Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Like a Seven Year Old with a Chainsaw

But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
Genesis 2:20b-25

I think that flying an airplane would be awesome! I mean can you imagine getting behind the wheel of this little single engine plane and flying it. Being thousands of feet up in the air and being able to make that plane do loops and flips and all kinds of things. I can only imagine how awesome that must be. Flying an airplane is awesome because airplanes are so powerful. The power is what makes it awesome. Think about using a chainsaw. If you have ever used a chainsaw you know how awesome it can be to cut right through a tree. It is the power that makes it awesome. Using a handsaw to bring a tree down isn't nearly as fun. The same power that makes these things great also makes them dangerous when they aren't used the way they were intended to be used. You wouldn’t put a ten year old in an airplane, show her how to work the pedals and the steering wheel, then start the plane and walk away so she could have fun. Nor would you take a seven year old out and show him how to pull run a chainsaw then start it up and tell him to play with it. You wouldn't do that because you know that these things are awesome and powerful and amazingly fun when used the way they were created to be used. But, because they are so powerful, when they are used in ways that they were not created to be used, they can destroy lives. Sex is the same way. Sex is such an awesome and powerful gift that it needs boundaries for our safety.

The above passage of Scripture is the fountainhead of our understanding of what boundaries God has placed on sex. It doesn't seem like much at first glance, but there is quite a lot in there. First, we have to note the obvious. God made men and women and he made our bodies to work in a certain way. In other words, God created sex! And by looking at Adam and Eve we see a great picture of how God intended sex to be used. You have a husband and a wife having sex with only one another. The passage also indicates that sex works in a powerful way. It takes two people and joins them together so that they are one. This is not just a physical union. Sex bonds two people together in deeply emotional and spiritual ways. This bond is meant to last forever. Jesus says, “So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” (Matt 19:6). Some of you may be thinking, yeah but Adam and Eve weren’t married. Well, they didn’t go to a church and get a preacher to marry them, but they were married. You see our wedding ceremonies signify a man and woman being joined to one another by God. God was there. He gave Eve to Adam. He married them personally. So they did have a wedding, it was just different from ours.

Nowhere does the Bible teach any other model for sex outside of one man, and one woman having sex after marriage and only with each other. The Bible reports that med did different things. It reports that men married more than one woman. It tells the people of Israel what they are supposed to do when a man and woman are caught having sex when they aren’t married, but it never promotes these things. These are the boundaries that God created for sex. Within them, sex is powerful and fulfilling and enjoyable. Outside of these boundaries, sex can be devastating. (More on that next week.)

So right off the bat we can see that God is for sex. He created it. He even commands Adam and Eve to procreate (Genesis 1:28). He told them to have kids…God commanded them to have sex. Not only did He create it and command them to do it, but God created sex so that it would be pleasurable. He didn’t have to do that. God made sex fun for us! God is not against us having sex. Sex is His gift to us, but He has put boundaries on sex in order to ensure that it is used the way He created it to be used so that we do not hurt ourselves.

All of this means that you have a choice. Only you can make the choice of whether or not you are going to follow God’s plan for sex and teach your kids to do the same or if you will follow the world and have sex without boundaries. Because so many of us have sinned in this area it is important to remember that we serve a God who is in the business of putting lives back together. I John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” God is a God of forgiveness. You can get a fresh start, but even then there are consequences for our actions.  

For further reading...
  • Leviticus 18- Check out the Old Testament laws regarding sex. There are some good boundaries here. It's kind of sad that God had to tell us some of this stuff.
  • Leviticus 20:10-21- God places some pretty strict punishments on transgressing His boundaries for sex. We must remember that these punishments are given within the context of the old covenant. They do teach us how serious our sin is, but the specific punishments no longer apply under the new covenant. Christ has taken our punishment upon Himself.
  • Matthew 19:3-9- Check out the boundaries Jesus puts on divorce. Sex really is meant to bond two people together for life.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Remember those in prison

Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.
Hebrews 13:3

Youcef Nadarkhani is a 34 year old pastor in Iran. He was arrested in October of 2009 after protesting a government policy that requires his two sons (8 & 9) to study the Quran in school. Secret police called him before a tribunal and arrested him. His charges were later amended to include apostasy and evangelism of Muslims. Youcef was tried in September of 2010 and sentenced to death for apostasy.

He has been imprisoned in Lakan prison where authorities have used various methods, including medication, to convert him back to Islam. He has refused to deny Christ. In fact, at least three times during court proceedings Youcef has refused to secure his own release by recanting his Christian faith. After Youcef refused to convert, his wife was arrested, put on trial without an attorney and sentenced to life in prison. She was later released after an attorney was able to make an appeal.

Youcef will remain in prison for at least one more year. The presiding judge ordered authorities to keep Youcef in prison using whatever means necessary to force him to recant his Christian faith and convert to Islam.

Many of us don't realize how common it is for Christians around the world to be persecuted, imprisoned, and even tortured for their faith. The myth that this type of thing doesn't happen anymore is unfortunately just that, a myth. It has been estimated that more Christians were martyred in the 20th Century than in all the prior 1,900 years combined.* Brothers and sisters in Christ all over the world will lay their head down tonight in a prison cell because they refuse to reject Christ, because they refuse to stop telling others about His grace. "In more than 40 nations around the world today Christians are being persecuted for their faith. In some of these nations it is illegal to own a Bible, to share Christ, change your faith or teach your children about Jesus."** In spite of all this, men and women, boys and girls across the globe continue to faithfully follow after Jesus because they are convinced that He is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). They are real heroes of the faith who live out the truth of Luke 9:23-26 everyday.
Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.  

Today, let them challenge you to a closer walk with your Savior and Lord. And more than that put Hebrews 13:3 into practice today. Spend five minutes in prayer for the persecuted church. Remember, "the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective" (James 5:16).

For further reading...
  • - This is a ministry of Voice of the Martyrs. It gives stories of specific Christians and pastors around the world who are being persecuted for their faith so that you can pray for them. They also have information on how you can write letters to them in prison to encourage them. They translate phrases for you so you can print them off and mail them overseas to these precious believers.
  • This is the prayer page for Voice of the Martyrs. It has prayer requests and praises for the persecuted church globally.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

How we got the New Testament

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

John 14:26

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.
John 16:13-14

Tracking the development of the New Testament is not as easy as doing so for the Old Testament because a lot of the books in the New Testament were actually letters that were written to people, churches, or groups of churches in different parts of the world. They were not all written to one people in one location like the Old Testament was. But similar to the Old Testament, the New Testament begins not with a book being written but with the very words of God. 

The New Testament begins with the words of Jesus. Although Christ didn't write anything down Himself, the words He spoke were later written and compiled into books by His disciples. Now I know some of you are thinking, 'How can we be sure we have Jesus actual words?' Scripture tells us that Christ provided for that. In John 14:26 Jesus promises His disciples that the Holy Spirit will come upon them after His death and will remind them of everything He had said to them. Though it is not explicit in the text, it seems clear in retrospect that the Spirit was to do this in order to enable the disciples (later known as Apostles) to write the New Testament books with accuracy. Of course, the New Testament includes theology and teaching that is not attributed to Jesus Himself, but Jesus also hints at this development. In both John 14:26 and 16:13-14 Christ informs His disciples that the Spirit would not only remind them of what He said but that He would also teach new things, things yet to come.

As best as we can determine Jesus was crucified sometime around 30 AD. We believe that the last book of the Bible to be written (which coincidentally is Revelation) was written around 95 AD. (There is some disagreement on this last point but I believe 95 AD makes the most sense.) But it took some time for all of the New Testament books and letters to be gathered into one collection. There was a good deal of agreement early on. Individual churches that had a book or letter from one of the Apostles would not only read it in their own worship services as Scripture but would also circulate it around to the other churches so they could make copies. We even have a few places in the New Testament where one of the other New Testament books is quoted as Scripture. See II Peter 3:15-16 and I Timothy 5:17-18 (this second one is a melding of Deuteronomy 25:4 and Luke 10:7). As was true in the Old Testament however, there were other books written as well around this time about Jesus which the churches did not believe to be Scripture, so how did the churches decide which books and letters were Scripture and which were not?

They had some criteria for canonicity (or criteria for making it into the New Testament collection). First, the book needed to be written by an Apostle or a known associate of one of the Apostles. Considering the passages above, this makes sense doesn't it? The Holy Spirit had especially equipped the Apostles for writing Scripture, plus they were the ones who had witnessed Jesus' earthly life so they were the ones who could rightly pass His teaching on. Second, the content of the book or letter must conform to Old Testament Scripture. Since all Scripture is true, it does not contradict itself. Therefore, if a book was written about Jesus which contradicted teachings of the Old Testament, then it was not accepted as Scripture. Third, the way in which the church at large used and viewed the book was given weight. It is important to make a distinction here. The Roman Catholic Church believes that the church stands in authority over the Bible. Protestant churches do not believe this. Scripture is the ultimate and final authority. Thus, at no time did the early church vote to make a book Scripture. They merely tried to establish from the Holy Spirit's leading which books were already Scripture and which books were not. In the Protestant view the church does not have the authority to make something Scripture, only to recognize whether or not God has done so. 

Some books in the New Testament were more quickly recognized than others. Because they were not written by Apostles the church took longer to reach a consensus on Mark, Luke, Acts, Hebrews, and Jude. In 367 AD Athanasius sent out his annual Easter letter and included a list of New Testament books which exactly matches our 27 books of the New Testament. By 397 AD this full list of 27 was widely accepted enough to be approved at the Council of Carthage. 

All of this is a helpful reminder that we do not stand above Scripture. Scripture stands above us. I know that I am fallible. I make mistakes. I am sometimes wrong. Scripture on the other hand is never wrong. It is perfectly true and without error. This is not true because my logic tells me it is, it is true regardless of what I think. I accept Scripture as true because it is true. It is not made true because I agree with it. As silly as that sounds it has very important application in our culture. Right now America disagrees with the Bible on a number of issues, and since none of us are above the influence of the thoughts and paradigms of our time, chances are that (whether we know it or not) you and I disagree with the Bible on some issues. The question is this, when you read something in the Bible that your reason tells you is wrong what will you choose to believe, the Bible or your own logic? It is hard for us to submit our reason to the Bible, because we think we are right. But if we really believe that the Bible is without error, then we must submit ourselves to it as a teacher. The Bible is right, even when I want to disagree with it.

For further reading...
- Every so often someone will bring up the other books that were written around the time of Jesus as though they are a newly found. Perhaps Time magazine will run a cover on them like they do damage to the Bible. This is not the case. The church has been aware of their existence from the beginning. They simply did not pass the tests to be considered Scripture. For many (if not all) of these book it is obvious why they were not counted as Scripture. Here are some examples:
  • Gospel of Thomas: Verse 114- "Simon Peter said to him, 'Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life.' Jesus said, 'I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.'
  •  The Infancy Gospel of Thomas: Verse 2.1, 2.2, 3, & 3.1- "And the son of Annas the scribe had come with Joseph. And taking a willow twig, he destroyed the pools and drained out the water which Jesus had gathered together. And he dried up their gatherings. And Jesus, seeing what had happened, said to him, 'Your fruit (shall be) without root and your shoot shall be dried up like a branch scorched by a strong wind.' And instantly that child withered. While he was going from there with his father Joseph, a child running tore into his shoulder. And Jesus said to him, 'You shall no longer go our way.' And instantly he died. At once the people, seeing that he was dead, cried out and said, 'Where was this boy born that his word becomes a deed?'"
- And in case this makes you wonder about the Apocrypha (books from the Old Testament era that Protestants deny are Scriptural) here are some quotes on heretical teachings found in it as well. (Quotes taken from Robert Saucy's book footnoted below).
  • Sirach 33:26- "For a wicked slave there are racks and tortures."
  • Sirach 22:3- "The birth of a daughter is a loss."
  • Sirach 42:14- "Better is the wickedness of a man than a woman who does good."
  • Tobit 12:9- "Almsgiving saves from death, and purges away every sin."

*I have leaned heavily on notes from my Systematic Theology I class taken at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville Kentucky with Dr. Bruce Ware in 2008 and on Robert Saucy's Scripture: It's Power, Authority, and Relevance.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

How we got the Old Testament

When the LORD finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the covenant law, the tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God.
Exodus 31:18

Last week we started talking about how the Bible came together. It's amazing how little our churches teach us about this extremely important part of our faith. I'm convinced that many Christians think God just dropped the Bible off to us all at once, not unlike how young children used to thing that a stork dropped babies off in a bundle at the front door. The truth is much more complicated but also much more glorious than if God had simply dropped the Bible in our laps. The Bible was written by dozens of authors over 1,500 years as God slowly revealed Himself and His plan of redemption in greater and greater ways. In this regard then we must think about the Bible developing over time into the collection of books that we have today. We must learn to distinguish between God's revelation and His written revelation  however. God has been revealing Himself to us since creation, but written revelation began much later.

Most of us want to think that the creation story was the first part of the Bible to be written, but in actuality this story and the book of Genesis as a whole were not written as the events which they contain happened. Instead, they were written by Moses later in his life. The very first written revelation of God to mankind was actually inscribed by the finger of God on tablets of stone- The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20 & 31:18). These tablets were cherished and preserved by being placed in the Ark of the Covenant (Deuteronomy 10:5). It wasn't until later that more writings were added  to them first by Moses (Deuteronomy 31:24-26) and then by his successor Joshua (Joshua 24:26). It is significant for us to note that in Deuteronomy 4:2 Moses clearly commands the people not to add or take away from the word of God. Thus, Moses must have believed that he had been called by God to write these books and include them in the Scriptures. Throughout the history of Israel God continued to call prophets to write portions of their visions and their dealings with God and God's dealings with His people. These were understood to be inspired works and were included in the collection of Scripture which continued to grow over time (I Samuel 10:25I Chronicles 29:29, II Chronicles 32:32, Jeremiah 30:2, etc...).

What we don't exactly know, however, is how the people of Israel determined which writings were fit to be considered Scripture and which were not. It is fair to assume that the evidence of the work of the Spirit in the author's life made this task much simpler than it sounds. Consider the prophet Jeremiah for example. He was recognized by all the people as a prophet of the Lord. When he spoke a word from God it came true. The Spirit of God was evident in His life. It was obvious to the people that when Jeremiah said God had told him to say or do something, he could be trusted. Thus, his life and the power of the Spirit in his life bore testimony to the truthfulness of his writings.

The Old Testament collection of Scripture continued to grow until around 435 BC which is when the book of Malachi was completed. After this time prophecy ceased for more than 400 years in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. God was silent. Books were written during this period but they were not and are not Scripture. They were books written by men alone regarding important historical and spiritual events. These books are called the Apocrypha. This is one place where Catholic and Protestant Christians differ. The Apocrypha is included in the Catholic Bible and is treated as Scripture. Protestants however, believe that these books give important historical insight but are not inspired by God. Protestants denied these books inclusion into the Old Testament for several reasons.
  1. The Jews never considered the apocryphal books to be Scripture.
  2. The apocryphal books do not claim to be inspired by God.
  3. Some of the apocryphal books contain heretical teachings which contradict other Scriptures.
  4. The Apocrypha is never, not even once, quoted as Scripture in the New Testament.
Thus, although we do not know exactly how the Old Testament collection of books took shape, we do know where it started and where it ended. In addition, we also have a sense of how the Jewish people may have determined the validity of a book claiming to be inspired by God.

Certainly this post is more instructional than devotional in content, yet even here there are helpful reminders for the believer. First, we are reminded that we know God only because He chooses to reveal Himself to us.  What a great and precious gift the Father gives to His children in showing them more of Himself. Second, as we look at the Old Testament and watch God's plan of redemption unfold we are reminded that none of us could have guessed that this would have come to culmination in Jesus. Jesus is simply too good for us to anticipate. No doubt He is on every page of the Old Testament, but just as God's ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:8) so His plan of redemption is beyond our grasp until he chooses to reveal it to us. So too in our own personal walk with the Lord it is often impossible for us to guess where He is leading us, but as we look at His track record we ought to choose to trust our Lord. We ought to follow Him for surely His plan comes to  a more glorious end than even we can guess.

For further reading...
  • Exodus 20- Take a fresh look at the Ten Commandments in their context.
  • Ezekiel 2-3- Check out how serious being called to be a prophet was. Pay special attention to 3:16-21.
  • Jeremiah 1- Jeremiah's call to be a prophet.

*I have leaned heavily on notes from my Systematic Theology I class taken at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville Kentucky with Dr. Bruce Ware in 2008 and on Robert Saucy's Scripture: It's Power, Authority, and Relevance.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Mommy, where do babies come from?

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. 
2 Peter 1:20-21

"Where do babies come from?" This is a question that every parent dreads, but one which eventually they need to answer (if they want to have grandkids they do anyway). But seriously it is important for our children, as they reach an appropriate age, to understand not only where babies come from but also where they came from. Eventually all kids ask a question like this. It is almost like it is hard wired into our DNA to want to know how we got here. Interestingly enough there is a corollary question in Christianity which I think we don't ask nearly often enough. "Where does the Bible come from?"

Okay so maybe trying to connect those two questions is a little bit of a stretch but the Christian faith is unapologetically based on the Bible. If there was no Bible, chances are, you and I wouldn't be Christians. This question is especially important for mainline evangelical Christians who teach that the Bible is the inerrant (without error) word of God. For us, understanding how we got the word should be a standard part of our church program. But, as I already mentioned, we just don't seem to talk about it too much. So as I seek to encourage you (and myself) to spend more time in God's word, I think it is appropriate and helpful for us to spend a few weeks learning about God's amazing work in providing this Bible to us.

To that end, this week I want to briefly discuss what the Bible teaches us about how it was written. Some people like to think of the inspiration of Scripture in an either-or manner. Either the Bible is a divine book or it is a human book. If it is a human book then it was written by men and is subject to having errors in it. If it is a divine book then it was written by God and therefore has no errors. It is tempting to jump at this second option because it has a lot going for it. This view encompasses much that Christianity has historically taught to be true about the Bible and it seems to be in line with today's passages of Scripture. It certainly makes clear the truth that the Bible is God's word and God's wisdom. Further it draws attention to the mark of the divine that is so evident in the Bible's pages. Poetry and prose can move the human soul but no poetry and no prose has ever stirred the souls of men and women like the poetry and the prose of the Bible.

So what's the problem? The problem is that this view represents an oversimplified version of what the Bible teaches. Thinking of Biblical inspiration in this way you might imagine an angel leaning over the Biblical author whispering the words of God into his ear as though God dictated the Bible to its authors. Not only is it true that the Bible's teaching on its own inspiration does not go this far, but this does not seem to match up with the reader's experience with the Bible either. "The Bible contains 66 books, written in three languages over 1,500 years by dozens of authors" and while it all fits together as one cohesive whole it also contains great variety. The Bible does not read like a book that was dictated by one person (or God) to many scribes.* Rather, it reads like a book which was directed and inspired by God even as human authors made significant contributions to it. Each individual book of the Bible reflects the character and temperament of its author in addition to reflecting that divine mark which has already been mentioned. For this reason a third option is better. This third option shows that the written word of God reflects the nature of the incarnate Word Jesus in that it is 100% divine and 100% human. In other words, the Bible is a divine-human collaboration. We believe that God so inspired the human authors that every word they chose to write as they were "carried along by the Spirit" was the right word to choose. God so worked in the inspiration of the Bible that the entire Bible is without error but He chose to work in and through men as He did so. So under this understanding the Bible was both ordained by God and written by men.

This is helpful to know, but does it have any import for our lives? Well first of all you can rest assured that your Bible contains more than merely the words of men. It is truly the divinely inspired word of God that contains the very words of life. It deserves to be studied and cherished for it "is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." And secondly, we are reminded that the Bible is truly a historical book written by the men who actually experienced the things about which they wrote. Our God is a god who enters into history and uses men and women carried along by His power to accomplish His purposes to the end of advancing His kingdom in the world. He wants to do the same in your life. He is still calling people to advance His kingdom. He is still calling people to His work. He is still empowering them with His Spirit to accomplish far more than they could do on their own. And He is still using people as they are...their personalities and experiences to advance His kingdom. Are you willing to be directed by God and "carried along by the Spirit?"

For further reading...
  • John 1:1-18- Consider how the divine Word is like the written word of God.
  • Exodus 17:14- A helpful reminder that the Biblical authors wrote as they were directed to do so by God. 
  • Jeremiah 30:2- At times the Lord directed them to write the words of His prophecy verbatim. These examples would be considered exceptions to the general rule above. In these cases the prophecy was "dictated" to the prophets to be delivered verbatim to their listeners and written for future generations. Does the fact that the Bible clarifies that this is the case in certain places strengthen the overall argument that in general the Bible books were not dictated or does this weaken that argument?

*Doriani, Daniel. "Interpreting the Bible: An Introduction" in ESV Study Bible. Wheaton: Crossway Bibles, 2008: p. 2561.

**Also I have leaned heavily on notes from my Systematic Theology I class taken at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville Kentucky with Dr. Bruce Ware in 2008 and on Robert Saucy's Scripture: It's Power, Authority, and Relevance.