Tag Archives: Bible

James vs. Paul: A contradiction?

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Over the last few weeks I’ve been talking about faith in my sermons on Sunday mornings. We have seen that it is impossible to please God without faith (Hebrews 11:6). We have defined faith as follows:

Believing in something so much that you ACT on that belief without hesitation.

Faith isn’t merely saying you believe in something but living like you believe in that something.

As we talk about faith there are many who want us to talk about James 2. Many people have an opinion one way or the other about this passage. Many in the churches of Christ love this passage and use it to talk about the things we do as Christians. Some people dismiss this chapter because they believe in the “faith alone” passages of Romans and Galatians. Which is it? Are we saved by faith alone or do works come into play?

Paul says this:
Romans 4:1-5
​”What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about–but not before God. What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation.
However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.”

He also says this:
Galatians 2:15-16
“We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.”

So it seems that we are saved by faith alone. This is true, but you must understand the type of works that Paul is talking about in these passages. He is not talking about the works done as a result of faith. He is talking about the works people do in order to fulfill the law – as in the Old Testament Levitical Law System.

People believed that if they followed the rules of the Old Testament to the letter they would be found righteous. The problem with this is if you break one of the laws even once you have been found unrighteous, and there is no undoing that stained record. A person cannot justify themselves by following law.

But James says this:
James 2:14-17
“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

So which is it? Do you need works for Salvation? James thinks so, but he is talking about a different kind of works entirely. He is not talking about following a religion legalistically. He is talking about a life that shows its faith by what it does.

The kind of deeds James is referring to have to do with faith. Faith without action is mere words. It’s not faith at all. If we are going to claim to have faith then there needs to be evidence of it by the lifestyle we show daily. Your lifestyle, the deeds you do daily, shows whether or not you have faith.

James and Paul are not in contradiction with each other. They both believe that faith shows itself in what we do (Galatians 5:6).

So, you are not saved by proving yourself worthy. You are saved by a faith in God that expresses itself daily in a lifestyle of love for God and others and trust in the Creator to sustain and fulfill you.

So are you saved by faith? Yes! But faith cannot be defined without action. May your life reflect that saving faith, and may others see that faith in you.

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Hunters Who Never Hunt

IMG_4681It’s hunting season across the nation. Each morning thousands of people wake up before dawn and get into their vehicles or walk out to their desired location and listen and watch as the sun rises. This process usually begins with a gathering of tools and weapons needed for the hunt. If the hunt is for the day or for a week much preparation is needed before the day of the hunt.

Many hunters spend hours and hours hunting, not for game, but for areas where the game are. They do research and read books and peruse articles that may give them an edge on the hunt that they have chosen. They spend countless dollars on gadgets and gizmos they see as needed to reach their prize. They look at maps and drive miles upon miles to get to their hunting grounds.

Then there’s the hunt. The hunter is properly camouflaged and adequately still and quiet. They pick a place where they can find cover but still see well enough to find their quarry. Then they wait. They may make game calls with their gadgets if they deem necessary, but more important than gadgets is that they are in the right place at the right time, so they wait.

Hours and hours have gone into this one morning. The sun is rising. The air is calm and crisp. Anticipation and adrenaline runs high.

There’s the prize.

Now the harvest.

God be praised for the bounty of his creation.

What if they never went out?

What if week after week they talked about hunting. They paid for subscriptions to the best hunting magazines and read them cover to cover. They bought all the gadgets and gizmos and practiced them to perfection in the comfort of their homes (or the car if their wife deems necessary). They have the right gear and weapons.

What if they even got together at the local shop to talk about their latest gadget. They showed off their best camo. They talked about their favorite hunting dog.

What if they did all this but never went out and hunted.

Would they be hunters?

Week after week people flock to churches to sing praises to their God. They read their bibles and partake of the Lord’s Supper. They teach classes to people of all ages on how to know their bible and properly practice the traditions of their faith.

Many of these people know the bible forward and backwards. They can quote book chapter and verse with ease. They can tell you all about Jesus. They are good people and look like they have it all together.

Week after week they read the words written in black and white, and week after week they fail to put those words into practice.

Does that make them Christians? Is your knowledge of the bible what makes you a follower of Jesus? Is it not, rather, the way you live your life?

We call ourselves Christians, but how well are we evangelizing the world around us? Jesus seemed to make that a priority for his followers.

We call ourselves Christians, but we look like the world on every day but Sunday. Isn’t that contrary to what we are called to in the bible?

It’s time to stop pretending and start participating. You have been called to be fishers of men. You are called to hunt for the lost and rescue them from the wages of sin. It’s time to stop filling your buckets with preparation and start using your tools for the work you were called to do.

Join with me as we work together to do more than learn about Jesus. Join with me as we tell the world about him.


Book Review: “Bethlehem Road” by Michael Whitworth

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As a preacher I am expected to spend time in the Word to know the text. I’m expected to look at other sources to find out what the text is truly saying, and I’m expected to be able to take that text and show my listeners what they need to learn from that text. This is often a daunting task filled with many hours reading boring books.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the bible is NOT boring, but often the commentaries trying to explain what the bible is saying are as dry as the desert.

I was asked by Michael Whitworth if I would read his commentary on the book of Ruth (in the Old Testament of the Bible). It seemed like such an honor at first, but the more I thought of it the more I regretted accepting his request. You see, I don’t read commentaries for fun. I don’t read them for personal devotions. I read them because I need to.

So, when Michael sent me his book I began to read. Remember, I had all these negative assumptions about how this endeavor would turn out.

I dove in quickly to the introduction and found that Michael wasn’t just giving a list of facts about this book. Sure, there are countless facts to be derived from the pages of “Bethlehem Road”, but this book didn’t read like a commentary listing facts and references. I quickly found myself eagerly turning each page to see what jewels I could find on the next.

This is NOT a traditional commentary. I would read this book for enjoyment. I would read it for my personal devotions. I recommend this book to everyone, and here’s why: this book is personal.

Michael begins by relating the story of the loss of his father and the dark places that took him to in the grieving process. Then he begins to tell the tale of Ruth and Naomi and show how their loss sets the stage for the main character of this book to do His work. That’s right, the main character of Ruth is not Ruth – it’s God.

Through page after page the reader is taken on a journey through this time of Israel’s history. You feel like you are there, in Israel, with the characters. You can see the struggle and feel the pain. Then, you are invited to celebrate the unfathomable foresight and workings of the merciful, loving God.

If you are dealing with loss and sadness, then may I recommend a commentary to you? Naomi knows how you feel. God does too.

Are you struggling to see that God is really working in the lives of those who love Him? Then it’s time to look at Ruth again, and I recommend you do it with your bible in one hand and “Bethlehem Road” in the other.

Have you thought the God of the Old Testament was a mean-spirited, vengeful deity? Then I hope you can see through this commentary that He was not and has never been that way. He does not change like shifting shadows.

I am so grateful that Michael has taken on the challenge of writing a commentary that breaks the commentary mold. It was truly refreshing to see this book come to life.

It is my honor to recommend to you “Bethlehem Road” by Michael Whitworth. Look for it soon online and ask for it where books are sold.


Same Words Different Meanings

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Christianity is a culture with many terms that are used almost exclusively within that culture.  When was the last time you heard the word propitiation used outside a church context (or inside one for that matter)? We often talk about righteousness and grace and justification.  Those words are good English words, but their meaning inside church culture holds great significance.  Outside that culture, however, these words are seldom used.  

We have other words that we use commonly but we’ve given them a different definition than their original intent.  

The term “pastor” is used nowadays to refer to anyone who is in a preaching role in a church.  Usually the pastor is the “head” of that branch of the church.  The bible doesn’t use this term this way.  In fact, I’m surprised that the bible includes this term at all.  It is only used once in English translations and the Greek word that it is translated from is always translated as “shepherd” in the other instances it is used in the New Testament.  A pastor is supposed to be one of a group of shepherds or elders of a church.  

Pastor is a term the church of Christ has tried to avoid for many years, but culture keeps using that term in its new definition, so many churches are giving up on fighting this original definition.  The original definition of “pastor” is being lost on this generation.

There are a couple other terms we use commonly in church culture that we gave up on a long time ago.  We don’t even readily argue for the perpetuation of the original meaning anymore.  

The first is “church”. 

I recently had the blessing of serving with a friend of mine who is living in a missional community with the intention of driving the darkness out of the city in which they live.  They live together – Christians in common – being the church in community.  

At this service opportunity a teenager asked my friend if they all attended church together.  My friend looked bewildered and said, “yes, this is it.” 

He was bewildered because he was living in the biblical definition of the word “ekklesia” that many translations interpret as “church”. Church didn’t become a building until after the Catholic church began to build buildings around holy places as shrines for worship. The english word, “church”, comes from a German word that was used to signify such buildings.  Ekklesia, on the other hand, denotes community.  It is the assembly of saints in every place.  It is the people – not the place, and definitely not a denomination.

The other term is “ministry”.

This same teen asked my friend where they did ministry.  This was still in the context of the previous question about where they attended “worship” (another term that has been redefined throughout the years). My friend looked around again and said “we do ministry by living.”

Christians often think of ministry as a program of the church where they attend where people who have something to offer provide goods or services to those “less fortunate”. This cannot be further from the biblical idea.  Ministry wasn’t intended to be relegated to a specific activity.  Ministry is an outpouring of love to those living all around us.  Ministry is seeing others as equals and treating them as such even if they are drug addicts and prostitutes.  Ministry isn’t enabling dependence on a welfare-like activity.  Ministry is living with those the world sees as less fortunate and encouraging them and respecting them and expecting the same from them.  It’s not a top-down kind of mentality; it is an equality mentality.  Ministry doesn’t feed the poor; it frees the poor.

If you’re reading this chances are you are part of a church that does ministry.  Read the book of Acts.   See how the church functioned.  Imagine what the world would be like if we were actively battling the forces of evil in the spiritual realms while living together in community without need for all the pomp and circumstance.  Could this really be what we are called to? 

This group that my friend is involved with has been actively battling the darkness for at least five years now, and they now have watched Jesus drive the darkness out of two whole neighborhoods that were the most dangerous places in their city.  They are now actively pursuing the darkness into a third neighborhood.  Even the police recommend they don’t follow, but they do anyway – family and all.  God continues to scatter the darkness as the light and salt of Jesus is spread in strongholds of the enemy.  

This isn’t just church talk.  This is really happening.  The book of Acts doesn’t have to be a historical document.  It can also be a playbook for how to live for Christ today, but that would require us to give up on fear and be filled with an unquenchable love and desire to follow the Holy Spirit’s guiding.  It would also require us to remember the original meanings of so many biblical ideas.  It would require a restoration of first-century discipleship. I’m praying for a generation to rise up and change the world, and the generation I’m praying for is mine.  Won’t you join me?


It’s not Weakness; It’s Strength

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Philippians 2:5-8
“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!”

We live in an arrogant age. The race of men have deemed themselves worthy of all that is around them. They continually speak of all that is their right or what they are entitled to. When they are treated harshly, then they are consoled by others who explain that they don’t deserve such treatment.

I cannot simply refer to society as “they”; it is “we” and me as well.

Our children get everything they desire and aren’t taught how to do without. They don’t see what they are being given as being a privilege. They see it as a necessity or right. They deserve it.

I think of times when people drive down the road – if someone cuts them off or drives too slowly they get angry. In fact, people get angry for a lot of things these days. We don’t seem to know how to take it easy anymore – our society is a high stress society.

We are arrogant people who say we are right and everyone else is wrong. We condemn more than the lifestyles that others live, we condemn the people that live them. We get angry and make sure we have the “right” to say our piece or to get them back for what they said or did. This is all arrogance.

Arrogance and selfishness go hand in hand. Every sin ever committed had its roots in selfishness. I can’t think of a single sin that you can’t boil down to selfishness.

Please don’t get me wrong – I’m not pointing fingers at a lot that I’m not involved in. I’m just as guilty, though I’m learning to be more aware each day.

Through our arrogance we bicker and quarrel. We see humility as weakness, or at best we say we desire humility but keep acting in our arrogance. We have a hard time considering others as our equals or even as our superiors, though this is exactly what Jesus did. He put our needs before his own as he went to the cross for us.

Humility, I find, is not weakness. In fact, it takes a strong person to be humble, but those who are truly humble don’t find strength in themselves for we are all frail humans. True strength that sustains humility is found in the confidence that God is sovereign and cares for each of us.

It is because of Jesus that I can take the insult without retaliation. It is through his strength that I feel no need to put myself first. It is only through his wisdom that I can put my wants aside for the sake of others’ needs.

I have a long way to go as I seek the humility of Christ in me, but I desperately want it. Unfortunately, in order for anyone to learn humility God will put them in situations where they must practice it among people who aren’t.

It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. In fact, there has been a recent study of the most successful businesses in America that showed that the vast majority of those business’s leaders are successful because they are humble people who seek quality in their work without need for praise of others.

Even more so, however, the scripture reminds us over and over that God brings down the arrogant but exalts and gives grace to the humble.

May we become more like Christ as we seek true humility in our lives. May we do more than just say words that sound like humility – may we truly be humble. Then, may we be the catalysts for change in our communities as people see the nature of Christ in us, for if we continue in our arrogance we will only see decline and contempt for the church.

I hope this impacts you like it does me. I want this badly, and I’m going to be pursuing this. I don’t expect it will happen overnight, but I want the nature of Christ to be event in me – Philippians 2 calls me to that.

 


Noah: a review

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Ok, so I need to confess a couple of things. First of all, I’m not unbiased. I believe in the bible, so when things are advertised as being associated with the bible I have a certain expectation. Second of all I made a mistake – I took my children to see this movie. So I sat through the whole movie being affected by how the movie is effecting my children.

If I had gone to see this movie without my family I would probably have a different feeling about the movie. If I didn’t have knowledge of the bible story I would think of this movie differently as well. In either of those cases I would probably have a bit more to say to the positive for this movie.

I will talk about the overall review of the movie, then it will give a warning and I will talk about some of the specifics of the movie and give some spoilers.

General Observations
The story of the movie is actually really well told. If this had been touted as a telling of the flood narrative that is found in many cultures without reference to the bible then this would actually have succeeded. As a guy who likes action I can say that this movie was packed through with intensity and suspense. It was actually my style of movie.

The CGI was not as good as many other movies I’ve seen. There was more claymation type motion in some of the CGI than I would like to have seen. There was also video clips of animals and their babies that was not the same quality as the rest of the movie – an obvious break in consistent videography.

The story was well told from the memory of the beginning and the separation of the line of Noah back to Seth. The story line was so different from the bible narrative that there were multiple times I was on the edge of my seat wondering just what was about to happen. I would say that was a successful part of the movie.

As for some of the more obvious story lines in the movie, the ark was great. I loved how they designed it. I loved how the animals came into it and there’s a way that they managed the animals that was really cool. It looked real.

The other thing that I thought was well done was the portrayal of the evil of mankind. In fact, they did this so well that I was sorry I took my kids to see it. When the only inclination of all the people was only evil all the time you have to portray some pretty violent and evil people. They did this well. Because of this there was much gore involved. The body count is astronomical as could be expected of a worldwide catastrophe. However the battles before were filled with some serious blood and guts. There is even a battle scene on the ark that is intense.

Would I recommend this movie to anyone? Yes. If you’re into intense movies that you can’t really predict the outcome. Also if you’ve never read the biblical account then you will enjoy this movie. Go see this movie as just a movie. Separate it from the bible and it is a well done movie that does what it intends to do.

Parents’ Warning
There has been some rumor that there is a lot of foul language in this movie. That is not so. There are a handful of damns but they are used in the condemning sense. The language is somewhat true to the biblical era before the invention of most modern-day cuss words.

There is one scene where Shem and his girl have sex, but they don’t show anything. They kiss passionately and then drop to the ground off screen.

There is also a scene where Noah is naked. He is laying on his face on the sand and his entire backside is shown. Nothing sexual is implied or projected in this scene.

The violence is gratuitous. There are many dead bodies. There is much hatred-driven violence. You see severed limbs and much blood. There is even some scenes of cannibalism where screaming women are being dragged off to be eaten.

I took my five year old and seven year old to see it. They will probably have nightmares. My son was asking to leave toward the end. We usually have great conversations from biblical movies, but this one convinced my son that he didn’t even want us to buy to rent this later. He didn’t want this movie in our house. Having them at the movie made me more sensitive to the ungodliness portrayed therein.

Spoilers
This is the part when I talk about the things that were different from the bible. If you haven’t seen the movie and plan to then you might want to skip this part. Otherwise read at your own risk.

First things first. They tell the story of creation and then after Cain killed Abel there were angels who wanted to help the humans so they came to earth against God’s will and he cursed them. As soon as they hit the earth they became covered with the earth only to become – wait for it…ROCK MONSTERS!

They are throughout the whole movie. The story is that they are helping the seed of Adam and Methuselah defeats the sons of Cain to save these rock monsters. By the time of Noah there are only about 20 left. They are present throughout the movie and help Noah build the ark. They even help fend off the sons of Cain as they try to take the ark from Noah.

I actually thought they were pretty cool, and you even empathize with them. I actually really like them in this movie.

Tubal-Cain is the king of all the earth in this movie and he killed Noah’s dad. He’s very evil and actually makes it on the ark and is on it until it hits the mountainside.

Speaking of being on the ark…there are seven on the ark. Noah and his wife. Shem and his woman (notice the wording), Ham, Japeth, and Tubal-Cain. While on the ark Shem’s woman ends up pregnant and asks for Noah’s blessing. She ends up having twin girls, but the pre-marital relation is pretty obvious in this movie.

Noah is the biggest disappointment. He never hears directly from God but only in dreams. Then he is convinced that mankind will end with them. They are there to help the animals survive then they will die after they land with the ark. He is so set on this that he is going to murder the baby if it is female so that the bloodline of the race of men cannot be perpetuated. He understands the corruption of men and can’t bear to see it continue and feels called by God to do what is necessary to make sure it doesn’t – including killing his granddaughter or granddaughters.

He is so upset after the ark lands that he finds some grapes and gets drunk. This is the scene from the biblical account where he is drunk, but it’s not in a tent. It is in a cave on the beach where he has retreated from his family due to his remorse. Ham doesn’t make fun of him but there has been strife throughout the movie that causes him to not do anything to help. Shem and Japeth help like the bible tells. However, this scene doesn’t end with Noah blessing Shem and Japeth and cursing Ham. In fact this scene happens before the “rainbow” and is disconnected from the main storyline.

Oh, and there is no real rainbow as you picture it. There is no sacrifice to God. There is a shining light and an aurora borealis-like rainbow-colored aura. Again, there is no direct voice of God.

Overall I could like this movie if it weren’t for how they portrayed Noah. He was shown to be so crazy that even his family hated him. He was not the humble, righteous man that is portrayed in the bible.

Ok, so there’s the spoilers. I could probably say more, but that’s enough. I want to support biblical movies. However, if someone doesn’t know the bible and assumes that this is an accurate portrayal of what Jews and Christians believe then they will think we are nuts for believing in the bible. I think we should spend our money on things we want to see more of.

Ultimately you should make your own decision. These are my thoughts. Hope it helps.


Ignoring science in the name of science.

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This week there was a lot of buzz about the debate between Bill Nye (the science guy) and Ken Ham (founder of Answers in Genesis and the Creation museum in Kentucky). I watched the debate, and I learned a few things.

The most important thing I took away from this debate is that if you aren’t answering the questions you’ve been given with straightforward answers then you seem like you don’t know what you are talking about.

One other thought I left with is that science and the bible are not mutually exclusive of one another. They go together. The bible is not a science textbook. In fact, the first few chapters of Genesis are written in poetry form – not as a scientific treatise on the creation of all things. But that doesn’t negate the fact that there are many ideas that have been discovered by science that the bible mentioned thousands of years before their discovery.

Let me give you some examples of things mentioned in the bible hundreds and thousands of years before they became known facts proven by science. These predictions are the very thing that Ken, in my opinion, should have been using to answer Bill during the debate.

1. The earth is round. Isaiah 40:22 This wasn’t proven or even accepted as anything other than heresy until the 1500s.
2. The earth isn’t held up by some mythological creature. Rather it is suspended in space by seemingly nothing. Job 26:7 Job is the oldest book in the bible.
3. The universe is expanding. Isaiah 45:12. Edwin Hubble discovered this in 1929.
4. There are deep canyons in the ocean floors. 2 Samuel 22:16. This was discovered in the 1900s.
5. There are springs on the ocean floor. Job 38:16. This was discovered in 1977 (the year I was born) yet written about in the earliest book of the bible.
6. There are currents in the oceans. Psalm 8:8. This was discovered in the 1800s.
7. Water evaporates from bodies of water and turns to clouds then condenses to form rain and eventually goes back to its sources. This is known as the hydrologic cycle. Job 36:27-28. Bernard Palissy is credited with this discovery after he wrote his explanation of it in the 1500s.
8. The law of entropy. This is part of the second law of thermodynamics. Psalm 102:22-26. This was explained in the 1800s.
9. Some constellations are held together by gravity and move as a unit. Others wander in the sky with a unique “pattern” unlike other constellations. Job 38:31-32. Scientists now say that the stars in Orion’s Belt are all moving in different directions – thus the loosing. The Pleiades contain 250 stars that travel together in grouping held together by gravity. Arcturus is in a class of stars unique in the universe. They don’t travel like other stars. The sun travels at about 12.5 miles per second. Arcturus travels at a whopping speed of 257 miles per second. Who will guide him? Can you even catch him?
10. We are made up of atoms and molecules which can’t be seen with the naked eye. Hebrews 11:3. The light microscope which allows us to see at the cellular level wasn’t invented until 1590.
11. The sun isn’t stationary. Rather it moves at a high rate of speed. Psalm 19:4-6. People used to think this was talking about the sun revolving around the earth when in fact it was talking about the sun warming all things it is near as it moves through the galaxy. This movement of the sun was discovered around 1800. It is interesting to note that many people still didn’t consider the sun a star at this point in history.
12. The earth once had a main land mass that we call Pangea. Genesis 1:9; 10:25. It is thought that the continents began to drift during the flood, but continental drift wasn’t seriously suggested until the 1800s.

These are only a sampling of scientific facts mentioned in the bible. It’s more than just a moral folk tale. It is the Word of the Creator who systematically patterned everything. That’s why it says in Romans 1,
“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

Don’t ignore science in the name of “science”.


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