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My guess is if you’ve grown up in a Christian home, or at least a home that went to church on Christmas and Easter, you probably have a certain level of respect for the Bible. You probably didn’t read it. But you believed it. No judgement, that’s my story too. 

You probably were also taught that the whole Bible was absolutely true. Not a single error. And that the whole Bible, Old and New, were equally useful to help us know God and live as he wants us to. 

And that’s where the problem comes in. Most Christians in the western world are taught that the Old and New Testament are equal. But they’re not. 

The Bible, while all true, is not equally applicable to our lives. 

I know for some of you that’s a hard pill to swallow. But hang with me. The New Testament > The Old Testament. The New Testament is a better deal and we are no longer held to the laws of the Old Testament. That’s not to say the Old Testament is useless and we shouldn’t read it. It’s still useful and we should read it. But we need to read it in light of what Jesus has done.

The Problem with the Old Covenant

The Old Testament is based around a covenant that God made with Abraham. It’s the foundation of the Law the Jews followed, and it’s how one earned their righteousness. 

The problem with the Old Covenant? 

In short… Nobody could live up to it. 

If you read through the Old Testament not a single person was able to live up to the requirements of the Old Testament. They all failed. The problem with the Old Covenant is that we, humans, were not capable of fulfilling the requirements. 

That is of course until Jesus came along… But we’ll get there in a minute. 

Of course God didn’t leave his people hanging. He provided a way for when they fell short. The sacrifice of an animal that took the place of the person’s sins. Something had to die so that their sin could be forgiven. And kill they did. Countless animals were slaughtered so the sins of God’s people would be forgiven. 

This had been going on for over a 1,000 years by the time Jesus entered the picture and changed everything. 

For the sake of time I’m not going to go into how the Old Covenant worked or all the details about the Law. If you want to read more on that check out my article: What’s the Point of the Old Testament Law?

What Jesus Said

By the time Jesus came around the Law was ingrained in the Jew’s DNA since Moses walked down the mountain with the 10 Commandments. They were sticklers for the rules. By the book kind of people. So much so that they added laws to the Law just to make sure they didn’t break the Law. Of course they still did, because no one could actually live up to the Law. But that didn’t keep them from holding others to the Law. 

Jesus enters the picture and totally rocks their world. He wouldn’t leave the Law alone, he kept pocking at it. Worse still he compared himself to Moses and eventually claimed to be God. Which is basically the worst offense against the Law you can commit… Unless it’s true… 

Jesus Fulfills the Law

Matthew 5:17-20 is probably Jesus’ most quoted passage about the Law. But it’s drastically misquoted and misunderstood. Often the first sentence of this passage is used as a proof text for the way Jesus didn’t do away with the Law. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets.” And they are right. Jesus didn’t abolish the Law… But he did fulfill it. It’s in the next sentence. 

Jesus claims that He came to fulfill the law, a curious statement to the listening Jews. To fulfill the Law was impossible. It wasn’t something you could fulfill, it was something you follow. Later in this passage He makes an outlandish claim, that for the Law to save you, you would have to follow it better than the Pharisees. There ain’t nobody that could do that. Well except Jesus…

In other words he’s saying that there’s two deals.. You can keep living under the Law, you can keep following the 613 laws.

BUT. 

If you do that you have to do it perfectly. Better than anyone else. Even the best of the best aren’t good enough. 

The other deal? 

A new covenant. A new commandment. 

A New Commandment (to replace the rest) 

If we flip over to John 13:31-35 we see Jesus claiming to have a new commandment. This isn’t an addition to, but rather in place of. He didn’t say, Behold I give you the 614th commandment. No. Jesus ushered in an entirely new deal. A new covenant.

He clarifies this by saying, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples.” Those listening would have been thinking, whoa, calm down Jesus. The Bible (the Old Testament) tells us that we are known for our observance of the law. You’re telling us that now we just have to follow this one commandment?

In short yes. We have the benefit of knowing the full story. His followers didn’t. Jesus would indeed fulfill the law on the cross. He would fulfill it and replace it. No longer do we need the 613 laws for us to be righteous; we are now marked by our love for God and others. No longer do we need to sacrifice an animal each time we sin; Jesus died once for all.

This is where some of you will point to the moral laws, such as the 10 Commandments, and accuse me of downplaying sin or disregarding scripture. Not what I’m doing. The Old Testament is still useful and I would argue the New Covenant has higher expectations (and some similarities to the old). More on that last point in the next section.

This is ultimately why the Jews tried to kill Jesus. Because he was replacing their DNA, the only thing they knew. The Law. He introduced something new. And they killed him for it. Of course that couldn’t stop him. In fact that was the plan all along. The final sacrifice for all sins of all time. 

The New Covenant

So what is this new covenant? This one is very different from the old. In the old covenant your righteousness was based off your adherence to the law. Under the new covenant our righteousness is based off Jesus fulfilling the law. 

The Old Covenant had 613 laws. The New Covenant has one. John 13:31-35. Love one an other as I have loved you. 

Simple. 

But not easy. 

Jesus replaces the complicated old covenant with a new, better covenant. Romans 8:3-4 summarizes this best.

While the New Covenant is simple it’s not easy. There might not be 613 rules to follow, but the new rule is not easy. While the price of entry is free, and for literally everyone, there’s an expectation once you are in. Just go read Matthew 5-7 to see how Jesus expects his followers to act. What you’ll see in many ways is an elevation of the Old Covenant laws that pertain to our treatment of others. Jesus made the entry to the New Covenant easy, but he expects a lot out of his followers.

But thankfully there’s hope. We no longer are held down by our mistakes and dependent on continual sacrifices. Best of all under the New Covenant we have God not only with us, but in us, helping us. We aren’t alone. 

The Rest of the New Testament Agrees With Jesus

Don’t believe Jesus? Fine. Not the place I’d want to be… But the rest of the New Testament agrees with Jesus replacing the Old Covenant too. Not adding to, but replacing. 

Hebrews 8:6

Really you can take all of Hebrews, but Hebrews 8:6 is the pinnacle. This is a brilliant book written by _______… Well we don’t know who. Maybe they too feared for their life for writing such damning words about the Old Covenant. They write the same things that got Jesus killed. Why risk it? It’s foolish… Unless it’s true. 

I like how Wayne Grudem explains this in his book, Christian Ethics:

It is important to realize that the author of Hebrews is not saying that some old covenant laws are no longer binding on Christians (such as sacrificial laws or purity laws, for example), but that the old covenant itself, that entire system of laws that defined the relationship with God and his people, is no longer in effect.

Let’s look at one more… 

Paul Believes It Too 

At one point in Paul’s life he claimed to follow the Law better than anyone else. And then abruptly he met the resurrection Jesus. And immediately left the Old Covenant behind. Why? Because the new deal is so much better. 

New Testament scholar Thomas Schreiner puts it this way:

Paul argues that the entirety of the law has been set aside now that Christ has come. To say that the ‘moral’ elements of the law continue to be authoritative blunts the truth that the entire Mosaic covenant is no longer in force for believers.

The New Testament is in agreement. The old is out and the new is in. 

But this is where the problems start. The old keeps coming back. Christians keep trying to put the old commandments back in place. 

Stop Mixing the Old and the New

Under Old Covenant there were a lot of rules you had to keep in order to remain righteous. 613 to be exact. If you were to thumb through the Torah (the first 5 books of the OT) you would find a whole slew of laws. 

Most of them we got no problem not following anymore. We have broken many of them without even knowing. Eating bacon, mixing fabrics in our clothes, only worshipping on the Sabbath (which is Saturday FYI), and so on… But we have this habit of reaching back into the Old Covenant and picking and choosing certain teachings, sayings, and narratives to support our view. 

This isn’t new. This started minutes after Jesus ascended into heaven. The first Christians started telling new Christians they had to eat a certain way, and they had to be circumcised. Which as you can image was a deal breaker for many… They were mixing the old and the new. But Jesus fulfilled and replaced the old. 

This has caused incredible damage over the years. The Crusades only existed because of this mix and match style of theology. They weren’t following the New Covenant way of living Jesus set up. Maybe we aren’t killing people today (hopefully), but we are still causing damage by mixing the old and the new. 

Stop putting roadblocks that make it harder for people to come to Jesus. Stop adding laws to the New Covenant. And stop looking to an inferior covenant when we have one that is much greater. What Jesus accomplished for us is so much better.

Let me end with Andy Stanley who just wrote a great book that covers this topic much better than I ever could. It’s called Irresistible… So, while I believe there is much we can learn from studying and preaching on the Old Testament, we must now take our cue from the promises fulfilled in Jesus—the new. The way we treat others is not based on 10 Commandments, but on one command given by Jesus—“Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34; 15:12). We need to ask: what does this love require of me? And this informs our apologetic approach to reaching people. For me, it starts by introducing them to Jesus and the miracle of his resurrection. That’s something we’ve never seen before in human history. It’s brand new. And that’s what makes Christianity irresistible. 

So let’s here from you… What’s your thoughts? 

The post Why The Old Testament Is Not Equal To The New Testament appeared first on rethink.

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Is swearing a sin? Should Christians cuss? 

My guess is you have a relatively strong reaction to those questions. Either for or against. While many well meaning Christians have several passages loaded and ready to fire about this topic, the Bible actually says very little. I know, you have this verse that you are certain is the definitive proof text. But hear me out. Not only does the Bible say little about using harsh language, but it says some pretty offense things. 

Let’s start by looking at how we’ve edited and softened many of the offensive things in the Bible. 

Want another issue that gets Christians fired up, but the Bible says little about? Should Christians drink, smoke, or get tattoos? 

Editing Out the “Bad” Stuff in the Bible

Since most people cannot read ancient Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic the Bible needs to be translated to modern languages so we can understand it. The problem that comes with that process is the human translators are just that, human. They make mistakes. But often times they also edit parts that they deem offensive. 

Let’s look at a few examples. 

Today we read Song of Solomon as a cute little relationship between two lovers. But this is no PG encounter; it’s so explicit that the Jews didn’t let their kids read it until they became adults. Once case of editing this book is in Song of Solomon 5:14. Most translations simply state “his body is polished ivory”, or something like that. But that’s missing the point. The wife is comparing an elephant tusk to her husband… In other words she is saying he is WELL endowed. 

Paul wasn’t shy about harsh language either. He used the word skubala in Philippians 3:8, which harsher than crap, but not quite as harsh as shit (sorry I meant sh*t…). If you were offended by that, that’s the point. Most translations tame it down to rubbish or trash, totally missing the offensiveness of the word that Paul intentionally uses. He actual tames down the similar point that Isaiah 64:6 makes that our works are like “filthy rags” which should read “menstruation rags.” 

Translators of the Old Testament often translate the word shagel as “to lie with.” But shagel is a much more vulgar word. Often used to describe a sexual act or rape. 

Ezekiel won’t stop talking explicit sexual acts in disturbing detail. Jesus was really good at putdowns, that we soften today. And let’s not forget about the violence that we often just glance past… There are plenty of other examples. But I think we get the point. The Bible is not afraid to use harsh words and descriptions. However we are uncomfortable with the language the Bible uses and have edited much of it. 

What Does The Bible Say about Swearing? 

I know some of you are chomping at the bit with that one proof text about why swearing is a sin. So let’s look at a few of the more popular verses used. If you want a complete list go here: What the Bible Says About Profanity

Ephesians 5:4, Colossians 3:8, James 3:6-10, and Proverbs 4:24 are the four passages I hear most commonly used to argue against swearing. The problem is these passages aren’t referring to what we now understand as cussing. 

The above scripture indicates that it is a sin to use our words to tear people down. What the Bible does make clear is that any language used to belittle, demean, or attack someone is a sin. But what about cussing when we stub our toe or using a strong word to better express what we are feeling? The Bible doesn’t give us a direct answer.

God doesn’t really seem to care about the words we use. Rather the manor in which we use words is what matters. 

Words are powerful. And we ought to be careful to use them in a way that honors God and builds people up. Often we do the opposite and use our words to tear people down. And that’s what God cares about. 

Here’s the bottom line. Words are not the issue. They are simply that, words. Each word has a proper place and a time that they can be used. Any words used to tear someone down is wrong. But just because we’ve placed certain words on the “do not say list” doesn’t make them a sin. It’s how, when, and where we use them that dictates whether they are good or bad.

What About Taking the Lords Name in Vain?

Taking the Lord’s name in vain often gets lumped into the same category as cussing, so we will briefly look at what that means. But if you want a more full look at it I have written this article: What It Really Means to Take the Lord’s Name in Vain 

Exodus 20:7 is where this command is found and states: “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” 

Far and away the most common application of this verse is we shouldn’t use God’s name as a curse word, as in saying “Oh My God.” You could make an argument for not saying those phrases above because they show disrespect. However we’ve softened what taking the Lord’s Name in vain really means. We often dismiss the true seriousness of what this passage means with the simple answer of not using God’s name as a curse word.

The real issue this passage is address is one of representation, not the use of God’s name when you stub your toe. Think of the TV Evangelist who, in God’s name, influences people to give them money. they aren’t accurately representing God. By claiming they are and leading people astray they are taking God’s name in vain. 

Read this if you want more: What It Really Means to Take the Lord’s Name in Vain

So Should Christian Swear? 

We know what the Bible says. But what do we do with it? Can Christians cuss? 

Here’s the short answer: Do what you want. 

BUT. 

Don’t use your words, whether curse words or not, to belittle, attack, or demean anyone. Yes, even “that” person that you know is wrong.

Some of the worst things I’ve heard have come from Christians who intentionally don’t swear, but still use their words to tear others apart. The point the Bible makes is that the words you use aren’t the problem. Words are neutral. The way you use words dictates if they become good or bad. 

The point is swearing is not a sin because of the word itself. It can become a sin depending on how we use those, and other, words. 

Now there is a secondary question we need to answer. Can Christians cuss? Yes. Should Christians cuss? Well that depends. 

What is right and wrong isn’t always the same as what is wise and unwise. Or at least effective and ineffective. While it might be okay to do something, or say something, it might not always be wise. 

Here’s a better question to ask… Would Using {Fill in the Blank Word} Help or Distract? 

Life is not all black and white. The Bible doesn’t portray it that way either; there’s a whole lot of gray. This question will help us sort out what the wisest thing for us to do is. 

Last point… Let’s have a little grace. Some people will decide cussing will hinder their relationship with God. Great, don’t do it. And let’s watch our language around them. Other’s aren’t bothered, but there’s no need to judge them for how they use their freedom. When the Bible is grey, choose grace. 

The post What the Bible Really Says About Swearing appeared first on rethink.

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The Bible is not written TO you. BUT. The Bible it is written FOR you. 

Hear me out. There is an important distinction here. 

However we view the Bible is the lens in which we will read and interpret it. If we think of it as a personal letter from God to us, then we will read it as such. But when we do that we are missing out what the Bible is actually about. 

The authors of the Bible were not thinking of you when they penned their respective books. They were, however, thinking of someone. Their words weren’t written to a 21st century culture. Rather they were written to an ancient culture with drastically different norms. 

Again, the Bible is not written TO you. BUT. The Bible it is written FOR you. That might seem like we are just splitting hairs. But it’s this lack of understanding of who the Bible is written to that has lead many to misuse and misunderstand the Bible. 

So let’s start from the beginning… 

So, Who is the Bible Written To? 

If the Bible isn’t written to me, then who is it written to? 

Here’s the first problem with answering that question. The Bible wasn’t written to any single person or people group. Rather it is a the collection of books written by different authors, to different cultures, at different times.

Here’s just a few:

  • Luke and Acts are written to one person, Theophilus. 
  • The Epistles (Paul’s letters) were written to specific churches or people. 
  • Genesis was written to the Nation of Israel. 
  • The other books of Law were also written to Israel. 
  • Psalms is a collections of more or less private poetry not written to anyone. 
  • Matthew, Mark, and John were directed at a different cultural audience. 

The point is, the Bible was not written to you. But it was written to someone. Not a singular person. Rather multiple people. Each book has an audience that it was written to. Each audience lived in a specific time and had their own culture surrounding them. And you need to understand who those person(s) are before applying it to your life. If you don’t you will likely not fully understand, or possibly even misunderstand what the Bible is telling us today. 

The Bible isn’t only written to specific people. It’s also written in different ways. 

Understanding the Genre

We already know that the Bible is written to a specific people and in a specific culture, but each book is also written in a specific way. 

Part of the beauty of the Bible is that it doesn’t just tell you truth in one way. Rather it takes advantage of multiple genres to show the complexity of God and the spectrum of human experience.

Think of it this way. You don’t read a history book the same way you read poetry. And you aren’t going to read a book of law the same way you read a letter from a friend. You read each of those in a different manner. 

In the same way you shouldn’t read Acts the same way you read Psalms. They are different genres. You can read more on that here: How to Read the Bible (better)

Each book of the Bible is written to a specific person or people group in a specific culture and in a specific way. 

What Happens When We Ignore The Who

One example I like that shows how we often miss the point when reading like this is Genesis 1-3, the Creation Story. Many read this story with a 21st century mindset; it’s a story about how God literally created the world. However, this book wasn’t written to a science-minded people. Rather an ancient group that lost their identity. They didn’t care about the science behind it, and it wasn’t written with that in mind. They saw their identity in the story. 

At this point I know some of you are thinking, he just said Genesis isn’t literally true! That proves my point. The point isn’t is Genesis literal or not. What I’m getting at is because we are so ingrained in reading the Bible with our 21st Century eyes we missed the point of many stories in the Bible. Genesis 1-3 is an incredible story with rich applications. But we’ve boiled it down to God creating the world in a literal 7 days. That’s not the point of this story! Our modern reading has caused us to miss the point.

I’ve written a whole article on this, you can read it here: We’ve Missed the Point of the Creation Story

When we ignore who the Bible was written to and the way it was written it can cause us to miss what’s really going on. Many of the crazy ideas out there today stem from someone doing this. 

After You Understand Who, You Can Apply It To You

I impressed myself by accidentally rhyming.

Remember, the Bible isn’t written TO you, but it is written FOR you. In other words, the Bible contains truth and we should read it and apply it to our lives. The Bible tells us about God, his plan for redemption, and our role in his story. It’s certainly for us today. But we must understand the original context before applying it to ourselves. 

I know this makes many uncomfortable. But what I’m NOT saying is that the Bible isn’t for us. It’s of no use to us. Or that it doesn’t contain truth. Rather what I’m saying is that we have to understand the culture, the people, and the way it was written in order to fully understand what it means to us. 

The Bible is written FOR us. And we should read it, study it, and apply it to our lives. But many have gotten the wrong idea because they have ignored the original meaning and the original audience. Once we understand the original meaning we can understand and apply the truth of the Bible to our lives.

The post No. The Bible Isn’t Written TO You appeared first on rethink.

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The Bible is not written TO you. BUT. The Bible it is written FOR you. 

Hear me out. There is an important distinction here. 

However we view the Bible is the lens in which we will read and interpret it. If we think of it as a personal letter from God to us, then we will read it as such. But when we do that we are missing out what the Bible is actually about. 

The authors of the Bible were not thinking of you when they penned their respective books. They were, however, thinking of someone. Their words weren’t written to a 21st century culture. Rather they were written to an ancient culture with drastically different norms. 

Again, the Bible is not written TO you. BUT. The Bible it is written FOR you. That might seem like we are just splitting hairs. But it’s this lack of understanding of who the Bible is written to that has lead many to misuse and misunderstand the Bible. 

So let’s start from the beginning… 

So, Who is the Bible Written To? 

If the Bible isn’t written to me, then who is it written to? 

Here’s the first problem with answering that question. The Bible wasn’t written to any single person or people group. Rather it is a the collection of books written by different authors, to different cultures, at different times.

Here’s just a few:

  • Luke and Acts are written to one person, Theophilus. 
  • The Epistles (Paul’s letters) were written to specific churches or people. 
  • Genesis was written to the Nation of Israel. 
  • The other books of Law were also written to Israel. 
  • Psalms is a collections of more or less private poetry not written to anyone. 
  • Matthew, Mark, and John were directed at a different cultural audience. 

The point is, the Bible was not written to you. But it was written to someone. Not a singular person. Rather multiple people. Each book has an audience that it was written to. Each audience lived in a specific time and had their own culture surrounding them. And you need to understand who those person(s) are before applying it to your life. If you don’t you will likely not fully understand, or possibly even misunderstand what the Bible is telling us today. 

The Bible isn’t only written to specific people. It’s also written in different ways. 

Understanding the Genre

We already know that the Bible is written to a specific people and in a specific culture, but each book is also written in a specific way. 

Part of the beauty of the Bible is that it doesn’t just tell you truth in one way. Rather it takes advantage of multiple genres to show the complexity of God and the spectrum of human experience.

Think of it this way. You don’t read a history book the same way you read poetry. And you aren’t going to read a book of law the same way you read a letter from a friend. You read each of those in a different manner. 

In the same way you shouldn’t read Acts the same way you read Psalms. They are different genres. You can read more on that here: How to Read the Bible (better)

Each book of the Bible is written to a specific person or people group in a specific culture and in a specific way. 

What Happens When We Ignore The Who

One example I like that shows how we often miss the point when reading like this is Genesis 1-3, the Creation Story. Many read this story with a 21st century mindset; it’s a story about how God literally created the world. However, this book wasn’t written to a science-minded people. Rather an ancient group that lost their identity. They didn’t care about the science behind it, and it wasn’t written with that in mind. They saw their identity in the story. 

At this point I know some of you are thinking, he just said Genesis isn’t literally true! That proves my point. The point isn’t is Genesis literal or not. What I’m getting at is because we are so ingrained in reading the Bible with our 21st Century eyes we missed the point of many stories in the Bible. Genesis 1-3 is an incredible story with rich applications. But we’ve boiled it down to God creating the world in a literal 7 days. That’s not the point of this story! Our modern reading has caused us to miss the point.

I’ve written a whole article on this, you can read it here: We’ve Missed the Point of the Creation Story

When we ignore who the Bible was written to and the way it was written it can cause us to miss what’s really going on. Many of the crazy ideas out there today stem from someone doing this. 

After You Understand Who, You Can Apply It To You

I impressed myself by accidentally rhyming.

Remember, the Bible isn’t written TO you, but it is written FOR you. In other words, the Bible contains truth and we should read it and apply it to our lives. The Bible tells us about God, his plan for redemption, and our role in his story. It’s certainly for us today. But we must understand the original context before applying it to ourselves. 

I know this makes many uncomfortable. But what I’m NOT saying is that the Bible isn’t for us. It’s of no use to us. Or that it doesn’t contain truth. Rather what I’m saying is that we have to understand the culture, the people, and the way it was written in order to fully understand what it means to us. 

The Bible is written FOR us. And we should read it, study it, and apply it to our lives. But many have gotten the wrong idea because they have ignored the original meaning and the original audience. Once we understand the original meaning we can understand and apply the truth of the Bible to our lives.

The post No. The Bible Isn’t Written TO You appeared first on rethink.

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If you have ever been in a church around Christmastime there’s a good chance you have heard the word Immanuel. It’s a staple teaching during Christmas sermons. But I don’t think we really know what it means and the significance it holds. Especially in terms of suffering. 

So let’s look at what Immanuel means and the significance it holds. 

Immanuel in the Bible

The word Immanuel is a Hebrew name which means “God with us.” It appears twice in the Old Testament (Isaiah 7:14, 8:8) and once in the New Testament (Matthew 1:23). Sometimes in Matthew it is transliterated as “Emmanuel,” but the meaning is the same.  

In the Old Testament the name was given to a child as a sign that Judah would receive relief from the attacks by Israel and Syria. The name symbolized that God was still with them, that he had not forgotten them, and that God would deliver his people. 

In the New Testament Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14 as it expands upon the significance of this name. While the prophecy was fulfilled in the Old Testament, Jesus brings a much greater fulfillment. The implication of Immanuel is that God would dwell among his people. Up to this point the Israelites had seen a type of this dwelling, but God was “contained” to the holy of holies. The thought that God would take on human flesh was beyond their wildest dreams. 

When Joseph heard this promise in his dream it changed everything for him. His perception of God was shattered. But not only for him but the entire nation of Israel. And not just for Israel, but us today as well. Immanuel, God with us, changes everything. 

God Moves Into The Neighborhood 

John 1:14 encapsulates the promise of Immanuel without actually using the term. I love how Eugene Peterson’s The Message translates this verse: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” That is what Immanuel means. That even in the worst of places, God is with us. He moved into our neighborhood. 

The question we should be asking is what kind of neighborhood did Jesus move into? To understand that we need to take a look at the Jewish history. Nation after nation enter Israel’s promised land and conquered the nation. From the Syrians to the Persians and even Alexander the Great all had a turn in conquering and ruling over Israel. But by far the worst was Antiochus IV Epiphanies. 

Antiochus wasn’t interested in just conquering Israel, he wanted to wipe out the Jewish religion. He overtook the temple and worshiped foreign Gods. He forced priests, by penalty of death, to eat pork. He performed sadistic reverse circumcisions. And most notoriously he entered the Holy of Holies (which is bad enough) and sacrificed a pig on the altar. 

The Jews had enough and eventually they led a revolt that overthrew him. But their freedom was short-lived. Soon Rome marched in and squashed their rebellion and conquered Israel once more. This time Herod was appointed “King of the Jews” and he wasn’t much better. When he heard of a new king that had been born in Bethlehem he ordered all infant boys under 2 to be slaughtered.

This is the place, the neighborhood, that Jesus moved into. A place with a broken past, a grieving present, and an uncertain future. This is God with us. God showed solidarity with his people, and us, in the most intimate way possible: God’s son, Immanuel, moved into our neighborhood.

Immanuel, The Answer to our Toughest Questions

For whatever reason, God has chosen to respond to the human predicament not by waving a magic wand to make evil and suffering disappear but by absorbing it in person. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us,” wrote John in the prologue to his Gospel. In the face of suffering, words do not suffice. We need something more: the Word made flesh, actual living proof that God has not abandoned us. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, “Only a suffering God can help.” The Question That Never Goes Away by Philip Yancey

Many have asked the question why did God “_______”? Or why didn’t God do “________”? Many people scour the Bible searching for answers to life’s toughest questions. The problem is the Bible isn’t really concerned with providing an answer, at least not the way we want it to. God’s response to those questions: I’m with you. 

At first that might seem like a cop out response. Really, what different does the assurance of Immanuel really make? What does it matter that Jesus moved into the neighborhood? That doesn’t answer our questions. Good people still suffer while evil people seemingly prosper. But what Immanuel does do is show us that God is not a remote being that’s uninterested and unaffected by what is happening on earth. Rather he is a God that is willing to experience it himself. On this cursed, fallen planet we all suffer, even God. 

That is significant. No other religion has a God that willingly suffers for his people. A God that can so deeply and compassionately identify with his creation. 

Throughout Jesus’ life he encountered the kind of suffering that you and I face regularly. He never bothered to answer the question why or get in a philosophical/theological debate. Rather he reached out with compassion, brought healing, forgave sins, and ultimately overcame death. 

His response to us today is the same. 

Living Immanuel

Our response to Immanuel should be both inward and outward. It should not only affect us, but also those around us. 

Inwardly, we should be reminded and encouraged that God is indeed with us. Immanuel is still true for us today. God didn’t just move into the 1st century Jewish neighborhood; he wants to move into yours too. Not only is he with us, he is healing us. That’s what faith asks us to do. Followers of Jesus must cling to the hope that one day God will redeem all the pain and suffering on this planet. And until that day comes we know that God is with us. 

The second piece is in how we outwardly respond. As Jesus moved into our neighborhood and lived in our suffering we are called to do the same for others. Philip Yancey says it this way, When God seems absent, sometimes it’s up to us to show his presence. Often the world only knows the truth of Immanuel, “God with us,” because of his followers. As we hold onto the promise of Immanuel, we too must help others see the hope that is extended to them. We don’t have to have answers for their circumstances, even Jesus didn’t offer that. Rather be present. Present as God is present with us, we too are present with others. 

No matter our circumstances, we have the promise of Immanuel, God with us. 

The post The Significance of Immanuel (as it relates to suffering) appeared first on rethink.

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The Parable of the Good Samaritan is one of my favorite parables. I know, I know… I say that about all of them. But seriously this one is good. If you haven’t read it do it here: Luke 10:25-37

Jesus displays his genius by not only not falling for a trap, but by turning the tables back on the person who asked the question.

Let’s start with the set up. 

The Set Up

Anytime a religious leader, in this case a lawyer, tries to trap Jesus you know it’s going to get good. And this case is no exception.

His opening question (Luke 10:25) seems very reasonable, What must I do to inherit eternal life? But the author tells us his intentions were less than stellar. So right off the bat we know he doesn’t really care about what Jesus has to say. He wants to trap Jesus. And he does with a complex theological question.

The first thing we should take note of is who is asking this question. A lawyer, or religious expert. In other words this guy knows his stuff. He likely has most of law (scripture) memorized. Because he’s so familiar with the law he knows that this is not an easy question to answer. He’s not asking because he’s interested in the answer; he’s asking because he wants to trip Jesus up. And he asks a question that would trip up even the best teachers of the day.

Rather than answer this trick question, Jesus asks another question (Luke 10:26). He knows that this guy would rather talk than listen. So Jesus throws the question back at him. What do you think?  And here’s the thing… He answered correctly (Luke 10:27-28). He gets it right.

Jesus even tells him he answers right, but he tacks on that it’s not okay to just know it. You have to actually live it. The lawyer is sharp and he sees what Jesus just did. Jesus just called him out on not living up to what he believes. Now he’s faced with how to respond. He can either repent and fix his ways. Or try to justify his actions. He chose the latter.

The Twist

And who is my neighbor?  – The Lawyer

Realizing he can’t actually live out the law perfectly, he searches for the loophole. He’s not interested in following Jesus; he just wants the rewards. He doesn’t want to know who his neighbor is; rather who his neighbor isn’t. That way he can narrow the field so he can claim that he is fulfilling the law.

Before we go about criticizing this guy, he was following common teaching of the day. Rabbinic literature of the day made a clear distinction that your “neighbor” was only to include Israelites. What Jesus’ story does is it expands the parameters of who is my neighbor far beyond where this lawyer, any Jew, or even us today feel comfortable.

The Start of the Story

Jesus launches into his parable (Luke 10:30) that gives response not just to the Lawyer’s second question, “Who is my neighbor?” but also his first, “What must I do to be saved?

While Jesus’ story is fictional, the details are pulled from real life. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was known to be dangerous. Thieves would often hide in the many caves, curves, and cliffs and ambush unsuspecting travelers. So when Jesus mentions this road and that a man was traveling alone those listening would instantly have thought how of how foolish of a decision this man made by traveling alone.

The inevitable happens… The traveler is beat up and robbed. To no surprise of the audience. The surprise of the story is what happens next.

The Religious Losers

The traveler is barely hanging onto life when a Priest comes across him (Luke 10:31). But the initial hope is soon dissipated. He doesn’t help. Not only does he not help, Jesus makes clear that he went out of his way to pass by on the other side of this half dead traveler.

Then a Levite comes by the traveler. Surely he will stop and help, right? Nope. He too passes by on the other side.

To really understand what is going on in Jesus’ story we need to understand the customs of the day. Both of these first two people are clergymen. A priest’s job was to officiate temple sacrifices and Levites helped maintain the temple and its’ services. Both of these jobs required them to remain ceremonially clean while on duty. There was a list of things they couldn’t do, one of them being touching a dead body. Of course these rules weren’t supposed to keep people from helping those in need. Thus they are likely using this as a selfish excuse not to help.

These religious leaders were more concerned with their outward appearance of cleanliness than the actual condition of their heart. This isn’t the only time Jesus makes this point. He criticizes the Pharisees for only cleaning the outside of the cup but neglecting the inside in Matthew 23:25 and Luke 11:39. Jesus is getting at the same point here. It’s where your heart is that matters. And for these characters in the story, it was in the wrong place.

The lawyer’s heart has to be sinking because he can see himself in the story. But it’s about to get worse for him.

The Unsuspecting Hero

“But a Samaritan…” Luke 10:33

Those words today are lost on us. When we see the word Samaritan we think of something good. The term “Good Samaritan” would have been an oxymoron to the lawyer and the Jews of the day. The Samaritans were hated by the Jews and were seen as half-breeds. There was an intense rivalry that often turned violent. So the fact that an unclean Samaritan was the hero of the story would have been a punch straight to the gut.

Jesus doesn’t stop with the Samaritan just checking on the guy; he goes above and beyond (Luke 10:34-35).  The Samaritan not only has compassion but his compassion moves him to action. He cleans and binds up his wounds, brings him to an inn, cared for him, and paid for his stay. At great cost to himself he ensured this man was cared for.

The symbolism in this story is striking. The Samaritan was hated by the religious leaders. As was Jesus. He rescued the person that needed him the most. As did Jesus on the cross. And he did all of this out of love for someone that could never repay him. As did Jesus.

The Punchline

The story is over and the audience is stunned. But Jesus isn’t done yet. Remember this story was brought on by two questions and Jesus is now circling back around to them.

The lawyers questions of “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” and “who is my neighbor?” show that he was focused on the wrong thing. He was concerned with correct theology. But Jesus shows that knowing the right answer is insufficient. All the correct Bible knowledge is usual if we don’t lead it to life transformation.

Jesus shows the lawyer he was asking the wrong question. The question isn’t who is my neighbor, or what’s the right thing to believe. Rather, how can I be a good neighbor, or how can I live out my beliefs?

Jesus ends with a punch to the gut. “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The lawyer can’t even answer… “The one who had mercy on him.” He cannot even mention the name. But he can’t ignore the obvious message of the parable. He knows what he must do; now he has to wrestle with if he will actually live that way.

For Us

It’s easy to read this story and look down on the lawyer. But this story should be used as a mirror to examine ourselves. Are we more like the lawyer or the good samaritan? Are you being a good neighbor? It’s easy to quickly answer that question. But Jesus’ story forces us to actually examine our lives to see for ourselves. 

We’ve heard the story. Now the question is how will we respond. Do we think our correct theology, or beliefs, are enough? We will be a good neighbor to everyone in life, even those we don’t like?

If you liked this article, check out some of the other articles I’ve written on Jesus’ parables.

What We Can Learn From the Rich Man and Lazarus

Judge Not (what Jesus really meant)

What We Need to Know About the Parable of the Talents

The post Who Is My Neighbor? (the parable of the good samaritan) appeared first on rethink.

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What did Jesus teach on the most? That’s a good question, but one that’s not easy to answer.

If you have been in church during a money series I guarantee the pastor said Jesus taught more about money than anything else. And that’s partially true. Jesus didn’t talk a lot about money, but he didn’t teach about it as much as some say. 

The answer to what Jesus did teach about most will depend on which lens you want to look through. You can count specific words Jesus used, the number of parables told on specific topics, or the number of verses dedicated to various subjects. Depending on how you count it you will get different answers. Plus we only have a small sampling of Jesus’ teachings, so who knows what he taught about that wasn’t recorded.

Rather than put an argument out for what single topic Jesus taught about most, I want to look at the range of topics Jesus taught about. That way we can see some of the important themes that Jesus continually went back to.

Let’s start with the topic we’ve already mentioned. The one commonly thought of as the most common topic Jesus taught about.

Money

The common statistic given to show how much Jesus emphasized money is that 11 of the 39 parables talk about money. To add emphasis sometimes it’s pointed out that 1 out of every 7 verses in there talks about money. Those are both true. BUT those stats don’t tell the whole story.

Jesus did talk a lot about money, there’s no debating that. However many, specifically pastors, have overemphasized Jesus’ teaching on money. Oftentimes Jesus is simply using money as an illustration to a bigger point. Thus he’s not really teaching about money; he’s using it as an illustration to a bigger point.

Eleven of Jesus’ parables do mention money. Eighteen of Jesus’ parables also mention food, but that doesn’t make it the point of the stories. What I’m getting at is money is not the focal point to many of those 11 parables. And in a quest to prove a point, many have thrown out a statistic to back a point without doing much research. Thus we have this idea in our heads that Jesus was always talking about money. But in reality he wasn’t.

Did Jesus talk about money? Yes. Does he care how we use our money? Yes. Is it the most talked about/taught issue? Not even close.

Kingdom/God

Depending on how you want to count it, remember you can make statistics say almost anything. This is the most common topic in Jesus’ teaching. In fact you could make a strong argument for this being his primary message that everything else was centered around.

It shouldn’t surprise us that Jesus, who came from God, taught mostly about God. But he didn’t just talk about God; he taught about His kingdom. Oftentimes he contrasted earthly rulers and kingdoms with God and his kingdom. Jesus emphasized that his kingdom was different. It played by a different set of rules. He showed how God stood in starch contrast to the other gods.

In order to show the kingdom in a different light, Jesus sometimes uses money as an example, or illustration. Which is what causes many to assume he’s talking about money. But he’s not. We have to look at the surrounding context to determine what Jesus is actually pointing to.

Faith/Salvation

While it is clear that the focus of many of Jesus’ messages were about God/Kingdom, those teachings would have been pointless to us if there weren’t a way for us to get there. If I could sum up Jesus’ message it would be the Kingdom of God is at hand, AND I’ve made a way for you to enter. That’s the Gospel message. That all who believe can be a part of the Kingdom.

It would be hard to untie these two things and discern which is the more prevalent message. Many theologians have tried to discern what the most common theme in Jesus’ teachings was, and it often comes down to Kingdom or Salvation. Personally I don’t have a desire to label one as the most common teaching. I think we should just acknowledge they are both focal points of Jesus’ messages.

Honorable Mention – Hell

I thought I’d include one more topic that Jesus regularly talked about. He didn’t mention it as much as the previous ones, but he certainly did spend a lot of time talking about it. My guess is when you think about Jesus you probably don’t start thinking about the things he said about hell. But he didn’t shy away from this difficult topic. Many of his teachings and parables talked about hell.

However Jesus doesn’t tell us what hell is and who goes there. Rather he speaks in parables and illustrations. It’s not a clear picture, because that was never his point. A major problem arises when people try to pull absolutes out of these stories. Jesus isn’t trying to communicate as a textbook tells us facts. He is painting a picture that uses some artistic liberties.

While this certainly isn’t the most common topic it is one that surprises many people. If you want to read more about what Jesus said about hell you can check out this article I wrote: What Jesus Said About Hell

The Point

Besides pointing out a few of Jesus’ most common topics that he taught about, the point I’m trying to make is how easy it is to read into the Bible what we want to see. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that Jesus taught about money more than any other topic. The problem is, that’s not true. At least not in the way it’s often portrayed. And this is just one example of many of how we misuse Scripture. We should use the context of the Bible to shows us the point of the message and not just a singular verse. 

The post What Jesus Taught About Most (hint, it’s not money) appeared first on rethink.

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It wasn’t so long ago that divorce was a taboo subject within the Church. Today the controversy has been replaced with normalcy and even support for those going through it. But there still is a lot of misconceptions about it and what the Bible says about divorce.

The Bible actually says quite a lot about divorce (you can read all the verses here: Verses About Divorce). The problem is when we read these verses we impose our understanding of divorce onto the text. This has left many people with incorrect ideas and led many to wrong, and sometimes dangerous, practices. 

Since there are so many verses I had to do some picking and choosing. We will look at two key passages from Jesus. Since he incorporates many of the Old Testament teachings into his, this will still give a good understanding of what the Bible says about divorce. 

Before we look at the scripture we need to look at what divorce was in the 1st Century and who it affected so that we can understand what the Bible is actually saying about divorce.

Divorce in Jesus’ Day

The world was very different in First Century Israel. Maybe the most difficult thing for us to grasp today is their extreme patriarchal society. This wasn’t unique to their culture; it was the norm for the time. Men were in control and women were second class.

This mindset played heavily into marriage and divorce. Only men were allowed to divorce their wives; women had no say in the matter. Based out of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 the belief of Jesus’ day was that a man could divorce his wife if something “improper” happened. What exactly is improper? That was the debate.

By Jesus’ day there were two common camps of thought. Some followed the teachings of Shammai, who said divorce was only acceptable if the woman committed sexual offense, such as adultery. But the more commonly held view was that of Hillel. He taught that a man could divorce his wife if she displeased him in anyway. Even something as trivial as burning dinner.

Divorce for a man was easy to move past, especially with an acceptable (albeit misplaced) reason. However for women the repercussions were severe. A divorced woman was seen as damaged and likely lived the rest of her life single. To complicate the situation women typically weren’t allowed to work. Typically they had two options, move back in with their family (often they weren’t accepted) OR beg for money.

This created a system that put women, and often children, at a severe disadvantage and often in dangerous situations. Divorce in Jesus’ day was “good” for the man, but detrimental for the woman. And Jesus was not okay with that.

Matthew 5:31-32

While short, Matthew 5:31-32 is an often quoted text as to what the Bible says about divorce. Again, the problem is that we impose our understanding of divorce onto this text. So the first thing we need to remind ourselves of is the context of the culture to which Jesus is speaking.

The first thing we should take note of is who this is addressed too… the husbands, the men. They are the ones that are making the decision to divorce, so Jesus directs this towards them. That might seem odd to us, but knowing the context that makes sense. Not only does Jesus direct this towards the men, but he shows them that they aren’t getting off so free and clean as they thought.

“anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

What a strange thought, right? At least at first glance. Most people read this literally. But Jesus is using a metaphor, comparing divorce to adultery figuratively. Jesus is not saying that divorce = adultery. Rather he is saying divorce is like adultery in that the consequences are the same.

When a man divorces his wife the foundation of commitment is broken, thus the marriage is dissolved. When one commits adultery, the foundation of faithfulness is destroyed, thus the marriage is broken. Both divorce and adultery end the same way. So in that way they are the same. What Jesus is saying is the practical result of divorce is the same as that of adultery.

The point of this teaching is… Divorce destroys a marriage just as adultery does. They result in the same thing, but they are not the same thing.

Again, this is directed at the men in the audience. Jesus is pointing the finger at them. He’s telling them that they are as guilty as a woman who commits adultery. Those who divorce their wives for their own selfish reasons, they are guilty.

Jesus is flipping the script and offering protection for the women of the day.

Matthew 19:1-12

At this point in Jesus’ ministry the Pharisees are always trying to trap him. But Jesus doesn’t back down; he’s not afraid of a good fight. In this case Jesus is tested about his knowledge of divorce.

“Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?”

We know this is a trap, Matthew points that out to us. But what we might miss is how exactly this traps Jesus. This question is based around whether Jesus follows the teaching of Shammai or Hillel. No matter how he answers, which side he chooses, he is likely to alienate half the crowd listening.

Knowing what’s going on, Jesus starts off with a jab at the Pharisees… “Have you not read” would have been an offensive question to the religious elite who not only have read, but had memorized much of the scriptures. Now he dives into his teaching on divorce.

The question posed to Jesus aligns closely with Hillel’s teaching, that a man could divorce his wife for any offense. We clearly know that is not where Jesus lands. However he doesn’t fully align with Shammai’s view either in two key ways.

  1. As we talked about already Shammai bases his theology of divorce from Deuteronomy 24:1-4. Jesus goes further back and bases his theology on Genesis 1-2.
  2. Shammai takes a patriarchal approach, only giving permission to the men. Jesus deals with the obligations of men AND women.

The bottom line here is the same as in Matthew 5:31-32, however this time Jesus expounds more on his reasoning. In this case Jesus goes all the way back to the beginning, creation. Jesus’ argument is that marriage unites. A married couple is one. God’s original design was on of lasting unity that was brought together by God himself. This was God’s original design and intent.

But Then Came Sin

God’s design was for marriage to last forever. Throughout the Bible that is made clear and clearly where Jesus lands. But it’s not so cut and dry. The problem is sin. We often think sin separates us from God, and it does. But it also separates us from each other. Just as sin separated us from God, it can also separate us from each other.

In marriage that can mean the sin of one person (adultery, abuse, etc…) can cause irreversible harm. Or it could be a mixture of both parties. We need to know that divorce was never part of God’s plan. It is not God’s desire for divorce to happen. It’s his desire for reconciliation to take place. But for that to happen, all parties have to be willing. And that’s not always the case.

Sometimes sin wrecks a marriage beyond repair. While God’s design was one of lasting unity, sin disrupts that.

Here’s how I think divorce is best understood Biblically… Divorce is ALWAYS bad. However, sometimes all you have in life is two bad options. So you have to choose the lesser of the bad options.

I’ve never known someone that went through a divorce and just loved it. Or thought it was the best thing ever. However, I do know many people that divorce was the best option they had. Take an abusive relationship for example. Divorce is still messy, difficult, and will cause damage. In other words, it would be hard to call that a “good” option. However in that case, divorce is a much better option than staying in an abusive relationship. Because of sin, either of one party or both, divorce is sometimes the better of two bad options.

Of course we know that sin is forgivable and our situation is redeemable through Jesus. In other words, if you are in a broken marriage there’s hope! But both parties have to be willing to let God restore them.

Implications For Us Today

So where does this leave us?

1. Jesus Protects The Vulnerable

The first thing we should recognize in Jesus’ teaching on divorce is his protection of the most vulnerable, the women. They were being taken advantage of by a system that was set up against them. Jesus evens the playing field in marriage showing an equal responsibility for both men and women. He puts an end to the rules that put women at a disadvantage and restores his intention for marriage.

Jesus does a lot more for women, you can read that here: Jesus Valued Women (and why that matters)

2. Jesus Stands Firmly on Truth

God intended for marriage to last for our lives. From the beginning in Genesis he makes that clear. It seems today we take marriage less and less seriously, but God doesn’t. The Bible shows us the level of commitment we ought to enter marriage with. For some that should come as a kick in the pants. If you are in a marriage that is falling apart you should pursue your spouse to the extent that Jesus pursued the church.

3. Jesus Offers Restoration

It was never God’s intention for marriages to be broken. But sin has destroyed many marriages. But it doesn’t end there. The message of the Gospel is one of hope, of reconciliation, and God’s not going to leave us in our brokenness. Whether you’ve been divorced or are in a struggling marriage, God’s desire for you is not for you to stay broken, but be restored.

What are your thoughts? How have you understood the Bible’s teaching on divorce? 

The post What Does the Bible Actually Say About Divorce? appeared first on rethink.

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The rich man and Lazarus. Yet another great story told by Jesus that packs a punch. If you haven’t read this story you should, it’s fascinating. Read it here: (Luke 16:19-31)

Let’s look at what’s going on in this story. 

The Set Up

This story is all about the contrast between the two characters in this story, the rich man and Lazarus.

Jesus doesn’t even bother to give the rich man a name in his story. Rather he let him be a representative for all who live life in such a manor as he did. He makes it clear that this man is living a lavish lifestyle, at the extent of others. This man lived his life adorned in the finest clothes, including purple, which only the wealthiest could afford, and feasting daily. This guy had it made.

In starch contrast there’s Lazarus. The only thing that adorned him was sores, and all he had to eat were scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Jesus even adds a detail that showed just how low this guy was, that dogs licked or snipped at his wounds. This detail is significant as it would have made him unclean, unable to worship properly. This was the ultimate degradation. The only thing that Lazarus had that the rich man didn’t was a name. Jesus personalizes his concern for the poor man with a name.

Jesus’ story starts with these two men whose lives couldn’t be more different. Even in their death there is considerable contrast. The rich man is buried, undoubtedly anointed with oil, wrapped, and carefully placed in a tomb. And Lazarus’ body was tossed aside; a fair assumption is that he was thrown into the city dump, Gehenna. Jesus offers detail after detail to show just how different these guys’ life, and death, really was.

Now dead, we get a glimpse of their “life” on the other side.

New Place, Same Man

This is where Jesus’ story now gets interesting. Lazarus is carried to Abraham’s side. And the rich man goes to Hades. Even in the after life they still live in contrast to each other. But now the roles have reversed. Lazarus is now living in luxury and the rich man is living in torment. Ironically he’s still called the rich man, though he now has nothing.

The rich man is now in torment, important to note he is not being tortured as many picture hell. Rather torment, and we will see that this is a self-inflicted torment not one brought on by an outside force.

While in torment there seems to be a moment of regret, a time where the rich man seeks forgiveness. Luke 16:24 tells us that he calls out for mercy. And we might feel bad for him… But we just need to read to the end of the verse to see he hasn’t changed a bit.

The rich man asks for mercy, but not mercy to be saved from his current circumstances. Rather he asks for Lazarus to be sent to Hades so that he can dip the end of his finger in water and cool his tongue. That might seem like a rather strange request, but his intent is crystal clear. The rich man wants Lazarus to once again be in a place of servitude of him. In other words he still thinks he’s more important and he wants to be the top dog. He hasn’t changed one bit.

The Hell He Chose 

Many people reading this story assume the picture Jesus is painting is hell. And it very well might be. But we shouldn’t try to take from this story what Jesus didn’t intend. This isn’t a teaching on hell. Rather a teaching on the consequences of our actions towards others.

For more on what Jesus said about hell check out this article: What Jesus Said About Hell (and what it means) 

In Jesus’ story the rich man wasn’t thrown into hell because he didn’t believe. He found himself in a place of torment because of the way he treated others, specifically Lazarus.

God is not locking the rich man away. The rich man locked himself away; he chose to go there. Even when there seemed to be an opportunity to repent and change his ways he didn’t. Instead, he demand that Lazarus come and serve him again.

Jesus ends his story with a rather sad statement, but one that will prove true. Even if someone were to raise from the dead they would not be convinced to change their ways. In a short time Jesus will do just that, but still that won’t be enough for some to change their ways.

In this story Jesus makes clear that the man is locked up in his place of torment. But the lock is on the inside. The man refuses to come out. He would rather reign in torment than be a servant in God’s kingdom.

I’ve written more on this topic here: Rethinking The Traditional Views of Hell

The Implications

This parable is both a jab at the religious leaders and hope for those oppressed. Jesus gives a warning to those that aren’t paying any attention to the needs of others. That attitude has no place in God’s kingdom. Until they repent and change their ways they live in a place of self-torment. That’s the way it has to be; true happiness is not found at the expense of others. Jesus is warning his audience, the religious leaders, that their treatment of others does not lead to where they think it does.

While a jab for some, there is hope in this story for many as well. Many listening were the oppressed, the poor, the sick, the taken advantage of. For them this story is one of hope. That one day their pain will end and they will find the life they truly desire with God.

This parable is designed to force us, the readers, to reflect on how we treat Lazarus-like people. The rich man remains nameless so that we can place ourselves in his shoes.

Where Do You Fall?

Are we like him? He clearly knew Lazarus, he asked for him by name. He knew he was in need, but he refused to even give him the scraps from his table. Lazarus was forced to gather only what fell. The rich man saw the need and ignored it. He had no compassion. Even in death he still saw Lazarus as beneath him. This story asks the question, is that you? Do you treat people like that? Do you have the resources but refuse to give them? Is your heart hardened towards those in need?

This parable shows us that we get what we ultimately want; we get what our lives were truly about. We can either reign in torment, be a god in our own hell. Or we can be a servant of God and be in paradise with Him. It’s up to us. The way we treat others shows us which direction we will take. But it’s not too late for us if we find ourselves on the wrong side of the equation. Unlike the rich man who refused to repent, we can and find the life that we were meant to have.

The post What We Can Learn From The Rich Man and Lazarus appeared first on rethink.

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Every so often I include quotes in my articles from someone smarter than me that drives home the point. Almost without fail someone will comment, you lost me when you quoted… Not because of what the person said in the quote, but because of what else that person has said. 

This narrative also plays out every time a Christian leader says something that is contrary to what someone else believes. About once a month it seems some Christian leader somewhere says something that brings controversy. People lose their minds and sentiments of well guess I have to get rid of all so and so’s books now start popping up.

Listen… You don’t have to believe everything someone believes. In fact, you shouldn’t. It’s okay to disagree. And it’s healthy to still listen, read, watch, and hang out with the people that you don’t see eye to eye on.

The real reason I’m writing this is because it bothers me to see Christians fighting other Christians. Our fight is not against flesh and blood. In other words, we aren’t supposed to fight ANY human. No human is the enemy. Every. Single. Person. EVER. Is loved by God. Unconditionally. People are not the enemy. Make no mistake, there is a battle going on, but our enemy is not people. We have too much friendly fire going on. We’d rather throw stones than engage in conversation.

Before you think I’m preaching on my soapbox, I’m not. I’m guilty of this more than I care to admit. I’m guilty of friendly fire. And I’m guilty of surrounding myself with people who think and believe what I do. I write this not from a place of you need to do better. Rather, let’s do better together.

Here’s what I’ve learned about what you should do when you disagree with their theology.

Don’t Overact. Evaluate.

I see it all the time. Some popular Christian leader comes out with an unpopular, unorthodox belief. People lose their freaking minds. Calm down. It’s okay. 

They are human. And humans make mistakes. Maybe they are wrong on that issue. But maybe, just maybe, you are wrong. In other words, let’s all have some humility.

The typical response I see when a leader, author, or preacher says/does something that is perceived to be false is, Well I gotta throw out all the things they’ve said now. You don’t have to get rid of everything they’ve ever done. If you disagree with a few things they believe that’s okay. That doesn’t negate all the other things they have done or said. More on that in a minute…

Evaluate what they said, think about, and pray about it. Are they wrong? Are you wrong?

Don’t Become an Echo Chamber

My guess is if you were to examine the people you have learned from (spiritually) in the past year (books, podcasts, pastors, etc) you would find that the people you follow have similar theology, politics, race, and socio-economic status. I tend to be drawn to reading and listening to a certain type of person. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; we all have the people we tend to agree with. However it can be a bad thing when we only listen to people we agree with.

When we refuse to engage with people that are different and that think different we become an echo chamber. Our beliefs are never challenged. Our faith can easily can become stagnant.

I’ve always got this notion that in our churches there’s certain authors/leaders that you just need to avoid. Their ideas are dangerous. What a silly idea. Is that person wrong in some of their beliefs? Of course! But so are you. We all know that we are wrong, but often refuse to look outside our specific brand of theology for answers. That my friends is an echo chamber.

Read a book or listen to a podcast that is in a different theological camp. That comes from a different background. See how you might grow and be stretched.

Their Stance Doesn’t Negate Everything They’ve Said

Listen, I’m not saying we should blindly follow people that are theologically off. However let’s offer some grace. Every single one of us is wrong on something that we think we are right in. When you read an article, listen to a sermon, or buy a book we should always run what others say through the lens of Scripture. They aren’t God, and they will get things wrong. But just because someone may be wrong on one issue doesn’t mean we have to throw everything they’ve done in the trash.

I suspect that I have something in my theology that is wrong. I probably won’t know what that is on this side of heaven. That is probably true for you too. Let’s be wise, study what God says, and when we hear someone say something off let’s toss that idea out, not the person and everything else they’ve said.

Don’t Make Them The Enemy

People are not the enemy. Whether they knowingly taught something wrong or out of ignorance they are not the evil we are fighting. Often Christians get focused on fighting people rather than fighting the real enemy. Look no farther than this past election. I cannot count how many Christians I saw make accusations and pronounce their fight against the opposing candidate. Our fight isn’t against any person.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 6:10-12

We need to recognize who the real enemy is. We love people, we pray for people, we offer grace freely, and tell truth in love. We do not bash, ridicule, belittle, or condemn.

Stop Bashing Them

What I find sad is if you hop on Twitter or Facebook people are tearing them apart. Listen, that is NOT what we are supposed to do to our Christian brothers and sisters. There is a difference in lovingly correcting someone (which we are called to do) and condemning and bashing someone.

The next time a Christian leader falls from grace, before you say anything about them, spend time praying for them.

Does this mean we shouldn’t say anything when someone says something that stands opposed to what God’s Word says? No, absolutely not. But we need to say it in love and humility. With concern for the person and not condemnation. We need to speak the truth and point out wrong teaching, we need to warn others, but I believe there is a way to do that without bashing the person.

Too often we stand for truth and ignore the damage it’s doing. If your truth is hurting and bashing someone else you need to add in some grace. Let’s remember who our real enemy is and stop fighting other Christians. Instead let’s support each other and push each other closer to Jesus.

One Caveat

While many of these points still apply. I should add one thing. There are theological issues for which we should fight. We don’t need to be nasty about it, but we should stand firm. For me, there’s two theological hills I will die one. 1. Jesus is the only way to salvation. 2. Everyone is welcome. Everyone.

If someone is teaching something other than those two points I will take a stand. Every other point, I will choose grace. That’s what I see Jesus caring about so that’s what I want to care about.

How do you think we should react when an author, pastor, or Christian leader believes something we don’t?

The post What You Should Do When You Disagree With Their Theology appeared first on rethink.

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