Tag Archives: christians

Appoint or Elect? How should we select leaders in the church? Titus 1:5-9, Part 1

17 Jun

I recently heard the story of a pastor who got in a predicament.  The story goes like this: “A minister parked his car in a no-parking zone in a large city because he was short on time and couldn’t find a space with a meter. Then he put a note under his windshield wiper that read: ‘I have circled the block 10 times. If I don’t park here, I’ll miss my appointment. ‘Forgive us our trespasses’.’ When he returned, he found a citation from a police officer along with this note: ‘I’ve circled this block for 10 years. If I don’t give you a ticket I’ll lose my job. ‘Lead us not into temptation’.”

Maybe you know the feeling.  It is a human condition to be tempted and fall into it.  Yet we followers of Jesus are called to live differently. Therefore in this series of posts on Titus 1:5-9, we’re going to try to answer the question: Is it possible to be blameless?

In this blog series we are reading other people’s mail. Ancient mail, yes, but it’s still mail! Last we looked at the beginning of a letter from one of the earliest Christians, a guy named Paul, who was writing to his friend Titus.  Today we continue studying that letter.  If you’d like, you can read Titus 1:5-9, which will be our focus this week.

Let me review a bit of the background to this letter that we studied last week. We need to remember that Paul invested in Titus, discipling him, helping Titus become a leader in the fledgling Christian movement.  Titus had even traveled with Paul to the Island of Crete, which is right in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.  There they spent time talking with people about Jesus and starting churches in towns across the island.  When I refer to “churches,” don’t think of buildings.  Instead they were groups of people who believed the message of the good news about Jesus, and gathered together.  Think of house churches.  Paul knows there is still much work to be done among these new Christians on Crete, and he has a plan.  Paul’s plan is a mission to send Titus back to Crete with a very specific goal.  I encourage you to pause reading this post, and read Titus 1:5-9 to see if you can discern the mission that Paul has for Titus.

Think about these brand new Christians on Crete. They have no Christian history like most Christians do around the globe in 2019. In America, for example, we are used to centuries and upon centuries of Christianity being the major religion in our nation.  But for the Cretans Paul is writing to, Christianity was totally new.  They had no Bibles to read.  They had no leaders to guide them.  All they had was maybe a few weeks or months with Paul and Titus.  They were far from established. 

And what’s more, they were in Crete.

The Cretans were, well, Cretans.  Peek ahead to verse 12 and we get a taste of why the word “Cretan” is still used today to describe people that are out-of-control.  Their own poet, Epimenedes, said that they were liars, evil brutes and lazy gluttons.  We get the idea that Crete is Mardi Gras all the time.  OK, maybe that is an exaggeration, but life in Crete was wild. Contrast that to the fact that when Paul and Titus were on Crete, they had preached a whole new way of living life.  That new way of living was the way of Jesus.  Paul knows that these very new Christians are in the middle of a Cretan society filled with opportunity for them to turn away from the way of Jesus.  Cretan Christians were going to be faced with difficult life choices.  How could Cretans live the new way of Jesus?  Would they be able to live a new way?  Would they be tempted to live the old Cretan way?  Sure they would.  Paul is very concerned about this.

To make matters worse, there were Christians who were causing lots of trouble in the churches already.  We’re going to talk about them further next week.  For now, look at verse 10, where Paul calls them the “circumcision group”.  Scan through verses 10-12 and you can see how destructive these people were to the church, and Paul is not reserved in his feelings about them. 

Suffice it to say, society and culture in Crete could be tough for the new Christians there, and Paul is rightly concerned.  There is some serious work to be done, or this young church could fall apart. 

What is Paul’s response to this very tricky situation?  He sends in Titus.  Look at verse 5.  He writes that is he is sending Titus to deal with what was left unfinished.  Paul and Titus had started the churches together, got them off the ground, and then had to move on.  So these young churches are in a precarious position, and Paul wants to strengthen them by sending Titus back to them.  Now Paul has a very specific mission for Titus.

See how he describes Titus’ mission in verse 5?  Titus’ main objective is to appoint leaders in every town. This tells us that church leadership is very important to Paul.  He talks about godly leaders in many places in his various letters.  In this week’s posts, then, we are going to study Paul’s teaching about Titus’ mission to appoint leaders in the churches in Crete.

First of all, Paul uses the word “appoint.” It is not a vote.  Titus is to do the choosing.  Titus is making the picks.  It is not up to the Christians in Crete.  This is not a democratic process.  At this juncture it is important to note that this letter was to be read in public to the churches.  Paul wants all the Christians in Crete to know that they don’t get a say in who their leaders will be.  Titus is choosing. 

That means that we don’t need to elect our leaders in our church.  Many American Christians think that we should always vote for leaders in the church, that somehow God works through elections.  I think, though, that we have very good reason to doubt that idea. Yet we Americans especially are use the method of elections in the church.  You won’t, however, find elections and voting in the Bible.  You also don’t find elections and voting condemned in the Bible.  So I think we would do well to approach this with caution and wisdom.  At Faith Church, this teaching from Paul is the foundation for why our Leadership Team selection is not just a vote, but a process where we try hard to only have candidates on the ballot whom we are okay with being on the Leadership Team.  Therefore, when we vote, we’re okay with any result.   

We also need to see that the public reading of this letter to Titus is some accountability for Titus. Why? Because Titus doesn’t get to choose whomever he wants.  Paul goes on to give Titus some very specific guidelines he can use in the choosing process.  And the people listening to the letter will hear these guidelines too.  They will know if Titus is following Paul’s instructions or not based on how Titus makes the selections.  So what kind of people should Titus be looking for to be leaders of the church? Check back in tomorrow, as we begin to look at what Paul has to say about who should be selected to be leaders in the church.

False Ideas Christians Believe About…Money

13 Jun

Today, as continue our series on False Ideas that Christians believe, we are fact-checking statements about money and generosity.

  1. You can’t outgive God.
  2. Give and you will receive.
  3. It’s my money; I worked hard for it.
  4. Money is the root of all evil.

Let’s start with…

On the surface, this one is true.  God is infinitely generous. 

The primary example of God’s generosity, perhaps, is Jesus.  I love how the Apostle Paul puts it in Romans 8:31-32. There he reminds us that God even gave his son!  And if he gave his son, how will he not also graciously give us all things?  Think about it.  If he already gave us his son, anything else in life that he could possibly give us would be far less valuable.  Infinitely less valuable.  So in that sense, you can’t outgive God because he already gave us Jesus. 

Imagine with me that was a giving contest, in which it was us versus God, to see who would give the most.  He could just make more money appear, and he could give more away, even more than all the wealthiest people in the history of the world combined.  It’s a no-contest. But that’s a made-up situation.

How does God give?  Primarily, God gives through his people! 

Let me explain.  The phrase “You can’t outgive God” could potentially be used as an excuse for not giving to the church because we could think in our minds, “I don’t need to worry about giving much to the church, because God will provide.”  But that excuse is incorrect because God’s primary method of providing for the church is through the generosity of his people.

Over the last two and a half years since Faith Church started our Capital Campaign, we have seen this in action.  God has provided amazingly, through his people.  We like to think of God’s provision as miraculous, like the contest I envisioned above, that God will make money drop out of the sky, or out of thin air.  He can do that. But know this: it is no less miraculous and astounding to say that God works through is people.  It has been incredible to see this through the Capital Campaign.  First of all, many individuals in our church family gave generously.  That was God providing through them.  Then we also received some surprise gifts from Christians who are friends of Faith Church.  First was a $40,000 matching gift, and then two gifts from another church, one for $20,000 and then one for $65,000.  Just because those unexpected gifts are large amounts, that doesn’t mean they were more miraculous or better than what we all together from Faith Church gave.  It all was part of how God provided through his people.  You can’t outgive God.

Why, then, are we fact-checking this statement, if it is clear that God is so giving?

Because sometimes there is another side to the story.

I recently came across a true story written by a man who described a situation in his life that happened ten years before he wrote the story.  Ten years before, he was a student in seminary.  Finances were really tight.  Going to school full-time meant that he didn’t have the benefit of a regular income.  He and his wife also had children, so she wasn’t bringing in a ton of money either.  In other words, their expenses were greater than their income.  At one point they were facing $5000 in overdue bills and they were at their wits end, with no means to pay.  Amazingly a $5000 check from one person came in the mail!  Fantastic, right?

Well…here’s how the author continues the story.  

“Take a detour with me for a moment. I have heard many Evangelical sermons on giving. I have listened to testimony after testimony from those who had prioritized the Lord in the tightest financial circumstances. I had read the passage about the “widow’s mite.” You know, the one where the lady was commended by Christ for giving her last two dollars to the Lord. I knew all the clichés: “I just keep shoveling out, but God has a bigger shovel!” Or, my favorite, “You can’t out-give God.” And, yes, how about our Evangelical go-to passage in Malachi 3:10: “‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘to see if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.’” Test the Lord and see if he does not bless you.

“Now, back to my story. I tested the Lord that day. I gave to him of my first fruits. I gave to him before the late electric bill, the car payment, and the bread box. I prioritized Him above my children, wife, financial integrity and all else. I had just enough to catch up on my bills so long as I put his claim on hold. But I gave to him part of what I needed. Why? Because he is faithful. Why? Because you can’t out-give God. Why? Because he called on me to test him.

“However . . . Two weeks later, threats of collection, electricity cut-off, and growling stomachs of my family made me wonder: Did he just fail the test? Did I just out-give God?”

How about that? Here is a man studying in seminary so that his family can enter ministry.  They believe “you can’t outgive God”, and so it is the right thing to do to give money to the Lord, and watch God provide.  The give to the Lord, perhaps through an offering at their church, and thus they no longer had the money to pay their bills. Then their electric got cut off.  The bill collectors start calling.  And the man can’t provide enough food for his family.  What do you think? Did he outgive God?

I appreciated the author’s conclusion:

He says, “I do believe what I heard a pastor say the other day: “There is no greater indication of your spiritual life then your giving habits.” He went on to say, “It is impossible to be a good Christian if you are not giving.” The old saying, “If you want to know where someone’s priorities lie, thumb through their checkbook,” is true. However, I do not believe that we are to give with some idea that the bank account of heaven is obligated to wire transfer directly to our earthly bank accounts when we give sacrificially. God may or he may not.

So we Christians should be known for our generous giving to the Kingdom of God.  In many places in the New Testament we read about how disciples of Jesus should be living simply so that we can give generously.  But when we give, know that God is not obligated to shovel even more financial blessings right back into your life.

Another way to look at this is to ask the question, are there any instances in which people give more than what God has asked?  If he asks for 10%, are their people who give 20%?  Sure are!  This relates to the confusion about tithing.  In the Old Covenant that God had with the people of Israel, he did  command them to tithe.  A tithe is a giving of 10%.  But in that Old Covenant, there were actually three tithes for the nation of Israel: two annual tithes, and one every three years, amounting to 23% annually.  But again, that was God’s agreement with Israel.  We are not under that agreement, and we have no covenant binding us to give a certain percentage of our income.  Instead we are taught to live simply, so that we can give consistently and generously.  Each person needs to decide before the Lord what that will look like for their family.  For some people that will be well below 10%.  For others it could be way above 10%.

I’ve written about this before, and I think it is so helpful I will repeat it: our evangelical forefather John Wesley had a phrase that we would do well to follow: “Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can.”  Here’s what he meant. 

Earn all you can.  Work hard.  Be diligent in your employment.  Use the gifts and abilities God has given you to earn an income.   And for some of you, you will find that you are really good at making money. 

Next Wesley said, save all you can.  He was not talking about starting a savings account or an investment portfolio necessarily.  Those might be good things, though.   What Wesley was talking about was living simply.  Don’t spend money on yourself beyond your needs.  Reign in your wants and your desires.  Don’t believe the American consumer system.  Don’t spend your money.  Why? 

So that you can do the third thing Wesley taught: Give all you can

There are times to celebrate and spend on yourself and your family.  But we American Christians need to allow God’s Word and Jesus’ pattern of life and his teaching to guide us, not our the spending habits of our culture around us.  Is it possible that we American Christians have been co-opted by our society?  Who would be willing to take a hard look at it?  Rather that make money in order to spend it on ourselves, we should make money to give to the Kingdom of God.  How do we give to the Kingdom of God?  Give to those groups in line with growing the Kingdom of God, give to your local church, give to a family in need. Remember what I mentioned above, about how God uses individuals to care for those in need.  Remember the story of the Good Samaritan, who gave his time and financially to the stranger/the enemy along the side of the road.

And that brings us to our next phrase:

This is a picture of the World’s Largest Shovel.  The Garden-Ville shovel, which is made from all recycled materials diverted from the landfill including scrap metal and telephone poles, has some amazing dimensions.  Total Length – 40 Feet 8 Inches, Spade Width – 7 Feet 4 Inches, Weight – 5,000 pounds!

There is a companion phrase to “You can’t outgive God,” which we just fact-checked, and the phrase “Give and you will be blessed,” and that is the idea that “God’s shovel is bigger.”  Even bigger than the one in the picture.  But that phrase “God’s shovel is bigger” is using figurative language.  Some famous Christians like JG LeTourneau used this phrase to describe a situation where he gave 90% of his income and lived on 10%.  And the more he gave, the more God blessed him, and so LeTourneau was able to give more and more.

Does God work like that?  Does he promise that?  There are a couple passages of Scripture we can turn to that seem to say this.

Luke 6:38 – Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

2 Cor 9:6 – Sow generously and you will reap generously. 

But what does these phrases mean?  Are they guarantees that if we give, we will get?  Do we just need to shovel out money and generosity back to God, and since his shovel is bigger, he will give us even more blessing? 

Remember the seminary student who miraculously received $5000 to pay his bills, but gave some back to his church and then had his electricity shut off?  Here is what he concludes:

“Won’t we experience “blessing” when we give, even if it is not financial? I suppose. But it really depends on how you look at it. When we give sacrificially to the Lord without expectations, we are acting out the blessing that we already have been given: a perspective that is in alignment with reality. The widow gave because she knew that this was not her home. She gave all she had because she was already sold out to God. She knew that the treasures of this earth are nothing to be compared to the glory that is to follow. If you believe this—if you truly believe this—you are already blessed. The belief itself is the blessing. Maybe God’s shovel becomes bigger than yours and maybe it does not. Our blessing is our ability to trust God. Our giving is an expression of that trust.  We should expect to suffer in this life. Sometimes that suffering will come in the form of financial suffering. Sometimes it will be other things. But to think and preach that there is some guaranteed way to avoid the cross of financial suffering is not a message that we carry.”

So we disciples of Jesus are people who should be known for a kind of generosity that is so different from the culture around us.  The reason why we live that way is because we have a different view of money. 

If you have bills, one of the most faithful things you can as a Christian is to pay those bills.  If you have loans, pay them off.  That is faithful spiritual discipleship work.  What was so hard for this seminary student, and what is difficult for many of us is when our income is not enough to pay the bills and give money to God.  What do you do? Pay the bills or give money to God? I can’t tell you how to make that choice.  The seminary student is right.  Just because you give, God is not obligated to pay you back more.    

One way that Christians deal with this quandary is the next phrase:

We do work hard and earn money.  But the Bible teaches the principle of stewardship, meaning that we are God’s stewards.  It is his money and he owns it.  Every cent of the salary we earn, every cent of the hourly job, every cent of the money we receive from the government, it’s all God’s money.

Yes, you work hard, and as we already heard John Wesley say, we should work hard to make money.  But we are still stewards of God’s money.  God gave us the ability to work, whether that is brain power or physical ability.  Gave provided all of our ability, and he provided our jobs.  How many of you got jobs because you knew someone….or knew someone who knew someone…how many have connections or have given connections? Not one of us got where we are at solely by ourselves. We have all been helped along the way in some way.  It is not our money.  We live in community and we are stewards of God’s earth and the money he gives us abilities to make.

Sure, hard work, living simply and wise spending and investing will almost always result in financial blessing.  But, not always. And when it does, it doesn’t mean it is your money.  It is all God’s, and we are simply his stewards.  We should use his money, therefore, like he wants it to be used.

Where this gets confusing is in evaluating how we should use his money, especially when most everyone in the culture, even Christians, use their money as if it is their money!  As if they worked hard so they can spend hard. Yeah, they give a bit here and there, but they spend quite a bit on themselves.

What will it look like when people see themselves as stewards of God’s money?  Turn to Acts 2:42-47. We need to see how the earliest Christians handled their money, and we will see that they saw themselves as stewards of God’s money.  Go ahead and read that before continuing this post.

Did you see how the people generously shared their resources with one another?

Where did they get this idea?  From Jesus!  He taught it to them.  For example, he told the Rich Young Ruler to sell everything he had and give it to the poor.  Jesus taught many parables about money, clearly showing the people that they were God’s stewards, and they should use God’s resources like God wants it to be used. 

A few months or maybe years later, after what you just read in Acts 2:42-47, but when the church was still really, really new, we read more about this selfless generosity.  Turn to Acts 4:32-5:11, and read that story.  Clearly what Ananias and Sapphira did went against the teaching of God.  It seems that they sold a property and then gave money to the church saying that it was the full amount of the sale of the property.  But they actually held some of the money back.  Their sin was selfishness and lying about it.  Have we done this?  Have we selfishly held back the Lord’s money so we can use it on ourselves?  When we already have enough?

This relates to the final phrase we are fact-checking today:

1 Tim. 6:10 is where this phrase comes from, and it is close, but no cigar.  The phrase is actually, “The love of money is the root of all evil.”  In other words, money is not the issue. The issue is our heart.

And this is where it gets real.  Let me illustrate.

On the podcast I recently created, one person, Kevin Ressler had the idea that we Christians should consider opening up our books to one another.  He was referring to our checkbooks. Submit your financial choices to the church community!  Assault the idea that our finances and expenditures are personal.  They should all be laid bare before God.  So in our new Faith Church pictorial directory we are going to list everyone’s previous year gross income.  Just kidding!  But what about you? Would you be willing to have others hold you accountable on your use of your money?

I think the assumption is that opening the books would be harder, or more confrontational, for those of means.  I would suggest that this assumption is not true.  As much as we would confront the person who dropped $25K on a big vacation, we could also confront the person who can’t pay their bills but buys drinks and snacks at the convenience story every day. After worship at Faith Church we have a sermon discussion class, and the day I preached this sermon, one person noted that for many people, the convenience store is basically their only option. They would love to be able to purchase in bulk, or organics, or other healthy options but their life situation simply doesn’t allow it. We do need to be sensitive to that. That said, I would submit that the larger point remains. We would do well to be people who have healthy, loving, gracious, but truthful and firm accountability for our financial decisions.

Selfish spending and lack of generosity is in all of us. Rich and poor.  And everyone in-between.  Young people, older people.  Teenagers who just got their first job, all the way up to older adults in retirement.  We are all swimming in the waters of American capitalism and consumerism, and we have been sold a bill of goods that we will feel better if we buy, buy, buy and treat ourselves.  It does feel good for a while.  But there is within all of us the empty self and it is insatiable, hungering for more and more stuff and experiences and clothing and vacations and coffee and it cannot be filled.  You cannot buy happiness. We need to tend to our heart.  Out of our heart flows greed. Money is not the issue.  Greed is. 

This is why Jesus taught, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Matthew 6:21.  Therefore, he says, store up treasure in heaven. Because our hearts follow our treasure.  Invest in God’s Kingdom, Jesus says, or seek first his Kingdom, and our hearts will more and more align with God’s heart

In conclusion, God does not promise you to be wealthy.  Some who follow him are wealthy and some who follow him are not.  Wealth is not a way to measure if you are loved by him and being obedient to him.  He does not promise to give us more wealth when we obey him.  He does call us to give generously and to be loving and caring for other brothers and sisters, to our neighbors, and he reminds us that we are simply stewards of what we have.  This is not our home.  So let us not live lavishly here, but instead store up treasure in heaven, as Jesus taught.

This too shall pass? [False ideas Christians believe about…difficulty. Part 4]

14 Mar
Photo by Cristofer Jeschke on Unsplash

Are the difficult times in life good or bad? You might read that and think, “How could difficult times ever be good?” Well, when we experience suffering, we tend to feel more helpless and needy and thus we pray more. Increased levels of communication with God, as with any relationship in which greater communication almost always results in being closer to the person, leads to a good change: increased intimacy with God. Maybe difficult times, then, are good? 

So many of us have experienced a deep closeness with God during the hard times.  Therefore, we sometimes say that the phrase, “During times of suffering, you’ll be closer to God.” But is it true?

What we have seen in this series fact-checking phrases that Christians commonly believe is that, like the two-liner statements in the biblical Proverbs, many of these phrases are not guaranteed promises, but they are statements that are generally true.  The same can be said about “during suffering, you’ll be closer to God.”

While generally true, we need to see that this statement is sometimes false, given that some people have gone through suffering and lost their faith!  So this statement is not a promise.  Suffering often brings us closer to God, but it also sometimes crushes faith.  We need to be very sensitive to that.  Many people in the midst of suffering are having a crisis of faith.  God gave us free will, and there are many responses to difficult circumstances.

And that brings us to our next statement.  When people are in the midst of suffering, we say, “This too shall pass.”

How many of you say this?  Or have heard it said?  It is a go-to phrase for many. Is it in the Bible?  Nope. So why do people say this?

Because people in the midst of struggle are really having a hard time, and they need hope.  So we tell them “this too shall pass,” trying too give them hope that the pain will eventually finish.  But is that true? 

Generally, yes.  Most difficult times have an end date.  Yet in the midst of the difficulty, it is very, very hard for us to be comforted by a possible good future.  We are in the pain now, and we can think that the rest of our lives will be this way.

So there is a tension in the reality of life. Whether it is a health situation or a financial situation or a difficult relationship, it is generally true that they almost always pass, get resolved. But not always. Look, for example, at 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.  Paul reminds us that our troubles will all pass. Here’s the thing thought: the pain might not be done until we die and are pain-free in heaven.  But it will pass. 

That is a harsh reality…this too might not pass until we die.

One of my first acts as senior pastor was to gather a bunch of people to meet with an elderly man in our congregation to pray for him and anoint him with oil.  He was sick and was hoping and praying for healing, and God did not answer that prayer for healing.  James 5 even says that God will heal.  Instead, a few months later that man passed away.  The sickness did not pass on this side of heaven.  Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians that he, himself, had what he called a “thorn in the flesh” and he asked God numerous times to take it away.  We don’t know what the thorn was.  Could be a broken relationship.  Could be a health problem.  Could be an enemy.  But God never takes it away from Paul. 

So again, we have a proverbial phrase.  Pain generally will pass and things will go back to normal.  There are most often seasons in life.  And seasons come and go.  Writing this in the northeastern United States in early March, I am personally ready for the warmer temps of spring!  In parenting, there are seasons.  We recently had an interesting conversation with one of our college-age sons.  He was home for a visit, and somehow we got to talking about these seasons in life.  My wife mentioned that once our kids turned 12-15 years old, we as parents suddenly lost most of our knowledge and became dumb and irrelevant.  But once the kids turned 19-20, we parents amazingly became smart again!  There are seasons, and the statement “this too shall pass” reflects how that is generally true.  Most often, the difficulty comes and goes. 

But not always.  So again, be sensitive to those in pain.  They are in the middle, struggling.  Encourage them and be with them in the pain.  But, do not give false promise that it will guaranteed be taken away.  That is not a promise God gives.  We can and should hope for that, work towards that and pray for it.  But, that is different than saying that God has made it a promise.

As we talked about earlier, in the pain, many can have a crisis of faith.  Sometimes we think “God why are you allowing me to go through this?”  And it seems to us that God is silent.  Nowhere to be found. 

So how should we respond in the midst of pain? Check back in to part 5, and we’ll explore how to have a healthy approach to the difficulty in life.

God loves roof fences? [Should Christians Observe the Old Testament Law – Deuteronomy 21-25, part 4]

31 Jan

See the roof fence in this picture? It’s called a parapet. Did you know that God’s heart beats for parapets? Or does it? Does God care about that kind of thing? What does God’s heart beat for?

Do you know God’s heart? What makes God’s heart beat? Even in ancient laws created for the people of Israel over 3000 years ago, laws that might seem bizarre or even wrong upon first reading, we can and should find God’s heart under-girding those laws.

In this series of posts, we’re looking into how Christians can interact with the Old Testament Law. After introducing this topic in part 1, we began applying David Dorsey’s four steps that a Christian can use to interpret and apply every Old Testament Law. Step 1 was to remember that this law is not for us. Step 2 invites the Christian to do an investigation into the historical, cultural situation of the Israelites, so as to understand better what that law meant to them. Once we do the historical work, we arrive at Step 3, and that is to answer the question: What is the theological significance of this law?  In other words, what does that law show us about God’s heart?  Here we have to do a bit of creative thinking.  It can be easy to get way too literal. 

We’ve been referring to Deuteronomy 22:5 throughout this series of posts. There God says that it is detestable for women to wear men’s clothing, and for men to wear women’s clothing. Step 1 reminds us that this law is not for us. Step 2 revealed that Canaanite worship including cross-dressing, and God very much wanted Israel to steer clear of anything remotely connected to false worship. Now in Step 3, what does this reveal to us about God’s heart?

We could simply say, it reveals to us that God really wants men to wear only men’s clothing, and women to want only women’s clothing. But as I said before, that misses the heart of what he was hoping to accomplish in the lives of the Israelites.  Instead, what he really wanted was for them to remain faithful to him, worshiping him, and not getting mixed up in pagan religious practices.  His heart was for their purity and faithfulness to him. 

And that heart is something that we can carry over to our lives. 

Let’s try this method out with another law.  A few verses after the cross-dressing law, in Deuteronomy 22:8, God requires the Israelites to build parapets around their roofs.  Step 1 puts us in the right frame of mind: this law is not for us. Step 2, what it meant to them was that most dwellings in ancient Israel were built with flat roofs, and the people often used them as living space.  In the evening they would sleep there to get out of the sweltering heat inside.  As you can imagine, a flat roof is dangerous, especially for kids, and other accident prone people, because you can easily fall off the roof.  So the remedy is to build a fence around the roof, a barrier to keep people from falling off.  Was God concerned about fence building?  No.  He was concerned about their safety.  His heart was for the health and life of his people.  He didn’t want needless accidents.   Now that heart is something that we can carry over too.

See how we can learn God’s heart behind what seem to be strange laws? That brings us to step 4.  How can we apply that principle to our lives?  Check back in to part 5 of our series for that!

God cares about cross-dressing and fallen bird’s nests? [Should Christians Observe the Old Testament Law – Deuteronomy 21-25, part 1]

28 Jan
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

I wonder how many women reading this post are wearing some form of pants? Actually, what I should do is ask, how many of you are wearing clothing that is traditionally women’s clothing?  Some form of dress or skirt?

All of you wearing shorts, pants or jeans, why did you choose something so detestable?  You think I’m joking?  You’re not sure if I’m being serious. 

In Deuteronomy 22:5 we read very clearly that “a woman must not wear men’s clothing.”  Now it also says “nor a man wear women’s clothing.”  So men, are there any of you wearing women’s clothing?  If so, it seems that would be detestable too.

If this is true, then why do so many Christian women disobey this teaching?

Before we answer that, let’s keep reading more laws in Deuteronomy 22.

Look at verses 6-7, and God seems to have an interest in fallen bird’s nests.  If a nest falls from a tree, he says, you can take the young birds as your possession, but not the mother.  What could that be about?

And then in verse 8, he jumps to parapets around roofs.  You must build parapets on your roofs.  Reader, do you have a parapet on your roof? No…Neither do I. Are we disobeying God?

Then in verse 9, God commands them against planting two kinds of seed in one vineyard…not good…that will defile the fruit.  Again, what is God thinking here?

How about verse 10, any of you ever had to do plowing with animals?  Maybe some?  Well, take note…don’t plow with an ox and donkey yoked together. 

Verse 11, now check the tags on your clothing…any made with wool and linen mixed together?  Or in verse 12, any of you have tassels on the four corners of your cloak?  No???  Why not?

So many rules, and such a wide variety!

What do we do with these laws?  We’ve been studying the biblical book of Deuteronomy at Faith Church, and we’ve come to a section of the book, basically chapters 21-25, that lists a whole bunch of seemingly random laws. 

If you’ve read this blog for a year or two, you have most likely heard me talk about one of my seminary professors, Dr. Dave Dorsey.  He was a beloved, long-time professor of Old Testament at Evangelical Seminary in Myerstown, PA.  There were many things I learned from Dr. Dorsey, but perhaps the one that I go back to time and time again is related to these laws in the Old Testament.  If I were to guess, this comes every couple months at Faith Church somehow or another.  What I am referring to is Dr. Dorsey’s four-step method for describing how Christians can interact with the Old Testament Law. 

There are plenty of these of these laws that come up in our day and age, even though we are 3000+ years removed from them.  Above I listed some bizarre laws, but there are also familiar ones too, and we Christians can have strong opinions about them.

Jump over to chapter 23:19-20 – charge no interest.  We hear Christians talk about this as if Christians are bound to follow this.  I’ve encountered people appalled that Christians would charge interest of their brothers or sisters in Christ in their church family, as if the person who is charging interest is some greedy, abominable sinner.  Are they? 

But what about the Sabbath?  The idea of not working on the Sabbath.  That’s in the OT law. Shouldn’t we keep the Sabbath?

What about tithing?  The idea of giving ten percent. 

What about tattoos?  What about eating shellfish?  Pork?  On and on we could go.  Are Christians supposed to follows these laws?  Why do Christians follow some and not others?  What we are going to see in this series of post is that Dr. Dorsey’s four-part method helps Christians understand every law in the Old Testament.  Check back in for part 2 where we’ll get started!

The difficulties of holy war passages in the Old Testament [Christians & War – Deuteronomy 20, part 3]

9 Jan
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In part 1 and part 2 of this series on Deuteronomy 20, we learned that Israel’s priests and army officers are to address the army before battle. Now God gives them some instructions about how to carry out battle. If you aren’t aware of these passages of Scripture, brace yourselves, as they can be shocking.

In verses 10-18, God refers to two kinds of enemies.  Those that are far away, and those nearby.  Israel was to handle them very differently.

First, in verses 10-15, when Israel goes to war against nations far away, make them an offer of peace, and if they accept, all the enemy’s people will be subject to forced labor and work for Israel.  Is God condoning slavery?

But if the people in the faraway nation refuse Israel’s offer of peace, and they engage Israel in battle, God says Israel is to lay siege to the city.  When God delivers the city to Israel, he says they should kill all the men, but keep everything else for themselves: women, children, animals, and possessions.  Do you feel like it is hard to read a passage like this where God is approving such devastation?  I really struggle with it.  But it is about to get worse.

Next in verses 16-18, God moves his focus from the nations far away, and now directs Israel’s attention to those enemies nearby. He is referring to the nations who currently lived in the Promised Land of Canaan that they were about to enter. About those nations, God says, kill them all, total destruction, period.  He also tells them why they are to take this severe action.  “To keep yourselves from worshiping their gods and sinning against God.”

Whew. Enslavement of people.  Total decimation in war.  This is isn’t the first time we encountered this concept.  It came up in 2017 when we studied Deuteronomy chapters 2, 3, and 7.  I remember thinking, at the time, how often should a pastor preach about Old Testament holy war?  I have wondered numerous times throughout this Deuteronomy series if I made a mistake choosing to preach through it.

I’m not going to rehash it here.   If you want you can read the post here in which I discuss options for interpreting these passages.  As you’ll read there, I don’t feel there is any satisfying way to understand these instances where God commands holy war leading to total decimation of foreign peoples. I do want to say this, though: war is always devastating.  Our nation has fought wars like our Civil War where we slaughtered each other.  And we’ve slaughtered other nations, including civilians in other nations, such as dropping atomic bombs on Japan.  I say that simply to bring up the reality that war is always awful. We need to remember that when we consider the question I’m going to ask now: how should Christians approach the concept of war? 

Can we find anything in Deuteronomy 20 that will help us? Take note that in Deuteronomy 20, Israel is making war.  They are going out and starting war.  They are about to enter into someone else’s land and try to capture it.  Is that right?  Why would God do that at all? 

Let’s quickly go back to Egypt 40 years before. At the time Israel was a nation of slaves.  God rescued them out of slavery in Egypt and when we hear that, we are cheering God.  Freedom for the enslaved.  Yes!  But that raises a huge logistical question: where would this nation go once they have been freed?  We’re talking about a nation that is likely a couple million people.  That’s enough people to fill a large city.   That many people need a land that can sustain them, so they can’t just go into the desert.  But the fertile land nearby, land that could provide for them, is already occupied.  Who is going to say, “2 million people, here you can have our land.  It’s all yours now, and we will just leave and say goodbye”?  Not going to happen.  It’s like the Syrian refugee migration in Europe.  It’s a massive logistical situation.

So what does God do?  God gives Israel a land that had been in their family history, the land of Canaan, the land where their forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob lived.  He calls it the Promised Land.  God is essentially saying, “Israel, I am returning land to you that was previously yours.”  But they lived in that land over 400 years before.  In 400 years time, when they were in Egypt, things had changed.  New peoples and towns and cities and nations lived in that land now.  So Israel wasn’t going to be able to walk back in and say, “Alright people, we’re back!  You can go away now.”  Nope.  It was going to be a fight.  Here’s the question, though.  Was that a just cause?  I don’t know that I can answer that.  Some say yes, and some say no.  Some might say, “Yes, that was their land originally, and they have every right to want it back, and to fight for it.”  Others might say, “No, that was 400 years ago.  I’m glad they are not slaves any longer, but they chose to leave Canaan looking for food in Egypt, and they have no right to now go back to Canaan and claim it as their own.”  Still another might remind us that God is involved, giving the land to them.  The whole earth is the Lord’s so he can give it to whomever he desires.  Still we have to ask: Is it right for God to have Israel totally decimate the people in the land so God can give it to them?  Is that just?  What kind of God would do that?  So we are back to that difficult issue. How should Christians think about war?

Frankly, I don’t find any material in Deuteronomy 20 that is helpful to Christians who are seeking to form a distinctly Christian viewpoint on war. Instead Christians must head over to the New Testament, and that is where we are going next, in part 4.

Must Christians eat kosher? (how God’s list of clean and unclean foods in Deuteronomy 14 matters to Christians, part 4)

1 Nov
Photo by Prudence Earl on Unsplash

As I mentioned yesterday, God details his kosher law in his covenant with Israel.  This week we are studying Deuteronomy 14:1-21, and yesterday we looked at the fairly extensive list of animals that God declares clean or unclean for Israel.  But what about Christians?  Are we to apply kosher law to our lives?  Let’s look at a few places in the New Testament that refer to kosher law.

First, Jesus mentions the cleanliness laws in Mark 7:1-23.  Go ahead and read that before continuing here.  What did you notice?  In Deuteronomy 14 we see that it was certain animals that God said made the people unclean.  Things, animals, outside the people made the people unclean.  Jesus flips that and says, “No, it’s what is already inside you that is unclean, and it is revealed when you let it out of your heart.”  See that list of evil actions in Mark 7, verses 21-22?  When you notice those actions coming out of you, that should concern you, Jesus says, not pig’s meat. 

Interesting, then, Mark’s little comment there in verse 19, saying that Jesus declared all foods clean!  Yes, we can eat pork and ham!!! 

Now turn to Acts 10, where at this point, the church is still very new, very Jewish, and very much centered in the city Jerusalem.  They’ve made little inroads outside the borders of Israel, but not much.  Because God’s mission was to reach the whole world, to accomplish that mission those original Christians needed a little push. In the Jewish mindset people were clean if they Jewish and unclean if they were anyone else.  So to this point, maybe 3-5 years old, the church hadn’t taken much initiative to follow Jesus’ command that they were to be his witnesses not only in Jerusalem and Judea, but to the whole world.  Those original Christians were thinking Jewish. Kosher. 

So God needs to step in and remind them of what Jesus already taught back there in Mark 7.  But here’s a shocker: when God steps in, who does he first reach out to?  A guy who isn’t Jewish and who isn’t Christian!  Read Acts 10:1-8 and see for yourself.  God gives a guy named Cornelius a vision telling Cornelius to find and talk to a guy named Peter.  But Cornelius isn’t a Jew.  Instead he is a Roman Centurion, a soldier, the very people that have persecuted Jews, occupying their land!  Here’s the thing though: Cornelius isn’t your average Roman soldier.  We read that he was actually God-fearing and very generous to the Jews in the area he controlled.  God’s choice, then, to reveal himself to Cornelius is perfect, and we’ll see why as the story unfolds.  God isn’t done!  Read Acts 10:9-16, and you discover that God reaches out to Peter too, also in a vision, and in that vision God specifically refers to the kosher lists in Deuteronomy 14.  It’s quite a dramatic scene, and Peter is shaken to his core.

You see what God is doing?  He is saying, “Peter, all those lists of clean and unclean animals were for a day that has come and gone.  That was kosher thinking.  You are under a new covenant.  I define holiness a different way now.”

Peter should have known this, as he would have heard Jesus talked about it a lot, like the time I mentioned above in Mark 7.  But when you are dealing with a deeply entrenched cultural value, it is hard to see things a new way.   Peter tells God that he had never, ever, in his whole life, eaten something unclean.  I don’t believe Peter is exaggerating. So for Peter to have a vision is shocking enough, but for the message of the vision to be an overturning of the practice of holiness, it seems wrong to Peter.

A few years ago at Faith Church, I had a man from the congregation approach me with an outreach idea.  He was a ballroom dance instructor in his professional life, and he felt that if the church offered beginning dance classes for free to the community, it would be a big hit, and a great way for the church to connect with the community.  He would teach a 4-week series of classes as an experiment.  Inwardly, I doubted his opinion, but I loved his creativity and initiative and said, “Let’s propose the idea to the Outreach Team!”  One of the people on the Outreach Team was extremely concerned with the idea, having a super hard time with the image of dancing in a church fellowship hall.  This person said to me that growing up, there was no dancing allowed in the church.  The perspective was very much like Peter’s, except that while Peter’s was based on actual law, the person in my church grew up with a no-dancing perspective based on tradition.  I responded to the person that it is absolutely okay to dance in a church fellowship hall, that the perspective they grew up with was actually wrong, and further, this was going to be tasteful, classy dancing.  The Outreach Team approved the idea, publicized it to the community, and to my surprise and delight, on the first night, so many couples showed up, we had to turn some away!

Over the next few years, I believe God opened the eyes of some people at Faith Church who grew up in a no-dancing tradition.  In Acts 10-11 God  opened Peter’s eyes too.  At the time, Peter was the leader of the church, and motivated by God’s vision, begins a new initiative pursuing the mission of God to love all people.  God has been using the kosher law as a metaphor, encouraging Peter not only to see that now all foods are clean, but also that all people are clean in God’s eye, “clean” in the sense that God wants Peter and his church to reach out to pagan people like Cornelius.  So for Peter it is now not just okay to eat all foods, but also to share the message of the Good News of Jesus to all people.  You can read for yourself how Peter and the church respond to this shocking news.  What I  want us to consider here is the ramification for our lives.  Because Jesus has reversed the kosher law for us, does that mean we are now free to live however we want?

Jesus himself addressed that question in Matthew 5:48 when he quoted a famous passage in the Old Covenant, “Be holy, as your heavenly father is holy.”   Originally, when he preached that, Jesus was talking to Jews who were still living under the terms of the Old Covenant between God and Israel.  At the time, Jesus himself, had not died and rose again, and thus God had not fully enacted the New Covenant with the Church.  So are we Christians to live holy lives?  Check back in tomorrow to part 5, and we’ll see!