All People, Unlimited Peace.
I normally take a slower approach to sociopolitical issues, but seeing where this seems to be headed, I’ll state this sooner rather than later for my Christian friends:
God cares for all people, from all ethnicities, which means He shows no partiality between Jews, Arabs, or the broader world (Rom. 2:11).
Further, even though Jerusalem and Israel plays a central part in the historical narrative, God has always cared more about people than geography and landmarks — notably, Christ Himself (the Temple) endured physical destruction to save not a symbol or a city but people (John 2:19).
I say that so we pray for peace and seek human rights, for all people, and that we are not swayed by the media to skew/prefer one group over the other. All people groups are loved, in the fullest sense, by our loving Father (John 3:16).
Some may say that Jerusalem plays a role in the end times (as that’s a common evangelical belief), but even if that position is taken, no one knows the day or the hour — so in the meantime, we pray for peace, not for a single side but for all, and God will determine the end as He decrees (Matt. 24:36).
One thought has sustained me over the past two weeks: Hundreds of believers around the world are praying for our family. With so much unknown before us, knowing of these prayers has been deeply comforting. Especially in the morning, when it’s easy to fear and hard to start another day, I remember your prayers. In my mind’s eye, I envision heaven being bombarded, all throughout the day, intercession after intercession, to the point where no one could ignore the pleas — and certainly not a loving God who invites us to pray.
This morning, while struggling with thoughts of Ginny in pain, my thoughts wandered to Genesis 18, a passage where Abraham pleads for help in a horrible situation. He begs for mercy, asking God to spare life should there be “ten” people who are righteous, and God agrees with Abraham’s request.
As I think of my friends around the world — people who serve, who teach, who give, who care, etc. — I am certain there are well more than ten who love God. In fact, over these weeks, I’ve been reminded of dozens and dozens of incredible friends I’ve met throughout my life. This gives me confidence, knowing that if God listened to Abraham, he also listens to us.
For those familiar with the Genesis story, you know that there were not ten who were righteous, and for that reason, Sodom was turned into smoke. However, the story points us to something even greater — a truth that would only be fully realized hundreds of years later. When we lack righteousness, or when we don’t even have ten on our side, God hears when even one prays.
First, God listened to Abraham, singularly, when Abraham was alone and afraid. That prayer, despite the sad outcome, was heard and answered. Second, countless stories throughout scripture tell of a single individual praying — and God responding. One of my favorites is Jesus’ story of a widow who keeps praying and praying, and God eventually responds to her (Luke 18). All of those stories are encouraging, but it gets even better than that.
None of us are perfectly righteous or “super spiritual” — not even Abraham (who not only lied but “traded” his wife for his own safety) nor the widow (who is described as annoying). But there is, indeed, one who is righteous, and through Him, we can be assured that God hears our prayers. As John writes, “We have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous” (1 Jn. 2:1).
There is power when believers unite in prayer, and in those efforts, we ask the Lord for peace, time, wisdom, and healing. We know that our plans may differ from the Lord’s, and we accept whatever He decrees. Yet, in our uncertainty, we can be fully assured that voices around the world are being raised to throne — and that Jesus Christ himself is praying for our good (Rom. 8:28).
While Ginny’s condition is largely considered “incurable” according to current science, we believe that God can provide temporary healings along the way — reducing pain (Mk. 5:34), inspiring helpers and doctors (Mk. 2:3-5), or extending earthly life (e.g., Lazarus). We also believe that, ultimately, full and total healing will come to Ginny’s body, whenever God determines that to be (Rev. 21:4).
This promise is not merely for some, but for everyone. As our Good Shepherd (Ps. 23), God tends and cares for his sheep, and he does not leave them lost, alone, or suffering, but he finds and consoles them (Luke 15). Not a single sheep is left behind, and each one is kept safe in his loving arms. Ginny may feel like the one lost sheep, apart from the ninety-nine, but Jesus is focused on her. In that promise, we rest.
In the meantime, friends, let us “bother heaven” like the persistent widow (Lu. 18:5). Please persist with us over these upcoming months and years. The parable is not told because God is bothered by our prayers, but quite the opposite: Jesus tells the story to invite us to “always pray” and to “not lose heart” (Lu. 18:1). In our persistence, we will be reminded, again and again, of our dependence on the only one who can save us — the only one who is perfectly righteous, God Almighty.
So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly!
RESPONSE to Defiant Churches
To Churches Defying Medical & Political Leaders,
Christians should be leading the way in terms of loving neighbors and exercising wisdom. Now that children and 30-50 year olds are known to be dying, there is no “safe” group per se. With that in mind, our witness can be damaged if we value ritual (even good rituals!) more than the innocent — as argued repeatedly in the OT prophetic texts.
The argument often goes that retail stores being open and churches being closed does not make sense. Agreed. It’s ridiculous to have people crammed into a store. I’ve heard multiple stories of people being coughed on while shopping. The answer is not to carelessly fling open the doors, but to be cautious with both.
My proposal is that Christians use this time to be more creative in both living and loving. How can we connect and care in new ways? At certain times in history, Christians have led the way in creativity. May this be one of those times.
We need not gather in groups of 50+ to worship; after all, there are many house and underground churches around the world, and Christianity has flourished. Insisting on large gatherings neglects how God often moves in other contexts.
Sadly, as Americans, possibly we are too connected to our productions than to the gospel itself. Worship and Word (and sometimes sacraments, depending on church polity) can be practiced in smaller contexts/groups. Until we can safely meet again, let us gather together in spirit — knowing that it is ultimately Christ, not physical proximity, that unites us.
Love, Liberty, & Caution: Why Jesus Would Wear A Mask
What’s most surprising right now is not the anti-science views circulating around the internet, but the callousness. There’s lots of debate, but less concern for the sick and the susceptible. All who fight for the “freedom” to not wear a mask overlook that the reason to wear a mask is for another person’s good, not their own.
Good citizens, and especially people of faith, should always prioritize love over liberty — even if that means personal inconvenience for a short period of time. All of us should be limiting personal travel, fashion, and preferences for the sake of others. But if you doubt the WHO, doctors, government, or anyone else, show compassion out of caution, if for no other reason. (Note: Some cannot stay home for a variety of reasons, so “inconvenience” does not apply to those cases.)
If general caution isn’t enough, consider Christ — who surrendered some of his liberty, at least temporarily while nailed to a cross, for the safety of the masses. At the very least, even if you doubt scientists, ask yourself, “What would Jesus do if evidence or data were limited?” Would he insist on his legal rights, possibly endangering others in a reckless manner? Or would he be cautious, for a temporary period, until more was known? In short, was Jesus more concerned with love for others or his own personal liberty?
If I know anything about Jesus and how he’d act during this pandemic, it’s this: If Jesus would die on a cross for you, he would also wear a mask for you. He would do everything within his power to protect your well-being — not merely healing the sick, butÂ protecting from future harm (“go in peace,” Lu. 14:48).
Remember how we used to mourn over 10-20 people injured in an accident or killed in terrorist event? Now, many Americans want to move on — even though over 50,000 have died, greater than the entire death toll of Vietnam. As Americans, maybe the tragedy here is not our lack of intellect, but our lack of heart. If we cannot sense the world like Jesus does, then we cannot possibly care for those who need us most — namely, the weak, the sorrowful, the homeless, the outcast, and the poor.
Most of us, including myself, need to lament and feel more. Rejuvenating an economy before resuscitating our hearts will do more harm than good. And without sorrow, we are bound to become worse people than we were before this tragedy.
May God help us all.
COVID-19, Planning, & Jesus
As I observe dozens of Christians pondering what to do this weekend, I cant help but ask:
What would Jesus do?
My guess is that Jesus would be out picking grain and delivering it to the needy just like David took temple bread to feed the hungry. Both knew that life mattered more than tradition.
The Sabbath, as Im still learning, is not about law but healing. In contradiction to natural inclinations, the Sabbath is a divine gift, not a human liability. In that spirit, both Jesus and David broke the norm” for the greater good i.e., countering customs in preference for human well-being.
What does that mean for us today? Of course, it can be difficult to apply bread metaphors to our modern context. At a bare minimum, though, Jesus teaches us to think creatively even risking personal religious “status” to help those in need.
In no way did David or Jesus diminish the unique and necessary community that we experience in church, school, family, and work. In usual circumstances, far too many people miss out on community, and my heart especially goes out to those who dont have a church community during a crisis like this.
At the same time, to my fellow Christians, this isnt a time to judge individual faith commitments, to mock peoples worries, or to critique other churches, but to foster life and restoration. After all, thats what Jesus would do.
Also, if youre over 60 or have young children, we understand if you wont attend church. Dont worry about being judged. We know this is a frightening time, and if you need any supplies, let us know. Well do our best to help.
Mark 2:23-28 (NLT)
One Sabbath day, as Jesus was walking through some grainfields, his disciples began breaking off heads of grain to eat. But the Pharisees said to Jesus, Look, why are they breaking the law by harvesting grain on the Sabbath?
Jesus said to them, Havent you ever read in the Scriptures what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He went into the house of God (during the days when Abiathar was high priest) and broke the law by eating the sacred loaves of bread that only the priests are allowed to eat. He also gave some to his companions.
Then Jesus said to them, The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!
Humility that Helps
Bear with me on this one, as it’s an imagined scenario within an imagined scenario…
For years now, starting when I was in college, I’ve tried to understand Jesus’ teaching on foot washing. As you may know, the actual practice of foot washing is a distinctive feature of some churches (e.g., Church of God), which I had experienced back in college. The idea has always kind of baffled me.
Anyways, here’s the thought within a thought:
1. Today, I had a dream featuring my pal Dan, who in the dream was ministering to some international students. His goal was to teach them about foot washing.
2. In the dream, Dan was asking discussion questions, and one of the questions was this: “If you were to call home to your relatives to explain this Jesus story, the time of day would be different for them, so how might that affect your explanation to them?”
3. The implication is that if it were 6 AM when those relatives answer the phone call, talking about washing feet would not make sense to them, since their day would just be starting. In addition to translating to their language, you would contextualize for the location and time of day — e.g., not offering to wash their feet, but instead sending a gift card or money to make their day easier.
4. The application, then, is that the purpose of foot washing is to ease someone’s burdens and frustrations after a long day’s work. Jesus’ example is not meant to show you’re willing to do something filthy or to lessen your own value, but to encourage service towards others in the sense of easing someone’s daily work. In short, it’s not humility for humility’s sake, but humility that helps — specifically, serving in a way that eases someone’s load. In other words, we don’t serve in order to be spiritual (for our own sake), but we serve to help (for another’s sake). Of course, such service might be dirty sometimes — such as tending after someone’s wound or taking out the trash — but that in itself is not the point; instead, the point is to ease weight and/or bring relief from the pressures of life.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” – Jesus (Mt. 11:28)
House Bill 2495 – Illinois’ Reproductive Health Act
Illinois is currently attempting to pass expansive changes to reproductive law (House Bill 2495) — considered to be more extreme than what New York recently passed.
Without delving into political talking points, there are several reasons for both Democrats and Republicans to be concerned:
The new law states that the unborn do “not have independent rights under the laws of this State.” With no rights prior to birth, the legislation repeals partial-birth abortion, which basically means that the unborn can be aborted while in the process (thus “partial”) of birth. Without even considering possible pain for the fetus, basic intuition seems to suggest that such late-term practices should not be commonly practiced — and it does not require much effort to imagine how such a practice could be abused and misused. (Note: If need be, you can research the practice for yourself, but I will not post grotesque photos, since we can think about this reasonably, without the need of frightening images.)
Additionally, nurse practioners would be allowed to perform abortions, which for most of us should raise health and safety concerns. With matters of life and death (for both the fetus and the mother), it seems like we would want stricter, not looser, laws on who should be involved. Thus, whether we are pro-choice or pro-life, hopefully we can all agree on the need to protect women.
Thirdly, under the proposed law, husbands are said to have no rights in the decision, as they are essentially reduced from fathers to biological donors. Of course, safety restraints could be put in place for harmful men, but this law does not do that. In short, it is important to embrace women’s rights, while not at the same time not removing husband’s rights. With careful thought and dialogue, we can value both women and men.
Maybe the main problem, however, is the law’s internal contradiction. The irony is that it is a felony for a person to kill an unborn child — except if that person is a parent. Of course, this reveals a double standard within the law. If the unborn do not have rights (meaning no life or personhood), then it seems nonsensical to call it a felony for one party and not another. The unborn either have rights or not; legislators cannot have it both ways.
Regardless of your political party, the law goes too far in expanding these practices. In order to protect all involved parties — the unborn from partial-birth abortions, women from dangerous practices, and husbands from losing parental rights — urge your state representatives not to pass House Bill 2495.
Find your rep. here: https://www.commoncause.org/find-your-representative/addr/
[I won’t be able to moderate all comments, but replies that enflame others will be deleted.]
How to Choose a Bible Commentary (Tips to Select the Best Commentaries)
I was recently asked some good questions about commentaries — basically, which ones are the best? To answer that, here are a few thoughts about which commentaries to use, as well as some practical advice to save you some money.
Most scholars would advise not to buy a complete commentary set. This is because some volumes will be strong (even spectacular), while others could be fairly weak. With 66 books of the Bible and various scholars contributing, you’ll usually see diversity within a whole commentary set.
For that reason, it’s better to buy individual commentaries. To do this, I’d recommend the following:
(1) Buy a commentary as you study each book. For example, as you read and study James, then get a commentary (or 2 or 3) for James. This is a good approach, so you don’t overspend by buying too many commentaries (i.e., for books you are not yet studying).
(2) Check BestCommentaries.com for a recommendation of which commentaries to buy. This helpful website gathers ratings for commentaries and provides rankings for each book of the Bible. When purchasing a commentary, if the #1 rated commentary is too expensive or too technical, aim for a commentary in the top 3 in the rankings. (You can also see recommendation lists, or “featured libraries,” from pastors and authors; I would notuse those as an absolute list, since those lists are not infallible, but those lists can be helpful to consult.)
Long term, you’ll probably want several commentaries for each book of the Bible. However, budgets are limited, so be sure to start with the kind of commentary that you need. Commentaries are usually categorized according to their primary purpose: technical (for in-depth exegetical study), pastoral (for sermon preparation), and devotional (for personal study and application). Don’t waste money on a commentary you won’t use, so start with the one that you need. For example, if you need a commentary for an exegesis paper, start with a technical commentary before a devotional commentary.
Of course, there is overlap between these categories, but each commentary has a primary audience in mind and a primary purposefor the content. You’ll want to consider that before purchasing a commentary. For example, technical commentaries can be fairly complex; they assume that the reader has some knowledge of Greek/Hebrew and/or some seminary background. I recommend reading these, but be sure to recognize that they can be time consuming due to their depth. They are worth slogging through, but as you do so, don’t get discouraged, since everyone else is also struggling through them! (In many cases, you would not read these through, but consult these for difficult sections or individual verses.)
In the “real world” of practical ministry, pastoral commentaries are often a good go-to, since they provide a good balance between scholarly and practical content. They will discuss the most important technical issues, but they do not get bogged down in the minutia. This is really helpful when planning a sermon or Bible study.
That being said, the primary benefit of a complete set is the price. If you see commentary sets on sale (e.g., $300), then it can be a worthwhile investment, since individual commentaries can often cost $15-30 each. While it’s a matter of personal preference, I recommend using sets within Logos or similar Bible software. Printed sets take up a lot of space, and it’s wonderfully convenient to read commentaries on your phone, at the library, at your church office, etc. Plus, digital commentaries can save time, since you can search them and move around much faster.
As far as sets go, here are some of my recommendations:
Technical. New International Commentary (OT/NT), Word Bible Commentary, Baker Exegetical Commentary, Hermeneia Commentary
Pastoral. New American Commentary, Pillar NT Commentary, Expositor’s Bible Commentary, IVP New Testament Commentary, Tyndale Commentary, Zondervan Commentary
Devotional. NIV Application Commentary, New Bible Commentary, The Bible Speaks Today, The New Testament for Everyone
Lastly, and importantly, remember these tips:
(1) Read more than one commentary. Bible scholars are not perfect, and you don’t want to only hear from one scholar. An individual scholar may miss things in the text — or may misinterpret passages — and you need to hear what others have to say about a text. The best illustration I’ve heard compares Bible commentaries to sports radio: You want to “tune in” and hear a lot of people talking about an issue.
(2) Be bold and disagree with what you read. You are also an educated Bible reader, and you are also a scholar, so you can interact with what you read. Don’t think of commentators as “lofty” in the sense that they are beyond critique. Yes, commentary writers are intelligent and can present their ideas well, but do not let that intimidate you.
(3) Know the perspective of your commentary. Be aware of who the author is and where he/she is coming from. If you’re unsure, check out their educational background, a review of their commentary, or read his/her other works. Ultimately, you want to analyze the content of the text itself, but you want to be aware of any potential bias in the text. (And to avoid your own embarrassment, you don’t want to quote an author out of context to support a view that he/she might not fully hold.)
(4) Compare commentaries outside of your comfort zone. Commentaries provide an insight into what people think and are talking about. You don’t want to only read commentaries that you are comfortable with, or else you will be thinking inside of a tank. You want to read a diversity of commentaries, so that you are aware of the issues and debates about a given text. This can strengthen your sermons, as you engage and interact with opposing viewpoints. (This also includes reading commentaries from other cultures, so you can expand your worldview.)
(5) Use different kinds of commentaries. Use technical, pastoral, and devotional commentaries according to the occasion. Think of having a “well rounded diet.” If you only read technical commentaries, you might lose sight of real-life application; if you only read devotional commentaries, you might oversimplify the text. So be sure that you use all three as you continue in your ministry.
(6) Balance old and new commentaries. Don’t believe the lie that we moderns “know so much better” than those before us. Consult older works to see what people like Augustine, Calvin, Wesley, etc. had to say about the Bible. At the same time, be sure to consult recent commentaries (particularly those written after the finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls) in order to consider current discussions. Make sure to find the wisdom in both old and new.
The Purpose of Acts
The overall purpose of Acts is not to explain the Holy Spirt — i.e., as if Acts were a treatise on a single person of the Trinity. Yes, we could say the Spirit is the central character, and we can gather some theology of the Spirit from these narratives, but there is a much broader intent. After all, Acts is a narrative, not a systematic textbook. Thus, the central purpose can be worded in various ways, but most expressions will sound something like “to demonstrate the spread of salvation among all nations” or “to describe the fulfillment of God’s promise for the world” — with key parts being (1) promise-fulfillment, (2) salvation, and (3) humanity.
The outline of Acts reveals this quite clearly. By looking at the various parts — or the structure of how Acts is organized — readers can observe a geographical movement from Jerusalem out to the broader world. Thus, Acts 1:8 serves as a central verse that provides for the entire book, and Joel 2 and Acts 2 remind us that Acts is not about charismatic gifts, but a visible demonstration of God’s outpouring to all people. To clarify, the geographic movement is used to emphasize that God’s grace has now been extended to all kinds of people, even those who the Jews perviously thought were unclean.
That being said, we also should avoid the opposite extreme of diminishing the Spirit. Chapter after chapter, Luke describes the growth of the Church, but Acts is far more than a handbook for church growth. We can gather understanding of mission from Acts, of course, but the book should not be reduced to a how-to manual, or something that we as humans can accomplish on our own. As the “sequel” to Luke’s gospel, the book tells of God’s miraculous work, which began in Christ and continues through the Holy Spirit. Only God could accomplish such extraordinary things, and we as readers are invited to participate in God’s incredible plan of salvation — which is not merely for a few in an upper room, but for millions around the globe.
Promise in our Labor
Some of my favorite moments are when kids tell Bible stories.
Today, I learned that Noah’s family had to cut down a lot of trees and that alligators are an in-between case, but probably made it onto the ark. And then there was a rainbow to show that God would not do that again, and Noah’s family had lots and lots of kids…
But seriously, if you take a moment to listen, you can learn a lot based on what they observe. For instance, we as readers tend to jump to the “floating” part, and we often take for granted the many days of preparation that preceded the rain. Those hard years of labor required as much faith, if not more, than 40 days on the boat.
Ultimately, the story is about God’s promise and provision, not what we as human beings accomplish. But I wonder if as adults we get tired of our labor and hurry away to ease and relaxation — floating away from our troubles on a metaphorical boat — not realizing that God is with us during our labor. God was with Noah through those years of hard work, and he will be with us as well.
Protesting & Mullets
“Patriotism takes many forms, including teaching, transforming, and even protesting.”
– Bob Costas
To state Bob Costas’ point another way: Seeking change (e.g., a wife protesting her husband’s appearance and requesting he cut his hair) is not equivalent to disowning what needs to be changed (the husband).
Although the man might *feel* rejected, she remains by his side — even when he delays and part of him looks disgusting. Patiently, she dissents, but does not betray.
As much as the husband might love his mane or his mullet, her voice matters. In fact — especially in the case of mullets — for the good of society, she has an obligation to object.
Women in The Book of Esther
We live in an exciting era of women’s rights. In the past century, women have fought for the right to vote, to be heard, and to be respected. We see this in a wide variety of expressions from marches to the #MeToo movement and beyond. Sometimes we take this for granted, but in comparison to how women how have been treated throughout history, this is an amazing era.
Christians face women’s rights in many places, including the first few chapters of Esther. Here’s a question to help prompt that further:
What do you think of Vashti’s response to King Xerxes? Was it a proper or improper response? Why do you think so?
But beyond that, there’s an even bigger question. As readers of the entire biblical canon, we know that God is sovereignly working “behind the scenes” for the sake of His remnant. Keeping that in mind, based on your answer to the above questions:
What does that say about God? Why?
Of course, once we answer those questions, we should immediately consider how we should respond. God’s view of women and His protection of Esther should not be overlooked, but deeply considered. How should we view and treat women in this progressive era, and how are Christian human rights unique, in comparison to secular perspectives of human rights? As Christians, we are obligated to consider these tough questions.
(image by Edwin Longsden Long, 1829-1981)
Equal Employment: A Work of the People
It grates me when the President repeatedly takes credit for the rise of black employment (or the decrease of black unemployment).
First, individuals earn and keep their own jobs, so first and foremost, those specific individuals deserve the credit. We should be celebrating those individuals more than the President. We should be congratulating them and directing the focus to them.
Second, companies are the ones employ, so they also deserve more credit than the President. Fortune Magazine highlighted some of these diversely-hiring companies, which include Comcast, Hyatt, T-Mobile, Capital One, and Delta Airlines. Republicans who believe in a free market should be praising these companies more than the government.
Third, economic policy in the past year has not targeted particular races, so any credit claimed should be general, not racially focused. Repeating employment statistics of a particular race politicizes the issue, which only detracts from a people group’s well-earned success.
Thoughts on the Sinner’s Prayer
A student asked an interesting question about the Sinner’s Prayer, its origin, and my thoughts about it. I thought I’d share this response with everyone, in case it is helpful:
Depending on who you ask, the sinners prayer (in various forms) was either present in the early church (e.g., Romans 10:9-10) or originated around the 17th century. Interestingly enough, D.L. Moody used such prayers, and especially due to the ministry of Billy Graham, the prayer became quite popular in Evangelical churches.
I do not have an issue with the prayer per se. The prayer is a synopsis of what Christians should affirm. Althought there is not a “formula” for this prayer in Scripture, I see it as a theological prayer that expresses essential Christian beliefs. At the same time, it is not a golden ticket to heaven. For that reason, it should not be a simplistic requirement, and we need to be open to people becoming Christians without reciting a certain prayer. I also think its wise to tell people that merely reciting words does not save you; it is a matter of the heart.
Overall, our emphasis should be on holistic conversion i.e., not a single confession but a life of confession (Rom. 10:9-10). Sometimes, this may mean taking a step of faith, for example, and planning an evangelistic event that does not invite people to repeat the prayer. After all, if our evangelism is effective, then people will want to convert, even if theres not a prayer time immediately afterwards. We can trust that they will pray to the Lord at a later point. In some cases, we ask people to repeat the prayer because were nervous that if we dont do that then people wont respond, which is actually a lack of faith on our part.
Further, we dont want to over use a single prayer, since it can limit faith to a simplistic expression. The Kingdom of God is so grand that using the same prayer each time is not necessarily helpful. After all, think of how many parables that Jesus used to explain the Kingdom of God. When we invite people to respond after an evangelistic sermon, it would be wise to use different prayers e.g., Lord, I believe in Jesus, and I pray that He would be my treasure and joy (Mt. 13:44) or God be merciful to me, a sinner (Lu. 18:13).
I also get worried about the prayer being tacked on at the end of a sermon such as what Joel Osteen does without much context or explanation. I think that can be more harmful than helpful. To me, that simplifies conversion beyond what Jesus intended (i.e., calling followers to leave everything).
So, as with many things in life, when, how, and why matters. Blanket statements dont often take into account ministry context, personal motives, and other such variables, so each use (or non-use) should be thoughtfully considered.
Spiritual Songs & New Songs
In his epistles, Paul speaks of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). His list categorizes three musical types: (1) psalms, which are inspired songs of the covenant, (2) hymns, which are ecclesiastically-shaped doctrinal songs, and (3) spiritual songs, which are distinguished from both. In this context, then, what is meant by spiritual songs? To put that question another way, psalms and hymns are also spiritual, so what sets this third category apart from the others?
Apart from Pauline literature, when song is used elsewhere in the New Testament, it twice refers to the new song of glory (Rev. 5:9, 14:3). In a third instance, the Apostle John does not mention psalms and hymns as Paul does, but uses song of Moses and song of the Lamb, both of which harken back to the covenant i.e., the Torah and the Promise-Fulfilling Messiah. While there are a few hymn (?????) references (Mt. 26:30; Mk:26; Acts 16:25, 1 Cor. 14:26), songs (???) in the New Testament are described with two adjectives: new and spiritual.
In the New Testament, there appears to be a parallel between the new song mentioned by John and spiritual songs mentioned by Paul. These are not totally separate from one another. The new song of glory is inspired not by human ingenuity, but by the Spirit of God. Likewise, spiritual songs of the Church are not ancient artifacts, but fresh songs that embrace the present and envision the future. In other words, the Spirit inspires both Johns song and Pauls song. (Its not surprising that John would use new rather than spiritual, considering his theological emphasis upon renewal, as evident by 9 references to new in Revelation.)
The Old Testament includes 7 references to “new song.” In every case, new songs celebrate God’s renewing work. From “He put a new song in my mouth” (Ps. 40:3) to “sing to the Lord a new song… all the earth” (Ps. 96:1), these songs express a forward-looking, eschatological dimension. That is to say, new songs reveal an inner longing for renewal that will ultimately come at the end of time. Isaiah’s mention of “new song” makes this especially clear as he calls all of creation to praise (Is. 42:10).
Likewise, the Spirit inspires songs that look ahead to the future. In Scripture, the Spirit points to the eschatological fulfillment of God’s promises. The Prophet Joel depicts the Spirit as marking the end times (e.g., Joel 2), and Paul also describes the Spirit as the seal of the covenant. (For more information, see Gordon Fee’s God’s Empowering Presence, chapter 12.) Thus, “Spirit-inspired” songs do not merely celebrate God’s past work, but possess an eschatological dimension as well.
Why does this matter? To begin with, spiritual songs should not be limited to a musical style such as a gospel tune or an ad-libbed chorus. They are expressive songs, bubbling up from within us, and we must not lose sight of their theological function. Spiritual songs reflect the Spirits work within us, as we are being sanctified moving closer and closer to glory. As such, the Holy Spirit inspires us in increasing measure to sing new songs to the Lord.
Reasons to Welcome, Not Ban
25 Reasons Why Christians Should Welcome (Not Ban) Immigrants & Refugees
- God cares for all people, not just those inside a particular national border.
- As Christians, global citizenship trumps national citizenship.
- Christianity affirms that all people have the same value, regardless of their current religion, since all of creation comes from God.
- The Good Samaritan story includes ethnic dimensions: (1) those outside of your ethnicity may surprise you with kindness, and (2) our neighbors include those of other ethnicities.
- The Golden Rule requires it: treat others as you would like to be treated. (If you were endangered, you would want someone to help you.)
- Personal safety is not the ultimate ethic for Christians, while love is.
- Political policies are not divinely insprired and often contradict God’s call for justice.
- Political policies should never be superior to Christ’s commandments.
- “Love your neighbor” is not limited by a country’s border and includes those from other countries.
- Hospitality is an important motif throughout the Bible (e.g., Abraham welcoming the sojourners, Jews welcoming and not welcoming Jesus, the Apostles welcoming Paul, etc.)
- “Love your enemies, bless those who persecute you” includes atheists and those of other religions.
- Religious litmus tests may increase personal safety, while hindering the spread of the gospel.
- Religious litmus tests are inaccurate; after all, some people within our own churches are “faking it” for one reason or another.
- Religious litmus tests work against the gospel, since at one point, you yourself were not a Christian; being banned by Christians would have turned you away from, not towards, the faith.
- Welcoming other religions to your country offers an opportunity for mission without ever leaving your homeland.
- Ignoring human rights issues for the sake of personal safety merely perpetuates the problem.
- Love always involves some degree of risk, so risk itself is not an excuse not to love.
- The innocent, such as children, should not be slaughtered with the guilty.
- Abraham was a sojourning immigrant (in Egypt).
- Joseph was an enslaved immigrant (to Egypt).
- Israel as a nation was an immigrant (in Egypt), poorly mistreated yet protected and rescued by Yahweh.
- Moses was a refugee and immigrant (in Egypt).
- Jesus was a refugee (in Egypt).
- In the Bible, marked by the recurrence of Egypt, the necessity of immigration and the importance of hospitality cannot be ignored. (Lev. 19:33-34)
- Jesus sacrificed His personal safety for the betterment of others, including those outside (Gentiles) of His own ethnicity (Jewish).
Luke & Poverty
“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.”
The “Rightness” of Sports
Play the game right. We all agree on that.
But what does it mean to play the “right” way anyways?
We face a dilemma when a player is expected to win — and then that same player departs to a better team to win. Most recently, people across the country felt outrage when Kevin Durant left Oklahoma City for Golden State, a move that inspired feelings of anger, distrust, and envy. But why?
And then we cheer for losers and underdogs. Whether an elderly Kobe, a cheap Dirk, a non-jumping Duncan, or a booed Porziņģis — we want athletes not to take shortcuts, but to win the right way. We prefer the “good” storyline rather than the bad one, and we turn on players who sign for money or who team up with other superstars.
As crazy as it sounds, we recognize that faithfulness counts in sports — maybe even as much as winning does. If we’re honest, we know that our team might not win in the end, so at the very least, we want players to stick together and to stay with us. We want players to be as faithful to us as we are to them. For after all, the average fan would rather lose with loveables than win with thugs.
Whatever side we take, Durant’s choices demonstrate that ethical obligations do not exclude sports. Old-fashioned ideals such as faithfulness, trustworthiness, and kindness apply to professional athletes, just as to everyone else. At the end of the day, fans want athletes to represent them not only in terms of geography, but in terms of character.
In the eyes of loyal fans, Kevin Durant broke a promise. And that is what fans despise the most. Win or lose, no one wants to be betrayed, and no one wants to be left behind. That’s not to say that Durant did in fact break a promise; after all, he fulfilled his contract, and he has the legal right to move on. But to many basketball fans, what matters is that it felt like a broken promise.
End results only matter for so much. Veteran fans know that championships are few and far between. As decades pass, we learn that “doing things right” involves more than winning. When we look to the courts and fields, we hope our athletes represent our ideals, not merely add numbers to a scoreboard. As fans, we can still cheer after losses, as long as we believe in the character of our athletes.
More than anything else, sports of an insight into passion, drive, and character. No matter how bad a team may be, we are drawn to cheer for athletes who battle despite the odds — for those who fight on behalf of the people who love them. And that is how you do things right.