A blog about everything about teaching the Bible. "And still I will show you a more excellent way..." (1 Corinthians 12:31).

Monday, March 18, 2013

Losing Like a Christian

I always pause to think about Joseph Barsabas Justus when reading Acts 1. It was prophesied someone had to take Judas' place as the Twelfth apostle, and his name was put forth alongside Matthias. The chapter closes with the words, "And they cast their lots, and the lot fell on Matthias. And he was numbered with the eleven apostles." 

I hate to say it, but I feel closer to Joseph than Matthias. I was a late bloomer (not 5' tall until 10th grade and I wore "husky" jeans... yeah). I had my share of being last or almost last picked for dodgeball. I had a couple of self-esteem-crushing-embarrassments in elementary school that still hurt to think about. And so, on... this isn't about self-pity, but just to say, I can identify with the losers out there. I identify with Joseph. 

It wasn't as though I had nothing going for me as a kid. I've been labelled "talented" and "gifted," for what those things are worth, as long as I can remember. I did eventually grow in strength and to a modest height. Joseph was obviously talented too. Of all the men among the disciples who weren't already apostles, he was one of the two best. But, he wasn't "best" enough. God didn't choose him--he chose Matthias. 

I hurt for Joseph when I read Acts 1. I've been "rejected" when seeking ministry positions I really wanted, and started comparing myself to the one chosen, sometimes able to say, "yeah, I get it," and at other times thinking, "you've got to be kidding me!" It wouldn't have been an issue if Joseph's name hadn't been put forth, but it was put forth, and he was rejected. He never enters the narrative again to my knowledge. How did he deal with that?

I don't know how he dealt with it. The text just doesn't say. But, considering he was of the kind of faith and character the disciples considered apostolic, I have to assume he handled it ok. I recently witnessed a brother handle crushing rejection with as much unselfishness, love and grace as I've ever seen, and I admire him dearly for it--as much as I admire Joseph. Can you relate?

To quote a less than godly source, "You can't always get what you want." Opportunities are always limited, and there's always someone better. Sometimes the people who ought to evaluate you God's way, instead use worldly standards. It happens. You lose sometimes. It's just the way things are this side of eternity. But, we have the hope in Christ that his assessment of our merits on Judgment day will be truly fair and accurate, and, as obedient believers, our places in heaven will be exactly where and what they ought to be (Luke 19:16-26). So, if you have to lose, trust God that he has your destiny under control, and lose like a Christian!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Engaging Today's Prodigal (Book Review)

I listen to Christian programming on the radio a lot. The programs vary in their usefulness to me, and in their accurate adherence to the Bible, but I've only found a couple of the programs/speakers I just can't get anything from at all.

I was listening this week and heard an interview with author Carol Barnier, a self-styled former prodigal. She was a preacher's daughter, who grew up in a good home in which her parents were loving, practiced their faith, and tried to pass it on to their children. Something went wrong in Carol's youth, though, and she eventually left faith behind and joined the late Madeline Murray O'Hare's organization, American Atheists. She became not just an atheist, but what I call an anti-theist, someone actively trying to destroy others' faith in God.

Well, of course she eventually came back to faith in Christ with the help of a preacher who kindly began the process with simple questions about the historical Jesus. Over time, she rebuilt her faith, or rather built it as her own for the first time by examining the truths of Christianity reasonably. 

Her book, Engaging Today's Prodigal: Clear Thinking, New Approaches, and Reasons for Hope offers a look at the various types of prodigal sons and daughters. They're not all smoking, drinking, drugging party-animals who have left their roots to be free from the Bible's "restraints." Some walk away because their questions have not been answered, or have been answered poorly, and they're seeking a worldview that makes sense to them. The church and family can influence (not control) these truth-seeking prodigals by lovingly, patiently, and consistently engaging their questions reasonably and pointing them to the more than ample answers God has to offer.

Over 7 chapters the author exposes a series of myths that will encourage Christian parents struggling with how to understand why their beloved prodigal son or daughter has strayed, and what they can (and can't) do about it. I kindle-highlighted and bookmarked several places where there are truths I want to share with the church when the opportunity presents. In the second section of 12 chapters, Barnier examines "do's and dont's" of dealing with prodigals drawn from her own life experiences in the light of her now better understanding of the truth. Finally, she offers encouragement to those concerned about prodigals in their lives, and ends the book with a bonus section aimed at offering the church some advice, and doesn't close before giving us a section with comments from other prodigals. 

For me, there's a lot of basic stuff throughout the book that I speed-read my way through looking for the meaty nuggets, but there are meaty nuggets to be found. Pick up your copy on your e-reader. It's worth a couple of days' reading and will help you look at some of the youth who've left or are leaving the church in a better light, and maybe even give you some tools to help bring them back. James 5:19-20!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Bible and Sex

Sex. For some it's a taboo topic, but not for God. He invented it, remember? There are plain descriptions of sexual situations in several passages in the Bible, and the Song of Solomon, though not about sex, per se, is rich with allusions to the joy and beauty of sex in a pure, married relationship. This subject needs frank discussion in today's oversexed world.

Oversexed? If the very idea seems foreign to you, it's your first clue you've been desensitized and your mind's been deeply affected by the world's unhealthy sexuality. If you eat too much chocolate cake it'll make you sick. It's the same with sex. If you eat chocolate cake with poison in it, it doesn't matter how good it tastes, it'll harm or kill you. Same with sex. There's nothing inherently wrong with sex. God did create us as sexual creatures. Some among us have less desire for it than others, and that's fine. There's nothing wrong with having a strong desire for it. However, as with all pursuits of pleasures in this world, God has given us boundaries that we must respect if we would be blessed. God never gave a command that wasn't for our good (1John 5:3). He knows us intimately (John 2:24-25). If he says "don't," it's to protect you and others from something harmful. Do you trust his word? Break God's laws to your own hurt--perhaps even eternal hurt (1Corinthians 6:9-20). I'll get back to this shortly, but first, listen to what the Bible says about sex in marriage.

What does the Bible say about it? Well, consider these PG rated passages: "Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love. Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?" (Proverbs 5:18-20). "Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine..The king has brought me into his chambers." "Behold, you are beautiful, my love, behold, you are beautiful! Your lips are like a scarlet thread, and your mouth is lovely... Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle, that graze among the lilies... Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, I will go away to the mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense. You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you. Come with me from Lebanon, my bride; come with me from Lebanon. Your lips drip nectar, my bride; honey and milk are under your tongue; the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon. Let my beloved come to his garden, and eat its choicest fruits." "How beautiful are your feet in sandals... Your rounded thighs are like jewels, the work of a master hand. Your navel is a rounded bowl that never lacks mixed wine. Your belly is a heap of wheat, encircled with lilies. Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle... How beautiful and pleasant you are, O loved one, with all your delights! Your stature is like a palm tree, and your breasts are like its clusters. I say I will climb the palm tree and lay hold of its fruit. Oh may your breasts be like clusters of the vine, and the scent of your breath like apples, and your mouth like the best wine. It goes down smoothly for my beloved, gliding over lips and teeth. I am my beloved's, and his desire is for me." "Make haste, my beloved,  and be like... a young stag on the mountains of spices." (Selections from Song of Solomon 1, 4, 7, and 8). 

Hrm, it seems like sex within a committed marriage relationship can be pretty romantic and satisfying spiritually, emotionally, and physically. That's the precise point! This worlds cheapened, animal view of sex cannot satisfy the desire for sex in all three of those ways. It can't even satisfy you physically for long. It's just like chocolate cake. Eventually you'll get sick of it. Or like poisoned cake. It just might kill you--and I'm not really talking about physical death. 

All sex outside of a legitimate marriage between one man and one woman is sinful. I could list a long roll of passages that say so, but it's enough to say, God showed his plan by creating one man and one woman in the beginning. The inspired words are, "Then the man said, 'This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.' Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed" (Genesis 2:23-25). Jesus affirms this in Matthew 19. Sex outside marriage will hurt you or someone else in this life. If you do not turn away from it and follow the Lord's way, it will cost you your soul. It's very clear: "Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous" (Hebrews 13:4). I hope you can hear and accept this, and may God bless your holy, happy sex life within the security of a committed, Christian marriage.