Don’t Speak About Things You Don’t Understand

False teachers slander what they don’t understand, and they will be destroyed

Don’t Speak About Things You Don’t UnderstandOver the years I’ve heard many ministers talk about things they didn’t understand. Not biblical or spiritual things, but worldly things. Out of ignorance they condemn certain people for their actions, slandering them in the process.

This is why the world doesn’t understand Jesus and his church. This is why the world thinks Jesus hates them. Though he doesn’t, the words people say when they talk about things they don’t understand sends the wrong message that Jesus has something against humanity.

In Peter’s second letter he talks about these ministers and those who parrot their uninformed views. Peter explains that these teachers who slander what they don’t understand are false teachers. They’re irrational like wild animals. They’re creatures operating under instinct, void of intelligent thought. What is the outcome of these false preachers who speak of what they don’t understand? Peter makes it clear. They’ll be destroyed (2 Peter 2:12).

Jesus is all about love. Jesus loves everyone, especially those on the outside, the people on the fringes of society who religious folks reject.Many people, who claim to represent Jesus, speak out of ignorance about those outside the church. Click To Tweet

Unfortunately too many people who claim to represent Jesus, often the ministers of his churches, speak out of ignorance about those outside the church. These false teachers cause the church to reject those in the world and condemn them, even though this isn’t what Jesus wants.

We should reject these false teachers. We should ignore what they say and disassociate ourselves from them. These false teachers will be destroyed. Peter says so.

Instead we need to align ourselves with Jesus and the love he offers to everyone. When we do this, our love will point them to him.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is 2 Peter 2, and today’s post is on 2 Peter 2:12.]

The Bible Teaches Us How to Live With One Another

Scripture is packed with instructions of how Christians should treat each other

 The Bible teaches us how to live with one another.Last year I shared 13 Reasons Why I Love the Bible, and I periodically expand upon one of those thirteen reasons. Today we’ll explore how the Bible teaches us to live with each other. Although these lessons occur throughout the Bible, let’s focus on one reoccurring theme. I call these the “one another” commands. These instructions teach us how to treat each other.

The Bible contains thirty-one of these one-another instructions. Most only occur once, but four of them occur multiple times. This must mean they’re more important, or else they wouldn’t be repeated. They are:

Love One Another: The command to love one another occurs ten times in the Bible, all in the New Testament. John writes about this the most but so do Paul and Peter.

Unfortunately our society today has a skewed understanding of the word love. Consider the following.

  • I’d love to go to the movies with you.
  • I love pizza.
  • I love to read the Bible.
  • I love my family.
  • I love God.

These are all phrases I’ve used. But they convey different meanings of the word love, ranging from preference to passion. What is love? Our society often treats love as an emotion, but let’s consider love as an attitude that prompts unselfish action. When it comes to loving one another, 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 gives us some helpful instructions on how to do this. By following these verses we can begin to love others in a biblical way.

Encourage One Another: In four places, both the Old and New Testaments, the Bible tells us to encourage one another. Using positive words to lift others up and inspire them in their life and faith is a simple thing, yet most of us fail to do so most of the time. This is a skill we need to learn and then apply.

We all know people who encourage us. We enjoy our time with them, because we feel better about ourselves afterwards. May we be like them.

However, we also know people who we don’t enjoy being around because they discourage us, either directly through negative talk or indirectly through their attitudes. May we not be like them.

Let us encourage others and provide a positive, nurturing relationship that motivates them to do better.

Live in Harmony With One Another: Paul and Peter tell us we’re to live in harmony with one another. This is key. Harmony comes out of biblical love and is bolstered by encouragement, but there is more to harmony than that.

Two words come to mind that relate to harmony. The first is peace. We should strive to live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18).

The second word is unity. It’s critically important for followers of Jesus to live in unity with one another. When we do so, we point others to Jesus. When we fail to do so, we push people away from Jesus. May it never be so.

Unity—that is, harmony—is important to Jesus. In one of his prayers he asks his father that we will live in unity, that we will be one just as he and his father are one (John 17:21).

Greet One Another With a Holy Kiss: The fourth of the one-another commands that appears multiple times in the Bible is a perplexing one. It’s the instruction to greet one another with a holy kiss. What does that mean?

I explored this in another post where I speculated that this command might be a “sacred act of intimacy for the church community.” Then I admitted that I’m not really sure.

Another thought is that greet another with a holy kiss might be like a secret handshake, a way to express Christian affinity without saying a word. I suppose that works, too.

Or we could interpret this command to greet one another with a holy kiss as a principle that implies acceptance and affection with all others who follow Jesus. This also might be a viable interpretation of this confusing phrase.May we learn to treat one another as the Bible tells us. Click To Tweet

In addition to these four, there are twenty-seven other one-another commands in the Bible. As we strive to follow them and put them into practice, the Church of Jesus will grow, and the world will be better for it.

May we learn to treat one another as the Bible tells us.

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What Does the New Testament Say About Temples and Priests?

Through Jesus we become his priests and his temple, which should change everything

Jesus makes us his priests and his temple.In the Old Testament the people go to the temple to encounter God. The priests help them in this; they act as a liaison between them and God.

In many ways we still do this today. We go to church to encounter God. We look for our ministers to help us in our quest, to act as a liaison between us and God.

But this is a wrong perspective. We cling to the Old Testament practice and largely forget how Jesus fulfilled it. Peter helps us understand this in his first letter. He says we are living stones built into a spiritual temple, prepared for a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus (1 Peter 2:5).

Yet from our perspective of going to church to encounter God, this verse is confounding. It turns what we do upside down, and that’s the point. Jesus came to turn the old ways upside down and make something new for us.

We need to embrace this. We need to change our perspectives.

Living Stones: As living stones our actions matter. We live for Jesus. We live to honor him, praise him, and glorify him. We live to tell others about him through our actions and even through our words. Our faith is alive, and our actions must show it.

Spiritual Temple: As living stones we become part of the construction of his spiritual temple. And if we are part of his temple, we don’t need to go to church to meet him because, as his temple, we are already there and can experience him at any time.

Holy Priesthood: As living stones we are being made into a holy priesthood. If we are truly priests through what Jesus did for us, then we don’t need ministers to point us to God, explain him to us, and assist us in encountering him. God is preparing us to do that for ourselves as his holy priests.

Spiritual Sacrifices: As living stones and holy priests, serving God in his spiritual temple, we offer to him a spiritual sacrifice. This spiritual sacrifice negates the need for many of the animal sacrifices and offerings we read about in the Old Testament.Through Jesus we do things in a new way. Click To Tweet

This thinking is so countercultural to the way most Christians live today that it bears careful contemplation. Through Jesus we do things in a new way. We are living stones built into a spiritual temple, being prepared for a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices.

This can change everything—and it should.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is 1 Peter 2, and today’s post is on 1 Peter 2:5.]

One Way That Jesus Fulfills the Old Testament

Jesus turns the celebration of Passover into the celebration of Communion

One Way That Jesus Fulfills the Old TestamentAs the Israelites prepare to leave Egypt, Moses instructs them to have a special meal with their families and neighbors. They celebrate the first Passover. From then on Passover becomes an annual celebration.

Fast forward a couple millennia. Jesus gives his disciples instructions to celebrate Passover together. As they eat the Passover meal, Jesus adds something new to their tradition and gives it fresh meaning. Taking the bread they’re eating, Jesus uses it as a metaphor for the sacrifice he’s about to make. Then he repeats this with the wine.

The Bible records this event in Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, and Luke 22:15-20. Paul also gives instructions about this remembrance in his letter to the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 11:22-29.

These passages provide us with the basis for how we celebrate Communion. We may also call it the Lord’s Supper, The Holy Supper, Holy Communion, the Eucharist, or Holy Eucharist. They all mean the same thing. They all direct our attention on Jesus and what he did for us to reconcile us with Papa.

When Jesus institutes what we turned into the sacrament of communion, he fulfills the Old Testament practice of the Passover. That means he takes something old and adds his own twist to make it something new.

From this we see three key elements of Communion:

Part of a Meal: We see the practice of Passover and Communion in the Bible as part of a meal. Matthew and Mark note that Jesus’s reflections happen as they eat. Luke adds some additional detail. He records a second mention of the cup after the meal. The key point is that communion is part of a shared meal, not an act separate from it.The key point is that communion is part of a shared meal, not separate from it. Click To Tweet

With Family: Neither Passover or Communion take place in a large church gathering or religious ceremony. Both happen as a private gathering within a community of family or close friends—our squad. The people celebrate Passover in homes with family (or with neighbors). The Communion Jesus shares with his disciples occurs in an intimate setting with his close friends. This shows us Communion isn’t something that happens at church but apart from it, usually in homes.

As an Annual Celebration: Jesus says we are to celebrate Communion in his honor to remember him. Paul adds to this, writing that Jesus also said, “do this, whenever you drink it” (1 Corinthians 11;25). Though we may interpret Jesus’s words to mean every time we have a meal, the context is Passover, so a better understanding is every time we celebrate Passover, which is an annual event.

When we observe Communion every week at church, even once a month or quarterly, it can become routine and lose its meaning. Instead we should treat it as an annual celebration that we greatly anticipate and highly revere.

When we add this to the concept of a family meal, Communion could elevate to the level of a treasured family celebration similar to Thanksgiving or Christmas: a special time with family gathered.

The ancient practice of Passover and Communion bears little similarity to what we do today. I can’t ever recall celebrating communion in church as part of a meal. Communion was always a ceremonial representation, included as part of a church service.

The bread was reduced to a small bit of bread or a cracker. The wine was reduced to a mere sip, barely enough to wash down the morsel of food we ate just before it. In doing so we trivialize Communion by making it less than what it should be.

Let’s take back Communion. We can return it to an annual celebration in our homes with our family. And we will do it in remembrance of Jesus.

We Should Pay Attention When Jesus Says, “But I Tell You.”

Jesus fulfills the Old Testament Law and Prophets when he gives new meaning to the old ways

We Should Pay Attention When Jesus Says, “But I Tell You.”Jesus said he came to fulfill the Law and Prophets (Matthew 5:17). One way he did this, the most significant way, was to satisfy the anticipation found throughout the Old Testament for a coming savior, a Messiah, who would save his people.

Jesus also fulfilled the Law and the Prophets by changing the way people viewed God and treated others. We’ve talked about this in another post. Because of Jesus we became God’s temple, and we’re to serve as priests to one another. That means we don’t need to go to church to seek God or have a minister lead us. Seriously.

A third way Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets is by giving us an enlightened understanding of the intent behind the literal interpretation of what the Old Testament said and how the people thought. He does this in the teaching we call “The Sermon on the Mount.” Each time Jesus makes this transition from the old way to the new way, he says the words, “…but I tell you.”

Consider the following examples:

Murder and Anger: The Old Testament said murder was wrong (Exodus 20:13). Jesus says we need to control our anger (Matthew 5:21-22).

Adultery and Lust: The Old Testament commanded us to not commit adultery (Exodus 20:14). Jesus says that lust is just another form of adultery (Matthew 5:27-28).

Divorce and Commitment: The Old Testament made it easy for a man to divorce his wife (Deuteronomy 24:1). Jesus says the only justification for divorce is adultery, else couples should stick together and make it work (Matthew 5:31-32).

Keeping Vows and Avoiding Vows: The Hebrew traditions said to not break your promises, but to fulfill all the vows you made. Jesus says to not make a vow at all (Matthew 5:33-34).

Revenge and Forgiving: The Old Testament people could exact revenge on those who hurt them, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (Exodus 21:24, though this was actually to keep people from retaliating in disproportionate ways). Jesus, however, says don’t resist evil (Matthew 5:38-39).

Hate and Love: Another old Hebrew tradition said to love your neighbor and hate your enemy. Jesus says to love our enemies and pray for them (Matthew 5:43-44). Jesus turned the law into principles to guide our behavior and exhibit the heart of God. Click To Tweet

Jesus took the legalistic approach of the Old Testament Law and the people’s interpretation of it, and he turned them into principles to guide our behavior and exhibit the heart of God in how we interact with others.

May we follow these new ways of Jesus.

How Does Jesus Fulfill the Law and the Prophets?

Jesus does three things to complete what the Old Testament started

How Does Jesus Fulfill the Law and the Prophets?Jesus drew people to him. The words he spoke and the hope he communicated attracted them. Some people assumed he had come to replace the Old Testament Law and the work of the prophets, but revolution was not his calling.

Jesus didn’t come to do away with what the Old Testament taught. Instead his mission was to bring the Old Testament into fruition, according to God’s plan from the beginning.

Jesus made this clear. He said, “I have not come to abolish the Law and the prophets but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). How did Jesus do this?

Jesus Became the Ultimate Sacrifice: The Old Testament is packed with instructions for making sacrificial offerings, commands that showed the people’s relationship with God. These sacrifices had various meanings, but one key sacrifice occurred to redress sin. An animal had to die because the people had sinned. Because the people continued to sin, animal sacrifices continued to be required. These sin sacrifices happened over and over, year after year, century after century.

Jesus, in his sacrificial death on the cross, became the ultimate sacrifice for sin to end all sin sacrifices. In his once-and-for-all sacrifice, he died to make us right with God, to reconcile us into right relationship with the Almighty.

Jesus Turned Law into Love: Despite Jesus’s fresh way of looking at the understandings of his people, most of his followers still struggled to fully comprehend what he meant. They wrestled to reconcile his teachings with their traditions.

One such person asked Jesus to identify the greatest commandment in the Old Testament. Jesus’s answer was love. He said to “love God with all our heart, soul, and mind.” This stands as the greatest commandment, but then he added one more. He said to “love others as much as we love ourselves” (Matthew 22:36-40). These two simple principles summarize all the Old Testament Law and the writings of the prophets.

Jesus removed a set of impossible-to-please laws and replaced them with one principle: love.

Jesus Changed Our Perspectives. Jesus liked to review what the Hebrew Bible said, and then he would expand on it. He often made this transition by saying “but I tell you…” Then he would give his enlightened explanation about what God meant. We’ll do well to carefully study what Jesus said immediately after his words “but I tell you…” Look for more about this in the future post.Jesus came to fulfill the Old Testament Law and the writings of the prophets. Click To Tweet

What’s important to understand when we consider that Jesus came to fulfill the Old Testament law and the writings of the prophets is we must put the Old Testament in proper perspective. This doesn’t mean to ignore the Old Testament because Jesus fulfilled it, but it does mean we need to consider the Old Testament in the context to which it was given. In addition to teaching people how to live back then, the Law and the prophets also pointed them to the coming Savior, Jesus.

As we read the Old Testament we see allusions to Jesus and the freedom that he represents. And if we read the Old Testament with care, we will also see that this future revelation about Jesus applies to all people, not just God’s chosen nation of Israel.

Yes, Jesus came to fulfill the Old Testament Law and the writings of the prophets. And we are the benefactor of that.

Thank you Jesus.

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Is God’s Forgiveness Conditional?

Jesus wants us to fully forgive others so that we may be fully forgiven

Is God’s Forgiveness Conditional?In asking the simple question, “Is God’s forgiveness conditional?” the answer seems obvious: “No! God’s forgiveness is unconditional.”

I was taught that if I followed Jesus, he would forgive me. It was a fact. Forgiveness was unconditional. It made sense, and it comforted me.

However, Jesus’s instruction in today’s passage seems to question this assumption.

Jesus teaches about prayer. He says that when we pray, if we think of someone holding something against us, we must forgive them “so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins” (Mark 11:25, NIV).

Does this mean that if we withhold forgiveness from others that God will withhold forgiveness from us?

I think so.

Recall the Lord’s Prayer. One phrase says, “Forgive us our debts, as we have also forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12, NIV). This phrase flows from our mouths with ease. On the surface these words offer us assurance of forgiveness. But I don’t think that’s what Jesus means by this simple expression. He seems to be saying that to the degree we forgive others, God will then forgive us.To the degree we forgive others, God will forgive us. Click To Tweet

Stated another way, the extent to which we withhold forgiveness, will be the extent to which God withholds our forgiveness.

What a terrifying thought.

Between what Jesus instructs us through the Lord’s Prayer and what he teaches in today’s text, we get the real feeling that the degree to which we can receive God’s forgiveness hinges on the degree to which we extend forgiveness to others.

This is a sobering thought.

May we always forgive fully, so that we may be fully forgiven.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Mark 11, and today’s post is on Mark 11:25.]

5 Things Jesus’s Disciples Did

We are to go out and preach repentance under the power of the Holy Spirit

5 Things Jesus’s Disciples DidAfter Jesus calls his disciples, he trains them and then sends them into the world. He gives them five simple instructions:

Go out: To be effective Jesus’s disciples can’t hang out with each other. They need to go out into the world around them.

Preach Repentance: A basic understanding of preach is to tell or to encourage. A simple definition of repent is to turn yourself around, to make a U-turn. When Jesus tells his disciples to preach repentance, he’s instructing them to encourage others to turn their lives around and head toward him.

Drive Out Demons: Jesus empowers his disciples to do miraculous works in his name. These wondrous signs certainly get people’s attention. Supernatural power not only helps people in need, but it also rightly directs our attention to God. I think that’s the point.

Anoint the Sick: When Jesus tells his disciples to anoint the sick, he’s instructing them to bless those with health concerns and pray for them.

Heal People: Yes, Jesus wants us to heal those who are hurting. He gives us the power to do so, through the Holy Spirit. We need to walk in faith to make that happen.The instructions Jesus gives his disciples, can also apply to us today. Click To Tweet

The instructions Jesus gives his disciples, can also apply to us today. We are to go into our world and encourage people to pursue Jesus. As we do, we are to go in Holy Spirit power to perform signs, anoint people, and heal those in need.

While some people assume the supernatural power of signs and wonders ended with the disciples, I see no indication of that in the Bible. What Jesus gave to his disciples then, he gives to us today. It’s up to us to accept his call and move into it. And when we do, our witness will be magnified, and Jesus will be exalted.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Mark 6, and today’s post is on Mark 6:12-13.]

Should We Pray “If It’s Your Will?”

We can learn to pray by following Jesus’s example, as long as we don’t misapply it

Should We Pray “If It’s Your Will?”When it comes to praying, there is no better teacher than Jesus. Perhaps that’s why many of his followers memorize the prayer he taught his disciples and why many churches include this prayer in their church services. We commonly call this The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). This prayer serves as our model.

Another one of Jesus’s instructive prayers occurs in John’s biography of Jesus. In the most lengthy of Jesus’s prayers in the Bible, we see three themes. First, Jesus prays that his death will glorify his father. Next, he prays for his disciples. And last, he prays for his future followers: us (John 17). This final section of his prayer shows us what Jesus expects of us, which should inform how we pray.

A third prayer of Jesus stands as his most passionate. As he prepares himself to become the ultimate sacrifice, he asks his father for a reprieve, perhaps thinking of when God kept Abraham from sacrificing Isaac by providing an alternate option (Genesis 22:1-19). Yet after making his bold request, Jesus quickly confirms he will obey his Father and do his will (Luke 22:42, Matthew 26:39).

Most translations of the Bible (32 times out of 56) use the phrase “if you are willing” in recording the opening to this prayer of Jesus.

Should we do the same?

Yes. By including this phrase, we follow Jesus’s example by acknowledging God’s sovereignty, that is, his supreme authority and power over us and everything that is. We admit his plan is far better than our wishes and narrow perspective. We concede he is in control and we are not. Affirming God’s will in this way, confirms his character.It’s right to pray “if it’s your will” as long as this reminds us of God’s sovereignty. Click To Tweet

Yet, this phrase can also give our faith an out, an escape hatch. If we make an audacious request of God and then tack on an “if it’s your will” at the end, we provide ourselves a feeble rationalization should God not answer our request the way we hope.

For example, if we pray for a miraculous healing, but it doesn’t occur, we can shrug and say, “I guess it wasn’t God’s will.” This helps stave off disappointment. It also keeps our faith intact. Taken to an unhealthy extreme, this phrase can even remove faith completely from our prayers, along with the expectation of the answer we long for. Praying “if it’s your will” could turn our prayers into weak, meaningless requests of an all-powerful God. May it never be.

It is right for us to pray “if it’s your will” as long as this reminds us of God’s sovereignty and character. But if this phrase effectively removes faith and expectation from our prayers and renders them powerless, then it might be wise to avoid it.

The key is that God wants us to pray. He wants us to talk to him. The words we say aren’t as important as our intent behind them. May our prayers always serve to connect us to our Father.

How Can We Reconcile Violence in the Bible?

Through Jesus we can discover our response to violence and oppression

How Can We Reconcile Violence in the Bible?Seldom a day goes by when we don’t hear of terrorists who commit violence and murder in the name of their faith. These religious zealots believe a higher calling gives them the right to kill others in order to elevate their beliefs.

This seems barbaric, ignorant, and misguided. We, as followers of Jesus, would never do that. But Christians have. In the name of religion they killed. And we only need look at the Old Testament for a precedence that seems to give permission.

Old Testament Violence

As the nation of Israel leaves Egypt and comes to reclaim the territory God gave them, he tells them to annihilate the inhabiting people, to utterly destroy them and their pagan practices. As I read these accounts in the Old Testament, I struggle with the violence I encounter. I don’t get it. It doesn’t seem justified, and it’s not fair.

Yet, I see four things that somewhat help me reconcile the violence we read about in the Old Testament.

It Was Specific: God does not give a universal command for his people to kill all their enemies, regardless of geography or situation. He directs this instruction only at the people living in the Promised Land, occupying the territory he gave his people. To apply this to any other circumstances is inappropriate and a misuse of scripture.

It Was For One Season: God’s command to wipe out the inhabiting peoples only applies to one period of time: as his people take back the territory he gave them. He never says this instruction to kill and destroy applies for all time or extends indefinitely into the future.

It Was an Anomaly: In a general command, one without limits, God tells his people to treat the foreigners living among them as one of them, as native born (Leviticus 19:34). This is far different than his one-time instruction to kill.

It Was Fulfilled: Even if we disregard that the command to kill was specific and for a limited time, remember that Jesus fulfills the Law and the Prophets of the Old Testament (Matthew 5:17). It is over, in the past. The old ways are gone.

Still, these seem to me as poor justifications for the Israelites to kill. Though I’m content to accept God as sovereign and freely admit that I can’t begin to understand him or his ways, I still struggle with the Old Testament’s slaughter of people. (By the way, it’s hard to convert people to your way of thinking when they’re dead.)God says we are to love our enemies, pray for them, and live in peace. Click To Tweet

New Testament Nonviolence

I am, however, comforted by the New Testament, which doesn’t perpetuate God’s people inflicting violence on others. I’m encouraged by what Jesus and his followers say to counter the Old Testament’s accounts of violence:

Love Your Enemies: Jesus says we are to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). When we love people, we want the best for them. Check out 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 for details of what love entails.

Pray For Those Who Persecute You: Right after Jesus commands us to love our enemies, he adds that we should pray for those who intend us harm (Matthew 5:44). By the way, this includes the terrorists who today kill people in the name of their religion.

I’ve never thought to do that until right now. It’s going to be hard. Will you join me?

Live in Peace: Paul writes to the followers of Jesus who live in Rome, instructing them to live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18). In the book of Hebrews we read the same thing, along with the kicker to be holy as we do (Hebrews 12:14). Our holiness points others to God, allowing them to see him for who he is.

Though the violence in the Old Testament perplexes me, what applies to us today comes from the New Testament: Love our enemies, pray for those who intend us harm, and strive to live in peace with everyone.

That is how we are to respond to the violence around us today.