Preachers Teach, the Spirit Applies, Right?

screen-shot-2017-02-06-at-12-37-43-pmPreachers with little application in their sermons may give the following justification: “It is the Spirit’s task to apply, not mine.” That is, it’s their task to explain “children obey your parents”, not apply by giving practical ways by which to do this. Preachers do the former, the Spirit the latter.

Here are four reasons I find this rationale unconvincing.

First, the greatest preachers in Scripture didn’t teach and then expect their hearers to sort out the application on their own. Jesus warned his disciples about anger without cause (Mt. 5:22). Then he told them what “anger without a cause” looks like practically (e.g. “You’re stupid!”, v. 22). John didn’t urge his hearers to “bear fruit worthy of repentance” and then leave it to the Spirit to apply it (Lk. 3:8). He chopped up this meaty doctrine into four bite-size applications, like “give one of your shirts to the poor” (v. 11), “share your lunch” (v. 11), and “don’t cheat on your tax returns” (v. 13). Continue reading

The Secret Place: A Reflection of Moses

screen-shot-2017-01-21-at-5-19-17-amHe that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. – Psalm 91:1

Face to face, this man God knew

In cherished ways, though known by few

With gaudy epochs long since passed

‘Ere this old man, to God had asked—

“Your face, pure glory, let me see

In ways, hid from humanity.

Bushes burned and seas split wide

Stony water from its side

Such miracles, I’ve seen them all

And none compel my soul to call

Upon this latent God He be

As could a glimpse of glory see.”

Then God, so vicious, yet benign

Chock full in glory, light Divine

Stooped low—He placed this fallen man

Into a rocky cleft to stand. Continue reading

The Woman at the Well (part 1)

The outcast came at noon. The time

When noses high and looks sublime

Shaped the sneering maiden faces

Who, deep down, with hidden traces

Knew this shameful wretch was no worse

Than they. The husbands they would curse

At home could vouch: “If only walls

Could talk”, they’d tell the sins—the calls—

Of scorn and disregard they’d spew

At the harlot, thrice wed, plus two.

All this to shield their crimes and doubt

“Will my own transgressions come out?”


It’s noon. She’s all alone—though eyes

Piercing a dozen drapes—belies

Her movements at the village well

Are concealed. “Drink, please.” The words fell

From the Man who reached the spring just

As she—learning later He must

Have been there at just that moment,

For Providence guides the One sent

To bestow living water to

Thirsty souls. “How can you, a Jew,

Solicit me for anything,

And risk the shame that this would bring?”

(John 4:1-9)

Is Polygamy Adultery?

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The first wife looks the least happy.

Groucho Marx once said: “I find television very educational. Every time someone turns it on, I go in the other room and read a book.”

When it comes to polygamy, I resonate with Marx. Every time someone talks about this matter, it forces me to dig into books, namely my Bible.

Phil Hunt is a friend and fellow missionary church planter up in Zambia. Recently he forwarded me a doctoral dissertation by Honoré Afolabi on polygamy. Having written a similar paper on the subject, I was anxious to read Afolabi’s work. I was not disappointed. The paper was excellent.

Afolabi took the majority of his time to show that polygamy is sinful and contrary to God’s plan. With this I wholeheartedly agree. We differ, however, on two basic questions: (1) Is polygamy adultery and (2) should active, converted polygamists be barred from church membership? Afolabi denies both; I affirm both. Here, I would like to address only the former. Continue reading

Should Parents Discipline Their Children When Angry?

I once heard a pastor say: “All displays of anger are sinful.” It’s also been said that parents should never discipline their children in anger. Is that true? When Johnny foments discord, or hits his sister, or disrespects his mother, is it ever valid for his father to show anger in voice or mannerisms? Consider this.

First, there are a number of causes for anger, some good and some bad. Some evil roots would be rejection (Gen. 4:5), a lack of love (1 Cor. 13:5) and the desire to repay evil for evil (1 Pt. 3:9). Men no doubt battle the sin of anger more than women do (1 Tim. 2:8). Some positive causes of anger would be Spirit-filling (1 Sam. 11:6) and seeing the hardheartedness of others (Ps. 7:11, Neh. 5:6-7).

Second, Christians are encouraged by precept and example to be angry but in control. In Ephesians 4:26, Paul gives an imperative: “Be angry and do not sin.” The Greek verb behind this command is used often in the LXX, both of man’s anger and God’s. The examples are laden with emotion, as when Jacob berates his father-in-law for pestering his family (Gen. 31:36) and Moses is irate at Israel’s idolatry (Ex. 32:19).

Third, we cannot say that anger is intrinsically evil, since God often expresses His fury. God is said to “burn” with wrath (Ex. 22:24) everyday (Ps. 7:11), this often toward his covenant people (Jdg. 2:14). God, however, always controls His anger—never sinning in the process.

Fourth, human anger should be emotional. Are we really to believe that Jesus internalized all of His wrath, biting His lip as wickedness abounded around Him? In Mark 3:5, Jesus is “angry”, this word followed by “grieved” to show the strong emotional aspect of Jesus’ wrath. Jesus was even aggressive in His anger (Mt. 21:12).

Fifth, and this is where we answer the question about parents, the Bible is loaded with qualifiers regarding anger. Christians should control their anger (Pr. 14:29), confront people directly (Mt. 5:21-22), avoid befriending angry people (Pr. 22:24-25), use soft words (Pr. 15:1), and learn to assuage people’s anger by de-emphasizing their own accomplishments (Jdg. 7:24-8:3). But never are people, and parents specifically, told to avoid anger altogether. It is true that Ephesians 4:31 tells us to put away “wrath”, but this is certainly an anger that is malicious in nature.

Moreover, all emotions, just like words, communicate something. When Suzie excels, we affirm with words and all the smiles and clapping motions. When our ten year-old is in a moment of rebellion, why should we feel more godly when we say with a stoic face and measured tone: “Son, sassing your mother was not the best thing to do. Please go to your room”? Jay Adams observes: “Anger in administering disciplinary codes must be thought of as within the code. Modern advice that parents should never administer discipline when angry is not biblical. Because anger is not wrong, one apologizes not for anger, but only, for instance, for losing one’s temper in the discipline of children.”

If anger should be emotionless, how are our children to tell which things angers father the most? Is it when the football team loses, when he hammers his thumb, or when his children disrespect authority? In most homes, the former two come with high emotion. Parents would do best to move that emotion to the latter, being sure to accompany this anger with all of the Scripture’s qualifiers.

Why the Old Testament Doesn’t Rebuke Polygamy

One of the arguments people use to minimize the sinfulness of modern-day polygamy—especially in Africa—is the apparent blind eye God has towards it in the Old Testament. John Reisinger writes: “There is no instance in the Old Testament Scripture that suggests, in any way, that polygamy was a sin. This does not prove that polygamy was not a sin, but it does prove that God never treated it as a sin.” John Mbiti is even more direct:

Christians who uphold monogamy as the only acceptable form of marriage before God, tell us that this is what the Bible teaches. They go on to tell us that polygamy is a sin. I have searched the Bible carefully and one of the staggering things concerning marriage is that the Bible does not treat marriage in terms of either monogamy or polygamy.

Whether or not Scripture explicitly forbids polygamy is fodder for another day’s war. The issue here is whether God’s relative silence about the patriarch’s polygamy implies tacit approval. I say no. Here are some sins in Genesis by righteous people.

1)    Noah gets drunk (Gen. 9:21) – No rebuke from God.

2)    Abraham lies (12:10-20) – No rebuke. In fact, God punishes Pharaoh.

3)    Lot impregnates his daughters (19:30-38) – No rebuke

4)    Abraham lies again (20) – Abraham not rebuked…but Abimelech is!

5)    Jacob deceives his brother (25:31-33) – No rebuke

6)    Isaac lies (26:6-11) – No rebuke, but more blessings! (12)

7)    Jacob deceives father (27) – No rebuke, just more blessing (23)

8)    Jacob tricks Laban (31:20) – No rebuke

Assuming no one would use these stories to support drunkenness, incest, or dishonesty, why then polygamy? Surveying the other 38 books in the OT would bring endless more examples. The point is that God’s disapproval of polygamy in the OT is clear. It shouts at us, but not in propositional form. Rather, the narrative paints for us the ugly picture of family squabbles, marital tension, painful neglect, discarded children, broken promises and unquenched jealousy.

After all, we are never explicitly told that the prodigal son was wrong for squandering his wealth. Just look at the consequences.