Last week I had the honor of being a guest on Gino Geraci’s radio show: Crosswalk with Gino Geraci, on 94.7 FM KRKS which airs in the Denver metro area and online.
We discussed the topic of the “perspicuity” or “clarity” of Scripture, which was the subject of my MA dissertation.
The discussion certainly wasn’t exhaustive, and there is more I would like to share about meaning and implications of the perspicuity of Scripture via this blog and my podcast – such as the difference between the external and internal aspects of perspicuity, but this was a great introduction to the topic.
Gino is well-read and understands the subject well, and it was fun to talk with someone who enjoys discussing these things and helping other people understand them.
What is perhaps most interesting about our discussion is that we spent time talking about how the perspicuity of Scripture speaks to the current trend of postmodern thinking and epistemology, in which even many professing Christians are taking up views which are contrary to the clear reading of Scripture because of pressure from the culture.
You can listen to the two hours we spent discussing this topic on the radio here:
Recently someone reached out asking for a simple explanation of what it means to be “born again.”
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
1 Peter 1:3 ESV
The idea of being “born again” is something that the Bible speaks about using a variety of terms, such as: Receiving a new heart, becoming a new creation, being made alive in Christ.
The exact phrase, “born again” is something which Jesus used when speaking to a man named Nicodemus: a moral, religious man who was well-respected in his community. Nicodemus came to Jesus asking for the essence of Jesus’ teaching, and Jesus told him: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)
What this means is that although we are born physically alive, every person’s default condition is that they are spiritually dead and disconnected from God.
God loves us, and yet: we are sinners, both by nature and by choice, and as a result there is a separation between us and God, and our default condition is that we are spiritually dead rather than alive.
There are a lot of people in the world who are like Nicodemus: moral and “good” people. And yet, Jesus told this moral man that he needed to be born again. And this is the message of Jesus to all of us as well: “YOU need to be born again!” Not just everyone else; not just the drunks and the immoral people, but YOU too!
YOU need to be born again by coming into a relationship with God by faith in Jesus Christ: faith in the fact that he died in your place to reconcile you to God by imputing his righteousness to you, and imputing your sins to him; faith that he rose from the dead to give you the hope and promise of eternal life!
When you are born again you receive:
a NEW HEART: The very essence of who you are changes! You receive a new heart, with new desires.
a NEW IDENTITY: You change from being an enemy of God to being a child of God.
a NEW MIND: You begin to think differently.
NEW EMOTIONS: You feel differently; God pours out his love, joy, and peace into your heart.
A NEW COMMUNITY: You become part of the people of God, those who are being saved.
A NEW POWER: Power over sin; we are no longer slaves to our flesh, but we gain the power to be free when we are born again by putting our faith in Jesus and God places his Spirit inside of you to strengthen you in your weakness.
Doubt is an inherent part of having faith. Faith, the Bible tells us, is having convictions about things which you cannot see (Hebrews 11:1). This extends to things which cannot be empirically proven through scientific method. If you can see something and prove it, there is no need for faith. Doubt therefore, is not how faith ends, but is the occasion where faith and trust begin.
But it is not only “believers” who have doubts. Studies have shown that professing atheists also have doubts about whether they are right.
CS Lewis, in his book Mere Christianitysaid, “When I was an atheist, I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable.”
A recent poll from Newman University and YouGov found that one in five British atheists and over a third of Canadian atheists agreed with the statement: “Evolutionary processes cannot explain the existence of human consciousness.” 
In his book The Reason for God, Timothy Keller challenges those who doubt to “doubt their doubts,” i.e. to consider to the faith and beliefs (the assumptions which cannot be empirically proven) that underly their doubts, and to honestly question whether they actually stand on firm ground. His conclusion is that faith is God is actually more plausible than the alternative.
This week in our Sermon Extra, Pastor Mike and I discussed the role of doubt in faith, the fact that atheists have doubts too, and what we should do with our doubts. Check it out here:
Based on your knowledge of activity in Heaven what was going on in Heaven prior to the crucifixion and how did it change, if at all after Jesus resurrection? For example, was there joy in the presence of angels over sinners repenting before Jesus died and rose??
Interesting question! Here are my thoughts:
The Sons of God Shouted for Joy
In the Book of Job, when God speaks, God challenges Job by saying this:
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? …when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”
The “sons of God” mentioned here is a reference to the angels. What this is telling us is that at the creation, the angels were “the audience” who watched and cheered as God created the universe.
The Heavenly Audience
This theme of the angels being an audience, watching the things which happen on Earth, is carried through the Bible.
At the beginning of the Book of Job, we read about Satan asking for permission from God to afflict someone. The picture we get from that scene is that those in Heaven are aware and attentive to the happenings of people on Earth.
Not only are those in Heaven aware and attentive to what is happening on Earth, they seem to be emotionally invested in what is happening on Earth. For example, in Revelation 5, we read that when no one was found who could open the seal, there was weeping in Heaven until it was revealed that the Lamb was worthy to do so.
The whole picture of Revelation is that John the Apostle gets a preview of Heaven. Starting in chapter 4, John is caught up to Heaven, and what he describes is how, from that vantage point, he joins the angels in watching the happenings down below on Earth. The picture, therefore, is of Heaven being aware of and attentive to, as well as emotionally invested in, the happenings here on Earth.
The Stadium and Those in the Stands
In Hebrews 12:1 we read:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
The picture the writer is painting here is that of a stadium, and Greco-Roman competitions, such as the Olympics. He describes life as being a race, a theme which Paul also discusses, using similar language drawing from Greco-Roman athletic competitions.
But here the writer highlights a particularly interesting aspect of those competitions: as we run this race, we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. The “witnesses” are those who were mentioned in the previous chapter, Hebrews 11, where we are told about those who preceded us in the faith – the “Old Testament saints,” as they have been called.
The image the writer is invoking is that of a stadium, in which the stands all around us are full of those who have preceded us in the faith, and who are now “cheering us on” as we run the race that is set before us.
The Angels and the Saints
What we are left with, therefore, are two groups: the angels and the saints. Both groups are apparently aware and attentive to what is happening on Earth, and are rooting for us and eagerly awaiting the fulfillment of God’s promises.
What Changed in Heaven When Jesus Died and Resurrected?
The word angel literally means “messenger” in Greek, and this aligns with what the Bible tells us about angels; that they are “ministering spirits.” It would seem that the angels have been and still are aware, attentive to, and emotionally engaged in what is happening on Earth.
Thus, to answer your question, I do think there was joy in the presence of the angels over sinners repenting – prior to Jesus’ death and resurrection.
The one thing which changed when Jesus died and resurrected, is that those who were kept in Abraham’s Bosom awaiting the redemption of their souls were released from Sheol and taken to be in God’s presence.
What are they? How do we recognize them before it’s too late? And how do we avoid being carried away by them?
We give some examples of winds and waves in the recent past, as well as the desire to move beyond the basics of Christianity to the “deeper things.” We discuss what people often mean when they use that phrase, and how to discover and experience the deepest things in reality.
In this episode Nick and Mike discuss what it means in Ephesians 4:14 where the Apostle Paul talks about “winds and waves of doctrine.” What are they? How do we recognize them before it’s too late? And how do we avoid being carried away by them?
Along with some examples of winds and waves in the recent past, we discuss the “deeper things” of Christianity: what many people mean when they use that phrase and what the deepest things are in reality.
Also visit the Theology for the People blog.
This episode is sponsored by
· Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. https://anchor.fm/app
Theology for the People Now on GoodLion Podcast Network
Why does God bring judgment upon some sinful people, yet others who do much worse things remain healthy, prosperous, and well? In some cases they even seem to be getting God’s approval or at least not His punishment for the same sins as those who receive judgment. Examples of this would be Michal (David’s wife) and Uzzah in 2 Samuel 6, and the story of the two prophets in 1 Kings 13.
This is a good question, and is related to a question that David asked in the Psalms about why God allows wicked people to prosper and righteous people to suffer. This question, from David, was not an abstract query, but one that was deeply person to his lived experience.
We can see this dynamic at work in the world today as well, where some people do evil things and seem to suffer no consequences, and in some cases succeed as a result, whereas many who endeavor to lead a godly life don’t succeed or even suffer.
I responded to this question with a podcast episode which is embedded and linked below. In this episode, I give three important considerations which help us to understand this dynamic.
Is religion opposed to relationship with Jesus? What is “religion” anyway – and is Christianity a religion or not?
In this episode we look at uses of the word “religion” in the Bible (there are 5 of them!), as well as passages like Isaiah 1 and Amos 5 where God talks about despising the religious practices of Israel; the very practices which He himself commanded them to do earlier in the Bible…
We also examine Jefferson Bethke’s spoken word YouTube video: “Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus,” as well as a New York Times article about popular views on religion and biblical examples from Jesus, the apostles, and the New Testament church.
In this episode Nick and Mike discuss what the Bible has to say about religion and how God feels about it. Is religion opposed to relationship with Jesus? What is "religion" anyway – and is Christianity a religion or not?
We look at uses of the word "religion" in the Bible, as well as passages like Isaiah 1 and Amos 5. We also examine Jefferson Bethke's spoken word YouTube video: "Why I hate religion but love Jesus," as well as a New York Times article about popular views on religion – along with biblical examples from Jesus, the apostles, and the New Testament church.
This episode is sponsored by
· Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. https://anchor.fm/app
Tom Stipe was my pastor and mentor. He was the pastor of Crossroads Church of Denver, and in 1999, at 16 years old, I walked through the doors of that church for the first time on a Wednesday night. Little did I know that would be one of the best decisions I ever made, and it would shape the course of my life.
I went to Crossroads at the recommendation of my friends from school – friends who were not Christians! This is a testimony to the fact that Tom and Crossroads had an incredible reputation in the community. He was well-known and respected, even by people who didn’t follow Jesus or go to church. My friends told me that Crossroads had good music and they just teach the Bible.
I started going to Crossroads whenever the doors were open and I grew under Tom’s Bible teaching. I made other friends there and mentors with whom I have had lifelong friendships.
In January 2002, Tom sent me out as a missionary to Hungary. He ordained me, and for years he supported, encouraged and visited me and my wife while I was there. He really liked my wife Rosemary, probably even a little more than he liked me 😄.
Upon returning to Colorado, Tom was a source of encouragement. I will miss hearing his stories of all the great things God did through the Jesus Movement and over the years through Crossroads, but with the hope of the resurrection, I look forward to seeing him again.
A celebration of life was held for Pastor Tom at Harvest Church in Irvine, California, and was led by Greg Laurie, a friend of Tom’s. Harvest did a great job creating a video of the event for those who couldn’t join in person. That video is embedded below, or can be found here.
I was honored to get to say a few words at the memorial as well: my eulogy starts at 51:54.
Tom will be sorely missed. The God of Tom Stipe and the Spirit which he trusted in and relied on is here with us still, to do great things in the next generation.
In regard to God’s treatment of Eli in 1 Samuel 2-4, I’ve always been disturbed that Eli was included in judgement because of his sons.
1. Aaron was not condemned to death because his sons offered “strange’ fire. 2. Eli raised Samuel to be an upright man of God; he must’ve done something right.
I know that perhaps Eli’s heart was not right with God as the text does not elaborate and it does not say that he asked for forgiveness or repented. His admonition of Hannah for being drunk may also reflect that he did not possess the compassion and empathy that reflects God’s character in his servants. Still, I was hoping you might point to other portions of the Bible that explains Eli’s punishment more effectively rather than trying to “read between the lines” and dangerously make up what’s not written.
Still, this has always made me ask if my heart is in the right place and whether or not my faith in Jesus’ redemption is truly “genuine enough”
For those who might need a refresher on the story, Eli was the high priest at the time recorded in the beginning of 1 Samuel. Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas, served as priests in the temple, but they were corrupt, stealing, embezzling, and committing acts of sexual immorality by abusing their positions of power with women who came to the Tabernacle to worship. As a result of their actions, not only was the Tabernacle profaned, but people avoided coming to worship because of the presence of these wicked priests.
The reason for God’s judgment on Eli is outlined in 1 Samuel 2:27-29, in which a prophet tells Eli that he is going to be judged for the sins of his sons because he did not do enough to stop them from doing these acts. In 1 Samuel 2:29, God states that Eli honored his sons more than he honored God, and it is for this sin that Eli is being judged. Although Eli had scolded them, he did not do anything besides talking to them. Eli’s responsibility is two-fold, since he was both their father and their boss – as high priest. Eli should have fired his sons or carried out some sort of disciplinary action, and it is for this reason of allowing these things to take place and not doing anything about it, that Eli received God’s judgment.
I’ll never forget that one of my mentors fired his own son in law over an act of impropriety in the church. It must have made for a very awkward Thanksgiving, but at least he was not following in the sin of Eli.
The sin of Eli was covering up the abuse of his children
Allowing them to stay in power
when he knew they were taking advantage of ppl
Caused God to remove Eli
We must call out abuse
Even when it’s in our own families or party or churches
Two Important Thoughts About Judgment: Temporal Judgments and the Mercy of God
It is worth noting that the removal of both the priesthood from Eli and his life were temporal judgments, rather than eternal or spiritual judgments upon his soul. I think it is likely that Eli, recognizing his shortcomings and sins, and knowing the promise of God to send a savior to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21), he would have cast himself upon God’s mercy and received forgiveness. Temporal judgments, in other words, do not preclude eternal salvation.
Furthermore, it is worth noting that the very nature of justice is that it entails getting what is deserved. Mercy, on the other hand, is not getting the judgment that is deserved. So, for God to judge Eli for his failure to lead well as high priest, is fair. On the other hand, when God chooses to give mercy, such as in the case of Aaron, that is His prerogative. As Paul puts it in Romans 9:18: “God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy.” Mercy is never deserved, nor can it be demanded or expected. God reserves this right, and does so for His purposes, which we may never fully know on this side of eternity.
Knowing this helps us understand both the reasons why sometimes God doesn’t save us from the consequences of our sins even when He forgives us of them, and it helps us marvel all the more at the undeserved grace and mercy of God towards us!
But what about Christmas? Does Christmas have pagan origins?
The Claims About the Pagan Origins of Christmas
Saturnalia and the Winter Solstice?
Didn’t Christians simply take over the Roman pagan festival of Saturnalia and call it a celebration of the birth of Jesus? After all, that’s why we celebrate Christmas right around the same time as the winter solstice, isn’t it?
I used to believe this one myself. However, upon further investigation, it turns out this may not be true. Here’s why:
We don’t know what time of the year Jesus was born. The one thing we know is that it was almost certainly not in late December. The reason for this is because Luke’s Gospel tells us that the shepherds were watching their flocks by night, sleeping in the fields. In Israel it gets too cold in the winter for that; shepherds sleep outside from about March-September. Clement of Alexandria wrote that some believed May 20 was Jesus’ birthday, others believed it was April 19 or 20, others still believed it was in late March. 
Early Christians also did not celebrate birthdays in the same way we do because ancient cultures did not celebrate birthdays like we do in our modern culture. Only two of the four Gospels talk about Jesus’ birth. The early Christian writer Origen dismissed birthdays as something only celebrated by tyrants, such as Pharaoh and Herod in the Bible. 
Things changed in the early 300’s with the beginning of the celebration of Epiphany, which commemorated the revealing of the Messiah to the Gentiles at the coming of the Magi to see Jesus after his birth. This was celebrated in early January in the Eastern church, not because they believed this to be the birthday of Jesus, but because of how it fit into the liturgical calendar which gave a plan for teaching through key events in the Gospels every year.
The Western (Latin speaking) part of the church wanted to have a festival similar to Epiphany, and decided that since they did not know when exactly Jesus had been born, they would have their festival of the celebration of the incarnation and the birth of Jesus in late December, before Epiphany – since the Magi would have arrived after the birth of Jesus.
Again, the decision of this date was based on liturgical calendars, not on the taking over of pagan festivals. It was considered significant, however, that the coming of “the light of the world” should be celebrated at the time of the year which is the darkest in the Northern Hemisphere. After this date, the days get longer and the darkness wanes. This symbolism was not lost on the early Christians, but rather considered to be a great symbol of the effect of Jesus’ entrance into the world.
Here’s what’s so interesting: there is a document from about 350 which tells us that Romans celebrated the festival of Sol Invictus Natali (the birth of the unconquered sun) on December 25, and that same document also tells us that Christians celebrated the birth of Jesus on this same day. There is no earlier evidence or report of a Roman pagan festival on December 25. In other words, it is just as likely that the pagan Romans chose this day for their pagan festivals because Christians were already celebrating the birth of Jesus on this day, and wanted to have their own counter-festival, than that Christians chose this day because of an existing pagan festival.
Furthermore, there is nothing particularly pagan about celebrating anything at the darkest part of year, right before the days start getting brighter. Judaism, for example, celebrates Chanukah – the Festival of Lights, in which they light candles in the darkness to celebrate God’s faithfulness at this same time of year. Pagans don’t own the symbolism inherent to the orbit of the Earth.
Are Christmas Trees Pagan?
There is some evidence that Roman pagans liked to decorate their homes with greenery during winter festivals, and that early Christians decorated their houses with greenery during Epiphany as well.
It should be remembered that in the ancient world, decorating with greenery in the winter was also common because it was bleak outside and they didn’t have Wayfair.com to depend on for affordable home decor.
Some people claim that these verses in Jeremiah are speaking about the practice of Christmas trees:
“Learn not the way of the nations…for the customs of the peoples are vanity. A tree from the forest is cut down and worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman. They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so that it cannot move.
Sounds like a Christmas tree, right? Except that’s not what it’s describing. What Jeremiah is describing is the creation of a household idol out of wood. Isaiah talks about a similar practice in which people would fashion an idol out of wood, stone, or metal, and then worship the very object they had just created.
The history of the Christmas tree dates back to medieval Europe, in the 14th and 15th centuries, during which December 24 was celebrated as “Adam and Eve Day” which was celebrated with the decorating of “paradise trees” by attaching apples to them (think how much bulbs look like apples) – a rarity during the winter, so they were considered treats. Because it was winter, and especially in Northern Europe, evergreen trees were popular to use for this. 
Modern Pagan Christmas?
Perhaps of bigger concern is the way in which our modern consumeristic Christmas traditions can detract from the celebration of Jesus and the incarnation which Christmas is meant to be about.
May we, even in the joys and the fun of our modern celebrations, not lose sight of what it is that we are celebrating this season: that to people like us who live in deep darkness, a light has shone: the promised Messiah has come to save us from our sins and give us the light of life forever! That is certainly something worth celebrating.