Think of it like Traffic Court
Think of it like Traffic Court

Brian Jones • January 13, 2020

Do you have to choose?


If forgiveness is a declaration of God, does a person have to choose it?


Last week’s TTOW (Theological Term of the Week) was about justification and it seems like a good idea to continue that discussion on Chasing Squirrels.


So, if justification is a legal declaration by the Judge of the universe that you are innocent, then how much choice do we really have in the matter?


After all, the judge makes pronouncements based on his authority.


The judge has all the legal authority he needs, right?


Yes. But…


Think of it like this.


Several years ago, I was in traffic court. (Yes, traffic court.)


And I will never forget how the scene played out for the person in front of me.


When he stood before the judge, the judge asked him if he was going to do it again.


The person began to explain the situation and what had happened.


The judge cut him off and asked if he was going to do it again.


The guilty party, again, began to explain the scenario around his ticket.


This time, when the judge cut him off, he told him, “The correct answer is no. Are you going to do it again?”


Finally, the man in front of me answered no.


The judge declared, “Case dismissed. Low over.”


The judge was waiting to show mercy and forgiveness to that driver. But he still had a choice to make. He had to stop defending himself. He needed to agree with the judge and accept his wrong behavior.


He had to choose.


And then the judge would dismiss the case.


The same is true for us.


God stands ready to grant you forgiveness. But you still must choose.


He has made all the necessary arrangements.


Jesus went to the cross to bear the punishment for all humanity.


Jesus made a way for us to be forgiven.


But we still have to accept it.


We still have to choose.


We still have our part to play in the eternal and divine legal proceeding.


We have been given all the instructions we need to obtain mercy.

(see Romans 10:9)


He has told us what we must do.


We must agree with the Judge and accept our wrong behavior.


And, just in case you were wondering…


No. The judge didn’t give me the same option.


I still had to go to traffic school.

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Think of it like a late night host
Think of it like a late night host

TMBCfamily • January 06, 2020

What should a pastor wear to preach?


I know, for some people this just about constitutes fighting words.


But this squirrel isn’t really about what pastors should wear. Not really. I have my own thoughts and I know what I wear every Sunday. However, one of my favorite pastors, David Platt, usually wears a polo shirt. And some pastors who wear suits don’t belong anywhere near a pulpit.


So this isn’t about what pastors should wear.


It is about the justification that some give for what they wear. At least, one reason that I hear all the time.


We can’t reach younger people if we wear suits.


And ties.


And pocket squares.


But that isn’t even remotely true.


And I can prove it to you.


Think of it like this.


Turn on any late-night talk show host. You know, the ones that connect with younger people every night. Guess what they all wear.


Suits and ties.


Or turn on SportsCenter. Or any of the NFL shows. Guess what the commentators and hosts wear.


Suits and ties.


And pocket squares.


And they connect with younger people for a living. Often connecting with men. So why can they wear suits and connect with people, but pastors supposedly cannot?


Maybe it has more to do with content than attire?


Maybe people still see suits as professional and aren’t turned off by them if the person wearing the suit has something meaningful to say? Maybe we should be more concerned with explaining the gospel to younger people in ways that makes sense to them than we are concerned with dressing like them.


Truthfully, I think pastors should wear what is most comfortable for them. And by comfortable I mean what is most natural for them – within reason. I wear a suit and tie every Sunday and feel very natural in that. And if a polo shirt with khakis is what you feel most natural in, go for it. But if you are telling yourself the only way to be relevant is to dress a certain way…I just don’t think that argument holds water.

The way to be relevant is to have something relevant to say.


Meaningful.


Life changing.


Eternity changing.


Now, it is true that people may feel uncomfortable visiting a church if everyone were in suits and fancy dresses. But, in all honesty, I don’t think we have to worry about that scenario.


Do you?


There may very well come a day when wearing a suit is as antiquated as wearing a hat with a buckle on it. (Looking at you puritans.)


But I don’t think that day is today.

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Think of it like your favorite TV show
Think of it like your favorite TV show

Brian Jones • December 30, 2019

Do you ever struggle to share your faith?


For most of us, the answer would have to be a resounding yes.


And for many of us, one of our New Year’s resolutions just might be to share our faith with someone.


Maybe someone in particular.


Maybe just anyone.


But we struggle because we are afraid it could be awkward.


Or that they might ask us a question for which we don’t have the answer.


Or one of a host of other reasons.


There is a way to approach evangelism that may help it feel more natural.


Think of it like this.


Think about the new Disney+ show The Mandalorian.


Of course, you may not have seen that show yet. And maybe television isn’t an important element in your life.


Maybe you need to think about that great Chinese restaurant you just found.


Or that book.


Or that band.


Or that new pair of shoes.


Something that you are excited about. Something you can’t wait to tell your friends and family about. (You see where this is going.) Something you will tell them about, even if they didn’t ask.


Even if you don’t know if they like Star Wars.


Or Chinese food.


Or reading.


Or music.


Or shoes.


Even if they might ask you questions you aren’t ready for. Even if they didn’t ask for your opinion.


When we are excited about something, we just naturally talk about it.


My guess is, you have never had to take an instructional class about how to tell people about your favorite movie. [This isn’t to say that evangelism training is bad. It’s not. And it certainly fills a need for many believers.] My guess is that you just told them.


Because you were excited.


You liked it, and you want them to like it too.


You think that thing you just found is fantastic and you want them to experience it too. The way that you did. You want them to be enriched the way you were. You just know that if they watch, eat, read, listen to or wear it, they will find it as wonderful as you do.


And often what we talk about is what we love about it. How our lives are better because of it. (One of my favorite testimonies in the bible is in John 9; see especially verse 25.) So, while we may not need a PhD in theology, we do need to know what Jesus has done for us. What it is we love about Him.


So, is it possible that we don’t need another program?


That it’s not that we need more training so that we will tell people about Jesus?


Is it possible that it is simpler than that?


We just need to get excited?


Let’s fall in love with Jesus all over again in 2020.


Let’s get excited.

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Think of it like a candy cane.
Think of it like a candy cane.

Brian Jones • December 23, 2019

Did Mary ride a donkey into Bethlehem?


But did she, really?


You may want to double-check your bible before you answer that question.


Or, what did the innkeeper say to Mary and Joseph?


Are you sure?


The answers to these questions are all traditional pictures of the Christmas story, but are they accurate?


The truth is, the bible never mentions a donkey at all.


Or an innkeeper.


Sometimes we know the story around the narrative better than we know the narrative itself.


Think of it like this.


Do you know the legend of the candy cane?


Did you know that most of it is probably legend?


It was almost assuredly not invited by a candy maker in Indiana. But we love to tell that story.


And that can be a problem.


As Christians, we should not relate the myths and legends that grow up around the faith as if they are biblical truth.


And that means that we had better know what the true stories really are.


This is not to say that we cannot enjoy some of those legends.


We enjoy reading Clopper the Christmas Donkey.


I don’t have a problem with innkeepers in every church Christmas play.


But we must know the difference between what is in the bible and what isn’t.


How many wise men were there?


Three, right?


The bible doesn’t actually say. That number is based on three gifts and historical legend.


But the bible doesn’t even say that there were only three gifts. It just specifically mentions three gifts. There may have been more. And there were probably more than three wise men; and that doesn’t count how many people they brought with them. A long journey across arid lands would necessitate a larger entourage. The size entourage that would make an impression that would reach all the way to the king. (see Matthew 2:3)


And, despite what all of our manger scenes have, the wise men weren’t there. Not on the night of Jesus’ birth.  Which makes sense with the star being a herald of Jesus’ birth. And that is what they followed.


It would take a while for the wise men to show up. They arrived later. The language in the bible (Matthew 2:11) says that they entered the house and saw the child (not the infant: and yes, that is significant).


This doesn’t mean that you can’t put wise men in the manger.


We do in my house.


We do at my church.


It just means that we must know the fact verses the fiction.


The truth from the traditions.


We lose the right to be heard when we don’t know which is which. We must be people who read, study and know the Scriptures.


So, think of the legend of the candy cane when you see them around this Christmas.


Share the legend of the candy cane this Christmas.


Enjoy the traditions that you have.


Just know the difference.

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Think of it like a mechanic.
Think of it like a mechanic.

Brian Jones • December 16, 2019

Does the church use insider language?


Yes.


Is that a problem?


Maybe. Maybe not.


It is absolutely true that the church uses words and phrases that would not be used anywhere else; at least not in the same way.


Justification.


Sanctification.


Glorification.


Washed in the blood of the lamb: apart from a Christian understanding, that is just a weird saying.


Hypostatic union: a phrase that is critical to Christian faith but probably not often used.


Even some of the classic hymns of the faith use idioms and words that aren’t used any longer or that have an obscure reference.


The hymn, ‘Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing’ uses the word ‘fetter’ and the phrase ‘here I raise my Ebenezer’.


Strange words and strange phrases. And these are just a few examples of insider language in the church. But is insider language a problem? I’m not sure that it is.


Here’s why?


Think of it like this.


Do mechanics have insider language? Yes.


I have no idea what calipers are or what they do. But my car has them.


Do physicians have insider language? Of course.


Sphygmomanometer. I love that word. And yes, I know what that one is.


How about football teams?


In football, a nickleback has nothing to do with music.


Let’s be honest. Every group has language that is specific to them. Terms and phrases. Acronyms and figures of speech. Having them is not the problem. The question is what we do about them.


Several years ago, the church went through a movement known as Seeker Sensitive. Without getting into too much detail, suffice it to say that some groups were trying to figure out how to make church more attractional to people who don’t usually attend.


Not the worst desire.


And what some of them noticed was that insider language can keep people from feeling a part of the group. It keeps them from understanding. It keeps them on the outside.


So, the solution was to stop using insider language.


But, no other group does that. And no one would expect any other group to do that.


If you were interested in football, you would just look up what a nickelback is. (By the way, it is the fifth defensive back).


I wouldn’t be surprised if you already google searched a sphygmomanometer. (Yep, blood pressure meter.)


And hypostatic union? It is the phrase that describes how Jesus was, and is, both truly God and truly man. An absolutely critical doctrine of the Christian faith.


So, what should we do about insider language?


One, let’s be honest. If something is important to you, you will learn the language.


My kids know all kinds of computer game terminology. They learned it because they wanted to.


So, let’s not pretend that specialized words and phrases keep people out of church.


Two, how about we spend some time in Sunday School (yes, another insider term) discussing these expressions. Or even within worship itself. At my church, if it applies to the text I am preaching, we will have a TTOD: theological term of the day.


This is not to say that we shouldn’t explain our insider language and help those who didn’t grow up in church [and some that did] to know our jargon. We should do that.


It is to say that dropping the terms won’t ultimately be helpful. The church has a rich history of language that should be preserved.


We learn the language that we find important.


Just don’t ask me what calipers are.


I still have no idea.

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Chasing a Different Squirrel
Chasing a Different Squirrel

Brian Jones • December 09, 2019

How should a Christian prepare to take his or her belief into the public square?


One of the primary purposes of Chasing Squirrels is to equip believers to defend and explain their faith. It does this by giving them simple little analogies that they can use in discussion with believers and non-believers alike. But that means sometimes you enter into discussions with those who don’t accept the Bible as God’s Word.


Or the existence of God at all.


Last week’s posting was a prime example of that.


And instead of having a conversation in the comment section of Facebook (because we all know how helpful that would be) it seemed that this week it would be good to help believers to be ready to give a reason for the hope they have within them. (1 Peter 3:15)


So, to that end, here are four points to help prepare you to discuss your faith with any person you encounter.


Know Your Stuff


If you are a Christian, it is your responsibility to know your Bible. It doesn’t mean that you have to have a PhD in theology, but you should know the big picture of Scripture. You cannot defend what you do not know.


Know the different types of biblical genres and how they function. Know how you are supposed to read them. And how you aren’t.


Another point to know is the Threefold Purpose of the Law. Know that the categories of civil, ceremonial and moral law exist in the Old Testament. (A phenomenally helpful and blessedly short pdf on the issue can be downloaded here.) And know why the categories of civil and ceremonial are no longer valid for followers of Jesus.


Know that the civil laws were only applicable to the theocratic nation of Old Testament Israel. That they were meant to distinguish them from the people around them.


We aren’t Old Testament Israel.


Know that the ceremonial laws were a function of Old Testament worship. Know those laws were completed when Jesus established a new covenant. Know that for Christians to practice Old Testament ceremonial laws would be to ignore the completed work of Jesus.


We do not want to say that.


Many of the misunderstandings that people have when discussing Christianity occur because they aren’t aware of those distinctions. One of these questions came up last week.


Should we stone people who don’t worship on Sunday? (This is also a logical fallacy that we will discuss in a moment, but for the time being we will just take this as a serious question.) And the truth is, what people are really asking is the same question that people asked Paul in the New Testament.


What is the relationship of Old Testament law to the Gospel of Jesus Christ?


First century Jews wanted to know if a person had to be circumcised in order to become a follower of Jesus. They wanted to know about that relationship.


Paul had to deal with the same questions Christians have been answering for 2000 years. It would be a good idea for you to be ready to answer that question as well.


Know Their Stuff


This may seem strange, but I would encourage you to spend a little time reading atheist blogs. Spend some time talking with people who do not believe the same as you. It can be very helpful.


One, you want to make sure that others aren’t right. If this involves your eternal soul, we had better make sure that our beliefs are accurate. This is too important to be wrong.


Two, once you begin to read what those who disagree with you are saying, you know better how to answer them. Be prepared for what you know they are going to say. 


Know their stuff. 


Know their stuff even better than they do.


Know Logical Fallacies


I would strongly encourage you to read this book. (The book is designed for young people, but it is a great first foray into logical reasoning.) Or at least do some research about logical fallacies. You will find that people commit them all the time.


Two were committed in last week’s posting.


ad hominem – this is the type of logical fallacy that is simply a personal attack; assuming that I haven’t done my research because my conclusions differed from theirs. The reality is, personal attacks amount to saying that someone’s position is wrong because their dog is ugly.


Even if the personal attack is true, it bears no weight to the discussion.


Make sure people argue the points, not the person.


straw man – this type of logical fallacy is started when a person brings up an issue that wasn’t being debated. It is designed to be easily refuted and therefore it is used by the person to discredit the previous point (the one they can’t argue with) by tying it to the straw man point.


Consider last week.


Arguing that mistakes about the Bible can occur because the different genres can be misread has nothing to do with whether or not Old Testament law should still be followed.


Those are two completely different discussions.


Know Your Audience


I cannot argue anyone to the faith.


Neither can you.


Only God can open their eyes.


Yes, we must be ready to give a reason for the hope we have within.


Yes, we should be able and willing to point out where other worldviews cannot support their own weight.


But, ultimately, we must depend upon the Lord.


So pray, a lot.


And do your part to be ready to take your faith out in to the big bad world.


It really needs it.

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Think of it like a newspaper.
Think of it like a newspaper.

Brian Jones • December 02, 2019

Is the Bible full of errors?


No.


But some people seem to think so. They even create entire websites that list the errors … you know … just to help you out.


But the errors aren’t really errors.


Sometimes there are difficulties. Yes, the Bible has difficulties. Events and episodes that take some time to understand. And we should spend the effort to understand them.


But errors?


Many of the supposed errors turn out not to be errors at all when you understand that the Bible is a collection of various types of writings.


I remember a website that a family member sent me to years ago. A website that supposedly has an exhaustive list of the errors of the Bible. For one example, this website pointed to a passage in the book of Job [ 36:27-29]. This passage says that evaporation and condensation are the effects of God. Not just natural processes.


But we know that they are natural processes.


Therefore, the Bible is full of errors.


Right?


Not exactly.


Think of it like this.


Now, this might make me seem old, but think of a newspaper.


In a newspaper, there are articles.


And editorials.


And comic strips.


And you don’t read articles like editorials.


And you don’t read editorials like comic strips.


And you don’t read comic strips like articles.


You read them differently because they are meant to be read differently. Articles are supposed to convey unbiased factual information. Editorials are designed to convey opinion. Comic strips are designed to be funny.


And you definitely don’t read them the same. That would be confusing, dishonest to the authors and probably lead to some wrong conclusions.


The Bible has different types of literature as well.


The Bible is full of narratives.


And songs and poetry.


And prophecy.


And, sometimes, even in narrative books there are sections of poetry.


And you don’t read narratives like you read songs and poetry.


And you don’t read songs and poetry like you read prophecy.


And you don’t read prophecy like you read narratives.


Narratives are meant to be understood literally. Songs and poetry are not.


And in the example from above, critics are taking a poetic section of Scripture and reading it like narrative. It isn’t designed for that.


You will come to the wrong conclusion about the Bible if you don’t read the different genres the way they were meant to be read.


The point is to know what type of literature you are reading. And to know how to handle it.


Otherwise, you might think that the Bible is full of errors.

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Think of it like typing
Think of it like typing

Brian Jones • November 25, 2019

Does God know everything?


Absolutely.


Can God do everything?


Yes.


Is God everywhere?


Most assuredly.


Then why do we evangelize? Why do we share the gospel? Why do we tell others about Jesus and what He did on the cross? After all, it is not as if God needs us to do that?


Right?


Well, similar to a previous post, the short answer is that we have been commanded by God to do so. It is our assignment by God to tell others. So, we do it because God said so.


And that is enough.


But, maybe we can think about it another way that might just give us a different view.


Think of it like this.


Several years ago, I was typing a paper for a class at seminary. At the time, my oldest child was about five years old and she wanted to help my type my paper. Seeing this as a great opportunity to spend a little time with her, I brought her right up into my lap.


This is how the typing went.


She asked what the next letter was and I told her that the next letter was ‘T’.


Then I waited for her to find the ‘T’.


Then I showed her where it was.


Then I told her that the next letter was ‘H’.


Then I waited for her to find where that was.


Then I helped her find it.


And then the next letter was ‘E’.


You can see how this was going. Admittedly, this wasn’t the fastest way to type a paper. It was quite inefficient and time consuming.


So, was my daughter helping me type my paper?


Yes. And no.


The truth is, she was actually making it take longer. Longer than it would have if I was just doing it myself. But that isn’t the point.


The point is that she wasn’t worried about efficiency. She was just happy to be sitting on her father’s lap participating in his work.


She was just happy to be sitting on her father’s lap participating in his work.


We shouldn’t think that God needs us to accomplish His work. We should just be happy to be with Him and participating in His work. Just happy to be sitting on his lap, ‘helping’ Him in what He is doing.


And let me say, as a father, it did not bother me that it was taking longer because she was helping. It was a joy to have her ‘help’ me.


Because I love her.


If you are a child of God, He loves you too.


And He wants you to spend time with Him.


He wants you to participate in His work.


So let’s not think about the fact that God could probably do it faster and more efficiently without us.


Let’s not think about the fact that He doesn’t actually need us to do anything.


Let’s just be happy to be with Him, doing what He is doing.


Participating in our Father’s work.

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Think of it like a sports team.
Think of it like a sports team.

Brian Jones • November 18, 2019

Do you have to go to church to be a Christian?


No.


If you are a Christian, will you go to church?


Yes.


I could just point to the bible’s admonition to not give up meeting together [Hebrews 10:25] as why Christians should go to church. And let’s be clear: the fact that the bible says so is enough. We don’t need more than that. But, instead of just saying to meet, what if we consider why to meet.


Think of it like this.


Imagine that you are a sports franchise. It’s football season, so sports analogies are mandatory. I’m not sure what your mascot is, but you are a franchise unto yourself.


And imagine that your sport is the Christian life.


To start with, let’s consider your game field. That would be the world. The game field is where the sport is played for the entire world to see. The world is where your faith is lived out for the entire world to see.


But the game field is the last stage in the development and growth of a team. A lot of work goes into preparing a team to excel on the game field. A lot of work should go into preparing a life to live for the glory of God in the world.


Therefore, before a team takes the game field, they spend time on a practice field.


So, what would be the practice field in your Christian life? Believe it or not, it is your home.


Yes, your home.


That is where you practice loving others over and over again. Even when it is difficult; especially when it is difficult.


That is where you learn to forgive others.


It is where you develop routines that will pay dividends in the real world and for the rest of your life.


The home is much more important to your Christian life than you might imagine.


But what about church?


Where does it fit in to this analogy?


How about the training facility?


I know, there is more going on in church than just training for the Christian life. But there certainly isn’t less than that. Part of what should happen at church is training. A big part.


Bible study.


Discipleship.


Instruction on living for the glory of God.


Iron sharpening iron.


Theological training.


All of this and more.


From the pulpit, to small groups, to the friendships that are developed; they should all help the members grow and mature. The church should help prepare them to go the practice field and work on their faith.


And from there, to go to the game field. To the world. To live out the Christian life in front of everyone.


But we only do that after we have practiced: at home.


And only after we have been trained: at the church.


So, don’t give up meeting together. It is for the glory of God. And it is most definitely for your good.

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Think of it like a big brother.
Think of it like a big brother.

Brian Jones • November 11, 2019

How do you explain the gospel?


How do you explain what Jesus did for people

                                                                               for me

                                                                               for you on the cross?


Lots of good theological terms exist to explain what happened:


               propitiation

               atonement

               imputation


But, sometimes, the big words can actually make things more confusing. Actually cloud the issue instead of clarifying it.


So, how should we explain the gospel?


Think about it this way.


Let’s imagine that you are a kid and that you have disobeyed a parent. Doesn’t matter what you’ve done, but whatever it is, you know that you deserve a spanking. [This is not a post about corporal punishment. That's for another time. This is about the classic Christian doctrine of substitutionary atonement.]


And you are not going to argue with your dad. You know you did it. You know that you deserve a punishment.


And imagine that as you are talking to your dad something


incredible

                                                                                                       amazing

                                                                                                       unbelievable happens.


Your big brother walks through the door and says, “Dad, I know that he deserves a punishment. But I want to take his punishment. Spank me instead.”


This is the way I usually explain the gospel to kids. And once I get to this point, I consistently hear, “Why would they do that?”


Because your big brother, in this analogy, loves you.

Because Jesus, in the real world, loves you.


That is what happened on the cross. Jesus went to the heavenly Father and took our punishment for us. Over and over again the Bible presents the reality that rebellious humanity [and that includes everyone not named Jesus of Nazareth] rightly deserves judgment from God.


We deserve punishment.


And God is a righteous God. He cannot just excuse sin and wrong.


A bad parent excuses wrong behavior.

A bad judge excuses wrong behavior.


God is perfect on both counts. He cannot just ignore sin. He would not be righteous. He would not be good. He would not be God.


But He can allow another to take it for us. But this ‘other’ would have to be one that wouldn’t deserve any punishment. At all. Period.


This ‘other’ would have to be perfect.

This ‘other’ would have to be God.


Jesus, the true union of God and man, had no sin for which to pay. Had no guilt or shame. He deserved no punishment. So He took ours. He paid it for us.


That is what happened on the cross.


That is the gospel.

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