Jesus: the truly qualified teacher

Jesus was expected to travel to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Tabernacles.

It was fall in Palestine, about the 15th of Tishri (October 12 on our calendar), and the harvest of wheat and olive oil was complete. It was a time of plenty and thanksgiving for God’s blessings.

The Feast of Tabernacles commemorated the wilderness wandering of the Jews at the end of the year.

Although Jesus would go to the feast, he continued walking in Galilee. He knew the Jews were seeking an opportunity to kill him. Jesus’ brothers came to him and warned him to stay away from Jerusalem. Continue reading “Jesus: the truly qualified teacher”

Counting the cost

“For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it – lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish'” (Luke 14:28-30 NKJV).

A congregation in the U.S. made a commitment to help a church in Asia with a building in which to meet for worship. It has been a little while since I was involved in constructing a church building there and costs have increased considerably during that period. I was very concerned, therefore, with developing a plan which could be finished with the fixed amount of funds that were available. I did considerable shopping and consulting before the final plans were drawn and construction began. The last thing I wanted was to run out of money, leaving a partially finished but still unusable building to deteriorate in bad weather. Continue reading “Counting the cost”

The hermeneutics of desire and fear

Have you ever heard something that you did not want to be true? We all have.

I remember a visiting professor from Oberlin College and Conservatory telling our class that when it comes to church history, practice has often preceded theology. Everything within me screamed this was wrong. Our understanding of God’s word should shape what we do and how we think. What we want or what we are doing should not determine how we read God’s word!

Walking with him across the parking lot after class, I discussed this with him further. He graciously pointed out that “what is” does not always align with “what should be.” My naivety was crushed. I had not considered that some might want to take a path other than the original message. Continue reading “The hermeneutics of desire and fear”

Don’t quit

I have often thought about Christians who left the faith. I’m certain they didn’t plan to leave. Circumstances, or the unexpected, simply overwhelmed them. But you, my dear reader, can probably name a score of people who left. Paul saw the danger and urged us to “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

When I see a Christian fall away I am anguished. How I wish I could have prevented it! How I wish I had known the right thing to say. Often, however, by the time they contemplate leaving, it is too late. Perhaps, I have often thought, I could tell them some things before the crisis sweeps in, so they will know what to expect: So, with that in mind, here are some things that I have always wanted to say: Continue reading “Don’t quit”

One hundredfold

“But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matthew 13:23 NKJV).

Have you ever cut open a ripe papaya? If you are in the U.S. the chances are you have not. A good papaya tree may produce twenty or more fruits per season. Each fruit contains hundreds of seeds. Therefore, theoretically, at least, each tree could reproduce itself thousands of times each season. That degree of productivity is not untypical in the plant world or even in the animal kingdom when one considers fish, insects and various other categories of life. Continue reading “One hundredfold”

Saul and the medium

There are times in scripture when we find incidents that are hard to understand or explain. Saul visiting the medium at En Dor is one of those instances. This is compounded by people wanting to believe that they can contact those they love after the person dies. Sometimes this incident is used in an attempt to show that mediums can summon the dead.

Saul had led his army to meet the Philistines in battle. The Israelite army camped at Gilboa. Just seeing the Philistine army encamped across the valley from them at Shunem terrified Saul (2 Samuel 28:5). He wanted to consult the Lord God of Israel, but God had given up on Saul. So he decided to turn to a medium and one was found in En Dor. Continue reading “Saul and the medium”

The new birth

During the 1st century some rabbis described Gentiles as “a new-born child” when they converted to Judaism (Yebamoth 22a, 48b, 97b). Proselyting to Judaism required a baptism. During the same time that the rabbis were using this language of new birth, John the Baptizer was calling people to reorientate their lives with a baptism of repentance. (Luke 1:15-17; 3:3)

This was the religious background when Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish ruling class, visited Jesus.  Jesus taught Nicodemus that no one can enter God’s kingdom unless he is born from above, namely “born of water and Spirit” (John 3:3,5). Continue reading “The new birth”

Target on the back

Sometimes I think there must be a target on the back of churches and their leaders. Whenever I see someone take a shot at the church in conversation, or on Facebook, or over dinner, I want to look at the back of church leaders’ shirts to see if there is the old familiar target everyone is shooting at.

The burden of elders and preachers and congregations, too, is they must be right one hundred percent of the time else people begin to take aim. Not only must they always be perfect, but they must be perfect with the right attitude. They can’t be smug or judgmental or harsh. And if they fail on any point, at any time, the command rings out: “Fire at will! Any church, any church leader, just take your free shots!” Continue reading “Target on the back”

God’s action and man’s response

Newton’s third law of physics states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. There is no similar spiritual law at work in God’s plan, since we can never equal his actions. But there is a divine principle that applies about action and reaction: Every action of God deserves a positive and receptive reaction on man’s part.

In the plan of salvation, people have sometimes ridiculed the emphasis on God’s part and man’s part. The two are decidedly unequal. God’s part deals with the procuring or accomplishment of salvation. Man’s part is described by receiving or accepting salvation.

For all that God has done for us, then, something must be done on our part. Salvation is not automatic, nor universal. There are conditions to be met. Something must be done by an individual in order to receive it. Continue reading “God’s action and man’s response”