The power of words

Before you read this post, take 6 and a half minutes to watch this TED talk.  It will be worth your time, I promise.  [youtube=]  When I watched it, it made me think about the power of words in my life.

There are negative words that hurt me now even though I am a grown man.  In fact there are some words that linger.  They still hurt even though they were spoken many, many years ago.  There are also words of encouragement that offer me great strength.  This experience is not unique to me. It is part of life.

The story from the video is probably a bit unique though, in that, it is a bit unusual for the words of a stranger to really hurt you or to have great effect on you.  The words that pack the most punch typically come from loved ones.  I can vividly remember something said when I was 15 that determined many decisions for the next few years for me.  That statement came from someone living in my house. And that is the way of it.  The words we say are powerful.  We can truly hurt someone with them and we can really build someone up with them.

In the video, the speaker refers to an event that he has forgotten.  To him it was a throw away event, but it lead to important things, a marriage and at least one college degree.  In order to illustrate the power of words, even of this type I thought I would share a story of how some encouraging words may have changed the course of my life.

In 1995 I was 20 years old and left home for Washington and Oregon for summer missions.  To say I was inexperienced would be an understatement.  I was inexperienced at life.  Certainly I had no idea what I was doing when it came to mission work.  The problem in my mind was that I had no skills whatsoever that could be useful for a missionary.  I couldn’t build things, I was not comfortable with public speaking, and I am much more introverted than I would like to be.  Plus I was only 20.  I didn’t know what I would be doing that summer, only that I was obeying God by going.  It turns out that I would be leading a multitude of backyard Bible clubs.  My summer in large part was hanging out with kids.  Not only hanging out with kids, but hanging out with kids with a purpose.  We were teaching them the Bible.

Now to the part about the encouraging words.  In the first week there, when we divided up responsibilities for the Backyard Bible Club the teaching of the Bible story fell to me.  I had no skills remember, but I figured I could tell some Bible stories.  I was certainly familiar with them.  So when the time came, I taught.  I don’t remember what Bible story it was (though the picture looks like it was Adam & Eve) I don’t even remember how it went.  I do remember being glad that I survived it.  Here is what I really remember.  After I spoke, the pastor’s wife from that week’s host church told me what a great job I did.  She said that I had the kids’ attention and that I made it easy for them.  That was nearly 16 years ago and I remember it plainly. It is the first time I ever knew that I was good at anything useful.  That one word of encouragement went a very long way. Now, all these years later, as I attempt to launch a speaking ministry I have tried to use that ability to teach and make things simple for God's glory.  And it is possible that I never would have been anything but intimidated if not for some encouraging words from a woman whose name I can't even remember.

There are other people in my life who have been very encouraging.  I remember them as well, but this was a formative time for me and I am thankful.

I am afraid that in my lifetime I have done much more damage with words that I have done building up. So I sure am glad for those encouragers.

How about you, are there words said in your lifetime that were very significant?

What I miss about being a youth minster

Tomorrow will mark six months since I found myself without a youth ministry.  And since I have decided, at least for now, not to pursue a youth ministry position, I thought it would be a good time to write about what I miss about it and what I am doing to compensate for these things. #1 The number one thing I miss about being a youth minister is a distant runaway number one.  I was a youth minster because I felt a call to work with students.  The thing I miss most about youth ministry is those relationships with students.

Working with students is wonderful because it keeps you young.  Middle and High school students have boundless energy.  Some of it rubs off just be being in their presence.  It is wonderful because they are not yet jaded or cynical and there is so much potential for them to do great things for God’s kingdom.  And it is wonderful because you get to see them mature and become adults.  I still maintain relationships with many of my students from the past.  And I try, even if it’s only through Facebook, to keep up with the lives of all my former students.  Some students will break your heart, they make poor decisions, drift out of church and follow the world’s way, but there are so many that I am proud of for their choices.  At least 2 of my former students are now ministers, and, even though it may be statistically unlikely, most are involved in their churches.  On a slightly different note, I do not miss the relationships with parents nearly as much, but never wanted to be antagonistic towards parents, and I never allowed students to disparage their parents. I always valued the opportunity to have influence in the lives of students, and I appreciated their parents for allowing me those relationships.

After leaving my previous church it took me about 3 months to find a new church home.  But I am now quite content and I am a regular adult volunteer with the students at Edgewood.  Though it is slow going I am beginning to again develop these types of relationships.  It’s different, I’m not in charge anymore, but the opportunity is still there.

#2 The second thing I miss is teaching regularly.  I really enjoy teaching and as a church staff member I got the opportunity to teach at least 3 times a week for 14 years.  I was hoping that my apologetics ministry would fulfill this need in my life, but so far that ministry has yet to get off the ground.  Now allow me to praise the youth minister at my church.  My appreciation for Joey Snyder is immense.  He has allowed me opportunities to teach, and I believe that he views me as an asset.   Though he is a better youth minister than I am he still allows me to help.  I consider him a good friend and I am always glad to help him out.

How do I fulfill this need to teach regularly? I already said that I hoped my apologetics ministry would take off and I would get the opportunity, but that hasn’t happened.  (Please take a minute to visit my website and consider having me lead an apologetics weekend at your church) I am officially the teacher of my Sunday school class, but that is such a different style that it does not quite scratch the itch.  Plus I only actually teach every third week.  So far, I just really miss this.  I try and not lecture my friends and family in normal conversation.

#3 The third thing I miss about being a youth minister is the “identity” issue I talked about when I decided to launch a new ministry.  For years I have been Jeremy Mathis: Minister of Youth, now I am Jeremy Mathis: guy who works in a kitchen.  It’s a big adjustment, and it’s one I haven’t fully made.  I still get an incredible amount of mail regarding youth camps and curriculum and I still want to go to the Lifeway youth ministry conference.  All these things have been a part of how I think of myself for a long time and I struggle with this regularly.  I don’t want to beat a dead horse here, but if my apologetics ministry were to become successful, I believe it would almost completely alleviate the pain of this identity problem.

That’s it.  That’s what I miss.  I considered writing a “what I don’t miss about being a youth minster” post.  But that would be cynical and wrong.  Being a youth minister was a great experience for me and I was blessed to have the opportunities I had..

My Goal as an Apologist

The arena of Christian apologetics is experiencing a rise in popularity.  That is not to say that every person who calls himself an apologist is one. But, a quick glance will show that there is an opportunity for almost anyone interested to learn about apologetics easily.  Most of the Southern Baptist seminaries now have apologetics programs.  The NAMB began the CAI program that I am a part of, programs in apologetics at Biola and Liberty are thriving, and there is simply a rise in interest in the topic. In fact recently Lee Strobel said he believes that, “we are on the cusp of a golden era of apologetics.” If you are a reader of this blog, you realize that recently I launched an apologetics ministry of my own. Why would I do this if I believe there is a trend of a rising awareness in apologetics, and if apologetics is becoming more popular and maybe more successful?  There are a couple of reasons.  One is that I believe God has gifted me as an apologist.  Although, I hope it goes without saying that I would not launch a ministry if I did not believe I was gifted for it.  The most significant reason I have decided to launch an apologetics ministry is because I have the opportunity to fill a gap that I see in the current state of Christian apologetics.

Maybe I should say it like this, I’m not trying to be, or to compete with, William lane Craig or anyone of his ilk. My desire is not to engage in public debate with atheists or Muslims or anything of the sort.  Although I have begun writing a book, it is not academic in nature.  I believe that type of ministry which is largely academic is noble and wonderful, but it is not where my gifting lies, and it is not my goal as an apologist.

My goal and desire as an apologist is to encourage the church.

My call to the ministry was to the church.  I believe that God has gifted me to teach and explain in simple terms the concepts of apologetics, and I believe that these concepts are needed in the pews of our churches.  My desire is to come into a church for an apologetics weekend and at the end of the weekend those in attendance will be able more able to defend their faith than they were at the beginning.  I desire for people in attendance to have more confidence in the reasonableness of their faith.  I want church people to not have their confidence shaken by every atheist they hear from on TV.

I believe that there is plenty of room for a ministry of this sort in our churches and I believe that even if we are a cusp of a golden age of apologetics, it has not made it to the pews.  I have some anecdotal evidence of this.  Just look at this poll from my website.

The danger of being good at something

I have written before about how there is a long list of things I am bad at.  I won’t rehash that list here but I will say that I feel like I have very little natural talent. Having said that, there are a few things I am good at, and there is a short list of things I am very good at.  I believe that it is important to know where your talents lie.  It is one of the keys to having a fulfilling professional life.  If you are doing something that you are gifted to do, you will be good at it and you will enjoy it.

Even though the list of things I am good at is short, I believe that there is a reason that God has gifted me to do certain things.  If you are a Christian, I hope you would say the same.  God has gifted you in order to use those gifts for His glory.

I desire to use my gifts to God’s glory.  This is why I have launched an apologetics ministry.  I believe that I can use my gifting as a communicator, my love for apologetics, my love for the church and the gospel to help church people be more able to defend their faith.  As I get more experienced as a speaker I realize that I am becoming quite good at it.

Believe it or not, in this case being a good speaker causes a problem.  What possible problem could there be from being good at something?  The problem is that because I am good I can do it without God.  That’s right.  I can prepare a message, iron out the kinks until I am communicating it clearly, practice it, and even present it, all without prayer or asking God to bless it.  It is a lot of work on my part, but it is all on my part, merely in my own strength.  I have spoken often enough and made this mistake enough to say with certainty that there is a substantial difference in me speaking in my own strength and God speaking through me.  I realize that the expression “God speaking through me” may sound either arrogant or crazy, but I also know that I have heard the voice of God from many preachers.  And I have experienced it myself.

I believe that speaking in a pulpit should always come from God.  By that I mean that the preacher should be sharing God’s words rather than his own.  Preaching should involve God speaking, not just the preacher.

Because of this, because I know I am prone to this type of Jeremy-only effort, I have to always be sure to be diligent in my prayer life.  Before any speaking engagement I have to pray and ask God to guide me on the topic, but even more to speak through me as I share what He has laid on my heart to share.

I believe this is a danger for everyone who desires to use their talents for God's glory. Do you also have to guard against this?

My identity crisis and how you can help

I have been in youth ministry since 1997.  That’s when I first began to sense God’s call on my life.  Over the ensuing years I have done my best to be faithful to that call.  I have continually been on church staff.  I have been in church situations where I was a good fit and in situations where I was a poor fit, but always I was a youth minister.  If you asked me to label myself, “youth minister” would be the first of all possible labels.  Until recently, I would have said that youth ministry is the only occupation where I could be happy. My identity crisis

I have recently found myself without a ministry home. And now,  for the first time ever, I am not planning to return to a church staff position.  So the title “youth minister” will not apply.  I will still be actively involved as a volunteer in some youth ministry, hopefully teach a Sunday school class, but not in a staff position.  This has caused a bit of an identity crisis for me, but after a lot of time spent in prayer, I believe that God has given me the freedom to pursue something different.

So what’s next?  Over the past few years I have had some other ministry opportunities.  I was an instructor at Carolina Bible College, and I enjoyed it immensely.  In fact, I have been saying for quite some time that one day, when I am too old for youth ministry I hope to teach at the college or seminary level.  Also, I have been working for a while to complete a certification.  I am now a NAMB Certified Apologetics Instructor and I believe that have become quite good as a public speaker.  I hope to use my gifting as a speaker to create a new ministry.  If my new ministry is a success, it will substantially ease the pain of the identity crisis.

How you can help

In order to make this into a successful ministry, I am pretty much completely dependent on others.  So what can you do? A few things.

  • You can start by visiting my website,  It’s new. (And it's not 100% finished, but it’s close.)  I will accept any feedback you want to give me about the site.  Also, there’s an ad on the blog page.  I’d appreciate it if you clicked on that ad.

  • If you have heard me give one of my apologetic talks and would be willing to write an endorsement for my site, that would be great.  Just email it to me (2 paragraphs or less please)
  • Most importantly, recommend me to your pastor.  A good website is important, but the only way I will really have any success as a speaker is if people hear me speak, like what they hear, and tell others.
  • If you are a pastor or someone with the ability to do so, please schedule me to come to your church. You don’t have to begin with an apologetics weekend.   I can simply fill the pulpit for you sometime. I am willing to speak any time, anywhere, as long as my schedule allows it.

Thank you for reading this.  I welcome your comments.

Review: Divided

Before I begin this review I should disclose something that is not a secret.  I am a youth minister and for the past 15 years I have earned at least a portion of my income as a youth minster, so I obviously have a bias as I watch this film and write a review. I wish the film had begun with disclosures as well.  It is a well-made film, but it is not a documentary, it is a propaganda piece for the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches.  The film, however, begins with the “documentarian” saying, “As a filmmaker, I set out to find answers.”  He did not set out to find answers.  He set out to promote his viewpoint.  This is perfectly fine, and it does not make the thesis of the film less worth discussion.  It just should have been made clear.

If you want to form your own opinion, you can watch the film for free until September on vimeo, or on the film’s website.

Before dissecting the thesis of the film, I’ll address some of the issues it brings up.  Are there problems with youth ministry as it has been carried out over the past few decades?  Yes.  Undeniably there have been those who simply view youth ministry as a “keep kids out of trouble” activity.  Sometimes youth ministry has erred by making the assumption that busyness is equal to spirituality.  Many youth ministries are supported by the personality of the youth pastor rather than the Holy Spirit.  There is not nearly enough Bible literacy within youth ministries.  Finally, there is no denying that many students leave the church when they get a driver’s license.  These are all valid issues and they need to be considered.  If possible they need to be solved.

However, not all of the things the film lists as shortcomings of youth ministry are actual problems.  Students having fun at a rock concert is not proof that youth ministry is failing, and it is not proof that the students are not spiritual.  Nor does a youth ministry in which there are video games on the premises or fun trips and fun activities on the calendar suggest that there is also not spiritual growth.

The thesis of Divided comes at the 30 minute mark.  After addressing many of the previously mentioned problems with youth ministry, the most significant being that students often leave the church, comes the following statement.

Is it possible the crisis we are seeing in the church today is a form of God’s judgment on the church… for doing something completely against the command of God [in order] to solve a problem with the youth?

The film suggests that the entire concept of youth ministry is not only absent from the Bible, but that it is unbiblical.

Divided says that the problems found in modern churches are a result of the unbiblical nature of youth ministry.  To be clear, the film says that all age-graded teaching of any kind is not only unbiblical, but it has roots in paganism.  It is a very unfair criticism of Robert Raikes to suggest that he developed Sunday school out of a pagan philosophy.  In fact, it is openly untrue.  The suggestion, that because churches have classrooms on either side of a hall that they have bought into a sort of neo-Platonism is patently ridiculous.  (And seriously, where else are classrooms supposed to go in relation to a hallway?)

A second criticism I would direct toward the film is that there is really no scripture offered to suggest that age-graded teaching is unbiblical.  It is well-established that the primary discipleship role belongs to parents.  However there is nothing, either in the Bible or the film to suggest that the church cannot or should not  have a role in discipling children.  The Bible makes it clear that there is a role of mentorship that should occur within the confines of church fellowship.

Every responsible youth minister I know is aware that the church and the family need to work together.  Aware that ideally the church should walk beside the family and supplement the work of the family.  This tension between church and family is being addressed in many places.   Every youth minister I know is working to resolve it, and it is the reason for significant movements like Lasting Divergence  and Orange.  When this approach is brought up in the film (36 min) it is immediately dismissed with only one brief comment.

There are a few things that Divided does not address at all that would certainly shore-up the filmmaker’s argument.   First, do students in family-integrated churches leave church at a substantially lower rate?  The film does not say, it really only criticizes.  But if this approach was a definite solution to the problem, it would be helpful to present some data.  Secondly, do churches of this sort have any approach to students with uninvolved or non-Christian parents.  If the solution is to let the parents disciple students then are they simply giving up on the hoards of students whose parents do not disciple them?  And if the solution is to come to church and be mentored by a “father figure” what is the fundamental difference in a deacon/elder and a youth pastor.  Finally, is it better to have a few years of influence in the lives of children, especially those with uncommitted or un-Christian parents, and have them leave church when they turn 16, or for these students to have no church influence whatsoever?

In conclusion, I find Divided flawed in a number of ways, most significantly that it does not prove its thesis.  However I believe that it is an important film even if it merely gets people considering how to address some substantial problems in the church and youth ministry.

I know this was long, but if you are still reading, feel free to comment.  And if you are a youth minister, I'l especially like to hear your comments.

A Question for my Readers

I'd like to try an experiment.  I realize that this blog is not the most interactive place on the internet, but I am going to ask a question and ask for your input.  I think the more answers I get, the better, so let's try this out.  Here goes. It is no secret that I have been looking for a full-time youth ministry position for quite a long time.  In this period I have spoken to a host of search committees.  You can get a feel for what a committee is looking for by the questions they ask, but there is one question they all ask.

What is the most important issue that our teenagers are facing today?

I know I have a few youth minsters who read this blog regularly, please give an opinion.  This question is not limited to youth minsters though.  How would you answer this question?  If you were on a committee, what would you be looking for. I look forward to reading your responses, then next Wednesday I'll post my answer

I Challenged My Church... make Lottie Moon a priority this year.  In fact I challenged people to give their largest Christmas gift to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. There are a host of reasons why I can say to you that the LMCO is important.  But I will only say this, the "All nations" part of the great commission I believe can best be reached cooperatively.  If you are not a misisonary then what better way to spread the gospel to those who are unreached than giving funds to the International Mission Board.

So why should you make this gift a priority?  For one thing, if there are people in America who  do not know Christ it is in spite of the churches on every corner.  In contrast, there are over 6000 people groups that have no access whatsoever to the gospel.

For the second year in a row, my largest Christmas gift, by quite a large margin, will go to Lottie Moon.  Nobody I know truly has any needs that are more important than obedience to the great commission.  I hope you will consider giving your largest gift to Lottie as well.

Distracting the Church

Recently, I was involved in a discussion with a group of youth ministers about what the church should be doing.  (We are reading Think Orange by Reggie Joiner and the discussion in chapter 2 of how we move our light as a church brought this discussion up.)  This conversation got me thinking about a post I wrote back at the height of the healthcare discussion.  The question I asked at that time was, “What should the government do?”  What I was trying to get at is the question of what are the necessities.  All the stuff that didn’t make the list I would consider distractions. The purpose of today’s post is to ask the same question of the church.  What is it that we should be doing?  All the other stuff is a distraction.

  • Evangelism – Just to be clear evangelism means telling people the message that Jesus died for our sins.  Our success in this is not determined by how many decisions we see, but how faithful we are with the gospel message.  I would call this the most important function of the church
  • Corporate Worship – From the earliest days of the church there has been corporate worship.  Corporate worship is important.  Though it can occur at a rally or at a parachurch function, it is best when done well in the body of local believers.
  • Discipleship – The point of the Reggie Joiner book is that discipleship of youth/children lies with the family, but there is no question that the church should be in the business of trying to lead people closer to Christ.
  • Ministry – Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:27)  I am not for one second promoting the social gospel.  Helping people with physical needs is only temporary.  Telling people the truth about eternity has eternal consequences.  But the fact is that it is the job of the church to minister to those in need.  It demonstrates the Love of Christ in the world and it is the command of the Bible.

That is my list.  I will be interested to hear your thoughts on this list and what you think I left out.  I may write a post next week about the many things that we do in addition to this and why those things draw our attention.

What I Learned from My First Minor League Game

Greer StadiumLast night I attended my first ever Minor league Baseball game with my church.  I went to Greer stadium in Nashville to see the (AAA) Sounds whip the New Orleans Zephyrs 10-1.  Since it was my first ever minor league game I learned some things and I thought I would share.

  • The Brewers have a potential star coming in Brendan Katin. He had 2 homers, including a grand slam and 7 RBIs
  • Minor league ball has a lot of non-baseball activity. There was literally some giveaway or some fan event in every half-inning
  • McDonald's gives away McDoubles like they are water
  • You want access to a baseball player? Minor league ball is the way to go
  • You want free stuff? Minor league  ball is the way to go.  Two members of our group got t-shirts (stuffed with coupons for McDoubles) and a third should have had a foul ball.
  • You can get A LOT of kettle corn for seven bucks
  • There are really no bad seats in a small baseball park
  • A 15 year old emergency poncho is in pretty much perfect condition provided it has never been taken out of the original plastic
  • The minor leagues will leave a pitcher in for a long time even if he is getting absolutely shelled
  • Everybody likes to watch a little kid dance
  • Technically you can use an Android phone for your fantasy draft, but it is not going to work very well

Why I Am Proud to be a Kentucky Baptist Again

Remember when the GCR task force was controversial?  Remember all the fears and hand-wringing on blogs?  Way back when the GCR was still controversial and nobody really knew what would come of it, the Kentucky Baptist Convention decided to appoint a Great Commission resurgence task force of its own. On Tuesday that task force released its report, and I am proud of it for multiple reasons. We all have labels we place on ourselves.  For me, two of those things are Kentuckian and Southern Baptist.  For the last several years I have been a  North Carolina Baptist.  Now I'm proud to be home and I’m proud that the Kentucky Baptist Convention has done such an admirable thing with this report.  Also you may notice that one of the members of that committee shares a last name with me; that is even more reason to be proud.

I have made no secret on this blog that I love the Cooperative Program and that I believe it is the most effective tool our denomination has constructed to reach the lost.  I also have said that I believe the states keep entirely too much of the CP money.  (In fact when I was a NC Baptist I was strongly considering a motion from the floor that would push that convention toward a 50/50 split.)  One of the things I admire most about the KBCGCR task Force’s report is the quick move to a 50/50 split.  This is a hard decision.  It involves intentionally cutting the budget of every entity in the state convention.

Without the cooperation of the churches willing to give more, this will be even more of a hardship for the KBC.  But I believe that churches will be motivated to make their own decisions to give more knowing that more of their money will reach the mission field .

I applaud the task force.  My church is giving 1 percent more to the CP this year, and I encourage your church to do the same.

A great commission resurgence is not equal to giving more money.  I certainly realize that.  But it is definitely a part.  I applaud Bill Mackey, Hershael York, and the rest of the task force and I give my strongest urging to Kentucky Baptists to show up in Lexington in November and to pass the recommendations.  I will be there.

A lesson about life from a recent Sunday school class

On March 14, the Explore the Bible Sunday School lesson was from Exodus chapters 5-11. The point of this post can be found in Chapter 5. In that passage Moses is obedient to God really for the first time. As you will recall, Moses was quite reluctant to obey God at all. In fact in Exodus 4 he says "O Lord, please send someone else to do it." But he is eventually obedient, and we first read of that in Exodus 5.

In Chapter 5, Moses goes before the Pharaoh as God commanded. And we all know how this goes, right? Moses obeys God, everything becomes wonderful and Moses and his people prosper.

If you read the passage you see that that is not the case at all. Once Moses is obedient, everything falls apart for him and for his people. Immediately their workload is increased greatly and they are in great pain. Pain, I might add, that appears to be a direct result of Moses’ obedience to God. Maybe I should state that differently, Moses’ obedience to God brought about pain.

There is no shortage of people telling us in the U.S. that if we are faithful then God will bless us, and that those blessings will come in the form of material desires. However, this passage shows something very different.

That is not even the lesson I want to take away from this passage. Recently in my life there has been an abundance of difficulties. I am not suggesting that my difficulties are a result of my obedience to God. I am, however, suggesting that those difficulties do not mean that I am outside His will and they do not make me question his faithfulnes. When their lives became more painful, the Hebrews complained bitterly to Moses and questioned his motives. They falsely tied their ease in life to the blessing of God. Here is why this passage speaks to me; God is in control even thought the people can only see pain. In fact it appears that the pain was a part of His plan.

Sometimes it’s easy to get discouraged. I have had a lot of melancholy days lately. But the lesson I see in Exodus 5 is that even though things look bleak, God is ultimately in control.

As I write this, I cannot see his plan. But I know that He is in control.

Christians and the Old Testament Law pt. 4

All week long I have been trying to answer the following question: What do Christians do with the Old Testament law?  Today I will try to answer the hardest related question; What is the point of all the law? We all understand the reason behind some of the laws, for example, don’t worship other gods, but why are some others so obscure?  E.g. Don’t eat lobster, or catfish.  Build a fence around your roof.  Don’t cook a baby goat in its mother’s milk.   If you kill someone on accident their relatives can come after you, unless you flee to a city of refuge.

Depending on who you ask, you get different answers about the nature of the Pentateuch.α These views fall basically into 4 camps.

  • Some say the point is to relay the law and give moral guidance. – In other words, the main purpose for the Pentateuch is to give the laws.  Which is understandable view since so much of it is made up of laws.  But that ignores some extremely important narrative.
  • Some say that the point is to offer a simple history – Plain enough right.  The laws are basically extraneous
  • Some say that the point is a biography of Moses – I would like to dismiss this out of hand because it ignores Creation, and everything about Abraham.
  • Some say that the point is to offer specific commands to specific people. (e.g. Build an ark)  This also seems silly.

Having dismissed all these views, how will we arrive at an answer to the question at hand?  let’s turn to Old Testament theology genius, and my Hebrew professor, John Sailhamer.β

He will say that main idea of the Pentateuch is to contrast 2 people; Abraham as seen in Gen 26:5, and Moses in Num 20:12.

Follow those links and read the 2 passages closely.  I’ll bet you see something you have never seen before that will transform the way you look at these passages.

What is so transformative about this view?

First, Abraham is said to have kept the law even though he lived and died before it was given.  Do you see it?

Then compare that praise to the sin of Moses.  Which according to Num 20 is a lack of faith, not disobedience to the law.

Have you ever seen this?  Abraham is praised for his faith, Moses (the bringer of the law) is condemned by his lack of faith.

So what conclusion do we draw from this contrast?  How does it help answer the question I have spent all week on?  It means that the point of the OT law is just as Paul says in Rom 10 “the righteous live by faith.”

I hope this series has been helpful.  I enjoyed writing it.  Feel free to ask any questions in the comments.

α I’m not sure where I got this from.  I think from lecture notes by Robert L. Cole, Old Testament Survey 1,  Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

β John Sailhamer, “The Mosaic Law and the Theology of the Pentateuch,” Westminster Theological Journal, 53 (1991) 241-261.

Christians and the Old Testament Law pt. 3

So why did I choose to spend a whole week writing on this topic?  Because it seems like every Christian struggles to some degree with the answer.  They don’t often ask the question “Am I responsible for keeping the Old Testament law?”  But they do wonder “why can’t I get a tattoo?” or, “Is it okay to mow my yard on Sunday?” or “Is it okay to go to a restaurant on Sunday after church?”  These questions revolve around issues that are not addressed specifically in the New Testament but are clearly addressed in the Old.

I wrote a while back on the morality of tattoos and that post is one of the most popular of all time on my blog.  (Tattoo is a top 5 word in search referrals every month) So let’s take that issue and look at it from the different approaches I laid out yesterday.

So to clarify, Tattoos are not addressed at all in the New Testament, but they are clearly forbidden in the Old Testament. (Lev 19:28)  How does our approach to OT law affect our answer to the question “are tattoos morally acceptable?”

View 1 – The law-gospel divide.  If we approach our question from this view then we are left to conclude nothing.  This view which says that the OT law is of no consequence to NT believers tells us nothing.  We are left to judge the morality of tattoos from a strictly New Testament perspective.

View 2 – Theonomy.  This view says that the OT law is binding on Christians would offer a clear answer to the question.  According to this view, tattoos are morally unacceptable because they are forbidden by Lev 19:28.  I will add here that according to this view, sausage, and clothes of mixed fabric are immoral as well.

View 3 – Principlism. This view, which says that Christians are bound only by the moral law and not the civil or ceremonial law, would also not help us to answer our question.  This command is in the category of ceremonial law, so it is no consequence to the Christian.

We could do this same illustration with any number of common moral questions and find a similar result; it depends on your view.  So maybe this isn’t the most helpful post of all time, but it should help in making the questions contextual.  At least you have a way to think about these sort of moral questions when they arise in your life.

Tomorrow I will try to answer a harder question; What is the point of the Pentateuch and all this law?

Christians and the Old Testament Law pt. 2

Don’t eat eagles or geckos (Lev 11:13,30) If you marry a foreign slave woman, shave her head and wait a month to consummate the marriage (Deut 21:10-14)

Don’t cook a baby goat in its mother’s milk.  (Ex. 23:19) (That one is there 3 times.)

Build a fence around your roof (Deut 22:8)

These are just a few of the 613 laws of the Pentateuch.  New Testament believers have always had a precarious relationship with the law of the Old Testament.  There are many we keep and many more that we do not.  However for the vast majority of Christians, there is no reason why we keep some laws and not others.  They seem to us either random or culturally-driven.  Today I will attempt to show how Christians throughout the ages have viewed the Old Testament laws throughout time?

Most views of the law fall into these three categories:

1.         The Law-Gospel divide – This view says that the law of the OT is useful, (because it is scripture after all) but it does not help Christians make moral decisions.  NT believers live by the law of Christ not the law of Moses.  In other words, Christians are not bound at all by the law of the Old Testament.

What are some problems with this view?  Most significantly, it reduces the OT to a mere book of history.  If the law does not apply, how do we know the narrative passages are relevant to New Testament believers.   Secondly, Christ quoted much of the OT law. The majority of 10 commandments are explicitly repeated in NT.  If this is the case and Jesus thought it was important enough to reference, then maybe it should speak to His followers

2.         Theonomy – This view says that OT law is binding on the lives of Christians.  Ceremonial law (festivals, temple rules) was fulfilled in Christ so we are off the hook for that.  But the moral and civil law applies unless nullified by architecture or sanitation.    In other words, Christians need to keep as much of the Old Testament law as possible.  Most who hold this view would also say that it is the job of government to bring about adherence to this law as much as possible.

This view has a host of problems as well.  Most significantly, there is no longer a theocracy to implement these laws.  Also, the New Testament seems to clearly do away with OT civil law.

3.         Principlism – Among people who have thought about this question and know what view they hold, this view is the most common.  It divides the OT law into moral, civil, and ceremonial and says that Christians are only responsible for keeping the moral laws.  What exactly are these categories?

  • Ceremonial law, which was given to make the temple/sacrificial system function, was fulfilled in Christ. (Matt 5:17-18)  This was illustrated perfectly when the veil of the temple was torn. (Matt 27:51)
  • Civil law was given to order the Hebrew theocracy and it passed away with the theocracy.
  • Moral law is best summarized in the Ten Commandments is based on the character of God.  These laws are timeless.

These categories are generally pretty to see as we look at the law.  This view helps reconcile the reasons why we keep some but feel no need to keep others.

Tomorrow -  How these views function in real life situations.

Christians and the Old Testament Law

One of the difficult questions for Christians is, what do we do with the Old Testament law? We all feel bound by the 10 Commandments and we know inherently that they are meant to guide us today. We do not, however, feel bound by many other laws found in the Pentateuch. I do not personally know a single Christian who feels any guilt whatsoever about wearing clothes made from mixed fabrics. Nor do I know any Christians who have built a fence around their roof in order to keep the law. So why is it that we can only keep a portion of the 613 laws, rules and regulations found in the OT? I will attempt to answer that question in a series of posts this week. Today will be a bit of an introduction to the Pentateuch, Tuesday I will offer some answers that people have given throughout church history, Wednesday I will take a quick look at how these views work out in real-life situations, and Thursday I will share with you what I believe to be the best answer to the question, “what is the point of the law.”

So now let’s get started with an introduction to the Pentateuch.

The word “Pentateuch” means five-fold book and refers to the first five books of the Old Testament. The narrative of the Pentateuch begins with creation and goes through the life of Moses. The narrative flows smoothly through Genesis and most of Exodous, however the rest of it is broken in order to insert hundreds of commands. These commands regulate everything from how to build the temple to what foods are acceptable.

There are so many laws, in fact, that the Pentateuch is often called the “Torah” which means instruction or law. This is where our question arises. As New Testament believers we believe that Jesus came to “fulfill the law.” (Matt 5:17) So does that mean that we do not have to keep any of it? That doesn’t seem to be the case. Every Christian I know feels that murder is wrong, and Jesus himself said that the most important command was to Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength (Matt 12:20)

With this tension laid out, we will look tomorrow at how Christians have chosen to deal with it.

Our Christmas Party Project

My Church had our youth Christmas party Saturday night.  I knew going in that I was going to have a pretty small group there so my regular Christmas-themed games wouldn't be successful. Then I saw this video on Richard Wiseman's blog last week


The post suggested these as party science stunts to try.  I decided that trying to recreate the video shot by shot would be a fun project.  So it took us about an hour and a half but it was a fun project for my small group of students.  I tried to edit our video to match the original.  I used music supplied by youtube because I was afraid the Christmas music I used originally was not legal.  Also our video doesn't have the narration because I don't have the cool accent.  So you'll need to watch the original to get what the experiments are.

Without further ado I present to you the video from the LPBC youth Christmas party:


Pretty good, huh?

I even had time left to tell Mitch's Christmas story like I have every Christmas since I've been in ministry.

My biggest Christmas gift this year goes to...

Lottie Moon I am probably only giving about 5 Christmas gifts this year, so Lottie doesn’t have a lot of competition. I am, however, giving Lottie the largest gift I ever have.  It’s no great amount but every little bit helps.

I decided to give this amount because of reading two articles from Baptist Press last week. One says economic troubles have caused damage to international mission work. This is perfectly illustrated with a look at the IMB website. ISC missions are currently not functioning. The other article says that CP giving is up over last year. How can those two things be compatible? Well, for starters, the economic situation was already bad last year (anyone remember the talk of the election), and has not really improved that much. Secondly, a major problem is the value of the dollar versus other currency. When Southern Baptists send a missionary to Azerbaijan the value of the Manat works in our favor. But when inflation rages out of control and the manat is worth 26% less it not only takes 26% more for that missionary, but it takes that much more from the IMB and the people paying their salary.  (The article said that happened in Venezuela, but I thought Azerbaijan was funnier.  Fortunately I'm not a reporter)

I believe that the IMB is the most worthy of causes, and I know that the heart of the great commission is the “all nations” part.  Therefore, I will be giving my largest gift to Lottie Moon this year.  We can call it my own personal Great Commission Resurgence.

Hanging of the What?

Help mediate this disagreement between myself and my pastor.  last night at church we had a service called the Hanging of the Green.  I say it should be called hanging of the Greens since we are hanging multiple green things.  My pastor says that greens are something you eat for dinner and finds that unacceptable.  As far as I know, the word green is not a shortened form of the word greenery. So which is correct? I like to use my blog to solve minor disputes such as these.  So please take 2 seconds to vote on your preference.  And if you want to, feel free to tell me in the comments which is correct.

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