Friday, December 25, 2009

The Fullness of the Time

But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. (Gal 4:4-5)

This passage has become the most meaningful to me in reference to the incarnation of Christ, the event we celebrate today. Mainly because it expresses so many great truths about not just the event of Christ's advent, but the purpose and sovereign will of God in action, and the impact of that event.

We see the perfection of the timing of God's foreordained plan of sending God the Son to earth. He did so "when the fullness of the time came", at the point in human and redemptive history that God had appointed from before the foundation of the world. I love that term "fullness", speaking of all that God had purposed to occur leading up to the event being brought to realization. The sovereign purpose and plan of God the Father being worked out over thousands of years of history, all in preparation for the entry of God the Son into human form, the Word made flesh. Not an afterthought, not a Plan B, but the decisive action of God at just the time that He had determined, and in just the circumstances that He had planned.

The circumstances being noted next - "born of a woman, born under the Law." God the Son, the Christ, was to be conceived by supernatural means, but born by natural means, although to a virgin. No descending from heaven in a flash of glory, nothing showy or noteworthy - except to those few humble ones He chose to announce the event to. A child born of a woman in the most unlikely of places. Again, God's foreordained plan in action. And don't miss the significance of the Son being born to Jewish parents, "under the Law." The Christ was born into the nation of Israel who were commanded to keep God's Law - and could not. And the Christ was born under the Law so as to be the only human ever to meet the just requirements of the Law perfectly - so that He would be the righteous One, without sin. As the perfectly prepared sacrifice for the sin of the elect, and as the righteousness-earner for them as well.

And this then brings us to the purpose of all this. The "so that" part of the passage. The purpose of Christ's advent? Redemption, of those under the Law. Referring not just to the Jews, who had received the law of God, but to all people everywhere, who are accountable to God's perfect standard expressed in the Law. Every one of us is accountable to the Law of God, and fall short of His glorious standard, and therefore are condemned by the Law, unable to bear its burden. Christ's perfect fulfillment of the Law earned righteousness for the elect, and His perfect sacrifice earned forgiveness of sin for the elect. Here's the purpose of the grand plan of redemption that was determined in eternity past, was initiated at the birth of Christ, accomplished at the Cross of Christ, and will be consummated at the second advent of Christ.

And note also the result expressed here. The outcome of redemption is that "we might receive the adoption as sons." The position of the one who trusts in the redeeming person and work of Jesus Christ is not just declared forgiven and righteous in God's sight, but also in deep and eternal relationship with Him as Father. Adopted into the family of God. Brothers and sisters with Christ Himself. And as Paul goes on to say, joint heirs with Him, reigning with Jesus as our brother-King for eternity, to the glory of God the Father. An incredible inheritance, all of grace, and all for His glory.

This Christmas day, don't miss the grand unfolding of God's eternal plan. Christ's birth is just one part of that plan, a key one but also one that must be kept in context if we are to celebrate it and Him rightly. Praise God for His superintending "the fullness of the time" in Christmas and in all things.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Themes from Jude

Finished teaching the last lesson in my study of the epistle of Jude last Sunday. An incredibly powerful, challenging and necessary little letter that has caused me to stop and think more deeply about the church, the state of the church, the priority of truth in the church and the seriousness of error. Through the study, several key themes have emerged, and I summarize them here.

  1. Truth Matters. This is a phrase that's been used many times by many people, and it still rings true. Truth does matter, since ideas have consequences and actions are always based on beliefs. But in the epistle of Jude I see another aspect of this statement: truth matters to God. The bulk of Jude's letter expresses the heinous nature of apostasy in the eyes of God. The repeated statements regarding the fore-ordained condemnation by God on apostate teachers, and the swiftly coming judgment that He will execute on them, both drive Jude's point home. We must value God's revealed truth not just because of the consequences of following that which is not true, which are dire. But we as Christians must value God's revealed truth, the gospel of Christ, because God Himself is concerned with truth, and in fact is the Truth.
  2. Fight for the Faith. This is the central command and major point of Jude's letter, as expressed in v. 3 where he says he writes "appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints." And the rest of the letter lays out the reason for contending, and those who we are to contend against. As the next verse says, "For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.". The fight for the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the purity of the foundational teachings passed to us from the apostles is largely waged within the visible church. The greatest threat to God's revealed truth comes not from atheistic, agnostic, mystical or pagan attacks from without, but from apostates within. And contending for the faith means recognizing these apostates, pointing them out for who and what they are, and doing so publicly and boldly. It means sometimes causing conflict and divisions within the visible church, to preserve that which defines and sustains the invisible church. It means knowing the truths of the faith once for all handed down to the saints well enough to recognize falsehoods and to speak against them with the truth. Sadly, this is an unpopular position in the postmodern church. We are ill equipped to contend for the faith, and in fact most do not want to or see the need to. I would refer those people to point number 1 above.
  3. Apostate Damage Control is Critical. The last section of Jude's epistle makes it clear that fighting for the faith means more than just pointing out the apostates among us and their teachings. It means more than just avoiding those apostates teachings ourselves to as to build ourselves up on our most holy faith as the foundation for our lives. It also means engaging in search and rescue operations for those who have been taken in and led astray by apostates and their teachings. "And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh." Jude commands us here to go after those who are wavering in their faith because of the influence of false teachings and mercifully restore them to the path of Christian truth. He tells us to drag others back to the truth by force, who have been led to embrace the false teachings. And even to the point of engaging in mercy missions to rescue those who are completely entangled with and stained by embracing the teachings of apostates, and doing so fearfully and carefully to keep ourselves unstained by these things. It's not enough to stand for the truth of the gospel by pointing out and calling out the false. Contending for the faith also means seeking rescue and restoration of those who have been damaged by the false. This is hands-on, person to person business, the messy stuff. But if we truly love Christ and His truth and His church, and are zealous for His glory, we will not shy away from this duty.
Powerful stuff, this. Challenging commands, these. And more necessary in the 21st century than even when first delivered in the 1st. Read. Think. Pray. Ponder. And contend.

    Monday, December 14, 2009

    Climate Change? My View...

    So here's a few cartoons I came by that sum up much of my view on so-called climate change...

    Saturday, December 12, 2009

    Misunderstanding Christmas

    Driving into town one evening last week, I passed the local Chamber of Commerce office. They had their Christmas decorations set up out front, with huge lighted letters spelling out "Peace On Earth, Goodwill To Men." A very Christmasy look and message, right? But I was immediately struck by the misunderstanding that the unbelieving world around us has about Christmas and its significance. And how this popular Christmas slogan is a reflection of that misunderstanding.

    What is it this statement seems to mean to the good folks in the C of C, or to most others who would express this as a Christmas wish? Well, likely that the real message of the Christmas season is the promotion of peace among people and nations on earth, and expressing good will and good feelings toward our fellow man, regardless of our differences. These words seem very attractive to the tolerance and can't-we-all-just-get-along crowd. Peaceful coexistence, setting aside those things that would divide us, blah blah blah. In fact, I just heard that old Bing Crosby/David Bowie rendition of The Little Drummer Boy, where Bowie talks about peace on earth and how we have to work to teach our children to live in peace and all that. Sounds so great. But does this have anything to do with the words as stated in Scripture? Do these sentiments have any connection with the real meaning of Christmas? Not so much.

    Of course, the first problem is that these words are taken from a not-so-good translation of Luke 2:14 in the KJV. The NASB is much better, which states: "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased." These are the words of the angels to the shepherds as they announced the birth of the Savior. They expressed first and foremost that God is the One to be glorified in this event, above all. And secondly, the announcement of peace on earth. But not universal peace among all men. Not the cessation of all conflicts. Jesus later even said this wasn't His purpose for coming at all. But rather, peace towards and between men and women with whom God is pleased. The peace on earth announced here is reserved for those who are pleasing to God, who trust Him and the salvation that He is providing through the incarnation of His Son that night in Bethlehem. The goodwill to men communicated by the angels is God's goodwill toward His people through Jesus Christ, and among those people whom He has brought to Himself through Christ. An announcement of the cessation of hostilities between God and those who will be His people. But not a general declaration of peace and goodwill for all men. Such an understanding is a misunderstanding of the true message and meaning of Christmas.

    So, Christian, as those who are recipients of this peace with God and His goodwill toward us in Christ, what shall we do with the unbelieving world who misunderstands this announcement? Give them the truth, the reality of the Gospel of Christ, the only hope for peace and goodwill of any kind for mankind. And the only hope for eternal life for anyone. Give them the real reason for the season. For His glory.

    Wednesday, December 9, 2009

    Be Good? What's That Mean?

    It's Christmas season, and those goodwill-toward-men folks over at the American Humanist Association have decided to launch an advertising campaign focusing on their belief that the reason for the season is really a farce. With endearing slogans on billboards and buses like "Yes Virginia, there is no God," they are seeking equal time and attention in this season of nominal Christian recognition by the masses. No big surprise there.

    But one of their main ads really caught my attention, and seems to point out a major flaw in the humanist philosophy. The headline on the ad states: "No God? No Problem! Be good for goodness sake." Well actually, I think there is a problem here, by removing God from the equation of goodness. First of all, the AHA's assumption here seems to be that people have some motivation to "be good", to live and behave in some morally correct manner. And what then is their stated reason for people to "be good"? For the sake of being good, apparently. The humanist view seems to be that people want to behave in a morally good manner, for the sake of being good, for the apparent benefits that being good provides.

    But on what basis do humanists determine what is morally good? No God? Big problem defining goodness. The etymology of the very English word "good" is based on its roots in Anglo-Saxon as a euphemism for God. Indeed, the entire idea of good and goodness has always been defined, at least in western culture, by the nature and character of God. So if one removes God from the equation, what basis will you use to define what is good? Seems to me that the AHA is dealing with terms that they have no basis for defining.

    Of course, look at the definition on the poster they give for humanism: "the idea that people can be good without a belief in God." Interesting. But it seems we're back to the same definitional issue: what do you mean by "good" if it isn't referenced to some transcendent and ultimate moral authority and standard?

    This is where humanism, atheism, agnosticism, and any other ism that leaves the one true God out of the picture has no ability to speak in moral terms, in language of good and evil. For when you remove the great Lawgiver from moral discourse, you are left with only relative assumptions and personally or socially contructed norms of right and wrong, which no one will ever be able to come to agreement on. Yes Virginia, there is a God, and He alone is good and sets the standard for goodness.

    Thursday, November 19, 2009

    Down Under

    Just thought I'd drop a post to my 2 or 3 faithful readers that the Den will be going silent for the next couple weeks as I and the family take a trip to Australia. I was invited to be a speaker at a conference on the Gold Coast south of Brisbane, and we'll be spending a bit more than a week there and also on Golden Beach on the Sunshine Coast north of Brisbane, before flying home after Thanksgiving. Should be a great adventure, and I'm thankful to the conference organizers for being so gracious and liberal in the costs they're covering.

    So g'day mates, and I'll be back in early December. Resuming working my way through the epistle of Jude.

    Sunday, November 15, 2009

    Contend Earnestly - Jude 3-4

    We continued today with our study of the epistle of Jude, covering vs 3-4 this morning. The central passage of the whole letter, as Jude commands his readers, and we faithful followers of Christ by extension, to "contend earnestly for the faith once for all handed down to the saints." If there is a less-heeded command in NT Scripture in our postmodern evangelical church, I can't think what it might be. Let's take apart what Jude says here a bit to understand more clearly the truth we need to hear.

    First let's look at what it is we're commanded to contend for. It's "the faith" - that orthodox body of Christian biblical truth that constitutes authentic Christianity. Not individual trust in those truths, which is our faith, but rather the truths that we put our trust in. And not how Jude describes the source of this body of gospel truth.He says that it has been "handed down to the saints." The gospel and all the associated doctrines and implications are not something made up by men or developed and evolved over time. This faith has been entrusted to us, the saints. It's been revealed by Christ Himself to the apostles, who have taught and entrusted it to faithful men in the church, who have in turn delivered it to us.

    And how does Jude qualify this delivery, this entrusting of the central gospel truth, to the saints? It is a delivery that is "once for all." The language speaks of a single, one time event. This faith that has been delivered from Jesus to the apostles to the church is complete. It is a singular revelation, not subject to addition, modification, new revelation, abrogation, creative reinterpretation, or other attempts at revising or improving. The faith that we as Biblical Christians trust in is complete and sufficient. In fact, any attempts to enhance this body of orthodox doctrine actually results in compromising the truth in one way or another.

    So when we're commanded to "contend earnestly" for this faith, the implication is clear - we are to fight to preserve this once for all revelation and body of truth against those who would seek to distort it, add to it, de-emphasiize aspects of it, reinterpret the orthodox and historical meanings of it, or any other means of subtle of direct attacks on the central gospel truths of the Christian faith. The Greek term used here indicates this is not to be a casual defense of the faith, but an all-encompassing and agonizing struggle for the truth. And not just guarding ourselves from the deceptions of the false-teaching apostates that abound all around us, although we certainly must do that. But the command here is to fight for the faith, to directly and indirectly refute and stand against these would-be destroyers of the faith. For the preservation of the truth of the gospel, and for the protection of those who would be led astray by these apostates.

    Strong words, these. And a command that if obediently followed will certainly not win popularity points in most churches these days. Certainly counter-Christian-cultural. Based on my recent visits to "Christian" bookstores, doing this command faithfully will involve pointing out most of the top 20 best selling "Christian" authors as apostates. But necessary if we are to be faithful stewards of what our Lord has entrusted to us. For the sake of God's truth, and for His glory.

    Sunday, November 8, 2009

    Opening the Epistle of Jude

    I taught the first lesson in my new study of Jude this morning, and I have to say I felt a passion for the subject matter of this study that I haven't experienced for a while. While the letter is a hugely challenging one to exegete and the message is a hugely unpopular one in today's church, God's words through Jude regarding the danger of apostates and how to deal with them are hugely relevant, now more than ever.

    Today's lesson dealt with the background on the author and setting of the letter, and Jude's opening words to his original audience. It's instructive to put ourselves into the sandals of those early church members who were dealing with the issues Jude addresses as he writes this letter somewhere around 69 AD. Think about it - the church was still relatively new, but most of the apostles were gone by this time, with likely only John still around. The pastors and elders of the local churches were doing their best to pass on the teachings of Jesus received through the apostles, but the formalizing of orthodox doctrines of the Christian faith hadn't really started yet, apart from the OT Scriptures and the epistles that would eventually form the NT canon. So the early church was at a critical stage, a dangerous juncture. And just as Christ and the apostles had warned, false apostate teachers were infiltrating the churches, teaching "doctrines of demons" and all kinds of aberrant heresies and leading many to follow them. We know that Judaizers were active, as well as early forms of what later would become full blown Gnosticism. And as Jude makes clear in his letter, these apostates were living immorally and sensually, and leading others into the same. What a confusing time in the church. What turmoil as factions would form following one false teacher after another, undermining the authority of the church  elders and disturbing the faith of the doubting and wavering. And troubling and discouraging the faithful believers who were seeking to remain committed to the pure and unperverted gospel of Jesus Christ.

    So it's into this maelstrom of doctrinal confusion and church upheaval that Jude writes his short and powerful epistle. A time, honestly, not unlike our current situation, although for different reasons. So how does Jude open his letter to these faithful believers who need to know how to contend for the faith? In this brief epistle, what does he need to focus them (and us) on in as few words as possible? The answer is in the terms Jude uses to describe the recipients of his letter in v.1: Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, To those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ. He points to three specific aspects of his audience that remind them of where their focus should be - on the Lord of the Church, and not on the apostates.

    First term he uses: called. A reminder that he's writing to the elect, those whom God Himself has chosen for His own possession and has called out of darkness and bondage and into His marvelous light. A reminder that He is the One who saved them, by His sovereign grace.

    The second term: beloved in God. Note that he doesn't say beloved by God, but rather in God. Jude speaks here of the position of the believer in Christ: immersed in the invincible and saving love of God. A position resulting from His election and His calling. A secure, sustaining and protective place to be.

    And finally: kept for Jesus Christ. Here is the culmination of the reminder Jude is giving faithful believers in an apostate time. It is God Himself who not only calls the faithful to Him with an effectual call, and causes them to remain in His love, but also is the One who is keeping them in that position until the day of Christ. Just as we see in 1 Peter 1:5 - "who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time." Even when it seems that false and apostate teachers are the majority and the church of Jesus Christ is on a colossal "downgrade" once again as Spurgeon saw in his day, Jude's opening greeting reminds us that God is the One who builds His church, sustains His church, and who ultimately will bring His church to glorification by His power and for His glory. And not even an army of eloquent or charismatic apostate teachers will thwart His purposes, even though many professors of the faith follow after them.

    I find this incredibly encouraging in a day when much of what passes for "Christian" teaching resources, books, media and ministry are only Christian in name, but not in content. In a day and age when I view everything labeled "Christian" with an extra wariness and suspicion, I take heart in Jude's reminder that God has His faithful people, who He has called and He knows, that He holds in His love, and who He is preserving for His glory until His appointed day. These truths reorient my perspective and my focus, from the temporal to the eternal. This reminder sets my mind on the grand and glorious and eternal plan and purpose of God, rather than the foible and failures of what passes for Christianity today. And these truths motivate me even more to guard the trust of the gospel that He has given to us as His people, to defend the gospel against the apostates of our time, and to continue to preach that gospel to myself and to the church so that we all are equipped to do the same.

    Wednesday, October 28, 2009

    Stand Firm...

    I read an interesting quote from famous atheist Christopher Hitchens, regarding lessons he's learned in his debates with Christian apologist Douglas Wilson.

    "Wilson isn't one of those evasive Christians who mumble apologetically about how some of the Bible stories are really just "metaphors." He is willing to maintain very staunchly that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and that his sacrifice redeems our state of sin, which in turn is the outcome of our rebellion against God. He doesn't waffle when asked why God allows so much evil and suffering—of course he "allows" it since it is the inescapable state of rebellious sinners. I much prefer this sincerity to the vague and Python-esque witterings of the interfaith and ecumenical groups who barely respect their own traditions and who look upon faith as just another word for community organizing."
    So what do you think of that? All the time that so many postmodern Christians spend trying to lessen the offensiveness of the revealed truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, trying to explain away the hard-edged propositions in Scripture, trying to apologize for the scandalous sayings of Jesus and the like, so that they will be more accepted and not seen as intellectually challenged, and where does it get them? Even in the eyes of a hardened, antagonistic atheist like Hitchens, their lack of conviction is seen as "witterings", their lack of clarity as vagueness. In short, being unclear and uncommitted to the central and orthodox doctrines of Christian faith fails to earn any kind of respect. As it rightly should not.

    One of the things about the gospel and Biblical Christian doctrine that appealed to me immediately upon my conversion and further reading is that it is imminently logical. There are really no logical contradictions in the essential truths of the gospel. And the implications of those truths, although sometimes hard to accept for many such as the issue of pain, suffering, evil, etc, are as Hitchens notes here, logical outcomes of the basic doctrines, in fact logical necessities.

    So if even rank pagans who deny even the existence of the supernatural, let alone Yahweh God, can see these inconsistencies in so much of what passes for "Christian apologetics" these days, why do we have such a hard time doing the same? Believers, stand firm in your convictions of these orthodox and historical and central and logical doctrines and truths, regardless of how some may respond to them. Resist the temptation that so many today fall for to try to explain away these truths as analogies or metaphors, or even worse, to frame them as simply mystical and beyond any one's comprehension. Instead, embrace the logic and rationality of the gospel of Christ, the atonement of the cross, the imputed righteousness of Christ, the nature and attributes of God, the fallenness of man, and all the logical ramifications of these truths. Not in order to gain respect from atheists, agnostics and pagans. But because we are commanded to contend for the faith, for the glory of God.

    Sunday, October 18, 2009

    Everyday Apologetics Class Notes

    For the members of my Thursday evening "Everyday Apologetics" class, I have uploaded notes for the first five lessons as promised. You can access them from the link on my "Links of Note" on the right-hand side of this page. Or just go here.

    See you all Thursday evening as we explore the question, "All good people go to heaven, right?"

    Sunday, October 11, 2009

    Loving God's Judgment

    Today I experienced the convergence of two Biblical texts that focused on the certainty of God's judgment and condemnation as encouragement, that caused me to pause and reflect a bit. In Sunday school this morning I was teaching on James 5:1 and following, where James is pronouncing an Old Testament-like prophecy of condemnation on the oppressive rich pagans that were troubling the early believers. Strong words that echo the declarations of woe found over and over in the prophets. A reminder to the poor in the church who were being oppressed that God would certainly and swiftly execute His vengeance on these rich men, and that they should patiently wait for Christ's return in light of this certain judgment.

    Then this afternoon I was doing exegesis on the epistle of Jude, where the certainty of God's condemnation and judgment on apostate teachers is expressed as an encouragement to the believers who were being troubled by them. Again, an example of the judgment of God as an encouragement to the faithful.

    As I thought about this, I realized that even a cursory read of much of the Bible, especially the prophets and the Psalms, reveals a repeated pattern of this kind of encouragement. But it also seems to me that we modern evangelicals have lost the sense of God's vengeance and judgment as something that we are encouraged by. We are so eager to revel in God's love, His mercy and grace, even His righteousness and goodness. But His justice and condemnation? That sound so harsh, so...ungracious. How can a knowledge of God's absolute and certain judgment of sin and sinful men be something we embrace and are encouraged by?

    Well first, we need to remember that God's grace in Christ means nothing apart from the understanding that His salvation is what saves us from being objects of that judgment and condemnation ourselves. When we forget this fact, we begin to lose perspective on what He has saved us from. God forbid we should ever cheapen the depth of His mercy and grace by ignoring the great condemnation and judgment our sin rightly deserved, and that Christ endured in our place.

    Second, we need to remember that God does not overlook sin and rebellion against Him, and that's a good thing. If God left sin unpunished, He would not be just. And we couldn't trust Him or His character. How could we worship and revere a God who failed to uphold justice? The mercy and grace of God stands that much more gloriously against the backdrop of His righteous justice and vengeance. When we see the ungodly prospering, the rebellious and sinful being exalted, the immoral being celebrated, the godless gaining power and influence, we should take encouragement and comfort in the truth that God will surely and certainly and swiftly execute His perfect justice and judgment on those people. And He will be glorified and vindicated in doing so.

    So let's continue to exult in the love and grace of God in Christ. But let's equally revel in the justice and judgment of our God on all sin and unrighteousness. The two cannot - and should never - be separated.

    Tuesday, October 6, 2009

    Naming Names?

    As I've been working on my study of the epistle of Jude, I've been considering how best to approach application of Jude's strongly-worded letter. The whole focus of Jude is to warn his readers against the dangers of apostate teachers, in no uncertain terms. He states clearly his concern in verse 4: "For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ." See, Jude's issue is not with the atheistic, agnostic, skeptical unbelievers who oppose Jesus Christ and His people. Rather, the issue is with those who would infiltrate the church and teach ungodly doctrines, leading to ungodly behavior and leading others into ungodliness with them.

    Now, application-wise this seems to be a no-brainer, right? I mean, today's doctrinally anemic evangelical church is rampant with similar apostates of all stripes. Be they health and wealth gospel promoters, emergent/emerging postmoderns, spirit-filled healing charlatans, man-centered therapists, or just run of the mill heretics, we got 'em all. If Jude were around today, he'd probably write an even stronger letter than his original. So we have plenty of places to apply Jude's exhortation to "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints."

    But what I'm struggling with is the how. On the one hand, it's important for all of us to get the principles down that Jude lays out for recognizing those in the church who teach apostasy and heresies. We need to be people who discern clearly those who would lead Christ's people astray from His truth and the pure gospel. We have to be people who know what it means to contend earnestly for the faith, and when it's needed.

    But beyond that, what about pointing out specific apostates among us, by name, and the heresies they teach and promote? Is it appropriate, in the context of a Bible study class, to name names of today's most popular apostates and expose their teachings? I'm really conflicted about this approach. On the one hand, people need to be warned against blindly following "Christian celebrities" who are less than Biblical in their teachings. They need to see what examples of apostasy looks like so they can recognize it in other places when they encounter it. But on the other hand, since so many of these contemporary apostates are so popular with so many undiscerning Christians, it's very easy to offend and irritate people who are fans of these pop-heretics. I know, I've done it before. And there are those who just take issue with any criticism of any self-claimed "Christian" writer or teacher, regardless of how off the wall their positions are. But on the other hand, these people need to be disabused of the notion that it's a mark of true Christianity to accept any and all who teach whatever aberrant and un-Biblical slop at face value because they're sincere or are just "trying to serve Jesus." Being offended is a small price to pay when eternal truth and eternal life is at stake. And after all, Jesus never just looked the other way and talked nice about the religious heretics within the synagogues of His day; His most severe words were reserved for the Pharisees and similar ilk.

    So, I'm still conflicted. But as I've considered how to approach application, I've decided that it is necessary in today's church to name names. After all, look at Paul's letters. In his letters to Timothy, he warned against Hymenaeus, Alexander, Phygellus, Hermogenes, Demas and Alexander the Coppersmith. All by name. Paul knew what I am learning - that the purity of the Gospel of Christ and the orthodoxy of the teachings of the church of Christ are of far more value and importance than some momentary offense that some may take at the names of their favorite apostates being pointed out in public. So, I'm sorry if you're enamored with the likes of Bell, Osteen, Schuller, McLaren, Pagitt, Hinn, and a variety of others, but they're no different than those that Jude and Paul were pointing out. And not in my opinion, but in Christ's. That's the One that counts.

    Friday, September 25, 2009

    Apologetics and Evangelism

    I taught the first lesson in my Everyday Apologetics class last night. One of the things I tried to sort out with the students is the difference between apologetics and evangelism. It's easy to blend these two disciplines together since they overlap so much in practice and intent. But it's also important to remember that they have two different objectives, that again overlap.

    Evangelism is the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, with the objective of conversion. It is a monologue in a sense, a one way communication of propositional truth, with the intention of God using that truth to bring the person to a saving faith in Christ. Apologetics, on the other hand, is a defense of the Christian faith, with the objective of answering objections and counter claims that refute the Gospel, the existence and character of God, and other foundational truths. It's a dialog with the objecting unbeliever, with the intention of representing the Christian faith accurately and clearly.

    But here's the interesting part, the overlap. Consider a situation where you are evangelizing a lost person. You are presenting the Gospel of Christ to the person in a clear and accurate manner. You're asking God to regenerate the person so that they might understand the truths that you are telling them and embrace them, and embrace Christ. This is evangelism, a heralding of the truth in order that God would convert the unbeliever.

    But suppose, after explaining the essentials of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that the person raises an objection to what you've just proclaimed to them. What now? You answer that objection with reason, truth and Scripture, right? And you have just crossed the line from evangelism into the realm of apologetics. You are now defending the truth of Christian belief against an objection, and engaged in a dialog. But your overall objective is not just to defend the faith, but still and primarily to present Gospel truth to the unbeliever so that God may save them.

    So here's the overlap between apologetics and evangelism. On a person to person basis, removed from the academic and philosophical realm that we often relegate it to, Christian apologetics is part and parcel of effective evangelism. And if we are to be both effective witnesses for Christ, we must also be effective apologists for His truth. Both are essential to accomplishing His commission to us, to act as His ambassadors, as Paul states in 2 Corinthians 5:21: "Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us."

    So my point to my students was this: study to be prepared to make a defense for the truth of the Gospel, the reason for the hope that is in you. Study the theories and approaches to Christian apologetics to be better able to apply them in defense against objections. But study mainly to be prepared to clearly, accurately and confidently communicate the life-giving truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Whether you're proclaiming or defending, the objective is still two-fold: first, to glorify God in presenting or defending His truth; and second, to bring an unbeliever to a saving knowledge of Christ - which also glorifies God. The objective is never to win an argument, but rather a matter of life and death, literally and eternally.

    "but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;" (1 Peter 3:15)

    Wednesday, September 9, 2009

    Keller on the Centrality of the Gospel

    Came across an article by Tim Keller on the centrality of the gospel of Christ. Simply put, it's something everyone must read who claims to be a Gospel-centered follower of Christ. While I'm not a super fan of Keller (in the "I am of Keller, I am of Piper, I am of Osteen" Corinthian kind of way), this is an excellent exposition. He clearly makes the point that we never outgrow the gospel in our life as a Christian. Here's a few excerpts:

    Paul is showing that we never “get beyond the gospel” in our Christian life to something more “advanced”. The gospel is not the first “step” in a “stairway” of truths, rather, it is more like the “hub” in a “wheel” of truth. The gospel is not just the A-B-C’s but the A to Z of Christianity. The gospel is not just the minimum required doctrine necessary to enter the kingdom, but the way we make all progress in the kingdom.

    We are not justified by the gospel and then sanctified by obedience, but the gospel is the way we grow (Gal.3:1-3) and are renewed (Col.1:6). It is the solution to each problem, the key to each closed door, the power through every barrier (Rom.1:16-17).

    It is very common in the church to think as follows. "The gospel is for non-Christians. One needs it to be saved. But once saved, you grow through hard work and obedience." But Col.1:6 shows that this is a mistake. Both confession and "hard work" that is not arising from and "in line" with the gospel will not sanctify you--it will strangle you. All our problems come from a failure to apply the gospel.

    The main problem, then, in the Christian life is that we have not thought out the deep implications of the gospel, we have not “used” the gospel in and on all parts of our life. Paul says that the gospel only does its renewing work in us as we understand it in all its truth. All of us, to some degree live around the truth of the gospel but do not "get" it. So the key to continual and deeper spiritual renewal and revival is the continual re-discovery of the gospel. A stage of renewal is always the discovery of a new implication or application of the gospel--seeing more of its truth. This is true for either an individual or a church.
    I've posted about some of these topics in the past, the perception in the contemporary church that the gospel is just for evangelism, that it's only power is unto conversion. Keller does a much better job of destroying this heresy. Romans 1:16 says that the gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation, not just conversion. Salvation is a whole process that takes us from conversion, through sanctification and all the way to glorification. And it's the power of the gospel that is the power of God in all those stages of salvation.

    Read Keller's article, all of it (it's 12 pages). And then reconsider your need to constantly be reminded of the truths of the gospel, it all its fullness and depth. As Martin Luther said, "The
    truth of the Gospel is the principle article of all Christian doctrine....Most necessary is it that we know this article well, teach it to others, and beat it into their heads continually."

    Thursday, September 3, 2009

    If Satan Took Over a City

    I've heard this quotation from Donald Grey Barnhouse before, but came across it again today in an excerpt from Michael Horton's Christless Christianity on Erik Raymond's blog.

    What would things look like if Satan actually took over a city? The first frames in our imaginative slide show probably depict mayhem on a massive scale: Widespread violence, deviant sexualities, pornography in every vending machine, churches closed down and worshipers dragged off to City Hall. Over a half-century ago, Donald Grey Barnhouse, pastor of Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian Church, gave his CBS radio audience a different picture of what it would look like if Satan took control of a town in America. He said that all of the bars and pool halls would be closed, pornography banished, pristine streets and sidewalks would be occupied by tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be no swearing. The kids would answer “Yes, sir,” “No, ma’am,” and the churches would be full on Sunday … where Christ is not preached.
    Think long and hard on that, Christian. Above all else, Satan desires to keep the Gospel of Jesus Christ from being made known. And he does so often by substituting other things for Him. Like an illusory veil of moralism that hides our need for the Savior. And he does so even within the church.

    Friday, August 28, 2009

    Random Thoughts

    An eclectic collection of thoughts that have been roaming through the lonely corridors of my mind lately:

    • I am extraordinarily thankful for the sovereign grace of God over the auto accident that my 16 year old son Matt was involved in yesterday. A pretty major collision on a city street, likely totalled out the car, spun 180 degrees in the street after the wreck. Air bags deployed in the other car, front end smashed. A young girl (daughter of friends of ours) on a bicycle near the accident who left the scene unhurt. As did Matt and the driver of the other car. I keep thinking about potential "what ifs" that God saw fit not to allow to happen. What if Matt had one of his friends in the car with him, sitting on the passenger side where the impact was? What if the accident had happened a couple days ago when Matt took his sister shopping? What if all the glass on the passenger side had shattered all over Matt (none of it even cracked)? What if the driver of the other car had been seriously injured? What if Matt hadn't been able to avoid the girl on the bike? What if...? Praise God that He is graciously sovereign over all these and infinitely more details. God never has to deal with what ifs...
    • In the endless messages we keep hearing about the need for health care reform in the form of Obamacare, one common talking point is the need for increased competition among insurance companies. The fact that some insurance providers have virtual monopolies in some locations, driving costs up and limiting care options. But in doing some reading on this subject, it seems that one of the main reasons for lack of competition in some geographical areas is...government regulations. Regulations that limit insurance companies from providing coverage in multiple states, etc. In fact, I came across this recently while helping son Mike find a cheap but appropriate health insurance plan. The first question all of the insurance sites asked was: what's your zip code? So Mike, who's living in California right now but will be moving to Chicago next summer to start seminary, will need to cancel his current policy and apply for a new one when he relocates. Does that make sense? So why not remove some existing regulations and see how that changes things, rather than adding a couple trillion dollars more?
    • Feeling rather challenged as I begin working on developing a study of the epistle of Jude. Not challenged in what the letter says, or how to exegete its meaning or context or such. But challenged in how to bring the warnings against and condemnations of apostate and heretical teachers in the church into our postmodern 21st century, and do it faithfully. Without making up my own personal laundry list of popular apostates and telling people to avoid them, but instead giving them principles and tests to determine for themselves who is orthodox and who has left the tracks. Without offending those who are "likers" of certain pop-heretics and being labeled as a "hater", but still sounding the warning that God intended through Jude's letter. It's always the application that's the hard part...

    See, I told you it was eclectic. Or maybe random is a better term.

    Monday, August 24, 2009

    ELCA Decision Revisited

    As a followup to my last post, I would point readers to an excellent article by Dr Al Mohler. He makes the same point regarding authority of Scripture (although much better) and also the irreconcilable positions of the two camps in this "conversation."

    Saturday, August 22, 2009

    Scripture vs Pragmatism in the ELCA

    So the leadership of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has voted to allow homosexuals to serve in pastoral positions. One more semi-mainstream denomination heading down the path of embracing political correctness rather than the plain teaching of the word of God. As I read a news story on this move today, I realized that what is really going on here is the logical consequences of what has been happening in the ELCA and other denominations and individual churches for many years now. And that is the transference of authority from Scripture to pragmatism. From what has been revealed and mandated by Christ to what "works" in today's amoral society.

    Here's an example in the words of one of the supporters of this move: "I have seen these same-gender relationships function in the same way as heterosexual relationships — bringing joy and blessings as well as trials and hardships. The same-gender couples I know live in love and faithfulness and are called to proclaim the word of God as are all of us." Do you see the complete abandonment of submission to the authority of the Scriptures here, and the replacement of that with the submission to the spirit of this age? And how can those who are living in an arrangement that God calls an abomination in His word possibly be in a position to teach and preach that word? The truth is, they can't. They instead will teach and preach a pragmatic and corrupted version of that word, in submission to pragmatism and political correctness.

    Another nod to the pragmatic is evident in statements by some of the supporters of this move. They appeal to the possibility of alienating many progressive-thinking young Lutherans by not taking a more homosexual-friendly stance. So here's a clear case of submission to the prevailing wisdom of this age, rather than to the plain teaching of Scripture. And rather than teach the truths of the word of God to these young people, it is seen as a pragmatic imperative to accommodate their un-Biblical views. When this kind of thing happens, Jesus Christ can no longer be claimed as the head of the church, at least not the ELCA.

    As always, God has His faithful people in the ELCA who see this move as crossing a line that cannot be crossed and remain faithful to the Scriptures. Time will tell how they respond, whether to remain in the ELCA or separate themselves from this abomination. But in reality, this latest accommodation to pragmatic concerns is just another step in a process that's been going on for a long time. The ELCA a number of years ago took a step away from the authority of the word of God in allowing the ordination of women. Once the Scriptures authority is breached, it's a slippery slope towards Gomorrah.

    The presiding bishop of the ELCA pleaded with those opposed to this move not to leave the denomination. "For those that did not prevail tonight, are you willing to stay engaged in the conversation? I'm pleading with people to stay in there with us in this conversation." Conversation? Sounds like the conversation is pretty one-sided at this point. And has he forgotten that God's word is not a conversation? It's a monologue, expressed in unequivocal terms to His world and His church, with all the authority of the One who spoke it. The question is not one of conversation, but rather one of submission. And in that the ELCA has clearly decided to submit to what works rather that to what has been spoken.

    God, preserve a remnant from this denomination, and glorify yourself even in this apostasy. And protect other churches and affiliations from departing from your revealed word, by your grace.

    Sunday, August 9, 2009

    Passing of the Baton

    Today saw a significant moment in the history of Highland Park Evangelical Free Church. We celebrated the formal installation of our new senior pastor, Justin Erickson. Our previous senior pastor of 14 years had been called by the Lord to another church almost a year ago, and we have been under the leadership of an interim pastor, Lynn Kent, during the past 10 months. It was a well done service, with words from our Elders, from our interim pastor, from new pastor Justin, and also from Justin's long-time personal mentor Jay Letey. And there was even an actual baton passed from interim pastor Lynn to Justin. A baton aptly engraved with the words of 2 Timothy 2:2 - "The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also."

    I am greatly looking forward to seeing how God unfolds this next chapter in the life and history of our church. Justin is an incredible man of God, gifted and equipped and passionate about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, His word, and His church. He is a great expositional proclaimer of the word. And he is a man with a shepherd's heart. I don't know what ministry at HPEFC will look like a few years from now, but I have a feeling that it will be even more Christ-centered and word-centered than it ever has been.

    And I also want to express thanks to Christ for interim pastor Lynn Kent. I admit that I've have been somewhat critical of Lynn's preaching over these past 10 months, as he clearly is not an exegetical-expositional preacher, and he readily admits that. He also holds to a philosophy of ministry that is much different than that which our church is based on and has followed in the past. But despite this, he has done an admirable job of shepherding the body of Christ at HPEFC during this transitional time, and helped our Elders to assess some ministry areas where we need strengthening. And I believe that he has fulfilled the purpose that God had for him here, to give us an even greater thirst and hunger for the rich preaching of the word and prepare us for the next stage in our church's life. He is, after all, the man that God sovereignly purposed to fill this role for this season. And as 1 Timothy 5:17 says, he is worthy of honor: "The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor..."

    So we press on with new pastoral leadership, but with the same mission and purpose that Jesus Christ has had for His church since before the foundation of the world. To glorify Him by making disciples. Or as HPEFC's mission statement puts it: Exalting Jesus Christ, Loving One Another. And as Justin adds to this: Giving Ourselves Away.

    Soli Deo Gloria...

    Sunday, August 2, 2009

    Living in Light of the Supremacy of Christ

    I've heard many lessons and sermons on the commands contained in Colossians chapter 3 regarding how the Christian is to conduct themselves in their family and social relationships. You know, the section that says things like this:

    Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them. Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart. Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. (Colossians 3:18-22)
    In fact, I heard another one of these sermons today, the last one from our interim pastor, focusing again as most do on the whats and the hows of these commands. What does a wife being subject look like, and what does it not look like? What does it mean to be obedient to parents, and who does this include? More marriage advice for husbands to be more sensitive to their wives, etc, etc. None of which are necessarily bad things, or wrong application. But as I listened and I read the context that came before in this letter, I realized that there was a huge point missing in this sermon and in most others I've heard on these commands. Why? Why should I or anyone else live like this, in a manner that is so contrary to our nature? What's the reason, the motivation? Just because Paul says so?

    Step back and look at the whole flow of this letter to the church at Colosse. The major focus from the start has been the superiority and the supremacy of Jesus Christ. Superior to any other person, supposed deity, system of philosophy or belief, man made religious system, or false teaching that would diminish the person and work of Christ as revealed in the Gospel. That is the content and focus of the first two chapters of the letter. And the third chapter begins with a corner turn, a change from establishing the supremacy of Christ, to laying out the realities of living in light of that supremacy and the changes His Gospel has brought about in His people. Look at that transitional passage:
    Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:1-3)
    Here's the point - we are new men and women in Christ, the old is dead, so we must raise our minds and life to focus on Him. And Paul goes on then to explain what that looks like, the practical application of that new identity, as he starts to expound in v. 5:
    Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. (Colossians 3:5)
    See that? Another "therefore." Continued progression of application of the previous truths. And where does this lead? To a whole series of commands in principle to live in light of the supremacy of our Savior who has killed our old self and given us a new life. We're commanded to live out that new self (3:9-14), to allow Christ's peace reign in us (3:15), to allow Christ's words to abide in us and enrich us (3:16). And finally to do all we do or say for Christ's glory (3:17), in view of His surpassing supremacy.

    Then, and only then, does the application of those principles of living out the new life make sense. Once we have these new life principles of conduct based on Christ's supremacy down, we are ready to hear more commands regarding specifics of how to live them out in our relationships with spouses, children, employers and employees, etc. And therein lies the why. Why should I live out these relationships in this manner? Because of the surpassing superiority of Christ in all He is, in all He has made me, in all His glory.

    When we understand as much as we can about the person and offices and work of Jesus Christ as Paul explains so clearly in the first half of the letter to the Colossians, we have a solid foundation to base our living on as Paul commands in the last half of the letter. But separate the two, and we lose both the supremacy of Christ and the right motivation to live righteously in our personal relationships.

    Once again, orthodoxy must precede orthopraxy. Don't forget that next time someone wants to just get to the practical application. Without the doctrinal truth, what do you have to apply? Lots of whats and hows maybe, but the whys? Not so much...

    Tuesday, July 28, 2009

    Praying for God's Grace?

    For some reason I have set up a tracker on this blog to remind me of how few people read it. But one of the most interesting side benefits of Sitemeter, other than humility, is that it shows me where the visitor came from, geographically as well as digitally. And if the referring site was a search engine like Google or Yahoo, it also shows me what the visitor's search query was. Very interesting sometimes. Amazing what searches will lead people to The Den.

    And one of the most frequent searches that bring cyber-visitors here is "prayer for God's grace" or some close variation. They usually end up visiting a post I did some time ago about God's amazing grace in even hearing or listening to the prayers of sinful and rebellious people like us. Never mind the amazing grace of God in choosing His people for eternal life, in sending and sacrificing Jesus Christ on behalf of His people, in doing so only on the basis of His sovereign love and justice, and all the other expressions of His undeserved favor. Just the fact that He even listens to the selfish, whining pleas of human beings is an act of grace beyond my comprehension.

    But it seems to me that there's something more implicit in this frequent search phrase. It seems as if people are looking for a means to enter into or be recipients of God's grace. They want to know how to pray to get His grace. They're looking for a set of words, a formula, a mystical incantation that will result in God being obligated to send His favor to them. So they go where so many of us go in this i-age whenever we need to find something out. We Google it. These people go to the vast shared knowledge of the entire world contained on the Internet in an effort to find the key to God's favor, just like they'd search for a recipe for spam salad or guacamole.

    But doesn't that seem like a concept that's totally incongruous with grace? The idea that we can find some set of words that if uttered in sincerity will automatically result in God showing His undeserved favor to us? Grace, by definition, cannot be appropriated or coerced, from God or anyone else. It is a gift freely given, under no obligation to do so. In fact, this kind of idea that God's grace can be manipulated is in some sense like a meritorious work which puts God in our debt to favor us. It's expressed by Paul in Romans 4:4 like this: "Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due." If we seek to obligate God to show us favor, we are in reality seeking to earn it. Which is impossible.

    But there's also a sense in which we must pray for God's grace in order to receive it. But not by murmuring some formulaic prayer that will indebt God to us. Rather, the Bible indicates that the words that we utter to seek God's favor are less important than the attitude and heart condition that we bring to the request. We read in James 4:6 that "God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble." This principle is all through the Old and New Testament. The prerequisite for receiving God's undeserved favor is an attitude of humility, repentance, dependence and need. And this is true both in the initial receipt of God's grace in saving faith, as well as the day to day reception of God's sustaining grace in the life of His people. God's grace can only be received by those who acknowledge their deep need for it, and their complete lack of deservedness of it.

    I hope that those of you Googling for "a prayer for God's grace" find this post. And that you also find the true and sufficient grace of God in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, accessed by your recognition of your need for Him as payment for your sin, and your expression of that need in trust and faith and repentance. Then, and only then, will you find what you really need.

    Thursday, July 23, 2009

    Slacker Excuses Post

    This is the post where I make excuses to rationalize my not posting anything at all for the past three weeks. There, I said it right up front. The 2 or 3 of you who occasionally read this backwater blog know what's coming now.

    But truthfully, there's been so many things going on and competing for my attention lately that I haven't had the blog post itch for a while. Spent a week in Kansas City with the family on vacation, that was fun and a nice getaway. Also a fair amount of work-related stuff going on lately that's occupied much of my energy. Including being invited to be a keynote speaker at a business conference in Australia in November, and dealing with the arrangements and such that go with that (including taking the family along - Thanksgiving down under this year!)

    And a variety of ministry stuff happening. Continuing to teach a weekly Sunday morning study of James, one of my favorite epistles. Starting to work on writing a study of the epistle of Jude to follow that with (and trying to get son Matt to help me with it.) And also working (slowly and intermittently) on an introductory Christian apologetics class to be taught as part of a new evening equipping ministry we'll be launching in September. While still teaching folks in the New Life program at the local Rescue Mission once a week. And in addition, serving with some Spanish-speaking brothers and sisters on a task force to expand and integrate our bilingual ministries at HPEFC.

    That along with all the normal summer family stuff like daughter's softball games and tournament, son's marching band clinic at the University of Nebraska, etc, etc, and life seems pretty full. Oh, and also trying to keep up with my cycling to hit my 2000 mile target for the summer. And of course July has been filled with tracking the Tour de France on a daily basis. Gotta have my priorities.

    So OK, there's my busy list. How's it compare to yours? Yeah, not so impressive. But reality is that I've been in a bit of a desert for a while now, when it comes to having anything meaningful and edifying to share here. And I think that is largely sourced in the general spiritual lethargy that's characterized my life at HPEFC during the transitional season we've been in since last fall when our long time senior pastor was called elsewhere. But there's an oasis in sight on that front, as finally this weekend we'll be meeting and hearing from a pastoral candidate who is a great exegetical and expository preacher and a gospel-centered shepherd. Looking much forward to that, and to the next level of ministry Christ will call us to with such a leader.

    So there, I posted something. And by God's grace He'll provide the desire and thoughts to continue to do so. Thanks for reading...

    Friday, July 3, 2009

    Orthodoxy and Obedience

    So I seem to keep encountering points of view that make a contrast between the need for right doctrine, and the need for right practice. A point of view that sees these two focal points of the Christian life in terms of "camps" or opposite ends of the spectrum. A dichotomy between orthodoxy and obedience. There's a lot of "evangelicals" today who want to focus on "following Jesus", but not so much on knowing doctrine. After all, doctrine divides, right? And isn't the church of Jesus Christ supposed to be marked by unity and love for one another, not debates and battles over fine points of theology? Can't we just follow Jesus and His teachings and forget about all that messy doctrinal stuff? Isn't it enough to just love Jesus and be like Him?

    While reading again through Colossians this past week, I came across a passage that seems to put aside this notion of separation between orthodoxy and obedience, and instead proves them to be inextricably linked. Read with me Colossians 2:6-7:

    Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.
    Paul starts this passage with a command, to conduct ourselves in a manner consistent with how we have received Christ. Note that this is different than his command in Ephesians 4:1 to walk in a manner worthy of our calling. Here instead we're commanded to walk in Christ in the same way we have received Him as Savior and Lord. So how do we do that? Paul goes on to explain.

    Look at the tense of the next phrase - "having been firmly Him" Past tense, referring to the point of conversion. We as believers in Christ have been firmly rooted in our salvation in Jesus Christ, in His person and His work and His gospel truth. In a word - doctrine. And this past tense occurrence has an ongoing present tense work - "now being built up in Him." Growing in Christ, in our knowledge of Him and our depth of relationship with Him and in our conformance to His character. Again, centered on the person and work and gospel truth of Jesus Christ. Founded on sound doctrine.

    Which is exactly what Paul says next - "established in your faith." Here referring to the foundation of our receiving and being built up in Christ as our "faith", the body of sound doctrine that constitutes true Christian faith, the faith once for all handed down to the saints, and not simply our own personal trust in that body of truth.

    And to make that clear, Paul points to where we received these sound doctrinal truths that are the root, the building up, the establishment of our faith - "just as you were instructed." Teaching, instruction in the word and truths of the gospel and the sound doctrines of the faith. This whole passage assumes the doctrinal teaching of the essential truths of Christian faith as the basis for receiving Christ and as the basis for living in obedience to Christ. To paraphrase: you were taught the truths of Jesus Christ, you received Him based on these truths, your faith in Him is founded on these truths, you are growing in grace and knowledge through the ongoing teaching of these truths, so now continue to live in them the same way. A continuous line linking orthodoxy and obedience.

    And finally, Paul describes the outcome of such a life of obedience based on orthodoxy - "overflowing with gratitude." Obedience that is based in and founded on doctrinal truth will be accompanied by, and in fact motivated by, an overwhelming thankfulness for the gospel of Christ. The more we understand the deeper doctrines of God's grace and mercy and justice in Jesus Christ, the more we are aware of how great our salvation is, and the more grateful we will be to Him for His sovereign grace, and the more motivated we will be to live a life that pleases and glorifies Him. A superficial understanding of the doctrinal truths of the gospel of Christ will inevitably lead to a superficial obedience.

    So, do you want to be an obedient follower of Jesus? Then drink deep from the well of doctrinal truth that He Himself has revealed about Himself. Go beyond the simple "Jesus loved me and died for my sin" statement of faith and discover the how, why, what and who that lie beneath that simple statement. Embrace the sound teaching of sound and orthodox truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and so receive Him, so grow in Him, and so walk in Him.

    Tuesday, June 30, 2009

    Testimonial vs. Transcendence

    Reading a post on Tim Brister's blog today about some of his observations regarding the recent SBC Annual Meeting he attended. While I'm not a Southern Baptist and am not all that interested in what went on there, one of Tim's statements really captured very well some things I've been seeing in worship music for a while but haven't been able to express. Tim said:

    "Many if not most of the songs were testimonial with very little transcendence, little about who God is and what He has done. Instead they were about who we are what we are going to do. I just like singing about Jesus more than I do me, and I would have liked to have been able to do that more..."
    That's it! That's what's' been bugging me about so much of what we seem to use as worship music today. And I see this even in my own church to some extent. I often have a hard time singing some of the music because the words seem so...well, so "I'm-gonna-do-this-for-you-Lord" rather than "You-are-holy-and-righteous-and-sovereign-and-full-of-grace." So much focused on declaring what Christ has done for me and what I am purposing to do for Him, instead of declaring who He is and exalting Him for that. After all, isn't that what worship is? Raising our focus off of ourselves and placing it on the Exalted One, expressing back to Him praises and honor and glory for who He is?

    Of course, there's a place for music, even worship music, that exults in the grace of God that He's manifested in our individual and corporate lives. If you take the Psalms as a prototypical hymnal, then you'll find many such songs praising and thanking Him for His marvelous works and mercy, and expressing devotion and commitment to Him by the psalmist. But you'll find mixed in many more references to the greatness and glory of our Lord and Savior, expressing praise for His transcendent majesty over and above His immanence. I'm just mainly looking for balance, and I, like Tim, am missing it.

    There are plenty of contemporary Christian songs that are anthropologically focused, some of which express Biblical truths very well. But I'm not sure many of those belong in a worship set if our objective is to lift up our eyes unto the Holy One of Israel and declare His worthiness.

    "Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created." Revelation 4:11

    "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing." Revelation 5:12

    Sunday, June 21, 2009

    "We proclaim Him..."

    We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. - Colossians 1:28

    This passage has come to my attention several times lately in a variety of ways. It's the central mission verse for the church in northern California that son Mike is interning at. And it was also in the text that our interim pastor preached on this morning, although since he's not an exegete or expositor he pretty much missed the point. But I see this statement by Paul as a succinct statement of mission and purpose for the church of Jesus Christ, one that is sorely needed today to bring us back to what the church is to be and why she exists.

    Paul starts with what the church is to do: "We proclaim Him..." The proclamation of the person and work of Christ is the main focus of the work of the church. The heralding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in all of it's glory and scandal, is what those who would be ministers are to be about. Not communicating stories and anecdotes, not "sharing" feelings and personal experiences, not providing therapeutic self-help life-lessons. But rather declaring the truth of Christ, boldly and exclusively.

    He then outlines some specifics of how that proclamation is to be carried out. First, it is to be done through admonition. The Greek is noutheteo, to put in mind, to caution, to reprove. The Gospel of Christ is serious business, literally life and death, and its communication must be done with a sense of warning, cautioning, putting the truth into men's minds so as to reprove from the path of sin and death. When we treat the message of Christ and the preaching office of the church as a thing to be played with, we fail to meet this standard.

    Second, the proclamation of Christ is to be done through teaching. The Greek didasko refers to instruction via discourse. It implies the teaching and communication of the doctrines and truths of Christ, the essentials of the Christian faith. In other words, systematically catechizing the church in the truth that makes the church the church. The "faith once for all delivered to the saints," as Jude puts it. This is no feel-good superficial devotional type of Sunday school, but the solid meat of the Word inculcated to believers in Christ, so as to grow in the grace and knowledge of Him.

    And how is this admonition and teaching to be performed? With all wisdom. It's to be done in a wise and understanding manner. And since God is the source of all wisdom, this means that it's to be done His way. Not subject to the latest marketing whims or seeker strategies or felt needs, but in the pattern and means that God has revealed in His Word.

    So Paul has now described the what (proclaiming Christ) and the how (wise, God-honoring admonition and teaching). Next he explains the why, the purpose and objective of all this. "So that we may present every man complete in Christ." Notice the word "present." The picture is of the shepherd of the church bringing his flock to Christ as a father giving his daughter as a bride. Presenting a holy and sanctified church to her Lord and Master. And notice the extent of this purpose - "every man." That through the proclamation of Jesus Christ, God would gather His elect, and build them up to maturity and completeness. Or as Paul states here, "complete in Christ." No stragglers, no half-hearted disciples, no so-called "carnal Christians", but every one of Christ's chosen sheep fully grown and glorifying to Him.

    Lord, make this the over-arching purpose of everyone who is privileged to lead and shepherd your church. Make this the single-minded obsession of all who minister to your people. Until you return and we can present every believer to you, complete in You.

    Friday, June 12, 2009

    Worthy to Suffer Shame for...

    ...and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. (Acts 5:40-41)

    Peter and the other apostles were brought in before the Sanhedrin because they had been boldly proclaiming the Gospel of Christ all throughout Jerusalem, and people had been responding in droves. The apostles had been performing miraculous healings as God was bringing more and more people to Himself through their preaching. Finally the apostles are beaten and commanded by the Jewish rulers to stop preaching Jesus Christ, and then released. And their response to this treatment? Rejoicing. Not rejoicing that they had been released. Not rejoicing that their case and their cause had been vindicated, which it had not. No, they were filled with joy because they had been deemed worthy by Christ to suffer, and suffer shamefully, for His name.

    I find this so far from what I think my response would be in this situation. Rejoicing? After being arrested for simply preaching and healing people, and then beaten and told to shut up? You must be kidding! Why, I'd be outraged. I'd be calling Jay Sekulow at the ACLJ, the Fox News crews, anyone I could find to seek justice against those tyrants. I'd demand vengeance and vindication. I know my rights and I'd want them. I'd...well, you get the picture. And I'll wager you'd respond the same.

    But Peter and the others give us a far different model. They were joyful that their Lord had counted them worthy of being publicly shamed and disgraced on His behalf. They rejoiced that He had judged their faithfulness to Him and to His Gospel of sufficient authenticity and strength to suffer through such a trial. It wasn't the suffering that they rejoiced in, but instead in the knowledge that Christ had counted them worthy of such an honor. That He had given them an early "well done, good and faithful servants."

    A couple of observations in bringing this passage into the 21st century American evangelical church. First observation is this: our public proclamation of the Gospel and its power and identification with the name of Jesus Christ is so weak as to rarely if ever be the cause of such persecution or shame. Oh sure, we think we are persecuted when some public institution won't let a group have a Bible study in their building, or when a nominally-Christian beauty pageant winner makes a vague moralist statement and is publicly lambasted for it. And our response is usually to seek justice or vindication, often in the legal system or the court of public opinion. But that is nothing at all like the situation we see here in Acts. Could that be due to the fact that we have such a diluted Gospel and such a wimpy witness that it hardly draws attention or opposition?

    Second observation is a corollary to the first: do we also not see this kind of persecution and opposition because we as postmodern evangelicals are not counted worthy by Christ to suffer shame for His name? If we're not living as ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20), if we aren't walking in a manner worthy of the Gospel (Ephesians 4:1), then how are we to be deemed worthy to suffer shame for His name? And if our Gospel that we weakly witness to is a stripped down, emotional, God-loves-you-and-has-a-wonderful-plan-for-your-life set of platitudes (as it so often is), then we cannot and should not be counted worthy by the Lord.

    This is a challenging passage for me. I have to examine myself in both of these observations. Not just my potential response to a hypothetical situation, but my witness and my worthiness. And I also have to wonder, even if I came through this trial like Peter and the apostles, would I do what they did: "And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ." (Acts 5:42)

    And would you?

    Thursday, June 4, 2009

    Contend Earnestly for the Faith...

    Haven't posted anything here for quite a while, haven't had much to say that would be edifying I guess. But I have started working on a brief study of the epistle of Jude, and I have to say it's a challenging little letter. And as I begin to take this letter apart a bit and bring it into the 21st century, I want to post some of the things I see in these potent 25 verses of Scripture. So stay tuned for whatever insights I find in this study.

    Of course, the central idea of the letter is the command to "contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints." And I have to say, this command seems to be less and less popular in the church of Jesus Christ these days. Which is why the truth regarding those who would seek to distort and manipulate the Gospel of Christ contained in this short epistle is at least as important today as when it was written. We who are the called of God, the saints who have received the body of truth and doctrines that constitute the "faith once for all delivered", seem to be less and less willing to contend for it. And we do so at our own peril, as we are the ones entrusted with the truth of the Gospel and tasked with preserving and passing it on to future generations, until Christ returns to complete His redemptive work.

    So like I said, stay tuned. Heady stuff this.

    Saturday, May 9, 2009

    Congratulations to My Firstborn Son

    Last evening, our oldest son Mike graduated from The Master's College in Santa Clarita, California. Mike received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Bible Exposition from TMC, graduating magna cum laude. Besides being extraordinarily proud of my son and the man that he's growing into, I am also humbled as I see the way that God has been shaping and maturing him over the past several years at TMC. The Lord's call on Mike's life to pursue some kind of ministry continues to be confirmed, and I am excited to see where Christ will take Mike in the future.

    For now, he'll be headed to northern California to begin a year long ministry internship at Meadow Valley Community Church in Quincy, CA. A small church in a small city in the Sierras, but a place that God has sovereignly called him. And after that, probably on to the MDiv program at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School near Chicago.

    So congratulations Mike, and may God's sovereign grace continue to lead you on.

    Sunday, April 26, 2009

    Living Out Judges 3

    Now these are the nations which the LORD left, to test Israel by them (that is, all who had not experienced any of the wars of Canaan; only in order that the generations of the sons of Israel might be taught war, those who had not experienced it formerly). These nations are: the five lords of the Philistines and all the Canaanites and the Sidonians and the Hivites who lived in Mount Lebanon, from Mount Baal-hermon as far as Lebo-hamath. They were for testing Israel, to find out if they would obey the commandments of the LORD, which He had commanded their fathers through Moses. The sons of Israel lived among the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; and they took their daughters for themselves as wives, and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods. - Judges 3:1-6

    Reading this passage, it struck me the parallels between the situation that God put the Israelites in (and their response to it) and the situation the Church is in today and our response to it. First, look at the purpose given for God allowing the other nations to remain in the land: to test His people, to examine them to see if they will obey Him, and to teach them warfare. The Lord expressly says He didn't drive out all those *-ites so that His chosen people would have to learn how to fight, and to test their obedience and devotion to Him. Of course, the rest of the book of Judges is an up and down account of how the people repeatedly failed this test, then remembered the Lord their God and cried out to Him, and He raised up a man (or in one case a woman) through whom He would rescue them.

    But look here in this introductory passage at what the immediate response of the Israelite people were to these foreign, pagan tribes they were dwelling amongst. In a word, accommodation. Or perhaps better, assimilation. They failed the first purpose that God put them into the situation for - to learn warfare - because the didn't see these nations as their enemies, as being opposed to their God. So rather than engage in battle with these pagan nations, they embraced them. They did what was expressly forbidden by God - intermarrying with them, becoming of one flesh with them. And ultimately abandoning the worship of the One True God and serving the pagan gods of the nations. In other words, failing both purposes that God had for the situation.

    So consider the parallels with the Church today. We are God's chosen, covenant people, dwelling in lands alongside any number of pagan nations. We called and commanded to be separate from the unbelieving peoples around us, to be "in the world, but not of the world." This has been the struggle of the church of Jesus Christ for 2000 years. And I daresay, God's purposes haven't changed. But what is our response, especially in postmodern America? The same as the Israelites was. We aren't learning the art of spiritual warfare, since we fail to see the pagan influences in our culture as contrary to the holiness and righteousness of our God. So rather than engaging in opposition in obedience to our Lord, we engage in accommodation in obedience to our culture. We embrace the pagan culture and peoples around us, become unequally yoked with them in so many ways, we even bring their influences into the church. And we unwittingly serve their gods, the gods of materialism and tolerance and selfism. In short, we fail the test.

    Now, I'm not saying we are to take up arms against the unbelieving people around us, that's clearly forbidden by Christ. Nor are we to live in cloistered communities behind high walls, completely disengaged from the world around us. We are rather commanded to love those people and pray for them and be a witness unto them of the glory and greatness and holiness of our Lord, and of His grace and mercy in Christ. But when we accommodate and assimilate, we completely lose our ability to do this. We become as them, we are indistinguishable from the world around us, we have nothing to say to them. The Gospel of Christ becomes just another alternate lifestyle choice to be taken or discarded. And especially when we begin to tailor our understanding of God, His revelation to us in His word, and the doctrines of our faith to accommodate the pagans around us, we not only have nothing new to say, we are in effect saying the same thing the pagan culture says. And we are worshipping their gods.

    It's time that we reclaimed our purpose as God's people. For we are "A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light." - 1 Peter 2:9

    Tuesday, April 21, 2009

    Where's the Moral Vision?

    Reading David Wells' Losing Our Virtue: Why the Church Must Recover its Moral Vision, and came across this passage. Read, think, and pray for the Church to return to being the Church.

    It is one thing to know the Gospel; it is quite another to see it lived...The evangelical church today, with some exceptions, is not very inspiring in this regard. It is not being heroic. It is exhibiting too little of the moral splendor that Christ calls it to exhibit. Much of it, instead, is replete with tricks, gadgets, gimmicks and marketing ploys as it shamelessly adapts itself to our emptied-out, blinded, post-modern world. It is supporting a massive commercial enterprise of Christian products, it is filling the airways and stuffing postal boxes, and it is always begging for money to fuel one entrepreneurial scheme after another, but it is not morally resplendent. It is mostly empty of real moral vision, and without a recovery of that vision its faith will soon disintegrate. There is too little about it that bespeaks the holiness of God. And without the reality of this holiness, the Gospel becomes trivialized, life loses its depth, God becomes transformed into a product to be sold, faith into a recreational activity to be done, and the Church into a club for the like-minded.

    Monday, April 20, 2009

    Ten Lessons from Ten Great Christian Thinkers

    From philosophy prof James Spiegel, a summary of ten lessons from ten brilliant Christian minds of the past and present. Some great truths and perspectives to be reminded of here.

    1. Augustine (5th century): Remember that you are a citizen of another kingdom.
    2. Martin Luther (16th century): Expect politicians to be corrupt.
    3. Thomas Aquinas (13th century): God has made himself known in nature.
    4. John Calvin (16th century): God is sovereign over all, including our suffering.
    5. Jonathan Edwards (18th century): God is beautiful, and all beauty is divine.
    6. Thomas a’Kempis (15th century): Practice self-denial with a passion.
    7. John Wesley (18th century): Be disciplined and make the best use of your time.
    8. Fyodor Dostoevsky (19th century): God’s grace can reach anyone.
    9. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (20th century): Beware of cheap grace.
    10. Alvin Plantinga (21st century): Moral virtue is crucial for intellectual health.

    Read the whole post here. HT to Justin Taylor.