One of the things I absolutely love about my seminary is that they truly value the marriages of their students. As a result they have a couple’s banquet every year where the married students are served dinner by the professors, child care is provided, and a miniature sermon about marriage is presented. This year one of my professors, Carl Laney, gave four reasons why marriage should be held in honor and I thought they were so great I’d share them here.
God ordained it. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24).” Marriage is the first institution created by God. Any other time God has made a covenant with man it has been regarded as something sacred and holy. In the same way, marriage should be viewed as a sacred institution that was created by God.
Jesus blessed it. Jesus blessed marriage by turning water to wine at a wedding feast (John 2:1-12). He did this because marriage is something that deserves to be celebrated. Furthermore, Jesus said that there is a supernatural element to marriage. God joins the husband and wife, and we ought not separate what God has joined (Matthew 19:4-6; Mark 10:6-9)
Children illustrate it. From the beginning, the biblical view of children is that they are a blessing. When a child is born, they have DNA from both the mother and the father. This is an illustration of the bond that occurs at marriage. Children are a vivid reminder of that unity that God creates when he weds a man and a woman.
Death alone ends it. Marriage is intended as a lifelong covenant between a man and a woman in the sight of God and their family. The Bible says that wives are bound to their husbands as long as he is alive (Romans 7:2; 1 Corinthians 7:39). It also says that men are to love their lives to the point of dying for her (Ephesians 5:25-30). This lifelong devotion is meant to serve as a picture of Christ’s devotion to the Church.
There you have it! May your marriage be blessed and may it be a blessing.
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?” – Epicurus
“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” – Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Great Britain: Bantam Press, 2006), 31.
One of the reasons I’m a Christian is because it is the best, most coherent explanation of life on this world. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best. When I look at modern atheistic beliefs I notice some contradictions that make it, as a worldview, illogical and in this post I’d like to look at one: the problem of evil. On one hand, atheists will point to evil in the world around us as proof that God does not exist (or if He does, then He is clearly ‘malevolent’ for allowing such evil). On the other hand, they’ll point to instances in the Old Testament, such as the Flood or Sodom and Gomorrah, where God actively opposed evil and say that God is not a loving god, but clearly a bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser. This means that atheists believe that God is bad for not stopping evil yet God is bad when He does stop evil. Or, to break it down a little differently:
Evil exists unstopped, therefore God is bad.
God stops evil, therefore God is bad.
Or, to phrase it yet another way:
“God is evil for allowing sin.”
“God is evil for stopping sin.”
This is clearly a contradiction. You cannot bemoan both the fact that God has not rid the world of evil and the fact that God killed evil people at any time in human history. This is a logical inconsistency.
So which is it? Would you rather God restrains His power to stop evil, or God unleashes His wrath and purges the world of evil?
Now, before you answer that anyone would obviously want God to stop evil, give it some thought. The way I phrased that—God unleashes His wrath and purges the world of evil—means that ridding the world of evil would not be pretty.
Evil is much like a cancer; it contaminates and perverts everything it touches. Our entire world is fallen, corrupted, and tarnished: every person, family, community, city, state, country, culture, and continent. No one and nothing has escaped the cosmic consequences of The Fall. Like sand in the desert, evil is everywhere and, try as we might and no matter how much we want to hide it, we cannot cleanse evil from this world. Only God could rid the desert of sand. Only God has the power to rid the planet of evil.
So, the obvious question becomes: what would it take for God to stop evil? Well, to continue the cancer analogy, how do we get rid of cancer? We cut it out and destroy it. How could God get rid of evil? Could He flick a switch and rid the world of evil? Not likely. You see, evil is so rampant in our world that the only way for God to forever rid the world of evil is by cleansing it with the utter destruction of every man, woman, and child on the surface of the planet. Consider how God stopped evil during the Flood (Gen. 7:21-23) or in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:24-25). Are you sure you want God to stop evil? Then perhaps you are evil.
Perhaps some will still ask “then whence cometh evil?” The problem is, in light of the reality that God does oppose evil and that He will stop evil, this is an ironically self-condemning question. Anyone who asks “then whence cometh evil” needs to look in the mirror and realize that evil isn’t ‘out there.’ Instead, evil comes from within (Jeremiah 17:9; Matthew 15:19-20; Mark 7:21-23). We are the source of evil, not God. God tolerates our rebellion for now out of love and patience for us because He has a plan.
Instead of instantly purging the world of evil, God is in the process of reconciling all things to Himself through Christ (Colossians 1:19-20). God is on a rescue mission to save those who are His enemies by calling them to repentance and salvation. It is a gradual cleansing process that takes time and requires that evil be allowed to exist for now. So, could God stop evil? Yes, but there wouldn’t be anyone around to see what was left.
Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. Romans 2:3-5, emphasis added
The words “I know exactly how you feel” can either be the best or worst thing to say to someone suffering. If you do know exactly how a hurting friend feels, then they will probably be comforted by the knowledge that they are not alone in this experience, no matter how painful it is. However, if you don’t know exactly how they feel, then… well.. you’re just a great big jerk. There are certain events in life that you just can’t sympathize with unless you’ve been there.
For example, when Connie was pregnant with Kara, half of me expected her to miscarry in order that we would be able to sympathize with other couples who have experienced that tragedy. It’s not that I wanted Connie to miscarry; but I knew that if it happened, God would use it as an opportunity for us to minister to couples who have experienced it. We would know exactly how they felt. To some degree, I still fear that God may one day take our daughter or even my entire family from me so that I will be able to sympathize with people who have endured similar loss. I certainly don’t want anything like that to happen, but I do realize that it is not outside the realm of possibility. But unless something like that were to happen, there are certain people with whom I will never be able to truly sympathize.
Many people have a similar understanding of God. It’s easy for us to think of God as far away and unable to understand what it’s like to be human. This is especially true when we are suffering. Consider, for example, the following passages:
Oh, that I knew where I might find him,
that I might come even to his seat!
I would lay my case before him
and fill my mouth with arguments.
I would know what he would answer me
and understand what he would say to me. (Job 23:3-5)
God has cast me into the mire,
and I have become like dust and ashes.
I cry to you for help and you do not answer me;
I stand, and you only look at me. (Job 30:19-20)
How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? (Psalm 13:1)
O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? (Habakkuk 1:2)
I could find many more, but you get the idea: When we suffer, it’s easy to think of God as distant.
But that’s not where the story ends. If, as Job described it, we have all been cast into the mire (Job 30:19), then Jesus has entered into the mire with us. Jesus has not left us alone. Think about what Hebrews 4:15-16 says; this should blow your mind:
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)
Or what about this one:
Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9:35-36, emphasis mine; see also Mark 6:34)
When we suffer, we can draw near to Jesus because He knows exactly how we feel. He has compassion for us, because He has seen firsthand how off-course and wayward we are. In fact, Romans 8:34 says that Christ intercedes for us; he pleads on our behalf because He has suffered too! So when you suffer—not “if,” but “when”—consider it an opportunity to grow closer to Christ because He knows exactly how you feel.
Recently, I made a decision: I want to be viewed as a yes man. By “yes man,” I don’t mean a person of unquestioning, mindless obedience or a sycophant. Instead, I mean a man who says yes when his neighbors ask for help. Or, when God reveals a need to me, I say yes to Him and offer to help. I want my neighbors—yes, my physical neighbors who live less than 40 yards away from me—to know that I am willing to serve them. I want the 88 year old widow to know that I want to help her rake her leaves. I want the 70 year old, technically-challenged retiree to know that it’s not a problem for me to help her set up her new laptop and printer. I want the older, single man to know that, in a weird way, I enjoy climbing on top of the roofs to blow the leaves off of everyone’s roofs in my little neighborhood. I want the young family, with the dad that works 16 hour shifts, to know that I don’t mind stacking wood with him in the rain. Why? Because if Christ lived as a servant (Mk. 10:45), then I want to live as a servant. Not only that, but it’s an incredibly practical way to obey the second half of the Great Commandment. Consider these two passages:
36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)
25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put [Jesus] to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:25-29, emphasis mine)
Now, these are different occasions, but they both talk about our top two priorities when it comes to loving: God first, neighbors second. The second account, Luke 10:25-29, introduces the parable of the Good Samaritan. Take a second and re-read the last verse of that Luke passage, noting especially the portion I italicized.
29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29, emphasis mine)
Here’s my question: how did he plan on justifying himself? It says that the lawyer asked “who is my neighbor” because he was desiring to justify himself. What does that mean?
Well, I think the passage gives us 4 clues:
He was a lawyer (i.e. he was highly respected in his community).
He wanted to test Jesus (i.e. make Jesus look bad).
He wanted to justify himself (i.e. make himself look good).
Jesus replied with the story of the Good Samaritan.
Here’s my guess: when it came to loving his neighbors, this lawyer probably thought he was doing a great job. The only way he could justify himself is if he thought Jesus was about to give him kudos for being a shining example of loving his neighbor. After all, would it make sense to ask this question if the neighbor wasn’t loving his physical neighbors? But Jesus shatters his definition of ‘neighbor.’
In the story of the Good Samaritan, the man who falls is passed up by a priest and a Levite but helped by a foreigner. While not certain, it’s possible the priest was the local priest for this man; perhaps the Levite knew the man as well. Jesus finishes the story by forcing the lawyer to admit that the Samaritan proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell (in Luke 10:36-37). Why do you think Jesus did this? Why do you think Jesus forced the lawyer to admit that the foreigner was the neighbor, and not the priest or Levite who were actually his physical neighbors?
I think it’s because the lawyer already loved his physical neighbors and was becoming prideful about it. However, in America, we’ve got it reversed: we might sponsor a child in Africa—and know her name—but not know the names of our own neighbors who live less than 40 yards away. Sponsoring a child is a great thing; not knowing your neighbors’ names is a bad thing.
The lawyer thought he would justify himself because loving your physical neighbors was a no-brainer in Jesus’ culture. Of course you’re supposed to love the people that live right next to you. Jesus expanded his perceptions. Our problem is that we need to start taking the second half of the Great Commandment more literally. We need to love our neighbors.
So here are my two challenges for you:
Be interruptible. If your neighbor asks for help with something that will take 5-15 minutes, say yes on the spot and help them. The odds are good that you have 15 minutes to spare (if you don’t, then don’t beat yourself up). But, in light of the fact that the average American watches more than 4 hours of TV each day, I think we can all make time to help our neighbors for less than 1/8 of our TV time.
Be intentional. If your neighbor asks for help with something that will take a large chunk of time, like an hour or two, challenge yourself to sacrifice that time to serve them. In fact, make it your goal to serve them within a week of them asking. Once again, knowing that the Average American watches 34 hours of television per week, I think we can all find a couple hours of our week to spend helping our neighbors.
So, why this push to love our physical neighbors? Because I think American Christians are completely ignoring the second half of the Great Commandment (which makes me wonder if we are also ignoring the first half of the Great Commandment). Can you honestly tell God that you followed the Command to love your neighbors if you don’t even know your neighbors’ names? Do we think God is pleased if we listen to dozens of sermons and can discuss in depth all our favorite Christian preachers and authors, yet don’t know the names or needs of the people God has placed in our immediate physical vicinity? I think it’s time to turn off the TV, spend less time reading about Christian living, and start spending some time living like Christians. Let’s start taking intentional steps to know, serve, and love our neighbors.
“…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”
But he answered, “It is written, “ ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”
Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “ ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ”
Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’ ”
Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.
I’m sure that, like me, you’ve heard a sermon or two through this text. The fact that Satan tests Jesus three times lends itself to a nice, tidy 3-point sermon. The fact that Jesus is in the desert and passes tests of faith hearkens back to Israel’s testing and subsequent failure during their time in the desert. The fact that Jesus succeeds where the Israelites failed demonstrates that Jesus has come to fulfill a mission that was originally Israel’s. Then there’s the nature of the three tests: one physical, one spiritual, and one that’s a little bit of both. There’s lot to be learned from this passage, but there’s one thing I’ve never heard anyone say about it.
I’m really careful in my interpretations of the Bible, and this passage recently spoke to me in a new, startling, and sobering way. I’ve heard some people point out that, in his second test, Satan quotes Scripture against Jesus. Satan tries to fight fire with fire, in a sense. In fact, this is exactly what He did in the Garden of Eden with Eve. He asked, “Did God really say…?” (Genesis 3:1). Satan is quick to take God’s Word and twist it…not a lot, mind you. Satan will intentionally twist God’s Word just enough to cause others to stumble. But Jesus is quick to counter Satan’s verses with some other verses. It’s a case of verses versus verses, really. I’ve heard this almost casually mentioned as part of sermons covering this section as thought it’s just one more thing that Satan has in his arsenal. But has Satan ever appeared to you and misused Bible verses to your face? Me neither! So, what else can we learn from Satan’s tactic?
It’s this: whether we mean to or not, if we twist God’s Word, we are satanic. Any misinterpretation or misrepresentation of the Bible, whether intentional or unintentional, is satanic. Even if we’re unintentionally misinterpreting the Bible, that only means we’re unintentionally being satanic.
Ask yourself, “Is my biblical interpretation satanic?”
I’m becoming more and more convinced that just “knowing your Bible” is utterly insufficient. Satan knows the Bible! If there’s nothing separating us from Satan in our Biblical knowledge then we’re in big, big trouble. Telling people they just need to know their Bible is like saying you should just “buy a gun” for home defense. I wouldn’t tell anyone to buy a gun if they didn’t know how to handle it! I think that’s why Paul tells Timothy to rightly handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). We can logically assume that this means there is a way to wrongly handle the word of truth. That’s what Satan did while testing Jesus and that’s how he still operates today.
It’s not enough to just know your Bible, you have to also know how to rightly handle your Bible. Peter says there are two types of people who twist Scripture: the ignorant and the unstable (2 Peter 3:16). Ignorant here describes one who has not acquired a formal education (which is funny to see, coming from a fisherman); and the word unstable refers to someone who has the tendency to change and waver in one’s views and attitudes (which is also funny to see from someone as rash and unpredictable as Peter was in his youth). So the sobering point is, if you’re going to tell people they need to buy a gun for home defense, it’s just as important that you teach them how to rightly handle their firearm, otherwise they’re a danger to themselves and everyone around them.
This should be very sobering to all of us. We must handle the Word of God with the greatest of care and humility. We must depend on the Holy Spirit to reveal its meaning and we must test that interpretation against the whole of Scripture. This is another reason it is so important for us to be involved in a local church; we must seek the wisdom of other believers to make sure that we’re not missing the meaning of the Bible–whether intentionally or unintentionally. If something is 99% truth, and 1% lie, it’s still a lie and this is precisely how we see Satan twisting the words of God.
At this point, the last thing you should do is instantly think of how this applies to other people. Notice I still said that is a thing you should do? I’m just saying it’s the last thing you should do. The first thing you should do is make sure this doesn’t apply to you. This requires humility, but we have to make sure we’re rightly handling the Word before we approach others. The point of all this is to push us towards greater humility as we approach the Scripture and greater dependance upon the Holy Spirit. Consider the plank in your eye and then, after you have made sure your eyes are clear, confront your brother about the plank in his! (Matthew 7:5)
So where to go from here? Well in the past I’ve written a few blogs that I called Bible Study 101. I’ve outlined several great possibilities in there. Another option is to read a book; I would recommend How To Read the Bible for All Its Worth, but there are many other options available, some of which are free. For a list of free resources that will help you understand God’s word more clearly, take a look here. Take heart and realize that, although the Bible requires a lifetime of study, it provides an eternity of benefit. I pray that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth (John 16:13), that we will rightly handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15), and that we will never twist the word of God.
“Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field.””Wow, what an awesome verse! I’ve been working with Ch Hundley the last few weeks and we’ve been coming up with a lot of good ideas for the 1700 service. He wants to make the congregation healthy enough to survive his PCS. From what I understand that service has had a rough couple of years.
Ch Hundley and the rest of the Protestant Advisory Council members (PACs) feel the only way to make that service healthy is by making it self-sufficient. The body can’t hold itself up if all the parts aren’t working together in harmony and mutually supporting one another. Obviously that applies to our 1700 service too!
However, we want to see the right people in the right spots too. We don’t want people to feel obligate and we don’t want people doing something they don’t have any talent for. If I’m a horrible teacher and I’m teaching the Sunday school class, then I’m kinda in the way of who God really wants to teach.
This verse reminds me that no matter what, we need to consult God first and foremost. The Holy Spirit will call the workers into the harvest field, and the Spirit will even call those workers to the right spots. That’s what I pray happens. I pray that we can see the right people called and serving in the right spots.
And why do we want to have a healthy service? Two reasons! First and foremost, to bring glory to God. And second, to see more people come to know Jesus.