Friday, September 23, 2016

Does Scripture Really Say That?

As Molly Hatchet sang, "I'm flirting with disaster", especially with a title for a post such as the one I went with. But it must have worked because you're reading this, aren't you?

You may have noticed the last two sermon audio posts (found here and here) my voice wasn't heard. In fact, the voices you heard were of a softer tone, or perhaps a slightly higher pitch. They were of course from my great aunt Grace Baughman, an ordained Church of the Nazarene minister, and my wife Buffy, who is in the ordination process for the Free Methodist Church. They preached to a congregation, on a Sunday morning, giving to us the message the Holy Spirit gave to them.

WHAT?!?!?!?! The Bible says that women can't be preachers! Paul is very clear on this point! By having them speak in church, let alone preach, that must mean you don't take the Bible literally or follow what it says!

I've heard that. My wife has heard that. Other female pastors I've known heard that. It's one of those things that gets tossed around with the label "well the Bible says...", and is about a true to scripture as "Cleanliness is next to Godliness", "God helps those who help themselves", and "Jesus is my co-pilot."

But to be fair, there is that one passage in 1 Timothy, but is a face value reading of that passage really conveying what is meant?

Timothy was a relatively young minister appointed by the Apostle Paul to the Church in Ephesus. The city itself was a major port city of Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). It had power and influence, both economically and religiously, as it was also the home to the Temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. But as an important religious center and port city, many ideas about religion would have been promoted and openly discussed in the markets and other public places.

Generally speaking, women were not as well educated as men were, but in Roman Ephesus that seems to have not been the case. Women were not only educated along with the men, but also held important civic and religious offices as well. Women were a powerful force to be reckoned with in Ephesus (and other places throughout Asia Minor).

But what is interesting is that in the passage from 1 Timothy (read it again), Paul moves between the singular and the plural. He wants women to adorn themselves modestly (as a protest to Artemis worship?), but then says a woman must quietly receive instruction and learn in submissiveness. He also does not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man. It is then at this point Paul switches back to the plural.

What makes this interesting is that Paul initially came to Ephesus with Aquilla and Priscilla, a husband and wife pastoral team. It was in Ephesus they instructed Apollos more completely, and helped to establish the Church there initially. So right from the start Ephesus has had a female pastor. If Paul is saying that women are prohibited from being pastors, then why would he work alongside one in establishing the Church that he is writing to Timothy about? On top of that, there are several places where Paul commends the work that women have done to spread the gospel. In the case of the Philippian Church, Lydia and a group of women met by the river to pray. Paul met with them, and they helped to establish the Church.

This whole issue though is most fascinating how Paul switches between the plural, then the singular, and then back to the plural. If this were a prohibition on women being pastors, why not stick with the plural? And if it God's rule, why say "I do not allow" or "I do not permit"? And is to not allow or permit something carry with it a sense of permanence? Or is it only for a time?

Let's consider in Joel 2:28 that "daughters will prophesy" means God intended women to proclaim His message. That's what a prophet did, proclaim the message God gave them. Peter saw the Day of Pentecost as the fulfillment of this prophecy, and said so as much in Acts 2.

In Luke 8:1-3, women were counted among the 12 disciples, and actively supported their ministry. I think then the question becomes would Paul, who was supportive of women ministers and worked alongside them, come out with an extra-biblical teaching that the prophet Joel, Peter, and Jesus Himself would not have supported? Given that Paul combated extra biblical teaching, I highly doubt this would be the case.

I do believe however that it was bad theology he was actually speaking against. Christianity was a threat to Artemis worship, and it may not have been uncommon for one of the priestesses of the Artemis cult to disrupt the worship service in Ephesus and begin teaching something contrary to the gospel. Considering everything, this interpretation would be the most in line with scripture and with who Paul was.

There is one last thing to be considered though. We read in the first two chapters of Genesis that God has created everything good. And He formed man out of the dust of creation and breathed into him His own breath, and placed His image on the man. Yet this is the first time we see something is "not good", because the man is all alone. There is nothing else that is like him. So, when God brings him the animals to name, he is exercising dominion over them, and he is realizing that none of them is his equal. In order to give something a name and have that name be recognized as that thing's name, the one doing the naming must have some authority above that which is being named.

As the man has recognized that he has named the animals, he understood for himself that he needed someone like himself. So God formed out of man "woman." What should be noted here is that adam or "Adam" is the Hebrew word for humanity, and not necessarily a proper name. The adam was an ish, or male. But that's not what we know him as. It is however a description of adam. God caused him to fall into a deep sleep, by which isha, or woman was formed. Woman likewise is not a proper name. In fact, call a woman "woman" as though that's her name, she'll slap you! The man recognized the woman as being like him, just as ish and isha are similar, but different. Isha was not named "Eve" until after the fall of creation.

If we believe that Jesus came to redeem and restore creation, not just give us personal salvation, then we must recognize that God fully intends on restoring the equality that He made us to have. To say women are not allowed to be pastors in the church is to perpetuate the brokeness that sin introduced into the world, the very sin that has itself been broken by the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Whole Armor of God (guest audio)

This weekend my great aunt Grace Baughman joined us, and delivered some sermons intended to revive and renew us. They couldn't have come at a better time.

Sadly, I didn't have the previous two messages recorded, but I asked her if it would be alright if we recorded this sermon and she agreed to it.

Through story, song, and scripture she shared some very timely messages with those who gathered at the Dansville Free Methodist Church. Her humor, gentleness, and deep love for the Lord and her willingness to serve Him as long as she has breath is evident. She has contributed greatly to what I believe is a legacy of faith and service in the proclamation of the gospel. And though this is a bit longer message, I hope you will listen intently and get a sense of what we experienced over this past weekend.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

A Wesleyan-Arminian and a Calvinist Skype for a Podcast...

On the surface this may seem like a new setup for a very old joke. But it really happened this week when Jeremy Lundmark of the After The Sermon podcast and I were able to finally communicate (after a few weeks of life getting in the way) and had a conversation about some of the ways Arminianism (maybe specifically Wesleyan-Arminianism) has been misrepresented.

I have to be honest here and say that I never thought it could be done, to have a civil conversation on such a heated topic within Christianity. There are heavy-weights on both sides, such as John Piper and R.C. Sproul representing the Calvinists, and Jerry Walls and Ben Witherington representing the Arminians. And when the two camps meet, it always seems like a debate (fight?) breaks out.

Even in my own experience, until I was in fifth grade I wasn't aware that there was any differing theology than what I had grown up in (well, except for Catholicism). All my life up to that point had been spent in the Wesleyan and Nazarene churches, where God's gift of salvation was freely offered to all through the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus. Upon being offered this gift, the choice was ours to either accept it or reject it.

If we chose to accept the gift, the sin nature we were born into would be replaced by the filling of the Holy Spirit, and we would then be enabled to live holy lives that are pleasing to God. It never occurred to me that anybody could believe anything different if they had the Bible that I had, or had gone to church like I did.

As I mentioned though that all changed when I entered the fifth grade. I remember it well because that was the grade my parents took me out of public school and enrolled me in the Baptist school across the street from the public school. When I took my first Bible class there and heard some things I wasn't familiar with, you can bet that I had a lot of questions. Being in fifth grade at the time as well, I didn't know exactly how to articulate what I believed or even how it was different than what I was being taught there.

Here's what I found out though: there was a belief that God, in His sovereignty, decreed that some be saved, and others be condemned. Moment of confession here, that really bothered me, as that didn't sound like the God I had read about and learned about in scripture, in Sunday School, or in church.

On top of that (being a fairly fundamentalist Baptist school), I was told that my church didn't really believe the Bible and that because they had drums in the sanctuary (I was one of the drummers), we were really worshiping the devil, because drums represented evil African pagan beats. Some missionaries had told them so.

I wish I was making that up.

The positive thing that happened for me from fifth through twelfth grade though was I began taking the study of theology seriously. The downside though, and maybe this developed because I felt surrounded, was I also developed a combative attitude toward defending what I believe. In term papers I had to write I mentioned how evil Calvinism was, how what I believed was so superior. In Bible class it became expected that I would announce my disagreements with the teacher. And I felt frustrated. I honestly believed at that point that if I were ever to get anywhere with speaking what I believe, I had to be combative and debate it. I couldn't help but be upset though at how my church, and my family's faith heritage had been maligned. Several of my family have been pastors, evangelists, and denominational leaders in many of the Wesleyan-Arminian holiness denominations.

I thought that, once I graduated from high school and could begin my calling to become a pastor, I'd be better able to defend my positions. I was going to a Nazarene college, finally among my own people, with professors who would also defend our beliefs. But in my formative years of high school, with the attitude I developed, what I got instead was a large dose of humility. Things didn't go according to my plan. A couple weeks ago I preached about the desert experience Jesus had. Failing out of college, everything I had come to believe in shambles, it was my desert and I know the devil was coming at me hard. What had my beliefs done for me? Hadn't I accepted the gift of salvation? Wasn't the Holy Spirit working in me? How could I fail!?!?

While I would get back into school, going to and graduating from Houghton College, in the time in-between I learned what crow tasted like. Where I had failed at Mount Vernon Nazarene University in Ohio, I excelled academically and spiritually at Houghton. And I graduated with more than just a degree in religion, but with some life perspective.

I learned that God isn't as concerned about the labels we give ourselves. We could be Free Methodist, United Methodist, Baptist, Wesleyan, Nazarene, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Evangelical, but what matters most to Him is that we are living for Him.

That doesn't mean our theology doesn't matter. It absolutely does. I am firmly set in the Wesleyan-Arminian doctrine as I believe it aligns best with what scripture reveals to us about the character and nature of God. But I also recognize that not everyone agrees with me on that. Furthermore, and more importantly, it isn't in my job description to make everyone believe my view. "The Great Commission" doesn't say "Go into all the world and make Wesleyan-Arminians..." It says to make disciples, people who passionately give all to follow after Jesus.

It's taken me awhile to really learn what that means. I am a Free Methodist, I am a Wesleyan-Arminian, I do believe what those affirm about scripture, about God, about salvation and redemption, but at the end of the day I don't want those to be the things I am most known for. I want to be known as someone who was and is a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.

So it isn't lightly that I say I never expected to be able to have a conversation with a Calvinist, not a debate, and hopefully contribute something affirming and worthwhile to understanding both the similarities and the differences of our theology. Yes there are similarities. Yes there are differences. But in the family of God that has always been the case. Jesus had among His disciples someone who was ready to take on the entire Roman army and someone who was an agent of Rome. He even picked as a disciple the one who would betray Him.

It isn't our calling to make all of Christianity see our theological camp. It's important that if we affirm our theology, that the evidence isn't in how well we know it, but how it transforms us more and more into the image of Christ, and how we live it in the real world. I don't want to be someone who will debate at the drop of a hat. Debates just entrench us more and more into our own theological holes, and I think they do more in contributing to the noise than they allow us to hear the voice of God.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Myth vs. Reality of Jesus: Part 3 (audio)

This week I remembered to get the recorder set up!

You're also in for a special treat this week - I didn't preach! Maybe some of you are thankful about that. My wife preached. Maybe some of you will think "But that ain't right!" Well, too bad, she preached and she preached a fantastic sermon.

The sermon she preached was on Jesus calling His first followers, and trying to put us in their sandals. Did they feel qualified? What about their livelihood? Their families? What does all of that mean for us?

Next Sunday we'll be finishing up a three day revival service, so I don't know if we'll have audio for that or not. But for now, take a listen to what my wife had to say.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Myth vs. Reality of Jesus: Part 2 (not audio)

Because of technical difficulties (I forgot to get the recorder set up), there's no audio for this week's sermon. Instead I am going to post the transcript of it. I know it's not the same, but different is good, right?

Myth vs. Reality of Jesus: Part 2
Luke 4:1-13

Though it shouldn't surprise anyone here that Peanuts is my favorite cartoon strip, I also greatly appreciate Calvin and Hobbes. The strip that's up on the screen is my favorite.

In case you can't see it too well or read it, let me give you the idea: Calvin is having a conversation with his stuffed tiger Hobbes, who often acts as his conscience. In this conversation Calvin says he wrestled with whether or not to cheat on a test, giving the pros and the cons of cheating and not cheating, and the consequences of both.

Hobbes is patiently listening and then asks Calvin the question “So what did you decide?” Calvin answers that he did not do either as he ran out of time and ended up turning in a blank test. Hobbes says that acknowledging the issue is a moral victory, but Calvin responds that it didn't seem right to cheat on an ethics test.

Temptation is something very human. We are presented with choices to make, and those choices carry with them consequences that, depending on which we choose, can be either good or bad. Either one will follow us long after the decision has been made. Good choices lead to freedom, bad to enslavement to sin. God gives us the ability though to make those choices.

With that being said, let's take a look at Jesus' own life again, this time focusing in on His temptation in the wilderness. We're going to be looking at Luke 4:1-13, starting though with verses 1-4.

 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And He ate nothing during those days, and when they had ended, He became hungry. And the devil said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”

That sets up the next part of Jesus' story. Full of the Holy Spirit, He was led into the wilderness for forty days. Doesn't that sound a little bit strange to you? A popular book says we need to have purpose and live according to that purpose. Purpose for its own sake though could lead us astray. Jesus' purpose was to bring the Kingdom of God, but being led by the Spirit, He spent time in the wilderness. Being led by the Spirit sets us on course to fulfill our God given, not self-driven, purpose.

And just because Jesus was in the wilderness didn't mean He had been abandoned. When the Holy Spirit is in us, and we're being led by Him, even the wilderness experiences are times when God is preparing us. If we don't have those difficult times, how can we minister to those who are having difficult times of their own?

As Jesus' wilderness experience was coming to an end, He was getting hungry. And the devil took an opportunity to tempt Him. “If You are the Son of God, turn these stones into bread.” Did the devil doubt Who he was dealing with? Probably not, but the devil isn't really interested in who you are, he's interested in getting you to believe a lie about who you are. If He did it with Jesus, he'll do it with you. And he'll lie in wait for you to be distracted, either by a physiological need or something else. It doesn't matter. At one point in my life, I was in some major pain that lasted nearly two months. In addition my student loans fell through, and I had car troubles. The devil was there saying “Just give up, God has abandoned you, He's done with you.” And I was ready to believe it, but then a friend reminded me of God's character, and I was comforted in that. But while I was going through it I would have given anything to have it all go away.

A question to ask at this point might be would it have been wrong for Jesus to turn the stones to bread? Yes. First, because Jesus would have given into that temptation to meet a need He would have had again. Second, it would have legitimized the accusation the devil had, that perhaps He's really not the Son of God. Third, while God is all powerful, He acts in accordance with His character. He isn't going to put His power on display to try to convince someone of Who He is when they have no interest in submitting to Him. Let's move on to verses 5-8.

And he led Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, “I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.’”

On a mountain some think was the same one Moses looked into, the devil says “Bow before me, and the kingdoms of this world are yours, for they are mine.”

Well, that's sort of true, but it's mostly false. Jesus would say later on that Satan is the “prince of this world”, but a prince is hardly a king, and there were definite limits to his power. It is God who establishes kingdoms and kings. If the devil can't get you to believe a lie about yourself, he'll try to get you to believe a lie about himself. “Oh, you serve God? Look where you are, the wilderness. You say you have this great inheritance and God wants you to prosper and succeed? Well, where is it? I'm the one who really gets things done. Give up on serving God and I'll give you everything you want.” But Jesus' response was “You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.” Moving on to verses 9-13 - 

And he led Him to Jerusalem and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here; 10 for it is written,
He will command His angels concerning You to guard You,’
11 and,
On their hands they will bear You up,
So that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’”
12 And Jesus answered and said to him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
13 When the devil had finished every temptation, he left Him until an opportune time.

What the devil quoted was out of Psalm 91, as in it's scripture. The entirety of the Psalm 91 deals with the security for the one who trusts completely in the Lord. Did Jesus truly trust in God the Father? If He did, why not prove it?

Why would Jesus need to? Psalm 91 talks about security for those who place their trust in the Lord, but it doesn't say to go out and put the Lord to the test. The devil will quote scripture, but he'll twist it and take it out of context. A book, a devotional, a sermon, or a teaching you hear may contain scripture, but if it's scripture taken out of context, then it's an abuse of scripture. A text taken out of its context becomes a pretext for saying whatever you want it to say.

So Jesus responded with “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” Trust does not give us license to test. There are those who handle poisonous snakes to prove their faith, but that's bad practice. The same can be said for anyone though who applies scripture to their lives without considering its context. Jeremiah 29:11 says “I know the plans I have for you, plans for welfare and not calamity to give you a future and a hope.” Do you know who this is addressed to or what the circumstances of it are? God's people were facing exile and doubting His intentions, so this is an assurance to them that even though they're going through a difficult time, God has a plan for them beyond their exile. It's wrong to take that verse and simply apply it to whatever you may be facing.

With that, the devil left Jesus alone until an opportune time.

The myth might be that temptation doesn't come to those who believe. Jesus did more than believe, He was God in the Flesh, Emmanuel, and filled with the Holy Spirit. If He can be tempted, why can't we? But keep in mind that temptation isn't sin. It's an invitation to sin, but you don't have to accept that invitation. With the Holy Spirit alive and at work in us, we can oppose sin. We can choose God's way.

We might also think Jesus was never tempted again. Jesus asked His disciples Who they said He was, and Peter answered “The Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Just a few verses later, Jesus is telling His disciples He must die, and Peter says “Never, Lord! This must not happen to You.” Do you think Satan was there saying “If You just bow down and worship me, You won't have to go through the pain of the cross, the kingdoms of the world will be Yours. The people are willing to set You up as their King. So decide to live and lead them instead of dying.” Jesus responded though by saying “Get behind me, Satan.”

The devil isn't going to stop after only a couple tries and say “Well, I gave it my best shot, time to move on.” He'll come at us when the opportunity arises. That could be when we feel weak. It could be directed at a strength of ours we take pride in. It could be after a great spiritual victory, or when we're emotionally drained. And he will lie to you about yourself. He will lie to you about himself. He will twist scripture to make it say whatever he wants it to.

Jesus did not use scripture to advance His goals, but to affirm the character of God and what His purpose was. As I mentioned He was led by the Spirit, and He used scripture to correct the devil's twisting of it. We too are to be led by the Holy Spirit and use scripture as a foundation to stand on, not a club to browbeat others or justify ourselves with.

It's a myth to say we shouldn't face temptation. Jesus did. It might be easy to say “Well yeah, but He was Jesus, the Son of God.” Yes, but did He use divine power to send the devil away or somehow lessen the reality of His temptations? No. He used scripture and relied on the Holy Spirit to withstand the devil. And we have the same access to the Holy Spirit Jesus did. We can know scripture as He knew it. If anything, how Jesus stood up to temptation should give us hope when temptation comes our way, as what He did is what we too can do.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Myth Versus Reality of Jesus: Part 1 (audio)

I believe that many people have an idea of who Jesus is.

I also believe that many of our ideas don't completely match up to who Jesus is.

One of the most incredible events of His life is the only story that is conveyed of his adolescence, found in Luke 2:41-52. In that story, Jesus shows everything that would come to define His life and public ministry. But it's difficult, if not impossible, for us to think of Him as a child who had to grow and learn.

So with that, here's the first sermon in "Myth Versus Reality of Jesus."

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Minor Prophets, Major Message: Malachi (audio)

What happens when God's people forget that God is holy, and He expects His people to be holy?

This was the problem that the prophet Malachi, in the last of the minor prophets (as well as the final book of the Old Testament), deals with. Sin had hardened the hearts of God's people, and the priests that served in His temple. The sacrifices made were substandard. The tears shed on the altar were fake. Even their personal lives showed a lack of understanding God and His ways. All this adds up to robbing our God of what's due Him.

To fail to see that God is holy, and righteous, and that He calls His people to reflect His character, means that we make a mockery of our Lord. God created us to be a reflection of Himself. But sin tarnishes that image.

Only those who repent of sin and give God what is due Him will be spared. For His messenger is coming, proclaiming the One who will bring about righteousness and holiness.