Archive for June, 2011
A few months back, I purchased a treadmill for my wife. The one we previously owned had worn out and it was time for a newer, more powerful, more advanced model. I was very happy with the deal I received on the treadmill. I got it for about 50 percent off the manufacturer’s suggested retail price! As I was paying for the treadmill, the customer service representative asked me, “Would you like to pay an additional $100 to have the treadmill delivered and set up?” I didn’t even have to think about it: “$100? No thank you, I’ll pass.”
A couple of days later, I returned to the store with my truck and a buddy to pick up the treadmill. It was going to be simple. We would load the treadmill in the bed of my truck, haul it home, set it up, and be done. The plan was perfect. That is, the plan was perfect until we tried to actually pick up the treadmill. It had to weigh 1,000 pounds! Thankfully, a couple of guys from the sporting goods store came out to help us. When we finally got it into the bed of my truck and drove it back to my house, we took it out of the box, piece by piece, to haul inside. After a whole lot of sweat and an aching back, I decided I should have paid the $100.
As I was trying, without success, to lug the huge and heavy box out of the sporting goods store to the bed of my truck, I noticed an icon the box’s side. It had two people picking up a hug box with these words: “TEAM LIFT for your safety.” When I saw the icon, I thought to myself, “Would anyone even think of trying to pick this box up by himself?”
In Luke 10:38-42, we meet two sisters: Martha and Mary. These sisters could not be any more different. Jesus and His twelve disciples are joining the sisters at their house for a supper, and Martha wants to make sure everything is just perfect for her guests. And so she goes about preparing a lavish feast. But with her recipe books strewn across the kitchen, pots and pans boiling over on the stove, and flour flung across the floor, Martha’s meal becomes more than she can bear. She need someone with whom she can “team lift” in preparing. But Mary, her sister, seems unable or, worse yet, unwilling to help. When Jesus and His disciples arrive, Mary simply sits at Jesus’ feet, listening intently to what He says. Finally, in exasperation, Martha complains to her Lord: “Lord, don’t You care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me” (Luke 10:40)! The Greek word for “help” is synantilambanomai. This one word is actually a compound word made up of the words: synanti, meaning “with,” or “corresponding to,” and lambanomai, meaning “to take up,” or “to lift.” Thus, when Martha asks for her sister’s help, she is asking her to do some “team lifting.”
Now surely, Jesus should empathize with Martha’s plight. After all, her hard work could break her back! But Jesus’ response to Martha is altogether surprising if not even offensive: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42). Jesus will not send Mary to “team lift” with her sister. Because finally, Martha doesn’t need a team lifter, Martha needs Jesus. Martha needs to learn from Jesus, like Mary. Martha needs to follow Jesus, like Mary. And Martha needs to rest in Jesus, like Mary.
Be it in friendships between children or marriages between adults, I often hear people complain that a partner in a relationship is not “pulling their weight.” These people explain that they are left all by themselves to do the heavy lifting of a relationship. Though it is true that friends and spouses certainly ought to help each other, before you complain that another person is not pulling their weight, perhaps you should first go to Jesus. Perhaps you should ask Him to heal and reconcile your relationship. Perhaps you should ask Him to give you the strength needed to maneuver your way through what can sometimes be complex and weighty relationships. Because before you need someone to “team lift” with you, you need Jesus. Because Jesus doesn’t just help you with some of your burden takes your burden and nails it to His cross. So find your strength – and your rest – in Him.
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One of my favorite country songs is by Rodney Atkins. It describes a father whose son seeks to emulate him, sometimes for good, but also sometimes for ill. As the song opens, Rodney sings about a non-descript curse word that his son learns…from him! Rodney confesses how ashamed he is that he, no matter how inadvertently, taught his son such language. As the song continues, however, we also hear about how his son watched Rodney pray and so prayed like his father. I love the song’s refrain, sung in the guise of Rodney’s son:
I’ve been watching you, dad ain’t that cool?
I’m your buckaroo, I want to be like you.
And eat all my food and grow as tall as you are.
We like fixin’ things and holding momma’s hand
Yeah, we’re just alike, hey, ain’t we dad?
I want to do everything you do; so I’ve been watching you.
With touching lyrics, this song expresses a simple truth about how a boy learns to be a man – he learns from his father.
Sadly, though a boy can learn good and magnanimous things from his father, he can also learn sinful and aberrant things. From his father, a son can learn how to cuss or how to pray. From his father, a son can learn how to abuse women or how to be faithful to one woman. From his father, a son can learn how to nurture his kids or how to neglect them. A father’s influence can hardly be overestimated.
With fathers carrying such a heavy responsibility to faithfully parent their children, to whom can fathers turn to learn how to be men, especially if they did not have good role models in their own fathers? The apostle Paul helps us answer this question when he writes:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansingher by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. (Ephesians 5:25-28)
Two things are especially notable about this passage. First, though this passage does not describe the relationship between a father and his son explicitly, if a father wants to raise his children well, he should always have these verses about his relationship with his wife in the forefront of his mind. As Theodore Hesburgh reminds us, “The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.” A father’s most powerful example to his children of what love is and looks like is how he loves his wife. If he claims to love his children, but does not show love for his wife, that father’s positive influence will be greatly diminished. Thus, a father must love his wife well. Second, we learn from this passage that a father learns how to love his wife – and by extension, his children – by how Christ loves him. Paul says, “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her… In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives.” Husbands are supposed to love their wives and children “in the same way” as Christ loves them. How does Christ love His men? He loves them with compassion and mercy and patience and bravery. Husbands ought to love their wives likewise. This way, when a son watches his father, he will see not only how his dad loves his mother, he will see how Christ loves him.
And so, fathers, love your wives and your children! For your kids are not only watching you, they’re learning from you. May they learn Jesus from you!
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In 1994, some Swiss researchers conducted a survey on how the worship habits of parents influence their children. The results were striking. These researchers found that if both a father and mother attend church regularly, 33% of their children will grow up to attend church regularly, while 41% will grow up to attend irregularly. Sadly, a quarter of their children will grow up not practicing their Christian faith at all. These researchers further found that if a father does not attend church while a mother regularly attends church, only 2% of their children will subsequently become regular attenders themselves, while 37% will become irregular attenders. Over 60% of these children will grow up and not attend church at all.
Now, here comes the shocking statistic. If a father is a regular churchgoer, but a mother does not attend church, 44% of these children will grow up to attend church regularly. That’s eleven percentage points higher than if a father and mother attend church regularly together! All told, between two-thirds and three-fourths of children with faithful fathers will attend church, be that regularly or irregularly.
Clearly, a father’s role as a spiritual leader is vital to the spiritual health of his family. It is important to note that this does not in any way disparage or diminish the role ladies play in their families. I know many ladies who, in spite of their husbands’ lack of commitment to things spiritual, labor extensively and faithfully to teach their children about Jesus and His Gospel. I praise God for such women and trust that the Holy Spirit will use these ladies’ efforts to instill strong and lasting faith in the hearts of their children. These statistics do, however, reinforce the call and commission of Scripture that a father is called to be a strong, spiritual leader of his family (cf. Ephesians 5:22-6:4). Sadly, far too many men are derelict in this duty. And if these statistics are any indication, the results of such dereliction are disastrous. This blog, then, is meant to be a reminder to men of their God-given role!
As I discussed in my message on Sunday, there are many sirens of sin which entice men away from their role as the spiritual leader of their families. The apostle Paul discusses some of the temptations that men – and all people, for that matter – struggle against: “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like” (Galatians 5:19-21). How many men have fallen and failed as leaders because they have given in to temptations like sexual immorality or drunkenness or selfish ambition? Far too many.
So how does Paul tell men to war against such sinful temptations so they can lead their families faithfully? Does he tell them to try harder? Or work longer? Or fight fiercer? No. Instead, fully aware that no man, no matter how macho, is strong enough to resist the allures of the sinful nature, Paul continues: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Ephesians 5:22-23). Paul calls upon God’s Spirit to produce the fruit of righteousness in and through men. For men cannot produce this fruit themselves. Instead, they will fall into sin every time. It is interesting to note that while Paul speaks of the “acts of the sinful nature” in verse 19, he speaks of the “fruit of the Spirit” in verse 22. Sinful is how we act. Righteousness is the fruit the Spirit produces in us and through us.
So to the gentlemen, I would say this: Remember the call God has given you to be the spiritual leaders of your household. But do not try to carry out God’s call on you through your own efforts and with your own strength. You will fall and fail every time. Instead, implore the Spirit to produce in you and through you His fruit of righteousness. For this fruit will be a blessing to you…and to your family. And why would you want anything less for those you love most?
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On May 19, 2011, President Obama delivered a speech in which he called for Israel and Palestine to return to their 1967 borders with “mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.” The reaction to the president’s proposal was swift and fierce. Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, declared, “The viability of a Palestinian state cannot come at the expense of Israel’s existence.”
Because of the long-standing and good relationship between the United States and Israel, many are wondering, “What is our obligation to Israel? Should we support a return to the greatly diminished Israeli borders of 1967 or should we demand the greatest amount of land possible for this democracy? What should our position and policy be?”
People are asking these questions not only out of political concern, but out of theological concern as well. Because God promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, “I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever” (Exodus 32:13), the question naturally arises: Does this land still belong, by divine right, to the Jews? And if so, should we, as the United States, support Israel over the Palestinians in an effort to respect God’s promise to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?
Because this question is multifaceted, several things need to be addressed. First, it is important to note that there is a difference between an “Israelite” and a “Jew.” In Scripture, the term “Israelite” refers to an Old Testament believer who worships Yahweh, the God of Israel and the Creator of the heavens and the earth, and who trusts in His promise to send a Messiah (cf. Isaiah 7:14, 9:6, Micah 5:2, Zechariah 11:12-13). The term “Jew,” on the other hand, refers to a person of either a certain race or of a certain faith or both. There are Jews who are of the Jewish race, but are secular, while there are also Jews who are not of the Jewish race, but who practice the Jewish faith. There are even Jews who are the Jewish race and trust in Christ as their Savior! Thus, to equate ancient Israelites who had a specific and clear faith commitment to modern-day Jews who may or may not have a particular religious commitment perhaps misses the point from a Biblical view.
The distinction between Israelites and Jews becomes all the more important when one realizes that God makes His promise to Abraham and his descendants in light of Abraham’s faith and not of his race (cf. Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:3). Faith, not race, appropriates the promises of God to the people of God. Consider the following verses:
- Abraham…is the father of all who believe. (Romans 4:11)
- Through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 3:6)
- You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-29)
Again and again, the apostle Paul makes the same point: It is by faith in Christ that one becomes a child of Abraham. Just because one is a genetic descendant of Abraham does not mean he is an heir to God’s promises. Indeed, when Abraham’s descendants prove faithless in the Old Testament, they are exiled from the land of Israel (cf. Jeremiah 3:6-10, 2 Kings 17:3-23, 25:8-21). In the New Testament too, faithlessness is judged harshly. Consider these verses:
- John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.” (Luke 3:7-8)
- Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. (Romans 9:6-8)
Abraham’s true children are those who trust in God’s promise of a Messiah, fulfilled in Christ. Thus, modern day biological Jews, if they do not trust in Christ, cannot be said to be heirs to God’s promises.
But what about the land which God promised to Abraham and his descendants? Is this the property of today’s Jewish people? It is important to keep two things in mind as we seek to answer this question. First, Israel, the modern-day democracy, is not the same as Israel, the ancient theocracy. Israel, the ancient theocracy, is portrayed by the Biblical authors as ruled by God Himself. This is why, for instance, King David is anointed by the prophet Samuel (cf. 1 Samuel 16:1-13) rather than elected by Israel’s general population. Conversely, in Israel, the modern-day democracy, officials are elected by the people and not anointed by the prophets or trumpeted as divinely appointed leaders. Thus, ancient Israel and modern-day Israel are not the same.
Second, it has already been noted that, apart from faith in Christ, the promises of God cannot be appropriated to human beings. Thus, for those who do not trust in Christ, the promises of God – including the land of Israel – are not theirs. But what about those Jews who do believe in Christ? Does this land of Israel still belong to them by divine right?
Ultimately, all land belongs not to people or to a people group, but to God: “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1). God, in turn, entrusts His world to His people to steward faithfully. Indeed, this theological truth is stated explicitly in the commission God gives to the Old Testament Israelites: “When the LORD your God brings you into the land He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you – a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant – then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Deuteronomy 6:10-12). From the outset, God warns His people not to forget that it is He who entrusts the land of Canaan to the Israelites. God expects His people to steward this land well and according to His commands. If the Israelites do not, God warns, “I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. Like the nations the LORD destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 8:19-20). Notice that if the Israelites fail to follow God, He will destroy them “like the nations the LORD destroyed before.” What sets Israel apart is its faith, not its land. Without faith, Israel is just like all other faithless nations.
Finally, we must remember that the land God promised to Abraham was only a foreshadowing of an even greater land to come. The preacher of Hebrews explains: “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:8-10). Indeed, all of God’s Old Testament faithful “were longing for a better country – a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16). Earthly Israel was only a shadow of a greater heavenly Israel. Thus, in the New Testament, Jesus does not make promises concerning the land of Israel. Instead, He makes promises of a heavenly Kingdom (cf. Matthew 5:3, 10, 6:33, Luke 22:29). This is why, in Revelation, John sees “the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (Revelation 21:2). The earthly land of Israel, then, cannot be said to belong, by divine right, to biological Jews, or even to those Jews who trust in Christ. For Christ did not come to bestow an earthly kingdom. Indeed, Christ never drove out the Romans from Israel, contrary to first century expectations (cf. John 18:36), and, when a Samaritan woman asks Jesus where people are to worship, whether that be on Mount Gerizim according to Samaritan expectations or on Mount Zion according to Jewish expectations, Jesus responds, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks” (John 4:21, 23). The earthly land of Israel was only a foreshadowing of a much greater heavenly inheritance, which is ours through faith in Christ.
So what does all this mean for the United States’ position on the nation of Israel? Theologically, we are under no specific divine mandate to support any particular borders for the nation of Israel. Politically, there may indeed be good reasons to support expanded borders for Israel such as the fact that this nation is one of our close allies and is a thriving, lively democracy in a part of the world which is largely devoid of such governments. The democratic freedom Israel enjoys and promotes is a foundational value of our American union. And as such, our citizens generally desire to see the cause of freedom spread far and wide. For these reasons, many Christians and Americans can and do support Israel.