Why Study the Old Testament?

Does the Old Testament have any authority for the Christian believer today? Why should we even try to study the Old Testament?

This is actually something I have dealt with in a couple of my contexts. Some of the people say they only want to talk about that God is love and this is all you need to know. Others say they are “Red Letter Christians” meaning they only hold to and pay attention to the words of Jesus (red words) and this is what shapes their faith. We do have to pay attention to the “red letters” but we also have to understand the context they are written in.

One of the helpful things I have come to learn is the Old Testament is actually our story. When we read through the Old Testament, even the difficult passages, we can see how God related to the people, which is the same way God would relate to us today. God, especially through Jesus, is the same yesterday, today, and forever. So, as Christians we have to understand what it looks like to live out our lives in faithfulness.

Jesus says many times, “You have heard it said…but I say…” What does this mean unless we go back to see what he was talking about? Eye for an eye, as an example, is not just a saying in our culture; but it is a phrase that was used, for a specific reason, in the Old Testament. In essence, Jesus is giving more meaning to the words the people have heard and lived by all their lives, and therefore making them go deeper in their meaning to help the people see the seriousness of sin. In other words, Jesus is trying to show we do not have to be legalistic about our faith, just live it out of the heart—this, after all, is where our true motivations come from anyway.

Jesus gave the teachings and writings of the Old Testament authority, because he is God incarnate and therefore said the words. This is the first thing we have to pay attention to. Because of this, we see the apostles and early church give authority back to the Old Testament. Paul said that all scripture is God-breathed, God-inspired and he was talking about the Old Testament. But, without the Old Testament, we miss out on seeing the bigger picture God has in mind for being sent out to all the nations.

Through the Old Testament, we understand that Yahweh is the God who created the universe, and therefore is completely “other” from the universe, yet is also constantly active and personal in all of creation, especially through the lives of the people. We see how Yahweh has been set above the other “gods” of the world Because God is active in the world, we can better understand the mission Jesus sent his followers on by looking back at the calling of Abraham, even look back further to see how the world was set in order and how people were supposed to live with each other from the very beginning.

Back to the Old Testament is our story. Many people say that “our lives are the only Bible people will read.” This is true. I can also see how our lives tell the story the Bible tells. We are created out of love (whether or not this is true from a human perspective, we are created from the love of God). Because we are created out of love, we have been set to live this life in this particular time, this particular culture, with this particular personality, and gifts/talents/motivations, etc. We have been placed here to tend to and cultivate what God has given us, and go into the world. We have been created for a purpose.

We also see how we have been given teacher, preachers, books, other people to guide us and teach us the “rules of life” so we can learn what it means to be a “good/decent person”. The Lord did this with Israel with the Sinai Covenant. God gave the people the law to show what it means to live a holy/set apart people. But, we learn we still have this desire to do what we want and disregard what God said (blessing and curse of free will). This helps us understand there is something in us we cannot take out or get rid of on our own—something that seems to be ingrained in us to do things we know we shouldn’t do. We see this through the continual living faithfully and calling of Israel to repent by the Prophets.

There comes a time when God says the people have done their own thing for so long before stepping in to take over. God has always been present in our lives and there comes a point when we realize we need God to be the One leading us and changing us. We need God to step in to the world/our world, and show us how we are being transformed and make us into something even more than we could have ever imagined. This is where Jesus comes in.

Jesus comes, and we finally realize we need only him, he is the only One who can do what we need. Now, because of the Old Testament, we can better see how God has been working in the world to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven. The Savior we have been hoping for has come, is changing our lives, and taking us to a place where we can work with him to change the world and see the world redeemed because of his grace. Because of Jesus (Yahweh in flesh), we can go from the chaos of our world (the world) and move into a life of order, peace, and true faithfulness.

Why study the Old Testament? A scholarly answer would be so we can understand the entire message of the Bible and to understand what is really going on. A theological answer would be so we can understand what the New Testament is actually saying and how it is applied to our lives. A personal answer, at least to me, would be so we can better understand our purpose and how we are supposed to live. More importantly, so we can better understand our lives and see how we sin and fall short of God, we constantly go back and forth from doing what we are supposed to do/not do, we see God (through Jesus Christ) coming to change our lives, and we see us moving toward a future with a hope because God has it already in the palm of his hands and has an ultimate plan for the future.

We study the Old Testament because it is our story. It is the story God tells so we can understand our mission to be in a holy community, and to be lights to the world to take the message of salvation to all the nations. If we can take this time to study and understand the importance of the Old Testament, we can better see how God through Jesus Christ is reshaping the world back the original intent.

Because people, by fallen nature, are self-absorbed, bringing us to a place to see we are also in the story of ancient Israel could make it seem like reading about your own family history and given better understanding to why we live like we live. This could also give people the motivation to learn more, on their own and in groups, to study the complexity, yet simplicity, of the message of the Old Testament and see more clearly how Jesus is really fulfilling (not obliterating) the law and words in the Old Testament which should give greater clarity and purpose to our lives and reason for living as a mission community to the rest of the world so God’s plan is completed.

Victory Over Goliath

We all have “giants” in our life that attempt to hold us back from the life God has designed for us. Some of our giants include fear, anger, rejection, comfort, addiction. Join us for this 7-week sermon series as we understand some of the “giants” in our lives and how they can be overcome because of Jesus Christ.

This series takes us through an in-depth study of 1 Samuel 17: the story of David and Goliath.

“Goliath Will Fall” (1 Samuel 17:45-47)

“Giant of Fear Will Fall” (1 Samuel 17:1-11)

“Giant of Rejection Will Fall” (1 Samuel 17:26-33)

“Giant of Comfort Will Fall” (1 Samuel 17:16,25)

“Giant of Anger Will Fall” (1 Samuel 16:7, 17:28)

“Giant of Addiction Will Fall” (1 Samuel 17:33-40)

“Living in Freedom” (Galatians 5:1)

SERMONS ON THE GO! Click here to listen to and subscribe to the weekly sermon on iTunes!

Grasshopper Syndrome

We have all felt as if the mission we were/are called to do is too big. How we handle our perceptions of the mission/task will be a big indicator of how it turns out.

There is a great story, in the Bible, at the end of the book of Numbers chapter 13. Moses had sent some of his leaders to scope out the land they were about to enter. When the leaders came back, they said, “the land is beautiful!”
But then two other responses came out of their mouths. One was from the majority, “but the people there are too big and strong for us.” The other response was from the minority, “we can do what God is leading us to do.”
Now if you have read this story, you know what happens. If you haven’t, I would invite you to read Numbers 13 (click here for the link).
On the outside looking in, it can be easy to say, the leaders should have trusted God in what they were supposed to do. That is, after all, one of our reactions when people today respond out of fear. But a point we should consider is: what is God leading you to?
Everyone, in the Israelite camp, knew they were being led to go into the promised land. They were excited about it. They have even been wondering around the desert for 40 years and their journey was almost over. But even in the midst of the traveling, I wonder if some people just got used to their lifestyle and the “traditions” they had set up.
If we get to a place where we are comfortable with an easy life and everything going just right, we forget that we actually grow in our faith, grow in our character, through trials and difficult times.
Which group of leaders are you? Really try to be honest. Are you in the first group that sees what is wrong and the obstacles in the way? Are you in the second group that sees the potential for what God is doing and you see challenges that can be overcome?
Recently, I heard a great term: “Grasshopper Syndrome.” This refers to thinking we are too small, too insignificant to really do anything. The majority of the Israelite leaders said, “we are like grasshoppers to them (talking about the enemies).” Now, they were saying this because they allowed their fear, and discomfort about moving into something new, to stand in the forefront of their mind to prevent them from following God.
But then there was another group, a smaller group, led by Caleb that said, “we can do it. Yes, they are bigger and stronger than we are; but we have God on our side.” This is the group that Moses actually listened to. With these words, the Israelite people were able to overcome their initial fear and reactions and go into the land God had promised them.
So, here is my challenge for us this week: Pay attention to how you view your situation. See if you are more comfortable with staying where you are because it causes too much anxiety to go where you know you need to. Ask yourself if the “traditions” you are used to are holding you back from experiencing God even more through something new.
If you still sense the road ahead is too difficult, so the negative aspects can be seen more than the positive ones remember this:
We serve a God who deals with the impossible:
  • Abraham and Sarah had children when they were around 100
  • Moses murdered a man and claimed to have a stutter, yet God still used him
  • David was a boy with a few rocks who took down Goliath
  • Daniel sat in the lion’s den unharmed
  • Mary, a girl who had never “known” a man, gave birth to Jesus
  • Peter had his foot in his mouth constantly and Jesus built his church with Peter
  • Paul jailed and killed followers of Christ yet is still used by God
Just because something may seem impossible to us, doesn’t mean it is impossible to God. Refuse to focus solely on what we perceive is missing and instead focus on the God who provides.
The road ahead is difficult; but we have something great within us and working through us: the presence of God through his Holy Spirit.

Loving to Life Pt 3

SMALL GROUPS

One of the things I love about moving to a new area is getting to know the people. As we learn about the people, we learn their stories, their passions, their hopes and dreams for the future. We also have opportunities to learn more about who they are as a person, what their struggles are, and what’s going on in their life.

So far, we have talked about praying for God’s direction and work in the new area. This is important because we will be able to see and experience much more “success” because we are joining God in the work being done instead of coming in and doing what we want to. Then, we have talked about meeting people where they are and allowing them to be their real, true selves.

This is all “big picture” stuff, if we think about it. I do much better when I think about the bigger picture because I struggle at the detail level often; but this is where we are heading now.

I would recommend finding ways to be in a small group in your new area. This will do a few different things. 1) You will be able to spend more intentional time with a smaller amount of people and give them a chance to learn about you. 2) You will be able to focus more on relationship building. 3) Trust is developed more in smaller groups than always being on stage, or in larger venues.

In a church setting, we often talk about small groups as Bible study groups. These are all well and good; but I would challenge us to think about small groups a little differently. Instead of finding ways to impart “wisdom and knowledge” creating atmospheres where people can share, free of judgement, and build each other up is a key.

What are some ways we can do this? I’ll be talking about what we can do in a church setting; but feel free to modify these approaches for your own setting.

  • Bible Study groups are a way for people to get together and knowingly talk about the Bible, theology, and doctrine. These provide settings for people to tell what they have studied and believe about scripture.
  • Lunch after worship is a great way to connect and be with people in a public setting and enjoy a meal together.
  • Prayer groups.
  • Meet together at restaurants, bars, to share life together.
  • Groups for accountability.

There are many different ways we can connect together in small groups. This is vital because it is much easier to get to know a person in a smaller group setting.

I also want to be quick to note that using small groups to get to know people should not really be why we are doing them. We should be involved in small groups because we are genuinely interested in other people and their lives; because they would be interested in our life.

As we continue to learn about the area, pray for direction, meet people, and really begin to share our lives together, God will be working. It will be incredible to see what God will continue to do to help the church, organization, business, neighborhood, etc.

For a great book resource on starting small groups within a church that promote life transformation through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, check out Kevin Watson’s book The Class Meeting: Reclaiming a Forgotten (and Essential) Small Group Experience.

Salvation From 30,000 Feet

Recently I was flying back home from a trip. When I fly, I like to sit by the window so I can see what is going on. (Also, I sit by the window because I am more relaxed in that seat.) Looking out the window, you can see beautiful clouds and designs in the earth below. People look like ants. Buildings look like children’s toys you can move around.

Whenever I see pretty sights outside the window, I’ll take a picture. I was flying back at night when I was also reading NT Wright’s book, “Surprised by Hope”, when I looked out the window and saw the dark earth illuminated by many tiny lights. Then, I had this thought about salvation, “salvation is so much more than we realize it is”.

I would ask people, what are they “saved” from and they would say, “sin”. This is true. Then I began talking more with the people and I finally realized, through Jesus Christ, I am saved from myself. Meaning it is the sinful desire within me to do wrong and Jesus redeems this and works within me.

After we talk, I’ll then ask people, “So, what are we saved for?” In the past few years, I have come to realize that salvation is not simply for the individual. It is not simply whether or not we will go to heaven after we die. Salvation is living in the presence of God.

The reality of being with God after this life is incredible. We can easily get swept up in the notion of “going to heaven” that we forget the line in the Lord’s Prayer “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Take some time to think about this. What if we shifted our focus on salvation being some “place” we go to after we die? What if we stopped thinking about “going to heaven” and getting away from this life? What if heaven is not a place in the sky?
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Now, how would our lives look differently if we pictured salvation as this:
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How does this paint a picture of salvation? It is what Jesus did. Jesus came into the dark world and shined his light which changed people’s lives. See, salvation is not only for the individual. That is a very small glimpse of the work God is doing. Salvation, redemption, transformation is for the entire world.

When we begin to follow Jesus Christ and our lives are being transformed into his image, his likeness, the light he gives us begins to reflect.

When I looked out the window and saw the earth with the lights, I thought, this is what we are supposed to do: shine with others so the world can see the Light. As we live out our faith in community, we see more people added and more lights shining.

See, the point of salvation is not going to heaven after we die. The point of salvation is bringing heaven to earth. We do not have to wait to live in the presence of God, we can do that here and now. Everything good we experience here and now is a small picture of what it will be like when the earth is completely transformed and evil/sin is expelled for good.

Living in the Light of Christ, here and now, gives us the opportunity to live in true joy, true peace, true, hope, true love. We know this life is available because this is what Jesus Christ offered the world in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. The presence of God working within us, through the Holy Spirit, guides to be the people we were created to be and show the world Christ.

So let your light shine. Be a beacon of light in a dark world. Allow the light and love of Jesus Christ to live in and reflect through you. Watch. We will see more and more of heaven here on earth.

Fully Devoted

Click here to read Acts 18.

There are times we can wonder if what we are doing is really making a difference. We can work so hard but still not see the results we desired to see. Or it can be another way, we can see incredible results but not see them continue.

People are funny in many ways. We like to see things change and improve; but when we see another person having “good fortune” we tend to leave them alone and let them work OR we can criticize them for the work they have done. It’s like we [think we] want the change to occur, but then do not follow up on helping to be part of it.

The people in today’s passage most likely did not want any change to happen in their community, in their city. Paul went anyway because the message of Jesus Christ needs to be proclaimed. He was “fully devoted” to his mission and would go wherever he needed to go and do whatever he needed to do. Like we said last time, Paul would be who he needed to be in order to save some.

Something was different about Paul this time. It appears he couldn’t let the slander and the criticism go. He got angry. For an apostle who goes around proclaiming grace, he lost his temper this time. Paul is human and can only take so much. He tells the people he is innocent (he is not the person they are spreading rumors about), he has done what God has led him to do. It is the people who have to answer for their actions, for their lies and slander about Paul and the ministry he was doing.

One of the reasons I love reading the Bible is how the passages, the stories written thousands of years ago, still reflect the state of humanity. If we read carefully, we can see how our world, and human thoughts and actions, are really not different from Paul’s day and time. It is when we begin to think we are better than the people back then, or we try to please everyone just so conflict does not develop, that we come to a place of molding ourselves to the world instead of to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

No matter where Paul went, the Holy Spirit was with him. We can see today the Lord speaking to Paul telling him not to be afraid and to speak boldly the message he carries. This is still true for us today.

The Holy Spirit is with you. The challenge is to be the person to stand up against the status quo and to proclaim God’s grace through Jesus Christ. Speak boldly, and confidently, about your faith. Fully devote your life to helping the people around you, wherever you are, to hear the good news about Jesus Christ. It’s not just what Jesus saves us from, it’s what he save us for. Jesus Christ saves us to be transformed, to be so full of his love and grace toward all people that we can’t help sharing his message of salvation and redemption.

There are people along the way to partner with you in this task. God is with you as you and I go out into the world proclaiming Jesus Christ. We get to be part of God’s plan for redemption and restoration in the world. How cool is that?

Are you up to the challenge?

Between Two Friends

Click here to read Acts 15:36-41.

Just when everything seemed to be going well, or at least moving in the right direction, another conflict arises. This time it does not come the outside world; but inside the Christian faith. The argument is between Paul and Barnabas about whether or not John Mark should continue to go with them.

This may not seem like that big of a deal, on the surface. Paul was really hurt when John Mark left (deserted) them in Pamphylia. Why did he leave? Acts 13:13 says, “Paul and his companions sailed from Paphos to Perga in Pamphylia. John deserted them there and returned to Jerusalem.” We know where he went; but why did he leave? It doesn’t say. Maybe he got scared after “Bar-Jesus’ eyes were darkened and he began to grope about for someone to lead him around by the hand.” (Acts 13:11) John Mark would have been there when “Empowered by the Holy Spirit, Saul, also known as Paul, glared at Bar-Jesus and said, “You are a deceiver and trickster! You devil! You attack anything that is right! Will you never stop twisting the straight ways of the Lord into crooked paths? Listen! The Lord’s power is set against you. You will be blind for a while, unable even to see the daylight.” (Acts 13:9-11a) Constantly seeing acts like this and being there when Paul and Barnaba were thrown in prison and treated harshly, would make be nervous as well.

Maybe John Mark left because he needed a break. The point is Paul felt hurt by the desertion on their colleague. They wanted and needed him to be there with them; and he left. He went back home to a safe, familiar place. Paul did not want him to rejoin their group, Barnabas wanted to give John Mark another chance. Paul and Barnabas split ways.

This is how it seems to happen, even for us today. We can look at this passage and say that Paul was being too harsh and should have shown more grace. But Paul was too hurt and had a hard time believing John Mark would continue to stay with them even in the difficult times to come. But did he really have to get angry over the situation?

We should remember that anger is a secondary emotion. This means anger is manifested because we are hurt, tired, emotional, or a whole host of possibilities. When someone is angry, the best thing to do is let them calm down. Nothing productive comes to pass when both parties are angry and not listening. Staying in a state of anger can, and does, ruin relationships. So, listen to what is being said, ask questions (without making it worse), and be patient.

Maybe going different directions is what is needed at times. Maybe it is easier to part company than it is to work things out and get to the heart of the matter. But maybe we can allow our pride to get in the way and miss out on even greater things if we continue to pursue tasks out of anger.

Keep in mind, we are all human beings. We all live in this fallen state of humanity. It is when we experience the Holy Spirit living and moving in our lives that we will produce the fruit of the Spirit in us. It will not always be easy; but the time it takes to develop love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control will eventually prove to be worth it.

Yes, we will continue to respond in anger; but I hope and pray that we can all learn to get past ourselves and really listen to the other side. Maybe, just maybe, we can all learn how to better live with each other, developing more and deeper relationships instead of having more division.

NOTE: Paul does let John Mark rejoin him later on. J