Saturday, June 28, 2008

Is Genesis 11:1-9 (about the Tower of Babel) a parable or folklore?

This is a question of genre or we might ask what kind of literature is Genesis 11:1-9? As we read through the book of Genesis, we see that this book is made up of many stories or narratives. Interestingly, about 40% of the biblical material is comprised of narrative and so it is good for us to take some time to understand this topic.

First, it is important to understand that a narrative can be a made-up story or a real (historical) story. Basically, a parable is a made-up story that draws upon ordinary experiences of life in order to illustrate a moral or spiritual truth. Parables generally illustrate a main point and are not intended to be read as an historical narrative.

Likewise, folklore is also comprised of made-up stories but these traditional stories are ones that are passed down from one generation to another. Folklore stories can be religious in nature but they are not necessarily so and are not to be read as an historical narrative.

A biblical narrative, on the other hand, is a true story that none-the-less retains some of the characteristics of all good stories: setting, plot, and characters. These elements are taken from history and formed into a narrative (a true story) in order to let the reader be drawn into the action so as to experience it more fully. Thus, narratives are not to be read as a history textbook would be read. They are meant to be experienced and to elicit a response from the reader.

Something else to consider is that in Scripture, narratives never exist as isolated stories but are always a part of a larger whole. In Genesis 11, for example, we have a historical narrative (a true story) of the Tower of Babel tucked into a larger story of humankind and God’s relationship to them.

As I look at Genesis 11 and look at the surrounding chapters and verses, I see in Genesis 5 a tell-tale sign of a true story: the genealogy from Adam to Noah. In chapter 10 we see another sign of an historical narrative—the Table of Nations. Directly thereafter, we have the story of the Tower of Babel—a true story of the consequence of an arrogant act of humankind.

-Jody Robinson

Friday, June 27, 2008

Why do Catholics believe in Purgatory?

Catholics believe in both heaven and hell. But they also believe that if your soul is not so bad as to enter into hell, but not purified enough to enter into heaven, you soul goes to purgatory to be purified until it is pure enough to enter into heaven. This cleansing is a painful and fiery process designed to cleanse the soul from sin.

I think it’s important to understand why this belief is necessary to Catholics and why Protestants disagree with them.

A Protestant believes that a when a person is made right with God, they are fully justified at that moment. Justification can be thought of in a legal sense in which a person is guilty and then is declared not-guilty—they have been justified. The process that a believer goes through once they have been justified is called sanctification. That is the process by which a believer, with the help and power of the Holy Spirit, slowly changes their beliefs, thoughts, attitudes, and actions to reflect the character of Jesus in their life.

Catholics do not believe in a justification whereby one moment you are guilty and the next moment you are not guilty. They say the fact remains while you may now be on a new tract with God, all the things that you are guilty for need to be properly recognized, confessed, and repented for—but this happens over time, not immediately as a Protestant believes. In Catholic thinking, justification and sanctification are somewhat tied together. In a sense, a Catholic believes you are justified more and more as you are sanctified. If this does not fully take place in this life, it must in the next before you enter into heaven.

The reason there is such a disagreement here is because Protestants believe that salvation is through faith in Christ alone with absolutely no merit given to our own works…there is no way to “work yourself into heaven.” Protestants would argue that Catholics only have purgatory in their beliefs because Jesus’ death on the cross was not enough for salvation…that it is Jesus’ death, and our “work” in purgatory.

Joseph—How would Joseph handle the pressure today,...

...if Mary came to him and said “I’m pregnant and you’re not the father?” And how was life for Joseph after Jesus became a well known celebrity?

This is an interesting question, but it is one that we must say we don’t know.

One thing we can talk a little about is the concept of shame and honor in the New Testament. This is something that most of us really have no concept of. In this context, shame makes you less of a person with no standing within society and honor brings you greater standing within society. You can still see this in many war torn African nations today where systematic rape has become a weapon where whole communities of women become almost sub-human because they have lost their honor when they were raped—no one will marry them because there is no chance for a woman to become married who has been raped (been shamed this way). In other countries, there are many stories of families that have killed their own daughters and wives because they were sexually unchaste and this was a way for the families to atone for this breech in honor. The closest I can see this in a North American context is the Scarlet Letter and that was written in 1850—much has changed since then.

Shame and honor actually play a huge role in understand many New Testament passages. For instance, when Paul says I am not ashamed of the gospel, he is not saying I am not embarrassed by it, he is saying that the gospel is so trustworthy that I am staking my whole identity, my honor, on the truthfulness and trustworthiness of the gospel message—basically, I will not ever be shamed because of my belief in the message of the gospel.

In one sense, I think it would have been much more difficult to live in this shame/honor society with a wife that got pregnant the way Mary did. To live with all the gossip and the looks I’m sure he got. But God helped him to endure this by sending an angel that gave him direct revelation of what was happening and how he should respond. But I am sure it was very hard for him.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Please address women’s role in the church and God’s kingdom...

...You could look at major female players in the Bible to bring encouragement to the women of High Pointe.

This is a subject in which individuals and denominations disagree vehemently...often to the point of showing great disdain and disrespect for each other. There are two basic groups. The first is known by the term complementarian. These people see a hierarchical order of man being the leader, and woman being his helper or follower. Complementarians believe that while women have a different and subservient functional role, they are created as God’s image bearers just as men are and they are not ontologically inferior to men. Although some would argue that this hierarchy applies in all of life, most would say this hierarchy applies mainly to the marital relationship and leadership roles in church.

The second group is known by the term egalitarian. This group sees men and women as God’s image bearers and as equal in both function and essence. This group would say that function should be dictated by talent, gifting, and passion, not by a hierarchy of man, then woman.

Both of these views appeal to scripture and make very compelling arguments.

This is not an essential issue—meaning that we can allow for disagreement within the church. If you think of this issue as a continuum with complementarians on the left and egalitarians on the right, each of the directors on staff at High Pointe fall along a place fairly close to the center. People that fall along the continuum very closely aligned with complementarians would not believe you can have any women on staff at a local church. Going the other way, we don’t have anyone of staff that would align themselves with secular feminists.

I have my own personal beliefs that I could share with anyone who would like to talk about it.

The second question you ask makes me feel sad. I wish our culture was one in which we could learn from both men and women, from people of different races, different cultures, and different socio-economic status without regard to what they look like and our preconceived ideas. I wish we could learn both biblical truth and from their experiences and grow to be richer both spiritually and culturally. I wish that all people, especially those that are Christ followers, would treat each other with the dignity and respect that is due for all made as God’s image bearers. I wish the people of God could learn and benefit from the “major players” in the Bible regardless of gender—that we could each learn and be encouraged by the great men, and women of scripture. Until we get to that point, I think your idea is a good one.

Are Catholics Christians? Why not?

Let’s first talk about the major difference between Catholics and Protestants. There is some common ground, both would agree that we are saved by grace and this grace is free. But there is a difference on how that grace is gained. A protestant believes that grace is through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Catholics say that while grace is free, and it is only available because of Christ’s death, it is only received through the sacraments. The sacraments are baptism, Eucharist (communion), confirmation, confession, holy orders, matrimony, and last rites. These sacraments are said to be salvific or meritorious. This means to a Catholic that the sacraments actually convey grace, or act as a conduit transferring grace from God to the person participating in the sacrament.

So at the very core of your question, “are Catholics Christian?”, the answer is anyone who believes in the completed work of Christ on the cross for salvation is a Christian. If anyone thinks that the way to God is through their own effort, either through good works or the Sacraments, then I believe they have missed the whole point our need for a savior and the gospel itself. As to whether individual Catholics or Protestants are truly Christians, only the Holy Spirit knows.

(I have simplified the concept of sacramentalism using Catholics as the example of sacramentalists and Protestants as non-sacramentalists. Please understand I have simplified this for this question

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Are all of Paul’s teachings related to the Gospels,...

or does the Holy Spirit work through Paul and the other Apostles to add new teachings not covered in the Gospels?

This is a good question and to really give an answer, you have to know a little more about the makeup of the Bible. The first question has to be “what is the Bible in the first place?” This is a fundamental question that is critical to understand—the Bible is God’s self-disclosure (also called “revelation”) to humankind. Without this self-disclosure from God it would be impossible for humans to know enough about God to come into a relationship with Him. Through the wonder of creation, it is possible to come to a realization that there is a higher power but the book of Romans makes it clear that this knowledge is not enough to bring a human into relationship with the Creator.

The second question to answer has to do with is “what, if anything, is the central theme of the Bible?” The central thrust of the Bible is the story of God. I believe this central theme is misunderstood by many to be the salvation of humankind—while this is clearly of prime importance, it is just one facet of the story of God. The story is revealed through the different genres of the Bible such as history, narration, letters, law, wisdom, gospel, poems and hymns, and prophecy.

Gospel literally means “good news.” When people say “the gospels”, they are referring to the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The central character in each of these gospel accounts is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The “good news” that these books tell us of is Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross that allows us to come into a relationship with God.

Regarding your question, the account of the death of Christ for the salvation of humankind is a monumental piece of God’s story—but it is a piece of the story, not the whole story. Each book of the Bible gives us an understanding of God and his plan. This goes all the way back to creation recounted in the book of Genesis and goes to the end of God’s story, or the book of Revelation. Not trying not to oversimplify things, but you can say the other books of the New Testament teach us how we are to live in the light of the good news of Jesus and our salvation. Each book in both the Old Testament and the New Testament is a piece of this story and without them all we have is an incomplete picture of God.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Matthew 25:31-46—Does this mean I’m supposed to stop and help every pan-handler I see?

This is actually a two part question. The first question is “what does Matthew 25:31-46 actually mean”, and the second question is “Am I supposed to stop and help every pan-handler I see?” Let me address them both.

Part I: This section of scripture is prophetic and is very specifically a vision of the coming future judgment of all humankind. Here is the text: 

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Look at both verses 40 and 45. Verse 40 says the “least of these brothers of mine” and verse 45 mentions “the least of these”. This suggests that it is not just anyone who the righteous have helped while the others go ignored; it is other believers in need. So this verse is not a missions verse saying we should help every “pan-handler” as you say, but it is a statement that a Christian will be characterized as a person who seeks to meet the needs of other Christians. This teaching of love towards other believers is taught throughout scripture: John 13:34, 15:12, 20:17, Romans 12:10, 1 Corinthians 6:1-8, 8:1-13, Galatians 6:1-2, 1 Thessalonians 4:9, Hebrews 13:1, 1 Peter 1:22, 2:17, 3:8, 1 John 2:9-11, 3:17, and this is just a small portion of these types of verses! This type of love is very evident in other parts of the world where believers are persecuted. They truly love and care for each other in a way that is hard for us, as Americans, to understand.

Part II: While the passage of scripture in the question does not deal with the world at large, I think it’s important to address what the Bible has to say about this. The trajectory presented to us throughout scripture is one of kindness, hospitality, and respect. This is not just towards other believers but also toward strangers. There is a parable that Jesus taught that addresses this well but I want to give you multiple places to examine for yourself because this is so important.

Old Testament traditions went to great length to insure hospitality toward strangers. If a stranger were to show up in town, the custom was to invite them to dinner and to your home to spend the night. In John chapter four we are presented with a story about Jesus, a Rabbi, doing the unthinkable in his culture by speaking with a Samaritan woman. This person was both a Samaritan (an ethnic makeup that the Jews hated), and was a woman (at this time men, especially Rabbi’s, never had conversations with women—much less an adulterous one). The book of Acts is rich with encounters with strangers. Jesus said to treat others as we would want to be treated and in Matthew chapter 5 he says to put others before ourselves, to be salt and light and let the whole world see our good deeds. The great commission tells us to make disciples—this means we must engage with those in our life in such a way that moves them closer to (1) salvation and (2) and then towards Christian maturity. So we must engage those unbelievers around us to make this happen.

We must also look to those missionaries who have given their lives to reaching out to others with God’s love. Most I’ve talked with say they have to become recognized as good and honorable people in the community’s they serve before anyone would listen to them about matters of religion and faith. Look at what Paul says in Colossians chapter 4:5-6, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

I think that the best case in the New Testament regarding your question is a parable that Jesus told in Luke 10:25-37. Here is the text:

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ ; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Growing up in church, I often heard people use this parable to say that Believers should care for others. I think that is quite obvious here. But the main thrust of the parable is a stinging rebuke of the two religious elite Jews that passed by this man in great need. The man in need was a Samaritan, and as I said above the Jews despised the Samaritans. So with this rebuke, Jesus was making a point that we must reach out in kindness and love to those who are in need!!!

So I think it’s safe to say that while we are not commanded to help every panhandler we see, the Bible is crystal clear on our responsibility to reach out to others in love…God’s love. There are many different ways to do this and God has wired us all differently so we can help in the many facets of reaching out to others. In 1 Corinthians 3:6 Paul uses a metaphor of planting, watering, and harvesting. He says all are important and different people fulfill these tasks…everyone must do their part and it happens one act of kindness and love at a time.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

There are multiple questions that basically deal with the coexistence of God and the reality of evil in this world

Why do bad things happen to good people?

This is a very complex area that is very difficult to make broad statements about. Let me make some comments.

Here is the most simplistic way to explain this question:

  • By God giving Adam the ability (ie free will) to obey Him or not, God created the possibility of evil.
  • By his disobedient choice, Adam actualized evil.
  • All suffering in this world is a result of the sin that entered into creation through Adam’s sin.
  • The possibility of evil has to exist to create the ability of humans to have the freedom to make choices.
  • Without this freedom, there is no love

This explanation provides a beginning point but does not really do the question justice. Here are a few books to give you further insight:

A Ready Defense, by Josh McDowell
The Case for Faith, by Lee Strobel
Evil and the Justice of God, by N.T. Wright

There are many different facets to this issue and it can become a very tangled issue. Here are some other facets that you might consider when doing an in depth study of the coexistence of God and evil:

  • How is the future known by God?
  • Did God plan the future?
  • How did evil get into creation in the first place if God knows the future?
  • Sometimes, people bear the immediate consequences of their own evil.
    Often, others bear the consequences of evil that they did not initiate. This can happen directly—like being killed in the Twin Towers on 9/11 or indirectly—in warfare terminology, you can think of these consequences as “collateral damage”.
  • Evil is an ever present reality in this world and we can not rid this world of it. This will only happen when God brings this world to an end and brings us into the New Heavens and the New Earth.
  • The Bible just assumes that evil exists and does not go to any great length to explain why. We are asking a question that is not answered explicitly by scripture.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Where is the community in church if you are not in a small group?

Thanks for the question. The answer depends on how you define community. If community means simply friendliness, then hopefully you’ll find that all kinds of places at High Pointe. But, if community means getting to know one another closely, caring for one another, doing life together, then a small group is the best place for that to happen at High Pointe. Though you may find some measure of community on a service team, you will most likely find deep fellowship in a small group. Because Sunday morning services are so big and there are so many people, we believe that it is not possible to experience the kind of closeness with each other that we all want and need until we get with people who have the time to sit and learn and share with one another.

Doesn’t that force cliques of people?

The definition of clique is: “A small exclusive group of people”
The definition of exclusive is: “Not admitting someone”

Doesn’t that sound bad?!

Of course, when people get together there is always the chance of cliques forming but at High Pointe we have an “Open Group” policy which means that our regular Core Groups (small groups) accept new people at any time. Hopefully, as Christians, we are always accepting of people and refraining from making exclusive groups or cliques. We work hard at having loving, caring groups without letting them become exclusive or clique-ish.

-Jody Robinson

Friday, June 20, 2008

Why is it difficult for some people to worship?

It depends.

If the person is not a Christ follower the first act of worship toward God would be to confess their sin to Him, accept Christ’s work on the cross as a replacement for the penalty of their sin, repent, and begin following Christ. Before they do that they won’t understand why anyone would worship Him. They may sing and look like they are worshipping Him but it likely is just an emotional response or they’re just trying to fit in.

If the question is speaking specifically to corporate worship and the time we spend in song, scripture, and prayer there are several possible reasons one might struggle. It may be difficult for some people to worship because they are struggling with sin in their life. The sin has dampened their relationship with God. As with someone who hasn’t begun a relationship with God, they need to confess and repent of their sin. God says in Isaiah 29:13, “These people come near to me with there mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” Our heart needs to be right before our outward stance of worship will be genuine or come easily.

Another reason people have a difficult time worshipping is because they get things flipped around. They come with the mindset that the worship time is for them. If the music isn’t what they would prefer or anything else isn’t to their liking they won’t respond. We have to understand that worship is for God. It’s what we bring to Him. It should be a sacrifice for us. Our physical, mental, and emotional selves should be spent at the end of a corporate worship time. That is not to say that we won’t benefit greatly as we respond with selfless worship.

Another thing to remember is that you can’t always judge if someone is worshipping by how they look. In some church traditions a stance of reverence has been modeled. In others outward expressions of passion and emotion are the norm. In both extremes and everything in between there will be some responding in genuine worship and others just going through the motions. Again, God looks past our outward expressions and into our hearts as He seeks true worshippers.

One final thing to remember is that corporate worship is not the easiest path of connection to God for all of us. There are many ways in which people have a sense of connection to God. We call them spiritual pathways. For example some people experience and respond to God easier as they enjoy His creation, or study His word. For others it’s in serving those in need or speaking out against injustice. If you find this is true for you, you need to cultivate those pathways. But you also need to grow in the pathways that you struggle with.

We shouldn’t measure our worship of God solely by the ease by which we worship Him on a Sunday morning. In truth, every action, thought, or motive we have can and should be one of worship. The frequency and consistency of our correct response to God, (i.e. worship) throughout the week will greatly impact our desire and ability to worship Him during our Sunday gatherings.

-David Heigel

Thursday, June 19, 2008

How should we show reverence to God in church? Does wearing a hat or questionable clothes on stage give Him reverence?

One of the things that I love most about Christianity is that it is never about (or should never be about) making appearances. In other words, God looks at the heart in all that we do and all the choices that we make. Accordingly, our clothing decisions are no different. For example, if I am a person with a long-standing Christian background who was taught from an early age that wearing a hat in church is wrong, and I truly feel uncomfortable wearing one in church, then I will probably make a choice not to wear a hat. This choice would honor God because He knows that my heart’s first priority is to honor Him. It really isn’t about my appearances—it is about my heart condition.

Conversely, if I grew up in a culture (Christian or non-Christian) that had no restrictions on hat-wearing and no negative messages about wearing a hat in church, I wouldn’t think anything of wearing one! I would have no idea that this could even offend anyone. I simply do not have those parameters on my radar screen. In this case, I may wear a hat to church without any thought of dishonoring God and I may in fact wear it with a heart condition that truly is honoring to God. Again, it is not about the appearance of the hat that matters, it is the condition of my heart. I always need to ask myself: “Is honoring God my first priority?” If you want to do a quick and interesting study on a somewhat related theme, read about how some of Paul’s companions, in order to spread the gospel, submitted to circumcision while others were did not. All of them honored God though their actions were completely opposite. (See Galatians 2:3 and compare it to Acts 16:3).

Concerning questionable clothing, we need to ask ourselves, “Who is calling what questionable?” “Is it questionable just to me? To everyone? To some?” Do we play a percentage game here?: “If 49% of the congregation considers what I’m wearing to be questionable, then it is OK if I wear it. But if 51% thinks it’s questionable, then I won’t wear it.” Even if this could be ascertained, doesn’t this seem more human-oriented rather than God-oriented? A God-oriented approach would be to give a person freedom unless we truly feel that the person is causing someone else to stumble i.e. in this case, causing someone to think unwholesome thoughts while worshipping. If I know or feel that a person on stage is causing another to stumble, then I believe my godly action would be as follows:

  1. Do not talk about this to anyone else.
  2. Do not grumble or complain about it.
  3. Do not automatically assume that the person in question is ungodly and/or rebellious.
  4. Pray
  5. Go to the person in question with a caring manner remembering Jesus’ caution in John 8:7, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone.”
  6. Be sure that this is a face-to-face talk…NOT an email (at the office we sometimes call this “coward’s communication”)…NOT a phone call…a face-to-face talk. If you are willing to take the time for a face-to-face talk and you are courageous enough to do so, you demonstrate that this is not just a pet peeve of yours but it is something you truly feel could hinder God’s message.
  7. Affirm and thank him/her for the things they have done well in the past.
  8. Explain to him/her how a person might see the clothing as questionable and how a person may be liable to stumble because of it.
  9. Ask politely if he/she might be able to refrain wearing the clothing on stage.
  10. Thank him/her for considering your request, affirm him/her again, pray together.

    -Jody Robinson

If communion represents the greatest gift from God, why is it not a bigger part of our service? Occasionally this seems very odd to me.

I would not agree with the premise. I don’t think communion is the greatest gift from God. I believe that greatest gift was the death of Jesus Christ which made reconciliation with God possible. The symbolism of communion is a special gift from God that we are able to participate in but it is not His greatest gift.

I would guess that you’ve probably heard this idea that communion is the greatest gift from God through some Catholic teachings because their belief is that grace is transmitted through the sacraments (of which communion or the Eucharist is one). So in strict Catholic teaching, “no sacraments” means “no grace and no salvation”. Communion represents Jesus’ broken body and his shed blood and so to a Catholic, it could very well represent the greatest gift from God.

When Jesus commanded us to remember his death, he left the frequency open. He said “as often as you do this”. I think it’s very important to realize that church traditions which practice communion every week or doing so out of tradition and not from a specific biblical command.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Timothy 2:9-10—Does this mean women shouldn't wear bikinis, tight shirts and tight jeans?

These verses say, “I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.”

The emphasis in these verses is that Christian women should focus on their internal world (thoughts, attitudes, and actions) as opposed to focusing on their external adornment (compare Samuel 16:7). Outward adornment is not necessarily wrong, but can show misplaced priorities and motives. He clearly says that women should concern themselves with doing good deeds. I think another way to look at it is to dress and act in such a way that would honor God and make Him proud of you. So, I guess the question is do your bikini’s, tight jeans, and tights shirts honor God?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Leviticus 19:28 Is it a sin to have a tattoo? If I have one should I get it removed? What about Christian tattoos?

The text says, “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves.”

The New Bible Commentary says: The main focus of most of this section is to exclude rites and practices associated with pagan, Canaanite religion, particularly those which were physically or morally disfiguring. Abuse of the body in the name of religion is a widespread human aberration. The OT, with its high view of the view of the body as a part of God’s creation, disallowed it. The NT reinforces the principle with the assertion that the Christian’s body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19-20)

This prohibition was in a list that was intended to make Israel distinct as God’s people while being surrounded by pagan peoples. As it was written here, this specific prohibition does not apply today. That being said, if you are a minor and your parents do not want you to get a tattoo—then you can not get one. Wisdom also plays a big role. If your spouse does not want you to get a tattoo, then you should not. I would also add that we all need to be very careful about doing anything that will permanently change our bodies.

Our goal as followers of Jesus is to represent him well to the world. If you have a tattoo that is offensive and keeps you from representing Him well to others or is dishonoring to God, you need to have it removed or changed (e.g. character with the middle finger extended, swastika, any anti-God slogan, etc.)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Multiple questions regarding marital relations...

Question continued: 1 Corinthians 7:5—Is any sexual activity between a husband and wife permissible? Does this mean a spouse should have sex with their partner whenever their partner desires? Is it really a wife’s job to meet her husband’s needs to give him strength to fight temptation? What does this mean exactly for the wife? Does she have to fulfill her husband’s needs whenever he has them? Does it work the other way too?

1 Corinthians 7:5 provides us with a good example of how we should never take a single verse out of context without looking at how it relates to the surrounding sentences and paragraphs. In other words, this verse is a sentence within a thought that the author is presenting. The other thoughts and the argument the author is building have to factor into our interpretation and our application.

The first question you must ask is why Paul wrote this letter in the first place. As you read this letter it becomes quite apparent that Paul was writing to address very specific situations that were happening within this congregation. He explains that our daily lives need to be continually changed and transformed (sanctification) because of our commitment to Christ and he gives very practical and pointed information to these Christians on how this transformation should be evidenced within their lives.

The first six chapters of this book are an attempt to deal with contentions within the church at Corinth and urges unity in both perspective and practice. In the beginning of chapter seven, Paul begins to respond to a series of very specific questions that this church had asked (written) him about. They are introduced by the phrase “now concerning” and include marital issues, liberty and responsibility, spiritual gifts and church order, an offering for famine relief, and Apollos.

So the verse in question, 1st Corinthians 7:5, is a single verse within a larger section, and is located within the argument the author is making. The theme that immediately precedes the section of Scripture that we are looking at deals with the dangers of sexual immorality outside of marriage. The end of chapter six calls them to remember what a high price was paid by Jesus to redeem them and admonishes these people to flee from sexual immorality and to honor God with their bodies. With this in mind verses 7:1-7:40 deal with marital issues. Verse five is within a unit of thought (7:1-7:9) that deals with marriage and celibacy.

Part of the challenge with many biblical passages is they respond to letters we don’t have or circumstances we don’t know about. The Bible Knowledge Commentary says that Paul is most likely commenting about the “abandonment of marital duties on the part of some in Corinth” and that these practices “had contributed to the immorality he had just described.”

So with this in context, here is Paul’s basic argument:

  1. Paul is celibate and wishes more could be that way as well—more time to devote to Christian work instead of a spouse and family.
  2. It is much better to be married than to be in unmarried sexual sin.
  3. Once married, Paul stresses the equality and reciprocity of the husband’s and wife’s sexual relationship by emphasizing the responsibilities of each to satisfy the needs of the other.
  4. Celibacy within marriage can only happen for a short time and only if it was mutually agreed upon beforehand and is for the purpose of a concentrated time of prayer.

So now, to address the questions listed above. This Scripture does not address whether any sexual act is permissible between a husband and wife. In context, it’s safe to say that Paul was writing about sexual intercourse here—not other types of sexual practices. I can say that there are passionate arguments on both sides of this question but I must say that just because something might be permissible, it doesn’t follow that we should automatically use that freedom. Loving and honoring our spouse and taking their feelings and beliefs into account on matters that can be debated are paramount in loving them well.

The other questions are all inter-related. We have to remember that ultimately we are to honor God with our bodies (last verse in chapter six) and we are not to withhold sexual intimacy from each other. Paul has just made the case that withholding sexual intimacy can help to cause sexual immorality so why wouldn’t we want to help each other stay pure? But we must also remember that we are called to love and honor each. Can you think of an instance in which it would be either unloving or dishonorable to ask your spouse for sexual intimacy immediately? I think the answer is obviously yes. We also must take the writings of Paul in which he presented over and over that while we may have the right to do something, we should not necessarily assert our rights. But again, taking into account some possible exceptions, why would we ever not want to help our spouses maintain sexual purity? And yes, this applies equally to both men and women.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

What is your take on writing notes in your Bible? Some say it is offensive and wrong.

This feeling comes from a misplaced sense of honor and reverence for the Bible. I believe the sense of honor and reverence should be placed on the application of the biblical truths and therefore it is entirely appropriate to take notes in your Bible.

Friday, June 13, 2008

When the tower of Babel is destroyed, the text says “we will destroy the tower”, who is we?

In Genesis 11:7, the text actually says “we will go down and confuse their language…”. God did not destroy the tower, but he did confuse their language and so construction was abandoned. This does bring up an interesting point though. The text does say “we” when referring to God. It also happens in Genesis 1:26 and Genesis 3:22 as well.

There are three views. In a Jewish mindset (both the author and audience of Genesis were Jewish) “us” probably refers to God and His angels. A second possibility is “we” is the plural of majesty. This was the way kings were referred to in medieval times. The problem I see with this view is it takes medieval practice and reads it back into Genesis. The third possibility is this is a reference to the trinity—The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I believe this to be problematic because the concept of the Trinity wasn’t developed at the time of the author Moses’ writing. This does not rule out the possibility that Moses had some idea of a plurality within the unity of one God.

How do you accurately interpret the Bible it in light of its many errors? (For the “error” part of this question, see following questions)

Accurately interpreting the Bible is crucial to understanding God’s communication to us. Therefore, we should take our Bible study seriously and commit ourselves to being life-long students of the Word. The study of interpretation is called “Hermeneutics” and the undertaking of this study of hermeneutics (interpretation) requires some special tools. Think of it like this: you have a tool box with tools inside. This particular tool box was assembled especially for you and for the express purpose of providing tools that will help you with the task of interpreting Scripture. On the outside if the toolbox is the word “Hermeneutics—Interpretive Tools Inside”. On the inside of the toolbox are the actual tools you will need to properly interpret the Bible. They are labeled as follows: Genre, Literary Context, Historical/cultural Background, Word Meanings and Grammar. Each of these tools is a huge study in and of itself! Though most of us will not have any formal education in these areas, we can, nonetheless, learn the basics of interpretation and use those skills to properly interpret the Scriptures. Here’s how you can get started:

When you choose a particular book of the Bible to read, ask yourself a few beginning questions:

  1. What is the genre of this book? In other words, is it a letter? A Poem? A Narrative? Ask yourself questions like: How would a letter read differently from a poem? Will this affect how I interpret it?
  2. What is the flow of thought in this book? In this chapter? In this verse? How are the ideas related?
  3. What were the times like when the author wrote? What was the audience like? How was their situation different from ours today and how was it like ours?
  4. Am I sure that I understand what individual words mean? Is there a wide or narrow semantic range? Have these words changed meaning over time? For example, John 6:26 in the King James Version says “Verily, verily, I say unto you…” Is this how we talk today? What does this mean?

If the Bible is written and compiled by man and man decided what should be included and what shouldn't be, how can it truly be holy?

I think it would be best to start with the question, “Who wrote the Bible?” The Bible is a collection of 66 texts and was written over a period of 1500 years by more than 40 authors. Obviously, these authors wrote in human language, using human literary forms and are a product of each author’s personality, literary style, vocabulary, and cultural background. But at High Pointe, we believe that the Bible is without error. In fact, this is a non-negotiable for us! How can this be?

The answer to this has to do with a concept called “inscripturation”. Inscripturation is the process by which God’s message was made permanently available to humankind in the Scriptures. The process moved the truth which God wished to communicate—His special revelation to humankind—to inerrant, written form. Inscripturation denotes the method by which God superintended the writing of each human author so that the exact message that He wanted communicated was in fact communicated. God did this without overriding the authors’ humanness. The result of the process of inscripturation is the inspired, inerrant (without error) Scriptures—the Holy Bible. (See “Inspiration” below)

How can we be sure there aren't any misinterpretations, misperceptions, and mistakes?

The value of inspiration (see above explanation) for the believer is that it ensures that the Scriptures originate from God and are, therefore, without error in, and only in, the autographs—the original biblical texts. The interesting thing is that we do not have any of these original texts today! What we do have is a large number of very early copies of those original texts. By comparing these early copies, we can arrive at a text that accurately represents the original texts to a very high degree. Are all of these copies identical? Actually, no, they are not. These copies are not inspired and therefore were subject to scribal errors. However, by comparing all of the texts, we feel that 1) we can be sure that we have in the Bible a text that is extremely close to the inspired original and 2) in the few places where textual errors may exist and we may not be exactly sure how the original text would have us translate it, we can none-the-less be sure that these very minor differences do not effect the message or meaning of our faith. Therefore, we may, to the degree that the copies accurately reproduce the original texts, consider them to be God’s word to humankind and we can rely on them as sufficient for faith and practice.

Jody Robinson

Thursday, June 12, 2008

What does God expect from us with giving and tithing? Does God want us to give sacrificially, even if we are behind on our debts?

This topic is covered in High Pointe 101 where you are free to ask questions.
That being said, I think this piece that I wrote for a study of the Minor Prophets will be helpful in understanding OT tithing versus NT giving.

One of the most used scriptures regarding tithing is Malachi 3:10 which says “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”

This is a good time to talk about hermeneutics, or the rules by which we engage and understand the text. One of the very first things you must ask yourself is “how are we different from the people we are reading about?” and “how are we the same?” The biggest difference between these people in Malachi and us is that they are under the Mosaic Law and we are not.

What was the Mosaic Law? The Law accomplished several different purposes. It was primarily the constitution of the nation of Israel and so it contained civil, ceremonial, and moral laws. God gave them the Law and told them He’d bless them as they obeyed it and curse them if they did not. The Law was in force until Jesus Christ died on the cross and we are told He fulfilled the Law completely and so now we operate under grace.

You could say the difference between the two could be described as “the letter of the law” and “the spirit of the law”. The Law was just a foreshadow of what was to come. The Law is transactional in nature. This means that when you do something God responds in a certain way. Grace is relational in nature—as His children we act out of gratitude for what Jesus did for us on the cross.

So how does this apply to “tithing”? Since the whole concept of tithing is an Old Testament command that follows the Law, it follows then that we can not transfer that over to the New Testament church. I can already hear the roar of disapproval so let me explain. What was the transactional nature of tithing?—Blessings if you obey and curses if you disobey. What did this reveal about God’s character?—That our financial giving is important to God because it furthers His work and it reveals our trust in Him as our ultimate provider. Do you remember the great commandment we talked about earlier? It says to love God and to love others. Relationally, our giving shows that we are grateful and thankful to God and we are generous to others—love God and love others. The 10% in the Old Testament was a rule and it gave us a guideline of what God expected. If we are truly thankful for what Jesus Christ did for us, do you think it’s possible to argue that the percentage we give today should be any lower in the New Testament? Our giving is a tangible expression of our love for God and others…it reveals our heart.

Matthew 18:15-17—Church Discipline

Question: So a Christian who continually sins and does not acknowledge the sin after its been brought to his attention needs to be booted out of the church. But non-believers doing the same thing can stay in church?

Here is the text: “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

In these verses Jesus teaches a process that can result in someone being asked to leave the fellowship and community of the church family. First, the person who is engaged in sinful behavior needs to be confronted by the person who has been wronged. If this person listens and turns from their sin, the text says “you have won your brother over.” But if the person does not listen, then two or three people are to confront him. If he then turns from the sinful behavior then again he has been won over. But if he continues in the sinful behavior and refuses to acknowledge it as a problem and address it, then we as a church family are to put this person outside of our fellowship and to treat them as a non-believer. The hope is that this loss of fellowship will spur them to acknowledge their sin and turn from it—when this happens they can come back into the fellowship of the church. It’s very important to understand that church discipline serves a redemptive purpose and not a punitive one. I don’t believe this means we are to shun them. But I do think it means that when we come into contact with them, our communication with them should be unmistakably characterized by our hope of them turning from the sin and our hope of renewed fellowship once they have turned from this sin.

Now, to say a non-Christian can do anything they want and stay within the church is not accurate. All people within the church need to understand that we are there to change. Our character must become more like Christ as we grow spiritually. This is called sanctification. You have to ask yourself “why would a non-believer be in church to begin with?” If the answer is because they are checking out what it means to be a Christ follower, then we have to ask how should we respond to sinful behavior? The same basic concept applies as outlined above. The difference is that a non-believer does not have the same core convictions that a Christian should have and so it will take quite a bit of grace, love, and communication to explain the concepts of change and that the Bible as our guide for living out our faith. So in very practical terms a non-Christian would get more time and more explanation but would still be expected (as all Christ followers should) to live their lives in light of the scriptures.

Related Question: I often wonder where the line lies between accountability within the church and hypocrisy? How do we decide what is calling someone on their ungodly behavior, and looking like we are better than them? Or loving kids where they are and getting on them for their choices?

I’d like to build on my answer to the previous question for this one so please make sure you read the preceding question and answer.

This is a very real possibility. Paul said in Galations to be careful when you restore someone lest you fall and Matthew said to get the log out of your eye before pointing out the speck in someone else’s. We should always approach accountability with humility and in the same way we’d want someone to approach us.

Why are we encouraged to confess something from our past to someone in the church? If I’ve already confessed to God, why confess to another?

I believe you are quite right in thinking that confessing sin to another person does not lead to forgiveness. God alone forgives sin. I believe the discipline of confessing sin to another is more for us than it is for God. The Bible teaches that sin is like a darkness that needs to be brought to into the light. Many times, even when sin in confessed to God, we beat ourselves up over and over for the sin—we cannot let it go. If you go and confess this sin to another trusted person the secrecy surrounding this sin comes into the light and the sin loses its power. Other times when the sin is against another, you can go and ask forgiveness. It is a freeing thing when that person gives their forgiveness…and even if they don’t, the change in your prayers regarding the sin can really change when you spend time with God knowing you did your best to make it right.

One caution—Make sure this is a good friend that can be trusted completely that is not prone to gossip.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Multiple Questions regarding tribal listings…

Question Continued: Why isn’t Dan listed in Revelation 7:5-8? Why is Aaron listed as an officer of the tribes in 1 Chronicles 26:16? Is Levi not listed in various Numbers and Joshua references because of the no land priest assignment?

There is lots of discussion and little agreement on why Dan isn’t included with the list of tribes in Rev. 7:5-8. At the very least, there seems to be a deliberate attempt to keep the list to 12 and with both Joseph and Manasseh (his son) mentioned (why Manasseh and not Ephraim?), as well as Levi, the count moves up fast. So, I would say that, for whatever reason, certain omissions had to be made to keep the count to 12 (normally in the OT, Levi is left out and Joseph is represented by his two sons for a total of 12). Some argue that Dan is left out because his name means “judging” and that doesn’t fit this group. Others suggest that Genesis 49:17 puts a kind of curse on Dan, so he is not worthy of inclusion here. Some have suggested that the antichrist comes from that tribe. Some Jewish traditions connected the placing of a golden calf under Jeroboam in Dan as a basis for excluding that tribe in some cases. It has been noted that there are some 19 arrangements of the tribal names that differ from each other in the Bible and the one here doesn’t match any of the others (Beckwith, Thomas). Probably the simplest question to answer is why Judah is mentioned first, and the answer probably relates to the messianic/Davidic roots. So, the answer really is: Nobody knows.

I Chronicles 27:17 (I assume you mean) is also unlike any other list in the Bible. Nobody that I know of has a good explanation for several factors in the list, including that Joseph’s family gets represented three times (Ephraim and the two half-tribes of Manasseh). So the mention of both Levi and Aaron is only one oddity. There are 13 names mentioned, though if Manasseh were reduced to one, it would be twelve. Again, no one really knows.

Many assume that Levi gets left out of many lists because the tribe has the Lord as its inheritance, rather than land. Since the tribe therefore had no military nor direct political influence, they probably were excluded to make the count come out right—again with Joseph frequently represented by two sons.

A thorough study of the tribe lists raises more questions than anyone has answers. You can get a fair discussion of the Revelation passage in Robert Thomas, Revelation 1-7: An Exegetical Commentary and on I Chronicles in Roddy Braun’s volume 14 in the Word Biblical Commentary. Don’t get frustrated, you won’t get any definitive answers.

Can you explain the story of Jephthah who made the vow to God and had to keep question is did he use her ( his only daughter and child) as a b

This is a lesson that teaches us the consequences of "bargaining" with God. Jephthah did not need to make this bargain. God is sovereign and He was going to use Jepthah to defeat the Ammonites. There was no need for any bargaining. Jepthah put his entire house at risk when he made this vow...anyone who came out would have been the victim. Jephthah's punishment was God's silence and the loss of his daughter. This somewhat parallels the account of Abraham and his son, but the major difference is that God initiated the action with Abraham (and saved his son) while in the Jephthah account, God did not initiate the pact, it was totally unneccessary, and I believe it made Him very angry that Jephthah would make such a pact to begin with. As it played out, it definately broke the laws regarding child/human sacrifices...but this was Jepthah's sin, not God's.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

What are the main theological points in Romans (Roman Road)

Basically, the main point of the book of Romans was a theological presentation of the gospel by the apostle Paul. He wrote it to a group of Christians that were mired in a problem. The Jew’s had been called by God, given His Law, and were called the people of God but now the gentiles or non-Jews were now coming into the church and Paul’s claim that it was by faith alone was a big problem for the Jews to understand. Much of what Paul presents is for the Jews to understand why gentiles were now being included in God’s family by faith, not by following “The Law” and then for the gentiles (and also Jews) to see that just because they are now in God’s family it does not give them any license to sin.

So it’s easy to see that while the Roman Road, as we call it, is not a listing of the main theological points of the book of Romans. Here are some of them:

  • We are saved by faith. All people, both Jews and gentiles are under sin’s power are not able to save themselves by anything they might do.
  • Natural revelation and specific revelation
  • Justification/sanctification (faith and deeds)
  • Original sin and the text that is used for the imputation of sin (5:12)
  • Identification with Christ in baptism
  • “old man/new man” and “slave to sin” metaphors
  • Law vs. Grace (antinomianism)
  • Doctrine of hope—resurrection of our bodies
  • Election
  • Does the Jewish nation have a future?

Friday, June 6, 2008

How can I argue belief in Jesus to an Atheist, Buddhist, Muslim, Mormon or Jehovah Witness? How can I have intelligent dialogue with someone who beli

I think it’s really important to realize that we can’t argue anyone into becoming a Christian. I believe that what is compelling to people of other faiths is someone who cares enough about them to enter into a dialogue in which they both speak about their own faiths and listen to each other. So with this in mind, it is vitally important to know what you believe, and why you believe it. In some respects, being able to share your faith with others is hard work and study.

Please do not hesitate to enter into dialogue because you are afraid you may not know something. I have never had a person have a problem with me telling them I don’t know something and asking them if I can do some research and get back to them. In fact, it has made them feel validated that they have asked something challenging.

There are two keys themes to stay with without getting bogged down—Your faith story, and the story of God. We have an evangelism course called Just Walk Across the Room which really helps to teach you how to have a spiritual conversation with others.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

What does the Bible say about guardian angels and do we all have one?

Believe it or not, even though there is quite a bit of talk about angels in popular culture, there is not an abundance of clear definitive information in scripture. But scripture does address angels even if it is in an indirect way. Here’s what we can know about angels:

  • God created vast numbers of angels. (Heb. 12:22, Rev. 5:11)
  • There’s a variety: angels, seraphs, cherubs, and an archangel known as Michael. (Heb. 12:22, Rev. 5:11, Eph. 1:21, Eph. 3:10, Col. 1:16, Job 38:4-7, Psalm 104, I Tim 5:21, Mark 8:38, Gen. 3:24, Rev. 4:6-8, Ex. 25:17-20; 37:8-9, I Kings 6:24-27, Isa. 6:1-7, Jude 9, Rev. 12:7, Matt. 22:30, Mark 12:25, Job 1:6, 7; 2:1)
  • Their work includes providential actions into human affairs and angels relate to humans as God’s ministering spirits, comforters, and as messengers of God’s revelation. (I Kings 22:19-23, Dan. 10:21, Dan. 4:13, 17, 10:13, Ezek. 9, Rev. 9:14-18, Heb. 1:14, Acts 27:23-24, Acts 7:53, Gal. 3:19, Rev. 1:1, Heb. 2:2)
  • They are a different created order than humans. Humans will not become angels and angels will not become humans. (Psalm 8:5, Heb. 2:7)
  • They have great personal power compared to humans that include strength, wisdom, and the ability to move across great distances very quickly. (Rev. 22:9, Matt. 28:2, Psalm 103:20, II Pet. 2:10-11, II Sam. 14:17, 20, Dan. 9:20-21, Rev. 14:6)

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Is it possible that aliens exist? If so, why didn’t God mention them? Would it really rattle people’s faith if they did exist?

The Christian Research Institute says that although 80% of all UFO sightings can be easily attributed to natural causes, almost half the American public believes in extra-terrestrials. You would think that this support would come through evidence but there is no hard or conclusive evidence to confirm the existence of aliens. So I would say the possibility that aliens exist is not very probable. If they don’t exist, this explains why the Bible does not mention them. But, if they do exist the question becomes “does it matter?” The Bible is the revelation from God to humanity (human beings). When Jesus came to earth and lived among us, he came as a fellow human being. His sacrificial death provides a way for human beings to become reconciled with God. So, regarding our faith, aliens should not be a factor.

Questions from My Church Family

I've been busy answering questions for weeks now and I'm going to start posting them here. Kevin, our senior pastor, asked everyone to submit questions and did a sermon series based on many of the questions asked. The ones that were not addressed in sermons are the ones I'm answering here. With the understanding that I do more than sit in my office and answer questions all day, many of these questions are very difficult to answer without writing a book!

Another very important consideration is there are two types of issues. There are essential issues in which we (the church) must have unity, and their are non-essentials in which we must be open to some diversity of opinion. In disagreements on non-essential issues we must show respect and humility as we deal with them.

Please feel free to respond to any of these posts and I'll try to respond as needed. Thanks for your input.