Monday, September 30, 2013

It is our duty to disciple our children


My oldest son, Micah was walking on the college campus about 15 years ago when he was stopped by a student who asked, “Hey, are you related to Mark Fox?”

Micah grinned and said, “Yes, he’s my father.”

The student laughed and said, “I knew it! You look just like him.”

Micah and I have been told that many times over the years. I always apologize and explain that Micah had nothing to do with it, and we are hoping a plastic surgeon can help. The truth is, a son really does have nothing to do with whether he looks like his father. A daughter who looks like her mother is equally blameless. Nor is the father or the mother to blame. It’s in the DNA. But there is a deeper truth, a higher prize, a greater goal that parents can be deliberate and purposeful about with their children. Because not only will our children grow up looking like their parents, but they will also grow up acting like their parents. We have the opportunity — even the mandated responsibility from God, then, to train and disciple our children.

John wrote in his third letter, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”

I would agree with the great apostle. Nothing thrills Cindy and me more than to hear that our children are genuine believers, lovers of God’s truth, committed to the local church, and followers of the Lord Jesus. I also would acknowledge that those kinds of testimonies from and about children will never happen by accident. They will never result simply from a transfer of DNA. Neither is spiritual maturity a byproduct of osmosis. If our children are going to walk in the truth, it is imperative that we teach them the truth.

I would suggest that you start with the book that does not just contain the truth, but is the truth. The Bible is truth, with a capital T. Read it to your children. Read it to them when they are too young to read it. Teach them to read it for themselves. Then let them participate in family devotions by reading part of the passage with you. For family devotions, choose a time in your daily schedule that is the least likely to be interrupted. At the Fox den, that has always been fi rst thing in the morning. For you, it may be at supper, or right before bedtime. One man in our church used to come home from work every day at lunchtime to have family devotions. The time of day is not as important as consistency. Commit to meeting the family for devotions at least four days a week, and then keep it up for at least a month. It will become a habit, for you and your children, and will produce tremendous fruit. Your children will start to look like Jesus in their speech, conduct, love, faith and purity.

The sad truth is that more than 700 people in the U.S. stop reading the Bible every day. So, though it is still the bestseller of all time, it may be the least-read bestseller of our time. We are starting to see the devastating consequences in a nation that has forsaken the truth and exchanged it for a lie. There is still hope for revival and reformation. But it will start with individuals, like you, who decide to disciple your children. They are going to look like you, anyway. Why not make it count? We will look at this matter of discipleship again next week.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

In what way is the Old Testament Law "No Good"?

While working my way through Preston Sprinkle's new book "Paul & Judaism Revisited," I ran across Ezekiel 20:25--which along with the context says as follows:

Ezekiel 2023 Moreover, I swore to them in the wilderness that I would scatter them among the nations and disperse them through the countries, 24 because they had not obeyed my rules, but had rejected my statutes and profaned my Sabbaths, and their eyes were set on their fathers’ idols. 25 Moreover, I gave them statutes that were not good and rules by which they could not have life, 26 and I defiled them through their very gifts in their offering up all their firstborn, that I might devastate them. I did it that they might know that I am the LORD. 

What do we make of this? I the Law of God, in and of itself really no good? What about Psalm 119 and other OT and NT verses where the Law is praised. I mean, the Old Testament Law is the Word of God.

To interpret this passage, my mind immediately jumps to Romans 7 and 8. Specifically:
Romans 7:10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. 13 Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.  
Romans 8:3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Ezekiel is foreshadowing what Paul would say more clearly at a later time. This raises the question: was Paul reflecting on aspects of the Old Testament in his critique of the Law rather than merely understanding the Law in light of Christ? If we reflect on Ezekiel's critique of the Law and Israel's sin (as well as Jeremiah's critic of the nation of Israel) it would seem that the answer is yes [although we could certainly debate and tease out to what degree various influences play on Paul].

Preston Sprinkle concludes:
"Regardless of the meaning of the no-good statues and rules, it is clear that Ezekiel 20:25 was written in response to the threefold repetition of the Leviticus 18:5 quotation. The structure of the no-good laws statement (Ezek 20:25) and the Leviticus 18:5 citations (Ezek 20:11, 13, 21) is nearly identical, showing that the prophet is correlating the former to the latter. In other words, the giving of no-good laws declares that the laws of Moses cannot give life to the nation. Wickedness is etched into Israel's bones, and this prevents torah from giving the life it offers for obedience." (Paul & Judaism Revisted, p63).

Given Paul's theology of the Law as well as his use of Lev. 18:5, it seems that we have a pretty good cause for an instance of intertextuality. Even if Paul does not quote Ezekiel directly, he has absorbed the critique of the prophets to some degree. [it is perhaps plausible that only in his conversion did he fully understand the implications of this OT critic].

The point remains that the problem is not the law per se. But rather the Law when combined with the human condition apart from the work of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit. The Old Covenant is insufficient without the eschatological climax of the working of God in the New Covenant. The OT Law is 'no good' in the sense that in itself it cannot get the job done. But in the plan and purpose of God, that was never the intent of the Law in itself.

I look forward to continuing to work through Preston Sprinkle's new work.


This post originally appeared on Tim's personal blog "The Voyages". Tim tweets @tim_bertolet

Monday, September 23, 2013

A dramatic difference

It’s like a movie plot, but more interesting because it happened. You can read about it in Acts 5. Evil men, “filled with jealousy,” are plotting to stop good men who are filled with the Holy Spirit. Evil sometimes triumphs, at least for a season, and the good men are arrested for teaching about Jesus and thrown into prison. They don’t even get to try the free breakfast, though, because in the middle of the night, God sends an angel to bust them out. Not a drop of blood is spilled. The angel just opens the locked doors and leads the 12 men out, presumably while the prison guards are standing right there beside the doors. It reminded me of Brother Andrew smuggling Bibles into communist countries in the 1950s. In his book “God’s Smuggler,” Andrew says he would often pray, “Lord, when You were on earth, You made blind eyes see. Now, I pray, make seeing eyes blind. Do not let the guards see what’s in front of them.” He didn’t even try to hide the Bibles, and for 35 years, the guards never saw them. Whether it is locked prison doors or not-so-hidden Bibles, God reigns.

The religious leaders of Israel (Sanhedrin) gather the next morning, thinking they have their enemies in the jailhouse, and they send for them to be brought over. A prison officer reports that the doors are locked and the guards are posted beside them, but the cells are empty. He exits stage left and another man enters stage right and announces that the 12 apostles who are supposed to be in the jailhouse are in the temple. Again. And they are teaching the people. Again.

You have to wonder about the thickheadedness of the Sanhedrin at this point, don’t you? They have heard about Pentecost and what happened there, with people speaking in other languages that they had never learned, and 3,000 people becoming followers of Jesus of Nazareth. They have heard about the lame beggar and see him every day, now very much healed and no longer a beggar, and they have heard about the 2,000 people who became followers of Jesus that day. They have heard about the other miracles, and reports of many others believing in Jesus. Now they hear about a miraculous prison break where the men inside apparently just vaporized and then re-appeared in the temple. Why would the Sanhedrin gnash their teeth in rage and continue to plot against the followers of Jesus? You would think they would learn. But here’s the thing: It has to do with the Words of Life, and whether you believe them and live them … or not.

The Center for Bible Engagement found in a recent survey of more than 80,000 U.S. households that most people who identify themselves as Christians don’t read the Bible in an average week. Their only “engagement” with the Bible comes Sunday morning. The study also revealed that there is a strong correlation between lack of Bible engagement and daily struggles with worry, gossip, fear, forgiving others and even with failing marriages and addiction to pornography. The behavior and lifestyles of those who don’t engage the Bible four or more times per week is almost identical to those who don’t believe in God at all.

The difference in the book of Acts between the men and women who had the words of life and lived them, and those who did not have the words of life and rejected them, could not be any more dramatic. It is the same today.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The gospel is for Christina "Uguilera"



Jared Wellman has pastored in Southern Baptist churches since he was 20 years old and currently serves as the pastor at Mission Dorado Baptist Church in Odessa, Texas. He is married and they're currently expecting their first child (I hope I was allowed to share that). He blogs at jaredwellman.com and also writes for the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (carm.org).
I was at an evangelism conference when it happened. Some of the nation’s top evangelists were preaching. Most of them directors of nationally renowned ministries or pastors of mega churches. And they didn’t inherit these ministries. They built them from the ground up. They took their churches, as their introductions said, from 100 to 1,000+ people. Most of them overnight.

It was a pretty typical conference. Another evangelist was preaching, dishing out one-liners like Rodney Dangerfield on rhetorical steroids. “Aymayans” could be heard all around the building.

That’s the southern way of saying “amen” for all you yankees.

Then, it happened. It was a one-liner that turned a nasty corner. Sure, it received dozens of “aymayans.” Some clapped. Others laughed. But that was the point. It was a cheap zinger employed to gain a roaring, knee-slapping response. A deliberate statement to encourage buddies to elbow one another and shake their head in hearty agreement. One that people could reminisce about in the hallways after the service. But one that, ironically, served the opposite of the event’s purpose. The statement was something along the lines of, “I don’t need Christina Uguliera.”

I can’t help but think that if Christina Aguilera had been in the audience, she would have probably not been evangelized. In fact, she would have been the opposite of evangelized. She would have been in a room full of hundreds of believers, listening to a “pro” speak on the gospel, and still be as lost as Joe Biden at a gun show.

In reading the Gospels, I don’t remember Jesus ever belittling lost people as if they were some kind of prom date reject. Jesus didn’t tell the woman at the well: “Only God knows how you got five husbands. U-G-L-Y, you don’t need no alibi. You ugly. You, you, you, ugly.” He didn’t walk up to the fishermen and say: Pyew! And I mean capital P and capital U. Ain’t nobody gonna wanna hang around with you guys smelling like that. Go take a bath and then you’ll be gospel worthy.

Instead, Jesus did things like wash people’s feet, touch people with diseases, and open an old grave so he could raise the rotting corpse back to life. He intentionally chose the stinky and the ugly and bid them to come and die. “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance,” Jesus said (Luke 5:32, NASB).

The point is that it would be okay to tell Christina Aguilera that you don’t like her hair, makeup, or the way she dresses. You can tell her that you don’t agree with her music or her choices. You can even tell her that you hated her on the Mickey Mouse Club. But calling her ugly because she isn’t a Christian is an atrocity. It doesn’t get her or anyone else closer to Jesus and it certainly doesn’t promote the gospel. It demotes it, conveying that if you don’t agree with us then we are going to call you names, take our ball and go home.

If Jesus were here, I would like to think that he would deal with Christina Aguilera more maturely. He would certainly address her sin, but he wouldn’t degrade her in the process. He wouldn’t be worried about what’s going on on the outside so much as about what’s going on in the inside. That is, he would tell her she has an ugly heart, not an ugly face. And it would be so that she might respond to the power of the gospel, not so believers can respond to the appeal of rhetoric.

This is because the gospel is for Christina Aguilera. And every other ugly-hearted sinner.

Monday, September 16, 2013

When great fear came upon the church, community


Last week, I wrote about the first church, and a man named Barnabas who sold a field and laid the money at the apostles’ feet. That created quite a stir, so Ananias and Sapphira decided to get in on the action. They hatched a plot to sell some land, pocket part of the money and then pretend they were giving all the proceeds to the church. Ananias must have beamed proudly as he laid the moneybag down, waiting for the praise of the Apostles. Perhaps his blood ran cold, however, when Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?” Peter saw right past the pile of money and into Ananias’ heart. It had nothing to do with the money. Ananias and Sapphira had every right to keep all or part of it. The sin was hypocrisy. Ananias did not utter a word as Peter spoke. He just dropped dead at the apostle’s feet, possibly falling right on top of his money that he loved so much.

Meanwhile, back at home, Sapphira was excitedly awaiting either Ananias or someone else to appear at the door. She may have imagined one of the prominent wives in the church coming over to say, “You and Ananias are such mighty pillars in the church. You are examples to all of us. Oh, I am humbled by what you have done and I feel so selfish when I think about how little we give.”

Sapphira might have imagined herself blushing and responding with, “Oh, well, you know, it is all for God. To God be the glory! Ananias and I are nothing.” But no one appeared, not even Ananias. Where is he? After three hours, Sapphira couldn’t wait any more. She marched down to the church, only to find Peter and some of the other apostles looking rather grim. And sad. No Ananias, though. Where is he? Peter asked her, “Did you and Ananias sell the land for this price?” Sapphira might have thought smugly, “Now, I am going to get what’s coming to me! That’s why Ananias didn’t come home; he wanted me to come here and receive the same reward that he received.” She said yes to Peter, knowing it was a lie. That’s when her own blood ran cold, as Peter announced that the same young men who had buried her husband would be carrying her to the same place. Sapphira dropped dead.

The result of this severe mercy of God was that “great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.” I would say so. Not only that, “none of the rest dared join them.”

Oh, there were many who believed after this and came to Jesus Christ for salvation. But those who were just interested in playing church, those who believed that Jesus was a great guy but certainly not the only way to God, those who knew they were practicing sin and loved it … they did not dare come anywhere near. Vance Havner said about this, “There was a holy repulsion, and I know of nothing that the church needs more today. It is the last thing we think we need. We are always trying to attract. Our programs, prizes, picnics and pulpit pyrotechnics are aimed at drawing the people in. Here was a church that made people stand back! We have catered to the world, we have let the world slap the church on the back in coarse familiarity. Here was a church that prospered by repelling!” May God give the church what it needs today.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Radical love means radical giving


Gary Thomas tells the story in his book, “Sacred Marriage,” about two brothers who worked together during the day in a field and in the evening at a mill. Each night they divided up the grain they had processed. One brother was single and one was married with a large family. The single brother decided that his married brother, with all those kids, certainly needed more than he did, so at night he secretly crept over to his brother’s granary and gave him an extra portion. The married brother realized that his single brother didn’t have any children to care for him in his old age, so he went up each night and secretly deposited some grain in his brother’s granary. One night, they met halfway between the two granaries, and each brother realized what the other was doing. They embraced and as the old rabbinical story goes, God witnessed what happened and said, “This is a holy place — a place of love — and it is here that my temple shall be built.”

That’s a picture of what was happening in the first church in Jerusalem. The people were saved from sin and to a new way of life, even to the point that, “No one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own.” That seems to be a contradiction in terms, doesn’t it? If what belongs to me is not my own, then it doesn’t belong to me, does it? Well, no, it really doesn’t. It belongs to the Lord. But at the same time, he lets us choose what we are going to do with those things that belong to him and are in our hands. He gives us stewardship over much. That’s what was going on in the new church. They were living out the reality of what Jesus had told them when he said, “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy.” Because they believed this promise, that God would give them the kingdom, they were free to meet genuine needs in the church out of love.

I can imagine a conversation Peter might have had with an old friend he bumped into one day in Jerusalem. The friend says, “Hey, what’s this I hear about a ... what do you call it, a church? What’s going on with all you people who are following this Galilean guy around? What’s his name, Jesus? The dead religious leader. I mean, he was crucified, right?”

“Yes,” Peter might say, “but haven’t you heard? God raised him from the dead on the third day, and I saw him. I talked to him. I ate with him. Jesus is alive! And do you know what he is doing now? He is changing lives. Thousands of them. He has given us salvation, the promise of eternal life, and he has given us peace with God and love for God’s people. In fact, just the other day, a believer named Barnabas sold a field, brought the money from the sale, and laid it at our feet. All of it. He did that so people in the church who need food and clothing and are just struggling with basic needs could be helped. Not because he had to, but because he wanted to.”

The radical love of Jesus Christ leads to radical giving. He loosens our grip on things, and tightens our embrace on people. It doesn’t mean that his followers never own anything. It simply means that their things don’t own them. He does.

Monday, September 2, 2013

We need boldness against persecution


Every three minutes, in one of the more than 65 countries around the world that persecute Christians and the Christian church, a follower of Jesus Christ is put to death because of his faith. More than 175,000 every year. The 20th century was the bloodiest ever for Christians, as more followers of Jesus were put to death than in all of the previous centuries combined. The trend continues and the persecution is increasing.

That’s not surprising.

It didn’t take more than a few days after the birth of the church in the fi rst century for persecution to break out.

It began after Peter and John healed a 40-yearold beggar who had been lame his whole life. The crowds in the temple were amazed and listened as Peter preached about Jesus to them, explaining that it was not he, Peter, but it was Jesus who had made this man well. “His name — faith in His name — has made this man strong,” Peter proclaimed.

That’s when the persecution started. As Peter was preaching about Jesus, the religious authorities had him and John arrested. The next day Peter and John stood before the Sanhedrin, who asked the apostles who gave them authority to do the things they were doing. Peter preached Jesus again, culminating with this statement: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Do you get that? There is salvation. That’s paramount. But what is paramount is also exclusive: in Jesus only. There is no other name. And what is paramount and exclusive is also universal: There is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved. So much for relativism. So much for pluralism, at least inasmuch as God’s plan of salvation for mankind is concerned. How would the Sanhedrin respond?

They countered with their own “absolute” by commanding the apostles that they could not speak or teach to anyone in that name. At all. At any time. At any place. Interesting that what was paramount to the Sanhedrin was them speaking. They knew nothing about the First Amendment, had never even heard of the Bill of Rights. But they knew that if these followers of Jesus of Nazareth continued to talk about him, the religious apple cart would be upset. So they threatened the leaders of the movement, commanded them to stop preaching about Jesus and let them go.

You probably know what Peter and John did in response to their threats. They did what Americans have traditionally loved, and is in our DNA: Refuse to comply with the authorities when you know the authorities are wrong. They prayed for boldness, and God poured it out. So much so that they spoke about Jesus with the same passion someone might have if he had found the cure to cancer.

If you read on in the book of Acts, you will see that the same two apostles were called before the Sanhedrin again. This time they threatened them and beat them. Peter and John went away “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for His name.” Read a little further and you see the religious rulers upping the ante, stoning to death one of the followers of Jesus, and then scattering the rest, running them out of the region. In response, “those who were scattered went about preaching the Word.” So it has gone for two millennia.

The bloodlust of those who would persecute Christians continues. What the church needs more than anything is not relief from the persecution, but boldness.