20: The Israelites

God had a special relationship with the Israelites in the Old Testament because they were his chosen people. On this episode, Aric and Lance continue reading the Israelite’s story in Exodus and talk about who God’s special people are today.

 

The Discipline of Christian Disciplines

I’ve been a martial artist for as long as I can remember.

Raised by a family of Black Belts, I’ve been told that I started kicking before walking. By four years old, my very first white belt was tied around my waist and I’ve been training ever since.

A few years ago, after training for a few decades and through a few pregnancies, I was preparing for a competition at the same time my body was readjusting to only feeding myself after my pregnancy.

When I consulted a nutritionist for help and admitted my intense late night sweet tooth, she taught me this important principle:

The last thing you eat is the next thing you crave.

Her principle has stuck with me and I’ve found it to be true for so much more than just nutrition.

When I choose encouragement over gossip, I crave genuine friendships. When I choose to be present with my family over multitasking, I crave those close connections.  This is true in my spiritual life, too.  The more I study the Bible, the more I crave meeting with God. The more I pray, the more I crave communicating with him.

These spiritual disciplines—studying the Bible and spending focused time in prayer—are not things I naturally want to do.

I don’t always feel like studying my Bible.

I don’t always want to pray.

Certain Sundays, I’d really rather stay in my pajamas and watch the game than serve others in the corporate gathering.

But I want to want them.

If the last thing I eat (spiritually) is the next thing I’ll crave, that means I’ll have to start before I feel like it.

That’s where discipline comes in.

The New Oxford American Dictionary definition of discipline is “to train oneself to do something in a controlled and habitual way.”

This definition rings true for me. To be disciplined is to make a choice regardless of what our feelings may be prompting us to do. As believers who have placed our faith in Christ, his Holy Spirit dwells in us and empowers us to overcome our sinful desires.

In Romans 7, Paul talks about our conflicting desires this way:

 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”

Although in our fallen condition, we may feel the pull to chase after the things the world deems urgent and important, the Holy Spirit offers us a wiser path forward: to engage in spiritual disciplines in order to grow a deeper relationship with Christ and ultimately become more like him.

In 1 Timothy 4:7, Paul reminds his apprentice Timothy that we can “discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness.”

You see, the purpose of prioritizing spiritual disciplines is to become more godly.

To feel the disconnect between what we should want to do and what we actually want to do doesn’t mean we’re less-than Christians, it means we’re sin-affected humans. In the same way, we aren’t first-class disciples when we do participate in them. There is no earning God’s favor by marking off tasks from a good Christian checklist.

Our right standing with God was won entirely by the completed work of Jesus Christ on the cross. It is a gift of grace that we cannot earn but are invited to freely accept.

Spiritual disciplines then, are a vehicle to godliness; an overflow of love from a heart that belongs to God.

We don’t have to pray and study the Bible, we get to speak to and hear from our Savior, the Creator of the Universe!

And because of our human condition, we may have to start before we feel like it.

We may have to feed our souls spiritually nourishing food so that we crave them.

 

As we navigate our way through a world that begs us to set our attention and affections on ever-changing causes, let’s devote ourselves to the eternal cause of Christ. Let’s discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness and in turn extend his love to the world for the sake of the gospel.


 

19: The Passover Lamb

What’s the big deal about lambs in the Bible, and what do they have to do with Jesus?

Tune in to this episode to find out!

Saved and Sent

Hundreds of times in the Bible, God either is called Savior or speaks of saving his people. What do we need to be saved from? In Matthew 1:21, Joseph heard an angel proclaim, “[Mary] will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

The cross was God’s plan to sacrifice his son to rescue us from the penalty and consequences of our sins. The work of God through his son redeems us because sin enslaved us, reconciles us because sin separated us, justifies us because sin condemned us, and restores us because sin shattered our lives.

Titus 3:4-6 reads:

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.

God’s act of grace in response to our sin is the heart of the gospel. It’s the essential truth all our beliefs are founded upon. But it isn’t the end of the story.

When Jesus appeared to his disciples following his resurrection, he didn’t just enjoy their company, he gave them a mission.

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”

John 20:21

God sent Jesus to be our Savior, but God was not finished sending. As disciples of Jesus, we also are sent into the world to proclaim that God has come to redeem and restore his creation. Do you know what we call sent people?

We call them missionaries.

This is your new gospel identity as a follower of Jesus Christ. You are a missionary. You might think, I’m not a missionary. Missionaries take their families to remote areas of Africa to evangelize natives you might see in National Geographic – then you never hear from them again. That’s a missionary. I’m not a missionary! However, if you look up “missionary” in the dictionary, it just means “one sent on a mission.”

We are sent as missionaries to our family, neighborhood, workplace, schools, and every other sphere of life. In other words, we’re given a mission to reach the people around us, wherever we are.

Some may question whether this truly applies to every follower of Jesus or only those sent to remote corners of the world – people who chose mission work as their full-time job. But Scripture answers this question without reservation.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

2 Corinthians 5:17-21

Everyone God saves, God sends. The result of our reconciliation is we are also entrusted with the mission to implore others to be reconciled to God. Where have you been sent?

The Christian faith is a viral movement. You heard the message of the gospel from someone. They heard it from someone too. When the gospel came to you, it was on its way to someone else. Therefore, it must not stop with us. As missionaries, going and multiplying becomes our new purpose for living.

This isn’t only important because of the potential impact on other people. When we don’t live as missionaries, we are short-circuiting God’s plan for our lives, choosing a lesser story that will not ultimately satisfy our hearts. God wrote eternity in our hearts. But we easily get intoxicated with smaller stories. The apostle Paul warns against this kind of distraction.

As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

2 Timothy 4:5

You are a missionary. If you don’t see yourself with that gospel identity, go back to the fact that God sent you. If you don’t see yourself as sent by God, go back to the gospel truth of God as Savior. When we see God as the Savior who, in Christ, rescued us from sin, we understand better that everyone who God saves, God sends. And if we are sent, that makes us missionaries. And if we are missionaries, then our new purpose in life is to go and multiply.

(This article adapted from Go & Multiply: Sharing the Gospel in Word and Deed)

 

It’s a Myth! Paul Wasn’t Saul’s Christian Name

This article was originally published on September 2, 2020 at blog.yanceyarrington.com and posted here by permission. You can read the original article here.


Let’s make this short and sweet. God didn’t change the apostle’s name from Saul to Paul when the man from Tarsus became a Christian. That’s a myth far too many Christians believe and, more unfortunately, far too many pastors have taught Christians to believe. The truth is Saul and Paul were both the apostle’s names well before his conversion to Christianity on the Damascus road.

Like Jews living in the Roman empire, Paul had two names. His Hebrew name was Saul. His Roman name (a Latinized version of Saul) was Paul. Paul likely deferred to his Roman name (e.g., in his letters) because he primarily ministered to the Roman world which included both Gentiles and Hellenistic Jews.1  He was just being a good missionary. If a Jewish name might be a potential hangup for some of his audience, then he would merely refer to himself by his other name.2 It was as simple as that.

In his commentary on Acts 13 concerning the Saul/Paul element, Dr. John B. Polhill, professor of New Testament at Southern Seminary, writes:

In v. 9 Luke identified Saul by his Roman name, “who was also called Paul.” From this point on in Acts, the name Paul appears, whereas before it had been “Saul.” The only exceptions hereafter are Paul’s recounting his conversion experience when he repeated the call of Jesus to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Why did Luke change the designation at this point?…Paul was now entering Greco-Roman territory as he worked on Cyprus, no longer working primarily among Palestinian Jews. He almost certainly had both names. Paul was his Roman cognomen, and every Roman citizen had such a name. It would be the name natural to every Greek and Roman who crossed his path. Paul also had a Hebrew name, called a signum, an additional name used within his own community. It was Saul, the same name as the ancient Jewish king who was also a Benjamite. This signum “Saul” was surely that used of him in Jewish circles. Luke’s switch at this point is thus natural and quite observant of the situation. Moving into Greco-Roman territory, Paul would be the name primarily used to address him.3

Polhill clearly doesn’t say God changed Paul’s name. Why? Because Paul already was his name! Indeed, the professor points out that the author Luke is the one who changes the designation in the Acts narrative and subsequently offers the likely reason why. That’s it. The issue is fairly straightforward.

Sorry to ruin all those “New Life, New Name” sermons that get preached to unsuspecting congregations, but to say that Saul changed his name to Paul because of his coming to Jesus is attempting to fit a square peg in a round hole. It’s doesn’t work. It’s inaccurate. It’s also sloppy with the text and, frankly, a lesson in either shoddy preparation or eisegesis, both of which pastors do well to avoid.


  1. Greek-speaking Jews of the Diaspora born outside Judea. Contrast them with native born Palestinian Jews who spoke Aramaic. Acts 6:1-7 highlights a tension between the two groups.
  2. Scholar E. Randolph Richards points out that the word saulos translates into a pejorative term in Greek and thus, offers one more reason why the apostle might have chosen Paul over Saul in Greek or Roman settings. See Richards’ First-Century Letter Writing: Secretaries, Composition and Collection, pp. 128-129. Richards also notes on p. 128, “Paul did not change his name from Saul to Paul when he began working with Gentiles. Rather, he stopped using Saul, his first name, and began using his surname when he moved into the Gentile world.” Hat tip to my friend Matt Davis for sharing this reference with me.
  3. Polhill,  Acts: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (The New American Commentary), pp. 295–296.

 

18: Pharaoh

On this episode, Moses confronts Pharaoh about letting God’s people go free from Egypt. But Pharaoh is stubborn, and takes some convincing…

 

Focused on God

Filling out my children’s back-to-school forms this year has been anything but normal.

In the week leading up to the deadline, I was bouncing between choices for our girls’ elementary schooling. My husband and I talked over our options so many times, and I even consulted with friends and listened to their reasoning.

Parents, this is one of the most difficult back-to-school season we have ever faced.

Usually at this time of year we are gearing up to get back to dependable routines. We look forward to beloved pastimes at our kids’ schools and the sense of belonging in those communities.

Instead, we’re grappling with sending our kids into unfamiliar and likely ever-changing environments at school, embarking on a new online academy, or choosing to dive into teaching our children ourselves at home.

Though the circumstances are indeed unique this time around, we’ve all faced our fair share of difficult choices in life.

Years ago, my husband and I made drastic changes to our lifestyle in order to get out of debt on one income. Part of the changes involved downsizing our house, and we were faced with two choices at the beginning of our journey — one seemed safe while the other was more a leap of faith. Either choice was fraught with difficulty, and I remember feeling that we had to make the right choice or be doomed.

We made our choice, and I was humbled by how quickly doubt and uncertainty sprang up. I thought we had made the “right” choice, but I battled uncertainty for several months. It would be years before we learned the ultimate fruit of that one decision. But the lesson I learned in the midst of uncertainty was that I had to cling to God for any hope of steadiness. When I wasn’t able to hold it together, God did it for me.

I look back to that time because it was a personal primer for what we are dealing with now on a macro level. We hear people talking about doing “the next right thing,” but sometimes that next thing just isn’t clear.

The good news is that this isn’t about making the right decision. There is no right decision. It’s about trusting God with the decision we have made.

This notion can be hard. Often, I want someone to just tell me in plain black and white what exactly I need to do. But that kind of living does little good in producing strong faith. Trust isn’t about emotions but obedience.

As Christ-followers we ask for peace in the midst of uncertainty. We seek him in Scripture and in our biblical community. And then, in faith, we trust God with what we can’t predict or control.

Ultimately, this is what Christians should do with every decision, every day, pandemic or no pandemic.

God is the same. Always.

Listen to what Isaiah tells us about God:

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.

– Isaiah 26:3

I love the circular idea of this. God keeps me in peace as I look to him. I trust him because he sustains me in peace and because he is everlasting. This shows a connection between God and me. It’s only when I pull away from God that this circle is broken and my peace falters.

But God does not pull away. He is the one who sustains me. My job is to go back to him when I have gone astray.

The answer is right there in black and white.

Though current circumstances are more challenging than usual, our God has not changed. He will give us the same measures of peace, faith, and trust as he has always done when we ask. He will give us direction as we make difficult choices.

So, let’s continue the dialogue with him in prayer, asking him for these intangible gifts.

Let’s seek to understand more of his everlasting nature in the pages of Scripture, building our faith in him.

Let’s lean on our biblical community for encouragement and camaraderie when doubt darkens our minds.

And let us not abandon our ultimate hope in Christ who has paid our penalty at the cross so that we can have this peace that God so freely and abundantly wishes to give us.

God is there, unchanging, for the one who keeps his mind on him.


 

17: Moses

Who’s in the Bible is back for season 2! Aric and Lance jump into Exodus to learn about Moses and the fate of the Israelite people in Egypt.

 

052: Christianity and Mental Health

During the Sticky message series, we’re sitting down with preachers right after they finish preaching to continue the conversation. On this episode, Ryan Lehtinen talks with Lead Pastor Bruce Wesley and counselor Tara Warner following Bruce’s sermon, “Christianity and Mental Health.”

Resources: 

Grace for the Afflicted by Matthew S. Stanford

Hope and Healing Center and Institute in Houston

Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation

Clear Creek Care and Support

In, But Not Of

If you’ve spent enough time in church circles, you’ve probably heard the saying, “Live in the world, but not of the world.”

But is this just a cliché or is this actually something Christians can and should do?

How do we live in a world that is broken among those who reject God, but still love our neighbors and remain faithful to Christ?

Let’s look at a story from the Old Testament to help us understand what living in the world, but not of the world can actually look like for followers of Jesus in today’s world.

After the city of Jerusalem was brutally attacked by Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian army, thousands of Jewish people were forced to relocate to a foreign land. Among them was a young man named Daniel. Every aspect of his life was changed quickly and completely as he walked through these dark days.

Daniel was relocated to Babylon, a majestic city and home to over 50 temples dedicated to various gods – a new world where the freedom might have appeared to be endless. Babylon provided abundant opportunity for sexual indulgence, extravagant food and drinks, lavish comforts and the prospect of wealth and success. In the book of Daniel, we read that Daniel was recruited to work for the king, but faced a tough choice: he could completely give in and embrace every pleasure the culture seemed to offer, or he could try to maintain his loyalty to God in this specific place and time.

Daniel was taken into the king’s service. He learned the language and literature of the Babylonians and was given royal food and wine. But, Daniel was convicted, as one of God’s chosen people, to live differently than those around him and honor God in every aspect of his life.

In Daniel 1:8, we see that “Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine.”

He made up his mind and purposed in his heart that he was not going to compromise his wholehearted faithfulness to the Lord.

Being far from home, he could have easily come up with excuses for his behavior.

“No one will ever know.”

“Everyone else is doing it, it would be weird for me not to join in.”

“It’s not really that big of a deal.”

“Just this one time.”

But it was never worth it to him. What can Daniel’s story teach us about living in, loving, and serving the world, but not being conformed to it?

The pleasures of this world always battle for our time, money, attention and heart, but when we pull back the curtain we find they often offer empty promises that can’t deliver.

They promise life, but give death.

They promise freedom, but make us feel more enslaved.

They promise happiness, but leave us feeling empty.

The freedom we yearn for and the satisfaction we chase will never be found in the fleeting pleasures of the world. Seeking the approval of man pales in comparison to the fullness to joy that is found in a life with God. Daniel remained obedient to God in the temptation of sinful pleasures. Staying close to God and continuing to obey him meant peace in the chaos and light in the darkness.

So, is to “live in the world, but not of the world,” merely a cliché?

It can be. It can also be used as an excuse to reject God’s good creation or stay away from those who don’t know Christ. But a deeper understanding of how God calls us to obey him and love others can transform this much used and simplified phrase into a mission.

We are called to be missionaries in this world without letting the pleasures of the world sink their distracting and deadly fangs into our hearts. Instead, we are called to live in a way that shows that our identity, hope, joy, and peace come from God alone. Becoming a follower of Jesus means we live the rest of our lives fighting the darkness of sin and sharing the hope we have in Christ with others.

Just like Daniel, God has called us to live in this specific time and place, with our own unique opportunities to love those around us.

As citizens of his kingdom, we must listen to and obey Jesus – the true king, who loves us, protects us and has already accomplished everything necessary to make us right with God.

In a world that is still broken, may our allegiance to Christ be a light that breaks through the darkness.

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

– Matthew 5:14-16