Category Archives: New Testament

Not my own

1 Corinthians 6:20 …”for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
“If we are not our own but the Lord’s, it’s clear what errors we must flee, and what we must direct our whole lives toward. We are not our own; therefore, neither our reason nor our will should dominate our plans and actions. We are not our own; therefore, let us not make the gratification of our flesh our end. We are not our own; therefore, let us forget ourselves and our own interests. Rather, we are God’s. Therefore, let us live and die to Him. We are God’s. Therefore, let His wisdom and His will govern all our actions. We are God’s. Therefore, let us – in every way in all our lives – run to Him as our only proper end. How far has he progressed who’s been taught that he is not his own – who’s taken rule and dominion away from his own reason and entrusted them to God. For the plague of submitting to our own rule leads us straight to ruin, but the surest way to safety is neither to know nor to want anything on our own, but simply to follow the leading of the Lord.”  – John Calvin, A Little Book On The Christian Life, pages 22-23.

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All things for work for my eternal good. Romans 8:28-30

What Paul says:”And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (ESV)
Most segregate verse 28 from the rest, and without this context some common errors come up. 
It’s not saying Christians will have any less pain, suffering or general hard/bad circumstances in life than anyone else. The “all things” is simply that, all of life – the good, the bad and the ugly, are part of the Christian experience. Jesus didn’t die to lessen our hard times in this life. 
It’s not saying that because you did not get your initial dream job (bf/gf, car, college….) that the “working together for good” means that a better job (or whatever you’re after) is just down the road a few days or weeks at most. 
It’s not a negative version karma where I look at bad circumstances in life as something that triggers an equal and opposite positive circumstance. 
It’s not saying to look at bad circumstances as if they are good or come with silver linings. Bad things are really bad. At the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus was mad and wept, because death was real, and it was bad. He didn’t look past the pain of death and approach the situation as if He was looking to prove a point with a smile on his face. 

We so often tell people, who are in the midst of a tragedy that God will make it good, as in they will be able to comfort somebody else later on who befalls the same thing. That may be, but that’s not the promise here. 
It is saying:

* That all of life, for God’s children, is fixed and structured in a manner that it works to mold us, more and more into the image of Jesus (our greatest “good”). 

* That circumstances (good or bad) are the means/tools by which God molds us into Christ’s image. They are no less great or as bad as God intends, as He knows exactly what we need and can withstand. He never cuts off too much or too little. 

* That within this image bearing, God can refer to all Christians (men, women, children, Greeks, slaves…) as inheritors (“sons” as a position/title, not just gender). 

* That glorification is so fixed for the children of God, that it can be referenced in the past tense as already a part of what we are. 

* That, as Tim Keller summarizes in a sermon on joy, Christians have joy that transcends circumstances because these passages tell us 1) bad things are for our ultimate good, 2) the good (Christ) we can never lose, and 3) the best is yet to come.

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Millennials, Gamers and the Christian Life.

“Millennials”is the stereotypical name given to those of the current generation who are typified by terms like entitlement, whiny and at times aggressively rebellious. I’d like to make an observation about them in contrast to gamers and true Christianity. I hope this widens the perspective of some so that they may go through the rest of life cherishing each day for what it is. 

I’m going to use “gamer(s)” in the sense of those who regularly grind through a game over and over, not just to win, but to improve upon their character’s stats, gear and/or level. 
To me the gamer is most like the Christian. They both enjoy the challenge of grinding out another seemingly monotonous day seeing only incremental improvements each day. Yet within each day there is the satisfaction of having completed more than there was to do the day before. The millennial, on the other hand, just wants the goal or prize. The day to day is pointless to them, a waste of time and even stupid because of a sense of chronological snobbery, if it’s old then there must be a better, more modern way. 
In life the millennial wants retirement asap, because years of the daily grind only prevent them from traveling and doing what’s supposed to be fun. Yet should you give it to them, they will likely tell you in about an hour that they are bored anyway. Why? Because they have nothing to make having gotten the prize worth it. 
So, too, in church, millennials get the end of the world benefit of salvation idea, but the day to day is boring or a waste of time. The spiritual benefits should be immediate because they want them and as a child of God they believe they are entitled to them now. Yet other millennials are more willing to sit on the end of time salvation benefit and just live the day to day as like the rest of the world. 
What they are missing is that like the gamer, the fun is in the details of grinding through the same levels/trials over and over. You build experience, friends and stories about these trials, and you learn not to rush into the next area of life, much less the end level of the game unprepared. There may yield few gains at the end of even a month of grinding, but the gamer knows they are making progress, and see encouragement in those who are ahead and along side them. They are even able to befriend those of weaker levels to show and help them conquer obstacles still too great for them to handle alone. 
Millennials need to both learn and hear from others that life is lived in the trenches, and that although you might want all the rewards now, they won’t be worth anything if just given. You may have the prize, but no experiences of what got you there, no friendships with people you fought and lived shoulder to shoulder with, no stories to share of close calls, rescues and setbacks. 
Life and especially the Christian life is hard. There is no quick fix or advancing to full spiritual enlightenment now. Each day is a grind, and although there many seem to be greener grass elsewhere and prizes you want, you need to be tested enough where you are to know if you’re at the right level to advance there. 
I think one of the reasons Jesus was told “No” in the garden, was because there was no skipping this level of difficulty. So when we are told “no” by God, we are to suck it up that this or that scenario just must be a level we need to complete or grind through again for His glory (not ours). There is no room for pouting or rioting, because that just sets you farther back. You just get up and play on. Breaking controllers and whining just delay the grinding you likely should be doing to incrementally see it to the next level. 

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Apply the Word

Scripture regularly admonishes us to be not only hearers, but doers of the Word (James 1:22), just as some, maybe few sermons admonish us with notions of application, or how to work out in our lives a piece of what we just heard. Application in sermons is a dying art, yet its something crucial to the Christian walk. Many Christians are well aware of being delivered from sin, justice and wrath, but know little about how the rest of life is to now work. In the absence of true application the culture is ready to fill the gap with its practices and reasonings. Most sermon application seems like moral/ethical standards or doctrines to just be understood. Denominations push these extremes but rarely provide a healthy balance or more. 

Application should be like going to the store and actually buying something that you take home and make yours, as the possession of the product adds to your life. This illustrates the three levels of learning (I’ll call them facts, others and experience). In facts, you learn the details and doctrines of God. In others, you see how people work out those facts in their life. Then in experience, you take both of the above and incorporate them into YOUR life. You have in effect not just read about a product, window shopped, or merely watched an infomercial, but you see such a need for it that you invest in it and take it home with you. Now all three elements are key, because left to themselves or only two of the three, will create problems. For example to just learn facts and doctrine, without any change in heart or life may just make you an Athenian, just liking to know and hear some new thing. 

My application in this post is for you to focus on the next sermon you hear, and whether an application is given or not, ask yourself what will you take home from the sermon that you will seek to incorporate into your life, and make yours, and thus be a doer of what you hear. 

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Casting pearls before swine, and giving what is holy to dogs. 

Matthew chapter seven is the popular “Judge not, that you be not judged”, passage (verse 1). But just after being instructed about not judging Jesus says this, “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” (verse 6)

The problem for interpreters and everyday Christians is what to make of the dual standard of not judging but then judging who are dogs and pigs. 

The usual explanation used to reconcile the problem above is that we are to be discerning about when to judge and when not to. Although I admit this is a plausible interpretation, I believe it leaves the issue vague and could be better explained. 

My first problem with the discernment interpretation is that it has to be interjected into the text to “resolve” the tension between the two positions. Nothing in the passage says to separate verse 5 from 6, but it’s called a necessary inference due to the conflict. There is also some confusion about how “discernment” is being used so as to be different from judging/judgment. As distinct as both terms sound both are still judgment calls about the motives behind pointing out someone’s sins or judging them worthy of the gospel at all.

The solution I propose is that verse six is to be understood as a form of instructional irony. It’s saying the opposite of what you mean to illustrate a point or provide emphasis. It’s as if after everything said in the sermon on the mount Jesus takes the stance that in no way should His followers use what they are learning as a way to only point out the faults of others or lord ourselves as the new protectors or judges over the good news to such a degree that we would call certain persons as unworthy to receive it. To do so is a misapplication of everything taught, and will bring about not only the displeasure of God, but even unbelievers will turn on you and mock God in the process. 

First of all this is more faithful to the rest of scripture where teaching like the sowing of seeds (spreading the gospel) there is not a trace of discernment hindering where to spread seed. Clearer instructions state we are to go into all the world making disciples, Jesus preached to all, and especially associated with those deemed unworthy in his time. It’s also a testimony of scripture and the church that many converts describe themselves in their previous lives as dogs, pigs or worse, yet God saved them. It’s also true that when believers mishandle scripture God and His word is blasphemed by the world because they no longer see the real image of God (Romans 2:24). 

Is there evidence of Jesus using this teaching style elsewhere? Yes, Jesus uses this language in other places, as when telling the Scribes and Pharisees, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13) but in truth the Pharisees are sinners and not really righteous. In a simular manner His disciples are instructed that their righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees, who were not in the biblical sense “righteous”. Paul calls himself the “chief of sinners” yet he does not mean he is satan, but is illustrating the mindset of humility, in light of God’s grace. 

My conclusion then is that when considering who deserves the Gospel, don’t judge and sow liberally. If considering a sin to point out to another believer don’t do it in a judgmental way. Beware how your approaching a situation lest you appear to be lording yourself over others, instead of seeking to cover sins in love (1 Peter 4:8). 

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Name in vain

In the same way that the second commandment is more about the worship of God, and not just an artistic limit on depicting Him, is the same way that the third commandment is more than just a prohibition of using God’s names and titles in irreverent ways. 

The command states:

 “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” – Exodus 20:7 (ESV)

We usually take this from our context and assume it means to not use the name “Jesus” or God in cursing, or flippantly. This will click in your mind once I say it, but in addition to that, think of “taking God’s name” in a marriage and/or covenantal sense. In a way the deeper meaning point not just to our speech, but our entire way of life, because we (Christians) take on the name of God. We are His people, as were the Israelites hearing this from Moses. To bear the name of God is a serious reference point for one’s identity and way of life. Because of our actions the name of God can be either glorified or dragged through the mud.

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All Christians are in Service

Luke 3:14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”

There is a sense in which new and old Christians wonder what they should be doing for God. Like the crowd, tax collector and soldier from Luke 3, all ask, “What should we do now”? Surprisingly enough the answer is something we don’t expect, which is, go back into the world doing what you’re already doing. The only catch is that we are asked to do those things as if in service to God and others, honestly and with the good of others in mind. This is not the climb the ladder stepping on others along the way model for success, but is instead what is real wisdom, love and community is from Gods point of view. 

This is radical thinking in some modern Christian circles, because our job is usually nothing more than an occupation (that which meerly occupies our time). Occupations are hardly spiritual, unless you work for a church in some capacity, is what most believe. The above challenges us to view a job or position (friend, child, coworker) as a calling of God to just be good at what you do, use the gifts you have, and to do so honestly and lovingly within the context of the life you are already in. This not only elevates all vocations to be a calling of God, but elevates each Christians responsibility to be that Child of God exactly where God has placed you moment by moment. There is no excuse to say, I’m not a pastor, so my work is meaningless or that in the future you plan on missions work each summer, so time in school as a student is somehow less important. We are Gods people 24-7 no matter where we are. 

This does not mean we are preaching at work or witnessing during lunch breaks, but meerly that we would be and do the best we can where God has placed us. Being good friends, workers, students, bosses, parents and children in whatever context of life you are “Currently” in. Be that child of God where you are right now, not just on Sunday when at church. 

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