Tag Archives: freedom

What is sound doctrine? Titus 1:10-16, Part 3

3 Jul
Photo by Inactive. on Unsplash

In this series of posts on Titus 1:10-16, Paul has been talking about redemptive church discipline. He has described how to practice faithful confrontation that seeks to encourage people away from divisiveness toward sound doctrine. But what is sound doctrine? What is going on with these people?  In today’s post, we’re going to focus on verses 15-16, where Paul gets to the heart of the church discipline issue that needs to be addressed in the churches in Crete.

If you haven’t already, turn to Titus 1:15. Let’s break it down phrase by phrase.  First Paul says, “to the pure, all things are pure.”  What does that mean?  The people in the churches in Crete who Paul points out as divisive were Jews who said they were Christians, and they also said that all Christians should follow the stipulations of the Old Covenant that God made with the ancient nation of Israel, as described in the Hebrew Bible.

Paul taught something very different, however, when he and Titus had spent time ministering on the island of Crete.  Paul taught the good news of Jesus, that anyone who believes in and follows the way of Jesus is no longer under the Old Covenant. Even Jews.  Paul’s way of describing this is to say, “Those followers of Jesus are pure.” They are not to categorize foods, for example, as clean or unclean, which was something that God told the Jews to do, as described in many texts in the Old Testament.  Instead, to the pure, who are the followers of Jesus, all things are pure. 

That is so different from what the Jews were used to. You might remember in our Deuteronomy series that we covered texts like Deuteronomy chapter 14 where God listed clean and unclean animals, and the people of Israel were only allowed to eat the clean animals.  There were rules about cleanliness and ritual purity and washing.  But fast-forward a thousand years or so to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and it was a new day.  Paul taught that in Christ we are free from the law, and all things are pure.  

For many Jews who became Christians this freedom in Christ was scandalous.  Paul, therefore, had to respond to Christians around the Roman Empire, as the Jews followed Paul, disagreeing with him, saying that Christians needed to follow the OT Law. 

Paul wrote about this numerous places in his letters. Here are a few examples :

  • In 1 Timothy 4:4 he says that everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving. 
  • In 1 Corinthians 8:8 he says that food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. 
  • In Romans 14:14, he says “no food is unclean in itself.” 

In other words, we Christians are free from the OT Law.  Or as Paul describes in Titus, “To the pure all things are pure.”

But there remains a problem.  Not everyone thinks this way.  Look at the next phrase in Titus 1:15, “to those who are corrupted, and do not believe, nothing is pure.” 

Paul is saying that the people in the church, who were teaching that Christians must follow the OT Law, were actually corrupted.  They did not believe in Jesus.  They are still thinking about life through the lens of the Old Covenant.  Paul even goes on to describe them, at the end of verse 15, as having minds and consciences that are contaminated!  This is his way of saying that they do not believe in the sound doctrine or the true message of Jesus.  Instead they believe in a false message.

Notice how Paul concludes in verse 16.  Scholars tell us this verse is critical for understanding the whole letter: “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.” Strong language from Paul, isn’t it?

Even though they were in the church, even though they might have called themselves Christians, Paul reveals how they were not so.  His words couldn’t be clearer.  By their actions they deny God.  They show they that are not Christians by what they teach and by how they are living.

This correlates with what he says over in chapter 3:11, “You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.”

In other words, the “circumcision group” (see verse 10 where Paul gives them this name) has not made the jump from an Old Covenant way of thinking to true faith in Jesus.  They are wrapped up in the rules and regulations of the OT Law.  They are teaching the people in the churches in Crete to follow the OT Law, and that is a major threat to the teaching of sound doctrine, which is the good news of new life through Jesus, life, death and resurrection.  Paul’s conclusion?  Muzzle it.  Give them a chance to repent, and even give them a second chance, but after that, move on.  The true teaching of the Gospel must be preserved and undiluted in the church.

Check back in to the next post as we search for ways the church in 2019 might be like the “circumcision group.”

Live as adult children! (how God’s list of clean and unclean foods in Deuteronomy 14 matters to Christians, part 2)

30 Oct
Photo by Laura Marques on Unsplash

How do you feel about Mother’s Day and Father’s Day?  At Faith Church when Mothers and Fathers Days roll around in May and June, we take a cautious approach because we’ve heard from a number of people that these holidays are complicated.  Maybe you know the feeling.  It could be that your earthly mother or father is or was a difficult or abusive person.  Perhaps they were distant.  Sure, we are taught to honor and respect our parents, and we should, but for many, those relationships are fraught with pain.  The result is that seeing God as parent is also difficult for some people. 

This week are studying Deuteronomy 14:1-21, looking at how God’s list of clean and unclean foods matters to Christians.  (Please read part 1 in the series, where I introduce the chapter by talking about the time some friends offered me the chance to suck eyeballs out of a fish!)  Today, we get started looking at this passage, but before we get into God’s menu, we need to spend time in verse 1: “You are the children of the Lord your God.”  That is a significant statement describing Israel’s relationship to God.  He goes on to tell them that God chose them as his treasured possession.  For those of you who struggle with the concept of God as your heavenly father, I encourage you to allow these verses to settle in to your heart and mind.  Before God gets into his food menu, it is vital that Israel see themselves as loved, children of God.

But isn’t Deuteronomy a record of God’s covenant with Israel?  Yes, it is.  So, doesn’t that mean the concept of Israel as God’s beloved children is for them only?  While Deuteronomy 14 is for Israel, the phrase “children of God” is carried over to the church in the New Testament.  The Apostle John, in particular, enjoys the phrase, using it more than any of the other NT writers. A couple instances are quite famous:

John 1:12: “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

1 John 3:1: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”

I take it quite seriously if you have a hard time conceiving of God as father, and seeing yourself as son or daughter of God.  If that is painful for you because you have had a difficult relationship with your parents, I don’t belittle that at all.  But given what we have read in Deuteronomy 14 and from the Apostle John, I invite you to read on, as perhaps God wants you to revisit your identification as children of God.

As teenagers and adults, it can be hard for us to see ourselves as children.  For many of us, it has been a long time since we were children.  We forget.  When we were children, many of us longed not to be children.  We wanted to be adults.  Perhaps you’ve long held the perspective that adulthood is superior to childhood, probably based in the truth that most cases maturity is better than immaturity.

A surprising change happens in many adults, though, when they discover within a longing for childhood.  We use the description “adulting” whenever we are acting like adults, often begrudgingly, because life has forced adult-like behavior upon us such as paying bills and getting our car inspected; in short, “adulting” is being responsible.  In the middle of “adulting,” how many of us long for childhood?  But what are we longing for in those moments?  I suspect we miss the effortless days of childhood, when we had freedom from responsibility, leaving many of us adults feeling trapped.

I’d like to propose that the concept of being loved children of God should free us, but not from responsibility.  Instead, when we embrace our identity as the children who God loves, we are free to play.  Writer Marilyn McEntyre taught me this concept in her powerful book, Caring For Words In A Culture of Lies:

“To play is to claim our freedom as beloved children of God and to perform our most sacred tasks—what we feel we are called to do in the world—with abandon and delight, free to experiment and fail, free to find out and reconsider, free to say something we might need to take back, free to look stupid in the interests of honesty because there are no grades…there is no competition in the Kingdom of Heaven…Children who feel completely safe and loved are playful.  To play is to live in grace.  And to live in grace is not to ignore the law…but to embrace it as an aid to abundant life.  So in the interests of abundant life, good stewards play.” (196-7)  And “reclaiming an appropriate practice of play is one of the challenges of adulthood.” (202)

Because you are loved children of God, you are free to play.  As McEntyre says, this adult play is not childish or immaturity.  Instead, seeing ourselves as loved children of God is a recapturing of the healthy freedom of children at play.  Because we are so loved by God we can experiment and wonder and also take risks, just like the person who said, “if you’re hanging on for dear life, beloved child of God, let go.”  In other words, trust him, he loves you.  You are free, child of God, so live life to the fullest.  What will that freedom to play look like for you?

God’s surprising views on justice

12 Oct
Photo by Zalmaury Saaved on Unsplash

Last year we started studying the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy.  Then I went on sabbatical. We had covered the first nine chapters of Deuteronomy.

Now we’re heading back in! 

For the most part, though, we’re going to study Deuteronomy differently than we did last year.  Last year we went chapter by chapter, verse by verse.  But beginning with Deuteronomy 10, the book changes.  It becomes quite topical, and some topics are repeated in numerous chapters.  So as  we restart this study, we’re not going verse by verse.  We’re going theme by theme.  Or topic by topic, as you will see in this post.

We left off last year having studied chapters 8 and 9, and if you glance at them, you can see what Moses is doing.  He strongly urges the people to love the Lord, to follow the Lord, and remember how awfully they sinned against the Lord.

The really bad sin was when they made a golden idol in the shape of a calf and began worshiping it, saying things like they wanted to go back to Egypt, where they had been slaves?!?!?  We don’t have time to get into all the details of that story, but God was so upset at this, that he said to Moses, the game was over.  He was going to destroy the entire nation and start over again with Moses.  But chapter 9 ends with Moses reminding the people that he interceded for them, begging God to give them another chance.

With that we come to chapter 10.  What did God think about Moses wheeling and dealing?

Read chapter 10, verses 1-11. God relents!  And there is a new beginning.  

With that Moses wraps up the story of Golden Calf.  But why would Moses retell this story?  Remember that here in Deuteronomy, the people are on the verge of entering the Promised Land.  That Golden Calf incident happened 40 years prior.  Many of the people hearing Moses tell that story were not even there when it first happened.  So Moses has a good reason to bring that up: he wants them to remember their past.  They are not getting into the Promised Land because they were so good and special and powerful.  Nope, they are getting into the Promised Land because God chose them, forgave them, and helped them.  Moses wants the people to have a proper dependence on God, and to obey God and not make the same kind of nearly disastrous mistake their parents made.

That is why in the next passage, 10:12-22, Moses has some really important instructions for this new generation.  Look at verse 12-13.  Moses asks the people, “What does the Lord ask of you?”  It’s a great question.  One that we often ask as well.  “Lord, what do you want me to do?”

He answers, “Fear the Lord, walk in his ways, love him, serve him with all your heart and soul, observe his commands and decrees.” 

This is so central.  God wanted a loving connection with his people.  You can really see God’s heart for his people in this passage.  He is saying to them, “I want to walk with you, and be with you, that there may be genuine affection between us.” 

He goes on in verses 14 and 15 reminding the people that while God owns all of creation, guess who he decided to make his special people?  Israel.  Moses reminds them that God is the initiating force behind this relationship.  He started this when he set his affection on their forefathers.  People like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 

Because of God’s choice, the people need to see how their relationship with God is unique.  Because God chose them, they have some choices of their own to make.   He says in verse 16 “Circumcise your hearts, therefore.”

Circumcision was a big part of Jewish culture.  When God chose their forefather Abraham, God said the mark, the physical mark of their relationship with God, was that all males would be physically circumcised on the 8th day of the tiny little baby lives.  You might think, Why in the world, of all the things that God could think of to mark his people, did he go with that one?  We’ll never answer that question.  But this passage in Deut. 10:16 reminds us of something so important.  God actually has a deeper mark in mind.  The circumcision of the heart.  There the word “heart” is not referring to a person’s “blood-pumper”.  It’s not like God is moving his focus from one physical part of the body to another.  He also is not talking about emotion.  Sometimes in our day we cover our heart when we get emotional and say, “Awww, that’s so precious.”  But that is not what Moses is talking about.   In the Hebrew conception, heart referred to your will.

I recently listened to a Bible teacher named John Ortberg talk about this.  He said this: the heart that God is talking about here is your will.  This is your ability to exercise dominion in the world. The ability to choose.

But, he said, while will is central to who we are, it is terribly weak.  He referred to a scientist Valmeister who studied this.  Valmeister did experiments on will, and he found that our will can get tired, like a muscle being used. Our will gets tired, when trying to deal with the stuff of life and especially when making hard choices. Valmeister found that while our will is good at making decisions, it is also terrible at overriding our habits.  If we like to snack on sugary treats, and we do it every day, especially when we are stressed, our will is not good at helping us overcome that habit.

One thing, though, is easy for the will. Surrender. We all think that death to self is terrible and hard. Remember that Jesus said, unless we take up our cross and die to ourselves, we cannot be his disciple?  We hear that and think how awful it sounds.  Author Dallas Willard said that death to one’s lesser self is so that a more noble and glorious self can be born.  Our will was made to surrender to God.

Circumcision of our hearts, then, is another way to say, “People, surrender yourselves to God.”

And there is good reason to give yourself so completely over to God.  Look at verse 17, we can surrender to God because there is no god like our God.  He is the great God, mighty and awesome.  Above all gods.  When we surrender our lives to him, it’s not so bad.  It would be a major sacrifice if Moses had said to the people, “circumcise your hearts for God,” and God turned out to be some second-rate middle-level deity.  In the same way, it would be pretty pathetic if Jesus said, “Die to yourselves and follow me” if he ended up dying on the cross and staying dead, and never rising from the dead.  But no, YHWH is the one true all-powerful God, and Jesus didn’t stay dead, but rose again to victory over death, victory over sin, victory over the devil.  For us to surrender to him means we are giving our lives to the most powerful one who loves us.  That’s pretty awesome.  We can surrender to that!

As Moses continues through this passage, he describes God, and it becomes more and more clear how great it is to surrender ourselves to God.  Because there is none like him, God has some really interesting points of view about life.  Look at verse 18.  God has an eye out, a heart, for those in need.  He defends the fatherless and the widow, loves the alien, giving him food and clothing.  What an amazing God!

But it is not just God who cares for those in need.  Israel is to follow God’s heart, Moses says in verse 19, loving the alien, because they were once aliens. What a great God we have.  He cares for all people, and has a special heart for those in need.  When we give ourselves over to him, we will also care for those in need.

As we come to the end of this chapter, verses 20-22 give us a quick recap.  Fear God, serve him, hold fast to him.  He is your praise, he is your God, who performed mighty wonders.  Moses reminds Israel of the last 450-500 years of their nation’s existence.  When they first went to Egypt, they numbered 70 people.  Now they are in the millions, and God rescued them.  In other words, they have every reason to circumcise their hearts, to surrender to God, and to follow his heart, which is a passionate desire to help those, like they once were, people in serious need of help.

In the coming chapters, Moses wants the people to get this, so he brings it up again, and again. Turn to chapter 15.  I’m not going to read all of this.  Because we’re going to jump to chapter 19 as well.  In these chapters, I want us to see how Moses continues the theme of God’s heart for those in need.

Look at verse 1 of chapter 15, and the old NIV, says, “At the end of every seven years, you must cancel debts.”

Do you have debts? Doyou have debts that have been going on for at least seven years?  And did you just think, I’m going to head over to my bank tomorrow, and I’m going to plop my Bible down and have a little talk?  Please don’t do that.  They probably won’t be too thrilled with you trying to get out of a legally-binding document like a mortgage.

This verse is much better translated “Every seventh year you shall make a release.”  God instituted in the nation a regular pattern of release.  It did include debts, but also slavery, also land and more.  One scholar says, “The laws of release…provide a structure in Israel for maintaining a balance and equity in society, and especially for giving access to the wealth of the land to those who had not property rights of their own.” (McConville, 257)

Hear that?  You just heard God’s heart.  God’s heart is sometimes unexpected.  God’s heart sometimes doesn’t jive with the economic standards of the day.  In Israel, God wanted to make sure the people who owed money were not taken advantage of, or that paying back the loan didn’t destroy them.  And furthermore, look at verse 4.  “There shall be no poor among you.”

Look at verse 7.  “If there are poor among you, do not be tight-fisted or hardhearted.  Rather be openhanded.  Freely lend whatever they need!”  Verse 10, “give generously to him, without a grudging heart.” Verse 11, “I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.”  Over and over God is showing his heart.  We can really learn about God in these chapters of Deuteronomy!  God has a heart for those in need. 

Remember this all goes back to the fact that Israel did not earn their wealth and prosperity on their own.  God chose them, God saved them, God protected them, he forgave them when they sinned, and he brought them to a land that was capable of making them rich.  God did it all for them.  They had been enslaved and poor and powerless.  Now God is saying, remember where you came from.  Remember how I saved you.  Remember my heart for justice for those who are now like you used to be.  And love them, and give to them, and reach out to them.

In 15:12-18 this theme continues.  Again, hear the word release.  This time, he says, release servants.  And don’t just let them go, saying, “Good riddance, hope you can fend for yourself.”  No.  Give them what they need to make a new start. Look at verses 13-15.  “Supply them liberally!  Give to them as the Lord has blessed you.”

Now jump to chapter 19, and we continue to see God’s heart for justice.  This time with a really interesting idea: cities of refuge. In chapter 4, we learned that Moses created the first cities of refuge.  What in the world were cities of refuge?

Basically, Moses tells us in chapter 19 that cities of refuge were places of refuge for people who caused the unintentional death of another.

You might think, isn’t that rare, though?  Why is God so concerned about accidental death, something that hardly happens?  This one is personal for me.  On this blog I previously told my story, as I accidentally caused the death of an Amish lady in a car accident that was my fault when I was 17. 

When you lose a loved one it is hard.  When the cause of death is irresponsibility, that is even harder.  God know this.  He knows how bad it hurts when you lose a loved one, even when they die of old age.  But when they die unexpectedly, younger, and because of people’s stupidity or irresponsibility, it hurts even more.  People who lose a loved one that way might take revenge.  God had Moses and the people of Israel create cities of refuge where people could flee to their safety.  Again, we see God’s heart for those in need.

In chapter 19:14, there is another illustration of God’s heart. Don’t move boundary stones.  Don’t try to cheat property lines.  Here in America, boundary lines are set by law, and they are highly mapped out.  But even then, have you ever had a neighbor try to snag a few extra feet?

Our property has a rental property on one side, and different people have come and gone.  Each time a new tenant arrives, I talk with them about our garden.  I call it our garden, but it is almost entirely on the rental property’s back lawn.  So I explain that we have an agreement with their landlord to use it, and of course they can too.  We planted berries back there, and they are welcome to them.  So far it has worked great.  But what would be wrong is if I tried to say, that is my property!  That would be cheating.

God’s heart is a heart of justice, no cheating.  Likewise, in verses 15-21, God says that people accused of a crime must have testimony established by two or three witnesses.   Again, we see God’s heart is for justice.  No lying.

Moses in chapters 10, 15, and 19 presents to us that God is a God of justice.  God cares about the poor and needy, the fatherless, the orphan, the widow and the alien.  He cares about fairness and equity.  And we should too.  We should circumcise our hearts, and surrender to him, which means will we learn his heart, think like he thinks, do what he does.  We build our lives on his ways.

What is amazing is how this passion for God’s heart worked its way into the early church.  Jesus regularly taught about helping the poor and needy, and he himself ministered to them frequently.  So when you go to the story of the beginning of the church in Acts 2, what do you find?  Turn to Acts 2:42-47.

In Acts 2:44-45, they were together and had everything in common.  Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.  Sounds just like God’s heart in Deuteronomy!

Turn over to Acts 4:32, and we see this again.  Such amazing generosity!  Those first Christians had circumcised their hearts, were surrendered to God, and were being so giving.

Turn to Acts 6:1, and see how they talk about a ministry of caring for widows?  They got it.  The church knew God’s heart for those in need, and they did what they could do reach out.

When our church did a mission trip to Chicago in 2010, to work with our sister church there, it opened my eyes to God’s heart for justice.  I had been through four years of Bible College, and then through a seminary master’s degree, and somehow I barely heard anything about this.  In Chicago, they walked us through their neighborhoods and opened our eyes to injustice, and they also walked us through the Bible and opened our eyes to God’s heart for justice.  We looked at passages like we are studying in this post, and so many more.  It was embarrassing to me to realize that as a student of the Bible for so many years, I had missed this.  And it wasn’t like it was some small emphasis in Scripture that is easy to miss.  It is all over Scripture.  I am so thankful for how my church family has sought to identify the injustice in our community and seek to address it.

This is why Faith Church is so supportive of Conestoga Valley Christian Community Services, which operates a food and clothing bank.  This is why we have been a location for the summer lunch club.  This is why we support Homes of Hope.  This is why we give to the Conestoga Valley Ministerium Helping Hands fund, which provides support of those in need in our community.

This is why we support the idea of abolishing slavery around the world. This is why we support refugee resettlement.  Because that is God’s heart. 

What will it look like for you to so appreciate God’s heart for you, for rescuing you, for saving you, that you allow his heart to grow within you, so you that you reach out to those in need?  Do you need to be more giving, more generous, more involved in helping people?

Projection gear, Mystery Light, Membership Application – The Monday Messy Office Report – February 24, 2014

24 Feb

My Friday, tidy office is mysteriously messy by Monday.  Here’s what I found today:

1. Mystery light – I saw this on Sunday, much to my surprise, because I had no idea how this got in my office or why.  It’s a pretty cool little light with a hanger that pops out of it’s back and a magnet.  I had a hunch how it got in here.  I had two people working in my office during the past week.  The first was a guy from Comcast who came to replace our modem.  I doubted it was his light because he was here early in the week.  The other guy was here on Thursday to work on our copier.  Thanks to my brother-in-law, we found out about Tech Soup, a company that provides donated software for churches and non-profits.  So this week we installed Office 2013 on our computers.  Unfortunately, after the install, our secretary’s computer stopped printing to the copier, which led to the service call.  I asked my secretary if he knew anything about the light and sure enough, it was the copier tech’s.  Maybe he wanted me to have it?

2. Projector, cords, and computer speakers – We have a lot of techy gadgets at the church, and the spare projector is not normally sitting on my counter as it was when I walked into my office on Sunday.  The reason is that we hosted the Lafayette Fire Company appreciation banquet on Saturday.   A bunch of people from Faith Church gave a lot of donations and time and energy to pull off what one Fire Co wife told me was “the best banquet they ever had”!  I’m thankful for the Fire Co., the relationship we have with them, and for the people of Faith Church who arranged the banquet.  At one point during the program, they used our projector to show pictures and video.  Since it is a $5000 piece of equipment, we normally store in my office cabinet for safekeeping.  And now you all know that!

3. Membership Application – I was surprised, but pleased to see this, as a couple from the church is applying to be members.  I’m thrilled that they are taking that step.  When I think of membership, I have to admit a bit of a quandary in my mind.  The Bible never speaks about a formal process of membership such as we utilize. As I look back over the little bit of church history that I know, I can think of abuses of formal membership processes.  I wonder if it would be better to have shorter-term covenants?  I do think it can be very helpful for people to have a public way of declaring their intent to join a local church family and be committed.  What if people would make a covenant to a local church for a year, then have the opportunity to renew their vows annually?  Interested in your thoughts on that.

4. The Insanity of God by Nik Ripken – I just finished reading this book, and because I referred to it in a recent sermon, I was the one who left it in my office.  I was challenged and encouraged by Ripken’s stories of God at work among persecuted Christians around the world.  These disciples of Jesus, in places like the former USSR, China and Muslim areas are imprisoned, beaten, and yet they demonstrate maturity in faith.  What concerns me is that our freedom, as wonderful as it is, along with our affluency, has led to a less-than-passionate faith in Christ.  Would you agree?

Now it’s time for me to clean up!