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Titus

Titus 3:9: Debating Scripture

Have you ever sat around a table with two people that are passionate about the same thing, yet they spend far too long debating the details? For example, personally I would love to sit across from Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) from Grantland for an hour and debate with him his theories on basketball. It would be a blast. I mean, it’s part of our nature as human beings to want to debate. However, we have unfortunately let this predisposition work its way into our spiritual lives to a degree in which it becomes unhealthy. The reality is though, it didn’t take long. In fact, at the very outset of the spread of the Church Paul had some correcting to do in his Epistle to Titus:

But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. (Titus 3:9)

This verse recently became one of my favorite verses because while it remains so simple, it can really help shape how our culture engages scripture today. Before unpacking the verse for a moment, I do want to note that this verse is referring to dialogue over scripture that is handled in an unhealthy manner (see “controversies”, “dissensions”, & “quarrels”). There is absolutely nothing wrong with having deep conversations about the meaning of scripture with others around you (in fact, I implore you to do so). No, this verse speaks of engaging in unhealthy debates over scripture – something our society has become far too entrenched in.

So, what is happening in Titus 3:9? Well, Paul is communicating to the leadership of the Church in Crete (Titus included) that their demeanor and engagement with the Gospel is essential to the continued spread of the mission in that area. Paul says that foolish arguments (things that have no moral advantage) over scripture have no benefit for the Church. You see, as the elders of the Church argued over differences in their interpretation, they were not only teaching scripture to those listening (often falsely), but also modeling what it meant to be in community with other believers. This type of dissention reminds me of another verse written by Paul in Romans 16:17:

I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.

How often today do we argue over our something that is meaningless to our walk with Christ? How quick are we to point out our differences, instead of the ties that bind? Charles Spurgeon, a British preacher that was estimated to have preached to over 10 million people while living in the 1800’s (yeah, think on that one for a moment), once put it this way:

“There are always plenty of thorn about, and there are certain professors who spend half their lives in fighting about nothing at all. There is no more in their contention than the difference between Tweedledum and Tweedledee; but they will divide a church over it, they will go through the world as if they had found out a great secret,-it really is not of any consequence whatever,-but having made the discovery, they judge everybody by their new-found fad, and so spread a spirit that is contrary to the Spirit of Christ.”

So what can Titus 3:9 teach us? The next time you are either the debater or are simply caught in the midst of a debate, I would challenge you to break out this verse. Personally, I have sat in the midst of a group of great Christian thinkers and when the debate went to a place in which it was unhealthy, the simple remembrance of this verse changed the outcome of that meeting for the better, forever. Paul challenges Titus, and those amongst him, to not engage in foolish debate over scripture and that challenge still rings true today! So, please, by all means, dig into scripture a great deal and have enlightening conversations with your local community, but remember to keep them directed at something that grows everyone and doesn’t become “unprofitable and worthless.”

I’d love to hear about your experience with scriptural debate. Leave a comment below – your thoughts, ideas, stories, and considerations are always highly valued.

Resurrection

Does the Bible say the Resurrection was on Sunday?

If you’ve ever read through the Gospel of Mark before, you’ve probably noticed a curious note that appears at the end of chapter 16, following verse eight, that goes something like this: “Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9–20.”

Have you ever wondered about the significance of those twelve verses not appearing in early manuscripts, or how their inclusion could potentially impact your beliefs? Maybe you have, maybe you haven’t. But if you’re looking for Exhibit A, I would suggest you look no further than the article I wrote about Good Friday. In that article I argued against traditional Church beliefs by concluding that Jesus was crucified on Wednesday, and rose again on Saturday.

But doesn’t the Bible say that Jesus rose on the first day of the week, which is Sunday? Let’s read the first of those twelve verses I referenced:

Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons.” (Mark 16:9)

It would appear that it doesn’t get much clearer than that. Jesus rose early on the first day of the week. Case closed.

Or is it? One of the first lessons in biblical interpretation is to let scripture interpret scripture. So let’s take a look at the other bible verses that talk about Jesus rising on the first day of the week. I’ll wait while you look.

What’s curious is that you won’t find anything. There’s not one other verse that states Jesus rose on the first day of the week. That should serve as our first warning signal. Our second warning signal should be the note that appears after Mark 16:8. I would be hesitant to base my beliefs about the resurrection on a verse that can’t be cross-referenced, and which wasn’t included in some of our earliest manuscripts.

Before some of you get up in arms, let me make clear that I’m not questioning the inerrancy of the Bible in its original text. Even though many New Testament scholars have concluded that Mark 16:9-20 is “non-marcan,” meaning it’s likely this ending to Mark was a later addition by scribes, that does not necessarily mean the verses are not authentic or inspired.

However, if we assume the verses belong as part of biblical canon, doesn’t that leave us with the same problem about the timing of Jesus’ resurrection? Before jumping to conclusions, let’s first read Mark 16:9 from the King James Version:

“Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.”

In this translation, the past tense is used. As a result, it leads to what may be a more natural reading of the text. The meaning of this verse is derived entirely from the placement of the punctuation. It’s important to note that the original Greek text had no punctuation. It was added hundreds of years later, and even then it was added based on human interpretation. So what if the comma was placed elsewhere in the verse?

“Now when Jesus was risen, early the first day of the week he appeared first to Mary Magdalene…”

So by simply moving one piece of punctuation, our entire understanding of the timing of Jesus’ resurrection can be altered. Nowhere in Scripture does it say that Jesus was crucified on Friday; and with a proper understanding of Mark 16:9, there’s nowhere that says He was raised from the dead on Sunday morning either.

In the end, does it matter? As I stated when I wrote about Good Friday, the message of why Jesus died is far more important than when He died. But consider the words of Jesus in Matthew 12:

“Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:38-40)

When the Pharisees asked for one sign from Jesus proving that He was the Son of God as He claimed, He chose to use the example of Jonah. His one sign was that He would spend three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. If we believe Jesus is the Son of God, then it is vital that we consider the sign He gave us proving His deity. That sign disproves a Friday crucifixion, and in turn – along with what we’ve studied about Mark 16:9 – disproves a Sunday resurrection as well.

Ultimately, what’s most important is that the resurrection did take place, just as Jesus predicted. And we can forever be confident that we serve a living God, because Jesus Himself gave us a sign to prove it.

God Trusts in You

God Trusts In You

This article is part of a mini-series on “Who Does God Say That I Am?”  To read from the start, click here.

Genesis 1:26-28 reads,

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Reading this short set of verses, we see that twice God gives us a special place in this world. It says that not only are we made to “rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground,” but we are made to “fill the earth and subdue it.” Its a very special role that God gives each one of us. Its a role that He gives to nothing else, not even angels are trusted to take care of this realm. God made us and set us apart from everything else He created.

But, what does it mean for us to be set apart in God’s eyes?

It means He trusts us. Think about it for a moment, if decide to trust everything that you care about to someone else (even for a short time) – say a child, a dog, or even a home… would you entrust their care to just anyone? Would you leave your precious daughter or son in the care of someone you trust with anything less than your own life? God, by asking us to rule and subdue all of His creation, shows that not only does He love us but He trusts us beyond our imagination.

As you live your day-to-day life consider what it means to God for you to be taking care of all that is His. Just as if you are forced to leave a child with a babysitter, you hope and pray they make the right decision for that child’s care. You are not watching over their shoulder, you are not second-guessing every decision they make – when you choose that person as your babysitter, you are saying that you trust whatever course they would choose in your absence. You will not be around and therefore, it is all left to them to make the decisions they know as right.

God has chosen you in this same way. He loves you so much and hopes you will make the right decisions for your own life and the creation He has asked you to rule over. However, He is not a God that is peering over your shoulder ready to jump in and take over whenever you screw up. He continues to trust you, even as you make mistakes because He knows YOU are the right person to entrust His children and His creation with. Live each day knowing that the God of all the universe loves you and trusts you with everything that is His – if you do, I guarantee that it will continue to draw your closer to Him and His will for your life.

Water Into Wine

Water Into Wine: Are You on Empty?

When was there a time you ran out of something you really needed? Was it money for rent? Perhaps gas while driving over a bridge? Maybe love for a spouse?

We have all run out of important things at the wrong time – right when we need them the most, they escape us.

It brings up feelings of shame, failure, despair and even frustration.

Turn to John chapter 2 and this must have been exactly how the bridegroom would have felt when the wedding ran out of wine. You see, weddings during the time of Jesus would have lasted many days and the obligation of the host was always to have plenty of wine on hand –  you simply couldn’t run out. It would be total embarrassment and would bring tons of shame onto the family.

But, you see,  this day they did run out. Mary, Jesus mother, caught the problem before the bridegroom found out and Jesus, through a masterful plan involving daring servants, turned 180 gallons of water into wine – restoring the party to even better fashion than it was previously. In fact, the wine was so good, the master of ceremony shouted,

“Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” – John 2:10

This was the first of Jesus miracles. But why was this a sign? What was 180 gallons of water into wine supposed to point to?

Hope for the Weary

Jesus showed us that He has come to restore a broken world that has run out of grace and forgiveness. Our world is like the party – you and me are desperately empty. Things have run out in our life and we need immediate help.

But Jesus has come to save us. Not with wine, but with His blood. You see, the 180 gallons of wine (way more than was needed for the party) symbolizes the blood of Christ shed on the cross to “fill” up our empty world. Jesus is foreshadowing for us in John 2 that He will go to the cross and fill up the world with enough grace and forgiveness for all of our sins (more than enough actually). Where we have run out, He will fill tremendously.

So, the question for us is – do we see our need? Are there areas of our life that have run out? Where do you need forgiveness? Where do you need more love in a relationship? Where do you need help to forgive? Turn to Jesus and ask him to restore your emptiness just like he did wine for the wedding party.

 

Samuel and the Whispers That Teach us How to Hear From God

Samuel and the Whispers That Teach us How to Hear From God

When you were an adolescent, did you ever play the silly game of telephone? The game can be quite amusing as one person is in charge of making up a simple phrase such as “Every monkey loves a banana.” However, by the time the last person hears it being whispered in their ear after a long line of people it becomes something completely different like “Harry married a Kentucky girl named Hannah.” How does a monkey’s favorite snack become a marriage proposal you might be thinking?  The easy conclusion could be that communication via the soft sound of a whisper can end in utter confusion! Yet, I have found that God likes to whisper to us, so how can we ensure that we receive the correct message?

There can be no doubt that whispers force people to pay closer attention than they normally would. When you whisper, you have to really concentrate on what someone is saying and, especially in today’s noisy society, a whisper can easily be missed or mistaken. However, there is something so intimate about a whisper because it is a form of close one on one communication.

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is in the book of Samuel. The main character, of course, is a young boy named Samuel. The name Samuel can actually be translated in Hebrew to the phrase “heard by God” and the significance of his name is by no means a coincidence. In fact, Samuel was only twelve years old when his life was first interrupted by a soft whisper from God. As the story goes, one night Samuel went to sleep like every other ordinary night. Then, all of sudden, he heard someone calling him and it woke him out of his sleep abruptly. He ran down the hall to where Eli, his adopted father and priest was sleeping, and said, “I heard you calling me. Here I am.” While the voice was what I imagine to be like a whisper in a quiet room, it was not coming from Eli. Yet, the story proceeds with a confused Eli telling the young boy to go back to bed. Throughout the story, the whispering continues for a total of three times before Eli realizes that something else is going on. Eli, the final time, tells Samuel to go back to bed and when the voice calls to say “Speak, God, I am your servant and I am ready to listen.” And the Scripture tells us that Samuel went back to bed and for the fourth time Samuel heard his name. So Samuel answered and says, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

I love the beginning of this story because it tells us something so important. God speaks to us even when we are young and He continues to speak to us patiently, even if it takes a few tries! So after reading and recapping this story, I pondered a few questions myself:

Why Does God Whisper?

I believe to answer this question we have to go back to Genesis and God’s desire to make man in His own image. It became clear to me after reading so many of my favorite Bible stories that God has been communicating, whispering to individuals from the very beginning. We serve a God who not only desperately loves us but truly likes us. He wants to be in relationship with us like He was with Adam. God loves to talk to His people. He interrupted Moses with a burning bush. He whispered to Noah and told him to build an ark. He spoke audibly to the disciples in the New Testament and told an average Joe named Peter to drop his net and follow Him. God whispers to us because He wants to speak to us and capture our attention. And the best news is that God is still talking to His children today. Remember, God can speak and you don’t have to be in perfect spiritual condition. You just have to train your ear to be open to heaven and God can speak to you, even through a whisper.

How Do We Know It Is God Whispering?

“Is it God or just my own thoughts….” This  statement is common and I fear many people often think that God only speaks like you hear a person audibly. However, God can speak to you in many ways and sometimes it’s not even through words, but through life events. In fact, He can use a wise and godly friend. He can use His Word – the Bible. He can use confirmation – through people, a thing, a dream, or a prophetic prayer. Don’t ever get frustrated because God wants to speak with you. I believe when God is speaking to you, you will know because of a few sure signs: It will capture your attention like Samuel and gently call you even if it is over and over again. It will be a message that helps you, or others, become closer to God. It will be clear and confirmed like it was for Samuel through Eli.

I want to share a personal example of what hearing from God is like regarding someone I know well. His first name was Alex. Alex was one of the students I mentored and each year we would go on a mission trip. During these trips, I would do something called a “pow-wow” with each individual that attended. It was a time to spent one on one talking about things in their life and how God was working through each event. Prior to this meeting, I would ask God for a specific word for the person. As I was praying and reading His word, I prayed over each individual and asked for what God might want me to share with them. As I began to pray over Alex, I kept getting the word “warrior” and God was urging me to share the story of Gideon. I really felt like God wanted me to share this word, and story, with Alex. However, I wanted confirmation because I didn’t want to tell someone they were a warrior for God until I knew I was hearing His whisper correctly. I randomly felt the urge to begin searching Alex’s name on my iPhone (something I had never done before) and when I looked up “Alexander,” I  discovered his name actually meant “warrior!” God is so good to us and just like Samuel, He will gently speak to us until we listen and learn His voice. When I shared this information with the boy named Alex, he began to cry and it was clear that God’s whisper, to me, was one hundred percent meant for this special guy.

What do we do when we hear from God?

We can learn the answer to this through Samuel’s example. He said, “God, it is your servant and I am listening.” God wants us to listen and be willing to say, “Here, I am,” when He calls us. This also means that we have to clear the noise from our lives to get the best reception possible. We have to pray, worship, and seek Him daily to learn how He communicated to us. God is gentle and wants to whisper to your heart if you let Him.

If you desire to hear God’s whisper, perhaps for the first time in your life, start asking for Him to speak to you in a way in which you will best hear Him. God can interact with each of us uniquely and He will speak, unlike the game of telephone, in the way in which are lines will never get crossed.

*For more information on this topic, I highly encourage you to read a wonderful book called “The Power of a Whisper: Hearing God and Having the Guts to Respond” by Bill Hybels. 

 

Sowing and Reaping

Modern Day Sowing and Reaping

For those of you who are not farmers, like myself, the Biblical concept of sowing and reaping can often get lost in translation. However, the audience in which Paul was speaking to in book of Galatians would have surely understood the value of sowing the right crop to produce the right harvest because their livelihood depended on it. However today, we may glance over this concept as our food tends to come from a grocery store, not our own backyard! I imagine if Paul was speaking to the twenty-first century, he would compare sowing and reaping to the stock market. He would caution people to invest their money wisely if they want to see a fruitful return. Yet, both of these concepts are merely metaphors for a much heftier point. In fact, if you look up some synonyms for “reaping,” you will find words like “gaining,” “winning,” “earning” and even “securing.” Additionally, when you look up the word “sowing,” you will find, “spreading,” “propagating” and “scattering.” These are all words that mean much more to us today and can begin to give us a better understand into Paul’s mindset when teaching this metaphor.

I propose this question to you, what are we spreading that is worth gaining? Are we choosing to spread words of love in order to secure people’s identity in Christ or are we spreading bad seed with our relationships with others?We all often fail to sow the right things because we are living to please our immediate flesh. Galatians warns us,

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. Galatians 6: 7-10

The battle between living of the flesh and living of the spirit is clearly an ongoing fight. As we read these words from Paul, a man who consistently admitted to his own inner war to follow God’s leading instead of his own , understood that this was something all Christians would need to learn about.

We live in a world that does not reinforce this concept of doing “good” with right motives. We hear things like good guys finish last and it’s a dog eat dog world, leaving us tempted to conclude that reaping and sowing is simply a novel idea at best. However, when we look at things from a fleshly perspective, we assume that our worldview is God’s and this is not the case. We must rely on the Holy Spirit in order to understand the importance of remaining true to what Galatians proclaims. We must not grow weary of doing the right thing because at the proper time, the Bible promises us that we will indeed reap (receive) what we have sown (planted).

As an aside, notice also that there is special emphasis given to the other Christians we interact within these verses. They are described as “family” and the way in which we exchange words and actions is so vitally important in these relationships. So, I encourage you, brothers and sisters in Christ, pay special attention to your sowing habits. Just like a farmer would carefully choose what he plants and a trade expert would carefully consider what stock would be profitable to take an investment in, so are our words and actions. An American poet named Ella Wheeler Wilcox once stated,

“With every deed you are sowing a seed, though the harvest you may not see.”

The truth is, every day we are indeed sowing all sorts of things into our lives and the lives of others. My prayer for you is that we all might continue to persevere, with spiritual eyes, in order that we may produce a ripe and worthy harvest.