Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Allowed or Caused?

Coming to you from the literary center of organization, the margins of my bulletin.

As we approach Easter through Lent, we are reminded of the death of Christ.  I am reminded of the death of Christ every time I sin, but we get yet another annual reminder of the event on which history hinges at Easter.  We are also reminded that Christ's death was the will of God.  However, God's will includes two aspects:  His sovereign will and His permissive will.  God does not cause sin, but He uses sin sinlessly to bring about our growth and His glorification, ultimately for good.  Therefore that which God directly causes would fall under His sovereign will, and that which God does not directly cause, but rather allows, would fall under His permissive will.  When we speak of the death of Christ being part of the will of God, it begs the question, "Which aspect of the will of God?"  If it is the sovereign will, it is judicial and purposeful, but if it is the permissive will, it becomes confusing and messy.  But it was indeed the sovereign will of God that killed Christ.  Our God is powerful and sovereign, not only now, but in eternity.

Word association can, at times, be helpful.  I will not use it here in the way you are perhaps thinking, but in the way that a thesaurus uses words.  When we think of the sovereign will of God, some words with similar or related meanings include:  ordain, direct, purpose, and control.  Similarly, some words associated with the permissive will of God include:  let, allow, and permit.  Both aspects of God's will can be equally comforting when considering the union of free choice and divine orchestration.

If the death of Christ on the cross is portrayed as part of the permissive will of God, there is a very dangerous pit into which we inevitably fall.  If Christ's death on the cross saves us from our sin and if God did not cause, but simply allowed the Jews and Romans to conspire together and kill His only begotten Son, the infliction of pain, suffering, and death by humans is what makes atonement for sins.  The error should be obvious.  Humans are not the eternal guardians and gatekeepers of God's eternal law.  God is the judge and the laws stem from His very nature.  An imperfect, but perhaps helpful analogy:  let's say that I come to you one day and tell you that because of my deep love for you, I am going to die for you tomorrow.  Whether it is from jumping off a tall building or finding a mean group of guys that I can convince to beat me up and murder me, I am going to die... for you.  You would not be amazed at my generosity, you would be appalled at my delusion.  The act of me dying does nothing for you, nor does it prove anything related to love.

However, if the death of Christ on the cross was part of the sovereign will of God (and indeed it was), the gospel becomes a clear account of the kindest act of penal substitutionary atonement in all of history.  This also means that the Jews did not kill Jesus.  The Romans did not kill Jesus.  God the Father killed Jesus.  Yes, He choose to use people as part of the process, but similar to a carpenter who uses tools to fashion of piece of furniture, the tools do not create the final product, they are only used in the process.  Every sacrifice in the Old Testament was a picture of the coming perfect sacrifice of Christ.  And again, it was not simply a show of extremes, it was much more meaningful than that.  Each sin of each person from the creation of the universe to its end was credited to Christ on the cross:  each sin of commission, each sin of omission, each sinful thought, each sinful word, and each sinful deed.  And God hates sin.  There is a designated wage for sin, and that is death.  The perfection of Christ perfectly satisfied the justice of God.  It is as if you were in a courtroom, having been convicted of immeasurably serious crimes and fined with an amount you could never pay, and someone whom you had despised walked up to the judge and counted out the full amount of the fine in cash so you could go free.

Please do not reject such a great salvation!  Repent and place your complete trust in the work that Christ did for you on the cross.  Then, not only is your account of sin brought to zero, but the righteousness that Christ earned is credited to you!  How great a salvation.  Think on that this Lent and Easter.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Word of His Power

The book of Hebrews may be one of the most brilliant junctions of truth, history, and theology ever spoken or written.  It can be nearly impossible for my mind to right itself after being sent reeling by each awe-inspiring verse in time for the next one.  The first four verses alone make even our nothingness feel like an exaggeration before God's power, greatness, completeness, and perfection.  

  • Hebrews 1:1-4 (NASB) "God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.  And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.  When He made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they."

The strongest words for the strongest God:  radiance of His glory, exact representation of His nature.  We cannot even comprehend the fullness of God's glory or nature. And yet Jesus would voluntarily take the entire wrath of God upon Himself as the substitute for our punishment.  Society has asked what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object.  And even that picture falls short to describe the unmatched collision of God's love and mercy with His wrath and justice in which He remained unwaveringly perfect in all of His attributes.

I want to focus on one phrase in particular:  "and [He] upholds all things by the word of His power."  All things.  Each star in each galaxy in the entire universe to each seed for each sparrow in the entire world.  All things.  And He upholds it all in the same way He created it all...  "by the word of His power."  Think of it.  When Jesus was in Mary's womb, He was upholding all things by the word of His power.  In the dark of the night during His family's flight to Egypt, He was upholding all things by the word of His power.  While being tempted by the devil, He was upholding all things by the word of His power.  During the wedding feast at Cana, He was upholding all things by the word of His power.  While preaching to the crowds and healing the sick and casting out demons, He was upholding all things by the word of His power.  Through each sweat-drop of blood while praying in the garden, He was upholding all things by the word of His power.  As a mockery of a trial was circling around Him, He was upholding all things by the word of His power.  In every blow as the Roman soldiers shredded and bruised His body, He was upholding all things by the word of His power.  With each nail and each desperately painful breath on the cross, He was upholding all things by the word of His power.  And as He drank every last drop of the cup of God's wrath against sin, He was upholding all things by the word of His power.  

With that in mind, I would like to leave you with this thought.

  • Matthew 6:30b-31 (NASB)  "You of little faith!  Do not worry then, saying 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear for clothing?'"

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Love and the Case of Hijacked Definitions

I don't even like writing about love.  I am trying to think of an endurable mature masculine article on love that I have read recently, and I can't think of a single one.  But as I was reading 2nd Timothy a while ago, the mention of love in a particular passage stood out to me.

Both in this particular passage and for the entire Bible, proper hermeneutics is always about context, context, context.  Once you take love out of context, jellyfish have more of a backbone than the mangled meaning of the word.  It becomes a sloppy, gooey bundle of theological nastiness.  Love and freedom in Christ only make sense in the context of the entire Bible and more specifically, the gospel.  God did not all-of-a-sudden become loving somewhere between Malachi and Matthew.  He was/is/will be perfectly loving and consistent... always.

So, the passage in question:

  • 2nd Timothy 1:5-7 (NASB) "For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well.  For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.  For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline."

In what category does Paul put love?  Not in the category of tenderness and acceptance.  Not even close.  In category of power and discipline.  The best definition of power I have ever hear is, "power is strength under control."  And discipline is doing what you should when you don't want to do it and not doing what you shouldn't when you do want to do it and being consistent about it.  Love should be handled the same way:  Under control, when it isn't convenient, and consistently.

I know there are at least four different Greek words that translate into the English word for love.  I am not going to delve into those differences here; there are many brilliant teachers who have done that brilliantly.  This is just a discussion on the generic English word love, primarily toward God and secondarily, tertiarily, etc. to family, the church, and others.

What is required to have power and discipline?  I would submit that it requires large amounts of dedication, will power, focus, training/practice, determination, prioritization, patience, stick-to-it-ive-ness, and self control.  Not exactly something into which you fall.  It is made of conscious decisions.  Emotions must be under control and informed by the gospel.

So next time you read about, think about, or hear about love, I would encourage you, that instead of thinking about it with connotations of being swept off your feet or dreamy eyes, think about it more like a trip to the gym.  Feel the burn.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

the issues / THE ISSUE

I'm sorry folks.  I just can't do it.  Read through the Bible in a year?  No way.  I have a TON of respect for those of you who can get it done.  But not me.  I do not have the understanding or ability to absorb, cross reference, re-read, and appreciate that quickly.  I think I just spent somewhere around a month on Timothy.  OK, just the first one.  And talk about conviction.  I really have to look at my priorities.  Where do I spend my time?  Do I love work, teaching, sleep, food, communication, or relaxation more than I love God?  First things first, dude.

While writing to Timothy, Paul talked about a lot of issues.  I know the church of today and Timothy's church were in different circumstances, but we have a lot of issues to deal with today as well.  Just politics alone, there are international politics, national politics, state politics, local politics, politics at work, politics in families, even politics in the church.  And the general consensus seems to be that the church needs to have a position on every one of them.  Culture war, people!

Paul addressed a myriad of issues, but he addressed them all the same way.  EVERYTHING boils down to one issue.  Guess what.  Cultures are not eternal.  Cultures are not in danger of punishment in hell.  The souls of men and women are in danger of eternal punishment in hell for rebellion against an infinitely holy God.  And the only hope* for our souls is the GOSPEL.

I know that the entire Bible, even the Old Testament, points to the gospel message.  But Paul takes the gloves off in his letter to Timothy.  No subtlety, no types, no shadows.

Chapter 1
His opening statement quickly addresses Timothy and the specific problem in Timothy's church.  He then launches into a exquisite exposé on the power of the gospel for every type of offender, and he put himself on the very top of the list!

Chapter 2
The next chapter starts with a call to prayer.  God desires everyone to be saved, and we are to desire the things of God.  A special mention is made of those in authority.  This includes those in authority in government, at work, at home, and in the church.  The American church so often gets so wrapped up in politics and policies and speeches and sound bites and YouTube clips that we forget about the real issue.  Yes, absolutely abortion and immigration and health care and gun rights are topics that can be informed by the gospel, but we are jumping over the primary issue to start throwing punches in the secondary arenas!  Everything boils down to the gospel!  If we bypass the message of the gospel (the substitutionary atonement of Christ for sinners) and argue from the platform of opinion, we fail.  Preach the gospel, pray for our leaders to hear the gospel, and petition the Holy Spirit to convict our hearts and their hearts.  When they repent before God and trust Christ as their hope of salvation, then all the other secondary issues will follow.  It's the new hearts and new desires thing.  It's real.  It happens.

Chapter 3
Paul talks about leadership in the church.  But the qualifications are not about the coolest guy in skinny jeans, they are about reflecting... you guessed it... the gospel.  We will not attract people into the church by our spiffy-ness.  It has to be about the gospel and our leaders must be qualified to make that distinction.

Chapter 4
It can be easy to fall into the ditch of work righteousness, but if we have a correct understanding of the gospel, we can keep on the straight and narrow.  We must remember that it is because God already sees us as righteous through the work of Christ on the cross that we desire to do good works, we do not do good works in order for God to see us as righteous.  Don't be getting all discombobulated.

Chapter 5
We can even reflect the gospel in our interactions with family, friends, neighbors, and fellow-believers.  There can be some tough situations in life, but when our focus is the gospel, we can navigate through them in a way that honors our Savior.

Chapter 6
Paul wraps up his first letter to Timothy by addressing the realm of finances and careers.  But once again, the focus isn't about the how to's and the how to not's, it is about the gospel and keeping the temporal in the perspective of the eternal.

Government, the church, why we do the things we do, personal interactions, and even going to work and paying the bills are all things that we deal with every day.  We are human, we have problems and sometimes even create them.  The solution is the same for EVERYTHING.  Focus on the gospel.  Preach the gospel to yourself.  Preach the gospel to those around you.  And don't just rely on actions, use words.  It isn't a guarantee of a peachy life, but it is the pinnacle of truth and hope.

*(see the Hope is for the Weak series) 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Hope is for the Weak - Part 3

Hope is a concept based in the future.  It has an eternal aspect.

Paul says:

  • 1st Corinthians 15:19 (NASB)  "If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied."

If there is no eternity, if there is no heaven, if there is no hell, if there is no judgement by a righteous God, if there is no hereafter, if our best destiny is worm food, then the gospel is not good news, it is nothing.  But if these things do exist, then it is the best news that ever has existed and ever will exist!

It all comes back to reality.  You can believe whatever you want to believe, but the strength of your belief does not make anything more or less true or more or less real.  If I could just not believe in the IRS and therefore not have to pay income tax, that would be fantastic, but not believing in the IRS will do nothing more than land me in the slammer next to Al Capone for tax evasion.

So what is the object of our hope?  For hope to be based in reality, the object must be more than just an abstract concept.

  • Titus 2:11-14 (NASB)  "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds."  

Our blessed hope is our redemption and the glorious day of Christ's appearing.  Look at the language of this passage.   "Worldly" suggests there are things that are "otherly."  "The present age" suggests there is a "future age."

The passage also talks about some of the things we are instructed to do now:  deny ungodliness, deny worldly desires, live sensibly, live righteously, live godly, and be zealous for good deeds.  If the object of our hope is based in the future, what is the point of the things we are to do now?  Are we racking up points for that future?  May it never be!  There is more to the picture than just hope.

  • 1st Corinthians 13:13 (NASB)  "But now faith, hope, and love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love."

The objects of our faith and our hope are real now, but will be realized in the future.  But love is realized both in the past, now, and in the future, hence its greatness.

  • 1st John 4:7-14 (NASB)  "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.  By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.  In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.  By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.  We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world."

What a verbal wealth of eternality!  Look at the different tenses in this passage.  Past:  "the love of God was manifested," "God has sent," "He loved us," "has given us of His Spirit," "have seen."  Present:  "love is from God," "is born," "knows God," "God is love," "God abides in us," "love is perfected," "we abide in Him."  Future:  "we might live" and "we ought to love."

Those things we are instructed in Titus to do now are out of love and gratitude to God for His inexpressible gift.  We can never earn anything but wrath for ourselves, but Christ has earned heaven for us if we will only repent and trust Him.  He has done it all!  Our reaction of repentance and trust is followed by the gift of the Spirit and a new heart with new desires that longs to glorify and follow after God by loving Him and loving our neighbors in thought, word, and deed.

Faith, hope, and love are far more than cute phrases for greeting cards.  They are the armor that strengthen the weak servants of God for an eternal spiritual battle.

  • 1st Thessalonians 5:8 (NASB)  "But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation."  

  • Ephesians 6:11-12 (NASB)  "Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places."

Thank you, as always, to the radio messages 
of Todd Friel and the Bible study footnotes 
of John MacArthur, which provided incredible 
guidance and correct theology for much of the 
content of the "Hope is for the Weak" series. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Hope is for the Weak - Part 2

The God of the Old Testament, the God of the New Testament, and the God of now... same God.  He is unchanging in holiness, justice, mercy, and grace.

People living before Christ (B.C.) did not have the retrospective view of Christ's atoning sacrifice on the cross, but their salvation was in the same hope.  The Psalmist in Psalm 71 and Jeremiah (chapter 17) identified the Lord as both their personal hope and the hope of Israel.  While perusing the Old Testament for examples of this hope, my attention was drawn to the middle of a valley.  Imagine an epic movie scene where the camera starts on a close-up on the main character's face and quickly begins to circle the character in ever widening arcs until it finally stops on a sprawling and breath-taking panoramic view.  Except in this valley, there isn't any breath to take.  All around Ezekiel are bones.  Many bones.  Human bones.  Dry bones.  Very dry bones.  Scattered bones.  Piles of bones.  Heaps of bones.  The Lord explained the sight to Ezekiel.

  • Ezekiel 37:11 (NASB) "Then He said to me, "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel; behold, they say, "Our bones are dried up and our hope has perished.  We are completely cut off.""

Dried up.  They had nothing.  No life and no apparent hope.  Dead.  No capacity to do anything for themselves.

Paul paints for us a similar picture.

  • Ephesians 2:1-3 (NASB) "And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.  Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest."

Dried up.  We have nothing.  No life and no apparent hope.  Dead.  No capacity to do anything for ourselves.

What happened next in the valley?

  • Ezekiel 37:12-14 (NASB) "Therefore prophesy and say to them, "Thus says the Lord God, "Behold, I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves, My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel.  Then you will know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves and caused you to come up out of your graves, My people.  I will put My Spirit within you and you will come to life, and I will place you on your own land.  Then you will know that I the Lord, have spoken and done it," declares the Lord.""

Just like David said in the Psalms, "it is You who have done it."  Ezekiel's account doesn't end with death, and neither does Paul's sermon.

  • Ephesians 2:4-7 (NASB) "But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus."

The Old Testament points to Christ and the New Testament points to Christ.  Same God, same hope.

Paul summarizes this transaction very thoroughly.

  • Romans 6:3-11 (NASB) "Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized in Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?  Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.  Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again, death no longer is master over Him.  For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.  Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus."

And we know that the Lord has done it.  And the Lord's hope is the best reality, not just a dream or a figment.  God is the best thing, the hope of glory!  So maybe being a realist isn't so bad after all.

There is nothing more real than life, especially eternal life.  Listen to Peter.

  • 1st Peter 1:3-5 (NASB) "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time."

Living hope.  It was good news for Ezekiel.  And it is good news for us.  It is the gospel.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Hope is for the Weak - Part 1

I recently did a little self examination after reading Scripture.  The test was simple.  After reading my alloted portion for the day, I asked myself, "What did you just read?"  The answer was usually a confident, "Aaaahhhhhh... well..."  Needless to say, the richness and eternal importance of Scripture deserves more than that, so I decided to change my approach.  Shovel versus stopwatch.

My first stops were Paul's letters to his spiritual son Timothy.  He was a young guy; I am a young guy; I'll start there.  Right there it was, in the first verse of the first chapter of the first book... hope.

  • 1st Timothy 1:1 (NASB) "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus according to the commandment of God our Savior, and of Christ Jesus, who is our hope."

I have viewed hope as a weakness.  If you want it, but don't have it, then hope for it?  What kind of comfort is that?  Wouldn't something tangible be much better?

If you couldn't tell, on the optimism-pessimism spectrum, I land solidly in the range of a realist.  Optimists say that a realist is really a pessimist in denial and pessimists say, "Welcome home."  You see, hope seemed to me to be unrealistic.  Either something is or it isn't. 

What is the dictionary definition of hope?  Well, it is both verb and a noun; it can imply the action of doing and identify a state of being.  Merriam-Webster has a few ways to define the concept:
  • "to want something to happen or be true and think that it could happen or be true"
  • "to cherish a desire with anticipation"
  • "to desire with expectation of obtainment"
  • "to expect with confidence"
  • "the chance that something good will happen"
  • "desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fullfillment"

The question still begs to be answered, who really needs hope?  The more I thought about that question, the more I came to the realization that hope has a definite place in reality.  I need hope when my grasp of reality is so raw and so honest that I realize that the only thing I have to my name is hope... an abstract concept.  Now, that is desparate. 

David understood that kind of desparation.  See what he has to say about hope.

  • Psalm 39:7-11 (NASB) "And now, Lord, for what do I wait?  My hope is in You.  Deliver me from all my transgressions; make me not the reproach of the foolish.  I have become mute, I do not open my mouth, because it is You who have done it.  Remove Your plague from me; because of the opposition of Your hand I am perishing.  With reproofs You chasten a man for iniquity; You consume as a moth what is precious to him; surely every man is a mere breath."

To have fools look down on you, that is low.  David knew better than to argue before God; there is a time to speak and a time to be silent, and this was definitely the latter. 

An analogy helps me to understand this.  Imagine yourself in a courtroom.  You have been convicted of breaking the law at multiple points.  You have been sentenced.  What is your reality?  Your reality is you are going to be punished, either by a fine, imprisonment, or even death.  What other options do you have?  Realisticly you have none... except hope.  The only thing the criminal has to his name are his crimes.  The only "chance that something good will happen" is hope. 

This analogy isn't far off, because we will all stand in God's courtroom one day.  God is a good judge, a perfect judge.  Any infraction of the law must be punished.  If you think you have kept God's law, go through the Ten Commandments one by one and apply them to every thought, word, and deed for your whole life.  Yeah, me too.  And remember, to ignore justice is not merciful, it is corrupt.  The penalty for sin, or breaking God's law, has been established.  Death.  And not just an earthly death... eternal death.

  • Romans 6:23 (NASB) "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

What is this about a free gift?  Yes, I still stand beside what I said about mercy and corruption.  Let's go back to the courtroom.  The judge's gavel just fell and you are still coming to the realization that you can't talk your way out of this and you have nothing... nothing but hope.  Someone walks into the courtroom.  And not just any someone, someone who has not broken a single law... ever.  He walks up to the judge and pays your entire fine and takes the entire punishment in your place.  Justice has been served.  Kindness and mercy have also been shown to you, the criminal.  The guiltless for the guilty. 

Paul reflects on this transaction in regards to hope.

  • Romans 5:1-5 (NASB) "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.  And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings persverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us."

To exult means to "feel or show great happiness."  That's a lot of happiness, especially in tribulations.  To go from being rightly condemned to the promise of the glory of God is a big step.  And not by anything we have done.  But only through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. 

The Bible protrays rightly-placed hope as a sign of maturity.  Maturity is honest and realist.  Honestly... realisticly... I know that I am weak.