Don't Hate Your Job

Most people have a season at some point in life where they really don't like going to work.  In fact, some people even hate their jobs.  They don't get along with their employer, or if they are the employer they don't like their employees.  But the Bible teaches that this ought not be the case for Christians.

Risen Life Church in Salt Lake City, Utah has been journeying through the book of Ephesians and I was called upon to preach from Ephesians 6:5-9.

Ephesians 6:5-9 is often a text that gets skimmed over because readers think that the slave or the bondservant relationship to an earthy master is outdated in not relevant to life today.  They couldn't be more wrong.  In my sermon, I deal with the instructions to employees and employers.  Then I journey into what the text demonstrates as the larger Master-slave relationship we as believers have as Christians. Everybody is a slave to something, either sin or righteousness.  If Jesus is our Master than we are slaves who are truly free.  I explain this in greater detail in the sermon and you can listen by clicking on the link below.

You get the opportunity to serve Christ when you go to work.  What a grand opportunity!  Remember this as you head into work and have joy in your workplace because of what Christ has done for you.

*I opened my sermon with a very brief discussion of our efforts to plant a church in the Salt Lake valley.  Risen Life is our sending church and a core team is meeting in my home as we seek God's vision for how we are to begin this new work.  My name is Bryan Catherman and if you are interested in learning more about our efforts, praying for us, financially supporting us, or joining our mission, I would love to hear from you.  You can contact me here.

Beloved: A Love Letter From God

Reading the book of 2 Peter--a letter from God, through Peter, to Christians everywhere--one word should pop out.  Beloved.  Agapetos or agapetoi in the Greek are the words that are often translated into the English word, beloved.  In 2 Peter 1:17, Peter uses this word quoting the Father's words at Jesus' transfiguration.  At 2 Peter 3:15, Peter uses beloved to describe our brother Paul.  In the other four uses, it is a term of endearment toward the reader.  But is it Peter who loves reader?  Maybe.  Peter did have a great love for Christians; however, it is God who calls Christians everywhere 'beloved.'

Some may dispute that 2 Peter is a letter to Christians everywhere specifically from God, especially when 2 Peter 1:1 says, "Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ" (ESV).  But in this very letter Peter says,"For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:21, ESV).  If 2 Peter is Scripture, than it is prophecy and therefore not written by the will of Peter, but by God as he was carried along by the Holy Spirit."  This is a letter from God and it is written to Christians everywhere.

The use of 'beloved' in 2 Peter 3:14 is especially encouraging.  God (through Peter, carried by the Holy Spirit) says, "Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace" (ESV).  When we look at this verse in light of what the rest of the Bible says, we know it is impossible to be without spot or blemish apart from Christ, the only one who is without spots or blemishes (1 Peter 1:17-21).  We trade our sin for Jesus' righteousness.  We trade our lies and likes of the false prophets for the Truth of the gospel of Jesus.  He takes our sins, dies for them, and gives us a perfection we will one day share with Jesus in his glory.  And the same is true for peace.  Apart from the knowledge that our Lord is coming back and believers will live in eternity with God, it is difficult, if not impossible, to be at true peace.  We trade our waring soul for one that is at peace with Christ.

When we see that we are beloved, we really ought to see that we not only traded our spots and blemishes and our worry, doubt, and rage for salvation, we are now seen with love by the Father.

In the four Gospels, the word beloved is used in some interesting ways.  In Matthew 3 and Luke 3 the word appears at Christ's baptism.  Here there is an audible voice that says "This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased."  At the transfiguration recorded in Matthew 17 and Mark 9 an audible voice again introduces Jesus, saying, "This is my beloved son, listen to him."  Matthew quotes Isaiah in Matthew 12 showing that Jesus is the fulfillment of the coming messiah and beloved son.  And even Jesus uses this word about himself when he uses a parable in Mark 12 and Luke 12 about a vineyard owner who has bad tenants.  Eventually this owner sends his beloved son.

God's people, that is, those who have repented and accepted Jesus as Lord become children of God, being loved as Jesus is loved.  Romans 9:25-26 is a quotation of Hosea 2:23 and Isaiah 10:22-23.  It reads, "Those who were not my people I will call 'my people,' and her who was not beloved I will call 'beloved.'' And in the very place where it was said to them, 'You are not my people,' there they will be called 'sons of the living God'" (ESV).  In Christ, we become children of God, sharing in Christ's inheritance and we gain entry into the "kingdom of his beloved son" (see Colossians 1:11-14).  By no means did we earn this love because as it is said in Romans 5:8: "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (ESV).     

If you are a Christian, repentant and calling on Jesus as Savior and Lord, then 2 Peter is a letter to you, from God.  As you read this letter, do not see it as anything other than a message from a loving father to a son or daughter.  Beloved, God loves you! 


* Photo by user Pimthida is registered under a creative commons license and is used with permission.

Pray and Watch - Colossians 4:2

What's my evangelism plan?  How do we engage in evangelism at Risen Life Church where I'm a minister?  We Pray and Watch.  We pray specific prayers for the lost and watch for the opportunities God may provide. In general, we encourage people to pray for five people with whom they have some kind of contact, whether it's a family member, co-worker, neighbor, the lady poring your coffee, or whoever.  Then when those opportunities are presented, we faithfully and boldy act in ways appropriately called for with confidence in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  That's it; nothing fancy.

Many people hear this and say, "It's too simple."  They argue that there should be complex planning and training and books and tracts and so-on.  "Evangelism means we do hard stuff," they say.  "If we don't roll up or sleeves and get to work, people will go to hell," some even shout, trying to guilt God's people into doing the work God says he does.  It's interesting how often people would prefer to go under the power of their own steam rather than trusting God. It's our default position. (I find myself battling this thinking often as I tend to have the same desires.) It's amazing how little weight some 'evangelism programs' give to prayer.

But the Bible shows us how amazing prayer is.  We see that we are called to partner with God, not do the job apart from him.  Jesus builds his Church while we are asked to be faithful.  So we should be faithful and we must trust that he will build his Church.

I would like to encourage you to pray and watch.

No Sex Outside of Marriage, Really?

In our society, especially in the West, sex is a really big deal.  It seems to define many relationships, although it is usually the act of sex that is important rather than the relationship itself.  But the Bible says the relationship comes first and places an extremely high view of marriage. Some however, have a difficult time seeing marriage for what it is; and others  even say that as long as the couple is monogamous, it doesn't matter if they are married.

Genesis 2:23-25 shows us a picture of the ideal and it looks fairly different than the arguments of society.  God provides the ideal and principle for marriage, even calling the woman the man’s “wife.”  This first marriage is a union far superior than simply a sex act.

As we read further in the Old Testament, we find many positive instances of man and women being joined in marriage and then they have sex.  Sex comes as a result of marriage, not a precursor to it. We also see many negative instances of men having sex with women whom they are not married to. The former is written about positively and the latter is viewed negatively and sinful.

However, it is the New Testament epistles that provide the clearest instruction on this matter for Christians today.

1 Corinthians 7:1-5 demonstrates that sex apart from one in a covenant relationship with his or her spouse is wrong. The idea is that because people cannot control themselves outside of marriage (and it would likely prove too difficult to abstain entirely as it seems the Corinthians may have inquired of Paul), a man should have a wife and a woman a husband so they can fulfill their passions in a moral way rather than in a way that is sexually immoral.  If a husband or wife is required to have moral sex, than a marriage must be required to have husband or wife.  A monogamous sex partner is simply not enough.  The wedding, not sex, that is the process of making the covenant. Sex is the consummation of the covenant as seen repeatedly in the Old Testament.

Hebrews 13:4 says that the marriage bed should not be defiled but honored. God judges the sexually immoral and adulterers. Adultery is not only defined by cheating on someone, but sex outside of marriage. And given the picture of the great love between a man and wife in the Song of Solomon, it would seem that sexual immorality would be more about those having sex outside of the loving, caring, consensual, beautiful, God honoring marriage.  The act of sex is not the thing that honors God, but the marital relationship itself. And within this marital relationship, sex can honor God as well.  Outside of a marriage bed, sex is a defiling act.

It must also be noted that God repeatedly condemns sexual immorality and both Hebrews 13:4 and 1 Corinthians 7:1-5 define any sex outside of a marriage covenant as sexually immoral. (Examples of God commanding his people to remain free from sexual immorality include: Acts 15:20, 1 Corinthians 5:1, 1 Corinthians 6:13, 1 Corinthians 6:18, 1 Corinthians 10:8, 2 Corinthians 12:21, Galatians 5:19, Ephesians 5:3, Colossians 3:5, 1 Thessalonians 4:3, and Jude 7.) Therefore, sex is only acceptable to God inside the marriage covenant.

*Photo of rings taken by user, FotoRita and is licensed under  a creative commons license.

His Needs, Her Needs by Willard Harley

Many a bride and groom have listened to passages of Scripture at the marriage ceremony—Christian or not. Often the passage will come from 1 Corinthians 13; but if not from there, it may be something from 1 John, Colossians, Ephesians, Ecclesiastes, or even Genesis. This Scripture reading is good, of course, but how many young men and women really understand their own relational needs, let alone the needs of their spouse? And as the wedding day fades into history, the realities of the relationship eventually settle in. His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage is Willard F. Harley, Jr.’s bold attempt to address these needs.

Harley addresses ten needs—five belong primarily at the top of the man’s list and five entirely different needs at the top of the list belonging to the woman—which are often found starving in relationships soon to be or already marred by an adulterous affair. Chapter by chapter he boldly shines a spotlight into areas that often are felt but not regularly examined or discussed. His approach at times seems controversial in the modern western society; however, his book is well read and any married reader will likely sense some truth in Harley’s observations. “The Purpose of this book,” writes Harley, “is to teach you how to discover, and then learn to meet, each other’s most important emotional needs.”[1]

Harley untimely opens his work with a hard-hitting question. He asks his reader to examine how affair-proof his or her own marriage presently might be. The reader in a healthy marriage might jump to the idea that she is in a strong marriage free from the threat of an affair, and the reader in a marriage taking blows from the effects of cheating will most likely resent the question. But even the strongest-willed men and women can and will face the threat and temptation of an affair. “Some men never give in;” argues Harley, “they manage to make the best of it over the years. But many do succumb to the temptation of an affair.”[2] An affair may happen to anybody if the needs of one spouse or the other are not being met. When the Love Bank Account is low or empty and the future of deposits from the spouse is dim, the ability to have needs fulfilled from another almost seems to slip in unnoticed. At the conclusion of one example that started with harmless chitchat and a polite hug, Harley says, “Jolene simple felt so starved for affection that she was literally hugged into have an affair!”[3]

While not every person or every relationship is the same, through many years of counseling, Harley has discovered ten common needs among men and women. When ranked, men and women seem to prioritize these completely opposite of their spouse’s list.[4] The difficulty then is found in the reality that in thinking they are doing good each spouse attempts to fulfill the needs that actually reside at the bottom of their mate’s list rather than those most important to their spouse.

The woman’s needs are generally affection, conversation, honestly and openness, financial support, and family commitment. According to Harley, “A husband can make himself irresistible to his wife by learning to meet her five most important emotional needs.”[5] Interestingly, the man on hot pursuit of a wife will typically demonstrate these well in the courting phase of the relationship, only to shift modes in an attempt to meet five other needs. Thinking he and his wife have the same needs, he will begin trying to fulfill the same top five on his list. His wife will then be left feeling used or unloved. And when this happens, she will attempt to resolve the problem by striving to provide her husband with the things that are at the top of her list, not his. What is on his top five? Sexual fulfillment, recreational companionship, physical attractiveness, domestic support and admiration.

In a simple back-and-forth format, Harley addresses the man and the woman’s top five needs. He starts with affection, the woman’s top need. Then he goes to the man and explains sexual fulfillment. This continues onward until he has spent a chapter dealing with all ten needs typically found in the martial relationship. Each of these chapters almost appears to be written to the opposite spouse. It is as if when he is dealing with affection, he is explaining to the man what the woman needs because the man is clueless while the woman has felt her husband should have known this all along. But with a new chapter comes a change and the explanation is provided to the woman. This book has been written not to the husband or wife, but to the couple. “I encourage you and your spouse to read these books together,” urges Harley, “complete the questionnaires, and answer the questions at the end of each chapter.”[6] In addition, Harley knows that affair-proofing is not just as simple as reading this book and discussing the content as many chapters encourage, it is a process. He writes, “Keep these books in a place where you can refer to them regularly, because you should be reminded of the lessons they will teach you.”[7]

His Needs, Her Needs should hit close to home for most couples because Harley addresses the needs of a man and woman in ways many marriage books do not. In fact, many people may find the content of Harley’s work offensive. His worldview clearly does not align with the modern western idea that men and women are exactly the same. He presents a portrait of men and women as equal in value but very different in their needs. However, his supporting arguments for these differences are compelling. His examples are convincing. And his observations seem reasonable, although not cited or supported with anything other than his personal twenty years counseling with couples. It is difficult to know if his observations are universal or if there are cultural, religious, geographical, or socioeconomic factors that may influence relationships in ways he may not have observed. In this way, Harley does not appear objective, but this is not to say that his observations are wrong, simply that he wrote more for the masses rather than for an academic audience.

Another difficulty with His Needs, Her Needs, is found in how much the blame for an extra-marital affair almost seems to be placed on the spouse not meeting the needs rather than the person having the actual affair. The idea that the spouse should communicate his or her needs with his or her partner is hinted at in nearly every chapter and the discussion questions that conclude each chapter demand this; however, the argument still stands: when the needs are not met, affairs may happen. But one cannot meet his or her own needs. It is the job of the partner to meet the needs. Therefore, the finger seems too eager to point in the wrong direction. It may not be the feeling or intention of Harley, but the feeling exists nonetheless.

Despite some of the negative aspects of His Needs, Her Needs or maybe the oversight, this book is still fantastic in addressing feelings and needs that may simply rest just below the surface of most marital relationships. Harley does not shy away from difficult realities. And this is what makes His Needs, Her Needs a necessary and valuable book for couples hoping to marry, those who counsel couples, and anybody who is married—regardless if for only six months or for forty years.

1. WillardF Harley, Jr., His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage(Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2011), 15.

2. Ibid., 17-19.

3. Ibid., 37

4. Ibid., 18.

5. Ibid., 200.

6. Ibid., 16.

7. Ibid.

* I have no material connection to this book and am receiving no monetary compensation for this review.
** The original review was used to meet the partial requirement in the completion of an M.Div. This review has been redacted for this post.

God's Glory in Conflict

“Christ is the reason many enter the pastorate;” writes Poirier, “Conflict is the reason many leave.”1 Conflict in ministry is not uncommon and it is certainly not new. While not the first conflict in the Bible, the clash between two friends and evangelists, Paul and Barnabas is one in which most people can easily relate. Acts 15:39 records that there was a “sharp disagreement” between these two men concerning John Mark.2 It was so serious in fact, that the two men parted ways. How could such a conflict arise between these prominent and respected church-planting believers? What happened? And how did God use this conflict for his purpose and glory? If we can find answers to these questions, we can also find application to apply in ministry conflict today.

This story starts after a man named Saul—who was greatly persecuting the Church—encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus.3 Having had a total life transformation in Christ, Saul wanted to meet the disciples in Jerusalem, but these men were afraid of him. They did not believe Saul was a disciple; however, a man named Barnabas vouched for Saul and a relationship was born. Eventually, the Church leaders sent Saul to Tarsus because of a conflict between him and the Hellenists.

Some time later, persecution and conflict scattered the church “as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch.”4 In Antioch, some Hellenists started preaching the gospel and the leaders in Jerusalem wanted to investigate. So the church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to Antioch. Determining that he needed to stay and teach in Antioch, Barnabas went to get Saul from Tarsus. Together, they remained in Antioch and taught for a year.5 In addition, the Church leaders also used Barnabas and Saul to deliver important relief to other disciples during a severe famine. Finally, the Holy Spirit set apart Barnabas and Saul to venture on a massive church planting effort.6 It was on this journey that Saul changed his name to Paul and a companion named John left them and returned to Jerusalem.7

The first expedition was a great success. Clearly, these two men had established a good working relationship and likely, a friendship. They became even more skilled and experienced in their ministry. So it is understandable that some time afterward Paul would say to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.”8 Barnabas agreed and as plans were being made Barnabas suggested that they bring along John Mark. Paul sharply disagreed because John Mark was the same man who deserted them on the first journey. This disagreement was so serious, the conflict so tense, that these two men parted ways. Barnabas took John Mark and Paul selected Silas for his travels.

Some will read the account of Paul and Barnabas and fail to see God’s glory. They will agree with Poirier who writes, “Conflict is everywhere. It erupts unexpectedly, catching us off guard and leaving us perplexed by the anger, unreasonableness, and even belligerence of another,” but they will forget that God ordains conflict.9 “[Conflict] certainly does not surprise or confuse God;” writes Poirier, “Since all things, including conflict, are from God and through God and to God (Rom. 11:36), then conflict itself has a place in God’s great plans and purpose.”10 In the skirmish in between Paul and Barnabas, we can see God’s glory. First, two strong leaders within the early Church went different directions with the gospel rather than back to where they had already been together. Barnabas sailed to Cyprus and Paul headed for Syria and Cilicia. God was shaping the timing, speed, and geography of the missions of Paul and Barnabas.

Second, by separating, each man needed other companions—Barnabas took with him John Mark and Paul chose Silas. Because of the conflict, two more men had the opportunity to train and grow under a strong leader and through the experience of the journey. But it did not end with just John Mark and Silas, we can see throughout the book of Acts and from Paul’s epistles that Paul had many others with him on his journey. It may have been the case that Barnabas did as well.

And third, Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark were afforded a great opportunity to learn forgiveness and reconciliation. While there is some debate centered on timing, 1 Corinthians 9:6 suggests that Paul and Barnabas may have reconciled. While it is unclear if Paul and Barnabas were ever together again, it can be seen that Paul and John Mark were together at a later time.11 At one point, Paul would not even travel with John Mark and yet is seems that they may have been persecuted together. It seems that Paul and John Mark reconciled, and forgiveness and reconciliation are functions that bring great glory to God. Conflict should always be viewed as a way to see God’s glory in and through reconciliation. Poirier rightly argues, “Since God reconciled all things in heaven and on earth to himself through the death of his Son on the Cross (Col. 1:19-20, then we who are the children of God are redeemed to be reconcilers.”12 Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark seem to have been reconcilers.

In ministry, as in life, conflict will arise. Paul and Barnabas had different views of how to deal with John Mark. Barnabas wanted to be the forgiving and graceful encourager while Paul appears more concerned with the task at hand and with loyalty when the work gets difficult. Both views are important and neither of these men were right or wrong—they just had different views on this matter. Seeing the conflict that arose due to the different approaches, we should come to understand that different methodologies will bring differences to the surface. When conflict comes, what should we do?

Regardless of how we seek to resolve the conflict, we must first commit ourselves to seeing it as ordained by God. It was not a surprise to God. The conflict, just as it was for Paul and Barnabas, is an opportunity for ministry, not a distraction from it. There is opportunity for reconciliation and forgiveness. And in some unforeseen way, the conflict might be God’s way of altering the plans of man for the greater plan that is within his will. Seeing God’s glory in conflict starts with the correct outlook and attitude. Therefore, as we enter conflict it become imperative that we investigate the situation and ask God if he might be working in ways we do not see or understand. We must also remain aware that God could be working for his purpose and our efforts may actually be working against God rather than in conjunction with him. Even conflict can be a ministry opportunity.

In today’s society, it seems as if there are some just waiting for a conflict. They have every desire to point a finger and draw attention to the pastor or minister in conflict. There are also those within the Church looking for the excitement of conflict, or maybe they thrive on the drama of a good internal battle. Or maybe there is a person in the congregation who is critical of the leadership and hoping to spur on a conflict. And then there are those outside the Church that see the many conflicts within the Church as a reason to stay away from Christ. How often is the reality of so many different denominations—a direct result of conflict—given as a reason not to hear or accept the gospel? How many times to people simply check out of an issue because there is some level of conflict involved? Add the Internet and rapid communication and the pastor or minister now has to walk through conflict extremely well or his or her witness may be in jeopardy.

How a pastor or minister deals with conflict will absolutely shape how people view his or her ministry. Does the pastor continue to demonstrate God’s glory when the going is difficult, or does he simply preach a good sermon when everything is peaceful? As with Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark, disciples must find God’s glory in all things, even conflict, if they desire to successfully preach and teach the gospel. The gospel is full of conflict. In fact, conflict is at the very heart of the Good News. Therefore, today’s pastors and ministers must not only be able to handle conflict in biblical way, they must be expecting it. If not, they really do not grasp what the gospel is all about.

Poirer, Alfred Poirier. The Peace Making Pastor: A Biblical guide to resolving church Conflict. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2006.

1 Alfred Poirier, The Peace Making Pastor: A Biblical guide to resolving church Conflict (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2006), 9.

2 English Standard Version (ESV). Unless otherwise noted, all following Biblical references will be taken from the ESV.

3 Acts 9:1-25.

4 Acts 11:19.

5 Acts 11:19-26.

6 Acts 13:2.

7 Acts 13: 9 and Acts 13:13b.

8 Acts 15:36.

9 Poirier, 75.

10 Ibid.

11 See Colossians 4:10 for example.

12 Poirier, 13.

* Photo by user, "webmink." It is registered under a creative license and used with permission.
** This blog was originally written in partial fulfillment toward an M.Div. It has been redacted for this blog.

The New Self: Colossians 3:5-16

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul encourages his Christian readers to put to death the negative things (sin) that may have been a reality in their pre-conversion life and to put on—like a garment—the better things that should be a normal part of the Christian spiritual life. Just the fact that Paul is encouraging the Colossians to make this change suggests that this kind of transformation is not an automatic aspect of the impartation of the Holy Spirit upon regeneration as one might have hoped. And Paul has some experience in this aspect of Christian living as he confesses that even as a Christian he does the things he does not want to do and fails to do the things he desires to do.1 Yet this is no excuse. Paul still admonishes his readers, to include today’s Christians, and even myself, to make this wardrobe change daily.
Paul starts with the things that must go. He tells his readers that they must ‘put off’ the old self. This old self is the negative actions and attitudes of their earthly ways, which he lists as “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness” (which he calls idolatry).2 He continues by adding “anger, wrath, malice, slander, obscene talk” and he includes lying to one another in the following sentence.3 Two words are used that liken the removal of these items to garments or coverings. The first is apotithēmi, which Stong indicates is to “put off, case off, laid down, lay apart, lay aside [or a] putting away.”4 The second word is very much like the first. It is apekdyomai, which means, “to put off, take off, [or to] divest wholly of.”5 Both of these words paint a picture of the old ways for old self being shed off like an article of clothing and the same picture is used when Paul discusses which articles should be put on. But Paul’s instruction is not simply to remove the rags of the old ways and drop them on the floor. He says to put them to death.6 And in fact, these old ways are not simply garments, they are the old self, that is, they are what the believer once was. Unfortunately, these rags still clothe the believer from time to time, which is why they must die, so they do not return, so they will never be worn again.

And when the believer takes off these items, metaphorically striped to nothing but nakedness, Paul encourages the believer to put on robes of another kind. Paul says, “put on the new self.”7 This self, it seems, presents the believer as in the image of the Creator. This image is much like that found in Genesis 1:26 before the fall; however, before sin there was no need for clothing, fig leaves, animal flesh, or the attribute robes of which Paul speaks. These clothes, and the image of the new self, are “holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” and above these garments like the belt that holds it all together in perfect harmony is love.8 The idea presented to the Colossians, which should also be applied to believers today, is to shed the old self (the sin nature) and replace it with the very image of God. And in doing so, Paul demonstrates what the practical results will look like—peace with one another, gratitude, teaching and admonishing one another for positive growth and worship through “singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” all done with thankful hearts.
It is one thing to understand what the text means, and what Paul is really telling his readers to do—that is, to willing move toward sanctification—but it is another thing all together when one thinks of how this is done. Is it as easy as taking off a garment or putting a new one on? The truth of the biblical narrative is that this task is impossible for us to do. We fall short every time when we think in these terms because we often think of taking off and putting on in terms of our own work and our own doing.

Looking at the bigger picture of Paul’s teachings within the context of the Bible, the only way we are to truly mortify and kill these sins and then put on the new self, the very image of God, is through a total submission to God. It is only through the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit, be it through his conviction, his empowering, his gifting, and by the fruit of the Spirit that any of this is possible. Therefore, it would seem that Paul is actually telling his readers that one must be willing and prepared to be undressed and redressed. After all, the best Adam and Eve could come up with on their own was fig leaves. It was God who clothed them. And one day, God’s people will be clothed by God in robes of righteousness.9
The next question for this post then is this: Is there anything a person can do to be willing and prepared? The answer is yes. This is where spiritual formation is involved. Through a diligent effort to grow and develop in the area of our spiritual desires toward God, we can help prepare our hearts and minds for this continual transformation in our post conversation lives. We can strive for a diet of meat rather than remaining content on a milk like those the author of Hebrews addresses in Hebrews 6. We can engage in prayer and fasting, journaling and service. We can study and know the Word of God. We worship through singing, music, poetry, and many other art forms. Scripture memorization might also help shape the heart. Small groups that encourage open and honest discussion and support are yet another example of activities that help one grow in the spiritual life.

And I would like to conclude with a personal reflection upon my own efforts to grow and develop the spiritual life. I keep a regular habit of morning Scripture reading and prayer. This is not study, just reading as if to drink in the Word of God. I also keep a journal of prayer items and requests that I try to pray for regularly. This journal includes Scriptures that I like to pray through and meditate upon. It also contains a list of every lost person I know so that I may pray for them by name, usually about five a day. Later in the day I work on a Bible study to get much deeper into a specific passage. I teach a Sunday school class for adults and often the topic I teach tends to result in specific aspects of that lesson teaching me much that week. I meet with a group of men in an effort to seek help identifying the things that I need to put off and things I need to put on. Once we have identified them, we pray for God’s work to be done in our lives. This group of men also meets on Thursday evenings in a group that includes our wives where we pray and study together. And as a chaplain at the VA hospital, I often meet with other chaplains in much the same way as I meet with the men of the small group. This helps me serve better. I believe these are among some of the things I do to help me be willing to put off the old self and put on the new. I pray that I am always willing to mortify who I was in myself and put on the image of God as I am becoming the new self God has called me to become.

Strong, James, John R. Kohlenberger, and James A. Swanson. The Strongest Strong's Exhaustive
Concordance of the Bible. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2001.

1 See Romans 7:12-25.
2 Colossians 3:5, ESV. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes taken from the Bible will be from the English Standard Version (ESV).
3 Colossians 3:8-9.
4 James Strong, John R. Kohlenberger, and James A. Swanson, The Strongest Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2001), 1594.
5 Strong 2001, 1593.
6 Colossians 3:5.
7 Colossians 3:10.
8 Colossians 3:12, 14.
9 See Psalm 132:9 and Isaiah 61:10.

** This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website.

He is Alive! Confirmation on the Road to Emmaus

(And Exegetical Look at Luke 24:13-45)


Jesus had been crucified. He was dead. Joseph of Arimathea had laid his beaten and lifeless body in a rock tomb. That was Friday. On Sunday, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the Mother of James, and other women went to tend to Jesus’ body. But when they arrived at the tomb, Jesus was not there. Instead, they encountered two angels proclaiming that Jesus had risen—he was alive! The angels reminded the ladies of what Jesus had told them, saying, “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise” (Luke 24:6b-7, ESV)1.

The women returned and reported these things to the eleven—Jesus’ closest disciples—and “to all the rest” (Luke 24:9b). But the most of the men thought these women were spinning wild stories and they chose not to believe them. Peter however, ran to the tomb and looked in, first seeing that the stone had been rolled away and then that the only contents remaining were the linen cloths that once wrapped Jesus’ body. He returned to the others and reported what he had seen. On the same day, two people (one unnamed and the other identified as Cleopas) were walking and discussing the various events concerning Jesus when a stranger appeared to them. As it turned out, they encountered the risen Lord on the road to Emmaus.

Volumes of been penned about the Emmaus encounter. Generations have dissected Luke’s account of Christ’s revelation of himself to these two witnesses. Some, it seems, have hunted for clues and codes beyond the most significant and obvious story, while others cannot even seem to accept that two people walking to a nearby town encountered the risen Jesus on the third day. Luke however, makes it very clear—Jesus is raised and he presented himself to these two witnesses on the road and in a home, as they were about to eat.

This post will closely examine the Emmaus road encounter as recorded in Luke 24:13-35. First, the passage will be summarized. Following the summation, and introduction of the author will be provided along with some background of the time and audience in which he was writing. Then the purpose of the book of Luke will be surveyed, and the context of the passage will be discussed. Once this foundation is laid, the content of Luke 24:13-35 will be the focus, starting with the most obvious message of the text: Jesus is alive! This and other aspects of the text will be offered by way of synthesis of the various ideas from the passage itself and commentaries on the passage. But this is not the ending point of the post. A practical application for today’s students of the Bible (the ultimate reason for study) will serve as the conclusion.


On the same day the women saw the angels, Cleopas and an unnamed person were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, which is about seven miles from Jerusalem. (13, 18). They were talking about all the things that had recently happened, that is, likely the things concerning Jesus, to include his mighty works and teaching, his trial, his crucifixion, the report from the women about their experience with the angels at the tomb, and the men who found the tomb empty (14, 19-24). They had hoped Jesus was the one to redeem Israel (21). Just then, Jesus came near, likely from the direction of Jerusalem, but the two travelers were kept from recognizing him (15-16). He asked the two people what they had been discussing and they stopped walking and were visibly sad (17). Cleopas then responded, as if in shock or just wanting to push away the stranger, asking Jesus if he were a visitor that had not heard anything about what had been going on in and around Jerusalem (18). Jesus replied, “What things?” and they told him about the many things regarding Jesus and the women and the empty tomb and that it was, on that day, the third day since Jesus died (19-24). Jesus responded, calling them “foolish ones” and “slow of heart to believe” the prophets (25). He then began explaining how all of the Scriptures were about himself (26-27).

As they approached Emmaus, it seemed that Jesus was continuing on, but the two people encouraged Jesus to stay with them. It was almost evening so Jesus went in to stay with them (28-29). Sitting at the table, Jesus took the bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to the other two (30). At that moment their eyes were open and they recognized Jesus; then he vanished (31). The two started talking about it and they realized that their hearts burned while they were talking with Jesus on the road as he opened up the Scriptures to them (32). Although it was getting dark, they returned to Jerusalem that same night and met with the eleven and the others gathered around. The eleven told the two, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” (Luke 24:34). After this proclamation, the two reported what they had witnessed on the road and how they recognized Jesus as he was breaking the bread (33-35).


Who is the Author? According to Carson and Moo, “Most scholars agree that Luke and Acts were written by the same individual.”2 The strongest support comes from Theophilus, or rather, the author’s introduction to Theophilus found in both Luke 1:1-4 and Acts 1:1-2. Morris states, “Tradition unanimously affirms this author to be Luke.”3 While Morris, Carson, and Moo deal with the convincing proof that Luke is the author of the book that bares his name and its sequel, this post will agree with tradition for the sake of space.

Paul refers to Luke as a physician in his letter to the Colossians (4:14). Luke’s profession seems consistent with minor details of medical interest found throughout his writing. For example, when Luke discusses the fever of Peter’s mother-in-law, it is a “high fever” but Matthew and Mark only say it is a fever (Luke 4:38, Matthew 8:14, Mark 1:30). In addition, Luke appears to be a meticulous, detail-oriented man as he claimed to have “undertaken to compile a narrative” of the “eyewitnesses” and “followed all things closely for some time past” so that he could then “write an orderly account” for Theophilus in which Theophilus could have “certainty” concerning the things he had already been taught (Luke 1:1-4). While only speculation, it seems logical that this would require meeting eyewitnesses for interviews, likely reading anything else written about Jesus, listening to stories, and traveling to places where the events happened. Notes would likely be taken and organization would be necessary. And in fact, it is seen in portions of Acts that Luke was along with Paul and others on parts of Paul’s journeys.

In addition to his profession and likely mental capabilities, there is also a possibility that Luke was a Gentile Christian. This support comes from Colossians 4:10-14, where first Paul lists the names of those with him who were circumcised (Aristarchus, Mark, and Justus) and then lists others to include Luke. It can be assumed that, Luke, not being among the circumcised list, would be a Gentile. And being a companion of Paul, along with writing a positive book about Jesus in order to show Theophilus the truth of the things he had already learned, there is great cause to think that Luke believe the content of his two books and was a Christian. And for what it is worth, Foxe recorded in his Book of Martyrs that Luke was “hanged on an olive tree, by the idolatrous priest of Greece.”4

The Time and Audience. Just as much can be said about the scholarly work of the authorship of Luke, so too is the case of the date of its composition. Two strong hypotheses exist—one for authorship some time in the early 60’s and the other for a time between AD75-85.5 Either way, the time of authorship is sometime in the first century between 60 and 85, which is close enough in regard to the passage being examined in this post. Although the time of the passage itself takes place sometime between AD30 and 33, the most significant aspect of these dates is that many of the people identified in Luke would have still been alive at the time of its authorship. And as Luke set out to write a theological historical narrative of the accounts, his book would have been greatly challenged if it misrepresented the facts.
Luke lived in a mix of Jews and Gentiles and was likely writing for an audience of both. Carson and Moo speculate that even though Theophilus was the singular, primary audience, “it is almost certain that Luke had a wider reading public in view.”6 But given that Luke ties Jesus’ genealogy all the way back to Adam and assumes no Jewish tradition, it is likely that Luke was writing much more for the Gentiles than the Jews. In addition, much of Luke has a broader implication than just the Jewish people. And some of the cultural matters, such as including women in the narratives, suggest that Luke was writing from and to a culture other than the Jews. And if indeed Luke traveled with Paul, as this author believes, than it seems probably that Luke may have shared Paul’s desire to take the gospel to the Gentiles.

Purpose and Context. As already stated above, Luke’s purpose for his book was to provide and accurate account of the events of Jesus so Theophilus could have certainty in the things he was already taught. Considering the content of the book of Luke, it would seem that the things Theophilus was taught was likely the gospel of Jesus Christ and the way to salvation. The purpose of Chapter 24, of which the Emmaus road experience is a part, is to show that Christ has indeed risen and appeared to a variety of witnesses. It should be noted that of the three sections of this chapter (the angels’ declaration to the women, the Emmaus road experience, and Jesus’ appearance to the eleven and others) the Emmaus road event is the longest and vividly detailed.

The Emmaus road narrative is sandwiched between and account of the women, which the men did not believe, and Jesus’ climatic appearance to his group of disciples. In this context, the prospective of the two on the road serves as a bridge between the disbelief and the outright empirical testing of Christ’s resurrection. In the first panel (the story with the women), Jesus is not seen whatsoever. In the second, Jesus is seen but not recognized until the end. Here he must be heard and believed by faith more so than believed with the eyes. And finally, in the third panel, the disciples were able to touch and see Christ, and even witness him eat!


Jesus is Alive! As one reads Luke 24:13-35, it is easy to get sidetracked. Why were the two people restricted from recognizing Jesus? Was the breaking of the bread a communion service or just a meal, and why was Jesus serving it rather than the host? Where exactly did this event happen; can we pinpoint it on a map? Was the other witness Luke, or maybe Cleopas’ wife, or some other disciple? Why does Luke withhold the name of the second person? If the two disciples had not insisted on having Jesus stay, where would he have gone? Was Jesus presenting some kind of falsehood or lie by acting as if he was going on? All of these are interesting questions, but no other question from this text is worth anything if Luke’s most important and obvious point is not understood and accepted. The Lord is risen! Through the entire twenty-forth chapter, Luke is presenting accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, in detail, locations pointed out, witnesses named (mostly).

The Emmaus road account opens with two people discussing recent events, trying to make since of them. It is unknown why they were going to Emmaus, but it is possible that they lived there and were returning home from Passover as Culpepper and O’Day suggest.7 Regardless of their reason for travel, it is clear from verse 24 that these people were with the group that heard the account from the women. And they knew of Peter’s finding of an empty tomb; yet they did not remain in Jerusalem with the eleven and the rest of the disciples.

From the perspective of the two, a stranger came along side them. This stranger could see that they were carrying on a conversation and asked them about it. “The two disciples,” writes Geldenhuys, “would no doubt at first have felt offended at the obtrusiveness of the unknown Stranger, especially since they were talking so earnestly while they were walking and were so sorrowful and despondent.”8 But the stranger asks them another question; “What things?” he asks, showing that he genuinely is interested in the matter causing them such grief. And at this, these two confess their love of Jesus. They believed he was going to redeem Israel according to verse 21. Not knowing this man, they even take a risky position by placing blame for Jesus’ crucifixion on the Jews. To this Morris writes, “Notice that it is not the Romans but our chief priests and rulers who both delivered him up and crucified him. The reference to his being condemned to death implicates the Romans, but the chief blame is put squarely on the Jews.”9 They continue to express that this is not simply a matter of a prophet being put to death, but the one in which they had placed their hope.

A curious addition is the mention that this was the third day since Christ’s death. This would be of no value to the stranger unless they also told him what Jesus had taught and what the angles had reminded the women in verses 6-7: “that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise” (Luke 24:6b-7). It seems it must, at least at that moment, have been on the minds of these travelers. John Calvin argues, “For it is probable that he mentions the third day for no other reason that that the Lord had promised that after three days, he would rise again. When he afterwards relates that the women had not found the body, and that they had seen a vision of angels, and that what the women had said about the empty grave was likewise confirmed by the testimony of the men, the whole amounts to this, that Christ had risen. That the holy man, hesitating between faith and fear, employs what is adapted to nourish faith, and struggles against fear to the utmost of his power.”10

The stranger rebukes them for not trusting in what the Scriptures taught about the Messiah and the stranger begins to take them through the Law and Prophets showing them how these things were about him, about Jesus. As this was happening, the men experienced a burning within, according to verse 32, but this was still not enough for them to recognize Jesus. Verse 16 says, “But their eyes were kept from recognizing him” (Luke 24:16). Barclay argues that they were blinded and could not recognize Jesus because they were walking west toward the sunset and therefore blinded by the brilliance of the sun.11 While Barclay attempts to focus on the how, Morris simply points out, “On this occasion the implication appears to be that the disciples were somehow prevented from recognizing Jesus. It was in God’s providence that only later should they come to know who he was. Perhaps Luke wants us to gather, as Ford suggests, ‘that we cannot see the risen Christ, although he be walking with us, unless he wills to disclose himself’.”12 Once the three of them were inside and sharing bread, their eyes were opened and the recognized Jesus as their resurrected Lord. Duffield and Van Cleave see this scripture as pointing to the “uniqueness” of Christ’s resurrected body in that “it was not recognizable at times.”13 However, most commentators and theologians, even including Duffield and Van Cleave are in agreement with Driscoll and Breshears, who use verse 31, when the disciples’ eyes were opened to argue, “Jesus’ resurrected body was the same as his pre-resurrection body. His disciples recognized him as the same person who had been crucified.”14 The most important thing is not how or why the people on the road did not initially recognize Jesus, instead, it is that when they eventually did, Luke presents it as a proof of Jesus’ resurrection.

The reaction of the two disciples was so great that despite that evening was near, they absolutely had to go back to the eleven and others in Jerusalem and testify that Jesus has risen, he was alive and they had encountered him. Their conviction was overwhelming. This was not a specter or spirit they walked and talked with. It was not a vision that broke bread and gave it to them. It was the alive and physical Jesus. These two witnesses were excited to tell others and Luke used this event to convince his audience that Jesus was and is alive.

Jesus Revealed Himself. While the primary point of the passage, the most significant aspect that should be preached above all else, is that Jesus is risen, there are some other significant aspects of this passage worth investigation. The first is that Jesus revealed himself. The two people were walking together when Jesus came upon them. Verse 15 says he “drew near and went with them” (Luke 24:15b). He asked them the first question. He could have chosen not to reveal himself. He could have chosen not to ask them the first question. Instead, he not only chose to reveal himself to the two travelers, he chose to use them as witnesses to others.

The Reaction of the Witnesses. The next point worth a brief mention is the reaction of the two people once they recognized Jesus. Jesus had just handed them bread and this in some way helped them recognize him (Luke 24:35). But then he vanished. At that moment, the two quickly reflected on their encounter with him on the road; however, they did not remain in discussion about the past for very long. That very hour, they went back to their friends to testify that they had encountered Jesus. This was an event that must be shared. And just as they had shared what they understood about Christ with a man they believed was a stranger, their initial reaction was to share their experiences and encounters with this stranger.

Who Were These Witnesses? Luke names one of the witnesses, Cleopas, lending more credibility to the account as Culpepper an O’Day point out.15 Many commentators have offered different speculation as to the identities of the unidentified traveling companion in route to Emmaus. Some, including Morris, say the unnamed person was Luke because the detail is so vivid.16 Another suggestion is that the other traveler is the wife of Cleopas. Still another idea from liberal arguments is that the particular witness no longer would testify that he saw the risen Christ so Luke left him unnamed. However, if this were the case, why would Luke include the account at all? There is the possibility that these two where the two disciples mentioned in Mark 16:12-13, but in that account, the rest did not believe the two disciples. How could these be the same accounts with such a discrepancy? In any case, it is significant to see that Cleopas is mentioned nowhere else in the Bible. The other person is not even named. These two are likely regular people; and although there is no solid indication of such, most commentators address them both as men. In light of the larger point, it might be best to let the unnamed disciple remain unidentified as Luke intended.

Breaking the Bread. Some commentators, especially of much older publications, cast a light of communion upon the breaking of bread in this text. This author believes Morris best addresses this aspect of the text, writing,
Bread was commonly broken at the prayer of thanksgiving before a meal. Some have seen here a reference to the breaking of bread in the communion service, but this seems far-fetched. It would have been a very curious communion service, broken off in the opening action and as far as we can see never completed. And it would have been quite out of place. In any case the two were not present at the Last Supper (cf. 22:14; Mark 14:17) so they could not have recalled Jesus’ actions then.17

However, there may have been something significant about the breaking of bread or it may have simply been the timing because Luke 24:35 says, “Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was know to them in the breaking of the bread.18 There is also the possibility that the disciples were present at another meal with Jesus or that something else unique to Jesus—maybe a mannerism—had something to do with their eyes being opened. However, this author is inclined to think that it was in the teaching of Jesus, which may have culminated at that moment, to a point where faith came through hearing.


While there is much to examine in this vivid text, it is important that the primary point Luke presents is addressed. Without seeing this point, the other points will offer nothing of value. Christ revealed himself to two travelers on the road after he had been crucified and buried. It was on the third day, just as he had promised. Jesus is alive, indeed!

As present day readers examine this passage of Luke 24, they, like the travelers, are faced with the decision to examine both the Old and New Testament Scriptures, see the accounts of Jesus, and answer the question, Is he the Savior? Readers must ask themselves if they believe if Jesus is risen? Are the accounts of the witnesses true? The travelers on the road were contemplating the testimony of the women and the report that Peter found the tomb empty. As they were contemplating, Jesus met them on the road. While it may not be that Jesus will physically manifest himself to those contemplating Christ, he does meet us where we are to reveal himself to us. He opens our eyes. The remaining question then, is will we believe; and if so, will we share our encounters with Jesus with others?

Calvin, John. Calvin's Commentaries. Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark and Luke.
Vol. XVII. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2009.
Carson, D. A., and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids,
Michigan: Zondervan, 2005.
Crossway Bibles. ESV Study Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles,
Culpepper, R. Alan, and Gail R. O'Day. The New Interpreter's Bible. The Gospel of Luke, the
Gospel of John. Volume IX. Nashville, Tenn: Abingdon, 1995.
Driscoll, Mark, and Gerry Breshears. Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe. Wheaton, Ill:
Crossway, 2010.
Duffield, Guy P., and Nathaniel M. Van Cleave. Foundations of Pentecostal Theology. Los
Angles, Calif: Foursquare Media, 2008.
Foxe, John. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Edited by William Byron. Accordance 9.1.1. OakTree
Software, Inc, Version 1.4.
Geldenhuys, Norval. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. The Gospel of
Luke. Grand Rapids (Mich.): W.B. Eerdmans, 1979.
Morris, Leon. Luke. Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2008.

1  Unless otherwise noted, all scripture references in this post are taken from the ESV. Crossway Bibles, ESV Study Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles, 2008).
2  D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2005), 203.
3 Leon Morris, Luke (Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2008), 19.
4 John Foxe, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, Edited by William Byron (Accordance 9.1.1. OakTree Software, Inc, Version 1.4), Ch I, xiv.
5 Another argument places the authorship sometime in the early second century, but the evidence is not convincing and therefore will exclude this date hypothesis from this post.
6 Carson, 210.
7 Alan R. Culpepper and Gail R. O'Day, The New Interpreter's Bible. The Gospel of Luke, the Gospel of John. Volume IX (Nashville, Tenn: Abingdon, 1995), 476.
8 Norval Geldenhuys, The New International Commentary On the New Testament. The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids (Mich.): W.B. Eerdmans, 1979), 633.
9 Morris, 356.
10 John Calvin, Calvin's Commentaries, Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark and Luke, Vol. XVII (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2009), 358.
11 William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke, The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975), 294-295.
12 Morris, 356.
13 Guy P. Duffield and Nathaniel M. Van Cleave, Foundations of Pentecostal Theology (Los Angles, Calif: Foursquare Media, 2008), 203.
14 Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2010), 289.
15 Culpepper, 477.
16 Morris, 355.
17 Morris, 358-359.
18 Italics added for emphasis. 

*The painting by Carl Heinrich Bloch is in the public domain.
This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website.   


Introduction. As Erickson puts it, baptism is the “initiatory rite of the Church” (Erickson 1998, 1098). And as such a rite, there is much debate centered on baptism. How should it be done, and by who, to whom? What does it mean, theologically? Why baptize at all? Across the Church, there are those that hold that babies should be baptized, while others say it is for believers only, and some set an age when one can reasonable believe and be baptized. In some churches, baptism is done by sprinkling water over the head (aspersion), in others water is poured over the head and body (affusion), and still others dip or submerse the candidate into or completely under water (immersion). Priests or Bishops are the only ones authorized to baptize according to some church structures, while others say any believer in Jesus can baptize. Some argue that salvation comes through baptism, while others say is it a sign of a covenant relationship, while still others say it is a “token of salvation,” that is, an “outward symbol or indication of the inward change that has been effected in the believer” (Erickson 1998, 1105). While a fair treatment of these many questions is reasonable, for the sake of space, this post will only address the believer’s baptism, as “a symbol of beginning the Christian life (Grudem 1994, 970), and completed by immersion.

Baptism in the New Testament. All four Gospels record the baptism of Jesus by John the baptizer. It is likely that Jesus was baptized by immersion, given that he went in to and came out of the water. The word used in the text is baptizō, the meaning according to Grudem, to “plunge, dip, immerse” (Grudem 1994, 967). Grudem argues, “This is commonly recognized as the standard meaning of the term in ancient Greek literature both inside and outside of the Bible” (Grudem 1994, 967). And considering that Jesus was perfect, having never sinned (Hebrews 4:15), the baptism was not about cleansing or washing away of previous sins. Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he instructed his disciples to make more disciples and “baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19, ESV).

Throughout the Book of Acts, accounts of believers being baptized demonstrate that action, that is, baptism, followed belief. Acts 2:41 says, “those who received his word were baptized” (ESV). Acts 8:12 indicates that the people hearing Philip were baptized only when they believed. And there is evidence that these baptisms were by immersion, such as Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch “going down” and “coming up” out of the water (Acts 8:38-39).

But what is the meaning of the act itself? In Acts 22 Paul recounts his conversion story, which includes Ananias calling Paul to “be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name,” (Acts 22:16, ESV). However, Romans 6:3-4 and Colossians 2:12, paint a picture of the symbolism of dieing and being buried with Christ but then being resurrected to life with Christ. So is baptism the washing of sins or symbolic or both? On this matter, Grudem states, “But to say that washing away of sins is the only thing (or even the most essential thing) pictured in baptism does not faithfully represent New Testament teaching. Both washing and death and resurrection with Christ are symbolized in baptism, but Romans 6:1-11 and Colossians 2:11-12 place a clear emphasis on dying and rising with Christ” (Grudem 1994, 969).

Baptism today. While baptism itself is not a means of salvation, it is an act commanded by God and a beautiful public pronouncement of the new believer’s symbolic death and resurrection with Christ. It is also (generally) the initiatory rite into the Church. Baptism is about the candidate and his or her new life; therefore, Criswell says, “The baptismal service ought to be a beautiful and deeply spiritual occasion whether held in a creek, a river, a pond, or in a church baptistery” (Criswell 1980, 201). He further instructs, “Baptism is a death, a burial, and a resurrection. Remember to feel that, believe that, and the rite will come naturally to the administrator” (Criswell 1980, 204-205).

Because the ordinance does not belong to man, but to Christ’s Church, the administrator is not as important as the candidate. In fact, while the administrator should be a Christian believer, the baptism would not be invalidated should that administrator turn out to be an apostate (Criswell 1980, 200). For this same reason, local churches should not require a rebaptism of a believer as a means of membership into their local congregation.

Criswell, W.A. Criswell's Guidebook for Pastors. Nashville, Tenn: Broadman Press, 1980.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Book House, 1998.

Grudem, Wayne A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994.

*Photo: Lance Cpl. Michael K. Kono, network administrator, Marine Wing Communications Squadron 38, Marine Air Control Group 38, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, and 19-year-old Sparks, Nev., native, is brought out of the waters during a baptism at Al Asad, Iraq, May 30. Chaplains representing two separate commands aboard the air base baptized five service members during the spiritual event. Photo by Sgt. J.L. Zimmer III. Cleared for Release

Teaching Kids About Prayer

The Sunday School teacher for the 3rd and 4th graders at my local church has had to take some time off this summer to deal with a medical issue.  While I wish she didn't have the medical difficulty, I'm finding tremendous joy substitute teaching the class.  We use a curriculum developed by Group. There's a pre-planed weekly lesson, a box of visual aids, and a bunch of matching NLT bibles. The material is okay, but I think my students are smarter than Group's target class.  Therefore, this week I added some additional information to the class and I think it went well.

Teaching this class has been good for me because I'm having to take the communication from a level I'm accustomed to in seminary down to a level that a 3rd grader can understand and find application.  That being said, I think this is the case even for teaching adults.

Here's my basic outline of last Sunday's class: 

The week's verse from the curriculum is "Never stop praying" --  1 Thessalonians 5:17

Illustration: "Who here has ever spoke to the President of the United States? How about any leader or king of any other country?  Well, I once met a former president and do you know what; I had to go through security, and I was assigned a time when I would meet him, and I could only talk with him for a second, and I probably won't every get to talk with him again.  What do you think it takes to get to talk to the President in the White House?  But did you know you can talk to the King of Kings, God?"

Bible chase game to find the scriptures that answer the following questions.

When should we (or can we) talk with God?
1. Psalm 5:3 (Morning)
2. Psalm 71:7-8 (All day)
3. Psalm 119:55 (Night)
4. Psalm 55:17 (Morning, Noon, and Night)
5. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (Always be praying)

How should we pray? 
1. (The previous week's lesson was to come boldly before God. Use this time to review last week's lesson than offer some more scriptures for the class to race to find.)
2. Matthew 6:9-13 (This is how he showed us to pray, discuss elements of prayer and remind the class that these are not requirements or rules, but Jesus teaching us.)
3. Colossians 4:2 (Alert mind and thankful heart)

How should we NOT pray?
1.  Matthew 6:5 (Is Jesus telling us that we shouldn't pray on street corners?  I opened our class in prayer and you saw me, is Jesus saying that I was wrong?  Maybe is Jesus talking about using prayer to show off and make it more about ourselves instead of talking with God?)

Where should we pray?
1. Daniel 6:10 (In our homes)
2. Matthew 6:6 (In private)
3. Acts 16:23-25 (In prison, hard times)
4. Jonah 2:1 (In the belly of a fish)

(Pause to explain the seriousness of stoning.  Give a background of Stephen's evangelism that got him into trouble.)
5. Acts 7:59-60 (Even when we are dying)
6. Luke 23:34 (Jesus prayed on the cross for the people putting him there)

When should we pray? How should we pray? (How should we not pray?) Where should we pray?

Prayer Walk
1. Explain what a prayer walk is and that prayer walking is not something that holds more or special power or anything like that because God hears us anytime, from wherever we are.  However, sometimes we are reminded to pray for people or things because we see them on our walk. And sometimes we'll even be able to pray with other people. (Also, this will reinforce the idea that we should always be praying and that we can pray anywhere.)
2. Go for a pray walk through the church building, stopping to pray as people feel led to do so.

Pray and Watch Reminder Cards
Hand out reminder cards and have the kids write 5 names of people they want to remember to pray for.  Tell them to put the card on the fridge or someplace they will see it often.  Every time they see the card, they should be reminded to pray for those five people. Then they should also watch for opportunities to serve those five people.

Give out weekly home fun and Bible memory verse handout.  Also give out coloring sheet with map and remind the kids that they can pray in all those places and anywhere, anytime.

Pluralism: Less Polemic Within the Military

Certain debated concepts often get packed into a single word that is armed, thorny, and filled much like a Trojan horse ready to let open the gates to outside attack. In Christian conversation, the word pluralism has been modified to be just such a fully loaded word, and unpacking it sometimes takes a skilled explosive technician. However, when pluralism is used to describe how multiple religious systems operate in the same the military community, the word retracts its claws and speaks of mutual respect and opportunity.

In its most basic form, pluralism is, “a state of society in which members of diverse ethnic, racial, religious, or social groups maintain an autonomous participation in and development of their traditional culture or special interest within the confines of a common civilization” (Merriam, “pluralism”).  Those Christians using the term as a debate weapon have added their interpretation of some Biblical concepts about living among and adapting to the practices of non-Christian societies and beliefs[1] and blended in “syncretism.”  Syncretism is, “the combination of different forms of belief or practice” (Merriam, “syncretism”). While it is not my purpose to argue in favor or against the present use of the definition of pluralism, I do argue that the military’s use of the word is strictly in its most basic definition.

While the Army is vague on its exact definition of pluralism, it does provide some conceptual guidance. A requirement of entry to the Army Chaplain Corps is a signed Memorandum for Record (MFR) that reads in part,
While remaining faithful to my denominational beliefs and practices, I understand that, as a chaplain [or chaplain candidate], I must be sensitive to religious pluralism and will provide for the free exercise of religion by military personnel, their families, and other authorized personnel served by the Army.  I further understand that, while the Army places a high value on the rights of its members to observe the tenets of their respective religions, accommodation is based on military need and cannot be guaranteed at all times and in all places.
I also recognize the importance of a diverse Army Chaplaincy representing all faiths, genders, and ethnic backgrounds.  I fully support the diversity of the Corps that enables the branch to minister to the plurality of America’s Soldier (Blackwell, 2008).
In addition to the MFR for entry, Army Regulation 165-1, 3-3a states, “The Army recognizes that religion is constitutionally protected and does not favor one form of religious expression over another.  Accordingly, all religious denominations are viewed as distinctive faith groups and all soldiers are entitled to chaplain services and support” (U.S. Department of the Army 2004, 5).  And the chaplain is required under 4-4b of the same regulation to, “...minister to the personnel of the unit and facilitate the ‘free-exercise’ rights of all personnel, regardless of religious affiliation of either the chaplain or the unit member” (2004, 6).

Soldiers, according to Army regulation are “entitled to chaplain services and support” and chaplains are to “facilitate” the right to worship but are not required to deviate from their denominational beliefs or practices.  What this regulation does not say is that chaplains are to accept or adopt the belief of the soldier. Therefore, pluralism allows each soldier the right to worship (or not worship) in his or her own distinct manner with the support of a chaplain, all inside the single community of the military.  In no way is syncretism required. Instead, a mutual respect and understanding is expected.

Chaplain Joseph F. O’Donnell, C.S.C. best describes the spirit of pluralism while explaining the first of three qualities important to every chaplain.  He writes, “As a chaplain, I must realize that no matter how firm I feel about my own approach to God, I cannot have the last word for anyone else” (Bergen 2004, 222).

Reference List
Bergen, Doris L. The Sword of the Lord: Military Chaplain from the First to the Twenty-First
     Century.  Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame, 2004.
Blackwell, Steve CH (CPT). 2008 Sample MFR sent to author electronically. October 31.
Headquarters of the Department of the Army. 2004. Army Regulation 165-1: Chaplain Activities
     in the United States Army (March, 25). By Order of the Secretary of the Army, Peter J.
Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2009. s.v. “pluralism,” http://www.merriam- (accessed February 15, 2009.)
Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2009. s.v. “syncretism,” http://www.merriam- (accessed February 15, 2009.)

[1] Concepts from passages of Judges, 1 Peter, and Colossians for example.

*This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website.
** Photo is registered under a Creative Commons License: / CC BY-NC 2.0