Stand On Your Head for Joy!

I get the privilege of preaching God’s word to our congregation every so often, about once per month. When I preach, I will do my best to post a snippet from my manuscript (it will not always be exactly what I say!) here on the blog with a link to the full audio. In my first two weeks at Grace Chapel, I preached twice. Here’s a portion of my first sermon, “A Father and Two Sons” from Luke 15:11-32.

So Jesus leaves the story open-ended. What will the elder brother do? He ends it there to leave the Pharisees and us longing something—for a true and better elder brother. An elder brother who would leave the presence of his Father and the comforts of his home in heaven to go on a rescue mission and sacrifice all he has to bring his Father’s lost children home. You see, Jesus is the elder brother we need and long for. He gave up his heavenly inheritance and paid our debt. He was stripped of his heavenly clothes, hung naked on a cross, and died thirsty, so we would be clothed in the best robe and enjoy a feast fit for a king. And God is the real prodigal in this story. He is the one who is radical, extravagant, seemingly wasteful in his generosity.

So now younger brothers and elder brothers can relate to God through grace. It’s a gift. We receive it by faith. No one is too bad to receive it and no one is good enough to earn it. Jesus is directing us to himself. He’s saying, you don’t have what takes. You need to trust in a God who is recklessly generous. A God who is wastefully extravagant. A God who shatters your categories of sin and righteousness. And the only way to get to him is through his Son, who provides both the perfect obedience and payment for sin we need.

Some of you might be saying right now, “Okay, I’m already a Christian. I get it. I’ve already received grace. What am I supposed to do?”  Well, Jesus doesn’t say, “Go and do likewise.” He is directing us to himself. So if that is your reaction, let me humbly suggest that you guard your heart from a spirit of legalism: be astonished by grace! Second, let me ask you to consider: if this is your attitude, have you encountered grace in the first place? This grace should astonish you and fuel your faith!

Martin Luther once said, “If I could believe God was not angry with me, I would stand on my head for joy!” If you want an application, maybe try that as one this morning!

Listen to the whole thing.


A New Year to Remember the Old Gospel Story

Many people are taught to believe the Bible is a book of rules with a bunch of stories about many heroes who are used by God because they are good people. That could not be further from the truth.

With this new year, as you begin your Bible reading plans and start resolutions, remember the simple, old, gospel truth of Scripture:

The Bible is not a book of rules, but rather one rule: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. The Bible is not a book of stories, but rather one story: God redeeming a people for himself. The Bible is not a book of heroes, but rather one Hero: Jesus Christ, who kept the rule on our behalf and purchased our place in the story through his life, death, and resurrection.

Happy New Year to you. Would this new year be a perfect year to remember that the old, old story will never, in fact, grow old.


How Not to Read the Bible

Part 4 in a 10 part series. View series intro and index.

We are taking a step backwards a bit in our Gospel-Centered Devotions series. Before I get to how to keep Christ at the center of the New Testament (part 8), I want to briefly walk through some unchristian ways to read the Bible.

We learn how to read the Bible from the spiritual “experts” in our lives (usually the three “P’s”: pastors, professors, parents). People especially read the Bible the same way it is preached to them. These unchristian ways to read the Bible run rampant in pulpits all across America and usually leak their ways into small group Bible studies and children’s ministries as well (see my other series going on right now). With God’s help, we can “undo” wrong ways of reading to transform our devotional times. Without further adieu, here are a handful of unchristian ways to read the Bible.

  • Moralism. You read the Bible to find morals and ethics to obey to get God in your debt. If you obey, God loves you. If you don’t obey, he doesn’t love you. When you fail, you need to try harder to ratchet up the obedience. You fail to see that your true problem is identity (sinner), not actions (sins).
  • Self-Helpism. You read the Bible to find examples of how you can help yourself be a better person. You fail to see your natural inclination to resist obeying God by thinking  with the right tips you can achieve the absolute holiness God requires.
  • Mysticism. You read the Bible expecting an emotional awakening from the Holy Spirit. You want goosebumps and chills and an “inner feeling” that God is with you. You fail to recognize that the objective aspect of Christianity (the gospel event of Jesus life, death, and resurrection) is your only foundation for the subjective aspect (what the Holy Spirit is doing/can do in your life now).
  • Activism. You read the Bible to find justifications for corporate “kingdom work” like recycling, planting trees, starting homeless shelters, and other “causes.” These are good things, but you fail to recognize the personal work of the King as the foundation for all societal action.
  • Road Map for Life. You read the Bible only when life gets tough and you need a pick-me-up. You want a fortune cookie saying, so you fail to read the Bible in context and often apply passages to your life that have nothing to do with 21st century Americans.

There are also unchristian motivations to read the Bible. These are straightforward enough, but at least deserve a mention:

  • Legalism: You read the Bible in order to get right with God.
  • Obligation: You read the Bible to appease your own guilt.
  • Self-competence: You read the Bible to gain theological knowledge.
  • Self-righteousness/Judgmentalism: You read the Bible to feel good about your self-worth. You read the Bible to have a hammer to swing at others.

We are guilty of all these on some level or another. We must repent and “unlearn” what others have taught us and, indeed, what our sinful nature wants. Jesus even died to bring us hermeneutical (interpretive) salvation! The Bible is God’s self-revelation to us so that we might taste and see he is good as we gaze upon his Son, who is God’s glory and the exact representation of God’s nature (Heb. 1:3). Let’s read it as such.


What if obedience doesn’t give me joy?

Oftentimes in the Christian life, we do not want to do something even though it is the right thing to do. It may be something that causes us to be uncomfortable or particularly humbled or work in an area of weakness. We simply do it because we know we are “obeying God,” even though it does not give us joy. I experience this. Some might answer this problem with, “Don’t do it if your heart isn’t right. After all, God cares more about your heart!” Others might say, “Just keep obeying. You’ll have joy in heaven.”  Neither of those help me, and I doubt they help you.

At the risk of oversimplifying, this might help. Obey until you have joy, then keep obeying. I do not believe that joy is only reserved for the next life, and I also believe God cares about heart-level obedience that manifests itself in external ways. Jesus prayed, “I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves” (John 17:13).  But he also said, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). These are not at odds.

If you continue to obey, plead with God for your heart motivation to change and to experience true joy. I believe God will soften your heart. If you disobey, your heart motivation will not change, no joy will come from disobedience, and your heart can only harden more.

True joy lies in humility and insignificance. Remember the words of our Lord Jesus, “It is better to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), and the Apostle Paul, “In humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4).


Welch’s or Wine?

I did this brief (very brief) word study for a coworker of Carly’s who had some questions about wine in the Bible. This is by no means anywhere close to exhaustive. It is merely an overview, and I’m posting it here to open up conversation. I’d love to hear your thoughts, however, with such a touchy topic as alcohol, please be gracious by not forcing your personal liberties or legalisms onto other people.

*               *               *

Wine: Most popular Greek word in the NT is oinos (pronounced “oy-noss”). This is the word used for the wine that Jesus made during his first miracle at the Cana wedding when he turned water into oinos.

There are at least three reasons to believe that oinos is similar to our alcoholic wine today:

  1. This is the word used in Ephesians 5:18 when Paul says, “Do not be drunk with oinos but be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Being “drunk” and being “filled” are contrasted here. Both imply intoxication and being controlled by a substance outside of oneself. On the one hand, one (i.e. drunkenness) is negative and sinful. The other (i.e. filled with the Holy Spirit) is positive and holy. So Paul does not say that oinos is bad, but that being controlled by it is (compare 1 Tim. 4:1-5, especially verses 4-5).
  2. This is the word used in Romans 14:21 when Paul says that wine should not be a stumbling block to a brother. If oinos was merely grape juice or some other processed beverage, why would it be considered a possible stumbling block to a Christian? The short answer is that it wouldn’t. No one gets controlled by grape juice (well, maybe in some very bizarre circumstances!). Because of the temptation to be physically controlled by something other than the Spirit, Paul says it would be best for the mature believer to abstain instead of forcing the weaker brother he is friends with to compromise convictions and practices.
  3. Finally, Vine’s Dictionary of New Testament Words points out that Matt. 9:17, Mark 2:22, and Luke 5:37 imply that this oinos is fermented. In these passages, Jesus is speaking of putting new wine into old skins–he is giving an analogy of bringing the New Covenant to Jews who are still married to the Old Covenant. New grape juice would not cause old animal skins used for a canteen to burst, but a freshly fermented, alcoholic beverage certainly would.

The other uses of the word oinos in the NT give us no reason to believe that this drink is not a processed, fermented, alcoholic drink. It probably was not be as strong as the wine or other drinks we have today, of course. It even took wedding guests awhile to get drunk during the week-long celebration.  That’s why at weddings (like in Cana, see John 2:1-11) they used the good wine first and were content to dish out the cheap, boxed Franzia wine toward the end of the week. Whatever the alcoholic content of wine in the Bible, however, we do know for certain they weren’t drinking Welch’s.