Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Why the Old Testament was Written

Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.
I Corinthians 10:11

When was the last time you read from the Old Testament? Did you dive into II Kings in your personal quiet time this morning? Is Lamentations your favorite book of the Bible? Probably not. But consider this, of the 66 books in the Bible, 39 or almost 60% are in the Old Testament. It covers nearly 2,000 years of God's dealings with His people while the New Testament covers less than 100. Not enough to convince you? How about this: the Old Testament is the only written Scripture that Jesus or His contemporaries had, yet we largely ignore it.

Most of us, when we do find time to pick up the Bible, tend to stay in the relatively familiar New Testament. It's less confusing and more accessible. Jesus is in it, and it's just... easier. But when we ignore the Old Testament altogether (either in our personal Bible study or in the church) we rob ourselves of an important gift God has given us.

In I Corinthians Paul reminds his readers of several Old Testament stories then tells them that these things took place as an example for us. The stories in the Old Testament are living illustrations. They show us how we ought to live and how we ought not to live. Moreover, Paul says that God saw fit to make sure these stories were written down for our instruction. We need all the help we can get to think rightly and make good decisions in this world. We simply can't afford to miss out on God's instruction for our lives. While there's no denying that the New Testament is at the heart of Christianity and that it probably even deserves to be read more than the Old Testament; when we ignore the Old Testament altogether and treat it as a lesser class of Scripture, then we doom ourselves to be ignorant of important lessons God has for us. 

So pick up your Bible and read from the Old Testament today. As you do, here are two pointers to guide your interpretation.
  1. Context- Because the Old Testament covers a time span of roughly 2,000 years, it's important to have some idea of the context surrounding what you're reading. A good study Bible like the ESV Study Bible will have introductions to each book to help you out with this.
  2. Literary Type- Pay attention to what type of literature you're reading. For example, books like Genesis are historical writings. In these books the authors' primary concern is recording what happened in a factual manner without commenting on the morality of specific actions. Be careful here! Just because the Bible faithfully records that something did happen, doesn't mean that God approves of the actions the men and women took in that story. Look for the times when God or the author breaks into the story to give their opinion. These asides help you to rightly understand the stories where no commentary is given.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Unveiled Faces

Whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would remove the veil, until he came out. And when he came out...the people of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses' face was shining.
Exodus 34:34-35

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
2 Corinthians 3:18

Christians have a unique privilege in this world. Once we were blinded by sin like everyone else, but now, by the power of God's Spirit, our eyes have been opened to see who God really is. We are ushered into God's very presence by the power of the blood of Christ. We not only contemplate God through the Scriptures, but we have His very Spirit dwelling in us. This Spirit helps us to understand the Bible and it gives us an unprecedented closeness and relationship with God. 

We behold the glory of the Lord like few, if any, did prior to Christ's coming. And as we gaze intently at God's glory and contemplate His goodness, miracle of miracles, we are changed! God's Spirit works within us to transform us into the image of the very God that it reveals to us. 

Christians are meant to reflect who God is. The longer we walk with Him the more like Him we ought to be. We shouldn't hide this transformation. As Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount,
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 5:14-16)
This leads all Christians to several pertinent questions:
  • Am I being transformed into the image of God from one degree of glory to another?
  • Am I taking time to behold God's glory, to enter His presence and gaze at Him?
  • Am I letting the light of God's transforming work in me shine for all to see so that He may receive the glory?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

I Wanna be Like Jesus

I was a kid when Gatorade rolled out their iconic "I wanna be like Mike" advertising campaign. At the time the campaign was really on to something. Michael Jordan's popularity was off the charts. I mean how many basketball players ever star in their own, successful movies? And don't talk to me about Shaquille O'Neal starring in Kazaam either! Space Jam grossed over $230 million worldwide.* People didn't just like Mike. They didn't just want to watch him play basketball. They weren't just fans. They wanted to imitate him, to be like him.

This captures something that should be true of Christians as well. We shouldn't merely be fans of Jesus. Our devotion should go beyond that. We should want to be like Him. In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul tells the believers at Corinth to "be imitators of me, as I am of Christ." This verse teaches that we are all called to imitate Christ, and to the extent that our leaders accurately reflect who He is, we are called to imitate them as well.

If that's true, if we are going to try to live life like Jesus, then what sort of things should we expect from ourselves? Jesus answers this question in one of the Bible's most haunting passages. If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. Luke 9:23-24 says, "For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it." We follow a crucified Savior. A man who came not to be served but to give His life as a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28). A Savior who though He was rich became poor so that our needs might be met. (2 Cor. 8:9) A deity who gave up the throne of heaven to become a servant of men.

So if we are going to really follow Him then that has to include self-sacrifice. Some believers follow Jesus all the way to a martyr's death, testifying to the truth even to their last breath as He did. For most of us that will not be the case. For us it means sacrificing our time, money, and desires to advance the kingdom of God. It's working at a soup kitchen. It's forgoing cable TV and designer clothes so we can give more money to missions, to feeding the poor, to caring for orphans and widows. It's volunteering at church. It's taking the time to pray for other people.

When was the last time you willingly sacrificed your comfort, your money, or your time for God? Now, pray and ask God what else He would have you sacrifice to advance His kingdom. Be like Jesus; make big sacrifices and grand gestures of your love for God.

*The Space Jam box office total figure came from this site:

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Bible and Homosexuality: Are Christians Hypocrites?

You shall keep my statutes...nor shall you wear a garment of cloth made of two kinds of material.
Leviticus 19:19

If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.
Leviticus 20:13

The other day I came across a post on a social media site that asked a great question about Christians. It questioned why some Christians ignore most of the Old Testament laws but insist on holding to the biblical commands against homosexual activity? For example, consider the two verses above. The first one says that God's people aren't allowed to wear clothes made of mixed fabrics. Christians today certainly ignore this obscure Old Testament law, but then in the very next chapter of Scripture homosexuality is condemned. Why do Christians insist on preaching this law while ignoring the former? Isn't this hypocrisy? Doesn't this prove that these Christians really are just homophobes who use the Bible to justify their hate?

This is a great question that deserves answering. But before I attempt that, I want to acknowledge that homosexuality and the struggle that those who experience same-sex attraction feel is a very complex issue. It is much too complex for me to comprehensively handle in a format like this. So all I want to do today is to try to help answer this one question. My prayer is that this might help other believers who are struggling with what the Bible says on this topic. 

First we must understand that the Bible is divided into two testaments, or covenants, between God and man. The old covenant and the new covenant. The new covenant that God makes with His people fulfills and goes beyond the old covenant. In other words Jesus was a game changer. Under the old covenant God was establishing a physical kingdom on earth through a specific ethnic group- the Jews. So he gave them laws covering everything from morality (i.e. Thou shalt not kill) to civil laws (i.e. The penalty for murder is stoning) to ceremonial or religious laws (i.e. don't wear clothes made of mixed fabrics). It's not that there is something wrong with wearing mixed fabric. It was symbolic of the holiness God was calling his people to. They were to be set apart for God and pure. This law provided for them to be reminded of that every time they put their clothes on.

Now here is the key. As I mentioned earlier, the new covenant fulfills and goes beyond the old covenant. Parts of the old covenant still apply to the new, and parts do not. So how do we determine which parts of the Old Testament are still binding on us today and which are not? If we decide based on personal preference or convenience, then we are hypocrites. But thankfully God has given us several ways we can know if Old Testament laws still apply to us or not.

Two primary guidelines are these:
  1. What type of law is it? The civil laws applied only to Old Testament Israel. God created an earthly kingdom in Israel. The civil laws applied to that kingdom which has now passed away. This explains, for example, why we would not advocate stoning today. That civil punishment was binding only on Old Testament Israel. We are not bound by it. Likewise the religious or ceremonial laws apply only to Old Testament Israel. These would include the laws about sacrifices for worship. They have all been done away with in Christ. He was the perfect sacrifice. We no longer need any other. The moral laws do still apply to us today, however. They tell us what is right and what is wrong in God's eyes. This does not change. So if a command is part of God's moral law, then it applies to all people in all times. The prohibition on homosexual activity appears to be part of God's moral law. (All other sexual laws from the Old Testament are presumed to be moral in nature with the exception of those that apply specifically to ritual uncleanness in worship.)
  2. Is the command repeated in the New Testament as binding on us? If it is, then we know it still applies today. Homosexual activity is treated as sinful in several New Testament passages. (See Romans 1:18-32, I Corinthians 6:9-10, and I Timothy 1:8-10).  

If all of this is right, then the Bible clearly condemns homosexual activity. This leaves Christians with a decision to make. Will you accept God's Word as true and without error or will you try to get around it someway? Sadly, many have tried to get around it by inventing clever ways of re-interpreting these passages, but these just don't make sense. Others are willing to relinquish their belief that the Bible is God's true Word altogether. They speak of the Bible as being full of errors, and that frees them up to believe whatever they like about a number of issues. I still believe that God's Word is true. This choice isn't based on hate or hypocrisy but on a firm conviction that God's Word is the standard of all truth and that I don't have the right to ignore any of it.

Father, help us to cling to all of Your good Word so that we won't be guilty of the hypocrisy that some think we are.