Category Archives: Bible

Sermon on The Parable of the Lost Son (and the Extravangant Love of the Father)

A few weeks ago, I preached at my home church, Gracepoint. The sermon was entitled “Extravagant Love” and was about the parable of the ‘prodigal son’. In fact, the parable is about the older brother, and how he refuses to accept the return of his younger brother. Jesus told the parable in response to the interactions he had with the religious leaders of the day who were wondering why he was fraternising with sinners and unclean people.

The point for us today is that we should actively welcome into our churches those who could potentially bring disgrace on our family name, those we consider disgusting and sinful, and those who have been far away from us. This is a tough message for us, but one Jesus was clear on: he was a ‘friend of sinners’. Are we?

When we look at the story through Middle Eastern eyes, we see a story of extravagant love and a strong call to change how we think about church today.

You can download the sermon now from Gracepoint’s website.

Women in the church: the vital importance of understanding household codes

I spent the first 25 years of my life at a church where women were not allowed to be pastors, elders or leaders in any way. I spent nearly a decade of that time passionately defending this position, and even left the church of my childhood in protest when they changed their constitution to remove all gender references in leadership appointments. I felt strongly about it. I acted on my beliefs and convictions.

But I was wrong.

During the course of nearly nine years of formal theological training, including a degree and two post graduate qualifications, I came to realise that my interpretation and application of Scripture did not stack up. I changed my position completely.

I therefore have deep connection to both sides of this issue, and have spent many years considering it. One of the people who has most recently made an impact is someone I quote quite a bit on this blog (only because I think she’s (1) right, (2) smart and (3) articulate) is Rachel Held Evans. Rachel spent a year living “Biblically” as a woman as part of a grand experiment to see if the Bible’s instructions to and about women can be taken literally (as many insist they should be). Her wonderful book, “A Year of Biblical Womanhood” traces her monthly focus areas, and both humorous and poignant attempts to understand the Bible. It’s well worth a read.

Women in churchRachel’s blog continually returns to this topic, as it remains a key area of division and confusion in many churches today. In the past few weeks she has focused her attention (again) on the so-called “household codes” as a key to interpreting what the New Testament has to say about women and their role in spiritual communities. I think she is spot on about this – once you see the context in which Paul and others were writing, and understand how their instructions match up against what was being said in society at the time, I think there is only one answer, and that is to let women lead – as equals with men. Of course, this also has implications for how Christian homes are structured and the relationship between husband and wife as man and woman.

But why don’t you read what she’s written and make up your own mind:

If you have the time, check out the additional resources she has suggested this past week – see her list here.

And then also look at the archives on her blog on the issue of mutuality.

These are amazing resources and deserve serious attention.

A ‘gag reflex’ to ‘gay lifestyles’ is not any way to judge morality

Recently, Thabiti Anyabwile (Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman and a Council member with The Gospel Coalition) wrote an article which the Gospel Coalition posted on their website: “The Importance of Your Gag Reflex When Discussing Homosexuality and ‘Gay Marriage’“. I have heard this argument before: that the disgust many conservative Christians feel towards homosexuality is a sign of the Holy Spirit working in their consciences and a clear indication that it is wrong.

Whatever your belief about homosexuality and gay marriage, this is an entirely spurious supposition.

I travel all over the world for my work, and have very often had a gag reflex in response to some of the food I have been offered. Is that my conscience telling me that the food is morally bad for me? Or is it possibly more likely to be some deep seated cultural conditioning telling me not to eat this food which is unknown or unappetising to me? I have learnt not to trust my gag reflex in many situations.

But I have also experienced the ‘gag reflex’ Pastor Anyabwile speaks of in a church context. The first time (and a few more, sad to say) that I heard a female worship leader (sorry, Darlene Zschech) and a woman preacher I had literal bad physical reactions. I had been brought up to believe with all my heart that women should not be leaders or teachers. I don’t believe that anymore. But the gag reflex had nothing to do with it – either way. I also had a ‘gag reflex’ the first time I saw a black man and a white woman kissing. I grew up in Apartheid era South Africa where this was illegal, and also considered immoral on the basis of the Bible. Although I remember my church being vaguely opposed to apartheid, we never had any black kids in our Sunday School or youth programmes (it was technically illegal to do so, but some churches didn’t bother obeying that particular law, while mine did). And there were certainly no cross cultural couples around. I had a deep cultural conditioning against such things. I don’t anymore (my family has even adopted a Zulu daughter). But a few years ago, on an international youth pastor’s forum, I asked participants to list their top three biggest youth group issues. Many pastors from the southern states of the USA listed cross cultural dating as their number one issue (and they were opposed to it!).

So, I don’t trust my gag reflex to be my moral guide. I really honestly don’t. And I find it horrific that a person in the position that Pastor Anyabwile is can publicly put forward the level of homophobic attitudes he does in his article.

As I was wondering how to respond, I was delighted to see that one of my favourite Christian bloggers, Rachel Held Evans, had also picked up the story and provided a thoughtful and useful response. You can read it on her blog, or an extended extract below.

God forgive us for these attitudes, and rescue us from the pit from which they come.

Continue reading A ‘gag reflex’ to ‘gay lifestyles’ is not any way to judge morality

The Bible as a magic book with all the answers

Many Christians use the Bible as if it was some kind of magical book. They dip into it every morning through their ‘Daily Devotions’ type inspirational readings that direct them to one verse of the Bible and add a pithy pop-psychology insight. They read the Psalms as if they were promises, and put bumper on their cars like, “This car is protected by Psalm 91” (I personally prefer locks and alarms). In times of trouble and distress, they open the Bible at random, maybe even literally putting a pin into a verse, hoping that “God will talk to them”.

All of these are not only deeply offensive to God and His Holy Scriptures but completely misuse and misunderstand what the Bible is and what it is for. I have spoken about this elsewhere, so won’t go into detail here. But this post was sparked by an email I received this morning which maybe shows the worst such usage of the Bible I have yet seen. What do you think?

Dear Reader,

Most people know Sean Hyman from his regular appearances on Fox Business, CNBC, and Bloomberg television …

Sean is notorious for his uncanny ability to predict precise moves in the stock market.

Recently, I asked Sean what his secret is for investing so successfully.

I expected Sean to say that it was his years of experience at Charles Schwab or perhaps one of the complicated algorithms he uses for timing the stock market.

So when Sean responded that his secret to investing was the Bible, I was thoroughly shocked.

Yes, I knew Sean was a Christian (anyone who spends more than 1 minute with him will pick that up!). However, people usually keep their faith separate from things like … investing.

But not Sean

For Sean, the Bible is his FOUNDATION for investing.

He explained to me how there is actually a “Biblical Money Code” woven into Scripture.

Sean says it is this Biblical Money Code that took him from making a mere $15,000 a year to now giving away up to $50,000 a year. Sean also credits this code with helping him turn his father’s $40,000 retirement account into $396,000.

In fact, certain investment titans such as Warren Buffett have already used this code to amass billions.

What Sean had to say impressed me so much that I asked him to put a presentation together that reveals how anyone could use this Biblical Money Code.

I’ve personally watched this presentation several times.

In it, you will discover how you can use this Biblical Money Code to get out of debt … make sound investments … and morally build substantial wealth.

I won’t give this email the dignity of supplying you with the website they linked to, but a quick Google search will find it if you’re desperate.

I am sorry, but there is nothing Christian (as in ‘Christ-like’) about this at all.

Does Jesus care more about what we do or what we believe? (I’m going with the first option)

I really enjoy the writings of Peter Enns, and follow his blog quite closely. He recently asked the question in the title of this entry: Does Jesus care more about what we do or what we believe? He argues convincingly that this is not a false dichotomy or straw man he’s created, but rather a genuine ‘choice’ that many conservative Christians try to make. If we were forced to make this choice, Peter is very clear what he sees in the Bible: Jesus is more concerned about what we do.

Read his excellent blog entry at his own blog (and subscribe to it while you’re there), or read it below.

Does Jesus care more about what we do or what we believe? (I’m going with the first option)

by Peter Enns

This question came to mind a few weeks ago as I was sitting in church, thinking more highly of myself than I should.
This isn’t a new question, by any means, but it’s still a deeply meaningful and relevant question for me.
Upon what does God look more favorably: loving others, even those who may believe differently, or prioritizing right thinking about God?

Now, you veterans of this sort of question are no doubt rolling your eyes right now, wondering how I can miss the obvious: “Hey Enns, go back to seminary. Everyone knows that right thinking and right behavior are not an either/or but a both/and. Jesus wants both.”

Continue reading Does Jesus care more about what we do or what we believe? (I’m going with the first option)

Redeeming the woman at the well

In John 4, we read the story of Jesus’ encounter with a Samaritan woman at midday at a well. This woman is almost always thought of as a prostitute. There is nothing in Scripture that indicates this. Rather, it is a product of a male-dominated culture and reading of the Bible that sees her as a sinner and not a victim.

This woman had had multiple husbands. Is it possible that in a small community/village that the local prostitute would have had multiple husbands? One maybe. Two at a stretch. But not five. Seriously: pause to consider this. Even in our modern permissive society, prostitutes do not get married five times. This is an impossibility in the rural community Jesus encountered.

No, the very much more likely scenario (I’d say 100% only possible scenario) is that she was a widow five times over. For some reason, her five husbands had died. (These could not have been divorces, for the same reason of logic – but also because the religious law prohibited more than two divorces for a woman). Of course no-one would marry her now. Would you?

Jesus amazes this woman by not only showing knowledge of her five husbands, but also her current living arrangements. The man she was staying with was most likely a benevolent uncle or family member who was giving her shelter in some back room, and acting as her protector. In no way does Jesus suggest this arrangement was anything untoward. There is no hint of condemnation and no mention of sin in this passage. Jesus never condemns her for anything. In fact, for us to think of her as anything other than a tragic victim to whom Jesus showed compassion and love illustrates how badly screwed up our view of women, sexuality and culture has become.

This was a woman who had faced tragedy and horror in her life. Now ostracised from her community, she encounters Jesus. He knows her. He loves her anyway. And he gives her the dignity and honour of being the one to announce the coming of the Messiah to her people. What a story.

That should be a lesson to all who think that their views of Scripture and what is going on in the Bible are completely without fault or need of updating or questioning. What else have you misunderstood because of your cultural conditioning?

The logical and theological gymnastics of those who oppose women leaders in church

As the culture wars in conservative evangelical Christianity continue to rumble along, the pronouncements of some its key leaders are getting more and more disconcerting. I am seriously concerned about the rising “alpha male” type approach to church, embodied mainly by Mark Driscoll and his acolytes. In my home town, Johannesburg, a few churches led by young men have gone this route: denying women any role in leadership or public teaching in their churches. The theological leaders of this movement include John Piper, James Dobson and Wayne Grudem (see more at their ‘Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood‘), and to a lesser extent Don Carlson and Tim Keller (see their ‘Gospel Coalition’).

Rachel Held Evans is running a great series on her blog, calling out the strange, illogical and unbiblical pronouncement coming from this corner of evangelicalism. They’re really getting themselves into a tangle over this issue (something that often happens when Scripture is misinterpreted, misrepresented or misunderstood).

I wrote about this a while ago, when I expressed my concerns about a video put out by the Gospel Coalition. They are using views on the role of women as a test for Biblical orthodoxy, and also claiming that it is not correct to attempt to understand the cultural and historical context in which a Biblical book was written (this completely contradicts the approach Carson has taken in his many excellent commentaries of Biblical books – but it seems that the issue of women leaders trumps his previous work as a Biblical scholar. One wonders why?).

But Rachel has found a few ‘exhibits’ of key statements made by those who oppose women leaders in church – not isolated, out-of-context statements, but key pronouncements and position statements – that just make no sense at all. Take some time to read the links below. You’ll be amazed, and stunned. And you’ll realise fairly quickly that the approach of those who want to keep women ‘barefoot, pregnant and in the home’ (my words, but typically the intention of those who take the so-called ‘complementarian’ view) is more a harking back to some idyllic (but completely inaccurate) picture of 1950s suburban America, rather than anything you can find in the Bible.

Continue reading The logical and theological gymnastics of those who oppose women leaders in church

God versus the weather

The Bible makes it abundantly clear that God is in control of the weather. God causes rain and drought (see Deut. 11:14-17; 1 Kings 8:35-36; Job 5:10; 37:6; Jer. 14:22; Amos 4:7 and Zech. 14:17 – there are many more examples). God controls the “storehouses” of rain, snow and even the lightning (see Deut. 28:12, 24; Ps. 42:7, 135:7; and Jer. 10:13). It is God who sends storms (see Jonah 1:4), sometimes to punish people (Job 37:13). And, of course, Jesus stopped a storm dead in its tracks (see Mark 4:37-41; also see Ps. 107:29).

So, why are conservative Christians comfortable watching the weather channel, which so clearly uses science to show weather systems and patterns and make predictions based on a Godless scientific view? And why are they comfortable with their children learning about the water cycle in school? This scientific vision of the world’s weather patterns presents a picture of a world in which there is no need for God or God’s agency – the weather just works because it is a complete, integrated system on its own.

Now, obviously, I am being deliberately facetious in asking these questions in this way. Most thinking Christians can quite easily accept that the weather works all on its own, without any miraculous intervention from the Creator (To be fair in my reporting, I must say that some don’t and claim that God does indeed control every weather event – see here for Donald de Young’s book, “Weather and the Bible”). And while they certainly believe that God is capable of intervening in any part of this world, thinking Christians don’t see God’s hand in every storm or lightning bolt or hurricane (or quiet sunset or peaceful afternoon breeze, for that matter). The weather just gets on with it, all on its own.

And we therefore understand the verses I quoted above as being clearly figurative, rather than literal (except, possibly, Jesus’ miracle).

So, why then, are some conservative Christians so uptight about evolution? And why can’t they apply the same logic and hermeneutical approach to the Biblical accounts of Creation as they do to God and the weather?

Yes, this blog post is really about evolution and not about the weather. But it struck me today to be a good analogy. Why aren’t more Creationist Christians uptight about the weather, how it’s presented on TV or taught to their children at school? I’m just interested, that’s all…