Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Importance of Remembering

The past can be a tricky thing.  It clearly forms us, but how much? Do we need to remember in order to move forward? Do we need to forget?  Is our history control our destiny or does it merely influence it? And most importantly, whatever has happened in our lives up to this point, is there hope?

Bob Kelleman, a Christian counselor, author, and speaker, has a great perspective on this. His claim is that the Bible reveals the importance of remembering, reflecting, repenting, reinterpreting, and retelling the story of our life in its entirety.


Remember (humbly)

“Remember” is used 167 times in the Bible (at least in the NIV), reminding us of the importance of remembering. We see it both in the Old Testament and the New. Usually, it has to do with remembering events in order to remember that God was at work in the midst of those events

  • “Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day.  Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.  He led you through the vast and dreadful desert, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock.  He gave you manna to eat in the desert, something your fathers had never known, to humble and to test you so that in the end it might go well with you. You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.”  But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today.”  (Deuteronomy 8:11-18)
  • In Deuteronomy 32, God warns Moses that the Israelites will break their covenant with him. He tells Moses to write down a song of God’s presence (with all the interaction, faithfulness, and blessings and cursing of the covenant) and teach it to all the people so it will be a witness. One portion of the song says, “Remember the days of long ago; think about the generations past. Ask your father, and he will inform you. Inquire of your elders, and they will tell you.” (Deuteronomy 32:7)
  • When Jesus and disciples participated in what we call the Last Supper, Jesus said, “Keep doing this to remember me.” (Luke 22:19)

There are times we read about forgetting the former things, but this idea is often misunderstood. Here are the two verses I hear quoted the most:

  •  After citing all the ways He has redeemed or saved the Israelites, God says through Isaiah, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)
  • Paul writes in Philippians that “…forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14)

The writers were not urging people to develop amnesia. In both cases, it means not being distracted by success and blessing. Isaiah was referring to good things, not bad ones (and actually tells them several verses later to “review the past for me”). Philippians is referring to good things in Paul’s life that could lead to self-righteousness, pride in personal accomplishments, and complacency. Bruce Springsteen was right: Glory days really will pass you by.

Remembering the past is important for at least two reasons: our past clearly forms or informs who we are today, and God was present (and He is worth remembering).

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Jesus The King

Though Christmas is a time when we focus on Jesus meek and mild, a baby lying in a manger, we can overlook that language of royalty that is associated with his life from the very beginning. We see the kingliness of Christ woven throughout the New Testament from before Jesus was even born.

  •  The angel told Mary: "[Jesus] will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David… his kingdom will never end" ( Luke 1:32-33 ).
  •   Gold, frankincense and myrrh were standard gifts: gold as a precious metal, frankincense as perfume, and myrrh as anointing oil. There was a spiritual meaning that came to be associated with them as well: gold as a symbol of kingship on earth, frankincense for deity, and myrrh (an embalming oil) as a symbol of death. The popular Christmas carol "We Three Kings" includes this interpretation as part of its lyrics: "Glorious now behold Him arise/King and God and sacrifice."
  •  When Jesus entered Jerusalem, John records that it was the fulfillment of a prophecy: "Fear not, daughter of Zion. Behold, your King is coming” (John 12:14).
  •  When Pilate asks him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus basically says, “Yes” (Luke 23:3). Then that phrase is used as a mocking sign on top of Jesus’ cross.
  •  John writes in Revelation that when Jesus returns in the fullness of his power and glory he will have King of Kings printed on his robe and tattooed on his thigh (Revelation 19:16). That’s symbolic imagery, but there’s something going on there.
  •  Paul describes the coming arrival of Jesus as the arrival of the King of the World, or the King of Kings (1 Timothy 6:15).

____________________

I think we bring a lot of baggage to our perception of Jesus when we are asked to think of him as a king. When I recently asked my family what came to mind when I said the word “king” or "royalty," I got the following responses:
  • crowns and purple robes
  • crowns and a red capey thing with fur (apparently a nod to King John in Disney’s Robin Hood)
  • Queen Elizabeth – stiff, stuffy, pretentious, controlling
  • relaxing – they always sit in a throne room

We generally think of royalty with a mixture of fascination and judgment– fascination because how cool would it be to be a king or queen, and judgment because of the class arrogance that we assume comes with this. Lorde sang that we’ll never be royals – we will never be spoiled, out of touch with tigers on a leash, wearing diamond watches and drinking Gray Goose. And why would we want to be that pretentious?

Then there are king in the Middle East who rule with violence and anger, and the Burger King and King Juilian from the Madagascar movies. It’s not really a great time to build an image of a king that is compelling. They are elitist, violent, or silly.

I suppose we could appeal to King Arthur, Aragorn, King Leonidas and Ned Stark – but those are whitewashed charicatures of real people or just flat-out fictional characters. They might show us what a good king could be or do (at least in some ways), while in the real world we can’t seem to find a king that is that good, kind, or noble, or has great one-liners and chiseled abs like Leonidas. For every Ned Stark there’s a bunch of Lanisters lurking in the wings.

Generally, I don’t trust kings. Everywhere I look around me, kings fail. Royalty is corrupt. And I don’t mean to point fingers – if I were a king, I’d be part of the problem too. (It probably doesn't help that I've grown up in a system of government that is theoretically based on the will of the people, not a monarch).

C.S. Lewis said he realized something was wrong with the universe only because he had a concept of what right looked like. I wonder if kings disappoint me because I expect more of them. After all, I actually know what a truly good king should look like – and I see this by looking at the King of Kings. In the life of Jesus we see the character and nature of a true King of Kings on display for the world to see.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Soils of the Kingdom (Matthew 13:18-23)

Jesus talked a lot about the Kingdom of Heaven – a life where the rule and reign of God is both seen and experienced, a Kingdom that we become a part of when we commit ourselves to Jesus Christ. We become citizens of heaven, and this world is not supposed to be ‘home’ any more. When Jesus said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is IN YOU!” (Luke 17:21), it’s not some New Age proclamation that we are all gods. He simply meant it’s not “there” or “there” where an earthly kingdom can be seen. It’s not kicking out the Romans and establishing a Jewish nation. That's not the Kingdom of Heaven. The rule and reign of Christ is now in our hearts.

Jesus told a number of parables about the Kingdom of Heaven explaining to his followers what characterizes the kingdom of Heaven, and, by implication, how they ought to seek to live as citizens of that kingdom. We are going to take five weeks to go through the parables in Matthew 13. Today we are looking at the Parable of the Sower.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Life Together: From Bitterness to Grace

How do we live with grace? We talk a lot about church community, but true community doesn’t just happen. There’s more to life together than just words. There are attitudes and actions. There’s a climate we create in the church. I don't know what your experience attending church has been like, but I do know this: life together can be hard. We are flawed people in whom God continues to work, but God wouldn’t have to do that if we had it all together. So let’s talk a little but more this morning about how to do life together.
THEREFORE, put away your lies and speak the truth to one another because we are all part of one another. When you are angry, don’t let it carry you into sin. Don’t let the sun set with anger in your heart or give the devil room to work. If you have been stealing, stop. Thieves must go to work like everyone else and work honestly with their hands so that they can share with anyone who has a need. Don’t let even one rotten word seep out of your mouths. Instead, offer only fresh words that build others up when they need it most. That way your good words will communicate grace to those who hear them.  
It’s time to stop bringing grief to God’s Holy Spirit; you have been sealed with the Spirit, marked as His own for the day of rescue. Banish bitterness, rage and anger, shouting and slander, and any and all malicious thoughts—these are poison. Instead, become kind and compassionate. Graciously forgive one another just as God has forgiven you through Jesus, our Liberating King. (Ephesians 4:21-32, The Voice)
It’s interesting to me that stealing, lying and relentless anger * are all listed together. They seem unconnected, but I don't think they are. They all create distrust, anxiety and a lack of safety. They all make us want to retreat or withdraw rather than engage honestly and openly. They all undermine community. In a setting like this, you are never safe.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

"You Can Be Anything You Want To Be!" (And Other Silly Graduation Slogans)

Graduation is the time of your life when a lot of motivational slogans are thrown around.  I want to challenge five that you have heard or will hear, not because they are always entirely wrong, but because they are almost never entirely right.

#1 Keep On Being You! You’re Perfect Just The Way You Are.
No, you’re not. I’m not either. You have issues. If you don’t know that yet, you will learn soon enough. Your teacher in college will give you a C, and you will have earned it. Your boss will write you up, your girlfriend or boyfriend will be rightly upset with you, and your parents will not like every decision you make. No one is perfect but God, and He, too, is well aware of your deficits. Yet He loves you anyway, and the ashes of your life are the very thing that will display the glory of God as He makes you into something beautiful.

Learn to see your frailties and failures with honesty but without shame. Grow. Build your strengths and at least address your weaknesses, but don’t hide the fact that you are imperfect. We all know it already. It’s okay. We aren’t either. And it is in the midst of our weakness that the strength of God is seen most clearly.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Unity Within The Diversity Of Ministry (Ephesians 4:4-16)

Church life can often be difficult because of at the remarkable diversity of people involved. There can be a lot of frustration and tension: Why don’t other people experience God or read the Bible the way I do? Am I the only one that thinks music/sermons/prayer/small groups/ outreach/Israel/spiritual gifts/Bible study/discipleship/ theology is important?  This tension is nothing new. 

There’s a reason Paul basically wrote an entire book focused on the unity that Christ brings transforms relationships within the church. In Ephesians 4:4-16, Paul talks about the importance of embracing a diversity of gifts or roles in the church, and why it is important in building unity. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Does God Like Me?

Father, out of Your honorable and glorious riches, strengthen Your people. Fill their souls with the power of Your Spirit so that through faith the Anointed One will reside in their hearts. May love be the rich soil where their lives take root. May it be the bedrock where their lives are founded so that together with all of Your people they will have the power to understand that the love of Christ is infinitely long, wide, high, and deep, surpassing everything anyone previously experienced. God, may Your fullness flood through their entire beings. (Ephesians 3)

In Ephesians 3, Paul prays that we can understand God’s love. What does that mean? We need to begin by looking at what God's love is - and what it's not.

God does not have vague feelings of love. He’s not emoting general feelings. God demonstrated agape love through Christ. This is a sacrificial, preferential, and demonstrative love. It is not a feeling-based ‘like’.  As an idea of how counter-cultural this is, it’s worth noting that the Greek word agape was hardly ever used in Greek-speaking societies, but in the New Testament it occurs 320 times. In other words, Christ’s love was very different from culture’s love (both then and now).

We need to wade through how our culture has formed our definition of love. After all we use it all the time (pizza, our favorite show, new shoes, a song, our family, and God). I think we usually mean “like” when we say “love.”

“Like” is an instinctive reaction. It’s something we usually don’t control. It’s an instinctive response to how someone looks, or their humor, or how they make us feel when we are around them. We don’t usually choose to like someone. I increasingly think the most of us get married because we are in ‘like’, and it is only through life together that we learn how to love. It was easy to date my wife; we were on our best behavior, we showed our good side; we were reeling each other in. It was easy to like each other.

 That’s infatuation, right? The honeymoon stage? We liked how we felt around the other person. But it really wasn’t until we were married that we were forced to discover what love was. Love is purposeful choice. We had to make a decision to demonstrate selfless, sacrificial preference and servanthood to the other one even when it was hard.

Think of this way: I can love someone I don’t like. Sheila and I like each other about 80% of the time (or 95% if Sheila is reading this!). Now, I want to be liked, so when I find out what I am doing that brings out that dislike response I want to address it.  But I am far less concerned about whether or not my wife likes me in any given moment than if she loves. And I know she loves me even when she doesn’t like me. How do I know this? Because we go to counseling together when we need to, and that’s hard. We hash stuff out; we keep learning how to be honest, and blunt, and graceful, and forgiving, and that’s hard. And my wife walks into those things with me, so I know she loves me even on the days that I have given her good reason not to like the man she loves.
  • Like is easy; love is costly
  • Like is selfish; love is sacrificial
  • Like wants to be filled up; love wants to be poured out
  • Like looks for the next object of pleasure; love looks for the next subject of service
  • Like is restless; love is relentless
  • Like requires worthiness; love offers worth
This is why I am so glad that God did not like the world so much that He sent His son. The Bible is pretty clear that a lot of things and people have made God very unhappy. God does not always like the world - or the people in it -  but His love remains.

I don’t know about you, but I can get caught up wondering if God like me. That’s usually based on how successfully I am navigating life. When we do well, we assume God likes us, and other people should to. When we fail, we assume God dislikes us, and others should as well. If the cost of love is a measure of the depth of love, the cross shows that you are being offered salvation, forgiveness, and new life from a God who loves you profoundly. If you find yourself asking, “Does God like me?” you are asking the wrong question. “Does God love me?” is the only one that needs to be answered.

I have good news: you can be the most likable person in the world or the most unlikable person, and that has no bearing on whether or not God loves you. How do I know? Christ died for you. 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

What is Christian Unity?

What does it mean for Christians to be united? Does we never confront sin because of the tension that comes with that kind of conversation? Do we just ignore false teaching?  Do we avoid any type of conflict at any cost? I would like to offer four points to clarify what biblical Christian unity looks like.

 1) Christian Unity Is Between Christians

As a prisoner of the Lord, I urge you: Live a life that is worthy of the calling He has graciously extended to you.  Be humble. Be gentle. Be patient. Tolerate one another in an atmosphere thick with love.  Make every effort to preserve the unity the Spirit has already created, with peace binding you together.” (Ephesians 4:1-3)

We should show Christian love to everyone, but we simply can’t have the kind of unity that should happen between disciples of Christ with those who are not also disciples.  I have great friends who do not share my allegiance to Christ. We unite around other things - a love of philosophy, sports, books, social issues - but we don't unite around Christ.Unity must be with regard to something. Saying "we are unified" as Christians doesn't mean anything unless we have a common cause, allegiance, motivation – in this case, the unity the Holy Spirit brings through Christ.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Our Role In The Church: Build Up (Ephesians 2: 11-22)

In the first part of Ephesians 2, we looked at what it means to be “raised up”: we are saved by grace, and we have value,worth and dignity in Christ. God is glorified when God is seen in us, shining through the cracks of our brokenness, making something new and better of us to accomplish good works He has planned for us. But as we continue reading Ephesians, Paul is going to talk about how being raised up gives our lives a very particular kid of purpose. purpose.  
 "So never forget how you used to be. Those of you born as outsiders to Israel were outcasts, branded “the uncircumcised” by those who bore the sign of the covenant in their flesh, a sign made with human hands. You had absolutely no connection to the Anointed; you were strangers, separated from God’s people. You were aliens to the covenant they had with God; you were hopelessly stranded without God in a fractured world. 

But now, because of Jesus and His sacrifice, all of that has changed. God gathered you who were so far away and brought you near to Him by the royal blood of the Anointed, our Liberating King. He is the embodiment of our peace, sent once and for all to take down the great barrier of hatred and hostility that has divided us so that we can be one. He offered His body on the sacrificial altar to bring an end to the law’s ordinances and dictations that separated Jews from the outside nations. 

 His desire was to create in His body one new humanity from the two opposing groups, thus creating peace. Effectively the cross becomes God’s means to kill off the hostility once and for all so that He is able to reconcile them both to God in this one new body. Jesus, the Great Preacher of peace and love came for you, and His voice found those of you who were near and those who were far away. By Him both have access to the Father in one Spirit. 

And so you are no longer called outcasts and wanderers but citizens with God’s people, members of God’s holy family, and residents of His household. You are being built on a solid foundation: the message of the prophets and the voices of God’s chosen emissaries with Jesus, the Anointed Himself, the precious cornerstone. The building is joined together stone by stone—all of us chosen and sealed in Him, rising up to become a holy temple in the Lord.  In Him you are being built together, creating a sacred dwelling place among you where God can live in the Spirit." (Ephesians 2:11-22, from The Voice)

In Ephesians 2, Paul uses three analogies to show how our role in the church it to live and build together in a sacred church community where the presence of God is both welcome and obvious: One body (Identity) One citizenship (Allegiance) and One building (Purpose). As Christians, we are part of a church. We aren’t just raised up so we can shine. We aren’t saved in isolation. We are raised up together so that we can bring the practical application of God’s goodness into the world. So, let’s make this practical.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Our Position in Christ: Raised Up (Ephesians 2:1-10)

Why do we treat a canvas that is painted differently than a blank canvas? Why do we put our kids’ pictures or stories up on the refrigerator? Why do we keep a letter from the one we love for years? Because something added value. Something made these things more than just the sum of their parts. There was canvas or paper and something to make marks.Yet a painting can sell for millions of dollars, and we keep the letters and drawing for years. Something added value - in this case, it was the personal touch of the one who took ordinary things and created something of great value.

I wonder how many of us feel like we are just the canvas. That we are worthless, useless, unworthy of love, incapable of offering anything of value to the world? And how many of us long to believe that we are that letter or picture in whom someone takes delight instead of that discarded, crumbled up paper that’s only fit for the trash? In Ephesians 2, Paul gives the ultimate added value by showing what Christ does in us and for us. First, he explains what kind of material God has to work with.
As for you, don’t you remember how you used to just exist? Corpses, dead in life, buried by transgressions, wandering the course of this perverse world. You were the offspring of the prince of the power of air—oh, how he owned you, just as he still controls those living in disobedience. I’m not talking about the outsiders alone; we were all guilty of falling headlong for the persuasive passions of this world. We all have had our fill of indulging the flesh and mind, obeying impulses to follow perverse thoughts motivated by dark powers. As a result, our natural inclinations led us to be children of wrath, just like the rest of humankind. (Ephesians 2:1-3)
 I don’t know about you, but that’s not how I like to think of myself. However, that’s the raw materials. That’s us before Christ. We’re not just plain canvas; we are stained and soiled. We’re not just paper – we are torn and soggy. Paul doesn’t pull any punches. We were corpses, dead in life. We were the zombies in a much more serious sense of the word than most horror movies show. Those are just biological problems. Ours is deeply spiritual.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Reality of Jesus and the Hope of the Resurrection

The following satirical letter to NYU has been floating around the internet for a while:
IN ORDER FOR THE ADMISSIONS STAFF OF OUR COLLEGE TO GET TO KNOW YOU BETTER, WE ASK THAT YOU ANSWER THE FOLLOWING QUESTION  ARE THERE ANY SIGNIFICANT EXPERIENCES YOU HAVE HAD, OR ACCOMPLISHMENTS YOU HAVE REALIZED, THAT HAVE HELPED TO DEFINE YOU AS A PERSON? 
I am a dynamic figure, often seen scaling walls and crushing ice. I have been known to remodel train stations on my lunch breaks, making them more efficient in the areas of heat retention. I write award-winning operas, I manage time efficiently. Occasionally, I tread water for three days in a row. I woo women with my god like trombone playing, I can pilot bicycles up severe inclines with unflagging speed, and I cook Thirty-Minute Brownies in twenty minutes. I am as expert in stucco, a veteran in love, and an outlaw in Peru. 
Using only a hoe and a large glass of water, I once single-handedly defended a small village in the Amazon Basin from a horde of ferocious army ants. I play bluegrass cello, I was scouted by the Mets, I am the subject of numerous documentaries. When I’m bored, I build large suspension bridges in my yard. On Wednesdays, after school, I repair electrical appliances free of charge. 
I am an abstract artist, a concrete analyst, and a ruthless bookie. Critics worldwide swoon over my original line of corduroy evening wear. I don’t perspire. I am a private citizen, yet I receive fan mail. I have been caller number nine and have won the weekend passes. I bat 400. My deft floral arrangements have earned me fame in international botany circles. Children trust me. 
I can hurl tennis rackets at small moving objects with deadly accuracy.  I know the exact location of every food item in the supermarket. I have performed several covert operations with the CIA. I sleep once a week; when I do sleep, I sleep in a chair. While on vacation in Canada, I successfully negotiated with a group of terrorists who had seized a small bakery. The laws of physics do not apply to me. 
I balance, I weave, I dodge, I frolic, and my bills are all paid. On weekends, to let off steam, I participate in full-contact origami. Years ago I discovered the meaning of life but forgot to write it down.  I breed prizewinning clams. I have won bullfights in San Juan, cliff-diving competitions in Sri Lanka, and spelling bees at the Kremlin. I have played Hamlet, I have performed open-heart surgery, and I have spoken with Elvis. But I have not yet gone to college.
He’s a fantastic guy, but he is not real.  He sounds good, but neither I nor anyone else I know of will be restructuring their way of life to follow him, or introducing others to him, or starting a Church of The Living NYU Student, or wearing a bracelet (WWNYUSD). It doesn’t matter how great he sounds, he is not real (and neither was the letter). 

If Jesus was not real – if he was not who he said he was – then Christianity has nothing to offer that you can’t find in another worldview, a self-help shelf or a bottle. But if Jesus was who he claimed to be, then He has a significance that no one else does.[i] The historicity of  Jesus Christ matters. [ii] 

Monday, March 16, 2015

How Broken People Bring Glory To God

Ezekiel was a prophet living in Babylonian captivity. The first part of his book explains that the Israelites lost their land because of their sin; the middle part chronicles how other nations will experience judgment for their sins as well. Beginning in Chapter 33, God begins to unveil for Ezekiel what revival and restoration will look like. We will begin in Chapter 36, verse 16:
 When the people of Israel were living in their own land, they defiled it by their conduct and their actions…I dispersed them among the nations, and they were scattered through the countries; I judged them according to their conduct and their actions. And wherever they went among the nations they profaned my holy name, for it was said of them, ‘These are the Lord’s people, and yet they had to leave his land.’  I had concern for my holy name, which the people of Israel profaned among the nations where they had gone.”
 “I had concern for my name” seems like an understatement.  God’s people show up places, and everybody around them says, “What a bunch of losers. Their own God kicked them out.” They had broken a key commandment: “Don’t take God’s name in vain.” God is not pleased. And yet…
 “Therefore say to the Israelites, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: It is not for your sake, people of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I am proved holy through you before their eyes.”
That’s an astonishing passage. After all that God has just said about them profaning his name (his character and reputation), God says He will be show His holiness of His great name through them so much so that everybody who sees them will know that the God of the Israelites is God.**
 “‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God. I will save you from all your uncleanness…"
God is going to gather up a profane people who defiled the land he gave them, clean them up, give them a new heart, give them His Spirit, and put them back in a land they didn’t deserve – and then he will proudly claim them as His own.  Israel is terrible. This wasn’t like The Voice, where Israel is auditioning while God’s chair is turned around, and He’s waiting until they hit the right note to turn His chair and beg them to be on his team.  That’s just not Israel.

God's not doing this because Israel is awesome. He’s doing this because He is awesome.  

Monday, February 23, 2015

Men and Women in the New Testament: Missing the Forest for all the Trees

Any time there is a discussion about men and women and the Bible, there’s a lot of baggage. Paul is often considered kind of a sexist jerk, and there’s often a sense of resignation, tension or even hostility when we start talking about men and women and the Bible. Part of the push back from defenders of 50 Shades of Gray is that Christians are in no position to point fingers; after all, hasn’t the church oppressed women for 2,000 years?

 I am going to argue that that the Bible offers a compelling vision of how life in Christ shows us how to flourish as men and women for the glory of God.

 The Early Church was flooded with far more women than men. It was so lopsided that Christianity was mocked for being a religion for women and children.  Tatian (AD 110-172) recalls that the Greeks who write against Christianity “. . . say that we talk nonsense among women and boys, among maidens and old women . . .” We don’t hear much about how, for the first 100 to 200 years,  women were deeply involved with the growth of the church. Something was happening in this community that was incredibly compelling to women.

I think we often miss this because of a common problem: we don’t see the forest for all the trees. In other words, we get so hung up on the tree blocking our view– submit, headship, obey, don’t speak in church, cover your head – that we miss the beauty of the landscape. My goal it so help us look at the forest.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Made As Men and Women (Part 2)

In "Made as Men and Women (Part 1)," I noted that God is Creator, Sustainer, Protector and Provider, and He has given to those who bear his image the privilege and responsibility of embodying those things in the world. So while women and men individually often share interchangeable traits and are sometimes able to function effectively in all these roles, the Old Testament gives us a foundational starting point. Men can do a lot of things, but they must commit to making the world safe within the scope of their ability and opportunity. Women can do a lot of things, but they must commit to helping the world come to life and flourish within the scope of their ability and opportunity. (Note: I highly recommend Matt Chandler's series, "A Beautiful Design," if you want to hear some excellent teaching on these distinctions.)

This post will discuss what the New Testament shows about the design for men and women. The next will look at what the New Testament reveals about how we are to do life together in in our homes and in the church. Finally, the last post in this series will show how all of this is meant to bring glory to God.
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1) The Old Testament was the start of the discussion, not the end.

The Old Testament is “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16). It is however, incomplete.  It was an important step in the right direction, but it wasn’t the end of the journey. I ended last week by noting that in the Old Testament, the way for men and women to recapture Eden was to walk in the “path of life” (Psalms 16:11), which was found in God’s law.  It wasn’t going to change our hearts; it would, however, direct our hands. Fast forward to Paul’s discussion of the Law….

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Made…As Men and Women (Part 1)

If God made us in his image, how are women and men designed to reflect something about God’s good nature, how do we tend toward ruin, and how can we recover the good of Eden? There are so many different ways to approach this subject biblically and practically, and I have chosen one. I pray that it is honest and true, but it will be incomplete and, like everything on this side of Heaven, imperfect. 
The Eternal God placed the newly made man in the garden of Eden in order to work the ground and care for it. He made certain demands of the man regarding life in the garden. Eat freely from any and all trees in the garden; I only require that you abstain from eating the fruit of one tree—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Beware: the day you eat the fruit of this tree, you will certainly die.” 
 “It is not good for the man to be alone, so I will create a helper for him, a perfectly suited partner”… So the Eternal God put him into a deep sleep, removed a rib from his side, and closed the flesh around the opening. He formed a woman from the rib taken out of the man and presented her to him. And Adam said, “At last, a suitable companion, a perfect partner.
Bone from my bones.
Flesh from my flesh.
I will call  her “woman” as an eternal reminder
 she was taken out of man.  
 Now this is the reason a man leaves his father and his mother, and is united with his wife; and the two become one flesh. In those days the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed…. The man named his wife Eve (life-giver) because she was destined to become the mother of all living. ” (Genesis 2:15-18; 21-25; 3:21, The Voice) 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Made... To Flourish

God said, “Now let Us conceive a new creation—humanity—made in Our image, fashioned according to Our likeness. And let Us grant them authority over all the earth—the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, the domesticated animals and the small creeping creatures on the earth.” 
So God did just that. He created humanity in His image, created them male and female. Then God blessed them and gave them this directive: “Be fruitful and multiply. Populate the earth. I make you trustees of My estate, so care for My creation and rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that roams across the earth.” Then God said, “Look! I have given you every seed-bearing plant that grows on the earth and every fruit-bearing tree. They will be your food and nourishment. As for all the wild animals, the birds in the sky, and every small creeping creature—everything that breathes the breath of life—I have given them every green plant for food. And it happened just as God said. (Genesis 1:26-30)  
The Eternal God planted a garden in the east in Eden—a place of utter delight—and placed [Adam] there. In this garden, He made the ground pregnant with life—bursting forth with nourishing food and luxuriant beauty. He created trees, and in the center of this garden of delights stood the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil... The Eternal God placed the newly made man in the garden of Eden in order to work the ground and care for it. (Genesis 2:8-9; 15)  
It is not good for the man to be alone, so I will create a companion for him, a perfectly suited partner… At last, a suitable companion, a perfect partner.
Bone from my bones. Flesh from my flesh. I will call this one “woman” as an eternal reminder
that she was taken out of man. Now this is the reason a man leaves his father and his mother, and is united with his wife; and the two become one flesh. In those days the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. (Genesis 2:18; 23-25)  
“Then they heard the sound of the Eternal God walking in the cool misting shadows of the garden. (Genesis 3:8) 
We see at least three areas in which humanity’s purpose, planning and intention is revealed:
  • Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth ("Make more of you!")
  • Be trustees of creation ("Make the earth look like this!")
  • Live in shalom with God, each other, and the world
This Hebrew word, shalom, means peace in at least four ways: With God, within, with others, and with the world. That’s what you see in Eden. And God basically said to Adam and Eve, “Do you see what we have here? Recreate it everywhere you go." John Walton says the beginning of Genesis is meant to show how God built the earth as a Temple where He took up residence at the end of His creation. We are given the responsibility and privilege of going into all the world and doing a kind of spiritual terraforming as we show the world what Eden looks like.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Made…In God's Image

When we were kids, we had this kind of instinctive question: “What is that for?” We’d walk into the shed, or the kitchen, or the store and just point and ask. Eventually we’d ask that question from the shower, and then things got awkward.  But it’s a great question. We want to know what a thing is for, what it’s supposed to do, how it is supposed to be used.  We call this design: “purpose, planning, or intention that exists or is thought to exist behind an action, fact, or material object.”

We want to know this design because we recognize that if we don’t understand what something if for, things can go bad quickly. We don't walk into the pharmacy when we are sick and just pull something off the shelf and hope it works. We need to know what it is designed to do so that we can know what it is intended to accomplish, and how we can effectively use it for that purpose.

There’s a difference between what we can do with something and what we should do with something. When we use them within the design, they flourish; when we use them outside of the design, they fall apart. 
  • I can use a hammer to put screws into my deck, but that will break the screws, because they were not made to be hammered.
  • I can use my hammer as a poker in a fireplace, but it will hurt the hammer, because it’s not made to stir hot coals.
  • I can use a hammer on nails, and all is well.
The stakes are higher, of course. I should use my lungs to inhale oxygen; I can use my lungs to inhale lots of other things. I should use my teeth to chew food; I can tear off bottle caps or pull a train with a rope. I should use my words to speak truth and bring life; I can lie and leave devastation behind me if I so choose.