Pastor Sean, Can you answer the question: Why do you rail against video games so much?

Video games will be the demise of our society. Now I know that seems like a ridiculous statement, and one that is certainly not worthy of legitimate consideration, but I wonder if you have ever read anything that qualifies as a serious evaluation of the problem. According to Boy Genius Report, “there are currently over 34 million core gamers in the United States, and they are playing video games for an average of 22 hours a week.” And twice as many play video games on a regular basis. Twenty-hours a week indulging in video games is the equivalent of a part time job, only nothing productive is being accomplished. If a person made $10 an hour for their part-time job that would be the equivalent of $11,400 a year in extra income.  Seriously, 22 hours—isn’t that a crazy amount of time? Consider with me for a moment if you knew a friend who played cards for 22 hours a week, would you think they have a problem? 22 hours averages out to over 3 hours a day, every day.  Gamers enter a notional world for hours at a time where God is not the King and His glory doesn’t matter.  Even the simplest of games, like ‘Angry Birds’ and others, contain absolutely nothing edifying. All the thinking, planning, strategizing, etc. accomplishes nothing. Conquering a new higher level is NOT an accomplishment; it is nothing more than a time waster. Think about violent games like ‘Call of Duty’ where people are being blown away by machine guns. Or games where laws are being broken or provocative women suggest immoral behavior. Where is God in all this? He is absent. Sin is absent. My Christian values do not translate into the virtual world of the video game.  His Word and His Glory are both absent.  Yet Isaiah 43:7 tells me I was created for God’s glory.

And I must realize that for every minute I am in the virtual world of gaming, I am not doing anything for God’s glory.  Gaming needs to be limited. Extreme self-control needs to be exercised, and gaming should not take precedence over doing things that need to be done. For example if my car is trashed with dirt, McDonald’s wrappers, Mt. Dew bottles, coffee cups, etc., I should not be gaming. If my grass needs to be cut, I should not be gaming. If the dishes are dirty or the laundry needs to be done, I should not be gaming. Parents, be the boss and come down hard on gaming if Johnny’s grades are not where they should be or his bedroom is trashed. Set limits. If I haven’t read my Bible, I should not be gaming. Do you know how many young men I see coming to church on Sundays exhausted from staying up late on Saturday watching movies, playing video games, etc.? Those choices scream that corporate worship is NOT important to me.  I am more concerned with being successful in the virtual world of gaming than glorifying God with the body of Christ.

Last year in South Korea, a couple let their biological child die while they were taking care of a notional baby in a video game world (Newsweek, July 27, 2014). Imagine that! And of course, that isn’t you. I know that’s not you. You would never do that. But that tragic event points to the problem loud and clear. We have a growing number of people in all societies that would rather play basketball with a controller than an orange ball outside.  Let’s be clear: I am not saying a father and son playing 30 minutes of FIFA video soccer is a problem when it’s raining outside. But when the sun is out—get outside and kick a real ball, shoot a real gun, throw a real ball, jump a real fence, run down a real path in the woods with air soft guns that actually sting when you shoot each other. Christians live in the real world. We are salt and light in the real world. Jesus did not have a ‘man cave’ where he retreated from the rest of the world and relived childhood fantasies.  Learn a card game. Have a conversation with someone face to face instead of via a controller headset. Take a girl to the movies and then have a conversation about the movie face to face over a milkshake. The reason our social interaction skills are so often underdeveloped is that the boys are playing video games instead of conversing with girls.

Video games are negatively impacting our ability to do constructive things, read edifying articles and books, comprehend the written word, sustain legitimate conversations, accomplish productive tasks, fix things, exercise our bodies, play an instrument or sport, sing a song, pray, experiment, discover something new, and ultimately glorify God (1 Cor. 10:31). An entire generation is growing up without becoming real men—and without men a society cannot sustain itself. Men provide and protect in the real world, and too much time in the notional world directly and negatively impacts effectiveness, and even worse, the ability to survive and thrive in the real world.  Christians should frequently fast from video games and dedicate the time otherwise devoted to gaming to something that will actually glorify God.

Separation from the World

As Christians, why do we so struggle with being separate from the world?

Paul, quoting from the Old Testament, told the church at Corinth to ‘be separate’ from the world (2 Corinthians 6:17).  But what does Paul mean by separate? We are not separate. We are in the world. We work in the world. We are surrounded by the world. The entertainment of the world allures us to embrace the ways of the world. The 24/7 cable news feed desires to change our thinking to the thinking of either the conservative or liberal world. We use the world’s currency and surf on the world’s Internet. Our young people are enthralled by the world, and when we were young, we were more or less just as enthralled depending on our individual commitment to Christ.

God called the nation of Israel to be different. God’s chosen people in the Old Testament were supposed to be a peculiar people—utterly set apart from the pagan culture around them. They worshipped only one God. They had a very specific set of rules that was supposed to govern their conduct. They worked only six days a week. They taught their children from the Torah about the God of Abraham, who created all things. They participated in very specific and unique religious festivals that remembered God’s work of redeeming his people from bondage.  They longed for their Messiah to come and establish a kingdom without end. Yet these same people so struggled with being separate, they continually found themselves worshipping idols and committing sexual immorality. The KJV uses the word ‘whoring’ to describe this ungodly behavior.  God’s covenant with Israel was not sufficient to keep them from being like the world.  What God’s people needed was a new covenant (Jer. 31:31).

Jesus inaugurated this new covenant with his own blood (Heb. 9). Jesus’s death inaugurated a new covenant between God and his people possible. Those who are born again through faith in the gospel are adopted into the family of God and the house of Israel (Gal. 3:7), but they are not under the Law of Moses. Those who are born again through faith in the gospel are members of the new covenant. They receive a new heart (Ez. 36:26) and are sealed with the Spirit of God (Eph. 1:13). All this and more was done so that God’s people could finally live up to God’s law and thus be truly separate from the world. Being saved from the consequences of sin (Rom. 6:23) begins at the moment of conversion. Christ died so that His people would be in but not of the world. Christ’s disciples are distinctively separate from the world. We don’t share in the world’s values, opinions, and worldviews. We are counter-cultural in our thinking, attitudes, and behavior. We don’t abort babies.  We don’t drink alcohol to cope with a hard day at work. We don’t use the f-word. We are different. We are separate. We don’t take believers to court. We go back to church a second time in one day to participate in a religious ceremony with the body of Christ. We don’t parade around in immodest swimwear at the beach. The music we listen to is different. And we don’t do this to get to go to heaven; we do this because Christ died for our sins. We present our bodies a living sacrifice. We die to our sinful nature and desires and live “in” but not “of the world.” But what about the gray areas? What about when it is not clear what “in but not of” looks like? The believer diligently seeks to be led by the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:18). He (or she) is not under the law. Instead, he is filled with the Holy Spirit so that he may be led by the Spirit. Gray areas are governed by the Holy Spirit. There is confidence and security in this truth, as the Spirit never speaks against the revealed Word of God. For example, a believer could never say I have peace from God about marrying an unbeliever. The Bible is abundantly clear that we are not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Cor. 6:14). When the revealed word of God is not clear, each believer must ask the Spirit show them what “in but NOT of” looks like in a given situation. Each believer asks the Spirit to show them exactly what “come out from among them and be separate” looks like in the gray areas of this life.

Reaction to the Obergefell Decision Legalizing SSM

          I sensed Sunday morning that several people were disappointed that the Sunday sermon following such an eventful week at the Supreme Court did not address the Obergefell v. Hodges decision. So, let me take a few minutes now to share my thoughts and reactions. Unfortunately, I was not surprised and you should not have been either. I had no confidence that the highest court in the land was going to do anything but exactly what they did. The Supreme Court has been amassing power to itself slowly and deliberately for as long as I can remember. Decision after decision made by that court, as well as federal courts all across the land, collectively communicate that a shift in power is occurring in which the court no longer sees itself with limited powers. Instead, it regularly and routinely issues rulings that are systematically removing the rights of individual states to govern themselves. The handwriting has been on the wall for quite some time. So, how does this impact the church?
          First, it doesn’t. Nothing in the court’s decision impacts us directly. We are not going to be forced to marry gays in our church. We do not nor will we ever rent our facilities for such a wedding.  This is private property, and our policy is clear that you must be a member to get married at Berean, and you cannot be a practicing or an open homosexual and be a member of the church. I clarified open and practicing because we have had individuals in the past who were in the closet for a period of time and then publicly declared their orientation. Those individuals are given an opportunity to repent and then brought under church discipline for a lifestyle which stands in open rebellion to God and His Word.

  Second, the ruling further magnifies the need for Christian education, Sunday school, and the consistent and systematic preaching of the whole counsel of God’s Word to children, teenagers, and adults. The difference between a biblical worldview and an American secular worldview is becoming increasingly different as each day progresses towards the demise and destruction of what at one point was the greatest missionary-sending nation in the history of humanity. God will not ignore sin. We have no hope in a great rapture before the destruction of America. The destruction is happening right before our eyes.
          Third, while we may be tempted to become angry and bitter, we must recognize that God has permitted these black-robed kings to render their decision as part of a larger global plan. He is still in control. We serve a God who is permitting, ordaining, and orchestrating all things to a predetermined plan that culminates into an everlasting kingdom where Christ is Supreme and there will be no need for a court or a constitution. His Word will abide forever. Peter reminds us that we are pilgrims, exiles, and strangers living among pagans. We are not surprised when pigs act like pigs, and we should not be surprised when pagans act like pagans.  America is not a Christian nation, nor has it ever been. A Christian nation doesn’t kill men, women, and children for land. A Christian nation doesn’t enslave other human beings and then take another 100 years to grant people of all skin colors basic human and civil rights. Watch the movie Selma, and tell me we are a Christian nation.  A Christian nation doesn’t experience and glorify a sexual revolution. A Christian nation doesn’t abort babies by the millions. A Christian nation doesn’t throw prayer out of schools. A Christian nation doesn’t legalize SSM. It is time for Christians to wake up and smell the coffee, and to start living like citizens of heaven and as exiles in Babylon. Daniel refused to stop praying toward Jerusalem even under the threat of death in a lion’s den, and the three Hebrew exiles would not bow before the statue despite a death sentence to a fiery furnace. Civil disobedience may be necessary in the future. I will go to jail before I marry two men in Holy matrimony before God. The exiles’ reaction to the command to worship the statue is incredibly helpful in how we must think and act. After receiving a final command to bow or else, Daniel 3:16ff records the answer the young men gave King Nebuchadnezzar. As you read it notice especially the following words:

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.

          May God grant us that kind of faith and grace in our coming day of civil disobedience.

How to have a Better Marriage

The foundational chapter for how to have a gospel-centered, Christ-exalting, God glorifying marriage is Ephesians chapter 5. Ephesians 5 is a chapter that should be on your bucket list for familiarity if you are not already there. As the chief shepherd of Berean I find myself increasingly burdened for the marriages in the church; therefore, I thought it prudent to attempt to provide married couples and future married individuals a short article about marriage from Ephesians 5.
Recognize that Paul is speaking to believers. Non-believers are going to have a difficult time following Paul’s teaching. He sets the stage by stating in v. 21 that we all should submit to one another in the fear of God. He then begins with wives being instructed to submit to their husbands in v. 22 and then connects that submission to the wives’ relationship to the LORD. Wives, more than anything, your husband wants to know that you respect him. In fact, your husband thrives on the admiration you communicate as a clear sign of respect. By submit and respect, I don’t believe the relationship is a ‘yes sir’ and ‘no sir’ relationship; instead, it is a healthy and appropriate respect for the man of the house. Now, all this implies that the husband is the man of the house. This is a man that gets out of bed every day and works and works hard. It is very difficult to respect a lazy person. It is difficult to respect a buffoon.  In chapter 5, Paul presents the LORD Jesus as the model for the husband. Our LORD and Savior was anything but a buffoon. He possessed character qualities worthy of emulation by both the husband and wife. He loved. His love was authenticate, genuine, compassionate, understanding, forgiving, tender, and consistent. He was kind.  Don’t expect your wife to respect you when you are calling her nasty names.
‘Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her’ (v. 25) is what Paul tells us to do. It is much easier to respect someone that I know genuinely loves me and takes tangible actions to display that love to me.  In fact, the love that Christ demonstrated was a self-sacrificial love. Christ died for his bride the church, and if I have any hope of being the husband God expects me to be, I will have to crucify my wicked, selfish, self-absorbing flesh daily. I will have to take ownership of the reality that I am a sinner. I am prone to certain sins and I need God’s sanctifying grace to operate in my life in a very salvific way in order to deliver me from my besetting sins. When I am tempted by Satan to retreat to the lazy-boy and leave the housework and/or children to my wife, I will have to discipline by body (1 Cor. 9:27) and get off my bottom and help. If my hope is for a moment of intimacy with the woman I love, I will have to work to create the conditions for that moment of intimacy. This is hard work plain and simple. This is why we have so many marriages that are less than what God expects—we as a society are becoming increasingly lazy and our smart phones have become a magnet that draw us to the world outside of the house where we can escape through a small screen of connectivity to somewhere else.

Husbands and wives, let me challenge you to conduct this simple experiment. For the first 90 minutes that both of you are home, together at the end of the school/work day, put your phones in a drawer. Set them on ring only for an emergency and put them in a bedroom dresser drawer so they are out of sight and then focus on each other and the kids.  Together work diligently at talking and working. Make dinner together, do a load of laundry, vacuum a floor, set the table, load the dishwasher, start washing the pots and pans, check homework, read a single Bible verse aloud and discuss it for a 2 minutes, make sure the kids have clothes for the next day, pack lunches, make a grocery list, replace a burned out light bulb, take out the trash, and fold a load of laundry. At this point everyone is involved according to their age and abilities. The TV is off, connectivity to the outside world is shut down and this is one focused family working together.  Dad is leading by example and mom is providing all the necessary input so that these 90 minutes are incredibly productive.  Many hands make light work and you will be shocked at how much can get accomplished with 90 minutes of uninterrupted effort.  Smart phones are not helping us to be more efficient or productive, rather they are contributing to our lack of productivity by distracting us from the true world around us—our spouses and children. 

Do you know the story of the Old Testament?

Do you know the story of the Old Testament?

It begins with the creation of the heavens, the earth, and Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden in the book of Genesis. Adam and Eve are tempted by the Serpent (Satan), fall to the temptation, and receive the just punishment for their disobedience to God but not without a promise of hope and a better future. Cain, Abel, and Seth are born, and the earth is described as so wicked the LORD regrets making man, but Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD. Described as a preacher of righteousness, he warned the world of the coming judgment and by faith built an ark to rescue in the end only 8 people from the wrath of God manifested in a global flood. In Genesis 12, the reader is introduced to Abraham who has a son, Isaac, (the child of promise and a picture of Christ) who has Jacob (and Esau) who becomes Israel, the father of the 12 (sons) tribes of Israel,—one of which is Joseph who finds himself in Egypt in the position of prime minister. Can you fill in the details? Do you know where Ishmael, Sarai, Hagar, Melchizedek, Lot, Esau, Laban, and Potiphar fit in? 

In Exodus, the reader is immediately introduced to Moses who will lead the children of Israel out of Egypt through the Red Sea into the Promised Land but only after fighting with the king of Egypt through a series of plagues and receiving the law on Mt. Sinai in 1446 BC. Do you know the plagues and commandments, and can you describe the tabernacle? Do you know the contribution Aaron, Miriam, Jethro, and Zipporah all make to Exodus? The book of Deuteronomy rehashes the law, and the book of Leviticus provides incredibly detailed instructions about the priesthood. Do you know where Job would fit into the story? At Kadesh-Barnea only 2 spies (Joshua and Caleb) thought God was able while 10 believed the Promised Land could not be conquered. After 40 years of judgment in the wilderness for Israel’s lack of faith, Moses died, and Joshua led Israel across the Jordan into the war for the land God promised Abraham for about 40 years.  

After the death of Joshua, a period of approximately 400 years began with a series of judges leading Israel in a decentralized, regional system which was often characterized by every man doing what was right in his own eyes. Leaders like Deborah, Gideon and Samson provided strong leadership; each delivered the people from a period of servitude to foreigners. But Israel desired to be like the surrounding countries who were led by kings. Eventually, Samuel anointed Saul to be the first king; he was succeeded by David in 1010BC who wrote many of our Psalms; he was succeeded by Solomon who wrote the book of Proverbs and built the first temple of God in Jerusalem. 

After Solomon’s death in 931 BC, the United Kingdom split into a northern kingdom called Israel and a southern kingdom called Judah. Israel had 10 tribes, and for the most part was characterized as apostate until its destruction in 722BC by the Assyrians. There were a handful of good kings who reigned over Judah. Men like Hezekiah and Josiah brought about renewed periods of revival and reform until Judah was defeated in 586BC by the Babylonians. Was Ahab a good or bad king? Do you know what happened on Mt. Carmel? Prophets from both the united and divided kingdoms like Samuel, Nathan, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, etc. spoke for God and confronted Israel with their apostasy. Do you know Psalm 51 and how Nathan fits into it? Do you know who the weeping prophet is? 

After the destruction of Jerusalem (586BC), Judah was taken captive and lived as exiles (Daniel and Ezekiel) for 70 years under the rule of the Babylonian empire until Cyrus the Great decreed that Jews who desired could return to the Promised Land to rebuild the city, the walls, and temple. Do you know the story found in Daniel? During this time, men like Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah served as the political leaders under a Persian king. And again prophets like Haggai and Malachi spoke for God and confronted Israel with their sin. Malachi closes out the Old Testament with a promise that God would send a Messiah who would fulfill the promises made to Eve in Genesis 3:15, Abraham, King David, and especially the promise of a New Covenant found in Jeremiah 31. 

Can you fill in more of the details? Can you take an OT story you know and know where to fit it into these paragraphs? 

David, Goliath, and the Ultimate Son of David (1 Samuel 17)

As we examine the exceptionally famous story of young David defeating Goliath with five smooth stones, the possibility exists that we could get so involved in the drama of the story that we miss Christ.  We must ask, ‘How is David’s work in the narrative of 1 Samuel 17 providing a foreshadowing of a greater Son yet to come?’ We know Christ made it clear to His disciples that the words of the Old Testament, the law, the prophets, and the Psalms spoke of Him (see Luke 24:44); therefore, we may rightly look for Jesus on the pages of this great story.  And we should not be surprised to find David foreshadowing Christ; Matthew presents Jesus as the “son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1). Furthermore, as the life of Christ unfolds in the synoptic gospels, we see Jesus being referred to as the ‘Son of David’ numerous times by Jews (Mark 10:47-48).  All this assures us that we are not going out on a limb or chasing a rabbit trail when we look for the person and work of Christ in the story of David and Goliath. Consider the following:

1. David was a shepherd (17:15); Jesus presents Himself as the great shepherd in John 10.

2. Jesse, David’s father, sent him to his brothers (17:17). Similarly, Jesus often mentions that he was sent by his Father (see John 5:36, 6:57, 8:42); Jesus said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24).

3. David brought bread to his brothers (17:17); Jesus is the bread of life (see John 6:35, 48, 51).

4. The champion that defeats Goliath will be given a bride by the king (17:25); Jesus too will receive a bride, the church (Revelation 19:7-9; 21:1-2).

5. The man who kills Goliath takes away the reproach from Israel (17:26). In Joshua 5:9, the LORD said to Joshua, and by extension all of Israel, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” Through the power of Christ’s finished work on the cross, He has made atonement for our sin. He has rolled away the disgrace, displeasure, and feelings of distance sin creates between God and man. The reproach Israel felt was immediately removed when the giant was defeated, and Christ has made the removal of reproach possible through His defeat of our enemy, the devil.

6. David’s brothers, Eliab in particular, reject him (17:28); Christ’s brothers also reject Him. John writes, “For not even his brothers believed in him” (7:5). (See also 1 Peter 2:7).

7. David presents himself as a servant of the king (17:32). Isaiah the prophet calls Jesus the LORD’s servant (Isaiah 53:11). The very action of washing the disciples’ feet serves to show us just how much Christ views Himself as a servant of the LORD (John 13). In addition, both Peter and Paul refer to Christ as a servant (see Acts 3:13, 4:30, Phil 2:7).

8. There is nothing about David’s physical appearance that would give anyone confidence that he could defeat a giant (17:33). David is a most unlikely candidate to topple Goliath. Likewise, Isaiah 53:2 indicates that there wasn’t anything about Jesus’ physical appearance that would give one the idea that He was the warrior sent from God to defeat Satan.

9. David learned to have confidence in God’s ability to defeat the enemy from past experiences prior to the ultimate battle (17:37). In a similar manner, the writer of Hebrews states that Christ learned obedience from the things He has suffered (5:8).  David’s past victories gave him confidence that God was able to deliver the giant into his hands on that day. We too must have confidence in the power of God to defeat our enemies. David, like Jonah, knew “salvation belongs to the LORD” (2:9).

10. David serves as the sole representative for Israel on the battlefield; he alone will fight this battle against Goliath, the representative of Satan and all that is evil (17:40-41). Christ alone died for the sins of the world; Christ alone was buried and rose from the grave; He is the one mediator between God and man (1 Tim 2:5).

11. David was passionate about the glory (the reputation, the name) of the LORD. David said “This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hand.” (17:46-47). In John 12:27-28, Jesus expressed with sorrow and anguish that the purpose of His death on the cross (the reason He came into world) was to bring glory to the Father.

12. David inflicts a fatal head injury upon the enemy of God and ultimately cuts off the head of Goliath (17:49-51). In what is sometimes described as the first promise of the gospel, the protoevangelium, Genesis 3:15 promises that the serpent (the devil) will receive a similarly mortal injury to the head.

13. When David defeated Goliath, the enemy of God, all of Israel participated in the victory. Goliath’s defeat led to an onslaught against the Philistines (17:52-53). Through David, the entire army became conquerors. Paul communicates this same idea in Romans 8:37 where he said, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” The reason you can defeat the giants in your life is that Christ has already won the victory.  Again, Paul teaches us that God gives us the victory “through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57).  Think about it. Prior to the conquest of Goliath, the Israelites were seemingly defeated with no hope of victory. This provides a wonderful picture of the change that the new believer experiences through salvific faith in the gospel. Ten minutes ago, you were hopelessly defeated by the only giant that truly matters—your own sin, and the death and hell that comes with it—and now look at you. You are a new creature in Christ. You live as a victor. You share in the spoils. It is finished! Does it take effort and a little courage to stand up and go after the remaining sin in our lives? Sure. But it's a guaranteed victory—because of "Christ in you, the hope of glory. It is finished!" (Colossians 1:27).

14. After David defeated Goliath, David was clothed in a robe, given a sword, and set over the men of war (1 Samuel 18:4). Notice how the Apostle John describes Jesus in Revelation 19.

“He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.”

15. The defeat of Goliath leads to the eventual receiving of a kingdom (2 Samuel 3:10, 5:12). David will be the king who expands the borders of the land and truly establishes the legitimate and united kingdom of Israel. But all of this is just a foreshadowing of the kingdom God ultimately gives his Son—the Kingdom of Christ. In fulfillment of the Davidic covenant, Christ possesses an eternal kingdom (2 Peter 1:11); Jesus told Pilate “my kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). (See also Ephesians 5:5 and Revelation 11:15).
With fifteen specific examples of pictures, types, and foreshadowing of the person and work of Christ in the story of David killing the giant, Goliath, one might be tempted to skip the story altogether and run to Christ, but that too would be a mistake in teaching (or preaching) the text.  First and foremost, the chapter is an historical record of God granting a boy victory over a giant who dared to question the sovereign reign and power of the God of Israel.  Goliath was an uncircumcised dog who had to be judged and deserved to die for his sin. Like a terrorist, he taunted Israel for 40 days and 40 nights. It was time to put an end to the continual provocation aimed at the existence and power of the God of Israel, as well as the fear he created in the Israelite camp. David had it right when he asked, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (v. 26).  The reader should not lose sight of what the glorious victory over Goliath and the Philistines accomplished on that day! This story is not an allegory. David is not a fictional character fighting another fictional character, so boys and girls can learn about defeating giants in their life from a flannel graph board or a PowerPoint slide. Young David, the son of Jesse, spoke actual words to Goliath of Gath, an uncircumcised Philistine and a fearsome champion, with a backdrop of armies on both sides of the valley Elah. Divinely preserved for our instruction and edification, David said:

“You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the LORD saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give you into our hand.”

Yes, the teacher needs to show the student of the Word our Lord Jesus Christ on the pages of the Old Testament, but it must never be done at the expense of the primary truths found in the historical record of God’s interaction with His covenant people, Israel, in a glorious picture of redemption from the Garden of Eden to the Garden of Gethsemane.

Can A Homosexual Go to Heaven?

            As the number of people who openly proclaim their sexual orientation increases, more and more people find themselves knowing someone who is either experiencing same sex attraction (SSA) or is actively participating in a homosexual lifestyle. Since many of these people seem to be kind, gracious, polite, loving, and often professing faith in God or even Christ and the gospel, we find ourselves asking the question: ‘Can a homosexual go to heaven?’  The answer to this question is complex. Some would like to quickly answer ‘no,’ thinking that will help deter SSA and ultimately the behavior itself. Does the Bible permit us to answer ‘no,’ or does the Bible lead us to answer ‘yes?’
           Revelation 21.8 is one of the strongest texts in the New Testament concerning people who will ultimately go to hell.  John the apostle wrote, “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (ESV). Notice how John provides a list of various sins or descriptions of sins, all of which according to this verse, will result in punishment in hell—what a scary thought. Notice, he has murderers in the list as well as those who are sexually immoral—certainly homosexuals would fit in that category! But then notice what is included in the last group: “liars!” Wow! Liars. That’s frightening—what person who calls himself a Christian could say, ‘since becoming a Christian I have never lied.’ Ironically, only a liar could unabashedly proclaim such a lie. And John is not the only apostle who gives us a list like this; Paul does the same.
1 Corinthians 6:9–10 is just about as strong a text as Revelation 21.8. Paul wrote, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”  In this text, Paul specifically identifies “men who practice homosexuality.” This is very helpful language in understanding this issue. “Men who practice homosexuality” helps us distinguish from those who battle with SSA.  Paul makes it clear that these men (humans) “who practice homosexuality” will not inherit the kingdom of God—but they are not alone in this list. Homosexuals are NOT a special category of sinners. They are included with the greedy, drunkards, swindlers, and adulterers. All guilty of the sins in his list will not be with God when they die. They will all be eternally separated from God. What Christian can say they have never been greedy since becoming a Christian? None. And if they say such a thing, I would suggest they are now guilty of telling a lie.
So then, what is the point of these lists, and how do I reconcile the forgiveness of God that Christ provides through his death, burial, and resurrection? The Apostle John provides us much help in solving this problem. He wrote, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:8-10, ESV).  All Christians continue to struggle with sin—no one is without it. Not only does the blood of Christ cleanse us from former sins, but it continues to cleanse us of our present sins. The text says “all unrighteousness,” which would include all imaginable forms of sexually deviant behavior. But John does not stop there. He continues to write about the Christian’s ongoing struggle with sin. He said, “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” (1 John 3:8-10).  The evidence of being a true Christian is victory over sin—not sinless perfection—no one achieves that. Even the great Apostle Paul talked about an ongoing battle with sin (see Romans 7:14-25).  It is clear that not everyone who professes to be a Christian is in actuality a Christian (see Matthew 7: 20-23; John 2:24).
Does telling one lie make me a liar? Yes. Does experiencing a moment of lust make me an adulterer? Yes, according to Christ in Matthew 5.28 (And that is why I need Christ’s righteousness so much.) But I don’t’ think that is the point John or Paul is making with their lists. I think each list serves to help us understand that true Christians don’t keep murdering people; they don’t keep lying; they don’t remain greedy all the days of their life.  Could a person who practices homosexuality put their faith in the gospel? Yes. Yes, in the same way a person who is characterized by being a liar could put their faith in the gospel; and in the same way we would expect the liar to become an honest person, we would expect the homosexual to stop practicing homosexuality; and in the same way that we would NOT say that a momentary lapse in integrity would prove the person wasn't truly saved, we also would not say that a lapse in SSA or even sexually deviant behavior would demonstrate the person wasn't saved. We can’t have double standards. We can’t say that practicing homosexuality sends me to hell, but when a Christian young person engages in premarital sex, that is a sin that God forgives.  The Bible is consistent. All sin sends me to hell. And more importantly, all sin can be forgiven, and true Christians are characterized by experiencing victory over sin in varying degrees throughout their lives by the grace of God, through the LORD Jesus Christ, and in the power of the Holy Spirit (see 1 John 4:4; 5:1-4,13,18).          

The Angel of the LORD is Wonderful

This morning as I was preparing for class with my BBA students, I was reading the story of Samson’s birth in Judges 13 and discovered that the angel of the LORD tells Samson’s mother and Manoah (Samson’s father) that his name is ‘wonderful?’ Since I was reading in the ESV, I immediately went to the KJV to see why I had not seen this potential connection to Christ before. I knew that Christ’s name is called Wonderful in Isaiah 9:6.

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

And then I discovered that the KJV renders the Hebrew word in this verse with the word ‘secret.’ At this point, I wanted to know why there was a difference between the KJV and the ESV. Wonderful and secret are not the same. So I went to to compare the Hebrews words from Judges 13:18 and Isaiah 9:6. (Use the interlinear navigation link to make this happen.) Here is what I found.  Both Hebrew words derive themselves from the exact same Hebrew word. In Judges 13:18, the word is pil•ē' (an adjective) (H6383) and in Isaiah 9:6 the word is peh'•leh (a noun) (H6382), but both derive their origin from the same Hebrew verb (Strong’s H6381) which means ‘to be marvelous, be wonderful, be surpassing and extraordinary.’

I do not know why the KJV translators chose the word ‘secret’ in Judges 13:18 because the KJV uses the English word ‘wonderful’ to translate the same Hebrew word in Psalm 139:6. I do not know if the translation committee that translated Judges also translated Psalm 139, but every other English translation I could find also uses the word ‘wonderful’ in Judges 13:18. When I compared the two words in the Vulgate (the Latin translation of the Bible), the connection between the two verses is very clear. Let me show you. In Judges 13:8 the word is mirabile and in Isaiah 9:6 the word is Admirabilis. 

Does all this prove that the Angel of the LORD that appeared to Manoah was in fact a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ—of course not—but it certainly gives further evidence that it is possible that these humans witnessed a Christophany. Moreover, the angel of the LORD in Judges 13 leaves the presence of the parents through the flame of fire created by a burnt offering to the LORD. In Exodus 3:2, the Angel of the LORD appeared to Moses in a flame of fire from a bush that was not consumed. Again, this does not prove that the Angel of the LORD was a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ, but Christ did tell us to search the Scriptures for they testify of me (John 5:29).

Finally, it is interesting to note that the Angel of the LORD ceases to manifest himself to humans after the birth of Christ. In fact, the final reference to ‘the Angel of the LORD’ is found in Zechariah 12:8 where we read ‘and the house of David shall be like God, like the angel of the LORD, going before them.’ One verse later, we read about Israel looking upon ‘him whom they have pierced’ (v. 10). Again, this doesn’t prove anything; however, the fact that the Holy Spirit led Zechariah to include a particular reference to the Angel of the LORD in a chapter that prophetically points to Christ is not an accident.

As a final point, all this serves as just another example of the value in reading more than one English translation for all of us who do not read and write in Hebrew.