December 31, 2011

A Short Thought about 2012 and the End of the World

Well, here we are about to say goodbye to boring ol’ 2011 and welcome in awesome new 2012. Unfortunately, according to the Mayans 2012 is the end of the world. However, if the Mayans were so smart, then why is their civilization extinct? Exactly. So, I’m not too worried.

So, 2012 probably won’t be the end of the world—but it could be. Jesus could come back in 2012 just the same as He could in any other year. In fact, He could still come back before the end of 2011.
“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” –Matthew 24:42-43
No matter what, don’t wait until the end of the world to make sure that you’re right with your Maker. The Judge is standing at the door.

And for Christians, be awake and alert. Live this year like it might be the last one you spend on earth.

You should still plan as if the world might go on another 10,000 years, but keep reminding yourself that this present type of life that we are used to—a life without the physical presence of Jesus the King—this will one day be considered an unusual little blip on the timeline of history.

The Bible isn’t silent about what the end of the world should mean for us. Spend some of your last minutes of this year—or some of your first minutes of the new year—thinking about what God’s inspired Word tells us about the end of things.

“Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” –Thessalonians 5:1-11
Have a happy New Year!

December 7, 2011

Don't Tell Your Kids Santa is Real

When I asked my parents if Santa was real, they flat out told me he was.  I’m sure that to them they were just dutifully protecting the fun secret of Christmas, but I wanted the honest truth.  Santa seemed fake and I wanted the real answer.  Instead I got a stone cold lie. 

Now, the next time around my parents ‘fessed up and told me the truth and the Santa myth didn’t devastate my future.  Nonetheless, the whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth.  Kids should be able to trust their parents.  My parents are honest people but this thing with Santa seemed jarringly inconsistent with that.      

I want to offer a suggestion to new and future parents.  For you parents who have already fooled your kids about Santa, my purpose isn’t to make you feel bad or to condemn you as bad parents.  I’m also not trying to make the case that Santa is Satan—even though their names have the same letters, they both wear red suits and distract people from baby Jesus on His birthday...  No, my only purpose is to give this challenge to new or future parents: Don’t tell your kids that Santa is real.

Let me give you three reasons:

Christmas is about Jesus, not Santa.

You have to admit that Santa distracts kids from the real meaning of Christmas. Christmas is about Jesus; that’s why we call it Christmas and not Santamas. Regardless of when Jesus was actually born, Christmas is when we celebrate the Messiah coming into the world. God became man so that Jesus, the God-man, could live a perfect life on our behalf and die the death we deserved to die. Salvation depends on what we celebrate on Christmas. 

Yet, even in Christian homes this can get swallowed up. Secular Christmas has completely lost the real meaning of the holiday, but even in Christian homes it’s an uphill battle. We have four young kids. We do a lot to teach them about Jesus, and they know that Santa is pretend, but it is still hard enough to keep their eyes on the right things. There are still presents under the tree. There are still commercials, and Christmas specials, and school Christmas parties, and decorations, and Christmas songs that have nothing to do with Jesus. It’s hard enough to keep the spotlight on Jesus even without making Santa the star of the show.

Kids should be able to trust their parents.

Kids trust their parents. Parents should do everything they can to honor that trust. Kidding around is one thing, but intentionally fooling your kids for years is another thing.  Your kids are going to need your guidance to get them through this world. Don’t do anything that could damage that trust. 

As parents, you will need to tell your kids many things that they will find hard to believe. You will need to tell them that many of their desires are dangers and mirages. They need to believe you. Most important, you need to teach your kids about the truth of God. But if they grow up being assured that both Santa and Jesus are real, what are they going to think one day when both of them seem far-fetched? If Santa was just a pleasant myth, why is Jesus any different?

Your kids will still love Christmas.

I have four kids who don’t think that Santa is real. Guess what? They still love Christmas. They love it a lot! I have pictures and video to prove it. Maybe they love it more, since it is more impressive to think about God coming down to earth to give salvation than for a fat guy to come down a chimney—if we had one—to give plastic.

The “magic” isn’t gone. We haven’t killed their imaginations. We still put up decorations. We still have a tree. They still get gifts. And speaking of the gifts, this is another advantage: They know that the gifts are from people who love them, not an anonymous fat stranger.

Why give Santa credit for the gifts you give your kids?  I have a very clear childhood memory of one Christmas gift I opened under the tree. It was some sort of puzzle that looked like a dog. The gift itself wasn’t my favorite thing, but what I remember is that while all the other gifts said they were from “Santa” this one—for whatever reason—said it was from “Dad.” My Dad gave me this gift! Sure, now I know that all of the gifts were from my parents, but I didn’t know that then. The gifts from Santa were nice, but the gift from my Dad was special.

Let Jesus be the number one hero of Christmas. Let Mom and Dad be next. Santa can stay out in the cold. 

November 30, 2011

11 Reasons Why I Liked the 180 Movie

Here are eleven of the reasons I liked the 180 Movie:

1. Ray Comfort had the guts to make a movie about something that isn't the sexiest social justice issue at the moment. Christians who spend their time worrying that their left-leaning friends might consider them unsophisticated knuckle-draggers probably won't give it the time of day. That's too bad. 

2. It is aimed at normal people, not just the sophisticated elite. 

3. The video is 30 minutes long but seems like it's about 10 minutes long. The pace can keep the attention of the new generation that needs to hear this message. The greatest argument about anything is worthless if people won't give it their attention.  

4. I am the Director of Discipleship at my church. Part of my job is to oversee student ministries. We showed the 180 Movie at our high school youth program. The video was absolutely perfect for connecting with high school teens. They were absorbed.

5. The movie compels people to think. Although the movie engages the affections, at the core it is an issue of logic: It is wrong to kill innocent human beings. Unborn babies are human beings. Therefore it is wrong to kill unborn babies. 

6. Ray Comfort kept asking people--who claimed they valued human life and that it is a baby in the womb--to complete the sentence, "'Killing a baby in the womb is okay when _____________.'"  That's gold. 

7. If people did have an answer to that question, Comfort helped them think through the consistency and implications of their answer.

8. I have a daughter who many people would have aborted with the excuse that she wouldn't have a good quality of life. That excuse is wrong on so many levels.

9. Bringing up the Nazi Holocaust was not unfair. The main point was not to invoke an emotional response. The purpose was to get people to think consistently about these issues. 

10. In America alone, there have been approximately 10 babies aborted to every 1 Jewish person killed in the Holocaust. Comparing abortion with the Holocaust is not illegitimate. Both were legal.  Both carried on because people didn't care to stop it. We have to care about protecting unborn humans beings.

11. You can post the whole movie on your facebook page, and you should.

November 16, 2011

When People are Big

Every day people make decisions that are controlled by the fear of man.  We often don’t admit it to ourselves and this becomes part of our bondage.  Not everyone who fears people is hiding under their desk.

We need to understand the fear of man in order to shrink its influence.  In When People Are Big and God is Small Ed Welch lists three main reasons why we fear other people: 

1. “People will see me.”

We fear other people because they might find out that we are not who we pretend to be.  We’re too insecure to deal with that.  Think of all the things you don’t try because you don’t want people to see that you aren’t good at it.  Maybe your brave at basketball, but you would be terrified to open your mouth at a Bible Study. 

Ever since Adam and Eve sinned we’ve been hiding in shame.  Adam and Eve tried to cover themselves with fig leaves; we try to cover ourselves with our false self-images.  We try to present ourselves to the others like we’re something we’re not.  We have a wide variety of masks we wear depending on who we’re around and what we think they expect.  

We’re posers, we know it, and we’re terrified that eventually someone will see through our masks.  So, we keep people at a safe distance.  We fear other people because they can expose and humiliate us.  Deep down we know that eventually the masks will be thrown off.  It cannot last.  As Kierkegaard once wrote, “Do you not know that there comes a midnight hour when everyone has thrown off his mask?  Do you believe that life will always let itself be mocked?  Do you think you can slip away a little before midnight to avoid this?  Or are you terrified by it?”

2. “People will reject me.”

There might be nothing people are more scared of than rejection.  Welch writes:

…Sometimes we would prefer to die for Jesus than to live for Him.  If someone had the power to kill us for our profession of faith, I imagine that most Christians would say, "Yes, I am a believer in Jesus Christ," even if that meant death.  The threat of torture might make people think twice, but I think most Christians would acknowledge Christ.  However, if making a decision for Jesus means that we might spend years being unpopular, ignored, poor, or criticized, then there are masses of Christians who temporarily put their faith on the shelf.  "Death is not imminent, so why hurry into such a rash decision?"  "There will be time later to get things straight with God."

In other words, kill me, but don't keep me from being liked, appreciated, or respected.

Does that sound too harsh?  Remember that one word: evangelism.  I am sure that many teens would rather die than have their friends catch them hanging around with the church youth group or doing Christian drama on the streets.  Aren't the most popular missions trips the ones that take us far from our own neighborhood?  Russia is easy; our own neighborhood is a constant challenge...

The sin resident in the human heart (fear of man) wields awesome power.  The praise of others—that wisp of a breeze that lasts for a moment—can seem more glorious to us than the praise of God.  Jesus Himself told the Jewish leaders, "How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?' (John 5:44)

Today we would be nice and call the Pharisees people-pleasers.  We would say they "struggled with peer pressure."  Since all of us are affected by it at one time or another, we are almost sympathetic toward such behavior.  But this is perhaps the most tragic form of the fear of man.  Teenagers are constantly making unwise decisions because of it.  Adults, too, look to people for their cues.  We wait for others to take the initiatives of love.  We spend too much time wondering what others may have thought about our outfit or the comment we made in a small group meeting.  We see opportunities to testify about Christ, but we avoid them.  We are more concerned about looking stupid (a fear of people) than we are about acting sinfully (fear of the Lord.)" (Edward Welch, When People are Big and God is Small, 37-40.)

3. “People will hurt me.”

We fear people because they can physically harm us.  Don’t think that this kind of fear is experienced only by children and perhaps an adult walking down a dark alley.  In most of the world today it could cost you your life to claim to follow Jesus Christ.  Safe America is the exception, not the rule. 

On the other hand, many physically secure Americans crumble with the fear that someone might hurt them financially.  Many Christians collapse as cowards because their fear their career or their chance of advancement being hurt.  Compromise and get ahead.

These three fears are multiplied by the fact that the world wants us to fear other people.  In school and society we’re told, “Play by our rules or you will be rejected.” “You better think that what I think is important is important!”  This is how people control and influence each other.  Advertisers use it to sell us things.  Politicians use it to push their policies.  For example, before New York state redefined marriage the state senators who were resisting so-called gay marriage were told, “You don’t want to be on the wrong side of history.” They caved in.

How Jesus is the Antidote for these Fears

If we are honest with ourselves, we can see the straightforward and subtle ways that these three varieties of the fear of man influence our lives.  We need to realize what is going on in our hearts in order to change.  But even more, we need to see how truth about God answers these fears.  Welch listed three main varieties of the fear of man.  Let’s now how God’s truth answers each of these fears.

1. God already sees us.  He knows us better than we know ourselves and He still chose to go to the cross for us.  He covers our shame with His righteousness.

You can stop worrying about being seen when you realize that the One whose opinion matters most already sees you.  You can’t hide from God.  Psalm 139:1 declares, “ O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.” Hebrews 4:13 states, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”  We can hide from other people, and we can even hide from ourselves, but we can’t hide from God.

The fact that God sees us laid bare is absolutely terrifying except for realization that He chooses to love us in spite of what He sees.  While we were still sinners Christ died for us.  (Romans 5:6-10)  Even more, just as He clothed Adam and Eve with animal skins, God also chooses to clothe us.  Isaiah 61:10 states, “I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”

We can drop our fig leaves, because God clothes us in the righteousness of Christ.  Ephesians 1:4 states that God “chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.”  Notice what it says about how God sees believers.  Because of what Jesus did for you, God sees you as holy and blameless in His sight.  

2. If you have Jesus as your Savior, He has forever accepted you.  You have been adopted as his son or daughter.  He will never forsake you.

We do not need to fear rejection, because we have been permanently accepted by the One who matters most.  Ephesians 1:5 goes on to tell believers that, in love God “predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.”  When someone trusts Jesus as their Savior they are adopted as God’s child.  Likewise Galatians 3:26 tells us, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” Not only that, but we are also “heirs according to the promise.”  (Gal. 3:29) 

Our adopted Father is a perfect Father.  A perfect Father doesn’t abandon or disown His children.  God knew ahead of time who He was adopting.  He knew what all our struggles and failures would be, and He still choose to go through with it.  He will never forsake us.  Romans 8:38-39 promises, “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

3. If you are saved, nothing can ultimately hurt you.  Nothing can come into your life apart from God’s permission and purposes. 

People can hurt us, but not in the long run.  Romans 8:28 gives us God’s sweeping promise, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  God is ultimately in control of all things, including every possibly hurt that could come into your life.  People may intend it for evil, but God purposes it for good.  (Genesis 50:20) 

The Bible does not hide that fact that Christians will face fearful things.  Peter told believers, “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.’” (1 Pt. 3:14)  Jesus Himself warned His followers that they would be persecuted, hated, and that some of them would even be put to death; yet Jesus had the gall to tell them, “but not a hair of your head will perish.” (Lk. 21:12-19)  This life is a speck compared to eternity when God will make all things right.  Ultimately, no man can harm you if God is your alley. 

Think about what Jesus told us, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Mt. 10:28-31)

November 13, 2011

Fear God Not Man

I once knew an otherwise normal person who had a fear of cotton.  I have no idea what would make someone afraid of cotton, but she claimed she was.  I didn’t believe her, so one day I surprised her by throwing a cotton ball on the table in front of her.  She screamed, jumped up and panicked.  I still don’t understand.   

For many people the only thing more harmless than a cotton ball is their idea of God.  God is soft and cuddly and certainly should never be feared.  Yet, the Bible says a lot about the fear of the Lord.  Here are a few verses that talk about it: 

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” –Proverbs 9:10

“Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” –Proverbs 31:30

“Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.” –1 Peter 2:17

“An oracle is within my heart concerning the wicked: there is no fear of God before his eyes.  For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate sin.” –Psalm 36:1-2

“Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” –Ecclesiastes 12:13

In all, there are about 150 referenced to fearing God in the Bible.  No, we shouldn't be afraid of God as if He is some sort of monster, on the other hand the fear of God is lifted up in the Bible as a good thing of critical importance. 


For our purposes here, let’s define “fear” as heavy concern.  I am tempted to say "healthy concern" but the problem is that the fear of God is not the only kind of fear out there.  Another kind of fear is the fear of man.  So, when we talk about fear in this context, it doesn't have to include the idea of terror, although it might.  Instead, when we fear God or fear man it means that we have heavy concern about them.  

Heavy concern can be a good thing or it can be a bad thing.  Some things are appropriate to have heavy concern about.  Some things aren't.  It is strange for a person to fear a cotton ball, but it wouldn't be weird to fear a table-saw.  In fact, there is a lot of danger in not fearing a table saw.  If you don't have heavy concern about your relationship with a table-saw, your new nickname might end up being Lefty.

The reason I bring this up is because your choices will be determined by what you fear the most.  If you have a higher concern for what other people think of you, your choices will be controlled by that.  But if your healthy fear of God is greater than your fear of man, then you will choose God.  Unfortunately, way too often our fear of man is huge, but our fear of God is small. 

We care about the praise that comes from man more than the praise that comes from God. We are like the people described in John 12:42-43,“Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.” 

Fear of Man goes by different names.  Sometimes we call it peer pressure, people-pleasing, or even co-dependency.  Edward Welch describes the fear of man in his excellent book When People are Big and God is Small:

The fear of man is such a part of our human fabric that we should check for a pulse if someone denies it.

In the United States we are on the tail end of a revolution that included scores of books on codependency.  For years every book that had the word "codependency" in the title was a guaranteed best seller.  Melodie Beattie, for example, made millions with Codependent No More.  She obviously hit on a topic that was important to many people, yet it was basically the fear or man in a secular garment.  Melody Beattie talked about the problem in terms of being controlled by or dependent on other people, and her prescription was to love yourself more.

That approach sounded a little shallow to the evangelical world, so many Christians responded by saying that a better treatment for codependency is to know God loves you more than you think.  God can fill you with His love, so you don't have to be filled by other people.

This certainly is better than the exhortation to love yourself more, but—and this might sound controversial—even this answer is incomplete. The love of God is a profound answer to just about any human struggle, but sometimes we can use it is such a way that it becomes a watered down version of a profoundly rich truth.  For example, sometimes, because of shortcomings in us rather than Scripture, this answer misses the call to "consider others better than yourselves" (Phil. 2:3), or it ignores personal repentance.  Sometimes it allows us and our needs to be at the center of the world, and God becomes our psychic errand boy given the task of inflating our self-esteem.

We need to go further in searching the Scriptures so that we can truly understand the nearly universal experience of the fear of man… To really understand the roots of the fear of man, we must begin to ask the right questions.  For example, instead of "How can I feel better about myself and not be controlled by what other people think?" a better question is "Why am I so concerned about my self"  "Why am I so concerned about self-esteem?"  "Why do I have to have someone—even Jesus—think that I am great?"

…We need a way to think less often about ourselves…

The most radical treatment for the fear of man is the fear of the Lord.  God must be bigger to you than people are . . . Regarding other people, our problem is that we need them (for ourselves) more than we love them (for the glory of God.)  The task God sets for us is to need them less and love them more.  Instead of looking for ways to manipulate others, we will ask God what our duty is toward them.  This perspective does not come naturally to any of us, and many of us need to look at this truth from several angles before we can see it.  But the conviction of this book is that this truth is another of Scripture's divine paradoxes—the path of service is the road to freedom (17-19).

For all of us, our fear of man is too big and our fear of God is too small. We hold people in awe and wonder, but God not as much.  We are more concerned about losing the pleasure of people than displeasing the God and King who made us. 

We all need to learn to fear people less and to fear God more. To do that, we’re going to start with the first three steps listed in When People are Big and God is Small:

Step 1: Recognize that the fear of man is a major theme both in the Bible and in your own life.
Step 2: Identify where your fear of man has been intensified by people in your past.
Step 3: Identify where your fear of man has been intensified by the assumptions of the world.

November 9, 2011

Jesus' Least Impressive Miracle

Jesus’ least impressive miracle is probably the feeding of the four thousand.  Now don’t get me wrong, feeding at least four thousand people with seven loaves of bread and a few fish is amazing.  I can’t do it.  Still, this miracle doesn’t impress many people and it doesn’t get picked for many sermons.  The reason it is unimpressive is in the math: four thousand is less than five thousand. 

If you read through the book of Mark you will read about the feeding of the five thousand in Mark 6:30-44.  This miracle is more impressive for several reasons.  It comes first, there are an extra one thousand people fed, and to top it off Jesus does it with a mere five loaves and two fish instead of a gratuitous seven loaves and a "few" fish the second time around.  Then, two chapters later in Mark 8:1-10 Jesus does that anti-climactic feeding of—well, less people. 

When reading through Mark, you expect the second feeding to be even bigger and more sensational than the first one—but it isn’t.  This makes a person wonder why Mark would bother recording this at all?  After all, none of the Gospels list every miracle that Jesus performed.  Wouldn’t it have made sense for Mark’s fast-paced Gospel to leave this one out or replace it with something less disappointing? 

Four thousand is less than five thousand.

Mark knew what he was doing.  He recorded both of these miracles because they actually happened and because he was trying to make a point.  The point isn’t just about Jesus’ great power.  It is also about the human ability to forget what just happened. 

Jesus had just fed five thousand people and now a similar situation arises—with less people—and the disciples still fret.  “But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?” they ask. 

It is amazing how quickly we can lose confidence in God. 

Remind yourself of the things God has already done.  Remind yourself of the mighty things recorded in the Bible.  Remind yourself of the great things He has done in your life.  If God can put the stars in the sky and part the sea, He can do the less taxing job of taking care of your needs.  If the Father was willing to send His beloved Son to be hung on the cross in the place of you as a sinner, will He not also be willing to care for you now that you are His adopted child?  “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also along with him, graciously give us all things? (Rm. 8:32)  If God can feed the five thousand, don’t doubt that he can feed the four thousand.  If He can do the big thing, He can do the smaller thing.   

Four thousand is not five thousand.

Critics love to claim that the Bible is full of contradictions.  Any discrepancy in the details is a sign to them that the Bible is in error.  For example, John records the cleansing of the temple at the start of Jesus’ career but the other writers put in Jesus' last week.  Matthew states that Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount on a mountain but Luke mentions a flat place.  The list goes on. 

With that in mind, ask yourself what critics would say if Matthew had only recorded the feeding of the five thousand and Mark had only recorded the feeding of the four thousand.  Critics would go on and on about contradictions and errors.  Now, imagine how thee critics would respond if you tried to explain the inconsistency by suggesting that maybe there were two miraculous feedings—with different details.  You would be laughed at.   

The fact that Matthew and Mark record both of these miraculous feedings demonstrates that Jesus sometimes did impressive things more than once.  In the same way, Jesus probably taught some of his key teachings many times in many places.  Why not?  Each of us has heard speakers reuse material.  With that in mind, is it really absurd to think that Jesus may have cleansed the temple more than once?  Is it really a stretch to think that Jesus may have thought the “Sermon on the Mount” was worth teaching to more than one crowd?  Certainly, there may be other ways of resolving these apparent contradictions, but one legitimate possibility is that Jesus did some things more than once.  For all we know, there was also the still-less-impressive feeding of the three thousand.

Yes, after feeding five thousand people feeding a measly four thousand might not impress everyone, but the fact that Matthew and Mark include it teaches us not to lose confidence in God’s power and not to lose confidence in God’s Word.

October 24, 2011

The Death Star Song / Princess Leia

A long time ago, in galaxy far far away... just before the release of the Star Wars Special Edition, I wrote two Star Wars songs that I performed at an event in college.  The first is a parody of The Sweater Song by Weezer, the other is an ode to Princess Leia.  This is the video of that historic performance in Torrey-Gray Auditorium at Chicago's great Moody Bible Institute.

That night I also met the girl I would marry.  It was a good night! 

October 17, 2011


I learned from a commercial that we all need cell phones that can download a song before being hit by a missile.  Obviously this is important because most people under rocket fire have one thing on their mind: downloading a new Justin Bieber song before exploding.  (Actually, this might be helpful because Justin Bieber’s voice could disrupt the missile’s electronics.)  Patience was once considered a virtue.  Today all it gets you is a blown up cell phone. 

Still, patience is a virtue because God is patient.  2 Peter 3:15 tells us to Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation” and Romans 2:4 asks, Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?”  God even gave the Amorites hundreds of years to repent before bringing judgment on them. (Gen. 15:12-16) God wants us to learn patience because God is a God of patience.

Patience is being willing to wait until the right time.  Patience is not the waiting itself, but it is the heart’s willingness to wait, even when it is difficult.  Also, patience doesn’t mean waiting forever, but it does mean waiting until the right time.  God was patient with the Amorites, but eventually their sins “reached its full measure” and time was up. 

Do you demand patience now?  Get better sleep and bring a book.  Advice like that is helpful, but it merely manages the problem without getting at the heart.  Instead, here are a few suggestions that can help the heart of the problem.

1. Don’t break the first commandment. 

“And God spoke all these words: ‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.  You shall have no other gods before me.” (Ex. 20:1-3)  The first commandment tells us that the Lord is God and no one else is.  That includes you.  If you want to learn patience, start by keeping the first commandment.  In other words, remember that you are not God. 

We are impatience because we want our wills to become instant reality.  “Let there be pizza.  And then there was pizza.”  We want to speak and make it so.  God can pull that off, we can’t.  We also forget that the universe doesn’t revolve us.  There are other people who exist and sometimes they get ahead of us in line.  This is always more irritating if you think you are the most important person in the world.  God is patient, but is omnipotent and He gets to set the timetables.  Embrace frustrations as reminders that you and I are not God. 

2. Have confidence in God and His plan.

Let me ask you this: Why is God able to be patient?  Part of the answer is that God has confidence in Himself and His plan.  Because of God’s wisdom, omniscience and omnipotence God knows that His waiting it worth it.  He is able to look ahead to what He considers to be the greater good.  We can grow in patience in the same way.  I don’t mean that we should have confidence in ourselves and our plan.  We’re unworthy of that.  Instead, we also need to have confidence in God and His plan.  We need to trust that God’s ways are best.  He knows what He is talking about and the reward is worth the wait.

Moses in an example of this kind of trust.  Hebrews 11:24-26 states, “By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh's daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time.  He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.” 

Sex is an example of this.  God is not against sex, but He instructs us to wait for this until marriage.  Do you trust that God’s plan is best?  Sex is meant to cement two people together is a life-long relationship.  Sex outside of marriage comes with guilt, dysfunction, potential disease and all sorts of problems.  Waiting for marriage let’s sex be what it was meant to be. 

In 1972 Walter Mischel conducted an experiment regarding delayed gratification.  Children were given a marshmallow and told that they could eat it immediately, or they wait until the instructor came back in the room and then they could have two marshmallows.  Settling for sex before marriage is like grabbing one small dirty marshmallow instead of waiting for the bag of marshmallows that God offers. 

3. Remember that patience is a part of love.

When Paul describes love in 1 Corinthians 13, the first thing he states is that love is patient.  “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.” (1 Cor. 13:4)  Patience is not merely a matter of our personal tranquility; it is about our relationships.  To love others, we must learn to be patient.  To please God with a grateful life we must learn patience.  We are called to be “completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Eph. 4:2) 

We should express patience to others because God first expressed greater patience to us.  “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:7-9)  Without God’s patience all of us would have perished.  Patience was part of God’s love for us. 

October 10, 2011

The Thirty Commandments

Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Reformed, and Jews all number the Ten Commandments differently.  Why are there such variations and what is the best solution?

The commands of God which were written on two stone tablets are referred to several times as “the Ten Commandments” (Ex. 34:28; Deut. 4:13; 10:4).  The Hebrew word translated “commandment” is dabar, meaning “word” or “statement.” Thus, these commands are also known as the ten words. This is translated in the Septuagint in Greek as deka logoi, from which we get the term Decalogue.  The commands are recorded in Exodus 20 and again in Deuteronomy 5 but nowhere in Scripture are the commands are specifically numbered.  Roman Catholics and Lutherans combine the command to have no other gods before the LORD and the prohibition against idols together as the first commandment.  In the Reformed tradition these are the first and second commandments.  To offset this, Catholics and Lutherans split the prohibition against coveting into two commandments: the prohibition against coveting your neighbor’s wife as the ninth commandment and the prohibition against coveting your neighbor’s house, land, servants, and the rest as the tenth commandment.  In each of these systems, Exodus 20:2 is viewed as a preface to the ten words.  However in the traditional Jewish numbering system Exodus 20:2 is considered to be the first word, even though nothing is actually commanded in this verse.  The Jews then combine Exodus 3-6 as the second word.  After this point, the Jewish and Reformed understanding is the same.  The Greek Orthodox understanding is the same as the Reformed understanding.

Abridged Statement (ESV)

Roman Catholic & Lutheran
Reformed & Greek Orthodox
I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. (Ex. 20:2)



You shall have no other gods before me.  (Ex. 20:3)


You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above… (Ex. 20:4-6)

You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain… (Ex. 20:7)
Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy… (Ex. 20:8-11)
Honor your father and your mother… (Ex. 20:12)
You shall not murder.  (Ex. 20:13)
You shall not commit adultery.  (Ex. 20:14)
You shall not steal. (Ex. 20:15)
You shall not bear false witness...  (Ex. 20:16)
You shall not covet…your neighbor’s wife… (Ex. 20:17)


You shall not covet your neighbor’s house… or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.  (Ex. 20:17)


Roman Catholics point to Augustine who agreed with their system.  The Reformed are able to point to Josephus and Philo whose systems match their system, except that Philo inverts the sixth and seventh commandments.[1]  Calvin writes that Augustine used the same numeration as Calvin in a letter to Boniface, but “for a very insufficient reason” Augustine choose elsewhere to combine the first two commandments so that there would be three rather than four commandments in the first tablet (Institutes, II.8.12).  Augustine felt that this better manifested the mystery of the Trinity.

In the Roman Catholic version, the division of the coveting law seems to be arbitrary and unnecessary except for the need to reach a total of ten commandments rather than just nine.  A bigger problem is the fact that although the prohibition of coveting your neighbor’s wife is listed first in Deuteronomy 5:21, in Exodus 20:17 the neighbor’s house is listed first and then the neighbor’s wife.  In Exodus, wife is sandwiched between house and the remaining items, making it extremely unlikely that it is intended to be isolated as an individual command.

In the traditional Jewish understanding, the preface to the commandments is considered to be the first word.  However, the lack of an actual command or “shall” statement weighs against this understanding.  In addition, most modern scholars have noticed the formal similarities between the Decalogue and second-millennium Hittite suzerain-vassal treaties.[2]  In this format, the stipulations are preceded by a historical prologue.  Whether or not Exodus 20:2 is considered to be a preface, the first word, or part of the first word, it is intimately connected with the entire Decalogue and presents these commands in this context as a gift given to God’s people as a way for them to respond in gratitude to what the LORD has already done for them.

One of the theological issues at stake here is the mode of worship.  In the Catholic understanding, the prohibition against idolatry might be understood as merely another statement against worshipping false gods.  However in the Reformed understanding, the second commandment is not merely about what deity to worship, but the proper manner in which God must be worshipped.  Therefore as one Reformed theologian has observed, “Whether to include Exodus 20:4-6 as part of the first commandment has more to do with the interpretation of the second commandment [in the Reformed counting] than with the first.”[3]

Based on these observations, I believe the Reformed understanding seems to be correct.  However even Calvin did not regard these divisions as being of great importance, writing that, “each man ought to have free judgment, and ought not to strive in a contentious spirit with one who differs from him” (Institutes, II.8.12). 

A related issue is the division of the commands into two tables as indicated in Exodus 34:28, Deuteronomy 5:22 and 10:3.  Calvin saw the first four commandments as composing the first tablet of the law, relating to our duty to God; The last six commandments compose the second tablet, relating to our duty to neighbor.  The Heidelberg Catechism (Q. 93) and the Westminster Larger Catechism (Q. 98) also reflect this same division.  However, as Harrelson states, “the reference to two tables was intended from the first to refer to two copies of the entire list of the Decalogue, rather than to a division of them.”[4] In a suzerain-vassal treaty, one copy was made for the suzerain and one copy was made for the vassal.  Thus it could very well be that the reference to two tablets is a reference to two duplicate copies of the entire list rather there being some of the commandments written on one tablet and the rest written on the other tablet.  Certainly, we can still notice the shift in emphasis between the first four commandments and the final six, but this division may not have been used when they were originally inscribed on stone tablets.

As we have noted, the Roman Catholic numbering does not include the prohibition of graven images as a separate commandment (CCC 1852[5]).  In their traditional catechetical formula, the text concerning the making of graven images is omitted (CCC p. 496).  This opens Catholicism to the charge that they have combined the first two commands in order to reduce the visibility of the injunction against images. Calvin states that they “erase” or “hide” the prohibition concerning images (Institutes, II.8.12).  In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the veneration of images is defended first by noting the Old Testament examples of the bronze serpent, the ark of the covenant, and the cherubim (CCC 2130).  Next, the Catechism points to the judgment of the seventh ecumenical council at Nicea of 787 in which the veneration of icons was justified.  It is argued that the incarnation of the Son of God introduced a new economy of images (CCC 2131).  Finally, the Catechism appeals to Aquinas and asserts that the veneration given to images does not violate the command since the honor given to the images is transmitted to the prototype of the image, not the image itself, and further because this honor is “respectful veneration” not the adoration due to God alone (CCC 2132).  Aquinas distinguishes between latria, which is worship proper to God alone, and dulia, which is “piety whereby we honor our neighbor” (STh II-II, 81, 3-4).[6]   Reformed Christians find this distinction to be unconvincing and believe that their own numbering system does a better job of guarding against idolatry and against worshipping God in an improper manner.  In this understanding, the first commandment relates to the object of worship while the second command relates to the mode of worship.

In conclusion, there are not thirty commandments even though there are three different systems of numbering the Ten Commandments.  The content is the same.  Obeying them is more important than numbering them.  Evem more, our failure to keep them shows us our need for a Savior.

[1] Walter Harrelson, The Ten Commandments and Human Rights (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980), 47.
[2] Walter Kaiser, “Exodus” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), 2:422.
[3] Calvin VanReken, “Response to ‘The Face of Ethical Encounter’” in The Ten Commandments for Jews, Christians, and Others, ed. Roger E. VanHarn (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 19.
[4] Harrelson, Ten Commandments, 48.
[5] Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1852.  References to CCC will be to the paragraph unless otherwise noted.
[6] Interestingly, the Greek Orthodox venerate icons but number the commandments the same as Reformed Christians. 
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