Thursday, July 23, 2015


Covenants are a foreign concept to most of us. I didn't really understand the concept until earlier this year, but I believe it's so important for us to understand covenants to properly understand the cross and the greater narrative of scripture.

Covenant means "to cut." It was a way in ancient times that people would exchange promises to each other. You would "cut a covenant," splitting an animal into two pieces. This animal was usually provided by the "inferior" party. The split animal was to symbolize "let it be for us like this animal if we should break these promises."

God made numerous covenants with man. He made a covenant with Abraham that through him all the nations (peoples) would be bless. He made a covenant with Israel (through Moses) providing them the law, in which if they obeyed, they would live, but if they disobeyed, it would bring forth death. There was also the covenant with David that through his bloodline a King would reign over Israel forever. Some of the covenants had conditions and some didn't. If they did have conditions, Israel never failed in breaking them.

When you read "the law" in scripture, you can think covenant. So when Jesus says "Do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish them but fulfill them," you can read it as "Do not think I have come to abolish the covenant or what was foretold. I have not come to abolish them but fulfill them."

This verse is often used to buttress different forms of Christian legalism. However, in it's context this passage destroys all forms of legalism, and my explanation will address the verses that follow it.

On the cross, Jesus fulfilled the covenant. He not only fulfilled the covenant in his life, but he fulfilled the covenant in his death by becoming that cut "animal." Israel had been in a perceptual cycle of animal sacrifices to reestablish the covenant because of their unfaithfulness. On the cross, God provides and shows himself once again faithful.

Jesus also does something else. He not only fulfills the terms of the old covenants, but he cuts a new covenant in his own blood. This new covenant combines all the previous ones, and this time it will not between God and an unfaithful Israel. It will be between God and a faithful Israel who is Christ.

The message throughout scripture is of God's faithfulness and provision.

So what about the rest of the passage I quoted earlier?

" For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

At first glance this seems daunting, especially to the audience that first heard it. To us, scribes and Pharisees is synonymous with self-righteous hypocrites. That wasn't the case in that time. In fact they were highly respected. Try to think of a pastor/priest combined with a public official, and you might get the idea of how Pharisees were viewed. If I'm a first century Jew hearing this, my heart is sinking. Exceed their righteousness? They're the best of us.

However, those who are in Christ have his righteousness. In Paul's letter to the Romans:

 "But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus"
While some might disagree with me, it is my opinion that God never needed sacrifices to forgive. I believe that is purely a pagan concept of what the gods were like. The gods were angry, and they needed sacrifices to be appeased. To show how absurd this idea is in regards to God, the ancient people believed that the gods would come down into the fire while the sacrifice was being burned and eat the sacrifice. We know that God isn't in need of food, but we see him playing along, even saying things such as "it is a pleasing aroma to me."

What I believe is this was God, meeting people where they were at, taking on the appearance of what they understood the gods to be like in their culture, and adapting it to point them to Christ.

I don't believe that Jesus died so that God could forgive. I believe the cross shows us that God does forgive, and if we demand blood (as we so often do), then he will provide his own blood, and he take that hate and malice turn it into forgiveness. That love and forgiveness has the power to cleanse and transform us.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Joshua Feuerstein, Franklin Graham and the visibility of Christ.

I want to start out this post by saying that I do not personally know either Joshua Feuerstein nor Franklin Graham. I'm not trying to speak to their character or defame them in any way. I assume that they are loving people, but I do disagree with them in their recent post, and that is what I will address.

I'm not familiar with Mr. Feuerstein other than I see his videos on my news feed from time to time. He recorded a video blog recently where he talks about the recent ruling by the SCOTUS on gay marriage, and that people are coming after churches and Christian businesses, and that it's what it's been about all along. Not to get into that topic, but just a point of context for his comments later in the video. You can watch the video here (warning the volume is loud so you may want to turn down your speakers): Joshua Feuerstein Video

The disturbing part for myself is that he says that his first amendment rights are protected by his second amendment rights. It is at that point in the video that he holds up a gun. He seems to be implying that he is willing to use deadly force, to take someone's life in order to protect his religious freedom.

Now for Mr. Graham, he's mostly known for being the son of legendary Billy Graham, although he is accomplished in his own right. He's the president of Samaritan's Purse, which provides humanitarian aide to different parts of the world.

In response to the recent tragic killings of four marines (and a believe I just saw a fifth person has died), Mr. Graham suggests that we cease all immigration of Muslims. He references WWII, and how the US ceased immigration from Germany and Japan. I think it's important to note that we also had internment camps. You can read the post here: Franklin Graham Post.

These two post are a snapshot of what has troubled me in the American church for a long time now. We seem to be consumed with worldliness. Usually worldliness is presented in terms of debauchery, but in America we shun debauchery and embrace violence and division.

I don't know of one solitary verse where in Jesus or the apostles speak of standing up for their rights, and taking up arms in the process. I do see Jesus telling us to love our enemies, and to pray for those who curse us, and to take up our cross if we should follow after him. I do read of Paul and Silas singing hymns in prison to the Lord, practicing their religious freedom behind bars. I do read that who the Son has set free is free indeed. I do read that whoever seeks to save his life will lose, but whoever loses it for the name of Jesus will save it.

I don't know of one solitary verse where in Jesus or the apostles speak of keeping immigrants from coming into their lands. I do read where we are to be kind to the foreigner and treat them with dignity. I do read that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of love and a sound mind.

Part of the purpose for the church is to make Christ visible in this world. The message in these two post (and some of the messages coming out of the greater evangelical church) CAN'T be what is made visible to the world.

What these two men have said makes sense from a worldly prospective. If someone is coming after your rights, you take up arms and you defend yourself. If you perceive a people group as a threat, you keep them out. You quarantine and deport them.

However, as believers in the body of Christ, there is no such division between the spiritual and the secular, between the personal and the civic. There is no mention in scripture of Jesus being your personal Lord and savior. The gospel proclamation is that Jesus is Lord over all the nations. One of the reasons the early followers were killed is because they proclaimed this, that Jesus was ruler, and not Caesar.

We need to let Jesus rule in the shaping our opinions and what we support, and not any political party or social philosophy. Jesus has his own government, his own economy that doesn't fit into any of our categories.

The world holy means set apart. It is holy, when attacked, not to retaliate. It is holy to not return evil for evil. It is holy not to manipulate and force people into doing what you want. It is holy to look upon sinful people and have compassion and empathy, because you realize that you are sinful as well. It is holy to be a peacemaker, to be a voice of calm in the midst of ranting and raving. It is holy to treat foreigners, not with suspicion, but with welcoming and generosity.

Even though I disagree with Joshua Feuerstein and Franklin Graham on these topics, I will still speak the truth in love. They are holy, blameless, beloved by the Father. They are seated in heavenly places. They are saints, part of the glorious body of Christ. They are my brothers.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Importance of Dialogue.

I want to preface this by saying that this post isn't meant to disparage sermons. In fact, I enjoy them quite a bit. I have a handful of teachers that I regularly keep up with, and new ones come to my attention from time to time. My brain doesn't have a shut off button, so I like to have something to meditate on.

However, sermons can only do so much. They are insufficient for spiritual growth. It's a common lament for pastors to say that people tell them "Good word" after a sermon, but within their congregation they see little spiritual growth and transformation. Some might say that what is preached must be put into practice, and this is at the core of the problem. The word is being preached, but people just aren't applying it to their lives.

While I don't deny that there needs to be application to what we learn, I have come to believe that the modern sermon is not what the new testament teaches as our primary method of learning. I don't think we are to be gathering and receiving a monologue from a single speaker. When Jesus or his disciples preached they were interrupted with questions. They asked questions of others, and they weren't rhetorical. It was a dialogue.

I think that is at the root for this spiritual stagnation. The church is described in scripture as members of a body. What happens to a body that is being fed, but only a few of it's members are active? What if the only the mouth and the organs responsible for digestion were in use, and the rest of the body was all but immobile? The way the modern church functions in it's gatherings, the body is functionally bed ridden.

In the book "Pagan Christianity," the point was made that many of what was discussed in the epistles makes no sense in our modern services. For example, Paul gives instructions to the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 14:26-33) about their meetings:

"26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 27 If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. 28 But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said.30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged,32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace."

 For one, no one would think of interrupting during most church gatherings. In fact, most will get the stink eye if they attempt to say something to another member during "the message," even if it is for their edification. Secondly, how many churches encourage their members to bring something to the meetings like Paul describes here?

Most of time members are really only permitted to speak and share before and after services, or during small groups and events. This begs the question: if sermons aren't sufficient for spiritual growth, then why does most of the time, effort and resources go towards the building and the staff that put on the services in which the sermon is preached?

Again, I don't mean to disparage sermons, but in a time when people's free time is limited, I think the body of Christ would be better built up if our meetings allowed everyone to function instead of mostly observing. I think there is a time and a place for sermons, but I don't think we should center our meetings around it.

Technology makes sermons readily. I listen to several a week, usually once a day. I value them, but most would agree that the church needs to "wake up," and we can't do this if we're being trained to be "lay still."

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Body of Christ.

If you have spent any length of time in church, you have undoubtedly heard this phrase. If you are like me, you didn't quite understand what that meant.  I still don't fully understand what it means, but I have been blessed recently with some insights from multiple sources, and have witnessed it in action.

A few months back I was in the church lobby during a service catching up with a friend. All of the sudden I heard yelling and weeping on the other side of the building. I heard a woman's voice say "My head" over and over again. I cringed. Yes, I cringed. I don't do well in these types of situations. I hate hearing or seeing people in pain. However, I knew that it wasn't the right thing to do to just sit there, so I got up and started walking towards the commotion. That's when I saw two women, one my wife, tending to the woman. A nurse that attends recognized her and told us that she suffers from schizophrenia. My wife and our friend took the woman to the fellowship hall and sat with her while they waited for help.

I thought initially that the woman had suffered a head injury, but that wasn't the case at all. She said she felt as if people were stabbing her in the head. As I stated earlier, I cringed, and I didn't know what to say to this woman. I didn't need to. While I cringed, my wife and our friend (Keyshana) went into action naturally. They comforted the woman and spoke tenderly to her. It wasn't forced or fake. They weren't looking around to see when oh when would help arrive. There aren't many times I can recall that I've been prouder of my wife.

There in lies part of the beauty of the body of Christ. While I felt out of place, they were eyes that were seeing, ears that were hearing. It's not uncommon for people to look at the world around them and be overwhelmed. There is so much need that one person can't possibly meet them all. The good news is that one person doesn't have to, and yet, if you are in Christ, you are an indispensable part of his work on this earth.

In Genesis man is said to be made in the image of God. I believe this was to contrast the practice of idol worship. In the ancient world people would form idols with wood or stone and overlay it with gold or other adornments. Contrary to popular belief, they did not think that this was an actual god. Instead, they believe that it was a representation of a particular god on the earth. The idol was it's image bearer. These idols, made with human hands, were dead stones. Humans, not made with human hands, are living stones.

Jesus is building his church, making a temple for the presence of God to dwell, and he is doing this with living stones. What I witnessed that Sunday morning was part of it's formation. I saw two living stones, representatives of our Lord Jesus Christ, holding the hand of a hurting woman, and speaking tender, loving words to her.

When the body of Christ gathers, participates and function in their giftings given by the Holy Spirit, it reveals the Lord Jesus. Imagine the multitude of faces you might see on a busy street. It would take you multiple lifetimes to get to know each one of them intimately. By comparison, John's vision in Revelation reveals a multitude too large to number. We can't even begin to understand the infinite depth and beauty of our Lord Jesus. It will take an eternity.