Temporary Residents

June 9, 2017

Peter begins his first letter by addressing it to “those temporarily residing abroad” (1 Peter 1:1, NET). He then goes on to mention the various provinces in which they are scattered. It is likely that many of these Christians had lived in these places all their lives. In what sense could they or we, for that matter, be temporary residents?

The Christian is an alien, a sojourner, or a temporary resident in that his true citizenship is in heaven. This affects the way we approach life, even though we might live in the same house all our earthly life, our values and affections will show that our destination of heaven is what is most important. If we think of ourselves as temporary residents, we will not loose sight of our goal. Our trust will not be in this world. The world in which we live is but a temporary place. The Christian must look beyond it for his true home.

The Epistle of Diognetus has an interesting section on the Christian being a sojourner. The letter is an uninspired, anonymous letter dating from the second century A.D. The writer is attempting to explain the differences of being a Christian instead of a pagan or a Jew. His thoughts make an excellent commentary on what it means to be a temporary resident:

For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of humanity by country, language, or custom. For nowhere do they live in cities of their own, nor do they speak some unusual dialect, nor do they practice an eccentric life-style. This teaching of theirs has not been discovered by the thought and reflection of ingenious men, nor do they promote any human doctrine, as some do. But while they live in both Greek and barbarian cities, as each one’s lot was cast, and follow the local customs in dress and food and other aspects of life, at the same time they demonstrate the remarkable and admittedly unusual character of their own citizenship. They live in their own countries, but only as aliens; they participate in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign country is their fatherland, and every fatherland is foreign. They marry like everyone else, and have children, but they do not expose their offspring. They share their food but not their wives. They are “in the flesh,” but they do not live “according to the flesh.” They live on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. (5:1-9)*

Keeping our eyes on the goal is not always easy. There is much in the world to distract us. The Christian life must be life of watchfulness. Reminding ourselves that we are only temporary residents and sojourners in this world may help us to keep our eyes on the goal.

*Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, p. 541.


Facing Slander

June 1, 2017

Peter writes, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12, ESV). It would be a mistake to look at this verse through the lens of later state persecutions in the Roman Empire. Our minds shouldn’t conjure up the images of Christians being thrown to the lions or burned as torches in Nero’s garden. The “fiery trial” likely refers to 1:7 and the refiner’s fire that purifies gold.

When we look at the letter in detail, Peter is addressing the problem of Christians facing slander.

  • when they speak against you as evildoers, 2:12
  • by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people, 2:15
  • Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless… 3:9
  • when you are slandered, 3:16
  • they malign you, 4:4
  • If you are insulted for the name of Christ, 4:14

The situation is not so much physical persecution as mental — facing slander. Failure to see this may cause us to minimize the problem of slander while the New Testament takes it very seriously.

What happens when the Christian is slandered for being a Christian? The group slanders to get the Christian to conform to the group’s standards or in other words, the standards of the world. They are attempting to get the Christian to give up his or her faith or so compromise the faith that it no longer offends the prevailing culture. In the circumstances of slander, a Christian will possibly re-evaluate commitment to Christ. The Christian may stand firm, lash back with slander, or stop the slander by conforming to the group.

What lessons do we learn from 1 Peter to help us face slander? First, Peter emphasizes the value of salvation. When we begin to ponder whether living as a Christian is worth it, Peter reminds us of what God has done for us (1 Peter 1:3-12). Salvation is precious.

Second, Peter warns us that pressures will come. We shouldn’t be surprised by it. He forewarns us, so that we are better able to hand it. It is a mistake to think that being a Christian will always be easy.

Finally, Peter cautions us not to retaliate in kind. We will win over the slander, not with slander, but with a quality of life that demonstrates Christ (1 Peter 3:8-4:19).


Happy Mother’s Day!

May 12, 2017

Mothers have a tremendous influence on our lives. Francis Xavier said, “Give me the children until they are seven and anyone may have them afterwards.” It may be hard to believe those squirming bundles of energy are learning life lessons, but they are. Mothers are on the front lines of shaping lives. We learn some of our very first moral and spiritual lessons from our mothers. We learn some of our most lasting moral and spiritual lessons from our mothers.

The Bible teaches the importance of parents with some passages that focus on mothers.

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Ephesians 6:1-3, ESV

I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. 2 Timothy 1:5, ESV

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 2 Timothy 3:14-15, ESV

My son, keep your father’s commandment, and forsake not your mother’s teaching. Bind them on your heart always; tie them around your neck. When you walk, they will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk with you. Proverbs 6:20-22, ESV

Listen to your father who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old. Buy truth, and do not sell it; buy wisdom, instruction, and understanding. The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice; he who fathers a wise son will be glad in him. Let your father and mother be glad; let her who bore you rejoice. Proverbs 23:22-25, ESV

Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates. Proverbs 31:28-31, ESV

I hope that you have a wonderful Mother’s Day. May we rise up and call mothers blessed!


How Much Do I Love?

April 28, 2017

The setting was well-to-do. Simon, the Pharisee, had invited Jesus to dine with him (Luke 7:36-50). This is a banquet setting with the meal served on a low table with mats or couches surrounding it. The guests reclined at table with their legs extended behind them.

Into such a formal occasion comes a woman who cries at the end of Jesus’ couch. Would you notice a woman crying in a banquet hall? Surely all eyes were upon her. This is no silent weeping. As Frederick Danker notes about the word used, “‘express grief or sorrow aloud’ (not a silent dropping of tears or weeping…).* She “rains down” tears upon Jesus’ feet. Not just moist eyes, but the kind of crying we usually describe as uncontrolled. And she dries Jesus’ feet with her hair, and she anoints Jesus’ feet with a fragrant ointment. Not only can you not notice the crying, but the aroma of ointment sweeps through the room.

Simon thinks to himself, “If he really were a prophet, he would know what sort of woman is touching him.” With condescension Simon manages to hit two people with one mental stone.

Jesus tells Simon a story that lays bare Simon’s own heart. A money lender has two debtors. One owes 500 day’s wages and another 50, but the money lender forgives both debts because neither had the ability to repay what was owed. So Jesus has a question for Simon, “Which of them will love him more.” We can hear the reluctance in Simon’s “I suppose,” but his answer was correct: “the one for whom he cancelled the larger debt.”

If people felt uncomfortable by such unusual proceedings, the discomfort level is raised by Jesus’ pointed comparison. Simon didn’t give Jesus water with which to wash his feet, a customary kiss of greeting, or oil for his head. This would have been typical hospitality in the ancient world. The woman had washed Jesus’ feet with tears, kissed them, and anointed them with fragrant oil.

As I mentally enter this scene, two thoughts strike me. First, Jesus came to save sinners not just the Simon type of sinners, people who have it together morally and have a good reputation. But he came to save those like the sinful woman whose reputation for being quite undone preceded her. I need to remember that encountering Jesus can transform lives.

Second, Simon doesn’t understand the depth of his own need for grace. How can any of us love little when we grasp the ugliness of sin. All sins, even the ones done by “respectable people,” nailed Jesus to the cross! If I begin to grasp the depth of God’s love, my response in return should be gratitude and love, and that love should motivate me to follow Jesus wherever he leads me. The challenge of the story is: how much do I love?

*S.v. κλαίω, The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testatment, p. 201.


The Case for Christ

April 14, 2017

Because of Easter, some may be thinking about the resurrection of Jesus. For some it may be a strong belief. Others may view it as a myth. Among the latter, there may be some who still cling to the Christ of faith, which means Christ as some sort of ideal although they believe the historical Jesus is moldering in a grave somewhere. Others who hold a mythic view of the resurrection may wish the whole things would disappear into the dustbin of history. The most rabid of this sort may even view religion as dangerous. And of course, there may be some who believe, if asked, but for whom such belief doesn’t have much impact on life.

C.S. Lewis wisely observed, “One must keep on pointing out that Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.”* In other words, I think the importance of the claim about Christ means that everyone should seriously investigate the case for Christ. And this also means examining our own presuppositions and worldviews that might get in the way of such an investigation. Skeptics have examined and become believers. But upon belief, we should never take it lightly.

“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17, ESV). Although we must read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John for the eyewitness testimony, I’ve found the serious studies of others have helped me sharpen and strengthen my own belief in the resurrection. One of the first books that I read of this type was Who Moved the Stone? by Frank Morison. Frank Morrison is the pen name of Albert Ross. Ross set out to write a book that would disprove the resurrection. He ended up convincing himself of the truth of the resurrection and writing a very different book. First published in 1930, the book continues to be in print. Here is a list of helpful books.

  • Who Moved the Stone? by Frank Morrison
  • The Testimony of the Evangelists: The Gospels Examined by the Rules of Evidence by Simon Greenleaf. Greenleaf was a law professor at Harvard. For those who can wade through 19th century prose, it has helpful insights into looking at the evidence of the gospels.
  • The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. Strobel was a newspaper reporter for the Chicago Tribune. When his wife came to belief in Jesus, it upset his perfect atheist marriage. He used his investigative talents as a reporter to attempt to disapprove the resurrection. He ended up becoming convinced of the resurrection.
  • The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona
  • Christianity on Trial: A Lawyer Examines the Christian Faith by W. Mark Lanier. Lanier is a successful trial lawyer. His book brings his experience with evidence to the task of examining Christianity. This book begins with questions about God and morality before dealing with Jesus.
  • Cold-Case Christianity by Wallace J. Warner. Warner is a LA homicide detective. He also began as a skeptic, but examined the case for Jesus using his skills as a cold-case, homicide detective. He became convinced of the resurrection.

The evidence of this case demands to be examined by everyone. The resurrection of Jesus changes everything.

*C.S. Lewis, “Christian Apologetics,” God in the Dock, p. 101.


Today

April 7, 2017

I like the emotional honesty of Augustine’s Confessions. His mother, Monica, had believed in Jesus Christ and prayed for her son all his life. But Augustine was ambitious and lustful. He had pursued philosophy and rhetoric. He had made money. He had satisfied his bodily appetites even having a mistress and a son out of wedlock. He admitted that he had opposed Christian belief “out of malice.” This became his prayer: “I had prayed to you for chastity and said ‘Give me chastity and continence, but not yet.’”*

The words, “but not yet,” tell a cautionary tale. We have another expression “sow your wild oats.” The problem with sowing wild oats is the law of harvest. “You reap what you sow.” “For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.” I have known some people who sowed their wild oats and came to their senses. The story of the prodigal son has been repeated by many a son or daughter. But sometimes there are painful consequences even when forgiveness is found. David sowed to the wind with Bathsheba, and he reaped the whirlwind of a rapist Amnon and a treacherous, mutinous Absalom. “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (Psalm 32:1). But better is it to learn this lesson sooner than later.

“But not yet” has another danger. There are other prodigals who have simply stayed in the far country. The danger of repentance put off is that sin has way of deceiving and hardening our hearts. “But exhort one another every day … that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13, ESV).

“But not yet” also presumes that opportunities for repentance are unlimited. I deliberately left out part of the quote from Hebrews 3:13 in the above paragraph because it is fitting here: “as long as it is called ‘today.’” Hebrews is reminding its readers that not all the wilderness generation made it to the promised land. The quotation from Psalm 95 sums up the issue and is repeated twice in the chapter for emphasis.

Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
Hebrews 3:7-8, 3:15, ESV

Today is the day we have. Maybe we will have tomorrow, and maybe we won’t. As Paul states, “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2, ESV). “But not yet” is tempting. Yet, repentance and salvation are too important. God will help us say no to our sinful past if we trust him. May all of us seize the opportunity called today!

*Augustine, The Confessions, 8.7


The Path to Understanding

April 4, 2017

A few years ago, I found the Bible I had as a teen-ager. I was interested in the notes that I had placed in it. Bible knowledge is not gained in a day. It takes a lifetime of study. Matters that today I probably wouldn’t need any help finding were concepts that back then I understood very imperfectly. For example in a note, I misspelled the word “Pentateuch”—a word which means 5 scrolls and is normally applied to the first five books of the Old Testament. I don’t believe that 1 Timothy has 15 chapters the last time I looked, but I have a written note for 1 Timothy 15.

Understanding takes time and repetition. I compare it to a net. The first time through a book of the Bible the mesh on the net is extremely course. Many things get by us. We struggle to understand. But as we continue to read, the mesh gets finer, and we notice and understand more and more. Alexander Campbell noted the same thing in his publication called the Christian Baptist. After observing that God revealed Himself in understandable language and that our approach to the Bible should be the same as for understanding any other book. He wrote:

You will then take, say, a New Testament, and sit down with a pencil or pen in your hand. Begin with Matthew’s gospel; read the whole of it at one reading, or two; mark on the margin every sentence you think you do not understand. Turn back again; read it a second time, in less portions at once than in the first reading; cancel such marks as you have made which noted passages, that, on the first reading appeared to you dark or difficult to understand, but on the second reading opened to your view. Then read Mark, Luke, and John, in the same manner, as they all treat upon the same subject. After having read each evangelist in this way, read them all in succession a third time. At this time you will no doubt be able to cancel many of your marks.

[Then] read Acts of the Apostles, which is the key to all the Epistles; then the Epistles in a similar manner; always before reading an epistle, read every thing said about the people addressed in the epistle, which you find in the Acts of the Apostles. This is the course which we would take to understand any book. You will no doubt see, from what you read, the necessity of accompanying all your readings with supplications to the Father of Lights….In pursuing this plan, we have no doubt, in getting even three times through the New Testament, that you will understand much more of the christian religion than a learned divine would teach you in seven years. Christian Baptist 1 (December 1, 1823)

Be patient with yourself. Learning takes time. Be assured that God has written an understandable message. What you first do not understand will become clearer in time. Read, pray, think. The path to understanding is taken one step at a time.