Category Archives: Theology

money

“Blessed are the poor.” – Luke

“Blessed are the poor in spirit.” – Matthew

 

In my own life, I have recognized that my reading of Luke has varied depending on life circumstances.

 

When I have been poor, I have found extreme comfort in seeing ”poor” without qualification – a reminder that God remembers me in my physical poverty.  And when my economic condition has been better, my reading moves towards Matthew’s ”poor in spirit,” meaning that I focus more on spiritual poverty. I mention that because as we read Luke (whether in poverty or affluence), we need to be aware that our economic “lens” may influence our reading of the text.

 

So in the times of life when you have abundance, remember that others, such as those in impoverished countries, are reading Luke differently than you. That’s not to say that their exegesis is better or worse.  It’s a reminder to always see the rawness of Luke’s gospel — keeping in mind that poverty is not merely about a lack of means, but a lack of well-being.

 

In other words, poverty affects people holistically, since poverty often results from economic enslavement to a person or a system. So at the end of the day, poverty is not so much about possessions, but powerlessness. It is easy to lose hope when overwhelmed with poverty, but into that hopelessness, Luke speaks a powerful word: “Blessed are the poor.”

 

armageddon

To begin with, I acknowledge (and would encourage others to acknowledge) the complexity of Revelation. Amidst the varieties of interpretations, the worst in my mind would be the kind that oversimplifies and overlooks the complexities of Revelation. If we claim to understand every image or symbol without any qualification, then maybe our hubris is preceding our exegesis.

That being said, neither do I think that Revelation is beyond comprehension for the average reader — especially the average reader in the time of the Apostle John. He was not writing a “code book” with codes that could only be deciphered by religious elites in a closed room. Nor was he writing a book that a single individual in the 21st century would “decode” somehow. Neither of those options fit with the biblical version of Christianity that I know, and they sound more like gnosticism than orthodoxy.

Based on those underlying principles, my primary approach to Revelation is to ask, “What was John communicating to his original audience?” before asking, “What does this say about the future?” Of course, the two questions are interrelated, but the if we limit ourselves to future questions, then John’s text would have been nearly useless to his contemporaries. Thus, questions of the “present day” (i.e., John’s day) should remain at the fore as we read what John was saying about the future.

This leads me to read Revelation as thus: How do these texts encourage, correct, or instruct believers in light of John’s vision of the future? Or in other words, how does the apocalypse affect readers in a personal, practical, and proximate way? In answering those questions, I see Revelation as presenting the following argument: Eagerly anticipate the Coming King because certain and decisive victory awaits His faithful ones.

While there are warning passages throughout the book, the overall message is one of confidence and encouragement. No one — not the Jews, not the Romans, not the Babylonians, not Satan himself — can defeat the King of all Kings. By looking to the end, believers can be confident, avoiding temptation and remaining strong in the present age — even in the face of brutal enemies and potential martyrdom.

 

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For an audio version of the following post, click here:  https://soundcloud.com/joelpeterjupp/sabbath 
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I was recently asked to share my views on the Sabbath.  As I mentioned previously, this is a very complex issue, and there are many intelligent people with convincing arguments on both sides of this issue. Personally, I’ve changed my mind several times, so I can sympathize with both sides.  If the topic interests you, I’d highly recommend Five Views of Law and Gospel, by Zondervan, which treats this topic broadly (setting the Sabbath within the overall framework of Old Testament law).

To begin, the purpose of raising this issue here in this course is to demonstrate how the Old Testament and New Testament relate to each another.  The Sabbath serves as a prime example of how our interpretation of one influences (or is influenced by) the other. For that reason, you’re not expected to solve this issue within a few days, but you are expected to see how the OT and NT interrelate.

That being said, my thoughts would include the following:
  • The Sabbath is one of the The Commandments.  In my view, this sets the Sabbath apart from ceremonial and civil law, since it is placed within the context of moral law.  Because we would affirm all of the other 10, we should be extremely careful about tossing it out.
  • Within the Ten Commandments, the Sabbath is set aside not merely as a day, but as a statement of our individual and communal trust in Yahweh.  Sabbath is more than a 24-hour time period.  It is a statement or proclamation that we can rest in God as He provides for our needs.  In the original context — where survival depended upon the thin thread of animals and crops — not working one day was a shocking state tent of trust.
  • While we might doubt whether we need to observe the Sabbath today, the origin of the Sabbath resides within the nature and work of God.  If God needed to rest after creation, and if we ar made in His image, and if the commandments reflect not merely a decree but His nature, then we would be compelled to observe Sabbath rest.
  • When Jesus spoke of the Sabbath, we must carefully determine whether He was abolishing the Sabbath (rendering it null) or whether He was redefining the Sabbath (or more accurately clarifying the original meaning of the Sabbath).  In my view, Jesus is not abolishing, but fulfilling the Sabbath in Himself.
  • Some might say that Jesus’ fulfillment of the Sabbath makes it void or unnecessary for us; I take the position that our worship practices, of which the Sabbath would be included, were never intended as an end in themselves, but to point us to Christ.
  • Ultimately, Jesus teaches that the Sabbath was made for man, not the other way around.  In my interpretation, this means that the Sabbath is intended to be life-giving, not burdensome.  Jesus blasts wide open our concept of the Sabbath, so that it’s not merely about sitting in church all day, but far broader than that.
  • In constrast to legalistic views, such as the Orthodox Jewish prohibition of cooking or driving on the Sabbath, Christians are liberated to experience all of God’s life giving peace and restoration, in whatever form that may be.  As it says in Colossians 1, all things were made by, through, and for Jesus Christ, so all of creation is opened up to us, even if that means walking around town, teaching, picking grain, helping those in need, and so forth.

That being said, forming a belief about the sabbath is relatively.  Living into the Sabbath, ironically so, is more difficult, even though it was intended to be easy.  More important than asking ourselves, “What can or can’t I do on the Sabbath?” we need to ask, “Am I trusting in God and resting in Him?” Ultimately, the Sabbath is not a calendar or a scheduling issue, but a heart issue.  In other words, are we trying to outwork God, or are we relying on Him to provide?

If you’re interested in some further reading… Abraham Heschel is a Jew who has written on the Sabbath, and it is also worth reading his thoughts on the meaning of the Sabbath.  While we would fundamentally disagree about the purpose of the Sabbath (I.e., for us, the Sabbath points to our ultimate rest in Christ), Heschel’s work demonstrates how the concept of Sabbath can be renewing and life-giving.  Obviously, the Jews have contemplated this principle for longer than some of us, so some of those insights can be applied in our Christian worldview.  Thankfully, we recognize that our salvation is not found in the Sabbath or any other regulation, but as it says in Hebrews 4, our hope is in Christ who ensures our ultimate rest.

Book - Literature & preaching

One of my former students at Moody Bible Institute recently asked me how reading literature can improve preaching.  More specifically, the student recognized the importance of reading, but was not sure where to begin. This was my brief response in case it is helpful to anyone else with a similar question.

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Great question and thanks for asking.

In general, I would say a mixture of different kinds of literature would be good. Maybe pick up an anthology of poetry, an anthology of short stories, along with a classic novel. (For example, check out Best American Short Stories or something like Good Poems from Garrison Keillor.) In addition to being enjoyable in their own right (which is important to keep in mind), here are some ways that the different kinds of literature can help with preaching:

  • Poetry can help develop your vocabulary, your use of imagery, and your sense of rhythm and sound.
  • Short stories can show you how to concisely develop a narrative. (Sermon illustrations usually need to be shorter than short stories, but the principles are similar.)
  • Novels can help you notice and develop major themes and motifs, as well as show how to develop characters within narrative preaching.

 

Mostly focus on the classics and/or contemporary authors recognized in literary journals. However, also keep in mind some more popular works (something that I don’t do as much as I should), but keep in mind that people in church are reading things like The Shack or Harry Potter, so it can be helpful to know what they are reading. Those are not always the best books ever written, but they can help you contextualize. They resonate with people for a reason, so it can be good to figure out why that is the case.

In regards to poetry, I would recommend people like Wendell Berry, Scott Cairns, and Billy Collins. Watch out for bad contemporary poetry. You might also check out Upholding Mystery: An Anthology of Chrisitan Poetry. You may not agree the theology of every single poem, but it offers a lot to think about, and that can be worthwhile.

 

 

Crown of thorns on a wooden background - Easter

Christians, love in victory and in defeat.

When looking at situations throughout history and around the world, we know that Christians are not defeated by governments or political movements. Christians are not defeated by fire (Nero), policy (Mao Zedong), poverty (Indian castes), expulsion (Columbian tribes), terrorism (al-Shabaab), kindnappings (Boko Haram), or beheadings (ISIS). Oddly enough, Christians are not even defeated by crucifixion.

Even still, if you feel defeated by recent events, keep in mind that in every situation (not only situations of our choosing), Christ taught us to love God and to love our neighbors. Those are not conditional, but unconditional commandments — and are even more applicable in times of uncertainty, challenge, and confusion. So no matter how you feel, remember that we serve a resurrected King, and in His Kingdom, true love never waivers.

Moody_Church_web_1

One of the often neglected benefits of the Church is her people.

We tend to see the worst of Christians in movies and sitcoms, but of the hundreds of Christians I am blessed to know, I am continually amazed by the compassion that I find. Take a bunch of sinners, put them in a room together, and you’ll be amazed by what God can do with them.

As I reflect upon the church, it is saddening that people live without it — not merely the experience of worshiping a Holy God, but the experience of knowing His people. And I’m not just talking about people to hang with, but people to hurt with — people who will shelter, feed, and comfort in the midst of life’s worst moments. After all, the church is not a building of wood or stone, but a people of flesh and blood.

If you haven’t experienced the life within a church, or if it’s been a while, send me a message. I’d be glad to help you find a local church in your area.

#GiveChurchAChance
#BeTheChurch

small_magnus es domine

What makes Jesus unique from all other teachers or prophets?  According to Mark, John, Paul, and the author of Hebrews, here is a brief list to start:

  • He created the world, preexistent before creation. (John 1:1-14; Colossians 1:15-19)
  • He lived a sinless life, fulfilling every obligation of the Law. (Hebrews 4:14-15)
  • He suffered for sinners, taking holy wrath upon Himself. (Romans 5:9)
  • He made peace with God, mediating between God and man. (Romans 5:1)
  • He rose from the dead, defeating both evil and death (Mark 16:1-13; John 20:1-10; 1 Corinthians 15:57)
  • He reigns with absolute authority, interceding as our eternal high priest. (Romans 8:34)
  • He indwells the hearts of His people, comforting and assuring them.  (Galatians 2:20; 2 Corinthians 13:5)
  • He will come again, welcoming His people into His presence for eternity. (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17)
  • He is God, who alone fulfilled all of God’s promises. (John 1:1-18; 2 Corinthians 1:20)

publicworship

In the context of corporate worship, performance is defined in various, even opposing, ways.  For some, the term “performance” is inherently human-centered and distracting from the ultimate purpose of worship.  For others, “performance” can be a display of God’s gifting and grace that ultimately lead us to worship Him.  For that reason, it is more helpful to think in terms of what would be unhealthy and healthy in the context of public worship and establishing criteria for both.

What follows is a list of characteristics to help us assess any kind of performance.  Not all of these characteristics will be present every time, but they serve as general “marks” that we can use to assess whether performances are healthy or unhealthy.

 

Characteristics of Unhealthy Performances

- The performer or the performance receives more attention than God.
- The congregation does not engage spiritually, but merely admires the performance.
- Clapping and praise goes to an individual or a small ensemble rather than God.
- Compliments revolve around the performer rather than the content or message of the performance.
- Performers are concerned more with their performance than the transformation of people’s hearts.
- Anger or jealousy results after poor performances, or pride after impressive performances.
- Performances stray from the standards / regulations found in Scripture.
- People prefer the performance over their own engagement.
- Prayers for the congregation are neglected.

 

Characteristics of Healthy Performances

- The performer and congregation recognize that glory belongs to God.  (Psalm 115:1)
- The performance serves an intentional, Christ-glorifying purpose in the overall worship service.
- The congregation is invited to participate in some way — e.g., meditating, praying, singing, etc.
- The message of the performance is rooted in biblical truth.
- Performers strive for excellence, but recognize that transformation results from the work of the Spirit.
- Generosity results after performances, longing to give others opportunities to share their gifts with others.
- Performances align with the examples and principles found in Scripture.
- People are led to the priority of God’s Word (proclamation & response) in the worship gathering.
- Prayers for the congregation are prioritized.