A Savior Greater Than Our Divisions

They were unlikely friends.

One man had betrayed his family and culture to work for the corrupt, overbearing government they despised. His old friends now counted him among the thieves and murderers. They even refused to worship with him.

His associate was part of an anti-government movement. This occasionally militant group aspired to wage war against the government and return to the glory days when their culture and religion ruled.

These men had little in common, and they should have been enemies. But they decided to lay aside their past and their politics to work together for the common good.

This story sounds naïve and unrealistic. In today’s divisive world, everything is divided into camps of red and blue, black and white. We can’t even imagine a scenario in which two people this different could find a way to work together.

But this is no made up story. This is the true story of Matthew the tax collector and Simon the zealot, two of Jesus’ twelve disciples. Continue reading

When People Love You (or Hate You) for Your Faith

Have you ever had a good day turn bad? Elon Musk can empathize. Musk, the entrepreneur behind Tesla Motors and SpaceX, celebrated his 44th birthday on June 28. The day started off great, I’m sure. Who doesn’t like birthdays? Yet that morning one of his SpaceX rockets, destined for the International Space Station, exploded after launch. What started as a great day quickly turned sour.

Paul and Barnabas had one of those days, too. Luke tells us the story in Acts 14:8-23. Continue reading

The Gospel’s Remedy for Inequality

I’ll be honest with you: Philemon has never been my favorite book of the Bible. I knew the story: Paul encouraged Philemon to welcome back his runaway slave Onesimus. Simple enough. But the letter was brief, seemingly hard to apply, and dealt with the thorny topics.

But as I wrote a lesson for Treasuring Christ Curriculum, I was forced to wrestle with Philemon, study it, and deal with its complexities. And I was blown away. Philemon taught me how the gospel restores tattered relationships. It challenged my generosity.

Most of all, Philemon taught me that the gospel brings radical equality.

Remember: Onesimus was a slave. While first-century slavery was different than the slavery we know from American history, it was still unjust and unfair. As a result, Onesimus was considered socially and economically inferior.

But when Onesimus encountered the gospel, everything changed.

  • Onesimus had been an outcast, but Paul called him a “child” (Philemon 10).
  • Onesimus had been Philemon’s “bondservant,” but now he was a “beloved brother ” (Philemon 16).
  • Onesimus had been treated as sub-human, but now he was to be greeted like an apostle (Philemon 17)

With the gospel, the man who penned a third of the New Testament was no better than a runaway slave. The gospel brought a radical, Christ-centered equality.

At this point, most of us are nodding our heads in agreement. We think that inequality is bad and equality is good.

Yet practicing this truth is much harder than it seems.

Because we are experts at manufacturing inequality. We seek to frame our lives in such a way that we come out better than others. So we identify one of our perceived strengths — such as skin color, education, career success, theological knowledge, physical fitness, politics, or heritage — and we make it the standard by which we judge others.

We declare ourselves the kings of our own kingdoms, and we render others inferior.

It happens to all of us. Ask yourself:

  • Honors student, do you really believe you’re no better than high school dropout?
  • Wealthy executive, do you really believe you’re no better than cleaning crew that takes out your trash?
  • Political activist, do you really believe you’re no better than the party you oppose?
  • Stay-at-home mom, do you really believe you’re no better than the mother who leaves her kids with a baby-sitter while she goes to her 9-to-5?
  • Personal trainer, do you really believe you’re no better than your overweight neighbor?
  • Proud American, do you really believe you’re no better than an Iranian?
  • Pastor, do you really believe you’re no better than the untrained deacon?
  • Straight man, do you really believe you’re no better than the person who struggles with same-sex attraction?

Inequality is insidious. It creeps into our lives without our knowing.

Yet the gospel shatters inequality. The gospel tells us that we were all equally sinful before God. It reminds us that we all deserved God’s holy wrath. Yet it also points us to Jesus — who suffered and died so that we all could be forgiven.

You see, the gospel makes all our manufactured inequality seem petty. We are all the same at the cross: Black and white, blue-collar and white-collar, fat and thin, smart and dumb, even slave and apostle.

That’s why Paul could call a runaway slave his “son” and “brother.” That’s why Jesus taught us to love social outcasts like tax collectors, women, Gentiles, and the poor. And that’s why you’re no better than anyone else.

The gospel gave Onesimus dignity, spurred him to reconcile with Philemon, and it may have even encouraged Philemon to free Onesimus (Philemon 12, 17-18, 21). So the gospel changed everything for Onesimus. And it can change everything for us.

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Google Is Not Infallible, But Something Else Is

Have you ever seen Google make a mistake? I hadn’t. I just assumed that what Google says goes. So when I typed in the location of an important meeting today, I trusted that Google would steer me the right way.

It didn’t.

Where Google said there should be a church was a wooded plot of land. So I kept driving. And driving. And driving. Finally I called the person I was meeting. His instructions? Keep driving. All in all, the actual location of the church was almost eight miles away from where Google told me it was supposed to be. Google was wrong. (And, consequently, I was late.)

By Daniel Ramirez from Honolulu, USA [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsThis rocked my world. I mean, Google tells me when holidays are, how to bake five-star lemon pepper chicken, what my kid’s sickness symptoms mean, what really happened at the end of Inception, and where I can book that hotel for the least amount of money. Google is never wrong.

But this time it was. And it was a potent reminder that there is only one infallible source of truth. Continue reading

The Evidence for the Historical Jesus You Won’t Get on TV: A Review of Craig A. Evans’ ‘Fabricating Jesus’

Fabricating JesusHave you ever been channel surfing and landed on a cable documentary about the Bible? You can find loads of them out there — such as “Banned from the Bible,” “Biblical Mysteries Explained,” or “Who Was Jesus?”

The majority of these documentaries present a one-sided picture, painted almost exclusively by liberal theologians. And if you take them at face value, they can really shake your faith. I mean, were stories really “banned” from the Bible? Are there natural explanations to all of Jesus’ miracles? Did Jesus simply decide one day to adopt the title Son of God?

There is another side. And Craig A. Evans’ Fabricating Jesus explains it.  Continue reading

Want to Be Wise? Be a Fool.

I like learning.

There, I said it. I’m sure that makes me a nerd or something, but I don’t care. I honestly enjoy reading books, watching lectures, listening to NPR… you name it.

With this interest comes some spiritual baggage: I feel like I must prove Christianity to my non-Christian friends. That I must somehow make it reasonable. And, to be sure, there are plenty of brilliant scholars who excel at defending the Christian faith — William Lane Craig, Tim Keller, Alvin Plantinga, etc.

But Paul’s comments in 1 Corinthians 3:18-23 were a welcome reminder that in many ways, Christianity will always seem foolish.

But don’t take it from me: Continue reading

Daniel Akin’s ‘Engaging Exposition’: A Book Review and Summary

I have preached a handful of times. And though I have far from mastered the craft, I do know this: it is a weighty task. I fear preaching something other than what is taught in God’s Word.

Engaging ExpositionOthers are less concerned. In the concise, practical preaching primer Engaging Exposition, Daniel Akin, Bill Curtis and Stephen Rummage identify this “crisis in twenty-first-century preaching”: many ministers neglect the preaching God’s Word in favor of lesser substitutes.

In response, the authors prescribe one powerful solution: expository preaching, which they define as “Christ centered, text driven, Spirit led preaching that transforms lives.”

To equip you to preach expositionally, the authors dive into the three steps of the expository preaching process: Continue reading

Sermon | Living For God — The Why, What, and How (Romans 12:1-2)

A sermon on Romans 12:1-2 delivered at Vesta Baptist Church in Carlton, GA on Apr. 27, 2014

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”