Select Page
Bible Math, Blue Crabs, and the Trouble with Human Tradition

Bible Math, Blue Crabs, and the Trouble with Human Tradition

In Sunday’s sermon, “Worship and the Word,” from Mark 7:1–23, we came to Jesus’ famous confrontation with the scribes and the Pharisees on the topic of human tradition. The Pharisees sought to take God’s Word seriously. If God told the priests to wash their hands in the temple, then why shouldn’t all of us wash our hands all the time (Ex. 30:19–21)? And why not wash the pots and couches too? They did many things like this, apparently.

Were they sinning? Or, from another angle, are traditions always bad? For example, is it wrong for us to have a certain pattern to our worship service, or to our giving, or to how we go about shaping church life week to week? Is it wrong to have a certain way of dressing or an ear for a certain type of music? No. We are encultured people. Traditions can be a little goofy from the outside, but they aren’t bad. Then, what was the problem? Remember Jesus’ math. Having made too much of their traditions they handed down, they made void the Word of God (7:13).

How, then, can we know when human tradition has become a problem for us? On this point we got some help from Michael Garland in his commentary on Mark. He offers three ways:

Traditions become evil when they run counter to God’s purposes expressed in the ethical commands of how to relate to others. Traditions become dangerous when persons are blind to how they undermine God’s commands. Traditions become corrupt when people become more devoted to upholding them than obeying God’s direct commands. As [it has been put], “Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”

To this explanation, Garland adds this colorful illustration:

One may compare tradition to the shell of the blue crab. To live and grow it must shed its shell from time to time. Until it creates a new shell, the crab is extremely vulnerable. But if the shell becomes so strong and rigid that the crab cannot escape, that is the shell in which it dies. Losing traditions that make one feel safe and comfortable can cause great anxiety. But hanging on to traditions so that one becomes ‘hard-shelled’ is fatal.

So, here’s something we can aspire to as a church: to be a blue crab church. Let’s embrace our traditions without elevating our traditions so that we can’t shed them as needed. Let’s do the old math that knows adding to the Bible means subtracting the Bible itself. Let’s ask God to establish his rule in our church by his Word, even if that makes us a little uncomfortable sometimes.

What it Means to Walk with God

What it Means to Walk with God

In Sunday’s sermon from Genesis 4–6:8, “East of Eden,” we considered two ways to live outside the garden. We are not terribly surprised to discover the wandering way of Cain and the subsequent descent and spread of sin. We are caught off guard, however, by the record of Enoch, who “walked with God, and he was not, for God took him” (5:24). Banished from God’s presence, there is nevertheless hope of a walk with God; that is, friendship with God.

Allen Ross, in his commentary, Creation and Blessing, quotes this century-old yet timeless reflection on this important little phrase:

The phrase is full of meaning. Enoch walked with God because he was His friend and liked His company, because he was going in the same direction as God, and had no desire for anything but what lay in God’s path.

We walk with God, and when he is in all our thoughts; not because we consciously think of him at all times, but because he is naturally suggested to us by all we think of; as when any person or plan or idea has become important to us, no matter what we think of, our thought is always found recurring to this favorite object, so with the godly man everything has connection with God and must be ruled by that connection. When some change in his circumstances is thought of, he has first of all to determine how the proposed change will effect his connection with God—will his conscience be equally clear, will he be able to live on the same friendly terms with God and so forth. When he falls into sin he cannot rest till he has resumed his place at God’s side and walks again with him.

This is the general nature of walking with God; it is a persistent endeavor to hold all our life open to God’s inspection and in conformity to his will; a readiness to give up what we find does cause any misunderstanding between us and God; a feeling of loneliness if we have not some satisfaction in our efforts at holding fellowship with God, a cold and desolate feeling when we are conscious of doing something that displeases him. This walking with God necessarily tells on the whole life and character. As you instinctively avoid subjects which you know will jar upon the feelings of our friend, as you naturally endeavor to suit yourself to your company, so when the consciousness of God’s presence begins to have some weight with you, you are found instinctively endeavoring to please him, repressing the thoughts you know he disapproves, and endeavoring to educate such dispositions as reflect his own nature.

It is easy then to understand how we may practically walk with God–it is to open to him all our purposes and hopes, to seek his judgment on our scheme of life and idea of happiness—it is to be on thoroughly friendly terms with God …. Things were not made ready to Enoch. In evil days, with much to mislead him, with everything to oppose him, he had by faith and diligent seeking, as the Epistle to the Hebrews says, to cleave to the path on which God walked, often left in darkness, often thrown off the track, often listening but unable to hear the footfall of God or to hear his own name called upon, receiving no signs, but still diligently seeking the god he knew would lead him only to good.

For more reflection on the subject of friendship with God (and how it transforms our relationships), read, “The Great Friend,” the last chapter in Drew Hunter’s, Made for Friendship: The Relationship That Halves Our Sorrows and Doubles Our Joys. Yes, that’s my brother. In this project of recovering biblical friendship, he explores the incredible privilege that is our friendship with God.

On Scripture Memory, Part 2: Some Encouragements and Exhortations

On Scripture Memory, Part 2: Some Encouragements and Exhortations

On January 6, Pastor Abe Stratton delivered the book of Hebrews from memory, in a sermon titled, “Looking to Jesus.” In Part 1, Abe discussed observations and benefits from memorizing a large portion of Scripture. In this second and final guest-post, Abe shares with us some encouragements and exhortations related to Scripture memory. 


In this post I’d like to encourage and exhort you to step out in faith, to memorize a section of Scripture that is larger than you think you can handle. Why? Because the rewards are great and eternal!

1. Memorize for the long-haul.

Set a goal (e.g. memorizing a book of the Bible), and then stick with it. You don’t have to be in a hurry; you don’t even have to set a deadline. The purpose is to meditate on the very words of God and incorporate them into life, not finish by a certain date. This mindset also guards you against holding onto your plan too tightly. It can be easy to cherish your plan of memorization instead of cherishing God’s Word. Let the Word be what is most important to you.

It took me 2.5 years to memorize Hebrews, and I remember thinking at the outset, “I’m going to stick with this no matter how long it takes.” But frankly, I didn’t anticipate how long it would take. Sometimes plunging into something without scoping it out to the nth degree can save a lot of anxiety or despair at the size of the goal.

2. Persevere through hard days. 

Work at it even when your mind is distracted and your body is tired. There were days when I felt as if my memorization time was not doing any good. It seemed as though I was working through the same set of words over and over, yet they weren’t finding a place in my head (or in my heart). However, I believe there is value to washing ourselves with the Word even when we don’t think it’s doing much good. The Word of God is alive and powerful, and the Holy Spirit wields His sword in ways we cannot always see or sense. There is also value to “sweating” in memorization. Let’s be honest: it’s hard work. As with physical exercise, there are days when you don’t want to or don’t feel like doing it. However, the effort, the strain, the labor is part of our imperfect human experience, and our God rewards His children who persevere in obedience to Him. So, “let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Gal. 6:9)

3. Memorize strategically.

There are two Memorize for yourself. Where is your view of God deficient? What are you struggling with? What do you need? I chose to begin memorizing Hebrews because I saw that I had a deficient view of how the Old Testament and the New Testament are connected. From what I knew of Hebrews, it seemed to be the best book to ingest in order to better understand the continuity and discontinuity between the testaments.

With that in mind, here’s a caution: memorize through the Word. I am not completely against memorizing individual verses on a topic (e.g. individual verses on purity or the tongue). However, memorizing through a longer portion of Scripture makes you understand God’s thinking surrounding specific verses that we often pull out of their context. Also, memorizing long portions of Scripture changes you. God may actually use seemingly unrelated texts of Scripture to change you in that area of struggle (e.g. purity or the tongue). Simply filling your mind with the written Word and reveling in the Living Word (Christ) turn you from the idols which capture your attention.

In addition to memorizing for yourself, memorize different genres of Scripture. I think it is helpful to go back and forth between the Old Testament and New Testament. My pattern in memorization is to alternate between an Old Testament book and a New Testament book. This, I think, gives me a better overall exposure to the entirety of God’s Word. I don’t think it is wise to memorize only passages of Scripture that “I like.” It is necessary to memorize Scripture which stretches me and expands my view of God.

4. Find a quiet, undisturbed location.

This will help you stay focused. You can speak as loudly as you want, and you don’t have to be afraid of what people will think. Your mind will begin to get into a routine; it recognizes when you’re going to the same place for the same purpose. I realized this when I worked on my memorization outside of my normal location; it was more challenging to focus.

5. Share your experiences with others.

You could be the catalyst which the Spirit will use to push others to cherish and memorize the Word. Frankly, writing this blog post and talking to others about my experiences in memorizing Hebrews haven’t always been easy. At times I felt like it was bragging to share these thoughts; however, if I can serve other brothers and sisters and encourage them to meditate on the life-giving Word, then I cannot keep my mouth shut.

6. Memorizing the Word is an undervalued, under-practiced, and untapped treasure.

In my interaction with many believers I believe that the Word is not a priority to them. This is evidenced in personal decisions or conclusions which are contrary to the Scripture but which we easily justify. If our minds are to be made new, if our bodies are to be holy and ready to meet our Savior, if we are to be a people zealous for good works, if the Gospel is going to be precious to us, if our Savior is going to be more attractive than anything else, then His Word must be dwelling richly in our minds. And I know of no better way for it to dwell richly in your mind than for you to memorize it!

We Have a Confession to Make

We Have a Confession to Make

In Sunday’s sermon from Genesis 3, “Did God Actually Say?,” we watched sin enter the world through Adam’s attempt to dethrone God. We watched God drive the first human couple out of his presence, but not without the promise of One who would crush the head of the serpent.

It is difficult to name a more relevant chapter for any of us. We have in this account an embarrassingly honest portrayal of the inner workings of sin in our hearts, and hope for the day when sin won’t be a problem for us anymore.

One take-away for the Christian is to learn how not to confess our sins.

Adam is our bad example, avoiding the matter and finally saying, “I ate,” but only after blaming both his wife and God (Gen. 3:12). As those who have put off the “old self,” let us confess sin straightforwardly (Eph. 4:22–24).

This is not easy, but we find help in texts such as Psalm 51 or Psalm 32. We also find help from saints who have gone before us. Here’s a good example of a prayer to help us pray from The Book of Common Prayer (1662).

Almighty and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind In Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.

Personal and corporate confession sin—genuine, straightforward, heartfelt confession—is basic to the vitality and healthy of any gospel church. As we confess our sins to God, let us do so with thankfulness for God’s grace in Christ, which is greater than the sin we confess.

Is Eden Really a Temple Sanctuary?

Is Eden Really a Temple Sanctuary?

Maybe you’ve heard it said that the garden in Eden is a temple sanctuary. Maybe, like me, that sounded at first like reading the temple into the garden. In Sunday’s sermon, “Naked and Not Ashamed,” from Genesis 2:4–25, I suggested that we may not initially see the temple in the garden, but the first readers would have seen the garden in the tabernacle, and later readers would have seen it in the temple. Is this a case of interesting but ultimately fanciful interpretation?

T. Desmond Alexander, in his book From Eden to the New Jerusalem, summarizes a number of the parallels:

  • Eden and the later sanctuaries were entered from the east and guarded by cherubim (Gen. 3:24; Exod. 25:18–22; 26:31; 36:35; 1Kgs. 6:23–29; 2Chr. 3:14).
  • The tabernacle menorah (or lamp stand) possibly symbolizes the tree of life (Gen. 2:9; 3:22; cf. Exod. 25:21–35). Arboreal decorations adorned the temple.
  • The Hebrew verbs [for “to serve, till” and “to keep”] used in God’s command to the man “to work it (the garden) and take care of it” (Gen. 2:15), are found in combination elsewhere in the Pentateuch only in passage that describe the duties of the Levites in the sanctuary (cf. Num. 3:7–8; 8:26; 18:5–6).
  • Gold and onyx, mentioned in Genesis 2:11–12, are used extensively to decorate the later sanctuaries and priestly garments (e.g. Exod. 25:7, 11, 17, 31). Gold, in particular, is one of the main materials used in the construction of the tabernacle and temple.
  • The Lord God walks in Eden as he later does in the tabernacle (Gen. 3:8; cf. Lev. 26:12; Deut. 23:15; 2Sam. 7:6–7).
  • The river flowing from Eden (Gen. 2:10) is reminiscent of Ezekiel 47:1–12, which envisages a river flowing from a future Jerusalem temple and bringing life to the Dead Sea.

If this seems like a bit of detail overkill, it helps to remember the heart of the matter: the story of the Bible is the story of God present with his people: how that began, how it was lost, and how it will be regained. The tabernacle and temple appear in the story on the way to the coming of Christ, the Spirit, and ultimately the new heavens and new hearth where we are, once again, at home with God. Interestingly, in Revelation 21 and 22 these threads from Eden reemerge in connection with the New Jerusalem, a city without a temple, “for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” (22. 22).

In other words, looking back to Eden helps us look forward to this glorious future. The tabernacle and temple, with their priesthood, levels of access, and sacrificial system, teach us about what it will cost to get back where we truly belong.

If you’re interested in exploring this theme further, consider two additional books, the first long and the second shorter: The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God, by G.K. Beale, and, God Dwells Among Us: Expanding Eden to the Ends of the Earth, by G.K. Beale and Mitchell Kim.


Getting to Know God in the First Chapter of Genesis

Getting to Know God in the First Chapter of Genesis

If we had to put it in a word, what is the subject of the Bible? The Bible’s first sentence gives it away: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). God is the subject of Scripture, its main character, and the chief actor behind its unfolding story.

What is he like? There’s more to God than what we learn in Genesis 1, but Genesis 1 gets us off to a good start. Here’s as helpful reflection on the Bible’s first chapter by D.A. Carson from his devotional commentary, For the Love of God: A Daily Companion for Discovering the Riches of God’s Word, Volume 1.

On the face of it, this chapter, and the lines of thought it develops, establish that God is different from the universe that he creates, and therefore pantheism is ruled out; that the original creation was entirely good, and therefore dualism is ruled out; that human beings, male and female together, are alone declared to be made in the image of God, and therefore forms of reductionism that claim we are part of the animal kingdom and no more must be ruled out; that God is a talking God, and therefore all notions of an impersonal God must be ruled out; that this God has sovereignly made all things, including all people, and therefore conceptions of merely tribal deities must be ruled out.

Some of these and other matters are put positively by later writers of Scripture who, reflecting on the doctrine of creation, offer a host of invaluable conclusions. The sheer glory of the created order bears telling witness to the glory of its Maker (Ps. 19). The universe came into being by the will of God, and for this, God is incessantly worshipped (Rev. 4:11). That God has made everything speaks of his transcendence, i.e., he is above this created order, above time and space, and therefore cannot be domesticated by anything in it (Acts 17:24-25). That he made all things and continues to rule over all, means that both racism and tribalism are to be rejected (Acts 17:26). Further, if we ourselves have been made in his image, it is preposterous to think that God can properly be pictured by some image that we can concoct (Acts 17:29). These notions and more are teased out by later Scriptures.

One of the most important entailments of the doctrine of creation is this: it grounds all human responsibility. The theme repeatedly recurs in the Bible, sometimes explicitly, sometimes by implication. To take but one example, John’s gospel opens by declaring that everything that was created came into being by the agency of God’s “Word,” the Word that became flesh in Jesus Christ (John 1:2-3, 14). But this observation sets the stage for a devastating indictment: when this Word came into the world, and even though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him (John 1:10). God made us to “image” himself; he made us for his own glory. For us to imagine ourselves autonomous is, far from being a measure of our maturity, the supreme mark of our rebellion, the flag of our suppression of the truth (Rom. 1).

Carson provides succinct commentary along these lines for just about every page of the Bible. For the Love of God is a two volume set available on Amazon (Volume 1, Volume 2) or at D.A. Carson’s Blog at The Gospel Coalition. I highly commend it. Both volumes offer commentary on two of the four daily readings based on a Bible reading plan by Robert Murray Mchene.