Does church make a Christian?

Or in other words, can someone really be a “Christian” but never go to church? In short, “Yes” and “No” but before you roll your eyes because of a flip-flopped answer, let me explain.

Someone does not have to go to church to be a Christian. The Bible does not directly say, “Thou shalt go to church or thou art not Christian.” Yet to not go to church does not make Bible-sense. Its like a train saying, “I don’t need tracks,” or a fish saying “I don’t need the water.” The longer a “Christian” separates himself from the community the less like Jesus he becomes. Just like a train without tracks becomes derailed and fish without water becomes deadly.

My step-father is a carpenter. One day while on the job his table saw slipped and it sliced through his finger. That finger was dead, but at the hospital the doctor did surgery and reattached it to his hand. It healed and grew strong again. That is the miracle and power of being connected to the body.

You can’t take your finger off and on without consequences. Some might prefer to have a prosthesis that can be removed whenever, yet if you ask a person who has a prosthesis, like my friend Darrell, they will agree the real thing is so much better. To have real blood pumping through your veins connected wholly to the body is in our design (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12-26).

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:23-25)

A Christian who doesn’t care to gather and connect with other Christians in the church is no different from a football fanatic who thinks his best view of the game is from the comfort of his couch. He will cheer for his favorite team or player though he is missing out on the amazing reality of rubbing shoulders with others other fans, even players on the team. As Kyle Idleman echoes in his radical book Not a Fan,

“The biggest threat to the church today is fans who call themselves Christians but aren’t actually interested in following Christ. They want to be close enough to Jesus to get all the benefits, but not so close that it requires anything from them.”

There is more to “encouraging one another” than saying kind words and cheering each other on. Encouraging means I will get off the bleacher and onto the field. I participate in the action. I will listen to the calls from the coach and the Playbook. I will hold a block or run a screen. I will cart an injured team mate to the locker room and help him rehabilitate. I will commit to being a team player and show up week in and week out, even bulk up between games.

I think I have overused that illustration, but I did so to make a point. That’s what followers of Christ do. Christians, church going Christians, are not passive or solitary. That makes the church wonderful and wonder-filled, especially when you got more fingers than toes and other complications that naturally come with a body. Being part of a community is more than just being a card carrier with benefits.

Yes, you can be a Christian and not go to church. However, a self-proclaimed Christian who does not belong to the church is not practicing biblical Christianity at all.

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do you not know?

chains

  • Did you know that the leading manufacture of tires in the world is LEGO?
  • Did you know that a 26-year old woman aged 50 years in just days due to a strange illness cause by an allergy to seafood?
  • Did you know that Pumbaa from the Lion King was the first character to pass gas in a Disney film?
  • Did you know that only 2% of the world population has green eyes?
  • Did you know a guy from the UK actually changed his name to “Captain Fantastic Faster than Superman Spiderman Batman Wolverine The Hulk and the Flash Combined”? (Jack,’s younger brother?)
  • Did you know that falling coconuts kill more than shark bites each year?

I suppose you won’t look at Pumbaa the same the next time you watch The Lion King. Or maybe you won’t be able to look at me the same for feeding you such a ridiculous factoids. Sorry, I am a nerd for useless facts.

In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul lists no less that six “Did you not know” questions. Now he isn’t sharing useless Jeopardy Trivia, rather he is calling to mind truths the church was already taught but had not caught. So in asking the questions Paul is revealing their heart and making certain the truth’s are being applied to their current situation. What the questions reveal are two problems within the church. First, some members in the church are disputing over trivial matters outside the church that should be reconciled inside the church,

  • 1 Corinthians 6:2 – Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases?
  • 1 Corinthians 6:3 – Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life?
  • 1 Corinthians 6:9 – Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?

Second, the church is tolerating types of sexual sin inside the church, which commonly characterizes unbelievers outside the church,

  • 1 Corinthians 6:15 – Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!
  • 1 Corinthians 6:16 – Do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.”

Paul’s questions follow the pattern of Jesus’ (cf. Mark 4:13-14; John 6:43-44). Jesus used the same question not to upstage people with His knowledge, but is rather calling their knowledge into action. Knowledge should always lead to action. The question is meant to sit with you. Let it soak in. Stew in it. As you do so you cannot help but do something about it.

My pastor used to share an illustration on how many Christians are like the Dead Sea: stagnant and dead. Why is the Dead Sea so dead? It has an inlet, but no outlet. Water and salt come into the sea by river, but nothing comes out. Similarly, many Christians think they are wise because they know a lot of facts about God and know a lot about His Word. They are all in-take, but there is little to no out-take. They know that facts, but the facts do not effect their actions. Instead, they become more stagnant and dead, like the Dead Sea.

The test of knowledge is the character and behavior (or action) it produces. Genuine knowledge of God’s truth produces a true love for God’s people, a concern for God’s reputation, and a display of God’s glory. This is the background of 1 Corinthians 6. It’s also what leads us to Paul final “Did you not know” question, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? (1 Corinthians 6:19)

What does it mean that your body is called the temple of the Holy Spirit? To understand the question you must also understand the Jewish temple? First, the temple was a sacred shrine—a place dedicated by God and erected for God. Second, it was a holy temple—it’s a place clean and pure. In a casual reading of Exodus and Leviticus, we see God’s temple is immaculate, it resembles His own character. Third, the temple is not just any ordinary temple—it’s a place where God lives. In Moses day as in Jesus’ day, there were many kinds of temples, but Israel’s temple was unique because God designed it and God dwelt in it.

What evidence is there that you and I are God’s temple? Your belief about your body leads to your behavior within your body. Paul’s question is followed by two points which help you and I answer this question. They are two truths you must know. The first is theological and the second practical. If heeded they will change the way that you live in your body and within the Body of Christ.

Theological Truth You Must Know: You are not your own, for you were bought with a price (6:19b-20a)

In short, this verse is a simple definition of redemption. It is also the one of the greatest truths you need to know, think about, and allow to change the way you live. How would you define redemption? At it’s core, redemption is about being bought out of slavery.

What comes to mind when you think of slavery? Do you think about the 18th century slave trade? Or modern day trafficking? It is this image that lies at the backdrop of redemption. We are redeemed from slavery. And if redemption is the solution, then slavery is the problem.

When studying slavery in the Bible we see there are two forms. The first form of physical slavery. From cover to cover slavery is woven into the Bible’s tapestry because slavery is woven into the culture of time. In Genesis, we read about characters like Hagar a slave of Abraham and Joseph who was sold as a slave to Egypt by his brothers. In Exodus, we see slavery on a grand scale. An entire people is in slavery and they are miraculous redeemed. In the Law, Prophets and Epistles we learn that biblical times were a time of masters and slaves, even Jesus and His disciples address the topic of slavery. While not condoning slavery, the Bible makes provisions for slaves.

Whatever oppressive or unjust thoughts slavery congers up in your imagination, physical slavery is not the worst form of slavery. The Bibles second form of slavery is by far the worst. It is spiritual slavery. Jesus says some shocking words in John 8:31 “everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” (cf. Romans 3:23) To say we are slaves to sin a shocking thing to say. It’s so shocking because modern and religious people do not think of themselves like this. However, to sin is to deny God’s love, to defy God’s word, to deceive yourself, and to willfully drink the poison.

In the movie, Truman Show, Jim Carrey plays a character who from a baby was raised in a city-sized television studio. He grew up without ever realizing the false reality he was living. He was trapped in his own world. When he realizes something is wrong he begins looking for an escape and finds his way out.

In contrast, a slave whether physical or spiritual is trapped. There is no way to escape. One might try to run away, but he’s still a slave. What can you and I do about what’s wrong? What can you do about your slavery to sin? Nothing. If I am slave I am powerless and helpless. Sin is a terrible taskmaster. It pays horribly. It doesn’t pay anything, but more slavery and death. What I need is someone to come and free me. A price needs to be paid. A ransom needs to be paid.

In the Old Testament there was two types of ransom given in the Law. First, there was a cash ransom, where a person was able to spend money to buy someone else out of debt. If you got into too much debt you had to sell yourself into slavery to someone with enough cash to buy you out. Second, there was a sacrificial ransom. In the sacrificial system, an animal was killed to pay for one’s sin debt. It was innocent blood spilt for a guilty human. Now according to the system, animals were to be sacrificed annually illustrating the fact that animal blood was not a sufficient substitute to cover the sins of a human or a nation. Instead, it pointed to a greater need, a bigger debt, a greater more sufficient sacrifice. A human life for human life. The ransom cost Jesus His blood. “We have redemption through His blood.” (Ephesians 1:7) Jesus’ death came at a cost. Your sin cost the God Man His life, the spotless sinless Lamb of God His blood, and the Father His precious Son.

He purchased freed that could not be bought with money or animal sacrifice (Hebrews 9:12-14). Your sin debt was bought with another man’s blood. Therefore, since you were bought with a price, you are not our own. You have a new task master. But God is a different taskmaster. His burden is easy, and yoke is light. He treats us as sons and daughters and instead of death He gives of life, instead of nothing, He gives us everything (Galatians 3:29-4:7). That is a truth we must know to honor our body as God’s temple.

Practical Truth You Must Know: “So glorify God in your body” (6:20b)

You are built to display God’s glory. It is easy to think we are something significant because God dwells within us. Wrong. We are not significant. What is significant is that the God of the universe would chose—if not promise—to dwell within us. What? Wow!

Yet what does it mean to glorify God? Sometimes the phrase to “Glorify God” slip off our lips so nebulously that its meaning is muffled. So the best way to define it is the way the Bible describes it.

First, creation glorifies God. Mountains speak, trees clap, waters cover the earth, and the heavens all declare the glory of God. Though tainted by the Fall, creation groans for the day it will be renewed.

Second, Israel declares God’s glory (1 Samuel 15:29; 1 Chronicles 29:11; Isaiah 60:19; 46:13). His people are His joy. They are His light to the nations (1 Chronicles 16:24), which is at the heart of evangelism and missions, then and now.

Third, Jesus displays God’s glory. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14; cf. Hebrews 1:3). In His birth (Luke 2:9, 14, 32), during His ministry (Luke 9:31-32), in his humanity (John 17:5, 22, 24), and in His deity (Philippians 2:9-11) He displayed God’s glory. Jesus has God’s DNA. If you want to know what God’s glory looks like with skin on just look at Jesus.

Fourth, your body is for God’s glory. We’re in great company, eh? With creation, Israel and Jesus, we display the glory of God. “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus ‘sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:4-6)

How do I glorify God in my body? How do I make this practical? According to 1 Corinthians 6, it begins by donating your body to God for sexual purity. If you continue studying the Scriptures on what it means to glorify God it comes down to worshiping God, listening to God, obeying God, serving God, telling people about God’s Son, using your gifts for God and His Body, and giving God credit for it all. Glorifying orbits completely around God and God alone.

If you obsess over praising your own significance, knowledge, or morality, you are unable to exalt God’s significance. The two are mutually exclusive endeavors. You cannot have it both ways. In Philippians 1:21 Paul says, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” If your thinking is “For me to live is personal gain or personal pleasure and to die is Christ” you forfeit the essential element of what it means to glorify God in your body. Until you are liberated from your obsession with self you will not be free to glorify God.

Michelangelo is said to have painted with a brush in one hand and a shielded candle in the other to prevent his shadow from covering the art he was creating. Likewise, as God works through us to display His glory and gain, we must be careful that our shadows are not cast across the canvas of His work. Christ is the masterpiece. He is the only significant person and foci of the universe. He is worth of our lives and death. He is worth our passions. He is worth all of us including our bodies.

Do you not know you are the temple of the Holy Spirit?

Are you living free and pure in the light of your redemption in Christ?

Are you proclaiming freedom in Christ to the glory of God?

how long…?

How-long-does-tramadol-last2

Some people back home ask, “How long do you plan on being in Africa?” I know many of those faces we will not see for years. I don’t know how to answer that question, but my usual response is to answer, “As long as it takes.” We desire to see a mighty movement of God. That could take a while.

On Sunday, Sarah and I were listening to a sermon on the book of Habakkuk during our family worship time. In Habakkuk 1:2, he asks “How long?” for a different reason. He sees all the violence and injustice around him and asks God, “Why aren’t you doing anything about it?” (my paraphrase, 1:2-4). It is easy to regard our circumstances and think that God is passive, however, God is more proactive than you can imagine. For in the next verse, God answers Habakkuk’s question, “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.” (1:5)

Like Habakkuk, I may doubt God promises. I may question His character. I may not see immediate results from my work. I may throw in the towel too early. Yet God says, “Wait a minute. Check this out. Look and see. Be amazed. Be still and know that I am God over history and your circumstances.” He’s been working among the Z people long before we arrived. He will be at work among them long after we’re gone (whenever that may be). Right now, He is at work within me reminded me of His faithfulness, His truth, His presence, and His sovereignty. If God were to share with me all that He is doing at this moment, I would not understand or comprehend.

How to interpret the Book of Revelation?

The Book of Revelation can be a sticky book to interpret. George Weeber states, “No book in the New Testament—for that matter, in the whole Bible—has so many confusing and radically different interpretations as Revelation.”[1] The prophecies, visions, and unique illusions can lead to many different interpretations.

Scholars and theologians have differed on how to approach Revelation. There are four main views taken to the interpretation of Revelation: preterist approach, historicist approach, idealist approach, and the futurist approach.[2]

The preterist approach

The preterist approach interprets Revelation not as future prophecy, but as a historical collection of events from the 1st Century Roman Empire. Since, Revelation is treated as history,  John is describing people, countries and events of his day. For example, the first beast in Revelation 13 is often interpreted as the Emperor Nero and the second beast as the Emperor Domitian.[3] This view openly ignores Revelation’s own claim to be a prophecy (cf. 1:3; 22:7, 10, 18-19), nor can it account for the Return of Christ (cf. 19:1ff).[4] This preterist approach is common today and is also known as the contemporary approach.[5]

The historicist approach

The view historicist approach interprets Revelation as catalog of church history (or human history) from the days of the Apostles to the present time. This view finds its roots in the Middle Ages and with the Reformers who often characterized the beast in Revelation to the Papacy.[6] The historicist approach  often uses the book of Revelation to describe various historical seasons of persecution or trials in the early church and human history. This approach is subjective and has an allegorical bent on Revelation in order to place the events of prophecy fit into the events of church history. It is a view that no longer holds much ground in the biblical community.

The idealist approach

The idealist approach interprets Revelation not as history or prophecy, but as a symbolic battle between God and Satan and the forces of good and evil.[7] This idealist approaches Revelation as disconnected from reality, prophecy and/or historical events. It views Revelation simply as a book written to encourage suffering saints in the knowledge that God will someday conquer all evil and make things right. Revelation is reduced to a book of myths that teach spiritual truth and “great principles”.[8]

The futurist approach

The futurist approach interprets Revelation chapters 4-22 as a prophetic account of actual future events that are yet to happen (i.e. last days).[9] This interpretation has been the dominant and preferred view among biblical scholars and average readers.[10] This view is a natural result of a straightforward reading of Revelation. In other words, a literary historical grammatical contextual interpretation of Revelation breeds a futurist approach to interpretation.

Each approach may have a bit of truth in them or may raise more questions and doubts related to interpretation, but overall the first three approaches leave a lot of the interpretation of Revelation up to human subjectivity and often lead to allegorization or spiritualization. The safest approach that will really get to the root meaning of John’s prophecy is the futurist approach. The futurist approach is the approach that comes close to treating the interpretation of the Book of Revelation like other books of Scripture. The book of Revelation is an integral part of the Word of God, and we will not be able to explain it’s meaning unless we have the other books of the Bible.[11] Above all, the book of Revelation is to be shared (22:10), for there is a sense of urgency to John’s writing because “the end is near” and Christ is soon returning (22:7, 12, 20).


[1] George G. Weeber. The Consummation of History: A Study of the Book of Revelation. Grace Theological Seminary, Winona Lake, IN. 21.

[2] Merrill Tenney. Interpreting Revelation. Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids MI. 1957. 135-146.

[3] Weeber, 21.

[4] C. Marvin Pate. Four Views on the Book of Revelation. Zondervan Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI. 1998. 17.

[5] D.A. Carson. An Introduction to the New Testament. Zondervan Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI. 2005. 719.

[6] Carson, 720.

[7] Pate, 18.

[8] Willaim Milligan. The Revelation of St. John, 2nd Edition. Macmillian, London, UK. 1887. 153.

[9] John MacArthur. Because the Time is Near. Moody Publishers, Chicago. 2007. 14.

[10] Pate, 18.

[11] Weeber, 26.

How to study the Book of Revelation?

I’ve just begun a study of the Book of Revelation. I am excited to study this most interesting book. Before studying a new book of the Bible I like to remind myself of some helpful tidbits when studying the Bible.

Pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

Prayer is most important. When studying the Bible–including Revelation–you should humbly depend on God to give you wisdom and understanding. It is wise to pray before, during, and after your study, asking God to direct you. It’s a responsibility the Holy Spirit enjoys and takes seriously, “He will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on His own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come” (John 16:13). How wonderful it is to have the interpreter dwelling within you as you read.

Understand the big idea of the book of Revelation.

Determining the meaning of Scripture is a very most important task. God says you must read and study the Bible with care (2 Timothy 2:15). When it comes studying the Book of Revelation it is critical to study verses in their context. Let the text speak for itself. Often, weird interpretations of Revelation are birthed by someone taking one verse out of its context. This is dangerous and a sign of very bad interpretation skills.

When determining the meaning of an entire book of the Bible it is good to have read through the entire book. It is too simple to say that the book of Revelation is about the future, that’s not the main purpose of the book. The main purpose of the book of Revelation is to reveal Jesus Christ. The book begins by stating “The Revelation of Jesus Christ.” To properly study the book of Revelation you must see Jesus as the main character.

Understand the flow of the book of Revelation.

Revelation is divided up into three main veins. Revelation 1:19 describes the divisions as:

(1) Past: “the things which you have seen.”
(2) Present: “the things which are.”
(3) Future: “the things which shall be hereafter.”

Understanding these veins will help you follow the flow of the book of Revelation.

Understand the difference between figurative and literal language.

The Book of Revelation is graphic, but it is not a graphic novel. You do not have to be a literary scholar to know the difference between figurative and literal language. The apostle John describes future things that did not exist when he was writing the book of Revelation. As a result, he described what he saw in terms that were used in his day. When John uses terms such as “like” or “as” he is using symbolic language to to describe what he witnessed. This is common with any prophetic literature. Be careful not to over interpret figurative language, but embrace it’s ambiguity and mystery.

Take scrupulous notes.

You are bound to stubble upon passages in Revelation that will make you scratch your head in wonder or awe. Anything you read that is confusing or meaningful jot it down in a journal. I love to use type notes on my computer and organize them by Scripture reference or theme. It is fascinating to look over previous notes I took and compare them to newer passages I study.

Expect to be blessed.

Revelation 1:3 says, “Blessed are they that read, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep the things that are written therein.” As you study the book of Revelation, and marvel at Jesus Christ and obey what you learn from it, you can expect to be blessed. Revelation is one of the most fascinating books of the Bible. It will certainly stir you to worship Jesus Christ in a powerful and moving way.

Will Jesus’ grandpa please stand up?

Dealing with the problem in the genealogies of Matthew 1:16 and Luke 3:23

It is clear from the Bible, Jesus was supernaturally conceived by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:34ff) and His earthly, legal father was Joseph. However, sometimes you come across a sticky question from within the Bible where an apparent contradiction appears that there doesn’t seem to have an immediate answer in the text or context. One such sticky question is, who really was Jesus’ grandpa? Heli or Jacob?

Both Matthew 1 and Luke 3 contain genealogies of Jesus. But there is one problem—they are different. Luke’s genealogy starts at Adam and goes to David. Matthew’s genealogy starts at Abraham and goes to David. When the genealogies arrive at David, they split with David’s sons: Nathan (Mary’s side of the family tree) and Solomon (Joseph’s side of the family tree). And the point of contention for some is when Luke says that Joseph is the son of Heli (3:23), while Matthew says that he was the son of Jacob (1:16).

How do you reconcile the two genealogies? Who is right? Is the Bible wrong? How do we handle contradictions in the Bible? What do you say to skeptics who point out contradictions like this and say, “See, here is another reason why we cannot trust the Bible. Christianity is a farce.” We will seek to tackle these questions as we look at the two texts from the gospels of Luke and Matthew.

Why Are Matthew and Luke so Different?

When you compare Matthew’s genealogy with Luke’s between David and Jesus, are they almost completely different. First, for example, all the names but two are different (Shealtiel and Zerubbabel). How are these differences to be explained? The differences between these lists stem from the purposes for which the gospels were compiled and the meanings they were intended to convey to their audience.

Second, Matthew places his genealogy at the very beginning of his Gospel (1:1–17), Luke placed his genealogy between the accounts of Jesus’ baptism and temptation. There is OT precedent for this in Moses’ genealogy (Exodus 6:14–25), which is not recorded at the beginning of His life but just before He started His ministry.

Luke doesn’t stop with Adam but goes on to say that Adam was son of God. Luke does not want his readers to think of Jesus as the Son of God in the same sense that Abraham and David and all the other descendants of Adam were. Luke 1:35 shows that His sonship depends on His unique creation in Mary’s womb by the Holy Spirit. This then calls to mind Paul’s teaching that Christ is a second Adam, the beginner of a new humanity. Paul says,

“The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.” (1 Corinthians 15:47–49)

Luke was not ignorant of this idea since he was a companion with Paul. Therefore, like Adam, Jesus was man and uniquely created by God. He is a new and second Adam whose ministry will be to create and assemble a new race of humans who are not marked by Jewishness or Gentileness, but by the character of the Holy Spirit.

Third, Luke’s list is a lot longer than Matthew’s. Luke’s genealogy goes back to Adam while Matthew’s stops at Abraham. Why is Luke’s genealogy longer? It might seem that there is some genealogy rivalry going on that Luke has to out do Matthew. It’s plausible, but just silly.

To understand why Matthew only goes to Abraham and Luke goes beyond to Adam, you have to know each gospel writers audience. Matthew is writing for Jews who are interested in Jesus’ connection with father Abraham, but Luke is writing for Gentiles and is more interested in Jesus’ solidarity with all humanity through His descent from Adam. And this runs parallel to Jesus message of coming to bring the gospel to all men. Jesus is not just a son of Abraham—more importantly He is a son of Adam—He is a man. His humanity, not his Jewish ethnicity, is the crucial thing. And that seems to be Luke’s point in connecting Jesus to Adam.

Fourth, the most contested difference between Matthew and Luke is that Luke says that Jesus’ earthly father Joseph is the son of Heli (3:23), while Matthew says that he was the son of Jacob (1:16). There are suggested solutions for this assumed contradiction:

First suggestion: The gospel of Matthew,

“gives the legal descendants of David—the men who would have been legally the heir to the Davidic throne if that throne had continued—while Luke gives the descendants of David in that particular time to which finally Joseph, the husband of Mary, belonged”.[1]

So, for example, Luke says in 3:31 that the son of David was Nathan (2 Samuel 5:14), while Matthew in 1:6 says the son of David was Solomon, who was heir to the throne. The two lines could easily merge whenever one of Nathan’s descendants became the rightful heir to the throne. According to J. Gresham Machen,

“The Lucan genealogy, in other words, starts with the question, ‘Who was Joseph’s “father”?’ the answer to that question is, ‘Heli.’ . . . In the Matthean genealogy, on the other hand, we start with the question, ‘Who was the heir to David’s throne?’ The answer is, “Solomon,’ and so on down to Joseph.”[2]

Jesus’ family tree in Matthew is meant to establish that He was legally a descendant of David (cf. 1:27, 32, 69) through His relationship to Joseph, and also to demonstrate that He was a member of the human race. It is not meant to show that Jesus was the Son of God by descent from Adam, since that would be true of all descendants of Adam.

Luke’s family tree compared to Luke’s is in reverse order, and it goes back beyond Abraham to Adam, and thus places Jesus in a wider context than does Matthew.

“Many have suggested that the regressive order in the genealogy is probably Luke’s instrument to focus attention on Jesus. The fact that Luke traced Jesus’ ancestry back to Adam, “the son of God,” was probably due to the fact that he wrote for Romans and Greeks. By tracing Jesus’ ancestry back to Adam, he shows Jesus to be related to the whole human race. In Luke’s genealogy Jesus and Adam are both “sons of God”; Jesus, of course, is the son of God by nature; Adam, the son of God by having been created in God’s image. Jesus is a member of the race to which all people belong.”[3]

Second suggestion: Luke gives Mary’s genealogy and Matthew gives Joseph’s as Jesus’ legal father. The key to this interpretation is extending the parenthesis of verse 23 to include Joseph. So it would read, “Jesus was about 30 years old, being the son (as was supposed of Joseph) of Heli.” By including “of Joseph” in the parenthesis the point is made that Jesus is really the son of Mary, not Joseph, and Heli is his grandfather (Mary’s father). D.A. Carson says,

Both lists give the descent of Jesus through his supposed father Joseph (so it was thought; 23). The theory that Luke really gives us the family tree of Mary rather than of Joseph is improbable. The theory with least difficulties is that Matthew gives the descendants of David down the royal line (i.e. who was heir to the throne at any given time), but Luke gives the particular line to which Joseph belonged. Even so there are still problems, and in the absence of fuller information the problems of explanation and harmonization with Matthew remain insoluble.[4]

There are a few other suggestions,[5] and both of these solutions are possible; the first is more probable; but neither can be completely proven. It is beyond human reach to discover for certain the full solution to the differences between Matthew and Luke’s genealogies of Jesus, or the actual relationship of Jesus to them. Enough has been said to show that they are reconcilable, and the purposes of each, suggested here, indicate that either of the ways outlined above does full justice to the Davidic descent of Jesus, as rightful heir to His ancestor’s covenanted throne, and also to His virgin birth by Mary.

Why is it so important to dig into such questions like this related to the family tree of Jesus? Perhaps the best lesson one can gather from  sticky questions is simply that apparent contradictions in the Bible do have plausible and possible solutions and we should be slow to throw out a book that has proved itself over and over for thousands of years as the mighty, saving, transforming word of God.


[1] J. Gresham Machen, The Virgin Birth of Christ, New York: Harper Brothers, 1930, 204

[2] Ibid. 207

[3] Walter A. Elwell and Philip Wesley Comfort, Tyndale Bible Dictionary, Tyndale reference library (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001), 520-21.

[4] D. A. Carson, New Bible Commentary : 21st Century Edition, 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), Lk 3:23–38.

[5] I.e., Luke followed the Davidic line through Nathan (cf. Zech 12:12–13), whereas Matthew (cf. 1 Chr 1–3) followed the line through Solomon. The Matthean genealogy thus gives the legal line of descent from David, whereas the Lukan genealogy gives the actual physical line of descent. Or both Jacob and Heli were in some sense Jesus’ grandfathers. Variations of this explanation include: (a) Jacob (Matt 1:16) and Heli (Luke 3:23) were brothers, and upon Jacob’s death Heli assumed the role of husband via a Levirate marriage (cf. Deut 25:5–10) and fathered Joseph. Heli was thus Joseph’s natural father, whereas Jacob was the legal father. According to Eusebius (Eccl. Hist. 1.7.1–15), Julius Africanus (ca. 225) claimed that he knew this from information that came from the descendants of James, the brother of Jesus. However, whereas the father of Joseph and Heli for both Matthew and Luke was Matthat/ Matthan, the father of Matthan in Matthew is Eleazar, while in Luke, it was Levi. (See R. E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah [Garden City: Doubleday, 1979], 503–04.) (b) Matthew’s genealogy was that of Joseph, whereas Luke’s genealogy was that of Mary. This depends upon how one reads “so it was thought, of Joseph” (Luke 3:23). The phrase can be interpreted in two ways: “Jesus was the son (supposedly) of Joseph, who was the son of Matthat” or “Jesus was the son (supposedly of Joseph but really) of Matthat,” who is then identified as the father of Mary. The major problem with this explanation is that in 1:27 Jesus’ Davidic descent via Joseph is stressed. (c) Heli was Mary’s father, but due to lack of a male heir, he adopted Joseph as his son in order to maintain the family line. Thus the Matthean genealogy was Joseph’s actual lineage, whereas the Lukan genealogy was his adopted lineage. This latter explanation lacks any evidence and can neither be proven nor disproven.

Questions for skeptics and contradiction seekers

I realize skeptics are the ones with questions. However, wise Christians should have good questions too, especially for skeptics. Questions help those with questions to think and reason out loud. Here are some good questions to consider when dialoging with a skeptic or contradiction seeker:

1. In the light of modern science, can you give reasons why Christians can continue to believe the Bible? This question turns the science debate on its head and seeks to help them think how is the Bible and Christianity is logical and rational scientifically.

2. Do you have a hard time accepting history as fact? Do you have a hard time believing that old things can be as true as new things? If so, why? This questions tries to get the hearer to consider new is not always better and old is not always bad.

3. Have you recently read the Bible through in its entirety? How have the alleged contradictions affected the theology or overall message of the Bible? This is a good question because most skeptics have not read the Bible through completely or chronologically. The Bible has an amazing cohesiveness when read altogether.

4. How do you explain the preservation and reliability of the Bible? Can that help answer some of your questions? If not, why? This question gets people thinking about how the Bible has stayed around so long and changed so many lives through the centuries.

5. What would make the Bible and Christianity more believable to you? This question helps you see where their doubts or questions really are rooted.

I am sure there are more questions you could ask. Do you have other questions that you’ve asked that help open up the heart of the skeptic or contradiction seeker.

is it better to know Jesus or love Jesus?

I grew up in central Wisconsin. As a teenager, I was a big fan of Brett Favre (along with 5 million other people in the State). I know his stats starting from 1992 to present. I would pretend to throw like him my backyard. I’ve read all his Sport Illustrated cover stories. I worked at a Sporting Goods store so I could collect his memorabilia. I can even tell you the name of the town he lives in down south (Kiln, Mississippi). I have never met Brett, yet I feel like we’re buds. I know a lot about Brett Favre (probably more than most of you), but I really don’t know him. I love to watch him fling a football, but I don’t really love him like those closest to him.

Sadly, some in the church think of Jesus like I thought of Brett Favre. Now I am not comparing Jesus to Brett Favre (although I know some fanatics who might). You can be just a fan of Jesus. You can know a little about Him, and love things about Him. But you might not really know Him or love Him as He desires. This leads to the question in the title: Is it better to know Jesus or love Jesus? No, it’s not a trick question, but the answer may surprise you.

When Jesus came He called for faith and followership from the least to the greatest, the poor to the rich, the sinner and the religious. Jesus came to save the good, bad, and ugly. We see this in Luke 7. As we step into the story it begs us to ask another question: Who am I most like in the story?

1. Am I like Simon the Pharisee? He’s got a lot knowledge of God, but no intimacy [Luke 7:36].

In Luke 7, Jesus is invited over for dinner by a Pharisee named Simon [v.36]. Ironically, Simon invited Jesus over just after He scolded the Pharisees for not accepting either John or Himself. And the Pharisees just accused Him of being a party boy with the tax collectors and sinners [7:34]. But Jesus didn’t play favorites. He accepted dinner invitations from the Pharisees too, without asking about their motives [cf. 11:37; 14:1].

What is a Pharisees? In the Bible, they are a group of Jewish religious leaders. In its title, Pharisee, means, “separated ones.”  They built ‘fence laws’ (traditions) around God’s law to help them keep God’s law and to protect their personal image so that they appeared holy and separate from the sinful world. They hung holiness around their neck like Mt. T wore gold chains. Their fence laws were often stricter than God’s law. They were good law keepers and made sure others saw it. Their fence was painted and polished on the outside, but inside it would not meet any inspection codes. Pride and hypocrisy are the failures of fence law’s. They knew a lot about God, but they really didn’t know Him. In Matthew 15:8. Jesus describes the Pharisees as “people who honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me.”

Simon invitation to have the traveling rabbi over for a meal would have been considered a religious brownie point. Jesus should have been considered the guest of honor. In the Middle East during those days there were certain rules of etiquette. First, a customary greeting would be given of a kiss on the cheek or hand. To neglect the kiss of greeting would be like having a person come into your home and not saying, “Hello!” or shaking their hand. Second, in a shoeless culture, the washing of feet was mandatory before meals. Normally the host or his servant would wash the feet or at the very least they would give water to the guests to wash their own feet. Third, for an especially distinguished guest, some (inexpensive) olive oil was given for anointing their head.

When Jesus comes to the house of Simon, there is no kiss (greeting), no washing of feet, and no oil for his head. The reason is not certain why Simon did not do these courteous gestures. But from Jesus’ words later on, Simon didn’t really know Him. If Simon really knew who He was he would have honored Jesus more extravagantly.

It’s not that Simon did not know God. He knew a lot about God. As a Pharisee, he spent his life studying the Scriptures. By the age of 12 he had memorized the first 12 books of the Bible. He would squash the kids in your AWANA ministry! By the age of 15 he had memorized the entire Old Testament. Sadly, he committed to memory more than 300 OT prophecies about the coming Messiah, yet he didn’t even realize it is the Messiah who sat at his dinner table. He knew about Jesus, but he didn’t know Jesus.
He’s all knowledge, but no intimacy.

When I graduated from Bible College I had quite the chip on my shoulder. I read the Bible backwards and forwards many times for class. The Bible became a textbook. I knew enough Greek and Hebrew to look smart. I knew the Bible, but my head was the size of a hot air balloon and it was filled with pride. God used a lot of patient people in my first ministry to chisel away at my pride. And it’s still a temptation.

Pharisees often confused knowing God for loving God. In church, it is easy to get this confused too. We build systems that cater towards knowing about God, but not necessarily loving God. We have endless Bible studies with workbook and Bible curriculum with homework. Sermons notes with fill in the blanks. If you grew up in the church, you probably go to Sunday school, where you have a teacher. In the summer the kids may go to Vacation Bible school. All these programs help you know, but not always love God.

Hear me out (before you throw stones); I wholeheartedly encourage studying, teaching, and preaching God’s Word. It is a biblical mandate. It’s my calling. Even our example, Jesus, read and quoted Scripture as proof that He knew God’s Word. The problem isn’t knowledge. The problem is that you can have knowledge without having intimacy. In fact, knowledge can be a false indicator of intimacy. Obviously where there is intimacy there should be a growing knowledge of God, but too often there is knowledge without a growing intimacy.

Think about it this way, the proof that I love my wife is how much I know her. I know what kind of deodorant she uses. I know her favorite kind of Thai food. I know what makes her laugh or cry. So knowledge is part of intimacy, but just because there is knowledge doesn’t mean there is intimacy.
Probably the best biblical word for intimacy is the word “know.” But this knowing goes much deeper than knowledge. The Bible first uses this word to describe a relationship in Genesis 4:1, “Adam knew Eve his wife.” The Hebrew word for “knew” here is the word yada, which means ‘to know completely and to be completely known.’ Unabashedly, Genesis 4:1 is an intimate moment between a husband and wife. It’s a beautiful picture to help see what it really means to know God.

In Psalm 139, David uses this word yada to describe how God knows us, “O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.”

So the word used to describe a husband and wife is also used to describe how God knows you and wants to be known by you. This changes the way I think about knowing God. He’s not interested in a let’s-just-be-friends relationship; a noncommittal dating relationship; or a relationship where you define the terms; He is seeking the kind of commitment and intimacy best illustrated in a marriage relationship. Do you just know about Jesus or do you really know Him? Are you like Simon the Pharisee? He’s got a lot of knowledge of God, but no intimacy

2. Am I like the woman?  She’s got little knowledge of Jesus and lot’s of love [Luke 7:37-38].

While Jesus is eating at Simon’s house a woman comes on the scene. She comes uninvited. To better comprehend the awkwardness of this moment, you must understand that she wasn’t just any woman. She’s “a woman of the city, who was a sinner.” [vs.37] Her reputation negatively precedes her. She’s done bad things that have damaged her reputation. Maybe she slept with her boyfriend, cheated on her husband, is in a same-sex relationship, or was a prostitute in the small town.

We are uncertain the specifics that drew her to Jesus. But in desperation she came to Him at Simon’s dinner party—a dinner she would never be invited to attend nor would she have interest in attending anyways. As she wandered in she felt the condemning glares from “holy men”. Nervous as she might be, she brushes off the glares and stares at Jesus.

Apparently she had heard Jesus teaching, maybe earlier that day. What about Jesus teaching made such an impact? Was it forgiveness? Perhaps while listening to Jesus she thought, “Can He really forgive my shameful past?” Was it redemption? Maybe as Jesus spoke she realized that only He could put back together the broken pieces of her life and make her whole. Was it love? Maybe she wondered, “Certainly Jesus knows how messed up I am; how the guilt of my sin stains me so deeply. Could He love me too?”

What she does next is impulsive, extravagant, and culturally unthinkable, especially to someone who did not know Jesus [v.38]. Can you feel the tension? The woman approaches the dinner table and stands at the feet of Jesus. The table is silent. Everybody is watching. Everybody knows who she is. They are thinking, “What is she doing here?” She looks around at the guests. She gets glares of judgment. She looks at Jesus. He looks at her. She looks to Him in faith seeking forgiveness for her shame. He looks back with a loving smile. She says nothing. Nothing needs to be said.

She is so overwhelmed, tears of repentance rain down. She falls and begins to kiss Jesus’ feet. Her tears begin to drip onto the dirty feet of Jesus. She sees the muddy streaks and suddenly realizes that His feet haven’t been washed. She can’t ask for a towel, so she lets down her hair. The dinner guests gasp out loud at her disgrace. Then she takes a costly alabaster jar of ointment. Perhaps in the past she used it drop-by-drop for many men. But now she empties it. She will not need it anymore. She pours out, her life, on His feet, and she kisses them over and over.

The woman does a gutsy and glorious thing, all at the same time. She faced her sin. Rather than running from it she runs to the only one who can forgive her. She is broken, grieved, and repentant. Her offering of worship is a sweet smelling aroma. In a moment, she moved from a life of shame to a member of the Fellowship of the Unashamed.

When is the last time you had a moment with Jesus like this woman? Repentant? Broken? Honest before God? When’s the last time you’ve poured yourself out before Him? When is the last time the shed tears over your sin and shame? When is the last time you demonstrated unashamed and extravagant worship?
Can you relate to this woman?

This sinful woman is a mentor to us all of a repentant heart and worshipful response towards Jesus. Unlike the Pharisee, who loves himself too much, she sees herself for who she is—a sinner needing forgiveness. Do you remember who you were before Christ? Do you see the seriousness of your sin? The closer I get to Jesus, the more sinful I recognize myself as being. I am the Pharisee when I forget I am like the woman. The woman didn’t know a lot about Jesus, but she knew He could forgive her sins. She didn’t love a bunch of things about Jesus. She really loved Him. Proof of her love was over-the-top worship. Do you love things about Jesus or do you really love Him?

3. Am I like Jesus? He’s got unbiased love and unconditional forgiveness [Luke 7:39-50].

It is easy to look at the two characters of the story and say, “I definitely don’t want to just know God like the Pharisee. I want to love God like the woman.” But you can assume or zoom by the third character in the story—He’s most important. His name is Jesus. He is the main character of not just this story but also the Bible. He is the one you most need to emulate. “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” [Ephesians 5:1-2]

Notice how Jesus responds to Simon’s statement whispered under his breath [v.39 “If Jesus were a prophet He would know what kind of woman this sinner she is]. Jesus doesn’t blast him out of his boots by saying, “I heard that! Why would you say such a stupid thing, Simon! How dare you judge me? I am the Judge here.” No. But He doesn’t ignore Simon either. Listen to the tenderness in His voice: “Simon, I have something to say to you…” [v.40] In answer to Simon’s statement, Jesus uses His prophetic powers to read Simon’s heart. He told him a short parable. It is one of the smallest parables of Jesus (only two verses long), but it is hugely significant [vs.41-42].

In summary, a banker loans money to two men, one receives two year’s wages and the other receives two month’s wages. Neither man can pay back the banker. Unexpectedly, the banker shows grace and removes the debts from both their records. When each man should be bankrupt and file chapter 7 they are given a new start to life. Obviously, both gain new affection for the banker. But Jesus asks a crucial question, “Which man loved the banker the most?” Simon being no intellectual slouch has a ready answer [v.43]: “the one with the larger debt.” And Jesus acknowledged Simon has the right answer as a religious person would, but it did not mean he saw he was the one with the small debt.

Jesus’ story is not just for Simon, but it’s for all the ears at Simon’s table (including you and me). What is your place in the parable or Simon’s table? How would you respond to Jesus’ story? Would you sit beside Jesus and acknowledge only a small debt, or would you fall down at His feet and, in tears, begging for the forgiveness you do not deserve?

Now Jesus is ready to make His point [vs.44-47], “Do you (even) see this woman?” Jesus did not dispute the woman’s condition. They both agreed she was sinful. That’s not the point. The point: how acceptable is she before God? Simon is disgusted with her. He is also inhospitable with Jesus. But Jesus lets her touch, kiss, and wash His feet. Why? She loved much. She was a human in need of divine grace. She needed what only Jesus had to give—forgiveness and salvation. Ignoring any reply or reaction from Simon, Jesus spoke to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.” [v.48]

Can you hear the dinner party guests gasp again? They began chattering around the table, “How could He forgive sins? That is God’s job. Who does this man Jesus claim to be?” [v.49] Precisely! God. As God, He can forgive. And Jesus’ words here are ultimately what get Him hung on the cross by religious people, like Simon. Again Jesus ignores them, and focuses solely on the woman, “Go on without worry. Live a new life. Your faith has saved you.” [v.50]

Jesus’ words are an invitation to Simon, and us all, to open our eyes to people around us who have been marginalized or ostracized. Before this moment, Simon failed to really see anything at all; he saw neither Jesus nor the woman. He was blind to her act of repentance and love. He only saw her sin. We don’t know if Simon changes. But we do know Jesus loves Simon as much as He loves the woman. He longs for Simon to see her not as a category (sinner) but as a person who, above all else, needs God’s love and forgiveness, “He who is forgiven little, loves little.”

The question of this text remains still remains, who am I most like? Simon? The woman? Jesus? The Pharisee and the woman are both sinners on opposite extremes of the pendulum. And Jesus gives them both what they need. The Pharisee needed truth in love. The woman needed forgiveness and assurance of His love. Jesus’ call to faith reaches out to people society deems as despicable (even the rapist, molester, cereal killer, stripper, or terrorist). But the church, unlike society, must show the sinner the way to Jesus and show His forgiveness and unconditional love. What can we do as a church or followers of Christ?

First, understand that faith often appears in the most unexpected places. It could be at your Sunday lunch and your waitress at Red Lobster, or the guy outside the bar, or the young pregnant gal walking to the clinic, or the uncomfortable and awkward outcast sitting in the pew near you. Let God bring salvation the way He chooses to the people He chooses. God can transform the worst of sinners and the greatest of the religious [cf. 8:1-3].

Second, beware of religious taboos such as never associating with sinners or shooing them away from the church. Yes, there is a place for protecting your church from false teachers, confronting sin, and “being in the world, but not of the world.” But how will they know unless you show love and forgiveness of the Light of the world? Our church creed must read: we are all equal in Christ who is our Head, though messy and sinful we are still His glorious Bride, everyone is welcome, for we are One in Him.

Third, cherish the truth that no one is worthy to receive what Jesus offers the woman. Know your place among the unworthy. What if God sent you a bill every month for your sin, what would you owe God? What would your debt be? Too much! Thank God, He sent Christ to forgive your debt. If you are in Him, He’s paid it all. Don’t you think that Jesus’ coming to earth, being obedient to the Father, even to the point of death on the cross is rather extravagant? My response is to pour out over-the-top gratitude. Be proud to be a member of the Fellowship of the Unashamed.

Fourth, believe Jesus alone has the power and authority to forgive sins and offer salvation. You can be the most religious or most sinful. The distance between you and God is repentance. Respond to Jesus in humble faith and accept His forgiveness and salvation. Today.

Is it better to know Jesus or love Jesus? It is best to know and love Jesus from your head all the way to your heart. Jesus said when asked by a Pharisee the greatest commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” [Matthew 22:37-40]

Why do people have difficulty trusting the Bible?

The Bible is an ancient book.

It was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic by prophets, kings, tax gatherers, fishermen, and scholars. In various genres narratives, poetry, songs, apocalyptic literature, promises, stories, commands, wisdom literature, history (although not exhaustive), and letters. R. Laid Harris adds about the historical setting of the Bible,

Its historic setting changed from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age to Roman times. Its events occurred in Canaan, Egypt, Greece, and Asia Minor. No wonder it has puzzled some readers. These supposed difficulties are the result of ignorance of Bible lands, customs, and languages. Most problems fade away under deep, earnest, and prayerful Bible study.[1]

Christians do not believe that the Bible dropped out of the sky or was dictated to men who scribbled down furiously to catch every word from God. Christians believe that the Bible is both fully inspired by God and fully written by humans. Christians believe that Bible is inerrant in its original manuscripts, not the copies and translation. Christian doctrines of the Bible allows for the human elements of style to be present in the writing process and accounting for the inevitable human error that occurs in textual transmission. Some of the supposed contradictions are because of obvious copying errors. But many of the contradictions are because many skeptics or contradiction seekers do not seem to know the basics of how to read an ancient text.

The Bible is a strange book.

It is different from all other books. It deals with spiritual things that cannot be understood “naturally.” Spiritual things are “spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14–16). Unfriendly critics and skeptics, therefore, discover problems even where no real problems exist. Nicodemus exclaimed to Christ, “How can these things be?” (John 3:9). People unwilling to accept the Bible’s spiritual message cannot understand it. So we must help them find answers through wisdom, spiritual discernment, and godly character.

People have a difficult time trusting the Bible because it is ancient and strange. But that is not what makes it most unbelievable. What makes the Bible most difficult to trust is what it says about God redemptive plan and that God calls you to believe it. The message of the Bible might just change your life, and for some self-ruled people that is too hard to swallow.


[1] R. Laird Harris, Exploring the Basics of the Bible, Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2002), 72.

thumb licks [4.26.12]

Is the internet ruining your brain?

How to deal with the loss of a spouse.

That’s not fair.

Sweet gadgets for the one percent who can afford them.

Do pets go to heaven?

10 of the most difficult theological issues Christians must face today.

How to lead a child to Christ?

The secret life of plankton. So small but so great.

More than just Christmas.

what is man?

I am sure the untimely and inconvenient news was a shock to the two unwed teenagers the summer of 1979. The news, “You’re pregnant!” Abortion might have been an option, but both their Catholic parents discouraged it and encouraged the baby to be born. I am grateful my two parents decided on the side of life.

Before my sister Samantha was born, my mother and step-dad were already aware she would be born with Spina Bifida. The doctors recommended an abortion thinking it would be laborious to bring a physically disabled child into the world. It is true, my family would have to adjust and Sam would not have the use of her legs, but no one would know the blessing of my beautiful, intelligent, and warm sister, now an incredible young woman.

Today is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. I hate this day. I don’t hate it because I think it is unbiblical. I hate it because I have to say things in church that shouldn’t have to be said. Mothers shouldn’t kill their children. Fathers shouldn’t abandon their babies. No human life is worthless, regardless of skin color, age, disability, or economic status. The very fact that these things must be said is a reminder of the horrors of this present darkness.

I hate Sanctity of Human Life Sunday because I’m reminded that as preach there are babies warmly nestled in wombs that won’t be there tomorrow. I’m reminded that there are children—maybe even blocks from this church—who will be slapped, punched, and burned with cigarettes butts before this message is over. I’m reminded that there are elderly men and women whose lives are pronounced a waste and euthanasia is considered a viable option.

But I also love Sanctity of Human Life Sunday when I think about the fact that I am in a church with ex-orphans, adopted into loving families. I am in a church that supports local pregnancy centers for women in crisis. Like Proverbs 31:8-9 you, “Speak up for those who have no voice, for the justice of all who are dispossessed. Speak up, judge righteously, and defend the cause of the oppressed and the needy.” May the church continue to be a haven for men and women—who have aborted babies—find their sins forgiven and consciences cleansed by Christ.

Believe it or not the Bible is silent on the topic of abortion [as it is on the humanity of whites, blacks, Hispanics, etc]. Jesus never said, “thou shalt not abort,” even though it was practiced during His day too. Although the Bible does not condemn abortion does not mean it condones it. Likewise, just because culture or government condones it as legal doesn’t it mean it’s God-honoring. The Bible is clear: you are not to take innocent human life without justification.

Therefore, if a positive case can be made for the humanity of the unborn apart from the Bible you can logically conclude that Biblical commands against the unjust taking of human life apply to the unborn as they do other human beings whether they are red, yellow, black or white, young, old, skinny or fat, healthy or not. And to this point, science confirms theology. In other words, science gives the facts you need to arrive at a theologically sound conclusion. What the science of embryology makes clear is that from the earliest stages of development, human embryos and fetuses are human beings but just less developed than the adults they will soon become.

The question I pose this morning: at what point does the embryo begin to be made in the image of God? The answer to this question comes down to your view of God and human life in connection with God. The answer to this important theological question is packed into a little song that David wrote in Psalm 8.

1. GOD IS MAJESTIC IN ALL THE EARTH [Psalm 8:1, 9]

The psalm begins and ends with its main point: “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!” [8:1, 9]

The two words for lord (O LORD, our Lord) are not the same in Hebrew. The first LORD, with all caps, is a translation of the name YHWH. It’s His personal name. The name He gives Himself. It is built on the statement in Exodus 3:14, “I am who I am.” It’s a name to remind us that He absolute exists. He simply is. He did not come into being, and does not go out of being. He never changes in His being, because He is absolutely exists in His being.

His name is majestic in all the earth. There is no place in all the earth where God is not YHWH—where He is not the absolute One. Everything everywhere depends absolutely on Him. He depends on nothing, but everything depends on Him. He has no viable competitors anywhere. He has no challengers to His throne. He is above all things everywhere. He sustains all things everywhere. He is the aim and goal of all things everywhere. He is greater and wiser and more beautiful and wonderful than everything everywhere. “O YHWH, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth.” That’s the main point of the psalm.

In response you and I are to stand in awe of His majesty and worship. The majesty of God is awe-inspiring. Those who have seen His majesty have never been the same. John fell on His face in the presence of God. Isaiah cried, “I’m unworthy,” when in the thundering presence of God. Do you have a majestic view of God? If you have a majestic view of God you will have a majestic view of life. If you have a low view of God you will have low view of life.

2. GOD’S MAJESTY IS SEEN IN HIS SUPREME CREATION [Psalm 8:3-8]

We are going to skip over verse 2 for a moment. I promise we will come back to it. In verses 3-4 David responds to His majestic Creator, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” The point of these two verses is to see God’s bigness and my smallness. God is infinitely great, and man, by comparison, is nothing. God creates stars with His fingers and I am so small compared to Earth, the sun, and the billions of suns that form up our galaxy, and the millions of galaxies that are laid out in our universe.

Have you ever stood underneath the night sky and thought, “Wow, I am small and insignificant?” That’s the point. God created all that bigness so you’d have a sense of smallness. Some consider it a lot of wasted space, but space God’s natural billboard proclaiming His praise. Worship is not found in feeling big, but rather in feeling small.

An honest question arises in verse 4, “Why do You consider man when You are so majestic?” The answer comes in verses 5-8: “You [O God] have crowned him with glory and honor…You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet…” Now that is absolutely astonishing! John Calvin summarized it by saying, “Whoever, therefore is not astonished and deeply affected at this miracle—God being mindful of man—is more than ungrateful and stupid.” Although man is nothing compared to God, He makes man His supreme creation.

God’s majesty is seen as He creates man in His image [Genesis 1:26-27]. One might ask when does the image of God begin in man? According to God, it begins even before one cell splits and multiplies in the womb. In the human embryo are found the marks of your Maker. No other creature in God’s creation is crowned with glory and honor like mankind.

God’s majesty is seen as He makes man dominioneers over all His creation [Genesis 1:28-31]. God gives you a job—care and protect life. However, when we read the Genesis account of Adam and Eve, their children, and observe history thereafter man does not do a good job caring for and protecting life. We don’t like our job. We want a new job. We’d rather redefine the job. Therefore we join a union and march with picket signs that say, “God, I have a rights!”

Do I have rights? Sure. In our society a woman has her rights. She can murder a child and get away with it. I am an advocate for civil and judicial rights, but not rights-gone-wild. The freedom and liberty to use our rights is not always right. Especially when it comes to shedding innocent blood. A human that demands, “I have rights!” Is saying what a sinner says when it rejects God’s moral rules. God determines what is right and wrong. He says we are to care for and protect life. Every man has the right to life.

You cannot starve an elderly human to death and worship the majesty of God. You cannot dismember an unborn human and worship the majesty of God. You cannot gas a Jewish human and worship the majesty of God. You cannot lynch a black human and worship the majesty of God. You cannot gossip, harbor bitterness, or curse a man to his face and worship the majesty of God. Jesus says to hate another human is commit abortion in your heart. You cannot worship the majesty of God while treating His supreme creation with dishonor.

3. GOD VALUES THE LIFE OF CHILDREN [Psalm 8:2]

You might be wondering what does this have to do with the sanctity of life or abortion? Let’s go back to verse 2. There is an incredible contrast between verse 1 and 2. Verse 1 says, “You have set your glory above the heavens.” And Verse 2: “Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger.” The contrast is strange. God is highest of all beings. None could be stronger, wiser, or greater. But babies are weak; they seem to have no wisdom or knowledge. They are utterly dependent on others. They are insignificant in the world’s eyes.

So why does the psalm mention babies? Why are they here? What are they doing? The verse says what they are doing: They are defeating the enemies of God. They are opening their mouths and saying or crying something. And whatever they are saying or crying is powerful enough “to still the enemy and the avenger.”

God has enemies. His foes are those who rebel against His majesty [8:1,9]. They do not see Him as majestic, nor do they want to worship Him. They get far more pleasure out of getting praise for themselves than giving praise to God. Our world has been ruined because of these enemies. And in order for the world to return to its proper purpose, these enemies will have to be dealt with. And what verse 2 tells us is that God, in His majesty and greatness makes babies the means of His triumph over His enemies. Let the strangeness of this sink in. God conquers his foes through the weaknesses of the weak—the worshipful coo’s of baby’s lips.

To understand verse 2 in it’s fullness you have to realize God comes to earth in the form of a cooing and crying baby. Jesus, the God-man, came into the world in childlike lowliness and human weakness. God takes on skin. He’s born of a virgin in a barn. He grows into a man, lives a sinless life, but certain men convict Him of a crime He did not commit. He dies on a cross and 3-day later He rises crushing His enemies under His feet [cf. 1 Corinthians 15:27].

During His earth ministry He welcomed children when others wanted to shoo them away [Mark 10:13-16]. Jesus loves all the little children.  Moreover, He said the measure of our love for Him would be measured by our love for children [Mark 9:36-37]. He took the children in His arms as if to say, “Honor these little ones, and you honor Me. Send them away because they are weak, socially insignificant, and bothersome, and you’ve demonstrated you don’t understand the values of the kingdom.”

In Matthew 21, Jesus draws near to Jerusalem. It is Palm Sunday. He enters the city riding on a donkey. The crowds see what this means and they cry out in verse 9, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” Hosanna means “salvation.” They are shouting that God’s salvation is coming. They see Him as a prophet or perhaps the Messiah himself—The king of Israel who would defeat the enemies of God.

Now there are children in the crowd. They see what’s happening. They hear their parents shouting. So they take up the chant in verse 15, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” These children are calling Him the king of Israel. The chief priests and the scribes cannot endure the ruckus any longer. They think it’s outrageous for Jesus to hear this kind of praise and not stop or correct them. So they say to Jesus in verse 16, “Do you hear what these are saying?” What they meant was, “We know you can hear what these are saying, but we cannot imagine why you don’t stop them, since you are most certainly not the Messiah.”

Jesus’ answer is as clear as crystal, and its connection to Psalm 8 is frightening. He simply says, “Yes, I hear.” With those few words He says, “Yes. I didn’t miss a word. They are not mistaken. They are not blaspheming. They are not foolish. They just seem foolish. I approve what they are saying” Jesus receives worship from children. And Jesus goes on to say to the chief priests and scribes: “Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’?” It’s a direct quote of Psalm 8:2.

Two things happen when Jesus quotes this Psalm. First, it comes true. His enemy is silenced. The chief priests and scribes are speechless. The praise of the children’s lips won the day. God is defeating His enemies through the weakness of children and man. Second, the meaning of psalm 8 is amplified. When these children cry out, “Hosanna to the Son of David !” Their praise was directed to Jesus. Jesus knew it. The chief priests and scribes knew it. And Jesus accepts their worship being God—the absolute One–Himself. On that day, the majesty of God had a face of flesh and a name. His name is Jesus.

In closing I want to share with you a story about my best friend, Ben. In high school our friendship grew through helping each other live for Christ. When I went to college I had less contact with Ben. While I went to Bible College, Ben was going to parties and sleeping with girls. His life became a mess. He got a girl pregnant. To cover it up she aborted. Although Ben had abandoned God, God did not abandon Him. He was relentlessly pursuing Ben.

I remember coming home on college break and visited Ben’s apartment. It looked like a disaster, smelled like beer, and felt dark. I asked Ben, “So what’s God been doing in your life?” I am sure he wanted to kill me for asking a question with an obvious answer. What Ben needed I could not give. He needed his enemies of pride and guilt and thinking “I have rights” to be defeated. In Christ they already were. I kept in contact with Ben. He left for Florida where he thought he’d be anonymous. The majesty of God prevailed, He would not leave him alone, pursuing his heart, and Ben repented of his sin.

“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear Him.” [Psalm 103:11-13]

Jesus forgives sinners who come to Him with child-like faith. God redeemed Ben’s life. God has given him a godly wife and blessed him with two (so to be three) beautiful children. Today Ben is serving God in the ministry. Ben is an advocate for life.

Jesus can forgive you too. No matter how bad your sin or how dirty your past. He will not only forgive you but welcome you as His child in His compassionate arms. Come. He awaits you with an embrace.

Why do I need psalm 8? It inflames my heart with wonder, awe, and love for God. Seeing the majesty of God is the first step towards looking at myself and other humans rightly. In His majesty we see the sanctity of life.

LISTEN TO THE PODCAST OF THIS MESSAGE.

how much does Jesus love the church?

hands

Enough to pay an unimaginable price to bring her into complete alignment with himself. His hands tell the story. They are wonderful hands. Hands that fashion the Universe. “All things were created through him and for him.” Hands that took on flesh and became tiny baby hands. Hands that became tough as he practiced a carpenter’s trade. Hands that healed lepers and gave sight to the blind. Hands that popped open the ears of the deaf and blessed little children. Perfect hands whose movements were always innocent and sinless. Hands that were nailed to a cross with nine-inch iron spikes. Bloody hands that ceased moving so that ours could move forever. That’s how much he loves the church. His hands bear the scars at this very moment as he sits at the right hand of the Majesty on High, pleading our case and praying for us and waiting eagerly for the big day. The day he takes our hand in his and makes us his Bride forever.

air

In the beginning through Jesus, God spoke air into existence. Then he formed man out of the dust of the dust and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. But Jesus did not count his equality with God a thing to be grasped; he emptied himself and took on flesh and lungs and need for air to stay alive. The breathed out so many wonderful words. Words that thousands of years later still bring hope and meanings. One day he arched his back and breathed his last, screaming at the top of his lungs, “It is finished.” He suffocated to death so that we could live and breath forever. That’s how much he loves his Bride. When the awestruck centurion saw the way Jesus took his last breath he whispered, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” He was right. On the morning of the third day Jesus came out of the tomb, breathing. And later that night he breathed on his fallen-star, blockhead disciples and they received the Holy Spirit. The world has never been the same, because at that moment the church was born.

So when you walk out of your church feeling indignant, and justified at being disappointed or critical, remember–you, too, are a fallen star and a blockhead, just like every other person in that place. When you feel like keeping Jesus but quitting the church, remember who she is–the precious Bride of Christ. Can you really love him without loving her? Isn’t being a member of her the world’s highest privilege? Don’t miss out on the privilege just because she’s still imperfect.

Red Like Blood. Joe Coffey and Bob Bevington. Shepherds Press, Wapwallopen, PA. 2011. 189-190.

are you too comfortable with the Bible?

Why do you suppose we have become so comfortable with the Scripture?

I think it’s partly our sin. One of the devil’s finest pieces of work is getting people to spend three nights a week in Bible studies.

The Bible is all there to be lived. It was given to us so we could live it. Most Christians know far more of the Bible than they’re living. They should be studying less, not more. You just need enough to pay attention to God.

Eugene Peterson, Subversive Spirituality. William B. Eerdmans Publishing, Co. Grand Rapids, MI. 1997. p.206-207

how vast is the universe?

I love this picture.

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has produced the deepest image of the universe ever taken. Astronomers generated this picture by pointing Hubble at one small patch of the sky for several months and recording every tiny photon of light they could get. It is as if you took an average sized coin and held it up to the night sky. The entire image contains nearly 10,000 galaxies, but here you can see a small sample of what’s out there.

The universe is vast. Huge. Ginormous!

The Bible says, that God has given each of the stars a name,

He determines the number of the stars;
he gives to all of them their names.
Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
his understanding is beyond measure.
(Psalm 147:4-5 ESV)

To whom then will you compare me,
that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes on high and see:
who created these?
He who brings out their host by number,
calling them all by name,
by the greatness of his might,
and because he is strong in power
not one is missing.
(Isaiah 40:25-26 ESV)

Almost all the stars in the universe are collected together into galaxies. They can be small dwarf galaxies, with just 10 million or so stars, or they can be monstrous irregular galaxies with more than 10 trillion stars. Our own Milky Way galaxy contains an estimated 200 billion stars, which is average for a galaxy in the universe.

So how vast is the universe? Know one really knows nor has seen the edge of deep space. Astronomers estimate that there are approximately 100 billion to 1 trillion galaxies in the Universe [about 1024 stars] or between 10 sextillion and 1 septillion stars in the universe, but that may be on the small side of the scale. That’s a large number of stars. And God created each and knows each by name.

how to use the Bible in personal ministry

Connecting the Stories: How to Use Scripture in Personal Ministry

1. Some passages speak more clearly to certain issues that others, but all passages provide a lens through which to view any issue.

2. In ministry to others, we move from life to text or text to life.

3. Some passages are more easily used in ministry situations than others.

4. Major on connections that arise from the passage as a whole, not so much on isolated phrases.

5. Remember that all passages are linked some way to Jesus Christ and His redemptive work.

Adapted from the book, CrossTalk: Where Life & Scripture Meet, Michael R. Emlet. New Growth Press, Greensboro, NC. 2009. 83-88.

Read the Introduction and Chapter 1 (PDF)

what does Jesus say about your mission?

Now that we’ve discussed some of the common myths about missions, let’s hear from the Word of Truth Himself. Jesus has some words for us about your mission.

Missions is about JESUS and His POWER to save

“all authority in heaven and earth has been given to Me.” Do you remember your mother saying, “Hon, can you clean your room.” And you’d ask, “Why mom?” With a strong tone she’d respond, “Because I am your mom and I said so.” Jesus pulls the authority card, but He doesn’t lord it over He loves it over. He is the card club carrier to all the cosmic power of the universe. He has been delegated authority from the Father. Now that Jesus has your full attention, He takes no questions because He has the right and power to do as He pleases.[1] Today He rules over the earth. He has authority over politics and government, armies and military might, the stock market and your retirement, science and education, TV and Internet, natural disasters and natural phenomenon’s, He even has authority over your life.

Missions is about YOU

“Go and make disciples.” What is the command in Jesus’ word? Many often say it is “go”, but go is the action of the command. In other words it is as if Jesus says, “as you go” or “wherever you go” The command is to “make disciples.” A disciple is a follower or worshiper of Christ.  The instinct of a Jesus follower is reproducing followers of Jesus through the power and message of Jesus. To make Jesus followers is just a thing you do![2] As Jesus says, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel” [Mark 16:15] And as Paul echoes, “How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace” [Romans 10:15]. Missions is not missions without you making disciples as you go, as you live. Coming to Christ makes you a Christian. Obeying Christ makes you a missionary. As my missions professor in college use to say, “Every believer is an immediate missionary for Christ.”

Missions is about PEOPLE EVERYWHERE

“all the nations.” The mission is to make disciples of “all nations.” The word nation here is where you get the word ethnicity [ethnos, cf. Revelation 5:9]. You see, God loves all the people of the world.[3] He loves all ethnicities, nations, and races of people in the world. He does not see color, status or class. Since we are not God it is hard for me to love as broadly as God. I love the Green Bay Packers and mountain biking. I also love bratwursts and cheese. I really love my wife and family. As an “ambassador” of Jesus Christ [2 Corinthians 5:20] I am representative of a foreign land, a home I long for but have not arrived and whose ruler is my Savior. There is no culture or religion beyond the scope of the Great Commission, and Jesus wants to be exalted above every people, nation, and religion.

Missions is about CHANGED LIVES through the power of the gospel

“baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you.” Often these words of Jesus are known as the great omission of the great commission. The forgotten and forsaken part of the mission is to help people live in the power of the gospel. First, a changed life is willing to publically identify with Christ [and His death and resurrection] by walking through the waters of baptism. Second, a changed life loves to teach other about the words of Christ [Romans 1:16]. A changed life is one who is dying to self, bears his own cross [Luke 14:27], and is becoming alive to Christ. The road to Golgotha is tough, but people of the gospel count the cost and are willing to pay the price. But it is not a road we have to walk alone.

Missions is about living confidently within GOD’S MISSION

“And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Jesus begins His short sentence with a great claim and a great command, but He finishes with a great comfort. Who promises to be with you? Jesus—the One with all authority. He promises His presence [cf. Jeremiah 31:33; 32:40]. There is power in God’s presence. There is confidence and courage in His presence. How long does He promise His presence with you? Always, which can literally be rendered, “all the days,” or “until the end of time.” He will be with you without breaks [Hebrews 13:5]. God will not take a vacation from you or His redeeming purposes. God is on a mission. And Christianity is a missionary faith.

I want to hold out to you four ways that you can respond today:

First, make prayer commitment for the rest of this year for an unreached people group [go to Joshua Project] or a missionary—for your own soul and vocational change.

Second, get a loose change can or jar and let it remind you to pray as you give.

Third, buy a good missions biography or other book on missions. Be warned. It is one of the most wonderfully dangerous things you can do to undermine your addiction to the American dream.

Fourth, make a bold commitment and acknowledge that God has been awakening you in both a willingness to go and a desire to take practical steps to be prepared to go. And tell your pastor.

DON’T BE A MYTH. MAXIMIZE YOUR ROLE IN HIS MISSION.


[1] cf. Philippians 2:5-11; Daniel 7:13-14; Revelation 1:9-20

[2] John 14:15, 23-24, 15:10; 1 John 5:1-3, 2:3-6

[3] John 3:16; Psalm 46:10; Isaiah 52:10, 61:11