Monthly Archives: November 2010

Paul is More Puzzling than You Think

I find that a lot of people presume that they have Paul “figured out” more or less.  This is a function of years (millenia in fact) of theological presumptions that are so widespread they aren’t even questioned.  We never dream that the words of Peter could apply to us:

15And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 17You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. – 2 Peter 3:15-17

These words were written while Paul was possibly still alive, and we can confirm from other places in Scripture that Paul’s writing and teaching were misunderstood almost from the beginning of his ministry, both by the content of his own letters that frequently address these misconceptions, as well as by scenes like the one in Acts 21:17-24:

17When we had come to Jerusalem, the brothers received us gladly. 18On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. 19After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law, 21and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs. 22What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. 23Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; 24take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law(emphasis mine)

It is interesting to note that Peter indicates that those who “twist” Paul’s words in error are “lawless people,” in light of this other passage in Acts.  Apparently the notion that Paul taught that the Law was “done away with” or “canceled out” in some way was circulating before he was even martyred for his faith in Jesus Christ.  Scripture calls this charge against Paul false here in Acts 21, yet many will try and do hermeneutic gymnastics to wave away the problem here in this passage.  This has created an uncomfortable tension for many between Paul and James, particularly in a supposed contradiction between Paul’s proclamation of salvation by grace through faith apart from works and James adamant insistence on faith shown by works; or to state it in shorter form grace vs. works.

The problem with this particular conundrum is that it actually finds Paul in contradiction with himself in his own writings.  In Romans for instance, Paul makes some rather startling statements about “works”:

6He will render to each one according to his works: 7to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. – Romans 2:6-8

For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. – Romans 2:13

But then of course, Paul goes on to say that all have sinned (i.e. no one keeps the Law anyway) and so it is argued that these earlier statements don’t mean what they appear to mean at face value (which is to say that obedience to God is important in some way), despite the fact that Paul concludes chapter 3 with an affirmation of that very idea:

Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.

Is Paul self-contradictory?  When he states in 1 Corinthians 7:19 that, “For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God,” is he just blowing smoke again?  Or do we have a bad handle on what Paul is trying to say as a whole perhaps?

I have spent a lot of time lately reading the letters written by Paul that make up a great deal of our New Testament.  I embarked on this with great care after encountering a couple of paradigm-shifting insights that came from two different sources.  One is an excellent book called Paul the Jewish Theologian by Brad Young; and the other is a 29 part sermon series from D. T. Lancaster of Beth Immanuel, which you can listen to by following the link (I recommend you listen in order although many of them stand alone very well also).  The information I have gleaned from these two sources have made reading Paul a much more understandable affair.  He is indeed difficult to understand without context and effort, but the work that is put into understanding him correctly is well worth it.  Paul’s epistles line up well with all of the other writers of the New Testament, once you understand his idioms and his perspective as a messenger, an Apostle, to the Gentiles.

Paul’s letters are written to Gentiles primarily as instruction, that they do not need to convert to Judaism to become a part of God’s people (see Romans 9-11); and his frequent admonitions against the “works of the law” are in most cases a rebuke of those who tried to convince the Gentiles that their justification would only be complete by conversion to a legal Jewish status i.e. “works of the law.” They are not an admonition to Gentiles to forsake obedience to the instructions given by God in the law that pertain to holiness (being set apart from the world).  This is why Paul sees fit to include much in his letters that amounts to instruction in righteous living, instruction that is completely in step with the commandments of the Torah as regards a life that is pleasing to God.  The Law was never given for salvation (not even to Israel as some seem to think).  In fact, the idea that salvation could be obtained by obedience to the Law is not found anywhere in the Old Testament and yet some people seem to think that is what the Israelites believed and taught. In reality, the problem was a stubborn conviction that as God’s chosen people, they were automatically immune to any need to obey or follow His instructions (an attitude that shows up in many churches today), because God would forgive them no matter what they did.  Paul lays the boom on this and consequently on Christians who might think that justification comes from some sort of “membership” in Romans 11:20b-23:

They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. 21For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. 23And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again.

Paul is very direct in warning the Gentile believers not to be cocky about their newfound position within the people of God.  This is sobering stuff and Paul continues to talk about this as he winds down the book of Romans:

14I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. 15But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God 16to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. 17In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. 18For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed

-Romans 15:14-18

Paul’s own words of what Christ accomplished through his ministry is that the Gentiles were brought to obedience by word and deed.  Two thousand years removed, there are still some who wish to diminish Paul’s message and ministry as they have done since the beginning “to their own destruction.”  Let us not be like that, rather “take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:17b-18)

Categories: Bible Misunderstandings, Bible Thoughts, Christianity, church, devotional, Discipleship, Faith, False Teachers, Gospel, Grace, Hebrew, Law, Salvation, theology, Truth | 9 Comments

Sunday Morning 11/28/10

We had a great time in the Lord this week.  While the weather has turned colder in our neck of the woods, the fellowship is still warm and sweet.  This week’s sermon is about being different.  You can follow along with the notes (which are corrected online) and listen by hitting play below.  May God richly bless you through His Word.

Dare to Be Different

Sermon notes 11/28/10

Romans 15:1-21

  1. Christ is our Example
    1. Christ is our standard – v. 3
    2. Understanding instruction – v. 4
  2. Christ is our Hope
    1. He confirms the promises of God are true – v. 8
    2. He gives hope to all – v. 13
      1. Psalm 69:6-9 (quoted in verse 3)
  3. Christ is our Teacher
    1. Instruction in the ways of God – v.14: Matthew 5:19; 7:21-29
    2. Obedience in word and deed – v.18: Romans 2:13; James 1:22-23
Categories: Podcasts, Romans, Sermon | Leave a comment

In All Things

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

This is the day that has been given over for many years in this country to stop and give thanks to God for all that He has done.  It has a longstanding tradition in our country.  A quick perusal of the history of this celebration reminds us that our country has not always been what it is now.  If you have never seen it before, take a look at George Washington’s Thanksgiving Day proclamation in 1789:

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor — and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me ‘to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.
Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be — That we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks — for His kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation — for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of His Providence which we experienced in the tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed — for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted — for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which He hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions — to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually — to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed — to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn [sic] kindness onto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord — To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease [sic] of science among them and us — and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best. — Given under my hand at the City of New York, the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

We have nothing that is not given to us by God.  This may offend some who think there is no God, but I am not going to apologize for it or waver on it at all.  There is a lot of turmoil in our country and in our world, but it is not shocking or unexpected.  Some of the turmoil is a direct result of the fact that we have neglected to recognize or give appreciation (dare I say thanks) to God for all that we have in this nation.  It is axiomatic that when you forget the source of ALL that is good, you will lose that which is good.  We have forgotten our Source in this country for the most part.  We talk about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but all of these are meaningless apart from God.  Life itself is a gift and ALL that we have is a gift, not of chance or happenstance, but of Providence i.e. the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Liberty is given through His Son, Jesus Christ, and it isn’t the kind of liberty that turns to anarchy where each does what is right in his own eyes.  It is the kind of liberty that recognizes the boundaries of true freedom lies within God’s Kingdom and His reign.  Only then can true happiness be found.  Happiness that doesn’t consist of what we have or can get, but rather in is found in relationship with the One who truly loves us as we are and works within us to make us even more than we realize we could be.

We had an incredible day today.  Even though we were far from our family of flesh and blood, we were together with some of our family in the Lord and it was a great thing.  I count it a privilege every time I consider what God has blessed us with, both the people and the things that we have in our life.  We are blessed beyond measure or the capacity of words to convey.  I am blessed with a wife who loves to serve and show compassion to others and who can also manage to juggle so many things at once that it makes my head spin.  My kids are also a blessing and gift from the Lord and touch my heart in so many ways, more than I can name or number.  My church family is so special to me and we had a couple of them in our home today.  Men who would have otherwise spent the day alone in all likelihood, instead came and spent time with us and brightened our day.  The meal was good too and I didn’t overdo it.

In all these things, I have only scratched the surface.  I pray that you would remember today to be thankful and more importantly to give thanks to God for all things.

Categories: Culture, devotional, Faith, family, Freedom, friends, Fun, Giving, Grace, Kingdom, Love, ministry, politics, Thanksgiving | 1 Comment

Blogging Takes a Back Seat

I have caught myself many times over the last few weeks saving a story with the intent to blog a little about it, only to discard it a week or two later.  I have found myself thinking, I want to write a post about that; but the moment fades and I put it off only to never pick it up again.  So, in a sense, I have several posts that have been rattling around without any outlet and if I just sit to try and type one, I might end up with five alltogetherinajumble, if you get my drift.  In my last post, I mentioned some of the flurry of activity in October that kept me away from posting up any of those things I was planning to do and now I want to take a couple of posts to share some more detail about what has been going on and what is going to be happening in the near future, Lord willing.

At the beginning of October, I traveled out west along with four other guys to attend Immersion I at Real Life Ministries in Post Falls, ID.  This is actually the most recent piece in a bigger process that started just over a year ago.  My heart has long been focused on the mission that Jesus gave to each of us to be making disciples as we live on this earth.

I first heard Jim Putman speak at a church planting/rural church growth conference about a year ago and the first session he spoke at was completely about this very thing, the commandment to go and make disciples.  This wasn’t and isn’t about market testing/consumer driven church or trying to develop a “seeker sensitive” church or something like that; this guy really was serious about making disciples and his church was and is doing exactly that.  I was intrigued and encouraged.  God really spoke to me during that conference and has been at work in my life and in the church that He has placed me in to bring about a fundamental change in the way we are doing things.  It is slow going, primarily because it involves change; and change is a scary thing for most of us.  The cool thing for me has been the way that God has guided and directed this process and has added in bits of confirmation along the way.  I am more excited to see how this unfolds than ever before and I will try and keep a little more information flowing out as I am able to during this process and transition.  I would ask for your prayers as God uses us to reach people here in Langdon and beyond.

I am not sure that I can convey in this format, just what an amazing thing God is doing in His people here.  At this point, I am not even sure what else I can say about it.  I will save it for another post in the (hopefully) near future.  In the meantime, I pray that all those who come by and read on a regular or random basis have a wonderful Thanksgiving with those that you love.  We are going to have a somewhat low key affair with a few folks in as guests for the meal.  I am looking forward to it.  Shalom to you all.

Categories: Christianity, Discipleship, Kingdom, ministry, personal, Prayer Needs, Thanksgiving | Leave a comment

Sunday Morning 11/21/10

We had a great week in the Lord.  This Sunday was the first signs of winter in Langdon as a storm dumped about 5 inches of snow that had to be shoveled off the walk.  We still had a great group of people present and several of us ventured out to minister in the nursing homes in the area as well.  The Lord is so good to us it is hard to fathom.  This week’s sermon is about discipleship, both being and making disciples.  I pray that God richly blesses you through His Word.


Sermon notes 11/21/10

John 15:1-16:11


  1. Disciples are fruitful
    1. What does it mean to abide?
    2. What is the fruit that we bear?
      1. Galatians 5:22-23
      2. Disciples – John 4:35-36; Matthew 13:18-23
    3. Time to be fruitful and multiply
  2. What does it mean to be a disciple?
    1. Being with Christ
    2. Becoming like Christ – John 15:18-16:4
      1. Matthew 10:24-25
      2. Ephesians 4:11-15, 20-24
  3. Time to make the disciples
    1. Matthew 28:18-20
    2. Living life together
Categories: Disciples, Gospel, John, Podcasts, Sermon | Leave a comment

Sunday Morning 11/14/10

I hope that you have had a blessed week in the Lord.  We had a great time this week in our service.  The message is a little longer than average (so be forewarned), but by God’s grace it will touch the heart of others in the same way that he worked in my heart in the preparation and delivery of it.  You can listen along below and follow along in the notes to the extent that this message does so as well.  May God richly bless you through His Word.

Relationship, Not Religion or Ritual

Sermon notes 11/14/10

1 John 4:7-5:5; Malachi 3:6-4:6


  1. Relationship based on love
    1. Love enables us to show others the Father – 1 John 4:7-9; John 13:35
    2. Love allows us to “see” the Father – 1 John 4:12
    3. Love comes from God – 1 John 4:19
    4. Love is shown in obedience to God – 1 John 4:21-5:5
  2. Obedience without love is simply Religion
    1. Robbing God by rejecting relationship with Him – Malachi 3:6-12
    2. A failure to respond to love – Malachi 3:13-15
  3. Relationship is not a burden, but Religion and Ritual are.
    1. What is the distinction? – Malachi – 3:18
    2. Malachi 4:1-6 – A heart for relationship with the Father
      1. How is a distinction made by God
      2. Who are God’s children? – 1 John 5:1-5
Categories: Epistles, John, Podcasts, Sermon | Leave a comment

Sunday Morning 11/7/10

We had a wonderful time in the Lord on Sunday.  The sermon text for this morning’s message comes from Ephesians and deals with the mission of the Body of Christ.  You can listen in by clicking below and you can follow along in the notes as well.

Pulling Together

Sermon notes 11/7/10

Ephesians 3:14-4:32

  1. God’s Role in His Church – 3:14-4:10
    1. He gives us His Name – 3:15
      1. He has adopted us into His family
      2. He has given us His Spirit
    2. He gives us His strength
    3. He gives us the more than we can ask or think – v. 20
    4. He gives us unity in Him
    5. He gives us gifts
    6. He gives us leaders
  2. The role of the Body of Christ – Ephesians 4:11-17
    1. Ministry
      1. To build up the body
      2. To unify the body
      3. For maturing
    2. Become like Christ
      1. Speak the truth in love
      2. Grow toward the Head
      3. Do your part
  3. The role of the believer in Christ – Ephesians 4:17-32
    1. Give up your old way of life
    2. Walk in a new way of life
    3. Build up your brother/sister
    4. Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit
    5. Love and forgive one another
Categories: Epistles, Podcasts, Sermon, Spiritual Gifts | Leave a comment

The Incredible Shrinking Man

I borrowed the title from a friend who coined this phrase when he would ask me about how my weight loss was going.  Since April of this year, I have been in weight loss mode, mostly because of the “encouragement” of a doctor I was referred to on account of some wonky liver function numbers and such.  The results have been pretty good so far, but I am not done yet.  I haven’t had my return trip to the doctor yet for a followup to see how the numbers are now; so I don’t know if I have succeeded at all of the goals I need to meet, and I haven’t lost as much weight as I plan to lose overall.  I haven’t said much about the ongoing saga on either the blog or anywhere else online, but I felt like sharing this now.

I haven’t been blogging for just over a month now, but that has been a function of a very busy month of October that saw me out of town for at least a day on three of the four weeks, including a trip to Idaho (which was incredible) and a training conference in Fargo last week for a part of the disaster relief chaplain work that I am learning about and hoping to be able to be a part of going forward.  I am hoping to get back to blogging more frequently now that things have settled down a bit again.  We have some exciting things on the horizon in the life of our church and I plan to share some of that along the way here.

But back to the original point I started with; my weight loss has been slow but steady for the most part.  I have found immense encouragement during this time from my wife, who also made radical changes in her diet (in order to head off a potential diabetic condition) that was very successful (she is back to normal blood sugar again).  She hasn’t nagged me or hounded me about my own diet; she has just been a steady example of faithfulness to her own diet (which I have done my best not to derail for her sake).  She has also been a source of encouragement to me when I felt like I didn’t want to bother with some of these new habits in my own diet.

Many have asked me what I did to lose the weight (36 pounds so far), but I hate to give advice on this, because my own path hasn’t been some shining model.  The biggest part of it has been cutting back on portions.  Sounds simple or perhaps simplistic, but I finally made a commitment to just not eat as much as I was always used to eating.  I also started eating healthier foods (including some greens, but not too many), and particularly cut a lot of fat out of my diet.  This has meant a few changes for sure and it doesn’t mean that I never eat anything with some fat in it.  I just don’t eat that stuff every day like I used to do.

The only reason I am really writing this now, is to provide a measure of encouragement to those out there who are in the same battle.  I know there are a lot of you in this boat.  It is encouraging to know that people we kn0w have done it and lived.  It is encouraging when you can fit into jeans that  have just come out of the wash without pain for the first day or two while they stretch back out.  It is encouraging when someone you haven’t seen in a few weeks or months comments that you look like you have lost a little weight.  It kind of makes that day when I almost broke down in the aisles of Wal-Mart while searching for healthy food worth it after all.

But it isn’t over; it never really is on this side of eternity.  Life is a daily thing.  You can’t live today on the strength or accomplishment of yesterday.  Today is the day that the Lord has made.  Today is the day that we are given for whatever we will do with it.  Tomorrow isn’t going to get here in time to help today and yesterday is unable to come back and help us either.  All we have is Today and it is good.

Categories: family, friends, Fun, Health, Humor, personal, Thanksgiving | 2 Comments

Sunday Morning 10/31/10

We had a fantastic time in the Lord this Sunday.  I can think of few times when I was as blessed to be in the presence of the Lord or His people as I was this Sunday.  We have exciting things coming in the near future as a body of believers so stay tuned to this site if you are curious about it.  The sermon this week was about the Lord’s Supper as we were partaking in it this week as well.  There are notes below if you want to follow along with those.  I am also using a different site to host audio files as the old one is now full.  If you notice any problems, please comment below or send a message to me.  May God richly bless you through His Word.

The Lord’s Supper

Sermon notes 10/31/10

1 Corinthians 11:17-32

  1. Remembrance rooted in reality – 1 Corinthians 10:1-13
    1. History is a catalyst
      1. The exodus was a real event
      2. Passover started at that time
    2. History is an example
      1. A choice to make – v. 6-10
      2. A common nature – v. 11-13
  2. Revealing a radical rift
    1. A need to discern – 1 Corinthians 10:14-17; 11:28-32
      1. A need for unity
      2. A reality of division – 1 Corinthians 11:18-19
    2. A need for reconciliation – Matthew 5:23-24
      1. Discerning the body – 1 Corinthians 11:29 and 10:17
  3. Recognition of real relationship
    1. Hospitality
    2. Humility
    3. Honor one another and so honor the Lord
Categories: 1 Corinthians, Feasts, Podcasts, Sermon | Leave a comment

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