Will the Real Elijah Please Stand Up? Learning from Jesus How to Read the Bible Literally

elijah“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” (Malachi 4:5–6)

And the disciples asked him, “Then why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” 11 He answered, “Elijah does come, and he will restore all things. 12 But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man will certainly suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist. (Matthew 17:10–13)

Every self-respecting, Bible-believing evangelical wants to read the Bible “literally.” No one wants to be called a “spiritualizer” or accused of (un)intentionally “allegorizing” the “plain meaning of Scripture.” But what does it mean to read the Bible “literally”?

On one hand, it is mistaken to read a passage text differently than the author intended. A well-formed grammatical-historical  approach to interpretation affirms authorial intent and the possibility of discerning meaning in a text. On the other hand, it is mistaken to read the biblical text so rigidly (read: literalistically) that the author’s meaning is lost. But how do we discern the difference?

The best way I know is to watch and learn from Jesus himself. Continue reading

Three Reasons Why The Church Needs Singles

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First Corinthians 7 is a difficult passage for many reasons, but one of those reasons has to do with how poorly the evangelical marriage machine (i.e., Christian romance novels, endless marriage conferences, Christian Mingle, etc.) has loved singles and thought about the subject of singleness. While the EMM projects marriage as the blissful goal of every Christian adult, singleness is often perceived as something to avoid. Yes, Paul calls it good, but . . .

Genesis 2:18 is the tell-tale verse: “It is not good for a man to be alone.” Period. End of story. From this verse, and the cultural statistics about men and women waiting for decades before married, the goodness of singleness is missed.

Then we read 1 Corinthians 7, where Paul makes odd statements about how the married should live as though they are not married (v. 29) and that those who marry do well, but those who do not marry do better (v. 38). To understand Paul’s point, we have to fight back images of monks punishing themselves for impure thoughts and stories of celibate priests abusing young boys. “Surely,” we say to our selves, “the inspired apostle is correct in what he says, but things have changed.” “Yes, there is a gift of singleness that God gives to some people, but that’s not me and should be avoided at all cost.”

Long story short, I think we still have a negative view towards singleness. To the married, there maybe suspicion of those who are not married. And to the single, there may be sorrow, anger, or frustration that Mr. Right has not yet arrived. In fact, this sadly is the promise most True Love Waits-type ministries offer—“If you save your virginity, you will be rewarded with a godly (gorgeous) spouse”. But is that so? Continue reading

Words of Wisdom to Those (Still) Waiting to Be Wed (1 Corinthians 7:25–40)

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“Words of wisdom” may be the best way to describe Paul’s counsel concerning singleness in 1 Corinthians 7:25–40. Instead of comprehensive or absolute rules about marriage and singleness, he offers five portraits of marriage for singles and married couples to consider. In these portraits the Spirit-filled man or woman (see 1 Corinthian 2:14–16) can discern how to apply God’s Word to his or her life.

While others (see below) have been more comprehensive in treating the subject of singleness, my sermon sought to follow Paul’s train of thought and apply his words to singles, especially those contemplating marriage.  In all, there are lots of technical question in 1 Corinthians 7, but the singular message is clear: Whether married or single, do all things to the glory of God, leveraging your position in life to know Christ and make him known. This is what it means to walk in wisdom, whatever your vocation.

You can listen to the audio from Sunday’s message or read the sermon notes here. For those who want to go deeper, there are discussion questions below and links to a few other resources (articles, sermons, books) on 1 Corinthians 7 and the topic of singleness. Continue reading

Are You Equipped? Announcing OBC’s EQUIP Conference (Sept 9/23–25)

equip . . . to equip the saints for the work of ministry,
for building up the body of Christ . . .”– Ephesians 4:12 –

In the 1980s edutainment games were coming of age and infiltrating American schools. Leading the way was a game called Oregon Trail. Perhaps you remember playing the game, shooting Buffalo, fording rivers, and fighting off dysentery. In truth, for most 20th and 21st century children such rugged adventures are things of the past, experienced only in pixels and museums.

In our modern world, it can seem that such explorations ended generations ago. Like our entertainment-oriented education strategies, our world tells children and adults that free time is best spent playing, gaming, or escaping the hard edges of life by conjuring up some fantasy world.

The Bible, however, confronts us with a different reality, one far more adventurous and exciting than anything created by Pixar, Pokemon, or a Carnival pleasure cruise. It calls us to scour the earth, making disciples from every nation teaching them to obey all that God has commanded us.

This is God’s great calling—to follow Christ as eager disciples and lead others to know him through our various stations of life. This is why God made us (to glorify him); this is humanity’s greatest task (to increase his glory by multiplying children who reflect his image). This was Jesus’ final word, to follow him in the world’s greatest commission (Matthew 28:18–20).

But how? Continue reading

What is the Kingdom of God Like?

kingdomIf there is one chapter in the Bible which best describes the kingdom of heaven (in other places, the “kingdom of God”), Matthew 13 is it.

Through seven parables, Jesus spoke to the crowds who came to see him (v. 1). In these parables, he laid out aspects of the kingdom that were both hidden and revealed, spiritual and physical, contested and certain, already and not yet. In short, by looking briefly at each parable we can get a list of the kingdom’s characteristics. Then, as we look at all the parables together, we are positioned to answer the question: What is the kingdom of God like?

What follows are five observations from individual parables (some are taken together), and two larger observations taken from the whole of Matthew 13.

The Kingdom of God Is . . .

. . . Mysterious

Perhaps it would be better to say the kingdom is hidden and revealed. For this is what mysterion means in the Bible. Beginning with Daniel 2, the word “mystery” speaks of a kingdom reality that was once hidden but now revealed. Continue reading

Seven Truths about the Doctrine of Vocation

vocation In 1 Corinthians 7:17–24 Paul speaks of our calling before God. In all of his writings, this may be one that most directly deals with the doctrine of vocation. On Sunday, we will consider this subject at length. In preparation, here are seven truths that relate to “vocation” and our calling to live for and before God in all we say and do.

1. Your vocation begins with the Lord’s calling unto salvation.

Made in the image of God, there’s a sense in which everyone has a “vocation.” The world’s bounty is not cultivated by Christians alone. God has blessed the world with the lives and services of many non-Christians.

That being said, only Christians can pursue their work for the glory of God. Only Christians can give thanks to God and pursue their vocations motivated by God’s love. In this way, a true vocation stands in continuity with one’s calling to Christ. The Father effectually calls his children and then assigns them to do good works.

Ephesians 2:10 says that believers are “created in Christ for good works, prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Likewise, 1 Corinthians 7 defines our assignment in life by God’s effectual calling. In 1 Corinthians 7:17, 20, 24, Paul tells the Corinthians to abide in their earthly status and serve God, not worrying about changing their position. In truth, this way of thinking (and living) can only be achieved by those who have the Spirit of God. Therefore, the Christian homemaker or construction worker are animated by the same principle—God’s effectual call (re)defines your earthly occupation. Continue reading

Answering the Call: Toward a Biblical View of Vocation (1 Corinthians 7:17–24)

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Eight times in eight verses the apostle Paul speaks to the Corinthians about understanding their various vocations in light of God’s effectual “call.” These instructions about one’s calling before God broaden Paul’s focus in chapter 7 from marriage, singleness, and sexuality to matters concerning circumcision (Jew vs. Gentile) and slavery (bondservant and free).

All in all, Paul’s heavy emphasis on the Christians upward call in Christ make these verses a cornerstone for understanding our earthly labors at home, in the marketplace, or the church. You can listen to the audio from Sunday’s message (shortly) or peruse the sermon notes here. For those who want to go deeper, there are discussion questions below and links to a few other resources on the doctrine of vocation. Continue reading

God at Work: Learning About the Doctrine of Vocation from Gene Veith (and Martin Luther)

work“Vocation” is a word that comes from the Latin word for “calling” (vocare). In modern vernacular it often is an unimpressive synonym for work, i.e.,  vocational training. However, in Scripture, the word is filled with significance, even dignity. God calls us to himself, out of darkness and death, into the life and love of his beloved Son. Therefore, Christians must understand “vocation” not as a mundane description of work, but rather a dignified “calling” to serve God and the creatures who bear his image. Truly, to ignore or minimize this vocation is to miss a significant facet of the Christian life.

When the Reformers like Martin Luther threw off the shackles of Rome, they restored the doctrine of justification by faith alone. However, contesting the clergy-laity divide, they also esteemed the priesthood of all believers and the doctrine of vocation. In fact, in church history any study of vocation must consider his writings, for he wrote so much and so well about this doctrine.

workTaking this into consideration, Gene Veith an evangelical Lutheran has captured much of Luther’s doctrine, make that the biblical doctrine, in his excellent book God at Work: Your Vocation in All of Life. Introducing his topic, he writes, “When God blesses us, He almost always does it through other people” (14). This, in a sentence, is the doctrine of vocation. Or more exactly, this is the fruit of the gift of vocation.

In what follows I’ve traced the themes of his book and encapsulated a number of his best quotes. I hope it piques your interest in this topic, even as it paints a picture of why vocation is so important for the Christian.  Continue reading

Discipleship in the Local Church: What Has Preaching to Do With Discipleship?

discipleshipDiscipleship programs.

Discipleship pastors.

Discipleship pressure.

Following Jesus means obeying the Great Commission, with its command to make disciples of all the nations. But what does that mean? And how do we do it?

In a few other posts I’ve answered what it means to be a disciple and who makes disciples. But today, I want to begin to address the question: How do we disciple?

A Brief Introduction

Many helpful books have been written on discipleship. My (old) favorite is Robert Coleman’s Master Plan of Evangelismmy (new) favorite might be Discipling: How to Help Others Follow Jesus by Mark Dever. Both are simple reads. The former tracing Jesus’ pattern of discipleship; the latter giving practical instructions on “helping others follow Jesus,” which is Dever’s simple definition of discipling. If you have never read a book on discipleship, I’d recommend you pick up one of these two—then read the other.

In the meantime, let’s try to put a few how-to’s in place, with or without any prerequisite reading. Without limiting or listing the number of ways discipleship can be carried out, here are three ways we might conceive of discipleship. Continue reading

‘Married for God, Divorced for Good?’ (1 Corinthians 7:10–16)

sermon photoFirst Corinthians 7:10–16 brings us to one of the most heart-wrenching passages in Scripture. As it deals with marriage, divorce, and remarriage, it gives counsel to Christian marriages (vv. 10–11) and “mixed marriage” (vv. 12–16) that are looking into the teeth of divorce. In the context of a horribly sad week (#AltonSterling, #PhilandoCastille, and #DallasPoliceShooting), I bookended this sermon with the gospel truth that God comforts those who are broken by sin. My prayer is that as God’s truth is declared, it brings clarity and comfort.

You can listen to the audio from Sunday’s message or peruse the sermon notes here. For those who want to go deeper, there are discussion questions below and resources explaining the Majority and Minority position on divorce and remarriage. Continue reading