Is Andy Stanley a Marcionite?

Andy Stanley has recently caused a stir by comments in a sermon about the Old Testament. Many people are concerned about his remarks. Some are even calling him a Marcionite.

What is a Marcionite? A Marcionite is a follower of Marcion. Isn’t that helpful?

Marcion was a second century Christian heretic. What made him a heretic? He taught that the God of the Old Testament was not the Father of Jesus Christ. The God of the Old Testament was an evil God and should be rejected by followers of Jesus. Marcion completely rejected the Old Testament. In fact he came up with his own New Testament canon that only included Luke’s Gospel and Paul’s letters. Even then he edited them to remove all the Old Testament references.

So what does this have to do with Andy Stanley? Stanley preached a message where he said that Christians should unhitch their faith from the Old Testament. Before accepting some critic’s summary of Stanley’s remarks, you should listen his message directly. Here it is.

The first thing that we need to remember is that Stanley is preaching specifically with non-Christians in mind. He is really an evangelist at heart. All that they do at his church is aimed at removing all obstacles to faith among seekers. You can disagree with this approach but we should interpret his comments within this context.

Some critics have drawn a parallel between Marcion’s rejection of the Old Testament and Andy Stanley’s supposed rejection of the Old Testament. Are Marcion and Stanley trying to do the same thing?

The reason that Marcion rejected the Old Testament is that he thought it presented a different God. Marcion was teaching a proto-Gnosticism. Gnostics believed that matter was evil and if the God of the Old Testament created matter, he must have been evil. The problem came down all to the nature of God.

That is not what Stanley is trying to do. He is not saying that the Old Testament God is a different or evil God. Rather he has observed that the Old Testament has been an obstacle to some people in coming to faith. Stanley rightfully sees the key event to becoming a Christian as the resurrection of Jesus.

Now, I need to make it clear that I disagree with what Stanley says about the Old Testament. I don’t believe we need to reject the Old Testament to become followers of Jesus. But that doesn’t make Stanley a Marcionite. A Marcionite was much more than just rejecting the Old Testament. It was a complete reinterpretation of the nature of God and Stanley doesn’t do that.

Having said that, I have seen what I consider to be semi-Marcionitism among some pastors and theologians. Greg Boyd would be an example of this. Boyd sees Jesus as the full revelation of who God is. When we go to the Old Testament, we need to ask every passage that says something about God if we could see Jesus of Nazareth doing what that passage says God did. If the Jesus who preached the Sermon on the Mount couldn’t have done that, it was not God.

Unlike Stanley, who doesn’t reject Old Testament descriptions of God (he only rejects their usefulness in bringing people to Jesus), Greg Boyd rejects some Old Testament passages that seem to clearly describe the words and actions of God and he rejects them as accurately representing God.

That is still not Marcionitism. But it is getting much closer to what Andy Stanley is saying about the Old Testament.

Share

Is Satan in the Old Testament a Good Guy?

SatanThere is a common trend of contrasting the Old and New Testaments. Often it is comparing God as wrathful in the Old and loving in the New Testament. But there are also comparisons of different treatments of Satan. The comment that I have heard from many sources is that Satan in the Old Testament is not evil but rather is simply one of God’s angelic servants. Is this true?

The first thing we need to do is explain what “Satan” means. Satan is not a name but is a Hebrew word for adversary or accuser. In Job, the main Old Testament appearance of Satan, the Hebrew is actually ha-satan, meaning “the accuser.” The imagery is that of a prosecuting attorney.

And that is why some people see Satan in Job as simply fulfilling his role as an attorney in the heavenly court. Since he is doing what God as assigned him to, he cannot be evil and is world away from the New Testament Satan.

It would be helpful to quote the relevant passage.

Now the day came when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord—and Satan also arrived among them. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” And Satan answered the Lord, “From roving about on the earth, and from walking back and forth across it.” So the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a pure and upright man, one who fears God and turns away from evil.” Then Satan answered the Lord, “Is it for nothing that Job fears God? Have you not made a hedge around him and his household and all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his livestock have increased in the land. But extend your hand and strike everything he has, and he will no doubt curse you to your face!” So the Lord said to Satan, “All right then, everything he has is in your power. Only do not extend your hand against the man himself!” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord. (Job 1:6-12)

One observation is that Satan requires God permission to afflict Job. This is part of the argument for Satan not being evil but acting according the will of God.

But notice how the subject of Job comes up. This is not a case of God being concerned about Job’s motives and assigning Satan to put forward his best case against him. The accusations against Job (remember the meaning of Satan) are initiated by Satan. Satan was aware of the godly reputation of Job and wanted to demonstrate that the reputation was unwarranted. Rather than being a sincere faith, Satan was determined to show that Job was faithful only so long as God prospered him.

In many ways this was an attack on both God and Job. It was an attack on Job as to the quality of his faith. but it is also an attack on God, in that Satan was suggesting that people would love him only if he paid them off with blessings.

From what I can see, Satan in Job is acting on his own initiation and is not just fulfilling a role assigned by God. Satan, in the Old Testament like the New Testament, seeks to accuse God’s people for his own evil purposes.

Share

Is Jesus Like God or is God Like Jesus?

JesusAlthough I agree that Jesus is God (John 1:1), I have something specific in mind when I ask if Jesus is like God or God like Jesus. Traditionally, people have looked at Jesus and identified divine attributes and used this as ways to demonstrated that Jesus is God.

But some theologians sees this as a backward process.

There is a growing trend to start with Jesus and to use him as the measure to determine what is truly God. I have seen this in the writings of Greg Boyd and have heard similar things by Scot McKnight and Brian Zahnd. I will admit that I have not read Boyd’s Crucifixion of the Warrior God, although I hope to in the near future. But I have read such statements in Boyd’s other books.

This is a convenient hermeneutic for Boyd and other (mostly Anabaptist) scholars. There are some troubling passages in the Old Testament where not only does God perform acts of violence, he also commands his people to use violence. This can be difficult for Christians who are committed to nonviolence.

What Boyd is able to do is to look to Jesus and then measure descriptions of God in the Old Testament by that standard. Anytime we read a description of God, we should ask, “Could we see Jesus doing that?”

So when God in the Old Testament command people to care for the poor, that is consistent with Jesus and so is an accurate description of God. But when God in the Old Testament calls people to attack and destroy a city, that is inconsistent with Jesus and so is an inaccurate description of God.

I have not read enough of Boyd to know how he explains those troubling passages. I would suspect he would say that the Israelites misunderstood what God wanted or tried to impose their own agenda with a theological foundation.

While I can see the attractiveness of this view, I have some serious concerns.

The first is that it makes interpretation of the Old Testament very difficult. Just because the Old Testament quotes God in saying something, doesn’t mean that God actually said it. The Old Testament is a mix of accurate and inaccurate accounts, some divine revelation mixed with mistaken ideas about God. This theory prevents us from reading the Old Testament in anything like a straightforward (I purposely avoid literal) manner.

The other problem is that I don’t think this theory takes seriously diversity within the Trinity. They look to passages like, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Hebrews 1:3) From this it is argued that since Jesus is exactly like God, God is exactly like Jesus.

However, I suspect that if you asked the author of Hebrews to summarize Israelite history, he would have include the warrior images of God and the God-ordained invasion of Canaan. Probably all of the apostles would have understood the Old Testament as accurately revealing the words and actions of God.

I believe the author of Hebrews was trying to describe Jesus in such a way the demonstrate he was far greater than the angels or Moses. I don’t think he was trying to redefine God as being more Christ-like.

I don’t see why belief in the Trinity requires the Father, Son and Spirit to act in exactly the same way. Each person of the Trinity had different roles and I don’t think the earthly ministry of Jesus revealed everything about the Godhead.

Here is an example from the New Testament. In Acts 5, we find the deaths of Annias and Sapphira. It seems to be the Holy Spirit who is responsible for their deaths. Do we find Jesus killing people during his earthly ministry? No. Does that mean that the deaths of Annias and Sapphira was not divine judgment? No again.

I agree that there are some troubling passages in the Bible and that we need to wrestle with them. But I am not convinced that using the earthly ministry of Jesus as the standard of what is really God is the way to go.


Share

Why I’m Not a Pacifist: Part One

I have no problem with Christians who embrace pacifism. However, I have encountered people people have argued that Christians must be pacifists. To some it is absolutely clear that the Bible teaches non-violence in all situations.

I’m not convinced.

This is the first of a series of posts on why I’m not a pacifist. But let me be clear. This is not about why you shouldn’t be a pacifist. I have no desire to change people’s minds on this topic.

The Old Testament Shows a God Who Uses Military Force

No one would ever get the idea from the Old Testament that God is against military force. I’m not just talking about the stories about the invasion of Canaan. Throughout the Old Testament, God guides the people of Israel to military victory. Such heroes of the faith as Abraham, Moses, David and a number of other kinds of Judah are led into battle by God.

Military imagery is used to describe God over and over. When he is called the Lord of Hosts, it doesn’t mean he hosts nice dinner parties. It is closer to General of the Armies.

Not only does God lead Israel into armed conflict, he even uses foreign armies for his judgement. After the exile, God uses the Persian military to escort the Jews back to Jerusalem. While they are rebuilding the walls, Nehemiah arms some of the Jews with swords for protection while the others do the work.

It seems clear that in the Old Testament, God does not oppose military force at all.

I am aware of the response of some pacifists to this. They see Christ as the full picture of God and as the hermeneutical key for the entire Bible. What they do is look at passages in the Old Testament and when they see God at work, they ask if that is something Jesus would do. If it is (such as OT commands to care for the poor), that is really God at work. If it isn’t (like commanding his people to go into Bible), it isn’t really God.

In the cases in the Old Testament where God seems to be acting in a way that Jesus wouldn’t (his character being summed up in the Sermon on the Mount), something else might be going on. Some have suggested it was just unhealthy religion or manmade plans attributed to God. For some it is written off as a mystery with the only sure thing being it was not the God revealed in Jesus.

I have a problem with this. First, it is not clear that Jesus would never use force. Second, there is no hint in the Bible that we should interpret the Old Testament this way.

My biggest problem is with how they see God. I think it comes dangerously close to modalism. Modalism is the belief that God reveals himself in different modes at different times. So during the first century, there was one God and his name was Jesus.

What about the Trinity? The Father is not the same as the Son, who is not the same as the Spirit. Each person of the Trinity has a different role. Why should we expect the way God acts in the Old Testament to be exactly the way Jesus acted during his earthly ministry?

This is just one reason why I’m not a pacifist. But it is a big one.




Share

The IVP Background Bible Commentary: Old Testament

Every preacher and Bible student is told, “A text without a context becomes a pretext.” That context can be the verses surrounding the passage but it should also be the cultural context.

Bible BackgroundOne of the best resources available is The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, by John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthew and Mark W. Chavalas.

This commentary puts the Old Testament into its cultural and religious setting. Passages come alive as we see what similar things were happening in contemporary Egypt or Mesopotamia. Obscure practices suddenly become clear.

One of the interesting theories deals with the numbers in the Old Testament. The authors suggest that the word translated thousand does not necessarily mean 1000 individuals but may mean a division. While we cannot know this for sure, it is worth considering.

I used this book as a text for a Bible college course I taught and I was very satisfied with it.

I highly recommend The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament for all students of the Bible. It especially is useful for preachers.

Share

5 Things to Remember When Talking About the Bible and Genocide

GenocideOne of the hardest topics to discuss is the Israelite invasion of Canaan and the complete destruction of certain cities. It makes both Christians and non-Christians uncomfortable.

The intention of this post is not to give an apologetic for those events or to tell people what to believe. I only want to mention a few things to help guide conversations.

  1. God did not command the Israelites to kill every Canaanite.
  2. God did not command the Israelites to attack Canaanites outside the Promised Land.
  3. God did not command the Israelites to pursue the Canaanites who fled the Promised Land.
  4. Mercy was shown to some Canaanites (Rahab and the Gibeonites).
  5. God’s plan was not the extermination of the Canaanites but the occupation of the Promised Land.

This is not the full story and we should still have many questions. But any discussion without considering these facts will lead to questionable conclusions.

Share

Was the Bible Written Because People Were Afraid of Death?

“All religions are based on people’s fear of death and their desperate attempts to find hope after death.”

Have you heard statements like this? Certainly the afterlife is an important part of many (but not all) religions.

BibleMy interest is in how this relates to biblical faith. Again the afterlife is important to Christians. The most important event for Christians is the resurrection of Jesus. There is plenty of teaching throughout the New Testament on the resurrection of the dead.

But that does not tell us much about the initial impulse to start writing the Bible. What about the Old Testament? The Old Testament was the Bible for Jesus and Paul. Is their evidence that the Old Testament was written to try and find hope after death?

The short answer is no. The Old Testament does not talk much about what happens after one dies. The most common teaching is that of sheol. Sheol is best translated as the grave and it is the place where all, both good and evil, go after death. That the dead go to the grave at death is no deep spiritual truth.

The focus of the Old Testament is to be in relationship with God, especially to be in relationship in the land that God promised his people. A good long life with plenty of children was important. But they did not seem all that worried about what happens after death.

Does the Old Testament have anything to say about the afterlife?

The clearest statement is found in one of the last books to be written:

“And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” (Daniel 12:2–3 ESV)

I am not saying that before Daniel no one believed in life after death. I am saying that by far reflection on the afterlife was not the central motivation for writing the Bible.

Land and the ResurrectionIf you are interested in more about this topic, I wrote a book dealing with the main sources of hope in the Bible: the promised land and the resurrection. I look at the connection between the two and how hope shifted from one to the other.

You are welcome to purchase a copy of Finding a New Land. (USA) (Canada)

 

Share

10 More Things You May Not Have Known About the Bible

BibleSome time back I wrote a post about 10 Things You May Not Have Known About the Bible. Since I believe that there are always more things to learn, here are 10 more things you may not have known about the Bible.

  1. The feeding of the 5000 is the only miracle of Jesus that is found in all four Gospels.
  2. The command to love your neighbour as yourself is found six times in the Bible (once in Leviticus, twice by Jesus, twice by Paul and once by James).
  3. The death of John the Baptist is also found in Josephus (a first century Jewish historian).
  4. One of the Psalms appears twice in the book of Psalms (Psalms 14 and 53).
  5. The Sheol found in the Old Testament is the grave and not hell (as the KJV translates it).
  6. Paul never mentions his name Saul or his hometown of Tarsus in his letters.
  7. Many scholars see evidence of a female apostle in Romans 16:7.
  8. There is much overlap between 2 Peter and Jude.
  9. The twelve minor prophets in the Christian canon are one book (The Twelve) in the Hebrew canon.
  10. Malachi is the last book in the Christian Old Testament but 2 Chronicles is the last book in the Hebrew canon.

Share

10 Things You May Not Have Known About the Bible

BibleThe Bible is the most influential book in western culture. Even in this post-Christian era, we are surrounded by the influence of the Bible.

The Bible was crucial for me in my own faith journey. I read the Bible cover to cover a number of times (and once in alphabetic order) before making a personal faith commitment.

I have been studying the Bible for many years, both formally and informally. I teach the Bible in both a congregational and a Bible college setting. My goal is not to make instant Bible scholars but rather to just move the student a bit farther down the knowledge continuum.

As a result, I decided that I would share ten things that you may or may not have known about the Bible. If you just learn one thing from this post, I will be happy.

  1. The order of books in the Hebrew Bible is not the same as the order in the Christian Old Testament (the last book for the Jews is 2 Chronicles and the last book for Christians is Malachi).
  2. The final decision of the rabbis of what books would be in the third part of the canon (the Writings) may not have been made until after the death and resurrection of Jesus.
  3. Jesus’ everyday language was not Hebrew or Greek but was Aramaic.
  4. Jesus may not have been a carpenter. The Greek word does not mention wood and it can refer to a number of skilled trades.
  5. The word ‘prodigal’ in the parable of the prodigal son does not refer to someone who leaves and comes back. Prodigal mean wasteful spending.
  6. The Bible says very little about going to a place called heaven. The biblical hope for an afterlife is a bodily resurrection. Any time in heaven is the intermediate state.
  7. Our earliest Christian text is either Galatians or 1 Thessalonians.
  8. Paul’s letters in the New Testament are arranged from longest to shortest.
  9. Paul never mentions hell in his letters.
  10. The word ‘apocalypse’ does not mean destruction or the end of the world. Apocalypse is the Greek word for revelation.

Recommended Book: Mark Strauss’ Four Portraits, One Jesus (USA) (Canada)




Share

7 Things to Remember When Reading the Bible

BibleMany years ago, I had a couple of Roman Catholic ladies come to my door. They went on to explain to me that the problem with the world today was that too many people read the Bible (I in no way am suggesting that this is typical of Catholicism). After my initial shock, I realized there was a very small kernel of truth in their statement.

The problem is not that too many people read the Bible but rather too many people read the Bible incorrectly.

I believe that one of the most important roles for the Church today is to teach people how to read the Bible. My intention in this post is to help people understand some basic principles for reading the Bible.

Here are seven things to remember when reading the Bible:

  1. The interpretation of the verse must coincide with the intention of the author. Always start with what the author intended to say.
  2. The Bible was written for us but not to us. Determine who the original audience was. A promise to the people of Israel or the twelve apostles is not necessarily a promise to us.
  3. Verses have a context. Many see verses of the Bible as free floating bits of Scripture. Always read the verse in the context of what surrounds it.
  4. Read obscure verses in the light of clear verses. There are some verses that are difficult to understand (e.g. baptism for the dead). Focus on what is clear in Scripture.
  5. Pay attention to genre. Do not interpret the Psalms (which are poetry) the same was as Samuel/Kings (which are history).
  6. Although the Bible is inspired, God used the personalities, language, style and circumstances of the writers.
  7. The Christian canon has two testaments. Do not ignore the Old Testament as if it is now irrelevant. The Old Testament was the Bible of Jesus and the apostles and we should take it seriously.

Consider these seven principles as you read the Bible. We want more people reading the Bible, but we also want more people reading it well.

Recommend Resource: Genesis to Revelation: A Taste of the Entire Bible.

Share

Devotions: Hosea

A devotion based on Hosea 1:2.

When God called prophets to serve him, there was always a cost. It might be persecution, it might even by martyrdom. Hosea had one of the cruelest prices to pay. Hosea was commanded to marry a prostitute, a woman who would be unfaithful to him. It is not that God wanted to Hosea to suffer, rather God wanted Hosea to see how God suffered. The people of Israel were continually unfaithful to God and yet God kept reaching out. This was demonstrate by Hosea who continue to pursue his prostitute wife.

We would like to think that this story has nothing to do with us. The Church is supposed to be in a faithful relationship with the Lord. But if we are honest, we would confess that we are not always faithful. What are the areas of life that you feel you are cheating on the Lord? The Lord is faithful, what would it take to remain faithful to the Lord?

Bible

Share

What is the Difference Between Samuel/Kings and Chronicles?

BibleHave you ever had the experience of reading through 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings and then being plunged right back into the same stories in 1-2 Chronicles? Why do we even have Chronicles? Isn’t it kind of redundant?

How Are Samuel/Kings and Chronicles Similar?

The books of Samuel/Kings and Chronicles cover a similar period of time. Much of the narrative of both sets of books cover the basic periods between King Saul and the exile. They both provide the history of the kings of Judah, describing their reigns and encouraging the people to remain faithful to God. Both highlight David as being a special ruler and the measure by which later kings are judged. Both sets of books are included in both the Jewish and Christian canons.

How Are Samuel/Kings and Chronicles different?

There is a difference between Chronicles and Samuel/Kings. To begin with, they do not appear in the same sections within the Hebrew Bible. The Jewish order of the books is different than the Christian order (which is based on the Greek Old Testament).

The Hebrew Bible has three sections: Law, Prophets and Writings. Samuel and Kings are found in the Prophets section, specifically the Former Prophets along with Joshua and Judges. Chronicles is found within the writings, along with books such as the Psalms, Proverbs and others.

When you read Samuel/Kings and Chronicles, there is an obvious difference. The earlier books deals with both kingdoms, Israel and Judah, while Chronicles is only interested in Judah. Israel is only dealt with when it has an immediate impact on the events in Judah.

But there is another difference that not everyone sees. Chronicles cleans up the reputation of the kings. For example, if you go to 1 Chronicles 20, you can see where the story of Bathsheba fits but it is not there. Chronicles removes most of the bad stuff. The same is true of Solomon. In 1 Kings, we see that Solomon really lost his way in the final years of his reign. If you only read Chronicles, you would think his reign was a complete success.

Why do these differences exist? It comes down to the historical context. Samuel/Kings was written at the beginning of the exile. It was a time of repentance and reflection of how they had come to that terrible situation. Chronicles was written after the exile was over and the Jews were trying to re-establish themselves. It would do no good to go over their sinful past. They needed to have renewed faith in their leaders. Chronicles was written for a Jewish people who needed encouragement and strengthening. That is exactly what Chronicles does.

The Final Word

One final note. In the Hebrew Bible, the final book is 2 Chronicles. That would make the final verse of the Bible:

“Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the LORD his God be with him. Let him go up.’” (2 Chronicles 36:23 ESV)

In the Christian Old Testament, the final verse is:

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”” (Malachi 4:5–6 ESV)

Both end with a word of hope. Chronicles ends with the hope of what Cyrus is doing in the present. Malachi ends with hope for what God will do in the future.




Share

The Lord is With You

This is the sermon I preached for the 160th anniversary of Woodford Baptist Church.

Judges 6:11-18

Introduction

Of all the judges, Gideon is one of my favourites. Most of the other judges are fairly one-dimensional characters. But with the story of Gideon we are given, not just information about his life, but insights into who he is as a person. He just seems much more human than some other people in the Bible. In Gideon I can recognize some aspects of myself, as well as other people and even churches.

The truth is that our faith and trust in God is much more complex than we sometimes let on. We have little slogans, perhaps even biblical slogans, and the expectation is that will make things all better or easier. Really faith has an ebb and flow type of experience. I do not mean that in a negative way. It is the same way any relationship is. The connection between two people is alive and dynamic. So too is our relationship with God. We can be affected by circumstance in life, personality, health, concerns about loved ones and so on.

In Gideon, we see a picture of that. One that we could see within ourselves and perhaps within the church.

Mighty Man of Valour

There are a number of events in the Bible that I would love be there for. One of them is Gideon’s first encounter with the angel. “The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valour!” “O mighty man of valour!” In my imagination, Gideon confusingly looks around, trying to find the person the angel was talking to. It is like when a car drives by and waves and you don’t see the face so you are afraid to wave back in case it was meant for someone else.

Gideon’s confusion is understandable. Let us look at that statement. O mighty man of valour. Mighty requires some source of strength. There was nothing about Gideon that was strong. He didn’t have an army. He didn’t have weapons. He had nothing in his possession that could make a difference. And Gideon was certainly not courageous. Nothing in this story even hints that Gideon may be brave. So what is left? “O man.” And that is probably what Gideon was thinking.

So what is going one here? God sees what no human can see, including the individuals themselves. God could see the potential of Gideon. But it wasn’t just what Gideon could do, it was God could do through him. In Gideon’s weakness, God could be mighty. In Gideon’s fear, God would bring valour.

This is not unusual. This is actually God’s normal way of operating. When God called Moses, there was a long discussion as Moses tried to explain why he was unable to do it. The prophet Jeremiah felt the same way. David did not argue with God, but his family certainly did not see the potential.

In fact, there is one time when God called a person who obviously had all the skills and strength needed for the job. That person was Saul, first king of Israel and he was one of the worst kings. The nation was almost completely defeated under his watch.

Have you ever felt like God was calling you to do something but hesitated because of self-doubt? Listen to the words that God speaks to you. Mighty man or woman of valour.

What is the name that God has for this church. The name does not come from the potential that others see in you. It comes from the potential God has for you. If God calls you mighty, you are mighty no matter how you feel.

Who Am I?

It is wonderful that God could see the potential within Gideon, but I want to go a little deeper with how he felt. Gideon talks about a number of different things in this conversation. He talks about being in the weakest clan and being the weakest in his family. He mentions being of the tribe of Manasseh. He could have thought back to Manasseh’s father Joseph, who God brought out of jail and into a place of authority over all Egypt. But I guess he did not.

If we were to follow along the rest of Gideon’s story, we would see plenty of questions and doubts. Soon after, Gideon asks for two signs from God to confirm that this is what he really wanted to do. Then as God uses Gideon to defeat the Midianites, Gideon keeps question God because God was doing some strange things.

What is amazing about all this is that God meets Gideon at his doubts every time. If I was God, Gideon would have been lucky to get one fleece.

What I want you to see is that we are not condemned for not understanding God’s ways. God, look at the circumstances. God, look at the lack of resources. God, where are you?

I’m not just getting this from the story of Gideon. Look at the first chapter of Habakkuk. Habakkuk was really disturbed with what looked like the lack of intervention on God’s part. John the Baptist, while in prison awaiting execution, sent a message with questions for Jesus. John was not sure what Jesus was doing. Jesus himself, in the garden of Gethsemane on the night before his crucifixion, called out his Father acknowledging how hard his mission was.

Whether as individuals or as a church, we look at our resources and the need and see that they do not match up. We may have some important questions for God. And this is okay. God does not want us to be fake, he wants us be real. But there is a difference between being honest and falling into despair. Honesty says that there is a big challenge and we don’t know what the solution is. Despair says that our challenge is too big and we should just give up. Please note in the story that Gideon questions the whole way, but he also continues to take the next step.

The Lord is With You

There is tension between the potential that God sees within us and our own questions and doubts. What brings it all together is God’s power working through us. This is definitely the case with Gideon. In fact God goes out of his way to make Gideon’s chances slimmer and slimmer by making his army smaller. God’s intention is not just to defeat the Midianites, but to show Gideon that by the end of the day, it was all God’s power.

It is God’s choice to show his power. But it is up to us whether or not we are going to recognize what God has done. Gideon started well but eventually fell into worshiping other gods. He forgot what God had done. He forgot God’s power. He lost his way.

What God wants for all of us is for us to walk with him daily. Each day we must invite God to work through us. Each day we must give God the glory for what he has done.

The message of Jesus, the Gospel that he preached was about the kingdom of God. Seeing that kingdom spread in our communities is what Jesus has called us to do. That is not something just for the mega-churches and the superstar pastors to do. This is for this church right here. The Lord is with you. Allow God to work through you and through this church.

Conclusion

“The LORD is with you, O mighty church of valour!” Is that what God is saying to this church? It does not matter the size of the congregation or the number of resources. God sees the potential of this church. There is something here beyond what is seen on the outside. It is okay to look around and acknowledge how that might or valour will be made manifest. But in the end, all that will matter is that the LORD is with you. And if the LORD is with you, you will fulfill your mission as you stay obedient day by day.

Share

Elijah and the Battle of the Gods

Is there any point of looking for background information on the Bible or should we just keep our reading on the surface level? Although I believe people can learn what they need to know to become a Christian on the surface level, there is a place to look deeper.

In this episode of my podcast, I look at the story of Elijah and share some information about the pagan god Baal that helps to bring the story together.

Make sure to check out my other episodes on my podcast page.

Quick, Simple & Safe Data Recovery for Your iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch

Share

Survey of the Old Testament

 

280958: A Survey of the Old Testament, Expanded and Redesigned
A Survey of the Old Testament, Expanded and RedesignedBy Andrew E. Hill & John H. Walton / Zondervan

Hill and Walton’s acclaimed guide now features an expanded text and full-color maps, photographs, timelines, and charts. Their survey addresses the Old Testament as a whole and by major sections and individual books, exploring interpretation, geography, archaeology, and history; theological and literary elements; and the formation of the OT canon and its relationship to the New Testament. 777 pages, hardcover from Zondervan.

Share

Devotions: Malachi

A devotion based on Malachi 1:8.

The Old Testament provides very clear guidelines for the sacrifices offered to God. Because God is holy and righteous, only the best animals are to be sacrificed. In the days of Malachi, the high standard for worship had fallen significantly. The priests were offering animals that were defective in many ways. In fact, the quality of animal offered to God was far below what they would offer to their human rulers. This is not the way it was to be.

We no longer offer animals sacrifices to God. However, we still offer worship and we are in danger of making the same mistake as the priests. Do we offer our best to God? Does God get our leftovers? This is not just about money, it is about all that we are to give God. How seriously do we take our worship? In Jesus, God gave us his best. We must give God our best.

Share

Devotions: Zechariah

A devotion based on Zechariah 4:6.

Zechariah was prophesying during a very dark time for Judah. The nation had been destroyed. Although the exile was technically over and people were coming back, the situation was not good. Many people looked to Zerubbabel, a descendant of David but not a king. How could one man make a difference? The word that was given to Zerubbabel through Zechariah was that it would not be by human strength but only by God’s Spirit that Zerubbabel would fulfil his role.

Strength

Picture by pixaby

It is important to note that this was a word specifically to Zerubbabel and not a general promise to everyone. At the same time, this message is the general theme of Scripture. Everyone from Abraham to the apostles tried to do it on their own. This is not an excuse to stop putting effort into ministry. However, it is a reminder that our confidence is not based on what we do but on what God does.

Share

Devotions: Haggai

A devotion based on Haggai 2:5.

The context of this passage was a very difficult time for Judah. Although the exile was technically over, things were not as prosperous as people had hoped. The Temple was still in ruins and things were not looking good for it to be rebuilt. The two main leaders were Zerubbabel and Joshua. Haggai the prophet had the role of encouraging them in their task. One of the words of encouragement was about the presence of God’s Spirit and how that can drive out fear.

We live in a time of great fear. People fear war, crime, disease and so on. It would be tremendously easy to be overcome with fear. The answer to fear is not pretending that everything is fine. The answer is to recognize the presence of God’s Spirit. The Spirit reminds us that this world is not ruled by chaos. Just as the Spirit hovered above creation before God brought order, the Spirit is present in this chaos. Can you recognize the Spirit’s presence in your life?

Share

The Patience of Job

I have sometimes been accused of having “the patience of Job.” Not only is this giving me more credit when it comes to patience than I deserve, it also misrepresents the story of Job.

Since Job is a hard (sometimes boring) story to read, it is handy to have a quick summary. Job is about a guy who loses everything and yet never lets his faith waver. With formidable patience he endures until the inevitable rescue by God finally arrives. Unfortunately, that is not the real story of Job.

This is what Job is really about (you should read it sometime). Job is about a guy who loses everything. He is devastated and even wants to die. Each day is a struggle. All he wants is to  stand before God and plead his case. He begs and begs for this opportunity without ever showing a sign of patience.

Why do I bring this up?

The problem is that we sometimes have these popular versions of Bible stories that have little to do with what the Bible actually says. Nothing beats reading the actual Bible stories.

Having reflected on the real story of Job, I am thinking that maybe I do have the patience of Job after all.

Job

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Share

Devotions: Zephaniah

A devotion based on Zephaniah 3:9.

Like many of the minor prophets, Zephaniah speaks of judgment. There will be judgment on both Judah and the nations. The nations are the gentiles or the non-Jewish peoples. There will be judgment but there will be reconciliation as well. The nations will be gathered to worship God and to serve him in unity.

Christianity is both divisive and unifying. Jesus warned us that following him would cause conflict with those who do not follow. At the same time, faith in Christ can be unifying. The Church is made up of people from all backgrounds. People from different countries, economic levels and cultures have joined together to praise God with one voice. The prophecy of Zephaniah has been fulfilled in the Christian Church.

Share

Devotions: Habakkuk

A devotion based on Habakkuk 1:2.

Although written thousands of years ago, Habakkuk’s prophecy is very timely. Habakkuk looked at the world around him with all its violence and injustice and felt despair. Where was God? When was he going to do something? Habakkuk did not feel the need to hide his questions as if they were somehow unspiritual.

We can easily identify with Habakkuk’s feelings. It is not difficult to see the problems that are happening, both on a global and local context. Why does God allow these things? The answer we find in Habakkuk is that God is not idle. The reason that we do not see is that God acts in ways we do not expect or perhaps do not even want. The point is that God sees our suffering and he has a plan to intervene.

Share

Devotions: Nahum

A devotion based on Nahum 1:7.

While Jonah describes a Nineveh that repents of their sin, Nahum describes an unrepentant Nineveh that is under God’s wrath. Nahum goes into great detail about the power and strength of God, especially in his role as an avenger. But before readers get the impression that God is only about wrath, Nahum reminds us that God is good. In fact, God’s wrath toward Nineveh is not based on hate toward Assyria but rather love toward Israel. God stands up for his people because he is good.

Sometimes we need a reminder of God’s goodness. With all of things that happen in our world and in our lives, we sometimes forget about this. We can think of God as Creator and Judge, but not necessarily God as good. God loves us no matter how difficult life seems. God loves us no matter how silent he seems. Take some time to reflect on God’s goodness and how he has revealed that to you over the years.

Share

Devotions: Micah

A devotion based on Micah 6:8.

Micah 6:8 is one of the most well known passages in the minor prophets. However, the meaning of the verse really requires an understanding of the context. Before this verse, Micah offers a number of ritualistic forms of worship as a way of pleasing God. Many of these things sound very pious and yet God is not looking for them. What God wants is justice, kindness and humility. Strangely, two of three commands are about relationships with people rather than God.

There is nothing wrong with rituals, ceremonies and liturgies. Jesus participated in these things himself. Yet these things mean nothing without the more important foundation. Worship can easily become empty and hollow. The cure is undergirding all worship with justice, kindness and a humble with walk God. When these things disappear, that is when we know that true worship has drifted into idolatry.

Share

Devotions: Obadiah

A devotion based on Obadiah 1:15.

Obadiah is a one chapter prophet but that does not mean that he is at lack for something to say. His focus is on the punishment that will come upon Edom for all that they had done to God’s people. Judgment on the nations is a common theme among the minor prophets. What Obadiah does is tie this into the Day of the Lord. The Day of the Lord is something that appears throughout the Old Testament. It is what we would call the Day of the Judgment, a day when God would set everything right.

We struggle with the same things that people in Old Testament did. Evil people prosper and righteous people suffer. We hope that justice will be seen in this life but often it is not. If God is a God of justice, why do things look the way they do? God is not ignorant of evil and he has a plan. It is the Day of the Lord, something that the New Testament reveals as taking place at the return of Jesus. It will be on that day that God will put all things to rights. Never doubt that God will bring justice.

Share

A Popular Survey of the Old Testament

Popular Survey of the Old Testament

By Norman Geisler / Baker

This survey is illustrated with black and white photos, charts, and maps. Best-selling author Dr. Norman Geisler writes in an easy, informal style allowing any Christian a resource to understand Old Testament people and events. Each Old Testament book is discussed, its cultural and historical background explained as well as its theme. Two introductory Christ-centered chapters (Christ: The Key to the Inspiration and Canonization of the Bible and Christ: The Key to the Interpretation of the Bible) lay the foundation for the four sections of the book.

36844: Popular Survey of the Old Testament
Share

Devotions: Amos

A devotion based on Amos 5:14.

The book of Amos is fairly typical of the minor prophets. The people sin. The prophet proclaims judgment. The people are challenged to repent. I am sure there were times when the people wondered how they would ever get out of this. What exactly did God want? Amos presents God’s expectations in a very clear way. Do good and avoid evil. It is as simple as that.

This may be a message that is uncomfortable for some Christians. We are taught that salvation comes from grace and not works. As soon as we read about works, we get nervous that something is being added to grace. It is true that there is nothing that can be added to grace for salvation. But the New Testament makes it clear that the Christian life is much more than laying back and enjoying grace. Our life should be a response to the grace we have received. The message to the people in Amos’ say is the same to us: do good and avoid evil.

Share

What You Need to Know About the Bible

If you can understand this one thing, you will avoid many of the problems that Christians encounter. Are your ready? This is very important.

The Bible was not inspired as a western twenty-first century document and should not be read as such.

If you get only this statement from all of the things I have written on this blog, I will be very happy.

Much of the problems that Christians face is over this confusion. Skeptics attack the Bible as if it was a western twenty-first century document and Christians try to defend the Bible as if it was a western twenty-first century document.

Let us just focus on the New Testament as it was written over a much shorter period of time. It was written as a collection of first century Jewish texts and no piety or a lack of piety should make us move it from that context. If we hold up the New Testament to the standards of its original context all of the supposed contradictions would simply evaporate. I have compared the New Testament to other texts of the same period and the New Testament holds up extremely well.

My advice to Christians is when skeptics attack the Bible as if it was a modern work with modern standards, do not take the bait. Bring them back to what the Bible really is: inspired but inspired as a first century Jewish text.

Share

Devotions: Joel

A devotion based on Joel 2:28.

In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit was closely connected with prophecy. Prophecy was closely connected with authority. That authority was limited to a very small number. Far back in the Old Testament, Joshua caught a group of people prophesying by the power of the Spirit. Jealous for his mentor Moses, Joshua complained that his authority was being compromised. Moses explained to Joshua that this was what Moses was hoping for. This is also what Joel was prophesying. A time when the Spirit would be made available to all people, men and women; old and young.

Joel’s prophecy was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. All Christians have the Holy Spirit. What does that mean to you? How does that affect you when you are tempted to give in to that sin? How does that help you when you are about to take on a task that seems too difficult for you? We should never take lightly that God shares his Spirit with us. Reflect on what that means for you today.

Share

Devotions: Daniel

A devotion based on Daniel 3:25.

In this story, three of Daniel’s friends are arrested for refusing to worship a golden image. They are so devoted to their God that they would prefer to endure the consequences. Unfortunately the consequences are being thrown into a blazing furnace. They are men of faith. They believe that either God will help them or else it is the right thing to die for God. God does not intervene and they are cast in the fire. Instead of rescuing the three, God’s presence in made known through a fourth figure and the three are protected from being consumed. Ultimately it is Nebuchadnezzar that frees the three.

Trials and tribulations inevitably come our way. Our first instinct is to pray for a change of circumstances or a dramatic rescue. That is fine and we should do that. But sometimes God works in a different way. Perhaps, like Daniel’s friends, God chooses to make his presence known instead of performing a rescue. Perhaps instead of changing the circumstances, God protects us from being consumed by our trials. God is the one we should go to but we need to remember that God works in mysterious ways, most often not according to our time table.

Share

Devotions: Ezekiel

A devotion based on Ezekiel 37:5.

At this point in history, Judah was in a terrible situation. People were in exile. Infrastructure was crippled. Political autonomy was crumbling. The Babylonians had taken everything away from Judah. It was as if Judah (and Israel before it) were nothing more than dead bones. It was during this time that God brought Ezekiel to a valley of dry bones. From a human perspective, nothing could heal this situation. And yet God commanded Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones. The result was that the bones came together and became living and breathing human beings.

Many of us face impossible situations. They may be physical, emotional, spiritual or financial challenges. It may look completely impossible. And yet God can work through those situations. That does not meant that God will make life easy. What God showed Ezekiel was not the answer to the problem but a sign of what God would do. God’s timetable is not our timetable. We need to remember that God is faithful even if the way he works is not the way we expect.

Share

Devotions: Jeremiah

A devotion based on Jeremiah 1:6-7

Jeremiah is one of the most well-known prophets in the Bible. He is among the three (with Isaiah and Ezekiel) major prophets in the Hebrew canon. Jeremiah would also go through one of the most difficult ministries in the Bible. His prophetic work included a pretty consistent diet of insults, beatings and imprisonments. But before all that suffering, Jeremiah was called by God. Jeremiah tried his best to avoid his call. His excuses included his age and lack of ability. Fortunately for us, if not for Jeremiah, God overruled Jeremiah’s reluctance.

We may not receive such a dramatic call from God, but God still has a call upon our lives. No matter our age, our health, our job or family situation, God has work for us to do. There are always plenty of excuses as to why should say “no.” Moses tried it. Jonah tried it. But God always wins. What we have to understand is that God never calls us to serve him in our own power. God does not end his involvement at the call. Accept the call and watch for the ways that God will work through you.

 

Share

Book of Isaiah

For a limited time only this three volume set is available for 81% off.

The Book of Isaiah, 3 Volumes

By Edward J. Young / Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Young’s classic 3-volume commentary engages in a line-by-line exegesis of the Book of Isaiah, setting interpretation firmly in the context of Isaiah’s archaeological, cultural, and intellectual background. Young’s conclusions are theologically conservative, and though he believes Isaiah to be a unified, single-author book, he respectfully interacts with opposing views. Includes bibliographies and indexes. Volume 1 covers chapters 1-18; Volume 2 looks at chapters 19-39; Volume 3 surveys chapters 40-66.

0585: The Book of Isaiah, 3 Volumes

 

Share

Does the Bible Teach That Unicorns Exist?

UnicornI was recently listening to a Christian radio show and the host was trying to give an example of a myth and referred to unicorns.  The caller commented that since the Bible teaches that unicorns exist, he does not consider them mythical.  It took me off guard.  Some Christians believe that unicorns are real?  I had heard rumours of such accusations by atheists but I never took them seriously.  The young earth creationist organization Answers in Genesis provides a defence for the existence of unicorns here.  I actually think the AiG articles has some good things to say, although it will still take some people off guard by defending the existence of unicorns.

Does the Bible teach that unicorns are real?  If you search a modern translation, such as the New International Version or the English Standard Version, you will get no results.  But if you search the King James Version, you will find references to unicorns.

“God brought them out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn. God brought him forth out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn: he shall eat up the nations his enemies, and shall break their bones, and pierce them through with his arrows. His glory is like the firstling of his bullock, and his horns are like the horns of unicorns: with them he shall push the people together to the ends of the earth: and they are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and they are the thousands of Manasseh. Will the unicorn be willing to serve thee, or abide by thy crib? Canst thou bind the unicorn with his band in the furrow? or will he harrow the valleys after thee? Save me from the lion’s mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns. He maketh them also to skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion like a young unicorn. But my horn shalt thou exalt like the horn of an unicorn: I shall be anointed with fresh oil. And the unicorns shall come down with them, and the bullocks with the bulls; and their land shall be soaked with blood, and their dust made fat with fatness.” (Numbers 23:22; 24:8; Deuteronomy 33:17; Job 39:9–10; Psalms 22:21; 29:6; 92:10; Isaiah 34:7 KJV)

What do we do with this?  It is always important to go to the original languages instead of relying on a four hundred year old English translation.  The Hebrew word translated ‘unicorn’ in the KJV is rʾem.  It comes from a root meaning ‘to be high.’  A lexicon will often give a translation of a buffalo.

Well, a buffalo is not quite the same a unicorn.  Where did the unicorn come from?  In the centuries before Jesus, the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) was translated into Greek as the Septuagint (LXX).   The Greek word that was used here was monokerōtos.  This word literally means ‘one horn.’  So what do we have here?  We have the original passage having a vague Hebrew word that does not tell us anything about the animal.  We have the Greek translators struggling to translate the Hebrew and using a word for one horn even though that is not found in the Hebrew.  The translators of the King James Version were influenced by the Greek and ended up with a unicorn.

Does the Bible teach that unicorns exist?  The short answer is no.  The Hebrew word has no connection with the mythical creature of fairy tales.  What was the animal that the authors were thinking of?  A buffalo?  A rhinoceros?  We will never know.  But it was not a unicorn.

Share

Religion as a Quest for Afterlife

AfterlifeIt is common to hear the accusation that religion was created by those who feared death and needed some sort of afterlife.  Really?  And what research is that based on?  Your neighbour who had a medical scare and decided to start attending church?  I am sure that there are people who get interested in religion because of a fear of death but historically that is not a very good explanation.  I will provide a couple of examples.

Ancient Egyptian religion would seem to support the afterlife hypothesis, with all its mummies and pyramids and magnificent tombs.  Except when you look closely and discover that the afterlife was originally only for the Pharaoh, then gradually for the aristocracy and only later for people in general.  Ancient Greek religion had a concept of Hades where the shades of the dead dwelt.  But this was no source of hope for the Greeks.  It was a shadowy existence that was not much fun.  Even the great heroes lacked hope for a glorious afterlife.

What about the Bible?  We all know Christianity is all about the afterlife.  It is true that the resurrection, both of Jesus and the believer, is very important to the Christian faith.  But before there was an New Testament, there was an Old Testament.  Read through the Old Testament and look for evidence of an afterlife.  Most of post-death existence is described as Sheol, which despite the KJV translation as hell, is really just the grave.  If there is any consciousness in Sheol, it is that shadowy existence such as what we find in the Greek Hades.  There are only two passages in the Old Testament that clearly provide hope for an afterlife, and both are fairly late.

“Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead.” (Isaiah 26:19 ESV)

“And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” (Daniel 12:2–3 ESV)

If you want to learn more about the development of the afterlife in the Old and New Testaments, see my book  Finding a New Land.  The point is that an afterlife does not play a central role in the Old Testament and therefore was not the motivation for biblical religion.  I am not suggesting that the afterlife is unimportant, only that a fear of death is not sufficient to explain the rise of religion, either in general or in the Bible.

Share

Clay Jones on the Canaanite Question

Since there is much discussion about the war against the Canaanites, I thought I would add something else.  A few years ago, Clay Jones wrote an article for the journal Philosophia Christi on this topic.  You can read the article online here.

Disclaimer: I am NOT saying that this article demolishes every concern about what happened to the Canaanites.  It simply adds some context to the issue so that we can (hopefully) have more intelligent discussion beyond “God is my BFF” or “God is a jerk.”  Everyone understand?

Share

Early Hebrew Text Found

The earliest Hebrew text has just been discovered as you can read about here.  The text comes from the time of King David in the tenth century BC.  It has not been completely translated but it seems to have the word for ‘king.’  It will be interesting to see what this means for the minimalist position that discounts the early history of Israel including the reigns of David and Solomon.  One correction from the story: it meantions the kingdom of Judea.  It is possibly from Judah or the unified kingdom of Israel but ‘Judea’ did not exist until almost a thousand years after this text.

Share