Repent tomorrow, and today

Matthew 3:1-12

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3 This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”

4 John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. 5 People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. 6 Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.

7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

I have a good friend who is always on top of things. She is a fellow pastor, and we went to seminary together. When we took a class together and we needed to schedule our capstone presentations, she volunteered to go first. Last week, on November 30, we received her family’s Christmas card. Some years we received her Christmas card before Thanksgiving. This is mind boggling for me, because as some of you might recall, my family is not usually that punctual. There have been years when we have not done any Christmas cards, which is probably more common than what we did in 2011, when we sent out Valentine’s Day cards because we didn’t get around to sending Christmas cards. It was just two months late, no biggie.

It is really easy for me to put things off until later, especially if they aren’t things I enjoy. I have been saying that I’m going to clean out my car now for about…three years? I’m going to call that person from high school, I’m going to start praying and reading scripture at the same time every day.

Starting tomorrow.

And I’m sure that I’m not alone.

We are coming right up on the New Year, and many people will be setting their New Year’s resolutions. This year, I’m going to start eating better. But not on January 1. We have New Year’s parties to get to, which means one last chance to eat big for the holidays. But January 2, I’m going to…no, wait, that’s actually a really big day for college football. The Rose Bowl will be on January 2, and I’m going to have nachos. And if we are being logical, the College Football Championship Game is one week later, on January 9, so that means more nachos and probably some chicken wings. So there is no reason to start eating better until… Well, there’s the Super Bowl, then some birthdays. I figure I can start eating better around November, 2017.

This habit of putting things off can be more problematic than just delaying the start of a diet or sending of Christmas cards. My wife’s parents did three years of voluntary service in one of the most economically-depressed places in the United States, working with a series of food pantries and homeless shelters. These locations were not only economically depressed, they were also depressing. People didn’t take care of their possessions, and they didn’t care for their own bodies. In the church we might say that they were poor stewards of the things that God had given them. And in this economically depressed and spiritually depressing location, my mother-in-law learned to despise a word. That word was “manana.” At least the people in the Colorado neighborhood had picked up some culture and learned another language! But this was a common practice in this socially and economically depressed part of the world. If you asked someone to do something, they would reply, “manana.” I will do it tomorrow.

Today, not tomorrow, we will be looking at a strange text about a strange man. Here we are on the 4th of December. If you look around your neighborhood, you may see Santa Claus, Rudolph, twinkling lights, and maybe even some manger scenes. But on the second Sunday of Advent, we turn to a scrawny, hairy, and probably itchy man who stands on the street corner, yelling something about the Kingdom of heaven, while wearing clothes made of camel hair, his breath reeking of wild honey and bugs. Nothing says, “Happy birthday, Jesus” like a man wearing camel hair with locus stuck in his teeth.

While John the Baptist might not have the same appeal as a chubby man with a red suit and a white beard, John is all the more important for our upcoming holiday celebration. John is the predecessor of Jesus. He is said to be the slightly-older cousin of Jesus, born a few months before our Lord. We don’t read anything about John’s early years, but we are told that he comes on the scene as an adult just before Jesus. Matthew says that John is the one prophesied about by Isaiah, “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”

And John’s message is clear…kind of. He says in verse 2, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Now the image is really coming together for me. John is a dirty, hairy, likely stinky man wearing camel hair clothes, eating bugs and honey. The honey helps the bugs go down. And this crazed man is standing on the street corner, calling out to passersby, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Or even better, “has come nigh,” for those who prefer the King James.

If I saw this character on my street, I would cross to the other side.

Now ask yourselves who needs to hear this message? Obviously, it is the sinners. The tax collectors, the prostitutes, the sexually promiscuous, the thieves, and the Virginia Tech fans. Repent, and sin no more! Sorry, that last one just slipped.

But it is true. These people to need to repent. Who else does? The religious leaders, that’s who. The Pharisees and the Sadducees come to John, and he doesn’t greet them by saying, “Brothers, you need not be baptized, nor do you need to repent. It’s all good, I’m here for those guys.”

Instead, John says in verse 9, “And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.” Your credentials aren’t enough, and even your past accomplishments aren’t enough.

I recently updated my CV, which is short for a “curriculum vitae,” a Latin phrase meaning course of life. Most people are familiar with resumes. Resumes are often required for job applications and things like that. One of the main guidelines in writing a resume is the length. If you have ever written a resume, you know that it is to be one page long. You put your work experience, your educational experience, and a few other key details on the document, and that is it. A CV is just the opposite. It is a listing of all of your accomplishments. Mine includes all of the jobs that I have held, my education information, scholarships, my publications, my responsibilities with Virginia Mennonite Conference, and so on. A CV, even more so than a resume, is supposed to be a representation of what you are capable of doing based on what you have already accomplished.

But what a person is capable of doing and what they actually do isn’t always the same. You may have a very strong resume or CV, you may even have really strong references, but that is only an indicator of what you can do and what you have done. Not what you will do.

Some of you who are business owners have probably hired a person based on your knowledge of their previous work. Or maybe you have hired a person to work on your house or your car. Maybe you are a teacher and you have been working with a student for an entire year. And the employee doesn’t live up to your expectations. The carpenter or the mechanic doesn’t fix the problem you are having. The student doesn’t perform as well as they did before.

Your past success, your credentials, who your daddy is, your job title. These things may make for a very successful CV or resume. But more is expected of you. You are expected to continue to do these great things at the same level of expertise, if not better.

So when these religious leaders approach John, he doesn’t slap them on the back and congratulate them on a successful career. He calls them to repentance, too.

This whole scenario gets ever weirder after our text for today. If we were to jump ahead to verse 13, who is it that comes to Jesus for baptism? It is Jesus. And John is understandably hesitant to baptize Jesus. “You should be baptizing me!,” John says. I think this part that our text leaves out is a key to understanding this entire passage. Because this isn’t about repenting in the sense that we often use the word. Because if baptism is simply about asking forgiveness for your sins and being metaphorically washed clean, then most Christians would agree that Jesus didn’t need to be baptized. There is something more going on here.

Remember that the Greek word “metanoia,” which we translate as “repent,” literally means to turn or to change. This isn’t about simply stating out loud that you have made mistakes in your life. This is about turning your life to align with God’s will. John came proclaiming this alternative kingdom where God is the king, and he is inviting people to turn their lives to align with God’s will. And it doesn’t matter if you are a tax collector, a prostitute, a Pharisee, or a Sadducee. Everyone needs to realign their lives from time to time. Even Jesus himself.

Even Jesus had to pray, not my will but yours be done.

I’m not suggesting that Jesus ever sinned, but there are times when Jesus even needs to discern what God’s will is and to realign his life with God’s kingdom. And if Jesus needed that reminder from time to time, surely we do as well.

It has now been over a month since my baseball team lost the World Series, so I think I am ready to talk about it. Once again, my team went all the way to the decisive game 7 of the series, only to lose in extra innings. And as soon as the last out was recorded, the players for the Chicago Cubs put on their 2016 World Series Champion t-shirts and hats. Similar items were sold around the world and were readily available at the click of a mouse.

Have you ever wondered how they print up all of those t-shirts and hats so quickly? The answer is, they don’t. They print two sets, one for the team that actually wins, and one set for the team that loses. Because they don’t know who will win, they have to have both on hand for the victory celebration.

Have you ever wondered what happens to all of those shirts and hats that were printed for the losing team? They are often donated to organizations like World Vision. If you go to Zambia, you can find men wearing t-shirts that say, “Chicago Bears, 2007 Super Bowl Champions.” The Indianapolis Colts actually won that year, but I don’t think the previously-naked man minds the inaccuracy too much. 15,000 of these shirts were distributed in Zambia.

This year, after my team from Cleveland lost the World Series, Major League baseball made the decision to destroy the shirts that had been printed for a Cleveland victory. And I know that it is more complicated than I am letting on, but I have to think that those shirts could have been put to good use somewhere. The World Series ended just one month after Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti and parts of the southeastern shore of the United States.

I’m not saying that it was a sin to destroy the shirts, but I believe that there could be a better use for them. We follow Jesus, who says to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and care for the poor. I believe that to make the decision to donate these otherwise worthless shirts is the kind of repentance, the kind of turning, that we all need to do every day. We need to be asking ourselves all the time if our lives are aligning with the God revealed in Jesus Christ; the God revealed on the cross.

This is why we have John the Baptist as a part of our Advent reading. John, complete with camel hair clothing and bugs in his teeth, stands on the corner calling out for people to repent. He isn’t just calling those sinners over there. He is calling the religious folks as well. He is calling us all to realign our lives to God’s will.

There was an ancient Rabbi named Eliezer. As he was teaching his students one day, Rabbi Eliezer instructed them, “Repent one day before your death.” One of the students replied, “But Rabbi, how will we know when that day is?”

Eliezer replied, “Exactly. All the more reason to repent today, lest you die tomorrow.”

John’s call to repentance isn’t something for tomorrow. Don’t wait until manana. Repent, realign your life to God will today, and then do it again tomorrow.

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Waiting for God Knows What

Isaiah 2:1-5

1This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: 2 In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.3 Many peoples will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 4 He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.

Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. 5 Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. It is always great to catch up with loved ones, reflect upon what we are thankful for, and eat enough in one sitting to sustain a small army for a week. Everyone loves the pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes, and dressing. But I always look forward to the turkey. I guess you could say that Thanksgiving always puts me in a foul mood.

Because I am not the only turkey fan in my family we always try to buy a really big turkey so we can have leftovers. So I went to the grocery store on Wednesday to select the best bird. Of course they were a little picked over, and all I could find were really small turkeys. So I asked one of the sales clerks, “Do these turkeys get any bigger?”

The smart aleck replied, “No, they don’t. They are already dead.”

Today we move from celebrating Thanksgiving to observing Advent. Advent is the period including four Sundays leading up to Christmas Day, and because Christmas is on a Sunday this year, we actually have the longest possible Advent season this year. This is good if you like Advent, but not so good if you don’t like waiting.

Yet that is what Advent is. Advent is a period of waiting. The word “advent” literally means the arrival of someone of significance. Two thousand years ago, the world experienced the arrival of a baby born in a manger in Bethlehem (not Pennsylvania). And since his departure, we have been waiting on his return, when we are told Jesus will make everything right. There will be no more suffering, no more pain, no more hunger. There will be no famine, there will be no more war. The world will be as God intended it to be.

So in this season of Advent, we wait. We light the candles, providing a visual element to our waiting. We wait for not only the day when we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, we wait for the day when he takes away our suffering.

Let’s look at today’s text for a few minutes, because this is one that we know perhaps too well. We know about the swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. We know the “ain’t gonna study war no more” part of this scripture. But the context is really important for us to understand what is going on here in Isaiah’s prophecy.

When we look at the book of Isaiah, we need to remember that this book was written over a period of at least 70 years. The first 39 chapters are filled with warnings, laments, and judgments. Woe to you, Israel! These 39 chapters warn of something that is quickly approaching, an event that we are told is the result of the people having turned from God. The first 39 chapters speak of the coming of the Babylonians, who will defeat the Israelites and carry them off into captivity. They will be separated from friends, family, and from the Temple of God, where Yahweh himself is believed to dwell.

When we come to chapter 40, we find that passage made popular by Handel’s Messiah, Comfort, comfort ye my people, says thy God. Your iniquities have been forgotten. But chapter 40 doesn’t come for another 38 chapters, and another 70 years. In the early chapters of Isaiah, the people aren’t expecting comfort. They are expecting pain and suffering.

So why do we have this passage in the middle of God’s pronouncement against the people who are about to be defeated in war that there will come a time when we ain’t gonna study war no more? Because in the middle of suffering, we need to be reminded that better days are coming and to be assured that better days are indeed here.

I feel like 2016 has been a rough year. It all started last January, when singer David Bowie passed away. He was later followed by entertainers such as Prince, Merle Haggard, Muhammed Ali, and just this last week, Florence Henderson (aka, Mrs. Brady). We have seen horrifying images of the conditions endured by Syrian refugees, including the picture of 5-year-old Omran, sitting in the back of an ambulance after his home was bombed during an air raid. There have been numerous terrorist strikes around the world. Stateside, police officers have shot unarmed black men, and snipers have struck back, killing police officers. We are still waiting to see what will come from “Brexit” and a Trump presidency.

While I do not wish to compare my comfortable life to that of the Israelites, I am sure that I am not going too far in stating that I am ready for 2017. We are waiting for something better, for some good news. I am waiting for an advent. I am waiting for Jesus to make things right again.

So what is God waiting on?

Isn’t that the question on all of our minds? What is God waiting on? Why doesn’t God make things right? Why allow the Civil War in Syria to continue? Why allow terrorism to thrive? Why must racial, ethnic, and religious bigotry be so prevalent? Creator of heaven and earth, we cry out to you and ask why?

Let’s consider a few options as to why God/Jesus has not come back to set the world right. There are a number of ways of doing theology that attempt to redefine how we understand God’s power or omnipotence. Often, but not always, these theologies boil down to an attempt to explain why a loving God would allow bad things to happen if God is indeed all powerful.

One way to explain this is through something called “Process Theology.” Process Theology is much more complicated and nuanced than I can begin to explain here, or even understand myself. But one of the aspects of Process Theology says that God cannot bring about the end of suffering and bring the new world because God is not physically able to do so. This is sometimes referred to as the “weak force of God.” This isn’t to say that God is weak; indeed, God is the most powerful being. God is more powerful than us, but even God has limitations. God is not powerful enough to bring the world to where it should be. Instead, God’s power, God’s weak force on the world, is seen through influencing human beings, drawing us to a better version of this world.

I like the idea that God is not coercive and that God instead influences human beings. But I have a problem with the idea that the one who created the world is not able to do what he wants with the world. I want more options.

There is another line of thinking that says that Jesus will not return to set the world right until everyone has heard the Gospel. This comes from Matthew 24, which is the Gospel reading from the lectionary for today. Matthew 24 is what we sometimes call the “mini apocalypse,” and includes lines about the sun turning to darkness and the stars falling from the sky. Verse 14 says, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

I like the idea of all the world hearing the good news about Jesus. But this could also be translated as saying that all “gentiles” need to hear the Gospel before the end will come. Does this mean that the end will only come when every person has heard? If so, it might be awhile. At least if we translate this as “all nations” we can put a number on it because there are 196 countries in the world today.

No, I don’t love this explanation either, especially because I don’t like basing my understanding of the end times on one obscure verse in a passage that may or may not be talking about the second coming of Jesus.

While there are things about these options that I like, I prefer a third. I believe that we are called to partner with God to live out the teachings of Jesus and to bring about the vision that Isaiah witnessed. When we beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks today, we are working with God to bring about God’s vision for the world.

Remember the way that Matthew’s Gospel ends, with what we often call the Great Commission. Verses 18b-20 capture the words of Jesus, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

When Jesus leaves, he gives all authority to his followers. Go, make disciples. Baptize them. Teach them. And I will be with you, alongside of you, partnering with you, until the end of the age.

I don’t know why God allows suffering to continue, but I do know that we are to partner with God to teach, preach, make disciples, and continue the work that Jesus began here on earth.

So we hold these images of the good in our minds and try to live them out in our fallen world. The swords into plowshares, the spears into pruning hooks provide for us a reminder that though the world may at times be terrible, horrible, no good, and very bad, there is still the potential for good. As we wait for perfection, I want to remind of you the very good things that are happening around us today so as to sustain us in our work in partnership with God.

Earlier this month, Franconia Mennonite Conference and Eastern District Mennonite Conference had a joint assembly. These two conferences are primarily located in Pennsylvania, and overlap significantly geographically. In fact, 169 years ago, these two conferences split from one larger group.

Of course, these splits often affect more than conferences. They split churches and they split families. And when a church splits, there is often a struggle over who owns the church building. Historian John Ruth tells the story (as presented in the Mennonite World Review):

When it became clear that the [liberal] majority was just as determined that the property belonged to them, some conservatives bolted the door shut from the inside, using straightened wagon wheel rims as reinforcement. Their outraged opponents then persuaded one of their own young men to break in. He ‘bored a large hole’ in the three-year-old door, ‘and secured a strong steel saw and sawed until the bolt was sawed through.’ Then, the man recalled years later, ‘We went in to hold services.’

Okay, I love the determination involved in boring a hole through a door and sawing through the lock. I really love that they then went in and held a worship service, even though the others were already inside. But this church split. And at the joint meeting between these two conferences earlier this month, they decided to work at reunifying again.

Swords are beaten into plowshares.

Two weeks ago I got a phone call from my mother telling me that my 97-year-old grandfather wasn’t doing well. He was retaining water and having problems breathing. It didn’t seem like he had long.

It had always been an emphasis in my grandfather’s family to come home for Thanksgiving. The story is that when the siblings started marrying and moving away, my great grandmother said, “I know that it will be hard for everyone to be home for Christmas. You have other families now, too. Please be home for Thanksgiving.”

To the best of my knowledge, he has only ever missed two.

A few days ago, my grandfather gathered with all of his living siblings, along with family members from as far away as Jacksonville, Florida. He had to take three canisters of oxygen with him, and his only living sister will not remember that any of them were there. But for at least one more Thanksgiving, my grandfather made it home.

Swords into plowshares; spears into pruning forks.

And one week ago, there was an uncomfortable woman here at church. Here feet were swollen, her dietary restrictions were getting to be annoying. She wasn’t sleeping well, and her energy was low. And on Tuesday, I got to hold a new baby.

Swords into plowshares; spears into pruning forks.

My friends, I don’t know why God is waiting to set this world right. But I do know what we are to be doing in the meantime. We are to be beating swords into plowshares, and spears into pruning forks. We are to take the bad, the painful, and the destructive things of this world, and transform them into the beautiful, the creative, and the life giving. We are to proclaim a kingdom that is yet to come, a kingdom that has already begun.

In this season of Advent, we may wait on the coming kingdom. But we wait actively.

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Before I die…

Luke 21:5-19New International Version (NIV)

5 Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, 6 “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”

7 “Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?”

8 He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”

10 Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.

12 “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.

When you hear Luke 21:5-19 read aloud on November 13, you may have a slightly different take on this than you would have one week earlier. Please note that I chose this text for today before Election Day 2016, back when I assumed that the other candidate was going to win, and this is not meant to be a prediction for a Clinton or Trump-led USA. Furthermore, this is the Lectionary Gospel reading for this morning, so the fact that it falls on the first Sunday after selecting our next president is completely by chance.

Regardless of how or if you voted, we knew that close to 50% of our nation would believe that the outcome of this election would signify the end of the world as we know it. With so much division among us, it is inevitable that some people will be hurt, others disappointed, and others will predict that the world will come to an end. Nations will rise up against nations. There will be wars and rumors of wars. Kingdoms will rise and fall.

To many people living in the United States in the 21st century, it feels as if this is the end of the world as we know it. And it may be. But this does not change how we are called to live. In fact, it may just be the motivation that we need to start living life to its fullest potential.

None of this is new. Ever since the beginning of time, people have wondered when the end would come. Today we are going to look at this apocalyptic text, ask how Jesus’ first hearers would have interpreted this, and what does it mean for us today.

Our text begins with some disciples talking about the temple and how it was decorated with beautiful stones and precious gems. By many accounts, the temple was a magnificent architectural phenomenon. We know from our Bible that Solomon constructed the original temple, and it was adorned with many beautiful woods and stones. But that temple had been destroyed during the Babylonian Exile, and the temple was rebuilt when the Jews returned to Jerusalem by Zerubbabel. We find this story in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, as well as other places.

But this reconstructed temple really didn’t compare to the first temple. It had a similar shape, similar rooms, and served a similar purpose, but it was not nearly as ornate.

Then along comes a king named Herod. Herod was known for his building projects. The historian Josephus claims that Herod was trying to build more than a bunch of buildings, he was trying to build a legacy. So through heavy taxation, Herod gathered the needed materials and funds to make the temple a site to behold. He had fine materials mined from surrounding lands, and quarried huge stones for the temple platform and structures. The largest stone, which is known as “The Western Stone,” measures 44.6 feet by 11 feet by 16.5 feet and weighs approximately 567 to 628 tons. It is believed to be among the largest objects moved by human beings without the use of modern machinery. You can still see this stone if you travel to Jerusalem today.

We don’t know exactly where in the temple Jesus and his disciples were walking at this time, but they may have been walking by this Western Stone, or one of the other stones that weighed over 100 tons. So I’m not surprised that the disciples were impressed by this scene. But what is surprising is Jesus’s response: “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”

All things come to an end. Even the beautiful temple that Herod was building would be destroyed.

The gospels were all written about a generation after the death of Jesus when Christians realized that Jesus would not be back in their lifetime. Up until this time, the stories were passed on from one person to another as oral tradition, and there was likely a number of quotes from Jesus that had been written down. But when the last of the eye witnesses to Jesus began to die, there was an effort to make an ordered account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Luke states this directly in the opening verses of his gospel. Luke was probably writing somewhere around the year 80 AD.

This is significant because Luke would have had some important information that the disciples didn’t when Jesus spoke these words. Luke knew that in the year 70 AD, the Romans had come and leveled the temple that Herod had just renovated.

So now here is a fun question. Was Jesus talking about the fall of the temple, or was he talking about the end of the world? You may be surprised to know (where is my sarcastic font?) that not everyone agrees on the answer. Some claim that Jesus is talking about the fall of the temple in 70 AD, and others that he is speaking about his own second coming. We can debate this all day and all night, but we likely won’t come to an agreement. And that’s okay. That’s okay because the point is still the same, no matter which interpretation you favor.

All things come to an end.

So yes, in 70 AD, the Romans leveled the Temple, which was really the center of all Jewish practices. The Roman Empire was huge, it had power unlike anything else of their day. And to this day, when we hear about the Roman Empire, we shake in our boots! Right? No, because Rome is just a city in Italy today. The Roman Empire had a good run, and were a major power for 500 years. But then they fell to another superpower.

You’ve heard of great nations, like the Ottoman Empire, which dominated much of Europe and parts of Asia. There were various European Colonial empires who sailed around the world and expanded their borders into Africa, South American, India, and North America. When was the last time you heard about the Ottoman Empire or the Portuguese dominating another nation? No, these great powers have fallen.

All things come to an end. Even your life.

I’m not trying to be discouraging, but we are all dying. From the moment you took your first breath, and the first beat of your heart, you have been moving toward death. You aren’t going to live forever, and who would want to. Nations will rise and fall, we will live and die.

So what are we to do about it? We can make the most out of every second we have.

I know I sound like an old man going through a mid-life crisis, and maybe I am that. But take this passage as a reminder to seize every chance you have to make the most out of your life.

I find myself wasting too much time. I spend a lot of time playing on my phone, searching the internet, reading posts on Facebook. I hear that “ding” and I know that someone has sent me an email or a text message, so I stop everything that I’m doing to see what is going on. Even if I’m driving, I better check to see if someone needs me. It might be an emergency, like I’m expected to perform heart surgery or something!

I’m pretty sure that I’m not alone. Maybe it isn’t the internet for you, maybe it is watching television, playing video games, watching sports. I am becoming more and more aware of how much time I waste.

I heard a story this week about a family that has a rule that when they walk through the door into their home in the evening, they place their phones in a basket, and those phones need to stay there until after the dishes are done. There are other fun versions of this, like when friends go out to eat together—I remember those days—and they place their phones upside down on the table. The first one to pick up their phone and turn it over pays for the meal. Or my cousin challenged us recently that if you see a young couple out to eat and they go the entire meal without looking at their phones that you should pay for their meal.

We’ve only got so much time on this earth, let’s make the most of it!

I know how hard it is. Before we had children, it was a lot easier to spend time with friends, to go to their homes and invite people over to our place as well. But now our home is always messy and we are always tired. We don’t have the time or energy to make a fancy meal or to clean the house from top to bottom.

So don’t. After several months of living beside one another, we finally had our new neighbors over for dinner a few weeks ago. Our house was messy and we had spaghetti to eat. And within the first few minutes, their two-year-old spilled his drink and dumped his plate on the floor. We had a great time.

Now you might be thinking that Jesus would encourage us to use our time for spiritual things, not earthly, bodily things. Jesus goes on to talk about persecution and bearing witness to his kingdom, after all. But I don’t like to separate out our physical lives and our spiritual lives, as I think we make a mistake when we separate the two into distinct categories.

Put your hand over your chest and breathe in…and breathe out. That breath in your lungs is the very spirit that God has given you. What you do with your body, you do with your spirit. Everything is spiritual. Not everything is good for your spirit, but as embodied spirits, you can’t do anything without involving your spirit.

Just as you are feeding your spirit by sitting in church right now, you are feeding your spirit when you surround yourself with loved ones. You are feeding your spirit when you help those in need. You are feeding your spirit when you share the love of Jesus.

My friends, we are dying, and the world as we know it is coming to an end. I don’t know if Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton will make it come faster or not. What I do know is that what we do with our lives matters.

This is why I want to slow down. Today I plan to spend the afternoon with some of my favorite people in the world, cooking a big pot of stew over an open fire. We could have gone out and purchased a lot of food a lot easier and faster, but half of the fun is in the process.

I came into church on Friday and found our fridge filled with dead chickens. Just a few days earlier, some people from our church got together and butchered some layers who weren’t doing their job any more. You could have gone out and purchased chicken. But you had a chance to talk, to share, to learn, and to love.

In this busy world, we can easily get distracted by the next thing that needs to be done. And somehow we have convinced ourselves that if we don’t do something right away, the world will come to an end. If I don’t respond to that text or email, the world will come crashing down! That’s half right. The world will come to an end, regardless of what we do. So let’s make the most of our time. Let’s live each day to its fullest. Let’s slow down and care for our spirit.

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Mutual Submission

Ephesians 5:21-6:9

21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

6 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— 3 “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 6 Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, 8 because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.

9 And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.

Last week I felt compelled to share about a difficult topic. We addressed one of the main passages from the Bible that has historically been used to support slavery. And I think I argued the pro-slavery position pretty well, if I do say so myself. I then turned around and showed why those arguments don’t hold up today, offering three different principles for reading these difficult texts.

But after the service I was challenged to do more than just refute those historical arguments, and to go further in asking what Paul’s purpose might have been in writing passages that say things along the lines of “slaves, obey your masters.” So what we are going to do today is to broaden the subject a little more, because often the passages that encourage slaves to obey their masters are a part of a larger body of texts that encourage wives to submit to husbands, children to submit to parents, and slaves to submit to their masters.

I think that it is really important to discuss all of these submissions together, because while most of us would probably consider slavery an act outside of God’s will, and therefore not require slaves to submit to their masters, the concept of women submitting to their husbands is still very dominant in some church communities. So today we will look at this text, consider why Paul instructed the church to submit in such a way, and ask how this should be carried out. Because, like slavery, this teaching has been abused, and continues to be abused by many today.

First, and perhaps most importantly, we need a language lesson to start this discussion. These passages that we find throughout the epistles that offer commandments to submit to someone else are often called “The household codes.” But because much of modern theology began in the German-speaking world with people like Martin Luther on through Karl Barth, you will commonly hear these passages referred to by their German name. So no Greek or Hebrew today. Instead, our word for the day is the German word “haustafeln.” I’ll use the phrase haustafeln to refer to all of these “x submit to y” teachings collectively.

When we men talk about the haustafeln, we tend to start, and end, with verse 22, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.” I have heard some very bad interpretations of this passage, and I’ve repeated some of them as well. Let’s agree right here and now that this is not saying that the husband is the Lord over the wife. That “as you do to the Lord” part is not suggesting that the husband is the Lord of the wife. This is Paul’s way of addressing Christian women in particular. Since you have submitted to the Lord, also submit to your husband.

What this clearly means is that women must do everything that their husband wants. This means that it is the woman’s job to cook, clean, do laundry, and raise children, while men cut down trees and build buildings out of them.

Absolutely not, that’s not the point! If you are married and you and your spouse hold more traditional roles, that’s fine. As long as it is something that you agree upon together, I have no problem with that arrangement. But when I hear people talking about traditional roles being defined in the Bible, I often get a little confused. People will cite Genesis 3, which says that because of the sinfulness of Adam and Eve, women are to be homemakers and men are to work in the fields, providing for their families.

But if you read this text, it doesn’t say that this is God’s plan for men and women. It says that the pain of childbirth is the result of sin, and it says that the thistles and thorns that grow are the result of sin. How anyone arrives at the interpretation of this passage as saying that therefore woman is the one who does the dishes and the men are the main breadwinners is baffling to me. The only divinely-appointed household chore that we find in the Bible involves who makes the coffee. In fact, we have an entire book of the Bible named after this role: it is called “Hebrews.”

What has happened, in my opinion, is that we are falling into a familiar trap, taking our cues as a church from the broader culture. It was our western culture right up through the end of the 20th century that said men make the money and the women keep the house. Again, if that is your agreed upon relationship, that’s perfectly fine. But please don’t say that Ephesians 5-6 is a clear teaching that women should be doing the laundry and the dishes. That is not what Paul is talking about when he says that women are to submit to their husbands.

So gentlemen, as much as you might want this to be about chores, it isn’t. This isn’t your key to getting out of cleaning the toilet. In fact, this text probably tells us the exact opposite, and we will get to that momentarily. We should be trying to be the one scrubbing the toilets, especially, if we are being honest, gentlemen, because we are probably the ones making the toilets dirty in the first place L. But again, we will come back to that shortly.

One of the things that we must consider when we think about the household codes is that Paul, like most of the New Testament writers, assumed that Jesus was coming back soon, likely in their own lifetime. In 1 Thessalonians 4:15, Paul writes, “According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.” Paul assumes that he will still be alive when Jesus comes back, and he says something very similar in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52. It is only in the later letters, like the epistles to Timothy, that Paul starts to recognize that he will not still be alive when Jesus returns. That’s why in the letters to Timothy, you find things like “I am being poured out like a drink offering,” and “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race.”

If you read the gospels, you will find that Jesus himself said that he didn’t know when he would be back. But several times throughout the New Testament, we have these little suggestions from the disciples, the writers of the text, that they expect it to happen soon. So it shouldn’t surprise us that even though Paul didn’t have a clear word from God on this, he assumed that Jesus would come back soon. And while I believe the Bible to be inspired by God, it is also pretty clear that each author writes stylistically different; there is a human component as well! Paul tells the same story as Peter, but he tells it differently. Mark tells the same story as Matthew, but each includes elements of their own personality and style.

I wonder if Paul had known that it would be at least 2,000 years before Jesus came back if he might have worded things slightly differently. If Paul would have known that slave owners would use his words to justify owning another person, or if he had known that husbands would use this passage to rule over their wives, maybe he would have said things differently.

New Testament scholar NT Wright says that while we read these passages and shutter, Paul simply couldn’t imagine a world where slavery wasn’t normal. And if Paul believed Jesus was coming back soon, we shouldn’t be surprised that Paul didn’t argue for the abolition of slavery.

But notice what Paul does do, something quite subversive in his 1st century context. He gives rights to those who were traditionally without any. Maybe Paul doesn’t go as far as we would like him to, but notice that he doesn’t just tell women to submit to their husbands. He tells all Christians to submit to one another. He tells husbands to “love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (vs. 25). This isn’t eros or philia, this is agape love. This is self-sacrificial love. He goes on in 6:4, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children.” And then in 6:9, “And masters, treat your slaves in the same way [serving them as if serving the Lord].”

Paul may not go far enough for some of us, but this was huge in his time and place. For a husband to sacrifice for his wife, or to treat his children or a slave with respect was countercultural in his time and place.

I believe that the underlying point that Paul is making is just as true today as it was 2,000 years ago. What has changed is how we practice these acts of submission.

Let’s oversimplify things for the sake of illustation and ask what Paul understood his calling to be as a follower of Jesus Christ. I would place Paul’s teachings in two different categories. The first is ethical. Paul talks a lot about sexuality, helping the poor, stewardship of money, and other matters of ethical concern. But even more than his role as an ethicist, I would say is Paul’s role as a missionary. He went from city to city, nation to nation, preaching, teaching, and starting churches. Remember that what we have today as books of our Bible started as Paul’s letters to new churches, filled with first-generation believers. While the act of submission was likely in part an ethical practice, I think it was meant to be more of a missional practice. This was to be done for the watching world to see that Christians lived differently. We submit to one another because Christ submitted himself to us.

This is why we must begin at verse 21, not verse 22. Verse 21 says, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” The rest is commentary on how this might look.

When I think of submitting to one another, I often think of an Albanian woman named Agnes. Agnes was born into a middle-class family, the daughter of a politician. Agnes had money, and she led a comfortable life. At an early age, Agnes became infatuated with the stories of missionaries who would share their experiences of travel and serving the poor around the world. Agnes decided that she wanted to do something similar with her life as well.

In 1929, Agnes moved to Calcutta, India, where she served as a teacher. She served in that capacity for close to twenty years. During those 20 years, this region of India was hit with a severe famine. Agnes experienced what she would label her “call within a call,” as she sensed that she was supposed to dedicate her life to working with the poorest of the poor, the “untouchable” class among the people of India. In 1950, Agnes began an outreach out of a small church plant in Calcutta. With a total of 13 members, Agnes began caring for the poorest of the poor. And by the time of her death in 1997, Agnes’ little church plant had grown “to more than 4,000 [members] running orphanages, AIDS hospices and charity centers worldwide, and caring for refugees, the blind, disabled, aged, alcoholics, the poor and homeless, and victims of floods, epidemics, and famine.” (Wikipedia)

Of course, we know Agnes by the name she chose when she entered her role as a missionary. We know her as Mother Teresa.

Why would a middle-class, daughter of a politician dedicate her life to serving the poorest of the poor in India? She was submitting herself to another out of love for Christ.

I always hesitate to mention people like Mother Teresa because people lift her up as a saint…literally! But let’s bring it down to our level. We have people right here in our church that regularly serve the poor among us. We have people here who volunteer their time and their money to serve the residents of the Valley Mission. Why do you go in there and serve these people? Why do you tutor the children, serve on their board, and provide meals for people who sometimes don’t even bother to show appreciation? We are submitting to one another.

I always come back to Philippians 2 because this is so powerful. Verses 1-6: “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”

The way this is written in the original text suggests that this was a song that the early church sang to emphasize the role of a Christian as servant. What, you’re the daughter of a politician? You’re an educated teacher? A doctor? A lawyer? You think you’re too good to scrub a few toilets? Remember that God came down and took on the role of a servant, becoming obedient, even to the point of death on the cross.

Why did Paul encourage the church to submit to one another? Is it because men are superior to women? That might be true, but that wasn’t why he said this J. We are to submit to one another, just a Jesus Christ submitted to us, giving his life for us. In our submission to one another, we show the world what God is like.

But here is a very important aspect of this entire concept of submission. You cannot submit to someone in the same way that Jesus did if you are forced. It must be voluntary. The haustafeln are predicated on voluntarily serving one another. Jesus was not forced to take on the role of a servant. He did it out of love. Even when he was captured, he could have called down legions of angels to free him. But he didn’t. Likewise, we cannot force a person to serve us. Forcing someone to serve is not the same thing as Christian submission; in fact, it is the opposite of the voluntary nature of mutual submission.

So wives, if your husband is forcing you to do something, claiming that you must do it because Paul and the Bible say so, please know that this person is abusing the text. And you actually have the obligation to call out a brother or sister who is sinning against you. That is not what Paul is calling us to.

What Paul is calling us to is to offer ourselves as servants. To wash the feet, or scrub the toilets of others. Even though society may tell you that person is below you socially, ethically, financially, or any other way, we serve one another. We wrap a towel around our waist, fill a basin with water, and wash one another’s feet.

Not because we have to. But because that is who God is.

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Reading Scripture with Jesus

1 Timothy 6:1-2

All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. 2 Those who have believing masters should not show them disrespect just because they are fellow believers. Instead, they should serve them even better because their masters are dear to them as fellow believers and are devoted to the welfare of their slaves. These are the things you are to teach and insist on.

Last week a number of you came up to me and told me that I had not been entirely forthright. I had only presented you with part of the story. You said this because I shared with you my level of excitement on account of the fact that the baseball team from Cleveland would be playing in their first World Series game since I was in high school. What many of you called me out on was failing to mention that just hours earlier, my Ohio State Buckeyes had lost an ugly game in the rain to the Penn State Nittany Lions. Why would I mention one of my favorite teams and totally neglect the other?

You see, I’m an optimist. I like to focus on the good, and ignore the bad…with every hope that the bad will simply disappear or go away. But you wouldn’t let it go away, would you. You held me accountable for everything.

I share this story this morning because there are some passages in the Bible that we would just like to go away. A little over a month ago, I preached on 1 Timothy 6, and I preached a challenging sermon. But does anyone remember what I said about verses 1-2? Does anyone remember what I said last week? In all seriousness, nobody remembers what I said about verses 1-2 because I skipped over them. It was a lot easier to simply not address these verses than to deal with a passage that has historically been used by Christians to justify owning another person.

This Tuesday is a holiday on our Christian calendar, it is All Saints’ Day. But rather than celebrating the saints, today we are going to reflect on some of the shortcomings of the Christian tradition, because those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it. But the most important thing that I want to remind us all of today is that when we read scripture, we must submit our reading of the text to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We can make a text say what we want it to say, and we can make a case for the things we already believe if we lift verses and events out of context. And historically, the church has done some pretty awful things by not reading everything through the lens of Jesus.

I think that this text is really important to talk about, even though it is uncomfortable, because we will come up against people who call the history of Christianity into question, including Christians who tried to justify owning slaves. And while we should never try to defend such actions, I think it is good for us to know why those who use the Bible to support slavery were perverting the text for their own gain.

I want to start this morning with a quick survey. By show of hands, how many people here think that slavery is okay, or even a God-given right? If anyone raises their hand I will consider myself a failure as a pastor. Of course it isn’t okay to own a slave. Regardless of the color of a person’s skin, it is not okay to have slaves. But here is the tricky part, can you tell me where in the Bible it says so directly? Where can you find passages that say, “Thou shall not own slaves.”? You can’t find that passage, because it doesn’t exist.

Now if you are a quick thinker, you are probably thinking of events and sayings that can be understood as a prohibition of slavery. God led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. God created all people in his own image. There is that whole Golden Rule thing, where we are to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. And the second most important law, according to Jesus, is to love your neighbor as yourself. That’s kind of hard to do, you know, if you own them.

Let’s look, for the sake of argument, at a few pro-slavery passages from the Bible. Again, I am not endorsing slavery. I’m going to be drawing some from the book Slavery, Sabbath, Women, and War by NT scholar Willard Swartley. In this book, Swartley lays out a number of historical arguments and explains why we as Christians have arrived at the positions we currently hold.

Let’s start with the first Hebrew, the man to whom God made a promise to bless him and make his offspring as numerous as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore. We know him as Abraham. As the song goes, Father Abraham, had many sons. Many sons had Father Abraham. Do you know what else Father Abraham had a lot of? Slaves. According to Swartley, “Abraham was a great slaveowner; he brought slaves from Haran (Gen. 12:5), armed 318 slaves born in his own house (Gen. 14:14), included them in his property list (Gen. 12:16; 24:35-36), received slaves as a gift from Abimelech (Gen. 20:14), and willed them as a part of his estate to his son Isaac (Gen. 26:13-14).”

Abraham, the father of the Judeo-Christian religion was a slave owner. So if such a pillar of the faith could own slaves and be lifted up throughout scripture as a model, why can’t we? Don’t worry, we will come back to this and refute it. But let’s continue with a pro-slavery argument.

This one can stand on its own: Leviticus 25:44-46, “Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.”

This is straight from the Torah. God granted the Israelites the right to own slaves from their surrounding neighbors. Also in this chapter, God allows for the Israelites to own one another.

But that’s all Old Testament stuff. We also don’t sacrifice animals and many other things taught in these ancient texts. So what does the New Testament say? No fewer than seven times do we read things like “Slaves obey your masters,” which were some of the favorite passages among slave owners before the Civil War (Eph. 6:5-9; Col. 3:22-25; 4:1; 1 Tim. 6:1-2; Tit. 2:9-10; 1 Pet. 2:18-19). In fact, most references to slavery in the New Testament involve instructing slave owners to treat their slaves well, but the epistles never say that slavery is wrong.

Okay, but we are not Paulians, we are Christians. What does Jesus say on the matter? Quoting John Henry Hopkins, a pro-slavery bishop from New England, “While Jesus rebukes the sins of all around him, and speaks with divine authority, he lived in the midst of slavery, and uttered not one word against it!”

Or to quote another pro-slavery leader, Thornton Stringfellow, “Polygamy, divorce and slavery, were sanctioned by the law of Moses. But under the gospel, slavery has been sanctioned in the church, while polygamy and divorce have been excluded from the church.” The argument is that if the church as to exclude the practice of slavery, they had the chance and chose not to. While Jesus and his disciples did overturn certain teachings found in the Old Testament, they never spoke out against slavery. And therefore, according to the pro-slavery side of the debate, slavery is to be sanctioned in the church.

Okay, my skin is absolutely crawling at this time from even attempting to restate the pro-slavery position. But I wanted to show you all that if you take these texts alone, people can make a strong case for slavery. But what are the responses?

First, let’s go back to Father Abraham. There are many reasons why Abraham is lifted up as an example to be followed by subsequent generations, in particular we are to emulate Abraham’s faith. Our New Testament even teaches us that Abraham was faithful and it was credited to him as righteousness. But there are activities that Abraham engaged in that we aren’t supposed to adopt as normal for Christians. Abraham lied about his relationship to his wife Sarah, claiming that she was his sister, offering her to powerful leaders, to save his own skin. And he did this not once, but twice. Abraham had multiple spouses and concubines. He even had at least one child, Ishmael, with a concubine named Hagar. And when his wife Sarah got jealous of Hagar and her son, Abraham sent them away, attempting to desert them…attempting to desert his own son.

We need to remember that Abraham, as great as he might have been, was only a human. And as a human, he made mistakes, he was a sinner. So when the Bible tells us that a certain quality about Abraham was good, like his faithfulness, in that way we should be like Abraham. But that can’t be seen as a blanket statement covering all aspects of Abraham’s life. The same can be said about great leaders like David, Solomon, Peter, and Paul. We can only look to them as examples for moral behavior when the Bible specifically notes that they are being moral. Let’s let that be our first guiding principle.

Second, when we consider slavery in the Old Testament, we must concede that it was allowed by the Mosaic Law. Israelites were allowed to own members of other nations, and Israelites were allowed to own other Israelites. But what we can miss is that within Israel, a position of servitude was entered voluntarily, and often because it was better for a person financially. If you lost everything in a fire, you could offer yourself to your neighbor as a slave, working for room and board.

But remember that passage that I quoted earlier from Leviticus 25? That chapter is not just about owning slaves, it is also about releasing them. Slaves were to be released in the Year of Jubilee. Drawing again from Swartley, “Hebrew servitude was voluntary, [temporary], and altogether different from American slavery.” To compare the slavery in the Old Testament to what was witnessed in the pre-Civil War times is similar to comparing the proverbial apple to an orange. Yes, both the slavery advocates and the Bible use the term slavery. But we cannot assume that they meant the same thing when they used this term.

This doesn’t mean that all moral teaching is no longer applicable. Anger is still anger, lust is still lust, adultery is still adultery. But things change, cultures change, and how we use words change. Our second guiding principle is that historical context matters!

Finally, what do we do about the fact that Jesus did not say anything about slavery? He could have said that he was against slavery and put all of this discussion to rest. But he didn’t, so he must have approved…right?

This is what is called an argument from silence. And an argument from silence is rhetorically weak. Think about it like this, what else didn’t Jesus speak about? Jesus didn’t speak about shampoo. Does that mean that Jesus was against shampoo? Or does it mean that Jesus was in favor of shampoo because he never spoke out directly against it. You have heard that it was said, “You shall lather, rinse, and repeat, but I say unto you…”

Do you know what the fact that Jesus didn’t say anything about shampoo shows us? It shows us that Jesus didn’t say anything about shampoo!

Some argue that Jesus didn’t speak against slavery because his ministry was to the Jewish people in and around Jerusalem, and because of the Roman occupation, Jewish people were not even permitted to have slaves. It might not have been an issue that even came up in his teaching opportunities. But when the writers of the epistles were penning their documents, they were writing to churches far and near, to Greeks, Gentiles, rich, poor, and everywhere in between. So they did address slavery, but they also believed that Jesus was coming back soon

So our third and final principle for this morning is that we can form our theological and ethical beliefs on what Jesus said and did, but not necessarily on what he does not say or do.

These are our three guiding principles for reading not only today’s challenging text, but all challenging texts. 1. Biblical characters should only be elevated as our theological/ethical example when the Bible specifically says to do so. Otherwise, be like Jesus, not like Abraham or Solomon! 2. Historical context matters, so we can’t assume that an event from 2,000-4,000 years ago is analogous with a contemporary issue without considering what else has changed. And 3. We must base our theology/ethics on what Jesus actually says and does as an argument from silence can be understood in multiple ways.

So what does any of this mean to us today? I think that these principles are very helpful, especially if you really like to win arguments about theology and ethicsJ. No, the point should never be to beat someone in an argument, but to always strive to be faithful.

But I had a person that I looked up to once make an argument for being a sarcastic jerk by referring to the action of the prophet Elijah. Because Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal, this person thought that sarcasm was a good, appropriate, and godly characteristic. My thought was, “Hey, a few chapters later, his disciple sends some she bears out to kill some children for calling him bald. Maybe these people aren’t perfect.” We look to Jesus as our perfect example, not the other people in the Bible, no matter how good they are at other times.

Remember that historical context matters! As you may know, there are a number of churches and colleges named “Bethel,” which means “house of God.” Some of you may even know people who graduated from Bethel College, a Mennonite school in Kansas (Go Threshers!) One of the favorite Bible passages among Bethel students is Amos 4:4, which says, “Go to Bethel and sin.”

What a great slogan for a school! No, read that in context, it means something different.

And finally, remember that we must base our theology and ethics on what Jesus actually says and does, as an argument from silence is weak. It simply means that Jesus did not speak on a subject and we should not, we cannot, assume that meant that he agreed or disagreed with a subject. I’m not sure that Jesus had an opinion on that thing that is so important to you. But please don’t take his silence to be a blank check for you to make Jesus agree with you.

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Participation Trophies

2 Timothy 4:6-8; 16-18

6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

16 At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. 17 But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

I am enjoying the fall, with its strange temperature spikes, cool evenings, breath-taking colors, and pumpkins, pumpkins, everywhere. Over the last few years they have put pumpkin in every conceivable food, from pumpkin spice lattes, to pumpkin-flavored Twinkies, to pumpkin bread, and of course, the classic pumpkin pie. They have even started putting pumpkin in some non-edible products. I saw a picture this week of “pumpkin spiced Clorox.” Let’s just say that maybe it isn’t wise to make Clorox smell delicious.

Sonya, the children, and I picked up a couple of pumpkins to have for decorations at our home yesterday. Unfortunately, one of the children dropped their pumpkins, shattering it into pieces. But it was okay, because I know how to fix pumpkins…with a pumpkin patch.

Today we will be talking about racing. I’ve never been much of a racer, not in my car, and not on foot. But you don’t have to be a runner to know how it works: the first one to cross the finish line wins. And no matter where you finish in regard to the rest of the group, if you aren’t first, you lose.

Now over my lifetime I have heard a lot of debate about something called “participation trophies.” Are you familiar with participation trophies? There are some leagues and some races, usually ones for children, where every child receives a trophy, ribbon, or medal at the end. Obviously, this is different from grown-up races, where there is only one winner, and then first, second, and third-place losers. The argument against the participation trophy is that it doesn’t prepare children for the real world where not everyone gets a trophy, either metaphorically or literally. If you show up to work late, fall asleep at your desk, play on your phone all day, and just perform poorly, they aren’t going to give you a raise, a promotion, or even “employee of the month” recognition. You don’t get a “participation trophy” for just showing up to work. If everyone wins, then why bother putting your best effort into something? Shouldn’t the trophy be reserved for the winner?

I want to say that I understand that argument in athletics, and I can go both ways on this discussion. But when we consider what it means to be a follower of Jesus, we aren’t competing with one another for a trophy. Instead, we are helping one another finish the race. And in this race, everyone who finishes gets their own participation trophy. We all get a crown.

Our text this morning comes from the very end of Paul’s second letter to his young disciple, Timothy. We have been looking at these two letters for a few weeks now, and next week I hope to swing back and address one part of 1 Timothy that we conveniently skipped over, the first two verses of chapter 6, which deal with slavery. Oh yes, we saved the most challenging for last.

As we look at today’s passage, we can see that there is both a sense of triumph and sadness in Paul’s words. Paul is believed to be writing this letter from his prison cell, awaiting execution. He has reason to be a little down. In verse 6 he writes, “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near.”

I find it interesting that Paul considers his life a drink offering, a “libation,” according to some translations. Elsewhere, Paul talks about being living sacrifices to God. With a traditional meat offering, the animal was slaughtered, some of the fat, the skin, the intestines, you know, all of the good stuff, was burnt and sent up to God. Then the priests would eat the meat, and who doesn’t like a good barbeque?

But a drink offering was different. A drink offering requires taking your finest, most expensive drink—we are talking about Pepsi or Coca-Cola, not that Big K stuff—and doing what with it? Pouring it on the altar. The finest drink is…wasted. At least with a burn offering, the priests and perhaps others got to eat some of it. But when Paul describes his life, he compares it to a drink offering. Yes, it was all done in the name of and to the honor and glory of God, but Paul feels like nobody else benefitted from it. That’s the state of mind Paul is in while he sits there in the prison cell writing this letter.

The lectionary skips over a few verses, perhaps because they don’t seem to add much to Paul’s argument. I want to look at those verses right now because they help us better understand why Paul is feeling a bit down. Verses 9-15:

Do your best to come to me quickly, 10 for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. 11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. 12 I sent Tychicus to Ephesus. 13 When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.

14 Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. 15 You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message.

How sad is that? Demas has deserted Paul, Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus has gone to Dalmatia, where one can only assume they have large white dogs with black spots. Alexander has done harm to Paul. And now he is cold because he doesn’t even have his coat! I feel bad for Paul.

But it doesn’t stop there. Paul continues in verse 16, “At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them.” That “first defense” is Paul’s trial, where he was first sentenced to death. He went through that alone, and I am amazed that he has the strength to ask God for their forgiveness!

We all know what it feels like to be deserted by the people we love, by the people we think love us. Sometimes it feels like it is us versus the world, like nobody is there to support us. Paul wasn’t the first to experience this feeling, and he won’t be the last. Jesus’s friends left him at his worst hour. And I bet that many of us can think of times when we needed someone, and they weren’t there.

Susan Johnson, a Marriage and Family Counselor, claims that when she meets with adults who are having problems, she can often ask one question that gets to the root of their struggles. She asks, “Was there ever a time that you needed them, but they weren’t there?” No matter what one spouse is complaining about, their struggles often can be traced back to a feeling of abandonment.

As much as we like to think of ourselves as independent people, strong and resourceful, there will be times when we need people. I feel like I can get by on my own pretty well, when everything is going as it should. But when I have issues, like when my back goes out and leaves me struggling to walk, struggling to get dressed, I know I can’t do it all on my own.

When a loved on dies; when you lose your job; when you get that diagnosis; when the verdict is read. Nobody should have to go through that alone, and the feeling of abandonment can drive a huge wedge between loved ones when we are not there for one another.

Yet Paul believes he was never alone. God was always with him. After Paul’s first trial, God saved him from the “lion’s mouth.” I don’t know if that is literal or metaphorical, but Paul was sentenced to die and was saved.

Paul does something kind of fun in the Greek; a little word play. When he says that none of his friends stood with him, the word he uses is “paraginomai.” But when God stood with him, the word is “parahistemi.” He contrasts “paraginomai” with “parahistemi.” You weren’t there, but God was with me.

As early as the book of Deuteronomy, we are promised that God will never leave us nor forsakes us. This promise is reaffirmed in the book of Hebrews. We have heard this all of our life, God will never leave us nor forsake us. I know it, you know it. Paul knew it.

Yet still, Paul is discouraged. And if Paul is discouraged when his friends desert him, I know that I am in trouble, because I am not as strong as Paul.

If we circle back up to the beginning of our text for this morning, we will find some familiar phrases. But now read them with the sense of abandonment that Paul was dealing with. Verses 7-8, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”

In spite of being abandoned by so many people, Paul can look back and say that he fought well, and he finished the race. For that, he knows that he will inherit a crown of righteousness.

When we see artistic renditions of the old Olympic Games, we generally see wrestlers grappling with one another, javelin throwers heaving their spears, and of course one of the oldest competitive sports, we see runners racing to the finish line. But where today’s victors receive a gold medal, the early Olympians received something of less value in my mind. They received a crown of branches. Those crowns would dry up, fall apart, and disintegrate over time. Only the king, the Caesar, was permitted to have a crown that would last forever!

Yet Paul, as he is nearing his execution, says that he will receive a crown of righteousness. But here’s the thing, he isn’t the only one who will receive a reward. Everyone who participates get a trophy, kind of like in little league baseball. Because in this race, everyone who crosses the finish line wins. It doesn’t matter who gets there first, it doesn’t matter when you start the race. What matters is that we fight the good fight, that we finish the race, that we keep the faith.

So if we all win, maybe we should do a little less competing with one another, and do a little more helping?

My sister-in-law, Cassandra, is a bit of a runner. She coached Middle School track and field and cross country up until she gave birth to my twin nephew and niece. She has run a number of long runs, marathons and halves, stuff like that. I’m told that within the running culture there is often a strong community. You meet other people at races, you chat while you catch your breath, share a Gatorade or a Powerbar, and you support one another.

Cassandra got to know some other runners, and they all started running together on a regular basis. And about five of these runners decided to do an ultramarathon together. This ultramarathon was an overnight, multiple-day, 100-mile race. Nobody said that these new friends were smart. Cassandra, being of sound mind and body, decided that should would not compete in the ultramarathon with her friends. But what she would do is something called “pace” them for a portion of the run.

There would be any number of ways that you could support a friend running an ultramarathon. You could come and cheer for them as they run. You could prepare snacks and drinks for them to consume along the way. Someone needs to set up their tents for the runners to stop and sleep for a few hours. Cassandra’s way of supporting these friends was to help them train, and to run the last leg of the race along with them. So while a few of the friends ran the entire 100 miles, Cassandra only ran alongside them as a pacer for the last 26.2 miles. It was her job to keep the ultramarathoners motivated, to encourage them along the way. She was there to help them when they fell, and after running 80-some miles, they were falling a lot! She said that one guy was just crying the entire time, they smelled really bad, and for disgusting reasons. But Cassandra was there with them through the roughest and most challenging part of the race. And though Cassandra didn’t run the entire ultramarathon with her friends, she did cross the finish line with them.

Here’s the important thing to remember. As we run this race we call life, there are many people who are out there looking to win, to get ahead, and to beat you at any cost. But we must not fall into those practices in the church. I’m not saying that we can’t be competitive at sports or when it comes to getting a better job. But when it comes to following Jesus, we are not trying to get across the finish line first. We are trying to make sure the most people possible are able to finish the race.

Cassandra wasn’t trying to win the ultramarathon. She wasn’t even registered for the race. Her goal was to be there for her friends to make sure that they finished the race.

Paul felt deserted as he ran his race. I wish that he could have had a friend like my sister in law.

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Scripture and the Inspiration of God

2 Timothy 3:14-4:5New International Version (NIV)

14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

4 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

There was a very interesting archeological find this week. Most people believe that Jesus was employed as a carpenter, but it turns out that he may have had a different occupation altogether. Some people now claim that Jesus was really a rancher, a cattleman. Maybe that’s a bit of an overstatement. We don’t know if he had any female cattle or not, but there is reason to believe that he had at least two male cattle. This should really come to us as no surprise, because the Bible is always talking about Jesus and his parables (pair of bulls).

We are not talking about parables today, but we are talking about the Bible. This sermon is going to be a little different from what you might be used to, because usually we talk about a passage from the Bible, but today we are going to spend most of our time talking about the Bible itself.

I’m going to say this up front, just to make sure that you know where I stand. I believe that the Bible is inspired by God. I believe God guided the authors of the text, and I believe that God guided the process through which the books of the Bible were selected. I also think that far too many churches today fight over what it means for the Bible to be inspired by God. We actually have a church in our conference that is voting today whether or not to remain a part of our denomination, in large part because our denomination’s Confession of Faith does not use certain words to describe how the Bible is inspired. And because our denomination does not, by their approximation, have as high of a view of the Bible as they do, I fully expect them to vote to leave. All because our Confession of Faith doesn’t use two words to describe the Bible; two words that the Bible itself doesn’t use to describe the Bible.

Again, I do believe that the Christian Bible is inspired by God and that will be our topic for today. But if we have a simplistic understanding of what that means, spending five minutes with an angry atheist will do one of two things. It will make you look like you have never actually taken any time to study the book that you claim to be so important in your life, or it will make you lose or at least question your faith. Perhaps even both.

So what I hope to do today is to show you why I believe in the inspiration of Scripture by first deconstructing some arguments, showing you why they aren’t good arguments, and then we will build up a new way of understanding inspiration.

I sat down this week and did a quick Google search to find some resources on the inspiration of Scripture. Many articles referenced our text for this morning from 2 Timothy 3:16-17, which says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

More than one article said something along the lines of “The Bible is true because it says that it is true.” For someone who already believes in the truthfulness or inspiration of the Bible, that may be enough. But good luck trying to convince someone else with that logic! That’s what we sometimes call “circular reasoning,” or “circular logic.” You can prove that something is true because it says that it is true. That’s like saying that chocolate ice cream is the best because I said it is. If you already think that chocolate ice cream is the best, you might offer a hearty “amen.” But if you are one of those people who likes butter pecan, you probably aren’t convinced.

But even worse, what does 2 Timothy 3:16 actually say? It says that all scripture is God-breathed. When this text was written, what was that a reference to, what did Paul have in mind? This was a reference to the Hebrew Bible because much of the New Testament had not even been written yet. By the time 2 Timothy was written, the only books of the New Testament that were in existence were a few of Paul’s letters. And Paul probably didn’t expect that his letters would one day be a part of our Bible, because Paul seems to think that Jesus was coming back in his lifetime.

Paul had to be referring to the Hebrew Bible alone when he wrote this. Some will argue that Paul anticipated the New Testament, and that is what he means when he says “all scripture.” I don’t think we can make that assumption. All scripture is a reference to all scripture in existence. Think about it like this. I don’t believe that the Book of Mormon, for instance, is inspired by God, even though Mormons will claim that it is scripture. We know that other gospels were written, like the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Peter. These books are not included in our Bible because they paint a different picture of Jesus, and I don’t believe that they are inspired by God. No, “all scripture” is a reference to the known scripture in the Hebrew tradition.

Okay, so when Paul says that all Scripture is inspired by God, he doesn’t mean all of the scriptures in the world, or even all of the scriptures in our Christian Bible. Now I’m really going to mess with you. When Paul says all Scripture is inspired by God, not only is he only referring to part of our Bible, he is also referring to parts that aren’t in our Bible. Paul would have included the text that we know as the Apocrypha as scripture. This is somewhat debated, but what we do know is that the Dead Sea Scrolls, which are some of the oldest Hebrew texts in existence, some dating 400 BC, included Apocryphal text. The Apocrypha includes stories about the Maccabees, the rededication of the Jewish Temple, and the celebration of Hanukah.

Quoting 2 Timothy 3:16 to an atheist will not prove anything other than that the author of 2 Timothy 3:16 believed what he considered to be scripture was from God. In fact, nothing can be proven about God at all! And while what we do have may not sound like a rock-solid base upon which to build one’s religious belief, it was good enough for Paul. It was good enough for Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. What we have is faith.

Now don’t downplay the power of faith. Jesus says that if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can move mountains. So now that I have deconstructed one way to look at the Bible, let’s look at what this text really says and let’s build up our faith in this text together. We are nearing the end of this book of the Bible, which again is Paul’s letter to his young mentee, Timothy. Paul often closes with a few encouraging words, kind of like going to a pep rally before the big game. Paul wants to send him off with some energy. So he closes with 9 points. I’ll touch on a few of them here.

Paul says in verses 14-15, “continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

Paul is affirming what Timothy has been taught since a young age. Was Paul there to hear all of the teaching that Timothy received throughout his lifetime? No, of course not. So how does Paul know that Timothy’s teaching has been sound? Because Paul knows who has been teaching Timothy.

Remember that in last week’s passage, Paul praised Timothy’s grandmother, Lois, and his mother Eunice, for their faith and for passing that on to Timothy. Paul trusts that Timothy is going down the right track because he values these women and their faith. Paul believes that Timothy’s faith is genuine because Eunice and Lois’s faith was genuine.

I think that this is helpful for our discussion today on the inspiration of the Bible. How do we know that the Bible is steering us down the right path? One, I know where it came from. I got my first Bible from my parents, and I trust them. I have to believe that they wouldn’t intentionally steer me down the wrong path. But that alone isn’t convincing. On a larger level, I trust people like Paul, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. And I trust the people that helped them write our New Testament. Peter is often given credit for sharing the stories recorded by Mark. Look at the first four verses of Luke, “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.”

I believe the Bible is true because I trust not only my parents, but because they got it from their parents, and they got it from their parents. And we can trace our Christian lineage, either genetically or theologically, back to the first Christians. Back to those who wrote the books and formed our Christian Bible. I trust the eye witnesses, those who spent time with Jesus when he was here in the flesh. I don’t think they just made these stories up, because you don’t give your life for a story that you made up.

I’ve been known to make up a few stories in my days. When I was a little boy and I told a story that didn’t quite seem logical, my father would say one of two things. He would say, “I think your nose is growing,” an obvious reference to Pinocchio, or he would ask, “Did I ever tell you the story of the little boy who cried wolf?” So sure, I would tell the story of how I won the gold medal in the 1988 Olympics at the age of eight. But when my father pushed me on it, I would admit that I had made the story up. It didn’t take much, he just needed to let me know that he didn’t believe me, and I would drop it.

Now imagine I was making up a story, and someone said that it wasn’t true. But I was promising them up and down that it was true, even though I knew that it was made up. If that person threatened my life, I would come out and admit to them that the whole thing was made up. Even if the story was true and someone threatened my life, I would probably lie to save my own skin!

Of those people who I mentioned who formed the New Testament, either through writing or dictating their stories to those who did write them, many died for their faith. Of the eleven remaining apostles, after Judas left, and Paul, we are told that most if not all of them were killed for their faith, killed for telling this story. If Peter was telling the story of Jesus and someone threatened him by saying “Stop saying that or we will kill you,” he would probably stop if he was making it up! But he was crucified, upside down.

So when Paul tells Timothy to continue in the faith because of those from whom he learned it, it may sound silly. But it is quite profound. Timothy learned from those he trusted, his mother and grandmother. And they learned from the first disciples. Timothy learned from those who learned from those who were willing to die for this message.

Let’s move to verses 16-17, the crux of this passage, which says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Some versions say that all scripture is “God-breathed,” others say “inspired by God.” The word here is θεόπνευστος, theopneustos, which is a compound word combining theos (God) and a form of pneuma. Pneuma is again the Greek word for breath, wind, and spirit.

To say that the scriptures are “inspired” or “God-breathed” is not to say that they descended from heaven on a cloud, or that God took over the hand of the person who wrote these books. It means that God filled these books with his very life-breath, just as God breathed life into a lump of clay, just as Jesus breathed on his disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Without the divine breath, this is just a story, a biography, a history book, some papers bound together with glue and string. To say that the scriptures are God-breathed means that God has given life to an otherwise lifeless book.

There are a number of arguments for why the Bible should be understood to be true. Some people claim that the unity of the Bible shows that God was guiding this process because many people over hundreds of years wrote this text. And yet in spite of those factors, the Bible depicts a relatively uniform story of fall and redemption from Genesis to Revelation. Those who argue against this say that it really isn’t that surprising because all of the newer author had the work of their predecessors to build upon. Jeremiah had the book of Exodus; John had Jeremiah.

Others argue for the inspiration of the Bible based on archeological finds that confirm the stories, particularly of the Old Testament. For years people claimed that there was no archeological proof for a major group found in the Old Testament known as the Hittites. But archeologists in the 20th century found proof of the existence of these people. And today even the strongest of doubters have to admit that the Old Testament is highly accurate in depicting historical events. But being historically correct doesn’t prove that the Bible is divinely inspired. It just shows that it is accurate.

When we get down to it, I think that the most compelling argument for the authenticity of the Bible is its ability to change lives. And yes, other holy books can offer the same claim. And I am also well aware that people have used the Bible for bad things, like slavery and genocide, as well. But I know that my life has been changed by the text, especially the words written in red, the words attributed to Jesus himself.

The strongest reason that I have to believe that this book, from Genesis to Revelation, is inspired by God is not because the book itself says so. I believe this book is filled with the Holy Spirit, filled with the very breath of God, because I’ve experienced the life-changing, transformative power of God through these pages.

I’ve seen drunks and addicts find a power stronger than the needle or the bottle. I’ve seen husbands and wives reconcile and rededicate their lives to one another. I’ve seen violent people turn into peacemakers. I’ve seen the power of the Gospel to transform lives, to breathe the very breath of God into lifeless lumps of clay.

How do I know that Bible is the inspired word of God? Because I continue to be inspired by it every day.

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