Archive for the ‘Bible Study’ Category

The question of what the Bible teaches regarding homosexuality is one of tremendous importance and heated dispute in the current era. An increasing number of professing Christians are questioning traditional teaching on this topic, and the culture at large has strongly rejected traditional Christian teaching on it. Nonetheless, it is my contention that this questioning is not based on the biblical text, but is based on cultural predispositions to reject any form of sexual constraint. Among professing Christians the key question must always be “What does the Bible teach?” We are not permitted to disregard Scripture on a cultural whim.

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The term “biblical theology” creates a great deal of confusion among Evangelical Christians. After all, isn’t all theology biblical? Of course, the confusion comes from equivocation. Scholars and academics use the term to refer to the chronological examination of the major themes and teachings of the Bible. This is examining theology as it was revealed through redemptive history, beginning with those books of the Bible written first (Genesis and Job), and proceeding to those that follow.

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Looking at Ezra 4 through chapter 5 we find that those opposing the rebuilding of God’s Temple succeed, at least for a time.  It should be noted that they succeed through manipulation and making false charges (if the Temple is rebuilt, a revolt will ensue).  But we should expect nothing less from such people.

Ultimately, however, we see Haggai and Zechariah step up to the plate.  They prophesy in the name of God, and work is continued on the rebuilding of God’s Temple.  Of course, further opposition is faced.  Undoubtedly the question of “Who authorized you to rebuild this temple and restore this structure?” is familiar to many of us (5:3, NIV).

I believe there are a growing number of prophetic voices today saying “Look, we must rebuild the Church”.  At least I hope and pray there are.  Obviously many people will want to discount this, they will want to disregard what is said.  Some ruler’s of the synagogue will say we shouldn’t question their authority, others will disregard us as pie-in-the-sky idealists, some may even discount us as overly-energetic teenagers (and several of the authors of this blog are).  But in the end, that doesn’t matter when we know the work God has called us to do.  God will watch over us and this work will not be stopped.

“Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.”  -Martin Luther King Jr., Letter From a Birmingham Jail

God bless!

Josiah




Moving from Ezra 3 to Ezra 4 we see the true beginning of the work of rebuilding.  It started with the altar, and the rest followed.

At the end of Ezra 3, the people worship as the foundation of the Temple is laid.  Those who hadn’t seen the first Temple rejoiced and praised.  Those who had seen the first Temple wept.  This is an interesting dynamic.  The younger people were filled with hope at the building of a temple.  The older people remembered the glorious old days and wept.  Undoubtedly we’ve all heard or read about the revivals of old, those amazing days when God’s Spirit worked mightily through men like Smith Wigglesworth.  We’ve all heard of Finney, of Campbell, of Whitfield, of Edwards.  It’s easy to look back and become focused on those things.  We may even weep because those days are over.

Maybe it’s just my youthful ignorance and bliss, but I’m convinced the greatest days for God’s people are still to come. I believe God’s greatest work remains to be seen.  Jordan is parted, the Ark is on its’ way through, but it remains to be seen if God’s people, if the up and coming generation will follow.  This doesn’t exclude older generations, it’s just most of them who will follow have already followed.  They’re not the ones on the banks of Jordan.  Though don’t get me wrong, they play an important part in what will happen in these last days.

But with all the excitement of this foundation being laid some problems arise.  In Ezra 4:1-5 some troublemakers claiming to be sacrificing to the God of Israel come and want a part in rebuilding the Temple.  Can you imagine the detrimental effects this would have had?  Once these guys got their foot in the door they would corrupt the sacrifice, the worship, everything.  They would have defiled God’s Temple and I imagine mixed it with pagan worship.

Of course, in today’s Church there are already many pagan elements and many things keeping the Church from being all that it is called to be.  But as we attempt to rebuild, many people who are actually enemies of God have come in claiming to worship at our altar and be serving our Lord.  Among these groups are:

1.  Political parties: We in the Church are more active politically then spiritually.  We’ve relied on political power and force to accomplish the will of God.  No number of bans in the country will stop alcoholism, drug use, immoral sexual practices (porn, pre-marital sex, same-sex sex).  If we truly want to see those things stopped we need to spread the Gospel.  Those things are heart-conditions, and no law gives anybody power to overcome sin; in Christ alone is the answer to the great social questions of our day.  Political parties have only hurt the Church, and we’ve foolishly followed immoral leaders with integrity as deep as tropical ice.  Am I advocating we don’t vote?  Of course not.  What I am saying is we can no longer blindly align ourselves with any specific party.  The Church can be on no party’s side, because no party is on God’s side.

2.  Televangelists: Benny Hinn, Morris Cerullo, Mike Murdock, Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, Joyce Meyer et. al., I’m calling you out.  You have used the Gospel to make money, in your greed you have exploited God’s people (see II Peter 2).  “You have no part with us in building a temple to our God.”  -Ezra 4:3, NIV.  These false prophets take just a hint of truth but pollute it with their “prosperity Gospel”.

I will not apologize for what I write here.  Some of the doctrines these people teach are blasphemous, it goes well beyond a mere disagreement.  Benny Hinn claimed that Jesus would physically appear at one of his crusades, he even asserted he may have footage of Jesus Christ.  Joel Osteen won’t even publicly affirm John 14:6 and say that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and that no man comes to the Father but by Him.  Creflo Dollar reportedly rides around in a Rolls Royce provided by his congregation.  Let me tell you something, I believe he will answer on Judgment Day as to why a Rolls Royce was worth more than starving children in Ethiopia or people faced with genocide in Darfur.

3.  Emergents: It may surprise people that I say this, but the Emergent Church is way off track.  Progress can not be equated with superficial ecclesiastical changes coupled with the abandonment of sound Biblical doctrine.  Brian McLaren has done incredible damage to God’s people.  It’s amazing that Frank Viola would write Pagan Christianity and then assert that men like Brian McLaren are his friends.  McLaren promotes more pagan practice and doctrine then the whole of the Church has since Constantine.

When people start calling the Cross a “distraction” we have a tremendous problem.  I will fully grant, and I have asserted on this blog, that the modern pulpit is full of hypocrisy, that the Church is pretentious, that we’ve abandoned true Biblical community, and that we need massive and substantial reform.  But this will not be achieved by forsaking Christ.  Indeed, McLaren and many Emergents are just as bad if not worse then the Institutional Church only on an opposite end.  My friends, I’m afraid many Emergents really have no part in our work of rebuilding God’s Temple.  I must state at this point that there are many types of “emergent” and “emerging”, and in this section I’m referring only to those who compromise God’s Word and the sufficiency and supremacy of Christ’s work.  If you are an “emergent” of the Eddie Gibbs variety then as far as I can tell, welcome aboard.

In our zeal to rebuild God’s Temple, the rebuild the Church, we must not ever compromise.  We can not associate with false prophets and teachers for the sake of numbers and power.  Remember Elijah on Carmel, the winner here will be the one who’s God answers by fire.  Numbers play no part in determining what God can do.

God bless!

Josiah

In Ezra 3 we see something very exciting.  The altar is rebuilt!

What’s so important about the altar?  Everything.  First, it’s a symbol of holiness, of consecration.  The altar is set apart for God’s use and His purposes.  It’s sacred.  Leonard Ravenhill always asserted that revival changes the moral climate.  Certainly there is a paradigm shift between the moral climate going into Babylonian captivity and the moral climate coming out of captivity.  God’s people had stopped being His people and they were punished.  But as they returned they were re-consecrated.

So often we think about holiness as this unattainable standard we shall never reach.  And certainly there is a moral standard that comes with holiness.  But we shouldn’t view holiness as drudgery and something that depresses us when we think about it.  We should view holiness for what it is, being set apart for God’s purposes.  Of course there’s a high standard that comes with that.  As Americans we expect that our ambassadors will not get drunk and assault Britian’s Foreign Secretary.  Likewise, as Christ’s ambassadors God calls us to a similar standard.  God has a plan and a purpose for us, and to let anything so temporary and unsatisfying as sin come in between God and His plan and us should break our heart.

God has amazing plans for us, He desires a relationship with us.  It would be foolish to think that relationship doesn’t come with standards.  If we treat boyfriends and girlfriends with specific standards, if we don’t sleep around because of our commitment to them how much more should we strive to live up to God’s standard?  It’s not like God doesn’t help us, He’s readily accessible and constantly basking us with His love and grace and mercy.  Some use that as an excuse to sin, I see it as the most compelling reason not to sin.  It is the people I love the most and that love me the most that I am least willing to offend, who’s standards I most desire to uphold.  Christ’s love is the main motivation not to sin.  Recieving grace I do not deserve makes me desire to live by the standard from this point forward.

The altar is also used for sacrifice.  We talked about this briefly in Part 3, but we’ll go deeper here.  In Verse 3 we are told that they began offering burnt offerings.  According to the Fire Bible the burnt offering was a “voluntary act of worship”, it provided for atonement for unintentional sin; it was an “expression of devotion, commitment, and complete surrender to God” (Fire Bible Student Edition, 163).

Think about that, it was a voluntary act of worship.  Today we no longer have to use bulls, rams, doves or pigeons for our worship.  But we ought to worship.  What is worship?  It’s acknowledging God, it’s our response to God.  In the New Testament the most common word for worship, proskuneo, refers to a dog licking its master’s hand.  Surely this is an excellent example of devotion, commitment, and surrender.

Perhaps we think too small of God.  As A.W. Tozer said, false concepts of God soon rot the religion in which they appear.  If we truly understood the depths of God’s love, the sufficiency and supremacy of Christ, the glory of God, God’s amazing goodness, His nearness and transcendence, His holiness, His justice, His mercy, His omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence then every time we worshiped we would go wild, we would fall to our knees, we would echo the words of the old hymn:  “I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene, and wonder how He could love me, a sinner condemned, unclean.  O how marvelous!  O how wonderful!  And my song shall ever be, o how marvelous!  O how wonderful!  Is my Savior’s love for me!”.  As Paul Washer says, our lives should be a contradiction.  We should have a theology that’s deep, almost academic; but when we worship we should go wild (if we’re dignified).

Of course if we truly thought of God this way we would have no excuse, we would have no right to give ourselves to anyone but Christ nor to anything but prayer (A.W. Tozer).  It would require complete and total commitment, 100% devotion.  No more whoring with the world.  We must be God’s and God’s alone.

This brings us to a third notable point regarding the altar, it’s a sign of the presence of God.  We underestimate God.  All the time I hear “we have to sin every day”.  That’s a lie.  Only someone who’s god is powerless must sin everyday.  A god incapable of overcoming sin is no god at all.  A god incapable of relating to and intervening for its creation is no god at all.

The fact is we can live in close and intimate communion with God, and we should.  But so often we don’t.  I’m just as guilty of this as any of my readers.  I dare say some of my readers are probably less guilty of this then myself.  But what an egregious sin to neglect God, to neglect time with Him.  To ignore His presence with us each and every day.  This sin causes us to miss out on a 1,000 blessings.

We spend so much time doing other things, watching television or movies or whatever.  How many of us would say to a girlfriend or boyfriend “I won’t be spending time with you tonight, I’m watching Seinfeld“?  None of us.  To compromise we might invite that person to watch Seinfeld with us.  In relationship to God we say “Oh He’s always with us”.  Absolutely!  But that means two things, 1.  We should be following Him, not making Him follow us and 2.  Knowing He’s always with me I certainly don’t want to do anything that He finds offensive.

To say “I don’t need to spend time praying because I do everything with God” is like saying “I don’t need to spend time with my girlfriend because I invite her over when I watch porn”.  It’s ridiculous and it demonstrates the contempt for God that many these days live daily.   We haven’t crucified the world, we’ve brought it out of the ditch, cleaned just enough to where we can’t see the dirt, and we’ve slept with it.

Now the last thing I want to point out is this:  All of this rebuilding happens in a community of unity.  Read the first verses of Ezra 3 again, all the Israelites assembled as one man and together they undertook this rebuilding.  My campus pastor often points out that Christianity is a communal faith.  Granted, we all make our personal decision to follow Christ, but we grow and spiritually mature in community, in the whole Body of Believers.  In Colossians 2:2-3 Paul says he desires for these Christians to “have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (NIV).

The interesting thing is Paul hinges that on the believers at Colasse and Laodicea being encouraged in heart and united in love.  Outside of the unity of the Body of Believers we do not have the full riches of complete understanding, we miss out on fully knowing Christ and all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden in Him.  There is no such thing as lone ranger Christianity.  Even in China where the Church faces severe persecution they are dedicated to gathering together in fellowship, being united in love (I don’t just say this, this is based directly on the account of a Chinease student).

If we want the Church to be built up, if we desire to truly grow in our faith, if we want to grow in our knowledge of God we must unite ourselves in love, consecrate ourselves to God’s purposes and sacrificially dedicate ourselves to Him as we live a lifestyle of worship ever conscious of God’s nearness and presence in our lives.

God bless!

Josiah

If we read Ezra 2 we may think “how dreadfully boring… it’s just a list of those returning”.  But truly there’s more to it than that.  First, I should like to point out that being the people of God meant something to the Israelites, so much so that they could prove it through their ancestry.  Today being part of God’s chosen people has nothing to do with a nationality, but it is amazing how in America it means nothing to call oneself a Christian.  We have the idea that nearly our entire country is composed of Christians.  This may sound harsh, but I think we need to require some people who call themselves Christians to prove it.  Granted, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and if you believe in your heart God has raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved (Romans 10:9).  But it doesn’t end there.  If you’ve truly believed in your heart your life will change and it will change radically.  You will not be who you once were.  You won’t be comfortable doing what you once did.  You won’t identify yourself by the same standards you used to identify yourself by.

When did we quit preaching obedience?  Is not obeying Christ’s commands the evidence that we love Him (John 14:15)?  You say you believe in your heart that God has raised Jesus from the dead, then prove it by keeping Christ’s commandments!  Keeping Christ’s commandments is not nearly as difficult as we might think, because it is a by-product of our love for Him and His love in us.  Keeping Christ’s commandments is impossible if we don’t have love.  Christianity is a relationship with Jesus Christ, and that relationship will evidence itself in obedience to Christ’s commandments.

I know some will shout “legalism!”.  It only demonstrates their ignorance.  Legalism says “enter relationship with Christ by obeying”.  Legalism makes obedience a pre-requisite for relationship.  What I’m proposing is that obedience is the result of relationship, not the requirement for it.  This also differs from liberalism in that liberalism says nothing matters but love.  I tell you, liberal theologians do not understand what love is; one characteristic of God’s love is truth, another is that it is a moral love.

At any rate I daresay much of our powerless, fluff theology comes from not spending any time whatsoever in the presence of God.  It is impossible to spend time in God’s presence and not be purified and refined to look more like Jesus.  Oh that we would pray!

The second part of Chapter 2 is very interesting as well.  Why?  Because in Verse 68 the leaders take the initiative in giving offerings to the work of the Lord!  I tell you, these are the kinds of offerings that hurt, the kind that require faith to give.  This was a sacrificial offering.  It cost them something to give this.

Today our Christianity has cost us nothing, we are willing to make no sacrifice, we will not give an offering.  I daresay if we want to see God move mightily on our behalf we’re going to have to make a commitment and an investment.  We are going to have to sacrifice.  We may have to spend less time watching a Sit Com, and more time praying.  We may have to spend less time at the theater and more time in the Word.  We may have to replace our volleyball courts with prayer rooms.  We may have to give up our traditions to afford God the opportunity to work.  We may have to give up our rotten individualism and theological subjectivity to commit ourselves to the truth of God.

When did we ever think we could follow Jesus without a sacrifice?  When did we begin to think that God exists as a convenient go-to person to serve our petty little needs?  We need to get over the idea that God is following us everywhere, we ought to be following Him everywhere (Batterson).  It will require a sacrifice.

I think of the countless prophets, missionaries, and ministers throughout the years who gave everything up to follow Christ.  Are we willing to identify with Paul and count all things as feces compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord?  We must remember that Christ gives us abundant life by means of death.

God bless!

Josiah

As we read in Ezra Chapter 1, there was a Divine mandate to rebuild the Temple of God.  What had been destroyed and ground to rubble was in need of rebuilding.

We can look at this process in two phases:  First, the Jewish captives were set free.  Second, in their freedom the Jews returned to Jerusalem.

We’ll take this one step at a time.  How in the world could Jewish captives being set free apply to us today?  Well, when God’s people are oppressed they don’t function properly, they don’t do what needs to be done, it’s hard to act as God’s people.  There is not freedom to worship the Lord, obeying Him becomes considerably more difficult.

I’m not attempting to allegorize Ezra, because obviously it records historical events, but I think the principles are the same.  If we as God’s people are oppressed by some human authority we find it harder to function as God’s people.  Let’s make this practical.  In the Catholic Church is an individual believer able to read God’s Word, apply it, and live it?  No, not if they’re keeping with Catholic doctrine, because everything has to go through the priest, the priest through the diocese and Bishop, the Bishop through the Council of Bishops, and the Council of Bishops must be in accord with the Pope.  Protestant and Evangelical Churches aren’t much better.  In an Evangelical Church we have our deacon boards, our pastors, our general councils, our presbyters, and our overseers and superintendents.

Is something inherently wrong with deacon boards and presbyers?  No.  The problem is when those authorities are too focused on power and hinder the Church and the individual believer from functioning as God desires.  Now many people will say this isn’t happening.  Are you sure?  If God ordains someone a minister can they recieve credentials from their local Church?  Probably not.  Are credentials Biblical?  No.  Do they stop people from functioning?  Yes, because most of them forbid people without credentials from serving communion, baptizing new disciples, being able to preach publicly, etc…  Our Church hierarchies have become oppressive; we’ve created different classes of Christians.

By Divine mandate there is a breaking away from oppressive hierarchies to function as the Body of Christ.  This is the second aspect, the return.  We need to get back to the Church as Jesus established it.  We need Church leaders who stop working to maintain power and prestige and who start working to empower the whole Church to function as the Bodyof Christ with the goal of preaching the Gospel and making disciples of all nations.  We need to return to Jerusalem and begin the Divinely appointed work of rebuilding the Temple.

Now guess what?  There will be some Tobiahs (see Nehemiah) that try to stop this from happening.  There are going to be people who fight for the status quo.  There will also be people who, like Tobiah, work to remove the sacred things from God’s Temple.  These Tobiahs may come in the form of pastors, denominational leaders, emergents, and institutionalists.  When these people come up we need to respond with Nehemiah 2:20: “The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.”  (NIV, Emphasis mine).

I realize heavy liturgy, pompous ceremony, positions of great prestige, and centralized denominational power is how we’ve always done it.  I realize symbolic and sentimental rituals like those being promoted by the Emergent Church have been around for thousands of years.  I realize we’ve made congregents sit around as spectators as we perform our highly ritual routine week after week.  But just because that’s how we’ve always done it does not make it right.  Anything that distracts us from Jesus and that cripples us as His Body needs to be given the boot.

God bless!

Josiah