Through the Word in 2020 / Jan. 25

Today’s 4 readings are: Matthew 10:1-20; Acts 15:1-21; Psalm 23, Genesis 50.  If you are looking at the plan carefully, you will note that this is our last reading for January – giving us a number of “catch up” days if we have fallen behind. So our next installment will pick up Feb. 1.  But for today, I would like us to briefly consider Gen. 50:15-21. I am struck by two things. 1. The way my heart can mirror that of Joseph’s brothers when circumstances in my life make me uncertain of the future.  Now that their Father was dead, they feared Joseph’s goodwill toward them had been motivated only by Joseph holding back because of his Father, and not genuinely Joseph’s heart. And when I sin or fail, or for whatever reason I grow uncertain or unsteady, it is easy for me to think that the Heavenly Father’s love for me is only based upon my performance. That if I mess it up, He will turn and His goodwill toward me will end. That it is not His nature, heart and promises that I actually depend upon but my own ability to obey perfectly. And it is a false accusation against His love. It suspects Him. It makes Him out to be less than He is in His mercy, grace, lovingkindness, forgiveness and love. 2. I am struck at how their distrust of Joseph’s love toward them wounded him. When they spoke to him with their sham message from their Father – he wept. And I wonder how often we wound the heart of our Savior, and the Father who loved us so that He sent His only Son to die on the Cross for OUR sins, when we doubt His steadfast love, faithfulness, care, concern, tenderness, patience and forgiveness.… Read More

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Why Christians Support Abortion (And How We Can Change That)

Almost 50 years after Roe v. Wade, a new Marist poll shows that When asked to align with one side of the abortion debate, a majority of Americans describe themselves as pro-choice. The disturbing implication is that this means that a large number of those who claim to be faithful Christians are not pro-life. Currently, about 71 percent of Americans self-identify as Christians, though if we exclude Mormons and Jehovah’s Witness, that figure drops to 68 percent. Based on the Marist poll, we can conclude that about 29 percent of self-identified Christians—almost one in three—do not consider themselves to be pro-life on the issue of abortion. How is it possible for such a large swath of believers to support such evil? Is it even possible to be a faithful Christian and support abortion? I don’t think it is. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). That’s not a suggestion—it’s framed as an imperative. Those who love Jesus keep his commandments. The corollary is that those who do not keep his commandments do not truly love Jesus. Loving Jesus is the de minimis standard for identifying as a Christian. If you do not truly love Jesus—if you do not even attempt to keep his commandments—you should not call yourself a Christian. This should not be a controversial assertion. Abortion and the Sixth Commandment And yet it will be, for many people think they can identify as orthodox believers and reject Jesus’s commandment prohibiting the taking of innocent life. The command was first given by God to Moses as one of the Ten Commandments on two separate occasions (Ex. 20:13 and Deut. 5:17). In the New Testament, we also find the commandment reconfirmed by Jesus (Matt. 5:21), and reiterated by his apostle, Paul (Rom. 13:9).  But… Read More

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God Will Be Good Again Tomorrow

I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad. . . . Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! (Psalm 34:1–2, 8) The circumstances in which David wrote these words were anything but good (1 Samuel 19). When David cried out — “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! — it was despite what he was suffering, not because he was being flooded with blessings. He was resolved, no matter what came, no matter how hard life got, no matter who betrayed or assaulted him, “I will bless the Lord at all times.” Anything but Good David had not yet been crowned king (2 Samuel 5). He was being ruthlessly hunted by the current king of Israel, a man of incredible power and resources (and even more jealousy and anger). As the crowds sang, “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (1 Samuel 18:7), Saul’s blood boiled and gave birth to a craving to kill the prized son of Jesse. Saul sent men after David to kill him, but they loved David (1 Samuel 19:1). So, in a moment of rage, he launched his own spear at the young man (19:10). David narrowly escapes and flees. If the enemy at home was not enough, he runs into the hands of another in nearby Gath. Achish, the king of Gath, immediately becomes jealous and hostile toward David. So David pretends to be insane so that they will not kill him. As a result, they let him go. And leaving that city of hostility and heading back out into a world of opposition… Read More

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‘We must take Revelation literally!’ they say. ‘Except when I don’t do so!’

I have written several papers on how the church of the 2nd and 3rd centuries reported that they experienced the gift of prophecy. Only in the early 3rd century did Origen observe that “since [the time of Christ and the apostles] these signs have diminished, although there are still traces of His presence in a few who have had their souls purified by the Gospel, and their actions regulated by its influence.” [Origen Against Celsus 7.8 (ANF 4.614)]. For him, prophecy was a supernatural message directly from God, not preaching or exhortation in general. The dispensationalist and Reformed Christians typically state that the gift of prophecy by definition must have ended with the death of the last apostle or the close of the NT canon, that is, around the year AD 100. This despite the many, widespread reports of Christian prophecy in the 2nd century. I was looking at Revelation 11, and it hit me that a dispensationalist must have serious difficulty with the description of the two end-time witnesses. They interpret this passage as eschatological, and yet it says that people prophesy centuries after the close of the canon! And also perform miracles, which according to some, are not possible after AD 100. I quote the passage at length, so show how clear is the language of “prophet”, “prophesy”: 3 And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth. 4 These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. 5 And if anyone would harm them, fire pours from their mouth and consumes their foes. If anyone would harm them, this is how he is doomed to be killed. 6 They have the power to shut the sky, that no rain may fall during the days of their prophesying… 10 and those… Read More

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Through the Word in 2020 / Jan. 24

​We are reading the Bible through together this year, using the Discipleship Journal Reading Plan published by the Navigators. You can download it free of charge from: https://www.navigators.org/resource/bible-reading-plans/ Today’s 4 readings are: Matthew 9:27-38; Acts 14; Psalm 22:12-31, Genesis 49. The healing of the 2 blind men in Matt. 9 provides crucial insight into how faith operates. Note first something in the blind men’s approach to Jesus. Faith is not a sense of confidence – at least not in oneself in any way. They cried for mercy. A cry for mercy is a cry that denotes no sense of deserving or right. They did not say to themselves “I’m believing for healing!” Their faith wasn’t a worked up sort of thing, it was exercised in helplessness, not confidence. It looks to the benefactor to act only according to the benefactor’s own largess. And it is this recognition for mercy which is so essential to our right understanding of saving faith. Jesus owes us nothing. We deserve only wrath. But recognizing He has both the power and the prerogative to show mercy, we appeal to Him only on that basis. And He is ever faithful to respond in kind. What a great Savior He is! Secondly, we see that some believed because they saw Jesus’ works. These, as blind, could only hear of His works. And yet, for them, that was enough. They believed having only heard. And so according to even that faith, a very slight, but still relying faith – they were healed. Note that v. 27 says they were following Him. They could only hear, and yet they followed. Oh that just hearing would always be enough for me. John 20:29 3rd, notice that it is not great faith that is needed. It is faith in a great Christ… Read More

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Did My Dad Die Because I Lacked Faith?

Audio Transcript An anonymous man who listens to the podcast, but who does not give us his age, writes in: “Hello, Pastor John. Blessings to you! I have a faith question. My dad recently died of a brain tumor.” We are very sorry to hear this. “I prayed with all the faith I could muster to ask God that he not die. But he did. I wonder: If I had more faith, would my dad be alive today? In the Bible I always see Jesus healing people who had faith, even healing them because of their faith (Matthew 9:22; 15:28). Jesus refused to heal people in his own hometown ‘because of their unbelief’ (Matthew 13:58). And he even connects the probability of seeing miracles to the size of one’s own faith (Matthew 17:20). So could my lack of faith be a factor in my dad’s death? Or was it simply the will of God for him to die? I’m sure this is a question for many people who, like me, get attacked often by guilt.” I’m going to take my cue from that last sentence: “I’m sure this is a question for many people who, like me, get attacked often by guilt.” So, our friend is saying he is often attacked by guilt. In this case, it’s guilt for the death of his father, because of the possibility he raises that if he had more faith, his father may not have died. And so, he is attacked by guilt that he may not have had enough faith. What Matters Most Where I want to start is this: Suppose I said, “Yes, your father would be alive today if you had more faith.” And suppose I was right. It’s just two big suppositions. I’m just saying to try it out. Suppose… Read More

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Lessons from the Earliest Christians for Our Secular Age

In Resilient Faith: How the Early Christian ‘Third Way’ Changed the World, Gerald Sittser—professor of theology at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington—shows how the early church emerged in the Roman world with a distinctive identity in Christ. The phrase “new race” or “third race” comes from a second-century letter written to a Roman official named Diognetus. Christians became the “Third Way” after “First Way” Rome and “Second Way” Judaism. Christ’s followers blended into Roman society seamlessly when it came to language, clothing, food, and commerce. But when life involved worship, sexuality, family life, caring for the poor, and proclaiming the gospel, they “functioned as if they were a nation within a nation, culturally assimilated yet distinct at the same time.”   The Roman way was an all-encompassing civil religion, tolerant, pluralistic, and syncretistic. As Sittser observes, “Rome’s religion was Rome itself.” It absorbed new religions into its pantheon, while maintaining absolute subservience to Rome and strict allegiance to the divine status of the emperor. Rome “had the most trouble with the religions that demanded exclusive commitment to one God and to one way of life. Most religions of this kind, especially Christianity, were considered by definition anti-Roman.”  Sittser recounts a conversation he had with a Kenyan pastor in Nairobi. The pastor asked why Christians in America refer to themselves as “American Christians,” suspecting more to the identification than a person who happened to be an American. The title “American Christian” seemed “heretical to him because it tempted Americans to confuse the two identities, and thus to import American culture (e.g., wealth) to other parts of the world, always ‘in the name of Christ.’” The conversation highlights an explicit connection between first-century Rome and post-Christendom America. Indeed, Sittser’s description of ancient Rome fits America today. I believe the scholar-historian is the best… Read More

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Through the Word in 2020 / Jan. 23

Today’s 4 readings are: Matthew 9:14-26; Acts 13:26-52; Psalm 22:1-11, Genesis 48. The Disciples of John came to Jesus with a curious question about fasting. Fasting in Jesus day had taken on some aspects we see even today. Throughout the Old Testament fasting was always tied to some aspect of mourning. It expressed grief over war, famine, loss and especially in repentance after a spiritual decline. But it wasn’t long before fasting became somewhat superstitious – a means to somehow bend the arm of God to do something for us that He was reluctant to do. And it became a symbol of one’s personal piety.  Jesus in his answer to them, bids them to remember that fasting, like so many other things is tied instead to certain seasons. Seasons like I mentioned above. And thus, it would not be proper for Jesus’ disciples to be fasting right at this moment, for He, the Bridegroom was with them. It wasn’t the season for fasting but for rejoicing. Their days of mourning would come in time. But not now.  And this bids us all to remember that even in nature, God has built in the idea of seasons. As the Writer in Ecclesiates reminds us: Ecclesiastes 3:1–8 (ESV) — For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a… Read More

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Finding the Sources of Historic Quotes, Biblical or Otherwise

I have written regularly about avoiding bogus quotes on the internet, but there’s a related challenge: discovering the actual origins of phrases and quotes you’re researching. Especially when you’re dealing with material in the English language before the 1960s, you are likely to encounter intriguing-sounding quotes that may have much older sources. The most likely source is the Bible. In contemporary America, our Bible literacy has plummeted, even among many regular churchgoers. For those who don’t attend church or grow up in devout homes, the ignorance of the Bible can be near-total. I was reminded of this problem recently when I read a scholarly article (identifying it is unnecessary to make my point) where the epigraph referred to Catholic converts potentially “reverting to the vomit.” The author discussed the quote at length, but she seemed unaware that this was referring to Proverbs 26:11. Instead of being a neologism that told us something interesting about the rhetoric and culture of early modern Catholicism, that phrase was widely known to Christians and Jews for millennia. Seemingly no one involved in the publication of this article picked up on the source of the reference. This omission speaks to a lost world of biblical literacy that is not easy to recapture. Exacerbating the situation is that we no longer even have a standard English translation of the Bible, a role that the King James Version played from at least the mid-1600s to the mid-1900s. Scholars must be more inquisitive about the source of quotes than the author above was, or else they can end up in embarrassing situations where a key quote is read out of context. The problem is, how do you know when to look into the origins of a quote? Obviously you can’t do it for every phrase, or you’d get… Read More

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David Murray on Teaching Hosea

Hosea tells a heartbreaking—and for many, a perplexing—story about a prophet told to marry a prostitute. This book is filled with cycle after cycle of promises of judgment. But according to David Murray, professor of Old Testament and practical theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Hosea gives teachers the opportunity to present people with vivid pictures of God as a faithful husband intent on loving his unfaithful wife, a parent whose heart is twisted up inside him over the effect of his child’s sin, and so much more. In context of all of God’s uncomfortable promises to judge his people in heartbreaking ways, Murray points out God’s repeated promises throughout the book to live, to save, to redeem, and to restore his people to himself after they’ve wandered away from him. Listen to this episode of Help Me Teach the Bible. Mentioned in this episode Transcript The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.  David Murray: As long as people think of God as a fallacy, as a holier than thou, detached, looking down on, just condemning, criticizing and judging, there’s no pull, there’s no attraction, there’s no desire. But if we can show people the God of Hosea, the God of Gomer actually, then I think we begin to break down barriers and begin to give people hope that this God could be my God. Nancy Guthrie: Welcome to “Help Me Teach the Bible,” I’m Nancy Guthrie. Help Me Teach the Bible is a production of the gospel coalition sponsored by Crossway, a not for profit publisher of the ESV Bible, Christian books and tracks. Learn more at crossway.org. My guest today on Help Me Teach the Bible is one of my favorite Bible teachers,… Read More

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Meditate to Move Mountains: How God’s Words Lead to Our Prayers

What in the world did people do after dark on lonely nights before we had television? And before we had our litany of pixelated devices that so often light our nights, and days, absorbing our priceless commodity of human attention? To go way, way back, Genesis 24:63 gives us an interesting peek into what Abraham’s promised son did, however often, after dinner: “Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening.” See him there alone, pacing in the field, with nothing in his hands, and his eyes wide open to God’s three-dimensional world — with a screen far more powerful and enriching than our modern pixels: his imagination. Meditation is a lost art today. And one way to reintroduce it to the church is to consider how it relates to something many of us know much better: prayer. What Is Meditation? But before we pair it with prayer, let’s rehearse just the basics of what the Bible says about meditation. To meditate in Hebrew means literally to “chew” on some thought (as an animal chews the cud) with the teeth of our minds and hearts. To ponder some reality, to roll some vision around on the tongue of our souls, savoring it as it deserves and seeking to digest it in such a way that produces real change and benefit in us. What I am describing is the opposite of Eastern meditation that aims to empty the mind. Judeo-Christian meditation aims to fill the mind while engaging and nourishing the inner person. God made plain the necessity of the leaders of his people meditating on his words, as he said to Joshua: This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to… Read More

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Through the Word in 2020 / Jan. 22

Today’s 4 readings are: Matthew 9:1-13; Acts 13:1-25; Psalm 21, Genesis 46-47. And if you hadn’t noticed – you’ve already completed reading 5% of the entire Scripture with today’s portion.  As I write this today, I am reminded of a repeated motif in Scripture which gets repeatedly overlooked. As in the 10 plagues which will come when God is ready to liberate Israel from Egyptian bondage, so here: God’s people are most often KEPT in the World’s trials, not utterly exempted from them.  If our faith is always bound up with God keeping us from trial, temptation and trouble, we will find ourselves doubting God at every turn – every time something grievous or overwhelming enters our lives. But He has not promised to keep us from all these things, but to keep us in them!  So all of Egypt and Canaan were suffering under this famine. And God’s chosen race was not exempted from it. Instead, what they were to find out, is that God had made provision for them – well ahead. And that, by redeeming for their good the very sin they had committed in selling Joseph into slavery. That doesn’t mitigate their sin. Because God can and does bring good out of evil is no justification for evil. But it does show how in His faithfulness to His people and His promises, even in our failures – He has made provision for us.  We may well witness the collapse of Western Culture as we know it. I don’t know. We may well see our political system undo itself or face ecological, biological or economic disaster. Individually and as a people there may be hard and dark days ahead that we never imagined. Individually you or I may suffer all forms of physical maladies, weaknesses, doubts, fear,… Read More

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