When George S. Patton was a young cadet at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point (1904-1909), he wrote down three rules of engagement in the cover of one of his text books which he followed throughout his military career and his campaigns in WWI and WWII--never hold, never retreat, always take the offensive. Three simple rules of engagement he never wavered from enabled him to become one of the most successful generals in history. When a person finds what works, there’s no need to change.
One of my favorite verses in the Bible is 1 John 1:9. “If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” I love that verse! I love the truth that verse conveys! I live by that verse! What is so comforting about that verse is not only that it promises that if we confess our sins, God will forgive us of our sins, but that if we confess our sins, God must forgive us of our sins. In other words, the deeper assurance of this verse is not primarily in the forgiveness itself, but in the basis of that forgiveness.
Recently I have had quite a few discussions regarding the relationship between the Lord’s Supper and church membership. Historically churches have practiced the administering of the Lord’s Supper in one of three ways—open, closed, and semi-open. All three stem from a church’s interpretation of 1 Cor 11:27-30. There the apostle Paul, after reminding the church they should partake of the Lord’s Supper regularly, warns them to “examine” themselves lest they partake of the elements in “an unworthy manner” and become “guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.” When this happens, he warns, “many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” Hence, taking the Lord’s Supper is a serious matter with life and death consequences.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right there has been a cacophony of articles, interviews, blogposts, lectures, discussions, and conferences regarding the topic. Some of it good. Much of it wrong. However, this has all led to no small amount of confusion within the Christian community regarding the issue of homosexuality and what the Bible actually says about it. The two most popular arguments for same-sex marriage over and against the Bible is that, first, Jesus himself never condemned homosexuality. What we find in the Old Testament is antiquated and, therefore, irrelevant. And what we find in the writings of the apostle Paul is the product of a homophobe, a man heavily influenced by his first century patriarchal Jewish heritage. Secondly, if two same-sex persons are happily committed to a loving life-long partnership, that cannot possibly be wrong. We often hear the slogan--love is never wrong.
In celebrating their twentieth anniversary of publishing their “Best-Seller” list, in October 2013 USA Today published the findings of which book genres have been the best-selling over the past twenty years. They discovered that the third best-selling book genre was adult erotica books (sadly), number two was children’s literature books (parents are trying to figure out how to keep their kids happy), and number one was self-help books. Americans are desperate to solve their marriage problems, their parenting problems, their own psycho-emotional problems, their financial problems, and a whole host of other problems. Additionally, I dare say this is probably true of many inside the church. Too often believers look to Laura Schlessinger and Oprah Winfrey for solutions. Too often churches look to corporate America to figure out the best way to attract ‘consumers’ and grow their church. The result is that the divorce rate among those who regularly attend church is nearly identical to those outside the church. Nearly 70% of children raised in Christian homes walk away from the faith during their first year of college. And the term “mainline denominations” is a well-known reference to liberal churches who deny the inerrancy of scripture.
The Bible makes clear that Christians are to verbally share the gospel with all who are willing to listen. Two reasons can be ascertained from scripture as to why this is so. The first is that it is commanded by Christ. Just before his ascension into heaven he gave to the disciples what has come to be known as the Great Commission. In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus ushers this command: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (ESV). Notice the active language. Jesus does not say ‘stay and wait for people to come to you to be made disciples’, but “Go…and make disciples…” Additionally, when these disciples have been made we are to teach ‘them to observe all that Jesus has commanded them.’ Thus the Great Commission is not simply about bringing people to Christ through the proclamation of the gospel, but is also about growing people in Christ--it’s about discipleship.
The Sequoia National Forest in central California is home to some of the most amazing and oldest trees in the world. Sequoias are the world’s largest single standing trees by volume. They grow to a height of 164-279 feet and a diameter of 20-26 feet. The oldest known Sequoia is 3,500 years old. They have clearly been around for a long time and do not buckle easily to the harsh conditions of nature. What makes all this so amazing is that despite their incredible height, Sequoias have a shallow root system and only goes down 12-14 feet deep and they have no tap root. Yet how have they been able to stand for so long and not be toppled by the strong winds that often come across the Sierra Nevada Mountains? They have a matting root system that can occupy as much as one acre of ground and interlock with the roots of dozens of nearby Sequoias. In other words, they hang on to each other and support each other and thus have been able to remain standing for thousands of years. Christians could learn a lot from Sequoias.
About six months prior to writing this article, I celebrated my 40th birthday. I had heard of a midlife crisis but never really understood what it was or how it manifested itself. From the little I had gathered from television—America’s main source of education—I came to believe that a midlife crisis was when men or women in midlife (ages 40-60) attempted to relive their younger years by—in the case of men—purchasing expensive sports cars, styling large gold chains around their necks, and wearing their shirts unbuttoned to just below their nipple line—in the case of women—piling on the makeup, hitting the gym, and wearing miniskirts too short even for Angelina Jolie.
Recently my wife and I went through the tiring process of purchasing a new home. We looked at a thousand homes and drove a million miles—or so it seemed. If you’ve ever purchased a pre-existing home (as opposed to building one), you understand the frustration in finding the perfect house. There is always something not quite right. Unless one can afford to build the exact house he wants in the exact location of his choosing, purchasing an existing home can be quite frustrating—that is until my wife had an epiphany. She said, “You know, we’re just going to have to realize this house will likely be a starter house.” Right, a starter house! We don’t have to live in it forever. In fact, we can just plan to live in it for a few years—gain some experience on the ins and outs of home buying and home ownership—then once we’ve outgrown it we can sell it (hopefully for a profit) and move into something more long term. Once we came to that conclusion we were more than willing to settle for something less than ideal and felt completely at peace about it.
On April 9, 1945, a thirty-nine- year-old pastor, theologian, and spy was executed in the Flössenbuerg concentration camp by the Third Reich—his name was Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was little known outside of Germany. He was never the pastor of a large church. He never held the position of president at a world renowned seminary or university. He was never the official guest of a head of state, and the literary works he produced only became well known after his death. Yet today we still read about him. Students still study him. Historians still write about him.
The Christmas season is upon us once again, and once again we’ll be reminded many times of the old familiar story of God who became man, who was born of a virgin in the little town of Bethlehem and was laid to rest in a manger. It’s a story we are all familiar with.
The Bible offers many reasons why God had to take on human flesh. The most prominent of which was to be a proper substitutionary sacrifice on behalf of his people. However, we are also told that God, in the form of his son Jesus Christ, had to be made fully human in every way so that he could be a “merciful and faith high priest”, so that through his sufferings and temptations he would be able to sympathize with our weaknesses (Heb 2:17-18; 4:15).
Last month a series of billboards went up in the town of Lubbock, Texas that have caused quite stir in the community and on the internet. The billboards depict a person portraying Jesus who is covered in tattoos. The tattoos across his body contain words like outcast, hated, addicted, jealous, and many more. The billboards also direct passersby to jesustattoo.org where a video can be seen of someone portraying Jesus running a tattoo parlor where individuals come in with tattoos like self-righteous, outcast, and useless, and leave with tattoos such as humble, accepted, and purpose. At the end of the day, all the negative tattoos that were removed from the visitors suddenly and miraculously appear on the actor playing Jesus. The response toward these billboards and toward the internet video have ranged from “blasphemous” to “this is what the gospel is all about”.
On December 27, 2011, my 83 year-old grandmother succumbed to cancer. It had been a long and difficult battle for her. I have many great memories of my grandmother. Many childhood memories of spending summers at grandma’s house, sitting at her breakfast table while she made Mexican pancakes for us (think crepes). Her passing has been a catalyst and the culmination of a series of events that has caused me to ponder more acutely my own mortality and the insecurity of life.
I was recently reading through the gospel of Matthew and was both astonished and intrigued by the story of the Canaanite woman (15:21-28). Jesus had just departed from the region surrounding the Sea of Galilee where he fed five thousand people with five loaves and two fish and where he healed many who were sick. And yet the Jewish religious leaders attacked him for not having his disciples wash their hands before eating. (Talk about majoring on the minors.)