Sunday, February 22, 2009

Jesus is Lord

In our continued study of the Person and Work of Christ, we come to the study of His Lordship. The earliest creed of the church, recorded in Romans 10:9-10, is a simple three-word phrase that's rich with meaning. "Jesus is Lord." What does it mean to confess with one's mouth that Jesus is Lord? And, more importantly, what does it mean that Jesus is Lord?

First, a confession that Jesus is Lord is a statement of allegiance. Satan is god of this age (2 Cor. 4:4), ruler of the kingdom of the air (Eph. 2:2). But when we confess with our mouth that he is not Lord, Jesus is Lord, we defect from the rule of darkness and claim citizenship in heaven—in a kingdom that we eagerly await here on earth. We henceforth make ourselves outcasts. Surrounded by devout patriots in an evil dominion, we have confessed publicly that Jesus is Lord. We have no inheritance, no place, no citizenship in this realm anymore.

So, who is the Lord for whom we have abandoned all comforts to follow? Ephesians 1:20-23 gives the clear description of how total and sovereign His rule really is. "Far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given," Jesus is in fact sovereign over Satan himself.

What's more, He is Lord over us all men as well. As we read on in Ephesians 2, we see the effect of our former allegiance to the kingdom of this age, that we were by nature objects of wrath. We were dead in that transgression prior to defecting to the Lord. So, by what means did we defect to Jesus' reign? God "made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved" (Ephesians 2:5).

It is in this truth that we realize the fallacy of the misinterpretation of this verse, that we are saved when we "make Jesus Lord in our Lives." We do nothing to make Jesus Lord. He is Lord. The earliest creed found in Romans 10 is a humble confession that He is Lord. He is the Lord so powerful that He saved us while we were unable to save ourselves, unable to defect.

But praise be to God. By grace He has called us, and in faith we respond confessing, "Jesus is Lord."

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Rejoicing in God's Sovereignty

I was at breakfast this morning with my accountability partner, doing a quick Bible study and spending time in prayer as we usually do. This morning was not uncommon from many others. From the moment I woke, the pressures of being a business owner in this economy were weighing on my mind. I drove to meet Jeff, half thinking about the study we would be doing, but mostly thinking about how I would find the business to keep alive in the coming months.

I sat down with Jeff. We talked back and forth about how our weeks were going. We shared the trials that we were facing in business and the challenges that we have in finding new contracts. After the catch-up, we opened to our reading for the day. We've been reading through the history of Israel for about 2 years now, starting in 1 Samuel. Today, by what some might call coincidence, we happened to be on the last chapter of 1 Kings.

No self-respecting Calvinist can be unfamiliar with this text. It's an oft-cited text in the academic debate between God's permissive and His direct control over evil in the world. However, this morning it was not that facet of this account that stimulated me the most. As we read together through the story and discussed what God had to show us from the text, the lesson became obvious: God is in control no matter what. No matter what prophets (or business analysts) a person listens to, what evil motives shape their decision, or even how they disguise themselves in the world, God's purpose will stand.

Ahab did everything humanly possible to defy God's plan and decree that he should die. Dressed in commoner's clothes, Ahab was still killed by what the narrator calls a "random" flight of an arrow. But random as it may have been to the archer and to Ahab, God's plan was sovereign over all.

Where do I find joy in life when life seems stacked against me? Nowhere else but in the comfort that God is indeed working all things for the good of those whom He has called (Romans 8:28). Jeff and I laughed as we recalled the many times in our own respective businesses that we had struggled and strived to earn business by all conventional wisdom, only to have seemingly random chance bring us into contact with our next major client.

It was well after 8:00 when we parted ways for the morning and I headed off to the office. My mood was notably different than just an hour previous. Has God promised me wealth? No. Has He promised me a life without trials? Actually quite the opposite. But has He promised to meet my needs? Yes. I rejoice knowing that God is totally sovereign, and I cannot imagine having hope in His providence if He were anything less.

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Be the Change

As a firm believer in the providence of God, I know the events of this morning were no accident. First, I taught this week on Jesus' message of internal transformation. After class, I listened to a sermon that delved deeper into Jesus' teaching on the Kingdom of God within us. And during it all I sat next to a mentally handicapped gentlemen who, I must confess, tests every ounce of my patience.

I first met Tom (I've changed his name for obvious reasons) about 2 years ago at our church. He lives in a small community across the street where several apartments are leased to people with varying degrees of handicap. A social worker checks in from time to time on each person, none of whom possess the capacity to be totally independent. As a result of our proximity, our church welcomes frequent guests from this community.

From day one, Tom's goal at our church has been evident. In fact, he's not bashful about his objective at all. He wants to meet a woman. Not wishing to be inappropriate, Tom is quick to qualify that of course, he would wish to marry this woman in order for their relationship to be proper. Nonetheless, he has informed us very plainly, he longs for certain desires to be met.

Boundaries have been set. All ranks of church leadership and deacons are aware of Tom's situation and single-track objective. He is never left alone with groups of women. Upon seeing him, any one of several men in our church quickly come alongside Tom and make sure to accompany him very closely throughout his visit to our church. And, despite being told very sternly on more than one occasion that we are not going to assist him in his endeavor at our church, he still returns quite frequently to attend a class and sometimes stay for worship—although his mental disabilities have severely limited his attention span, making an entire 1-hour worship service a very rare occurrence.

After wrapping up class this morning, I walked out to get some coffee where I found Tom eagerly engaging in a one-on-one conversation with a women in our church. As usual, I stepped in between, interrupting their conversation with my own cordial greeting for Tom. "Oh great," I thought to myself, "I guess it's my week to be his babysitter for the day."

For the next 20 minutes, as I listened to Tom's usual rants about not having a wife to make him happy, I caught myself in the most selfish of thought patterns. "I only get to see some of these friends once a week. I can't believe I have to be the one to babysit while they're all over their visiting. Why can't we just tell Tom what we think and not have him come back again." Much to my dismay, he decided this Sunday to join me in worship service. "Who else can I make him sit with," I thought to myself.

But it was in the pew this Sunday that God thumped me upside the head and made me see what Jesus was saying... what even I had been teaching. The sermon was from Matthew 4. As the pastor read "those having seizures... He healed them" (Matt. 4:24), Tom leaned over to me and said, "that was me, but Jesus healed me." I was frozen in my seat. I later learned that Tom was born premature and didn't breathe at all for his first few minutes after birth. As a child, he suffered seizures, but after asking Jesus for healing, they ceased. That was the reason he's been drawn to the church seeking the answer to his next major request of God: a wife.

I still don't agree with Tom's intentions at our church. I still believe he needs constant supervision. But what I learned is this: I cannot change Tom's mind, I can only change my mind toward him. With God's help, I hope to do so!
"Be the change. Be the light. Show this world what love is like." - Jake Brothers
You can be praying for me this week as I have plans to meet Tom for lunch and hopefully ease some of his obvious loneliness.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Five Things Every Christian Should Know About the Kingdom of God

In our continued study of the Person and Work of Christ, we come this week to Jesus' earthly ministry. I've been rather enjoying this week of preparation in the gospels, seeing anew the old stories I thought I had learned as a child. Of particular interest has been the topic of the Kingdom of God, and seeing as how I wrote a book on the topic, you might say I have a special fondness for it. This morning, let me share with you 5 things I think every believer should know about the Kingdom of God.

  1. It's within you.
    In Luke 17:21, Jesus says that "the kingdom of God is within you." Now, though Christ has ascended, the Spirit remains to rule in our own hearts. In the Kingdom of Eden, Adam was able not to sin (posse non peccare). Prior to the giving of the Spirit, men were not able to not sin(non posse non peccare). In the present age of the inaugurated Kingdom, His subjects are able not to sin as Adam once was. But, as we will see below, we await a final consummation of all the Kingdom promises when we will be not able to sin (non posse peccare).
  2. It's among you.
    An alternate translation of Luke 17:21 might rightly read, "the Kingdom of God is among you." In fact, I believe this translation is more likely what Christ meant as He spoke and what Luke intended to communicate. Remember, at the time Jesus spoke these words, the Spirit had not yet come. In fact, Luke's gospel places little emphasis on the coming Spirit, it's in John that we find strong teaching on the role of the Spirit. The Kingdom of God was "among you" when Christ was here because the King was here. How could they fast with the King present? Why were the Pharisees asking when it would come while their King was among them?
  3. It's already come.
    As I mentioned in the first point, the Kingdom has been inaugurated now. We live in an age of Christ's rule on earth unlike any in history. He is transforming His people via the sanctifying work of the Spirit to be conformed to His likeness. In this present Kingdom, with our sins now forgiven we can approach the throne of God confidently. In fact, for those who wait for "the resurrection," it, too, has also begun as Christ was resurrected so that He might be the first.
  4. It's yet to come.
    Christ spent most of His earthly ministry filling the role of a Prophet to Israel. As a prophet, His message was to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God. He taught His disciples to pray saying, "your kingdom come" (Luke 11:12). He warned them about what would happen "in those days" (Mark 13:17). Even after Christ's death, resurrection, and ascension, Paul wrote, "our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there" (Phil. 3:20). There are numerous promises that we are waiting to be fulfilled in the final consummation of God's Kingdom on earth.
  5. It's the same thing as the Kingdom of Heaven
    A little anticlimactic, I know, but I had to slip this little tidbit into the top 5 list so that no believer would be led astray by false dispensational teachings on Matthew's use of "Kingdom of Heaven." As Matthew wrote to his Jewish readers, he respected their reverence for the name of God and substituted the word heaven in it's stead. Be assured, Christ's message recorded in Matthew on the Kingdom of Heaven is one in the same with Mark and Luke's account of the Kingdom of God.

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Monday, February 9, 2009

The Undeniable Doctrine of Election

There exists in the church today a misconception that election represents a controversial topic. When this misconception is perpetuated, we do an injustice to students of the Word who seek to deepen their love of God. The doctrine of election is not controversial. The doctrine of election is rarely even debated. It is the doctrine of salvation, particularly the aspect of free will, that is the root of so much strife and that is often inappropriately linked to the doctrine of election causing so many people to shriek at it's mention. But with those misconceptions and debates aside, the doctrine of election should be the most unifying truth in all of Church doctrine.

Regardless of where one may fall in the free will debate, the doctrine of election is an undeniable fact found throughout scripture. The proof texts are too numerous to count, but among the more prominent are Deuteronomy 7, John 10, Ephesians 1, and 1 Peter 1. In fact, even popular memory verses that we teach our children to recite echo the truth of election: "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins" (1 John 4:10). Or, when we sing together, "I once was lost but now am found... T'was Grace that taught my heart to fear," we are proclaiming and extolling God for His election of those whom He foreknew.

So why do I say so strongly that to misrepresent the doctrine of election is an injustice to followers of Christ? Is it because I am just another radical and irrational Calvinist to be quickly dismissed and ignored. Not at all. Need I remind you that Arminius, too, believed in election, though his definition of foreknowledge differed from mine. For that matter (though I have no evidence) I would suggest Pelagius as well would not have denied the obvious Biblical teaching that we, the Church, are chosen of God.

No, it is an injustice to pass over, as many timid teachers do, the truth that God chose us because it is in His choosing of us that we are filled the most awe and wonder. Yes, it is wondrous that He would send His Son to die, but can we really view the cross as a cosmic roll of the dice? God, hoping that some might accept His gift, crucified His Son with blind hope in our acceptance? No. Be it born out of His foreknowledge of us or His foreknowledge of our faith, God chose us before we chose Him. And therein lies the wonder and mystery of the love of our God.
"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." -- Romans 5:8

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Friday, February 6, 2009

Adultered and Killed, then Born Again:
The Relationship of the Atonement

In our exploration of the Person and Work of Christ, we have come to the pinnacle work of Christ: the Atonement. Last week we looked in depth at the religious aspects of the atonement—the sacrificial and substitutionary aspects—while this week we discuss the relationship aspects. The relationship of God to Man is most commonly paralleled to the marriage covenant (or vise versa, technically speaking). So, how does the atonement, Christ's death on the cross, fit into our marriage with God?

In Jeremiah 31:32, God delivers a shocking verdict: "they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them." This is the picture of an adulterous wife, forsaking her husband for the sinful pleasures of another man. That is Israel, and that was even us who now make up the Church. But God makes an amazing promise in Jeremiah 31. He will establish a new covenant with them. He will remarry an adulterous wife!

As if the mercy of this new covenant offer were not amazing enough, the mystery deepens as we investigate further just what adultery meant in the Law. The punishment for adultery was death (Lev. 20:10). Another option, however, presents itself later in Deuteronomy 24, divorce, which is later cited by the pharisees in Matthew 19:7. When we read the parameters from Deuteronomy 24:4, we learn that even after divorce the Law forbids a husband to remarry the adulterous wife. In the case of God, it would be as though He sent us away to serve other gods for a time, only to change His mind and bring us back to Him. It cannot be so. We are defiled, unholy, and unable to enter into covenant relationship with God.

So then, we are left with one conclusion. With regard to our status, "What a wretched man I am!" and with regard to our sentence, "Who will rescue me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:24). God deals with our adultery according to Leviticus 20, not Deuteronomy 24. He pronounces the sentence of death, not divorce. He chooses to propitiate His wrath in the death of His Son rather than divorce us and seal our fate in everlasting covenant with our idols and with satan.

It is here, in the choosing of a death sentence rather than divorce, that we see the providence of God in stunning ways. Dead with Christ, we are now dead to the Law (Romans 6-7). Given new birth, we are new creatures (2 Corinthians 5). As new creatures with the lawful wrath satisfied, we can finally see how God is both just and the one who justifies. He could not re-marry us if we did not first die, but we have indeed died with Christ and are given new life through His resurrection (1 Peter 1:3; Romans 6:4).

"Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!" -- Romans 7:25

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Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Secularization of Prayer

I was in a print shop the other day and while I waited for my order to be completed, I stood in the lobby amidst several examples of this shop's work. One particular vinyl banner caught my eye. Although I have no idea what Eliza's Wish Foundation is, what struck me was the obvious prayer connotations on this banner. She is looking up, hands together under her chin, just as every child learns to pray at a very young age. So what's missing in this picture? For starters, Christ. Beyond that, how about any mention of prayer or God at all.

We live in a world where prayer is viewed as tantamount to wishing upon a star, as the little girl in this photo is doing. Eliza's Wish Foundation may indeed be a wonderfully helpful organization, but what glory is there to God when the world wishes for hope yet has no Savior to hope in. What hope is left when the world wishes upon a star, but never prays in the name of the Son. Most importantly, why is there still a world of lost people still wishing on stars (i.e. praying to idols) while the church sits stoic in it's four walls on the corner.

As believers, do we see the parody? Does the sight of a seemingly innocent little girl praying to a star for the hope of needy people everywhere give us any conviction that God is being robbed of His due glory. If anywhere the power of prayer is unknown, the problem begins in the Church. Do we know the power of prayer? Do we employ the power of prayer? As I myself am admittedly weak in the discipline of prayer, my wife and I have started reading "With Christ in the School of Prayer" by Andrew Murray. My prayer for my wife and I is that we learn from Christ Himself how to pray, how to remain confident in the Father's goodness, and how to use prayer to glorify His name in our lives.

What struck me in this photo is not the connotation to prayer itself, that much is not surprising at all, but it's the belief that a little girl's wish on a star is more effectual for meeting the needs of the world than the prayer of God's children to their Father. My concern is not that Eliza's Wish Foundation is doing too little prayer, it's that the Church is. My charge is not to Eliza's Wish Foundation to pray more and convert to a Christian mission, it's for the Church to meet the needs of the world in such a powerful way that those in need would have one true hope in God.

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Monday, February 2, 2009

Sounds Like Greek to Me

I recently endeavored to translate a book of the New Testament on my own. Previously, my knowledge in Greek was about as extensive as the alphabet, some Christianese vocabulary, and enough time in a lexicon to be dangerous with Greek text. I just recently finished teaching a class on 1 Peter, the content was fresh in my mind and I had done several word studies during my lesson preparations as well, so I decided to make 1 Peter my first translation challenge. 4 verses into the first chapter, and I have some fun anecdotes that you may find helpful in your own Greek study, or at the very least, amusing.
  1. "us" and "you" are dangerously similar: hemas, hymas... so, it can be very easy to believe that Peter's readers were given new life so that Peter and the other Apostles could have an imperishable inheritance. Something didn't feel right about that one.
  2. Lexicons lie... ok, so maybe they don't lie, but they don't tell the whole truth. While I'm looking at an 11-letter word with what appears to be not one but two suffixes, Strong's saw fit to spare me the trouble and only give the meaning of the 5-letter root.
  3. The eleventh commandment should have been: Thou shall not use the same word to mean both "for" and "to."
  4. My high school English teachers might be interested to hear this: I praise God for punctuation.
  5. Learn your alpha beta gammas (abc's). If you insist on finding corollaries with the English alphabet, give up now. P is R. Y is G. U is M. Oh, and a different-looking U is also U... and sometimes Y... and, yes, just give up now.

I'm sure I'll have more to share as time goes on, but in all seriousness, I am very much looking forward to learning this language. As many of you have experienced, I'm sure, re-reading the same passage years later can often bring new meaning to light, or new perspectives to bear. I am hoping the same happens with this adventure, and I pray that God blesses my time and draws me nearer to Him.

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