Climbing Mount Maunganui

December 20, 2013

TheMount

I climbed Mount Maunganui last Saturday. It is on a peninsula north of Tauranga, New Zealand. It has an elevation of 761 feet. My Fitbit One gave me credit for 63 flights of stairs climbed going around and up the Mount. The summit of the Mount is reached by walking trails and stairs.

I’ve climbed the Mount several times, but it had been at least 6 to 8 years since my last climb. I had a pacemaker procedure last June, so I feel so much better now, that I thought I could climb the Mount again. Now, I still have asthma, so it wasn’t easy. Physically fit young men and women in their twenties running the Mount two or three times for exercise is a common sight. My pace was very slow and steady in comparison to theirs, but I made the climb.

Many of the challenging things we do in life are not done in one fell swoop like Superman’s ability “to leap tall buildings in a single bound.” We mentally break down the larger task into smaller ones that seem doable. I was doing that in this climb. I would look at a set of stairs and say, “I know that I can make it to the top of these stairs.” Or, I would see a trail that went up and around a curve. I would promise myself that I would walk that much of the trail, and then set another goal. I made it up the Mount setting smaller goals until I had reached the bigger goal. That strategy works on many things in life.

You may be wanting to become more regular in prayer and Bible reading. You may have physical fitness goals or educational goals. You may have areas to work on in a relationship. The reality is that big projects are accomplished as we are able to see the various smaller steps that make up the big project. As the old time management adage goes, “How do you eat an elephant?” The answer is “one bite at a time.”

One of the problems climbing the Mount is that there is so much vegetation that you cannot see the top until you are very close. I had a runner who was descending the mount say to me, “Almost to the top, mate.” It was encouraging, and at that moment, I needed some encouragement. (I probably looked like I needed some encouragement too.) By the way, I wasn’t nearly as close to the top as I had hoped. Shortly after I heard those words, I came to a zig-zag staircase that discouraged me, but the words of encouragement kept me going.

Remember to give some encouragement along the way. We all need it in Christian living. We may need it in other areas of our life as well.

Here’s to the big, important things in our lives. Here’s to encouragement along the way. May you find new mountains to climb.


One Day At A Time

November 15, 2013

I like the phrase at the end of Matthew chapter 6: “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” (KJV). Jesus is arguing against worry and excessive anxiety. In Matthew 6:34, He is not talking about moral evil, but problems or troubles that come our way each day. The modern versions are quite correct in rendering it: “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (ESV). Jesus is urging that we have a deep trust in God and handle our problems one day at a time.

Jesus argues against worry in a number of ways in this passage (Matthew 6:25-34). First, He argues from the greater to the lesser. If God has given us life and a body, will He withhold the lesser things—food and clothing—which are needed to sustain the greater gift? Second, He argues from the lesser to the greater. Jesus teaches that God provides for the birds and the lilies of the field. Since we are more valuable, won’t He provide for us as well? Third, He informs us that the pagans—those without faith—pursue the same things, but our heavenly Father knows that we have need of them. Our perspective should then be: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33, ESV).

The magazine, Marriage Partnership, reported a study on worry. They found the following breakdown.

  • 60% of our worries are unfounded
  • 20% of our worries are already behind us
  • 10% are so petty they don’t make a difference
  • 4-5% are real, but we can’t change them
  • 5% are real, but we can act on them

This aptly illustrates Jesus maxim: “Each day has enough troubles of its own” (Matthew 6:34, NIV). We need not borrow problems from the future to ruminate on, let us live each day with trust in God.

Certainly, there are times when disasters come, and anxieties press us down, but the solution is still found in “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33, ESV). Or, as Peter encourages us, “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7, ESV). Only trusting in God will see us through.

One sage has remarked, “The most pleasant and useful persons are those who leave some of the problems of the universe for God to worry about.”


Multiply

October 18, 2013

The population of the world is about 7 billion. If we were to lump together all groups that claim Christ in some sense, they would amount to 33% of the world’s population. But we would have to confess that this amalgamation is not one in the sense that Jesus prayed that his disciples might be one (John 17:11). Yet, the Great Commission has not been revoked. It still reads: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19 ESV).

The task seems staggering. But before we allow ourselves to become discouraged, we need to consider the power of multiplication. The legend of the chessboard is a famous way of doing this.

In the story, the mathematician named Sessa presents the game of chess to a king. The king is so impressed with the game that he grants the mathematician the right to name his prize. Sessa requests that his prize be one grain of rice on the first square of the board to be doubled on each subsequent square of the board. The king, unaware of the power of multiplication, grants Sessa his prize.

After a week, the king is upset with the treasurer of his kingdom, because the prize had not yet been granted. The treasurer protests that it has taken the week to do the calculations. There are, after all, 64 squares on a chessboard. But the king’s displeasure soon turns into horror. The amount of the prize is greater than his kingdom’s assets.

The math puzzle is this. Place one grain of rice on the first square of the chessboard. Place two grains of rice on the second. Place four grains of rice on the third. Keep doubling the amount of rice on each subsequent square until you have gone through 64 squares. How many grains of rice would you have on the entire chessboard (if it could hold it, which it can’t):

18,446,744,073,709,551,615 grains of rice

Most of us only have occasion to consider millions, billions, and trillions. We hear of billionaires like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, and the U.S. federal budget is measured in trillions. After trillions comes quadrillions, and after quadrillions comes quintillions. The answer to the chessboard math problem is over 18 quintillion grains of rice, and it all started by doubling one.

The solution to the staggering task of the Great Commission is simple. We plant the seed, and God gives the growth. God wants us to multiply


Forces of Modernity

August 16, 2013

James W. Sire in his book, Chris Chrisman Goes to College, examines the forces of modernity that affect our Christian faith. He does it my mixing commentary with a novel about fictional Chris Chrisman going to a state college, and the challenges to his faith that he faces there. But these forces of modernity affect all of us and not just college students.

Individualism. Individualism has roots in Christian faith. After all, we believe that individuals are created in the image of God and are unique and valuable. We believe that salvation is an individual matter. Modern individualism however goes to some extremes. It desires to be totally autonomous from God. It believes that the individual is self-sufficient and can define himself anyway he wants.

Pluralism. Pluralism can be defined in several ways. On one level, it is simply the getting along of many religious, ethnic and cultural beliefs in one society. No one can argue with the need to coexist with our differences. But pluralism is also used with a philosophical meaning maintaining that no one explanation for life is true. In a situation where many religions exist, the influence of pluralism is to see all of them as viable. To raise the question whether one of them is true is to violate social mores.

Relativism. Faced with pluralism, relativism refuses to question the truth of any philosophical or religious position. The response is: “It’s true for you, but it’s not true for me.” Ethical values are treated in the same way. Everything is subjective and relative.

Privatization. Privatization is the tendency to split social reality into two sectors: public and private. The public sector has to do with government, politics, business, economics, production, technology, and science. The private sector involves religion, morality, leisure, and consumption. The tendency in our culture is to want to keep these two sectors separate.

The danger to a college student or anyone else is that if we obey the forces of modernity our faith dies. Christianity demands to be defended as true in opposition to other views. Granted that this defense should be made with gentleness and respect (see 1 Peter 3:15-16), but it should still be made. Christianity demands our whole life, both public and private. The forces of modernity give us a choice: (1) the erosion of our faith or (2) choosing to be out of step with the times.


“Hasten the Day”

June 7, 2013

Peter makes an intriguing appeal “You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming” (2 Peter 3:11-12, NIV). Of interest is the word that the NIV has rendered “speed.” A quick survey of translations indicate two possibilities: (1) hasten or speed the day or (2) eagerly desire the day.

  • “hastening” (ESV, NASB, NKJV, NRSV and NET), “speed” (NIV),
  • “eargerly” (NIV margin, Hugo McCord), “earnestly desiring” (NRSV, ASV), “earnestly desire” (HCSB), “look forward” (NCV)

The Greek word “speudō” has both meanings. Those who favor “hastening” point to Jewish background, although the IVP Background Commentary notes that the rabbis were divided on the issue of whether Israel’s repentance and obedience sped up the day. “Hastening” would suggest that we speed the coming of that day by our repentance, evangelism, and prayers. Those who favor “eagerly desire” find it the simpler solution because it doesn’t involve human behavior affecting the timing of the end. Although I’ve tended to favor the second choice, I must confess the difficulty of the options.

However, I don’t want to get lost in the “trees” of this passage and miss the grandeur of the “forest”. As you read 2 Peter 3, it is apparent that Peter wants us to be prepared for the Day. It will arrive “like thief in the night.” We know it’s coming, but we don’t know when. This world will be destroyed, but Christians hope for better things. In the meantime, we must live holy lives knowing that our future home is where righteousness dwells.

Yet what may be most challenging to 21st century American Christians is the eager anticipation of that Day. What is apparent in the chapter is an eager anticipation regardless of translation choice in 3:12. First century Christians were excited with longing for Jesus’ return. It didn’t mean they checked out from this world. Preparations needed to be made. People needed to be reached. As C.S. Lewis has aptly quipped, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.”

We are in need of reminders to aim at heaven. The busyness and comfort of this life may cloud our vision. Would we pray with Paul, “Our Lord, come!” (1 Corinthians 16:22)? Or would our lifestyle proclaim, “O Lord, wait!”? Our attitude to the day has an effect on our lifestyle. Somehow, the companions of eager desire are holinesses and reverence. May we eagerly desire the day of God!


Three Killers

March 8, 2013

He thought no one was around—no one would see. No doubt he felt anger over the injustice of the situation. Maybe that was justification for killing the man. He had lashed out at an oppressive system, but that didn’t stop him from hiding the body. Prosecutors would label that as an indication of guilt. When it became clear that other people knew, he fled the country as a wanted man.

It was a wartime indiscretion, yet the unwanted pregnancy was about to make his dirty little secret public. He had too much to loose—too much at stake. Her husband was a soldier under his command. If he could just order him to the right place at the wrong time, her husband would be a casualty of war. It wouldn’t really be murder, would it? The enemy would solve the problem.

The mention of his name caused fear among many. He had acquired power and authority to deal with this problem, and he had the courage of his convictions to wield it. If that meant some martyrs along the way, so be it. His nation and its way of life were threatened.

Have you guessed the identity of the three killers? They were Moses, David, and Paul. Of course that is not the way we are accustomed to labeling them. They were men of faith—men that God used in a powerful way. Yet each needed grace—needed forgiveness.

Moses heard God proclaim: “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…” (Exodus 34:6, ESV). David exclaimed: “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity…” (Psalm 32:1-2a, ESV). And Paul confessed: “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15, ESV).

If Moses, David, and Paul needed to claim God’s mercy, how much more do we. If each of these men had their character flaws, it’s no surprise that we do too. We must claim God’s forgiveness, and at times, we must also humble ourselves before others and ask their forgiveness too. We are works in progress. God is not through with us yet.

God took three killers and did great works. These three men found mercy and the transformation of walking with God. In the final analysis the great accomplishments were not because of who they were, but because of whose they were.*

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*Thanks to Duane Stuart for sharing this sermon idea.


The Weaker Vessel

March 1, 2013

Theodore Dalrymple is a British essayist. His work as a psychiatrist and medical doctor in a prison and hospital gave him a unique perspective on society. Although not Christian, his essays reflect conservative and traditional values. This is his encounter with a young girl who was the victim of domestic violence.

“I can look after myself,” said my seventeen-year-old.

“But men are stronger than women,” I said. “When it comes to violence, they are at an advantage.”

“That’s a sexist thing to say,” she replied.

A girl who had absorbed nothing at school had nevertheless absorbed the shibboleths of political correctness in general and of feminism in particular.

“But it’s a plain, straightforward, and inescapable fact,” I said.

“It’s sexist,” she reiterated firmly.

A stubborn refusal to face inconvenient facts, no matter how obvious, now pervades our attitude towards relations between the sexes. An ideological filter of wishful thinking strains out anything we’d prefer not to acknowledge about these eternally difficult and contested relations, with predictably disastrous results.1

This provides a good lead in to consider Peter’s language in 1 Peter 3:7: “living with the wife according to knowledge as the weaker vessel.” By the way, “vessel” is not a disparaging word. Paul was a “chosen vessel” (Acts 9:15), and Christians are “vessels of clay” (traditionally “jars of clay”) that contain the great treasure of the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:7). But what does Peter mean by weaker?

Since Christian wives are fellow heirs of the gospel with their Christian husbands, it is clear that they are of equal worth. Since wives may be Christians and their husbands not (3:1), it cannot mean that they are weaker morally or intellectually. The only thing that makes sense is that they are weaker physically.

The above statement is a generalization. We might easily find a woman who could beat the tar out of some man. But admitting to exceptions, there is wisdom in telling men, who are frequently more aggressive, to use knowledge in living with their wives. The knowledge or understanding Peter is after is the awareness of a woman’s vulnerability and our common Christian hope. In ministry, I’ve seen the great damage that occurs when a woman becomes fearful of her husband.

Peter’s message may offend modern ears, but we live in a world where domestic violence is a reality. We still need his message about living according to understanding and honoring our wives.

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1Theodore Dalrymple, Life at the Bottom, p. 37.


What Is Baptism?

October 5, 2012

The words, baptize and baptism, are transliterated not translated. That means translators have simply given English letters for Greek letters. Translation would give us an English meaning. Transliteration leaves it in Greek, so the reader is left to find the meaning of the word.

A visit to an English dictionary will give the following: “to immerse (an individual) in water, or pour or sprinkle water over (the individual), as a symbol of admission into Christianity or a specific Christian church” (Webster’s New World Dictionary). But today’s English dictionary only reflects current word usage. Words can change meaning over time. The real question is what did the word mean in the first century A.D. Even an English dictionary may be helpful with this, because many dictionaries give an etymology or word history. In this case the etymology says, “< Gr (i.e., from Greek) baptizein, to immerse, baptize, substituted for earlier baptein, to dip”. This at least suggests the original meaning of the word is “immerse”.

When we turn to Greek dictionaries, Liddel and Scott define baptism (baptismos) as “dipping in water, immersion”.1 The standard dictionary for the Greek New Testament is by Bauer, Danker, Arndt, and Gingrich. It states, “In G[ree]k. lit[erature]. gener[ally]. to put or go under water.”2 G.R. Beasley-Murray in The New International Dictionary of the New Testament Theology writes, “Despite assertions to the contrary, it seems that baptizo, both in Jewish and Christian contexts, normally meant ‘immerse’, and that even when it became a technical term for baptism, the thought of immersion remains.”3

We can also examine the text of the New Testament to discover the meaning of the word. Take Mark 1:9, “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan” (ESV). Reread the verse substituting immerse, sprinkle, and pour. Which one makes sense? Baptized describes the action performed on the person not on the water.

In John 3:23, we are told that John the Baptist chose the location for baptizing because water was plentiful. In Acts 8:36-39, Philip and the eunuch both go down into the water and come up out of the water. This is obviously needless unless baptism is immersion. Paul links baptism with burial in Romans 6:3-4 and Colossians 2:12. “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death…” (Romans 6:4, ESV). The analogy only makes sense if baptism is immersion.

The evidence from dictionaries and our examination of the text points to baptize/baptism meaning immerse/immersion. Can you be spiritually safe if you haven’t done what Jesus, Peter, and Paul said to do?

1Liddell and Scott, A Greek English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1940), pp. 305-306.

2A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd Edition. (University of Chicago Press, 2000), p. 164.

3G.R. Beasley-Murray, “Bapto” The New International Dictionary of the New Testament Theology (Zondervan, 1975), I:144.


Who Should Be Baptized?

September 27, 2012

Christendom is divided over the issue of who should be baptized. The basic decision is between immersing infants or believers. A good starting place for examining the evidence of the New Testament is the Great Commission, where Christian baptism is first mentioned.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20, ESV

Note the phrase, “baptizing them.” We want to know who are “them”. The word, “them,” is a pronoun. If you remember back to your grammar lessons in school, you will recall a pronoun takes the place of a noun. A pronoun refers back to a noun within the context. So what is the referent for the word, “them.” Clearly, it is those who are made disciples.

What then is a disciple? The standard Greek lexicon gives this statement for disciple—“ pupil, with implication of being an adherent of the teacher.”1 A disciple then is someone who has heard the gospel, believed in it, and wants to be a follower of Jesus. That is the only kind of people that Jesus has authorized us to baptize. The Great Commission answers the question who should be baptized, and the answer is a disciple. If Jesus has all authority, as the commission clearly states, who can authorize anything else?

As we look at the rest of the New Testament, we find confirming evidence.

  • Mark 16:15-16 – “whoever believes”
  • Acts 2:38 – one who repents
  • Acts 2:41 – those who received the word
  • Acts 8:12 – men and women who believed

The New Testament clearly comes down on the side of believers’ baptism. Have you been immersed as the New Testament teaches?

1Bauer, Danker, Arndt, & Gingrich. A Greek English Lexicon of the NT and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition, page 609.


“I Didn’t Know What I Was Reading.”

June 30, 2012

Scan the book titles in many preachers’ libraries, and you are likely to run across a commentary by Homer Hailey. Hailey taught at Abilene Christian College (1934-43, 1948-51) and Flordia College (1951-1972). His commentary on the minor prophets was published by Baker Book House in 1972. Christianity Today heralded it as one of 25 most significant books published that year. Hailey also wrote commentaries on Revelation, Isaiah, and the gospel of John.

A biography of Homer Hailey tells his story. Although his family had Restoration Movement roots, he grew up without religious training or going to church. His mother, Mamie, was a baptized believer, but was in a painful marriage. His father, Robert, had problems with drinking and gambling. After his father’s death, Hailey and his brother became the family’s financial support. Still a teenager, he too became involved in smoking, drinking, and gambling. In fact getting beat up one night, while slightly under the influence of White Mule bootleg liquor was one factor that started him in the path of reform.

Mrs. Huffman, wife of Hailey’s employer, had been correcting him and trying to encourage him for the good. Under her influence, he attended church and was later baptized at a “protracted meeting.” Hailey took his new founded faith seriously. He set out to read the Bible on evenings and Sundays. Hailey’s comment about his early Bible reading is the reason for telling the story. Reflecting back on the experience, he said, “I didn’t know what I was reading, but I read it through.”1

Hailey’s early experience with reading the Bible is common. I think it is important for the beginning Bible reader to hear about the early experiences of an advanced student of the Bible. We may have the mistaken impression that we just aren’t smart enough when we experience difficulties in understanding. We may think that other people understand it easily the first time through. We may get discouraged. The truth is that it takes time. The Bible is a library of books that spans thousands of years of history. We have to take small steps in getting familiar with the names, places, events, and themes.

I felt the same way early in my Bible reading. But even my earliest readings of the Bible registered something. I found moral principles by which to live. It has taken more time to contemplate grace, the holiness of God, and the need for Christ’s death. The deepening of appreciation and understanding never ends. I can assure you that the accumulation of many small steps can take you on a grand journey—a journey of faith. Persistence will pay spiritual dividends. The cry – “I don’t know what I’m reading” – is just the first step.

1David Edwin Harrell, Jr., The Churches of Christ in the 20th Century: Homer Hailey’s Personal Journey of Faith. (The University of Alabama Press, 2000) p. 32.