Thursday, September 30, 2010

why go to Ethiopia?

17 hours of flight time and we will land in Addis Ababa. Considering the financial investment and the amount of preparation to make sure our kid's schedules stay on track back home may leave a person wondering, "Why?" Wouldn't it be less and disruptive and more cost-effective to simply wire money into an Ethiopian account for a well-trained African minister to use?

On the one hand, missions must steward God's resources wisely. In many cases, supporting indigenous workers makes the best economic and cultural sense. We could probably pay the annual salary of an African pastor for the cost of sending one of us to his village for a week. Supporting others to do the work of ministry is often exponentially better. Still, there are several reasons why we choose to GO:

We go because Christ commanded us to. Matthew 28:18-20 records the Great Commission [often treated as a great omission by many in the church]. He called His followers to "go into all nations." A disciple does what he/she sees their master doing. Christ came to the "world" so we go to the world as well.

We go because it stretches our faith. Missions is one of the greatest ways to challenge our walk with God, move us outside our boundaries and force us to trust Him along the way. Hebrews 11:6 states, "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." My life in Christ is incomplete apart from faith and missions going makes me rely on Him.

We go because the need is great. This trip is primarily focused on taking care of dental needs among the needy in Addis Ababa, the capitol city of Ethiopia. To be sure, I probably won't be filling any cavities or performing any extractions, but the main players on this trip made a decision to go because they assessed their present resources and the world's great need. There are more than 150 dentists in the city of Arlington and only 75 dentists in the country of Ethiopia! In comparison, that would be only one dentist serving the population of Arlington, Mansfield and Fort Worth. Serving is what happens when people discover that they have been entrusted with God's great resources, not to bless themselves, but to be a blessing to those who need it. Missions in what happens when those servants go in the name of Jesus and for the purpose of serving in the context of the Gospel so that God is made famous.

We go because it models the normative Christian life to our children. Missions is the standard--not an option-- for every Christian. I disciple my children to care about people, value the Gospel's power and make their life count by practicing what I preach. If my kids chose to throw away a lucrative career for 3rd world ministry, I would be thrilled.

We go because we don't want to go. Every time I have had opportunity to go on a mission trip--Russia, Estonia, Ukraine, China, Spain, Mexico, and Africa--I have hesitated. I can always think of so many reasons why not to go: time away from family, preparations that have to be made, working ahead and getting caught up at work, numerous vaccinations, packing, long flights, jet lag, etc. If I choose to give in to the constant tug in my soul that wants to lead me to the easy life instead of suffering for Christ (we really have no idea what "suffering" is all about), I will miss all that God wants for me and from me. Saying "yes" to missions is a spiritual resolution to say "no" to my flesh.

We go because it gives us stories to tell of our living God. From the beginning, this trip has been a remarkable grassroots effort by radical Christians who were just following God's leading. As a bystander to this effort (I'm usually leading), I have had the great opportunity to watch God move in people's lives. If this is what he does on this side of the ocean, I can't imagine what He wants to do when we arrive and completely surrender to Him! Missions fills our hearts with incredible stories of how God proved Himself faithful, powerful, beautiful and good. I look forward to sharing these stories with our church family.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Q&A: drugs and the Bible

This is a post designed to answer deeper theological questions. I've asked Facebook friends to post questions for discussion. I'll make a humble attempt to explore these questions from a biblical perspective. 

Q: What is the proper biblical view of psychoactive drugs particularly in the treatment of mental disease? Sometimes I am concerned that we over-diagnose and over-medicate when the root cause is spiritual. What does the Bible say about the intersection of medicine, the soul, and the brain? --Matthew Pittner

A: Matt, you get the prize for the most out-of-the-blue question! Yet, like you, I am concerned that the all-too-often solution for life's difficulties is a prescription. To be sure, there are some chemical problems in which responsible diagnosis and prescription are necessary.

There is very little about medicine mentioned in the Bible. In 1 Timothy 5:23, Paul encouraged Timothy to use "a little wine" as a digestive aid. Similarly, the Good Samaritan used wine to help an injured traveler. He "bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine" [Luke 10:34]. A "balm" is mentioned in Gilead [Jeremiah 46:11] and the leaves of some trees are noted for their healing properties [Ezekiel 47:12; perhaps the same tree in Revelation 22:2?]. However, beyond a handful of references, the Bible doesn't tell us much about "the intersection of medicine, the soul and the brain."

Fortunately, the Bible does give me some other principles that help to determine the "outer boundaries" of my convictions on this topic.

First, since all sickness has it's root in the spiritual, our first regimen should be prayer. In James 5:14-15, we read, "Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven." When Jesus' disciples found a man afflicted by a demon, Jesus said, "This kind can come out only by prayer" [Mark 9:29]. So, it seems to me that all kinds of human ailments should be addressed with spiritual resources first.

Second, we must have proper respect for our bodies, made in the image of God and worthy of special guardianship. Paul writes that our bodies are "temples of God's Holy Spirit" and, as such, we should "glorify God" with our bodies [1 Corinthians 6:19-20]. In the context of this passage, the Apostle is speaking specifically of rejecting sin. The larger implication is that we should be wise with what we join ourselves--whether it is drugs, drinking or debauchery.

Third, second opinions are good ideas. A multitude of counselors produces great wisdom [Proverbs 15:22]. So, in matters of significance [and, our mental health is pretty significant], it's important and wise to seek additional information and insight. Second opinions are good stewardship.

Finally, give God a chance. All too often, we rush to quick fixes for the complex challenges of life. But, the most basic prescription of the spiritual life is: Faith. Proverbs 3:5 urges us to "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding." This verse applies to every part of life: financial, relational, occupational, material...and psychological. This doesn't mean that a person should never take medicine for mental illness. But, every life decision must be weighed in the shadow of God's sovereign leading of our life.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Q&A: the problem of evil

This is a post designed to answer deeper theological questions. I've asked Facebook friends to post questions for discussion. I'll make a humble attempt to explore these questions from a biblical perspective.

Q: In reference to today's sermon: It seems to me that the unanswered question of the message was where does evil fit in? How do we reconcile that Jesus is the creator and hold all things together and yet evil still get a foot hold? --Matt Benton

A: Matt, I appreciate your question and so will a numkber of others who have talked with me in the last 24 hours, all wondering the same thing. Reconciling the sovereignty of God and the presence of evil isn't a new discussion (as you know) and is one of the greatest stumbling blocks to belief for many.
The problem is a simple one, actually: Either God isn't Creator of all things and/or lacks soveriegnty over all creation, conveniently taking the problem of evil out of His hands...or...God is Creator and is soveriegn and appears to be the author of things like floods in Pakistan and African genocide. The answer, isn't so simple.
As I've modeled in other posts, let's begin with what we know for certain. First, I know that God is "first cause." That is, He is the starting placeof all creation. Our Bible opens with the words, "In the beginning, God." He is the creative genesis behind everything. As we heard in yesterday's sermon, Jesus Christ brought "all things" into being [John 1:1-2, Colossians 1:16].
Second, I know God created Satan. That's right. Satan  isn't self-existant; he is a created being [Ezekiel 28:13]. He was created perfect and beautiful as a high-ranking angel in the order of the Cherubim [angels that guarded the holiness of God; Ezekiel 28:14]. God not only created Satan, but appointed him to serve God.
Third, I know that Satan brought evil into the world. His heart was filled with greed and pride and said "I will" have God's place [notice the number of times the phrase "I will" is mentioned in Isaiah 14:12-15]. In his effort to overthrow God's rightful place of rulership, Satan violated God's commands and led the world into evil.
Fourth, I know that love permits freedom. Someone may ask, why did God allow Satan to bring such violence into His perfect creation? The answer is "love." God could have created a world that had no choice but to love and serve Him. In that condition, we would be nothing more than automatons, pre-engineered to live only one way. However, we would not be able to express true love any more than if I forced my children to love me. True love gives another the freedom to love. This means that it necessarily gives another the freedom to hate. This is what Satan did, and the world after him.
Fifth, I know that sin set the world off-course. Sin isn't just a moral disruption in the hearts of people. Sin had creation-wide implications. All of God's creative order was set on tilt and longs to be redeemed [Romans 8:19-23]. This principle of sin in the world is what causes monsoons and cancer. Someone might ask, "Then why doesn't God simply eradicate sin?" The answer is that sin begins in the hearts of people--those deeply loved by God--and to destroy sin is to destroy people [see "on suffering" post below]. Strange as it may seem, God's grace allows evil to exist because of God's saving purposes to rescue people.
So far, we have determined that God was not the original author of sin. He did, however, create Satan who, in turn, because of divine freedom, asserted his will and led the world astray. The whole of creation is perverted by Satan's fall. As such, God is not the immediate cause of natural disasters and human sickness. The principle of evil, launched by Satan, is the cause.
But, this doesn't answer the whole question. Someone may wonder, "If God has the power to prevent a tornado, and nothing comes into being apart from His decision, then isn't God ultimately responsible for the tornado." Surprisingly, the answer is "yes." While sin is the immediate cause, God is the ultimate cause. Tornadoes can't form without Him.
The difference between immediate and ultimate cause might best be understood in the following illustration. Suppose a teenager finds a handgun, loads it and robs a corner store. Who is responsible for the robbery? The police will charge the boy. Moreover, the police will definitely not charge Smith and Wesson, the maker of the gun. But, of course, had Smith and Wesson never manufactured the gun, the robbery could not have taken place as it did. The gun maker is the ultimate cause; but the teen is the immediate cause of the robbery. Only one of them is responsible for the act.
This limited illustration breaks down in several places, of course. The main point is to help us appreciate the sovereignty of God who is behind all things and the culpability of Satan and sinful people who propagate the principle of sin in the world.
I can only hope this answer begins to help...

Monday, July 26, 2010

Q&A: divine calling

This is a post designed to answer deeper theological questions. I've asked Facebook friends to post questions for discussion. I'll make a humble attempt to explore these questions from a biblical perspective.

Q: Can you just decide to become a Christian, like deciding to go to this school or that, or take this job or not, or does it first take a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit, and that work is what so pulls a person to fully trust and be reborn? I've heard quoted - no man can come to Christ unless the Holy Spirit has first come to him. Why is the man centered decision the emphasis? Is it biblical? --Brittany Pruitt

A: Brittany, your great question gets to the heart of conversion. How does a person enter into salvation and a relationship with God. For many years, I used the phrases "Accept Jesus into your heart" or "Come to Christ." To be fair, I don't think these phrases are heretical for they express the human experience of salvation. Twenty seven years ago, it seemed to me that I was making a choice to step from unbelief to belief. Moreover, the Bible is filled with commands in regards to salvation: Confess, believe, repent and choose. So, there is a human element to the transaction from death to life.

However, the Bible starts with God. And, in the work of life transformation, God moves first. In John 6:44, Jesus states "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him." God speaks, people hear and believe. Similarly, in Acts 16:14, when Lydia heard the truth, "The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul's message."

This work of God is known as "effectual calling." That is, God moves in the heart of an individual--a heart otherwise stone-cold with sin--and begins the work of transformation. Paul writes that "Those whom [God] predestined He also called; and those whom He called he also justified" [Romans 8:30]. So, God's calling precedes the work of justification and is "effectual" [see John 6:33] in bringing people to faith.

For this reason, I choose to use the word "respond" when I talk about the Gospel today. I did not choose God; He chose me. And, any movement that I express toward God is a faith response to the voice of the Good Shepherd calling my name. While I may not completely understand it at the moment of salvation, the whole work of the whole Gospel is really the whole work of God. None of me; All of Him.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Q&A: God and goodness

This is a post designed to answer deeper theological questions. I've asked Facebook friends to post questions for discussion. I'll make a humble attempt to explore these questions from a biblical perspective.

Q: I know God can use bad things for good and for His glory, but when you hear of child being horribly ill or being badly abused, it's hard to see how to trust in God's goodness or explain it to others. --Susan Sheldon

A: Susan, more than a few people have had a hard time trusting in God because of the terrible evil they see and experience in the world. When bad things happen--especially to "innocent" people--it's tough not to question the goodness of God, the power of God or the knowledge of God. If a child is abused, God must be unkind, unknowing or unable to prevent it. Perhaps all three.

To be sure, no one can give a completely comforting answer for the sad traumas and tragedies in our world. However, there are a few truths that we can put our hands on to give us a better perspective.

First, bad things are the result of the principle of evil in the world [see previous blog post "on suffering" below]. Terrible things happen because sin was unleashed in the world in the Garden of Eden. This sin affects and infects every aspect of life: the natural realm [tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, etc.], the biological realm [birth defects, premature death, Alzheimer's, etc.], the moral realm [lying, cheating, stealing, etc.], and the relational realm [divorce, abuse, anger, etc.]. God doesn't orchestrate tragedies in life. The pervasive principle of sin makes our world a very difficult place to live.

Second, the presence of sin is an expression of the goodness of God. I know, this sounds strange. But, once we read the first point above, we immediately wonder, "Why doesn't God rid of evil in the world?" and "Why did God ever allow evil in the first place?" Truth is, God could have limited the opportunity for sin, but to do so would have limited human freedom. In other words, for God to allow the free-est expression of love, He had to permit the possibility of un-love. To say it differently, only when my children have the possibility of not loving me can their love be proved genuine. If they only had the option of love [i.e, if option of sin and rebellion were removed], they would be nothing more than automatons--creatures without volition. This would not be loving and it would not be good. So, while it doesn't feel like it, the goodness of God is demonstrated in the original and ongoing freedom that He gives for people to love... or not.

However, the answer doesn't end here. God is able to redeem even the worst of tragedies to accomplish greater purposes. This is the hope of Romans 8:28. Though God permits sin to remain for a time [Be sure that God, for reasons we do not understand, does intervene and limit evil today so that the world isn't as evil as it could be!], He uses the terrible outcomes and weaves them together in a tapestry of His eternal purposes. For example, I know of a little boy, abandoned by his natural mother [his father died when he was young], who has met adoptive parents who, in the process of his adoption, have led him to Christ. God's ways are bigger [see Isaiah 55:8] and, in time, God's sovereignty will always bring beauty out of the ashes of pain.

I hope this helps.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Q&A: when do we get to heaven?

This is a post designed to answer deeper theological questions. I've asked Facebook friends to post questions for discussion. I'll make a humble attempt to explore these questions from a biblical perspective.

Q: Based on what I have read and what I think I understand to be correct, those that are saved but have died are not in Heaven now. They aren't whisked to Heaven after death. They will not go to Heaven till the second coming. There's always talk about Grandma being in Heaven watching but I don't understand it that way. --Debbra Ledbetter

A: This question is an interesting one because it challenges simple presuppositions that many of us have held for a lifetime with the facts of the Bible that sometimes suggest otherwise. Before I go further, let me assure the reader that, if Grandma is a Christian, she is safe at her death. The question is exactly where does Grandma go at the moment of her death?

Using the process mentioned two posts ago, I start my decision-making process by stating what I know for certain:

1. I know that to be absent from the body is to be in the presence of the Lord [2 Corinthians 5:8]. This is written from a distinctively Christian point of view.
2. Jesus assured on thief that "Today, you will be with me in paradise" [Luke 23:43].

3. Christian will not receive their final, glorified body until the Second Coming of Jesus in the future [1 Corinthians 15:50-58]. It is this renewed body that will enable us to enjoy and appreciate heaven and the presence of God unencumbered.

4. Human beings are a unity of body and soul [Genesis 2:7]. The soul does not live in a disembodied way from the tent of our physical self. Neither does the body live apart from the soul.

These four certainties enable me to set the boundaries of my theological conclusion. Thus, I believe that when a Christian dies, they enter into some kind of presence of God [this is not purgatory as Catholics teach from another point of view]. It is not a "holding place" for Paul believed that to depart this life would be "far better" [Philippians 1:23]. However, because Christ has not returned yet, our new bodies will not be reunited with our souls and, therefore, our heavenly experience will not be complete until then. These principles have led theologians to posit the idea of an "intermediate state"--in the presence of God, but not fully. So Grandma is on her way to her full inheritance...much better off than her life on earth, but not yet fully enjoying all of God's best which is yet to come.

[NOTE: Someone has suggested that, because heaven is outside of time, the moment a person dies is the return of Christ and, therefore. each person does receive a glorified body and enter fully into the presence of God. However, this is a bit too "fourth dimensional" for me.]

Friday, July 9, 2010

Q&A: saved or not?

This is a post designed to answer deeper theological questions. I've asked Facebook friends to post questions for discussion. I'll make a humble attempt to explore these questions from a biblical perspective.

Q: Say you accept Christ as your Savior and you take communion and pray a little, but you don't have a personal relationship with Christ. You didn't "die to self" so Christ (Holy Spirit) could take over and guide your path. You continue on with your life as if acceptance was a mere bump in the road of your life. The question is: Are you really saved from day one? Or is being saved a lifelong transformation? And if death occurs before the relationship is solid with Christ, then what? --Debbie Reddehase
A: Debbie, your important question deals with two issues: 1) Is salvation a point in time or a process? and 2) If a person doesn't demonstrate life change, are they saved? The two are related, but let's look at them in turn.
First, the Bible describes salvation as a point in time transformation and a process. The moment we profess faith in Christ, we are justified--that is, declared righteous before God. Romans 5:1 affirms, "since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." This is a past tense, completed act. Some people cannot remember exactly when they made a profession of faith. But, make no mistake about it, our salvation is secured at a specific, conscious moment in time where God changed our heart and we moved from death to life.
While this eternal, legal transaction of justification took place instantaneously, the ongoing process of sanctification takes a lifetime. Sanctification is the cooperative work of God and people to make them what they already are. One writer said, "sanctification is simply getting used to our justification." Throughout life, God uses a variety of things to produce the life transformation made possible through the singular work of justification.
Paul described sanctification this way in Philippians 2:12-13, "Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose." Notice that this verse doesn't tell us to work for our salvation but work out our salvation. Because God is "at work" in us, we can work with God to become the people He wants us to be. This is the normal Christian life.
This brings us to your second question: Can a person who doesn't experience life transformation truly be saved? In a very important passage [James 2:14-26], the Apostle states quite plainly that "faith without works is dead." In a very detailed study of this passage in seminary, I summarized James' words this way: "Authentic faith is proved by the works that it produces." The genuineness of our faith is found in the evidence of life-change. Jesus said we would be able to tell a tree by its fruit [Luke 6:43-44]. So, saved people produced salvation fruit. People who have been changed [justification] produce fruit of present life-change [sanctification].
This leaves us with a final question: What do we conclude about a person who attends church, goes to communion and even prays a little, but doesn't exhibit any substantive life change? The answer, I believe, is ultimately between that individual and God. But, the Scriptures give such a person reason to be concerned about their eternal destiny. Without the fruit of transformation, no one can be confident that they are rooted in Christ, the Tree of Life.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Q&A: substitution

This is a post designed to answer deeper theological questions. I've asked Facebook friends to post questions for discussion. I'll make a humble attempt to explore these questions from a biblical perspective.

Q: I've never understood the "how" behind Jesus' substitutionary sacrifice. How does his righteousness get transferred to us and our sin to Him? Why is a substitution acceptable to God, even in the Mosaic law? --Lewis Crow

A: Lewis, this question of substitution has been on my mind as well. In the Law, God allowed a penal [legal] substitute for human sin. Declaring that the penalty of sin is death [Romans 3:23], He chose to allow one to die for another. Before Christ, an unblemished lamb [aka "scapegoat"] could serve as the substitute for a penitent sinner. In the New Testament, Jesus becomes the perfect Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world [John 1:29].

This idea of substitution is known as "imputation." Three imputations are found in the Bible and in our human experience. First, Adam's sin is imputed to us. Sin entered the world through this one representative man and was laid upon everyone who would be descended from him [see Romans 5:12ff].

Second, our sin is imputed to Christ. While some cry "foul!" because we are held responsible for something Adam started, they don't mind letting Jesus bear the punishment for something we did. Isaiah writes that "God laid on Him the iniquity of us all" [53:6].

The last imputation is Christ's righteousness given to us. Paul writes, "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" [2 Corinthians 5:21]. As we trust in Jesus Christ, His righteousness replaces our sin. In this great exchange, we become acceptable to God.

These three imputations are mysterious principles of creation ordained by God. I consider them an expression of His grace--making it possible for sin to be justly condemned and sinners to be reconciled to God through the substitutionary work of a perfect God-man.

I hope this helps.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Q&A: age of accountability

This is a post designed to answer deeper theological questions. I've asked Facebook friends to post questions for discussion. I'll make a humble attempt to explore these questions from a biblical perspective.

Q: Another question for when you get around to it: Age of Accountability. It doesn't appear to be very supported biblically (that I can see), yet I really want to believe it. However, if it is true, could you justify abortion as being the loving thing to do since it doesn't allow for the baby to not believe in Jesus. Is it all a mute point because God elects those He will? -- Jennifer Benton
A: Jennifer, I appreciate this question because it's not just about salvation. It's about what we think about God. Is He just and fair? How do we reconcile the exclusivity and necessity of Christ with the inability of some (infants) to exercise conscious faith?
Before we get to the answer, let's talk methodology. When I am confronted with a theological question, I start by asking "What do I know for certain?" As I draw conclusions about what I know to be true, I begin to establish boundaries for which the answer to my larger question will have to fit. Let's try this on your important question.
1. I know for certain that all people are sinners [Romans 3:23, Psalm 51:5]. It's a human condition that is our nature--inside us. That is, I'm not a sinner because I commit sins; I commit sins because my fundamental nature is sinful.
2. I know for certain that sin separates all people from God [Romans 6:23, Psalm 15]. The holiness of God cannot tolerate the contaminating and compromising presence of sin. Only a holy person can enter the presence of a holy God.
3. I know for certain that Jesus Christ is the only way for a person to be saved [John 3:16, Romans 5:8, Acts 4:12].
4. I know for certain that goodness, mercy and justice are part of God's character [Psalm 136]. Everything that God does will correspond to His character.
5. I know for certain that David had expectations of seeing his infant child again [2 Samuel 12:22-23]. When the eight-day old boy died, David remarked, "I will go to him, but he will not return to me." David believed that he would "go" to be with his son. This text is used by some to hint at a special dispensation for children.
So, as I read the Scriptures and declare what I know for certain, I conclude that the right answer must address human need, not dilute the necessity of Jesus, maintain the character of God and allow for David's hope to come true. At this point, I have "staked" the boundaries of a plausible answer.
In the context of these boundaries, I bring two other theological ideas. The first one comes from Romans 1. Paul writes that God's general revelation (knowledge of God through nature, human conscious and providential acts) persuades people of the reality of God and His righteous demands. But all people, having received this revelation, "suppress the truth of God" [Romans 1:18]. This rejection is what makes them guilty. If this is true, we could conclude that an infant does not possess the capacity to "know" God through nature, perceive through their conscious or delight in the providential acts of God. Unable to accommodate this general revelation, they are not personally guilty. This does not mean that they are not born with a sin nature; It simply suggests that perhaps they are not personally culpable.
An age of accountability [the Jews recognized age 13 as a marker] would be the time when a child has the ability to learn, perceive, discern and decide. At that point, the child is morally accountable to God. I have wondered if this is what Paul meant in Romans 7:9, "Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died." At one time, he was alive [safe] because he had not received the requirements of the law [before he could understand good from bad]. But, once he was able to understand, sin was awakened as a force for disobedience in him. So, in regards to this first idea, I believe the Bible does hint at an experience of personal responsibility which leads to our guilt before God.
This, of course, does not relieve a person--no matter how young--of the sin nature that resides in them since birth. While a baby may not be able to comprehend the providential kindness of God enough to reject it, they are nonetheless sinners. For this, a second theological idea is presented. In 1 John 2:2, John writes, "[Jesus] is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world." I personally believe that John  is writing from the perspective that Christ's death is beneficial, not only for his readers, but for many others far beyond the scope of their cities and homes. However, his statement highlights the completeness of Christ's atoning sacrifice. There is power in the cross and the sacrifice of Jesus. So, perhaps, [perhaps!], the substitutionary work of Christ is specially applied to an infant who doesn't have the capacity to understand truth yet. If this were true, we wouldn't say that God just "let's some people off the hook." Rather, we uphold all of what we know to be true: the need, the guilt, the necessary sacrifice of Jesus and the mercy of God.

To your question on abortion: I would never condone abortion as an answer to any theological dilemma. Somehow, the condition of man, the mercy of God and His command not to murder must be able to be supported with a conclusion that validates each. perhaps my answer above helps.
I hope this response, while not definitive, helps us to appreciate the deeper theological issues while considering a response that is plausible given what we know to be true.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Q&A: love is blind

This is the third post designed to answer deeper theological questions. I've asked Facebook friends to post questions for discussion. I'll make a humble attempt to explore these questions from a biblical perspective.

Q: Someone told me that you were answering difficult Bible verses. I know a man who is engaged to a non-believer and uses 1 Corinthians 7:12-16 to justify his decision. What do you think? --Anonymous
A: Anonymous, thanks for taking time to raise a question that is becoming increasingly more challenging in our contemporary culture. There are two issues at stake in your question. One is interpretation and the other is sanctification. Let's look at both.
FIRST, the use of this passage to justify courtship and/or marriage to a non-Believer is an example of self-serving interpretation. To be fair to your colleague, we all tend to read the Bible through our own personal lens and it is a discipline to let the Bible interpret itself rather than us force our own hopes and dreams within the words of Scripture. In the case of this text, the reader has missed two very important interpretive insights. Paul writes,
"To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?"
The first insight is that the text must be read in the context of the overarching argument. This passage actually begins in verse 10 where Paul is raising the topic of divorce. His question is, "When is it right to divorce?" Having raised the question, he is sure that new converts in his audience will raise the question, "What if we have become people of faith and our spouse isn't? Should we divorce?" Paul's answer is, "No. Stay married. Be sure that God will guard your marriage and your children. In fact, your spirituality has potential to become a sanctifying influence on your non-believing spouse." In other words, Paul taught that it is better to keep your marriage covenant than to divorce when it one marriage partner becomes a Christian.
However, Paul is not giving instructions on who to marry! He is not suggesting that Christians marry non-Christians in order to win them to Christ. It would be like me telling my children, "When you find yourself caught in debt, make sure that you adjust your standard of living and cut back on your luxuries." My instruction in no way encourages them to go into debt! I'm simply giving them counsel should they find themselves in this unfortunate situation. So, once again, to read 1 Corinthians 7:12-16 as a guide to courtship and marriage is to misread the passage.
This raises another interpretive issue: The principle of consistency. The Bible does not contradict itself. Verses in Matthew will compliment the writings of Isaiah. The Old and New testaments fit together. The Bible is a unity. So, when I read 2 Corinthians 6:14 [also written by Paul!]--"Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?"--I must discover how to reconcile this verse with his command in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16. The right interpretation of both verses is the one that enables one to support the other and both be applied truthfully. I cannot choose to selectively obey one verse, but not the other.
So, the first problem with your colleague's decision is one of interpretation. The SECOND problem is one of sanctification. The word means "to be/make holy." And, in the passage quoted above [2 Corinthians 6:14], Paul highlights the sure conflict that will arise when people from two differing religious backgrounds attempt to become "one flesh" [Genesis 2:24]. Believers should never "yoke" themselves [in farming cultures, young bulls were hitched to more seasoned ox to plow fields] to unbelievers. This relational unity will threaten the spiritual maturity of the man or woman who is seriously pursuing holiness.
Some might argue that this reflects a spirit of intolerance and that genuinely loving people can find a way to get along with one another. However, if our religious perspective reaches down to the core of who we are, it drives everything we say, think and do. To say it differently, the only way that a couple from two different religious perspectives can live in harmony is for both of them to jettison what they believe for the sake of one another. In doing so, they have lost a part of themselves and they both lose.
Let me give you a real example. A Christian woman falls in love with an agnostic man. According to her belief in God and His Kingdom, she disciplines herself to give a portion of her income to ministry. She also values attending corporate worship every Sunday morning. He husband is completely opposed to giving money to charity and wants to golf every Sunday. This couple has 4 alternatives:
1. The wife abandons her religious convictions. Their marriage is "unified" but she loses.
2. The husband abandons his non-religious convictions. Their marriage is "unified" but he loses.
    [NOTE: This doesn't mean he "converts." He just lives a personal lie.]
3. Both husband and wife "give a little" [compromise] and they both lose a little.
4. Neither gives in and they are in constant conflict.
At the end of the day, none of these options express genuine marriage where both people grow according to truth and unity is based on an affirmation and encouragement of each other. Moreover, for a Christian to compromise truth [even for the sake of "love"] is to make Christ the servant of our affections. It is to make God play second chair to someone greater in our life.
In this, the Christian doesn't ever move forward to maturity. They are not sanctified. They are ever-battling with their spiritual priorities and, more often than not, their earthly relationship wins over their heavenly one. After a whole series of compromises, the once-vital Christian finds themselves having given away the farm...for love.
Love is blind. And, for this reason, I encourage people to keep their eyes wide open when it comes to courtship and marriage. Let the Word, not your heart, lead you. And, build a lifelong relationship with a spouse where both of you already have a common, sure foundation.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Q&A: free will?

This is the second post designed to answer deeper theological questions. I've asked Facebook friends to post questions for discussion. I'll make a humble attempt to explore these questions from a biblical perspective.

Q. How free is the will? --Bo Frazier

A. Bo, this question is one of my favorites. I think this question represents an idea that we've all grown comfortable with--one that reflects our human experience and desire--but has no biblical support. I hear people say, "God helps those who help themselves" or "God will not give you any more than you can handle." These popular sayings are also unbiblical. The idea of "free will" seems to fit what we feel in life and, therefore, has uncritically made its way into our theological framework.

But, the Bible doesn't teach free will.

In fact, the Bible teaches quite the opposite. In Romans 6:17, Paul writes that we all "used to be slaves to sin." His point is that, apart from Christ, people are under the control of sin. They're not free. They are mastered by unrighteousness.

To be sure, we feel free. Many people, outside of Christ, feel as if they can do anything they please. Truth is, sin has so contaminated our humanity, that our will is subject to our sin nature and, until God breaks through, we will never be able to do what ultimately pleases God and leads to life.

My seminary professor used a very vivid illustration. He invited a student to stand on a chair, jump...and not fall. Of course, it was impossible because the student was bound by the laws of his physical nature [gravity]. In the same way, we are bound by spiritual laws. We are free to do everything that our nature permits us to do. If our nature is enslaved to sin, we are free to do whatever an enslaved nature can do [i.e., a convict in the prison yard is "free" to do whatever he wants...though his freedom is clearly limited. He is free to do push ups, but he cannot go to the beach.]. But, we are not free to do absolutely anything we want.

In this, there is no such thing as free will before coming to Christ.

However, once a person is set free by Christ [Galatians 5:1, Romans 6], we have a greater capacity to live a life pleasing to God. The sin nature has not been annihilated. But, it has been broken so that it no longer has mastery over the Christian. This is what it means to be free and only in Christ can our wills be liberated to be the people God designed us to be.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Q&A: on suffering

Today, I start a Q&A forum. I've asked Facebook friends to post questions for discussion. I'll make a humble attempt to explore these questions from a biblical perspective.

Q: "Well, my question is not sophisticated or brainy... But I still struggle with why God allows us to be in danger, get hurt, suffer, and die. Why pray for safety and protection? God says he will hem us in behind and before, but sometimes He doesn't. He doesn't guarantee our safety or the protection of the people we love... My only consolation for this insecurity is that He ultimately provides believers with final comfort and wholeness in heaven. But, here? It doesn't seem so (or seems so sometimes, but not others... At His mysterious whim). So is this God causing calamity? Or is He simply allowing sin and Satan to work? Either way, how do we trust Him on earth?" --Cynthia Cobb Oelkers

A: Cynthia, thanks for asking this bold and relevant question. This may be one of the most-asked questions in history. Why does God allow bad things to happen? The answer, I believe, is found in three spiritual realities.

FIRST, evil exists because sin is in the world. From the beginning, at the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden [Genesis 3], sin has contaminated God's created order. In Romans 8:19-22, Paul writes, "The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time."

This lingering principle of sin has so skewed God's perfect design that tornadoes sweep across farm towns, babies are born with defects and oil rigs explode in the ocean. Every part of us and our world is impacted by the contaminating influence of sin.

It's important to keep this in mind. Otherwise, God takes the blame for sin's destruction. By way of illustration: Suppose a man walks into a convenience store and robs the clerk at gunpoint. He shoots the shop owner and flees as customers look on. Someone might argue that the clerk died because no one stopped the criminal. While it's true that the events might have turned out differently if someone had stepped in, the customers aren't culpable for the criminal act. The clerk died at the hands of a robber, not the others in the store that day. Similarly, I believe we must keep in mind that danger, hurt, suffering and death are the work of enemy who introduced sin into the world and it is that principle of sin that is behind every unfortunate event we face.

SECOND, evil is rooted in the hearts of people. While we talk about the contaminating effect of sin in our natural creation, sin is essentially a moral problem. It resides in the hearts of people. This is important to remember because, for God to remove sin, He would have to remove us.

Let's face it, there are only three options:

1. God doesn't overcome any difficulties.
2. God overcomes some difficulties.
3. God overcomes all difficulties.

In the first option, God removes Himself from the world, ignore the problem of sin and turns a blind eye to the suffering of people everywhere. This would be the god of the deists who think that God wound the world up and permits it to "tick" on it's own. But, of course, we do see God at work in the world. So, this option isn't reality.

In the last option, God overcomes all pain, suffering and hardship in life. But, because sin is a moral problem, God would have to drill down to the source of sin and extinguish it there. In the words of CS Lewis, "If we asked God to get rid of all suffering at midnight tonight, who of us would be left at 12:01?" He adds, in Mere Christianity, "I wonder whether people who ask God to interfere openly and directly in our world quite realize what it will be like when He does....When the author walks on the stage the play is over." There is a day when Christ returns and everything that has been undone will be remade according to God's Divine design. Until then, God will not totally annihilate pain because to do so, He would have to strike at the source leaving too many with no hope at all.

This leaves us with the middle option: God intervenes in some difficulties. And He does. We know He does. We just wish he would intervene in ours...all the time.

This brings me to a THIRD and final spiritual reality: God is good in our suffering. While the source and the suffering of the trauma we face in life is quite "bad," God is at work accomplishing great things in the process [ala Romans 8:28]. God is for our transformation and His exaltation. The two go hand in hand. When we are changed, God is glorified. Second Corinthians expresses these two: "And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." As we are changed by God, we reflect more and more of His glorious image.

Suffering is how God accomplishes that end. Note the Scriptures that speak to this truth:

"[W]e also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope." [Romans 5:3-4]

"I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." [Romans 8:18]

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." [James 1:2-4]

In the end, suffering accomplishes God's great goal for our lives--to make us more like Jesus [who suffered, by the way] and, in conforming us to the image of His Son, bring great glory to Himself. This is our predestination [cf. Romans 8:29].

So, the principle of sin is at work; it is rooted in the hearts of people; and God permits it to linger because, through the havoc of suffering, God produces holy people for His glory. And our hope is that, one day, sin will be dealt a final blow, all of God's creation will be changed and God will get the glory. In this, we rest.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

dress rehearsal for joy

This morning's Bible study was on the topic of joy: "I have inner contentment and purpose in spite of my circumstances." Joy is a "soul peace" that isn't based on external conditions, but based on what we know as the answer to three questions: "Who is God?", "Who am I?", and "What is God doing?"

Whenever I face difficulty, I begin by reflecting on who I know God to be. Too often, we start with the question "Why" instead of this fundamental consideration of "Who." But, joy is to be found in a person, not in a solution. As I think about the truth of God, I remember that He is sovereign, He is powerful, He is wise and He is good. While I might be surprised and undone by losing my job or losing my dog, God isn't. He remains on His throne, ordering the universe as He always has.

Next, I consider who I am---not who I was, but who I am. This is a reflection of identity. As a Christian, I remember that I am loved by God, precious to Him, protected by Him and forever safe by His grace. God is more concerned about my cancer diagnosis or missed flight than I am. Because I am His child, He will always [guaranteed!] look out for my best interest.

This leads me to the last question: "What is God doing?" The answer may be surprising. When God permits suffering in the life of a Christian, He is always aiming for one goal: Death. Every challenge, difficulty or obstacle is moving us one step closer to surrender, self-denial and...sanctification. This is why James commands us to have joy in the midst of trials [James 1:2-4]. Because, "you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance" and "perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." Joy in suffering comes from the realization that God is using the hard stuff to help us become the people He wants us to be. He is ever-conforming us to the person of Jesus. And, to look like Jesus requires death. Not a physical death [though it could lead to that], but daily "deaths" where our pride, self-centeredness, control, perfection, etc. is chiseled away. I think this is what Paul meant when he wrote, "I die daily" [1 Corinthians 15:31]. In the trials of life, God is teaching us about giving up, giving in and becoming less and less like our old self and more and more like Jesus.

In this, I find joy.

To this point, one of the men in our Bible study countered, "I get this idea, but I still don't think I would ever be able to muster up 'joy' if the doctor told me I had cancer." To be sure, many people would collapse at the sudden, unexpected trial for which they had no preparation. Perhaps this is why God allows us ongoing challenges in life--fender benders, interpersonal misunderstandings, financial hardships, back problems and the like. These smaller sufferings are dress rehearsals for the larger trials that may one day come. So, rather than take the detour around these lesser difficulties, maybe God wants us to drive right through them, being confident in who He is, who we are and what He is ultimately doing.

We'll die a little. But, the benefit is that we will discover joy.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


I think this is the longest I've ever gone without blogging since starting several years ago. I don't want to be presumptuous that my handful of followers are logging on each morning hoping that there's a new nugget of truth. Nonetheless, I personally feel the gap. My apologies.

Part of what has drawn me away is an exciting, growing work with reGenesis, our emerging African Mission at Pantego Bible Church. During the last few years, we have watched God synthesize a variety of efforts that have ended up in Africa:

MISSIONARIES We have sent 4 missionary couples to different regions in Africa to lead seminaries, assist with Bible translation, support medical missions and church plant among Muslims.

REFUGEES We have welcomed a rich partnership with Burundi, Rwandan, Congolese and Tanzanian refugees living in the Fort Worth area. Their church meets at PBC and our church is encouraging their families through ESL classes, tutoring, providing basic essentials, training and other needs.

ORPHAN CARE PBC is about to throw the doors open on an orphan care ministry locally and abroad. With such a large population of adoptive families in our church, it makes sense to provide ministry support and explore ways to encourage more Christians to look after those in need [James 1:27]. Interestingly, in our church, there has been an increase in adoptions from African countries in the last several years. A special Orphan Care ministry is scheduled for Sunday, May 23 to explore this opportunity even more.

BIBLE TRANSLATION During our recent series in Jonah, we invited attendees to sponsor a verse in Jonah [there are 48] for $100 each. We raised approximately $4500 to support an African national worker to help one of our missionaries in audio/video duplication in a Bible translation ministry. This amount will almost cover one year's salary!

ETHIOPIA OUTREACH A medical mission is being planned among a select group of individuals at PBC and beyond to minister to the medical needs of people in Ethiopia. While this trip is limited, it may open up possibilities for many in the church to use their areas of expertise on future trips.

AND MORE... Today, I am scheduled to meet with a leader in ministry committed to helping rescue children from slavery in Ghana and give them a secure place to live with a Christian education.

With all of these signposts, how could we say "no" to Africa? I am amazed at how God puts the pieces together. And, I'm excited to see how God uses His church here to bring about a regenesis--a rebirth--in people halfway around the world.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

application: doers of the word

We finished our TXT MSG series this last Sunday, but the discovery of God's incredible Word continues. Our focus, from James 1:22ff, was to "be doers of the Word." That is, we must work to apply the Scriptures to our life for them to have any effect. Like a mirror which exposes a person's imperfections, the Bible reveals our spiritual shortcoming. But it is powerless to bring about change unless we surrender to the Spirit's leading into a life of obedience.

One of the points of personal discipline that I mentioned was the importance of studying the Bible. James commends the person who "looks intently into God's Law" [v. 1:25]. To help you develop study habits with your Bible, I remind you of several previous posts related to personal Bible Study:

Step 1: Preparation
Step 2: Observation [part 1]
Step 2: Observation [part 2]
Step 3: Interpretation [part 1]
Step 3: Interpretation [part 2]
Step 3: Interpretation [part 3]
Step 4: Application

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

translation: word of life

As we continue with series on the Bible --TXT MSG: What We Believe About the Bible--I invited two guests from The Seed Company to join me on the platform at Pantego Bible Church. Greg Morris, Director of Executive Partner Relations, and Randall Lemley, Vice President of Information Technology, shared a compelling perspective on the importance of Bible translation around the world.

Paul explains that calling requires believing; believing requires hearing; hearing requires preaching and preaching requires sending [Romans 10:14ff]. Indeed, "faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ" [v. 17]. But, what of a people group who do not have the Scriptures in their native tongue? If God does not speak their language, how could He possibly be for them? If Scripture possesses the power to change lives, then it is imperative for Scripture to be accessible to people everywhere.

The first translation work took place in 200-300 BC when a group of 70 Jewish scholars recognized the need to translate the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek to accommodate the dispersion of Jews throughout the world. The Septuagint [from Latin "seventy] enabled God's Word to continue transforming lives. Likewise, John Wycliffe saw the need for the Bible to be translated from the clerical Latin to the common English of his day. In 1382, the Wycliffe translation made the Scriptures approachable by everyone.

Some 350 million people still do not have the Bible in their language [see statistics on the Wycliffe Bible Translators website]. This represents 2000 languages in the world. In the spirit of Jesus, the living Word, who spoke in ways that all who had ears could understand, it is important that we continue to support the work of Bible translation today. Check out current projects with The Seed Company and see where you might be led to participate. Let's work to make the Word accessible--until all the world hears.

word design

I found this interesting article about how the design of the Bible affects our reading and interpretation of it. It's a good, short read---probably not of the genre that you have read lately. Enjoy it here.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

canonization: rule of law

Today, we charted the historically thick terrain of the Bible's canonization. The Bible isn't one book, but a collection of 66 books and, at some point, somebody had to decide which books were "in" and which ones were "out." Before we dive into history, let's set the context from Scripture.

As Jesus finishes his revelation to John, He leaves one stern caution:

"I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book" [Revelation 22:18-19].

While I'm not sure exactly what the plagues would look like in an individual's life or what tree-of-life loss a person would experience, there is no question that this text warns against trifling with God's Word. We must be careful not to add or subtract from it. And, because the warning is intended to be obeyed, it must be possible to determine the outer limits of Scripture. Otherwise, how could someone add or subtract from an indefinite collection of writings?

Canonical limits were set by several important councils in church history [the word "canon" means "measurement" or "rule"]. In AD 90, the Council of Jamnia finally set the limits of the Old Testament canon. Throughout time, there had been little debate that the 39 books we presently have--the Law, the Writings and Wisdom literature--were recognized as canonical. Jamnia simply codified what was already understood and accepted.

It is significant to note that Jesus quoted from 24 of the OT books and the whole NT references 34 of the 39 OT books. Equally important is the fact the none of the NT writers refer to the Apocryphal writings. These writings, scribed between 400 BC and the birth of Jesus, reflect the ongoing history of God's people and the Jewish expectation of the coming Messiah. But, neither Jewish rabbis or later church fathers recognized the apocryphal writings as having the same authority of Scripture. As such, these works are not considered a part of the Protestant canon and were added much later by the Catholic church at the Council of Trent in 1546.

The New Testament was written over 40-60 years and records the life and death of Jesus as well as the emergence of the early church. Like the Old Testament, the New testament writings faced very little controversy regarding their authority. Some questions were raised about Luke, Acts, Mark, Hebrews and Jude because of a lack of direct apostolic authorship. Second Peter also raised questions because it's style was noticeably different than Peter's first letter. But, concerns were in the minority and each of these books met all other strict criteria and were accepted into the canon. The tests for canonicity were:

1. Apostolic/prophetic authorship
2. Widespread acceptance among early churches
3. Internal consistency with other Scripture
4. Historical accuracy
5. Spiritual attestation to inspiration

Books which did not meet these criteria were rejected. For these reasons, the famous Gospel of Mary, Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Judas and Secret Letter of Mark were not considered to be from God. These, any other writings, either lacked clear authorship, were not used in the early church, contradicted known Scripture, were historically inaccurate or promoted a political/philosophical/religious agenda rather than affirm the work of God. The Gospel of Mary, for example, made famous in Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code, promotes a heavy feminist agenda and was written between 150-200 AD--far too late to have really been written by Mary.

This academic study of the canon does lead to a few important points of personal application. First, we must submit ourselves to God's Word. Because the Bible is "rule" the moment it was spoken [not when councils decided it], it has the right to command my life and action. I must not live with the Bible under me or even beside me, negotiating with it and picking which parts I'll follow. Instead, I submit to it's law and discover all of the blessings that God has reserved for me in a life of spiritual surrender.

Second, I must be a steward of God's Word. While I'm not likely to write my own secret gospel and promote it later, I may misuse Scripture and "add" or "subtract: from it through misinterpretation or misapplication. Paul gives Timothy--and all of us--a strong caution: "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth" [2 Timothy 2:15]. I want to steward God's Word in such a way that I don't make it say more or less than what it really says. So, I work hard to interpret and apply it as God intended.

Finally, I resist other substitutes for God's Word. I love the writings of John Piper and Philip Yancey. I think CS Lewis is spectacular. I enjoyed reading the Left Behind series. But, as engaging as these authors are, none compare to the life-changing benefit of the Bible. I must be on guard not to let well-intentioned authors or media channels shape my opinion of truth and history without asking the question, "Where stands it written?" For there is no substitute for God's great Word!

Friday, February 19, 2010

inspiration: breath of God

Last Sunday, we started an exciting new series designed to cultivate greater appreciation and confidence in our Bible. We started TXT MSG with the fundamental question, "Where did the Bible come from?" This question of origins is beautifully answered in 2 Peter 1:19-21:

And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

Peter writes that we "do well to pay attention" to the words of the prophets, or "prophecy of Scripture" [at this point in history, "Scripture" is the Old Testament.] The reason is that Scripture is a light shining in darkness. The psalmist likewise declares, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path" [Psalm 119:105]. It's not surprising that the Scriptures would possess such valuable guiding and guarding light because Scripture comes from God "in whom there is no darkness at all" [1 John 1:5].

Peter goes on to amplify this idea by stating that Scripture never came about by a prophet's own interpretation for Scripture didn't start in the will of men. In verse 16, Peter states that neither he or the other Apostles were communicating "cleverly invented stories." The writers of Scripture didn't create myths and fables to promote their own spiritual agendas. Authorship began much earlier: In the heart of God.

This is Peter's crescendo in verse 21: Men were "spoke from God." God spoke to men who recorded God's speech to us. Paul gives us even greater insight when he writes "All Scripture is God-breathed" [2 Timothy 3:16]. The breath--or Spirit--of God was the animating force in Genesis 1 when God scooped dirt from the ground and breathed life into the first human being. God's breath is Himself. It's his His life. Similarly, at moments in time, God spirited the writers of Scripture so that they penned God's language and His life for all to read.

This wasn't a matter of dictation, for even a cursory reading of Paul's letters compared to John's gospel reveals individual style. In the same way, Isaiah's writings are far more sophisticated than the words of Amos. The writers were not linguistic automotons. Rather, they were "carried along by the Holy Spirit" [v. 21]. In the same way that the Holy Spirit overshadowed and empowered Mary to carry the sinless Son of God [Luke 1:35], so the writers of Scripture were moved to to scribe the inerrant Scriptures. Both God's living Word and written Word were born flawless.

As we learned Sunday, the implications of this important truth are twofold. First, the Bible is truthful. I can trust it to speak accurately and authoritatively on all matters it addresses [Note: The Bible doesn't speak to all matters of life]. Second, because it is truthful, the Bible becomes immensely valuable and helpful to me. After declaring that "all Scripture is God-breathed," Paul adds, "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" [2 Timothy 3:16-17]. My Bible is the most useful resource I possess to live all the life that God gives me to live.

Check back on this blog for next week's reflection on the important TXT MSG topic of "canonization"--How do we know which books should be in our Bible?

Monday, February 8, 2010

what does your parrot say?

I live in a fish bowl. That's the experience of most pastors...always on display, ever scrutinized. I'm not complaining; It's part of the calling. Every day, people peer into my life to see if my practice matches up with my preaching. That's good accountability.

As I think about this, two things come to mind. First, it's good to be normal. If you look close enough or long enough, you'll discover that most leaders are human. I get indigestion, bark unreasonably at my kids on occasion and forget to change the oil in my car. No one has reached the magical level of perfection [despite the way some preachers act]. Truth is, I love being a regular person because it helps me relate to all the other regular people around me. It's good being normal.

The second thought is, while leaders are normal, they must strive to be better. Respect is earned, never given away. And so, all leaders must live so that "they're not afraid to sell the family parrot to the town gossip" [I've always loved that saying]. Respectable leaders must arrive early, cheer loudly and stay late. They must serve those they lead. They should never read their own headlines. They must handle the resources entrusted to them with the highest integrity. And, they must humbly admit failure.

Ironically, it's this kind of exemplary character that gains a following of people who are simply looking for an ordinary person, living as an extraordinary example.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

goochie goo: tickle-me teaching

"Tickle me, daddy!"

I'm glad my daughter is still young enough for me to chase her around the house, capture her and hear her squeal as I tickle her feet. The benefit is mutual: She gets the pleasure of feeling secure and I get the pleasure of being needed.

While this relationship is appropriate for fathers and their children, it's terribly dangerous for spiritual fathers and their spiritual children. The Apostle Paul warned Timothy:

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. [2 Timothy 4:1-3]

In his charge, Paul commands Timothy to "preach the Word" at all times [also see 1 Peter 3:15] and to "be careful" in his instruction of others. Then, he warns that a time will come when people will trade the truth for teaching that will tickle their ears. While I am grateful that God's Word is always reliable, in this case, I am equally grieved that Paul's prophecy has come true. All around us are pastors and teachers who are gifted speakers, creative communicators and polished presenters, but the substance of their message is lacking. They tickle their audience with what they know people want to hear because there is a double-benefit: People get what they want and the leader continues to feel significant.

Christians must be discerning of the messages they listen to and be on guard for these tickle-me teachings from the pulpit and on their bookshelves:

1. Messages that do not tell the truth. Some communicators claim "thus sayeth the Lord" when the Lord never "thus sayethed." Some leaders, to gain a wider audience, are unwilling to preach the exclusivity of Christ, the inerrancy of God's Word and the severity of sin. They argue that theology has changed over time to accommodate new cultures. This view ignores the timeless, immutability of God and reflects an egocentric view of righteousness. Be on guard against those who do not say what is true.

2. Messages which do not tell the whole truth. A second problem is preaching that only tells part of the story. This is a buffet approach to Christianity: Take what you like and leave the rest. This is the present criticism of the prosperity Gospel. Some claim that life in Christ will produce continual blessing and goodness if you have enough faith. Try preaching this message in Haiti today. It doesn't work for the godly man I met a week ago who faced the trauma of his triplets being stillborn. It is true that life in Christ produces greater blessings than life outside of Christ and it is true that God sometimes blesses the believer in wild and wonderful ways. But, the whole truth is that God causes His sun to rise of the good and the evil [Matthew 5:45] and that the spiritual life is a continual death to gain life [see James 1:2-12, Philippians 1:29, Acts 20:24]. To preach only half the truth is to preach no truth at all.

3. Messages that tell something other than the truth. Many ticklish teachers fill their messages with ideas that are true, but are not necessarily biblically true. For example, a whole message about how getting organized will simplify your life may be spot-on, but may have no biblical relevance. The problem with these messages is twofold: 1) The audience becomes accustomed to a diet of secular information and loses an appetite the life-changing Word of God, and/or 2) People begin to settle for any truth instead of seeking biblical truth. I can read a book about how to truly understand my unique personality and gain useful information, but if that truth never intersects with God's truth, I've just become smarter, not more spiritual.

I admit that I am tempted to be enamored with big audiences, published books and CDs, well-branded ministries and the proliferation of blogs and the such. These are all signs of a leader that "everyone should listen to!" But, the real measure is: Did they take me to the life-erupting Word of God? Did they explain it in a way that reflects a fearful accountability to God, the Author? Did they leave me impressed with them, or with God and His grace? Did they speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

Or, as a spiritual father, did they just chase me around the house of God to tickle my ears?

Monday, January 4, 2010

not too late

It's not too late to make some resolutions for 2010. Here's a great list to spur on your thinking. See Donald Whitney's "Ten Questions to Ask at the Start of a New Year or On Your Birthday."

Sunday, January 3, 2010

change is good

This Sunday, we begin an exciting new series at Pantego Bible Church titled "Change is Good!" We are going to explore three fundamental changes that God desires in and through us. As we prepare to take possession of our new Connection expanded campus, I am hoping that everyone will follow Change is Good on Twitter and Facebook. Click the links to get started!