Q&A: 1 Corinthians 15:29

by Aaron

Can you explain I Corinthians 15:29? It was used at a funeral service that I attended over the weekend and I'd never heard it before.

I have to wonder, were you at a Mormon funeral? Mormon's have a practice of baptizing themselves and others for those who have died. The Mormon Church has claimed this verse as the reason they do so (1 Corinthians 15:29 Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?).
 
In the practice people will go to their Mormon temple, appropriately dressed, and adopt the name of a person who has died and then be baptized for that person. There are numerous records of people having been baptized for Princess Diana, Barak Obama's mother, Steve Irwin (the Crocodile Hunter), Elvis, Adolph Hitler, Gandhi, Anne Frank, and even Pope John Paul II. Mormon teenagers have been baptized for Shakespeare and Einstein as well. Mormons do this because they believe baptism is part of the requirements for salvation and now these people can enjoy extra spiritual benefits in the afterlife.
 
But, and you probably know this is coming, the Mormons are incorrect because that is not what this verse is stating. We must always be those who take the scriptures in context. 
 
In Verses 1-19 of 1 Corinthians 15 Paul is recounting the facts of the resurrection, the reality that it happened and the hope that it gives us. In verses 20-23 Paul speaks about the order of the resurrection:

  • Christ was first, raised in a glorified body
  • Next will be those who are His at His return

 
Verses 24-29 talk about Christ's return and His destruction of death.
 
Paul is making an argument about the resurrection and how essential it is for believers to understand and believe. North of the city of Corinth was a city named Eleusis where a pagan religion practiced baptism for dead people (though not with the same connotations as Christian baptisms, obviously) to guarantee a good afterlife. The Corinthians were always being swayed back and forth by other religions (much as people in America are today); they were in the center of an economic world power that a large mass of foreign people frequented. The Corinthians would have been fully aware, and possibly influenced by, the practices at Eleusis.
 
One the arguments that people made against Christianity (as they do today) is that Jesus didn't rise, and so our own personal hope of a resurrection in Him is worthless. So in one verse Paul not only calls the practice of being baptized for the dead useless, but says if the "dead are not raised why also are they immersed on behalf of them." (Literally the Greek text should be translated as THEY). He is NOT saying "we" are baptized for the dead, he is saying the detractors and those who oppose the message of the gospel are being baptized for the dead and it would be stupid to be baptized for the dead and not believe in a resurrection.
 
Read all of 1 Corinthians 15 in context (at least verses 1-29) and it will make a lot more sense. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…

Q&A: Matthew 25:31-46

by Aaron

What does Matthew 25:31-46 mean when Jesus says “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” Is He calling the people on His right His brothers, or is He talking about actually clothing, feeding & visiting Christian brothers? I had always thought (and probably wrongly) that it was a 'least of these' statement that would include non-believers. Also, how does it (if it does) apply to mission? 

This is a huge concept that I think incorporates almost everything you asked.
 
Matthew is written with a Jewish mindset and is constantly answering questions (sometimes unasked or unwritten) in regard to the Kingdom of God. Many Jews understood Daniel 2, 7, and 9 in view of God's plan to restore the Davidic kingdom in the Messiah. What they didn't grasp was the nature of that kingdom, which would not be political like Rome, but it was a kingdom of sacrificial service; this is seen in places like the Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6.
 
Throughout Matthew's gospel there are distinctions of obedient and disobedient Jews. They are wheat and chaff, wise/foolish builders, fertile/unfruitful soil, wheat/tares, and sheep and goats. Matthew is not writing to translate Jesus' ministry into 21st century Western Christendom, He is writing to convince and reassure Jews that Jesus of Nazareth really was who He claimed, the anticipated Messiah.
 
When coming to Matthew 25 the setting shouldn't be ignored. Matthew 25:31-46 is about Jesus as not just the Jews inaugurated King, but everyone's King. It will be Jesus who divides the sheep from the goats, it will be Jesus whom the sheep have served, and it is these sheep who live in the Kingdom of God. The interesting thing is that the sheep did not know they were serving the King by serving His "brothers" which seems to indicate that yes we are to serve other believers, but also everyone else as well. It is like Paul says in Galatians 6:10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
 
In the context of Matthew 25:31-46 there is strong support for Jesus meaning "followers" when he says "brothers," because the King is indicating that whoever did not help the least of the "these" (implying the "goats") did not help Him. But for us, I think it does come down to an idea of helping those we can because we don't know who is or is not a Christian.
 
We must also understand that "helping" someone means that at times we have to say no when the "help" could actually hurt and further addiction. 2 Thessalonians 3:10 Paul speaks about NOT encouraging people in idleness when he says For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.
 
There is a lot to Matthew 25, but I would say that as we, as God's people, live on mission we should go with eyes open, looking for opportunity to help. Sometimes needs are global, sometimes they are local, and sometimes they are right in front of us. I don't think any act is too small to reflect the glory and grace of God.

Finish The Mission (A Book Review)

by Aaron

Book Review: Finish The Mission

For years there has been a dichotomy in the church when it comes to what believers are called to be and live. I know of churches who teach every teenager who travel through their youth ministry that they are each meant to be an overseas missionary and that they are somehow less serious of a believer if they do not become one. I also know churches that are so inwardly focused that they do not send anyone out. But today there is a growing trend that understands the “sending,” which we are all called to, as simply local.
 
In 1978 Frank DuBose in his book God Who Sends first used the term “missional,” since then it has become the buzz word for many movements that seek strictly to define God’s mission for His people as merely local (though I highly doubt that is what DuBose intended).
 
Even at Element we encourage and call people to “live on mission.” By that we mean that all of us in a sense are involved in cross-cultural work. When a missionary goes to foreign countries they learn the culture, they learn words that are used to describe “things,” they learn the family and social dynamics…in the same way, we that do not live overseas, have many similar experiences as well. We live, work, and go to school with people who do not know Jesus and so we are also called to missions work exactly where we are.
 
The word “Missions” is rooted in the Latin for “to send” and “missionary” can be understood as “sent ones.” We are all sent ones, but there is a core shift in the American church that is both good and bad when comes to its emphasis for, and on, missions. Where many older churches have placed the majority of their focus on “missionary” meaning “over there,” many younger churches have placed the entire focus of “missionary” to mean “right here.”
 
The truth is that the word means both, and that is the essential push of Finish The Mission (Crossway 2012). Finish The Mission is a book that helps redefine mission in terms of “missions.” It is edited by John Piper and David Mathis and is comprised of 6 chapters by 6 different contributors. I have always enjoyed Ed Stetzer’s insight and found his chapter to be the most helpful, though John Piper’s was excellent as well.
 
For people to think that missions work is only overseas leads to a disengaged people in their own city. Those who attend local churches may even begin to think that what they do with their lives (raising their children, loving their spouses, working their jobs) is not as honoring to Jesus as living in hut, eating bugs, and learning a foreign culture.
 
As I said, I have known churches where everyone was told they needed to find a way to be an overseas missionary, as if that is the only spiritual thing they could ever do…but I have also known churches who lead everyone to believe that the most spiritual thing they could do is to be “in ministry” which, to them, would translate to “work in a church.” How sad it would be if those were the only things people ever saw as “spiritual.” Think about it, there would be no garbage men, no plumbers, no farmers, no loggers, no automobile makers, no one to make your pizza…and ultimately there would be no church and no missionaries because no one would have a any money to support locally and send internationally.
 
We must understand that the jobs people do are deeply spiritual, they are good in the eyes of God. We are told that our God works and values work. All that we do is meant to be honoring to Jesus and is a deep act of worship…this includes our jobs and our homes…and it is all to be lived “on mission.”
 
In remembering our own sent-ness to the culture in which we live, we must never forget that there is also deep calling of having a special vocation of a “missionary” as a person sent to unreached people groups around the globe.
 
Let us never forget one or the other, hand in hand…we are sent and the senders, all for the great glory of Jesus. Let’s Finish The Mission.

Q&A: Yeast

by Aaron

I have a friend who just started reading the Bible for the first time in her life. Today she asked me why did they not use yeast in bread in the beginning?  I told her I would find out and get back to her... So, can you tell me why?

I assume she means in temple worship or Passover because the Hebrews did use yeast in their bread making.
 
During Passover the Jews are to rid their homes of yeast as a representation of getting rid of sin, or putting off sin. The actual Hebrew word actually isn’t even “yeast” it is “leaven.” Yeast would be impossible to get out of your house because it floats around in the air, leaven is what they would add to bread to make it rise and give it shape (like a starter for sourdough).
 
During Passover Jews were to rid their homes of leaven; today, in strict sense, that would even include cake mixes in your pantry as it includes not yeast, but leaven (in a sense). Directly after Passover the Jews celebrate the feast of unleavened bread (we use unleavened bread for communion called matzah).
 
Some people think Jesus was teaching His followers to get rid of yeast when He says in Matt 16:5-6 When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Jesus goes on to say this teaching is not in reference to yeast/leaven, but the false teachings of the religious leaders (verses 8-10). Some translations use the word yeast instead of leaven and make the text lose all meaning what-so-ever; The Message says it like this “On their way to the other side of the lake, the disciples discovered they had forgotten to bring along bread. In the meantime, Jesus said to them, "Keep a sharp eye out for Pharisee-Sadducee yeast."…it makes no sense this way and The Message just lost the message of what Jesus was saying.
 
Again, leaven was used many times to refer to sin in our lives, how it rises and transforms us. The call in the scriptures was never to “get rid” of yeast (as a matter of fact they would drink wine during Passover and yeast is necessary in the fermentation process to make wine). The Old Testament only referred to leaven and it was only for 7 days, not the entire year.
 
And (Romans 6:14) you are not under law but under grace. It is wonderful to live in true freedom…don’t be afraid to make good, yummy, baked bread.

A Passion Week Remembrance

by Aaron
  • Hebrews 10:1-4 The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming--not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
  • Ezekiel 16:63 Then, when I make atonement for you for all you have done, you will remember and be ashamed and never again open your mouth because of your humiliation, declares the Sovereign LORD.’”
Our first Parents, at the dawn of humanity, believed they knew better than God and rebelled against Him and so broke relationship with Him. Since that time it is in our nature to be evil, to fight against God, and to try to make ourselves the final authority on right and wrong.
 
God, in His great mercy, did not leave us to our fate of a perpetual hell that we had brought upon ourselves, instead He starts forth on His plan to redeem mankind and bring His children home. God comes to a guy named Abraham to restore relationship and He promises to bless Abraham. In the New Testament Paul reminds us about this blessing and says Galatians 3:14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus.
 
God's blessing begins and ends with Jesus. Jesus comes and all nations are blessed through Him.
 
We, through ATONEMENT and what is called ‘new birth,’ become children of the promise. 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died…The gospel is considered "good news," but by itself, Jesus' crucifixion would not be considered good news. But there is a deeper theological understanding of the event, this is why Paul uses the word "for" to move us to the implication "for" us…that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. That is why it is good news, Christ's death and resurrection is the only hope we have ever had.
 
ATONEMENT is the language of love, hope, and restoration, atonement weaves the scriptures together, and atonement was what Jesus made for us at the cross.
  • Hebrews. 9:22 In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
  • Romans 3:25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.
  • 1 John 2 1-2 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins…
  • 1 John 4:10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins
Jesus dies in our place as our perfect Lamb. We do not have pity or feel sorry for Jesus, Jesus even says in John 10:18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.  This means that Jesus is no mere victim, He was on a mission to save us. We must look at ourselves and realize why Jesus had to die. You and I are so bad that Jesus had to die to bring us back to God. Which means we grieve over our sin and rebellion against God, but rejoice in His great goodness and redemption.
 
It is about Jesus' glory which brings atonement for us because He really is that Good. You and I are invited to remember atonement, propitiation, and the mercy of God this week because nothing is more important.
 
He loves you more than you could ever imagine, now live a life that loves Him back.


MEN MEN MEN MEN MANLY MEN MEN MEN - MEN (PART 4)

by Aaron
True masculinity can be summed up in the whole idea of headship. In order to not make this blog too long I encourage you to go back and read the last 3 entries.
 
The best place to see the issue of headship happens all the way back in Genesis. God first makes man and gives man instructions about life in garden and life with Him. The man is supposed to impart these to his wife (like a good sage), but when the serpent questions the woman about God the man doesn't fight him (like a proper warrior) and so his relationship to his wife is undermined (like a bad cultivator).
 
We read in Genesis 3:6 that they both eat the forbidden fruit, the woman first, then she gives some to her husband verse 6She also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate it.Here you see Adams failure as a man. He was just standing there, doing nothing when he should have kicked the serpent in the head and protected his wife.
 
After they sin against God, the man and woman all of a sudden know evil, they have committed it. It is important to note that the only thing the man and woman got from eating the fruit was knowledge of evil as they already had all the good. God then comes walking in the garden in the cool of day and the man and woman try to hide themselves behind some bushes and trees like an ostrich sticking its head in the sand. Then we read in verse 9But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, "Where are you?"
 
Here are the questions: Who did God call? The MAN. Who sinned first? The woman.
 
This illustrates the issue of headship and responsibility. Men do not get the excuse of “it's not my fault” because it is still our responsibility. A man is called to love Jesus enough to fix the messes that come into his home. This is why men must know the scripture and love God; it is how a man will know how to fix his own messes and his families and insert himself between Satan and his family.
 
In this moment Adam should have been crying out to God, God should not have had to call out for Adam. He should have grabbed his wife and repented, but instead he runs like a coward.
 
Headship is a concept repeated throughout the scriptures. In Ephesians 5:23 Paul reminds us For the husband is (not could be/should be/might be) is the head of the wife as Christ (Jesus) is (not could be/should be/might be) the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. We do not get to vote whether Jesus get’s to be in charge, He IS in charge. As Jesus is head of the church, the husband is head of the home and Christians spend too much time arguing if he should be.
 
The better question is: is he a good husband like Jesus or a bad husband who is not like Jesus? "Head" does not mean "boss," men do not get to boss their wife around. Headship means LIKE CHRIST. Jesus has a bride, the church…husbands have a bride, their wife. True masculinity says a man treats their bride like Christ treats the church. Real men will pursue their wives like Jesus; Jesus doesn’t sit back and wait for us, He pursues us. Jesus pursues relationship with us in the same way a husband must be relentlessly committed to relationship with his wife. That means men go first.
  • Repentance YOU go first
  • Reconciliation YOU go first
  • Work needs to be done YOU go first
This is the good news of the gospel; GOD is on a rescue mission for His men (and women, but for the purposes of this blog we are talking about men).
 
The wonderful thing about the fall in Genesis is that in Genesis 3:14-15 God promises to send Jesus to save us all. Many times when you see God walking in the flesh in the Old Testament it is Jesus. So in Genesis there is a strong possibility that at this point Jesus is promising Himself.
 
In the New Testament Paul wants to help us understand the issue of headship better:
  • Ephesians 4:15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ
  • 1 Corinthians 11:3 But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.
  • Ephesians 5:23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.
 
The wonderful thing about Jesus is that He took headship and responsibility for the human race. He took responsibility for our sin Romans 5:8-11 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
 
Who takes headship and responsibility for us? Jesus. That is why we live as His men, under His banner, understanding His definition of masculinity. We need humility and surrender so Jesus can show us how to be a cultivator, warrior, and sage. The world needs better men and by God’s grace we can be those better men.

MEN MEN MEN MEN MANLY MEN MEN MEN - MEN (PART 3)

by Aaron
In this short blog series we have talked about what God called men to be originally:
  • Men were meant to be Cultivators.
  • Men were meant to be Warriors
  • Men were meant to be sages.
We also looked at how the fall has effected all of us in how we relate to our original calling. Then we looked at why God brought promises of hardship after the fall and that true restoration comes only in Jesus.
 
In our world today, the gifts of cultivator, warrior and sage are still hardwired into men, but we have miss-used them because we misunderstand them. Let me give you 3 ways men misuse these gifts:
 
Some men abuse their masculinity and become bullies looking to lord power over others like Adam who blamed God and his wife for his own sins.
  • Proverbs 16:29 A violent man entices his neighbor and leads him down a path that is not good.
  • Proverbs 19:26 He who robs his father and drives out his mother is a son who brings shame and disgrace.
  • Proverbs 24:1-2 Do not envy wicked man, do not desire their company; for their hearts plot violence, and their lips talk about making trouble.
  • Proverbs 28:15 Like a roaring lion or a charging bear is a wicked man ruling over a helpless people.
  • Proverbs 29:10 Bloodthirsty men hate a man of integrity and seek to kill the upright
Men who misunderstand masculinity will hate men who live righteously. In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul reminds us that man is the glory of God, being a bully and abusing power is NOT the glory of God.
 
Some men avoid their masculinity to get along (like Adam) who sat quietly and idly by while Satan declared war on his God and wife.
  • Proverbs 3:27: Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act.
  • Proverbs 23:20-21 Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags.
  • Proverbs 29:21 If a man pampers his servant from youth, he will bring grief in the end.
Many men today will not stand up for what is right and true because they are too worried about what others will think, or how hard it will be to live faithfully and consistently.
 
Some men abandon their masculinity to get away (like Adam) who fled from his God and wife when he sinned. Some men will get all fired up about righteousness and then realize it is a lot of work and quit like a man who says "I love you" to his wife and a few years later cheats on her or divorces her.
  • Proverbs 11:3 The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.
  • Proverbs 24:10 If you falter in times of trouble, how small is your strength!
  • Proverbs 27:8 Like a bird that strays from its nest is a man who strays from his home.
True masculinity honors its commitments. A marriage is forever and men will take responsibility for their home because it is their responsibility.
 
Next week we will wrap this up looking at the issue of headship.
 

MEN MEN MEN MEN MANLY MEN MEN MEN - MEN (PART 2)

by Aaron

I wrote last week how living true masculinity is very hard to do, especially when a man hasn't lived this way in his past. It could take a family a very long time to get used to the idea of a man beginning to lead rightly…but men must NOT give up. They must press forward because it is part of our calling. From the book of Genesis we talked about 3 simple (though albeit very difficult) things God created men to be:

  • Men were meant to be Cultivators.
  • Men were meant to be Warriors.
  • Men were meant to be sages.

Because of the fall, sin has infected all the things we were called to be.

  • Because we sinned the ground itself has been cursed – Men now have opposition to their efforts to cultivate and rule over what we were supposed to steward and care for (his dominion - Genesis 3:16b, 3:17-19).
  • Because we sinned the testosterone God gave men to stand against suffering, fight evil, defend truth and justice, and protect the weak and vulnerable (especially women and children - Proverbs 31:8-9; 2 Corinthians 10:4; Ephesians 6:10-18; I Timothy 1:18) has been turned upside down. Men now use what was meant to be good to fight against what is good and do great evil in the process.
  • Because we sinned we have turned being a sage into being a shaman. Instead of teaching truth most men teach lies to get what they want, rather than the truth that is so desperately needed.

God hands out promises of toil and pain because of our rebellion, but why? The answer is simple, because God loves us. The ground fights men because it reminds us of how WE fight God. God loves us and wants us to understand hope and surrender.
 
Given the choice to do it again, we would all sin and fall. Today we still think God is inadequate and that we know better than Him how to live our lives (the lives He has graciously given to us I might add). We all think God is trying to keep us from something. Should I drink that, sleep with them, flip them off, be patient, not think everyone is an idiot. We have all placed an "it" in our lives above what God calls us to.
 
We have all sinned and our shame stands in the open just like we were naked, like Adam and Eve. But Jesus takes our sins upon Himself, reconciles us to Him, and makes living our true calling an actual possibility. How do men become real men again, Jesus. This is the promise of Jesus.

MEN MEN MEN MEN MANLY MEN MEN MEN - MEN (PART 1)

by Aaron

Many men today are not worthy of respect because they do not understand or know their own calling to masculinity. Many times this comes about because they have never been taught what a man actually is, verses what a man is not. Most television stations and movies send messages that say a man is someone who can fight off 10 ruffians, run a full marathon, make love all night long, and run a successful business all in the same day.
 
Trying to live up to an ideal that is not attainable has destroyed most men's view of masculinity, and in turn, most men's view of women. The truth is that scripture constantly teaches that a man is someone who loves Jesus and follows through on his God given commitments. A man cares for his family. A man leads, loves, and guides them even when it is hard. A man accepts his shortcomings and seeks to grow past them while leading his family in a way that reflects Jesus.
 
Living true masculinity is very hard to do, especially when a man hasn't lived this way in his past. It could take his family a very long time to get used to idea of a man beginning to lead rightly…but men must NOT give up. They must press forward because it is part of our calling. What you see, from the book of Genesis is that God created men to be 3 simple (though albeit very difficult) things.

Men were meant to be Cultivators - God created men to cultivate an untamed land into a garden after the prototype of Eden (Genesis 2:5-8,15). This tells us men are created for work, challenge, competition, and the pioneering of new frontiers. Masculinity will be cultivated as men create and cultivate things to their optimal abilities. If a man gets bored or doesn’t love God he will cultivate sin.

Men were meant to be Warriors - God created men to rule on His behalf and therefore God’s enemies are to be man’s enemies. When Satan attacks, the man is supposed to fight; but most men fail to fight and go along with the crowd (Genesis 3:1-15). If a man doesn’t realize how God made them, they become a warrior towards women and wuss to those things he is SUPPOSED to fight.
 
Men were meant to be Sages - God created men to receive knowledge and wisdom and teach that to others, especially their wives and children (Gen 2:9, 2:16-18; Proverbs 4:1-4, 1-9; I Corinthians 14:33b-15; Ephesians 6:4).  This means that men must know their bible. Proverbs says if boys don’t get wisdom from their fathers, they get it from other men…and they may be getting lies.
 
Next week (in this blog) I would like to look at how the fall has affected masculinity and what we should be doing about it (and what Jesus has done about it).

The Holy War

by Aaron
Don’t worry, the title of this blog is not calling you to arms to fight something; it is simply the title of a book I read over Christmas break that made me think about Christianity today verses the world of 1682. If you don’t know, James and I both have Goodreads pages where we show you what we are/have read and sometimes write reviews…the following is one such review.
 
John Bunyon (1628-1688) is probably best known for his book The Pilgrims Progress rather than his lesser-known works, one of which is The Holy War (both books are supposed to be allegories for our spiritual life). When Bunion wrote The Holy War he was actually imprisoned for preaching without a license…this imprisonment lasted 12 years. You can see much of feelings come to play as the story unfolds in this book.
 
Mansoul is the name of a city that is under the great king Shaddai. No one can enter the town of Mansoul unless the city opens the gates from the inside.  A couple of the names of the cities gates are the Ear-gate and the Eye-gate; you can see how the allegory is going to play out.
 
Diabolus shows up outside the city and takes it captive by convincing the people that their Good King's laws are unjust. That He gives freedom to do anything except, essentially, disobey Him, these laws Diabolus says are unreasonable. The city listens (at the ear-gate) and opens themselves to Diablolus. As soon a Diabolus enters the city square he says, “I have done indeed this service, as to promote thee to honour, and greaten thy liberty.”
 
This is how our entire culture lives, even those within the church. We think that we should get to decide what is right for ourselves, we twist God’s words to make them say what we want them to say, and everything in the scriptures loses power as we turn the bible into a therapy book and not a book of relationship, hope, and most importantly, truth. We turn it into a book to "honour" ourselves, rather than honor our God.
 
The city falls into grievous sin and the remainder of the book is Emmanuel’s rescue of it. There are some great allegories in the book, but some things that struck me as a throw back to a by-gone era. In the Chapter titled “Serving One Master” the city roots out all those loyal to Diabolus, but the court proceedings sound a lot like witch trials. When the city begins a slow slide back into self-centeredness the passive aggressiveness of Emmanuel is disturbing.
 
I wonder what thoughts Bunyon harbored about Jesus from the words he wrote. Maybe it was part of his mingled Puritan, Baptist, Quaker background. At one point in Bunyon’s life he was so despondent over his past life that he said he experienced mental turmoil and extreme guilt.
 
So, two points…First, would I recommend The Holy War? Of course I would. I have an illustrated edition that would be great to read with kids. The book doesn’t shy away from judgment of sin, our own proclivity to deceive ourselves and how easily we are distracted from serving our true King. It would also be great discussion starters for how the righteousness, justice, and grace of God all go hand in hand.
 
Secondly, after reading this book I think we could all understand better the goodness of God who comes to seek and save us. Whereas when Diabolus wants to enter the city of Mansoul, the city must open itself to him…but after the city is in the control of Diabolus, when Emmanuel wants to enter the barred gates, He busts through them and takes the city.
 
I don’t know if this was Bunyon’s intention of writing the book the way he did, but from a reformed perspective it makes sense to me. Our God breaks downs the walls to save His people and nothing can stand in His way.
 
If you want to have a good discussion with your family, or even looking for a fun, odd, old school book starting a family devotion with your kids; how about this classic…it’s a good place to start.
 
Although, if I was being sarcastic, it would be hard to believe that a towns people couldn’t figure out that Mayor Lust or Mr Self-Love weren’t bad guys from the start. I mean, seriously, I would just change my name.

Stolen Lost Refound

by Aaron

Do you remember the Chipmonks? Yes, I mean THOSE chipmunks. They sang that horrible song in keyboard falsetto, “Christmas Christmas Time Is Here.” I don’t know if that was the title, but it is really all I can remember (well that and someone wanting a hool-a-hoop).
 
It’s that time of year and that song won’t leave my head, so I figure I better make the best of it and write a blog. So, yes, it is Christmas time and I am going to regurgitate something from a couple years ago because someone asked me if we should be celebrating Christmas (with it’s pagan roots) today.
 
Christmas (Christ's Mass) was originally (in the most simple terms) a way to give many of the people embracing Christianity something that felt familiar. New believers would be leaving all they knew behind (their pagan festivals) so the church decided to celebrate the birth of Christ in a way that helped many worship God through a tradition that connected better with them.
 
Trees, ornaments, presents, snow men...all these were later additions tacked on to the holiday, but originally it was simply a way to help people connect with Christ BETTER. It was not an attempt to paganize Christianity (as many opponents today would say); it was a way to get the message to better connect and resonate with those they were trying to reach.
 
The birth and the death of Christ were always linked in the early church. The Greeks and the Romans had different approaches to “sacrament” and “mystery” though.

  • Greeks, who tended to be more ‘theological’ in the early church leaned toward what was called the ANASTASIS (the day of resurrection) to be the supreme Christian feast.
  • The Romans agreed in principle, but in practice they came to prefer Christmas (the feast of His BIRTH) as the supreme celebration. Roman’s actually invented Christmas.

For the Greeks, the first celebration wasn’t the birth of Jesus, it was Christ’s INFANCY. They celebrated this on (what we would call) January 6th...it was called the Epiphania (the showing forth) and the feast celebrated how the Persian magi RECOGNIZED Jesus (this actually took place at the age of about 2 years old for Jesus.)
 
The Christmas holiday of Rome eventually rolled all of this into one event. Christmas came to represent the “showing forth” and the birth in one event (hence the wise men in most nativities, when the actual fact was Jesus was almost 2 when they showed up).
 
If Christmas is done rightly today, it can be a powerful holiday. The question, for us, comes down to "what is the focus?" Do we focus on Christ, is He better lifted up and proclaimed because of Christmas? Or are we like everyone else and lose the true meaning of the holiday? Romans 8:28 reminds us, And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. ALL THINGS, even a holiday that was stolen, lost, re-found, and lost again. I get to tell people more about Jesus at Christmas then another time during the year.
 
I think that’s a pretty good deal.

Priorities

by Aaron

Sometimes we don't even notice so many things about our lives until they are staring us right in the face. Take the following picture for example:

I was looking at our house all decorated for Christmas. I saw the tree, the lights, the presents (never enough), the cookies baking, the smells, and the stockings. The stockings are what caught my eye. Here in this picture you see mine on the left, my wife's next to it, and the gigantic one on the right is the dog's.
 
How in the world does the dog's stocking dwarf, on an unimaginable scale, human peoples stockings? See, it's priorities. When we are not thinking, something as benign as this can really make us do a double-take.
 
Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6:33 "But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." Too often we allow our lives to be like the stockings in this picture. God's kingdom in our lives begins to look like the miniscule stockings that are hung with care, but end up easily overlooked in light of the overwhelmingly large stocking that we call our lives.
 
Some priority perspective would be good because our lives will make much more sense when God's Kingdom is the overly large stocking and our lives are the things that sit in its shadow.
 
So, this Christmas, get your priorities straight. Seek first HIS Kingdom, then everything else falls in the proper place.

ITTTTSSSS TIIIMMMEEE

by Aaron

Christmas is right around the corner and I have been busy putting up some Christmas lights. I wanted to turn them on but my wife says it is too soon, that I have to wait until after Thanksgiving.  My friend David, who is like a Christmas light black belt, told me he just put his up…which makes me think I should be able to turn mine on.
 
I know, if you are like me, you wonder who sets the correct times and days on who gets to put up decorations. I also know that there are people who keep their decorations up too long, I mean, there is no way I should have to see Christmas lights in July. It is a terrible conundrum for me to be in, though…to light or not to light, that is the question.
 
So tomorrow I will get James to go out with me to help finish putting up lights. You are probably asking, “Why James?” Well, James helps because I am getting old and wouldn’t survive a fall off the roof, but I am reasonably sure he has like a 50% chance of making a full recovery if something catastrophic happens (my roof is very steep).
 
You are probably also, at this point, wondering what the point of this blog even is…seriously? It’s Christmas! The most wonderful time of the year! Chestnuts roast on open fires, reindeer fly, snowmen (I call them the White Walkers) roam the earth, and we celebrate God coming in human flesh to save the world.
 
Put up some lights, celebrate with joy, because no matter the circumstances in our lives, our God loves us more than we could ever imagine. Luke 2:10-11 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
 
I bring you good news of great joy as well, it’s Christmas time…we at Element hope and trust you will have a Merry Little One.

Who Stinketh? We Stinketh!

by Aaron

Last night my dog was sprayed in the face by a skunk. I didn't know it, as she didn't freak out, she just became MORE excited about chasing her new friend in the back yard. I didn't know what the commotion was, so I told her to get in the house and go lay down. As soon as she came inside the entire house stunk, or stank, or (if you are King James) Stinketh.
 
It still even stinketh today after I left the windows open all night. The dog got 3 baths, not a pleasant experience for either of us, and all of her bedding, collar, and toys have been thrown away.
 
As I was lamenting the smell in my house, I started to realize that I had another great experience for a blog…skunks and sin. My dog does what we all do in regard to sin, play with it. When she got sprayed in the face by the odorous concoction of death she didn't stop, she kept thinking it was part of the game. Eventually everything she came into contact with began to stinketh, and she had the very unpleasant experience of 2 full body washes and three face washes.
 
Sometimes we think sin is so interesting and go headlong right into it. Look at how scripture speaks of sin:

  • Genesis 4:7 sin is crouching at the door…Its desire is for you…
  • Proverbs 13:6 sin overthrows the wicked
  • Luke 17:1 Temptations to sin are sure to come
  • Hebrews 3:13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin

And then in Psalms it reminds us:

  • Psalm 51:2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!

Sin is spoken about as an entity that almost seems to have a will of its own, but truthfully, its will is ours. We are the ones who run after it, embrace it, and stink everything up in our lives because of it. Ephesians 2:4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us…The beauty is the "BUT GOD."
 
God has saved us from sin, washed us clean, and (as the book of revelation says) given us new and fine clothes to wear. Yes, we chased the skunk, got sprayed, and stunketh…but God, who is ever rich in mercy, saved and washed us.

Beautiful.

Everyone's A Critic

by Aaron

At a recent Gospel Class I was asked what I thought about “textual criticism.” I gave a short, some would say dismissive, answer because textual criticism has been used as an excuse in recent decades to try and destroy our faith in the reliability of scripture and it irritates me.  All the way back in the 1800’s Charles Spurgeon had to deal with it in what was known at the time as the “downgrade controversy.”
 
The reason someone asked the question at the Gospel Class was not to cause problems, it was simply that they heard about it and wanted to know what it was/is. I thought I would write up this short blog post so you all could have a better understanding of definitions and terms.
 
First, textual criticism is not just aimed at the scriptures, but any work of antiquity; it simply seems much more focused and pronounced in our day towards the scriptures.
 
Textual criticism is also called "lower criticism" and it is supposed to mainly concern itself with the identification and removal of what are known as "transcription" errors in the texts of manuscripts. Essentially, at times, ancient scribes would make errors, or alterations, when copying manuscripts by hand. A textual critic should seek to reconstruct the original text (the "autograph") as closely as possible. The objective would be a manuscript that most resembles the original.
 
Historical criticism is also called "higher criticism" and it is supposed to establish the authorship, date, and place of composition of an original text. It is also supposed to investigate the origins of ancient texts in order to understand the world behind the texts.
 
In the 18th century these criticisms came together and formed "Biblical criticism." Historical criticism began in the 17th century and gained popular recognition in the 19th and 20th centuries. The perspective of the early historical biblical critic was rooted in the Magisterial Reformation. At that time their studies were free from the influence of traditional interpretation.
 
But instead of seeking truth, as originally intended, most criticisms today seek to destroy the word of God for no seeming purpose except to try and discredit it. Today many people who are claiming to be scholars are simply skeptics with axes to grind because they refuse to believe in the supernatural as revealed by the scriptures. Today, in regard to the bible, we have source criticism, form criticism, redaction criticism, tradition criticism, canonical criticism, and dozens of other "isms" all trying to destroy the word of God as we know it.
 
The criticisms today have gone beyond wanting to know the context of a text or the most reliable text, they have gone to trying to discredit a text. Honestly, the scriptures we have today are the most reliable of any document known to man. We can trust the transcription, translation, and transmission. The question is, do we trust the God who gave them to us?

An Urgent Message About Division

by Aaron

Last Sunday morning in our message about Abraham riding in to save Lot, like an old William Wallace on a camel, I mentioned how Abraham brought rescue and redemption by setting the captives free. I then showed how it all relates to our Great God coming to rescue us. I closed the message with a quote from John Piper that said that there were six reasons for Jesus coming:

  1. To ransom many,
  2. To call sinners,
  3. To give sight to the morally blind,
  4. To divide households,
  5. To save from divine condemnation,
  6. To give eternal life.

I have had someone in my own GC ask about number 4: To Divide Households. After my GC left for their homes I checked my email and another GC leader had emailed me the same question. I thought I should/could briefly answer it to clear up any confusion.
 
There are a couple places where Jesus talks about division, such as Matthew 10:34-35, but let’s use Luke 12:49-53 because it adds a few dynamics.
49 “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! Fire refers to judgment…so there is a judgment coming.
50 I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!  This is referring to his death on the cross for our sins.
51-53 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
 
First, notice the “on earth” part from verse 51. He did not come to bring peace on this earth as we understand it. He did not come to change the social structure of this world, He came to change His people and bring peace (reconciliation) between God and us again. The Jews believed that when the Messiah came there would be a time of world peace. But Jesus is clearly showing how following Him, though it brings peace between God and us, usually brings division to relationships around us.
 
Simply preaching a social gospel that tries to get people to change their behavior misunderstands the nature of sin and what it has done, and continues to do, to people. Every time the Bible speaks about offering peace to humans (Luke 2:14; 7:50; 8:48; 10:5-6; Acts 10:36; Ephesians 2:13-17), we have to understand that peace comes to those who have responded to God’s call of salvation.
 
A sword divides and exposes as it cuts. When people respond to Christ’s call it typically brings division to families. I know young men whose fathers will not even speak to them because the sons follow Jesus. I know children who stop speaking to their parents because the parents followed Jesus later in life and are now preaching the gospel to their kids who want nothing to do with Jesus. I know Muslims, Mormon’s and Jehovah Witnesses who now follow Christ and the rest of their family will no longer even speak to them.

The sword Jesus brings exposes the true love of our hearts, whether it is Jesus or someone (or something else).  In 1 Corinthians 1 Paul speaks of the cross being folly to most of the world, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. Where we should be a people who strive for reconciliation, the cross, by its nature, will divide the proud and arrogant from the broken and humble.
 
The peace on earth that Jesus brings, from being born in a manger, is a peace that is extended to those who love God. That peace is then extended through us, as God's ambassadors, and flows out from us by preaching the gospel. Jesus came to change us, and through us partnering with Him, just like in Genesis 1-2, to change and shape the world into a place that truly reflects the greater glory of God.

The Shocking Truth

by Aaron

Well, it's NOT an electric chair, but it may as well be when it comes to killing flies.
 
My wife is forever trying to find me toys I will like, because I am a big kid and I like to play with things. Christmas this year she gave me one of those electric flyswatters, the one where you push the button and you can fry flies (yes, it is seriously awesome). I thought I had lost it, as I do most things, until we were moving our old ottoman and it was inside of it.
 
I pulled it out and set it next to the couch hoping a fly would find its way in the house. When one did, I started trying to kill it and nothing happened. I then decided to see if the swatter even worked. I grabbed both sides of it and pressed the button and SNAP, sizzle, sparks, and pain as an electric shock traveled through my hand. I was woefully unprepared for the amount of juice a couple of batteries can produce.
 
My wife thought it was funny; I thought it was painful.
 
Sometimes I think this is how our lives are lived before God. We don’t think something is working quite right, the right timing or the right way, and we go to try and “fix it” and get a shock in the process. Proverbs 14:12 There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. God calls people to live a certain way because He made us and knows how we were designed.
 
May we be a people who wake up and simply trust God to be God and live how He designed us. May we stop fighting His written word and trust it for the fullness it contains. May we stop being so ‘shocked’ when all that Jesus has said, is actually true and right.

A Story of Animal Cruelty

by Aaron

I hate animal cruelty. I think animals are cute, cuddly, furry, and fun. I want you to know that before I tell you my story.

Last week I had my back office door (read: exterior) open so my dog could run around and play. While it was open a bird flew into my office, but I didn't know it. My interior office door is a French door with lots of windows, I only knew the bird was in my office when it slammed into it trying to get back outside. It was squawking and making all sorts of scary fluttering noises. 

I proceeded to spend the next hour trying to capture it with rubber gloves and a T-shirt so as not to hurt it…it was cute after all. After chasing it from behind every piece of furniture, guitar amp, guitar case, and desk, I finally got it and took it outside. I opened the T-shirt for it to fly away and…it flew about 5 feet and landed (I assumed to get its bearings).

It was at this point my dog came out of nowhere (read: lurking in the shadows), stepped on it, and proceeded to put it in her mouth and chew on the poor bird before running off to play with her new toy (read: bird) that God had delivered to her from the heavens. 

I thought "bad dog" and was about to yell at her, but she was just doing what came natural. The same way she rolls in dirt, licks her…uh, hind parts, and eats her own vomit. There is even a proverb about that in the bible, Proverbs 26:11 Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.

I also started to think about how most Christians treat non-Christians the way my initial reaction was with my dog. We hold them to a standard that they do not comprehend or believe in, so we start to preach morality and not Jesus. First and foremost we must always speak of Jesus because He brings change. It's that old adage, "morality doesn't bring Jesus, but Jesus will bring true morality."

In 1 Corinthians 6 Paul gives a list of vices and sins, trying to give the Corinthians a proper perspective. He rounds it off by saying in 6:11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God

It is Jesus who brings this to us. We all walked in ways that dishonored God, but Jesus has come to redeem and restore us. I say we lift up THAT Jesus so all men will know true grace.

As far as the bird goes, I'm OK with it. Easy prey or culling the herd, whatever it was, I tried.

A Wide Place

by Aaron

The other day my wife was very gracious to me. We were running errands most of the day and I was getting very hungry. I asked if she had any place she would like to stop to grab a bite to eat and she responded with the most glorious words she has spoken to me in a whole week. She said, "you can go anywhere, even El Postino."

Sweet Jesus, it was amazing. El Postino is the name of this hole in the wall Mexican Food place I like, but I can never remember it's name, so I call it El Postino (it's by the post office…NOT CASA MANANA).

I got a chicken burrito (no beans), some homemade chips, and some salsa.  As soon as we left though she said, "hey McDonalds is right there, I want some fries." So I got her fries…and I also ate them.

As I was driving home and thinking about my great wife, my yummy burrito, and my breath defying salsa, I became a little giddy. I realized that this is how God originally intended man to live (no, not on McDonalds and burritos), in freedom.

As we have been looking through Genesis, we see that God gave man great freedom. Gen 2:16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden…Even the El Postino Tree? Yes, anything. Our freedom was great and broad. God simply gave one admonition in this Gen 2:17… but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” In simple terms God says, "trust me to know what is good. I made you, designed you, and love you…honor me." We were free to do anything except dishonor Him.

Unfortunately, you know the story, you are living it now…all of us have dishonored Him and tried to do our lives our own way. But the great freedom of God still exists to this day. As we spoke about Sunday (Genesis week 17), following God and His decrees means we get to walk in a "wide place," meaning freedom (Psalm 119:44-45).

Let's live a life that more properly honors and glorifies Him by living free for Him, but never free from Him. Lives as they were intended, with great freedom.

Tattoo You

by Aaron

We have a lot of people who come to Element who have Tattoos, I know, a lot of churches do, but a lot of ours were gotten after they became Christians. I personally have three, our drummer has five, and a another person who attends has a gazillion. There are a lot of questions that float around about this so I will do my best to talk about tattoos (in a roundabout way).

Also, none of this is meant to imply anyone has to, or should, get a tattoo.

Eph 2:14-15 For he himself is our peace who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations.

When we speak of "The Law" most people do not mean the whole Old Testament, but merely the first five books, the Torah.

In the Torah you will read:

  • don’t wear 2 types of clothing, so any person in modern clothes would be in sin.
  • before you poo, dig a hole, so if you use a toilet then you aren't digging a hole.
  • don’t eat fish from bottom of the sea, so if you eat shrimp, you are in sin.

We must understand that there are different contexts and different cultures, and many "laws" are not applicable to us.

The Old Testament laws are broken into 3 categories.

Moral Laws – This would be things like don’t kill anyone, don’t steal anything, and honor your parents. These are still binding today. We cannot say, “Oh, it's the New Testament...I am going to kill my parents.”

Civil Laws – In the Old Testament Israel was to be a theocratic country, so God gives laws for how His people are to conduct themselves AS HIS COUNTRY (His nation). America, today, is not a theocracy which means that God is not our president. Whoever our elected official is, that is our president (and if anyone in anyway thinks that any president is God, they have deep issues that they need help with).

In Romans 13 it reminds us the we live in nations with governments, and we need to respect those governments as long as they don’t violate God’s moral commands. Civil laws are fulfilled in CHRIST and are nonbinding. America is NOT the new Israel and not a theocracy.

Ceremonial law – This is what Paul is speaking of in Eph 2 with “laws and regulations.” This would be the priesthood and sacrificial system, where you would go to the temple with an animal and the priest would slaughter it. The blood would then run out of the temple. That has been fulfilled in Christ as He IS the temple, He IS the priest, He IS the sacrifice. The whole ceremonial system was pointing to Jesus. That is the whole point of the book of Hebrews.

So now that those distinctions have been taken away we can be reconciled to each other.

  • Before Jesus, God’s people ate different foods and couldn’t go to other people’s house for dinner, now we can.
  • Before Jesus, God's people wore different clothes and couldn’t be near others who weren’t like us.
  • Before Jesus, God's people spoke a different language and couldn’t communicate.

Now, today in the New Covenant, it is not about culture, it is about Christ. All the dividing points are taken away (it doesn’t matter your music style, clothes, haircut) the issue is DO YOU LOVE JESUS. It becomes about Jesus and not our cultural distinctive(s).

Now, for Tattoos...

The verse that people use for NOT getting tattoos is Lev 19:28 `Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD." The problem with taking this verse the way that most who hate tattoos do, is that it is out of context. This whole section in Leviticus is all over the map between civil laws and moral laws.

In Lev 19:19 it says

  • Keep my decrees.
  • Do not mate different kinds of animals.
  • Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed.
  • Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.

My dad is a farmer, they have a little over 300 acres that they farm. They have broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, and cabbage all next to each other; does that make him a wicked sinner? No.

In Lev 19:27 it tells guys NOT to cut their sideburns...does that make most men today wicked sinners (well, yes, but not because of sideburns-haha).

But then in 19:29 it says "`Do not degrade your daughter by making her a prostitute, or the land will turn to prostitution and be filled with wickedness. Is this moral or cultural? Of course this is moral.

The hard thing about Leviticus is that it was there to separate light from dark, death from life, and sin from righteousness for the Israelites. We take these verses  and make it into a HOW TO manual for every part of life, not understanding much of the nuances underneath it.

The word we translate as "tattoo" simply meant "impression, inscription, or mark." It could have been a number of things. Many of the people the Israelites were traveling among would mark their slaves with tattoos to show that they were property. One of the things God is simply telling His people is that they are to belong to no one but Him. God wanted the Israelites FREE so they could worship Him in freedom.

I don't think tattoos have the same connotation they once did...or mean the same thing. I do not believe that THAT law is binding. BUT...the other question (and the more important question) is "do they honor God." 1 Cor 10:31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. I think a better question today is "why is someone wanting one." Is it to honor themselves or to honor God.

I believe they can honor God, but it should be done after much consideration.