be done. Who should I marry? What job should I take? Where should I go to school? Etc.

If you are wanting to read a book on the topic, let me recommend a few:

1. Decision Making God’s Way, Gary T. Meadors

2. Decision Making and the Will of God, Garry Friesen

3. Just Do Something, Kevin DeYoung

All of the above are great books and biblically informed. However, if you do not want to read a book, you can just ponder the words of Augustine:

“Love God and do whatever you please.”

You should end up in the same place.

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We Are Called to Something Bigger

We Christians, at least here in the U. S., have an autonomy problem. We want to figure everything out on our own and we think we know better than anyone else. It seems suspiciously familiar to the root of sin found in the opening verses of Genesis 3.

It shows in the way we think about our relationship with Christ and his church. We think of the two as completely separate from one another, but this is not what the Bible presents. The Bible tells us that believers are baptized into the church and that the church is God’s ordained instrument for both evangelism and discipleship of the world. We need the church because we cannot do it on our own – nor were we meant to. And if we cannot do it on our own, we need to be humble enough to admit we do not have all of the answers ourselves and allow others to help us.

But this brings up another interesting issue: how we think of the church. Many of us are willing to admit, or at least acknowledge, that we need to be a part of a local church. We see the value in that. But what about the church worldwide? Do we see a need to think of ourselves as connected to a body that is larger than our local church? Can we learn from other brothers and sisters in Christ who live down the road or across the globe in completely different cultures than our own? I think we too often neglect how the larger body of Christ can help us.

Speaking of looking to believers around the world, what about believers across time? Do we think that those believers who walked before us and faced the challenges of their day have anything to teach us? Or have we got it all figured out on our own? How much value do we place in knowing the events and history of believers who came before us?

Christianity was never intended to be lived autonomously. We are called to be a part of something bigger than ourselves; something that transcends culture and time: Christ’s body, the church.


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Lord’s Day or Sabbath Day

When Christians think of Sundays they often think of it as day of rest. Some even think of the day as a Sabbath day. But where does this idea come from? When and why did Christians begin meeting on Sundays and did they think of Sunday as a replacement for the Saturday Sabbath that Jews were accustomed to observing?

My hope is to lay out a historical summary of when and why Christians began to meet on Sundays and how some began to think of Sunday as the new Sabbath day. Most of the information below is a summary of the “Lord’s Day” article found in the Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments edited by Ralph P. Martin and Peter H. Davids and published by InterVarsity Press.

From Scripture

To begin, we need to start with what we can learn from the Bible itself. Is there evidence that even in the time of Scripture that believers were meeting on Sundays? The answer is “yes”.

Several passages lead us to this conclusion. In 1 Corinthians 16:2 and Acts 20:7 we find that believers gathered on “the first day of the week.” This phrase, “the first day of the week”, is only used in the New Testament outside of these references to speak of the resurrection of Jesus. Compare Mark 16:2, Matthew 28:1, Luke 24:1, and John 20:1, 19.

We see especially in Acts 20:7 the connection of three major themes: a gathering, on the first day of the week, for the purpose of breaking bread. The phrase “to break bread” is not a typical Jewish expression for sharing a meal (versus “to eat bread”), but is a pointed way of referring to the Lord’s Supper, which was likely combined with an actual meal. What we see here then is a formal gathering of the church on the first day of the week with the purpose of celebrating the Lord’s Supper.

We also see a reference to this in Revelation 1:9-10 where John refers to “the Lord’s day.” Some have argued that this refers to the day of the Lord, but given the surrounding context of the letter, this seems unlikely. It also seems more likely to refer to Sunday, the first day of the week, when other writings outside of the New Testament are examined.

Other Early Sources

Didache 14.1-3, written at the turn of the second century refers to ordinary meetings taking place on the Lord’s Day centered on the breaking of bread.

Ignatius in Magnesians 9.1 makes the statement that Christians were “no longer sabbatizing but living according to the Lord’s day.” This was written c. 100-110.

Barnabas 15.9 (c. 130-135) refers to Christians gathering on the eighth day (as opposed to the seventh) and grounds the significance of that day in the resurrection. He also insinuates the day is a long-standing custom. He seems, like Ignatius, to exclude Sabbath day observance entirely.

Justin Martyr (c. 100-165) makes definite mention of Sunday and provides details of the days activities in Apology 1.67.

So, it seems from an early point on that at least some Christians recognized the “first day of the week” as a special day for gathering and partaking in communion.

Sunday gatherings do not rule out meetings on other days and likely existed peaceably alongside Sabbath observance for many believers. There is no evidence from the New Testament that the day replaced or rivaled Sabbath observance or that it had any connection to the Fourth Commandment at all. It seems completely tied to the resurrection. We see the two existing side by side as Paul addresses a church made up of Jewish and Gentile Christians in Romans 14:5.

In Ignatius and Barnabas we see more division between the two days as a result of a more distinct line being drawn between Christianity and Judaism in the second century. Rather than being viewed as a sect of Judaism, Christianity was being thought of as something altogether different; a “parting of the ways.”

Tertullian (c.160-225) is the first to suggest that work be deferred so as to enhance worship. Otherwise, Sunday was a work day and cessation from other activities on that day was not widespread until about the third century. Even then there was no connection with the Fourth Commandment, but the point was to make more time for worship.

It was Constantine’s edict in 321 that made Sunday an official day of rest. But again, it had no connection to the Sabbath. It was Ambrose and Chrysostom that later tied the day to the Fourth Commandment and following the fourth century there is a steady move towards identifying the Sabbath with Sunday.

This article is not meant to say much about what we ought to do in relation to the Sabbath. It is only meant to trace the history of the Christian practice of meeting on Sundays and our tendency to think of Sunday as the Sabbath. I’ll talk more about our relationship with the Sabbath in a future post.

Feel free to leave comments or questions.



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A Goal Before I Die

JournibleA few years ago I led a church through the study of the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) over a one-year period. At the same time, I challenged our people to hand-write the Gospel of John.

We used Journibles to do our writing and I provided calendars to our people that showed which verses to write out each day throughout the year. It averaged three or four verses per day.

I, and many others, found that we really enjoyed this discipline and that it caused us to slow down and think about what we were writing. I liked it so much and thought it so valuable that I have set a personal goal of writing through the entire Bible in my lifetime. I am currently writing through 1 Peter (which I recently did a sermon series on) and finish about four to five verses per day.

If you have never tried writing through Scripture, I encourage you to give it a try. I believe it can be a rewarding discipline. I also encourage you to use a Journible or another nice journal. It will likely be something you will want to hang onto for a long time. However, if cost is a concern, any notebook will work just fine.

Have you ever tried writing through a portion of Scripture? If so, I would love to hear your comments about the experience.

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Some Final Thoughts on Halloween

Over the past few days, I have posted a few things on my Facebook page regarding how Christians should think about Halloween. The general discussion that has taken place has been focused on whether or not Christians should participate in this holiday. Because of the format, I have not been able to fully communicate my thoughts in a single place, so I want to take the time to do that now.

My general opinion on the matter is that there is not a right or wrong answer. I think individuals and families need to decide for themselves what they will do. I understand both sides of the issue and do not think this is a moral issue. It is one of Christian liberty and should be respected as such. But some will disagree with me.

Some will say that it is clear (Clear to who? is a good question to ask anyone who says this.) that Halloween is not pleasing to God. The argument goes like this: 1. Halloween began as a pagan holiday from either Celtic harvest festivals or Gaelic Samhain. (This is a debated fact though. You can read up on Halloween here.) 2. Since Halloween is a pagan holiday, God would not be pleased because it would be idolatry. 3. Scripture is usually quoted to back up this argument.

I do not disagree that God would not be pleased if Christians celebrated a pagan holiday. The part that I disagree with is whether or not Halloween is indeed a pagan holiday. So, Bible verses are not necessary to convince me. I need to be convinced that Halloween, as we know it today, is pagan.

Let’s assume that it really did begin as a pagan holiday (which again is debated). To that I say, “Okay, so those Christians living in that early Celtic / Gaelic culture should have avoided it.” Many years have passed and whatever the holiday started out as has changed dramatically. The question is: What does Halloween stand for in the United States of America in 2014? That’s the culture I live in.

I am completely unconvinced that Halloween in our country today is any more than a secular holiday where people don costumes and kids collect candy from their neighbors. I am quite certain that’s what the hundreds of children and parents who will be strolling through my neighborhood think about it. They are not thinking about Celtic harvests or the Gaelic Samhain or any other spiritual relationships.

Some will argue that the roots of the holiday alone are reason enough. To that I say, “Do you realize how many other things that we do every day have pagan roots?” Here are a few examples:

  1. The word we get pharmacy from (pharmakos) comes from what the Bible calls sorcery or magic. This was the mixing together of magic potions. Check out Revelation 21:8 and 22:15 for examples of its use.
  2. Wedding rings.
  3. Embalming the dead.
  4. Statues of people and animals.
  5. Money with pagan designs such as the goddess Liberty.

Do you use any of the above? I am sure almost all of us do and do not think twice about it. Why? Because we know that whatever their roots, they are not the same now. These things and others are no longer associated with paganism.

And that is my point about Halloween. Whatever its roots, it is no longer the same. We must evaluate it for what it is today. Some may still choose not to participate and that is fine. If someone chooses to abstain, let them do it to the glory of God. If another chooses to participate, let them participate to the glory of God. And let us offer grace toward one another whatever our decisions.

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Why I Stopped Blogging and Why I Am Starting Again

After much internal debate on my part, I have decided that I am going to begin blogging regularly again. If you look at my blog closely, you will notice at one time I was posting three or four articles per week, but over the last few years that number decreased to almost zero.

Why? Well, there are a few reasons, but the biggest was due to my desire to avoid conflict. I had just begun pastoring at a new ministry and I had someone approach me who suggested that it might be best to stop blogging. This person was worried that the blog may be too divisive for the church since not everyone agreed with me on some of the topics I was posting about.

Well, I did not really agree with this mindset then and I still do not, but I decided it might be best to avoid a potential battle at that time and decided to just let the blog go for a while. As you can see, I let it go for quite a while.

Lately, however, I see the potential value of diving back into this venture. The original reason I started it was it gave me the ability to address a variety of topics and to do so at a deeper level than I ever could in just a couple hours of church ministry per week. It also allowed interaction with other church members and complete strangers who wanted to take part. I think it was successful in reaching those goals and I think it will be valuable now for the same reasons.

Yes, I do discuss topics that are “hot” and in the news now. I also talk about things that Christians often struggle with. And there will be things that many good Christians disagree on. That is the point. We must be able to talk about these things and help each other think through them, even if we reach different conclusions.

I will not be saying anything here that I would not say in a Bible study or from the pulpit. It just gives me more time to explain myself and to get to some of those other topics that are too frequently glossed over or avoided. I hope you will see the value and you will follow along. We live in an age where we can communicate so easily throughout the week. Let us embrace it and use it to our benefit as we learn form each other.

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Our Role in the World

Niebuhr Christ and CultureWhat is the Christian’s responsibility in the world? This may seem like an easy question at first, but it is one that has been debated for ages. The phrase “be in the world, not of the world” is often cited, but what does that mean? You may be surprised to learn that it means different things to different people.

Richard Niebuhr wrote the classic book on this topic called Christ and Culture. In the book, he overviews five different ways Christians through the ages have thought of their role in the world. I do not want to take the time to summarize each view here (I am too lazy), so I’ll refer you to David Naugle who does an excellent job at doing so in his article Christianity and Culture. I urge you to read it.

Niebuhr’s categories are:

Christ Against Culture, Christ of Culture, Christ Above Culture, Christ and Culture in Paradox, and Christ the Transformer of Culture.

When we understand how different Christians view their relationship with the world, we can better understand why we often reach different conclusions on how we live our lives. That is not to say that we need to approve of every view, but it gives us better understanding. And understanding the different views may also help us better think of the world around us.

Read Naugle’s article and let me know what you think. Or, if you are already familiar with Niebuhr’s categories, feel free to comment.

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