Thursday, December 27, 2007

Thankful for the Criminal on the Cross

Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. . . . One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” -- Luke 23:32, 33, 39-43

In recent months I have become very thankful for the criminal who was crucified next to Jesus. God in his providence used this man and his interactions with Jesus to provide us with helpful information and encouragement concerning the Christian life and eternity. Here are a few ways that God has used the thief on the cross.

First, the criminal helps us understand the gospel. Notice that he said, ". . . we [are condemned] indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds" He recognized his guilt. Also, he recognized Christ's innocence: "But this man has done nothing wrong." This man simply acknowledged his own sinfulness, saw Christ's righteousness, and simply believed that Jesus was the Messiah and had the power to save him when he died.

Second, the criminal helps us understand that baptism is not absolutely necessary for salvation. Jesus accepted his public profession of faith and promised that he would be saved. Baptism is prescribed for believers, but obviously it is a sign or a symbol. It does not produce salvation, nor is it required for salvation.

Third, we see that this man did not go to purgatory. He didn't cease to exist. He was with Jesus in paradise the same day he died. He placed his trust in Jesus Christ and when he died he was assured he would be with the Lord (cf. 2 Cor. 5:1-10).

I think there are other ways this man crucifixion bears implications for our lives, but I wanted to point out these three. I am truly thankful for that criminal!


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Creation, Broken by Sin

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. -- Romans 8:19-22

Yesterday, a tiger escaped from its enclosure at the San Francisco zoo, killing one person and mauling two others. Personally, this is one of my greatest fears--being eaten by an animal. I have fought to control a fear of unfamiliar dogs. I have fought against the very unlikely fear that I will be eaten by a lion or a tiger. And most of all, the stories of survivors of grizzly bear attacks have haunted me when I have given in to thinking about them.

But this is not how it is supposed to be! In the beginning, Adam was in charge of the animals, and he brought them before him to be named without fearing for his life from a tiger or a lion or a bear. Only after Adam fell into sin did God curse creation. Only then did creation become broken and "subjected to futility." And only after Jesus returns will this place be fully restored!

Come Lord Jesus!


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Kids Say the Craziest Things!

Bekah as Mary!
Last night we watched The Nativity Story before we got the kids ready for bed. During the scene when Zechariah recovered his voice and said, "His name is John," my daughter perked up and said, "Like John Piper!"

Wonder where she ever heard that name?!?


Monday, December 24, 2007

Evaluating Our Traditions

"You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!" -- Mark 7:9

I'm not sure why this passage of Scripture seems to speak to me so clearly every time I read it. I have blogged on this passage previously, but I wanted to address it again in light of my recent post on alcohol.

This statement from Jesus really challenges me to evaluate every tradition in light of Scripture. From the type of music we use in church to the translation of the Bible we use to the constitutions and covenants that govern our corporate convictions, I want everything to be governed by divine revelation. We must be subject to God's Word! How can we expect to please God when we reject his commandments in order to establish our own traditions?

What about our traditions like Christmas and Easter? Why do we celebrate these things? Do we celebrate because we enjoy it, or do we celebrate because we enjoy God and want to honor the name of Christ? Do we hold convictions against certain practices simply because we were taught to do so?

This evaluation of our traditions will require great effort. If we want to be biblical in every area of our lives, we must know our Bibles and we must apply God's Word to our lives. We must recognize the principles behind the biblical practices and seek to apply those same principles in our own traditions. We cannot expect to please God by doing whatever we want to do without thought to the reasons why we do them.

"There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death." -- Proverbs 14:12

"Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason--I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other--my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me." -- Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms, 1521

May our consciences, too, be captive to the Word of God!


Friday, December 21, 2007

Evidence of Joy

Yesterday I visited with a friend from church who's mom just passed away. This brother is a believer, as was his mom. As I was talking with him, I noticed the large group of people that were there for the visitation. What I didn't really notice until I was leaving was the joy that they all seemed to express during this time of grief. I've been to parties with less smiles and hugs and laughter! It was a party, a celebration of this dear woman's life, and the people there were happy to see each other!

The significance of this joy struck me as I walked out of the room through a side door, and walked down the hallway past another room where another group of people were receiving visitors. The difference was striking! Words like "gloom" and "dejection" race to my mind. A small group of people with long faces and heads hanging seemed to characterize the mood. I could still hear the laughter and noise from the other room, but silence seemed to fill this one.

I didn't linger; I kept walking. But the difference is clear. One of these groups was exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit. For those who place their trust in Christ's perfect obedience and sacrificial death, we can see even death with joy. If you have ever fought sin, death will be joy! If you have ever physically hurt, death will be joy! If you have ever longed to love God and others with perfect love, death will be joy! And those who remain may be sad, but we can be sad with joy! We know that to be absent from the body means we will be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:1-10).

"For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." -- Philippians 1:21


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Does the Bible Prohibit the Drinking of Alcohol?

I am a John Piper fan. You're surprised, I know. One of the main reasons that I respect and admire him as a man of God is his desire to base everything he says on Scripture. I was recently listening to him preach a sermon on Romans 12:3-8, and he stated this:

"I pray that all leaders at every level would pray for the gift of teaching. There's a joke at this church; you want to get something through the elder board or committee? Write a paper. That's not an accident, and its not a joke, merely. It's true! And the reason is this: I have done my best for 24 years to cultivate a leadership atmosphere in which persuasion on the basis of the Bible carries the day. Not personality, and not high lifted voices. Elders can tell when my voice is getting so high because my arguments are weak. We argue with each other. We write papers. We give reasons from the Bible. That's a power issue, to keep personalities and brokers from getting their way in this church, including me! Truth holds sway at the elder council, and if you have good reasons from the Bible for your view, it will pass, God willing. And therefore you are inclined then to assemble them, and that's why they turn up on papers. This is an issue for me, and it's really big, and I hope I never lay it down; that we lead by truth! That we lead by teaching! That we lead by persuasion! And therefore we can be shown wrong on the basis of the Authority."

I admire his thoughtful subjection to the Scriptures in all areas of life, faith, and practice. With this in mind, I want to consider carefully the subject of the consumption of alcohol for believers. I want this post to be so carefully based on Scripture that my reasons for holding my position are obvious. So, does the Bible prohibit the drinking of alcohol?

First, even as early as Genesis 9, abusing alcohol caused people to get drunk. After the flood, Noah planted a vineyard, made wine and drank it, and got drunk. Lot drank wine and got drunk, too, and evil resulted (Gen 19). These are two clear abuses of alcohol. But there are other uses of alcohol in the same book that do not lead to evil. Melchizedek, Priest of God Most High, served Abram bread and wine as he blessed him (Gen 14). Isaac, too, drank wine during his blessing of Jacob (Gen 27). I think it is clear that the Bible does not condemn Melchizedek or Isaac for drinking wine, while clearly Noah and Lot sinned in their drunkenness.

Furthermore, the provision of wine is used in the Scriptures to indicate blessing. In Deuteronomy 29:6, Israel did not drink wine or strong drink during the 40-year period of wandering "so that you may know I am the Lord your God." This was a time of God's punishment upon Israel. By contrast, Deuteronomy 32:14 describes God pouring out his blessings upon his people, blessings that include his people drinking "wine made from the blood of the grape." The promised land is described as "a land of grain and wine" (Deut. 33:28).

Nehemiah commanded the people to "eat the fat and drink sweet wine . . . for this day is holy to our Lord" (Neh. 8:10). David praised God when he wrote, "You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart" (Psalm 104:14-15).

Isaiah 55, a beautiful text about the grace and mercy and compassion of God, tells us to "Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price" (55:1). Jesus made (good) wine at the wedding in Cana (John 2). Jesus marveled at the Pharisees' rejection of John the Baptist because he did not eat bread and drink wine, and he marveled again at the Pharisees' rejection of himself because they thought he was "a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners" (Luke 7:33-34). Interestingly, in Luke 22:18, Jesus plans on drinking of the "fruit of the vine" at, and not before, the coming of the kingdom.

We all will agree that being drunk with wine is a clear violation of Ephesians 5, and Proverbs warns us not to be led astray by it (Proverbs 20:1). Many other passages of Scripture warn against abusing or longing after wine or strong drink, but I cannot find evidence in Scripture for a strict prohibition against the drinking of alcohol. I am personally convicted and convinced that I will not drink alcohol, but I cannot, in good conscience, demand more from others than does the Bible. I will preach and teach that we must avoid causing brothers to stumble, but I cannot call the simple act of drinking alcohol sin.

Otherwise, Jesus Christ was not without sin.


By the way, I found this article on helpful.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Snake Spit Proves Evolution?

What? That title didn't explain everything? In a recent study, squirrels have been observed chewing up shed rattlesnake skins and then applying the snake-scented saliva to their fur. This bizarre activity is theorized to ward off rattlesnakes. The ground squirrel, sleeping in a burrow after applying this special spit-bath, would thus cause a snake to pass by its burrow, not wanting to enter another snakes home.

Amazing! Smart little buggers, those California ground squirrels. But does this prove evolution? Does this really illustrate that "predators and the risk of predation select for adaptations to reduce the risk of predation"? What is really amazing to me is the leap of faith that "scientists" take to link interesting beneficial behavior with evolution. Will the next evolutionary step for California ground squirrels be the squirrels' natural production of this scent?

"There is a way that seems right to a man,
but its end is the way to death." -- Proverbs 14:12

And you thought believing in the resurrection was an act of faith!


The Wages of ... School

Well, this semester was interesting. I went into the final exams of both my classes not knowing one single grade on any exercise, book review, term paper, or sermon. I had no idea if I would make an A+ or a C-.

Thankfully, my perfectionist tendencies (when it comes to school, at least) seem to have earned good grades. First up, in my Ministry of Proclamation class, I earned an A-. Second, and last, in my Doctrine of Humanity and Sin class, I earned an A. I still don't know how I earned these grades, though. I haven't gotten a single page back from my professors. I'll have to track them down!

Being out of school has caused me to be in front of the computer much less; I still think of things every day to toss up on the blog, but it seems like it just doesn't happen as often. I am reading a great book on being a pastor, and I want to blog some of the highlights. I spent this weekend working on a Christmas gift/project, but I'll have to blog about that later. I met with Dr. Allison yesterday for lunch; hopefully I can share some of that conversation soon, too.

Work seems to have picked up instead of slowing down for the Christmas holidays, so I guess I need to get back at it!

Enjoying the wages of my labor,


Friday, December 14, 2007

Subjection to God and Subjection to the State (Piper)

In a sermon on Romans 13:1-7, John Piper argues that, since God has established (and "disestablished") every government in history, even evil ones, we "should learn that it is God's will to govern the world of mankind through human civil authorities."

But how can we submit to evil governments? What Piper argues is that since God ordained these governments, you are worshiping God by willingly submitting to their God ordained authority. He illustrates this principle with Pilate:

And what about Pilate, the ruler who above all other rulers did not reward good behavior but punished the only perfect man whoever lived? When he said to Jesus, “Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?' 11 Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above'” (John 19:10). So Romans 13:1 includes Pilate.

So Jesus worshiped God by submitting to evil authority, because God ordained this authority to carry out his will.

Piper recognizes some of the difficulties of this passage, including the idea that maybe there are times when we should not submit to the authorities, but he goes on to illustrate some implications of this passage like this:

Jesus is over the government. Keeping the speed limit is Christian worship! How you doing, all you snot-heads, when you say, you seventeen year-olds, "oh, this is just kind of a rule of thumb"? Your pride behind your steering wheel stinks in heaven! "I will get there on time; I don't care what the servant of my God says. Not a big issue." This is just a small illustration of the arrogance of the human soul. That's a big issue.

So, how you doing all you snot-heads? Wow, I know I felt convicted.

Yesterday afternoon, after listening to this message, I drove 55 mph on I-64 through Louisville. You have no idea how many people are speeding when you are speeding. Hundreds of cars passed me in the 20-30 minutes it took me to get over to Indiana. Isn't it easy to be sucked in to what everyone else is doing? It's easy to rationalize things, and say, "well, I'm going to get run over if I don't go with the flow of traffic." But what is more important?

So, why don't you join me in the slow lane worship service?


Thursday, December 13, 2007

God on Job

Oh, how I long for God to so work in me that God himself could say something like this about me! Even after great loss, Job continues to rest in God...

"Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason." -- Job 2:3

By his grace and for his glory!


Monday, December 10, 2007

Owing Grace

On Saturday night, our Sunday School class celebrated Christmas with a class party in our fellowship hall. What a blast! Several ladies worked really hard to set the mood with candles and decorations. We had "heavy hors d'oeuvres" and desserts, and the food was excellent!

This was our second annual Christmas party together, and we continued another tradition as well--we collected money to help provide for a family in need during the Christmas season. In light of this, I felt led to lead our group in a short meditation on God's gift of his Son and the immediate implications. Here's a summary:

Luke 2:29-32 describes Simeon's Holy Spirit empowered revelation that this little baby, Jesus of Nazareth, conceived out of wedlock, was God's gift of "salvation, that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel." God had just presented the world with "a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11).

This brought to mind Ephesians 2:8-9, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." This salvation is a gift, by grace, through faith. It is not a result of our own works; it is purely God's doing.

As a result of this gift of grace, Paul instructs us in Romans 12:1-8 to present our bodies as living sacrifices. We are called to die to self and live for others! We are exhorted to be transformed! We are commanded to humble ourselves and serve one another in the ways that God has gifted us, and we are to display these gifts in love for one another!

I wrapped up this mediation with three thoughts:
  1. We cannot repay God for his incredible gift of grace!
  2. We become debtors to others because of God's grace to us...
  3. We must become living sacrifices, giving our lives to serve others...
. . .

What a debt we owe Christ that we can never repay! Let us then seek to bestow upon others a similar gift, and in so doing maybe we can give the gift that lasts for eternity!

May we ever be owing grace!


Ligonier Recommended Reading

A friend recently sent me a link to Ligonier Ministries' recommended reading list. Somewhat interesting: apparently Grudem's Systematic Theology didn't make the list.

Thanks Justin G.!


Saturday, December 08, 2007

Noel Piper on God's Sovereignty - "I Almost Died"

I just read a post by Noel Piper on the Desiring God blog where she recounts God's sovereign hand in her recent automobile crash--not accident. It is worth reading.


Essay on the Image of God

This semester, in Dr. Allison's Doctrine of Humanity and Sin class, I had to write an essay on the image of God in human beings. I wanted to share with anyone interested the things I learned from the class.

NOTE: I may revise this after I get the grading back. :-)


The Image of God in Human Beings

What is the image of God in human beings? Genesis 1:26-31 provides both questions and answers. Throughout history, various identifications of the essence of the image of God have been suggested: human spiritual capacity, human moral capacity, human rationality, and humanity’s dominion over creation. The Reformers proposed a faceted material/formal, or broader/narrower, view. This view proposed that humanity completely lost the knowledge of God, any holiness and righteousness (the material or narrower aspect), and that human personalities, moral capacities, and rationality, etc. (the formal or broader aspect) were perverted.

Contemporary views of the image of God, however, often synthesize many of these ideas into a more overarching construct. One view, the functional view, finds the essence of the image of God to exist in the fact that God created humanity to exercise dominion over the world, to rule as God’s vice regent. Psalm 8:5-6 is used to support this view.

Substantive or structural views, common throughout history, emphasize qualities of humans that separate us from the rest of God’s creation. Often reason, moral conscience, and freedom are identified as distinctive human traits.

Another contemporary view of the image of God in human beings emphasizes the relational aspects of human nature. Humans reflect the image of God in our relationships with God and others. Genesis 1:27 clearly indicates that the image of God is both male and female, and this gendered nature reflects God’s inter-Trinitarian relationships. This view of the image of God is quite appealing in reference to the relational nature of the Decalogue and the two great commandments of Matthew 22:34-40. Relationally, Jesus, as the “image of the invisible God,” (Col 1:15) exemplified right relationships with God and man.

Millard Erickson argues, however, that functional and relational aspects of the image of God are only secondary since God created humanity in his image prior to any human activity. He argues that functional and relational aspects only follow God’s creation of human beings in God’s image. The image of God, in Erickson’s view, consists of God’s communicable attributes that enable us to carry out God’s design for relationships and dominion.

Anthony Hoekema argues, in contrast with Erickson, that God created humanity for a function, and that function requires a structure. The functional aspects of the image of God are primary and the structural aspects are secondary. Hoekema also includes the relational aspects of the image as a portion of the functional aspects; the relational is a subset of the functional, and the functional aspects are God’s primary purpose for creating humanity. Hoekema argues that human beings, as whole persons, represent God, both physically and spiritually; God intended human beings to be a reflection of himself to the world.

Because of the fall, this reflection of God is distorted. Hoekema argues that the structural aspects God equipped humanity with were retained after the fall; our reason, moral sensitivity, capacity for relationships, etc. continue to serve human beings, but not for the designed purpose. Because of the fall, the functional and relational aspects of the image of God have been lost; human beings no longer exist to reflect God in relationships and dominion. God is no longer the focus of our service and worship. After the fall, human beings employ the structural aspects of the image of God for the perverted and corrupt purpose of glorifying and pleasing self.

Because of Christ and his redeeming work on the cross, Hoekema helps us see God’s renewal of his image in believers. God is progressively restoring in humans the ability to relate rightly with God and with others, and we are journeying toward a restoration of dominion. When Christ returns and we are glorified, we will not be fully restored to the image of God in Adam and Eve, but the image of God in human beings will be perfected, and we will be like Jesus Christ, the perfect image of God.

For me, Hoekema’s view comes closest to accounting for all the ways in which we reflect God, yet I agree with Dr. Allison that the entire discussion of the image of God might be overly complicated. Human beings, created in the image of God, should function to reflect God—to cause others to turn toward God. Like Jesus Christ, who refused to glorify himself (John 8:54), all human beings are designed to glorify God.

Humanity has been commissioned to rule the earth, and directly tied to this mandate exists the mandate to be fruitful and multiply. God created humanity in his image, and he did so by creating us with gender. This engenderedness enables us to fulfill God’s purposes for humanity: to reflect God in procreation and vocation (Gen 3-11). The image of God in us should point others to God as we carry out God’s mandates in society. This understanding of the image of God also directs our efforts to make disciples; we seek the redemption and restoration of the image of God in others. In reflecting God’s glory to others in procreation and vocation, we hope to see God’s glory reflected in others as a result.


Simple, right?


Friday, December 07, 2007

Desperate for Change

Are you desperate for change? Have you exhausted your resources in an effort to fix your life? Mark 5:24-34 tells a story about a woman who had spent all that she had in an attempt to heal her body, but all that money and time and pain had been an exercise in futility. For 12 years, this woman had fought with her disease, gotten a second opinion, then a third, and yet no doctor or treatment could cure her of her disease.

Aren't our lives like this? We have a horrible disease; it is called sin. You can fight it, but you will lose. Just like someone with a deadly virus, we are dead men walking, because sin is a spiritual disease that has physical effects. We die physically because of the disease of sin we were born with. That's the bad news.

Here's the good news. Jesus Christ. Just like our friend in Mark, who stalked Jesus, reached out her hand in faith and touched his clothes, all we must do is reach out our hand in faith and trust in Jesus' obedient life and sacrificial death. When we put our faith, our trust, in Jesus Christ, we are healed, too! Our spiritual disease gets cured, and we start seeing evidence in our thoughts, attitudes, and actions.

So go in peace, and follow Christ!


Thursday, December 06, 2007

Why Does the Bible Have to be Difficult?

"For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him." -- 1 Peter 3:18-22

In 1998, John Piper preached a sermon from Romans 3:1-8 entitled "Why God Inspired Hard Texts." He argues that schools, among other things, are one of the main answers to this question. "Education is cultivating the life of the mind so that it knows how to grow in true understanding. That impulse was unleashed by God's inspiring a Book with complex demanding paragraphs in it."

So get into the Word and grow your mind!


Portrait of a Believer

Mark 5:1-20 tells us the story about a man who was out of control. His life was ruled by demons. And not just a couple; the name of the demon was Legion, "for we are many." How many? Enough to stampede 2,000 pigs to their death. This man was miserable, crying out and cutting himself day and night. He was living in the graveyard, for crying out loud, and he was obviously harassing the general public if they were attempting to restrain him with shackles. But it didn't do any good; the demons were too strong. No chains could bind him; no jail cell could hold him.

So how do you explain the man, "sitting there, clothed and in his right mind"? Who is this Jesus? And what happened to the pigs!?! I can imagine the reactions of the people, and I'm not terribly surprised that they begged Jesus to leave. Jesus rocked their world.

Jesus rocked the world of the man with the demons, too, and he was ready to follow Jesus. Jesus had other plans, however. Jesus told the man to go home, and to tell his friends what God had done for him. I think this is precisely what God expects us to do; we have been freed from the demonic stranglehold of sin. We are no longer in bondage to sin. We are free to serve! And all God wants us to do is keep loving Jesus and to tell our friends what he has done for us.

What has Jesus done for you?


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Can it Possibly be True?

This semester has felt like a marathon! I just finished a final exam for Dr. Allison's Doctrine of Humanity and Sin class, and I am brain fried! All that's left is for my poor wife to read through the beast and make any necessary corrections.

Praise God! Only twenty credit hours left! I should be done by May 2009, hopefully...