Friday, June 28, 2013

Women in the Assembly and 1 Corinthians 11 and 14


Many women’s roles discussions hinge on what to do with 1 Corinthians chapters 11 and 14.  They each say something about male spiritual leadership, and they each say something about women’s roles in light of that reality.  But at first glance, they seem contradictory, leading some people to feel like they must alter the natural understanding of one or the other.  My best understanding, however, is that there is a way to understand both to mean exactly what they say, without having to strain the language of either passage.  Unfortunately, not understanding how they could fit together has led some churches to almost entirely dismiss some very clear teachings of Scripture, based on what I believe is a not-so-great-rationale, but I’ll explain that as we go along.  First, the issue itself…

1 Corinthians 11:5 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35


The first part of 1 Corinthians chapter 11 discusses male spiritual “headship,” and says that women were supposed to wear head coverings to show that men were the spiritual leaders of the church.  We don’t entirely understand the head covering issue, and most people understand it to have had a cultural meaning in those days that Paul was encouraging them to acknowledge and uphold.  Maybe we’ll try to figure the head covering thing out another time.  But for now, notice what it says women were to do:

Saturday, June 1, 2013

If You Teach Obedience in Details,

Does That Mean You Are Legalistic?


Every now and then I hear someone say something like: “That church is legalistic, they’ve got all these details about what is right and wrong.” 

I sometimes hear this accusation about churches of Christ.  Churches of Christ are more detailed than most religious people about what they believe is right and wrong, so they must be legalistic, or so they say.  I’m not so sure that logic is correct.  In fact, it’s my experience that most “religious people” tend to confuse legalism and obedience, thinking they are one and the same.  Biblically, they are not. 

So does a pursuit of detailed obedience mean you are legalistic?

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Invisible Challenge of Materialism


In our Bible class study of the Gospel of Mark, we recently had a discussion on the strange  command Jesus gave to the religious commandment-follower we know as the rich young ruler: “One thing you lack: sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Mark 10:21) 

The Strange Command of Jesus

I call it a “strange command” because we don’t see Jesus or the apostles give that command to anyone else.  Three other instances come close, but are not quite the same: (1) The apostles were called to leave their nets and follow Jesus, but they weren’t called to sell all their possessions before doing so.  Quite a sacrifice, but not as big as what Jesus asks the rich young ruler for.  (2) The examples in the Jerusalem church in Acts show people selling their possessions to give to the poor (Acts 2:44-45, Acts 4:32-37), but even that seems to be voluntary and not commanded, for Peter told Ananias that when he owned his property he could’ve done what he wanted with both the property and the money (Acts 5:4).  Also, the faithful Jerusalem Christians didn’t sell everything, for people like Mark’s mother still had their own house (Acts 12:12).  (3) To my knowledge, the closest Jesus comes to this command anywhere else is in Luke 12:33-34: “Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  (Luke 12:33-34)  Even there, Jesus doesn’t seem to be saying to sell “all” you possess as He commanded the rich young ruler. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013


The Un-Discussed Side of Homosexuality?


                Homosexual acceptance has been a hot-button, get-everyone-angry issue for awhile now.  There is a powerful network of money and influence that is pushing our nation to accept homosexual relationships as just like heterosexual ones.  It is a civil rights issue, we are told.  And, as TIME magazine and other outlets have reported recently, polls now show that over 50% of Americans say homosexual marriage should be allowed. 

              My first reaction to the polls?  I’m surprised the support for gay marriage is not even higher.  Why?  Because this has not really been a debate or fair conversation in our national media – it has been a one-sided campaign in favor of gay marriage.  Shout anything at someone long enough, without letting another side be heard, and of course people will accept it.  If we are not allowed to hear an idea fairly disputed, we will come to believe there must not be a legitimate dispute with it. 

I don’t know about you, but I personally have not heard honest, fair discussions in the national media about the issue of homosexuality.  I have heard demonizing of Christians.  I have heard claims that the issue is about whether someone is allowed to love someone else (apparently forgetting that homosexuality is legal in our country; no one is being chained in basements and not being allowed to love or live with who they want to live with).  I have heard horror stories of gay individuals who lost a homosexual partner to death and they didn’t get the money they thought they should have gotten because they weren’t legally married.  I have seen countless television shows and movies make it appear that gay couples are just as healthy a lifestyle as everyone else.  I have heard media members shout collectively in disgust if any public figure says anything negative about homosexuality. 

What I haven’t heard in our media is real, dig for the truth investigations into the other side of the issue.  And among the issues I would personally love to hear discussed fairly is the health side of homosexual relationships, because just a short internet search finds all sorts of studies that suggest homosexuality is not a healthy lifestyle in multiple ways.  Why does no one know this unless they go digging for it? 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Sexual Sin Doesn’t Really Hurt You?


We just finished a Sunday morning study of Proverbs, which challenges us to trust God’s way over the empty promises of the world.  One of the warnings comes in Proverbs chapters 5-7, where the voice of a father tells his son that if he gives in to the temptations of sexual sin, the end of that choice will feel “bitter” and “sharp as a two-edged sword” (Prov. 5:4). 

One of Satan’s lies to our modern culture is that sexual sin is not really a big deal.  In fact, culture claims, sexual activity is just ‘having fun’ and an expected part of growing up and maturing.  Waiting for marriage and being faithful, we are told, is just old-fashioned.  (In fact, several years ago I heard a popular talk-show host say that as a culture she feels “we are past” the need for marriage.)  The world claims that sexual sin really doesn’t result in hurt, like the pain of bitterness or a sword as described in the Proverbs.

So is God right or not? 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A God Who’s Not Big Enough to Do Miracles?

We have been studying the Gospel of Mark in our Bible classes, and we’ve repeatedly seen Jesus do things we’ve never seen before.  He calms a fierce storm at sea with only a word (Mark 4:35-41).  He takes a few loaves and fish and feeds thousands by multiplying it, more than once (Mark 6:33-44, 8:1-10).  He walks on top of water (Mark 6:45-52)!  The “miracle list” could go on and on.  The writers of the Bible clearly claimed and believed that Jesus did many miracles while on earth, not the mention the many other miracles recorded in other parts of the Bible. 

Whenever we study those miraculous events, I can sense our culture in the background making a face.  “You don’t really believe Jesus walked on water do you?”  “You don’t really believe God parted the Red Sea and Jordan River for the Israelites?”  “You don’t really believe God raised Lazarus from the dead?”  And so on.  Our culture – and strangely enough, sometimes even some of our fellow Christians – are tempted to dismiss the Bible’s miracles, perhaps thinking that we are too smart to believe such things today.  OK, so let’s dig into the assumptions behind that thinking.

Why might someone doubt that the miracles of the Bible actually occurred?

Has Science Disproved Miracles?

Thursday, March 7, 2013


Second Chances for the Poor


I’m taking a graduate course called Urban Ministry this semester, and we’re reading several books about poverty.  What causes poverty.  What helps poverty.  What doesn’t help poverty.  It’s been interesting and challenging already, and I’m still in the midst of the reading, brainstorming in many directions. 

There are several reasons this study is so intriguing to me.  First, trying to decide what truly helps the needy is by far my biggest frustration in ministry so far.  People ask churches for help all the time, and we all struggle with wanting to help people, but at the same time not wanting to build ‘dependence’ in people or help someone who is simply scamming churches to make a living.  We’re all looking for a better way forward, and we’ve been asking those difficult “how best to help” questions for awhile at Great Oaks, hopefully with some slow progress. 

Second, this is an issue we must get better at here at Great Oaks, because we are in Memphis, the most impoverished large city in America.  Like all churches in big cities, we don’t have to travel to a third-world country to find people who need help – we can find many of them in just a short drive. 

Third, following Jesus demands that we show God’s love through helping those around us.  Galatians 6:10 says, “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.”  So as Christians, our first responsibility is helping our fellow Christians in need, but we should also strive to do good to everyone we can. 


What Is My Attitude?


Well, I’ll keep wrestling with the “how best to do it” question, both in our ministry at Great Oaks and probably on this blog as well.  But one good starting point comes from simply examining our attitude toward the poor. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Culture That Is Smarter Than God (Or So We Think)


Whenever I’m driving during the day on my way to and from the building or out visiting people, I enjoy listening to sports talk radio.  I’ve intentionally moved toward becoming a more casual, less emotionally-involved sports fan over the past 5-10 years, which has been good.  I don’t watch sports near as much as I did in college, but it’s enjoyable to me just to listen to the conversation, to stay caught up and hear what’s going on in the sports world.  But this week, there was a conversation that left me a little more emotionally involved than usual, because it had to do more with attitudes toward God than with sports. 

A national sports columnist was giving an interview on a local Memphis sports talk show, and the debate was over Tim Tebow planning to speak at a church in Dallas that was said to be hateful and intolerant.  I frankly know nothing about the church, and for all I know that church may approach sin in an un-Christlike way.  But the columnist turned this discussion into an attack on the biblical Christian faith in general, essentially saying that if you say anyone is going to hell, you are hateful and intolerant.  I missed part of the interview, but a friend later told me the columnist said (I think we’ve got this quote right): “If your God would send someone to hell for being gay, someone needs to go up there and fire Him.”

Wow, was my first thought.  That’s an arrogant attitude toward God that I sure don’t want to have on my resume when my life is over and I stand before God Himself. 

My second thought dug in a little deeper to what lay behind his statement.  How could anyone so confidently affirm that they know what’s right more than God does?  Yet it’s becoming more common, for people to claim that the God of the Bible is actually the bad guy in comparison to the goodness of our own ‘enlightened’ culture. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Is God Evil for Commanding Israel to Destroy the Canaanites? 

(and why it's worth discussing)

I've spent 3 days this week at Freed-Hardeman's annual lectureship in Henderson, TN.  It's always encouraging to hear and be around so many other people of faith, many of whom are working hard at preaching in their own communities, and I always come away motivated to be a better servant for God. 

This week, I thought about sharing some of the many ways I hope to grow in my faith and ministry in the coming year, but I'll save a public admission of my shortcomings for another time.  ;) 

I decided instead to share some important information that was presented in one of the lectures this past week, by Eric Lyons of Apologetics Press.  Eric's topic was God's commands to the Israelites to destroy the Canaanites when they entered the land, and whether this command was evil on God's part.

Eric's lecture stood out to me for a several reasons:

First, I've become very interested the past couple of years in the ideas of the "New Atheists" that have been popularized by several aggressive atheist authors, and how those who profess Christianity have responded.  What you find is that the ideas of the "New Atheists" are not really new, and in fact have been answered over and over again through the past several hundred years.  And just a little digging (beneath the media's glorifying of the new atheist arguments) will also find that people of faith in our own generation are answering these objections very ably as well. 

As a follower of Jesus, I've been encouraged to see just how effectively the atheists' arguments are being met, even if i'm often discouraged at how little popular culture seems to notice that the Christian arguments are in fact one step ahead in the back-and-forth.  People for some reason have come to assume that science and modern culture have "discovered" something that makes Christianity irrevelant or wrong, which is simply not true. 

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Lion of Judah

“and one of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.”  (Revelation 5:5)

                I’ve never read the Chronicles of Narnia (I’m a disgraceful excuse for a preacher, I know).  But I know that in the Narnia stories, Jesus is represented by a lion named Aslan.  Which is a great representation for at least two reasons.  First, Revelation 5:5 (above) refers to Jesus as not only the son of David from the tribe of Judah, but as the lion of Judah, a picture of authority, strength, and even fear.  And second, I’m told that the citizens of Narnia have a consistent description of Aslan which I love: He is not a tame lion.  Notice this description of Aslan, from WikiNarnia:

As he appears in Narnia, Aslan is a large talking lion who is terrifying, magnificent, and beautiful all at once. Aslan appears different sizes to different people, such that he is always larger than everyone; as people grow, he grows with them. Aslan is very wise, and a powerful force for good, but as Narnians often say, “he’s not a tame lion.” He can be dangerous, and is an unconquerable enemy.

This description is very different from what you often hear people say about Jesus today.  In fact, I am constantly amused – and saddened – at our culture’s attempts to redefine who Jesus was.  If you listen in to religious conversations, media soundbites, and even many church pulpits, you might be tempted to think Jesus was just a meek man who walked around telling people to love each other and not judge each other.  Jesus loved people, so He would never tell anyone they are lost or wrong, so we are told.  He loved everyone, so He just went around helping people and didn’t really make a big deal about truth or correct doctrine, so we are told. 


Friday, January 18, 2013

Strange Choices
“In these days, he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.  And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles: Simon, whom He also called Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James and John; and Philip and Bartholomew; and Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot; Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.”
 – Luke 6:12-16.

Jesus could’ve chosen anybody, and yet He chose these guys.

That’s my gut reaction whenever I revisit the choosing of the twelve apostles.  If I were Jesus, I would’ve walked into the best rabbi school in Jerusalem (Gamaliel’s, perhaps, who Paul studied under?), and asked him for his 12 best students.  With the most talented Bible scholars available, who knew the law better than anyone else, and who likely could speak publicly better than anyone else, we’d change the world for sure.  Give me the best of the best.

But that’s not what Jesus did.  He took men who were far from the best scholars or speakers.  In fact, they had no ministry experience at all.  Their best qualifications were that at least some of them had been followers of John the Baptist (John chapter 1), and that they were…well…available to go.  They would follow Him, not just some of the time, but 24 hours a day.  And if they weren’t with Him, it would be because He sent them to preach somewhere (as nerve-racking as that must have been for men who had never preached before!).   Not exactly who we would’ve chosen.

If you were reading the gospels for the first time to this point, all you would know is that Jesus chose at least 4 fishermen (Peter, Andrew, James, and John), and a former tax collector (Matthew).  You might recognize that the other Simon is a “Zealot,” part of a political faction that was basically a first century version of political terrorists against Rome.  Not exactly a group that suggests ‘set-the-world-on-fire evangelists.’  Jesus, what are you doing?!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Winning Your Brother

“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you,
you have won your brother.”  -Jesus, in Matthew 18:15

                I’ve always loved the wording of Jesus in this passage.  For one thing, Jesus says that we should go directly talk to the person who has sinned, one on one.  We keep the matter as private as possible, and only make it as public as it needs to be to bring repentance (as verses 16-17 show).  We sadly get that backwards oftentimes, telling it to everyone else first, and maybe after the gossip has spread, we’ll actually get around to discussing the matter with the person who sinned.  Jesus has a different command: go to him first, and talk about it.  So that’s the first challenging lesson here: we need more Christians who care enough to talk to those who have sin in their life. 

                But a second lesson is the one I want us to think about a little more.  When we go talk about the matter with our brother, I love the goal of the discussion given by Jesus: to win your brother. 

                Notice that the goal is not to win the argument.  Or to win a confession.  Or to win the perception that our goodness is better than theirs.  The goal is to win…your brother.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Why Did Sinners Love Jesus?

Why Did Sinners Love Jesus?

Although He had some powerful enemies, Jesus was extremely popular, with crowds gathering around Him everywhere He went (Mark 1:45, for example).  Luke 15:1 gives us an interesting insight to the way sinners reacted to Jesus:  “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.”  So the crowds were not simply made up of righteous people who wanted to hear God’s word, though that was part of the crowd.  The crowd also included many whose lives qualified them as open “sinners” before God.  Which brings up the question: why did these “sinners” gather around Jesus to hear Him?  It seems like sinners would stay as far away from a preacher as possible!  Why did sinners love Jesus?

Well, first we should notice what it was NOT.  It was NOT because Jesus hid the hard truths from them.  Some Christians, in an apparent effort to make sinners will like them the way they liked Jesus, believe Christians should soft-pedal or even hide the truth from them, only treating sinners as friends without addressing what God considers right and wrong in their life.  That’s not how Jesus treated sinners.  If we are to follow the example of Jesus, we aren’t going to try to simply “friendship” people into God’s church, hoping they won’t notice what we believe about right and wrong until – presto! – they find themselves accidentally a part of God’s people, and then maybe we can convince them to stay when they hear the truth about Christian ethics.  That’s not what Jesus did.

So what did He do that appealed to sinners?  A brief look at how Jesus interacted with the sinful woman at the well in John 4 might be instructive.  First of all, He initiates a conversation, letting her know that He does not consider her to be beneath His company (v. 7-9), and she noticed that simple extending of a conversation as an unusual kindness.  Second, He discusses spiritual matters with her, the most important, personal topic that can be discussed, and discusses it in a way that inspires hope that she can have a great spiritual future (v. 10-15).  Third, He shows interest in her life (v. 16).  And fourth, He tells her the truth she needs to hear about changing her life and what God truly desires from His people (v. 17-26).

Perhaps you can notice other aspects of the conversation as well.  But what stands out to me is that Jesus begins a simple, personal conversation with a sinful woman who needed hope in her life, and by the end of the conversation she is running off to tell others about Jesus, even leaving her water pot behind in her joyful rush (v. 28-30)! 

The attitude of Jesus to this sinful woman stands out even more when compared to the way other religious leaders of His time looked at sinners.  The religious leaders were angered at Jesus when He simply extended the courtesy and friendship of eating with sinners (Mark 2:15-16), so they apparently believed they should keep a chasm-wide distance from anyone who resembled a sinner.  The religious leaders looked at sinners with a self-righteous arrogance and an almost-comical pride in their own goodness (Luke 18:9-12).  And they seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time telling sinners what they were doing wrong, in a way that did not even attempt to extend kindness or hope (John 8:1-5, John 9:22-34).  It’s not difficult to see why Jesus stood out. 

So perhaps the main reason sinners loved Jesus can be best summarized in a simple phrase: Jesus genuinely loved people, and they appreciated that.  Here was a man who was good, who taught hope-filled yet serious truths, who helped people, and who genuinely showed interest in their lives and even their faith.  He would spend time with them.  He would help them.  He would encourage them to change their lives for the better.  And they loved Him for it.  Even though many would not agree to change, it was difficult not to at least grant Jesus a hearing.  He had earned a voice in their life by genuinely caring about them. 

As God’s people, let’s make sure we always treat “outsiders” (Col. 4:5) with a spirit of Christ-like love.  If we follow in Jesus’ footsteps, we won’t think we’re too good or too busy for sinners.  Neither will we hide the truth from them in a pandering attempt to make them like us.  Instead, we will show a genuine, love-motivated interest in their lives and even their faith.  We will show kindness to them.  We will encourage them to align their lives more closely with God’s truth.  If we genuinely care about people, they will know it.  And caring about people earns us a voice in their life. 

Why did sinners love Jesus?  Because He showed love to them first.  I pray that you and I will do the same.