Thursday, November 29, 2012

Going Nuts About Jesus

I am reading, for the third time, The Divine Conspiracy by former University of Southern California professor of philosophy Dallas Willard. Theologian Richard Foster has placed The Divine Conspiracy alongside the writings of Bonhoeffer, Wesley, Calvin, Luther, Aquinas, and Augustine. I would agree with Foster's assessment with this caveat: The Divine Conspiracy is much easier to read.

The premise of The Divine Conspiracy is that when the life of God enters the soul, a transformation occurs. Christianity is more than just believing certain facts about Jesus Christ; it is experiencing the life of God, an experience that transforms human existence.

Read aloud Dallas Willard's paraphrase of John 3:16:

God's care for humanity was so great that he sent his unique Son among us, so that those who count on him might not lead a futile and failing existence, but have the undying life of God himself.
"Those who count on him...." What a wonderful phrase. How many of us count on our work for a fulfilling life? How many of us count on peoples' opinions of us to avoid a futile and failing existence? And how many of us, when what we are counting on fails, turn to things that mask the pain of our futile existence? Human existence is all about a fruitless search for a meaningful, purposeful, significant and fulfilling life.

Enter God.

God's care for humanity was so great that he sent his unique son among us, that those who count on him might not lead a futile and failing existence, but have the undying life of God himself.

Ultimately, what each of us does with Christ will determine whether or not there is fulfillment in this life. As Dallas Willard puts it, you must go "nuts" about Jesus to experience the undying life of God. When we see Jesus as he is, we will either 'turn away or else shamelessly adore him.' The former group ends life's journey in futility and failure. The latter group experiences the life of God, and what a grand, meaningful life it is!

The Divine Conspiracy has again challenged me to realize that it serves no purpose to condemn those who give lip service to Jesus on Sundays and then struggle with substance abuse, addictions, and all sorts of internal painful behavior (anger, pride, bitterness, resentment, etc...) during the week. Real, soul-transforming help comes when we can identify the root problem and help others see it and respond to it.

The root problem? People are crazy about everything but Jesus. That path only leads to futile and failing existence.

The solution? The only way to experience the undying life of God himself and avoid a futile and failing existence is to go nuts about Jesus Christ.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Blood of Jesus Equals His Death

French philosopher Voltaire criticized Christianity as a “bloody religion,” because of the emphasis on blood, particularly the bloody death of its founder, Jesus Christ. Voltaire, like many who hear the word "blood," envision that this word, as used in the Bible, can only refer to the red internal liquid of the human body. This is just not so. When the Bible uses the word blood, it often is a synonym for life. In addition, the shedding of blood is a synonym for death. For example:

"For the life of a creature is in the blood" (Leviticus 17:11)
"Without the shedding of blood (loss of life), there is no forgiveness of sins" (Heb. 9:22).

In the Old Covenant, the blood of the sacrificial animals played a prominent role in Jewish worship. From the priest dipping his fingers into the blood and sprinkling it on the ground and the altar, to the various instructions for the use of the blood according to the kind of sacrifice being offered, blood was a predominate theme. However, there was no magic in the blood of the sacrificial animals, and there is no magic in the blood of Jesus Christ. The blood in both represented their lives and the blood shed by both represented their deaths.

When Christians sing songs like Nothing But the Blood, Are You Washed in the Blood? Oh, the Blood of Jesus, and There Is Power In the Blood, the thought processes of the worshipper should revolve around the death of Jesus Christ, not the red blood cells of Jesus Christ. The shedding of Christ's blood is simply a synonym for His death. God gave His Son to die. It is not the actual blood of Jesus that saves us, it is the death of Jesus that saves us (I Corinthians 15:3).

Christ's death is a voluntary, penal, and substitutionary death. Christ died for us willingly (voluntary). His death was punishment from God. The word penal, as in 'the penal system,' means "punishment." God punished the Son He loves so that He might never punish those who love His Son. God, the righteous Judge, accepted as payment for our sin the death of His Son. Christ's death was substitionary (for us). Because the emphasis in Scripture is on God providing His Son to die for sinners, salvation from God's punishment is called "salvation by grace." Sinners who believe in Christ "gain approval with God by  faith" (Hebrews 11:39). You can't gain approval with God unless you were once in disapproval with God. This is why Jesus Christ cannot be bypassed and anyone expect to have a relationship with God.

Ultimately, the problem skeptics have with Christianity is the notion that God holds people accountable for their sins--or maybe to drill down even further--that there is even such a thing as sin. Yet, it is clear from logic and the logos (the Word) that God, as the righteous Judge of the universe, punishes those who hate Him and harm others. What kind of judge would He be if He didn't?

Yet, God's punishment is not arbitrary or capricious. He is holy and righteous in all His actions. The punishment will always meet the crime. This is why Scripture declares that the punishment of God for sinners (hell) is a punishment of degrees (Matthew 10:15). It's  also one of the reasons John Stott came to the conviction that hell is temporal, not eternal. Stott believed God's righteous punishment is meted out toward sinners in various degrees and lengths, and then there is the end of the sinner. I am not saying I agree with Stott on temporal punishment, but I am absolutely in agreement with him that hell is not the same for every person.

On the other hand, all the riches of God's grace are the possession of every believer in Christ. Christ died for our sins. He rose for our justification. All the rewards of Christ are ours because of His active obedience (His life) and His passive obedience (His death). We are co-heirs with Christ because of our faith in Him.


The next time you sing about the blood, reflect on what it is that you are actually singing.  The emphasis in Scripture is not on the red corpuscles in the body of Jesus as if they  possess some magical powers...

The blood of Jesus Christ is His death.

Why is this important to understand? Because there is a difference between literalism and a belief in the infallible, life-giving Word of God. Wise is the one who understands the difference.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Focus on the Function of Your Life, Not the Form of Your Family

This week I renewed fellowship with a cousin I had not seen in a long time. His wife is in charge of Nike's Air Jordan brand, a one-and-a-half billion dollar division of Nike Corporation. They live in Portland and have three beautiful young kids. My cousin used to be a stockbroker in New York City, but when his wife kept being promoted by Nike he decided to stay home to take care of the kids, while his wife worked for a living. For the past decade, my cousin has taken the primary responsiblity of caring for the home and raising the kids while his wife has "put the bread on the table" as they say.

What a fun family! I had the chance to interact with their kids and each of them was friendly, engaged, and at ease around strangers. Mom and dad were great conversationalists, comfortable in their own skin, and genuinely delightful people. Our only regret is that we have not known them as well as we would like, and our time with them is limited because of geography. However, seeing them this week brought to mind an important principle that church leaders often forget.

God is interested in the functionality of the individual, not the form of the family to which that individual belongs. For example, how many churches overlook the divorced, the widowed, the orphaned, the abandoned, and the people who come from broken and fractured homes because they are not in a "traditional" family unit? My cousin and his wife have reversed traditional roles intentionally, but I'm thinking right now of the number of men and women whose families and personal lives have been turned upside down unintentionally.

When church leaders put an emphasis on the form that family units should take, even if it is a well-intentioned effort to encourage families, the emphasis of Scripture is missed. God is not nearly as interested in the form of a family group as He is the functionality of the individual person. Let me prove this:

(1). Marriage is temporal, not eternal.

Granted, there are a few non-traditional western religions (i.e. Mormonism) and  a few long-time eastern religions (i.e. Islam) who advocate that marriage, even mulitiple marriages for men, are eternal. That's just not so. Jesus said that in heaven we "will not marry nor be given in marriage" (Mark 12:25).

Marriage is something that is not eternal. At some point, marriage will end for everyone.  If a marriage happens to end here on earth for a Christian, it is possible for that Christian to experience the same fulfillment and joy here and now that he or she will experience eternally. A divorcee who trusts Christ, a graced widow or widower, and even Christian singles who have never married or never will marry have as much personal value, identity and significance as any married Christian. In fact, it might be said that there is an advantage for the Christian who is not married; he or she has the opportunity to understand how to function individually now as Christ intends us to function eternally then.

So let me be crystal clear. Since marriage is a form of relationship that will one day end for everyone, when there is an overemphasis in church on the form of one's family to the neglect of the individual's function within his or her family, then churches fail in our biblical mission. The function of a Christian within the family never ends, and when properly understood, never fails. So what is our function as Christians? We are to love others in our family unit as Christ has loved us (John 15:12).  When we learn to function in this manner we never fail, though the form our family takes comes to an end (I Corinthians 13:8).

(2). Parenting is temporal, not eternal.

Think about this. In the resurrection, you will not have small children, nor will you have aged parents. You will not relate to one another in the dynamic of family as you relate to your family members during this life. To many of you, this is a blessed thing because your Christian family is highly dysfunctional.

The best way to define dysfunction within a Christian family is "dependence upon another family member to look a certain way, act a certain way, or be a certain way for me to be a whole, healthy and happy individual."  When you need your spouse, children, or family members to look a certain way in order to feel signficant and worthy, then you are dysfunctional as an individual Christian. What you need to be a whole, healthy and significant human being, you have from Him. God is interested in you becoming functional as an individual far more than He is you be involved in a traditional form of family.

For example, a divorced Christian and a single Christian share the same function as a married Christian. The form of relationships with others may vary, but the functionality and identity those individuals share in Christ are the same. Pastors should put far more emphasis on those things that strengthen individual functionality.

When church leaders put an emphasis on standardizing the form of families (men work, women stay at home and have children, children are to listen and not be heard, etc...), then we miss the intention of God's Word and our true calling. We are called by God to encourage individuals to love others as Christ has loved us, and this is the message of His Word. While that love is Christ's love in us, the context in which that love is displayed, and how it looks in application, will be different according to the situation the individual Christian finds himself or herself in.

Just like with marriages, there is a temporary nature in parental roles, child identity, and extended familial relationships. Yes, we will have relationship with one another forever, but that relationship will be based on being able to relate to one another as individuals of equal value--co-heirs with Jesus Christ. Therefore, that person who finds his identity in his position of authority, or his performance, or his power and posessions, is in for a really tough wake-up call. "Naked came I into the world from my mother's womb, and naked will I return" (Job 1:12). Blessed is the individual Christian who understands his or her identity comes from the love of God in Christ and not the form of their family on earth.

(3). Churches that emphasize the form of the family mean well, but miss wide.

There seems to be a growing desire among conservative, Bible-believing churches (like ours)  to be "family friendly." Trust me, I love my traditional family! And, I also  pastor a church full of people who love the traditional family, Christ and His Word. However, allow me to issue a caution to any of us who tend to want to overemphasize a particular form that the Christian family should take. We live in a world and a culture where the family has undergone all kinds of change. Divorce is rampant. Homosexual couples are adopting children. Cohabitation is normal. The church emphasizing "family friendly" ministry sounds good. We are distressed by the breakdown of the traditional family unit. However, there is no reason to get too upset. Nothing about the form of the family is eternal.

Marriage ends. Parenting ends. Familial relationships on earth all come to an end. We relate to each other for eternity as equals, on the basis of our relationship with Christ and our love Him. There is a slice of heaven on earth when we can relate to one another in the church, regardless of the form our family takes, as individuals equal in worth, significance and value. It deserves to be said again: God is far more concerned about the functionality of the individual Christian in the family than the form of the family the individual Christian is in.

Therefore, enjoy your family! Whatever it looks like, enjoy the people around you and learn to love them! Know this: if you are an adopted child of a homosexual couple and you come to Emmanuel Enid, you will find a place where you will be encouraged and strengthened in your call to function as an individual Christian full of His grace, mercy and love. We will help you love your homosexual parents, and we will not make you think you are deficient  in identity and worth because the form of your family is different than the pastor's. The same could be said of the divorced Christian, the blended family, the single Christian, the orphaned Christian, and the widowed Christian

God is interested in you. He (and we) are interested in how you function in this life. The function of your faith is far more important to us than the form of your family.

Food for thought.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thankful for Giving at Thanksgiving

Emmanuel Enid receives offerings in our four morning worship services the old fashioned way - we pass plates. Since coming as pastor of Emmanuel in 1992, it has been our standard practice to invite people in the auditorium to either give to the offering or receive from the offering. When we pass the plates we encourage those in financial need to take from the offering if they have genuine need. We only ask that they take the cash and leave the checks and the envelopes because those are checks made to Emmanuel, and they couldn't cash them anyway. We also typically announce that if there is not enough cash in the plate to meet their need, they can see us after the service and we will see what we can do to help them financially. There are no restrictions. Members and guests are invited to take from the offering plate. Money can be taken by the same person every week for fifty-two weeks. We mean what we say, and we have many stories of people who have been helped through our offering, sometimes in surprising fashions. One young lady who was in college stopped me one Sunday with tears in her eyes. She was an only child. Her only surviving parent and grandparent, her father, was dying of cancer. She was driving sixty miles one way from Stillwater every weekend to relieve her father's caregiver. She could not afford the gas, and for the past several weeks she had been faithfully taking her gas money from the offering plate. Her father was not a believer in Christ, though she was, and after she told her dad what we had said about the offering, and what she was doing for gas money in order to get home to care for him, he said, "If that is what Christians are all about, then I want to be one." Anyway, you can understand her tears.
Last Sunday a friend of mine told me at lunch that the lady in front of him took her hand and scooped up almost the entire offering, cash, checks, envelopes--everything. Obviously, that presents a problem, particularly if people are giving to Emmanuel in the form of checks. The problem is not so much that we will not receive the money (the Lord ultimately is in charge of meeting our needs, and we trust Him), but that we don't look real professional if we have someone who has written a check and we have no record of receiving it and they have no record of it being cashed. On occasion we have had different individuals unsuccessfully try to cash checks at banks, and of course, we don't press charges because we just assume there is a misunderstanding of what can and cannot be taken from the offering plate. It's almost worth the adventure just to see the expression on the faces of bank employees when they are told that worship attenders at Emmanuel are encouraged to take what they need from the offering plate.
Anyway, Monday's offering count was the lowest it has been in many months. Emmanuel takes no giving commitment cards. We do not emphasize the "tithe." We tell people to give what the Holy Spirit leads them to give. For the past eighteen years in a row we have exceeded our church budget in receipts. Last year we exceeded it by a quarter of a million dollars. Around Thanksgiving however, we are always behind in budget receipts, sometimes to the tune of $200,000 to $300,000 dollars. Emmanuel has no guarantee that we will meet budget by the end of the year, and we make no special emphasis--but somehow, someway, God has provided.
After my friend told me about the woman who emptied everything from the offering plate, and after I received the news of the low offering this past Sunday, I found myself thinking through our practice of encouraging people to take from the offering plate. After a little reflection, I came up with the reasons why we will not change a thing.
(1). God is quite capable of meeting our needs as a church ministry as He sees fit.
(2). If we ever fall short in our missions and ministry budget, we will cut our budget to reflect the giving we have received (or not received). The people of Emmanuel, having been filled by the Spirit, will give precisely what the Spirit leads them to give and take what the Spirit leads them to take. The answer is not for leaders to demand more, but for leaders to trust more.
(3). Trust in God involves trusting Him to work in the lives of those who give to and of those who receive from Emmanuel. Sure, people can abuse the offering, misuse the church's generosity, and take money from the offering plate for things that some might not consider appropriate, but our God is big enough to handle His people. He neither needs our control or demands our micromanagement.
(4). Thanksgiving reminds us not only to give thanks, but to be thankful for giving. Too many of us are so accustomed to being on the receiving end that the concept of churches being the initiators of giving has been lost.
(5). In time, the lives of people are changed by the love involved in giving, not the control needed in taking.
I close with a Thanksgiving Facebook message I received this morning from a woman impacted by Emmanuel. I have left off her name and current living location to protect her identity, but I believe her message was only a confirmation from the Lord that it is far more blessed for Emmanuel to give than to receive.
Pastor Wade
I wanted to take time to tell you how much I miss Emmanuel. I had no idea how important and significant Emmanuel was in my life. Now that I have moved to _____, my new husband and I are looking for a church home. We have been to the Baptist Church here 3 or 4 times and it isn't even close to being the church for us.... I wanted to thank you for teaching me what God's Grace is. Grace is God! God knew what He was doing when He called you to preach His word. I have so many examples of how you and Emmanuel have touched my life but there are three that really stand out to me.
1....One Christmas Eve the girls and I were at the candle light service and afterwards you just randomly came up to me and handed me a voucher for $75 in groceries. You couldn't have known how much I needed that...but God did.
2. I had surgery in 2009. I was to be off work for at least 6 weeks which turned into 11 weeks. I had the surgery of state,  and I had asked if the church could help me with a donation to "Kathy's House" which is a place for patients to stay who are in the hospital for medical reasons. The donation is what they accept as payment. Well, not only did the church write a check for the donation but they paid my bills for a month. That was amazing! Thank you!
3.  EBC helped me raise my 3 daughters and keep God in every part of their life. I pray that God sends my husband and me to a special church like Emmanuel. Please pray for us. Thank you!
Wade and Rachelle Burleson


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Criticize Your Pastor and Bring God's Curse?

With a hat tip to my friend and fellow pastor Tyson Wynn, I share Creflo Dollar's recent message where he opines the person who criticizes his or her pastor on Facebook or Twitter brings a curse from God down on their own heads. I respectfully disagree with Mr. Dollar and suggest that any of the members of the church I pastor who wish to criticize me publicly or privately are free to do so. I take the position of David who said, "Let them alone. God has bidden them to speak." (II Samuel 16:11)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

When Methodology Is Crystallized, the Mission Is Sterilized

"I have become all things to all people in order that I might win some ..." (I Corinthians 9:22 NIV). When speaking to Jews about Christ, Paul emphasized his Judaism. When speaking to Gentiles about Christ, Paul emphasized his Roman citizenship. Paul adapted his teaching delivery to the thought and the culture of the people that were around him. The message of Paul never changed, but the method through which the message was delivered adapted to the times, the people and the situation.

Jesus comissioned us to "make disciples, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you"  (Matthew 28:20). A good fisher of men understands that you must change your methods if you are going to make catch peoples' interest and make them disciples of Christ. The message of Jesus never changes, but the manner in which people hear His message must change.

Thirty years ago I came to First Baptist Church, Holdenville, Oklahoma from Baylor University. I was introduced as a new staff member to Oklahoma at the annual Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma in November of 1982. Since then I have served in about every capacity one can serve in the BGCO. This week I attended the 2012 BGCO. I noticed something interesting. The crowds are much smaller, the heads are much greyer, and I am much older. Our leadership at the BGCO is more progressive than many state conventions. I know they work constantly to change, adapt, and stay relevant to today's culture.

It is not easy.

The church tha refuses to change its methodology in reaching people is doomed to a day of decline. We are on a mission to make disciples. Every staff member, every pastor, and every church member ought to be asking the question, "Is what we are doing today fulfilling our mission?"  I think we would be amazed at the number of things that are done because "that's the way we have always done it."

Dan Heath and Chip Heath, in their  #1 New York Times bestselling book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, write:
Two professors at Harvard Business Schook, writing about organizational change, say that change is hard because people are reluctant to alter habits that have been successful in the past. 'In the absence of a dire threat, employees will keep doing what they have always done.' 
Dan Heath, yokefellow at Harvard, believes that an organization needing quick, specific and immediate change, must used negative emotions as needed (i.e. fear, anxiety, etc...). However, most of the time, organizations are dying a slow and diseased death rather than a sudden and catastrophic one. Organizations must have people who are creative, flexible and ingenuious in order for change to be built into organizational structure. Good organizations are filled with people who have positive emotions such as joy, self-fulfillment, and personal contentment. These postive emotions broaden the interest and desire of everyone in the organization to investigate new things and adapt methodologies. Employees who carry negative personal emotions such as fear, anxiety, and anger, will find that these negative emotions narrow their minds and limited their abilities to fathom how or why change is needed, much less comprehend the steps that must be taken to effect that change.

I would highly recommend the book Switch. It will turn the lights on for you regarding the necessity of institutional change at your organization in order to fulfill your mission. If our churches and conventions crystallize our methodologies and refuse to change, and if there is no reproduction of spiritual life in the making of more and more disciples, then there is nobody else to blame but us.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

We Christians in the West Are Soft

We who name Christ as our King and are immersed in western civilization and culture have little concept of what it means to suffer for "Christ's name's sake." Our church buildings are beautiful and comfortable, our worship services are moving and meaningful, and our lives run like clockwork. Think back to how you felt the last time the lights went out during a storm. Were you irritated? Lost? Or do you remember your reaction the last time your 4G phone service went off-line? Were you frustrated? Perplexed? When our greatest discomforts in life revolve around electricity and electronics instead of challenges to our faith and discipleship of others, we American Christians have become too soft. Don't misundersand: This softness isn't a moral dilemma for us; it is simply a meaningful description of us. We didn't ask to become soft, our culture has made us soft.

This is why a knowledge of history, geography, and current events is so important. When Christian kids in the west feel the greatest disappointment for them during the holidays is in not getting just the right number or kind of gifts, then we are doing a disservice to them by not helping them become interested in the world at large and the world of the past. For many centuries, Christians have been persecuted, tortured and killed for their faith in Christ. Sadly, Voice of the Martyrs tells us that more Christians have been killed or martyred in the last century than in all of the previous centuries combined. We don't know about this because it doesn't happen in the west. That's why it is important for us to open the eyes of our kids to the world outside of modern western civilization. When the Burleson kids were growing mom and dad read to them Fox's Book of Martyrs during our morning devotional. It made their cereal and oatmeal more difficult to eat as we read, but is sure helped them understand that many Christians have not lived as cushy of lives as we.

Today, I was moved by reading a letter from Pliny the Younger to Roman Emperor Marcus Trajan. Pliny was the governor of Bythinia in northwest Turkey in the early second century, and he considered Emperor Trajan his best friend. The letter, written about AD 111, vividly describes to Trajan how Pliny deals with the Christians in Bythinia, people Pliny considered enemies of the Roman Empire for their refusal to ascribe deity to the Roman Emperor and say, "Caesar is Lord."

Pliny writes,
"I have asked them if they are Christians, and if they admit it, I repeat the question a second and a third time, with a warning of the punishment awaiting them. If they persist in avowing themselves followers of the one they call Christ, I order them to be led away for execution; for, whatever the nature of their admission, I am convinced that their stubbornness and unshakable obstinacy ought not to go unpunished...

The sum total of their guilt amounts to no more than this: they meet regularly before dawn on a fixed day to chant verses alternately amongst themselves in honor of Christ as if to a god, and they also bind themselves by oath, not for any criminal purpose, but to abstain from theft, robbery and adultery...

This has made me to decide it was all the more necessary to extract the truth by torture from two slave-women, whom they call deaconnesses. I find them to be nothing but a degenerative sort of cult carried to extravagamt lengths."

Next time you complain about the carpet in your auditorium, or the comfort and style of the chairs that you sit in at church, or the lack of funding for your special church programs, remember those two Christian deaconnesses from Bythiania and the torture they endured so that Pliny could get to the truth about this cult called Christianity. Those two women endured something you may never face in your lifetime, but we can sure learn from them. Christianity to them was life, not convenience. The only thing that will harden us up in the west without facing persecution ourselves is a vocal acknowledgement that much of what we get attached to in church are those things that are comfortable and make us feel wonderful instead of those things that are missional and make us very purposeful.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

On Dog Poo and Politics: A Metaphor

I woke up this morning, the day after the re-election of President Obama, very excited about the next four years. The writer of Hebrews says that we Christians are "foreigners and strangers on the earth" (Hebrews 11:13) . We belong to another country (Gr. patrida, literally "the Fatherland"). We have a home in an eternal city "with foundations, whose Architect and Builder is God" (Hebrews 11:10). 

I believe our world is about to be shaken on several fronts. The coming fiscal cliff, the impending Israel/Iran war, the Russian and Chinese push to switch to the Yen as the world's currency, and a host of other foundation shaking events are just months away. However, that is a good thing. Too many put their trust in this world's systems, governments, and political leaders. We are foreigners. Foreigners' votes never count because there is no stake in the election.

I realize many in America disagree with me this morning and are excited about America's future. They trust that the President will usher in a period of prosperity and peace. They have hope that Obama's re-election will ensure our country moves forward.  Their love for our country cannot be questioned, but I wish my friends to understand we are about to step in poop (pastors use purified words for excrement) of our own making. Let me explain.

A Metaphor

Last night my wife Rachelle and I came home after a nice dinner in Oklahoma City. Rachelle could not eat all of her steak, so we brought the leftovers home to Gracie, our massive great dane. We love our dog. We expressed our love to Gracie by giving her steak. Bad idea.

This morning, rising at 5:30 a.m. for my morning workout, I went downstairs and stepped in a load of poop. Those of you with little dogs have no idea what I am talking about. Those of you with great danes know that the phrase "stepped in" is an understatement, similar to saying "I stepped in some quicksand." I tried to clean up, but the task was insurmountable. I left the house and went to my work out and did my exercises. Unfortunately, I carried on the bottom of my shoes remnants of our lovable dog. It's never a good idea to run in place and then do pushups after you have stepped in it. I was miserable, but the misery was of my own making. I chose to feed our dog steak.

Here's the parallel. There is no doubt that Americans who believe government is responsible for creating jobs, and that government is responsible to care for its citizens, and that government is the solution for every problem we face, love America. But once you feed government what government shouldn't be eating, the load of poop that's coming cannot be avoided. And when that load is dumped, the country will stink to high heaven for a long time.

But stepping in poop isn't all bad. It forces us to change our behaviors. I guarantee you, Gracie has had her last steak. The reason that I am excited today is because what I see coming to America will eventually cause more Americans to see that the only real solution to life's problems is trusting in the Unchangeable Person and entering into His Unshakable Kingdom! Governments fail; Jesus Christ reigns forever.

That's a very good thing. It's a great day to be alive!

Thursday, November 01, 2012

An Old Earth and a Local Flood: God's Word May Well Teach Both Are True

I had lunch today with a geologist who credits me with giving him an understanding of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. This man heads the exploration department of an oil company that has grown under his leadership to be one of the largest resource firms in the world. His mind moves as fast as an Intel processor, and one can almost hear his neurons firing as he thinks. He's a smart man who has studied the earth's rocks to find uranium, gold and now oil. He believes the earth is old and Noah's flood was local; and he believes this because of his geological expertise.

He knows that I believe the Bible to be inspired by God. He asked me what I thought of his views of an old earth and a local flood. I could tell he was a little hesitant to share his views with me because he was under the mistaken notion that all evangelical, Bible-believing Christians must be young earth creationists and global flood adherents.

He was shocked when I told him I felt I could prove from the Scriptures (not science) that the earth is millions of years old and that Noah's flood was local, not global. My friend is quite convinced he can prove these two things to others from scientific evidence and logic, but he was dumbfounded to hear his Bible-believing evangelical Christian friend state that these views also can be proven from Scripture. Now, before too many of my fellow evangelicals get all bent out of shape, please know that I have taught young earth creationism and a global flood. However,  I have no qualms with saying to others that I could be wrong in my views. Here's why:

Five Textual Reasons Why Noah's Flood Could Be Considered Local

(1). Genesis 7 says the flood fell on the "earth" forty days and forty nights. The Hebrew word eretz is  translated into English as "earth" in the Genesis 7 flood account.  The author of Genesis 7 used erets a dozen times to describe the extent of Noah's flood. For example,  "And the rain fell on the earth [erets] for forty days and forty nights" (Genesis 7:12 NIV).

When we Christians in the west hear the word "earth," we immediately think of a global sphere, the globe we call earth. However, when a Hebrew heard the word eretz, he would never think like us. Erets simply meant land.  This is the way the word is used throughout the Old Testament:
The Lord said to Abram, 'Leave your country [erets], your people, and your father's household and go to the land [erets] I will show you. (Genesis 12:1).

I [God] am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth [erets] to seize dwelling places not their own. (Habakkuk 1:6). 
"See how the waters are rising in the north; they will become an overflowing torrent.  They will overflow the land [erets] and everything in it, the towns and those who live in them. The people will cry out; all who dwell in the land [erets] will wail. (Jer. 47:2).
In this last example, Jeremiah used the exact same language that Moses used in Genesis 7, yet no interpreter of Scripture suggests that the flood in Jeremiah's day was anything more than a local flood. The Hebrew text implies Noah's flood was also local.

(2). Genesis 7:20 says, "The waters prevailed fifteen cubits upward, and the mountains were covered" (Genesis 7:20 NKJV). A Hebrew cubit was the measurement from the elbow to the tip of the fingers, an average of eighteen inches, or a foot and a half. Fifteen cubits is somewhere between 20 and 30 feet, but no more. The English word "mountains" is the Hebrew word har, which is often translated "hills." The Hebrew text itself indicates a local, albeit devastating flood. Noah took the animals native to his land, not the entire earth, and gave them safety in the ark God told him to prepare.

(3). Prior to the flood there were Nephilim, "heroes of old, men of renown" (Genesis 6:4). If the entire world's population was destroyed during Noah's flood, as a global flood requires, then there is difficulty explaining how the Hebrew spies "saw the Nephilim" in Canaan, generations after the flood (see Numbers 13:33).

(4). The author of Genesis ascribes specialization of labor and technological advances to Cain's descendents--Jabal, Jubal, and Tubal-Cain--who were "the father of all those who dwell in tents" and "the father of all those who play the flute and harp" and "an instructor of every craftsman in bronze and iron" respectively (Genesis 4:19-22). The author of Genesis assumes that specialization in musical instruments, metallurgy, and shepherdology existed continuously from before the flood to the present day. Were the descendents of Cain all drowned in a global flood, then the "fathers" of these technologies would be the sons of Noah, not the sons of Cain. Further, a simple reading of the Hebrew chronologies from Genesis 5 to Genesis 11 places Abraham's birth less than 300 years after the flood. Many in Noah's family, including Noah himself, were still alive in the days of Abraham. With that said, how is it possible for there to be numerous peoples and numerous national identities by the time Abram left Haran to come to Canaan, a scant three generations after the flood?  For example, Hagar came with Abraham from the empire of Egypt (Genesis 16:1) and Eliezer came with Abram from Damascus (Genesis 15:2). The flood of Noah seems to be God's judgment against the apostasy of His chosen people, the family that would eventually be called the Hebrews.

(5). After the flood, Noah offered a blood sacrifice (see Genesis 9). This sacrifice represented the future coming of the Messiah, the Lamb of God, and his death at Calvary. Through blood atonement, Noah and his family found peace with God. God gave a sign to Noah of the peace covenant--a bow. Most people say "rainbow," but in reality, it was a bow. But not just any bow. A bow is an instrument of war. It is a picture of death. When your enemy uses his bow, he aims to destroy you. But God promised Noah that through the blood covenant of peace, He would not destroy His people. Look at His bow.

The bow of God gave to Noah was  (1). Hung in the sky and pointed away from Noah's land, and (2).the bow had no string in it so it was unusable, and (3). the bow was unbent, perpetually picturing for Noah that God was at peace through blood atonement.

Generations later, the Hebrew people would reject the Lamb of God, "trample under foot His blood," and turn their backs on the only Sacrifice that God provided for sinners. In response, God took up His bow against the Hebrews, and broke covenant. In Revelation 6:1-2, the bow of God is taken up against Israel as the Lamb rides a white horse, holding His bow, and comes in judgment against His people Israel. In the same manner that God destroyed the land of Noah for the apostasy of His people during the days of Noah, so too He destroyed the land of Israel (Jerusalem, the Temple, etc...) in AD 70 for the apostasy of His covenant people.  God's wrath against sin is either born by the Lamb and escaped by those who trust Him, or it is born by sinners who trample under foot the only sacrifice God will ever provide for sinners. The Old Covenant way of worship is over.

The New Covenant shows us the God of all grace who provides for us the Lamb. The message to us all is "Trust Him!"


Next time you feel tempted to draw a line in the sand and refuse fellowship with those believers in Christ who hold to an old earth and a local flood, think twice. It very well could be they, not you, are closer to understanding the sacred text.

In addition, since Russell Crow is playing the lead in the epic 2014 Hollywood film Noah, it might be wise to brush up on your Bible knowledge lest you be tempted to get your theology from Hollywood.

The worst thing any Christian could be is cocksure of non-essential theology and miss the importance of Jesus Christ and His covenant of peace with those who trust Him.

Whether you are and old earth advocate or a young earth believer, whether you believe in a local flood or a global flood, remember this: Christianity is all about intimacy with God through faith in Jesus Christ.

My friend learned salvation by grace through faith in Christ from me. Thank God he's smart enough to realize all other doctrines are secondary.