Posts tagged ‘Paul’

“Was Blind, Which Is How I See”

St. Paul on the Road to Damascus / Flickr

I still remember when I really began to notice and be annoyed by it. It was when I was a sophomore in high school. When my algebra teacher was writing equations on the chalkboard, I couldn’t help but squint and wonder: “Did she just write a 7 or a 9? And is that a 3 or an 8?” At first, I wanted to blame it on her sloppy chalkmanship. But when it wasn’t just my algebra teacher’s writing, but my English teacher’s, my science teacher’s, and my social studies teacher’s writing too, I was forced to admit to myself that perhaps my eyesight wasn’t what it used to be. So, begrudgingly, I trudged off to the optometrist. And I got a prescription for glasses.

I had never paused to think about just how precious being able to see clearly was until I began not to be able to see! So, you can imagine how devastating it must have been for a man named Saul who, while on a trip to Damascus, had a light from heaven flash around him and a voice from heaven speak to him only to find out that, when this supernatural experience was over, he couldn’t see: “Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing” (Acts 9:8).

It turns out that the light blinded him was from none other than Jesus and the voice that spoke to him was none other than that of Jesus. Saul, up to this point in his life, had made it his mission to persecute those who claimed Jesus was the Messiah. He believed that Jesus was nothing but a man who was pulling a scam. But when Saul encounters Jesus enthroned in heaven, his mind quickly changes. He goes from believing Jesus was a fraud to believing that Jesus is God. But it all happened when Saul became unable to see. Paradoxically, this is when Saul began to see Jesus for who He was most clearly.

What was true for Saul is true for us. Sometimes, when we feel like life has gone dark and we cannot see – these become the moments when we see Jesus most clearly. When the darkness of a dreaded diagnosis overtakes us – we see Jesus as our only hope for healing most clearly. When a relationship falls apart despite our best efforts and our hearts go dark – we see Jesus as our only possibility for reconciliation and restoration most clearly. Even when we close our eyes in death and everything we have ever seen or ever known goes dark – this is when we see Jesus as our resurrection and our life most clearly.

John Newton famously wrote that, because of Jesus’ amazing grace, I “was blind, but now I see.” Sometimes, however, it’s not our blindness that must be removed so we can see, it’s our blindness that helps us see. Because when we can see nothing because everything has been taken from us, all we have left is Jesus. And it’s at these moments when we, just like Saul, can truly see – and trust in – Him most clearly.

October 10, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Joy in Trials

Credit: Quang Anh Ha Nguyen / Pexels.com

I love joy.

I love watching a child’s eyes light up when dessert is served. I love watching a dog wag its tail in anticipation of fetching a tennis ball. I love watching a couple on their wedding day look into each other’s tearful eyes and hold each other’s hands tight.

I love joy.

And yet, joy can sometimes be tough to come by – or at least to sustain.

Joy is often overcome by anger when we see injustice in our world. Or it is overtaken with loneliness when we feel isolated with no one to talk to. Or it is overwhelmed by grief when we lose a husband, a wife, a son, a daughter, or another loved one.

The prophet Habakkuk ministered to the nation of Israel during a season when joy was tough to come by. The nation of Israel had fallen into spiritual corruption and the Babylonians were on their way to attack – and eventually conquer – Habakkuk’s home. In the midst of all this, Habakkuk, as most of us would, struggled to find joy. He opens his book by questioning – and implicitly accusing – God:

How long, Lord, must I call for help, but You do not listen? Or cry out to You, “Violence!” but You do not save? Why do You make me look at injustice? Why do You tolerate wrongdoing? (Habakkuk 1:2-3)

“Nothing is going well,” Habakkuk complains. “There is no reason to have joy.”

Except that, according to Habakkuk, there is.

Habakkuk closes his book:

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

“Even when all else fails and is lost,” Habakkuk writes, “I still have the Lord. And He is enough for me to have joy.”

The apostle Paul writes, “Rejoice always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16). This injunction, at first read, feels impossible. We can understand rejoicing, but to do so always seems ridiculous. But if Paul gives us the “what we are to do,” Habakkuk gives us the “how we are to do it.” We are to be joyful in God our Savior. Joy found in things other than the Lord will always come and go because other things always come and go. Joy found in anything other than the Lord is ultimately unsustainable. But joy that is in the Lord can endure always – because He is with us always. Find your joy in Him.

August 22, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Dirt to Stars

Credit: Juan / Pexels.com

At the church where I serve, we end each service with a commission from the apostle Paul:

Shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life. (Philippians 2:15-16)

This picture from Paul is tied to the very beginning of history.

When God creates the cosmos, He fashions a couple of ruling bodies. On creation’s fourth day, He speaks into existence the ruling bodies in the sky:

God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights – the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:14-18)

The stars, moon, and sun, Genesis says, “govern” the day and night. They are heavenly ruling bodies.

Then, on the sixth day, He creates some more ruling bodies on the earth:

God said, “Let Us make mankind in Our image, in Our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:26-28)

Human beings, Genesis says, “rule” over all creatures. They are earthly ruling bodies.

As Genesis goes on to explain, these human beings who rule over the earth come from the earth:

The LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)

And yet, there is this hope that human beings, like the heavenly ruling bodies, will not just be dirty and dark, but will shine like the lights in the sky. Sin, of course, dashes this hope when God tells Adam that He will return to the dirt:

Dust you are and to dust you will return. (Genesis 3:19)

But Paul restores this hope. He says we will “shine like stars in the universe” (Philippians 2:15). But how? Paul explains:

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” (Philippians 2:14-15)

Paul says when we live without grumbling or arguing, we shine. We go from being dirt from the world to offering light and hope for the world.

This world is full of dirty stuff. Let’s not add to it by our grumbling and arguing. Let’s shine light on it by our joy and peacefulness. This is our world’s need – and the Church’s call.

May 3, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Someone Needs Your Encouragement

A little bit of encouragement can go a long way.

Take, for instance, the story of Raquel and Derek Pearson, who live in Idaho with their eight-month-old son, Lucas. Lucas has a cardiovascular condition that puts him at high risk for serious complications should he contract COVID-19. His parents, working to minimize their family’s contact with the outside world, are having everything they possibly can delivered to them. They also posted a note on their door, thanking the delivery people who risk their health delivering packages far and wide. You can imagine how touched Raquel and Derek were when they caught an Amazon delivery driver, Monica Salinas, on their video doorbell stopping to say a prayer for little Lucas as she delivered a package to them. The story has since gone viral, being featured on NBC Nightly News. Her little bit of encouragement went a long way.

There is also the story of Kassandra Diaz, a server at Che Restaurant in Delray Beach, Florida. She has been struggling to make ends meet in an industry that has been crushed by COVID-19 and is struggling to recover under the strict social distancing guidelines in place in many regions. So, you can imagine how shocked she was when she saw a $1,000 tip from a customer on a $164 check. The big tipper was Andre Drummond of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who left her this note along with his tip: “Thank you for being amazing!” For Andre, the tip was generous, but not bank-breaking. He’s worth $27 million. But for Cassandra, the tip was life-changing. She didn’t even know who Andre was when she was serving him, but after figuring it all out, she posted on Instagram: “I was shaking and had tears of happiness after what he left me.” His little bit of encouragement went a long way.

In Acts 9, we meet a man named Barnabas who brings a new convert to Christ named Saul –who was a former persecutor of the Church – to a skeptical group of apostles:

When Saul came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. (Acts 9:26-27)

Barnabas’s name means “son of encouragement” – a name he certainly lives up to. When the apostles want to reject Saul because they don’t believe his conversion to be genuine, he encourages them to give Saul a chance. Because of his encouragement, Saul, who is known better in the New Testament as Paul, becomes the greatest missionary in the history of the Church, planting congregations all over the ancient Mediterranean basin. Barnabas’s little bit of encouragement went a long way.

Who can you encourage? Is it someone for whom you can pray? Can you leave a larger-than-usual tip to make someone’s day? Can you welcome someone who has been marginalized by those around you?

In a time that feels plenty discouraging as we wade our way through peaks of a pandemic, questions of racism, and waves of civil unrest, we all need some encouragement. After all, a little bit of encouragement can go a long way.

So, let a little bit of encouragement begin with you.

June 15, 2020 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Keeping Perspective in COVID-19 Times

not-today-covid19-sign-on-wooden-stool-3952231

Credit: cottonbroPexels

At Concordia in San Antonio where I serve as one of the pastors, we are sending out a weekly “check-in.” People can voluntarily “check-in” with us by answering a few questions about how they’re doing during this pandemic. For a lot of people, just knowing that someone cares and is concerned about them is enough to give them a little boost in their spirits.

This past week, I had an old friend, who is also a pastor, call and check-in with me just to see how I was doing. We caught up on a whole host of ministry triumphs and challenges and talked about how we are navigating a situation the likes of which neither one of us has ever seen. They don’t offer a class on “pandemic response” in seminary. Or, if they did, I missed it.

To keep my spirits up during this time, I have had to fight to keep my perspective. These words from the apostle Paul have become words I’ve turned to again and again when I’ve felt like my spirits were sinking and my perspective was darkening:

We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

There is so much perspective packed into these few verses.

Many of us feel like “we are wasting away.” Whether we have contracted COVID-19, or are just struggling to keep ourselves in shape when gyms are closed, junk food is plentiful, and the sofa is inviting, a lot of our bodies are taking a hit. But even apart from a pandemic, our bodies would waste away anyway. Every body eventually breaks down and falls prey to the wages of sin, which are death. And yet, Paul says, we can be “renewed day by day.” God – one day at a time – can meet us in His Word and refresh us by His Spirit. Our bodily wasting away does not need to result in a deeper spiritual decay.

Paul continues by comparing “our light and momentary troubles” with “an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” This little word “far,” in Greek, is a three-word-phrase: hyperbolen eis hyperbolen. We get our word “hyperbole” from this word, which refers to something that is over-the-top. The glory that awaits us in eternity, Paul says, will be over-the-top and so over-the-top that we will look back and scoff at the troubles we are now facing. God’s glory will one day wipe away this pandemic’s gory sicknesses and deaths.

Because we long for this glory, Paul concludes, we should “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen,” because “what is unseen is eternal.” In other words, instead of fretting over this day’s news, we are to be people who look forward to the day when all things will be made new in Christ Jesus. What we are seeing now is temporary. What remains unseen – but what will one day be seen when Christ reveals it to us – is eternal.

I wish I was better at keeping Paul’s perspective. I, just like anyone else, can get caught up in “our light and momentary troubles.” But when I’m tempted to fall prey to pity, these words call me back. These words give me hope. And because of hope:

We do not lose heart.

April 27, 2020 at 5:15 am 3 comments

Common Question: How Were People Who Lived Before Jesus Saved?

Credit: Anthony van Dyck, 1622

Credit: Anthony van Dyck, 1622

Last weekend at the church where I served, we talked about Jesus’ audacious claim that faith in Him and Him alone is the way to salvation. “I am the way and the truth and the life,” Jesus says. “No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

The truth that salvation is through faith in Christ alone raises a perennial theological question – one that, once again, came to my attention in an email I received after last weekend’s services:  If people can be saved only by faith in Christ, how were those people who lived before Christ saved?

At the heart of this question lies an assumption – that people before who lived before Christ were somehow saved in a different way than those who lived after Him. The apostle Paul, however, would beg to differ. He points to one of the most famous characters in the Old Testament, Abraham, and specifically asks the question, “How was Abraham saved?” His answer is unmistakably clear:

Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (Galatians 3:6-9)

Paul announces, “Here is how Abraham, perhaps the most famous character in the Old Testament, was saved: by faith.” How does Paul know this? Genesis 15:6, of course: “Abram believed the LORD, and He credited it to him as righteousness.” Importantly, Paul says that God “announced the gospel in advance to Abraham.” In other words, before Jesus came to save sinners, God announced that Jesus would come to save sinners.  For example, the prophet Isaiah, some 700 years before Jesus’ advent, speaks of a servant who will be sent by God to take away the sins of the world:

Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:4-5)

So how were people saved, forgiven, and made righteous before Jesus? By believing that Jesus would come to save, forgive, and make them righteous. How are people saved, forgiven, and made righteous now? By believing that Jesus has come to save, forgive, and make them righteous. In other words, people both before Jesus had come and now that Jesus has come are saved in the same way. They are saved by Jesus.

Oftentimes, people harbor a misconception that people who lived before Christ were saved by following God’s Law while people living after Christ’s advent are now saved through faith in Him. Nothing could be further from the truth. People have always and only been saved by Jesus Christ and His work, even as Jesus Himself says: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” God’s gospel has always been the only plan for our salvation.

If your life is anything like mine, plans are constantly changing. While writing this blog, I had to move an appointment because things on my calendar changed. Last week, as I was coming home from a trip to Dallas with some friends, we got a flat tire and plans, due to circumstances beyond our control, changed – we got home later than we expected.  Plans are constantly changing. And oftentimes, it can be frustrating.

The promise of the gospel is that even if our plans change, God’s plans are sure and certain. The plan for our salvation always was, is, and will continue to be Jesus. There’s no need to look for another plan.

April 20, 2015 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Newsweek Takes On the Bible

Newsweek on the BibleIt’s frustrating, but sadly predictable. Just in time for a new year, Newsweek trots out an article full of old attacks on the Bible. Kurt Eichenwald, who became nationally known for chronicling a massive financial scandal at Prudential in 1995, has gotten into the business of faith, critiquing the Bible and its believers in a lengthy screed titled, “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin.”[1]

The article has everything a pedantic diatribe against the Bible could ever hope to have, including a picture of picketers from Westboro “Baptist Church” (and yes, the quotation marks are intentional because they are neither Baptist nor are they a Church, at least in the theological sense of the terms) along with a cartoonish characterization of the average Christian in America:

They wave their Bibles at passersby, screaming their condemnations of homosexuals. They fall on their knees, worshipping at the base of granite monuments to the Ten Commandments while demanding prayer in school. They appeal to God to save America from their political opponents, mostly Democrats. They gather in football stadiums by the thousands to pray for the country’s salvation.

Granted, I am only speaking for myself, but I have never waved my Bible at anyone while screaming condemnations of gay people. I have never worshiped at the base of a granite monument to the Ten Commandments. I do have a congregation I love with whom I worship, however. I have never appealed to God to save America from my political opponents. Indeed, if you have followed this blog for any length of time, you know I can be somewhat skeptical of the political process in general, fearing that some expect out of politics what only Christ can give. I have also never gathered in a football stadium to pray for my country’s salvation, though I have cheered from my stadium seat as I watched my Texas Longhorns put a hurtin’ on some Aggies. Again, I know I am speaking only from my own experience, but I have a feeling I’m not alone. It’s easy to make Christians sound really bad when you misrepresent what the majority of Christians do and believe.

Such a gross mischaracterization of Christians aside, the preponderance of Eichenwald’s jeremiad is reserved for the Bible itself. Eichenwald opines:

No television preacher has ever read the Bible. Neither has any evangelical politician. Neither has the pope. Neither have I. And neither have you. At best, we’ve all read a bad translation – a translation of translations of translations of hand – copied copies of copies of copies of copies, and on and on, hundreds of times.

About 400 years passed between the writing of the first Christian manuscripts and their compilation into the New Testament. (That’s the same amount of time between the arrival of the Pilgrims on the Mayflower and today.) The first books of the Old Testament were written 1,000 years before that. In other words, some 1,500 years passed between the day the first biblical author put stick to clay and when the books that would become the New Testament were chosen.

I honestly have no idea where Eichenwald is getting his history. Modern translations of the Bible are not based “a translation of translations of translations.” Rather, they are based on the best available hand-written copies of Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament initial biblical manuscripts. And Eichenwald’s 400 year time frame from the writing of the New Testament text to its compilation is laughable. The Codex Sinaiticus, for instance, is a copy of both the Old and New Testaments dating to around AD 340. Assuming the last New Testament book was written around AD 90, that gives us a 250 year – not a 400 year – period between writing and compilation. But the period is actually much shorter than this. The Muratorian Fragment is a list of New Testament books from around AD 170. So now the time period between writing and compilation is reduced to 80 years. But even this misrepresents the situation. Paul’s letters circulated as a collection among Christian churches from the second century onward and the church father Justin Martyr developed, also in the second century, an influential harmony of the four Gospels known as the Diatessaron, demonstrating that the early church read the Gospels and Paul’s letters as a collection from the very beginning. In other words, the Church has always held the books we have in the New Testament to be worthy of our consideration and study. It did not take 400 years to compile the Bible.

But Eichenwald isn’t done yet. He continues:

In the past 100 years or so, tens of thousands of manuscripts of the New Testament have been discovered, dating back centuries. And what biblical scholars now know is that later versions of the books differ significantly from earlier ones.

So Eichenwald would have us believe that we have radically different variations of the books now in our Bible hidden somewhere in a colossal cache of ancient manuscripts. What do these radically different variations entail? “Most of those discrepancies are little more than the handwritten equivalent of a typo.” I’m confused. Which is it? Do we have significantly different versions of biblical books or minor discrepancies that amount to nothing more than handwritten “typos”? Not only is Eichenwald wrong on his historical facts, he isn’t even internally consistent.

Eichenwald also has fun with how scholars have translated the Bible. He cites Philippians 2:6, which says, in the King James Version, that Christ was “in the form of God,” and notes:

The Greek word for form could simply mean Jesus was in the image of God. But the publishers of some Bibles decided to insert their beliefs into translations that had nothing to do with the Greek. The Living Bible, for example, says Jesus “was God” – even though modern translators pretty much just invented the words.

I find it hard to believe that a journalist for Newsweek knows more about Greek and how words should be translated than degreed biblical scholars who actually study this stuff for a living. And just for the record, the Greek word for what Eichenwald says should be translated as “image” is morphe, which comes into Latin as forma and into English as, what do you know, “form.” Contrary to Eichenwald, reputable Bible translators generally do not just decide “to insert their beliefs into translations.”

There’s plenty more in Eichenwald’s article that could be critiqued. If you want to read some trenchant responses, you can find them herehere, and here. Honestly, I find it hard to believe that a major publication like Newsweek would publish something that looks more like a two-bit sensationalistic hit piece on the Bible than an honest piece of investigative journalism. This whole article seems to me to be little more than clickbait.

That being said, let me conclude with a passage from this article with which I actually agree. Granted, it’s not a long passage. There’s plenty around it that’s not true. In fact, I can’t even cite Eichenwald’s whole sentence. But this much is true: “If [Christians] … believe all people are sinners, then salvation is found in belief in Christ and the Resurrection. For everyone. There are no exceptions in the Bible for sins that evangelicals really don’t like.” For all that is not true in this article, this much is: Christ came to save sinners – all sinners – through faith in Him. This means that no matter what your sin, Jesus came to save you.

And even in an article that’s really bad, that’s still good news.

_______________________

[1] Kurt Eichenwald, “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin,” Newsweek (12.23.2014).

January 5, 2015 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Where’s Your Advantage?

Bible 1A few months ago, I reworked my retirement portfolio. Though I pray it will be a long time before I have to draw anything from it, there were some changes I wanted to make now because I know they will be to my advantage later. And I always like gaining an advantage.

As time goes by, I have been traveling on business more and more. One of the things I have been doing recently is joining a bunch of rewards programs because they offer so many advantages. I get airline miles for one trip from another trip. I get points for free nights whenever I stay enough nights at a hotel chain. I get occasional discounts and supreme customer service because I rent a lot of cars. These reward programs come with a lot of advantages. And I always like gaining an advantage.

The other night at the elders meeting at my church, I shared some words from the apostle Paul: “What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God” (Romans 3:1-2).

If you were to ask a Jew in the first century what advantage he had, he would probably quickly respond by saying he was a son of Abraham (cf. John 8:33). He might also brag a bit about his devotion and virtue (cf. Romans 2:17-20). But when Paul speaks of a Jew’s advantage, he has something different in mind. “First of all,” Paul writes, “they have been entrusted with the very words of God.” What gives a Jew an advantage is not his pedigree as a son of Abraham or his piety as a squeaky-clean rule-follower, but God’s self-disclosure in His Word. What gives a Jew a spiritual advantage is, very simply, the Bible.

Of course, this advantage is not just for the Jew. It is for anyone and everyone who calls on the Lord. The Bible can give us an advantage in marriage as we look to God’s Word to enrich our relationships with our spouses. The Bible can give us an advantage in work as we understand our labor as God’s calling. Most importantly, the Bible can give us an advantage with God as it reveals to us God’s Son who died for our salvation. The Bible is our supreme advantage because it shows us Christ’s advantageous work on our behalf.

It is no secret that most people love to have an advantage, whether that advantage be on the field, or in the office, or in an investment portfolio. Some people will even go so far as to take advantage of someone else in order to gain an advantage for themselves. Paul’s question of us, however, is: Where’s your advantage? Paul says that our first advantage should always and only be God’s Word. Indeed, when Paul writes, “First of all, [you] have been entrusted with the very words of God,” we assume that, because Paul writes about the Bible as our first advantage, there will also be a second, and perhaps even a third, advantage. But Paul never names another advantage. After all, with an advantage like God’s Word, what other advantage could we possibly need – or want?

So please, take advantage of the advantage of God’s Word. After all, airline miles expire. Hotel points have blackout dates. Rental car companies tack on hidden fees. But God’s Word endures forever. And there’s just no better advantage than that.

October 27, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Let Freedom Ring…Temperately

Beyonce and Jay Z 1It was Jean-Jacques Rousseau who wrote, “Man was born free, and everywhere he is in chains.”[1]  Of course, Rousseau’s conception of freedom was one where man was free from all restraints, most especially moral and social restraints. Rousseau argued that man’s ideal state is one where he is not reliant on morals or on others.  Reliance on morals and others rather than self-reliance, Rousseau opined, threatens man’s very survival and existence.

Rousseau wrote his words concerning man’s freedom in 1762.  We’ve been trying to decide whether or not he was right ever since.

Case in point:  Beyoncé’s performance at the Grammy’s.  Anand Giridharadas of the New York Times, in an article on her Grammy appearance, characterized Beyoncé like this:  “God-fearing girl from Texas, scantily clad and sexualized vixen, mononymous superstar and feminist icon, the wife who took Jay-Z’s last name, Carter.”[2]  What an interesting combination of characteristics.  She’s a sexualized vixen and a God-fearing girl.  And both were on display in her Grammy performance.  On the one hand, Beyoncé sang a truly blush-worthy and downright raunchy song in an outfit that defied common decency.  On the other hand, she performed with her husband, Jay-Z, as together they extolled the pleasures of sex within marriage.  Extolling the pleasures of sex within marriage is solidly Christian.  Grinding in front of 28.5 million viewers is crass voyeurism.  Marital intimacy is solidly moral and, I would point out, biblically commanded (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:5).  Dropping your bedroom onto a national stage is a Rousseauian dream.

The apostle Paul writes, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). Rousseau’s freedom was a freedom to sin.  Paul’s freedom was a freedom from sin:  “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13).  Rousseau abhorred the notion that man would rely on others.  Paul called Christians to be people on which others could happily rely.

Thomas Jefferson once noted, “It would be a miracle were [people] to stop precisely at temperate liberty.”[3]  Jefferson feared that, left to their own devices, people would all too easily and quickly lapse into “unbounded licentiousness,” running headlong for the unbridled freedom of Rousseau rather than toward the virtuous liberty of Paul.  And this is, sadly, what has happened.

But not completely.

There are still some who understand that true freedom is not so much about the moral bounds you can break, but about the responsibility you can take.  There are still some who understand that freedom is not so much about the selfish hedonism in which you can engage, but about the loving service you can offer.  That’s true freedom.  That’s real freedom.  And, by God’s grace, we can still carry forth in that freedom.  We must carry forth in that freedom.

Anything else is just “a yoke of slavery.”


[1] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract, Christopher Betts, trans. (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 1994), 45

[2] Anand Giridharadas, “Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s Sultry Dance Makes a Case for Marriage,” New York Times (2.3.2014).

[3] Esther Franklin, Thomas Jefferson: Inquiry History for Daring Delvers (Esther Franklin, 2012).

February 10, 2014 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Sharing the Gospel…Even When It’s Hard

ShareTheGospelHow far would you go to share the gospel?  Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9 constitute a rallying cry to “pull out all the stops,” as it were, to get the gospel to those who need to hear it:

Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.  To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.  To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.  To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.  I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)

Paul’s call to “become all things to all men…for the sake of the gospel” has been a topic of many a conversation about what is involved in showing and sharing God’s love to a world that is hostile to the exclusive claims of Christ.  Though many things could be said about proclaiming the gospel in a world like this, there is one thing in particular that I would focus on in this post:  Proclaiming the gospel to a world adverse to its message often involves pain.

Proclaiming the gospel involves much more than just being familiar enough with the culture around you to speak the gospel in a way that is intelligible to that culture, it involves enduring persecution from that culture when it takes umbrage with the gospel’s message.  This was certainly the case with Paul.  Paul writes, “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews” (verse 20).  To become like a Jew was no easy task for Paul, especially since his Jewish comrades considered his message of a crucified Messiah blasphemous.  And the punishment for speaking blasphemy was nothing less than a beating.  This is why Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 11:24:  “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.”  Interestingly, a compendium of Jewish rabbinical teaching called the Mishnah considers lashes to be only a secondary punishment for blasphemy.  The primary punishment was that of being cut off from the Jewish people.  The rabbis wrote, “All those who are liable to extirpation who have been flogged are exempt form their liability to extirpation” (Mishnah Makkot 3:15).  The primary punishment for blasphemy, then, was that of being excommunicated from the Jewish community, but if a person could not stand the thought of excommunication, he could instead choose to be lashed.  Paul chose the lashes over the shunning.  But why?  It certainly wasn’t because he took any particular pride in being a Jew by birth.  Paul says of his Jewish pedigree:  “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 1:8).  Paul chose the lashes because he could not stand the thought of being excommunicated by his Jewish comrades.  After all, such excommunication would spell the end of his efforts “to win the Jews” (verse 20). Paul was so desperate to share the gospel with his Jewish community, he was willing to be beaten within inches of his death to do so.

The apostle Peter writes, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:21).  Sometimes, becoming “all things to all men…for the sake of the gospel” means suffering for the sake of the gospel.   By the Spirit’s enabling, may we be prepared to face adversity and pain to share and spread God’s message and power of salvation!

February 25, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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