Category Archives: Scripture

Charitable Giving Horror Stories

There are some stories in the Bible that make you just think, “What? Why did that happen? This doesn’t seem like the God that I know?”

One that has stood out to be since my childhood is the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. The short version is that a man and his wife sell property and donate the proceeds to the early church. The only problem is that they held back part of the money for themselves but made others believe that they gave all. In today’s world, this may seem like just a clerical error, but it wasn’t a little thing to God. When Ananias came into the church fellowship to make his presentation he died. So, did his wife a few hours later when she came looking for Ananias.

As a child, I remember learning a song that I never forgot. It was all about Ananias and Sapphira and being a cheerful giver. I will save you the horror. But it left a strong impression on me that trying to make a show of what you do for God doesn’t win you in any brownie points in heaven.

The amount they gave wasn’t the problem. The issue was that Ananias and Sapphira conspired to deceive the church and God. Why did this happen at that point? I am sure that many other people since then have done the same thing or far worse and lived to tell about it. I believe this is more an indictment of our churches and society today than it is a warning about things that happened in the early church. Back then the Spirit of God was moving so strongly that deception in the camp could have disastrous consequences.

When the Holy Spirit moves, He strongly encounters demonic lies and spirits that come against God’s standard. Holiness is serious business. I am reminded of the man who accidentally touched the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament and immediately died. Our sin results in death. That is why we need Jesus and His righteousness.

Today, the warning is about spiritual showmanship or exhibitionism. Any time we do something for public praise, we are on dangerous ground. It is better for us to do something in secret and let God bring it to the forefront if He so desires. Jesus did amazing miracles and then told people to keep it quiet. But today if something happens where God’s power shows up, some are too quick to take credit for it.

There is a thin line here because sometimes we need to go tell others about what God is doing. We need to proclaim righteous causes from the mountain tops, but we just need to check our motives and make sure we are really doing whatever it is for the right reasons.

Are we sharing about a situation to inspire others? Do we want to call others to join the effort? Those are usually good reasons. Or do we want somebody to give us praise?
The deepest lesson here is that even when we deceive others, we will never fool God. In God’s Kingdom, honesty is the best policy because the enemy tends to lurk in the shadows of our lies.


Why worry?

Scripture is full of great questions. Jesus knew how to ask some real zingers. This is one of the hardest for me to grapple with in my everyday life.

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? (Luke 12:25)

Honestly, I tend to worry too much. Prayer should be my default response, but sometimes, I find it so easy to worry instead. I am getting better. I am taking so much more to my Heavenly Father in prayer than  I did in the past. But it is a struggle.

In Jesus’ question, we see the futility of worry. It accomplishes nothing. It tends to hurt ourselves and the situation we care so much about. Worrying can’t even give us an extra hour in our day — actually it robs us of precious time to actually act and pray.

I am resolving to worry less and pray more. Who’s with me?


What is the Gospel?

I wonder if I have at times become “so familiar” with the Bible and especially the Christian Gospel that I lose sight of its epic, boundless quality. Can you have heard so many sermons that you begin to think there isn’t much new to be learned about God? Or does this reveal a faulty mindset that has lost its way? If God is beyond description, why do we look at His Word as something less than supernatural, epic, and majestic? The Bible (God’s book) is beyond whatever else we might read on a daily basis. I was thinking about this tonight after Pastor Tim Matthews spoke on the parable of the sower and the seed from Matthew 13. He challenged the youth group to dare to study the Scriptures, soak in it and live it. Beyond looking for good principles to apply, Pastor Tim encouraged us to seek to be transformed. He challenged us to be good ground that would produce fruit in God’s Kingdom.

The Bible is not a self-help book. I admit that on many occasions I have taken the “I already knew that” attitude toward something found in Scripture. But the strange thing is I may not have been living by the light of that knowledge. Many times I needed to hear something again that I already supposedly knew.

So I feel led to revisit the basic Christian message, commonly known as the Gospel. What is it really? Is the Gospel just ten basic beliefs about God and His relationship with mankind? Is the Gospel merely about statements of faith? Or is it something more — an ethic, a call to become like Christ? Is the Gospel something that ever changes? Or is it something that only changes us? Is the Gospel fully realized now or a forward looking hope for a better world? Is the Gospel even really about mankind? Or is its core preoccupation mainly God and His glory revealed to humanity?

These questions have led me to develop what I am calling the Gospel Challenge. I am encouraging anybody who has a relationship with God through Jesus to take 30 days to wrestle with what the Gospel is based on Scripture and your own reflection as you pray and listen for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. May you look to see how the Gospel is lived out in your world. Specifically, I am encouraging other Christians who know me to take up this challenge.

It starts with reading the Bible daily while looking to see what your reading reveals about the basic Christian message. You should ask questions like, “What does this story show us about God? or How does this passage depict God’s Kingdom?

Second, you develop a list of key beliefs explaining what the Gospel is and how it should function in our daily lives. What really is this Good News that we are called to share with the world? I am starting with a simple computer document that says, “The Christian Gospel is….”

Third, refine your list and share some insights with others to see what they think. I intend to ask other believers, “If you had to explain the Christian message in 3-5 minutes, what would you say?”

Fourth, wrestle some more with the concepts that arise as you study, pray about the Christian message and discuss the Gospel with others. The last part of the challenge is to come up with a basic Gospel statement or creed and attempt to live according to these beliefs on daily basis.

So who is with me? What does the Gospel really mean to you? I welcome others to post on my blog their thoughts on what the Christian Gospel is and how it functions in the world.

How Patriotic Is Your Bible?

Thomas Nelson Publishers has released a New Bible called the The American Patriot’s Bible. It combines the New King James with patriotic commentary that attempts to imply associations between the American story with the Biblical narrative.

Any special interest Bible risks misapplying the Scriptures. Critics contend that this Bible takes that concern to a whole new level. I have not read it and will withhold judgment until I do. One thing I will say is that readers tend to look at commentary notes as if they are part of Scripture or at least authoritative. But that is not the case. Even translations are in an essence commentary because you can’t make a translation without adding some commentary in the process. In translating, you have to make word choices and reconcile differences between major manuscripts. Very few people read the original languages and judge the meaning of the text itself. Plus, we may know the words and not understand the nuance of the ancient context in which it was originally written.

This new patriotic Bible points to a major concern for those focused on Scriptural purity. The more stuff we add to the Bible, the more cloudy the core of the text may become for the average reader. We have all these “helps” and special resources today. Yet, society is less aware of what the Bible actually says than ever before. If we are supposed to be a Christian nation, why do so few know much about the Bible?  Sixty percent of Americans can’t name five of the Ten Commandments. That’s a failing grade in my book. See this article from 2007 to understand just how little we know.

Here is what the Out of Ur blog had to say including a critique of the new patriotic Bible. I am all for being a patriot, and I am a very proud American. However, I think that all these special interest Bibles may lead to confusion and get in the way of a clear understanding of Scripture.

When Did God Create Angels?

One of the reason that God invented teenagers is to keep adults on their toes. The other day I was asked the above question by a teenage boy in my church’s youth group. Caught a bit off guard, I gave my best non-answer answer. The youth looked at me and said, “I just want a straight up answer. I don’t care what scholars say. What do you think?”

I love the lad’s moxie. He made me think about a question that I had wrestled with at one point and glossed over on my jaunt to more “important” theological matters. After thinking about his question for a few days and doing a little  digging into my religious library, I don’t know that I have much more to say than my initial answer.

Initially, I told the guy. “Well, the Bible is not completely clear when God created angels. Scholars have proposed a number of different ideas. Angels were not mentioned in the creation accounts in Genesis chapters 1 &3. Clearly, angels don’t exist outside of time like God does. They had a beginning. I generally believe it was before Day 1 of the creation account in Genesis 1.”

The clearest Scripture dealing with this subject is Job 38:1-7. In this passage, God answers Job and asks hims a series of questions. God asks, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”

This passage indicates that angelic spirits (sometimes known in Scripture as sons of God or morning stars) were present when God established the form of the earth and set the boundaries of the waters. These spirits served as a heavenly cheering section, which is one of the main functions of angels in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament.

The Hebrew Scriptures start out with the beginning as God created the heavens and the earth in verse 1. Then, God hovers over the surface of the deep. Many scholars believe there is a big divide between the events of Genesis 1-2 and the main Creation account that starts in Genesis 1:3. This would be a logical point for the angels to be made because the heavens exist. Then God went to work on earth on Day 1.

One problem with the account in Genesis 1 is that it is commonly thought to be poetic like a hymn not a historical chronology of events. All the details are not filled in to clear up any confusion. There are just some things that are not clear. For example, was the sun created on day 1 when there was light? Or was the sun actually created on day 4 when God set the lights in the sky.

Psalms 148 praises the God of creation and appears to offer a retelling of the creation of all things. In this passage, the heavens are made first. Then God makes “all his angels.” God then makes the sun,moon and stars. Everything else seems to follow the Genesis 1 order.

Colossians 1:16 is clear that Jesus made the angels. We also know that angels are different from humans (Hebrew 2). Angels have different functions, and there is a hierarchy among angelic beings.

All of this is to say that nobody can give you a firm date that identifies exactly when God created the angels. But we do know that they are part of creation and appear to have been around for the forming of the earth in its present condition as an inhabitable planet for humans.


סלה is pronounced “Selah” in English. Appearing 71 times in the Psalms, the word remains a mystery to modern day translators. There are many theories, but nobody knows for sure what it means.

Selah is probably either a musical mark or an instruction on the reading of the text, something like “stop and listen.”

The Psalms were mostly designed to be sung or accompanied by musical instruments. Many of the Psalms that mention a “choir master” also include “Selah.” This suggests a strong musical link with the word.

Some scholars have suggested that “Selah” is used to separate stanzas or distinct thoughts. It could serve to indicate a musical rest or pause. But this explanation doesn’t work in all instances. The word does seem to interrupt the flow of a logical strain of prose in some places. It also occurs at the end of a psalm and provides contrast between various thoughts within a psalm. 

We just don’t know for sure what the word means, and we have no real good way to test various hypothesises. I kind of like that this word is a mystery. This fact invites personal interpretation and sparks the imagination of the reader. For some it may be a musical rest or an invitation to pause and ponder the greatness of God. For others, it could just be a mystery. This points to one of the great realities of God – He is beyond comprehension, and we encounter God by stopping to ponder His greatness.

Nothing New Under the Sun

While studying for my Old Testament exam today, it suddenly struck me that the Hebrews in the Bible are not that different from people today. Although we have the Internet and modern plumbing, when it comes to basic human nature – humanity keeps making the same mistakes. Our society may have evolved somewhat from the Bronze and Iron Ages. But I don’t know that we are as “enlightened” as we might want to think we are.

Regardless of who you think wrote the Torah, it is a fairly progressive document. From the focus on social reforms in Deuteronomy to the depiction of a gracious God who keeps on giving second chances, I have found my OT plunge this semester to be eye opening. Sure, there are comments about stoning rebellious children and seemingly unimportant laws about mildew. These seem extreme or out of touch to us today. But overall the heart of the Law was meant to push the people toward an ideal that we might find remarkable today.  I wonder what would happen if the Year of Jubilee were reinstated today. Given all the financial problems in the world, that might be a refreshing idea from thousands of years ago.

Putting myself in the other person’s shoes is a lot harder thing to do when you are trying to relate to somebody who lived 3,000 years ago. Yet, I can certainly relate with many of the emotions and situations that the Israelites must have felt. I understand what it is like to mess up and keep needing mulligans from God. I know what it is like to face new challenges and transition just as the Israelites did as they stood on the edge of the Promise Land.

I know the pain that King Saul must have felt when God’s voice seemed distant. I can relate with the sense of an overwhelming task just as Moses must have felt many time on his journey in the wilderness. There are other times  this semester that I read a story and was challenged to the core by the example presented. For example, I may not have felt as generous as Joseph did when he finally revealed his true identity to his brothers.

What makes Scripture such an engaging text? Is it that the people are so real? Is it that I approach the text differently than a non-believer? Is it that there really isn’t anything new under the sun and these people are a lot like me?

Genesis 3:1-7

A closer reading of mankind’s great fall in Genesis 3 has brought a number of things to my attention that I have not seen in the past. One of the greatest aspects of Biblical study is that you never reach the bottom.

Here are some notable things that jumped out in a group discussion as well as some of my own “original” observations.

  • The story starts out describing the snake as more crafty than the other beasts of the field. God obviously made the snake so we don’t know if crafty here is supposed to be a good thing.
  • The identity of the snake is never connected with Satan in this passage. For starters, it seems strange to us that a snake would talk. But Eve doesn’t seem to be affraid or give any sense that a talking snake is odd. The snake could have been possesed by Satan or possibly influenced by demons. On the other hand, there is no textual proof to indicate that the snake acted in malice except Eve’s accusation when confronted by God. Could this merely be a snake that innocently asked the wrong questions?
  • The NT book of Revelation cleerly states the snake in its prophecy is Satan. The concept about Jesus crushing the head of the snake suggests that the snake symbolizes Satan. This issue is hotly debated by Biblical scholars and preachers.
  • The snake framed its question to focus on the liberty of the individual. I find this interesting in a society that focuses on individual rights.
  • Eve replied that they could eat of all the fruit of the trees except for one. Then, she added that they couldn’t even touch the fruit. This goes beyond what Adam was told. He received the instruction before Eve was created. We don’t know if Eve added to what God said or Adam did it. We don’t know if God added some additional parameters to help protect Adam and Eve. This brings up the rabbinic concept of hedges and fences around the law. These extra little rules made it difficult to transgress the law. Maybe this was the first law hedge.
  • No where in the text does it tell us what kind of fruit it was that Adam and Eve ate. Literature has developed the notion that it was an apple. But it could have been almost anything. This shows us that some of our general concepts about a passage may be wrong because we have been more influenced by tradition than what the text actually says.
  • The snake said that you will not surely die. The Hebrew indicates that the snake mentioned death twice in this response. That is where we translate the “surely” part. But this could have meant to describe more than one type of death. The original Hebrew is not clear.

Slavery in the Bible

One of my favorite Christian artists, Michael Card, recently said at a concert that he is working on a book that explores the concept of slavery in the Scriptures. Some mistakenly discredit what the Bible has to say on the topic because it doesn’t outright prohibit the practice.

It can be easy to forget that the Bible is the redemptive story of God’s interaction with humanity. God knows that you cannot completely change everything over night, and He always meets people where they are to take them where they should be. We must be patient with societies in the past just as we will need people in the future to be understanding of us. Each new generation has its practices that future generations will find odd or outright immoral.

Here are some quick thoughts on the Bible and slavery:

  • Everyone is a slave to something or someone.
  • All true Christians are “slaves” to Christ so that we may be free from the grip of sin and death.
  • God brought the Israelites out of Egypt “the land of slavery.” But when things got tough they preferred the familiarity of slavery over the hardships of freedom.
  • God desires obedience not sacrifice.
  • Jesus didn’t have an entitlement attitude neither should His followers.
  • After the introduction of the Law, the Israelites were not to enslave each other because they were to be a nation of slaves to God.
  • God provided for humane treatment of slaves in the Law.
  • Slavery in antiquity was somewhat different than modern slavery. Some people even sold themselves into slavery to pay off a debt for a period of time.
  • Jesus came to set the captives free.
  • Paul encouraged Philemon to treat Onesimus (his slave) as a brother. This was as close to prohibiting slavery as Paul could get without completely sidetracking the greater purpose of his mission. Slavery during the Roman Empire was a central part of the world’s economic system. Calling for the outright end of slavery was something that Paul didn’t seem to want to overtake.
  • Jesus forever set aside the distinctions between slave and master.
  • The Year of Jubilee was a gift from God to the Israelities that we don’t know if it was ever practiced. This year long celebration and the forgiveness of debt is a foreshadowing of Christ’s work on the cross. 

The Gospel IS…

The gospel is…

The power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16), God judging the secrets of men by Jesus Christ (Romans 2:16), veiled to those who are perishing (2 Corinthians 4:3), light that shows the glory of Christ who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4), not another gospel (2 Corinthians 11:4), is not man’s gospel (Galatians 1:11), to be proclaimed among the Gentiles (Galatians 2:2), justification by faith (Galatians 3:8), the word of truth and a sealing of believers with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13), standing firm in one spirit with one mind (Philippians 1:27), the hope laid up for you in heaven (Colossians 1:5),  proclaimed in all creation under heaven (Colossians 1:23), come in power and in the Holy Spirit with full conviction (1 Thessalonians 1:5), preached with boldness in the midst of much conflict (1 Thessalonians 2:2), sharing ourselves to others not just words (1 Thessalonians 2:8), the infliction of vengeance on those who do not know or obey God (2 Thessalonians 1:8), the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light (2 Timothy 1:10), Jesus Christ risen from the dead (2 Timothy 2:8),  preached to those who are dead (1 Peter 4:6), is to be obeyed (1 Peter 4:17), proclaimed to every nation and tribe and language and people (Revelation 14:6).