Monthly Archives: September 2014

A Rosh Hashanah Dilemma: To Shemittah or Prozbul

Our_Canceled_Debts_00034664Ok. Odds are, my title either piqued your interest or made you turn to something else without reading any further. If you are still with me, I want to discuss how an ancient Jewish holiday will reveal something about your faith and your Christianity today. It begins with the holiday, Rosh Hashanah, the “Head of the New Year.”

Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of a New Year on the Jewish calendar. It is a time for reflection as the Jewish people head into Yom Kippur, the High Holy Day of Atonement. And this year, there is something special about Rosh Hashanah…it is a “Shemittah,” literally “remittance” or “release,” 7th year, lasting from September 25, 2104 to September 13, 2015.

Shemittah, found in Deuteronomy 15, is a year in which Jews practiced forgiveness of debt and a rest for the land. Few Jews, primarily only the very religious farmers in Israel, still practice the “land rest” portion of this holiday. But it is the forgiveness of debt that is much more applicable…and controversial. And believe it or not, the controversy dates back almost 2,000 years.

You see, even before the days of Jesus, Jews were trying to find a “loophole” on the forgiveness of debt. They lived in a “modern” society. They did not want to forgive debts. Even worse, repayment concerns caused the wealthy to avoid lending as the 7th year approached. Poor people could not get access to badly needed funds, and God’s laws were being abused and trampled.

So Rabbi Hillel provided a solution. He decided that only “private” debts needed to be cancelled. His reasoning? Deuteronomy 15 mentions loan forgiveness to a “friend” or “brother.” He therefore instituted a complicated legal system of “Prozbul” where you can temporarily (say for a year or so) turn over your debt collection to a court. Courts, after all, are not my friend, neighbor, or brother. Orthodox Jews still use this system today (see So, problem solved! At the end of the year, you can demand your debts back from the court and all is good.

Or is it? What level of tolerance does God have for loopholes? Jesus challenged Hillel’s prevailing ‘idea of the day’ in the parable of the Good Samaritan. He challenged the Jews to understand that their “neighbor” isn’t just the person living next to them. Rather, we are all created in God’s image and we are all inextricably connected. It is the one who does God’s will that is the real neighbor. He also challenged us to forgive our debtors as we are forgiven of our debts by God.

So, here’s my application, Christians: 1) Do you see those outside the church as your friend, brother, and neighbor? If not, Jesus would challenge you to start treating them as the Good Samaritan did. And, 2) Though you probably don’t celebrate tomorrow as your “New Year,” why not put into practice the spiritual principle of forgiveness this year? Are you harboring resentment? Do you hold an old debt? In this year of release, why not begin by reconciling with those who you should be treating like a brother. Forgive. Christ did, and He calls each of us to do the same.

The NFL’s Worst Problem Yet: “T-Shirt Gate”

kNOw Jesus, kNOw Peace

Well, the NFL finally dropped the hammer. That behavior will never happen again. We can all rest easier knowing that players who wear t-shirts with Christian messages will be properly threatened and fined. Wait, what?

Seriously? With all the bad press that the NFL is getting for players accused of child abuse and wife-beating, you would think that they would be looking for some good role models. It might even make sense to not harass a guy wearing a shirt about knowing Jesus and His peace. But that is exactly what happened to Redskins quarterback, Robert Griffin, the other day.

Griffin was confronted by a uniform inspector for the NFL and told he had to flip his shirt inside out or be fined. Apparently, NFL policy does not allow non-Nike t-shirts with personal messages on them. Meanwhile other players were seen wearing non Nike t-shirts with personal (non-Christian) messages on them. The one that stood out as inappropriate to the inspector? It was a shirt that says, “kNOw Jesus, kNOw Peace.”

The shirt is written in a clever way that delivers two messages, both are messages which could really help the NFL out these days: 1) Know Jesus, Know Peace, 2) No Jesus, No Peace.

Jesus is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) and Lord of Peace (2 Thessalonians 3:16). All true peace comes through Him (Acts 10:36). Knowing Jesus leads to a “Peace that passes comprehension” (Philippians 4:7). Jesus offers an abundant life (John 10:10). Jesus teaches respect for women and children (ie., John 4; John 8; Luke 18:16-17). Jesus teaches selflessness (Mark 10:45). Jesus teaches lessons that the NFL desperately needs to hear.

Without Jesus, there can be no true peace in this lifetime. People will tell you how to find peace elsewhere, but they never lead to real peace (Jeremiah 8:11). Without Jesus, there simply is no peace in this world or the next (John 16:32-33).

A t-shirt may not answer the NFL’s problems, but the message on it can. Know Jesus and His peace today, because without Jesus, there is No Peace!


Victoria, PLEASE, Don’t Be For Him!

VictoriaThere are some people who, no matter what they say, even if it is truth, you simply don’t want to speak on your behalf. This is the way God sees false teachers.

The Apostle Paul taught us that false teachers can damage a message even by telling the truth. In Acts 16, a woman is following Paul around, proclaiming, “These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.” She spoke the truth. And you might think that Paul should be ecstatic to find such a good supporter. After all, it is better than the stoning and beatings he received elsewhere, right?

Wrong. Paul would rather take a beating for doing right than the praise of a false teacher (1 Peter 2:20). Paul didn’t want a fortune-teller speaking on his behalf. She was a false teacher and she used her gift to gain wealth for masters who sold idols. So Paul turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!” And even though he suffered for making that call, it was the right one to make.

By now, I imagine you have probably heard about Victoria Osteen’s message that landed her in hot water with the Christian community. What many are calling “cheap Christianity” is really nothing more than the ultimate conclusion of the health and wealth gospel…YOU. YOU are the most important thing in the world. God wants YOU to be happy; worship is there to benefit YOU; YOU deserve – everything.

Despite responses by Albert Mohler and others who have written about the foolishness of Victoria’s statements, and despite her defense of her statements, I wonder if the bigger picture isn’t being missed here. After all, when false teachers preach a false message, it is pretty easy to call them out. But the bigger surprise is that so many people think that there is ANYTHING that the Osteens could preach that would be pleasing to God.

Think about it this way: Is there anyone you wouldn’t want to compliment you? For example, if Hitler stood up and told everyone what a nice guy you were…while it might be true…you might say, “PLEASE, don’t be for me!” The problem is that the person might do more damage than good because of what they believe and practice.

Please understand, I am not denouncing imperfect people who preach the true gospel. If that were the case, none of us could preach anything! Rather, we denounce any teacher who knowingly teaches a gospel other than the one preached in the New Testament. Paul said, if anyone preaches another gospel, “let them be accursed” (Galatians 1:9)!

God really, really wants His message preached. Period. So, we don’t applaud when a false teacher happens to stumble on the truth. We don’t congratulate when a false teacher preaches the truth 95% of the time, peppered with a false message occasionally. We don’t call good that which God calls evil (Isaiah 5:20). Unless major repentance, change of heart, and change of doctrine takes place, there is nothing the Osteens could ever teach that wouldn’t hurt the church more than help. We should collectively cry, “PLEASE, stopping speaking for Him!”

2.5 million people follow Victoria on Twitter and thousands flock to hear her false message of cheap grace, empty Christianity, and self-worship. Meanwhile, many people continue to think that all churches are basically the same. Listening to one is as good as another. Give it some thought. If God denounces false teachers in His Holy Word and won’t even let them speak for Him, how should we react today?

Perhaps, rather than sifting through false messages searching for nuggets of truth, we should be directing people to the source. There is one true gospel, and if someone preaches any other message, God will say, in the final judgment, “you shouldn’t have presumed to speak for me” (James 3:1).

Friend, I urge you to find a Bible-based, true-gospel-preaching, congregation in your area. If there is a local church of Christ, I encourage you to check them out first. Then, just as those Bereans did, test every Word you hear, and every aspect of worship they practice, against scripture (Acts 17:11).

Mind the Gap

superhero commuter At a Perth train station in Australia, “Mind the Gap” signs warn riders to beware of the gap between the train and the platform. One man, seen in a video that has gone viral this week, wasn’t so mindful. Not paying attention to “the gap,” he stepped right between the train and the platform as he was stepping on the train, and got his foot and leg stuck as the train was loading!

As the video shows, the driver was alerted and the train was stopped before anything terrible happened. What took place next has been called “Superhero Teamwork.” Dozens of commuters gathered at the side of the train and pushed the train to the side just far enough for the man to get his leg out!

Now, I don’t know how much that train weighed, but it is obvious that it was heavier than a few could handle. It took a large number of people, willing to take a moment to help someone else. I love this example of group-effort as a reminder that people are still willing to help out when 1) they see a need, & 2) they determine that there is something they can do about it.

We are told in Luke 16:26 that in eternity “there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.” In the church, there are millions of people who see the need and are willing to help. Sadly, though, many people they are trying to free from “the gap” would rather stay stuck in the danger of sin than be lifted to freedom!

Friend, consider your life. Are you in a rut? Have you realized that your life is headed in the wrong direction? Is there a nagging sense that there is something missing? Perhaps you are stuck in “the gap,” a most dangerous place. Or perhaps you know someone who needs a little “superhero teamwork.” Will you stop and help someone out of the gap today?

Don’t stay stuck in the gap all the way into eternity! Jesus has bridged the gap for us by shedding His blood on the cross for our sins. Believers everywhere are praying for you and are willing to help free you today. Get in touch with your local church of Christ today and ask for help!