Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Story

The Bible is just like its author in that there has never been a more controversial and influential book written in the history of mankind. Even within Christianity there are a lot of dissenting views concerning many things about the Bible. One leading reason that many people struggle with reading, studying, and seeing the Bible's prime place in their lives is because they fail to see it written with its original intent. So many have fractured the Scriptures so badly that they see it as simply a book of stories, examples, and rules.

Contrary to what many Christians have concluded, the Bible does not tell two stories - the story of Israel in the Old Testament and the story of the church in the New Testament. No, the Bible tells one story and points to one figure. It tells the story of how God rescues a broken world and points to Christ who accomplishes this rescue. God reveals himself through types, promises, and prophecies in the Old Testament while in the New Testament He comes down to His creation and joins humanity in the person of Jesus Christ. He is the fulfillment of every type, every promise, and every prophecy. The Old Testament prefigures and directs us to God’s rescuer, the New Testament presents God’s rescuer. Therefore, the whole Bible (both the Old and New Testament) is all about God’s rescue plan of redemption, and God's rescuer – Jesus Christ.
Even though it's a children's Bible, The Jesus Storybook Bible is one of the best resources available to help both children and adults see the singular, Jesus-centered storyline of the Bible. Sally Lloyd-Jones appropriately places (in an excellent way) the Bible in its proper context as the launching point of unpacking it.
She writes –

God wrote, "I love you" – he wrote it in the sky, and on the earth, and under the sea. He wrote his message everywhere! Because God created everything in his world to reflect him like a mirror – to show us what he is like. To help us know him, to make our hearts sing.

The way a kitten chases her tail. The way red poppies grow wild. The way a dolphin swims.

And God put it into words, too, and wrote it in a book called "the Bible."

Now some people think the Bible is a book of rules, telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. The Bible certainly does have rules in it. They show you how life works best [or how it works at all]. But the Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should be doing. It's about God and what he has done.

Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes, showing you people you should copy. The Bible does have some heroes in it, but (as you'll soon find out) most of the people in the Bible aren't heroes at all. They make some big mistakes (sometimes on purpose). They get afraid and run away. At times they are downright mean.

No, the Bible isn’t a book of rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a Story. It's an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It's a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne – everything – to rescue the one he loves. It's like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life!

You see, the best thing about this Story is – it's true.

There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all these stories are telling one Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.

It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story. And at the center of the Story, there is a baby. Every Story in the Bible whispers his name. He is like the missing piece in a puzzle – the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together, and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture.
And this is no ordinary baby. This is the Child upon whom everything would depend. This is the Child who one day…

Vital Inerrancy

I recently came across an article online on the BiolLogos site entitled "After Inerrancy: Evangelicals and the Bible in a Postmodern Age." It’s a multi-part article written by Kenton Sparks, a professor of
Biblical Studies at Eastern University. Here’s how it starts:

I write for Evangelicals who either believe or suspect that our tradition has painted itself into an intellectual corner. The Church has been down this road before. In the 16th and 17th centuries it mistakenly criticized Copernicus and Galileo because their scientific views were clearly "unbiblical." And just as the evidence finally came crashing down on Church dogma in those days, so in ours, the facts are stacking up quickly against fundamentalistic beliefs in "creation science" and in the kind of "biblical inerrancy" that supports it.

While there was perhaps a period in history when Evangelicals could deny the substance of these new theories because the available evidence seemed thin, it seems to me that we’ve now crossed an evidential threshold that makes it intellectually unsuitable to defend some of the standard dogmas of the conservative Evangelical tradition. Holding fast to these old dogmas merely perpetuates the "intellectual disaster of Fundamentalism" and the "scandal of Evangelical Mind."

The intellectual cul-de-sac in which Evangelicalism finds itself can be traced back to many causes. But it seems clear, at least to me, that a fundamental cause of the scandal is its doctrine of Scripture. Often this doctrine involves a strict adherence to "Biblicism" … to a belief that the Bible provides inerrant access to the truth about everything it touches on … from biology, physics and astronomy to psychology, history and theology. In more progressive Evangelical circles inerrancy is sometimes defined more delicately, in a way that allows the non-biblical evidence to carry more weight in our reflection, but even here the subtle influence of inerrancy often engenders poor, or at least inferior, judgments about science, history, human beings and theology. In the pages that follow I will briefly explain why conventional Evangelical understandings of Scripture simply cannot be right. I will also survey some of the important resources that can help the Church get its bearings in a world without Biblicistic inerrancy.

I’m not sure what Biblicistic means, but any time you turn a word into an "ism" and then add an "istic" on top of that, it must be really bad. I’m pretty sure Biblicistic is here to make inerrancy sound as lame as possible. Later, just to be crystal clear, Sparks opines, "Biblicist inerrancy is an intellectual disaster."

Where Inerrancy?
The authority of Scripture has, for the past two or three centuries, been under almost constant attack. So it’s no surprise see it happening again. Even Christians hoping to be counted in the evangelical fold are eager to call into question the full and complete inspiration of Scripture. Is the whole Bible inspired by God? Do I have to believe all of Scripture? Does the whole Bible have a purpose, place, and authority in my life? This means it is crucial that we understand, defend, and celebrate the authority of the Bible in our homes and in our churches.

One struggles to know where to begin with Sparks’ assault on biblical authority. A single writing occasion is not the place to launch a full-on defense of inerrancy. There are many fine books and articles written in years past that do just that, including Robert Yarborough’s fair-minded, yet devastating review of Sparks’ previous work.

Another angle on the subject might look at what constitutes evangelical theology. Sparks writes from "our" evangelical tradition, and yet he disavows any notion of penal substitution and understands the Scriptures to be fallen like creation and in need of redemption. In the comments in another post, he argues, "I have no interest in preserving Christianity … I believe because, as I understand it, it makes sense of human experience. But if it turns out that Christianity fails to do that, I’ll simply turn elsewhere." I don’t know Dr. Sparks and am not an expert on his thought. I just don’t see how he can claim to speak as an evangelical scholar (to use language from his book). And with articles like this, why would evangelicals see the web site BioLogos as "one of us."
So there are a lot of things one could say, but let me simply call to mind the Apostle Peter’s assessment of Holy Scripture - And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1.19-20).

In the context, Peter is reminding his readers that the Lord will come back in fiery vengeance on the wicked – and because Christ will return, we ought to pay attention to His Word and live accordingly. The false teachers deny all this. So Peter presents two pieces of evidence for Christ’s return in judgment. First, he presents eyewitness testimony - they saw Christ’s glory on the mount of transfiguration (1.16-18). Second, he presents written evidence - the prophetic word confirms what we saw (1:19-21). Amazingly, Peter describes the prophetic word, which I take to mean all Scripture (v. 20), as "something more sure" (v. 19). In other words the Bible is more reliable than our senses (see Luke 16.31 for something similar).

More than that, the prophetic word was not produced by the will of man. Rather, men spoke by God, not in the sense of mechanical dictation (a straw man if there ever was one), but as the instruments of divine revelation. The Scripture is so much a divine book that Peter can say the men who spoke the words recorded in Scripture were "carried along by the Holy Spirit." As Calvin says, "they dared not to announce anything of their own, and obediently followed the Spirit as their guide, who ruled in their mouth as in his own sanctuary."

The verb translated "carried along" is the same word translated earlier in v.21 as “produced.” The prophetic word was not produced by man but by the Spirit. It’s surely significant that word is also used in v.17, 18 with reference to "the voice borne from heaven." The words of the prophets (known only to Peter’s audience in written form) were borne from God just as surely as the words spoken by the Father on the holy mountain. The Scripture is the Spirit’s book through and through. What Scripture says is what the Spirit says (Heb. 3:7; Acts 4:25; Rom. 9:17).

Why Inerrancy?
This is but one reason why inerrancy is denied at great peril. There are many ways to defend inerrancy, but the simplest argument is this - Scripture did not come from the will of man; it came from God. That is clear from 2 Peter 1.19-21 and 2 Timothy 3.16 (to name the classic texts). And if it is God’s Word then it must all be true because as Romans 3.4 tells us, "Let God be true though every man a liar."

All of this is so critical because when we reject inerrancy we put ourselves in judgment over God’s word - claiming the right to determine which parts of God’s revelation can be trusted and which cannot. In other words, when we deny inerrancy we are forced to make one of two conclusions - either the Scripture is not all from God, when 2 Timothy 3.16 says it is all breathed out by God, and Jesus and the Apostles assume (and teach) it speaks for God; or, second, we must conclude that God is not always dependable. Both of theses conclusions are beneath the Christian. This sort of thinking does not work for our joy and freedom in Christ, and it does not bring honor to the Spirit of God who carried along the men who wrote God’s word.

A Sorry Story Gets Sorrier

From the New York Times:

VATICAN CITY — Addressing the sexual abuse crisis from the seat of the Roman Catholic Church before thousands of white-robed priests, Pope Benedict XVI on Friday begged forgiveness, saying the church would do “everything possible” to prevent priests from abusing children.

“We, too, insistently beg forgiveness from God and from the persons involved, while promising to do everything possible to ensure that such abuse will never occur again,” Benedict told thousands of priests and the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square for celebrations marking the end of the Vatican’s Year of the Priest.

The pope did not outline specific actions that the church would take to combat abuse, as many had hoped — and as Benedict had pledged at an audience in April. Nor did his remarks go much beyond what he had already said in a letter to Irish Catholics in March and in a private meeting with victims of sexual abuse on Malta in April.

But it was the first time that Benedict had asked forgiveness for the crisis from St. Peter’s Square, the heart of the church itself, and on an occasion focused on priests.

The pope said the Devil was behind the scandal, saying it had emerged now, in the middle of the Vatican’s Year of the Priest, because “the enemy,” or the Devil, wants to see “God driven out of the world.”

The Roman Catholic Church seems unable to shake the sex abuse scandals that have plagued her over the last decade and more. The incidents of abuse have undoubtedly rocked the church and, more seriously, devastated many individuals and their families.

I’ve not followed the Church’s dealings with this matter very closely. I’m certain others have more astute observations. But after reading The Times coverage of Pope Benedict’s comments, I’m left with a few quick thoughts.

1. Promises to “do everything possible” absent concrete plans and actions amounts to a failure to repent - There must be a plan of action in keeping with repentance or the Church’s credibility on this matter is completely shot.

2. Superstition won’t solve the problem - It appears from The Times article that at least this writer thinks something significant has happened because pronouncements were made from St. Peter’s Square. A decree from “the heart of the church itself” means nothing if it doesn’t address the hearts of priests and leaders inside the church. I suppose something of an aura of ex cathedra pronouncement is supposed to attend these comments. If so, what a sad indictment when the problem exists in churches on main street around the world, churches that have basically received protective cover from the Church hierarchy.

3. Blame-shifting won’t solve the problem - It’s pretty sad that the Pope resorts to “the Devil made them do it.” To be certain, the Enemy opposes the people of God - but from all outward appearances, he seems to be getting a fair amount of help from the Roman Catholic Church itself. As far as I know, it’s not within the Slanderer’s ability to prevent a full and thorough repentance, the acceptance of accountability, and serious action to protect children from priests. The Pope’s comments seem rather interested in not spoiling a celebration for the priesthood rather than actually taking steps to secure justice for abused individuals and families. It’s lame to blame the Devil. Better to repent in sackcloth and ashes, and make restitution four-fold.

4. Polity matters - The way a church organizes herself to call leaders and to practice discipline matters immensely. The Roman Catholic Church faces this tragic circumstance in great measure because its polity allowed the protection of offenders and disenfranchised its members. Church polity could never prevent abuse in any absolute sense. But a New Testament approach to membership and discipline, resting final adjudication with the local church, would certainly have helped to contain the spread of abuse and the collusion of priests and bishops. If the congregation had authority to hand an unrepentant sinner over to Satan, and to treat the offending priest like a pagan or tax collector (Matthew 18; 1 Corinthians 5), abuse cases would have instantly been public, accountability and scrutiny intense, and members protected and informed. At the end of the day, church polity isn’t a dusty old idea bored pastors sit around and discuss. It’s part of how we live out the gospel and it has significant consequences for those affected.

5. Finally, only the gospel rightly understood and applied will heal these hurts - Some want justice - others want mercy. Some demand punishment - others want forgiveness. Some want financial recompense - others the kind of charity that protects the Church’s collective interest. The competing justice concerns are staggering. No one will be justified before God, no matter the option chosen. The only sufficient hope is a discovery of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. What else frees us from self-righteousness? What can purchase forgiveness without compromising justice? How else will victim and sinner be reconciled to one another and to God? Only by an exclusive embrace of Jesus Christ and the work He accomplished in His crucifixion and resurrection. Only by trusting that alone, apart from any works of merit, will there be freedom to survive this abuse and scandal and to live in the redemption Jesus provides. Law won’t fix it. Only grace alone can.

Justification by Facebook

John Calvin wrote that the human heart is an idol factory. He was right.

Throughout history, we have bowed down to golden cattle, celestial beings, stone animals, and even human body parts. The passage of time has only increased the number of ways we exchange the worship of the One True God for lesser, false gods. Today, we can sadly add yet another idol to the list - social media.

Social media (blogging, Facebook, Twitter, etc.), as technology, is neutral and harmless – even good. Social media can and should be used for the glory of God and the advancement of the gospel in every possible way. But natural-born idolaters, like you and me, are no more than a few clicks away from making this good thing a god thing.

Social media carries a unique set of temptations. Much like the adulterous temptress described in Proverbs, social media offers us the invitation to come into her house and enjoy the choicest foods, only to find the meal poisoned.

The most dangerous of these tainted meals is pride. Few other creations in history have allowed us to see how "important" we (and our emotions, thoughts and opinions) are with such tantalizing immediacy as our walls, blogs, and tweet stats. There are times we check our wall, or our stats, because we are more concerned with the applause of man than the affirmation of Jesus, and we forsake the true justification of who we are in the gospel for the false justification of who we are in the eyes of our friends. We do the opposite of what we set out to do in the first place - we serve ourselves instead of God and his people.

Pride creeps in through wall postings, profile changes, tweets, status updates, etc. Though there is nothing inherently wrong with mentioning what we are thinking, how we are feeling, where we are having lunch, or who we are with, we would be well served by checking our hearts before we do. Are we sharing this information to give people a helpful window into our lives as we seek to live out the gospel, or are we unwittingly (or even quite wittingly) enticing our friends toward coveting the life we are living? Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth posts.

So what's the answer? Well first, let me be very clear in that it's not to abandon these social resources God has given us to communicate and connect. Blogging, tweeting, facebooking are all excellent grounds on which we can enjoy, explore, grow and flourish in life. Can you imagine the gospel revival, and the call back to the worship of Yahweh if the Christian community invaded Facebook, took it over, and used it for exaltation of Jesus Christ and glory of God?

I'm not even saying everything we post has to be a Bible verse or, "Praise the Lord…" Those things would be great (and we should do them) but it's even more basic than that. I don't even have Facebook, but I so often hear of people posting:
• Life sucks
• I hate people
• Why don't all of you get a life
• My car is my baby
• Different abbreviations for swear words (or phrases)
I know of people (not from our church) who have actually publically ripped their church on Facebook. I've seen some Christians rip others publically on Twitter and in their blogs. Please understand that when people hear us claim we are Christians and then witness us express ourselves in such negative, hateful, materialistic ways, it is impossible for them see their need for the gospel – and so they don’t believe in Jesus.

So what's the answer -

1. Think before you post
Don't use such public forums to vomit up your emotions. It sounds simple, but stopping to think about why we are about to do what we are about to do is an amazing sin-killing weapon. Use it and use it often. It has been a great help to me.

2. Consider "fasting" from social media for a season
While this may seem extreme, in light of Jesus' counsel about tearing out our eye if it makes us sin (Matthew 5:29), fasting seems like the least we could do to expose the true condition of our hearts. If we are flatly unwilling to consider it, that should tell us something.

3. Believe the gospel
Make your solid theology soundly practical in daily life. If, when we are tempted to go to the fleeting approval of man to shore up our insecurities, we instead go to the approval of God that is ours in Christ, the approval unaffected by the abundance or absence of re-tweets, we, our followers, and the kingdom are better for it.

Calvin was right. The heart is an idol factory. But at this intersection of technology and idolatry, pull the plug on the bad and keep the good.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Honor Of A Brother

Sometimes the most penetrating lessons are those learned from our kids. Though we may feel like we spend so much time teaching our kids manners, how to share and treat other kids, to obey, etc. - I often think that if we humbled ourselves, and opened our eyes we would learn some extraordinary lessons from our children about how to be loving, caring, sensitive, gentle, selfless, thoughtful, and giving. Now, I know kids might not consistently show such qualities of the heart but, let's be honest, neither do adults – and that is why we can learn from our children. And, as I stated a moment ago, the lessons we can learn from our kids often have the most impact.

Someone sent me a link this past week that is related to one our kids in Grace Bible Church. A couple weeks ago Peter DeFilippo hosted an Alex's Lemonade Stand in hopes of raising money for cancer research. While hosting a lemonade stand for such a cause is outstanding in and of itself, read below to see how Peter came about such an idea -

I am Peter DeFilippo, and I am hosting an Alex's Lemonade stand for cancer research. I have a brother with a brain tumor, and I was walking down the hall while visiting him at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. I saw a flyer about Lemonade days in the family room. I asked my Mom if we could do this, I would be glad. She said yes. It is important to me to raise money for this research so that people don't have cancer anymore.

I was overwhelmed by the simplicity, genuineness, concern, and selflessness that Peter so boldly and lovingly exhibited. The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 4.8, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." Could there be any earthly thing worth thinking about more than Peter DeFilippo's heart and actions. I've been thinking about it all week and the question that keeps coming to my mind, and challenging my heart, is – Could this be what Jesus meant when He said in Matthew 18.3, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." In fact, you should keep reading in that chapter as Jesus goes on to express his admiration for children.

I have found that as adults we often think that because we are bigger, have jobs, pay the bills, etc. that we are more mature than our kids – and perhaps we should be. I think that's what God intends for us. But are we, really? I'm not sure that’s necessarily the case –
• intelligence does not equal maturity
• possessions do not equal maturity
• positions of authority do not equal maturity
• popularity does not equal maturity

Well, then, what does equal maturity? We need to be humble and teachable enough to learn from anyone and any circumstance the Lord may bring into our lives – from the youngest of children to the most painful event. That may be the greatest (but not the only) sign of maturity. I am positive Luke DeFilippo does not always make his brother Peter's life easier. Yet Peter is able to take his attention off of himself and express a genuine, God-given love and concern for Luke. Thank you, Peter, for teaching us about having a love and concern for others. Thank you for teaching us about selflessness and sacrifice. Thank you, Peter, for teaching us about unity. Peter, thank you for teaching us about what it means to be a Christian.

Let's think about these things that Peter has taught us – for they true, honorable, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise.

By the way, Peter raised $1040 by hosting an Alex's Lemonade Stand honor of Luke – not that it mattered.

Answer The Question

As much as we might not like it (and even try to fight it) judgment is a reality of life. We make judgments, and we are judged, daily – often without even realizing it. One of the most well known, and often misquoted, verses in the Bible is Matthew 7.1 – “Judge not, that you be not judged.”

What so many people fail to understand is that not all judgment is bad. Judgment can bring (among other things) improvement, progress, even salvation (as we see most explicitly in the gospel). In fact, one of the most vital questions one needs to address when sharing the gospel is, “From what are we saved?” You water down the gospel if you tip-toe around this question or refuse to address it altogether.

This past week I spent some time in Florida visiting my father. Now, I would consider myself to be a very alert individual. I know who is around me and, in general, what they are doing. So you can imagine my irritation (being the every gracious and patient one that I am) when suddenly, apparently out of nowhere, a gentleman appeared in front of me, blocking my forward progress. He looked me in the eye and asked directly, "Are you saved?"

I wasn’t quite sure how to respond to this intrusion. I uttered in response the first thought that came into my mind, "Saved from what?" All right, I'll be honest, that was my second thought. What I was first thinking, but did have the grace not to say, was, "Who the heck are you?" But when I responded, "Saved from what?" I think the man who stopped me was as surprised by my question as I had been by his. He began to stammer and stutter. Obviously, he wasn’t quite sure how to respond and was ill-prepared to listen and have a conversation. And one might even assume he just wanted to preach at me.

After stuttering for a moment, the man seemed to catch his breath enough to say, "Well, you know what I mean. You know, do you know Jesus?" Then he tried to give me a brief summary of the gospel.

This unexpected encounter left an impression on me that made its way into my thoughts periodically throughout my trip. I was torn about what to think because, on the one hand, I was delighted in my soul that someone cared enough about me, even though I was a stranger, to stop me and ask about my salvation; but, on the other hand, it was clear that, though this man had a zeal for salvation, he had little understanding of what salvation is. He was using Christian jargon. He was throwing Christian clich├ęs at me - and the words fell from his lips without being processed by his mind. As a result, his words were empty of content. Clearly, the man had a love for Jesus and a concern for people. Few Christians have the courage to engage perfect strangers in evangelistic discussion. But sadly, he had little understanding of what he was so zealously trying to communicate.

Dr. R.C. Sproul writes a very, very good children's book called – The Prince's Poison Cup. In it, Dr. Sproul clearly and brilliantly helps us see we cannot have the cup of God's fellowship without Christ first drinking the cup of God's wrath for us. The basic upshot of Dr. Sproul's book is - We are saved by God, for God, from God.

• Could a statement be more aggressive – We are saved by God…
• Could statement be more gracious and reconciling – We are saved by God, for God…
• Could a statement be more merciful – We are saved by God, for God, from God.

This what Paul is saying in 1 Thessalonians 1.9-10 – “For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” This is something I try to keep my eye on when hearing gospel presentations. How is the problem being described – because there is a problem. In fact, there's an enormously gigantic problem and it isn’t just “broken shalom” - it also includes the judgment and wrath of God.

Gospel means good news – it's the good news of Jesus Christ. However, understand the news can't be good if there isn’t first, or if it's not addressing, bad news. The bad news is our depravity. It's the judgment of God under which we fall. The bad news is that our rebellion has led us to an eternity of God's fury being poured out on our heads. It's the cup we're served. If you can't, first, be honest about the problem, the bad news that dooms us, then the good news really isn’t good – it's nonsense.

So as we (personally) dive deeper into the depths of the gospel, and as we (personally and corporately) bring the gospel to the world to which we're called, let's always keep the bad news, the reality into which we are born, as the prelude to the good news. When discussing and explaining the gospel, we must answer the question, “From what are we saved?” It's then, and only then, that the gospel is truly good and Christ is exalted to His rightful place in our lives.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

A Re-Telling Story

I love listening to our oldest daughter, Isabella. This stage of her life is fascinating to me because she retains so much of what she's taught. I almost can't believe some of things she knows and I love listening to her tell me the things about which she learns. For example, she loves telling jokes. I use the word joke loosely because they really aren't jokes and they really aren't funny. What is funny, though, is how funny she finds these "jokes". I find myself laughing at how hard she laughs. Now, sometimes it gets to be a little much because she likes to tell, and tell, and tell, and tell these jokes again – to the point I have to say, "Let's take a little break, Pixie."

Much like Isabella likes to tell and re-tell her jokes, the Lord desires we reflect and re-tell ourselves about the glorious way in which He has revealed Himself. In fact, ONE OF THE IMPORTANT FUNCTIONS of
worship is recital - a “re-telling” of the wonderful things that God has done.

• Psalm 75.1 - We give thanks to you, O God; we give thanks, for your name is near. We recount your wondrous deeds.
• Psalm 78.2-4 - I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.

The New English Bible translation of Psalm 75.1 is a little closer to the Hebrew – “Thy name is brought very near to us in the story of thy wonderful deeds”. God’s “Name” is part of His gracious self-disclosure. It is a revelation of who He is (Ex. 3:14; 34:5-7, 14). God’s “Name” then, is brought very near to us in the story of His wonderful deeds - that is, who God is, disclosed in the accounts of what He has done.

Thus the re-telling of what God has done is a means of grace to bring God near to His people. Believers who spend no time reviewing and pondering in their minds what God has done, whether they are alone and reading their Bibles or joining with other believers in corporate adoration, should not be surprised if they rarely sense that God is near and eventually turn away from Him – they don’t know Him. They have loved His works more than His being.

The emphasis this psalm makes regarding God is that he is the sovereign disposer - the “disposer supreme” (as one commentator puts it). It is wonderfully stabilizing to us to rest in such a God. He declares, “At the set time that I appoint. I will judge with equity"(75:2). It is hard to imagine a category more suggestive of God’s firm control than the set time. Yet mere control without justice would just be fatal. This God, however, not only sets the appointed times, but judges uprightly (75:2).

Further, in this broken world there are cataclysmic events that seem to threaten the entire social order. So elsewhere David ponders, "When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?" (Psalm 11:3). But here we are reassured, for God himself declares, "When the earth totters, and all its inhabitants, it is I who keep steady its pillars" (75:3). So the arrogant who may think themselves to be the pillars of society are duly warned - Boast no more (Psalm 75:4).

Tell and re-tell God’s wonderful deeds to yourself, your children, your friends – believers and unbelievers alike. Let's bring His Name near.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Limitless

There is a Christian radio station that I know a number of you listen to – K-LOVE, 89.5FM. This channel plays a certain song (quite frequently) by Matthew West, called, "Save A Place For Me." I have to admit that I don’t listen to music very often. I listen to mostly sports talk, and the DJs on K-LOVE drive me crazy with the wrong, and dumb, things they say. However, I'll occasionally turn it on when there's a commercial on the station I am listening to – and it seems like every time I turn to K-LOVE this song comes on.

I've wanted to write something about this song since the first time I heard it a couple of months ago, but a number of other things/events have taken my attention instead. It seems as though the song has "climbed the charts" – growing quite a bit in popularity. I don’t know the history, emotions, or motivation of Matthew West in writing the song. It's about losing a loved one. In the song, West expresses the thoughts and emotions one may have in reflecting on the time they had with the person they lost. My concern, my problem, is really with the chorus –
“Save a place for me, save a place for me
I'll be there soon, I'll be there soon
Save a place for me, save some grace for me
I'll be there soon, I'll be there soon”

Now before I go on let me say that Matthew West is pretty solid – his lyrics are generally consistent with the truths of Scripture. But not this time. As my very observant and gracious wife, Robyn, said to me, “There just isn't a whole lot that's Biblically sound in those words.” I, not being so gracious, would like say that it's disappointing and disturbing to me that, on a matter of such importance as God's grace, Matthew West could be so wrong and inconsistent with what the Bible teaches. Whenever I hear this song it really, really, really bothers me – I have to turn it off.

I understand there are times when songwriters take some "liberties" in implying certain emotions through their music – much like authors may take grammatical liberties. However, music is so emotionally charged and moving (one song can touch thousands of people) that a person just cannot write songs, or even imply things in those songs, that are so acutely against truths about God, His grace, and His Kingdom. Michael Card, a singer from several years ago, used to have the lyrics of his songs approved by the elders of his church to guard against Biblical inconsistency and untruthfulness – and in case you’re wondering, I absolutely think this song is severely inconsistent with the Bible.

First, look at what's implied about Heaven in the words, "Save a place for me." I'll admit that this is the lesser of my two grievances – but still, is God at risk of running out of room in Heaven? You might not think that's what West is saying. Maybe you believe he is just saying what most who've lost a loved one feel in their hearts – he can't wait to see this particular person in heaven someday. I won't disagree that could be what he's trying to say – but it's not what he's saying. If what he's trying to express is his anticipation over seeing this person, whom he loves and misses so much, in heaven, then there are other words he could’ve written – other songwriters have.

Second, what the heck does he mean, "Save some grace for me"? This is the one that really gets my undies in a twist. I've tried, please believe that I've tried, to get around these words as meaning something other than what seems so obvious to me – but I cannot. I just can't see what these words could mean other than that God does not have enough grace for all of us to experience fully in heaven, in His Kingdom. Yikes! This is an astonishing error that goes against anything, and everything, the Bible teaches us about God's grace.

Now let me address the former – “Save a place for me”. The Bible is clear that this present world, in which we now live, is not our home. It is also replete with references to God's preparation of our eternal home –
• John 14.1-3 – (Jesus speaking) "Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

• Hebrews 11.16 – “But as it is, they (people whose faith is in God) desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”
• Revelation 21.1-4 – “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."

What happens to you when you read these verses? I hope you don't just read over them as if you already have several times. God is active. He's an active God, faithful and progressive in preparing your eternal home.

Now about God not having enough grace. I almost don’t know where to start because this implication is so outrageous. Let me just say three things –
1. In the Bible, you never see a limit to God's grace. God never gives grace to some at the expense of not giving it to others.
2. God is who He is. While we can learn about Him and strive to know Him – we cannot even begin to fathom the depths of His nature and scope of His character. What we do know isn’t even a blip on the radar. God is not stronger in certain areas of His character and weaker in other areas. His character is so complete that it is what naturally emanates from Him.
3. God shows us grace through God the Son, Jesus Christ. God freely and abundantly gives His people grace through His Son, Jesus Christ – both for their justification and sanctification. To say, or imply, there isn’t enough grace for everyone God had chosen and called to Himself through Jesus is also to say that Jesus' death was not sufficient to save the world. That, my dear friends, is heresy.

I think the Bible speaks for itself when it comes to these issues. So let me close with the words in Hebrews 13.9, "Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings…" We have to guard our doctrine. Theology matters because it's what we believe about God (and everything else's relationship to Him) and impacts how we relate to God. Strange teachings differ with God's truth and will, in effect –
• give you a flawed system of belief (one other than Christ)
• give you a small view of God
• lead you away from Him to others false gods

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Mother's Honor

The family is God's idea. You see can see it all the way back in Genesis 2 when God said, "It is not good that man should be alone." The family is God's design, as the "little church," to glorify Himself through the relationships of His people. The way a husband/father leads, a wife/mother follows and nurtures, and children respect, honor, and obey can proclaim gospel truths and put the character of God on display like nothing else.

The Bible has a lot to say about the different responsibilities of men and women in the home. God is clear that the man is the head of the home. But, with what He says in His Word about women, and the make-up with which He's created women (especially emotionally), I think God is clear that the woman is the heart is the home. A woman's influence over the atmosphere of the home is far superior to that of a man's. One might not think that would be the case with men, in general, being bigger, stronger, more intimidating, and the leader of the home. However, God does not think how one might think, and He has created and blessed the home with such an interesting dynamic in the partnership of the husband/father and wife/mother.

King Solomon writes in Proverbs 1.8, "Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching…" Fathers instruct and mothers teach – they share this responsibility. I want to encourage mothers that this responsibility to teach your children is an immeasurably significant privilege, opportunity, and experience. A mother's heart is, among so many things, warm, kind, gentle, and nurturing. A mother can teach and touch the hearts of her children in a way a father just cannot. And I believe, therefore, the honor that is due a Godly mother is beyond any words man can utter.

A prime example for us to see is the relationship between Bathsheba and Solomon. Solomon is king of Israel. He was famous, powerful, and supreme in all the land. People bowed in his presence. They did what he said. He had immense authority and honor. You need to know that Bathsheba, Solomon's mother, married David, Solomon's father, under disgraceful circumstances that were tainted with arrogance, covetousness, lust, adultery, and murder – very displeasing to God. But she was his mother, nonetheless. Now, not only is Solomon king – but he is known as the wealthiest and, perhaps, wisest king in Israel's great history. So, how did he treat his mother in this exalted role? See what is says in 1 Kings 2.19 - So Bathsheba went to King Solomon to speak to him…and the king rose to meet her and bowed down to her. Then he sat on his throne and had a seat brought for the king’s mother, and she sat on his right. Then they had their conversation. He rose for her. He bowed to her. And he called for a throne to be put beside his for their conversation. She was his mother. Even kings stoop when their mothers enter the room.

Solomon was not a perfect king - he was not a perfect man. None of the writers of the Bible were perfect but God guided their insights, Solomon's insights, and preserved for us true ones in His book – the Bible.
God has a way of nullifying the greatness of the great and exalting the lowliness of the lowly. In our culture motherhood is, I think, on the upswing – but only after decades of unusual lowliness and bad press. God ordains a reward for sons and daughters who do not forsake the teaching of their parents and honor them (Ephesians 6.2). Solomon goes on in Proverbs 1 to say - 9for (because) they (hearing your father's instruction and not forsaking you mother's teaching) are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck. What this verse makes plain is that the instruction of fathers and the teaching of mothers, rooted in the fear of the Lord, is good news.

Kids don't always feel that way. Even at age thirty-one, my father still has things to teach me, and wisdom he can share with me - I am still my father's son. But, to be honest, while I don’t necessarily have to obey my father, I don’t always honor him like I should and still roll my eyes and throw my stubbornness at him. Sometimes parents have not grown up into grace enough to feel it, either. But that's what the verse says - hearing a father's instruction and not forsaking a mother's teaching will be a wreath of grace and glory and joy; it will be like gifts and prizes around your neck. In other words, it will mean triumph and celebration and joy.

As parents, let's seek the Lord for the grace, patience, and understanding to continue teaching our children - and build up trust in our children and create an atmosphere in which they are urged on toward obedience.

As children (of any age), let's pray for the humility to obey and/or honor our parents by recognizing their wisdom and God-ordained position in our lives.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Theology of Earth Day

Earth Day took place this past week and, to be honest, it’s hard for me to get excited – usually Earth Day just comes and goes for me. Don’t get me wrong, it is possible for Christians to celebrate Earth Day in the right way. I’m sure many do. We can thank God for the physical world, enjoy the beauty of creation, and think through ways to be stewards of the earth, which God has put under our authority.

But the official Earth Day has become extremely political and its movement rests on several debatable premises, such as “the world is in greater peril than ever” and “climate change is the greatest challenge of our time.” This makes for poor theology about how we are to view the Earth and our relationship to it. More to the point, there are deep assumptions, unspoken assumptions, that too often provide the foundation for our basic thinking about the environment. Unless Christians are building on the right foundation, we will not think about environmental issues in ways that are most helpful and most biblical.

I think most Christians who celebrate Earth Day do so because they believe the world is a gift from God for us to enjoy. I’m going to assume that Christians understand the Creator - creation distinction. I'm also going to assume they aren’t worshiping the earth or divinizing the creation. I don’t think any Christian would disagree with this motivation.

But there are a few other bricks to lay in the foundation of wise environmental stewardship. Kevin DeYoung is a pastor in East Lansing, Michigan. He is someone I read often and respect. He simply and clearly explains three bricks that need to be laid in the foundation of our environmental understanding and exercise. Read below:

Brick #1: We must distinguish between theological principles and prudential judgments
Consider this wise counsel from Jay Richards in the Introduction to Environmental Stewardship in the Judeo-Christian Tradition:

With respect to the environment, the theological principles are easily stated and uncontroversial. The biblical picture is that human beings, as image bearers of God, are placed as stewards over the created order. We bear a responsibility for how we treat and use it. We are part of the creation, as well as its crowning achievement. God intends for us to use and transform the natural world around us for good purposes. Proper use is not misuse. But as fallen creatures, we can mess things up. No serious thinker in the Judeo-Christian tradition questions these basic principles.

Prudential judgments are another thing entirely. They require careful analysis of the relevant scientific, economic, and political aspects of an issue. They require us to weigh costs and benefits, and to discern where facts leave off and fashion begins. (3)

Richards goes on to use global warming as an example. Before we make definitive pronouncement about the “Christian position” on global warming we should consider a number of questions: 1) Is the planet warming? 2) If so, are humans causing it? 3) If we are, is this warming bad? 4) If it is bad, what are costs and benefits of the proposed solutions? There is legitimate debate about all four questions. But if often feels like to be taken seriously as a person who wants to steward God’s creation you must quickly answer yes, yes, yes to the first three questions and then be in favor of cap and trade, Kyoto, or some other government initiative. Earth Day is steeped in politics, advocacy, and a host of assumed solutions so that it becomes difficult for Christians of a different ideological bent to appreciate what may be good about the modern environmental movement.

Brick #2: People matter most
I know it’s not the point of the Legion story in the gospels, but I think it is a reasonable conclusion: the life of one man is worth more than 2,000 pigs. Does this mean every desire of men and women should be put before every consideration of the plant and animal world? Of course not. The Bible wants us to care for animals too (Exod. 20:10; Jon. 4:11; Deut. 22:4, 10; 25:4). But human life is more valuable than animal or plant life (see, for example, the sacrificial system). Christians should not be intimidated by the charges of speciesism. The Bible plainly teaches that man is the crown of God’s creation with dominion over it (Gen. 1:26-28; 9:3).

Similarly, we in the West who, after centuries of increasing affluence, have the time, energy, and resources to pursue new environmental goals should not impose those same sensibilities on people in the developing world still struggling to survive. As Environmental Stewardship puts it:

Further advances in human welfare for the poor are not often threatened by a belief in the West that human enterprise and development are fundamentally incompatible with environmental protection…This false choice not only threatens to prolong widespread poverty, disease, and early death in the developing world, but also undermines the very conditions essential to achieving genuine environmental stewardship. (68)
Brick #3: People are producers, not just polluters
If there is one biblical insight missing from the modern environmental movement, it is this one. Too often a model is assumed where the earth is a healthy organism and humans are cancerous cells. All we do is pillage, pollute, and destroy. The world would be better off without us. Our goal then is to minimize our “footprint” at all costs. All we do, it is implied, is consume the planet’s valuable resources.

But the Bible also teaches that we are (sub)creators. We are capable of spilling 11 millions of gallons of oil off the coast of Alaska. But we are also capable of turning virtually worthless sand into silicon chips. We can create beauty as well as despoil it. We can actually make a harsh planet more inhabitable, more conducive for human flourishing. Would anyone but the most ardent environmentalists rather live on Earth now or 4000 years ago? By God’s grace, humans have learned to feed more people and help those people live longer, healthier, easier lives.

We must resist the temptation to think of humans as intruders from another world wrecking carnage in a pristine environment. Instead we must see ourselves as stewards, called to subdue, enjoy, protect, use, develop, and make more humane God’s fallen creation. I would argue that Christians should not be seeking a romantic ideal where the earth is untouched by human hands. Rather, we want to think carefully about how we can use our hands to make the earth more hospitable for more people, so that we might enjoy the beauty, grandeur, creativity, and productivity of our Father’s world.