How Shall We Vote?

Our allegiance to Christ transcends any politician or party. And the world is watching how we speak and act this election season. I don’t want them to see a donkey or elephant, but instead, a Lamb..jpg

One of the questions I have been frequently asked over the last months is how to vote in this election.  The questioner is not asking WHO I am voting for (I won’t tell you), but HOW I am voting.  I have read so many articles and blogs detailing how and who to vote for…so many that I am tired of thinking about it.  But I thought I might distill some of the wisdom I have read down to a few points.

I think Christians fall into three camps when it comes to voting…

Camp 1: Some Christians are going to vote for a 3rd party candidate or write in a candidate.  They feel that they cannot in good conscience vote for either of the two main presidential candidates due to their policies or their personal character.  But they are convicted that they should vote because it is a precious freedom afforded by our country.  The potential negative with this option is that they are not having a direct impact on the two individuals who have a chance at winning the election.  On the positive side, they are presumably choosing a person of character with God honoring policies. 

Camp 2: Other Christians view this election as binary and will choose from the two candidates available.  We all know one will win this election, and so those Christians will use discernment to choose the candidate who best reflects biblical values.  This is more pragmatic since it recognizes that we have two flawed candidates, but we may as well pick one.  The potential negative with this option is making a foolish choice in selecting a candidate that is not qualified to be president.  On the positive side, they are impacting the election directly by using biblical discernment to make a difficult decision. 

Camp 3: And I am sure there are some Christians who will not vote at all.  I can agree with these folks that God is sovereign over our leaders in government.  The Lord will give us the president that we should have at this point in history.  The potential negative here is that this person is not exhibiting good citizenship and probably just trying to avoid making a difficult decision.  On the positive side, maybe their conscience is clear?  I admit I have a hard time understanding or defending this position.

And finally, here are some things I consider before voting:

1. I will consider who will do the most good for the church.  This is not selfish because I read in 1 Timothy 2:1-4 that I am supposed to pray for our leaders to allow Christians to live “peaceful and quiet lives, godly and dignified in every way.”  If that is not a selfish prayer, then how can it be a selfish vote?  And it seems that this prayer for a peaceful life also helps advance the Gospel. 

2. I will consider what policies and decisions each candidate is most likely to support.  Which candidate will do the most good for our country?  I will consider abortion, marriage, religious freedom, the Supreme Court, refugees, taxes, military, economic policy, foreign policy, as well as other issues as I vote.  The Bible has plenty to say about each of these.  Some folks suggest that the government cannot legislate morality, but I disagree.  The government already legislates morality…the only question is, whose morality?  My conviction is that God’s laws are given for the flourishing of humanity, so I consider that as I vote.

3. I will consider the candidates’ character.  If you had asked me before the primaries what Americans want, one of the answers I would have given is: they want a leader with character.  Maybe I was wrong, because here we are with two immoral candidates.  And while we know that “all have sinned,” it’s not really that easy.  Some people are known for their bad character.  Let’s not pretend that character is unrelated to leadership.  On the other hand, I have confidence that God uses immoral leaders based on leaders from the Bible.  Whether major momentary lapses like David’s adultery and murder or a consistent display of bad choices like Samson, God still uses these leaders (even if it means bringing judgment on a nation).  

4. Christians have been given the wisdom of God.  We have the mind of Christ.  And we know wisdom is given when we ask for it (James 1:5).   Since we have been given the right to vote, we ought to use our best biblical discernment in casting that vote.  It seems that the American people have been given this stewardship role, so why would we bury the opportunity in the ground?

I am not going to publicly voice support for a candidate, even if we had great ones to choose from.  The ministry of the Gospel is far too important to let my political leanings get in the way.  Our allegiance to Christ transcends any politician or party.  And the world is watching how we speak and act this election season.  I don’t want them to see a donkey or elephant, but instead, a Lamb. 

Book Review: Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality by Wesley Hill

It is hard not to compare Wesley Hill’s Washed and Waiting with Justin Lee’s Torn. They both chronicle a young Christian man’s struggle in coming to terms with a gay orientation. Both grew up in good families. But the differences in the two books are significant. While I had reservations about Torn stemming from its poor theology, I have virtually none with Washed and Waiting.

I’ll be honest. I needed to hear how the church had hurt Justin Lee. I needed to see the ugliness and pain that Christians can cause. But Wesley Hill chooses to emphasize the Christians who have loved him but held a traditional view of homosexuality. The church was supportive. Hill mentions calling a friend late at night to talk and pray. This encouraged me because it means that the church can get it right! We can be lovers of truth and lovers of people! Let me be clear though. I can imagine that Hill has heard some painful things. It’s just that he has not chosen to dwell on those things. That tells me that he is a gracious man who loves the body of Christ.

The theology in Washed and Waiting is not heavy. But its hermeneutics are still solid. It takes a simple approach that this is what the Bible clearly says, and we must abide by it. That means that Hill is convinced that he must remain celibate and wait for God’s total redemption of his body in the next life. He writes persuasively and passionately on this point. 

Because of Hill’s convictions, he has faced the reality of living without a life mate...without marriage. He vividly describes the pain of loneliness that is brought on by having a gay orientation. He doesn’t want to be gay. He has tried to form relationships with the opposite sex and has felt no attraction. And because of this, he has felt isolated from the church even when the church has lovingly supported him through friendship. The church needs to hear this in order to compassionate. We need to put ourselves in the celibate person’s shoes and take serious action to support and love them well.

One way that Hill has found peace in his soul in through the contemplation of Bible passages and the biographies and poetry of Christians who have the same struggles. I think the books and poetry he recommends would be a great help to anyone struggling with same-sex attractions. People need to know they are not alone in this battle to honor God.

And here is what I appreciate most. Hill roots his life journey in the glorious truth of the Gospel. His vision is beautiful and compelling. He is living a transformed life even in a weak body. He is keeping his eyes on Jesus. He is living each day by the power of the Spirit in anticipation of the day when his weakness will disappear, and he hears God’s commendation. This a challenge the church needs to hear. What is the cross that we have been asked to bear? How is that going? Are we keeping our eyes on Christ and waiting for his commendation on the day of judgment?

I was hard pressed to find anything I didn’t like about Hill’s book. But maybe one thing to consider is whether it is helpful speaking of oneself as a “gay Christian.” “Gay” would be the adjective, but is it beneficial way to speak? I ask this because in many places, being “gay” means that is one’s identity. And it could even mean that one claims Christ and acts on his or her gay impulses. That is certainly not the way Hill uses the term, but it is worth thinking about. Neil Anderson who has written extensively on spiritual warfare, has emphasized the importance of finding one’s identity in Christ. So whatever term we use, we ought to bear in mind that we win spiritual battles because we are “in Christ.”

I highly recommend this book to every Christian in order to appreciate the struggles of having a gay orientation and how to love your brothers and sisters well. It is also an invaluable resource to hand to your gay friends and relatives. 

-Pastor Niall Philyaw

Book Review~Torn: Rescuing the Gospel From the Gays v. Christians Debate

In his book Torn: Rescuing the Gospel From the Gays v. Christians Debate, Justin Lee tells his own story of growing up in the church and being raised by two loving Christian parents.  In school, he was labeled “God boy,” which he gladly accepted.  But Justin’s secret was that he felt attraction for other guys.  The book chronicles his struggle with his Christian identity and his same-sex attractions.  

I benefited from reading Justin’s story because it revealed many of the hurtful things the church (myself included) does and says towards those with same-sex attraction.  Here are some of my takeaways from the book… 

1. If homosexuality is a biological trait (which Lee states is not proven) or even an orientation that cannot be chosen, then the church ought to be careful how they speak to gays.  They cannot just tell them to go to counseling and become heterosexual.  The goal of our spiritual life is to become more like Christ (2Cor3:18).  The goal is holiness, not heterosexuality.  We have said a lot of things out of ignorance.  So let’s be informed!

 2. It is difficult if not impossible to completely change someone’s attractions.  Lee backs up this claim with research and anecdotes, and it makes for a convincing argument. 

He uses Exodus International as an example of an organization that does not actually deliver what they promise (a change in orientation).  One side note: Exodus International has since shut down its ministry and has issued some apologies. 

 3. Being “gay” does not automatically mean you are having sex.  It is referring to same-sex attraction.  We are sometimes too quick to assume that if someone is gay that they are acting on their attractions, which may or may not be the case.  Making those assumptions can be very judgmental.

 4. The church has not done a good job dealing with this issue.  Lee has stories of Christians showing him pornography (to awaken heterosexual attractions), church sponsored secret support groups for men (which felt like a group of the ashamed), and “experts” who stated that all gays had bad childhoods (which Lee clearly did not).  The church is trying to deal with this issue, but I wonder if we have really listened to the other side in order to understand their story.  We might not agree on everything, but we would certainly become more compassionate (hopefully).  So what will the church do to help gay Christians live a life pleasing to their Savior?

 As I read the book, I was waiting for it.  You know what I’m talking about: the big question.  What will Lee do with the Scriptures?  He is so genuine and winsome throughout the book that I could not wait to see how he dealt with the Bible.  And here it is…it’s a train wreck!  I do not write that with smug satisfaction.  I am reading the book and rooting for Justin all the way.  But he deals with Scripture in a very deceptive and exegetically troubling way.  I cannot provide an exhaustive review, but let’s take Romans 1:26-27 as an example.  

 NIV Romans 1:26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.

 Lee proposes (and it’s not novel) that Romans 1:26-27 is referring to pagan worship practices that included homosexual prostitution in the temples of Roman gods.  And so he concludes that this passage does not apply to same-sex monogamous relationships.  At this point, you ought to read Romans 1 for yourself.  Here are some of the problems with that proposition. 

1. The context of Romans 1 is God’s revelation of Himself in the Genesis creation account.  It is not limited to 1st century Rome.  And with the creation account, we have God’s intentions for marriage, which Lee only briefly touches on.  He notes that man should not be alone, so gays are justified in taking a romantic companion on life’s journey instead of being lonely.  He does not deal with “a man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.”  His reluctance to deal with the primary text for God’s purpose in marriage and sexuality is very telling of the problems with his interpretation of Scripture.  

 2. If you are going to limit the sins of Romans 1 to pagan idolaters, then you also have to limit the list of sins at the end of the chapter 1, of which there are many!  Homosexual acts are sin because they go against God’s creative purposes and command, not because they are connected to cult prostitution.  They are a result of self-worship, which is a case of worshipping the creation instead of the Creator.  The Bible is clear and consistent on this topic.

 3. There were many kinds of homosexual acts that were known to the Apostle Paul.  Lee would like us to believe that Paul was only thinking of homosexual prostitution and never considered the possibility of monogamous relationships.  But we have historical records of many kinds of homosexual acts and relationships going on in ancient Rome.  We have evidence of gay marriages happening at the time.  Not only that, but Plato wrote about longer-term relationships of the same-sex.  

There are a number of other examples of Lee’s poor exegesis like trying to use Paul’s command to not pass judgment on disputable matters in Romans 14 to say that we should not judge the actions of gay Christians.  But if you read the whole passage, it is clear that it would be better not to put a stumbling block in the way of someone.  If this passage did apply, it would mean not engaging in homosexual acts for the sake of the weaker brother.  But it does not apply, because Paul is not arguing that we should be silent on moral issues, of which sexuality is clearly one of those. 

 But exegesis aside, what is the way forward on this divisive issue?  Lee says gay Christians have two choices.  They can have a monogamous romantic relationship or they can be celibate.  He would like the church to dialogue further on these options.  I interpret that to mean we should talk until we become tolerant of same sex unions.  I do not see that as helpful at all when the Bible has a clear and authoritative word for the church that we must either accept or reject.  The answer the Bible gives is heterosexual marriage (Genesis 2:24) or celibacy (1 Corinthians 7:32).

 Lee would also like the church to be more loving and compassionate.  This is a huge theme throughout his book.  And here I can agree wholeheartedly.  We need to figure out how to be the church with gay Christians in our midst while holding to the truth of Scripture.  If anything, I came away from this book with insight into how difficult it must be to desire to follow Christ and yet have same sex attraction.  Imagine for a moment that you were in Lee’s shoes.  Would celibacy be an easy option for you?  For many of us, the answer is that it would be very difficult and lonely.  We would need healthy, loving relationships in the church.  And that’s a good start.

 

Revelation 14

There are three ways to understand the flames of hell.  They can be a literal fire.  They can be a metaphorical fire.  And they can be a consuming fire (the annihilationist view).  The third view states that the fire of hell completely destroys sinners, so they cease to exist.  I want to deal with the first two views here since they are more common.

 

The Literal View teaches that hell is a place of eternal, conscious torment.  The Old Testament does not have an explicit teaching on hell, but does speak about the afterlife.  The Hebrew sheol and the Greek hades are used to signify the dwelling place of the dead or simply the “grave.”  So Deut 32:22 states that “For a fire has been kindled in my wrath, one that burns to the realm of death below.  It will devour the earth and its harvests and set afire the foundation of its mountains.”  Some theologians have taught that sheol has two compartments, one for the wicked and one for the righteous.  Jesus seems to hint at this in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-21). 

 

The word gehenna is the most common and clear word used to denote hell.  Of the twelve times this word is used in the New Testament, eleven are from Jesus’ teachings and the other is from James.  Gehenna actually referred to the Valley of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem, where garbage was perpetually burned.  So the image of a burning garbage dump was the image associated with hell. 

 

Jesus frequently used gehenna and the image of fire to warn of the judgment of God on sinners.  Trees that bear bad fruit are thrown “into the fire (Matt 3:10).”  The wicked will go into “eternal fire (Matt 25:41).”  Branches that are not connected to Christ are thrown “into the fire (John 15:6).”  Because fire is the most stated form of punishment in the afterlife, it is appropriate to conclude that hell is a literal fire that is experienced by unregenerated sinners.

 

One of the key passages for a literal view of hell is Rev 20:10-15.    Christians are told that the beast and the false prophet are “tormented day and night for ever and ever (Rev 20:10).”  As for the wicked who are in hades awaiting judgment, after their judgment (v. 13) they are “thrown into the lake of fire (v. 14).”  Then in 21:8, the wicked are again seen in the “fiery lake of burning sulfur.”  These vivid descriptions of fire support the conclusion that hell is a literal fire that burns its occupants forever .

 

The Metaphorical View of hell teaches that hell is not literally a “lake of fire” but it is a place of eternal, conscious punishment.  Fire is used as a metaphor very frequently in ancient writings.  Paul uses it to symbolize judgment and sexual desire (1Cor 3:15, 7:9).  James uses it to symbolize sinful words (Jam 3:6).  It is therefore very appropriate that Jesus used the term gehenna, signifying the Valley of Hinnom, as a symbolic representation of hell.  It was a desecrated place, due to its use for child sacrifices to the Ammonite god, Molech (2Chron 28:3).  Jeremiah later cursed the valley (Jer 19).  In Jesus’ time, it was a place to burn garbage, using sulfur as a flammable substance.

 

There are different metaphors for hell besides the Valley of Hinnom.  Jesus compared it to many beatings, worms that never die, and weeping and gnashing of teeth (Luke 12:47, Mark 9:48, Matt 8:12).  Jude compares hell to eternal fire and blackest darkness (Jude 1:7, 13).  How can fire produce darkness?  Even more problematic, how can a whole lake of fire produce darkness?  And if spirit beings like Satan and his demons are there (Matt 25:41), how does physical fire hurt them?  This variety of descriptions of hell points to the conclusion that hell is not a literal fire but still a terrible place of God’s eternal wrath.

 

Personally, I lean towards a Metaphorical View of hell.  At the very least, the fire must have different properties than the fire we are familiar with.  But keep in mind that if fire is the best way to explain hell, then the reality would be just as horrible, if not more so!  Either way, we ought to feel the terrible reality of hell.  When we do this, we are prompted to proclaim the Good News that Christ has made a relationship with God possible through the cross!  Praise God there is no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus!

 

Revelation 13

Revelation 13 Blog

 

I don’t believe in using the pulpit to promote political parties.  I was once in a prayer meeting during an election year when it became crystal clear who we should be praying for and who we should be praying against.  Neither Republicans nor Democrats are perfect, although that doesn’t stop me from voting, mind you!  But I would rather preach Christ and let the Holy Spirit sort through your political loyalties. 

 

I am also very sensitive when it comes to preachers or Christian leaders speaking harshly against America.  On one hand, we have to be honest about what is happening in our culture.  Many things that our society calls good and normal are troubling to the church and contrary to Scripture.  I was struck by the fact that we were honoring veterans and talking about the state of America last Sunday.  But on the other hand, America is worth fighting and dying for!  We still enjoy so many liberties and blessings that are unknown throughout the world.  I am reminded of Paul’s words to Timothy:

 

NIV 1 Timothy 2:1 I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone-- 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

 

How shall we interpret verse 4?  And no, I don’t mean to bring up the doctrine of election!  Rather, do we pray so that the authorities get saved?  That’s never a bad idea!  Or do we pray that authorities allow Christians to go about our business of living quiet lives of holiness and godliness, so that we can more freely share the Gospel (since God desires everyone to be saved)?  Certainly, we should pray for our leaders’ salvation…and for Timothy that would include the infamous Nero!  But living quiet lives allows us the chance to share the Gospel more freely (assuming that’s what we are doing).  We live in a country that allows us religious liberty!  Let’s thank our veterans for that!  And let’s thank God for that!  And let’s pray for revival to sweep our country!   

 

Revelation 12

This blog certainly falls under the category of “deleted scenes.”  I wanted to talk about the mythological connections that are made in Revelation 12, but it just didn’t fit into the main idea of the sermon.  So I’ll do that here!

 

First, you should read this:

 

The Greek Myth of Python and Apollo

The Python of Delphi was a creature with the body of a snake, which was dwelling on Mount Parnassus in central Greece. Wherever it went, it would diffuse obnoxious smell and spread mischief and death.  Python was once sent out by Zeus’ wife Hera to chase Leto, Zeus lover, when she became pregnant from him, so that she couldn’t settle anywhere to give birth.  By the time Apollo was only 4 days old, he decided to take revenge and went to the creature’s cave Python to seek after him. At the moment the creature faced Apollo, it started boiling with rage and lunged at Apollo to devour him. But Apollo was faster and managed to throw an arrow to Python, piercing him right on its forehead.  Python cried of terror and his screaming could be heard all over the canyons of Mount Parnassus. It struggled hard to survive but in the end it surrendered to death.

This filled Apollo with joy and he happily took his lyre and started playing a song of victory, giving joy to people all around.

 

Thanks Wikipedia!

 

Doesn’t that all sound familiar?  The Python pursues Leto while she is pregnant.  The son Apollo ends up killing Python.  We know that Jesus, the woman’s son, will defeat the Satan, the dragon.  His doom has been predicted since the creation of the world.  The serpent will bruise his heel, but he will crush the serpent’s head (Gen3:15).  Revelation 12 then is a creative way to teach the church about the great cosmic battle that has been decisively won by our Savior Jesus!

 

One of the things I appreciate about this is the use of contemporary myth to illustrate a spiritual truth.  Jesus also did this with parables.  The story of the Good Samaritan may have been shocking in its conclusion, but the first part of that story is recycled from communal narratives that Jewish people would have recognized.  So it’s really not a bad idea to use contemporary stories and illustrations to portray invisible realities and spiritual truths.  Author John Eldredge notes that we love stories of good versus evil, which is a reflection of the spiritual battle that is happening today.  And not surprisingly, he uses a lot of movie illustrations in his book Wild At Heart.*  Perhaps this is something to try when you’re talking to an unsaved family member this holiday season! 

 

 

*While I am not crazy about everything Eldredge has written, I did like Wild At Heart for its biblical take on masculinity.

 

Revelation 7

My hermeneutics (it’s not a disease; it’s principles for biblical interpretation) professor at Bethel seminary was doing a nationwide study of seminaries.  And as he researched their hermeneutics classes, he was dismayed to discover that a large number of them did not offer any classes on how to interpret the Bible!  That shocked me! 

 

So when I was asked during Cross Training on Sunday how I interpret the Bible, I thought this would be a good chance to discuss some major principles of hermeneutics that I use every week when I study.  Here are my top ten (not in order of importance).

 

1. Context.  You have to ask what comes before the passage and what comes after.  So when Revelation 6 ends with “who can stand?” it makes sense to see chapter 7 as answering that question.  Context challenges us to get beyond “fortune cookie” Bible reading.  For instance, when we say that we can do all thing through Christ who strengthens us, a quick look at the immediate context in Philippians 4 reveals that Paul is talking about suffering, not climbing Mount Everest!  And there are different levels of context: chapter, book, Old or New Testament, Bible.  There is also historical context: what was going on politically, economically, in the church, etc.  It helps to know that the first century church experienced persecution when you read Revelation.

 

2. Genre.  The Bible contains narrative, poetry, letters, etc.  And Revelation has its own category: apocalyptic literature.  It is not the only document to use such “end of the world” language.  Which begs the question: will the sun actually be darkened?  Will the moon turn blood red?  And why are people hiding in caves when everything is being shaken?  Some scholars note that this genre talks about cataclysmic events as a way of saying that terrible things are happening.  So exaggerated language is used to convey the seriousness of the event.  Could you interpret the destruction in Jerusalem in 70A.D. as an apocalyptic event?  Perhaps.  The historian Josephus describes in detail the horrors of that event. 

 

3. Word.  Jesus made it clear that every single word of Scripture is important (Luke 20:37-38).  So we do word studies.  Greek and Hebrew dictionaries help here (like Vine’s).  The even more advanced use lexicons.  But here is a word of caution.  Defining a word does not trump the context the word is used in.  Words do change meanings over time and take on difference nuances.  And there are different ways to do word studies that go further than just looking up the meaning in a dictionary.  And whatever you do, don’t use Webster’s dictionary to define a biblical word.  Use Vine’s Dictionary of Biblical Words! 

 

4. Scripture interprets Scripture.  If God superintended humans authors so that they composed without error His words, then we should allow hard passages to be interpreted in light of clear passages.  God is not saying contradictory things throughout history, so it makes sense that the writers of the Bible should agree with each other.  An example of this is how the sealing of the 144,000 in Revelation 7 parallels the sealing of God’s people in Ezekiel 9. 

 

5. Only one interpretation, but many applications.  Even though Christians may understand a passage differently like the rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, that does not mean there is no correct answer or that we’re all right!  There is only one correct interpretation for ever passage or verse.  But we can apply the Bible to our lives in a myriad of ways!  Old passages that we’ve known forever are actually fresh and alive because of this!

 

6. Old Testament Allusions.  The New Testament is of incredible value to the church, and I would rather have a new believer read John than Leviticus.  But it is so important that we understand when the Old Testament is referenced in the New.  The early Jewish church would have understood these references.  So much of Paul’s deep theological reasoning in Romans can only be understood with respect to Old Testament narrative.  Another example of this is how Jesus’ 40 days of testing by the devil contrasts Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness.  This is the one area that I want to grow in the most.  I really want to notice the allusions to the O.T. when I study!

 

7. Authorial Intent.  This one’s a little tricky because you’re asking what the author originally intended when he or she wrote it.  But this protects the interpreter from making silly mistakes like reading 21st century issues into the text or worse yet, treating the text as if it can have any meaning the reader wants it to have. 

 

8. If the clearest sense makes sense, seek no other sense.  Basically, if a prophetic verse seems like it could be interpreted literally, then why try to make it figurative.  This is why the EFCA interprets the 1,000 year reign of Christ as a literal time in history.  Let’s not try to make this harder than it needs to be. 

 

9. The best method for Bible study involves observation, interpretation, and application, in that order!  Make as many observations about the text as possible.  I’ll never forget an assignment where I had to give at least 100 observations about John 3:16.  The more observations you make, the better interpretation you will have.  After writing out a concise interpretation of the text, you can then apply the passage to yourself! 

 

10. After your own study, use the study of the “experts.”  It’s a blessing to have so many scholars and commentaries on the Bible.  But don’t read their work first and rob yourself of your own study.  Do your work, and let God speak to you.  Then you can compare and see if you have missed something (or if the smart people have missed something).  I would also include Christian interpreters throughout the history as great resources!  For instance, I enjoyed reading Martin Luther’s commentary on Galatians, and that is free in many online bookstores.

 

I’m sure I’m forgetting something…anyway…

 

Don’t ever let yourself fall for the lie that only scholars can discern the true meaning of the text.  The Bible was written for your benefit.  We have amazingly accurate word for word English translations of the Bible.  So dig in!

Revelation 6

“A Call For Humility”

 

Are the four horsemen of the apocalypse signs of the end times during the great 7 year tribulation?  Or are they currently riding among us in the form of sin and suffering?  This question, like so many others in Revelation, depends on how you read the book.  I mentioned in the sermon about a young man who was offended at me for suggesting that the horsemen are present today because of the wars, famines, and plagues we see in the world today.  He was so certain that the horsemen are a future reality and cannot have any meaning for the church today.  But who can deny that cancer and AIDS bear some resemblance to Death, the fourth horseman? 

 

I don’t want to sound flippant about Bible interpretation, but sometimes the meaning of prophecy is difficult to ascertain.  So I would ask that we all be gracious and humble with one another as we wrestle with these visions.  And consider Daniel’s reaction to one of his visions:

 

ESV Daniel 8:27 And I, Daniel, was overcome and lay sick for some days. Then I rose and went about the king's business, but I was appalled by the vision and did not understand it.

 

If you’ve ever felt discouraged about not understanding prophecy…don’t worry…you’re in good company!  Sometimes even the prophets don’t comprehend what they are seeing and writing about.  That doesn’t make the prophecy meaningless!  But it does mean we should be very careful in how we interpret prophecy.  Sometimes, we talk as if our view is the right one and all the others are foolish and stupid.  But intelligent Christians throughout the centuries have come to different conclusions than us.  For some reason, the church loves to draw up lines to divide us from others who hold different views.  That’s what pride does. 

 

It is helpful here to distinguish between dogma, doctrine, and opinion.  Dogma is essential to the Gospel.  If someone teaches things contrary to the Gospel, they are condemned by God (Gal1:9).  A doctrine is an important belief, but not essential.  Some of prophecy falls in this category like the 1,000 year reign of Christ in Revelation 20.  Opinion is an interesting belief but might not be important to the church.  The identity of the first horseman would fall into this category.  

 

To be honest, through the years, my own views have grown and changed.  I’ll talk more about that on Sunday when we deal with the rapture of the church.  But even if you find that you disagree with me, let’s agree that Revelation is about Jesus and look for him on every page!  And let’s all agree on this:

 

CHRIST IS COMING BACK!

 

 

 

Revelation 4-5

 

If we are going to understand Revelation, we have to understand the Old Testament.  In fact, I remember the first time I heard that Revelation does not explicitly teach a 7 year tribulation.  I was shocked and ready to debunk the whole thing.  But then I was told to read Daniel 9:25-27 and compare it to Revelation.  That made a lot more sense…assuming I am reading Daniel correctly!  And I tell you, it is a blast to read Revelation and then find a clear connection with an Old Testament passage!  (although sometimes it’s frustrating too).

Let me give you an example of a very fun connection between last week’s text and Ezekiel.  We read in Revelation 4:6 about a “sea of glass, clear as crystal.”  This “sea” is in front of the throne.  We don’t know how large it is or if it is fluid or solid.  John is just telling us what he sees.  He sees the floor of heaven, if you will.  

Now here is what Ezekiel sees.  A great windstorm rushes towards him and in the windstorm are four living creatures, very similar to the ones in Revelation 4.  Ezekiel 1:22 says that above the heads of these creatures is “an expanse, sparkling like ice, and awesome.”  Then verse 26 tells us that “above the expanse was what looking like a throne of sapphire and high above the throne was a figure like that of a man.”  Ezekiel sees the ceiling of earth, if you will.

So if I’m reading this correctly, John has a vision of the throne-room of God where he gets the view from inside.  So the “sea of glass” is in front of him.  Ezekiel gets his vision from below the “expanse, sparkling like ice.”  But both of them see the throne of God with the one sitting on it and mention that is resembles a rainbow.  

Now I don’t know what that all means, but it sparks my imagination as I hope it does yours.  This “sea of glass” is separating earth from the throne-room of God.  I hesitate to try to interpret any further.  I’ll let you think on that.

So to bring this full circle, the Old Testament certainly informs the book of Revelation.  And it makes perfect sense that Ezekiel and John saw similar things in the throne-room.  And even if it did look different, God has the right to rearrange his furniture!  The point is next time you get tempted to gloss over those cross-references in the margins of your Bible, take the time to look them up.  You’ll be glad you did!

One more thing: remember how I said it can be frustrating comparing the O.T. to Revelation.  This week we are talking about the four horsemen of the apocalypse.  These horsemen look very, very similar to the horsemen in Zechariah 6.  But beyond the physical description, I struggle to see how these horsemen are related.  But my frustration is not God’s fault!  I see through a mirror dimly!  If you have insight into that one, feel free to share it!

If we are going to understand Revelation, we have to understand the Old Testament.  In fact, I remember the first time I heard that Revelation does not explicitly teach a 7 year tribulation.  I was shocked and ready to debunk the whole thing.  But then I was told to read Daniel 9:25-27 and compare it to Revelation.  That made a lot more sense…assuming I am reading Daniel correctly!  And I tell you, it is a blast to read Revelation and then find a clear connection with an Old Testament passage!  (although sometimes it’s frustrating too)


Let me give you an example of a very fun connection between last week’s text and Ezekiel.  We read in Revelation 4:6 about a “sea of glass, clear as crystal.”  This “sea” is in front of the throne.  We don’t know how large it is or if it is fluid or solid.  John is just telling us what he sees.  He sees the floor of heaven, if you will.  

Now here is what Ezekiel sees.  A great windstorm rushes towards him and in the windstorm are four living creatures, very similar to the ones in Revelation 4.  Ezekiel 1:22 says that above the heads of these creatures is “an expanse, sparkling like ice, and awesome.”  Then verse 26 tells us that “above the expanse was what looking like a throne of sapphire and high above the throne was a figure like that of a man.”  Ezekiel sees the ceiling of earth, if you will.

So if I’m reading this correctly, John has a vision of the throne-room of God where he gets the view from inside.  So the “sea of glass” is in front of him.  Ezekiel gets his vision from below the “expanse, sparkling like ice.”  But both of them see the throne of God with the one sitting on it and mention that is resembles a rainbow.  

Now I don’t know what that all means, but it sparks my imagination as I hope it does yours.  This “sea of glass” is separating earth from the throne-room of God.  I hesitate to try to interpret any further.  I’ll let you think on that.

So to bring this full circle, the Old Testament certainly informs the book of Revelation.  And it makes perfect sense that Ezekiel and John saw similar things in the throne-room.  And even if it did look different, God has the right to rearrange his furniture!  The point is next time you get tempted to gloss over those cross-references in the margins of your Bible, take the time to look them up.  You’ll be glad you did!

One more thing: remember how I said it can be frustrating comparing the O.T. to Revelation.  This week we are talking about the four horsemen of the apocalypse.  These horsemen look very, very similar to the horsemen in Zechariah 6.  But beyond the physical description, I struggle to see how these horsemen are related.  But my frustration is not God’s fault!  I see through a mirror dimly!  If you have insight into that one, feel free to share it!

Revelation 3

When I was an intern at my home church, the staff decided to play a prank on the worship pastor. We staged the rapture (the time Jesus takes his church out of the world).  So we all brought at extra pair or clothing to work that day. During our staff meeting, the worship pastor had to take an “important” call. While he was out of the room, we quickly put our spare clothing on the chairs around the table and then piled into the senior pastor's office where we peeked through the glass in the door. The worship pastor walked back into the room and then quickly darted out! We couldn't contain ourselves! We flooded the hallway laughing and accusing the worship pastor of being terrified (which he vehemently denied). Not bad for a bunch of Presbyterians!

One of the hot topics in the book of Revelation is the nature of the rapture of the church.

And one of the passages often cited to support a pre-tribulation rapture is Revelation 3:10. 

NIV Revelation 3:10 Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep 
you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who 
live on the earth.

On the face of it, it sounds like Jesus is promising to take this church away from a period of intense suffering. But let's examine the evidence.

The “hour of trial” can mean the trials that come before the end of the world as in 9:15 or 17:12. Or it can refer to the hour of Jesus' return as in 3:3, 14:7, 15. It certainly doesn't make sense to interpret “hour” as sixty minutes (which would be a quick trial), but as a certain kind of time that is limited in its duration.  

The “keep from” phrase occurs twice in the New Testament: once in Revelation and once in Jesus' ministry. Jesus says, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect (keep) them from the evil one.” (John 17:15) It is also interesting to note that history says the Philadelphian church continued to be persecuted.

With those things in mind, it seems best to interpret this verse as a prophecy about an intense time of tribulation on the earth, but that Jesus will preserve faithful believers during this evil time.  One might call to mind the biblical account of God preserving his people Israel during the plagues on Egypt.  His people were not the target of that tribulation, and he did indeed lead them through that time of suffering into the great Exodus. 

Sometimes I get concerned that American Christians are not expecting to go through trials.  So when the “hour of trial” comes, they count on escaping it in the rapture.  This could tempt the church to believe that we should not suffer for our faith.  But here we have an amazing promise about Jesus' “keeping power” flowing through our lives. We would do well to stay alert for Christ’s return (what a day that will be!) all the while expecting to endure suffering for our faith.  We will encounter evil and pain in this life, but we can rest assured that Jesus will keep us through these things.  As we wait for his arrival, we are never alone!

 

 

 

Revelation 1

Greetings!  I am very excited to be preaching and discussing the book of Revelation with all of you.  The purpose of this blog is to discuss some things that didn’t make it into the sermon.  Think of it like deleted scenes from a movie…but much more important since it’s the Bible!  Every week, I have the difficult task of cutting things out of the sermon that do not support the main point.  It’s not easy!  But I am happy to be able to talk about some of those things here.  So here we go…

 NIV Revelation 1:12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone "like a son of man," dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. 17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: "Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.

 I have never been to my high school reunion.  Yes, I missed years 5 and 10.  This summer I missed year 15 (but I just got back from Uganda, so I have an excuse).  But each year I considered taking the time to drive down to Peoria and reconnect with old friends and acquaintances.  And each time I wonder if I will recognize everyone.  Because time changes our appearance (eating habits do too). 

 If the John who wrote Revelation is the Apostle John, then he knew what Jesus looked like.  And yet, neither he nor any other Gospel writer give us a physical description of Jesus.  And yet, here in Revelation 1, we have a physical description.  John is absolutely shocked by what he sees.  But this description is not provided to tell us what Jesus looks like.  This is a description about who he is.  

 When I think about Jesus today, I tend to think about him during his earthly ministry, which is great.  But I don’t often consider his glorified status and how it relates to me and to the church.  I need to consider that his fiery eyes see through any pretense of my heart.  His feet can crush any enemy I have.  His white hair reassures me that he has wisdom to bring to any difficulty I have.  Let us not forget that the Jesus of Revelation cannot be ignored or taken for granted or used to our own ends.  This is a fierce, powerful, loving Savior!  And he is moving among the lampstands (churches) of 2013!  We need a bigger view of Jesus, and here we have it in Revelation 1.  For those that prefer a tame and distant Jesus, the reality is that he is painfully present in our lives (as some of the 7 churches would discover). 

 More than anything, I feel like I need the wise, white haired Jesus to speak into my life and tell me what to do.  And I need to listen carefully for his voice.  Which attribute of the exalted Christ do you need to respond to?  

Is God Judging America?

I presume many have heard comments from famous evangelical leaders that the tragedy at Sandy Hook was directly related to the immorality of our country.  I do not disagree that we need revival in America for the darkness is great.  I do not disagree that our morals are in disarray.

 

But…

 

Are we really using spiritual discernment in expressing these opinions?  Do we know the mind of God so completely that we can claim to understand why He allowed this tragedy?  Is the Bible even being used to defend such opinions?  If Job saw the need to remain silent on the tragedy that was his life (Job 40:4), then why not us?  God has a purpose in all things, but we do not always understand it.

 

To suggest that God allowed this for the purpose of judgment assumes we know God’s motives.  What those leaders are saying is that God is mad about abortion (He is) and homosexuality (He is), SO in response, He will indirectly cause the deaths of kindergarteners and teachers, some of whom may have been believers.  What?  Let me be sarcastic for a moment.  If these pronouncements are true, then God must not be as mad about pornography, abuse, human trafficking, pride, adultery, and other evils in this country.  Let’s not choose our top two sins.  Depravity is rampant.  God’s wrath is real!  Jesus is our only hope!

 

Let’s consider a biblical example of catastrophe.  This is Christmas season, so let’s remind ourselves of King Herod’s murder of all those Jewish baby boys in Matthew 2:16.  Do we read that story and say that God is judging Israel?  Maybe He is, but it reads to me as if Herod was furious that he missed his chance to kill baby Jesus.  Herod, who was full of darkness, was trying to extinguish the “Light of the World.”  That darkness resulted in the deaths of many.

 

This tragedy is, in some ways, self-explanatory.  On the face of it, we can see that evil is alive and well in America.  We want to blame video games, parenting, horror movies, mental illness, gun availability, and who knows what else.  But evil is at the root of this (James 1:13-15).  And evil does pervade many movies, video games, parenting choices, and how we use firearms.  Evil has frequently resulted in death (Cain and Abel for example).  And God does not always intervene to stop this evil, but one day, He will! 

 

Let’s consider one more example.  When Jesus foresees the destruction of Jerusalem in 70A.D. that occurs as judgment from God, He…weeps (Luke19:42).  It breaks His heart!  He longs that the circumstances were different.  The church’s love and compassion ought to be on full display in light of this tragedy.  Most Americans already know the evangelical church’s stance on abortion and homosexuality.  We do not need to drive those points home at a time like this.  These dear families need our love, prayers, and support.  Americans need to know that this shooting grieves the heart of God.  Jesus was born to save us from the evil we see every day on the news and in our own lives.

 

I believe it honors God and the victims’ families to declare that there is great darkness in the world, but Jesus has come to bring light and life to all humanity.  Let’s declare with the angels…

 

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

 

 

Through a Promise

Below are the notes from the sermon from Sunday, November 4th. Listen to that sermon here. Feel free to leave any questions in the comments section below and Pastor Niall will reply as soon as possible!

GOSPEL DNA 6: through a promise

Galatians 3:15-29

The Promise is greater than the Law!  Why?

 

1. The                            : The promise was made before the law was given. (15-18)

 

2. The seed: The promise creates one singular family in Christ. (16, 19-20, 26-29)

 

3. The inheritance: The promise results in blessings. (18, 22)

The righteous will live by faith

Below are the notes from the sermon from Sunday, October 28th. Listen to that sermon here. Feel free to leave any questions in the comments section below and Pastor Niall will reply as soon as possible!

GOSPEL DNA 5: the righteous will live by faith

Galatians 3:1-14

Faith/Spirit versus Flesh/Law

 

Living by human effort and rules is useless.

 

1) We are                                             by someone. 1

NIV Matthew 23:15 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.

 

2) We                                       the cross. 1

NIV Luke 22:19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me."

 

3) We                                       harder. 3

NIV Romans 4:5 However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.

 

4) We                                       powerful acts of the Spirit. 5

NIV 1 Thessalonians 1:5 because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake.

The Christian life, from beginning to end,

is to be lived by                   in the Gospel. 3

 

But we must not forget…

NIV Galatians 5:6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

The Gospel & The Law

Below are the notes from the sermon from Sunday, October 21st. Listen to that sermon here. Feel free to leave any questions in the comments section below and Pastor Niall will reply as soon as possible!


Gospel DNA 4: the faithfulness of Jesus Christ 

What do we do with the Old Testament Law (Torah)?  For example…

 Leviticus 19:28 "'Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD.

 

For Clarification:

“Justified” can be read “declared righteous.”  “Faith in” can be read ”faithfulness of.”  For example…

 Galatians 2:15 "We who are Jews by birth and not 'Gentile sinners' 16 know that a man is not declared righteous by observing the law, but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be declared righteous by the faithfulness of Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be declared righteous. 17 "If, while we seek to be declared righteous in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! 18 If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker. 19 For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!"

1. Obeying the Law does not get people “declared righteous.” 15-16

  • James 2:10

2. The faithfulness of Christ gets people “declared righteous.” 15-16

  • Objective Genitive: Faith in Christ    Subjective Genitive: Faith of Christ/Christ’s Faithfulness
  • Colossians 3:3

3. Christians are dead to the Law because of the death of Christ.  17-19

  • Colossians 2:13

 

 Conclusion: Jesus Christ has replaced the Law as the center of our identity. 20-21

  • Romans 7:4


Some helpful ways to view the Old Testament Law:

 1. The Law has been changed (in a good way) by the coming of Christ.

  • Matthew 5:17
  • Fulfill=to fill full (Jesus has come to explain God's original intent as to how He expects us to obey the commands of the OT)
  • Matthew 5:21 "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgement."

 

 2. We read the Law to see if we know and love Christ as we ought.

  • Romans 15:4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

 

 3. We do not pass judgment on disputable matters.

  • Romans 14:1 Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgement on disputable matters 

Welcome!

Welcome to the TLEFC Blog! We hope to use this space to field questions, engage in conversation and keep you updated on the happenings at TLEFC. 

Each week we'll post a short blurb about the upcoming sermon and we invite your questions in the comments section. Feel free to leave the comment anonymously. Pastor Niall will answer your question with a reply right there in the comments section!