Group Christianity

Some of God’s instructions require obedience by individuals.  “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” is directed to individuals.  “Honor your father and your mother” needs to be fulfilled by individuals.  Being part of a group that obeys these instructions falls short of the intent.

“[L]et us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together ….” requires a group.  I cannot experience by myself all that God wants me to experience.

Worship should occur in individual hearts and in groups.  “I will sing of the mercies of the LORD” (Psalm 89:1) and “O come, let us sing to the LORD.” (Psalm 95:1)

“Sing to the LORD with the harp…with trumpets and the sound of a horn ….” (Psalm 98:5-6) I don’t think God intends that every Christian learn to play a harp and a trumpet.  But I think our church culture should produce someone who plays a harp and someone who can play a trumpet.  Our current church culture is producing numerous skilled athletes but few who can play a harp or trumpet.  Hmmm.

“Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet …the lute … stringed instruments and flutes …with loud cymbals ….” (Psalm 150: 3-5).  A few decades ago it was rare for a small church not to have one or two people who could play the piano.  Today, rare is a church without a drummer.

Perhaps the emergence of electronic reproduction acceptably reduces the call for in-house trumpeters and harpists.  Any congregation with a sound system can sing along with a band.

Come to think of it, we can download the finest Bible expositors and experienced counselors, and fellowship via Skype and Facebook.  We’re good to go!  Eventually we can be fed through a tube, breathe with a ventilator, and replace pondering with computer intelligence.



Scripture taken from the New King James Version.  Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.


Mad Laughter

The Preacher who wrote Ecclesiastes had experienced the shortfall of mere earthly satisfactions.  Having been disappointed by life “under the sun,” he became a cynic who exaggerated the emptiness of good things.  He said, “There is no remembrance of former things ….”  (Ecclesiastes 1:11)   That is an exaggeration; people read history books.  But his bitter words reflect a truth.  Humans fail to adequately learn from history.  They repeat the sins and foibles of the past.

I am suggesting that many of the Preacher’s statements are hyperbole. Hyperbole can be a useful means of communication.

Ecclesiastes 2:2 “I said of laughter, ‘It is madness’ and mirth, ‘What does it accomplish?’”  The intended answer is “None;” an exaggeration.  What is the reality made conspicuous by the hyperbole?

Laughter and pleasure can be compared to salt.  Salt enhances the taste of many foods, but salt alone is not delicious.  Laughter and pleasure enrich much of life, but when pursued exclusively they lack flavor.

In Defense of Cookies and Cheap Food

I began writing this article as a “tongue-in-cheek” amusement.  Some of that may show through, but my goal became serious.  I am seeking a truthful balance.

My dad was leaving a promising banking career to pursue “full-time Christian work.” The bank manager sought to offer fatherly, respectful advice.  “You realize what you’re doing is economically foolish.”  His emphasis on “economically” was the respectful part. One result of my parents’ decision was a family lifestyle noticeably less affluent than it would have been if my dad had remained in the bank.

My dad never regretted his career decision.  But I remember him expressing weariness with being financially “strapped.”  Given their limitations, I’m impressed by some of the things to which my parents gave priority:  a used piano, a new cornet, a vacation from the Midwest to visit relatives and the Seattle World’s Fair, a trip to Washington, D.C., and an expensive encyclopedia set.  The point to this family history is that …

To choose a limited, below average income and low financial rank is morally acceptable.

Also true is that it is right to live within your income.  The combination of (1) below average income and (2) living within that income   means one will do without some good things. Thus it may be morally preferable to drink tap water, eat noodles containing preservatives, buy meat from cows shot with growth hormone, and sleep on something less than the finest mattress.  My house security system may not be the ultimate, and my fire extinguisher may not be top of the line.  My car may be more vulnerable in a crash than more expensive models.

Physicians constantly offer cost/risk analyses.  The drug that heals me may cause unwelcome side-effects.  Someone may properly decide that the risk exposure created by less expensive food is morally preferable to the risk of not fulfilling other cost laden responsibilities.

Should we ignore all quality assessments?  No.  May quality products once properly passed over become the better choice?  Yes.  May the well-balanced cost/risk decision best for one be different for others?  Yes.

Now about cookies.  This reasoning may encounter more cynicism, but I’ll proceed.  I Corinthians 6:19 remains a bottom line.  My body is the temple of the Holy Spirit; therefore I am responsible to treat it well.

Proverbs 17:22 affirms that “A merry heart does good, like medicine ….”  For me, cookies promote merriment … health-enriching merriment.  I estimate that when consumed in moderate doses, cookies do me more good than harm.  Of course, I must estimate my body’s tolerance for sugar and accept responsibility for controlling my appetites.

Appetites are gifts from God; they require restraint.  Feeding our bodies could have been a mundane mechanical process, but God made it a pleasurable process.  Pleasure is good, but the appetite for pleasure must be restrained.  People have a good appetite for achievement.  Failure to restrain that appetite produces a workaholic.  Lasciviousness is a failure to restrain an appetite.

God could have issued laws such as “Forty-five hours of work per week is good.  More is bad.”  “Twenty grams of honey per week is good.  More is bad.”  But He gave us greater freedom that brings more responsibility.  “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required….”  (Luke 12: 48).

Some people may grant my reasoning in regards to honey, but reject it in regards to white sugar.  They contend that white sugar is like heroin – destructive beyond the bounds of proper use.  That may be.  I’ve decided it’s more like meat from cows injected with antibiotics, which I deem proper in moderation.

Let it be emphasized: restraints are needed.  And healthy restraints can co-exist with the spirit of I Timothy 4: 3-4, which describes a danger in “commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving ….”  Is white flour among the foods “which God created?”  Is expensive, poverty- inducing health food part of the food “which God created?”  Perhaps both are inferior to the original and as acceptable as typically polluted air.  The air in some cities is polluted to a level that tends to cause health problems.  I don’t believe every Christian has a moral responsibility to leave such a city.

I hope those persuaded otherwise will accept me (Romans 14:3-5).  I don’t require their permission, but I value their like-mindedness, even in defense of cookies and grocery store food.  I am more inclined toward some do’s and don’ts than many with whom I worship.  I’m probably more leery of “worldly influence” than some.  On the subjects herein I’m more permissive than some.


No Excuses

Some good proverbs point in opposite directions.  Consider “haste makes waste” versus “the early birds gets the worm.”  These proverbs require and deserve integration.

Anything worth doing is worth doing well.

Do as you can until you can do as you would.

We tend to like doing things we can do well and avoid doing things we cannot do well.  That’s reasonable as long as we integrate the truth that

There are things we should do, even though we cannot do them well.

 A man with COPD should breathe.  A woman with arthritis should walk.  Someone partially blind should watch.  A person with meager study skills should study Scripture.  Even if my evangelistic efforts are clumsy, I should evangelize.   An introvert with a small house should be hospitable.

God told Moses to deliver a message to Pharaoh.  Moses protested “I am not eloquent …. I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.”  (Exodus 4:10).  God replied, “Who has made man’s mouth?  Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind?  Have not I, the LORD?  Now therefore, go ….”

Still, Moses suggested an alternative.  “Oh my Lord, please send by the hand of whomever ….  So the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses….”

Our inadequacy may fit God’s plan.  “God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty …. that no flesh should glory in His presence.”  (I Corinthians 1: 27-29).

Scripture taken from the New King James Version.  Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

God Gives Children, With Instructions

“[B]ring them up in the training1 and admonition of the Lord.” Eph. 6:4  The verse is addressed to fathers.  The mother’s first responsibility is to help her husband.  She is especially able to help bring up children in the training and admonition of the Lord.

Imagine Adam and Eve newly created.  Adam has been told to “tend and keep” the garden.  Eve is supposed to be Adam’s “helper.”  Help him how?  In many ways, but perhaps the first, most obvious way is to help tend and keep the garden.  They work together.  However, they discover that he can move boulders better than she can.  And her nimble fingers are the better for picking blackberries.  Hence the beginning of “man’s work” and “woman’s work.”  No sinister chauvinism – just efficiency.

Then a child is born.  Someone needs to spend less time in the garden in order to spend lots of time caring for the baby.  Well, she can breast feed and he can’t.  In between feedings and other baby care there is plenty of other “house” work.  So it happens that she spends more time tending and keeping the children than he does; that becomes the most time-consuming way she helps her husband.

But he remains the head of the marriage.  The instruction to bring the children up in the training and admonition of the Lord comes to him.  For him to become the assistant child-trainer is errant.

“How can I fulfill that leadership responsibility? “ Partly by adopting God’s instruction to recipients of the OT law. “You shall teach them [God’s words] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” Deut. 6: 6-7.

It was my dad who taught me how to become a Christian, how to throw a football, how to handle a rifle, how to saw a board, how to drive a car, how to reduce danger while walking the streets of Chicago, how to handle money, how to get odd jobs, and he was my primary Bible teacher.

I recall a Saturday (This was typical.) when he was preparing to drive to the hardware store.

“Scottie, come with me.”


“Because I want you with me.”

Significant instruction took place when he and I were in the car. Once he launched into a story.  I already knew the story; I knew the moral of the story.  I didn’t interrupt, but I wondered if he was repeating this because he had forgotten or because he assumed I had.

Children are to be trained.  I think that implies instruction, modeling, and supervised practice … followed by more instruction, more modeling, and more supervised practice.  A word of caution is appropriate.  Do not exasperate your child by becoming irritated by the amount of instruction, modeling, and supervised practice required.  “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”  Col. 3:21 The time required for adequate training may be more than you scheduled.  Change your schedule.

Sometimes a father needs to relabel a goal.  Perhaps your goal is to paint the fence before noon.  If you work by yourself the goal can be met.  If you change the goal to “paint the fence and teach my son to paint a fence” you are less likely to become irritated by the additional time required.

“Bring  them up in … admonition ….” (Ephesians 6:4).  “Admonition” means putting in mind.

For a child to close the door when he enters or departs is not difficult.  Most likely he has no objection to closing the door.  The problem is remembering.  The task is not in his mind.  The parent’s job is to put it in his mind.  Timely words may be sufficient; the parent hollers to the hurrying child: “Remember to close the door.”  Or timely words may not be sufficient.

Admonitions continue for years. “Remember to put your toys away.” “What do you say when someone gives you a gift?”  “Did you brush your teeth?”  “Finish your homework first.”  “Lock the car door whenever you leave it.”  Non-Christian parents admonish.  Our admonitions should reflect the Lord’s values.  Those admonitions include “Brush your teeth.”  They should also include things like “Do all things without murmuring and disputing,”  “Children, obey your parents,” Work on memorizing the Scripture verse,” and “visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”

Child-rearing by Christians should be consistent with Bible doctrine. Our children are natural born sinners.  They are not innocent even though they are cute and affectionate.  Positive reinforcement alone will not be adequate.  Because they are sinners correction will be a prominent part of their life.  To neglect adequate correction is neglecting a need.  “The rod and reproof wisdom give wisdom.  But a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.” Prov.29:15  A young child should not be “left” to his own choices, preferences, and inclinations.

Reality is that “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child.”  Prov. 22:15  Left to his own choices, preferences, and inclinations, he will make foolish choices.  The Bible prescribes a remedy.  “But the rod of correction will drive [foolishness] far from him.”  No other means of correction has such authoritative recommendation.2

Proverbs 23:13  “Do not withhold correction from a child, for if you beat him with a rod, he will not die.  You shall beat him with a rod, and deliver his soul from hell.”  Failure to use a rod puts a child at great risk.

Does spanking your child cause you grief?  It should.  “Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but grievous; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.”

“…fathers … bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.”


1 According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary the Greek word here translated  “training”  ”primarily denotes to train children.”  Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, W.E. Vine,         MacDonald Publishing Company , Mc Lean, VA.

2Scott Long, Liam Gets a Spanking, Why and How,


Scripture taken from the New King James Version.  Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.  All rights reserved.


When Does the Rapture Occur?

Old Testament references to a Day of the Lord clearly indicate that a Day of the Lord is a day of God’s wrath.  There have been Days of the Lord aimed at Egypt, Babylon, and Israel.  There remains a climatic Day of the Lord against all nations.  The mere statement that Church saints are not appointed to wrath (I Thess. 5:19) suggests that either (1) the Church is removed prior to the Day of the Lord, (2) or they are protected during that Day.

Acts 2: 9-20 reveals that an unprecedented stellar disturbance will occur “before” the “great and notable day of the Lord.”

I Thess. 4:15-17 describes the rapture without indicating when it occurs; however, 5:1 does concern “the times and the seasons” of the rapture.  Verse 2 equates or associates the rapture with the Day of the Lord.  The Thessalonians already know about the “times and seasons” of the rapture/Day of the Lord.

Because unbelievers are “in darkness,” the Day of the Lord will surprise them like a thief in the night.  The Day should not so catch believers.  The instruction to watch (vs 6) indicates that believers will see that day. Perhaps the breastplate and helmet (vs 8) will protect them from the battle. Somehow they will be protected as the 144,000 will be.

In II Thess. 2:7 NT believers are promised “rest.”  When?  “[W]hen the Lord Jesus is revealed …in flaming fire taking vengeance ….”  That seems like the Day of the Lord.

II Thess. 2:1 is a clear description of the rapture (“the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him”).  The most obvious assumption is that “His coming” in verse 1 is the same as “His coming” in verse 8.  That “coming” is when He consumes the “lawless one,”  i.e. at the Day of the Lord.  There is no reference in the NT to two stages in the second coming of Jesus.

Suppose it is late 1944.  Throughout Germany the news is proclaimed:  “The Allies are coming, the Allies are coming.”  Is that good news or bad?  It depends on which side one is on.  Likewise, “The Day of the Lord is soon” is good news to the saints and bad news for the wicked.

Suppose your family is eager for guests to arrive.  Perhaps grandparents who live far away are coming or perhaps a friend you have not seen in thirty years.  As the predicted arrival time nears, you watch out the window.  Then a car pulls into your driveway.  Where do the hugs take place?  At the door or on the driveway?  Probably you run out to the driveway to greet them, then escort them into the house.  This may picture                    I Thessalonians 4: 14-17.

Verse 14  God will bring believers up from the grave, even as He did Jesus.  Thus, (verses 14-17) both believers “who are alive” and “those who are asleep” will meet Jesus, in the air, and escort Him to the earth.  The Day of the Lord arrives when the Lord arrives.  Will we participate in the war of wrath or will we be front row spectators as Jesus suddenly destroys His enemies and establishes His kingdom?  Of this I am confident:  we will be wherever Jesus is (4:17, John 14:3).   The analogy of Malachi 4:1-3 may suggest that we will join the battle.


Scripture taken from the New King James Version.   Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.   Used by permission.  All rights reserved.


Dispensationalism – Mosaic Law

I prefer to think of dispensationalism as the recognition that God has dispensed His governing authority differently during different stages of history.

From Adam to Noah

From Noah to the Mosaic law.

New Testament Church

The Earthly Kingdom Promised to Israel

The New Heavens and New Earth


Capital punishment was not authorized until Genesis 9:6 (This may be the reason Cain was not immediately put to death.)  The eating of meat was not authorized until then.  (Genesis1:29-30, 9:3).  So most “dispensationalists” consider the time after Noah a new dispensation.

There were requirements newly dispensed in the Law of Moses.  An example is the introduction of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering, and the requirement that all male Israelites come “before the Lord” three times a year.  (Exodus 23: 14-17, 34:223-24).  So “dispensationalists” refer to the dispensation of the Law of Moses.

After the resurrection of Christ the three feasts are not required (Colossians 2:16).  Their significance was associated with agriculture in the Promised Land.  After the death and resurrection of Christ the Mosaic laws regarding sacrifices were obsolete (Hebrews 8:13).  So “dispensationalists” refer to a new dispensation.

There are other beliefs not required by my simple explanation that are associated with the label “dispensationalism.”  These include the expectation that the Old Testament promises to Israel will be fulfilled literally.  There will be a physical, utopian kingdom.  These promises are not satisfied figuratively within the church.  This kingdom is not the same as the eternal new heaven and new earth.


Should New Testament Believers Obey Old Testament Rules?

The following verses indicate a New Testament believer’s freedom from the Mosaic Law.

John 4:21 “… the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father.” Was worship a focus of the feasts? If so, perhaps John 4:21 replaces Deuteronomy 16:16, which stipulates that “Three times a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God in the place which He chooses ….” (He chose Jerusalem).

John 5:16-18  Some Jews persecuted Jesus because He healed a man on a Sabbath.  I would have expected Jesus to deny that a healing amounted to work; instead He grants the accusation and says “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.”  Thus we can know that working on a Sabbath is not contrary to the character of God.

Acts 15:5   The apostles and Jerusalem elders were consulted regarding a dispute.  In regard to converted Gentiles, some Pharisees said, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and command them to keep the law of Moses.”  After much dispute had occurred, Peter asked, “… why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?”  The Jerusalem leaders wrote to the Gentile brethren:  “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality ….”  Neither circumcision nor most of the Mosaic law were deemed “necessary.”

Romans 6:14   ” … you are not under law ….”

Romans 7:4-6   A believer’s devotion to the law is replaced by devotion to the Holy Spirit.  “… you also have become dead to the law ….”  “Also” refers to a widow now freed from obligation to her dead husband.  The New Testament believer has “become dead to the law” and thus may be “married to another.”  “But now we have been delivered from the law … so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit ….”

OT believers were not “dead to the law” (vs 4); they had not “been delivered from the law (vs 6).

The Mosaic law, in Leviticus 12:3, decreed …”the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.”

I Corinthians 7: 18-19 changes the decree:  “Was anyone called while uncircumcised?  Let him not be circumcised.  Circumcision is nothing ….”

II Corinthians 3: 6  [ God ] “made us … ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”  A believer’s devotion to the law is replaced by devotion to the Holy Spirit.

Galatians 3:19  The law “was added …till the Seed should come ….”  The seed has come.

Galatians 3:24-25 “… the law was our tutor … we are no longer under a tutor.”

Galatians 5:3   “I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law.”  Paul has been urging people not to accept circumcision as a spiritual obligation.  Doing so has an inappropriate consequence – being “a debtor to keep the whole law.”

Galatians 5:18   “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”  A believer’s devotion to the law is replaced by devotion to the Holy Spirit.

Ephesians 2:15  “… having abolished  … the law of commandments ….”

I Timothy 1:9  “the law is not made for a righteous person  … for  the ungodly and for sinners, for  the unholy and profane, for murderers ….”

Hebrews 7:12  “For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law.”

Hebrews 8:13  “Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.”

Hebrews 10:9  “He takes away the first that He may establish the second.”

Pondering an objection:  Matthew 5:17-19  “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets.  I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.  …till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.”  In light of the verses on pages 1 and 2 above I assume that “all is fulfilled.”

Never were people declared righteous before God by satisfying the requirements of a law.  People have always been justified by grace through faith.  However, from the time of Moses until the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the people of Israel were obligated to live by the specific instructions given in the law of Moses.  Under the “dispensation” of the church, the people of God are no longer obliged to obey that law.

At all times and situations what God has sought from people can be summarized as “positive response”  –  submissive, trusting, and  respectful response.  The details of such response vary with the situation and time period.  For OT Israelites, positive response included attempting to fulfill the requirements of the Mosaic law.

Some aspects of the Mosaic law are now irrelevant or obsolete.  Sacrificing lambs is obsolete because Jesus has been sacrificed.  Circumcision as a religious requirement is obsolete because it was the sign of a covenant to which we are not a party.  However, we are to “pursue righteousness” (I Timothy 6:11). God expects us to “catch on” to His values and priorities partly from a consideration of the Mosaic law.  For example, we are no longer required to build a railing for our roof; however, that OT requirement teaches us that it is righteous to provide for safety.

A father makes a law for his young children: You may not enter the street alone.  They are given little or no room to vary from the strict requirement of that law.  Even if a ball needs to be retrieved from the street, they were not to enter the street alone.  As teenagers, they are not under that law.  They are permitted to enter the street alone.  Indeed, in some situations it would be wrong for them not to enter the street alone.  However, the father expects them to continue respecting the underlying principle of that law, namely that there are dangers attached to walking in the street.  Now they have greater freedom and greater responsibility regarding the street.  Like most illustrations, mine is limited in applicability.  For example, it seems that Old Testament saints did have some responsibility to discern the “spirit” of the law.  But I believe the thrust of the illustration is correct.  New Testament Christians are not under the Mosaic law.  The indwelling Holy Spirit gives us a capacity to fulfill the intent of the Old Testament law while living a freer and more responsible life to the glory of God.

There are details and principles of righteousness which are standard for men of all time periods.1 They abide.  Sometimes the clearest statement of such a standard is found in the Old Testament.  We ought to search the Old Testament as part of our hungering and thirsting for righteousness. We can expect the Old Testament to help us “approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law….” (Romans 2:18).  At the same time, there are details of requirement in the Old Testament from which we have died (Romans 7:4).

“Sin is lawlessness.” I John 3:4  We are to have a “law abiding” mentality in the sense that we want to do what is best  even though we have some latitude.

1Wayne G. Strickland uses the title “torah” for those abiding moral standards that Abraham obeyed (Genesis 26:5). They underlie the Mosaic Law, the teaching of Jesus (including “the law of Christ” (John 13:34, Galatians 6:2), and the law to be written on the hearts of New Covenant participants.  (Five Views on Law and Gospel, Stanley N.Gundry, ed., p. 215).

Some have thought that God’s unchanging character requires that His laws never change.  But God’s requirements for mankind have changed.  Apparently, prior to the Flood men were not permitted to eat meat; after the Flood they were (Gen.1:29, Gen.9:3).  Genesis 9:3 does not mention any forbidden meats; the Mosaic Law does. The Mosaic Law made wide provision for divorce (Deut. 24:1), Jesus Christ did not (Matt. 5:31-32).  Leviticus 17:3-4 required that every slain ox, lamb, or goat be brought to the tabernacle.  Deuteronomy 12: 15, 20-22 revised the rule, due to different circumstances.  Matthew 5:33-34 records Jesus upgrading the law (Lev.19:12) regarding oaths.

Rather than saying that every law reflects the character of God, it seems better to say that every law reflects the unfailing wisdom of God in regard to man’s well-being.  And the best choice for a man’s well-being does change.  It changes with history; it changes according to one’s access to God.

When faced with the cry “That’s not fair!” my dad firmly rejected any intention of treating all his children alike, because we were not all alike.  We might be sent to bed at different times and we might begin driving at a different age.  I suppose the Israelites of Moses’ day, because of the hardness of their hearts, were better off with a more liberal rule on divorce.  And God, in His wisdom, exercised a different tolerance.  His character never changed.

A long time ago God created angels.  At another time He created people.  God did not change His mind about angels, but He wanted a new kind of creature.  Beginning with Abraham, God created something new:  a special nation, Israel.  God gave Israel promises and laws never before given.  That does not mean God erred in His prior creations.  But He wanted something new.  After the resurrection of Jesus Christ God created a new group – a new body of people, the Church.  God gave this new body new resources, new freedoms, and new responsibilities.   Chief among the new resources is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Some of God’s intentions for the Church are the same as for Israel.   Some are different.  The Mosaic Law applied to Israel in ways that it does not apply to the Church.  Requirements for Israel were appropriate to Israel; now requirements for the Church are appropriate to it.  Members of the Church should learn from God’s interaction with Israel.  But there are characteristics unique to each.

Consider this analogy.  Larry and Gwen created a family.  There were rules that applied to the children in that family.  Scott (son of Larry and Gwen) and Jan created a new family. Some of the rules and procedures in the Scott/Jan family are the same as in the Larry/Gwen family.  Some differ.  If Scott and Jan are wise, they will learn from the Larry/Gwen family and adopt some of the same rules and procedures.  But it is expected that some rules and procedures in the Scott/Jan family will differ from the Larry/Gwen family. The resources, obstacles, circumstances, and personalities differ.  Thus it is reasonable that some rules and procedures will differ.

The Mosaic law is designed to educate all believers (I Corinthians 10:11).  But it is a set of requirements, prohibitions, and penalties addressed to the nation of Israel.  The introduction to the Ten Commandments addresses Israel.  “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt ….”  Portions of the Mosaic Law reflect abiding morals that exist apart from the Mosaic Law.  That abiding law is recognized by the conscience.

While New Testament believers share some aspects of Israel’s heritage, they are not citizens of Israel.  For a citizen of Israel circumcision was fundamental.  In Christ Jesus, circumcision avails nothing (Galatians 6: 15).  (The phrase “Israel of God” in Galatians 6.16 may refer to those national Israelites who are born again).

Can Christians benefit from observing selected Old Testament laws?  I’m strongly convinced we can.  For example, I conclude that physical circumcision is a healthy practice.  The dietary laws warrant a pause.  We do well to think twice about whom we will charge interest on a loan.

Will a New Testament lifestyle result in significant, discernable differences between the Christian and the worldling?  Yes; I have listed a few.  (1)  Avoiding uncleanness will separate us from much of the popular media offerings.  Romans 1:24, II Corinthians 12:21, Ephesians 5:3.  (2)  A lifestyle geared to sharing with those in need will distinguish us from peers.  Luke 3:ll.  (3) A zeal for evangelism will color our reputation. Matthew 28: 19.  (4) A commitment to local church “community” practices will be noticed by our neighbors.  John 13:35.

Jesus made it clear that a Torah law may be superseded by need in a situation.  Examples of this include David and his men eating the tabernacle bread (Matt. 12:3-4), by priests performing their work on the Sabbath (Matt. 12: 5), by rescuing a sheep on the Sabbath (Matt. 12: 12:11), by Jesus healing someone on the Sabbath (Matt. 12: 10,13), and by God the Father working on the Sabbath (John 5:16-17).   (I doubt that a law which stems from the character of God could ever be superseded).

It can be consistent with Torah principle to conclude that current circumstances warrant by-passing a Mosaic requirement.  This is illustrated by exceeding the speed limit during a rush to the hospital emergency room.  Someone might conclude that modern conditions warrant neglecting three annual trips to Jerusalem.  One might conclude that current conditions warrant wearing clothes made from mixed fabric.

The supposition that every Mosaic law had good rationale (moral, religious, health, etc.) motivates one to contemplate each law.  The fact that I am not “under law,” allows me freedom and a lack of pressure as I contemplate a law.

“For out of Zion (the location of God’s earthly headquarters) shall go forth the law ….”  Here, as often in the Old Testament, the “law” is grand and attractive.

How can we reconcile such references to law with New Testament descriptors like “weak,” “oldness,” “not of faith” and “obsolete?” (Romans 8:3, Romans 7:6, Galatians 3:12, Hebrews 8:13).

It is common for a word to have multiple definitions. “I love my wife” uses a different (though over-lapping) definition of love than “I love ice cream.”  To say “a realtor sells homes” uses “home” differently than “my wife is a homemaker.”  A “cool” T-shirt is different than a “cool” reception.  Scripture uses different definitions for a single word.  “For God so loved the world” uses “world” differently than “love not the world.”  Jesus spoke of an existing kingdom along with a future kingdom.  Thus it is not strange for “law” to have more than one referent.

My conclusion is that the Mosaic Law was a temporary derivative (adaptation) of abiding law, issued to one nation, and especially useful for a season.

I conclude that the law grand and attractive, hailed by the psalmists, ordering a new kingdom ( Isaiah 2:3) is referred to in Ephesians 1:5 as  the “good pleasure  of His will.”


Scripture taken from the New King James Version.  Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.  All rights reserved.



Why Christmas?

Post offices and banks are closed on Memorial Day.  On Easter many children hunt for candy eggs.  The 4th of July is a time for fireworks.  Thanksgiving is a good day for eating turkey with relatives.  These are true statements, but none of them explain the original reason for the holiday.  The historic reason for Christmas is to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

By noticing trees and flowers, the sun, moon, stars, mountains, and amazing facts about our human body we can figure out that there is a God who is super powerful and intelligent.  Our conscience reflects a universal law-giver.  God sent messengers (prophets and apostles) who spoke truth recorded in the Bible.  However, there is a more dramatic communication from God to man.  God, the Son, became a human.   The historic reason for Christmas is to celebrate the human birth of Jesus.  Jesus has always existed, but He hasn’t always had a human body.  With God as His father and Mary as His mother, the eternal Son of God became a human baby.  He lived as we live.  He walked and taught, He wept, He became thirsty and ate meals.  He became like us.

There is a major difference between Jesus and us.  He has never lied, stolen, or had an evil desire.

We have done such things; we are guilty.  We need someone to save us from the consequences of our wrong-doing.  Jesus died as payment for our wrong-doing.  Think about this  –  if He had not become human, He could not have died.   But He did, and He conquered death.

Christians celebrate the all-time most important gift.  “For God so loved the world that He gave ….”

God gave.  Have you received?  “But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become sons of God.”  John 1:12


Proactive Cultural Influence

The following is one chapter from my book Lifestyle Decisions: Touchy Subjects, Gently Touched. By clicking on the video below, you may listen as my son, Nathan, reads the chapter aloud.

Was there a time in your youth when your frequent response to parental instruction was “Why?”

My dad was tolerant of that question if it reflected a genuine search for insight and intolerant if it mainly expressed  resistance.  I suppose God’s attitude is the same.  Jesus said not to cast our pearls before swine.  Pigs can’t appreciate pearls.  They just trample them in the dirt.  A resistant person may trample truth in the dirt.

Sometimes the parental response to “why” is “You wouldn’t understand” or “You’ll understand when you’re older.”  Those answers annoyed me.  They didn’t fit with my self-image.  Of course, such an answer was probably correct.

A major issue stemming from these observations is whether we will comply with Biblical instruction which we don’t understand or appreciate.  Perhaps we wouldn’t understand further explanation.  Will our obedience be limited by our understanding?

I suppose God tolerates our “why” so long as our obedience is not contingent on our understanding.  I believe that in some cases knowing the reason why is helpful.

I Corinthians 11: 1-16 contains instruction that our culture deems irrelevant to modern America.  The verses prescribe a head covering for a woman who prays or prophesies.  I think that means doing so in public.

The common response to that instruction is that it was only for a culture in which the lack of head covering identified an immoral woman.  But the apostle doesn’t give that as a reason.  Instead he supports his instruction with comments about angels and nature.  Angels and nature haven’t changed.  If I Corinthians 11: 17-34 (directions for the Lord’s supper) is not culturally conditioned, why should we think verses 1-16 are?

Recent trends suggest a reason for I Corinthians 11: 1-16.   Our culture is rapidly adopting the belief that men and women are interchangeable.  Many conclude (and impose the conclusion)  that marriage can unite any combination of sexes.  If one is dissatisfied with his sex, have an operation; to segregate restrooms is unconstitutional; fostering “stereotyped” role models is oppressive; and so it goes.

Could it be that Christians have unwittingly cooperated with the trend?  It seems to me that God prescribed an emblem of sexual distinction.  Isn’t it true that values are caught more than taught?  People generally believe that whatever is common is the way it is supposed to be.

I think God intends that we subtlety teach our children that sexual distinctions are valuable and wholesome.  I wish it were easier for our young people to associate what they see in church with what they read in Scripture.

I can understand that a Christian woman would not want to draw attention to herself by being the only woman in the room wearing a head covering.  That’s my reason (or excuse) for not lifting my hands when we pray as assumed in I Timothy 2: 8. (Although I inwardly protest when we sing “We lift our hands before You as a token of our love” with nary a hand in the air).  Maybe a group of women could agree together to wear a simple head covering to a prayer event.  Perhaps they will, after a group of men agree together to lift their hands in prayer.

Am I consistent in my desire for simplistic commitments to Scripture?  I don’t know.  I don’t give money to every poor-looking man on a corner who asks for money.  I don’t give to every Christian organization that sends a letter requesting money, in spite of Matthew 5: 42.  I honestly don’t think that is what Jesus intended.  No doubt many women honestly don’t think God wants their head covered when they publically pray or prophesy.  “Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.” Romans 14: 5

What if numerous people in our church took to hair coverings or uplifted hands?  Would they be accused of majoring on the minors?  Thought of as being “holier than thou?”  Would the church split? (Let’s hope not.  Proverbs 6: 16-19 says God hates the sowing of discord among brothers.)  Let’s decide that such people will be accepted as simple disciples stumbling along in search of God’s will.  Maybe they can help us.

It has happened time and again.  Orthodox denominations slide into heresy.  Christian colleges lose their collective Biblical convictions.  Christian organizations become anemic.  We need beware lest we do harm by ignoring Scriptures we fail to appreciate.

Submissive Convictions

Here is a thought both true and dangerous.1  Submission has a part in wise formation of opinions, beliefs, and convictions.  “Submitting to one another in the fear of God” (Ephesians 5:21) is compatible with intellectual courage.  The Philippians were admonished to “stand fast …with one mind striving together for the faith ….”  (Philippians 1: 27).

Shall we withdraw honor from John Wycliffe, Martin Luther, and William Tyndale?  Probably not.

Shall we stifle independent thought?  Maybe so.  Maybe we should be skeptical of thoughts that emerge independently…at least hesitant.

“Do not be wise in your own opinion.”  (Romans 12: 16).  “ …that you may with one mind … glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  (Romans 15: 6).

“If anyone  … does not consent to wholesome words … to the doctrine which is according to godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes … from which come … useless wrangling ….”  (I Timothy 6: 3-5).

“…withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.” (2 Thessalonians 3: 6)

Our thinking should be realistic. It is not likely that my parents, teachers, and elders were right about everything.  Nonetheless, it is proper to give the benefit of the doubt to my parents, my teachers, and my elders.

I am not advocating intellectual laziness or stubborn unwillingness to change.  I am advocating a respectful, loving  bias (I Corinthians 13:7, Love “believes all things …..”).

On one hand, It is right that a child believes what his parents tell him.  It is right that a Christian is inclined to trust the teaching of his elders.  It is proper for a wife to have a respectful inclination toward her husband’s judgment.  On the other hand, every person becomes responsible for his beliefs.  Conversions are often right.  Often a person should change his opinion.  “On the one hand … on the other hand:”  both concepts are true, even though we do not know where to draw the line between them.

No man lives long enough or has the mental capacity to aggressively reconsider everything he has been taught.  I believe that the sun is 93 million miles away.  I believe that even though it does not seem that far away.  Many voices from “the scientific community” say the universe developed without intelligent design.  But I have explored that issue and confidently reject the mutation + natural selection + time hypothesis.  I lack a definition for when to accept and when to explore.  For example, I believe there has been a right reason for war.  I also believe that many wars have been needless.  I believe both concepts even though I lack a defining line between.

Conclusion:   I am responsible for what I believe.  Changing a belief may be the responsible course. Responsible thinking includes a submissive intellect.


1 Doing something dangerous because it needs to be done is courageous.  Doing something dangerous for frivolous cause is wrong.


Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.