Sunday, September 19, 2021

Heaven on Earth

 

 

Have you ever wondered what heaven will be like? The Bible gives us precious few details of the current heaven, but it tells us that there will be a restored earth that will serve as our eternal home one day. John wrote, “Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God (Revelation 21:2-3).’”

 

Randy Alcorn, in his book simply titled Heaven, said that we do not need to look to the sky and wonder what heaven will be like; we just need to look around and imagine what this planet would be like if there was no sin. So let’s do that: 

 

Imagine a place that we can go, beyond all that you’ve ever seen,

Nicer than any place you’ve been, better than your wildest dreams.

It will be heaven on earth

 

Colors will be brighter, sounds will be clearer, and the weather is always nice,

Each new day will be as good as the last, every day of your life.

It will be heaven on earth

 

You’ll never get sick, never grow old, you’ll never even die,

You’ll never be lonely, or have a broken heart, you’ll never even cry.

It will be heaven on earth

 

Everything that makes it bad down here, like famine, disease, and war,

They are products of the fall, and they’ll be gone forevermore.

It will be heaven on earth

 

We’ve talked about what wont be there, but there are things we expect to see

All our friends who’ve gone on before, and plenty of new people to meet.

It will be heaven on earth. 

 

James and John, Peter and Paul, and that wee little man Zacchaeus 

But of all the people we get to meet, I’m going to see my Jesus

It will be heaven on earth 

 

It will be like the Garden of Eden, a world that doesn’t know sin,

God will come down and live with us, and He’ll never leave again

It will be heaven on earth. 

 

And when we’ve been there 10,000 years, bright shining as the sun,

We’ll wake up to another day in the best place we’ve ever known. 

It will be heaven on earth 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Walk by Faith

 


As Christians we often talk about walking by faith and not by sight. This popular phrase comes from Second Corinthians 5:7.  We typically use that expression to encourage each other when life is hard and doesn’t make sense. Sometimes we refer to this verse when we are not sure which decision to make when facing two choices. Walking by anything other than sight is difficult because we rely on our vision to help us navigate our steps in life.

 

There are some courses in life that we can walk without our sight. If I wake up in the middle of the night, I can stumble into the kitchen and get myself a glass of water without having to turn on the lights. That is because I know the path from my bed to the sink like the back of my hand. But when we talk about walking by faith rather than sight we might conjure up images of walking around blindfolded, as it were, with our arms outstretched, feeling our way around.  However, I don't think that was the image the Apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote those words.

 

The imagery should not be of a person who is unable to see, and thus relying on faith. As long as we can reach our hands out in front of us and feel anything in our path, we can get by even without sight. I believe the image that Paul wanted to paint is that of a person walking by faith in spite of their sight. It isn't that we can't see, it is that what we can see can deceive us.  Walking by faith then means we are trusting in something else besides our vision. When it looks like a door is wide open, we might have to act as if it is closed. Conversely, when it appears that there is a brick wall right in front of us, God might call us to walk right through it. Our sight tells us it is impossible, but in faith we learn to rely on God rather than our sight.

 

In context, Paul is talking about the future resurrection of believers. Let's look at the verse with the two verses that surround it: “So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord (v.6-8).” The situation in which we must walk by faith rather than sight deals with the fact that we currently live in our physical, earthly bodies, and yet we believe that one day we will live in glorified bodies. That may be a difficult concept for us to truly wrap our minds around, but we must take it in faith.

 

Wrapped up in this promise is everything else associated with our eternal state. More than just having a glorified body, this passage belies the fact that we will one day be free from sickness and suffering, disease and death. Believing in this promise can make life a little easier when things are difficult. When all we see is negativity, we can put our sight aside and walk by faith, holding on to these dear promises that God will one day make everything right.

 

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Pray for Revival



 Do you ever pray for revival? Revival is related to the word revive, or to bring something back to life. Biblically speaking, revival refers to times when God moves in such a way as to stir Christians out of their complacency and into action. The church has a tendency to get stuck in a rut, going through the motions each week of “doing church,” and revival can help re-instill a sense of emotion and passion back into the congregation.   

 

Charles Finney is remembered for the many revivals his preaching helped usher in, and he once delivered a series of lectures on the topic of revival. The majority of his lectures focused on the key ingredient in any revival: prayer. We need to ask God to bring revival because it cannot be manufactured by people. But Finney pointed out that sometimes there is an ingredient that precedes prayer: wickedness. 

 

Finney said there had been times when great wickedness drove the people of God to their knees because they felt hopeless to do anything else. The “outrageous wickedness,” as he called it, disrupted the lives of the saved and opened their eyes to the state of carnality in their city. The wickedness of the world can be a good thing if God uses it to get the church’s attention. Finney said: 

 

“Let hell boil over if it will, and spew out as many devils as there are stones in the pavement, if it only drives Christians to God in prayer—it cannot hinder a revival…if Christians will only be humbled and pray, they shall soon see God's naked arm in a revival of religion.”  

 

There is no shortage of wickedness in the world still a century and a half after the death of Charles Finney. Drugs are destroying lives and communities; violent crime is on the rise; injustices abound, and American cities have burned to the ground. On top of that, the pandemic, runaway inflation, and the heartbreaking images out of Afghanistan are on everyone’s mind. These things can get us down, or they can get us down to our knees. 

 

It may just be that God uses these current events as the impetus for revival. Perhaps He is waiting even now for His people to humble themselves and pray. We know the unsaved world is worried about these things as well; maybe the coronavirus is causing people to stop and think about their own mortality. It may just be that the darkness of this world is making it ripe for revival. If you are not already praying for revival, will you join us in doing that now? 

 

“Will You not revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You?”

Psalms 85:6

 

 

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Ambassadors for Christ

 

 

 

As Christians we serve in an important role, functioning as God’s ambassadors. Paul referred to himself as such in Ephesians 6:20, and then he spoke on behalf of all believers in II Corinthians 5:20 when he wrote, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

 

The word ambassador comes from a Greek word that means “old man,” as most ambassadors where trusted elders. But in its official capacity an ambassador was one who was sent to represent another, much as our State Department has ambassadors around the world speaking on behalf of the President. These ambassadors served in a foreign land and delivered the messages they were given.

 

Ambassadors were also common in the Roman Empire. As Rome expanded its empire and took over more territories, they labeled their provinces as being either senatorial or imperial. 

The senatorial provinces were not a problem for Rome. These vanquished territories became submissive to the emperor. They laid down their weapons in exchange for peace, and as long as they paid their taxes, they were on good terms with the Roman government. The imperial provinces, on the other hand, were always under the watchful eye of Rome. They had surrendered themselves, but they weren’t exactly submissive. Given the opportunity to rebel, these provinces would have jumped at the chance. To keep rebellions from rising up, the emperor dispatched his ambassadors to keep a presence in those regions. 

 

Because Paul referred to believers as ambassadors, we can think about ourselves as serving in a foreign land; after all, we are strangers and pilgrims passing through earth on our way to heaven (Hebrews 11:13), and our Lord’s kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). Since we are sent as ambassadors, we can surmise that this world is an imperial province, a hostile territory that is in rebellion against our Leader. The role of the ambassador is to represent someone else and speak that person’s message. We are called to reflect the character of God in our everyday lives, serving as visual representations of the one who sent us. 

 

And we have been called to deliver a message. That is why Paul said God is “making His appeal through us.” Jesus told the disciples that He was calling them as witnesses to testify to the things they had heard and seen (Matthew 28:18-20). Unlike the Roman ambassadors of yesteryear, we come on behalf of a benevolent King. Our purpose is to tell the world that there is a God who loves them and sent His Son to make a way for them to be adopted into His family. 

 

The final things Paul said is that our message is to implore the world to be reconciled to God. Citizens of this imperial province are at odds with God, but through Jesus, they can be reconciled. The relationship can be rectified, and their souls can be saved. Will you accept your post as an Ambassador for Almighty God?  

Saturday, August 21, 2021

If Tombs Could Talk

 


Wouldn’t it be nice if tombs could talk? I would love to hear what that empty tomb would say about the very brief time that it held the body of Jesus. Here is what I believe that tomb would tell us, if only tombs could talk: 

 

I had heard of Jesus, He was all the talk in town;

I was glad He was condemned, glad to see He was going down.

They say He was a blasphemer, that He claimed to be the Christ,

He got what He deserved; He deserved to lose His life.

But He is not here. He is risen. 

 

They rolled away my stone and brought His body inside;

I expected a celebration, but Joseph only cried.

“Strange,” I thought, “to mourn over this liar,

He claimed to be God in the flesh, that He was equal with the Father.”

But He is not here. He is risen.

 

I was proud to do my duty, keeping watch over this body.

No one would ever see Him again because they couldn’t get inside me.

But before I knew what happened, on the morning of day three,

This Jesus sat right up, and then walked right out of me!

Now He is not here. He is risen.

 

Then an angel came and rolled away my stone;

Some women came, and then some men, and found His body gone.

I only had one job— to keep a dead man’s corpse inside,

What was I supposed to do when the corpse came back to life?

He is not here. He is risen.

 

I used to count it an honor to guard a criminal’s body;

Now I have a bigger honor, to share my testimony.

When people come and check me out they never leave the same,

They might walk in a skeptic, but they leave praising Jesus’ name.

Because He is not here. He is risen.  

 

I changed the life of James and Jesus’ other brother Jude;

They didn’t believe that He was God until they walked inside my tomb.

Or the man who persecuted believers, known as Paul, and sometimes Saul,

One look at the risen Lord, now the greatest missionary of all.

Because He is not here. He is risen.

 

I was once a skeptic, but now I have no doubt;

I saw His body laying here, and I watched Him walk right out.

Maybe you’re a skeptic. He will do the same for you.

You will never be the same when you see the empty tomb.

For He is not here. He is risen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Shark Week

 

 

It was Shark Week on Discovery Channel again, so you know what that means: cool shark footage, and evolution. We can’t watch TV anymore without being bombarded by references to billions of years or other Darwinian “facts.” If we aren’t careful we can play into their hands, hearing these comments from scientists so often that we just assume they are true and our well-meaning religious friends just don’t understand science. But if we learn how to think for ourselves, we can push back against matter-of-fact statements about Darwinism. 

 

For example, while watching a special on sharks I heard the narrator make a strange comment of this shark’s digestive system. He said that sharks cannot digest fish, so they evolved a special system to allow them to do so. That was it. He said it like we know that is how it happened. We are supposed to think, “Wow, its awesome how it evolved itself the ability to eat,” and we chalk that up to survival of the fittest. If the shark didn’t evolve a keen digestive tract, it wouldn’t have survived. 

 

But here was my immediate question: how did the earliest sharks live long enough to evolve this special digestive ability? If it couldn’t eat, it would have been dead in days. Evolution is supposed to be a slow, gradual process (so slow, in fact, that we have absolutely no evidence of it ever happening—no missing links, no transitions, etc.). The first sharks would have starved to death before they could have evolved a functioning digestive system. 

 

This idea is what led Professor Michael Behe to coin the term “irreducible complexity” in his groundbreaking book Darwin’s Black Box. His argument was that many things could not have evolved through small, successive changes because they require a certain number of fully working parts in order to exist. Behe used a mousetrap as an example. One cannot start with a block of wood and catch some mice, then add a spring and catch a few more, then add a metal bar and catch even more; we can reduce the number of necessary parts down to a minimum, but there are a certain number of working parts that must work all at once, or it doesn’t work at all.  

 

The shark could not evolve itself a brain today, a heart tomorrow, and a digestive system next week; if each of those components are not working at the same time, the shark could not live. It sounds simple when the evolutionist bluntly says that the shark evolved itself a functioning digestive system, but that doesn’t make it true. That actually defies science and common sense. Instead, we can look at the same piece of data—the shark has a digestive system perfectly suited for his diet of fish—and come to a much more logical conclusion: an Intelligent Designer gave the shark exactly what it needed in order to survive. That defies neither science nor reason.

 

“So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.’ And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day (Genesis 1:21-23).”

 

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Heads and Tails

 

 

 

“Which one should we choose?” “I don’t know; let’s flip a coin.” Have you ever decided something that way? Flipping a coin is a handy way of deciding on (unimportant) decisions because the coin has precisely two sides. There is heads, and there is tails. Before flipping the coin we can say, “Heads its yes, tails its no.” With each flip it is heads OR tails. When even the magic eight ball occasionally says, “Unsure at this time,” flipping a coin gives you a definite response. 

 

A coin has two distinct sides, which helps when flipping it, but the coin has a shortfall. Because it is two sided, we are left only able to see one side at a time. Pick up a penny and admire Abraham Lincoln, but if you want to see his memorial, you must flip the coin and lose Lincoln’s face. It is one or the other, and never both sides at once. If you want to study a coin, you must look at one side at the expense of the other. Pick a side and go all in. 

 

Sometimes we feel like we must make similar monolithic choices when it comes to doctrine. The Bible holds many concepts in seeming contradiction. Do we preach grace or do we preach truth? Is God merciful or is He just? Is Jesus the Son of God or the Son of Man? We treat these paradoxical concepts as if they are separate sides of a coin, and we must pick a side to the exclusion of the other. 

 

One pastor will focus on God’s grace, giving the impression that it matters not what an individual does, while the other puts his focus on truth, preaching law to the extent that no one ever feels good enough. One concentrates on heads, the other on tails. Or we present God as Mr. Mercy, taking a laissez faire approach to our life, indifferent to what we do because He forgives everything; then another presents God as Judge Justice, who holds a gavel in His holy hand, waiting to declare us guilty. We emphasize the divinity of Jesus to the point that we cannot conceive of Him actually being tempted to sin or discouraged when He was rejected. Others so emphasize His humanity that they forget He is coequal with the Father and Spirit. 

 

Is there a better way to grapple with these two sided coins in the Bible? I believe there is. The answer is the Bible itself. God’s Word “is a lamp unto my feet, a light unto my path (Psalm 119:105).” Not only does Scripture illuminate the path of life for us, it also helps us see like a mirror. Using that analogy, James wrote, “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing (1:23-25).”

 

How can we look at both sides of a coin at the same time? The only way is to hold the coin up to a mirror. We can see Lincoln looking back at us, and we can look past his face and see his memorial. God’s Word, like a mirror, helps us see both sides of the same coin. We can learn to hold grace and truth in perfect balance. In Scripture mercy and justice are reconciled. Jesus is the God-Man. These concepts are not at odds with each other, they complement each other.

 

There is no need to flip a coin to decide what we believe. It is not heads OR tails, but heads AND tails.  

 

Saturday, July 31, 2021

The Joy of Learning

 

 

Learning is an amazing part of life. When we were children in school we couldn’t wait until summer break, and ultimately graduation, because we wanted to be finished with learning. Sitting still and listening to the teacher was often a tough task, and we just wanted to go to the playground. As we age, we learn that we still learn. 

 

Learning is a good thing. It is not simply the acquisition knowledge, but the process of learning that adds flavor to life. We may enjoy learning in different ways; some are more hands on while others enjoy a lecture or reading, but we all should enjoy learning. Martin Luther once said, “If God had all the answers in His right hand, and the struggle to reach those answers in His left, I would choose God’s left hand.”  

 

Wouldn’t it be nice to just have our heads automatically filled with everything we need to know? When our operating systems need an update, they seemingly magically are given all the new data they once lacked. But we do not acquire knowledge that way. As Luther stated, we receive it through struggling, often through experience and trial and error. We learn by putting in some work. We need some skin in the game. The joy of learning something should be equal parts learning what we now know, and the process of finding it out. 

 

There is so much about God that we don’t know, but spending our lives trying to learn about Him makes life enjoyable. I learn something new about God when I see a flower or butterfly I didn’t know existed. I learn something new about God when I feel His presence during difficult times. I learn something new about God when I hear a person give a testimony to a miracle that took place in their life. 

 

In Psalm 25:5 David sang, “Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.” If we are open to it, God is always teaching us. We do not sit in a classroom, but if we opened our eyes we would notice there are little lessons being taught every day. 

 

We learn in bite sized chunks. It takes twelve years to make it through each grade in school, and several more for any higher learning. We learn the alphabet before we learn to read, and we learn how to add and subtract before we learn algebra. In the same way, God doesn’t fill our head with all there is to know about Him because we learn a little at a time, the way it should be. When the finite tries to understand the infinite, this is the best we can hope for.   

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Blessed be God

 


 

If you spend much time in church or listening to Christian radio, you will no doubt hear the phrase “blessed be the Lord” or “blessed be God.” The word blessed, in this context, means to be praised (this is a different word than in the beatitudes). The Greek word for blessed gives us our English word eulogy, which we use to refer to the message at a funeral when one speaks well of the deceased. In fact, Kenneth Wuest’s Greek translation of the New Testament says, “Eulogized be God.” 

 

God should be praised. And yet this key phrase is only found three times in the New Testament. We might expect to see it more often, but I believe those three occurrences are just enough. Here is why:

 

Ephesians 1:3-4 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.” This usage of the phrase speaks of what God has done for us in the past, when He chose us before the foundation of the world. 

 

II Corinthians 1:3-4 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” This passage speaks of our present; when we need comfort, God provides it.  

 

I Peter 1:3-4 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you.” This speaks of the future when we receive our eternal inheritance in the eternal state. 

 

Although the phrase “blessed be God” only appears three times, it is the perfect amount because it covers the past, present, and future. We praise God because of what He has done, what He currently does, and what He will do. Let God be praised for our salvation, our comfort when we are struggling, and our future home in heaven. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!

 

Sunday, July 18, 2021

The Clarity of the Bible



 

One of the great, yet often overlooked doctrines to arise from the Protestant Reformation was the belief in the clarity of Scripture (known as the doctrine of perspicuity among theologians). The world into which Martin Luther cut his teeth theologically was one in which only the religious elite were allowed to discus the meaning of the Bible. This elevation of scholasticism over the commoners in society created two class of believers: the clergy, who were permitted to talk about God, and the laity, who could only hope to be fed spoonfuls of the Gospel during the weekly service. 

 

Luther rebelled against this heresy. Being a highly educated man himself, Luther believed that the more people read the Bible for themselves, the better off they would be. He detested those who lived in their spiritual ivory towers, who turned the message of salvation into a secret reserved for those in their exclusive club. Luther was greatly aided by the advent of the printing press, and he published and distributed pamphlets as quickly as he could. One such work was given the rather lengthy title “Defense of all the Articles of M. Luther Condemned by the Latest Bull of [Pope] Leo X.” The very thought of publishing a “defense” that the common man could read was an outrage to the religious ruling class. Especially infuriated by this pamphlet was Desiderius Erasmus, a Roman Catholic scholar. 

 

Erasmus put out his own pamphlet condemning Luther. In his words, the pope and bishops were responsible for having doctrinal discussions, and it was not “proper to prostitute them before common ears,” as Luther had done. Now five hundred years later, Luther has been decided as the winner in this debate. The clarity of Scripture is an important doctrine. Brad Klassen has defined clarity as, “that quality of the biblical text that, as God’s communicative act, ensures its meaning is accessible to all who come to it in faith.” Clarity is tied to inspiration; just as we believe that the Holy Spirit inspired the Bible to give us a flawless instruction manual, we also believe that He has given us a text that we can all understand. The Bible is clear. 

 

As Christians, we are indwelled by the Holy Spirit, and He illuminates the text so that we can understand it, but even the unbeliever not yet filled with the Spirit can read John 3:16 and be led to salvation. There are certainly passages that are a little more difficult than others; some are plain on their face, while some require a little bit of digging. But those so-called problem passages do not negate the doctrine of clarity.

 

Some still argue against clarity today, taking the side of Erasmus of old. This creates a problem, for if the Bible is not clear, then we need an outside source to shine light on it. Critics of the Bible are essentially ascribing greater clarity to something else. They will say that the opinion of the learned carries more weight than a blue collar believer. Luther’s position is that the Average Joe can understand Scripture just as well as Reverend Joe. Many in this class of clergy will say that they have special understanding of Scripture, so you might thinkyou know what the Bible says, but they actually know, so at the end of the day, they are to be trusted, not you. 

 

I believe Peter settled the debate between Luther and Erasmus, and between the clergy and laity, when he wrote, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (I Peter 2:9).” 

 

Did you get that? The church—whether clergy or lay, is part of a royal priesthood. Luther called this the priesthood of all believers. The Bible was given to us so that we can all understand it, whether young or old, educated or not. If you are a skeptic, open the Bible to the book of John and begin to read. If you are a believer, make sure you are reading too. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t comprehend the Bible, because it is a book of clarity. 

 

 

Sunday, July 11, 2021

The Bible as Foundation

 


 

As a Bible believer, I make my decisions based on God’s Word. I believe the Bible is completely true and free from error. The Bible is inspired, it is living and active, it is profitable, and it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes. 

 

Because of this biblical worldview, the Bible is the place to start when making decisions or when telling someone about the Lord. But some object to this on the grounds that, since unbelievers don’t believe the Bible, then we should use other sources to convince them when we are talking about God. I understand that sentiment, but I reject it. 

 

I realize that it might sound like circular logic to tell someone that Jesus is the Son of God “because the Bible says so,” and they should believe the Bible because “the Bible says it is God’s Word.” But here are two things to consider. First, when making a defense of what we believe, we always start with that which holds the most authority. If you start with personal experience, common sense, scientific data, quotes from philosophers, or anything else, that becomes your authority. Starting with the Bible communicates to the other person how much weight the Bible holds in your life. If the Bible is the third or fourth source you cite, you are showing that it isn’t that important to you.  

 

I like how Michael Vlach once put it: “But if another source [besides the Bible] becomes the standard for determining whether the Bible is true, then the battle is lost at step one…The unbeliever is called to obey the Word of the Creator, not sit in judgment over it.” 

 

But the second reason I believe in using the Bible to reach unbelievers is that it is exactly what Paul did. In the city of Lystra the people tried to worship Paul and Barnabas, believing the missionaries were incarnations of their gods. In Acts 14 we read, “But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard this, they tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude, crying out and saying, ‘Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them (v.14-15).’”

 

Paul’s first instinct was to appeal to the living as God, who was the creator of heaven and earth, an obvious reference to Genesis 1:1. These pagans were not familiar with the Old Testament scrolls, yet that is where Paul began his defense. For the record, I am a firm believer in apologetics. Things mentioned above—science, philosophy, common sense, and even personal experience—can all be used to defend what we believe, but I urge you to always begin with the Scriptures, which should be our highest authority. 

 

It is not philosophy that is living and active, sharper than a two-edged sword. That is the Bible (Hebrews 4:12).

It is not science that is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction. That is the Bible (II Timothy 3:16).

It is not personal experience that is “God-breathed.” That is the Bible (II Timothy 3:16).

It is not common sense that is the power of God that brings salvation. That, too, is the Bible (Romans 1:16). 

 

It was never more simple than when as children we sang, 

The B-I-B-L-E, yes that’s the book for me. 

I stand alone on the Word of God, the B-I-B-L-E!

 

 

Saturday, July 3, 2021

How Much Did Jesus Learn?



 

Did Jesus have an unfair advantage over us? We sometimes speculate as to what it was like for Jesus when He was being raised by Mary and Joseph. Even the concept of Jesus being raised is hard to grasp; did the one who raised the dead need to be raised? 

 

We know He was perfect. Scripture makes that clear, for He “was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15).” But did Jesus emerge from the womb with divine awareness of all things, or was He closer to ordinary? When talking about his Christmas hit song “Mary Did You Know?” Mark Lowry said, “The one who spoke the world into existence was now uttering unintelligible baby noises.” As much fun as it is to daydream about God in the flesh using his divine abilities in His adolescence, we have no reason to believe that Jesus was anything other than a normal child developmentally as He learned to crawl, then walk, then run. He fell and cried, He skinned His knee, and sometimes He didn’t like His dinner. 

 

We get the impression sometimes that if Jesus played baseball with the neighborhood kids in Nazareth, He only hit home runs, when in reality, He would have struck out at times too. As a young carpenter, He probably hit His thumb with a hammer, and made a chair that wobbled. 

 

We might think Jesus had an unfair advantage over us because He knew Scripture perfectly. He is the Word, after all. Quoting Scripture to the devil? Piece of cake. Those were His own words spoken 4,000 years earlier. If we were Jesus we could do that too. 

 

But not so fast. In his essay titled “Jesus’ Submission to Holy Scripture,” Ian Hamilton wrote, “We must guard against thinking Jesus short-circuited the normal human process of maturation…Jesus’ understanding of the content of Scripture, and the inherent authority embedded in the content of Scripture, did not come to Him all at once. His knowledge of God’s Word was not supernaturally implanted in His DNA in the womb of the Virgin Mary.” 

 

Think about it: Luke tells us Jesus “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men (2:52).” Jesus increased in wisdom? Doesn’t this necessarily imply that there was some wisdom He initially lacked? The author of Hebrews wrote in 5:8 that Jesus “learned obedience” (this does not mean He was ever disobedient, but that He had to learn the rules of right and wrong). 

Please don’t think I am trying to strip Jesus of His divinity. But in truth He beat me to it as He willingly laid aside some aspects of His God-ness. Paul wrote that Jesus “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:7).” Just a year ago I wrote a column titled “God Can’t Learn” where I argued that it is impossible for an omniscient God to learn anything, and yet now I argue that Jesus had to do exactly that. Jesus laid aside aspects of His divine nature in order to save us. The substitution demanded that Jesus be like us. A God is too far away to save us, and a man is too close to save us, so Jesus became the God-Man.  

 

As Hamilton concluded in his essay, if Jesus did not have to learn, then “His humanity would not be our humanity.” If Jesus had an unfair leg up on us, then He didn’t truly become like us, and would not have been an eligible substitute. 

 

Jesus knew Scripture because He put in the work to commit it to memory, and there is no reason we cannot do the same. 

Sunday, June 27, 2021

The Name God Calls You

 

All parents have instructed their children not to call people names. And I imagine that all parents have had their kids come tell on another kid: “He called me a name!” Although it might not be expressly said, it is implied that we mean not to call someone a negative name. When children call each other things like dumb or weird, it obviously hurts that child’s feelings and makes them think they are disliked or inferior. If that child were to be called cool or awesome, it has a completely different effect. 

 

Sometimes God calls people names. For example, Jesus famously called one of his disciples “The Rock” (Peter) when everyone else called him Simon. That nickname inspired Simon to step up to the plate and lead the apostles and the early church. But I want to focus on another name that God called someone. Although his parents named him Gideon, and the Israelites later nicknamed him Jerubbaal, God called him by another name: “And the angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, ‘The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor (Judges 6:12).’” 

 

Mighty man of valor. What member of the male species would not want to be known by such a moniker? From the beginning of time men have gone to great lengths to demonstrate their valor, usually with the intent of getting a lady to notice. But Gideon doesn’t seem to have been one of those guys. An Alpha Male, Gideon was not. In fact, when the Lord appears to him, Gideon is “beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites (v.8).” Wheat was not threshed in a winepress under ordinary circumstances. The process involved using a winnowing fork to throw the piles of wheat and chaff into the air and allowing the wind to drive away the useless chaff, while the heavier wheat fell to the ground. An enclosed winepress would not allow this process to happen easily. 

 

So why was Gideon threshing wheat in a winepress? The text tells us he was hiding his wheat from the Midians. Israel had been oppressed for seven years, and “whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them (v.3)” to steal their produce. Gideon was hiding because he was afraid, and yet God calls him a mighty man of valor. He doesn’t look like a man of valor; he doesn’t even look like a man! 

 

Gideon was not wearing an NRA hat and waving a Don’t Tread on Me flag in his yard. He was quivering in his cave, hoping the bullies wouldn’t see him and take his lunch money. He was not looking to deliver the nation or lead a revolution. He just wanted to gather his wheat and make it safely back home. 

 

Even after God called him a mighty man of valor Gideon chose to carry out his first assignment under the cover of darkness. Then he wanted a sign from God. Then another one. He doesn’t look mighty, and he is fresh out of valor. But one chapter later this converted coward leads an army of 300 to victory over an army of 135,000. Despite being outnumbered 450 to 1, this mighty man of valor steps up to the plate, just like Simon turning into a Rock. 

 

I’m glad that God calls us names. More importantly, I’m glad He calls us by what He knows we can become, not by what we are right now.