Tag Archives: OT Law

God doesn’t expect that much from me? [False ideas Christians believe about…God’s desires for Christians. Part 5]

29 Mar
Photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash

How much does God expect from us, really?

It is very tempting to think, “God does not expect that much from me,”  when you know you are so thoroughly loved by God, so thoroughly forgiven, and in fact rightfully believing that there is nothing you can do to earn your salvation. We can almost theologically justify “God does not expect that much from me,” by saying that we are saved by grace through faith not by works. 

But that would be an improper way to live out the theology of grace.  Let me say clearly that this phrase is right only when it comes to our salvation.  It is true that God expects nothing from us in that sense, because Jesus did all the work salvation required through his birth, life, death and resurrection.  Only he could do that.  We could not. 

But our response, James says in James 2, is to have a faith that works in thankful gratitude for God’s grace.  Paul said the same thing in Titus 2:11 when he said “Grace teaches us to say, ‘No’ to unholiness and pursue a righteous life.” (my paraphrase)

Jesus also taught that God expects everything from us.   He told his disciples, “Die to yourself, and follow me.”  There is only one way to follow Jesus, and it is by giving your life completely to follow him.  Believing is not even close to enough.

Jesus told the rich young man, “Sell all you have, and give it to the poor.” Yet how many of us, upon hearing Jesus teach like this, think to ourselves, “Well…he doesn’t really mean that, does he?”

Sojourners magazine recently ran an article about wealthy Christians in the midst of so many in need.  The author talked about how Christians know there are people struggling with homelessness, for example, and yet we rarely give up our vacations or our hobbies in order to make a difference.

In the Deuteronomy series we talked about how Old Testament Law is not binding on Christians.  Consider how that relates to the practice of generosity. We Christians might say, “Whew…I’m glad I’m not bound to the Old Testament Law, so I don’t have to tithe like ancient Israel did…I don’t have to give to 10%!” 

But if you look at the New Testament teaching on giving, it is way more sacrificial than 10%.  In 2 Corinthians 8-9, Paul teaches the Christians to give generously, sacrificially, consistently and cheerfully.

And it is not just money.  It is about our whole lives.  Jesus lays claim to our entire lives, including our bodies. 

“You are not your own,” Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “You were bought with a price, so glorify God with your body.”

God’s desires for Christians is that we will give all to him.  All means all.  That might sound scary or too difficult.  But remember that God has your best interest in mind.  His ways are far superior to our ways.  Are we willing to trust him with our lives?  Go all in.

So as we fact-check this one, God doesn’t expect you to do anything to save yourself, but as a follower of Jesus, he expects you to give everything.

Learning God’s heart [Should Christians Observe the Old Testament Law – Deuteronomy 21-25, part 5]

1 Feb
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Hey Christians, how do you feel about the Old Testament? Often we Christians find the New Testament to be relevant and easily applicable to our lives, while the Old Testament is foreign, difficult, often boring and long. All those laws, some of which seem bizarre or even wrong. They can leave us with a feeling that the Old Testament is utterly irrelevant for us. So let me say very clearly: The Old Testament matters to New Testament Christians! In this series of posts we have been learning David Dorsey’s four-step method that guides Christians to apply every OT Law to our lives. Finally, we come to step 4: How can we apply a law’s theological principle to our lives?  So if you haven’t read the four previous posts in this series, please go back and read them first: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

One law we’ve talked about is when God tells the people to build parapets, walls, around their roofs. In the previous posts you can read how to filter that law through Dorsey’s first three steps. When we did that, in Step 3 we saw that God has a heart for people to practice safety.  While we Christians are not going to make new laws about this, Dorsey’s Step 4 guides us in how we can apply the principle based on God’s heart.  You see God’s heart for reflected in all sorts of safety rules and regulations that just make sense.  Wear your seat belt when riding in a car.  Use smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors in your homes.  We could go on and on about guiderails, airbags, and sprinkler systems.  But know that when we are applying these principles, we Christians are not making new laws for the church or for disciples of Jesus.  Sure, our nation might have laws for the common good, and those we must obey, but just because we understand God’s heart doesn’t mean we are to make new laws. 

Instead we can learn God’s heart and apply it to our own lives, without making a law that is binding on others.  The difficulty that Christians have had with this process, though, is that many of the OT Laws have been wrongly applied for a long time, to the point where they seem to be Christian New Covenant standards. 

I’ve heard it said many times, for example, “Christians should not charge interest to other Christians.”   That is clearly what God says in the Old Testament in his covenant with Israel.  Israelites were not to charge interest any other Israelites.  That was part of God’s covenant for them.  It is not for us. 

So what was is for us?  The New Testament, which is God’s covenant with the church. So we have to ask is there any place that the New Testament talks about charging interest?  I encourage you to search the NT for yourself.

If the NT does not ban us from charging interest of our Christian brothers and sisters, then how do we apply this OT law?

We can learn the principle behind the OT rule, and seek to apply it to our lives.  What do we see of God’s heart in this law about interest?  There are potentially a number of ideas: Christians should practice love, care, kindness, and generosity.  We see God asking us to trust him rather than the ability to make money.  We see him saying, trust your brothers to pay you back, to treat you well.  That leads to a key question which will help us apply the principle: how can we express generosity to others?

We can choose to make a personal decision to not charge interest.  But if we do so, we must be very careful not to think of it as the best choice, and everyone else should do it as well, and get self-righteous about it, as if we are more spiritual, more committed to God than others.  We can even start to think that everyone else is wrong or sinful if they charge interest.  And then we have moved far away from God’s heart.  We must stay humble.

Through this process, Christians can learn about God from every single OT Law, while at the same time, clearly realizing that we are not bound to follow the letter of that law.  But don’t be discouraged…you don’t need to do this three-step for every law to be a good Christian.

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!

Hunger is the best pickle? [Should Christians Observe the Old Testament Law – Deuteronomy 21-25, part 3]

30 Jan
Photo by Jonathan Pielmayer on Unsplash

Hunger is the best pickle? Do you know what that means? Have you ever heard that saying before? Don’t google it just yet. Instead you’re going to need to time travel!

Think time travel is not possible? What we’re going to discover today is this if you want to understand the Old Testament Law, you need to travel back in time. Maybe not through a time machine, but certainly through research. While we might never be able to attain 100% understanding of the historical and cultural society of ancient Israel, we can and should learn about it if we want to understand the Old Testament Law. In this five-part blog series on the various laws in Deuteronomy 21-25, we are seeking to learn and apply David Dorsey’s four-step method for how Christians can interact with the Mosaic Law. After getting a firm grasp on Step 1, the idea that these laws were not meant for us, we now go to Step 2 asking, what did the law mean to the people of ancient Israel?  We have to investigate and seek to understand their time period, requiring some work, requiring removing, as much as possible, our contemporary filters, and stepping into the ancient world. We need time travel!

Michael Cosby illustrates this in his book Interpreting Biblical Literature when he mentions the quote above: “Hunger is the best pickle”?  Again, don’t google it yet!  Just look at it on screen.  Do you know what it means?  To understand what it means, it would help to know who said it.

Let me give you a clue: If you lived in the United States 250 years ago, you would probably know who said it, and you would know what it means. 

Ben Franklin said it.  One of our founding fathers, Franklin is famous for his humorous and wise sayings.  You can probably say a few yourself.  A penny saved, is a _____ ______?  But what about this one? “Hunger is the best pickle?”  What in the world is he talking about?

To understand what Franklin was talking about it would be really helpful to know something of the era that he lived in.  What about hunger and pickles is significant in the world of 1750s America?  Actually, we have a reference point right here in the county I live in, Lancaster, PA, in 2019.  If you live here, or if you have ever been here, you might have eaten at Isaac’s restaurants. What do they serve before the meal?  Little bowls of pickles, and pickled vegetables.  Most restaurants in our day and age, however, and most people in their homes, do not serve pickles as an appetizer.  Isaac’s does.  What you need to know to understand Franklin’s saying “Hunger is the best pickle” is that in his day and age in the American colonies that would become the USA, it was common practice for pickles to be served as an appetizer.  And what is the purpose of an appetizer?  To increase your appetite for the meal!  Now is the saying starting to make sense? 

Hunger, Franklin is saying, is the best appetizer!  He is kinda making fun of the whole practice of appetizers.  But you can’t know that unless you do a little work to understand Franklin’s time and culture. 

This practice of cultural investigation happens in our world today regularly.  When Michelle and I, and our son Connor, visited Michelle’s sister and brother-in-law and their family in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 2016, I experienced it.  My brother-in-law is the pastor of an international church there, and he asked me to speak, which was quite an honor.  I decided to adapt a sermon that I had preached here.  There was no way I could preach that sermon as is, even though I was preaching to Christians there just as I did here.  There, many of the people in the congregation are not from America.  In fact, they have 25 different nationalities in their congregation, speaking 40 different languages!  So I had to go through the sermon and remove a bunch of references to American or Lancastrian culture that they would not understand.  After the sermon, I got talking to an Iranian Christian, and our conversation eventually made its way to our cultural differences.  I told him that I had changed the sermon.  He asked me to give him an example of a change, to see if he could understand it.

I told him one, and I want to see if you can understand it.  Here’s what I said to him, “at one point in the sermon, I was talking about how it seems to me that the Apostle Paul is going down a bunny trail.”

Do I have to explain to you what a bunny trail is?  Nope.  You know it.  First of all, you are likely very familiar with rabbits.  You might have rabbits in your yard, and you might even have bunny trails in your yard.  You can picture it in your head.  When rabbits start hopping away from a perceived threat, they speedily dart around all over the place.  That is the literal depiction of bunny trails.  But you are also familiar with the figurative use of the concept.  Just like bunnies dart all over the place, we describe people who in their flow of thought or talk, get off track from the main idea, as going down a bunny trail.  If you are in school, you might have a teacher who loves to go down bunny trails.  Sometimes, students pick up on this, and try to get the teacher off track!  When I am talking about that kind of teacher, even though I am using the phrase “going down a bunny trail”, you know that I am no longer talking about actual bunnies and hopping.  Without having to explain all that to you, you have already made the jump from the literal image to the figurative application.  

Why am I saying all this about pickles and bunnies?  Because when we are trying to understand these Old Testament Laws, our first step is to remember that they are not for us, and our second step is that we have to figure out what they meant to the Israelites in their day and age and their culture! 

Let me give an illustration of this.  In part 1 of this series, I referred to Deuteronomy 22:5, the law that men should not wear women’s clothing, and women should not wear men’s clothing.  How should Christians interact this law?  It would be wrong for us to simply say, “Ok, I guess we Christians have follow that law,” because Dorsey’s Step One is “that law is not for us!”  Because it is not for us, we go to Step Two and ask what it meant to the ancient Israelites who were under a treaty and covenant with God.  This is when the historical work must happen.  What we find out when we do a bit of digging into their culture is that some of the pagan religions practiced by the people around them, the Canaanites, would sometimes cross-dress in their worship to false gods.  As we have seen, God wants Israel to have nothing to do with pagan religion.  His law for them, therefore, is no cross-dressing.  But take notice: God prohibits Israel from cross-dressing, not because God wants to create rules and regulations about what men and women wear, or because he is somehow preserving gender roles, but because he doesn’t want them to associate with pagan practices! 

If we Christians look at this law using our contemporary filter, we could easily believe that it tells us about how God feels about gender roles. We could very easily view a discussion that is happening now in our culture and apply it to Israel in a way God never intended.  That is dangerous.  If we did that, it would be called eisegesis.  That means “putting something into the text” that wasn’t originally there.  Instead we should practicing exegesis, which means “out of the text.”  That is when we do the work of discovering the message that comes out of the text.  In other words, we seek to answer, “What is the author trying to communicate to the original audience?”  That information is what we should be looking for.  That takes work sometimes, an investigation into the historical and cultural situation occurring when it was original written. The work, the investigation is worth it.

When we Christians seek to interact with each OT Law, after reminding ourselves of Step 1, that the law is not for us, we then move to Step 2, seeking to determine the historical and cultural situation that led to the creation of that law. After Step 2, we will be ready to proceed to Step 3, which we look at next in part 4 of our series.

The OT Law is not for us [Should Christians Observe the Old Testament Law – Deuteronomy 21-25, part 2]

29 Jan
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Are Christians supposed to follows the laws found in the Old Testament? In part 1 of this series on the various in Deuteronomy 21-25, we saw that there are some very curious and bizarre laws, leaving us wondering why God would want his people to observe those laws.  Thinking about all the laws in the Old Testament and how they might apply today, why do Christians follow some and not others?  In part 1, I introduced David Dorsey’s four-part method which helps Christians understand every law in the Old Testament.  Today we look at Step 1.

Step 1: This law is not for us.  This law is part of God’s covenant with the ancient Israelites.  We are not them.  We are Christians, part of the body of Christ, the church, and we are under a different covenant with God.  Our covenant is called the new covenant. 

During worship at Faith Church on most communion Sundays I read from 1 Corinthians 11:23-25. In this text, written by one of Jesus’ earliest followers, Paul, we find Paul reflecting on Jesus’ words to the disciples at their last supper together before Jesus was arrested and crucified.

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

Did you hear that?  Jesus was saying that through his blood shed for us on the cross he was enacting a new covenant.  That means that through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we, his disciples, his church, are in a new covenant relationship or agreement or treaty with God through him. 

What is that New Covenant?  The book of Hebrews talks about it a bit more, and I think it is important that we read this.  Turn to Hebrews 8:6, where we are jumping into the middle of a longer discussion about Jesus’ role as priest and how he compares or contrasts with the priests of Israel who were under the Old Covenant.  I would encourage you to read Hebrews chapters 7, 8, 9, and 10 at some point. But before going any further with this post, please quickly glance through Hebrews 8:6-13.

The New Covenant is God’s agreement to transform our lives, as we believe in and follow him, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the gift of the Holy Spirit.  What that means is that we have a whole new agreement with God.  As the writer of Hebrews clearly says in 8:13, the Old Covenant is obsolete.  It does not apply to us.  We Christians need to hear that clearly.  We are not bound by the terms of the Old Covenant.  Any and every law in the Old Testament is obsolete for us.  The Old Covenant was in force for Israel, until Jesus died and rose again.  There is not a single law in the Old Testament that we have to follow, simply because it is in the Old Testament.  We follow the terms of the New Covenant, which is the teaching of Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament. 

Normally, when Christians here this, their first reaction is, “Well, yeah, that’s pretty much what we were always taught.  What’s the big deal?”  But then they start thinking about it a bit more.  They remember that I said above, “There is not a single law in the Old Testament that Christians have to follow.” 

They think, “Wait, you don’t mean the Ten Commandments, right? We certainly have to follow them.”  And I respond, just as Dr. Dorsey said, that the Ten Commandments were part of God’s covenant with Israel.  We do not have to follow them.  We are not bound by the Old Covenant.  Usually people hearing this are shocked at this point, still not sure if I’m serious.  But I’m serious.  Hebrews 8:13 leaves no wiggle room. The old is obsolete.  And that goes for every single part of the old. 

So am I saying that it is okay to murder or steal or lie, to break the Ten Commandments?  No, I am not saying that.  Here’s why: nine of the Ten Commandments are reaffirmed in the New Testament!  There is one that is not, though.  You know which one?  Sabbath.  Jesus actually gets into an argument with the Pharisees about the Sabbath Law.  He says that the Sabbath is made for man, not man for Sabbath.  Jesus’ point is that, even for Israel, God never intended Sabbath to be some rigid rule that he wanted his people to follow.  Yes, there were some clear specifics, like no working from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. But at the heart of the law was God’s desire for Israel to rest and trust in him.

Christians have no comparable Sabbath law.  If we say that Sunday is the new Sabbath, we are misinterpreting God’s word.  Therefore it was wrong for Christians, now and in the past, to say that it was sinful for Christians to work on Sundays.  If a person chooses not to work on Sunday, that is certainly up to them.  But Christians should not be judging or condemning one another for working on Sunday.  Many simply have job schedules that require Sunday work.  Further, the same goes for doing the laundry or mowing the grass on Sundays.  For some, doing those chores is actually restful. 

So when it comes to any Old Testament law, we simply have to go back to Dr. Dorsey’s Step 1, that every single one of the Old Testament laws are not for us.  They were, however, part of God’s covenant with Israel.  So no matter what rule you are reading about, parapets on roofs, tithing, charging interest, any of the 600+ laws in the OT, those rules are not part of our new covenant simply because they exist in the Old covenant. What Dr. Dorsey says, then, is that we can’t leave it there.  After getting a firm grasp on the idea that these laws were not meant for us, we now go to Step 2. More on that in our next post.

How to have a healthy marriage

25 Jan

I couldn’t really be honest and call this post “How to have a healthy marriage” and then tack on the scripture from our series in Luke on the end of the title like I normally do.  The reason is that Jesus doesn’t really teach how to have a healthy marriage.  He basically says that we should not divorce.

He only brings up marriage because he is talking about the OT Law.  So I didn’t think a title about the OT Law would be as interesting.  Sorry to all of you OT Law enthusiasts.

I did, however, preach a good bit about the OT Law. And I also preached about how to have a healthy marriage.  It’s not enough to just say “don’t divorce.”

The organizations I mention at the end of the sermon are:

House On the Rock Family Ministries

The Marriage & Family Centers

Please contact them, as they offer amazing services for couples in need of help.

Law & Marriage…go together like a horse and carriage?

21 Jan

I am finding Luke 16 to be exceedingly confusing.  As if verses 1-15 and the Parable of the Shrewd Steward weren’t difficult enough (I preached on them this past Sunday…you can read about that sermon here and here), this coming Sunday I’m focusing on verses 14-18 which put Law and Marriage together, and I’m not sure they go together very well!  Last week I had a lot of help from Kenneth Bailey’s studies on the parables of Luke.  Bailey’s awesome study makes great sense of the Shrewd Steward.  This week, well, the scholars are not as helpful.

Let me explain.  My first question is about the placement of verses 16-18 in the passage.  I’ve been reading a number of commentaries, and they have many theories about these verses, most of which don’t even try to see a flow of thought.  They see verses 1-15 and 19-31 as two sections primarily about how to use money.  I get that.  Here’s the strange part: they suggest that the verses sandwiched in between, verses 16-18 about Law and Marriage, are somewhat random.  One scholar, Bock (in the IVP Commentary series), has a theory for the unity of the passage, but I found it unconvincing.

I wonder what you think when you read chapter 16!

Here is a bit more explanation about Law and Marriage, the two topics that we’re going to look at on Sunday:

  1. How Christians should use the OT Law
  2. Marriage and Divorce

They seem like an odd couple of themes to place together, but that is exactly what Jesus does.  Why, though?  What is it about marriage that might relate to the OT Law?  What do we need to know about the OT Law that could help us with marriage?

There is no doubt in my mind that we need to talk about both of these subjects.  There is perhaps just as much confusion about how Christians should use the OT Law, as there is about marriage and divorce.  Randall Balmer points out in his book, Thy Kingdom Come, that decades ago the religious right stopped talking about divorce and marriage because so many of their leaders had gotten divorces.  They needed a new issue to galvanize support for their causes, so they picked abortion.  Balmer suggests that they never should have stopped talking about marriage.  I agree.  Most of us are married or will be one day, but many marriages fail or are painful.  People are hungry for help in their marriages.

Thankfully the pursuit of healthy marriage is something that God loves and encourages, and many people, pastors, churches, and organizations are talking about it a lot.  So will we this coming Sunday.

As I write this on Thursday afternoon, I have to admit that I don’t have this passage all figured out.  I’ve got study to do!  There’s a potential for a big snowstorm to cover our area, so we may need to cancel worship.  But even if that happens, I won’t be off the hook!  I’ll either record a podcast on Monday or upload the manuscript of the sermon for you.  For now, I encourage you to prepare yourself for worship.  Read Luke 16, thinking about that question of the OT Law.  Are we bound to follow it?  And think about marriage?  What does it mean to have a healthy one so that divorce is not even in the realm of possibility?

And weather permitting, we’d love to have you join us at Faith Church on Sunday as we’ll talk about this further.