Easter is on Sunday April 12, 2020. Easter if of course when we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus died on the cross for our sins, taking the punishment for our sins, past, present and future and allowing us to be made right in God’s sight. God demands perfection and because we aren’t perfect and aren’t capable of being perfect, God in His great love for us sent Jesus to be the sacrifice for our sins. Jesus took our punishment, what we deserved because of our actions and took it upon Himself on the cross which literally killed Him. But the greatest part of all was that Jesus didn’t stay in the grave right? He took our sin, died for our sin and then came back to life beating death.
The concept of there being a sacrifice for the sins of the people wasn’t new right? All throughout the Old Testament, sacrifices were exactly how the people’s sins were forgiven. The people sinned, God required a sacrifice, the people would slaughter an animal, often a lamb, blood would be spilled, God would forgive the people for their sins and everyone would move on until the next time.
But the two big differences this time were that 1.) there didn’t need to be a “next time”. Jesus was the ultimate once and for all sacrifice and 2.) those lambs that were killed as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of the people’s sins never came back to life, but Jesus did. So not only did Jesus take away our sins through His death but then He takes up a notch and beats death by coming back to life. That’s the ultimate sacrifice. It’s because of what Jesus did on the cross that you and I can have the opportunity to accept the sacrifice of Jesus and have our slate wiped clean in God’s sight once and for all. That is the story of Easter in a nutshell.
As we head to Easter allow me to challenge you to evaluate the role that you are called to play. BibleGateway has it like this in the book of John.
John 1:6-8 (NASB) says, “There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light.”
So in this passage we’re introduced to a guy by the name of John. John was the son of Zacharias and Elizabeth and we learn about this couple over in the book of Luke chapter 1. This is a lengthy passage but it’s important for our understanding of what we’re talking about.
Luke 1:5-17 (NASB) says, “In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years. Now it happened that while he was performing his priestly service before God in the appointed order of his division, according to the custom of the priestly office, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were in prayer outside at the hour of the incense offering. And an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
There is a boat load of stuff to unpack here but let’s just highlight a few things to help us better understand what’s happening:
1.) This is pre-Jesus’ birth. Jesus had yet to come into the world as a baby, in fact if you keep reading in this Luke passage you discover that almost immediately after this account, the birth of Jesus is foretold and occurs in the 6th month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy with John.
Luke 1:26-27 (NASB) says, “Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.”
John is pre-Jesus’ birth.
2.) From the very beginning John’s life was going to be “set apart”. The angel told Zacharias, “…For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor…” That may not sound like much to us but in this culture wine was almost like water, it was really common, everyone drank wine, except for those that were set apart for the purposes of God. The angel was telling Zacharias that John was going to be different than the people around him. John was going to have a very distinct purpose for his life.
3.) Which leads to the third thing I’ll highlight, John’s sole purpose was to prepare the way for Jesus. Luke 1:16-17 (NASB) says, “And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
This doesn’t really even apply at this point in history but John didn’t grow up going to college fairs trying to figure out what he was going to do with his life, it was clear from the beginning that he was going to “prepare the way of the Lord”.
I share all of that with you so that I can loop us back around to John 1:6-8 (NASB) which says, “There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light.”
Here’s what I want us to start with as we head towards the Easter season.
1.) God has laid claim on your life regardless of whether or not you see it, agree with it or accept it. God had already laid claim to John’s life before Jesus had even been formally introduced to the world.
In fact if you read just a few verses earlier than where we’re at now it says in John 1:9-11 (NASB), “There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.” That sounds a lot like today’s world right? Jesus comes as a light to the world and the yet the world does not know Him. Here’s what I want you to understand, Jesus is still the Light of the World and still has a plan for your life, even if you don’t see it yet.
2.) Like John, you are called and set apart to be a witness for Jesus. You might even read John 1:6-8 like this…
“There came a man sent from God, whose name was (insert your name here). He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light.”
Does that describe how you live your life? If not, let's push for some changes so that as many as possible might experience this Easter season having truly seen and embraced the Light of Jesus. Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
Actual Question: Who or what were the Nephilim in the Bible?
Possible Answer: It’s in Genesis 6 and Numbers 13 that we see references to the “Nephilim”. Genesis 6:1-7 (NASB) says, “Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose. Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown. Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. The Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.”
As with any deep dive into a topic, verse or concept found in Scripture it’s important to understand the verse or verses in the larger context of which they were written. Let’s start with Genesis passage. Genesis chapters 1-5 maps out the detailed account of the creation of the heavens and the earth, the creation of Adam and Eve, the fall and the subsequent population boom. It’s with this backdrop that we enter into the verses in question at the beginning of Genesis chapter 6.
In Genesis 6:1-3 God speaks of the corruption of mankind and how the “sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose.” There has been much debate as to what, “the sons of God” actually means. Does this term signify angels, fallen angels, the literal offspring of gods?
Based on the larger context of the passage (the downfall and corruption of mankind) what seems to make more sense is that the “sons of God” refers to “men of righteousness”, those that were chasing after the things of God until they allowed the beauty of the women around them to pull them away from God’s righteousness. The men were marrying those that God did not approve of and were thus creating even more generations that were sure to continue straying from the things of God. It’s in verse 3 that God declares that in 120 years he would step in and put an end to the depravity of the world through the world-wide flood (see Genesis 6:13-22).
It’s in verse 4 that we see the first mention of the “Nephilim”. Nephilim is often translated as "fallen ones" which is closely related to the Hebrew word “naphal” (to fall). One school of thought associates these beings with fallen angels or their offspring. I would argue, based on the context of the surrounding verses that “fallen ones” has more to do with a spiritual falling away and not “fallen” in the sense of “from heaven”. It’s as if verse four is simply repeating or rephrasing what’s already been mentioned in the first three verses, the righteous men of God had “fallen” away and were reproducing with unrighteous women, “daughters of men” and thus increasing the wickedness of the world.
Matthew Henry’s commentary says, “The sons of God that is, the professors of religion, who were called by the name of the Lord, and called upon that name, married the daughters of men, that is, those that were profane, and strangers to God and godliness.” It’s the final part of verse four that creates perhaps the greatest level of confusion. Genesis 6:4b says, “Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.” When we hear this type of language we allow our minds to drift towards fictional characters like Hercules, Percy Jackson and Greek mythology.
Barnes’ Notes on the Bible answers this idea like this, ”’Men of name’, whose names are often in men's mouths, because they either deserved or required to be named frequently on account of their influential or representative character.” In other words, these were men that were often spoken of for their influence and lack of moral character. These were men that were not only interested in making a name for themselves but were succeeding in doing so. Keeping in mind the context of the larger passage (the corruption of mankind and his forsaking of the things of God) it makes sense that this idea would be further illustrated and highlighted. I would also suggest that the term “men who were of old” is not referring to anything pre Adam (since that’s not a thing to begin with) but is instead referring to the idea that this world-wide corruption had been going on for the last 10 generations (from Adam to Noah). This was not a new problem.
In summary of the Genesis passage I’m suggesting the following:
In response to the Numbers passage that also mentions “Nephilim” I would suggest a similar approach in first considering the larger context. Numbers 13:33 (NASB) says, “There also we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim); and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.” If you start with even the beginning of chapter 13 you gain a larger perspective by seeing Moses sending of spies into the land of Canaan to first scout out the Promised Land. Their report back was less than encouraging and each of the spies feared for the future of their nation except Caleb who was sure of their success. Numbers 13:33’s reference to the term “Nephilim” is often associated with “giants” because of their use of the phrase, “and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.”
If we link this passage back to the Genesis account of Nephilim we can quickly come to the conclusion that this phrase has less to do with physical size (although perhaps some) and more to do with physical prowess. Using the Genesis passage as a reference we remember that “Nephilim” were “men of renown” or men who had made a name for themselves. They were big, strong, aggressive, take what we want when we want it kind of men and since the time of Noah (the sinfulness of man picked right back up after the flood) they had since been breeding more just like themselves.
If you can imagine what type of multi-generational upbringing this must have resulted in you can quickly see why the Israelite spies felt overwhelmed and unsure of their odds against such a group.
In light of the Genesis passage my summary of the Numbers passage is as follows:
In short, I don’t think that the Nephilim were giants at all. I don’t think that fallen angels came down and had sex with the women of the earth to produce these supposed “men of renown”. I don’t think Percy Jackson, Hercules or Greek mythology tie into Scripture at all but they do make entertaining movies. Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
Actual Question: Why did God still bless Abram when he lied about Sarai not being his wife as they entered into Egypt? And why were they not “punished” for introducing Hagar into the mix as they waited for God’s promised heir? At a time when we really saw God’s justice and anger, there didn’t seem to be any repercussions.
Possible Answer: First some background. We are first introduced to Abram in Genesis 11:26 (NASB), “Terah lived seventy years, and became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran.” Genesis 11:27-32 tells us that Haran (brother of Abram) died while still in Ur and then introduces us to the wives of both Abram and Nahor. Nahor takes a niece named Milcah (His dead brother Haran’s daughter) for a wife and Abram takes Sarai (his half sister, his dad’s daughter by another woman) as a wife. At the end of Genesis 11 the death of Terah at the age of 205 is recorded.
Two side notes that might provide some perspective:
It’s probably important here to state that marrying inside the family was common practice at this time in history. It wasn’t until Leviticus 18 and 20 that God first forbids the marrying of close relatives (see Leviticus 18:6-18 and Leviticus 20:11-12, 17, 19-21).
It’s also helpful to understand that our modern concept of “family” wasn’t the reality in biblical times. When we think of “family” we think of a dad, mom and a few kids. “Family” in biblical times was a much larger and far more diverse group of people including fathers, grandfathers, great grandfathers, multiple wives, multiple children, half brothers, half sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, servants and even adopted children. It’s against this backdrop that we can more fully understand the account of Abram and Sarai (his half-sister and wife).
Back to the historical account:
Genesis 12 opens up with God’s instruction to Abram to take his clan out of Haran and go to “the land I will show you where I will make you a great nation”. Here we read for the first time God’s promise to Abram to make he and his descendants into a great nation. Not only does God promise to develop him into a great nation He also promises to “bless those who bless him” and to “curse those who curse him”. In other words God would have his back from this point forward.
In Genesis 12:4 we see Abram responding as we hope to respond to a clear directive from God, “Abram went forth as the Lord had spoken to him…” What we see from Abram from chapter 12:4 through 12:9 is a model of faithfulness and trust. Two separate times, once at Shechem (12:6) and once at the mountain east of Bethel (12:8) we see God continuing to reveal portions of His master plan to Abram and Abram responding in turn by building altars to the Lord in thanksgiving and according to 12:8 Abram called upon the name of the Lord.
Don’t miss this, Abram and God has entered into relationship with one another. God was speaking, revealing, unfolding His plans for Abram and his descendants and likewise Abram was learning to pause, erect altars and call upon the name of the Lord. This was a back and forth, two way street in which Abram’s faith was increasing.
In Genesis 12:10 we see the first signs of trouble on the horizon. Famine has struck the area. As was often the practice travelers and neighbors their sights would turn to Egypt in hopes of finding relief from famine. It’s here that we see the first crack in Abram’s faith and trust in God’s promise to make him into a great nation.
Genesis 12:11-13 (NASB) says, “It came about when he came near to Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, “See now, I know that you are a beautiful woman; and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife’; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. Please say that you are my sister so that it may go well with me because of you, and that I may live on account of you.”
Did you catch those final eight words: “…that I may live on account of you.”? Crazy right? How could Abram so quickly forget the promise of God to make him into a great nation? How could he have forgotten that his future wasn’t dependent on Sarai? How could he have forgotten that his future wasn’t dependent on the reception he was about to receive from the Egyptians. Had he forgotten the altar that he himself had erected in thanksgiving to God for the journey thus far? Why had he so quickly gone forth as the Lord had spoken to him, only to quake in his sandals at the first sign of perceived trouble?
If you fast-forward to Genesis 16 we read this in the first two verses. Genesis 16:1-2 (NASB) says, “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife had borne him no children, and she had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, “Now behold, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I will obtain children through her. And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.” I can’t help but notice the similarity between the final eight words of Genesis 12:13, “…that I may live on account of you.” and the final eight words of Genesis 16:2, “And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.” On both of these occasions Abram takes his future into his own hands.
Some quick application for today:
Isn’t this typical of our journey as well? God is showing up, providing clear instruction, mapping out our next steps while we believe our faith to be increasing only to discover that perhaps our faith wasn’t as strong as we had assumed. It’s when things turn south that our faith truly increases. It’s when the road narrows that our faith is tested and the words that come so easily in the light of day are put to the test in the dark of night.
Finally a possible answer to the questions:
Two thoughts come to mind as I’ve processed this Biblical account.
First, punishment for sin as we understand punishment for sin wasn’t exactly the case in these pre-law days. Romans 5:13 (NIV) says, “To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law.” Sin was present and clearly Abram committed sin when he lied on two separate occasions about Sarai being his sister only and not his wife and of course sin was present when both Abram and Sarai decided to shortcut the process of God’s promise to make him (Abram) into a great nation by introducing Hagar into the mix. But as we discover from Romans 5:13 sin (in our modern understanding) was not yet charged to Abram’s account. You could certainly make the argument that much heart ache came about as a result of these poor choices. The pharaoh certainly felt pain as he was duped into thinking Sarai was in play. Sarai herself felt pain as she was “handed off” to the pharaoh to ease Abram’s fears. Hagar certainly felt pain as she was ridiculed and mistreated by Sarai for bringing Ishmael into the picture. Abram himself likely struggled to reconcile in his own mind whether or not he was following God’s plan for his future. To be sure, these foolish choices were not without punishment.
Secondly, I’m struck by the evidence that God’s promise would not be thwarted by Abram’s stupid decisions. God would not allow anything to stand in His way of accomplishing all that He desired for Abram and the future of humanity. I believe the same to be true of God today as He gives us promises regarding our futures. If God promises it, it will happen. No amount of stupidity, ignorance, fear or impatience will stop Him.
Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
Actual Question: “What’s the meaning of John 10:16 (NASB), ‘I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.’”
Possible Answer: Here’s the quick answer: Gentiles are the “other sheep” that Jesus was referring to in this passage. Another way to say that would be “non Jews”. Anyone who wasn’t a Jew was considered a gentile. From Genesis onward it’s made clear that God had chosen the Jews to 1.) be His special people to bless them and 2.) to ultimately bless the entire world through them.
God’s plan for the Jews specifically:
Deuteronomy 14:2 (NASB) says, “For you are a holy people to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.”
Amos 3:2 (NASB) says, “You only have I chosen among all the families of the earth…”
God’s plan for all of humanity:
1 John 2:2 (NASB) says, “…and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”
Isaiah 56:8 (NASB) “The Lord God, who gathers the dispersed of Israel, declares, “Yet others I will gather to them, to those already gathered.”
Zephaniah 3:10 (NASB) “From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia my worshipers, my dispersed ones, will bring My offerings.”
John 11:52 (NASB) “…and not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.”
John 17:20 (NASB) “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word…”
God’s Word makes clear that the Jews were God’s chosen people and that through them He would bring salvation not just to them, but to the entire world. While that’s the quick answer I’ve also been thinking through some ramifications of this passage that have led me to a deeper and more personal challenge.
Recently I’ve been thinking about how I see the world (read people) around me. Depending on my schedule for the day I tend to classify people into categories like “church folks”, “community people”, “after school program students”, “church kids”, “people I assume don’t know Jesus”, “jerks in cars who don’t pay attention while they’re driving”, etc. You get the idea right? It’s not intentional or mean spirited, it’s just how I classify the people I interact with. In doing so I’ve realized that I step into those conversations, interactions, etc. with a pre-determined set of lenses that I use to socialize with them. As an example, when interacting with a barista at Starbucks I tend to scale back on my use of the phrase, “Praise the Lord”. I usually just go up, order my drink and then slip off to the side to wait. I assume that they have no interest in me as a person and I assume that they have no interest in me discovering more about them as a person.
On the other hand, as I walk the hallways of my church building and interact with “church folks” I throw that, ‘Praise the Lord” phrase around like it’s going out of style. I ask questions, I interact with intentionality because I assume that it’s welcomed and wanted. People want to know that their pastor cares and is concerned for them and what’s happening in their lives.
This verse in John 10:16 has me asking the question, “Am I seeing those around me as Jesus see those around me?” It’s clear that as Jesus walked the earth He didn’t classify people into pre-determined categories. He interacted with everyone He came into contact with in the same way; with love, interest and compassion. According to John 10:16 all of these people that I have categorized outside of “church folks” and “church kids” are equally deserving and desired as a part of the “fold” Jesus speaks of in this passage. Yes, He has those that are already a part of the “fold” but there are also others, which are not of this fold, and we must bring them also so they can become a part of the one flock with one Shepherd.
Allow me to put it to you like this, if Jesus says, “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold…” we could also say that, “You and I have other brothers and sisters who are not yet of this fold…” Those people that we blow by everyday at the store, at the gym, in the school parking lot, at your kid’s matches, games and meets, are all those “other sheep” that Jesus longs to bring into the fold. So what am I doing to help make that happen? What are you doing to help make that happen? Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
Actual Question: Which parts of the New Testament scripture are we to take literally and which parts are to be considered applicable to Bible times only?
Great question. In order to gain a more complete understanding of where we as Christ followers should land on this question I think it’s important to first ask the question of “Why?” Why are we concerned with the answer to this question? I don’t intend to offend. I think this is a great question and is certainly worth investigating to ensure that we are as closely following in the steps of Jesus as possible.
But let’s pause for a heart check. Are we concerned with the answer to this question because there are portions of Scripture that make us uncomfortable and we’re secretly hoping these are the sections we don’t have to take literally? Is the asking of this question rooted in our attempts to not stick out too much in our schools, workplaces or neighborhoods?
Jesus Himself said, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Matthew 7:13-14 (NASB)
As we study Scripture we will surely come across countless passages that make us uncomfortable and push us onto the narrow path. If we’re asking these types of questions in an effort to widen the road, shame on us. We should examine Scripture at a deep level in an effort to continue developing as Christ followers but let’s be cautious and honest regarding our motivations.
With that out of the way let’s talk a few logistics. The New Testament is made up of 27 books broken into, by my count, 3 categories:
Even with a broader understanding of the breakdown of the New Testament and the various types of literature included we are still left wondering, “What should be taken literally and what should be considered applicable to “Bible times only”?
Let’s begin with the “History” section. The four Gospels and the book of Acts are written as history and as such, it is my belief that they should be taken literally. These are recordings of actual events that truly took place in the history of the world. Jesus was real and even though some of what is recorded seems difficult to believe (virgin birth, walking on water, healings, miracles, resurrection, etc.) I choose to take what’s recorded as literal. I have to ask myself the question, “Why would I not believe?”
Allow me to suggest a few reasons we may choose not to believe and take these passages literally:
They’re difficult to believe. It’s difficult to wrap my limited understanding of the way the world works around the God’s unlimited and all powerful knowledge of how the world, matter, space and time really work. We dismiss real-life miracles and seek “logical” ways to explain them because the alternative is that God is indeed supremely powerful and if He’s supremely powerful then that power could also extend over our lives and that makes those of us that are control freaks a little uncomfortable. We’re more comfortable going our own way so it’s easier to keep the power of Jesus to a minimum.
Secondly, perhaps we seek to dismiss the reality of the record of God’s Word because we struggle with how to explain it to those around us. We seek logical explanations to diffuse any potential awkwardness between ourselves and friends who just “don’t get it”. The thought of having to explain the “ins and outs” of walking on water or rising from the dead are a little over our spiritual heads so it becomes easier to chalk them up as symbolism or figurative language or perhaps stories that were made up to prove a point.
If I begin to pick and choose from this section as to what I believe and what I think is “not so real” the whole of the Gospel begins to unravel.
Next let’s tackle the “Letters” section. This is perhaps the section that this question centers around most. As we read through many of the letters, written by Paul or others, we run across passages dealing marriage/family, conflict, how to deal with enemies, neighbors, widows, orphans and a whole host of other topics that we struggle to correctly apply and wonder if we even need to apply. Here’s my take on this struggle.
Scriptures dealing with the Christians responsibility in relationships (marriage, forgiveness, conflict, etc.) should be taken literally. While these letters were written to specific people groups addressing specific struggles, God’s expectations on the lives of His children hasn’t changed. God honoring relationships then are God honoring relationships now.
Scriptures dealing with God’s expectation on the believer’s character (Fruits of the Spirit, godliness, moral living, etc) should be taken literally. Righteous living then is righteous living now.
Scriptures dealing with external customs, traditions, practices (women’s dress, jewelry, hair style, etc.) I believe can be applied today or as for their original audience only. In the vein of 1 Samuel 16:7 (NASB), “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Scripture makes clear that God is far less concerned with our outward appearance and much more focused on the condition of our hearts. I would suggest that those who would adopt a literal application of these types of verses are not any more intimately following Jesus than those who would not because of their dress, lack of jewelry or particular hairstyle.
I think you can also run these types of verses through another filter which is, “Do these types of external customs, traditions and practices enhance my personal relationship with Jesus Christ? If so, more power to you. Why would a believer not do something that created more intimacy with Jesus? However to add external customs, traditions and practices as essential to salvation would cross the line and cheapen the the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross. In other words, if you feel like wearing certain outfits, keeping your hair a certain length or with a certain style or refusing to adorn yourself with jewelry brings you closer to Jesus, do it. But it’s not essential to salvation.
I have chosen to hone in on these three categories within the “Letters” section, with an awareness that many more could be defined.
Our final category is that of “Prophecy”. How does one go about deciphering what to do with and how to apply the book of Revelation? Is it for the modern reader? Is it all symbolism or are they bits of literal translation sprinkled in that the reader must learn to discern? If you read this far and were hoping for a definitive answer regarding Revelation allow me to let you down gently, “I’m not sure”. Here’s what I know:
The Scripture itself makes clear that all Scripture is profitable. 2 Timothy 3:16 (NASB) says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;…” So to dismiss any part of God’s Word as pointless or “not for me” would be wrong.
I’ll leave the debate of how that’s all going to go down to another time but suffice it to say, “The world is going to end.” Jesus is coming back to claim us as His own and put an end to Satan and death once and for all. Be ready.
Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
If you have a pulse then you have likely experienced some level of hopelessness in your life. Perhaps it’s your marriage that seems to be headed for a dead end. Perhaps your kids are completely out of control and seem lost to the saving work of Jesus Christ. Perhaps your relationship with your extended family is tenuous and seems like it will never bear any fruit. Perhaps you personally feel like you can’t be restored in God’s eyes. You’ve done too much. You’ve strayed too far.
Broken relationships seem to define our lives.
Internal hopelessness wells within you.
The continual lump in your throat reminds you that the end is near or worse, has already arrived. Hopelessness abounds.
One of the most appealing aspects of Scripture is that it offers hope. The sick are healed, the dead are raised, life is renewed, forgiveness is granted, relationships are restored. Situations that appear to be hopeless are suddenly flooded with a renewed hope. What was thought to be lost, is suddenly and inexplicably found. What was previously determined to be a dead end suddenly opens up to reveal a new beginning. The story of God sending Jesus to restore humanity is one of hope. Jesus’ miracles while He walked the earth are full of life giving, hope restoring acts.
I am reminded of the account recorded for us in Luke 7.
Luke 7:11-17 says, “Soon afterward Jesus went with his disciples to the village of Nain, and a large crowd followed him. A funeral procession was coming out as he approached the village gate. The young man who had died was a widow’s only son, and a large crowd from the village was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart overflowed with compassion. “Don’t cry!” he said. Then he walked over to the coffin and touched it, and the bearers stopped. “Young man,” he said, “I tell you, get up.” Then the dead boy sat up and began to talk! And Jesus gave him back to his mother. Great fear swept the crowd, and they praised God, saying, “A mighty prophet has risen among us,” and “God has visited his people today.” And the news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding countryside.”
Setting aside the obvious, there is something amazing that jumped out to me in this account.
"There is no such thing as a window of opportunity
when it comes to Jesus and His miracles."
This wasn’t Jesus swooping in at the last minute to save the day. This wasn’t Jesus coming to the rescue when hope had almost run out. This wasn’t a mother’s desperate plea for Jesus to save her long lost son at the last moment. This was already over. The deed was done. The funeral was underway. The processional had already assembled and they were headed to the burial grounds. Hope of another outcome had come and gone and the boy’s mother had already resigned to the fact that she would spend the rest of her days alone and perhaps unprotected.
From the outside looking in, the window of opportunity was closed. All hope for a miracle to occur had passed when her son breathed his last. Then comes Jesus. He steps on to the scene and filled with compassion He looks to the grieving mother and says, “Don’t cry”. Can you imagine her confusion. How could she be expected to not cry at a time like this? Was this man Jesus unaware of what was happening? Did He not realize that she was grieving?
Perhaps she assumed that His words were designed to encourage her. As in, “Don’t cry it’s going to be okay.” or “Don’t cry, you’ll get through this.” What followed next not only baffled the grieving mother but it terrified the crowd that had gathered as well.
“Young man, I tell you, get up.”
In an instant, Jesus snatched back what death had claimed. There is no window of opportunity when it comes to the power of Jesus and His miracles.
Think for a moment of that person or situation that you feel is lost. See that face, imagine that situation in your mind’s eye. Review the details of that broken relationship that you are convinced is over. Rehash that poor choice or series of poor choices in your own life that you are sure Jesus can’t forgive.
Say these words out loud: “Young man, I tell you, get up.”
When we see hopelessness, Jesus sees hope.
When we see a closed door, Jesus sees an open door.
When we see a dead end, Jesus sees a new beginning.
The window is wide open and Jesus is more than capable of performing a miracle in your life today. Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
Allow me to let you in on a few areas of my life that I often keep tucked away. From the outside looking in I am a fairly extroverted people person. I thrive in large crowds. When I choose to, I can easily make friends and conversation with complete strangers. I often come across confident in both my words and work. Fairly easily I can balance multiple projects, tasks, initiatives and people. What I post on social media and what many see as I stand in front of crowds are the highlights of carefully selected portions of my life that are chosen not to deceive but because sharing the difficult portions is...well difficult. It's tough to be transparent. It's tough to be vulnerable. It's not easy for anyone to let their guard down and admit what no one assumes could ever be possible. The reality is that I struggle on several fronts.
I live with a fear of the future. The future is unknown and I for one don't enjoy the unknown. I lost my father in January 2014 and while I knew prior to that date that death was inevitable for each of us, it was at that moment that the clock in my head began ticking...ticking towards the unknown future of the loss of every person I hold dear. That scares me. While I know in my heart what lies ahead for my loved ones that have a relationship with Jesus, it's still scary to think about navigating this life without them by my side.
I live with an increasing uneasiness of change. My sons, those two little boys that only yesterday were crawling all over me and longed for camp outs in the family room now both have jobs and commitments of their own. Many days each week my wife and I find ourselves at home alone. I know to parents of young ones that sounds amazing right? Don't get me wrong, it's fun but it's different. Things are changing. New faces are around our table and some of the old faces are gone. Sometimes I find myself longing for the old days when things were familiar.
I live with what at times feels like a rollercoaster of emotion. There are moments that I feel like I could conquer the world and then there are moments where I seem to lack all motivation. The "conquer the world" days way outnumber the "no motivation" days but those "no motivation" days can be scary and they seem to rear their ugly head at the most inconvenient of times.
As I've processed these feelings over the last several months I've come to some conclusions that I'd like to share with you in hopes that if there are some reading who also find themselves with similar thoughts you would know that you are not alone.
1. There is never a time when I am alone. God's Word makes it clear that He is with us in the midst of our struggle. Deuteronomy 31:6 says it on Bible Gateway like this, "Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.” It's my belief that one of the devil's greatest tools is to make you and I believe that we are alone. There is no doubt that speaking up is tough to do. Admitting that you struggle in any area of life is difficult but in confession, one to another, we find healing. James 5:16 says, "Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much." You are not alone. God is with you. You are not the only one who struggles. I struggle too.
2. In the midst of my struggle I'm reminded that not only is God with me but perhaps He's trying to teach me something new. James 1:2-4 says, "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. " God's not finished with you yet. I'm reminded of the song we often sang as a kid growing up in church.
"He's still working on me to make me what I ought to be.
It took Him just a week to make the moon and stars,
The sun and the earth and Jupiter and Mars.
How loving and patient He must be, He's still working on me."
Perhaps the greatest tool at my disposal in the midst of struggle is to realize that my struggle is simply a stepping stone towards something greater.
3. Lastly I'm reminded that the devil doesn't want me to have success. He longs for me to fail at being a husband, father, brother, pastor, teacher, friend, community member, evangelist, neighbor and every other role I'm commissioned to be in the army of the Lord. The same is true for you. When you throw in the towel on what you've been created, called and commissioned to do, the devil wins and God's people suffer.
I invite you claim and speak the following truth over your life right now:
"Satan I rebuke you in the name of Jesus Christ.
I am a son (daughter) of God and with Him on my side I cannot be defeated.
I repeat, I CAN NOT BE DEFEATED!"
You can win. You will win when you allow yourself to remember that you're not alone. God is with you. I am with you. Lift your head and divert your gaze from the mountain in front of you and fix your eyes on the horizon of where God is taking you. Allow God to pick you up and dust you off. Gird yourself with the armor of God and run as fast as you can back into battle with the heavenly army flanking you on every side. Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
January 6th came and went without me posting the 6th memorial to my father who passed away on January 6, 2014. I have used every anniversary of his passing as a moment to not only honor him but to encourage others to think through the legacy they are leaving for their loved ones. I suppose it is fitting that this particular January 6th came and went without me posting, I was busy that day prepping and sharing at a local Christian High School for the start of their Spiritual Life Emphasis Week. Each day this week, I had the opportunity to speak to 250+ middle school and high school students about the importance of their relationship with Jesus Christ. I think that squarely falls into the category of things my father would have loved. It's my hope and prayer that for every January 6th I have left on this earth that I would find myself honoring not only my earthly father but my heavenly Father as well. Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
"As I reflected on the words that I would say in this moment, my mind was filled with the memories of a father who left me no shortage of stories to tell and examples to recall and to pattern my life after. I suppose I could tell some of those stories to you this afternoon and you would walk away with a better picture of who my dad was, but ultimately, the best way to understand who someone really is, is to observe the impact that he or she made on the lives of those around them and my dad impacted the people around him.
My dad was a big believer in discipline. Growing up in my house there were no timeouts or counting to three or questions like, “Was that a wise choice?”. You knew instantly when you did something wrong because you got whipped. And if the offense occurred while dad was at work mom simply said the words, “You just wait until your father gets home”. The day before dad passed away I saw one of those little cartoon blurbs on Facebook that said, “My parents spanked me as a child and I now suffer from a psychological condition known as ‘Respect for Others”. That summed up my dad’s philosophy on parenting. But respect for others wasn’t just something that he told us about, it was something he modeled for us. Dad treated everyone with respect and love.
Although my dad was a man of few words he modeled for his sons what a husband and a father looked like. He modeled for me a life of servanthood as he pampered and catered to my mom. He demonstrated what it meant to be a patient husband. Mom seldom did the dishes, she never shoveled or scraped snow from the sidewalks or car windshields. He always volunteered to clean the bathroom, take out the trash, sweep the carpet, dust the furniture, etc. My dad took care of my mom in every way possible. It’s that example that my wife will attest that I’m still working on but I believe that if I could treat my wife with even a fraction of the respect and love that my dad treated my mom with, I would be an amazing husband.
My dad modeled for me how to be a father. The attention that he paid to us as his sons, the countless school projects that he helped us squeeze out at the last minute, the time he spent showing us how to fix everything from A to Z. He modeled what it meant to not only pay attention to his kids but really focus on them and to pass along his knowledge to us.
The way that my dad treated his mother-in-law, my grandmother, was one of extreme patience. He demonstrated not only patience, but love and respect and dignity to the mother of his wife. Over the last week since dad’s passing, grandma has said on more than one occasion, “I loved him, he loved me and we loved each other.” That certainly summed up their relationship.
I want you to understand this afternoon that my father’s legacy will live on, it will live on in my life and in the lives of my brothers and our sons and daughters. But you also have an opportunity to carry on his legacy because ultimately my dad was patterning his life after the person and teachings of Jesus Christ.
His love and patience and faithfulness that have been highlighted here today are straight out of God’s Word, Paul says in Galatians,“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” That is my father’s legacy.
During the last few moments of my dad’s earthly life as mom, my brothers and I and are wives were gathered around his bedside he modeled one final act of faithfulness for us. He demonstrated for us how we’re to finish the race. He had been motionless for an hour or so and just moments before he took his last breath he simply raised his left hand straight into the air towards Heaven, lowered it back down and then fell asleep.
Church I believe with all my heart that at that moment he was beginning to see the face of his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It was at that moment that he heard the words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
As Christ followers we long to be "normal" don't we? We say differently when we're at church or gathered with our small group but our actions speak so much more loudly than our words. Deep in our hearts we long to be like everyone else and sometimes that longing rears its ugly head.
The people of Israel dealt with this same type of struggle as they attempted to figure out what it meant to be a nation of people.
1 Samuel 8:4-5 (NASB) says, “Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah; and they said to him, “Behold, you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations.”
Can you imagine? “Hey God, listen, thanks for the food, water, deliverance, guidance, safety, provision, the free land, the repeated victories in war, etc. But listen, we were talking and we’re thinking we need someone to be our leader.” That doesn’t even make sense. I mean, what were they thinking?
You know from the outside looking in it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. They’re a nation and nations have kings right? But from the inside, if you really knew the history, it was a much different story. I don’t think that the people of Israel doubted God’s leadership and provision in their lives. They knew God had provided for them. They knew God was their king, but they longed to be “normal” according to the world around them. If every other nation around them had an earthly king, then they wanted an earthly king, not because they didn’t feel taken care of but because that was the “normal” thing to do. They wanted to look like everyone else looked.
How about us? What do we secretly long for so that those around us would consider us "normal"? A certain title? A certain degree? A certain pay scale? A certain house in a certain neighborhood? Kids that attend a certain college? A certain gift mix?
As I page through Scripture I don't see "normal" by our standards. What I see are a wide diversity of imperfect people that God chooses to use for His glory. God doesn't call us to normalcy by the world's standards, He calls us to obedience by His standards. Be encouraged and keep moving forward.
Actual Question: "As protestants we talk a lot about saved by grace alone but James says ‘faith without works is dead'. Of course I know the word ‘alone’ is not in the text, so what gives? (PS - I hate the ‘balance explanation)"
Possible Answer: This is a question that I've often thought about myself and in my mind it's usually phrased like this, "What's the balance between faith and works?" or as was submitted in the question above, we insert the word, "alone". As we tackle this important topic it's important to note from the start that neither Paul in his discourse on faith nor James in his dealings with works ever use the words "balance", "alone" or "only" or any other similarly exclusive term to communicate that one of these vital ingredients is sufficient without the other. It was never about one over the other or about either being in any sort of competition with the other.
Secondly, Paul and James were writing to different audiences who were dealing with different sets of struggles that they were attempting to address with different solutions. To conclude, as some do, that their prescriptions were somehow contradictory to one another is misinformed and out of context. James is writing to the "twelve tribes, who were dispersed abroad" (see James 1:1 NASB). His audience was clearly in need of some practical day to day advice on how to live in a way that brought glory to God. From the outset of his letter he repeatedly addresses practical topics like: facing trials, dealing with temptation, the famous verse of James 1:19 (NASB), "This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger...". He challenged the people to not just be hearers of the Word but doers as well, he spoke out against the dangers and power of the uncontrolled tongue and about the dangers of favoritism and the importance of treating the poor with dignity. When you zoom out and consider all that James was addressing it becomes clear that his emphasis on the importance of works was never designed to speak against the importance of faith but rather to highlight the requirement of "spiritual fruit" in the life of a true believer. He makes no assertion that works were or should ever be an avenue to redemption, but rather an overflow of the believer's redemption.
Paul in his letter to the Romans is dealing with a separate set of issues. He's writing of course to the church in Rome who were in need of a fuller understanding of the righteousness of God and the offer afforded them through the sacrifice of Jesus. J Vernon MGee in his commentary powerfully phrases it like this, "Friend, may I say to that the thief on the cross had been declared unfit to live in the Roman empire and was being executed. But the Lord Jesus said that He was going to make him fit for Heaven and told him, "...Today shalt thy be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:43). God takes lost sinners - like I am, like you are - and He brings them into the family of God and makes them sons of God. And He does it because of Christ's death upon the cross - not because there is any merit in us. This is the great message of the Romans." Paul was clearly communicating the power of the Cross that was available to all who would believe and have "faith" in the sacrifice of Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins.
Lastly, it's important to understand the relationship between James' definition of "works" and Paul's definition of "faith". Paul's definition of "faith" was an effort to strike at the very heart of the Gospel, faith in Jesus' work on the cross is paramount in our being saved from our sins. A million "works" earn us nothing towards being made right in God's sight. The only wage we earn for all of our efforts is death (Romans 6:23 (NASB). We are only saved through faith in Jesus Christ. James' definition of "works" centers around believer's becoming the modern day hands and feet of Jesus. Why are we saved? To carry the message forward to those who have not yet received this free gift.
Let's think about "faith" and "works" not as competitors but rather as different functions and stages in the same journey. We are first and foremost called to faith in Christ's work on the cross. We are then called to walk out that saving faith through our works that lift up and magnify the name of Jesus so that others might also come to faith. It's symbiosis at its' finest. You've heard of this right? It's the, "interaction between two different organisms living in close physical association, typically to the advantage of both." As we first enter into a saving relationship with God through "faith" in Jesus our "works" flow naturally from that genuine heart change. As our "works" increase and we witness firsthand the faithfulness of God as He gives us boldness, success and even the tough lessons in failure our "faith" in God increases. Round and round we go in an ever increasing symbiotic upward spiral towards greater intimacy with God. We are saved by our faith in Jesus and we step into the fullness of God through our works. Be encouraged and keep moving forward.