Christianity 201

April 22, 2022

The Unspoken Lie of Genesis 3

For those of you who became subscribers of C201 because of previous contact with my other blog, Thinking Out Loud, you may remember that we occasionally linked to Kuya Kevin, an American living in the Philippines. His real name is Kevin Sanders. We somewhat lost contact with him (my fault, not his) here after running three of his articles here at C201, but this week he landed back on my radar.

His blog is simply titled Pastor Kevin Sanders, and he’s been a pastor in El Paso, Texas (for our Brit friends, it’s right on the border with Mexico) for over 15 years and recently completed his DMin from Gateway Seminary. Clicking the header which follows will take you to his site to read this, which is encouraged.

The Lie Beneath the Lie

Most of us are familiar with the Genesis account of sin entering into the world. The serpent approached Eve and convinced her that the forbidden fruit was the key to realizing her own divine potential:

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Genesis 3:4-5

We know that was a lie: the act of disobedience brought death, not divinity.

But it seems to me there was a lie underneath that lie. It was just as subtle as the serpent that delivered it. This is a lie that assaults the very character of God. Here it is:

“God is holding out on you.”

Believing this lie can lead to at least two terrible outcomes.

The first is outright disobedience. Eve, then Adam took this route. They instantaneously learned a harsh lesson: God’s prohibitions are ultimately for our protection. They exchanged fruit for thorns, paradise for pain, life for death, and glory for dust. Consequence is a cruel teacher for those who disobey God.

The second is bitterness. This may not be outright, external rebellion against God, but it’s just as toxic for the soul. Perhaps the inward, hidden nature of bitterness makes it even worse (or at least harder to recognize) than outward rebellion. The older son’s heart, after all, seemed just as far from his father as those swine his prodigal brother had fed (Luke 15:11-32). Grace and bitterness do not tend to peacefully coexist in the same heart.

I feel I should expound on this second outcome because it is one I am more familiar with than I care to admit. There have been times I have entertained the lie beneath the lie and experienced the bitterness that follows.

Life disappoints us all at some point. Here are just a few examples that come to mind:

  • That attractive man or woman that won’t pay any attention to you.
  • That job or job promotion which should have been yours.
  • That narcissist who has been blessed with so much talent and/or treasure (you, of course, would have used it all selflessly).
  • That hardship or tragedy that your neighbor deserved more than you.

Sometimes we choose to interpret some of these disappointments as God holding out on us. We often look back and see how silly we were to think this way. We realize that God was, indeed, working for our good (Romans 8:28).

We should know better. I should know better–especially when I consider that God “did not spare His own Son” for my sake (Romans 8:32).

Lord, you have loved me perfectly and blessed me more than I will ever deserve. Forgive me for those times I have failed to trust You. May I always guard my heart against lies and bitterness.


Second Helping: By the same author, The Advance of the Gospel in an Evil World

March 28, 2022

David’s Unusual Request; Uriah’s Unusual Choice

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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NIV.2 Sam.11.2 One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (Now she was purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness.) Then she went back home. The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.”

So David sent this word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent him to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked him how Joab was, how the soldiers were and how the war was going. Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.” So Uriah left the palace, and a gift from the king was sent after him. But Uriah slept at the entrance to the palace with all his master’s servants and did not go down to his house.

10 David was told, “Uriah did not go home.” So he asked Uriah, “Haven’t you just come from a military campaign? Why didn’t you go home?”

11 Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents,[a] and my commander Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open country. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and make love to my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!”

12 Then David said to him, “Stay here one more day, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day and the next. 13 At David’s invitation, he ate and drank with him, and David made him drunk. But in the evening Uriah went out to sleep on his mat among his master’s servants; he did not go home.

Biblical scholar Christopher Smith is a former pastor, former staff worker with InterVarsity, and the author of numerous Bible study and reference books. On his blog, Good Question he has answered over 500 questions people submitted, until  last summer when, exhausted, he stepped back. The collection remains online a great source of clarity on Bible passages like the one we’re looking at today.

Clicking the header which follows allows you to read this at source.

Shouldn’t Uriah have gone home to be with his wife?

Q. I have a question about 2 Samuel 11, but not about the behavior of David or Bathsheba. My question is about the behavior of Uriah. He is often seen as heroic, manly, virtuous because he does not spend the night at home with his wife but sleeps with the servants as a show of solidarity with the troops who are still on the front. Certainly as a soldier he has a commitment to the troops. But as a husband, he also has a commitment to his wife. I think his behavior is not all that commendable. We all face competing competing commitments, obligations, etc. when they all seem worthy. How do we sort out the correct choice?

I will address your question about sorting out competing commitments, but I would like to observe first that one possibility we do need to consider in this passage is that Uriah knew about David’s crime against his wife Bathsheba, or that he at least suspected it. If that is true, then he would also have recognized that by arranging for his return to Jerusalem, David was trying to make it appear that he (Uriah, not David), was the father of the child Bathsheba was expecting. We can then understand all of Uriah’s behavior as something he pursued in order to prevent that false appearance. He was not neglecting his wife, he was preventing a coverup.

Bathsheba could have sent word to Uriah, just as she did to David, that she was pregnant with David’s child. Or one of the many servants in the palace who knew what happened could have told Uriah when he arrived. Or Uriah might just have found the circumstances of his recall to Jerusalem a bit too suspicious. I am not an expert on ancient military practices, but it seems to me from what I read in the Bible that a warrior champion such as Uriah (he was one of “The Thirty,” David’s mighty warriors) would not ordinarily have been sent from the front just to provide a report on how a campaign was going. That was the work of messengers. Fighting in those days centered around these warrior champions, so it seems to me that it would have been unusual to send one of them away from the front during an active campaign. I may be wrong about that, but in any event I think there are grounds to believe that Uriah knew or suspected what David had done to Bathsheba, and so by staying away from home, he was preventing David from creating the impression that the child Bathsheba was expecting was his.

However, your question also deserves an answer on the premise that Uriah did not know or suspect anything about what had happened. Could we still commend his behavior under those circumstances? I think we could.

Each one of us needs to strike a balance between our competing commitments. For example, we should not neglect our families for our work, but at the same time we need to meet the reasonable obligations of our work and not fail to meet those because we are spending time with family and friends when we really should be working. And the balance that we strike needs to be sustainable. That is, it needs to be something that ordinarily holds for the long term.

However, from time to time there will also be extraordinary circumstances that call for us to make an exception to the usual arrangements. For example, to honor his responsibilities both to his family and to his church, a man might commit to arranging his work schedule so that he is, as a rule, free every Wednesday evening to participate in a home group that his church sponsors. But what if, one week, there is a project at work that requires his participation, is vital to the company’s success, and has a deadline that can only be met if he works late into the evening that Wednesday? Under those circumstances, he could miss the group that week, and that in itself would not throw his competing commitments out of balance. If that happened every week, it would be a problem. But if he were back in the group the next week and the weeks that followed, this would be seen as a genuine and legitimate exception.

I think we could understand Uriah’s actions in this light. For all he knew, he was being sent back to Jerusalem on an overnight mission to give a quick report on the campaign and then return to the front. (It was David who extended the visit to two nights in an effort to make Uriah look like the father of the baby.) Under those circumstances, it seems, Uriah felt that his commitment was to his fellow troops and that he needed to show solidarity with them. If he never went home to his wife, even when the army was not in the field, that would be a different matter. But I think that under these exceptional circumstances (and I believe they certainly would have seemed exceptional to Uriah), we can give him the benefit of the doubt for honoring the commitment that he felt needed to take priority at the time.

November 15, 2021

Deleted Devotional

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea. Matthew 18:6 NLT

“But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea.” – Mark 9:42 NKJV

Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. – Luke 17:1-2 NIV

He said to his disciples, “Hard trials and temptations are bound to come, but too bad for whoever brings them on! Better to wear a concrete vest and take a swim with the fishes than give even one of these dear little ones a hard time! – same Luke passage, The Message.

 

 

While writing original material takes some time, the more frequently-used daily “beg, borrow and steal” approach actually involves just as much, as posts from other sites have to re-formatted for what we do here, including the trademark placing of scripture verses in green.

So I was already 15 minutes invested in a post planned for yesterday when I realized I simply couldn’t present it. The writer had used a quotation originating with another faith group (a religion whose name you would recognize) and while that in and of itself is not grounds for rejecting it, a closer look at the writer’s work made the choice obvious.

But as I say, it was a process. In my mind I had gone from
“this is a really creative illustration”
to
“this is really edgy for us here at C201”
to
“I wonder if our readers are all on-board for this”
to
“This is a really, really bad idea.”

Now, some of you will say, ‘If you liked the writer’s material; why not do what you always do and just choose a different article?’

The problem was that this writer was clearly a universalist in his theology. A universalist is someone who believes that many (if not all) of the major religions of the world offer equally valid pathways to God.

However, the writer operated within the framework of being in vocational ministry as a ‘Christian’ pastor.

In other words, if I were to say to you, ‘I believe there are many ways to God,’ that would be one thing; you know where I stand.

But if I say, ‘I am a the lead pastor of XYZ Christian Church,’ but then you find out in talking to me or reading things I’ve written over an extended period of time that I see Christianity as simply one of many expressions of means of salvation; then you would have every right to be upset with me for either (a) not stating my beliefs up front, or (b) perhaps ‘using’ Christian employment as a means of income when in fact my beliefs were not centered on this historic claims of Jesus, or the core doctrines of his followers as outlined in scripture.

I would argue that there’s some dishonesty implicit in that situation, but I would also remind you that much discernment is needed.

Unfortunately, stories of such people employed in vocational Christian ministry but denying the exclusive claims of Jesus are all too common. Some of these people start out very orthodox, but allow themselves to fall into a more liberal reading of scripture texts, or perhaps, because advanced scholarship and higher criticism (rightfully) points out areas where we’ve misinterpreted key passages, they then proceed to call everything into question…

…Sometime, perhaps a month from now or several months from now, I may indeed highlight an author who borrows a quotation from another religion’s literature. There’s nothing wrong with that if the illustration or principle is being properly used in connection with the Bible-based teaching that’s being advanced. However, there are other times alarm bells start to sound and you know that you’re crossing a line.

In this case, the decision began with reading the quote out loud to Ruth, who was working at the computer next to mine, and then discussing it further. (There is value in ministry partnerships; even informal ones.) I also realized in writing the introduction (that you never got to read!) that rather than explaining the writer’s use of the quote, I was trying to justify it, and that, combined with doing some simple online research into their ministry left no doubt that I was dealing with a devotional that readers here will never get to see.

 


Something positive to end with:

Directly adjacent to two of the parallel accounts of Jesus saying the words which form our theme today, there are some contrasting positives:

If anyone gives you even a cup of water because you belong to the Messiah, I tell you the truth, that person will surely be rewarded. – Mark 9:41 NLT

“And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me. Matthew 18:5 NLT

January 17, 2019

Compelling Truth

by Clarke Dixon

How can you know that anything is true? If Christianity is not true, it is not truly compelling. So if we can’t know anything to be true, how can we be sure Christianity is true?

The idea of truth permeates the arrest of Jesus in John chapter 18. We have Jesus appealing to truth in verses 19-23, Peter denying the truth in verses 25-27,  the religious leaders lying in verses 30-31, and Pilate trying to get to the truth in verses 33-37. This is all capped off with Pilate’s famous words:

37 Pilate said, “So you are a king?”
Jesus responded, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.”
38What is truth?” Pilate asked. John 18:37-38 (emphasis added)

What was Pilate’s tone of voice when he asked “what is truth?” If you were an actor how would you portray it? Would you make Pilate sound like a philosopher on a quest for knowledge? “Hmmm, an interesting question I would love to spend some time pondering.” Or would you make Pilate sound like a busy man who wanted to get back to his own plans for the day? “What does your version of truth matter when I’ve got so much more to worry about?”

Whichever you would choose, these are two approaches to truth today. There are those who get all philosophical about truth and say “We cannot be sure of anything, so don’t tell me about Jesus.” Then there are those who could care less; “It just doesn’t matter, so don’t tell me about Jesus.” Are they correct?

Can we know the truth?

How do we know that the entirety of our lives is not just some big dream and we will wake up some day to an entirely different world? How do we know we are not stuck in some sort of matrix kept alive by machines or aliens in state of dreaming as in the Matrix movies? Can we be 100% sure Christianity is true if we cannot be 100% sure anything is true? Can we be certain beyond all possible doubt?

Here’s the thing; we do not live as as if we cannot know anything. We live as people who know stuff! We are never 100% sure of anything before we make decisions. Even Pilate, after he asked “what is truth?”, immediately went to the people to report what he knew to be true:

“What is truth?” Pilate asked. Then he went out again to the people and told them, “He is not guilty of any crime.” John 18:38

Pilate knew enough to be able to form an opinion and make a decision. This is how we live. I had a scary experience many years ago. The roads were icy and I lost control of my car causing me to be on the wrong side of the road. I did not take the time to ponder if in fact it was all a dream, or that possibly the truck bearing down on me was just a hallucination, or a trick being played on me by aliens. After all, anything is possible. I knew I was in trouble, I made the right decisions and got the car under control again. This is how we live, not knowing things beyond a possible doubt, but knowing them beyond a reasonable doubt. We make decisions all the time, not because we can be 100% certain we are correct, but because it is reasonable to assume that we are.

Now consider that ordinary people experienced the extraordinary person of Jesus in ordinary ways. They could be as sure about him as I could be sure about my situation in a skidding car. With the exception of Paul and his Damascus road experience, those who experienced Jesus experienced him in the same way they would experience anyone. This is true before Easter, when ordinary people heard his extraordinary teaching and witnessed his extraordinary miracles in ordinary ways. This is also true following Easter when people saw Jesus alive again. Yes, he was even more extraordinary that before, but again, ordinary people were experiencing his extraordinary presence in normal ways. They were not having visions or dreams, they were living life, but there was Jesus in front of them. They could see him and touch him. They knew him to be real, just as they would know anything to be real:

1 We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life. 2 This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that he is the one who is eternal life. He was with the Father, and then he was revealed to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy. 1 John 1:1-4 (emphasis added)

All those who saw Jesus risen from the dead were ordinary people experiencing the extraordinary person of Jesus in ordinary ways. They could be as sure of him as they could be sure of anything. Sure you can always say “it was possible that the risen Jesus was actually an alien imposter,” for anything is possible. But we don’t live that way. Neither did people 2000 years ago. They knew beyond a reasonable doubt that this was the risen Jesus. The truth of Christianity continues to be beyond a reasonable doubt in our day. We will be looking at some reasons to think so in the weeks to come.

So can we know anything? Yes, we reasonably know things to be true, but . . .

Does truth matter?

We live as if truth matters, a lot. Back to my scary experience in the car. I knew that moment could have changed my life for the rest of my days, if I had any more days left in this life. Reality matters! What is true with respect to Jesus matters incredibly. Grasping the reality of Jesus is not the same as forming an opinion on whether Coke is a better cola than Pepsi, or whether the Boston Bruins are a better team than the Toronto Maple Leafs. It is more like grasping the reality of a truck bearing down on you. It impacts every moment of your future. Why do people often live as if truth matters, but when it comes to spiritual things, it suddenly does not? You could say it matters more! Truth matters and spiritual truths matter, a lot.

Why has truth been challenged in our day? 

Deceit and deception are at the heart of the Fall as described in Genesis chapter 3. Adam and Eve were deceived, and in that deception sinned creating a wedge between themselves and God. There are deceptions today which keep that wedge in place. For example, that knowing truth is impossible or does not matter. Deceit and deception also run through the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. Pilate was being deceived by the ones who wanted Jesus dead. Pilate was not totally deceived by them, knowing that Jesus was innocent of their accusations. However, he failed to recognize that the deception mattered. He thought his relationship with the people under his charge was more important the his relationship with the one now under his judgement, the One under whose charge he himself was.

Ironically, while the crucifixion of Jesus happened because of failure to apprehend the truth, it is a clear window into the truth, that

. . . God is love. God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. 1 John 4:8-10

Deception ran through the Fall. Deception ran through the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. Don’t let deception run through your life! God is love. That is a truth which can be known and which matters more than anything!


Clarke Dixon is a pastor in Ontario, Canada.

All Scripture references are taken from the NLT. This is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast here.