Good things to Good People?

fonzThis is a several part series on the question of how God treats good and bad people. Someone recently said to me that they wondered why good things were not happening in life, even though he had been a good person. Here is the first question:

Should good things happen for good people?

You may have heard the expression that God will give an answer, but it might be Yes, No or Later.

Yes. There is a general principal that good things follow natural choices. This is a matter of making wise choices.  For example, wearing your seat belt gives you a better chance to survive an accident.  So choosing to be honest, decent, fair, thoughtful and just should have good consequences.

Beyond that there is a personal principle, by this I refer to the promises of God to bless and reward.  For example, Deuteronomy 6:5, “…be careful to obey so that it may go well with you…”  This is the idea that the Lord actively rewards (or punishes) behavior, beyond the natural consequences of our choices.

No. However, there is also a recognition that “…time and chance happen to all…” as it says in Ecclesiastes 9:11.  That is to say, stuff happens that does not make sense to us.  These appear to be “chance” or “bad luck.”  We believe with our faith that God is in control, but we often see with our eyes things that do not fit what we think to be true.

This is a major point of the book of Job.  Job suffered great calamities and he did not know why they happened.  His friends said that since God rewards and punishes us for our actions, that Job must have done something unjust or offensive. They were wrong.  Their explanation was too simple and legalistic.  We learn from their example that we can not always know why bad things happen to good people, or good things happen to bad people.  God’s ways are mysterious to us.

Later.  Some of the care and reward from God is in the present.  In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray “Give us this day our daily bread.”  The idea is that each day we are given what we need to get along.  Some of them come during our lives but we have to wait.  One example of that is the father of our faith, Abraham.  He was promised a land and descendants as numerous as the stars.  However, he did not own any of the promised land, except for a piece of land to bury his wife Rachel.  He did not have a son until he was nearly 100 years of age.  The the promises were true, but slow in coming.

Some of the rewards and punishments are reserved for the future.  There is a Hall of Fame for Faith in Hebrews 11.  We find some of the great people of the Bible listed there, such as Noah, Abraham, Joseph and Moses.  We also find un-named martyrs, who did not receive anything in this life:

36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised…

What we have as believers is Faith: That is a certainty about the character of God and the promises of God.  But Faith is not only what we see, it is most often what we can not see.

Homework: If this makes you anxious, let me suggest a prescription.  Take Psalm 23 three times a day with thought and prayer.  Read or say it slowly, phrase by phrase as a meditation and or a prayer in the morning, around noon and at night.

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord




Christians at the Border – book review


Christians border

I wrote this review a few years ago, but the topic of Immigration is very much in the news. This book is very thought provoking.  I recommend it.

Christians at the Border, M Daniel Carroll R., Baker Academic, 2008

Review by David Carlson, Pastor of Bethany EFC, Madison, WI

Summary Review:

Christians at the Border calls the reader to think biblically about Immigration.  Many Christians base what they believe on immigration more on their politics than on the Scripture.  “We must determine whether the place we choose to stand on the national debate will be based on the word of God….or whether we will defend our opinion on other grounds.”  (p. 23)  Carroll calls upon both the Christian citizen and the Christian who is undocumented to conform their lives to the Word.

The first chapter outlines the history of Immigration in the United States.  He raises this question:    “Is God bringing millions of Hispanics to the US to revitalize the Christian Churches here and to present to those who do not yet believe the opportunity to turn to Christ…?”  (p. 61)

My answer is “Yes!”  We have begun a Latino church planning movement in Wisconsin.  Many have been won to Christ.  We Anglos have learned about faith from our Latino brothers and sisters.

Carroll outlines passages and themes in the Old and New Testament that are relevant to the question.   He does not try to proof text or fabricate a simplistic answer.  Indeed the 140 pages are greatly enriched by thoughtful footnotes and resources; further study is available to you the reader.  He discusses: the Image of God; The experience of OT people as refugees and immigrants; hospitality; the Law and the sojourner (which calls for fair treatment).  In the New Testament he notices Jesus life as an alien and his treatment of outsiders and Samaritans in particular.   His discussion of Romans 13 is eye opening.

I recommend this book as a good entry point on the issue.  You will have to read and reflect to glean what is here.  The adventurous pastor may even find a sermon series.

Extended Review

Author:  M. Daniel. Carroll (Rodas) is Distinguished Professor of Old Testament at Denver Seminary and adjunct professor at El Seminario Teológico Centroamericano in Guatemala City, Guatemala.  He received his PhD from the University of Sheffield.

He describes himself as being both bilingual and bicultural.  He is the son of a Guatemalan mother and an American father, growing up in Houston.  His mother made a point of raising her children bilingually and bi-culturally, by involving them intentionally in Latin American culture.

In addition to his ongoing work in Guatemala, he founded a Spanish language training program at Denver Seminary called IDEAL.

Purpose of Book: (p. 19ff)  “My intention is to try to move Christians to reconsider their starting points in the immigration debate.  Too often discussion default to the passionate ideological arguments, economic wrangling, or racial sentiments that dominate national discourse.  Among Christians, my experience has been that there is little awareness of what might be a divine viewpoint on immigration.”

Defining Terms:  He discusses the terms “Hispanic” (Hispano-), Latino(a), immigrant, refugee, undocumented immigrants, illegal aliens.  He uses “Hispanic” because it is the more familiar term.  He prefers “undocumented immigrants” as it is less prejudicial.

Title:  “Christians at the Border” has a double meaning.  He will point out the number of Christians, or persons with Christian heritage among Hispanic immigrants.  He is also suggesting that Anglo Christians in the US are at a border:  Will we stand with the Word of God or will we defend our opinions on other cultural grounds?

Chapter 1 – Hispanic Immigration.

History: The majority of this chapter is a brief history of immigration in the United States.  He points out that immigration is always part of a global story of forces that push and pull people from one country to another.  The US has had a history of restrictions on immigration:  The Chinese immigration of the mid 19th C was feared and limited by the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.  Chinese could not be citizens until 1943 when that act was repealed.  Irish and Southern European immigrants met prejudice – often because they were Roman Catholic.  This lead to the Quota Act (1921) and the Johnson-Reed Act (1924).  Africans were brought to America as slaves and were left largely disenfranchised until the Emancipation Proclamation (1863) and the passage of the 13th Amendment (1865), the 14th  Amendment (1868).

Hispanic Immigration did not begin until 1848.  At that time, large parts of the SW United States were ceded to the US by Mexico.  This means that there has been a large Hispanic presence in the US from that date.  When Chinese workers were restricted in the 19th C it resulted in more Mexican workers coming across the border.  Labor shortages in WWI increased this number.  Political conflicts in Mexico were a factor.  The US Border Patrol was begun in 1924.  With the Great Depression the pull of immigration was lessened and resistance was stronger.  The Bracero agreement in 1942 welcomed guest workers during WWII. This was scaled back during McCarthy era of 1954.  The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 preserved quotas – at a rate much lower than the reality on the ground.  In a986 The Immigration and Reform and Control act was passed and remains in effect – it granted 3 million “amnesty” if they could prove residency since 1982.  Since that time the number of immigrants has increased from all over Latin America.  Recent attempts at “Comprehensive Immigration Reform” have not passed Congress.

National Identity: Carroll segues here into a discussion of “Americanness”.  Hispanic population has more than doubled since 1990, to an estimated 35.3 million.  Some, such as Samuel Huntington (The Clash of Civilizations) and Congressman Tom Tancredo, as well as Pat Buchanan raise the fear that the cultural distinctives of the US might be under threat – among these are: individualism, private property, a market economy and a legal and cultural heritage from Western Europe.

Carroll makes these points:  increased controls of undocumented immigrants only serves to keep them from assimilating into American culture; immigration is a worldwide phenomenon and research shows that the world is becoming ‘transnational’; Latinos themselves feel the pull of two cultures, and their children are forming a new culture; different cultures have their strengths to contribute to our culture (such as putting a high value on family); American identity has never bee static, and we are going though another periodic transformation.  He concludes “These developments are an opportunity for an enhancement of national identity, not a threat to be warded off at all costs.” (p. 48)

Economic Realities:  There is an argument that all these immigrants are a net drag on our economy because of the various social service costs involved.  Carroll cites Congressman Tancredo’s book (In Mortal Danger) as an example.  Carroll then cites alternative research to suggest another way to view this issue.  When the Hispanic contributions to our economy, the need for Social Security for young workers to pay into it, and the need for service sector workers are added to the conversation it is not nearly so negative.

The story or Remittances, or monies sent from Hispanic workers to the home country or village is mixed.  Carroll wants us to realize that all of the Americas are affected by this and “simplistic solutions do not work.”  He goes on to discuss NAFTA and its effects.

The Christian Faith:  The Christian faith is vibrant among immigrants.  The 2/3 of immigrants who are Roman Catholic are matched by the increased numbers of protestant Hispanic churches that are being established in out country.  After some discussion of these developments, Carroll notes that it is part of the “browning” or the “globalizing” of the faith.  We need to “[appreciate] the breadth and power of what God is doing in the world today.”  He asks: “Is God bringing millions of Hispanics to the United States to revitalize the Christian churches here and to present to those who do hot yet believe the opportunity to turn to Christ in their search for a new life?  Many Hispanics and pastors sincerely believe that God has led them here for a purpose:  to play an important role in a revival of the Christian faith in this country.” (p. 61)

  1. Of Immigrants, Refugees, and Exiles: Guidance from the Old Testament, Part 1.

            This chapter is a thematic exploration of Old Testament texts that might shed insight into a Christian framework of the issue.

The Image of God, Genesis 1:  That is to say, we need to remember that it is people, created in the image of God, who are in view.  This means immigrants have value as persons.  Human rights are a logical extension of this idea.  He cites Exodus 34:6,7; Joel 2:13; 4:2; Psalm 145:8-9.  This message is also for the immigrant believer – emphasizing worth as well as responsibility.

Experience of the People of God:  This line of thought is more suggestive than declarative.  One asks “how did these people find themselves where they lived?”   Abram and his family migrated repeatedly, only owned a gravesite, and was called a sojourner.  Isaac and Jacob moved based on famines.  Ruth transferred her life and faith from Moab to Israel and Israel’s god.  The book of Ruth has to be read against the backdrop of O. T. Law (Dt. 25:5-10; Ex 6:7; Lev 26:12) Joseph was forced into exile, where he accommodates to Egyptian life but maintains faith in the LORD, and is seen as part of a larger plan of God’s.  Daniel was also in exile and dealt with cultural accommodation and faithfulness.  Moses was an escapee from Egypt, David had to run from Solomon.  Israel lives as aliens in Egypt. They were Deportees who went to Babylon after 586 BC.   Some were Escapees who returned under Ezra and Nehemiah.  Ezekiel lived among the exiles and Jeremiah wrote to them on how to live there (Jer 29). The story of Esther takes place in Persia.  All of these stores show the various dynamics of immigration, cultural accommodation, and developing boundaries for culture and for faith.    Carroll suggests that they show that immigration is a part of biblical history and ours, they add a human face to the issue, and such movements seem to add “creative space” to the lives of those who have been disrupted from familiar patterns.

  1. The Law and the Sojourner: Guidance from the Old Testament, Part II

            This chapter differs from the previous in that it discusses particular O. T. legal texts.

Hospitality to the stranger is a virtue – both in the narratives (Gen 18, Exodus 2, 2 Kings 4 and I Kings 17) in other writings (Job 31:32, Isaiah 58:6-7 and perhaps Psalm 23).  “The theme of hospitality is relevant to the immigrant debate.  The biblical text can gently prod believers in the majority culture to a greater mind-set of hospitality and to actions of hospitality toward the strangers who are Hispanic immigrants.”  (p. 94)

Carroll emphasizes that the purpose of the Law was not for the people to earn salvation, but to learn how to live as the redeemed people of God.  (Ex 19,20).   Genesis12 indicates that Abraham’s seed were to be a blessing to the nations.  Deuteronomy 4:5-8 indicates the law was a blessing and a witness.

Four terms are used for outsiders:  (ger, tosab, nokri and zar). The first receives the most attention.  Numerous laws regulate the relationship of Israel and it’s resident aliens: as workers (Dt 24:14, I Chron 22:2, II chron 2:17-18); gleaning law (Lev 19:10, 23:22; Dt 24:19-22, Ruth 2), tithe for poor (Dt 14:28-29, 26:12-13), fair wages (Dt 24:15), Sabbath rest (Ex 20:10; 23:12; Dt 5:14), fair legal treatment (Dt. 1:16-17; 24:17-18; 27:19).  The Prophets defended them against abuse (Jer 22:3; Exek 22:7, mal 3:5, cf Ps 94:6).  The reasons behind these laws is that they had been aliens themselves (Lev 19:18, 24).  God himself defends the alien (Dt 10:17-19, Ps 146:6-9, Dt 24:14-15).

In addition there are provisions for assimilation, participation in the Sabbath, the Day of Atonement, Passover, Weeks, Tabernacles, Firstfruits, forgiveness of unintentional sins and cities of refuge.  They were to be present at the reading of the Law (Dt 31:10-13).  They were subject to criminal penalties, dietary restrictions, sexual taboos and prohibited form the worship of other gods.  (I have not cited every scripture here, but enough to give a sense of the whole.)

He concludes, “…the importance of caring for the sojourner is also binding today.  At the very least, this ethical commitment should resonate with the people of God in the majority culture.  It ought to be demonstrated in specific measures that respond to the needs of the immigrant.”  (p. 109)   He also notes that “…the arrival and presence of sojourners were not a threat to Israel’s national identity; rather their presence was fundamental to its very meaning.” (p. 109-110).  And “The Old Testament law makes clear that there are expectations for the sojourner, just as there are demands on Israel.” (p.111.)


  1. Welcoming the Stranger; Guidance from the New Testament.

In this chapter Carroll looks at themes and particular texts.


Jesus the refugee.  The Christmas story contains the account of the flight to Egypt (Matthew 2).  This “locates the Jesus story within a movement that spans history, of people desiring a better life or escaping the threat of death.”  ( p. 116)

Jesus and outsiders.  Noting that there were divisions and conflicts in 1st Century Palestine, Carroll review how Jesus treated the outsider.  Jesus did not share the anti-Samaritan attitudes of his disciples (Luke 9:51-56).  John 4 shows Jesus encounter with the woman of Samaria, were geographic and cultural borders were crossed in Jesus conversation by the well.  Luke 17 shows that only the Samaritan leper returned to offer thanks.  In Luke 10, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan to answer the question: “who is my neighbor?”  Matthew 25 speaks of the “stranger.”

There are no direct teachings on immigration in the teaching of Jesus.  However, “Jesus actions and attitudes transcend cultural identity; they also help define what it means to be his follower.” (p. 125).

Christians as Sojourners.  Citing I Peter 1:1 and 2:11, and linking the passage to Genesis 23:4 he says, “This Old Testament allusion connects the experience of these Christians back to the ancient patriarch.  Their sojourning is not unique.  The history of the people of God is the pilgrimage of faith of whose who are alienated from the world.” (p. 127)  Carroll does not suggest that the majority simply accept the immigrant, rather that both recognize their status as sojourners, and accept rejection if necessary.

The Call to Hospitality.  Carroll focuses on the Jesus’ teaching in Luke 14 as an imperative to offer a gracious welcome to those who can not repay us. (Rom 12:13, Heb 13:2, I peter 4:9, I Tim 3:2, Titus 1:8, I Tim 5:9-10)

What about Romans 13?  In this section Carroll suggests that we need to back off and take a wider view of this passage and the current context of immigration.  It is not enough, he says, to simply say, “obey the law.”  “It is my conviction that there are a series of prior considerations that must be dealt with before introducing issues of legality. One must treat legal matters eventually.” (p. 131) Such factors as the call to “not be conformed to the world” in Romans 12, and the stated need by our government that the laws need to be somehow changed, suggest this wider view.  “Discussion on legality cannot be limited just to questions about complying with the present laws.  If the laws are problematic theologically, humanely and pragmatically…the call to submit to the authorities in Romans 13 can be processed in fresh and constructive ways.”  (p. 134).

  1. Where do we go from here?

Carroll indicates in a variety of ways that his purpose is to get Christians to think more carefully and more biblically on this issue.  We need to move away from ideological or political convictions and think scripturally.  “Christians at the Border above all else strives to motivate believers of the majority culture and Hispanics to begin thinking, talking and acting as Christians in regard to immigration.  What I have written here is a starter, a primer.”  P. 138

Reviewer’s Evaluation:

I believe that Carroll has accomplished the purpose of widening our view of the historical context of immigration and the larger biblical context.  He goes beyond proof-texting, and lays a great deal of emphasis on biblical themes.  This makes sense in that there is very little specific to borders and immigration law in the Bible. Nation states with guarded borders are a modern reality, not one from the Ancient Near East.

Carroll, bring himself bi-lingual and bi-cultural is clearly pulled by his background when he comes to Romans 13.  I appreciate fully his desire to broaden our reading here.  However this will be the sticking point in the discussion.  He is persuasive to those (like me) who think as he does, but to the more strictly textual minded, his answer will seem vague.

Christians at the Borders is an excellent guide into thinking biblically about Immigration.  His bibliography and extensive footnotes possibly the best part of the book.

Sexuality: Asking the Right Questions


This is a Bible study on Human Sexuality and Same-Sex relationships.  Often believers miss in the debate what the Bible does and does not say.  I discuss passages that teach positively on sexuality and then on negative passages regarding same gender sexuality.  I try to put it into the Biblical story line and I try to discuss certain FAQs


Genesis 1, 2   Humankind was created in two genders in the image of God.

1:27: So God created man in his own image,

In the image of God he created him;

Male and female he created them.

5:2b-3 When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God.

Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created.

 God, who had declared his work to be “good” six times, said it was “very good” once.  However he said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.”    So he fashioned Eve.

Genesis 2:24 is the foundational text for biblical marriage.  That is, most of the biblical teaching on marriage looks back to this passage.

Genesis 2:24

    Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

             From this creative act, we see that marriage by God’s design was meant to be a life long union of a man and a woman. Note the verbs

  • Leave
  • Hold fast
  • Become on flesh

Jesus and the Apostles refer back to Genesis 2:24 as the key passages on human sexuality.

Mark 10:1-12, Matthew 19:1-12

  • I Corinthians 6:12-17,
  • Ephesians 5:31-33)

Exodus 20.  The Ten Commandments give a place of honor to the family. The Fifth Commandment, which comes with a promise of ling life, is that we are to honor our fathers and mothers.  We also point out that the 7th Commandment forbids adultery and the 10th Commandment forbids desires that violate the marriage bond.

New Testament.  Numerous passages in the New Testament affirm  the value and importance of family life.  Jesus affirmed the Wedding at Cana by his first miracle (John 2:1-11).  The Epistles address husbands, wives and children (I Corinthians 7, Ephesians 5:21-6:4; Colossians 3:18-25, Titus 2, I Peter 3:1-7).


Leviticus 18 lists numerous sexual relations that were common in other cultures surrounding Israel, but were prohibited for God’s Covenant People.  The list includes close family relations, another person’s spouse, same gender sex (v. 22) and others.  Leviticus 20 contains a similar list, adding the civil penalty of death under Covenant law. (v. 13)

The 10 Commandments forbid adultery and coveting of another man’s wife.   Exodus 20:14, 17

Romans 1:18-32 is Paul’s description of libertine paganism.  Repeatedly the pattern is that the people reject the truth of God, and God judges them.  He does this by giving them over to the consequences of their desires.  In the midst of that downward progression is the Apostle’s negative assessment of same gender sexual relations (v. 24-27)

We note that Paul does not single out one group of sinners but declares all of us to be sinners.   Romans 3:22-23

      “For there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”

I Corinthians 6:9-12 contains a prohibition of male prostitution and homosexual offenders.  See also I Timothy 1:9-10.


It is often  said that Jesus did not talk about homosexuality.  However he did talk about marriage and sexuality. The most important passage is Matthew 19:1-12  The Pharisees  came with a question.

“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

The issue at hand was the interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1-4

“If a man marries a woman who become displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled.  That would be detestable in the eyes of the Lord.  Do not bring sin upon the land the Lord your God is giving to you as an inheritance.”

The School of Shammai  held that divorce was only proper if there was some indecency of a sexual nature.  The School of Hillel  held that any cause for displeasure on the part of the man was grounds for divorce. In Matthew 19 this long standing debate was brought to Jesus.


  1. Jesus answered their question with another question:

He said, “Haven’t you read?”

  1. Jesus went to the text behind the text.

He turned to Genesis 1,2, and 3.  He cited Genesis 1:27, that God made them “male and female”.  He cited Genesis 2:24 that said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.

  1. Jesus clarified the disputed text.

They responded to his first answer by asking, “Why did Moses command divorce?”  Jesus pointed out that Moses did not command, but permitted divorce.

While not dismissing Deuteronomy 24, he looked backward past Deuteronomy.  He said, “From the beginning it was not so.”  Moses allowed divorce because of hardness o heart.


Asking the Right Question.  The controversy over Divorce was over the wrong question, so our current debate is often over the wrong question.  It is not “What does the Bible say about Homosexuality?”  It is, “What did the Creator intend for Human sexuality?”

Most of the articles and debates center on the 8 or so passages that deal directly with Homosexuality.  The controversy is over the interpretation of these Old and New Testament passages.


Q & A.

What about Sodom?  Genesis 19:1-29 describes the judgment against the city of Sodom.  The term “sodomy” has come from this account.  We need to see that Sodom was under judgment before the angelic visitors entered the city.  So there were a number of sins that fell under judgment. Ezekiel 16:49-50, II Peter 2:6-7 and Jude 7 all refer to Sodom has having participated in a cluster of sins, including sexual perversion.  It is also important to note that Abraham prayed to God for mercy for Sodom (Genesis 18).

What about Abominations?  Often Old Testament scripture is cited which calls same gender sexual practice ad abomination.  There are over 20 passages condemning one practice or another as an abomination.  Also on the list is: prostitution, adultery, divorce, prayers of the unfaithful, dishonesty, materialism, unbelief, idolatry, greed and others.

We should reject the approach that only calls some of that God calls sin an abomination.  All sin is an offense to God.  However, if we are repulses by one particular sin and not by others, we are not responding out of concern for God’s holiness, but out of our own fears.

We also reject the approach that ignores the prohibitions of a Holy God.  While certain laws of ceremony, diet and dress are not binding in our time, the moral demands of God remain in effect.  If we reject these commands, do we also reject the prohibitions of the Ten Commandments?

What about Sexual Orientation?  It is claimed that homosexuality is caused by an inborn orientation that is not a choice.  If God makes someone gay, who are we to say it is wrong?

We do live in a fallen world, and so things that exist are not always as they should be.   Children are born with propensities to disease.  Some people have a natural susceptibility to alcoholism.  Our drives can be weaker or stronger depending on our physical make up.  That those differences do exist does not make them good or right.  It is nonsensical to say, “I am born to be an alcoholic, so let me drink!”

In fact, all of us face a struggle with our sexual desires.  Jesus said that to even look at another person with lust in our hearts was to be guilty of adultery (Matthew 5:27).  Our human nature, corrupted as it is by sin, is not an accurate barometer of what is right.  In fact, we need to resist those impulses that are harmful and strengthen those which are good.

The Scripture gives none of us hope in overcoming these conflicts by our will power (Romans 7).  It is only by the working of God’s Spirit that we can overcome these desires (Romans 8).  We also make a distinction between inclination or temptation and sinful actions.  (I Corinthians 10:12-13)

Finally, science has not shown a genetic cause for homosexual feelings.  There may be evidence of an inclination or propensity.  We are all moral agents who are responsible to respond appropriately to our inclinations and desires.  For some things, such as lust, the Scripture tells us to say no, even if it is a natural part of our make up.

What about Jesus?  Didn’t Jesus side with the downtrodden and the outcast?  Some refer to Jesus’ compassion as a reason to accept all people and all lifestyles.  Two texts are frequently cited.

         Matthew 7:1   “Judge not, that you be not judged. Yet Jesus did himself judge religious hypocrites.  See Matthew 7:6, in the immediate context where Jesus talks of dogs and pigs, which is a form of judgment.

John 8:1-11 has the story of the woman caught in adultery.  Jesus said to those throwing stones, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”  This is a warning too all those who pass judgment on others.  Yet He also said to the woman, “Go, now and leave your life of sin.”  In this story both sides of the conflict needed to repent.

We believe in the forgiveness of sin.   Forgiveness is a central teaching of the Christian Faith.  Not that sin is ignored by God, but that God graciously forgives those who seek his mercy.

Romans 3:22-23, cited earlier, indicates that all are equally under God’s wrath, and all have access to forgiveness without distinction.

I Corinthians 6:9-11 both condemns sexual sin and offers cleansing from sin in Christ.  There is great hope in the statement:  “But such were some of you, but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified…”

We do not believe that forgiveness is a license to live as we please.  Many passages, including Romans 6 and I Corinthians 6:12-20 show us that we are to live in obedience to God’s command and holiness.


The Bible positively defines human sexuality as good, as part of God’s created order, as a mean to companionship, child bearing, and as an expression of a covenant relationship between a husband and a wife.  Otherwise we are called to live in celibacy.

The Scriptures consistently reject any practice that moves away from this design.  That includes adultery, fornication, polygamy (though this was tolerated for a time), bestiality, prostitution, same gender sexual activity, rape, incest and more.  There is not a hint of affirmation in the Scriptures.

The Scriptures affirm male and female genders as part of God’s creation, and the creation of families for love, and for raising children and caring for the aged.

The Scriptures call us to treat people with respect, and yet to speak what is true to the world around us.

Scripture Overview

  1. Positive Statements:
  • Genesis 1,2
  • Mark 10:1-12
  • Matthew 19:1-12
  • I Corinthians 6:12-17
  • Ephesians 5:21-33
  • Excuse 20
  • John 2:1-11
  • I Corinthians 7
  • Colossians 3:18-25
  • I Peter 3:1-7

Negative Statements:

  • Leviticus 18, 20
  • Exodus 20:14,17
  • Romans 1:18-32
  • I Corinthians 6:9-12
  • I Timothy 1:9-10
  • Genesis 19 (Ezekiel 16:48-50, II Peter 2:6,7; Jude 7)

Forgiveness of Sins

  • Romans 3:22-23
  • I Corinthians 6:9-20
  • Romans 6
  • I John 1

A Christian’s Attitude toward “sinners.”

  • John 4:1-42
  • John 8:1-11
  • Matthew 7:1-6
  • Luke 5:27-31
  • Luke 18:9-14
  • Romans 12:9-14

David E. Carlson, Bethany EFC, Madison, WI

dcarlson301 @

The Authority of Scripture – from a lecture by John Woodbridge

Theology-conference1-646x200 I was pleased to attend the Theology Conference of the EFCA at Trinity International University, Deerfield, IL, at the end of January, 2015.  One piece of a lecture by Dr. Woodbridge was very interesting.  He was speaking of the history view of the truthfulness and reliability of Scripture from the “Church Fathers” down through now.  He was saying that the belief in inerrancy and infallibility were not recent additions, but flow along with the history streams of Christendom.

Four uses of Biblical Authority from a Lecture by John Woodbridge 1\29\2015

“Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”   Hebrews 4:12

  1. Infallible rule of faith and practice.

The Roman Catholic church said the Bible needed to be added to, to fill out our knowledge of salvation.  Tradition is held equal with scripture.

  • Infallibility means that the scriptures will reliably accomplish what they promise.
  1. Authority of scripture as a source of power.

This is the power of preaching and the reason for scripture distribution, and the importance of Bible translation.

Romans 1:16:  “I am not ashamed of the Gospel for it is the power of God for salvation.”

  1. Authority of the Bible is a source of renewal in church life.

The Reformation.

The Wesleyan Renewal

Great Awakenings

  1. Scriptural authority a nourishing source of family life and raising children.

Dt. 6:4-9

Proverbs 1-9

  • Inerrancy: “Inerrancy means that we all facts are known, the Scripture in the original autographs and properly interpreted will be shown to be wholly true in everything that they affirm, whether that has to do with doctrine or morality or with the social, physical, or life sciences.”  Paul Feinberg.

Scholars Compass – Wisdom Literature

306px-Wisdom_-_Google_Art_Project-191x300 I recently posted three pieces in an online devotional called Scholars Compass, which is part of the Emerging Scholars Network with IVCF.

Post 1 – How I Discovered Wisdom Literature

Post 2 – How I Fell in Love with the Library

Post 3 – How Wisdom Calls Out in the Streets

Q & A – Why Should We Believe the Bible?

Why Should We Believe the Bible?

There are a number of ways to answer this question.  These may not prove that the Bible is inspired, but they are consistent with that idea.

1.  Textual History

  • We have an increasing number of Old and New Testament manuscripts that tend to point to very old history.
  • It was popular in the 1900s to say that the Gospels were written after the year 200.  We have good reason to date parts as early as within 30 years of Jesus Life (Galatians).
  • The Old Testament bears literary similarity to 2nd Millennial BC documents.
  • We have more historical documents about Jesus life than we do about Julius Caesar.

2.  Distance from Event to Writing

  • Buddhist writings were composed as much as 6 centuries after the life of Gautama Buddha.  Buddhists are not very sure of the Century in which he lived.
  • The New Testament was composed within the life time of eyewitnesses, and they record a shared “oral tradition” from the early preaching of the church.  I Cor. 15:1-5 records that which was already received as established teaching by about 55 AD.

3.  Continuity

  • The Bible is written in 3 languages (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek) over the course of many centuries by over 30 authors.  Yet it has a continuity in it’s story line and in its details.  (think how much writers, artists, politicians and scientists change over much shorter periods of time.)
  • This suggests that God is the author behind the authors.
  • There is a lack of internal contradictions: once the supposed contradiction is studied, it is usually found to be a matter of contrast or emphasis.

4.  Historical Accuracy

  • The Bible describes the Hittites, who were not believed to exist until their civilization was discovered in the 1900s.  You can study Hittite at the U of Wisconsin.
  • Luke’s use of terms for political offices and regions within the Roman empire in the book of Acts would be hard to replicate by someone who did not live in that time.

5.  Prophetic Accuracy

  • Daniel describes a succession of Empires that looks very much like the succession of Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome.  So much so that some try to back date the prophecies to explain the fit.
  • Ezekiel 26 describes the historical (future) destruction of Tyre.
  • Jesus was born, lived, died and rose according to Old Testament prophecies, none of which he could control.  (How much say did you have on where you were born?)

6.  Fit to Experience – the Bible describes things that are a fit to how life is.

  • The succession of seasons, the reproduction of plants and animals by kind are accurate.
  • The sense of morality, of our need for eternity, of the existence of a creator within the human hearts cannot be easily explained.
  • The brokenness and injustice of this world is realistically described.
  • Even the heroes of the bible are imperfect (with the exception of Jesus)

7.  The Classic Argument for the New Testament

  •  We have no reason to doubt the historical accuracy of the witnesses to Jesus life (unless we pre-judge that miracles are impossible).
  • These witnesses describe Jesus as the son of God and give evidence of his miracles and teachings.
  • In his Teachings, Jesus showed he believed the Old Testament was given by God and was reliable in its details.  (Mt 9:12-13/ Hos 6:6; Mt 19:3-6)
  • There were many witnesses to Jesus Resurrection – a claim that many died to tell.  (I Cor 15)
  • Thus from Jesus authority, we hold that the Old Testament is the word of God and it is true.  (Mt 5:17-20  ; Jn 10:34-35)
  • Jesus claimed such authority for himself and for his Apostles after his departure.(Mt 7:24-29; Jn 17:6ff)
  • It is consistent to take the New Testament as God’s word and reliable.
  • It is not consistent to claim Jesus was a Good Teacher if so much of his teaching was mistaken.

8.  What about Biblical Scholars who reconstruct the Bible as a human document only?

  • Consider their presuppositions:  e.g. Miracles do not exist; God cannot be cited as a reason for an event.
  • Consider their limitations:  The biblical material is the main source for understanding Ancient Hebrew – and this is used to inconsistencies of style or vocabulary by scholars working 20 to 30 centuries later.
  • Consider the Bible – a “living book” – scholars are limited to studying the body (grammar) and not the spirit (revelation, inspiration, illumination of the Holy Spirit.)

9.  Consider the centuries of testimonies of those who have received grace and meaning from the words of this book. 

Fresh Bibles? Really?

This image was in my inbox under the heading of “Fresh Bibles”.  Note the suggestion of getting a new Bible for Spring or Lent or oh, I dunno, Arbor Day.

OK, this is not a big deal, but really, a book is MORE than its cover.

Learning from some pastors

Our area pastor’s group met.  We were just talking about what things were happening in our congregations. One pastor said that they have had a very positive response to a simple bible reading program they put in place this year.  The sermons, youth groups and small groups are all following this reading plan so it adds a sense of unity to a fairly large congregation.  Another spoke up and said that in most Evangelical churches about 50% of its members read the bible on a regular basis.

So, let Fresh Read state for the record, there is nothing better for you than a regular (and fresh) reading of the Scriptures.  There are many plans out there, but the one my friend mentioned is here:

a list of popular plans is here:

The back of your bible might have a plan also – the picture above is from my ESV Literary Study Bible.

Picking a Bible – update on ESV and NIV

I wrote an article at the start of the blog about picking a bible translation.  I need to add some comments about the English Standard Version (ESV).  The ESV strives to be as literal as possible while being readable.  It has become very popular in Evangelical church circles, and for many through the ESV Study Bible.

Positives:  Unlike some “literal” translations, the ESV does recognize paragraphs and poetic structure.  I never liked the NASB’s format of puling every verse to the side, as if the bible came divided that way.  It is usually readable, and they do try to retain continuity in translating the same words the same way.  For example it uses “keep, keeps and keeper” in Psalm 121 for all the uses of the same hebrew root.  the NIV is more free and you can miss the repetition.

I also like the ESV Literary Study Bible – it gives a minimum of literary form and outline information and lets you read the text yourself.  I did scan the ESV Study Bible at the book store and found it heavy and overly laden with comments, so that the page I was reading was about 25% bible and 75% comment.  I prefer a leaner bible and a couple of good reference works on the side – like a  Bible dictionary and a commentary.

Negatives:  The language is frequently rather poor English style, and somewhat dated sounding.  This reflects the desire to be more literal, but also an older slightly dated English that the one I hear in daily life.  I find that the editors have worked too hard to keep the male gender intact – often the male in Greek or Hebrew are generic, and translating male pronoun for male pronouns from original to English add s the English gender baggage to the text.  Men may not notice, but women will.  (Confession, I like the NRSV for this reason.)

Conclusion: I use the ESV as a good manuscript study text – it is a good source for seeing connections and sensing the structure of the original language.  It is only OK for general reading, and I do not preach from it very often, unless my default NIV (old version) is inadequate.  That is partly because our “Pew Bibles” are NIV.

The NEW NIV:  The NIV was updated in 2011, so if you want to read the one you are familiar with that is called the NIV 84.  I have not yet read a lot of the new NIV, but it does attempt to be more gender generic – that is to translate into
English as neutral when the original may have been formally masculine but was understood as generic.  English worked that way until maybe 1968 and thereafter we have moved on.  So I do not have a problem with the approach. There are a number of other updates and I have not read enough to draw any conclusions.

Watercolor and the Bible

So, Fresh Read has been taking an art class.  It is first of all a lot of fun.  Second it offers the discipline of seeing.  Often we glance and assume.  I was working on this picture,

 which I thought turned out pretty well.  What is interesting was that the instructor, who has a well-developed eye, noticed that the two background trees on the left and right seemed somewhat indistinct.  In particular the one on the right.

She is right, that area was actually a mix of brushy leafy stuff when I started the scene, but several weeks later when I got back to it, the leaves have fallen.  So I just put in an imaginary tree.  Hence the blobby look.

the Point?  When we read a text, we sometimes notice the overall outline, or perhaps a bit that interests us, and then we quit looking, and start to mentally fill in the rest.  just as nature is more varied than our natural mental ability to fill in, so the text is more varied and interesting than what we project into it.

For me an art class is good practice int he discipline of seeing.  Even if you are all thumbs, I’d suggest taking a sketch pad out to your favorite places and working on recording what you see.  Who cares if it looks any good, it is for you, to develop your sight.

The bridge picture, by the way, is about 300 feet from where I live in Madison.  I plan to fix the trees, after a little observing.