Tag Archives: Jesus

WHAT NOAH TEACHES US ABOUT EASTER, AND ABOUT OURSELVES

noah_ark_01Most recently I invited Bill Watson, Criswell College’s Director of Institutional Effectiveness and Research, to Mission Dorado Baptist Church to preach our Palm Sunday service. Bill is a two time graduate of the Criswell College and is working on his PhD at the University of Texas in Dallas.

Bill preached on Noah, which wasn’t inspired by the recent movie of the same name. It was inspired by Easter, a holiday on which the church celebrates our great hope–the resurrection. His message was simple: The story of Noah teaches us that we are all really messed up and that, without the resurrection, we will always be messed up.

I imagine you’re asking, “How in the world does the Flood teach us about the resurrection?”

Bill’s take on Noah suggests that Noah is a second Adam, not to be confused with Jesus, the “last Adam” (1 Cor 15:45). As the second Adam, the story of Noah is a second story of creation. In fact, it’s astounding how much the story parallels the creation story in Genesis 1. Consider these parallels:

  • The darkness in Genesis 1:2 parallels the sure darkness from the rain clouds in Genesis 7:17.
  • The dry land appearing in Genesis 1:10 parallels the tops of the mountains becoming visible in Genesis 8:5.
  • The vegetation sprouting in Genesis 1:11 parallels the freshly picked olive leaf in the dove’s beak in Genesis 8:11.
  • God’s first command to Noah after leaving the ark parallels his first command to Adam, which is to “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Gen 1:28; 9:1).

There is little doubt that there are striking parallels between the stories. When reviewed more intimately, the order is even the same. But the question still remains, “How does this teach us about Easter?”

In short, Bill argues that the story of Noah reveals the tragedy that Adam’s sin in Eden impacted mankind so deeply that even Noah, the sole man on earth who “found favor in the eyes of the Lord,” was still incapable of overcoming it (Gen 6:8). The story reveals that even when God started over with the very best among us that creation was still doomed. Consider what Noah did upon leaving the ark:

“Then Noah began farming and planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent” (Gen 9:20-21).

Like Adam, Noah ate fruit in a forbidden way and then became ashamed through nakedness. And like Adam, Noah failed to live up to God’s standards. And we should learn that, if given the same opportunity, we too would fail.

This is where the message of Easter comes in. Peter writes that the “present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire” (1 Pt 3:7a). The backdrop of this statement is Noah’s Flood, teaching that in the same way that God destroyed the ungodly in Noah’s day, so will God destroy the ungodly on the Lord’s Day.

” … kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (1 Pt 3:7b)

The only difference is that when God walks these proverbial Noahs out onto the earth, of which you and I through Jesus (our ark) are part, that we don’t have to worry about messing up in the way Adam and Noah did. We don’t have to worry about following in the footsteps of the first or second Adam. This is because we will, at this point, have followed in the footsteps of our last Adam, the resurrected Jesus Christ.

Therefore, Noah teaches us that, apart from Jesus, although we may find favor in God’s eyes, without the resurrection we are doomed. Without Jesus we can’t help but follow in the footsteps of our ancestral Adams. We will always fail. But with Jesus we can not only make it through the Flood, we can succeed after it.

Bill’s sermon was phenomenal, and I encourage you to take 30 minutes to listen to it as you prepare to celebrate the resurrection this Sunday: Bill Watson’s The Story of Noah.

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HOW YOUR MARRIAGE CAN TEACH PEOPLE ABOUT EASTER

wedding-rings-setYou likely know the story: God caused a “deep sleep” to fall on Adam and then took one of his ribs and fashioned Eve out of it (Genesis 2:21-22). There is an incredible typology embedded into this event about the true message of Easter. 

The sleep in which Adam enters is well described as a metaphorical death. Adam didn’t physically die, but his “deep sleep” made it appear as if he did. It was symbolic of it. The idea, therefore, is that Eve was able, and only able, to live because Adam, in a sense, died.

His “deep sleep” foreshadows the sacrificial death of Jesus on our behalf.

Christ died on the cross and was pierced in his side for his bride (John 19:33-37); Adam “died” and was pierced in his side for his bride. Like Jesus, Adam gave of himself so that his bride could live. And similar to Jesus, Adam rose from his “death” to live again with his bride.

But the message doesn’t stop here. Immediately after this event Moses writes:

“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.”

The term “one flesh” has permanence. It suggests marriage is designed to last a lifetime, which is an incredibly important notion.

There is a theological concept called “the perseverance of the saints” that conveys this thought well. This doctrine teaches that “once saved, always saved.” This is to say that, once a person has been “married” to Jesus, that Jesus will never divorce him. This is because, once a person accepts Jesus, he and Jesus are like “one flesh.” And like literal flesh, it cannot be divided. In Ephesians 5:32 Paul says that this idea of “one flesh” is a “great mystery” and that he is speaking about “Christ and the church.”

This conveys how a marriage, when functioning properly, can serve as a testimony for the gospel.

So marriage represents more than a lifelong earthly relationship between a husband and a wife. It illustrates God’s everlasting relationship with the church, a relationship that nothing can divide.

Paul writes:

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35, 37-39).

Not long ago a woman in our church lost her wedding ring, which she had for more than 50 years, and was understandably devastated. She found it, but she could have easily gone down the street and purchased a new one. Losing the ring, for this woman, meant losing the testimony of her marriage. While losing it held no affect on the union of her marriage, it was important because it testified of her marriage in a way that no other ring could.

By itself, marriage is an amazing institution. But we cannot forget what it represents.

We should value the meaning of marriage as a testimony of God and his people. When a husband sacrificially loves his bride, that bride is empowered to live for her husband. And this love points upward to what Easter Sunday is all about—a sacrificial love brought about by a savior named Jesus Christ for his bride the church.

And this is a “ring” that can never be lost!

Clearly, this is why divorce so devastates. Divorce is more than a piece of paper allowing you to legally separate from your spouse. It completely destroys God’s witness. It communicates the exact opposite of God’s relationship with his church. It tells the world that there are things that can separate God’s love from his bride instead of the biblical truth that there aren’t.

God has had every reason to divorce mankind. He instead decides to unconditionally and sacrificially love us. This is well showcased after Adam and Eve’s disobedience in Eden, when he took an innocent animal, slayed it, and used its skin to cover their shame, which, like Adam’s proverbial death, points towards Jesus—the Resurrection and the Life.

Have a wonderful Easter.

 —This article is adapted from my book “Marital Roles” (978-1481151238).

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SON OF GOD MOVIE: A REVIEWED PREVIEW

Son of God movieThe movie Son of God arrives in theaters this Friday. And, like any Christian movie, it’s caught the church’s gaze. The major question surrounding this movie is, “Is it accurate?” That is, does it accurately portray the Jesus found in the scriptures.

As far as I can tell, the movie is an expansion of the television series, The Bible, a series I happened to watch. It’s also a series I happened to review. Since the movie is essentially an expansion of the television series, I imagine that a review of Part Four of The Bible (the part that concerns Jesus) might provide insight into answering the question as to if Son of God accurately portrays the Son of God.

Thus, here is my reviewed preview of the Son of God movie, based on the Son of God in The Bible television series, as compared to the Bible:

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“Change the world,” a caucasian Jesus answers, in a slightly British accent.

This is how Part Three of The History Channel’s The Bible ends. But The History Channel seems to have a different perception of what “changing the world” means than Jesus. This is revealed not by what is included in Part Four of the series, but in what is left out. And what’s worse, The Bible did not leave important scenes from the Bible out; it left important moments out of the important scenes, essentially reformatting the original context of the events.

Leaving key moments out of Jesus’ life would have been bad, but including the key moments and ignoring their crucial elements might be worse.

Consider these two portrayals from Part Four of The Bible.

THE LAST SUPPER AND JESUS AS THE ONLY WAY

In The Bible’s Last Supper scene, Jesus shares with the disciples that this will be his final meal with them. Naturally, this births fear and sorrow for a group of men who have grown very close to their Messiah.

Jesus quotes John 14:1-6, telling his disciples, “Don’t be afraid. Trust in God, trust in me also. You know the way to where I am going.”

“We don’t know where you are going, how can we know the way?” a balding Thomas declares.

Jesus replies, “I am the way. The truth. And the life.”

And then he stops.

But there is a very important line missing from Jesus’ monologue in The Bible included in the actual Bible. This line is, “No one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6).

Of the various verses in scripture that reveal that Jesus is the only way to the Father, this one is arguably the clearest. Therefore, if a producer of a series on the Bible wants to accurately depict Jesus’ mission to “change the world,” including a scene dialoguing John 14:1-6 is a great way to start, but leaving out the final portion of the passage leaves the biblically immature audience they are supposedly targeting, well, biblically immature.

Jesus is not just the “way, truth, and life,” but the “only way, truth, and life.”

THE LAST SUPPER AND THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS

In the same Last Supper scene, Jesus takes the bread and says, “This is my body.” He then takes a cup after pouring wine into it and says, “This is my blood.” He closes by saying, “Remember me by doing this.” These are all included in the Last Supper accounts detailed in the scriptures, but The Bible leaves out another line that reveals how Jesus “changed the world.” This line is, “which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins” (Matt 26:28).

There is an old adage that captures why this line is important:

Jesus didn’t come to make bad men good, but to make dead men live.

To give The Bible the benefit of the doubt, there is a scene depicted from Matthew 9:1-8 in the early portion of Part Four where Jesus heals a paralytic. Jesus met both the physical and spiritual needs of the man, telling him both “Get up and walk” and “Your sins are forgiven.”

The reason the inclusion of the line is important in the Last Supper, however, is because it is directly connected to his death. Jesus didn’t come just to cure the physical ailments that plague mankind; he came to cure the spiritual ailment that plagues mankind. This ailment is sin and the penalty is death. Therefore, forgiveness of sins cannot come without death, the very thing Jesus references at the Last Supper.

While The Bible reveals that Jesus dies, it doesn’t necessarily reveal why Jesus dies.

This is the meaning behind Paul’s statement that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). Jesus didn’t die to inspire bad people to be good, make lame men walk, and put people’s ears back on. He died to make dead people live.

This is clear in the Bible, but not in The Bible.

This is why his body was broken and his blood was shed. Jesus is our substitutionary atonement for the wages that we had earned through our sins. He paid it in our steads, and in so doing he “changed the world” (but probably with more of a Hebrew dialect).

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Finally, I want to add that I find myself a little concerned with Hollywood’s recent fascination with Christianity (some upcoming movies include: Noah, Left Behind, Heaven is For Real, etc.; and this is not to say that even these are all biblically accurate). I would like to applaud the attempt at what I would hope are biblical and wholesome movies, but I’m afraid that the Bible might serve as a mere catalyst to make money and that, in the long run, Christianity might be more harmed than helped in the process. Time will tell, to be sure.

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A SOUTHERN BAPTIST PASTOR INTERVIEWS A HOMOSEXUAL

imagesIt was in sixth grade that I met Matt. He had moved to my hometown of Mabank, Texas from Colorado Springs. We met in band and became friends. We weren’t the best of friends, but we were more than acquaintances. Although we now live on opposite sides of the nation, through the magic of social networking we have been able to keep in touch. We regularly dialogue through both public and private channels about the cultural mood concerning homosexuality.

Matt is a homosexual, which, because of my Christian faith, is a lifestyle with which I vehemently disagree. And Matt knows this. Matt knows that I don’t agree with him and I know that Matt doesn’t agree with me. But we choose to share our opinions openly and respectfully, which is the intent of this blog.

I recently asked Matt if he would be alright if I interviewed him about his lifestyle. Matt was kind enough to oblige. The motivation behind this is inspired by comments I often read from Christians against homosexuality. Unfortunately, many Christians handle the situation poorly. While it’s okay to be outspoken against it, (and I believe Christians should be free to share their biblical convictions), it’s not okay for that outspokenness to present itself in hatred. Paul writes, “If I speak … but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor 13:1).

Needless to say, there is a lot of gratuitously loud noise on today’s social networks.

The following is the interview I conducted with Matt. I typed out the questions and sent them to him. Some of the information is also from follow up conversations. Each question includes Matt’s answer and some include my response, if it calls for it. You will notice that these are in blue.

I hope that anyone who has an opinion about homosexuality sees the respect that Matt and I have for one another in our disagreements, and that that respect is contagious as we continue to debate the issue in the public square.

PERSONAL QUESTIONS

When did you first think that you were gay?

I began to suspect something was different about myself probably in eighth grade. I remember always wondering why the guys around me seemed so interested in pursuing girls.

Are you currently in a homosexual relationship?

Yes I am. I have been seeing the same guy since I was twenty two years old. We met in college and have been together ever since. He even followed me across the country to a new job. Both of our families have met and actually rather like each other. I was really surprised by that. My Dad is someone I would charitably describe as a “Tea Party Republication”, but he has honestly shocked me with his acceptance of who I am and even the guy I am with.

What kind of social pressures did you experience in “coming out?”

My coming out was kind of an accident. I was twenty and in college and, I won’t bore you with the details, but my parents figured it out and initially we didn’t talk for 3 months. When we did start talking again, it was mostly my mom and I. My dad and I had a very strained relationship the first few years, but now everything is more or less the way I would imagine a regular person’s relationship with their parents is. I can’t honestly say, but I would like to believe that I am glad it happened the way it did, because I am not sure when I would have built up the courage to talk to them about it. Probably not until well into my twenties.

POLITICAL QUESTIONS

What are your thoughts on same-sex marriage?

This sounds so cliché, but my thoughts on same-sex marriage have greatly evolved since I first started hearing about it back in the mid-2000s. At first, I was staunchly against it, and I think a large part of that had to do with my upbringing in the church. I wasn’t, and nor am I now, against people receiving the same benefits and entitlements that marriage brings to everyone. But I was against the idea of calling it “marriage” because I felt that was reserved fully for straight people and the church. But that was back then, and this is now. I am not what you would call an activist for same-sex marriage, but I do believe now that if gay people want to get married, then they should be able too. Again, I can’t stress this enough, I really just believe that everyone should have access to the benefits that marriage provides, not the name or the title. I am sure my fellow gays won’t like hearing that, but it’s just the way I feel about the issue.

Author’s Note: Many of my thoughts concerning this question can be found in this blog: The Meaning of Equality.

Would you say that today’s homosexual movement is on par with the 1960′s civil rights movement?

Yes, most particularly with the Supreme Court case, Loving v. Virginia (1967), which invalidated all laws prohibiting interracial marriage. Today, we draw inspiration from that time period, to fight for what we believe should be afforded to us to be treated as equals in the eyes of the law. People today think it’s crazy that blacks and whites couldn’t get married up until forty-odd years ago, but during that time period it was a punishable offense with jail time involved.

Author’s Note: I believe that by the time I am a grandparent that it will be unbelievable that homosexuals could not marry one another, and that by the time my kids are parents that people will be amazed that marijuana was at one time considered an illegal drug, and that by the time they are grandparents that people will be amazed that polygamy was once outlawed.

What would you say to someone who argues for things like bigamy, polygamy, and incestry in marriage (as an expansion of same-sex marriage)?

I think bigamy already occurs today and has been occurring for a long time. Certainly not on any level with large amounts of numbers or data to back it up. But you always hear the story about the man with another family in the next town over.

The problem with polygamy is that it almost always means one man with multiple wives. And when that happens you take away a wife from some other man. So in a polygamous society, you would have all these young, unmarried men who are unhappy with no wives. Same-sex marriage changes none of that, it leads us as a society away from that. Gay people just want the ability to marry someone instead of no one.

Incest is something that is just wrong on so many levels as it is, it’s not even really worth arguing over.

Author’s Note: I can see what Matt is saying in this, but I find it to be pragmatic. And I think pragmatism is a poor way to make decisions, although we all make decisions based on this philosophy everyday!

For example, would polygamy then be okay if we can manufacture a society where there are no unhappy unmarried men? What if the ratio of women to men was such that every man could easily have ten wives?

The point is that the issue runs deeper than mathematics.

Do you believe that there would be any psychological affects to a child reared in a home with same-sex parents (not having the traditional male and female examples)?

I don’t think there are any major drawbacks to a child being raised in a home by two same-sex parents as opposed to a traditional family set. In this modern age, children are raised by single dads, single moms, aunts, uncles and extended family. I think as long as all parties involved really love the child, then it will turn out alright.

Author’s Note: I believe that one of the biggest problems of our day is that a large amount of children are raised in homes without a stable mother and father. I have the opportunity to counsel many individuals and I can, nearly 100% of the time, trace the issue back to the lack of a father in the home.

RELIGIOUS QUESTIONS

Do you adhere to any faith religion?

I grew up Methodist, but just sort of stopped going once I graduated high school. I think even in high school I wasn’t really into church anymore, but it was definitely the place where all my friends went and it was a good place to socialize. I do believe that something or someone exists and had something to do with where we are in the universe today. I would say that I loosely identify myself as a Christian, but more like an agnostic one.

Author’s Note: I would say that it’s oxymoronic to be an “agnostic Christian,” although I can say that I know where Matt is coming from. His upbringing leads him to hold beliefs that are rooted in Christianity, but what he believes is not best described as Christianity. He has become agnostic, which means that he doesn’t really know what he believes, although he is still affected by what he learned during his time in the church.

What do you believe the Bible says about homosexuality?

I am not a connoisseur of the Bible, so all I can really say is that I know it’s mentioned a few times, but never directly by Jesus. I did, however, find this awesome article on the Huffington Post website which sums it up much more eloquently then I can: What Does the Bible Really Say About Homosexuality?

Author’s Note: The author of this article begins by suggesting that homosexuality is not as big of an issue as modern day Christians make it, because it is addressed relatively little in comparison to other issues in Scripture. But this is like saying that prostate cancer isn’t as big of a deal as breast cancer because it doesn’t have as big of an awareness month, one that prompts NFL players to wear hot pink highlighted uniforms and people to wear faddy bracelets.

The fact is that it is discussed in Scripture, (homosexuality that is), which makes it important. And when it is discussed, it is identified as sinful. The reason it isn’t discussed more is, arguably, because of the culture in which the Bible was written, specifically the New Testament Gospels. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that homosexuality wasn’t as big of an issue in ancient Jerusalem, the holiest place in the world at that time and the place that Jesus performed most of his ministry and made most of his claims, as it is today. Rape isn’t densely refuted by Jesus either, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t wrong.

Thus the statement, “Jesus never said anything about homosexuality, so it must be okay” is a weak and misguided argument.

It is also important to know that Jesus essentially did talk about homosexuality. The Bible describes him as the “Word of God made flesh” (John 1:14), and so anything that is included in Scripture is verified by Jesus. He was the living embodiment of every word of every claim of the Bible. And so if the Bible speaks against homosexuality even once, then Jesus essentially, by virtue of his nature, talked about it.

As for the rest of his article, he seems to argue from ignorance. That is, his argument is, “I’ve personally polled some scholars and commentaries and some of them say that we can’t really know the context of these passages that include language forbidding homosexuality. So, we shouldn’t forbid it without knowing the cultural implications of the day.”

This is a poor reason to refute something out of hand. He is taking shaky evidence and making what he believes is an irrefutable claim. That’s poor debate etiquette. 

Do you believe that people are born gay (is it a choice or a predisposition)?

This is honestly a tough question for me to answer. I think everyone is born with certain traits amplified and/or dampened down due to conditions in the womb/external environment, so I can’t say for certain that it’s a predisposition. At the same time, I am fairly confident in saying that it’s not a choice either. I guess I would need to see more research on the matter before I committed to saying it’s a predisposition.

Author’s Note (this is an edited excerpt from a previous blog): Scripture speaks of homosexuality as a sin (1 Cor 6:9), and therefore those that believe Scripture are simply trusting what it says. With that said, Scripture also says that sin is a “predisposition” (Rom 5). It’s something every person is born with. And as a predisposition, everybody has a “decision” to either act on it or not. Some act on it by lying. Others act on it by stealing. And some act on it by planting a bomb at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. It’s a predisposition to which every person is subjected. Thus, since Scripture speaks of homosexuality as a sin, (and since it speaks of sin as a predisposition), it is not unreasonable to say that homosexuality is the fruit of a decision rooted in a predisposed, sinful nature.

But this doesn’t mean that it’s okay. We would never, for example, suggest that rape is okay. No one could reasonably say, “Aw, leave that guy assaulting that woman alone. Stop trying to rewire his predisposition with your personal preferences. He can’t help himself.” This isn’t to say that homosexuality is on par with rape, only that a sin is a sin, and the tiniest sin is enough to separate man from God.

Do you think, from what you know about Christianity, that a person can be a Christian and live an openly homosexual lifestyle?

I think it is possible for someone to be Christian and a homosexual at the same time, yes. God created everyone the way they are for a reason, and whatever that reason is, only God knows. It’s impossible for me to say it’s a sin, because so many things that we do today are. Our culture and society is vastly different than the one that is written and talked about in the Bible. I think someone’s relationship with God, is just that. Their relationship. It isn’t up to you or I to pass judgement on the way they reach out to God.

Author’s Note (this is an edited excerpt from a previous blog): It is interesting that someone would desire to remain associated to Christianity if he also desires to refute some of its basic claims. I say this not against Matt, but to many celebrities, such as Macklemore, who attempt to do so.

There is an old illustration that describes this well. The illustration details a repair man replacing the parts of his boat. After purchasing the boat he begins to replace its every component. He switches out the motor, the hull, the deck, and the seats. Before long, there is no original element left of the boat.

Is it the same boat?

No.

Likewise, when one switches out all of the original components to Christianity, as determined by God primarily through the Bible, it is no longer Christianity.

Is there anything else that you would like to say or add that wasn’t included in this interview?

I just want to say that there will never be a time, no matter what happens, that I would actively hate someone for the beliefs they hold, or the religion that they practice. We are all immensely more complicated than these few social issues that bring out the worst in some people.

I will always be willing to rationally discuss and debate anything with someone as long as I am afforded the same courtesy. Which is why I like you so much Jared!  You are one of the few people I am still friends with where we don’t get into some heated screaming match over who’s right and who’s wrong.

Author’s Note: I believe that Matt is on to something here, and that even those that disagree with his lifestyle can learn from it. Christians should never actively hate people because they disagree with them. This is both counterproductive and unchristian. Jesus never hated those that disagreed with him. In fact, while hanging on the cross, he prayed for them. We may believe that they are separated from God, but hating them doesn’t advance the gospel. Our job is to share the truth, to share it in love, and to hope that God uses our efforts to save them and lead them to eternal life in Christ.

Final Note: I usually put the phrase “same sex marriage” in quotations, because I believe the term to be oxymoronic. That is, I believe it is on par with saying, “squared circle.” In this interview the term shows up from time to time without the quotations because it is included in Matt’s answers, and he doesn’t view it that way.

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SHOULD YOU COME TO GOD “JUST AS YOU ARE?”

christian-tattoo-on-wristThe phrase “come as you are” is one that is synonymous with the Christian faith. It’s a phrase that’s heralded to the downtrodden, the prodigal, and the lost. It’s one that suggests, “It doesn’t matter where you have been or what you have done, because Jesus accepts you ‘just as you are.’” Thus, it’s a highly appealing phrase because it provides a great hope for those who feel as though they are beyond repair.

It’s a wonderful statement. But it only tells half of the story.

When we view the phrase from a biblical framework, there are a few conclusions to which we can come:

WE DON’T NECESSARILY COME, BUT ARE FOUND JUST AS WE ARE

Paul writes in Romans 5:12,

Just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.”

This essentially means that everyone is conceived and born into this world as sinners, separated from God. This is what most refer to as “original sin.” This idea of original sin is advanced in Romans 3:10 when Paul says that our sin leaves us utterly depraved, with no desire to search for God. This means that before God we are “just as we are,” which is hopelessly lost. This also means that the phrase “come just as you are” is a bit misleading because although those who come to God through Jesus all come “just as we are,” we really don’t come at all.

It is instead God who comes.

In the Garden of Eden He walked in the cool of the day to find Adam and Eve after they had sinned (Genesis 3:8).

At the Tower of Babel he came down when we disobeyed His command to spread out and fill the earth (Genesis 11).

And he ultimately came when he sent his Son Jesus to die in our steads because we were lost in our sin (John 3:16).

God has been coming and finding us just as we are since the beginning of time. And he always finds us “just as we are.”

BEFORE WE COME JUST AS WE ARE FOR WORSHIP, WE MUST ADJUST WHAT WE ARE

The most popular use of “coming just as you are” is used in the context of worship and not salvation. It’s not difficult to find a worship song that includes the phrase. The idea of such songs is that, regardless of how you spent your week, you can still “come as you are before your God.”

This, however, can be a very dangerous endeavor.

Consider for a moment a couple named Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5). The couple sold a piece of land but held back a portion of the funds in their offering to God. The text says that the result was that Ananias “fell down and breathed his last” (Acts 5:5). Sapphira suffered the same fate (Acts 5:10).

Ananias and Sapphira didn’t die because they didn’t give God their entire paycheck. They died because they essentially came before God unprepared for worship (i.e., they “came just as they were”).

The context of their sin is seen in Acts 4 when the church was of “one heart and soul” and not “one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them” (32). Ananias and Sapphira wanted others to think that they were part of this one heart and soul, but didn’t actually want to be of the one heart and soul.

They “came just as they were,” and it was the death of them.

The Old Testament conveys the same message. The High Priest, prior to worship, needed to offer up sacrifices “for his own sins and then for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 7:27). The idea is that instead of coming to God just as he was, he prepared himself to stand before the presence of God.

Before we “come just as we are before our God,” we should examine ourselves in order that we may come before God for worship.

WE SHOULD COME JUST AS WE ARE, BUT EXPECT TO BE CHANGED

We live in what many call the “post-modern” world. The post-modern mindset questions the very idea of truth, suggesting that it doesn’t exist. This tends to breed compromise and tolerance. All beliefs are welcomed, accepted, and meaningful, but no single belief takes precedence over another. In other words, Jesus may work for one person, but not for another, and that is okay.

This worldview, however, simply does not jive logically, especially with the faith that we call Christianity. Jesus claimed to be “the way.” Thus he is either “the way” or not “the way,” but he cannot be “a way.”

Although this is the case, there are some who attempt to combine post-modernism and Christianity, which results in half-truths like, “come just as you are.” The phrase sounds welcoming and forgiving, but it isn’t necessarily biblical because it is an incomplete sentence.

A better way of stating the phrase would be, “Come just as you are, but expect to be changed!”

COME AS YOU REALLY ARE

In the book, Jim and Casper Go to Church, (a book in which a believer and non-believer travel the nation visiting and evaluating churches), Jim and Casper visit a church in Portland, Oregon called “The Bridge.” The title of the chapter is, Come As You Really Are.

The chapter is about how “The Bridge” is a church designed for those who have become disenchanted with the “normal” way of doing church, and so it accepts the “outcasts” who can come as they “really are,” as opposed to the rest of us who come, I’m assuming, as we “really aren’t.”

These “outcasts” have tattoos, smoke at the entryway, and talk during the “sermon,” among other things. Jim and Casper seem to really like this church because it accepts people “just as they are,” while other churches allegedly use the phrase without truly meaning it.

The problem with this is that becoming a follower of Jesus is more than just “being who you are,” because “being who you are” means being a wretched sinner. Being “who you are” means that, although you identify your shortcomings, you are okay with them because, well, “it’s just who I am.”

But God calls us to leave our sinful ways behind and to be “conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29). Granted, this takes time. It is not expected (or even possible) that we immediately become a perfect person upon becoming a Christian, but there is a process that should begin to take place in us called sanctification. This process does not mean that an individual is not saved if he has a tattoo, smokes, or talks during the sermon (to cite the list included in Jim and Casper’s book). It does mean, however, that when a person becomes a follower of Jesus that he begins to act more like Jesus. And Jesus lived contrary to the world.

Coming just as you are is essentially impossible, but by the grace of God He finds you where you are, changes your heart, and calls you to become something holy.

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WHY THE PHRASE “WITH GOD ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE” DOESN’T MEAN THAT YOU CAN PLAY IN THE NFL

draftThe other day I saw a post on a social network, from a Christian, linking an article of a young man, who is also a Christian, outlining his realistic potential to be drafted into the NFL this summer. The original poster, in linking the article, posted something along the lines of, “With God all things are possible!”

While I am sure the intent of this individual was genuine, (and while I’m proud of the prospective NFL player), I am afraid that  Jesus’ statement, “With God all things are possible” was severely taken out of context here. And this is unfortunately just one example of how this statement is often abused. You see, when Jesus said, “With God all things are possible,” he wasn’t suggesting that God’s goal for the believer is to bless him with the rare opportunity to become a professional athlete. In fact, he wasn’t talking about how God’s goal for the believer is to accomplish anything that the world might deem rare and illustrious. Such an interpretation would suggest that any believer can achieve such a goal, and that such a goal would be the height of what it means to be a believer.

Instead, God was talking about something spiritual. He was talking about how it’s impossible for a person to be saved from eternal death, but that with God it becomes possible.

And this is something that I would rather be made possible than the ability to play football in the NFL.

While it’s true that it might be in God’s plan for a person who happens to be a believer to play in the NFL, the NBA, the MLB, or even the NHL (is hockey even still a sport?), Jesus’ statement, “With God all things are possible” has nothing to do with such a feat. Instead, it has everything to do with what man can’t do, which is save himself. But thankfully, with God, we can be saved from ourselves, our sins, and death.

To read a full exposition of Jesus’ statement, I invite you to read my recent article “What Does it Mean when Jesus says, ‘With God All Things are Possible?’” in the Odessa American.

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FREE EBOOK: THE SWEETEST NAMES I KNOW

FSweetest Names 3D copyor a while now, I have offered my short eBook on the Second Coming of Jesus, The Sweetest Names I Know, as a free gift for anyone that follows my blog. There have been some issues on getting it out to those that have followed. For this I apologize.

With that said, here is a link to download the .pdf. Thank you for reading, responding, and for following the blog!

The Sweetest Names I Know eBook

Check out more of my books and resources on my “Books” tab.

LOUD NIGHT, HOLY NIGHT

candle_lighting_serviceIt’s Christmas Eve.

You’ve finished your Christmas shopping. Your tree is standing tall, fully decorated. Lights are meticulously adorning the edges of your roof. The gifts are wrapped and placed under the tree. The stockings are hung by the fireplace with care.

You’ve even completed your holiday charity work, participating in Operation Christmas Child, serving at a community feeding, and donating to a special Christmas mission.

There is just one more thing left, and it’s something you look forward to every Christmas: the annual candlelight Christmas service.

The candlelight service often marks the church’s final Christmas event of the year. And for the most part, every candlelight service is the same. It takes place in the evening, usually on Christmas Eve. Christmas songs are sung. A Christmas message is preached. The lights go down, the candles flicker on, and like an angelic choir the church harmoniously begins to sing,

Silent night, holy night. All is calm, all is bright…

It’s a beautiful scene.

Is it, however, a scene that captures the nature of what took place on the night of Jesus’ birth? Was it really a “silent” night? And was everything really “calm”?

In describing the birth of Jesus, the Gospel of Luke details three groups that reveal that the night may not have been as silent and as calm as our beloved song proclaims. Instead, Luke reveals that it might have been a night full of joyful exclamation and overwhelming excitement.

Consider these three pictures:

A HEAVENLY HOST

In Luke 2:14, a host of angels appear to some shepherds, “praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.’”

This suggests that even the heavenly beings could not keep silent about the birth of Jesus. The shepherds immediately went to Bethlehem to both see Jesus and tell others how they learned about Him.

AN EARTHLY HOST

Luke 2:18 says that all who heard what the shepherds told them “wondered.”

It’s not unreasonable to suggest that this wondering was not “silent,” but instead noisy. This is contextually possible if the “but” at the beginning of verse 19 is taken as “on the contrary.”  Mary, unlike the others, treasured the shepherds’ words, “pondering them in her heart.” The rest perhaps discussed the matter openly.

A SHEPHERDLY HOST

Luke 2:20 says that when the shepherds went back to their fields, that they “glorified” and “praised” God for all that they had heard and seen.  This doesn’t sound like it was silent at all!

In fact, it sounds like it was a pretty rambunctious evening.

I concede that a candlelight service revolving around the idea of rowdy chaos, concluding with the words, “Loud night, holy night” might not be as attractive as its traditional counterpart, but such lyrics might portray the events of Jesus’ birth more accurately. And this isn’t to say that the song, Silent Night, is a bad song. It surely consists of wonderful affirmations. It is to say only that it’s wise to consider the totality of what took place on the night our Savior was born, which is this: The birth of Jesus is something to be joyfully loud about!

This Christmas let’s remember that the birth of Jesus is a glorious event that deserves to be  celebrated and vocalized, especially in a culture that wants to keep it “silent.”

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WHY IT’S OKAY TO SAY “NO” TO LOCAL CHARITIES

Charity“Would you like to donate two dollars to the local Rehab Center?”
“Can I add a children’s book to your order to be donated to the hospital?”
“Would you be interested in donating a dollar to the animal shelter?”

These are but a few of the holiday donation requests I have received over the past couple of weeks. Whether I am buying a sandwich, a book, or a toy for my pet, I find myself showered by requests to support a local organization. And while I believe that some of these requests are warranted, and while I believe that some of these organizations are good, and while I believe that donating to some of these organizations is a worthy cause, I also believe that followers of Jesus ought to be prudent in how they give to organizations that don’t explicitly promote the gospel.

This is to say that, while it is good to give to rehab centers, hospitals, and even animal shelters, such donations should not be confused as explicitly participating in the gospel.

This is because Christianity isn’t about doing good things; it’s about advancing the name of Jesus. Organizations like rehab centers and hospitals can prolong the quality of physical life, but only Jesus can provide everlasting life. Both are good, but one is better. Much better. And this is the real message of Christmas.

Unfortunately, this is a concept that is often muddled. And, ironically, it’s most often muddled during the Christmas season.

Some weeks ago I read the following comment, which in my estimation reveals the confusion of the relationship between good works and the gospel: “Compassion for the poor is uniquely tied to the gospel & unalterably linked to the great commission.”

At first glance this statement seems impressively theological, but upon further investigation it attempts to recalibrate the gospel into something other than what it is. Jesus warns of such efforts in his parable of unleavened bread:

“The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened” (Matt 13:33, NASB).

In this, the gospel is the pure “three pecks of flour” recipe to which we should not add “leaven.” In Scripture “leaven” is always bad, and it causes the finished product to turn out much differently than intended.

Jesus’ message is that we ought to be careful to not add extra ingredients to the gospel’s recipe. And confusing the doing of good things as the gospel is, without question, adding extra ingredients.

This of course isn’t to say that compassion for the poor isn’t “tied” or “linked” to the gospel. It is. Nor is it to say that compassion for the poor is an evil ingredient. It isn’t. But to go as far as to say that it is “uniquely tied” and “unalterably linked” might be altering the recipe a little bit.

Digging wells for a poor village in Africa, for example, isn’t, in and of itself, the gospel. It’s a wonderful thing to do, especially if it is being done because of one’s redemption in Christ, but it isn’t the gospel. The gospel can be preached without the digging of wells. Digging wells to create a segue to preach the gospel is good, but if the gospel isn’t preached then one has essentially only done a good thing that is no better than what a non-Christian organization can do. Many organizations participate in this compassionate effort for the poor without any gospel motivation. In this, physical life is sustained, but the village remains spiritually dead.

When we replace the backing of organizations that don’t support the explicit gospel message for the backing of organizations that do, we confuse the gospel with doing good things, which isn’t the gospel. Giving to good organizations is a good thing, but participating in organizations that advance the gospel is better. Christians should do both, but we should also know that our resources go further when we explicitly support the gospel. And if we have to choose one, we should choose the one that shares the gospel with its recipients.

This is because it’s not necessarily true that compassion for the poor “is uniquely tied and unalterably linked to the gospel” so much as that it can be “tied to a unique and unalterable gospel.” This idea preserves the gospel’s unique ingredients without altering its recipe. It places the power of the gospel in Christ, not our actions, and shows that it’s the gospel that has the power to save, not our ability to do good things for the less fortunate.

As Matt Chandler writes:

If we confuse the gospel with response to the gospel, we will drift from what keeps the gospel on the ground, what makes it clear and personal, and the next thing you know, we will be doing a bunch of different things that actually obscure the gospel, not reveal it. At the end of the day, our hope is not that all the poor on earth will be fed. That’s simply not going to happen. I’m not saying we shouldn’t feed and rescue the poor; I’m saying that salvation isn’t having a full belly or a college education or whatever. Making people comfortable on earth before an eternity in hell is wasteful (The Explicit Gospel, 83).

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Some of the content in this blog originally appeared in my article first published on thestrife.comThe New Quotable: Using Twitter Carefully

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