Tag Archive: religion


A common, and biblical, metaphor for describing the office of pastor is that of the faithful shepherd.  Jesus presents Himself as the Good Shepherd (John 10:1-18).  Drawing from the deep well of the Old Testament canon, Christ brought to mind the words of the prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Micah.

Isaiah 40:11 Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, In His arm He will gather the lambs, And carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes.

Ezekiel 34:23 “Then I will set over them one shepherd, My servant David, and he will feed them; he will feed them himself and be their shepherd.

Micah 5:4 And He will arise and shepherd His flock In the strength of the LORD, In the majesty of the name of the LORD His God. And they will remain, Because at that time He will be great To the ends of the earth.

The imagery is certainly a beautiful reminder of the loving care in which Jesus provides to us.  It is best illustrated in the Shepherd’s Psalm.  According to this psalm, God provides for us, blesses us, nurtures us, protects us, and leads us in the paths of righteousness (Psalm 23).

This same representation is used in the New Testament also.

Hebrews 13:20 Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant,

1 Peter 2:25 For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

1 Peter 5:4 And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.

Though pastor is arguably the most common title for church leaders today, it is only found twice in the AV translation of Scripture.  Well, sort of, let me explain.  In the Old Testament, Jeremiah invokes the term as he prays to God for vindication in the midst of a corrupt people (Jer. 17:16).  Paul uses it in Ephesians, teaching on the various offices of the New Testament Church.  He writes, “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers” (Eph. 4:11).  The Greek term for pastor is poimen (pronounced poy-mayne) and though not translated often as pastor in the AV, it is found in numerous other verses, translated as “shepherd” (Matt. 9:36; Matt. 25:32; Matt. 26:31; Mk. 6:34; Mk. 14:27; Lk. 2:8, 15, 18, 20; Jn. 10:2, 11-12, 14, 16; Heb. 13:20; 1 Pet. 2:25).

The Good Shepherd, painting, Philippe de Champaigne

Cliché advice comes frequently in the ministry.  It will come from pastors, church members, non-church members, the unsaved (which can include any of the three previous groupings), etc.  No matter one’s experience level with the Christian faith, their biblical literacy, or even their genuine interest in your ministry, people will always have advice for you.  In my young and more impetuous days, I did not know how to handle these moments.  Over the years, I have learned how to smile, nod, and then hand it all over to God.  Oh what a difference a decade in ministry can make!

The most popular advice centers upon my role as shepherd.  I am advised to feed the flock, nurture the flock, love the flock, admonish the flock, protect the flock, and so on and so forth.  While I believe each of these charges are biblical in nature and I strive to fulfill them each day, I do believe there is a misnomer that arises from such advice.  These charges are not universally applicative.  What I mean is, God’s command in all of this is directed toward HIS FLOCK!  The sad reality is that mingled among the sheep (the true followers of the Great Shepherd) are some old goats (Matt. 25:32-33) and even a few wolves (Matt. 7:15; Matt. 10:16; Lk. 10:3; Acts 20:29).

So my advice to my fellow pastors?  Feed the flock of God (1 Pet. 5:1), love the goats and share the Gospel with them at every opportunity (Lk. 19:10), and love the wolves as well, but be sure to freely use your shepherd’s crook against them (Jude 3, 4).

A blog post about the Zimmerman trial?  I know dear readers, you are accustomed to being on the cutting edge of blog topics!  I do not think anything I write today will necessarily bring anything new to the debate table.  Yet, this post has more to do with working through my own personal interpretations of the Zimmerman trial than it does with changing anyone’s mind on the topic.

I have purposely waited a week to collect my thoughts and attempt to approach the problem with new eyes.  I must admit that I am as flawed as any other person on earth, admittedly more so on many issues, so my initial reaction to things is not always correct.  To be more plain, I struggle with reacting in the flesh rather than in the Holy Spirit.  I am a sinner saved by the grace of God, and sometimes the old nature has a way of making an appearance, especially in my reactions to the mainstream media.

I admit my flaws so that anyone reading this will not assume my personal opinion holds anymore weight than another.  I must also admit my bias before I continue.  I loathe the state of the modern media.  Loathe is perhaps not strong enough a word to describe my distaste for the practices of the day.  I have always believed, and continue to believe, journalism is to be as non-biased as humanly possible.  I qualified that statement with “as humanly possible” for a reason.  I am aware we all carry bias in our sinful hearts.  I feel the modern media has forgone the balanced approach to news and chosen sides on the right and left.  As such, I have no confidence in the media narratives from right or left on the matter.

Oh well, no use lamenting that which I cannot change, so I will end my digression and move onward to the topic at hand.

By now, if you do not know the names George Zimmerman or Trayvon Martin, I want to welcome you back to planet earth, particular these United States.  I say that because the only plausible reason you have not heard these names is you are an alien visitor or you were abducted by the aforementioned aliens and have just been teleported back to a cow pasture in Kansas after a one year captivity in a space ship.

The new law of the internet says that anytime you mention an alien, you must post a picture of this guy.

The new law of the internet says that anytime you mention an alien, you must post a picture of this guy.

I will not take the time to recap the entire story, you can find that here.  I will say that on July 13, 2013, George Zimmerman was found not guilty by a jury of his peers in the 2nd degree murder of Trayvon Martin.  It has been a topic of discussion over the past month and continues to be a divisive subject for many.  While my typical writing voice with such posts is serious with a splash of humor, from this point forward in the post I will abstain from my usual behavior due to the nature of the subject matter.

I feel I also must preface the following discussion with a disclaimer of intent.  I do not know, as I will elaborate later, what happened on February 26, 2012.  I have no strong opinion to either Martin or Zimmerman, the left or the right, prosecution or defense, etc.  My opinions in this piece are more geared towards the systems that surround us as a civilized people.  It asks for us to make a visible line of demarcation between flawed human perceptions and perfect spiritual truth.

The key problem with the outcome of the trial was the cries of derision at the jury’s decision.  The reactions came from a plethora of sources such as your usual race-baiters Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, from pro-athlethes, from pop stars, and every one that runs the gamut in between.  My Facebook feed was littered with family members, friends, and acquaintances on multiple sides of ethnicity, gender, and financial class, opining on the case.  There were cries of a corrupt judicial system or miscarriages of justice on one hand, and as you can imagine, there were cheers of support for a smooth trial and a right verdict.  This is where the case of mistaken identity has arisen.

We have adopted the wrong idea about secular justice, the American Justice System specifically.  Too many people believe that secular justice and truth are synonymous with one another.  They are not.  American justice aspires to lofty goals of equality, truth, and the defense of human rights.  These goals are not always attainable under the man-made system of law.  The American judicial system is administered by fallen judges, tried by imperfect lawyers, and decided by errant jurists.  As a system it is subject to decay and after years of degradation it becomes an anemic shell of its foundational principles.  On a human level, justice does not equate truth, the two can operate exclusive of one another in this fallen society and often times do.  We know this because innocent men have been imprisoned and guilty men have gone free.

The masses cry for justice, yet they do not always want the truth!

Pontius Pilate famously asked, “What is truth?” after Jesus declared to the pontiff His reason for coming into the world (John 18:37-38).  There are no shortages of answers in regards to truth.  For this reason, skeptics have declared “truth” to be subjective.  I write from a Christian perspective, so I accept truth is personified in Jesus Christ (John 14:6).  Secularists would disagree with my assessment, and my answer to them is write your own blog!  Truth comes forward throughout the pages of Scripture.  Jesus declares that worship must be performed “in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24).  He declared Himself “truth” (see 14:6 above).  Jesus prayed to the Father for his disciples’ sanctification by godly “truth” (John 17:17).  Jesus’ claims point to truth being found in God alone.  This concept of truth’s divine source is supported through Scripture (Exo. 34:6; Deut. 32:4; Psa. 43:3; 119:142).

So what is the conclusion to the matter?  I do not think there will ever be a conclusion as long as both sides are embroiled in a quest for justice.  Justice is flawed despite humanity’s best efforts to the contrary.  The only recourse is truth.  The problem with truth is our limited capacity to know truth because we are finite beings.  There is truth, free from media spin, personal feelings, and political agendas in the Zimmerman-Martin ordeal.  The question remains whether the truth of the matter will be revealed.

I pray for Trayvon Martin’s family.  It is not the natural order of the world for parents to bury their children.  The situation is compounded by the tragic events of February 26, 2012.  Regardless of your personal perception of Trayvon Martin’s life, he was a young man that died before having experienced many of the wonders of life.  It happens far too frequently in our world and it is no respecter of race, gender, or social status.  Whatever your perception of Trayvon Martin’s character, good or bad, the fact remains he has no more opportunity to add unto or to take away from it.  A life has been lost and this is a true tragedy.

I know the statistics of murder among juveniles, black on black crime, and dozens of other tragic events that plague humanity.  I find people spout off such statistics as if the numbers somehow excuse or over-shadow individual events such as this one.  All these events are horrific, yet we cannot miss the tree for the forest.

I pray for George Zimmerman.  I do not know the thoughts that were running through his head on that fateful night.  I do not know if he left his vehicle with genuine concern for his personal safety and that of his neighbors.  I do not know if he exited with malice in his heart.  I do not know what unfolded between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman that winter night.  Who was the aggressor and who was the defender? From Zimmerman’s own admission, he discharged his pistol and this resulted in the death of Martin.  Sadly, this is the only truth we know for certain.  Was he justified in the use of deadly force?  According to a jury of his peers, the answer is yes.  Justice spoke and it declared George Zimmerman innocent in the 2nd degree murder of Trayvon Martin.  Was truth revealed in the jury’s decision?  Zimmerman is the only living person that knows with any certainty.

With such uncertainty, in what or whom can we trust?  Our legal system has its limitations.  Our ability to know truth is hindered by our own finite existence.  It is because of this uncertainty that I trust Jesus.  It is because I am finite that I place my trust in an infinite God.  Justice will be served one day because truth, glorious absolute truth, will be revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Revelation 20:11-13

“And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.”

Protagoras (490 BC – 420 BC), an ancient Greek philosopher, is credited with the saying, “Man is the measure of all things.”  Though this sounds like a very new and humanistic statement, Protagoras spoke these words over four hundred years before the birth of Jesus.  The modern mind mistakenly believes that opposition to God is a new force in the world.  However, human wisdom has always been at enmity with God.

  • It was human wisdom in the Garden of Eden that trusted the false promises of the serpent over the commands of God.
  • It was human wisdom that turned a deaf ear to the preaching of Noah of a coming judgment.
  • It was human wisdom that sought to build a tower to the heavens and challenge God.
  • It was human wisdom that trusted in the army of Egypt over the power of God against the Assyrians (see Paul’s quote of Isaiah 29:14 in verse 19, as well as Isaiah 30:1-3)
  • It was human reason that took the Prince of Heaven and nailed Him to a cross because Jesus came in humility rather than power.
  • It is human wisdom today that rejects God in favor of self and secularism.

Atheism has always been alive and well in the world since Adam and Eve first bore children.  Agnosticism, the doubting of a supreme power but the lack of conviction to deny it, is nothing new in the world of men.  No dear friends, human wisdom has reared its ugly and deceitful head for almost as long as there have been humans in this world.  Though the secular world would have you believe that we have improved through the centuries and learned so much as a result of this progression—we are still lacking in the one area it all matters, which is the application.

I want to focus our thoughts on the Wisdom and Power of God from 1 Corinthians 1:18-25.  This focus will show the superiority of God’s wisdom and power by noting the failure of human wisdom and power.  Though it promises great rewards to anyone who will embrace it, human wisdom is severely lacking in the matters which are most important.  Namely, human wisdom lacks an understanding of God’s purposes and the power of God as revealed by Scripture.  It is incapable of understanding God and His plans.  It is incapable of understanding the Savior and His works.  It is incapable of understanding the Christian and his or her power.

I.  Human Wisdom is Incapable of Comprehending the Purpose of the Cross (vv. 18-20)

A.  It cannot comprehend humanity’s past sin—According to Paul’s words in verse 18, there are two groups in the world—the saved and the perishing.  Human wisdom is incapable of comprehending the purpose of the Cross because it cannot grasp man’s sinful state.  Sin and its continuation through the human race is an observable fact.  There is no need to teach a child to get angry, covet, or even lie.  Unlike batteries with many products you buy, children come with sin included because of their human nature.  The sin nature was passed down from the parents, as it has been since Adam and Eve.

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (Rom 5:12 KJV)

Man fell from perfection to sin and it continues to this day.  Human wisdom does not comprehend the fallen state of man, even though the evidence surrounds us on a daily basis.  The news is filled with stories covering the evils of this world, yet man continues to turn a blind eye toward a sinful nature.  They give a collective shoulder shrug to the atrocities of humanity, saying we do not truly know why people do the things they do.  I can tell you quite plainly this morning.  Man sins because man is born with a sinful nature.  God has revealed this tragic history to us in His Word, but human reason refuses to accept God’s Word.  If man cannot accept he is a sinner, he cannot comprehend the purpose of the Cross.  A preacher once said that, “You have to get people lost before you can get them saved.”  While not eloquent, it is 100% correct and to the point.  If there is no realization of sin, then the concept of a Savior is lost.

B.  It cannot comprehend humanity’s present slavery—If man does not understand his past sin, it comes as no surprise that he does not understanding his present bondage.  Sin enslaves humanity under its dreadful power.  It is a dangerous to belong to such a master because sin brings about only death.  In speaking of sins payday, Paul says, “For the wages of sin is death . . .” (Rom 6:23a).  The flesh will tell you pleasure is the only result of sin.  If this were the truth of the matter, what need would there be for salvation.  The pleasures of sin last only for a season (Heb 11:25).

Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. (Rom 6:6 KJV)

C.  It cannot comprehend humanity’s future sentence—If sin is in your past, denial in your present, then only death awaits you in the future.  Human wisdom will keep you focused upon human elements.  Human wisdom will tell you to mind the things of the flesh and give no thought to your future or to spiritual matters.  Paul tells us as much in Romans.

For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. (Rom 8:5 KJV)

You can keep your attention and affection on the things of this world, but you will be in for a great surprise when you stand face to face with the Great Judge of the Universe.  All the time, effort, and energy you invested in this world will be for naught as you look ahead into eternity.  All those hours you worked in neglect of your spiritual exercise will come back to your mind.  All of the lost opportunities to hear the unadulterated Gospel of Jesus will flood your thoughts.  And finally, the fear and reality of God’s everlasting wrath, unleashed in the Lake of Fire, will be with you for all of eternity.

What is at stake in the battle of God’s Wisdom versus Human Wisdom—your past, present, and future!   Can you come to terms with God’s revelation of who we are as sinful creatures, born with a nature that is opposed to God?  Have we asked ourselves the serious question, who am I serving this day?  And lastly, do you know your future?  Where are you going when you draw your last breath here on this earth?  Is it secure in Jesus Christ, assured by the Holy Spirit inside of you?

A final aspect I must point out here is that man’s failure in his own salvation is not only inherent in human wisdom, but it is determined by God.  These verses (19, 20d) speak to man frailty and God’s superiority.  These verses say plainly that man’s wisdom fails because God wills it to fail.

II.  Human Wisdom is Incapable of Conceding to the Person of the Cross (vv. 21-23)

A.  It will not concede to a suffering Savior—The stumbling block that Paul talks about in this verse is directed toward the Jews.  Paul, as a Jew, understood the expectations that were upon the Messiah.  Under the yoke of Roman oppression, the Jews were awaiting the day when God’s Messiah would arrive and re-establish the throne of David and rule for all eternity.  They expected a conquering Messiah, one who would bring to bear all the powers of the Almighty and destroy the enemies of God.

What did they get?–A baby born in a manger in an unknown barn in Bethlehem.  Jesus was raised in the town of Nazareth, his human father a carpenter by trade.  Already this story is running contrary to nearly every Jew’s expectation of their Messiah.  It is further complicated when Jesus spoke of love and forgiveness for one’s enemies.  He taught of “turning the other cheek” and “rendering unto Caesar what was Caesar’s.”  No, no, no.  This is all wrong in the mind of the Jews!  You are not to love your enemy, but punish them!  You give nothing to Caesar!  There were numerous other problems, but those suffice to show that the Messiah of God was not what the Jews were looking for nor wanted.

B.  It will not concede to a resurrected Savior—What was a stumbling block to the Jews, was folly to the Greeks.  The idea of resurrection was silly to the Greeks, who by this time had cast aside their old mythologies in favor of philosophy and more sophisticated mythologies.  They could accept a humble Son of God, but you entered into the realm of ridiculous asserting that a man could be raised from the dead.  It was inexplicable by anything the Greeks accepted as wise.  Their human reason prevented them from accepting that a god would allow himself to be sacrificed in such a shameful manner as crucifixion.  And if the thought of a god dying for the sins of humanity was not foolish enough, to imply he rose from the dead was just the pinnacle of absurdity.

C.  It will not concede to a reigning Savior—At the root of the stumbling block and folly is the issue of pride.  The Jews and Greeks both, though for very different reasons, rejected the Messiah.  In the grand scheme of redemption, it does not matter how you reject the Savior, but only that you did reject the Savior.

The pride issue rears its head in every generation and rests at the heart of many sins.  It was pride that caused the downfall of Lucifer.  Pride has destroyed both princes and paupers.  It rest deceptively at the heart of all men and women and has a way of asserting itself often.  I dare say the greatest hindrance to salvation is human pride!

It is a pride that tells a man or woman they do not need a savior.  It is human pride that tells one they have all the time in the world before they have to deal with this eternity “stuff.”  It is pride that rests in the heart of men that tells them they can be good enough or work hard enough to earn the favor of God.  And dear friends, it is pride that will send many to a fiery hell this morning.

Human wisdom will keep you from declaring Jesus the Lord of your life.  It will twist and turn the Word of God to conform to whatever lifestyle you wish to lead.  If you want to live immorally, human wisdom can make it happen.  You want to be a drunkard or drug addict, human wisdom can twist and turn just the right amount with the Word of God to make it okay.  If you do not wish to serve in the local church, evangelize the lost, attend church regularly, or murder an unborn innocent, human wisdom is there to serve you.

But, if you want to be a Christian, human wisdom is not going to do anything for you.  If you want to be a Christian, you have to set aside the pride.  You have to confess that you cannot work into God’s grace.  You cannot reason yourself into God’s good graces.  You have to take the Word of God and you have to believe its testimony of Jesus as the Christ of God.  You have to take this precious Word of Life and read, study, but most importantly you have to live it.  This isn’t you working for your salvation.  This is you living the Spirit-filled life God said you will live if you belong to Him.  Human wisdom cannot explain, but the evidence is clearly there for all to see.

III.  Human Wisdom is Incapable of Connecting to the Power of the Cross (vv. 24-25)

A.  Connecting to the Plans of the Father—Human wisdom is at enmity with the wisdom of God.  In most cases, the picture of God that is constructed with the human mind is little more than a sinful human with super powers.  This assumes they even bother to believe in something beyond this physical existence.  Even more tragic are those who turn to the God of the Bible with human wisdom and human expectations placed upon the Almighty.  They like to invoke the verses of Scripture that make them feel good about what is happening the in the world around them such as Romans 8:28.

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (Rom 8:28 KJV)

But, even as they give lip service to the idea of God the Father as the Sovereign God, they deny Him with their rejection of His Word.  This hypocrisy at one time was predominant outside of the Church, but in this age, we have accepted a watered-down, non-biblical view of God and put the stamp of Christianity upon it.

One can pray they will one day set aside human wisdom and embrace the biblical Father and His Word; however, the current trend appears to be going in the opposite direction.  People are not becoming more spiritual; they are becoming more humanistic.  If you cannot preface your doctrine with the statement, “The Word of God says . . .” then you are adopting human wisdom.  God help us all if it continues to prevail in the American Church with little to no opposition from the pulpits and pews.

B.  Connecting to the Blood of the Savior—To reject the wisdom of God is to reject the Savior of God.  To know God is to know Christ, and to know Christ is to know the Father.  God’s plan of redemption was not through the agency of human wisdom, but the shed blood of Christ upon Calvary’s Cross.  Human wisdom does not embrace this concept, calling it foolishness, yet it is only through the shed blood of Christ that God forgives the lost sinner.  Human wisdom adds sacraments and works, but this is not the plan of God.

Charles Spurgeon, in his sermon That Memorable Night on Exodus 12 and 13, said, “It must save alone. Put anything with the Blood of Christ, and you are lost; trust to anything else with it, and you perish.”

For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. (1Co 1:17 KJV)

For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. (Mat 26:28 KJV)

C.  Connecting to the Power of the Spirit—There is much talk about feeling the presence of God and knowing that God is with us at all times.  This is a product of the Spirit of God within us.  Human wisdom cannot help us possess the Spirit, only knowing Jesus as Savior and the Christ of God is sufficient.  This means we have accept God’s wisdom above our own, God’s plan of salvation as the only one, and only then can we say we are never alone because God is with us.  Only then can we say we possess the fruit of the Spirit and not the works of the flesh.

Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. (Rom 8:26-27 KJV)

Following is the beginning to a study I have started with my congregation at Grace Bible Church.  I will be preaching through the epistle in the weeks to come.  I plan to post those completed sermon notes and thoughts on this blog in the hopes that it will be of help to my brothers and sisters in Christ who do not attend Grace Bible Church in Gloucester, Virginia.  I will note sources as I use them, but just in case I miss any documentation my key sources will be the following list of books, which will be supplemented with various theological journals as I progress through the series.

Carson, D. A. and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, Grand Rapids:  Zondervan Publishing, 2005.

Fee, Gordon D.  The First Epistle to the Corinthians. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1987.

Garland, David E.  1 Corinthians.  Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament.  Robert W. Yarbrough and Robert H. Stein, editors.  Grand Rapids:  Baker Academic Publishing, 2003.

Thiselton, Anthony C.  The First Epistle to the Corinthians.  The New International Greek Testament Commentary.  Grand Rapids:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000.

Author

Apostle Paul (1:1)

Audience

Corinthian Believers (1:2)

Purpose and Date of Writing

The epistle was written approximately AD 54 while Paul was at Ephesus.  Paul’s purpose is multifaceted, yet generally speaking, the letter addresses the application of progressive sanctification in a carnal world.  Or to frame it as a question, how can spiritual people live and thrive in a hostile and carnal world?

Corinth—City

  • The foundation of ancient Corinth is dated circa 900 BC.
  • After a rebellion, Rome destroyed the city in 146 BC.
  • Julius Caesar re-colonized the city in 44 BC.  It is this Roman colony that will be the backdrop for the Apostle Paul’s visit to Corinth.
  • With its key location on the Corinthian Isthmus, the city quickly flourished to become a commercial and political powerhouse in the region.
    • It controlled over-land trade between Italy and Asia.
    • The city bridged the Peloponnese to the Greek mainland.
    • Corinth was the home of the Isthmusian Games (an athletic contest second only to the ancient Olympics).

Commentator Gordon Fee says, “Paul’s Corinth was at once the New York, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas of the ancient world.” 

Corinth—People

  • The city was re-colonized by Roman “freedmen” and tradesmen.
  • There was no landed aristocracy in Corinth since it was previously destroyed by Roman forces in 146 BC.
  • Due to the cities commercial success, the rich became the unofficial nobles in the city.
  • Evidence shows that while the city was located in Greece, practices were dominantly Roman at their core.

The people of Corinth had a famous reputation in the ancient world.  Unfortunately, it was not a virtuous reputation.  The Greek writer Aristophanes (446  – 386 BC) coined the term korinthiazo [kori,qiazw] or “to act a Corinthian” which meant to commit fornication.

Corinth—Religion

  • 2ND century traveler Pausanias describes Corinth as having 26 “sacred places” referring to temples, groves, and possibly synagogues.
  • The Roman/Greek pantheon was extremely popular in the city with temples to Apollo (wisdom), Poseidon (sea), and Asclepius (healing).  A large temple to Aphrodite also rested upon the mount known as the Acrocorinth, but there is debate as to whether it was still in use during Paul’s visit to the city.
  • Since Corinth acted as a bridge between East and West, it was a melting pot for beliefs from both regions.  The mystic religions of Egypt and the Far East found their way into the city, as well as the Roman Imperial cult (emperor worship).

How is 1 Corinthians Relevant for the 21ST Century?

  • Status inconsistency – great division between rich and poor
  • Religious Pluralism—many religions claiming to hold the “truth”
  • Cosmopolitan immigration and commercial trade—culture wars
  • Priority in market forces in business and rhetoric—money was king
  • Emphasis on recognition and perception of honor and shame within a socially constructed world—spin doctoring in the ancient world

There are many books I believe are essential in a pastor’s library beyond a sturdy, leather-bound Bible.  There are the classic works such as The Pilgrim’s Progress, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, and Paradise Lost.  Along with these, a good Hebrew and Greek lexicon or two will help immensely in sermon preparation.  I would also recommend sermons from great preachers throughout the history of the church.  I now must recommend another book that will be an incalculable benefit to any pastor (and layperson), and it is Desiring God:  Meditations of a Christian Hedonist by John Piper.

The current book under review is the revised edition.  It is in fact a 25TH anniversary printing of the book.  A book with so many years under its belt that continues to have the impact and energy to stir the heart is a rarity.

Piper approaches his material from a thematic angle, seizing upon the various aspects of the Christian life to support his main thesis of Christian hedonism.  Important areas such as worship, prayer, marriage, and missions are addressed to build Piper’s proposal that Christians must pursue their pleasure in God.  Such a premise may sound odd to many Christians who believe they do seek their joy in God as an important component of their daily life.  However, Piper does not present this pursuit of joy as a component, but the very foundation upon which the Christian life is built.

The chapters include:

1.     The Happiness of God:  Foundation of Christian Hedonism

2.     Conversion:  The Creation of Christian Hedonism

3.     Worship:  The Feast of Christian Hedonism

4.     Love:  The Labor of Christian Hedonism

5.     Scripture:  Kindling for Christian Hedonism

6.     Prayer:  The Power of Christian Hedonism

7.     Money:  The Currency of Christian Hedonism

8.     Marriage:  A Matrix for Christian Hedonism

9.     Missions:  The Battle Cry for Christian Hedonism

10.     Suffering:  The Sacrifice of Christian Hedonism

These chapters are supplemented with a few supplementary chapters as well as a study guide for personal devotions or group studies.  Also in the supplementary material, Piper takes the time to answer why he wrote the book and why he chose the title “Christian hedonist.”  For those that have read previous editions of the Desiring God, there are a few new portions to consider.  The section on suffering is a new addition.  In the preface, Piper states that his reason for adding the chapter, “partly biblical, partly global, and partly autobiographical.”

There are elements of exegesis in the book that Piper develops to show that he is not throwing an obscure theory against the wall and hoping it sticks.  He is a competent exegete, but Piper’s true strength lies in his usage of historical works.  He introduces the reader to an assorted gallery of classic Christian authors, philosophers, and pastors.  Anyone familiar with church history will know many of the names, yet Piper sheds new light on their personal theologies and writings.  The writings of powerful figures such as Jonathan Edwards and C. S. Lewis are used with great efficiency.  Piper also shows a familiarity with the early church fathers, a familiarity that is often lacking with modern Christian writers.

The most compelling characteristic of the book is its embrace of the true Christian life.  Piper does not expound upon deep truths as an ideologue addressing a crowd of sycophants.  Nor does he take an exclusively pastoral approach that reeks of “preachiness” and judgment.  Piper exhibits himself in his full humanity.  This only makes Desiring God more approachable as a reader and certainly made me more open to thinking upon Piper’s presentation.

I highly recommend this book.  It will be a great resource for anyone with any level involvement in ministry.  This revised edition includes a study guide for personal use or in small groups.  It is a wonderful resource for a Bible teacher.  Its utility extends beyond classroom usage.  Desiring God will make a great personal devotion study as well.  Piper’s pastoral spirit comes through nicely, and while the subject matter is profound, the work never comes across as pretentious.

Piper has built his many years of ministry upon the foundations he establishes in Desiring God.  It is a carefully executed and wonderfully written piece of literature.  Having read dozens of missional and personal theologies through the years, I believe Desiring God will be in service by the church for many years to come.  In fact, when it celebrates its next twenty-five year anniversary, I quite expect it to have reached “classic Christian literature” status though I believe it is certainly deserving of the title today.

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review through their Blogging for Books program.

I lost faith in the human race many moons ago.  It was not a strong faith, but more akin to the faith of that “Christian” whom can only bring himself or herself to church on Easter and Christmas.  As such, I have stopped asking some questions about popular culture.  I no longer care when and where trends begin.  I have no desire to know who or what a “Snooki” is and even less desire to tweet or blog about it (or him or her).

It is not that I have no interest in American culture, particularly the culture in which I live.  The exact opposite is true.  I love culture and the nuances of customs from one age to another (I cite this previous post as an example).  However, I do not believe we can call the current trends “culture” per se.  The collective secular populace suffers from ADHD in regards to culture to such a degree that Andy Warhol’s “15 minutes of fame” quip is a gross over-estimation.  According to James, life is a vapor that is here for a short time and then vanishes (Jas. 4:14).  If that is true of life, what unit of measure can we apply to these modern day memes that disappear more rapidly than a wisp of smoke?

One of the newer memes is YOLO or “you only live once.”  Comedian Jack Black refers to it as, “Carpe Diem for stupid people.”  While I find Mr. Black’s comment funny, I think it is categorically wrong.  Carpe Diem (Lat. “Seize the Day”) gives the impression of productive ambition.  It has long been the motto of optimists that desire to live each moment to the fullest.

On the other hand, YOLO appears to be the maxim of recklessness and poor decision-making.  The equivalent to a redneck, “Hey ya’ll watch this” moment in which you have no idea what is about to happen, but you are sure it is going to end with a trip to the emergency room or county jail.  YOLO turns a mirror upon the current state of American “culture” and it is not a pretty reflection.

The only draw back is you have to empty the lint filter after every trip.

YOLO shows how quickly the youth of our age (and granted even adults who refuse to embrace maturity and personal responsibility) will latch onto a philosophical idea without investing one iota of thought to its application.  I fully expect such reckless behavior from the secular world (1 Cor. 2:11-12).  I stand in slack-jawed awe though when those who claim to know the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal Savior adopt such drivel as a personal mantra.

The defense against me is plain, “It is just a harmless motto.  There is no reason to get so worked up about it.”  To hold such a position is to claim words are not important.  And, I just happen to disagree with that premise.  Words are important.  If words were not important, I would be out of a job as would a countless number of others who rely upon either the spoken word or written word for their livelihood.

While I do believe words are important, it is a matter of degree. Words lose their power when they are the tools of vitriolic media personalities with a side of delusional.

If words are not important, you have no reason to be upset the next time someone calls you a disrespectful name.  If words are not important, the next “I love you” spoken by your significant other is meaningless.  If words mean nothing, why have you read this far into a pointless rant?  But, the name-calling did hurt, that “I love you” melted your heart, and you are still reading because you believe what I believe—words are important!

Behind all words is an underlying philosophy.  At times, the philosophy is camouflaged by an emotional energy that blinds us to its true intent.  Other times, it is veiled under a superfluity of fanciful words and stylistic phrases that take our breath away, all the while shielding the idealistic under-pinning that gives it support.  YOLO is more the former, relying upon the emotional experience to cover up its poisonous intent.

I find YOLO offensive on two counts.  First, it is a blatant contradiction to the clear teachings of Scripture.  Jesus said, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).  Jesus opening statement to Nicodemus has already created a titanic sized hole in the good ship YOLO.  If Jesus is correct (and I’m confident He is), then you can live twice!  Second, YOLO is the outcome of society’s disregard for personal accountability.  The argument is that existence itself and the perceived singleness of this existence is the only rationale one needs to set aside conscience and good behavior.

With such logic, we can justify even the most heinous of crimes.  If YOLO is our only absolute, nothing is out of bounds.  For some YOLO is a means of justifying destructive behavior that is harmful to self and others.  I suspect for the majority of people it is a process of dealing with the guilt that often comes with doing something wrong.  By saying YOLO, they are slipping into the cultural stream of complacency and the false “everyone else is doing it” mentality.

I cannot say with any certainty that as much thought went into YOLO as I have put into its deconstruction today.  However, that is the key issue with personal philosophy, especially among the general populace.  Personal philosophy has a way of digging its way to the surface without any coaxing.  We may be oblivious to our world view, having given little thought to it, yet to our thoughtful observers, it is a beam in our eye (Luke 6:42).

So how do we move away from such a destructive philosophy?  The key issue is source material.  What are we using as the basis for our beliefs?  If one thinks man is the measure of all things, this humanistic thinking will be the framework for all areas of life.  If Scripture is the guidebook of life it will mold the believer into an image that is an embodiment of its principles and practice—e.g. Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29).  So, while you may shout YOLO from the roof tops, which is your human right.  I pray and hope it is not true of you.  Whereas it is true YOLO outside of Jesus Christ, I can assure you on the testimony of God’s Word, You Can Die Twice (Rev. 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8).

Psalm 33 is a bit odd because it is one of four psalms that do not have a title (Psalm 1, 2, 10, and 33).  Some people even believe it is a continuation of Psalm 32.  While both share the theme of praise, their contents vary in the direction of praise.  Psalm 32 praises God because He forgives sin; Psalm 33 praises God because He is Sovereign.  The call to rejoice in the Lord is one that is unique in Scripture.  It is a call that is only given to believers, in both the Old and New Testaments (Psa. 33:1, 97:12; Joe. 2:23; Hab. 3:18; Phil. 3:1, 4:4).

Rejoice in the LORD, ye righteous; and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness. (Psa. 97:12)

Rejoice in the Lord alway:  and again I say, Rejoice. (Phil. 4:4)

Since we are given this special charge as believers, it is imperative that we understand praise and how it fits into our Christian life.  It is an aspect of our priesthood as believers (Rev. 1:6).  Vance Havner said, “Every Christian is a priest, not offering a sacrifice for sins – since that has been done once and for all – but offering his person, praise, and possessions.”

Righteous’ Call to Praise God (33:1-3)

Call of Comeliness (33:1) – The world has a different standard of beauty than that which is described in Scripture.  The world promotes immorality and lust and slaps the label of beauty upon it.  The psalmist says that beauty is praise unto God from His people.  It is a picturesque scene when the people of God turn to their Lord and magnify Him for His goodness and greatness.  Praise offered from the tongues of those who do not know the Great God does not compare to the majesty of righteous joy.  Spurgeon said, “No jewels are more ornamental to a holy face than sacred praise.  Praise is not suitable from unpardoned professional singers; it is like a gold jewel in a pig’s snout.”

Call of Completeness (33:2) – There is much to be said about a believer that gives his or her all to God.  Giving only one part of your life to God will leave you with an incomplete understanding of God’s graces to us as believers and an imperfect appreciation.  The focus of verse two is not the diversity of the instruments, but the completeness of the praise.  All the notes are to be given to the praise of God.  Every fiber of our being is to cry out with a “joy unspeakable” (1 Pet. 1:8).  Matthew Henry says, “What we win by prayer we may wear with comfort, and must wear with praise.”

Call of Creativity (33:3) – If verse two is a call to give every area of our life over to God as praise, verse three is a call to use every blessing in our life to praise.  I believe there are two features of creativity in praise that need to be addressed.

1.  Freshness of Spirit – You are a new creature in Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).  You do not offer praises to God with the old spirit of the flesh.  You are the Temple of God and the Holy Spirit dwells in you if you are a child of God (1 Cor. 3:16).  It is not the old man praising, it is the new man!

“Put off oldness!  You know the new song.  A new person, a New Testament, a new song.  A new song does not belong to the old; it belongs to those renewed through grace.  This is the kingdom of heaven.” (Augustine 353-429)

2.  Freshness of Style – Do you have a regular routine for prayer and Bible reading?  Do you have a regular “method” prayers you offer up to God?  Routines are not bad per se, but when we become more attached to the routine than the communion with God it is time for a new routine.  By way of personal illustration, from time to time, I will change the way we pray on Wednesday nights.  There has been nothing wrong with the ways we were praying previously, yet it sharpens our attention or refocuses our minds when the regular schedule is interrupted.

Now that we know WHAT we are called to do in regards to praise, the question must be asked—WHY should we do it?

Righteous’ Cause to Praise God (33:4-12)

Worthy Because of His Personality (vv. 4-5) – All that God does is good.  The universe was created in the perfection of God’s person and when He looked upon it He saw that “it was good” (Gen. 1:31).  All creation was perfect before the Fall of Man in Genesis 3.  The anomalies and discrepancies we see with our human eyes in creation are not the product of a faulty God, but a sinful man.  I quote Spurgeon once again who said, “Earth might have been as full of terror as of grace, but instead it teems and overflows with kindness.”  God’s work is an outgrowth of His word.  God is truth.  God’s word is truth.  God’s work is truth.  There are no lies in God’s words and there is no evil in His works.  Truth abounds in all that God says and does.

Worthy Because of His Power (vv. 6-9) – The atheists and agnostics rage today as if God is dead.  Sadly, many professors live their lives from day to day as if God is dead too.  They forget the power of God that makes Him worthy of praise.  I often pray to the Lord and merely kneel in awe of His power.  Psalm 32 praises God for the work He does for sinful man.  Psalm 33 calls for the believer to rejoice simply because God is.  It is in this facet of praise I believe many people are lacking, including true believers at times.  What I mean is this—if God had never sent His only begotten Son into the world to die for our sins, He would still be worthy of praise.  If God did not demonstrate to us daily His loving kindness and long-suffering, He would still be worthy of praise.  If God had offered no plan of redemption to sinful mankind, He would still be worthy of praise.  But I thank God Almighty that I praise God for who He is and for what He has done!

Each description that is given of God in these verses are displays of His great power.  Truly, God’s power transcends our human understanding, but the psalmist offers us these pictures as a means of envisioning God’s omnipotence.  Our God did not mold or shape the worlds into being – Scripture declares “. . . He spoke, and it was done” (Psa. 33:9).

Worthy Because of His Providence (vv. 10-12) – Providence is the unseen hand of God.  It is not the miraculous intervention we witnessed upon Mt. Carmel as Elijah faced the false prophets.  It is the subtle and the workings of God in the lives of His people (e.g. Esther).  Two elements are important to note here:

1.  The Unfaithful – Verse 10 declares that God’s plans will succeed regardless of anyone else’s plan.  This psalm was written at a time when Israel was surrounded by enemies that longed for their destruction.  Much like today, Israel was small in comparison to the great super-powers of the ancient world; however, God’s hand was upon them.  For the Christian, this verse speaks of God’s sovereignty and His absolute control over the affairs of men.

Isaiah 46:10-11 — Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: 11 Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.

Psalm 135:6 — Whatsoever the LORD pleased, that did he in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places.

Many are bothered by such statements in Scripture because as sinful, prideful creatures the thought that someone else is more powerful and in control of their lives.  As a Christian, I take comfort in the fact that my Father is in complete control and there is nothing mysterious to His all-knowing mind and nothing outside His ever-watching eye

2.  The Faithful –The same word translated “heathen” in 33:10 is the same word used of nation in 33:12.   This means there is not a variation of content, but a variation of substance.  A nation that follows God will be blessed.  A nation that does follow God will be brought down.

Righteous’ Comfort to Praise God (33:13-19)

Comfort in God’s Awareness (33:13-14)—The picture of God given here is of Him seated high and exalted above all the earth looking down upon the affairs of men.  It reinforces the idea of God’s omniscience, His all-knowing nature, but it also serves as a reminder in the affairs of men.  There are no secret places in the world that can be hid from the eyes of God.  There are no secret places in the mind and heart of man that can be kept from Him.

Comfort in God’s Alertness (33:15-17) – We are well aware of the atheist movement in our world today.  USA Today released a report this week (July 29, 2012) that stated 1 in 5 people now declare themselves atheist, agnostic, or some other form of “none” in regards to belief in God.  We expect people such as this to live their lives as if God is not watching from Heaven; however, there is a silent movement that is thriving among those who claim to know the God of Heaven.  These groups of practical atheists, as I like to call them, give lip service to the Almighty; yet live their lives as if He does not exist.

God sees the lives of men and these verse only reiterate what has been stated throughout this entire psalm—God is in control.  The emphasis here though is that even though God is fully aware of all that goes on in the world, He is also interested in all that is happening in the world.

Comfort in God’s Affection (33:18-19) – The closing verses of this psalm are some of the most comforting you will find in Scripture.  It has declared to us that God is worthy of praise because He is Sovereign.  He deserves our devotion because He is Almighty God who created the entire universe.  It is with this in mind that he psalmist then draws our attention to God’s loving-kindness toward us; his intimate relationship with His children.

I know that I’m quoting Spurgeon a great deal, but he puts this thought so well that I will close with it:

“The Lord’s hand goes with His eye.  He sovereignly preserves those He graciously oberserves.  Rescues and restorations hedge about the lives of the saints.  Death cannot touch them until the King signs the warrant and gives his leave, but even then, his touch is not so mortal as immortal.  He does not so much kill us as kill our mortality.”

A shift in person that takes place in verse 20 highlights the intimacy of God with His children.  From the beginning of the psalm, the writer has been sharing his thoughts as an outside observer, watching God’s dealings with mankind.  However, it is here that he shifts to the first person.  He is not an observer in the workings of God, the psalmist is a partaker in God’s goodness.

When it comes to rejoicing, are you an observer or a partaker?  Do you watch as others give God the glory He deserves?  If you are a child of God this morning, you have an obligation to honor your Heavenly Father.  I do hope that if you are a child of God that you have more than an obligation, but a strong desire to give glory to your Savior.

The Maasai tribe, found in parts of Kenya and Tanzania, greet one another by spitting.  When greeting elders, tradition demands a tribesman must spit upon his hand before offering a handshake, thus showing respect.  Men even spit on newborns and fathers spit upon their daughters at weddings.  I have attended many weddings, and while I recall many father’s sobbing as they gave their little girls away, I have never seen one spit upon his daughter.

The Toraja, meaning “People of the Uplands,” are a group that live in mountainous regions of South Sulawesi, Indonesia.  By all accounts, they are fascinated with death.  Funerals in the Torajan tradition are luxuriant events that would more closely resemble the fanfare and pageantry of Mardi Gras than the average American’s vision of a burial.  Noblemen have the more elaborate ceremonies that can last for several days.  For the poor, funerals can be postponed for days, months, even years as the family collects enough money for the event.  In the meantime, the deceased is wrapped in cloth and placed under the family home.  It is believed his or her spirit remains with the family until the funeral celebration and he or she then departs for the afterlife.

Both of these events seem very odd to me.  I do not wish for anyone to spit upon me, and I most certainly did not want a doctor or nurse spitting on my children when they came into this world.  However, these are the traditions of the Maasai and Toraja tribes.  From all the accounts I read, the Torajan rites are a wonder to behold.  I can, from afar and comfortably in front of my computer, respect the traditions of these peoples from Africa and South Pacific Isles.

I think of my own family traditions which may seem odd to other people, especially those not familiar with American culture.  I remember my great grandmother making all of us eat black-eyed peas and collard greens every New Year’s Day.  A single new penny was cooked along with the black-eyed peas and good fortune was supposed to be with the lucky recipient throughout the year.  It is not a tradition that I have brought with me into my own family.  My wife and I are in the process of creating our own family traditions.  We certainly give homage to those before us and even incorporate many from our past into the lives of our children such as family devotions, personal quiet time, and even reading the Nativity on Christmas morning.  If Clemson and West Virginia play one another on a regular basis in the college football season, we will add the tradition of awkward silence in the week following the game (FYI:  It was my year to wear sackcloth after the Orange Bowl).

Traditions make us feel comfortable and connected.  We feel comfortable because we are familiar with what is happening around us.  We feel connected to those with whom we share traditions, whether they are family or friends.  I fully support both of those elements!  Who doesn’t want to be comfortable?  With exception of that crazed uncle your family whispers about, everyone seeks to make a connection with those around them.  Traditions give us both.

There has been a great emphasis upon “traditional values” over the past few weeks.  In truth, the cultural wars of conservatism versus liberalism have been waged in varying degrees for millennia.  The recent firestorm erupted over an American CEO’s honest response to a question concerning marriage.  I have no desire to rehash all of the clichéd accusations and assertions from the Right or the Left on the issue.  But it made me question, what are traditional values?

As I have shared, traditions vary from country to country, culture to culture, and family to family.  The ever-flowing streams of time take their toll upon all things.  Once mighty statues are worn smooth and nations rise and fall.  What is rejected by one generation is embraced by another.  And yes, even traditions come and go as the years rush forward.  With such wide variances of peoples, cultures, and traditions, the concept of absolutes appear unattainable.  Or at least absolutes are unattainable if I confine myself to these fluctuating models of people, culture, and tradition.

  • Job 23:13 – “But he is in one mind, and who can turn him? and what his soul desireth, even that he doeth.”
  • Psalm 33:11 – “The counsel of the LORD standeth for ever, the thoughts of His heart to all generations.”
  • Malachi 3:6a – “For I am the LORD, I change not; . .”
  • Hebrews 13:6 – “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever.”
  • James 1:17 – “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”

I could go on for quite some time citing the many Bible verses that speak of God’s immutability.  What is immutability you ask?  A. W. Pink defines it best when he states, “It is one of the excellencies of the Creator which distinguishes Him from all His creatures. God is perpetually the same: subject to no change in His being, attributes, or determinations.”  In short, God is not tossed to and fro in the various streams of human culture and tradition.

As a Christian, I take hope in God’s immutability.  Positively, I know God’s promises are guaranteed because He is unchanging.  Negatively, I know that God’s warnings are true for the same reason.  The blessings and judgments of God are not based upon what is trendy or politically correct.  He is not swayed by popular opinion or boycotts.  Only He can say, “I AM THAT I AM” (Exod. 3:14).

Traditional values?  I don’t know how to define traditional values.  Those elements that are en vogue today may be socially unacceptable tomorrow.  I have heard the cries already, “You’re just a traditionalist.  You have to change with the times.”  In some instances, this cry is correct.  I enjoy the fact that plumbing has moved indoors and I can drive from one city to another without the need to nurse saddle sores for my effort.  However, when it comes to the Word of God, there is no room for variance on those principles that are as immutable as the God that spoke them.  So for those of you that have branded me a traditionalist or one who fights for traditional values, you’ve got me all wrong!  I don’t support traditional values.  I support biblical values!